The Sugar Quill
Author: Katherina Black (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Possibilities of the Weather  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

A/N Though this story is written in linear time, the events aren't consecutive - basically I jump time a bit between "scenes".
Secondly, I recently read the story "Harry's Birthday Present" by mioneatheart -and I liked the idea of Harry having a hand on the Weasley's clock so much that - I nicked it. I hope she doesn't mind!
And lastly, I hope you enjoy this story.

*


Backbeat, the word is on the street

That the fire in your heart is out

I'm sure you've heard it all before

But you never really had a doubt

I don't believe that anybody

Feels the way I do, about you now


And all the roads we have to walk are winding

And all the lights that light the way are blinding

There are many things that I

Would like to say to you

But I don't know how

"Wonderwall", Oasis

*

The thunderstorm continued raging outside. Low, scowling rumbles preceded jagged, precise cracks of lightening that briefly illuminated the night sky every few seconds.

Harry watched the lightening without much interest, rubbed his scar wearily out of habit, and rubbed the last of the sleep out of his eyes. Looking out into the black night - it wasn't too difficult to imagine that somewhere out there was him, and he couldn't stop himself from thinking it.

The Weasley's house was different at night; like the family, it seemed to sleep. There were noises, of course; from the moving photographs, the clink of restless cutlery in the drawers, ticking clocks. Even in the middle of night it wasn't still. But it was quieter. And Harry had found that he could be calm and think at night, alone, and quiet.

Though really, thinking was only marginally better than the nightmares. The same questions had crawled around in Harry's head all summer, and he'd been over them again and again, in varying tones of anger, despondency and calmness; he'd reasoned with himself, and he'd even tried to find answers. How long before a poisonous green skull with a snake slithering from its mouth replaced the lightening in the sky? And, when it came, did he really have any chance? Wasn't everyone just fooling themselves? He wasn't even sixteen - he had only just mastered a Summoning Spell properly.

It was becoming increasingly difficult not to think about it, though Harry certainly never thought of asking these questions out loud in front of others. How could he, when faced with mental images of Dumbledore's wise but grave countenance, the tight, set look on Snape's face when he'd walked out of the hospital wing at the end of last term, and the Weasley's fierce resolution and loyalty to one another. It seemed pointless too, but more than that, selfish.

He should go back to bed, and attempt some sort of rest until the morning. He ought to go back to bed, especially before Mrs. Weasley, or someone, heard him and came downstairs to see if he was all right... Dear Mrs. Weasley, so kind and concerned, had already caught him up three times this week and, though Harry was sure she had no intention of judging him, obviously thought he needed his sleep more than ever and ought to try and get it.

He tired himself out playing Quidditch mostly during the day. It was amazing how, up in the air, nothing seemed quite so impossible. Nothing seemed real, either, but that was the best part. Flying took him away from everything. Yesterday, after a particularly exhilarating game of Quidditch, he'd found himself thinking with some dark humour that it would be all right if only the battle against Voldemort could be a Quidditch match.

The sound of footsteps on the stairs interrupted Harry's thoughts; startling him and making him turn quickly. A moment later, a pale figure in a nightgown appeared in the doorway, visibly stopping at the sight of him.

"Oh! I - er - I really -,"

"S' okay, Ginny," said Harry. Ginny, who had before looked uncertain whether to venture any further, entered the kitchen.

"I couldn't sleep, and I saw the light on," she explained. "I thought it was mum, making hot chocolate." Ginny looked slightly odd, all in white - Harry might have compared her to sort of ghost, were it not for the mass of untamed, sleep-tousled bright red hair falling about her head (and a slight flush which had just appeared in her cheeks). She glanced out of the window almost involuntarily, and shuddered. "I hate thunderstorms," Harry heard her mutter.

"Want some?" he asked, indicating the mug of hot chocolate in his hand.

"Please," Ginny nodded and smiled. "I'd make it myself, only it'd taste terrible. Can't seem to get the hang of it..."

"No problem," said Harry. He got up, glad for something to do. Glad, and a little surprised, that she didn't seem about to ask him if he couldn't sleep - a question he'd been asked too many times lately.

