When Harry arrived at Hagrid’s hut later that evening, he found Ginny sitting at the table with a cup of tea and a few rock cakes that looked untouched. Hagrid rose from the table and greeted Harry warmly while Fang gave him a friendly bark. But Ginny remained seated with a silent glare. This did not go unnoticed by Hagrid, who raised his eyebrows at Harry pointedly.
Even with a bitter scowl on her face, Harry thought she was glowing. The twilight sun came through the window behind her, giving her a golden outline. Her long red mane was pulled back in a neat plait with a few loose wisps of hair framing her face. If he could just get some time alone with her in the forest, he was sure he could win back her trust.
“So what are we doing tonight, Hagrid?” asked Harry loudly, hoping Hagrid would not comment on Ginny’s iciness. He did not sit down as he was keen to get on with the detention.
“Righ’,” said Hagrid, picking up his crossbow and summoning Fang with a whistle. “We need ter find a missin’ ashwinder. I’ve bin findin’ her eggs in the forest.”
“An ashwinder?” asked Harry, feigning curiosity and prompting Hagrid to explain. He didn’t want Hagrid to accidentally let on to Ginny that he’d already told Harry what they’d be doing tonight.
“Ashwinders are snakes tha’ come from untended magical fires,” Hagrid explained. “They lay fiery hot eggs, and if yeh don’ find ‘em fast enough, they’ll burn down everything.”
“So we’re looking for the ashwinder or her eggs?” asked Harry.
“The eggs will lead yeh to the ashwinder,” said Hagrid. “If yeh find any eggs, make sure yeh freeze ‘em and bring them back ter me.”
Harry nodded, shooting a glance at Ginny. She was sitting with her arms folded in stony silence. Fang walked up to her and nudged her in the leg, but she didn’t move.
Hagrid seemed uncomfortable, but moved on as if the tension didn’t exist. “So we’re goin’ to break up in ter twos. If yeh find any eggs or the ashwinder, send up green sparks with yer wand. I’ll come find yeh. Don’ try ter catch the ashwinder–” Hagrid shot Harry a look as if to warn him not to disobey him before continuing.
“I’ll get the ashwinder. You two just have ter help me find it,” he said firmly.
“Understood,” said Ginny briskly. She stood abruptly, avoiding Harry’s eyes. “I’ll go with you, Hagrid. Harry can take Fang.”
Fang walked over to Harry at her words, but Harry ignored him. “No, I think Fang is more comfortable with Hagrid in the forest,” he said quickly, as Fang licked his hand and wagged his tail.
Ginny raised her eyebrows. “It looks like he wants to go with you,” she said pointedly.
Harry looked at Hagrid for help. “But Fang and I don’t even know what an ashwinder looks like. Hagrid, shouldn’t I go with Ginny since she’ll be able to identify it?”
Alarmed that he might not get his chance to talk to Ginny alone, Harry gave Hagrid another pointed look, willing him with his eyes to intervene.
“Fang’ll be comin’ with me,” he said gruffly, avoiding Ginny’s eyes. “You two’ll be searchin’ the perimeter of the forest because it’s not safe to follow me deeper in ter the forest.”
Harry relaxed a bit, letting out an inaudible sigh as Hagrid winked at him. He chanced another glance at Ginny, who was glaring at him with her lips pressed together in a thin line. Harry suspected that he and Hagrid weren’t being very subtle, but he was determined to carry on.
He would have five hours alone with her in the forest. As long as he didn’t pressure her to talk, he was sure she would warm up to him before the night was over, and he would have his chance to properly apologize.
“Right, then. Shall we?” he said brightly, extending an arm to Ginny. She turned away haughtily, whipping her long red plait around, and stomped out the door.
“I reckon this won’ be the romantic walk in the forest you were hopin’ fer, eh?” said Hagrid in a bemused voice.
Ginny was hot with indignation as she stomped along the edge of the forest with Harry. It was clear he had colluded with Hagrid to get her alone with him after she had specifically said she didn’t want to talk to him. She hadn’t missed their pointed looks and forced conversation. As if Harry didn’t know they’d be looking for an ashwinder tonight!
For ten excruciating minutes, they walked in silence. Ginny’s anger mounted with every step. She knew that any minute Harry would launch into an unwanted apology, despite her insistence that she did not want to talk to him. His total disregard for her space rankled her.
Any minute now he would start to apologize...she knew it. She would just have to wait him out.
But her anger made her impatient. She wanted Harry to know that she saw right through his charade with Hagrid and that he wasn’t going to get to talk to her about anything tonight.
