The End of the Beginning

By Andrew Crawford

Drama / Romance

Chapter 21

Volume Three

It had been by far the most enjoyable two weeks Harry had ever had at the Burrow.

He had obviously never had the chance to experience what life was like living in a wizard home with the largest cares on anybody's mind being everyday chores, meal choices, and quidditch. Even the Daily Prophet stories about the reconstruction of the Ministry of Magic and the country at large couldn't break the spell of normalcy that had fallen over the magical home in Ottery St. Catchpole.

Harry, Ginny, Ron, Luna, Hermione, and George were locked in a tight game of quidditch. Harry, Hermione and Ron versus Luna, Ginny and George. With no snitch, Harry found his chaser skills pushed to the limit by Ginny. Luna was only slightly better than Hermione and the two Weasley keepers both blocked a fair share of the shots at their goals.

Harry's team was up by ten and needed only one more goal to reach the agreed upon score limit of one hundred and fifty.

Ron blocked a shot from Luna and passed to Hermione, who immediately tried to pass to Harry. Unfortunately, Harry had been across the pitch and Ginny easily intercepted the pass and pelted the quaffle passed the outstretched arms of Ron to tie the game.

Harry called a timeout to talk his team through a game plan.

"Okay, tie game, it's our last match of the summer so let's take the Burrow Cup home with us for good."

They had been exchanging an old bicycle Harry had found that Hermione had transfigured into a dull aluminum replica of the Quidditch World Cup back and forth all summer and it was understood that today's winner would have their names engraved upon the cup and keep it for the duration of the school term.

"Ron, I was thinking…maybe we should switch you and Hermione? Just go all out assault on their goal?"

Harry saw a look of terror come across Hermione's face at being trusted with the goal, but Ron was already shaking his head.

"No go mate. My chaser skills aren't that great. Besides, I think I have a better idea." A mischievous glint flashed in his eyes and he looked at Hermione. "You're going to score the winning goal."

Hermione flushed. "M-me? But I'm rubbish! What are you talking about?"

Ron looked at Harry. "Yes, you're going to do it Hermione, because Harry is going to be the hero."

Harry was confused. How could he play the hero, but Hermione score the goal. Wouldn't he be the one to score the goal if he was going to be the hero? Besides, it made sense for him to do it since he was the better chaser and no one in their right mind…..

"Wait, I get it. I'm going to be bait!" a smile etched across Ron's face. Hermione looked more confused than ever.

"Exactly mate. You're going to do the best flying of your life and convince them that you are going to score the goal or die trying. If I know Ginny and George well enough, they'll pull Luna off Hermione to double you…"

"Leaving her wide open to take the shot!" Harry finished. Both boys looked, smiling at Hermione.

"No! What if I miss? You take the shot Harry!" Harry had only seen her look this scared once, before their O.W.L. exams in fifth year.

Ron simply laughed. "Hermione Granger! You have ridden dragons and faced the worst evils this world ever conjured and you're afraid of shooting the winning goal in quidditch?"

Hermione's eyes narrowed. "I'm not afraid to shoot the quaffle!" she huffed, "I…I'm just afraid…"

"That you'll fail." Harry finished. Hermione blushed slightly.

Harry gave her his most reassuring smile. "I trust you completely. You'll be brilliant, just like always."

"Oi! This is the longest time out in quidditch history! Let's play!" George's voice floated to them across the pitch.

Harry and Ron both grinned at Hermione who looked like she might be sick. When play started Harry took the quaffle and pushed his Firebolt as far as he could push it. He dived, rolled, climbed, dinked and dunked all over the pitch trying to get past Ginny and Luna.

Ron had been right, even George wasn't sparing a glance Hermione's direction, their entire team was convinced that Harry was going to take the shot.

If he could just buy a few more seconds, Hermione had inched her way within striking distance of the goal.

It was right then that it happened, He had streaked towards George and backtracked to run straight into Luna. In the brief moment he hesitated so as not to dismount her, Ginny punched the quaffle loose towards the middle of the pitch.

Both he and Ginny were streaking as fast as they could towards the quaffle. Harry knew with the size of the pitch that there was no way this was taking longer than seconds to unfold, but it seemed like whole minutes went by neck and neck with Ginny, leaning with all his might to force every ounce of speed out of his broomstick.

At last, thanking the heavens for his superior broom, Harry gained a knife edge on Ginny and grabbed the quaffle. He didn't hesitate and instantly passed it behind his back in Hermione's direction.

He pulled out of his dive and flew the opposite direction and, to his glee, saw that all three sets of eyes were still focused on him. It was Ginny who noticed first that Harry was empty handed, but the moment hesitation she took to look to see if Luna had it cost her.

Hermione had her arm wound up and was already in her throwing motion when Ginny screamed at George to block it.

George looked from Harry to Hermione for one dumbstruck fraction of a second before desperately diving towards his left hoop.

Time seemed to slow again for Harry as he watched Hermione's shot and George converge at the hoop, the quaffle passing a hair's breadth past his outstretched fingers and through the goal.