"Thanks," said Ginny, as he put a full mug down in front of her. But she didn't drink any, fiddling instead with the little teaspoon in the mug.

"It's been a long summer, hasn't it?" she said.

"Yeah. It has," agreed Harry. Ginny seemed to hesitate over something for a moment, and Harry looked up to catch an expression of awkwardness pass over her face for an instant.

"I'm glad we're going back to school soon, anyway," said Ginny, finally. "I think...I think it'll be easier to be sensible with Dumbledore, and lessons - and Professor McGonagall, having a go at Fred and George -"

They exchanged a grin. Ginny's expression had shifted - it was now steady, with hardly any hesitance remaining, and her eyes were flashing. " - I mean, it's easy to lose sight of things when you're away from what you're used to, isn't it, and you've only got this -" she indicated an issue of the Daily Prophet lying on the table " - to go on for what's happening - and everything's...strange."

Having finished this deliverance, Ginny took a sip of hot chocolate. Harry felt like applauding. Tonight was the first time he'd spoken properly to Ginny all summer and right now, he didn't know what feelings Ginny harboured towards him. He didn't know, really, how she felt about Voldemort's return (after all, he wasn't the only one in the kitchen to have encountered the Dark Lord); and he didn't know, either, exactly how much she had changed since that time, in her first year at Hogwarts. But her words were very wise and comforting, and he clung to them for a moment in spite of himself.

A sharp rapping at the window brought their attention suddenly to a very wet, frantic-looking owl hovering outside.

"Oh!" cried Ginny, jumping up. Unlatching the window, she grabbed the owl skilfully, lifting it inside, and then deposited it unceremoniously beside the kitchen sink. "It's a ministry owl, I think," she told Harry, as she detached a small, flat brown package from the owl's legs.

Harry took the owl, and put it alongside a sleeping Errol in the hanging cage. He was really, really hoping that he didn't need to ask the question already forming on his lips.

"Is...everything all right?" he asked. To his surprise and relief, a mirthful laugh was his reply. Ginny had just unrolled the brown paper to disclose...

"A sugarquill?" said Harry.

"Oh, it's nothing...it's just, well -" Ginny chuckled again. "Bill used to play this stupid game with me, when I was little. What he'd do, is he'd hide, and leave a load of these sugarquills around the house - so each one pointed to where the next one was - leading to his hiding place. And I had to follow them, and find where he was," she finished. A sort of glow seemed to have taken Ginny over, and she showed Harry the sugarquill with shining eyes. "I suppose it's his way of telling me he's all right. Bill hates writing letters."

Harry nodded, and found himself grinning as he looked at her. Mr. Weasley, Bill, Charlie and Percy had all been away from home for the past week, on "Ministry Business" (though the whole family knew that what was left of the Ministry was in extreme disorder at the moment). "Wait a minute, there is letter," he said, suddenly noticing a piece of parchment rolled up among the discarded brown paper.

"Really?" said Ginny, looking up. "Oh, just as I thought. The letter's from dad," she explained, taking up the parchment. "To mum. I'll just leave it here for her to read in the morning."

These words, and the yawn that accompanied them, seemed to remind Ginny that it was the middle of the night.

"Yeah, I was gonna go up in a minute," said Harry, taking his cue. Ginny nodded.

"Better put that to rights," she said, looking at the kitchen clock, two hands of which were not pointing to 'Bed'. She downed the rest of her hot chocolate, then turned to him. "Goodnight, Harry," she said. The sugarquill was still clutched in her hand, and she still appeared to be glowing quietly.

Harry wasn't sure whether to thank her, for what she'd said earlier - because, whether she'd known it or not, it had been a nice gesture, and it had helped. So it should have been easy to say 'thank you'. Somehow, though, he couldn't say it.

"Oh," Ginny looked down at the small quill in her hand. "Present," she said, handing it to him. "No - seriously - I don't want it. Ron's got a 'secret' hoard in his bedroom, and I just help myself when I want. I'd tell you where it is, but it's classified information, sorry..."

"Thank you," said Harry.

Ginny turned and walked towards the door. At the door, however, she stopped abruptly, as if having just thought of something. She turned to him again. "And Harry - I know I said that I couldn't make drinkable hot chocolate - but, as a friend, I think I should tell you...yours isn't much better."