Not able to stand the silence any longer, she finally spoke. “You know what a Ashwinder looks like,” she said sourly.
“You’re right, I do,” he said mildly. Ginny was annoyed that he wasn’t taking her bait. She wanted to row. It felt so much better to be angry than to be sad. Her anger gave her energy and made her feel like she could make the pain of Harry’s betrayal go away.
“I told you I didn’t want to talk,” she snapped. If he wasn’t going to bring up the betrayal, she would. No doubt he would start his unwanted apology now.
“We don’t have to talk,” he said in the same even voice. “Let’s just find the ashwinder.”
Ginny nearly stopped in her tracks. What was he playing at? Did he truly not want to talk about what had happened?
She studied him as they continued to walk. His eyes were rapidly scanning the treeline. He clutched his wand in his right hand, his knuckles white. His mouth was in a thin line. Harry was clearly on his guard and ready for whatever they might find in the forest.
“Have you been in the forest before?” he asked, his eyes still on the treeline.
“No,” said Ginny quietly. She looked into the forest for the first time since they’d left Hagrid’s hut. While Hogwarts’ grounds glowed gold with the light from the setting sun, the forest swallowed everything into blackness. Even though they were on the edge of the forest, she could feel the trees pressing in on her, ready to envelope her in darkness.
“Just be sure to keep your wand close,” said Harry. “If anything happens, just send up red sparks and Hagrid will come find you.”
Ginny felt a prickle run down her spine as she imagined what dangerous creatures lurked in the forest. She cast a sidelong glance at Harry, wondering if he was just trying to make her more inclined to stay close to him.
“Should I be worried that something might happen?” she asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
“Let’s just say that it’s safe to assume that any creature we encounter will not be happy to see us,” said Harry ominously. His eyes hadn’t left the forest. She was suddenly reminded of their rescue mission at the Department of Mysteries last year. Harry had exuded a quiet strength and alertness that made her feel like he could take down an entire Death Eater army.
She resisted the urge to draw closer to him, not wanting to betray her fear of the forest. At the same time, the prospect of discovering the ashwinder thrilled her.
“I’m sure it’s nothing we can’t handle,” she said lightly. Despite her anger at Harry, she was curious about what kinds of dangerous adventures he’d had in the forest before. She’d heard only bits and pieces from Ron.
“Can’t you just call out for the snake?” asked Ginny abruptly. She was suddenly impatient to find the ashwinder and her eggs, both out of a desire to end the detention and sate her curiosity.
Harry was caught off guard with her question. “What do you mean?”
“You’re a Parselmouth,” she said matter-of-factly. “Why don’t you just shout, ‘Any ashwinders around here?’”
Harry gave a small chuckle. “They don’t just come when they’re called! Besides, not all snakes are friendly.”
Ginny rolled her eyes. “Right, but it’s better than walking in circles around the forest. Why not just try it?” she prodded.
Harry stopped so abruptly on the narrow path that Ginny almost ran into him. “Ok, I’ll try it,” he said heavily.
In the waning evening light, Ginny could see Harry furrow his brow as he stared into the forest, in deep concentration. After a moment, she heard a long, low hiss.
The forest was eerily silent. Ginny strained his ears, listening intently for a response. But all he could hear was Harry’s soft breathing next to her.
“What did you say?” she asked, trying not to sound too eager. She was still mad at Harry, after all.
“I asked if anyone was there,” he replied.
“Did anyone respond?”
“Did you hear any hissing? I didn’t,” he teased.
“No!” she snapped, feeling a bit embarrassed. “I thought maybe only you could hear them!”
Harry laughed. “No, that’s not how it works!”
Just then, Ginny heard a soft hissing sound that sent a shiver down her spine. “Did you hear that?” she asked, nearly jumping out of her skin.
She had instinctively stepped closer Harry, but caught herself before she’d reached out for him. She would not be gripping his arm or cowering behind him like a scared little girl.
Harry returned his attention to the forest, hissing again. They both stood still, barely breathing. A moment later, Ginny heard the same faint hiss again.
“There!” she whispered, pointing to their right, into the darkest patch of trees. “It came from there!”
“I heard it, too, but I couldn’t make out what it was saying,” said Harry, squinting toward the patch of trees.
Ginny stepped off the muddy path and onto a rockier, narrower path that led deeper into the forest, toward the source of the hissing.
“Where are you going?” asked Harry sharply. “Hagrid said we’re supposed to stick to the perimeter of the forest.”