"Yes!" Harry and Ron shouted together and flew towards a frozen Hermione. Ginny and George had started arguing while Luna simply gazed into space and hummed to herself.

They both reached Hermione at the same time and threw their arms around her, slowly sinking to the ground.

"I…I did it!" she finally squeaked. When they reached the ground Hermione threw her arms around Harry who picked her up and twirled her around once, both of them laughing hysterically. While Ron clapped them both on the back, Harry noticed that Hermione's eyes seemed very bright with pride and….

Before he had time to think about it, Ginny's voice summoned him from his reverie and a very different set of brown eyes, ones set in a sour face and full of envy grabbed his attention.

"Here is the cup, you guys won fair and square." She thrust it at Harry coldly. Worried that there was more to her demeanor than quidditch, Harry handed the cup to Ron who had Hermione help him hold it aloft.

"The first annual Burrow Cup Champions!" Ron proclaimed. Hermione flicked her wand and their names appeared in small, neat handwriting around the cup's edge.

"Brilliant move Harry and Hermione." George chimed in. "Would have lost every galleon in Gringotts betting you would take the shot Harry."

"It was Ron's idea." Hermione beamed at him. Ron thrust his chest out and the airy confidence that had begun to find a home on his face came out in full force. It reminded Harry forcefully of Cedric Diggory.

"Are you kids done playing? I could use some help setting the table!" Mrs. Weasley's voice called out from the kitchen.

While Hermione, Ron, Luna, and George retreated to the house to wash up and help Mrs. Weasley, Harry hung back with an extremely grumpy looking Ginny.

"You played a great game Ginny." Harry spoke soothingly. He knew she hated losing, but had a very bad feeling that this had something to do with his bushy haired best friend.

Ginny had been surprisingly angry about Ron and Hermione's break up. Ron had told him that she had spent twenty minutes prying every detail of their separation in a very exasperated tone before finally huffing away and sulking for a few hours. She had also been treating a hurt Hermione with cold indifference since she had joined them at the Burrow with Harry two weeks prior.

"What was all that about?" Ginny spat accusingly, pointing vaguely to the spot next to Harry.

"I'm not sure what you're talking about Ginny. We were simply celebrating winning." Harry knew good and well what she was talking about, but was determined to stand up for Hermione. He had grown tired of Ginny's treatment of her.

"Oh, so can I plan on you dancing around with her and staring at her every time we win a game at Hogwarts too?" Ginny's face had flushed to match her hair. Harry knew her temper was reaching dangerous levels.

"Ginny I don't know what your problem is with Hermione, but this is getting old. She is your friend and my best friend. Why don't you start acting like it? You never even congratulated her on getting her parents back." Harry could feel his own temper rising.

"It's not my fault she broke my brother's heart! And sorry if I don't want my boyfriend dancing around with another woman!" he swore that he saw flames fly from her nostrils. A dragon might actually be preferable to facing an enraged Ginny Weasley, but Harry was in no mood to back down.

"If you haven't noticed, your brother is just fine, and what is with this new jealousy of Hermione? You never seemed to care before, but ever since we came back from the horcrux hunt you have been on my case about her!"

"Because you're both different now!" Ginny was only inches away from his face now. "You two have always been close but something happened while you were gone and now you're practically inseparable! At least before I knew my brother was in the picture, but she's a free woman now!"

"Ginny, I told you, I looked at the Marauders Map thinking about you while I was gone. I'm with you now, not Hermione. Is that not good enough for you?"

He stared hard into her bright brown eyes. They were beautiful, even when they were shooting daggers at him like they were now. After a lengthy stare down, she finally huffed an enormous sigh.

"Yes Harry, it is."

She planted a soft kiss on his lips. Harry returned it, but frowned.

"I want you to promise me you'll make things right with her."

Ginny looked ready to go another round, but at the fire in Harry's emerald eyes, she relented again.

"Okay." She mumbled. It would have to do. "I love you."

Harry felt an electric shock go down his spine.

"Ginny….you…what?"

"I said: I love you Harry." Her face fell and Harry saw hurt pooling in her eyes.

"I….Ginny…" he stammered.

"It's okay Harry." There were tears forming at the edges of her eyes, "I'll just go back inside."

She took a step towards the house, but he reached out and grabbed her arm.

"Ginny, wait."

She turned around, tears now falling freely, but a small flicker of hope flashed across her face.

"I just, you took me by surprise."

"I'm sorry Harry, I meant it though."

"I know you do Ginny, but…" he took a deep breath, "That's exactly why I can't say it back." The hope on Ginny's face died. "I don't want to say anything I don't mean."

It sounded much lamer out loud than it had sounded in his head, but he meant it. He had no desire to hurt her. She had been hurt enough lately without him adding to it.

"I…I understand Harry. I wouldn't want you to say it to me unless you meant it." Ginny sighed and turned to walk back to the house. Harry stood for a moment asking himself why he couldn't tell his first and only real girlfriend he loved her.

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