The Question (Again)

'Training?' I ask, desperately trying to keep the panic from my voice. She can't be training!

'Training,' Molly confirms.

'But I asked her yesterday m...' Damn, don't say morning; Molly will want to know when! And 'over breakfast' is not an acceptable answer. At least, if this works, that will be one less thing for me to worry about. '…Molly.' Good recovery, I hope. 'She told me that she was going to be here all day,' I protest. My carefully laid plan collapses. My opportunity to ask Ginny if I can have a "quiet word" with her in the orchard is gone.

'Gwenog scheduled an extra session because of their poor performance in training yesterday,' Molly tells me. 'They have an important European Cup match next week,' she adds.

'I know that!' I say. Molly raises an eyebrow. I am perilously close to snapping at her with that remark. But really, does she think that I don't always know when and where Ginny is playing?

'Was she expecting you?' Molly asks. Her question is rather sharp too. 'Ginny told us that we wouldn't see you today, Harry. That's probably why she didn't tell you. She said that you were working. Why aren't you at work?'

'Er, change of plan,' I lie. I keep my head down; I can't look into her deep brown eyes, eyes like Ginny's, and lie to her.

I nervously finger the small box in my pocket. Molly notices my fidgeting hand. She notices almost everything. I look around the kitchen. Arthur seems to be dozing in his chair, but I know him well enough to know that he's not. He's watching me too.

'She'll be back early this afternoon; would you like to wait?' Molly changes tack and I can sense ripples of suspicion rising inside her head. She senses that I'm up to something. 'I'll make you a cup of tea. When did you last eat? You seem a little nervous. Is something wrong?'

I need to get out of here before the waves of curiosity break and Molly overwhelms me with a surging tide of questions. She's the most single-minded interrogator I know, and now she correctly suspects that I'm up to something. I check my watch. It's almost ten minutes past ten. I have fifty minutes left.

'No, thanks, Molly,' I tell her. 'I'll just, er, go; er, things to do. Bye,' I say and I hurry to the door.

'I hope that you find her, Harry. Good luck, not that you'll need it,' Arthur says. He glances at my pocket and smiles. He knows! I don't know how, but he knows.

I wonder how Ron is doing. He's got it easy; Hermione is alone in her flat.

This was a stupid idea. This was my stupid idea. Sometime between ten o'clock and eleven o'clock, that's what we agreed, and I cannot let Ginny contact Hermione until after eleven. I still have fifty minutes left, but now, I'm going to have to face the Harpies.

I leave the Burrow and Apparate to Holyhead, to the Harpies ground.

The Harpies don't like people watching them training, especially when they are practicing set-pieces, so the stadium is secure. That doesn't matter; I'm an Auror and getting inside doesn't present a problem for me.

The big question is: can I really do it here, in front of her team?

Of course I can, because I know that isn't the big question. The big question is the one I'm here to ask her.

Ginny and I have talked about this, or at least the possibility of this, for years.

She is Ginny Weasley, Harpies and England Chaser. The press use her name; she's not merely "Potter's girlfriend". She's famous in her own right. Together, we're Harry and Ginny, or Potter and Weasley. I know how important that is to Ginny. What she has achieved, she's achieved by hard work and dedication, not because she's my girl. Everyone knows that simply being "Potter's girlfriend" would never be enough to get her a place on Harpies squad, much less the England squad.

She is Ginny, she is my girl, but that is because I am hers too.

We've discussed marriage several times over the years. We agreed to wait.

I think that we've waited long enough.

She won't say no.

She can't say no!

What would I do if she said no?

That's when the worry hits me. Do I really deserve her?

My feet are encased in lead boots as I clamber up the final few stairs and walk out onto the stands.

What will I do if she says no?

Gwenog Jones pulls me out of my sudden panic by greeting me with characteristic hostility.

'Potter!' she shouts. 'How many times do I have to tell you? You're trespassing. Get out of here now! And anyway, your girlfriend isn't here!'

I look around the stadium. Gwenog is telling the truth. Ginny is not flying; her glorious and unmistakably bright red hair is nowhere to be seen. I wonder if they've hidden her from me for some reason. But that's a crazy thought, isn't it?

'Hi, Harry,' Olivia Aitkenhead yells. 'Can anyone else help?'

'If you've got an itch that needs scratching, I'm your girl,' offers Tegan as she flies down towards me. Tegan Godolphin is a bigger flirt than Lavender, and I'm now certain that Gwenog is telling me the truth. If Ginny was here, Tegan wouldn't dare behave like that.