“I’m following the hissing. It doesn’t sound like it’s very far away, and it might be the ashwinder,” she said, not bothering to wait for Harry as she set off. She might be able to avoid talking about Harry’s betrayal if they found the ashwinder soon.
“Alright, but we can’t go too far,” called Harry. Ginny heard him hiss again behind her, trying to draw out the snake.
As they walked further from the castle, Harry recounted his previous trips into the forest, periodically pausing to call out to the snake with a soft hiss. He told her about how he’d seen Voldemort drinking a unicorn’s blood as well as his meeting with Aragog and how her father’s Ford Anglia had saved him from the acromantulas.
But his most disturbing story was how Umbridge was attacked by centaurs after Hermione had lured her into the forest. Ginny had always thought centaurs were friendly. She had no idea they were capable of such violence and held such disdain for humans, especially given they seemed so much like humans themselves. If the centaurs couldn’t be trusted, then perhaps no creature in the forest could.
The trees were getting thicker and taller as they slowly went deeper into the forest. Ginny shivered. The sun had gone down, and she just realized that she’d forgotten her cloak in Hagrid’s hut. She’d draped it over her chair when she’d sat down to have tea.
“Here, take my cloak,” said Harry as he deftly threw his cloak over her shoulders. It felt warm from his body heat.
“No, you keep it. I’m fine,” she said quickly, not wanting to accept his kindness when she was supposed to be mad at him.
As she slipped it off her shoulders, Harry waved his wand, casting a Warming Charm on himself.
“I’m warm enough,” he said with a small smile. “Keep it. I insist.”
Harry hissed again, calling out to the snake that they were tracking, as Ginny clutched his cloak close to her face and inhaled his scent, unable to quell her attraction to him. Even when she was angry with him, she couldn’t stop her feelings for him. She could have cast a Warming Charm on herself as well, but found that she didn’t want to. His cloak was warm and comforting. Unbidden, she imagined what it would feel like to have his arms around her instead of just his cloak...
They walked in companionable silence for a few more minutes before Harry spoke again.
“Ginny, I want to tell you what happened with Dean,” he said slowly.
“Harry, I don’t want to hear about it right now,” said Ginny crossly, feeling her temper flare. It had taken him over an hour, but he’d finally got to the subject she knew he’d been wanting to discuss all night.
“Please, I promise I’ll never bring it up again,” he said earnestly. He stepped in front of her and stopped, so that she couldn’t keep walking. The path was narrow and rocky, making it difficult to move around him. “Just hear me out and then you can decide if you don’t want to be friends anymore. But at least give me the chance.”
His words stung like a shot to the heart. Why would she not want to be friends with him? She was angry and hurt and questioning whether it would be wise to pursue a romantic relationship with him given their mutual attraction, but she had never considered ending their friendship.
“Harry, it’s not that I don’t want to be friends,” she started, feeling her anger melt away. The overwhelming sadness at his betrayal and the fear that she may never be able to pursue a relationship with him was bubbling up now.
“Then what is it?” he asked with a pained look that made Ginny’s heart ache.
In that moment, she realized how much Harry was suffering too. He had watched her with Dean for months now, all while harboring feelings for her. She knew better than anyone what that felt like. And if she were being honest with herself, she knew deep down that Harry would never deliberately hurt her, and part of her wanted to hear his side of the story.
But another part of her was afraid to break down in front of him. She wasn’t sure she could discuss it without triggering bad memories, or worse–learning the full extent of what Dean knew. In some ways, it was better not knowing what Dean knew about her.
Ginny swallowed hard, unsure what to say–Harry hadn’t exactly asked her out, so she thought it might sound arrogant or presumptuous to say, I don’t know if I want to date you because you told Dean my deepest, darkest secret.
“Why don’t you just hear me out? It won’t take long,” he pressed.
Ginny sighed, her sadness extinguishing her will to fight. She felt guilty for distancing herself from him and didn’t want to hurt him any more, even though her wound was still fresh.
“Fine,” she said shortly, without much animus.
Harry’s face brightened a bit before his eyes darted back onto the trees. “We should keep moving,” he said. “It’s not safe to stand in the same spot for too long.”
After sending another soft hiss into the dark, dense trees, they started to walk again, occasionally brushing shoulders as the path became narrower.
Harry took a deep breath. “So after we fought the boggart–” he started, but Ginny cut him off immediately.
“You mean after you fought the boggart,” she said with a hint of annoyance in her voice. His words had reminded her of Dean’s snide comment about how she couldn’t fight her own boggart.
