Author's Note:

Hello, all! I'm new here, obviously. This is my first fanfic and I'm very excited! Please read it and review; I'm an aspiring author so I need all the help I can get! Thanks!

Disclaimer: Not J.K. Rowling, don't own Harry Potter . . . you know the drill!

Fifteen-year-old Ginny Weasley had only been to one ball in her entire life: the Yule Ball in her third year. From this limited experience alone, she did not like them. Her toes had been bruised up enough from the first one. So naturally, she wasn't half as enthusiastic as the others around her as she read the notice on the Gryffindor bulletin board that day in early March: that there was to be a ball held this year, on April the first, for fourth years and above. She sighed deeply, heart sinking. Who would she go with? She didn't have a current boyfriend, having broken up with Dean a few weeks into the school year. And the person she would like to go with did not reciprocate her feelings, and hadn't since her first year at Hogwarts. Harry Potter. It was true, of course, that they had grown closer over the year. Ginny had presented a listening ear to his woes over his godfather's death, chided him when he was being foolish, and helped him see the brighter side of life. Still, Ginny had long since lost hope in him ever regarding her as anything but a friend.

She turned around to head to breakfast, and bumped headlong into, who else, but the object of her thoughts.

"Oh, sorry, Harry," she said, smiling up at him.

"Hi, Gin. What's going on?" His bespectacled eyes wandered over the rather large, excited crowd of people hovering around the notice board.

Ginny waved her hand dismissively at the group behind them. "Oh, nothing - well, something. Another ball."

Harry's eyes bugged. "What?"

Ginny smiled grimly. "I know."

"But - wha - what for?" Harry looked completely lost, red creeping up his cheeks.

Ginny laughed at his stricken expression, even though she felt much the same way. "Who knows? Probably Dumbledore's idea of a morale booster, what with the war and all." She and Harry left the common room and set off together toward the Great Hall.

"Morale booster? Morale booster? More of a morale killer," Harry wheezed. "I mean . . ." He cast Ginny a sidelong glance, "well, asking a girl was hard enough the first time. Now we have to do it again?"

"Oh, surely the great Harry Potter isn't afraid of asking a girl to the ball?" said Ginny teasingly, brown eyes dancing.

The light pink in Harry's cheeks darkened and spread. Ginny grinned; it was nice having him be the one blushing for a change, although it had been a long time since she had allowed herself to do so around him.

"So - who are you going to go with?" Harry said, ignoring Ginny's comment and looking at her with an odd expression.

Ginny felt her heart wither. If he intended to ask her (which she thought about as likely as a squirrel sprouting wings), he would hardly inquire who she was going with. "Well I don't know yet," she replied cautiously, after a pause, appearing to deliberate the matter. "Depends on who asks me, I s'ppose." She struggled to keep her voice bland as she spoke. She glanced at him curiously. "You?"

"Me what?"

Ginny snorted and rolled her eyes. "Who you're taking to the ball! Only what we've just been talking about."

"Oh yeah." Harry looked at his feet as they tromped down a staircase. "Er . . ." He looked at her helplessly, as though asking for help. "I - I dunno either. I'll . . . have to think about it."

Ginny let out an audible sigh of relief at this, then hastily turned it into a yawn. Since her fourth year she had been laboriously hiding each and every action around Harry that might let him know how she felt about him. She wasn't about to start letting him know now. How embarrassing.

"Wonder if Ron and Hermione know about the ball?" mused Harry, as they approached the Great Hall.

Hit with a sudden idea, Ginny seized Harry's arm as he was about to trudge into the packed Hall. Pulling him to the side, she grinned up at him impishly.

He grinned back, recognizing that look as one when Ginny had something in mind. She was much like the twins in the sense of forming decidedly devious plots. "What?"

"I've just had an idea. About those two, Hermione and Ron. The least conspicuous two people in all of Hogwarts, one might call them."

Harry frowned at her, puzzled. "What d'you mean?"

"Oh don't tell me you don't notice it!"

"Notice what?"

Ginny goggled at him. Boys really were clueless. "I think Ron's blindness is rubbing off on you, Harry. Ron and Hermione - they're crazy about each other! Have been since for years!"

Harry only looked slightly surprised, more resigned than anything. "Yeah, I guess that's true. I just never really wanted to admit it to myself."

"And they're both too stubborn, or too scared, or too whatever, to admit it," finished Ginny, shaking her head. "I, for one, am tired of seeing them dance around each other."

"And the constant bickering isn't so pleasant, either," agreed Harry. "But . . . what are you getting at?"

