"... he grinned down at Ginny and gestured wordlessly out of the portrait hole. A long walk in the grounds seemed indicated ..." β€” From the end of Chapter Twenty-Four, "Sectumsempra," in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The Long Walk

Harry stepped through the portrait hole and reached back to take Ginny's hand. Her blazing look was replaced by a smile. The portrait closing behind them cut off the crescendo of talk from the common room. He kept her hand as they walked away, and he heard the Fat Lady sigh. "I told you so," she said, apparently to the nearby portraits. Some of them sniggered.

They walked down the stairs and through the halls, oblivious, bumping into other students, and they found themselves outside the castle on the steps leading from the entrance. People stared. Harry looked at the lawn in front and the castle behind. "How did we get here? Did we walk?"

"We must have floated." Ginny's eyes were bright; her smile lit her whole face, and the world lit up around Harry. He leaned to kiss her, but she backed away and pulled him along the path. "Let's walk," she whispered.

They wandered down the lawn in the direction of Hagrid's hut, but Harry did not see where they were going. He was only aware of Ginny, of her hand when she squeezed his, of a soft breeze that moved her hair in small puffs. They walked under the trees, and Ginny pulled Harry behind a large one that hid them from the castle and the lawn. She took his face in her hands. "Why did you keep me waiting for four years?" she said, and kissed him. Harry disappeared from the world. Bells rang somewhere. Her presence against him was all that existed.

"I have been noticing you, since the beginning of the year," he said. His arms were resting on her shoulders; hers were around his waist. "On the train, you seemed different. And the first day in Potions, Slughorn had something made up that smelled like pure happiness, and then a couple of days later you walked past me and that smell was you. I saw you snogging Dean and I wanted to kill him. One day you were just Ron's sister and the next it was almost too much to be near you."

"Huh, Ron." She tossed her head in a cloud of fire. "He'd better start minding his own business." Harry didn't answer. Ron might take some convincing, but now he was not going to worry about it. Now was only Ginny.

They walked on under the trees, which grew thicker here. They were closer to the hut and there were no other people about. They came to a low stone wall and strolled along, swinging their hands together and laughing at Ginny's description of the Quidditch match. Ron was incredibly nervous at first; his goal keeping was so bad that Ravenclaw led by ninety to nothing, and the "Weasley is our king" chant was taken up by almost the whole stadium except the Gryffindor section. But then Katie scored, and when the chants were momentarily silenced, someone called out, "For Harry, for Harry, for Harry!."

"I don't know who it was," Ginny said. "It might have been Luna, even though we were playing against her House. But we looked at each other and we decided that we were not going to lose this match. So we all started screaming, 'For Harry! For Harry!' and the next thing we knew we were back in it. And then I..." She blushed.

"And then you caught the Snitch and we won the Cup," Harry laughed. "Ginny, you won the Quidditch Cup for us! I couldn't believe it when I got to the common room. I was sure we had finished last, and instead, there was Ron holding up the Cup! We're the champs!" He paused.

"What?" asked Ginny, as Harry continued to look at her without speaking.

"I'm just wondering if I'll ever have another day like this in my entire life. My team wins the Quidditch Cup and Ginny throws herself into my arms. I can't think of two things I wanted more. And the day's not over yet."

They laughed, and, looking into the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen, Harry kissed her again.

There was a rustling noise, and then the loud snap of a breaking twig. They looked around. "Buckbeak!" exclaimed Harry. The stone wall was part of the enclosure where Hagrid had been keeping the creature since its return from Grimmauld Place. The hippogryff looked at Harry and then at Ginny with unblinking orange eyes. Its beak, long and sharp, opened slightly and let out a small crackling cry.

Harry pushed Ginny back and spoke quietly. "Move away. Don't worry, he knows me."

"I'm not worried."

Harry glanced at Ginny. She was carefully moving back. He looked at Buckbeak and bowed low, then slowly raised his head. The creature looked at him for a moment and bowed in turn, its beak touching the ground. Then, to Harry's amazement, it bowed again to Ginny. As the eagle head rose, Ginny bowed back, just as Harry had.

Harry was astonished. Hagrid had said that hippogryffs always waited for a bow before returning it. Ginny reached out her hand and he walked over and took it. "That was amazing," Harry said. "I never saw him do that. I never saw him bow to anyone first."

"It wasn't me, Harry, it was you. It was because I was with you."

"But I've been with Ron and Hermione before when we saw Buckbeak, and he always waited for them to bow."

Ginny looked at him sideways, and her face blazed again. "Let's go," she said.

Harry looked back at the hippogryff. Buckbeak had moved away and was pushing his beak into the ground. The head tossed and a small rodent disappeared down its throat. "Ugh," said Ginny as they walked away.