Harry sighed, casting her a conciliatory look. “It doesn’t matter,” he said wearily. “Ginny, please…”
“Sorry,” she said, her tone softening. It wasn’t Harry’s fault she’d gone to pieces when Tom climbed out of the cupboard. “Go on.”
“It was clear you’d fought with Dean, and you seemed so unhappy,” he said in a rush. “I couldn’t talk to you because I knew you needed some space.”
Ginny felt a stab of guilt. She hadn’t realized that Harry noticed so much about her. She’d always thought he never noticed her at all… But that didn’t excuse his meddling.
“So you went behind my back and told Dean so he’d make up with me?” she said defensively, hoping he would prove her wrong.
“No,” replied Harry slowly. “Ron confronted Dean after practice one day because neither one of us wanted to see you miserable, and it was impacting morale on the team.”
Ginny bit her tongue, realizing that Harry was right. At one point, they nearly couldn’t practice because none of the Chasers would pass the Quaffle. Those days were almost unbearable.
“Dean wasn’t willing to make up with you unless we told him who your boggart was,” continued Harry. “I told him that you were keeping my secret, and you couldn’t tell him even if you wanted to.”
“It’s definitely my secret!” she protested, feeling her temper flare. Harry didn’t Petrify anyone. He had nothing to feel guilty about from the diary, and she didn’t need him to protect her.
“Yes, and I didn’t want to tell him. I thought he’d let it go if he realized it was about me instead of you,” he said quickly, presumably attempting to defuse the situation.
“I’m sure he didn’t buy that,” she scoffed, folding her arms. She couldn’t imagine that Dean would simply let it go after the row they had.
“Not really. Eventually it came out that your boggart was Voldemort–”
“And exactly how did it just ‘come out?’” she said, more aggressively than she’d intended. Her entire body tensed as she imagined Harry and Ron telling Dean that she’d nearly killed their classmates and had spent most of her first year possessed by the most evil wizard of all time.
“He was told–” started Harry.
“Who told him? Was it really Ron?” she asked, suddenly desperate to know.
“Yes,” replied Harry, a little stiffly. “But Ron truly believed that he was doing it to help you. He didn’t want to see you miserable either. You love Quidditch, and every practice had been painful to watch–”
“Of course Ron would think that would help,” she interrupted, avoiding his eyes. She felt a lump forming in her throat and her eyes stung with unshed tears. She was simultaneously angered and moved by both Ron’s protectiveness and Harry’s loyalty to his best friend. She hoped Harry couldn’t see her face in the growing darkness.
Harry suddenly stepped in front of her, putting his hands on her shoulders to stop her. Ginny stopped walking abruptly, but did not look up.
“I know it wasn’t right, Ginny. I didn’t do enough to stop it,” he said quietly, giving her a squeeze on the shoulders that only made her feel worse.
She sniffed and wiped her face with her sleeve, catching another whiff of Harry’s scent on his cloak. The truth was that she didn’t do enough to stop Tom. The familiar shame she’d felt when she’d Petrified their classmates–especially Hermione–was slowly creeping into her heart, making her chest feel tight. If she hadn’t written in that awful diary, if she’d destroyed it properly, if she’d only told someone… Ginny sniffed again, fighting back more tears.
And what did Dean think of her now? He pitied her because she had been too weak to resist Tom. Her face burned with more shame as she remembered Dean’s patronizing tone when he’d told her he knew.
“How much does Dean know?” she choked, her throat still tight.
“I just told him that your boggart was Voldemort in a younger form and telling him any more would put him in danger. He seemed satisfied with that,” explained Harry as he slid his hands down her arms and withdrew them.
“So he doesn’t know about...about the diary?” she said thickly.
“No, Ginny, I would never do that,” he said gently. He put his hand on her upper arm and stroked it reassuringly.
“And you didn’t tell him that I–er, Petrified all those people?” she added, swallowing hard as she tried to loosen the knot in her throat. She brushed his hand off her arm, disgusted by herself for nearly killing her classmates.
“No, of course not...and you didn’t Petrify them–”
“Harry, don’t,” she interrupted, her voice finally cracking as tears rolled down her face. She couldn’t take Harry’s pity, too. It was bad enough that she’d been so cold to him for what Ron had done.
“Voldemort did those things, Ginny,” he said quietly, as she wiped her eyes again. She held the sleeve of Harry’s cloak over her face for a moment, inhaling his scent to calm herself.