'I've already got the best girl in the world,' I snap. 'Where is she?'

'She's left you! She's skipped training and gone off to see her other bloke,' says Tegan, pouting petulantly. Talking to Tegan is always a complete waste of time.

'She got hit by a Bludger and broke a couple of fingers.' Olivia swoops down to join us and I get a sensible answer to my question. 'She's with Alison in the Healer's room.'

'Thanks, Livy,' I say to her.

As I hurry towards the players' tunnel, I glance back up into the air to count the Harpies. The remaining fifteen squad members are still flying. That's good to know; I don't want to walk in on a naked girl in the changing rooms, unless it's Ginny of course. But a naked Ginny now would not be good. Would it?

I begin to fantasise about the possibilities of asking a naked Ginny the question. That could be … interesting.

It's a simple question, four short words, three of them single syllables; how difficult can it be to ask it? I'll find out very soon. She can't be far away. I haven't been this nervous since …

I've never been this nervous.

As I vault over the fence and walk through the players' tunnel, I meet the Harpies' Healer coming in the opposite direction.

'Hello, Alison,' I say. 'How's Ginny?'

'She's fine, Harry. Two fingers were crushed. I've fixed them, but I want her to keep them strapped up for a couple of days. It was nothing serious, but how did you know? Was she expecting you?' the Healer asks.

'No,' I reply.

'Ah, well, I think that she's probably left. When I told her that she couldn't fly, she said that she was going home. I'm just going to tell Gwenog the bad news.'

I dash along the tunnel. This would be the ideal time and place, just the two of us, at the Harpies ground. I'd considered trying to decoy her to platform nine and three quarters, but decided that The Burrow would be just as good. We have good memories of this place, too. Unfortunately, there is no sign of Ginny in the changing room. It's a room I'm very familiar with, although I'm not supposed to enter it.

Ginny's Quidditch gear lies in a crumpled heap on a bench, waiting for the laundry staff. I lift her shirt to my face; it smells of Ginny, but it's no longer warm. I wonder if she's in the showers. I listen; the room is silent. Her locker door is ajar and her locker is empty. She has gone. I've missed her.

For obvious reasons, it is impossible to Apparate within the Harpies ground, so I leave via the other door. As I stride rapidly down the corridor towards the player's entrance, I have to pass the security office. My polite nod to the security witch isn't enough. She leaps to her feet, wand in hand, and bars my way.

'How the hell did you get in this time, Harry?' she demands.

'Ginny?' I ask urgently. She hesitates.

'She left a few minutes ago,' she tells me. I groan in frustration.

'I need to find her. It's important; please?' I beg, trying to sidestep her. She gives me a very odd look. I don't think I've ever begged before.

'I'll tell Gwenog that you ran past before I could stop you,' she says, sighing. 'You owe me!'

'I'll invite you to our wedding,' I tell her gratefully, and then I realise what I've said. I am an idiot. Her face lights up and I see the realisation spark. She immediately steps aside.

'You are a man on a mission, aren't you?' she asks. 'Good luck.'

I've said too much. 'Don't tell anyone,' I say as I step outside.

About a dozen fans are standing outside the players' entrance, patiently waiting for autographs. They all step forward as the door opens. All but one of them stops immediately. I'm not a Harpies player, so I'm unimportant to them. Ginny loves that, and so do I. I can usually stand quietly aside and watch as my famous girlfriend signs autographs. Sometimes, however, the fans want my autograph too.

'Has Ginny left?' I say to the young woman who is still approaching me.

'You've just missed her, Mr Potter,' the girl tells me breathlessly. 'Would you sign this for me, please, next to hers?' She presents me with an "Official Harpies 2002 Calendar" and a quill. The girl scrabbles her way through the calendar. I should simply ignore her and Disapparate, but suddenly, I'm faced with Ginny.

She is August.

It's a back shot. She's wearing her Harpies breeches and boots but has her robes dangling from her left hand. With her right, she is throwing and catching a Quaffle, a Quaffle I bought for her. Her freckled back is bare. Her torrent of red hair disguises the fact that she's wearing a backless halter swimsuit. She is turning, glancing sidelong at the camera and smiling. She reveals nothing more than a bare back. Molly and Ron were unhappy about the photograph. Arthur was surprisingly accepting, once Ginny showed him the costume she'd worn and how she'd posed. Charlie and Percy were outraged. Ginny simply shrugged off their criticism.