Ginny's grin lengthened. "I say we . . . do something about it. The Spring Ball is coming up . . . why don't we encourage them to take each other? We'll say 'as friends,' but I'll eat Crookshanks if it stays that way."

Harry's grin unfolded across his face in spite of himself. Ginny beamed at this; she loved making him smile, since, at the beginning of the last summer, it had seemed he never would smile again.

"You are evil," he told her happily. "Truly evil."

"Well I can't be Fred and George's sister and be innocent as pie," she pointed out, chuckling. "Now come on, let's get to it. You follow my lead." She took his arm and they hurried into the Great Hall, snagging the seats Ron and Hermione had saved for them.

Ron was unloading huge amounts of scrambled eggs onto his plate as they sat down, Harry beside Ron, Ginny beside Hermione across from them. The two were, as usual, squabbling.

"Ron, you eat like you've starved for three weeks," Hermione announced, glaring as Ron shoveled eggs into his mouth. "Honestly, leave some for the rest of Gryffindor Table, why don't you? And do you realize how much extra work you're making for the house-elves?!"

"Are you insinuating that I'm a pig?" he asked through a mouthful, spraying a few bits of egg back onto his plate.

Hermione looked revolted. "I think you just answerered your own question."

Ron rolled his eyes and swallowed. "Hermione, you are always on me about homework, you are always on me about misbehavior; now you're badgering me about food? Leave me alone, Hermione!"

"I'm not going to leave you alone, if you're going to act like that; obviously somebody needs to reprove you -"

All throughout this Ginny and Harry exchanged private, knowing grins.

Ron finally caught this exchange and, instead of retorting to Hermione's last comment, gave his sister and friend a perturbed look.

"What exactly are you two smirking about?"

"Oh, nothing," said Ginny breezily, before easily changing the subject. "Anyway, did you two hear there's going to be a ball on April first?"

Hermione paused in the act of turning the page of the enormous Arithmancy book she had propped on the table before her. Ron froze, jaw hanging open slightly. They both shot each other rather alarmed looks and reddened, before Ron said stupidly, "This - this year?"

"Yes, Ron, this year," said Ginny calmly, buttering herself a piece of toast. "Honestly, you two need to check out the notice board more often." She set down the toast and then grinned at them. "So, who do you two have in mind to go with?"

Hermione went pink and Ron's ears suddenly looked badly sunburnt.

"Oh - I - I don't know . . ." said Hermione, carefully looking down at her book.

"Me neither," mumbled Ron, darting a glance at Hermione, and then twiddling his fork in the wad of scrambled eggs on his plate.

"Well look on the bright side," said Ginny brightly. "Viktor Krum isn't here."

"Yeah, and neither is old Fleur Delacour," added Harry, suppressing a laugh at the memory of Ron's experience with the part-veela in fourth year.

Ron suddenly looked heartened. "Yeah, yeah, Vicky isn't here, is he?"

"His name isn't Vicky, it's Viktor," corrected Hermione hotly, still not daring to look up from her book.

"You know what would save you two a lot of trouble when it comes to asking a bunch of different girls or boys?" Ginny asked amiably, taking a sip of orange juice.

"What?" said Hermione and Ron in unison, frowning at her.

"Going together."

Ron breathed in through the wrong pipe and suddenly had a coughing fit, his face turning progressively redder; while Hermione looked shocked and blushed even more.

"Oh what are you two fussing about?" said Harry, smiling. "Honestly, it's just as friends. Might as well. Pretty good plan, really. You just go together and don't have to worry about having to ask someone else. And you'd probably have a better time at the ball, going with someone you know."

"Yeah . . . I s'ppose . . . I mean . . ." Ron blibbered, still the color of a tomato.

"Do you want to?" asked Hermione in a low voice, eyes still trained on the pages of her book, though she was obviously not reading.

Ron threw Harry and Ginny a pleading look, but, when it was clear they were not going to be of assistance, he said haltingly, "Well . . . I mean . . . I guess."

"You guess?" said Hermione sharply, finally ripping her gaze from the tome.

"Only if you want to," returned Ron, mulish.

Ginny rolled her eyes. "You're going together. Let that be the end of it. Now, in case you two didn't notice, the bell just rang, and I'm due in Herbology. See you." Rising, she glanced slyly at the two, winked at Harry, and then rushed off to class. Hermione, Harry, and Ron followed suit, finishing off their orange juice, gathering their bags, and then heading to their first class, Charms.

" . . . honestly, don't know why we have to have a ball again. I mean, the first one was trouble enough," chuntered Ron, though Harry noticed he did this once Hermione was rather ahead of them and not paying attention. Walking up the Charms corridor, he shot Harry a cunning look. "So, Harry, who're you asking?"