Ginny needed a moment to collect her thoughts. After composing herself, she stepped around Harry, nuding him to the side and said in a hoarse voice, “Let’s keep walking.”
They walked in silence for a few minutes. Ginny’s mind was reeling.
“And he doesn’t know about the Chamber?” she asked abruptly, her voice a bit clearer.
“No, he doesn’t,” said Harry, shaking his head.
“He doesn’t even know that Voldemort used to be called Tom Riddle?” she continued, hastily wiping her face again with the sleeve of his cloak. Her eyes were dry, and she wanted to remove the evidence from her tear-streaked face.
“No, of course not,” said Harry firmly. “That knowledge was dangerous, and I would never share it with anyone.”
Ginny felt as if a giant rubber band around her chest had snapped in two. She exhaled, feeling the tension release from her body. Dean didn’t know anything. Harry had meddled, but he hadn’t meant to hurt her. She had been so wrapped up in her fear of others finding out about her and her determination to suppress her feelings that she’d nearly completely shut Harry out.
She stopped walking abruptly and looked up at Harry. “I’m sorry that I’ve been so cold to you, Harry,” she said softly, wanting to reach out and embrace him, but stopping herself. “You’ve been nothing but kind to me, and I didn’t give you the benefit of the doubt because I was scared.”
Ginny could barely make out Harry’s face in the darkness, but she thought she saw him a relax a bit. His brilliant green eyes glinted in the sparse moonlight.
“I’m sorry I shared your secret,” he said seriously. “I’ll never hurt you like that again. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you more this year, and I hope we can still be friends.”
Ginny’s heart swelled as she remembered why she loved Harry. She loved flying and laughing with him at Quidditch practice. She loved his loyalty to his friends. She loved his recklessness and thirst for adventure. But most of all, she loved his selflessness.
All this time, Harry had put her happiness above his own. He’d supported her relationship with Dean even though he’d wanted her. He’d meddled, but only to make her happy. He’d listened without judgement as she shared how difficult it had been to recover from her possession.
It wasn’t enough to be friends with Harry, even if he was willing to settle for that to make her happy. Ginny wanted more, and it seemed like Harry did too.
“I don’t want to be just friends, Harry,” she whispered, her pulse quickening.
In the dim moonlight, Ginny saw Harry’s eyes widen. “What do you mean?” he asked cautiously, his face unreadable.
Ginny felt the bottom drop out of her stomach as she was gripped with a sudden, irrational doubt. Had she misread Harry this whole time? Did he truly want to be just friends?
She swallowed hard, gathering her courage. It was too late to go back now. Besides, if she couldn’t be honest with him, then she didn’t deserve him.
Harry felt a lurch in his stomach at Ginny’s words, hoping wildly that it meant she still had feelings for him. There were times where it certainly seemed like she did, but he didn’t dare make a move unless he was sure. He didn’t want to lose her as a friend. He loved flying and laughing with her at Quidditch practices. It was the only time didn’t feel the heavy weight of his dark destiny hanging over his head.
But tonight it looked like everything was about to change.
She licked her lips, looking up at him. Her eyes were dry now and her face seemed to glow in the moonlight.
“I want to be more than friends with you,” she breathed.
Harry’s heart started to pound in his chest. He almost didn’t believe his own ears. Was she saying that she fancied him? He opened his mouth to speak again, but his voice died in his throat when he felt her warm hand on his cheek, sending goosebumps down his side.
Suddenly, there was a loud hiss that sounded like a shriek, sending a shiver down Harry’s spine. He and Ginny both jumped involuntarily at the sound, which seemed to echo throughout the cold forest.
He turned around and hissed back, asking the snake to reveal itself. He’d been so focused on Ginny that he’d forgotten they were tracking a potentially dangerous ashwinder.
“W-what did it say?” she said quietly.
“Nothing…” said Harry slowly, narrowing his eyes to better see in the darkness. “It was almost like a laugh.”
Harry hissed again. “Where are you?”
There was a rustling nearby, but no response from the snake. Harry felt uneasy, unsure whether the snake was close enough to attack them.
“Teach me,” said Ginny abruptly.
Harry turned back to her. He could not see her face anymore in the dark even though they were just a couple feet away from each other.
“Teach you what?” he asked, confused.
“I want to learn something in Parseltongue, so I can help you draw out the snake,” she said plainly.
“Er...how?” he asked lamely. He had no idea how to even go about teaching her a language he couldn’t recall ever learning himself.
“Maybe just say something, and I’ll try to repeat it?” she asked, sounding unsure.