Harry caught the small grin on her face, and then she was gone. He stood, stunned for a second, before a grin broke over his own face. He washed up the two mugs quickly, before going up to bed. On the way out of the kitchen, he too glanced at the clock, his eye lingering particularly over his "own" hand. It had been a birthday present from the Weasleys, arriving via Hedwig on the early hours of July 31st along with a touching, explanatory note from the family. Currently, the hand was pointing to "dawdling." Harry smiled again, then went to bed.

*

Ginny was enjoying sitting in the common room, with its fire and its atmosphere, and above all, the pointless chatter of her own friends.

"I'm telling you, it's true! Auras are what make people attracted to each other," Peg was declaring, looking comically ardent with wide eyes and her short hair sticking up in two high bunches.

"Yeah, er - Peg - you shouldn't take Professor Trelawney too seriously, you know..." said Hester, sensible and cynical as ever.

"Okay, then little Miss. Sceptical - Ginny, what do you think?"

Usually, gossiping on the subject of love in any shape or form would irk Ginny no end - as the only girl in a family with six brothers, there was only so much room for the romantic soul. (That was the reason she gave herself for the annoyance, anyway). But tonight, the conversation was comfortingly familiar. And Ginny had an idea what her own line was.

"All right, children; play nicely, or I'll be forced to hex you both," she said, smilingly.

"Oi, Ginny, have you seen Harry anywhere?" Ron's voice broke through the chatter, and Ginny looked up to see Ron and Hermione making their way across the room, apparently returning from dinner. From the slightly disgruntled look on Hermione's face, Ginny guessed that the two were in the middle of one of their "discussions" (these started as some trivial disagreement and then generally progressed from there into something that could be heard from the other side of the school).

"Not since this morning," said Ginny, feeling the little stab of annoyance that she always did when one of her brothers spoke to her as if she was - well, a house elf, or something.

"Oh, great, he's gone off on one again." Ron was fuming from the armchairs where he and Hermione had sat down. "That's the third time this week. Where does he go?"

"Well, I don't see why you're asking me," Ginny heard Hermione say, cuttingly. "After all, I'm just a girl; I don't come into your delicate male matters. I probably wouldn't understand anyway..." She was evidently still angry with Ron over what they'd been talking about before. Ron himself had got up and was restlessly pacing up and down.

"Oh, not that now, please," he implored, half angrily. "I'm sorry about that, you know I am, and I didn't mean it, and I know you're clever, so forget I ever said it!" he said, all in one breath. "Look, what about Harry?"

"Ron, I'm worried about Harry too, but...but he can take care of himself," said Hermione, quietly. Ron's bumbling apology had satisfied her, it seemed, and she laid a hand on his arm as she spoke, to comfort him, or calm him down maybe; Ginny didn't know which.

"We've always done everything together."

"I know."

"I just wish he'd talk to me," Ginny heard Ron say, as he finally flopped into the armchair in frustration.

At this, part of Ginny was suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to shout at Ron not to be so selfish; to tell him that Harry was nobody's property, and was entitled to some time to himself; and how easy did he think it was, just to 'talk' to anyone after everything?

Only, Ron wasn't anyone, was he? He was Harry's best friend. And Ginny had to admit to herself that, at the same time, the other half of her was inclined to act exactly as her brother had done. She had a sudden vision of herself dropping everything at Ron's remarks, running outside, and looking everywhere that Harry might be, before finding him and pulling the old, "Why, Harry, what a surprise to see you here..." (blush, stammer, stammer)

It was a comical thought, Ginny reflected; and one that she didn't find very funny. She was extremely conscious of the fact that her twelve-year-old self might just have done it. No - there was no 'might' about it. A couple of years back, and she would be out there already, telling her friends that she wanted to get some air and needed a sudden walk.

A raucous laugh from Peg roused Ginny very quickly, jerking her back into the present.

"Okay, okay, so...if your aura's sort of turquoise, Hess, and...hmm, let's see...I think that Ravenclaw prefect's is kind of yellow..." Peg was saying, making Hester blush bright red with her latter statement. "Turquoise and yellow...well, it's obvious, isn't it? They clash horribly!"