Harry sighed heavily. He knew very well who he wanted to take, but he was hardly keen to confess this to Ron. "Er - dunno yet."

Ron pursed his lips. "Ginny say who she was going with?"

Harry stiffened. "No, why?"

"I'm just afraid she's going to go with some boy."

Harry snorted while his gut tightened. "You prefer her going with a girl?"

Ron made a grunting noise. "'Course not, but - I don't like the idea of any old git taking her -"

"So you'd prefer it to be a git you know?" said Harry, raising his eyebrows.

Ron gave Harry a rather pointed look. "Well . . . yeah, as a matter of fact."

Harry had no further opportunity to question him, however, as they entered the

Charms classroom and set to work mastering Scouring Charms.

That next day was, thankfully, a Saturday. Ron and Harry had had enthusiastic plans to go out and take a ride on their brooms, but unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. Rain battered the castle as thunder rolled balefully overhead. While Ron and Harry sulked, Hermione, on the other hand, was quite cheerful.

"Oh, who cares if you don't get to ride around a little? Now we can go to the library and study! Those exams aren't getting any farther away, you know."

"Why are you saying these things like they're a treat?" said Ron incredulously, wincing; but regardless, he and Harry followed Hermione to the library, for lack of anything better to do.

"Oh my . . . this is fascinating . . ." muttered Hermione several hours later, peering down at the dusty maroon book spread before her. "Listen to this: The warlock Grizenald, after serious attempts to subdue the centaur herd on his property, resorted to creating a force field with the highly complex -"

"Well, I'm done with all my work, I'm outta here!" said Ron loudly, throwing down his quill, rolling up his finished assignments, and all but galloping out of the library. Harry didn't blame him; they had been in the library for most of the day, working tenaciously on their mounds of homework. Hermione didn't subtract from the dullness, either, by occasionally correcting their work, or reading a passage that she found particularly interesting in her books. Harry would've gladly left too, but he still had his History of Magic assignment to finish. He was writing as quickly as possible, however, not even correcting spelling errors or caring about the validity of his facts, and hoping to be finished soon.

"Wonder what's gotten into him, he didn't even ask me to check his work," said Hermione thoughtfully. She continued to read silently for a minute more, before a small crease appeared in her brow. Then she looked up at Harry with a rather tentative expression. "Harry . . . can I ask you something?"

"Sure, Hermione," said Harry, grateful for the distraction from his essay, which was making him go cross-eyed with boredom.

Hermione bit her lip and looked down. "Do you think . . . do you think Ron really wants to go to the ball with me?"

Harry couldn't believe what he was hearing. He had expected a query about the due date of something, or if he had borrowed one of her books. Besides that - how could she not know? "What? Of course he does!"

Hermione still looked worried. "Really? Are you sure? Did he say -"

"He doesn't have to say. He's been dying to go to a ball with you since fourth year. It's obvious."

Hermione smiled tremblingly. "Thanks, Harry." Her eyes flicked back to the book momentarily; then, unexpectedly, she snapped it shut and turned to Harry again. "Who are you taking?"

By now Harry was thoroughly tired of this question. "I - I haven't asked anyone yet," he said evasively.

"Then who do you have in mind?" Hermione persisted.

Harry tried to feign ignorance, though he knew it was something of a lost cause to lie to Hermione. "Erm - well - I don't know -"

"Come on, Harry, you must have someone; don't worry, I won't tell Ron."

"Why wouldn't I be able to tell Ron?" he snapped defensively, red tingeing his cheeks.

Hermione cocked her head at him, arching a brow. She knew.

Harry bowed his head and sighed. "Am I that obvious?"

"Oh, well, just to me," said Hermione, looking triumphant. "Ginny definitely doesn't suspect, and neither does Ron - then again, when does he ever?" She rolled her eyes.

Embarrassed as he was at having Hermione guess his secret, he still felt a wave of relief that he no longer had to keep it to himself, and could freely ask for advice. "Hermione, what should I do?"

"It's simple. Ask her to the ball."

"You call that simple?"

"Harry, you can't lose anything by asking her!"

"What if she doesn't like me that way?" demanded Harry desperately.

"Then that's how it is, and you can go as friends."

Harry's stomach churned at the word.

"It's really the best course of action," continued Hermione matter-of-factly. "Just do it. And don't worry about Ron disapproving," she added, as he opened his mouth once more. "If you ask me he's quite keen on a relationship between the two of you; he's been dropping all those oh-so-subtle hints about it since last summer."