Harry was fairly certain that she would not be able to learn anything in Parseltongue, but he couldn’t help hoping that she might be a little impressed by him.
“Alright, but we need to start moving again,” he said grudgingly, giving her a nudge on the shoulder with his hand. They were too deep in the forest to be standing still this long, even though all he wanted to do right now was push her up against a tree and kiss her.
He shook himself. He would need to banish that thought until they’d reached a safe place to stop. As they walked, Harry shifted his mind back to the snake. “Picture a snake in your mind’s eye and repeat after me,” he said, focusing his mind on a snake.
“Come to me,” he hissed, in case the snake they’d been following could hear them and decided to reveal itself.
Ginny hissed back, but it was nonsense.
“No, it’s more like, Come to me. You have to press your tongue against the roof of your mouth harder and pucker your lips a bit more.”
Ginny hissed again. It sounded like air escaping from a bicycle tire.
“Come to me,” Harry hissed, suppressing a smile.
They continued to walk, the darkness pressing in on them as Ginny continued to emit sharp hissing noises. Harry gently slipped his hand in hers. Her hand felt warm and soft in his, and he felt his pulse quicken as she gave him a little squeeze.
He traced his thumb in slow circles around the back of her hand, keeping one eye on the underbrush for the snake.
There was a soft rustling sound that seemed to come from a short distance beyond the rock path. Harry and Ginny both stopped. Suddenly, Ginny let out a sound like she was blowing a raspberry.
Harry let out a laugh, unable to stop himself. “What was that?”
“I’m speaking Parseltongue!” she said playfully.
Harry laughed harder. “No, you’re not!”
“How about this? Hisss…” asked Ginny, trying again and giggling.
He tapped her gently on the arm to nudge her to the side of the path, squinting to see her better in the dark. “Turn toward the moonlight and try again, so I can see you this time.”
Ginny turned and leaned back against a tree trunk along the path, the moonlight softly illuminating her face and sparkling in her big brown eyes as she hissed again. Harry’s mouth went dry as he fixed his eyes on her slightly puckered lips, imagining what it would be like to kiss them. They looked so soft.
Ginny pressed her lips together again and let out a low hiss. It was more snakelike this time, but still sounded like nonsense to Harry’s ears.
“That was better,” he said, his mouth still dry. He wondered what her lips tasted like. “Watch me. Come to me.”
There was an abrupt, sharp hiss from within the forest. They both turned quickly, looking for the source of the sound. Harry felt the hair on the back of his neck standing on end.
“What did it say?” Ginny asked in a tense whisper.
“I missed it,” said Harry quietly, tearing his eyes away from her lips and straining to hear it again. They had moved even deeper into the forest, and it was more difficult for Harry to see with the trees pressing in on them.
The forest was eerily silent. He called out to the snake with another low hiss before turning his attention back to Ginny.
Ginny tried to hiss back, but Harry thought it sounded like she was shushing the snake.
“Come to me,” he hissed, enunciating as much as he could for her.
Ginny squinted at him and bit her bottom lip as she studied him for a moment. Then, her face softened and she gave him a flirtatious smile. “Do it one more time,” she said in a low, almost sultry, voice.
Harry was gripped by the sudden urge to be kissing her now. She’d all but said she wanted him, and it seemed like she wanted more than to learn Parseltongue. It felt like she was daring him to make a move; a feeling he’d had before, once when they’d had Firewhisky at the Three Broomsticks and again when he’d ate the Mood Mallow.
He leaned into her, putting his hand against the tree trunk just over her left shoulder. His face was inches away from hers, and he could hear the sound of wind rushing around him. Her eyes widened for a moment, but she did not move away. Her hot breath tickled his cheeks, and he felt a shiver run down his spine.
“Come to me,,” he hissed, feeling more confident that she wanted to kiss him, too. The sound of the rushing wind grew louder. It was almost like it was urging him forward with an encouraging hiss, “Yessss….”
“Again,” she whispered, her eyes fixed on his. The word had almost sounded like a plea. Hot blood rushed to his head as he abandoned all pretense. His left hand slipped under the open cloak draped around her shoulders and found her hip. His fingers roughly gripped her jeans and his thumb lightly brushed hot skin where her sweater rose above her waistband. He heard her gasp as he bent his head down and closed the distance between them…
Ginny turned away abruptly and Harry’s face collided with her neck as she roughly pushed past him.