They turned back toward the lawn and came within a few yards of Hagrid's hut. The front door opened and Hagrid stepped out. He did not notice them at first, but Fang did, and started barking. Hagrid looked up. Harry waved, and Hagrid momentarily stared, then broke into a wide grin and waved back. He grabbed Fang, who was about to bound after them, and pulled him into the hut. As Hagrid shut the door, he looked at them and grinned again.

Harry shook his head. "Was he waiting for this to happen, too? Is there anyone who didn't know?"

Ginny laughed. "Maybe neither one of us is good at hiding what we really want. Come on, let's go up to the lake. I know a beautiful place to sit."

They came out of the trees, and Harry once again had the feeling that he didn't know who he was or where he was or how he had got there. All he knew was the girl walking a little in front of him, whose hair was flowing down her back, a brilliant flame against the red-gold Quidditch robes. They finally came to the lake, and Ginny turned toward a large, spreading elm tree standing back several feet from the water. There were a few couples and groups of students walking nearby, but none were by the tree. They sat beneath it, their backs against the trunk, holding hands and looking out over the lake and the hills beyond. The sun was bright; only a few puffy clouds were in the sky.

Harry turned to her. "Ginny, I have to tell you something, about..about what happened with Cho Chang."

"Harry, it doesn't matter. We were both seeing other people."

"No, that's not it. I know it doesn't matter." He smiled and kissed her hand and then her lips. "Nothing matters. What I'm talking about is that when I went out with Cho we had a fight, and that's why we broke up. We fought because... well, because of Hermione."

"What do you mean? You were never going out with Hermione."

"I thought Cho knew that, too. But we were in Hogsmeade together and I had to go see Hermione about something."

"I know." Ginny smiled. "You met Rita Skeeter and gave her the interview that Luna's dad printed. Hermione's brilliant." She laughed and touched Harry's face. He took her hand.

"She's more than brilliant," he said. "And that's just it. I spend a lot of time with her, you know that. So.." Harry hesitated; Ginny was so close to him and was smiling so brightly.

"Don't you get it?" she laughed. "Hermione's like my sister. I wish she was my sister. She's been talking about you and me for three years. I think she knew I wanted to be with you even before that. I know that you and she and Ron are totally together. The whole school knows that." She took his face in her hands again. "Harry, people are in awe of the three of you, even some Slytherins."

Harry grunted, then shook his head. He would not let this afternoon be ruined by anything, least of all thinking about Malfoy and what had gotten him into detention. He looked at Ginny. The sun was getting lower and sunlight was coming under the canopy of the tree, shining through her hair. He looked at her, and he could barely breath. "You are so beautiful," he said. He put his arms around her and they kissed. He pulled her tighter and they rolled onto the ground. Harry never wanted to let her go, never wanted Ginny to let him go.

"Harry! Harry!" Ginny gasped. They broke apart. Harry sat up quickly and straightened his eyeglasses.

"I β€” I'm sorry! I didn't mean toβ€”" Harry couldn't talk. He didn't know what had come over him. Ginny leaned on her hand, looking down at the grass.

"It's okay," she whispered. She looked up and smiled. "It's okay. Come here." She sat back against the tree, drew him to her, and put his head in her lap. "It was nice, but a little overwhelming." She peered down at him. Harry looked up at the most beautiful girl in the world. Ginny stroked his hair and his face.

Then she moved her hand up to Harry's forehead and slowly ran her finger over his scar. He twitched, and closed his eyes; no one had ever touched his scar like that. Her finger was warm; he felt only warmth and softness. She moved her finger back and forth, brushing over the scar again and again. "It's so smooth," she whispered. Harry opened his eyes and saw her looking at him with the fiercest expression he had ever seen. Without taking her eyes from his, she leaned down. Her hair fell across his face. He sensed her more than he saw her: the smell of sweat, hair, Ginny. She leaned further and kissed his scar. Harry wound his fingers into her hair and held her there.

When the sun was setting and dusk was falling, after they had been sitting under the elm for what seemed like part of a lifetime, Harry stood and held Ginny's hands as she rose. He took her in his arms. They held each other, and Harry realized that something inside was different, something was gone. The emptiness that had been there ever since Sirius had died was not there any more. He looked over Ginny's shoulder at the lake and the darkening valley, and knew that he was happy again for the first time in a year. He looked at her, her face golden, her hair golden-red in the setting sun.

"Ginny," he began. She put her hand on his lips.

"I know," she said. "I'll always know."

Arms around each other's waist, they walked up the hill to the castle.

Author's Note -- The Long Walk was my very first fic, so it's not qjuite as polished as my later ones. I hope you enjoyed it. -- Peter