Harry shook his head. "That doesn't make any sense."

Hermione opened her book again, propped it up against the brazier in the middle of the table, and eyed the print boredly. "Of course it does. Ginny dating Michael Corner last year got Ron thinking - he didn't want her with any boy, a boy he didn't know very well, who he couldn't be sure would treat her right. You, on the other hand, he knows from top to bottom; you're his best friend, and he knows you'd have only the best intentions for his sister, that you'd treat her well. So you see, it really makes a very great deal of sense."

"If you say so." Harry returned to scribbling on his History of Magic homework, though his mind was on anything but the Fairies' Treaty of 1928. Should he ask her? Would he have the courage?

The first step, he thought as he strode past the library that next day, is getting her alone. I'm not about to do it in front of every friend she has.

No sooner had the thought drifted through his head than he spied a long, vivid glow of red between some books on the shelf he was passing. Ginny. He slowed and then peeked out from behind the shelf. She was, indeed, alone, and sitting at a table in the corner, checking facts from a book entitled British Muggles & Their Curious Habits.

A lump of fear rose in Harry's throat. Somehow, this was much worse than asking Cho to the ball in fourth year. Sure, he thought he had cared about going with her at the time; but he cared about going with Ginny more. He didn't think he could bear rejection.

Harry was just about to give up and scurry away when Ginny abruptly looked up, saw him, and smiled widely. "Harry! Hi! Come over, you can help me with this stupid paper I have to write for Muggle Studies!"

Gratefully seizing at the excuse, Harry rushed over and sat beside her. "What do you need, Gin?"

Her brow was crinkled as she looked down at the length of parchment beneath her. "I'm confused. What are 'video games' again?"

By the time Harry had finished his lengthy explanation of the item, and Ginny had scrawled down all the information, Harry knew it was time to ask her. His belly squirmed and his palms sweated. Why in Merlin's name was this so hard?

"Gin . . . I - I need to ask you something."

Ginny peered at him, struggling to be nonchalant while secretly her heart raced. Please be about the ball, please be about the ball . . . "Yes, Harry?"

Harry swallowed hard. "I . . . um . . . well, you see . . ."

"Yes, Harry?" Unconsciously Ginny leaned a bit closer. Please be about the ball, please be about the ball . . .

"Er . . . you . . . could you . . . could you help me with my History of Magic homework?" The words had tumbled out before he could repress them, and they were not the words he wanted. Inwardly he winced and cursed himself over and over. His nerve had failed him. Some hero!

Ginny felt like someone had just cast the Bat-Bogey Hex on her. She could've been ill right then and there; but she bit her lip and suppressed all the bitter, disappointed feelings inside her. He hadn't asked . . . it had just been about a stupid piece of homework . . . "Sure, Harry, I'll help you," she found herself saying, with a creditable imitation of cheeriness. "I do have to pay you back. Thanks for the help on the Muggle Studies project."

"No problem," said Harry, deeply disconcerted. He stood wobblingly and ambled back to Gryffindor Tower. Coward, coward, coward, you're a coward, Harry Potter! he raged at himself.

But at least he wasn't rejected.

That next day she sat curled up in her favorite armchair by the fire, laboring on a particularly nasty essay of Snape's. She was just looking up the proper number of monkey fingers to add in a Perplexing Potion, when a shadow fell across her book. Glancing up, she saw Colin Creevey standing before her sheepishly.

"Oh hi, Colin," she greeted him, smiling.

"Hi, Ginny. Listen . . . I was . . . well, I was just wondering if you'd go to the - the Spring Ball with me."

Ginny felt her stomach contract. She was being asked out by a boy that she liked alright, but not in that way. She got along with him well and knew that if she chose to say yes, they would most likely have a fun time together at the ball.

But . . . he wasn't right. Because he wasn't Harry.

"Listen, Colin, I - I'm sorry, but I can't." She prayed he didn't ask why, because what would she say? Oh I can't accept your invitation because I'm waiting for another boy's. Or, No, I'm not going with someone else, I just don't want to go with you. Definitely not.

Colin bit his lip in disappointment, but smiled at her weakly. "Oh. That's okay, Gin."

Ginny returned to staring at the index of her textbook, feeling terrible. She had turned down a sweet boy for no reason other than he wasn't the sweet boy she was looking for. Should I have said yes? she wondered. No. She would wait for Harry. She had waited this long; another few weeks would be bearable.

It was a week later, and Hermione was extremely exasperated with Harry. That afternoon, before he left for Quidditch practice, Hermione roughly pulled Harry aside and hissed, "Have you asked her yet?"