“SNAKES!” she screamed, almost directly into his ear as she disentangled herself from him. “STUPEFY! STUPEFY! SO–MANY–SNAKES! ”
Red light flashed with each of her cries as Harry stumbled into the tree she had been leaning against just a moment ago. Numb with shock and ears ringing from her screams, he looked around wildly as Ginny continued to send Stunning Spells in every direction. By the red light, he could see that they were suddenly surrounded by snakes of all sizes. The ground seemed to be writhing beneath them as dozens of snakes, ranging from the size of a garden snake to few feet long, circled them.
The soft hissing that had sounded like rushing wind just a moment ago was now deafening. Harry could only pick out a few words here and there over the overwhelming sound of voices.
“Yes, my precious.”
“...come to rip…”
“...thirsty for blood.”
Harry stood rooted to the spot as he slowly took in what was happening around him. He was vaguely aware that Ginny was frantically casting more spells. She had started using a Severing Charm to behead the snakes that got too close to her. A handful of snakes laid motionless at her feet, either Stunned or beheaded. But more snakes flooded in from every direction, threatening to engulf the two of them.
Harry was jerked out of his shocked state when the flashing lights stopped; had Ginny quit fighting? Why hadn’t he heard the snakes approaching? He’d been so intoxicated by Ginny that he must have mistook the hissing as the wind...
A moment later, he heard her scream, “CONFRINGO!”
There was a sound like an explosion and the ground lurched beneath him, knocking him onto his hands and knees. Dirt, blood, rocks, and snakes went flying everywhere; Ginny had blasted away dozens of snakes and part of the ground, creating a small crater underneath them.
“Harry, help me!” she shouted, raising her wand to continue the fight.
Her voice galvanized him into action. He scrambled to his feet, grabbed his wand, and yelled, “Incendio!”
Fire shot out the end of his wand like a rope, and he waved it above his head like a lasso, creating a small ring of fire around the two of them.
The fire rose, creating a wall of flames separating them from most of the snakes.
He felt something heavy and sinuous slide over his feet and start to wind around his ankles…
“Stupefy!” he yelled without hesitating.
Looking down, he saw a big, green snake, limp at his feet.
Ginny had managed to Stun most of the snakes closest to them and was making quick work of the ones that were inside their little ring of fire, so Harry raised his wand to the sky and sent up red sparks, signaling to Hagrid that they needed help.
“Can’t you just tell them to leave?!” yelled Ginny frantically, still sending jets of red light at every snake in sight.
Harry sent a Stunning Spell at a snake that had lunged at Ginny’s back. Concentrating on the snake, he started to speak.
“Go away!” he hissed.
The response was overwhelming. It was as if dozens of people had started shouting at him at the same time.
“No t until I’ve had my meal...”
“You don’t belong here, human.”
“I don’t take orders from human filth like you!”
“They’re definitely not going to leave,” shouted Harry over the hissing. He was not eager to continue the conversation. It was difficult to cast spells and concentrate on speaking Parseltongue at the same time.
Ginny nodded and continued to Stun more snakes.
Harry was starting to sweat as the flames grew higher–more than six feet tall now. The circle seemed smaller, as if the fire was slowly pressing in on them. He saw Ginny had thrown his cloak on the ground on top of a pile of Stunned snakes, and her face was flushed and sweaty. Red strands of hair stuck to the sides of her face as her long plait whipped through the air.
“Harry, the ashwinder!” yelled Ginny, who had dispatched the last snake inside their ring of fire with a Stunning Spell.
Following her gaze, he saw a thin grey serpent with glowing red eyes slithering along the wall of flames, darting in and out of the fire as it circled them. It must have been ten feet long.
“Stupefy!” shouted Harry, sending a Stunning Spell toward the ashwinder. The spell ricocheted back toward them, missing Ginny’s head by inches.
“Diffindo!” cried Ginny, bringing her wand down like a hammer. The spell should have sliced the snake in half, but instead a deep welt appeared along the snake’s skin and quickly healed as if nothing had happened.
Ginny glanced over her shoulder at Harry, fear in her eyes. She backed toward him, sending various spells at the ashwinder, all of which ricocheted or did nothing.
“Silly girl! You can’t hurt me,” hissed the ashwinder.
“Leave her alone!” returned Harry, suddenly feeling afraid. He wasn’t sure what he would do if it lunged at them. It seemed impervious to magic.
The wall of fire seemed to have closed in on them more in the last minute, and the heat was overwhelming. But as far as Harry was concerned, the fire was the only thing keeping them from being overtaken by the rest of the snakes. He peeled off his sweater. His t-shirt and trousers were drenched with sweat and stuck to his skin uncomfortably. They just needed to endure the heat long enough for Hagrid to find them and get help.