"Oh, stop talking rubbish, Peg," said Ginny, half-enthusiastically, trying to pretend she'd been listening all along. Peg was giggling uncontrollably, while Hester looked as if her face was about to burst into flames.

Ginny couldn't help glancing over to where Ron and Hermione were sitting. The noise of the common room filling up as people returned from dinner meant she couldn't hear what they were saying, and in any case it looked as though they were speaking very quietly; but Ron's voice from earlier came back to her:

"I just wish he'd talk to me"

She had given up on wishing it would be her that Harry would talk to. But she did wish he would talk; part of her hoping in the same way as a child hoped that it would fix everything if only he could pour his heart out. Ginny knew it was impossible. And, since returning to Hogwarts, she had noticed that Harry had not been spending as much time with Ron and Hermione as usual. "Noticed" was an understatement actually; she'd noticed it and pondered it and had worried over it.

Ginny often saw him wandering back to the castle on his own from somewhere or other, and sometimes, she caught him with an expression of concentrated blankness on his face that disconcerted her greatly. Had Peg seen him, Ginny didn't doubt what colour his aura would be pronounced; for a dark grey, it seemed to her, would envelope Harry completely on some days.

It did worry her. It worried her because she cared and, it seemed to Ginny that it was more important he knew people cared than ever. And, of course, it worried her how much she cared. Somewhere inside her, a slightly younger Ginny Weasley was still asking why everyone else didn't feel inclined to act stupidly when it came down to Harry; and what it mean that they didn't.

Slightly older Ginny wondered why she was still asking these questions when she knew she had no claims whatsoever on Harry. If he didn't want to talk to Ron, his best friend, then -

"Ginny Weasley?"

For a moment Ginny was unsure who had spoken to her. She glanced about her to see a Sixth Year Prefect standing at her shoulder.

"Yes?" she said.

"Message from Professor McGonagall: she wants to see you in her office tomorrow morning after breakfast. Oh, and -" The girl, who had been about to go, had an afterthought. "If you see Harry Potter, tell him the same, please. I can't find him." With that, the Prefect walked away before Ginny had a chance to fully register what she'd said, or ask her the reason.

 

There was a good view from here. Harry had grown up in the Muggle world; and had found a home in the Wizarding one; but he couldn't help but wonder when he was here, if there was another, completely different world, where humans weren't significant at all. From here, all you could see was lake, tree, and lots of sky.

It was just at the edge of the Forbidden Forest; a group of large rocks, shielded by trees from the view of the castle. It was nice. It was a good place to be alone, or forget that anyone, including yourself, existed.

It must work both ways, too, which was why Harry hadn't mentioned it to anyone. Part of the sense of solidarity he felt here probably stemmed from the fact that nobody knew he was here. He knew that any other place probably would have done just as well.

The sun had set now, and the clouds were pink, darkened with the approaching evening's greyish blue. It occurred to Harry vaguely that he must have missed dinner, and Ron and Hermione would be worrying; probably sitting in Gryffindor Tower by the fire. Whenever they asked him where he'd been, Harry always simply said he'd gone for a walk. Then he'd pretend not to notice them exchanging glances.

He began to make his way back to the castle, across the sweeping lawn, back to his common room.

"Hey, Potter!" Standing outside Gryffindor Tower, ready to give the Fat Lady the password, Harry's attention was hailed by a passing Gryffindor Prefect. "Professor McGonagall wants to see you in her office tomorrow morning," the Prefect said, shortly.

"Well? I haven't got all night!" called the Fat Lady snappishly, from inside her portrait. The Prefect had already walked away.

Harry couldn't help feeling his stomach drop as he saw a grave looking Professor Dumbledore standing in the office alongside Professor McGonagall.

"Good morning, Potter," said Professor McGonagall, as briskly as usual. "Sit down, please, while we wait for Miss. Weasley."

Ginny? Thought Harry. Concern was beginning to claw up his spine in spite of himself.