Harry blanched. He had been dwelling on it constantly all week, and had still found himself unable to broach the topic with Ginny. "No," he answered miserably.

Hermione looked nothing short of miffed. "Harry! The Spring Ball is only in two weeks, Harry! You'd best get on with it! You think you're the only boy in Hogwarts who wants to go with Ginny?!"

This put it in unpleasant perspective for Harry. He had never considered this horrible prospect before, that another boy could get to Ginny first. It was all too probable - Ginny was fun and kind and smart, not to mention very pretty, with her long, glimmering scarlet hair, infectious smiles, and warm chocolate-brown eyes. It was impossible for a boy not to like her, really.

I'll ask her at Quidditch practice, he resolved, and began toward the pitch.

Dodging a Bludger, Ginny zigzagged past Jack Sloper, seized the Quaffle, and hurled it with all her might at the goal post. It soared through perfectly. At that moment Ron, the new Gryffindor Team Captain, blew the whistle, signifying Quidditch practice was over.

"Good practice, everyone," he told them ten minutes later in the locker rooms, beaming around. "We'll steamroll Ravenclaw in our match in three weeks. Who's turn is it to put away the equipment?"

"Mine," said Ginny, standing up. The rest of the team began filtering out - all but Harry, who lingered, carefully cleaning a speck of dirt from his Firebolt as though the broom were made of glass.

Ginny was just picking up the Quaffle and restoring it to its chest, when Harry said abruptly, "Here, I'll help you. Accio Bludgers, Accio Snitch." The Bludgers and Snitch came soaring in obediently - the Bludgers immediately dived for Harry's nose, but he stopped them with a hasty Freezing Charm. He and Ginny stashed them in the chest, then closed the lid and dusted off their hands with satisfaction.

"So . . . that was a good practice," said Harry awkwardly.

"Yes, Ron's really getting into the captaincy," said Ginny, beaming. "D'you remember in the summer, when he got the letter about it?"

"Yeah," said Harry, chortling. "He was shocked at first, then hopping with excitement. Then later he put his head between his knees and looked like he was going to be sick."

"'I can't do it, I can't do it, I'm not Charlie,'" said Ginny, mimicking her brother's strained voice. She chuckled. "But I think he's getting on quite well. He's my favorite captain yet. Don't get me wrong, Angelina was great, but make one teensy mistake, and she's screaming in your face."

Harry laughed. "And I should know. And Wood was a good captain too - except for the ungodly before-sunrise practices!"

Ginny shook her head, grinning. "Ron wouldn't hold early morning practices if it was a requirement. Someone would have to pry him out of bed with a spatula."

Harry laughed at this image, and then rubbed the back of his neck and stared at the ground, smile fading.

"What's the matter, Harry?" said Ginny. It was the same look he'd worn in the library a week ago.

"What? Oh, nothing," said Harry too quickly, glancing up to meet her eyes for a half-second before averting them once more. "Um . . . I just . . . well . . ."

Ginny was confused. What was he trying to say? Involuntarily her heart sped up again, and her palms grew damp. What if he was trying to ask her to the ball? Please, please, one voice in her head intoned, while another, sharper voice said, This is how he behaved last time you got your hopes up, and it was just for some dumb homework assignment. You're just going to be let down.

"Ginny . . ." he began - when loud stomping approached, and the locker room door burst open, revealing a very disgruntled-looking Ron.

"Ginny! Harry! What're you doing? I've been waiting for you forever. Come on, let's go to dinner! I'm starving!"

"You didn't have to wait, you prat," said Ginny angrily to Ron, while the familiar feelings of discouragement fizzled inside her chest. Harry was walking on the other side of Ron, staring at his sneakers with a rather pained expression.

"Hey, what's all this undeserved lash out of temper for me? I haven't done anything!" retorted Ron, scowling. "And I'd advise you not to get on my bad side when I have an empty stomach; I just might eat you."

Ginny smiled a little in spite of the misery she was feeling. "I can just hear the Howler from Mum: 'How dare you eat our daughter! What has gotten into you, Ronald Weasley? How could you do this? Nothing, I repeat nothing, gives you the right to devour our youngest child, and your own sister -' "

Harry and Ron laughed at Ginny's excellent imitation of Mrs. Weasley's shrill, enraged voice.

A few minutes later the three gratefully sat down beside Hermione at dinner.

"Hello," she greeted them, smiling broadly. "Good practice?" She tried to catch Ginny's eye, but, upon noticing the younger girl's subdued expression, she shot Harry a dirty look. "Well?" she mouthed to him, as Ron began gobbling mashed potatoes without even depositing them on his plate.