“We’re in the middle of the fire!” screamed Ginny, tossing her own sweater next to Harry’s on the ground. Even with the situation so dire, Harry couldn’t help noticing the way her tank top, wet with sweat, clung to her body.
“Hold on while I clear out the snakes for yeh!” called Hagrid.
Beyond the wall of fire, Harry could vaguely hear a series of cracking sounds. A snake flew through the fire right at Harry. He tried to dodge it, but he tripped on one of the Stunned snakes. He threw his hands out in front of him as he fell face first and landed beside the ashwinder that was still circling them inside the flames. His wand rolled just out of reach.
In a flash, the snake sprang out of the flames with its fangs bared, right at Harry’s face.
“No!” yelled Harry, the word coming out as a hiss automatically. He put his hands to shield his face.
Ther e was a bang and an invisible shield erupted between Harry and the snake, knocking the snake backward.
Ginny stepped in front of Harry as he scrambled for his wand. “Diffindo!” she cried. In one sweeping movement, Ginny sliced off the massive ashwinder’s head. It rolled on the ground as blood poured out of its body, soaking the ground and Stunned snakes surrounding it.
Ginny extended a hand to Harry. He took it, and she pulled him up.
“How did you know–” he started.
“I guessed,” she said quickly. “When the Shield Charm worked, I realized that the snake was probably immune to magic as long as he was in the fire. Once he lunged at you, he wasn’t protected by the flames anymore.”
“Ah, that makes sense,” said Harry, recalling that Hagrid had said that ashwinders are born out of untended magical fires.
Just then, the fire roared and with a loud crack! another ashwinder appeared, as if out of thin air, in the fire. This one was also gray and thin with glowing red eyes, but it must have only been a foot long–no bigger than a garden snake.
“We have to put out the fire!” said Ginny, raising her wand. “It’s just going to spawn more ashwinders.”
“No!” said Harry quickly. “It’s the only thing protecting us from the rest of the snakes!”
“Harry, this fire is going to burn us alive if we don’t get out soon!” she responded, her wand still raised.
“Harry?” called Hagrid from beyond the flames. “Yeh still there?”
“Yes, Hagrid!” yelled Harry, hoping Hagrid had a plan. He had no idea how many snakes were waiting beyond the flames.
“There’s too many of ‘em. Fang and I can’ hold ‘em off,” shouted Hagrid over the cacophony of snake voices. Harry heard a few more cracking sounds and assumed Hagrid must have his pink umbrella. He knew Hagrid was not very good at magic.
The flames were so close now that Harry and Ginny were standing back to back. Her body was hot and stiff against him. Ginny was right; they would burn themselves alive if they didn’t put out the fire now.
“Take Fang and go, Hagrid!” Harry called, wracking his brains for a curse that would help him clear out as many snakes as possible once the fire was gone.
“Accio Nimbus!” shouted Ginny.
Harry felt a rush of adrenaline at Ginny’s words. Of course! They could fly away! But he would need to put out the fire, or it would burn her broom.
“Aguamenti!” said Harry, waving his wand along the base of the flames.
A stream of water shot out of his wand, shortly followed by a second stream from Ginny’s wand. They aimed it at the base of the fire, slowly turning in a circle. Harry coughed, engulfed by black smoke that burned his lungs and plunged them into darkness. He could feel slithering around his legs as snakes poured in around them.
As the fire died, the small ashwinder was exposed. In flash, a big brown snake that must have been almost a foot in diameter dove and sank its fangs into the ashwinder. Harry’s stomach turned over, horrified.
He felt Ginny’s hand close around his arm. “G-get on,” she coughed weakly.
Harry extinguished his wand as he felt around clumsily for the broom and slung his leg over. He barely had his hands on Ginny’s waist before she kicked off. The force of the take off nearly threw him from the broom, but he clutched her tightly to steady himself.
They rose quickly out of the smoke and above the trees, both of them coughing and gasping uncontrollably. Harry’s lungs still burned and his throat felt swollen. He gulped the fresh air as if he couldn’t get enough.
Ginny raised her wand, sending another stream of water down below and extinguishing the last of the fire. Looking at the scorched earth below, Harry could see that he had burned an area that was nearly four times the size of Hagrid’s hut.
They lurched forward, as Ginny accelerated aggressively. Harry clutched her tighter. He could see they were headed for Hagrid’s hut. His lungs and throat hurt too badly to speak.