"Professor McGonagall, Professor Dumbledore - nothing's happened, has it?" he asked quickly, still standing. Having asked it, he realised what a stupid question it'd been to ask, knowing that Voldemort had risen once again and the world was already beginning to see the effects of it. But he needed to hear the answer all the same.

"No, Harry. We -" Professor Dumbledore only got this far before the door of the office clicked open, and Ginny Weasley entered hesitantly.

"Sit down, Miss. Weasley," said Dumbledore kindly. Harry too sat down as Ginny took the chair indicated her, exchanging a nervous glance with him as she did so.

"We have not called you in here to report bad news," continued Dumbledore, swiftly. "Getting straight to the point, if you'll excuse me, the reason is this: Professor McGonagall and I have a favour to ask of the two of you, which I would much rather prefer not to have to ask. However, thus it is, and so..."

"You will not have forgotten that, three years ago, the two of you were involved in a confrontation with Lord Voldemort - or, Tom Riddle, as he called his former self," said Dumbledore, solemnly.

Professor McGonagall spoke next. "What we're asking you to do, Potter, Weasley, is to try and think back to that time and recall, if you are able, any information that you think may be able to help us now," she said. Her usual brisk, no-nonsense expression and tone appeared to waver for a moment, as she added,

"You should know that what we are asking of you is also on behalf of all the wizards and witches who are trying very hard to find ways to work against Lord Voldemort and are attempting to reverse the damage which is already being imparted at his hands."

"Any detail of behaviour, or any words, which you can recall which might give us some clue as to his current whereabouts or the way in which he intends to work, would be extremely useful to us," Dumbledore continued. "I must stress, once again, how much I wish I did not have to ask you to do this; but you are young adults now, and I am not afraid to ask you to rise to any difficult or unpleasant task that needs to be performed." This said, Dumbledore turned to Ginny.

"Miss. Weasley, I understand that you were communicating with Tom Riddle for a period of time, and you must know that this is what makes anything you can tell us invaluable," he said.

"As for you, Harry, I have already asked much of you; and I know that this will not be the last thing. I took the liberty of using an Indelibus charm when you accounted for me your encounter with Voldemort last term - this recorded your voice, so to speak. But when you confronted Voldemort three years ago as the ghost of his younger self, I believe his actions and words as a young man may have unwittingly betrayed some clue..."

"I thank you both," said Dumbledore, finally.

Harry and Ginny stood up. This had been unexpected, and Harry, though relieved it had not been bad news, found he was trembling slightly. He'd known the war had started, of course he'd known, but it was the first time Dumbledore had spoken of it like this. During the summer, they'd been living off little bits of information from Mr. Weasley, at the Ministry, and Daily Prophet headlines. Being asked to do something to help fight the war against Voldemort, however small it seemed - well, it made it real.

Harry found himself outside the office, facing Ginny, who looked as though she felt very much like he did.

"Come for a walk?" he asked her. She nodded. They didn't speak again until, having wound down stairs, and stepped up them, walked lengths of corridors, and through doors in silence; they were outside.

It was chilly outside, but Harry doubted that was the reason Ginny looked so pale.

"I suppose - I suppose it could've been worse," she said, very quietly, as the two of them walked briskly towards nowhere. Looking at her, Harry was suddenly reminded of the moment that he'd seen her lying in the Chamber of Secrets, out cold, looking small and very, very pale.

"It was horrible," he said, half to himself, unconsciously.

"Yes, it was." Even quieter. Harry looked at Ginny quickly. When she looked back at him, Harry got the impression at that moment of someone very young, and vulnerable, and strong at the same time. And she understood. "I - thank you, Harry. Thank you for coming to find me that day, and - killing him."

Harry felt a shiver run through him. For a moment he had no idea what to say. "I - er - well, it was only fair, after you defended me that time in Flourish and Blotts," he said, finally, trying to lighten the mood, and take the conversation a little further away from being thanked for saving her life. "Remember, with Malfoy?"

The look on her face seemed to say "how could I forget?" and for a moment Harry wasn't sure he'd helped very much. But then a small smile lifted at the corners of her mouth.

"And I'll never forget dad, in that brawl!" she said. "I don't think I'd ever seen him punch anyone before."

"Your dad was great," said Harry, grinning as the memory came back. "Lucius Malfoy had a black eye..."