Harry shook his head sullenly. Hermione's brows lowered severely, and she muttered something that looked like, "Men." Then she added to him, "Do it soon."

She didn't attempt to communicate anything to him at all after that, but simply ate her chicken and peas in silence or chatted with Ginny.

He might've asked Ginny after dinner, but just as the four were rising from their seats, finished eating, a friend of Ginny's from her year passed by, calling, "Ginny! Come on! I want to tell you something!" And Ginny joined her girlfriend without a backwards glance at Harry. He didn't have another chance the rest of the night.

For the next few days Harry barely saw Ginny up close. They had completely different schedules, and in the evenings she was always surrounded by friends or swamped with homework, which was, he recalled, quite nasty in fifth year. Finally, his chance came after lunch that next Wednesday. Ginny stood and walked from the table unaccompanied. Though he wasn't even halfway finished with his ham and cheese sandwich, he bolted after Ginny without even wishing a (quarreling) Ron and Hermione goodbye.

"Ginny," he said, catching her by the arm as she was about to leave the Hall completely.

She turned and smiled at him prettily, making his insides flutter. "Yes?"

"Well . . . I just wanted to -"

"Well, well, well! If it isn't Potty and the Weaslette. How cute." A droning, malicious voice filled the air. Inwardly Harry swore and turned around to see none other than a coldly smirking Draco Malfoy.

Angrily Harry opened his mouth; it was Ginny, however, who retorted.

She snorted and said boredly, "Your comments don't ever get any cleverer, do they?"

Malfoy's eyes narrowed. "What would you know about clever, Weasly? Your whole family's so stupid they couldn't count out the number of Galleons to buy dragon dung. Oh wait, they don't have enough Galleons for even that, silly me."

Ginny chuckled, quite unaffected; Harry was extremely impressed - Ron, he knew, would've already required restraining by now.

"That remark wasn't any smarter than the last one," she pointed out, eyes twinkling. "If I were you, I'd use all that 'wealth' of yours to see about hiring someone to make up biting insults for you. You really could use the help."

Malfoy's jaw went rigid as a flush crept up his pale face; but it seemed he could formulate no rejoinder. Finally he simply called her an offensive name and whirled around, stalking in the opposite direction.

"I'm sorry about that," said Harry apologetically.

"Oh, about what he called me? That doesn't bother me, coming from his mouth. I mean, truth drips from his mouth like honey from the comb, right?" she said sarcastically.

Harry smiled slightly.

"Well, if we don't leave now we'll be late to class - see you, Harry." She sauntered off. Harry felt a deep sense of loss. He still hadn't done it. What was wrong with him?

The next evening it was Justin Finch-Fletchley who approached her as she ate dinner, leaving his own table to go to hers. As he was a Hufflepuff and a sixth year she didn't know him overly well, but they had met in the D.A. and even partnered one another several times. "Hey Ginny - er, will you go to the ball with me?"

Ginny relived that sensation where every particle of food in her stomach began to rebel. Looking into Justin's eager brown eyes, she bit her lip so hard as to break the skin. What was she going to say? Harry still hadn't asked her, and it was now just under a week till the ball. She was growing somewhat desperate. What if she turned down every boy that asked her, waiting for Harry - and Harry never did? The thought was enough to reduce her to tears.

"I - I'm really sorry, Justin, but I can't," Ginny found herself saying. She couldn't even remember telling herself to say this.

Justin's face fell, but he simply nodded politely and trudged back to Hufflepuff Table. Sighing, Ginny stared down at her half-eaten roast beef; it was normally her favorite meal, but now she had absolutely no appetite.

This was the fourth boy that she had turned down - Neville Longbottom and Martin Lutz, another boy in her year, had both asked her in the past week. She was beginning to feel both heartless and very foolish. Harry showed no impending signs of asking, yet she still maintained hope. Why? Why was she so deluded and idiotic? There's still a few days to the ball, she told herself desperately. That's enough. Please let it be enough.

"Harry, there's only a few days to the ball, that's not enough!" scolded Hermione that night in the common room, in a not so quiet level of voice.

"Keep your voice down," implored Harry, glancing behind him, where Ron and Ginny were sitting, Ginny helping Ron with his Charms homework.

"Harry, it's not so hard, just ask her," Hermione said in a long-suffering voice, massaging her forehead as though he gave her a headache.

"You couldn't ask Ron to the ball," snapped Harry. "You never did - Ginny had to do it for you, practically!"