She was well paid for the calendar; all of the players were. In fact she earned more posing for that photograph than I earn in three months. The players are receiving royalties from the calendar sales too. The calendar has sold out twice and made the club a fortune. The Harpies management want the team to do another one next year.

Because of the calendar, Ginny has been offered a lucrative Quaffle sponsorship deal.

We had discussed the photo shoot beforehand. Nothing too risqué, she promised, and I agreed. Unfortunately, as I discovered later, we had defined risqué differently. My protests didn't get very far. Ginny reminded me that the backless gown she wore to the Ministry Ball last year was equally revealing. She even had a photo from Witch Weekly to prove it.

'All of the back, but none of the front! And don't worry, it's your Quaffle I'm tossing,' she told me when she showed me the calendar.

'Want me to demonstrate the technique?' she added, her voice low and sultry.

I try to shake myself free of that memory.

At least Ginny is clothed from the waist down. Several players are in their underwear and Tegan Godolphin was quite obviously wearing nothing. The Harpies towel she held teasingly in front of her only just covered the bits it needed too.

Ginny is beautiful. I stare her smooth back and then at her face. The photograph winks at me.

'She's never done that before,' the young fan says in surprise, staring at the photo.

'She does it to me all the time,' I tell the girl as I am pulled from my dreams of Ginny.

That's when I remember that I'm looking at a photograph instead of looking for the real thing.

Only Ginny could distract me from Ginny!

Ginny has scribbled her signature diagonally over the photograph, an x beneath it. I write my name across the opposite diagonal, carefully making the Y in Harry overlay the Y in Ginny. I surround our names in a heart and stick an x on Ginny's right buttock. She winks again.

'Thanks, Mr Potter,' the girl says.

I stare at the photograph. Ginny has, of course, signed Ginny Weasley. One day, if things go according to plan, she'll be Ginny Potter.

Harry Potter—Ginny Potter.

Five letters: consonant, vowel, double consonant, Y – Potter. G and H sit next to each other in the alphabet too. It's almost mystical. I wonder if she's ever noticed. I imagine myself telling her and I know immediately what she'll say: "And G comes first; just remember that, Harry!" and then she'll laugh infectiously.

'Mr Potter.' The girl is trying to prise her calendar from my hands and is reaching for her quill. I quickly and impetuously scratch the quill across the photo, drawing an inky line across the third finger of Ginny's left hand. The photo freezes and fails to catch the Quaffle. I stare at the suddenly still photograph. I didn't expect that, but I've no idea how the magic of photography works.

'Sorry, she'll probably start moving again soon,' I say to the girl.

I'm speaking more from hope than knowledge. I hand both calendar and quill back to the girl, who is staring at the photograph in disbelief. I move away from her and Disapparate.

'Hi, Ginny,' I shout as I let myself into her flat in Beaumaris. There is no reply.

'Ginny?' I try again. The silence remains. I check. My Homenum Revelio spell instantly tells me that she isn't here. Alison said that she was going home, but she is not at this home. Home could be any one of three places, I realise.

I lock up her flat and return to The Burrow. That's where she was supposed to be. Surely that's the most likely place. Molly opens the kitchen door the moment I arrive in the yard.

She beams excitedly at me, and then looks confused. 'Where's Ginny?' she asks.

She knows! If I don't find Ginny soon, the whole world will know before she does. Molly looks puzzled. She doesn't know, but she suspects. That's obvious from her expression.

Keeping anything secret from Arthur and Molly is almost impossible. I'm sure they know what Ginny and I get up to. Ginny thinks that they don't.

'I haven't found her; isn't she here?' I ask.

Molly shakes her head in confusion and I twist and Disapparate.

I check my watch as I arrive at Grimmauld Place. It is now twenty minutes to eleven. I wonder how Ron is doing? I expect everything went smoothly for Ron. He'll probably be celebrating with Hermione's parents by now.

This time I don't shout. I use the Homenum Revelio charm the moment I enter my house. The place is empty. She isn't here either! I can't find her, and the minutes are ticking away.

'Kreacher,' I shout. He appears instantly. 'Where's Ginny? Have you seen her?' I ask.

'Mistress has just left, Master. She said that she was going to Diagon Alley,' he tells me.