"Yeah, from a falling book," Ginny finished. They looked at each other and burst out laughing.

"And then that must have been when he put the diary inside my book," said Ginny, bluntly, as they stopped laughing. "Slimy creep. I was so stupid..."

She said it without a trace of self-pity, sounding as if she reproached herself for it instead. Neither of them spoke for a moment, as they continued to walk (not so briskly now).

"Ginny - no-one blames you for it, you know that, don't you?" said Harry. But, having said it, he knew better than anyone that there was no use of that if you blamed yourself anyway.

"Yeah. Everyone was great. Thanks," said Ginny. "I heard you had quite a year of it yourself, what with being accused of being Heir of Slytherin and all," she added, attempting a grin.

"Oh, well, you know me. Every year at Hogwarts is 'quite a year'," said Harry, without thinking.

"Yes, that's true," said Ginny, looking at him. The expression in her eyes surprised, almost startled Harry: it was quiet, and admiring, and also a little sad, almost for his sake; in spite of himself, Harry found the glance refreshing.

"Well, I think I'll go and find the common room fire," said Ginny, puffing out and making a cloud of breath in still autumn air. "Coming?" she asked him.

Harry shook his head, thinking that he'd rather be outside; the chilly air was bracing and appealing. "No. I'll be in, in a minute," he said.

"What, going to your secret hideout are you?" said Ginny in jest, then immediately clapped her hands over her mouth. "Oh, Harry - I really didn't mean...I heard Ron and Hermione talking, and it just sounded to me like you..." she gabbled, quickly.

Harry had been standing in surprise. "It's okay," he said finally. "You're not so wrong, anyhow," he added. Ginny was still looking scandalised with herself.

"Oh - well - I'll go in now, and you will go - to somewhere which is completely none of my business, so I'll...see you later," she said, then turned and began to walk quickly in the direction of the castle.

Harry turned, a little bemused, and sought his place by the rocks. The air was refreshing, the sky was blue; but somehow he didn't feel as satisfied here now as he usually did.

*

It looked like it might snow; the clouds were that kind of rolling grey, and the air, as well as the grass underfoot, had that frosty bite. Ginny hoped it might, she loved to see it snowing. However, her thoughts could not be entirely enthusiastic about the possibilities of the weather as she tramped across the Hogwarts grounds.

That morning, Harry had asked her to join him for a walk. Well, he hadn't worded it quite like that (he'd actually said, "Want to tramp around for a bit after breakfast?") and anyway, walks with Harry were not that much of an unusual occurrence now. This would be the second this week, and the fourth this month (Ginny cursed herself for knowing the exact number). At first, they had mainly been to discuss Dumbledore's favour. Then, it really had been a case of "Why, Harry, what a surprise to see you here..." with hopefully not too much blushing and stammering. But for some reason, it felt a bit special today. Ginny knew that if she continued in that vein of thought for too much longer, there was going to be an inevitable disappointment (Pride comes before a fall, and she had learned in four years). Then again, why had he asked her to meet him by the statue in the flower garden?

Ginny tucked her scarf more firmly round her neck as she stood by the statue. There was no sign of Harry, and she suddenly wished she'd had the foresight to be late herself. She and Harry were - well, pretty much friends now, but that didn't mean she could stop herself from going round beaming all morning, after he'd asked her if she'd wanted to go for a walk. Ginny wondered if it was always going to be like this, if they could ever really be friends because it was always going to mean her being idiotic around him; or whether she could learn to act purely as a friend.

She thought she was learning. After all, maybe she hadn't realised how much Harry didn't know about the Riddle incident, or she hadn't realised how much she needed to talk about it; in any case, she'd found herself telling him everything about it (well, most things). And he'd told her his part of it and the parts she couldn't really remember. Because there was that thing, that if you told people all about yourself, they started to tell you little back. So Harry had talked a bit, too; a little about Voldemort, and also just about things like Quidditch, and - and his Muggle life.

Then he'd asked her about her family. So Ginny had told him; describing eagerly the various pleasant and not so pleasant family habits, telling him more about her older brothers, and her dad's fascination with muggle things.