Color flamed up in Hermione's cheeks, but she glared at him nonetheless. "We're just going as friends," she muttered, almost inaudibly, averting her eyes; but she looked as though she hardly believed that herself.

"Listen," Harry went on more gently, already regretting his heated outburst, "I'll - I'll do it tomorrow, okay? First thing."

"You had better, Harry. If you're serious about liking Ginny, you had better ask her fast. You won't be happy if you put it off and then it's too late and -"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got it!" said Harry tersely. He did not, under any circumstances, want to consider this scenario.

As it turned out, he didn't get to ask her first thing in the morning. He overslept, while Ginny had awakened exceptionally early - by the time he was slogging into the Hall she was vacating it. At lunch, then, he decided. But Harry didn't get to eat lunch that day - he was forced to stay in the Potions classroom and mop the dungeon, Snape's punishment sentence on him for breaking a jar full of kangaroo blood. (Although the accident had not been Harry's fault - Malfoy had bumped Harry hard in the elbow as he passed.)

Finally he spied her at supper. The moment she began to leave the Great Hall, Harry threw down his spoon and pursued her. Ron called, "Hey, where're you going?" But Hermione, apparently comprehending Harry's intention, calmly took Ron by the sleeve and told him to leave Harry be. Ron wasn't naturally disposed to listen to Hermione, but her touching his arm certainly had the effect of forgetting his curiosity at once.

Harry caught up with Ginny at the foot of the spiral staircase. "Gin!" he said, catching her by the hand; he was still on the floor, while she was two stairs above him. He peered up at her poignantly. They had left dinner quite early; consequently there was no one else in the hall or on the stairs. They were quite alone.

She turned around and blanched slightly at the sight of him. Up close Harry thought she looked uncharacteristically downcast and unhappy; maybe he was imagining it, but her eyes looked a tad pinker than natural.

"Oh. Hi, Harry, what do you want?"

"Ginny, I . . ." Quite apart from the usual anxiety he felt, a wave of confidence and excitement passed over him. This was it; he was going to ask her now, after a month of moaning and waiting. "Ginny - will you go to the ball with me?"

Uttering the words was far simpler than he had imagined. Delight filled him; he had finally, actually done it. He smiled up at Ginny, jubilant.

But Ginny was not looking jubilant. She wasn't blushing, or looking astonished or thunderstruck. Her eyes were wide, and her lip had begun to tremble. Sorrow seeped across her face, and she looked profoundly sorry about something.

"Harry, I - I can't."

Harry's stomach sank through the floor.

"I - Terry Boot asked me just this afternoon, and I - I said yes!" With that she spun around and darted up the staircase, suppressing sobs.

Why had she done it? Why had she accepted Terry's invitation? Harry would've asked her, she could've gone with him, something she had dreamed and fantasized about and yearned for - if only she hadn't said yes! Lying there on her bed that evening, weeping quietly, she bemoaned her loss.

Three Hours Earlier

She had been on her way to Care of Magical Creatures after lunch, striding briskly across the lawn - when there came a shout behind her of, "Ginny! Wait up!" Turning around, she spied Terry Boot jogging towards her. What did he want?

"Hi, Terry," she said pleasantly, bemused.

"Ginny, I've been wanting to ask you all month - I'm sorry I didn't do it earlier, but, what can I say? I'm something of a coward, I guess. But - Ginny . . . I've fancied you for a long time, and - so - will you go to the Spring Ball with me?" He smiled and looked at her expectantly.

Ginny swallowed hard, fingers clenching around the straps of her bag. It was the day before the Spring Ball, and Harry seemed no closer to asking her; in fact he had quite been keeping his distance of late. It hurt and confused her. What are the chances he's going to ask you now? sneered a voice in her head. You haven't even spoken to him in a while, he's probably got some beauty to go with and you're waiting for nothing. Accept Terry, or you'll be dateless!

"Yeah, sure." The words flew from her mouth; she tried to contort her cringe into something like a friendly smile. "I'd like that." It's the last thing I'd like! Terry was a nice boy, she knew; they had D.A. together, and he would always make a point of seeking her out and talking to her. She found him polite, kind, funny, and definitely good-looking. But that didn't make up for the fact that he wasn't Harry.

Get over that, you twit! she screamed inwardly at herself. It's never going to happen! Just be happy you got Terry Boot and let that be the end of it!

Terry grinned, looking unutterably delighted. "Great, Ginny! I'll meet you at the stairs to the entrance hall at seven tomorrow. Alright?"