I swear in frustration, upsetting Kreacher, and I have to apologise.

'Sorry, it's not your fault, Kreacher. It's me. I've been chasing her for almost three-quarters of an hour and I still haven't caught her,' I say.

'Master has been chasing Mistress for many years,' my house-elf tells me. 'And he always catches her. But not until she wants to be caught.'

I stare at Kreacher in astonishment. His face is as respectful as ever, but I think that he's just tried to make a joke, at my expense. I smile at him.

'You're quite right, Kreacher, but this time, she doesn't know that I'm chasing her. If she comes back here, let me know, and don't let her leave,' I order. 'I'm going to Diagon Alley.'

Kreacher nods and watches me leave.

'Good luck, Master,' he murmurs, as I Disapparate from my front step.

There is an alley almost opposite The Leaky Cauldron which is protected by a Muggle-Repelling Charm. I stride from it, dash across the road and enter the pub. It's still early and the place is quiet.

'Hello, Mr Potter,' the barmaid says loudly. The pub immediately falls quiet and everyone stares at me. I try to ignore the stares. Hannah would not have shouted my name; she knows that I don't like being the centre of attention.

'Hello, Frankie, have you seen Ginny?' I ask.

Hannah appears from the back room and glares at Frankie.

'She went through about five minutes ago, Harry,' Hannah tells me.

'Thanks, Hannah.' I smile gratefully.

I dash out through the back door and touch the bricks with my wand. I have less than ten minutes, and an entire street to search. I hope that she is in one of the two most likely places.

Quality Quidditch Supplies is closest. I sprint along the street and dash into the shop.

'Ginny?' I ask. The shopkeeper shakes his head.

'I haven't seen her for weeks…' he begins.

I hear no more. I'm out and running along to Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.

'Ginny?' I ask as I burst through the door. Unfortunately, George is the one standing behind the counter.

'No, Harry,' George explains patiently. 'I'm George. Ginny is my sister.' George gestures, sliding his hands through the air to describe an hourglass figure. 'She's a igirl/i I thought that you'd be able to tell us apart by now!'

'Is she here?' I demand. George grins wickedly and I know that I'm not going to get a straight answer. Time is pressing, so I step outside.

'Sonorus,' I say, and then I yell, 'GINNY!'

My magically amplified voice rattles the windows up and down Diagon Alley. An uncomfortable silence falls over the entire street as everyone stops and stares at me. The silence stretches on for hours, days, although the sun remains motionless in the sky. Where is she?

'What's wrong, Harry?' Ginny asks quietly. I whirl around. She has followed me from the shop.

I will kill George!

'I LOVE YOU, GINNY,' I tell her loudly.

That's when I realise that I have not ended my Sonorus spell. My declaration echoes loudly down the street. Ginny is startled by my high volume declaration, but she looks into my startled face and begins to laugh.

'I know,' she says. 'And I love you too.' I take the opportunity to remove the spell.

I've found her, but my plan for a quiet and romantic proposal under our favourite tree at The Burrow has failed. Time is now of the essence. This isn't how I'd wanted things to go.

Ginny suddenly becomes serious, worried. 'What's happened? What have you done? What is so terrible that you have to make a public declaration of…?'

She stops, because I have gone down on bended knee and reached inside my pocket. Her mouth forms an astonished "O" when I pull out the ring and ask the question.

'Ginny, will you marry me?' It is not until I reach for her hand that I discover that it was her left hand which suffered the Bludger hit. Both her little finger and her ring finger are splinted and bandaged.

'Of course I will, you idiot,' she says. She looks at the ring, which I've clumsily slid onto her fingertip. It will go no further. She pulls me to my feet and kisses me, and Diagon Alley applauds.

Perhaps a public proposal is romantic, too.

Ginny smiles happily and looks down at the ring, which she's holding in place with her thumb.

'You didn't get it made big enough,' she teases.

We are still laughing when Hermione's voice screeches excitedly from Ginny's handbag.

'Ginny, Ginny!'

Ginny pulls out a mirror and stares into it, 'Hello, Hermione,' she begins excitedly. 'I've …'

'Ron … me … us … look!' Hermione babbles. She holds up a hand and shows Ginny the ring Ron has bought for her.

'Me, too,' Ginny tells her, holding up her own ring.

Hermione's excited squeal is so high-pitched that I'm surprised the mirror doesn't break.

'We'll meet you at The Burrow!' Ginny tells her.