"What's it like being the youngest?" Harry had said. Ginny had answered without thinking about it.

"Sometimes it's gets a bit much. Like, I know Ron says he can't do anything that hasn't already been done by Bill, or Charlie, Percy or the twins - but it's different for me, because sometimes it's like - it's like they don't expect me to do anything because I'm the youngest. They'll always just see me as their baby. I mean, I really love them, but sometimes, like when the house is full and everyone's being annoying, I wish I could just be on my own for a bit."

Harry had seemed very thoughtful at this, and Ginny at once had felt a huge pang, and felt like an ungrateful brat. How could she have said something like that? Harry hadn't mentioned it - he'd actually changed the subject - but she was sure tha he thought she was spoilt beyond words.

Perhaps Harry had decided not to come after all, Ginny thought, feeling her heart drop several notches at only the thought of it. But there was no sign of him still. She sat down on the base of the statue heavily, then stood up again immediately; aware she'd just sat on something.

A sugarquill. Whoever would leave a sugarquill here? Ginny thought, feeling a stab of annoyance that had nothing to do with the sweet. What she saw next, however, made her open her eyes wide.

There was another sugarquill, lying a few metres away from her. Ginny looked again. The sugarquill she had almost sat on actually pointed to second one, which was lying on the path.

"Oh, Harry, you didn't..." Ginny breathed, and felt her heart beat faster as she walked to the second sugarquill, stooping to look at it as though to check it was real. She couldn't stop herself from whipping her head around quickly to look to see if there was...

There was. Another one. Balanced on a nearby bench, and it was the most beautiful thing Ginny had ever seen. It one pointed to yet another, placed on top of a hedge.

Her heart now racing, Ginny followed the trail marked out sugarquills. She blanched slightly when she saw she was being lead towards the Forbidden Forest, and it occurred to her that this might be some sick joke, planned by Malfoy and whatever his troll-like cronies were called. She almost stopped, remembering her father's words about not trusting anything which didn't show you its brain; but then she saw the next sugarquill - it was leading around the forest, and not into it. Ginny reflected that this was the sort of thing that was going to get her killed one day; took hold of her wand in her pocket, and continued.

Round the Forest, past a few trees and in a little sort of clearing, Ginny found Harry, sitting on some large rocks, looking out at the lake. She took control of her throat.

"I found you," she managed, coherently. Harry turned and smiled at her.

"Does that mean you win the game, then?" he asked. Ginny nodded silently. She fervently hoped that she wasn't going to have to choose between crying and throwing herself at him, which were the two options foremost in her mind at the moment.

"That was not a nice trick," said Ginny, knowing full well that she had loved it. "Making me find you like that, in the freezing cold! Where are your manners, Mr. Potter?" she found herself saying, not entirely sure if she was joking or not.

By the looks of it, Harry wasn't sure either. Ginny smiled to reassure him, if not herself that she had been.

"Nice view, isn't it?" said Harry, gesturing the landscape. The sky was grey, the lake nearly black it was so dark, and the trees were leave-less, starved, stretching figures. But it was beautiful, Ginny realised. This sort of thing always was; and anyway, the place looked as if it would always have a good view.

"Yes," she said. Then, feeling quite brave: "This is where you come, then, when you want to be alone?" (She was not, ever again, going to use the term 'secret hideout').

"Yeah," said Harry. He seemed to want to answer the silent question hanging in the air. "I - er - thought you might like it. You know, you said that you sometimes wished you could be on your own for a bit, away from everyone? It's a good place for that."

Was he going red? Ginny tried not to focus on his face, instead concentrating on the view. "It's lovely," she said, honestly. "Really. Thanks. I think I'll be using it." Ginny doubted that she could ever express how much this gesture meant to her, so she stopped there, hoping her heart wouldn't burst trying. They continued to appreciate the view in silence for a minute. Then she said,

"Um, just one thing Harry: it's very cold." She looked at him a bit sheepishly, hardly believing what she was saying. Harry chuckled.

"Right. Yeah," he said. "Common room?"

"That would be nice," agreed Ginny. They began to walk back to the castle - the fourth walk this month.

Just as they started to walk, it began to snow.

//
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