"Yeah, that's fine." It seemed her lips formed the words of their own accord; she was off elsewhere, far, faraway, drowning in despair. Harry hadn't asked her, had never intended to ask her. . . .

"Great, see you!" Terry turned around and hastened toward Herbology; Ginny continued toward Care of Magical Creatures, dragging her feet with every step.

How much Ginny regretted it now. She would give anything to take back her consent. But it was too late. Far, far too late. She had accept Terry's invitation; she had turned down Harry. It was so painful, much more painful than had Harry not asked her at all. And now there was barely a chance that he would ever look at her twice again. She had rejected him, and he would probably think that she no longer cared for him; and his feelings too would ebb.

Ginny buried her face in her pillow and sobbed.

Hogwarts was abuzz that next day, the day of the ball. Everywhere one turned were excited, chattering people - gushing about their dates or their dress robes, or fretting about dance steps or hair. For many - including Hermione, who had been extremely quiet and red-faced around Ron at mealtimes (as had he) - the whole Saturday was spent in preparation.

"Harry, mate - you look terrible," came Ron's voice that afternoon, jerking Harry from his gloomy thoughts.

Harry sat slumped on the couch, listening to the thrilled babble around him, and Parvati's shrill argument with Lavender about the misplacement of her hair-curling potion. He looked up languidly at Ron. "I feel terrible."

Ron frowned at him incredulously. "Why? You're going with Susan Bones, Harry! She's quite pretty! I'd be quite a bit more cheerful if I were you!"

Harry grunted noncommittally. Last night after being rejected by Ginny, as he stood at the foot of the stairs, gaping at the spot she had been standing, Susan Bones had tentatively approached and asked him to the ball. He had accepted her. After all, who else was he going to go with?

Raising his eyebrow, Ron shook his head. "Well, suit yourself." He suddenly became nervous. "Erm, hey, have you seen Hermione lately?"

"No. After lunch she shut herself up in the girls' dormitory and never came back down."

"Oh - getting ready, I guess." Embarrassed pause. "Harry . . . d'you think I should start getting ready?"

Harry suppressed a snort. "Ron! It's one in the afternoon! You're not turning into Hermione, are you?"

The blood rose in Ron's cheeks. "N-no, of course not - I just, well - I want to look nice and -"

"You can start getting ready if you want to, Ron," interrupted Harry listlessly.

"Yeah . . ." He started toward the stairs to the boys' dormitory, then paused and glanced back furtively at Harry. "Hey, have you seen Ginny anytime yet?"

Harry's throat constricted. "N-no. Not at all." She had been noticeably absent from both breakfast and lunch.

"Hmm. Must be up in her room getting ready like Hermione. Girls." Pause. "Did she say who she was going with?"

"Yeah." Harry's feeling of illness worsened. "Terry Boot."

"WHAT?" Ron's eyes bugged. "ARE YOU KIDDING ME? That - that stupid - that git?! I don't - you - but she and you - "

"She and I what?" snapped Harry, glaring at Ron and angered at him for bringing up the sore subject. His stomach jumped and bubbled dejectedly.

"The next time I see Terry Boot, I'm going to have a thing or two to say to that prat!" pronounced Ron heatedly, and with that he stomped up the stairs to his dormitory.

It wasn't until a quarter to seven that Harry himself began preparing. Carelessly he yanked on his dress robes (emerald, as they had been in fourth year - he had bought them by mail order a week ago). He didn't even attempt to tame his mussed black hair, but instead followed Ron downstairs. Ron wore very nice, clean scarlet dress robes, the same the twins had purchased for him after fourth year. Ron had of course grown since then, but Hermione had cleverly enlarged them, so that they fit Ron to a tee. He looked quite fit, with his hair carefully combed; Harry wasn't sure, but he thought he caught a whiff of strong cologne whenever Ron passed. Ron was obviously going to great lengths to impress Hermione. Yeah, going as friends my foot, Harry thought with a bit of relish, as he and Ron strode into the common room.

Many others were milling there, awaiting their dates or simply socializing. Everyone was finely dressed, in a myriad of colors as opposed to the usual black. Ron was craning his neck to see over the crowd, searching desperately for Hermione. Harry (though less conspicuously) was also eyeing his fellow Gryffindors, though in the hopes of spotting Ginny.

"Where do you suppose . . ." Ron began, but broke off, as his eyes fastened on the staircase leading from the girls' dormitory. Hermione was slowly walking down, flush-faced and smiling nervously. Ron's jaw dropped. Hermione looked beautiful; her brown hair was once again slicked back with hair potion, and twisted into a braided bun. Her dress robes were dark blue silk, elegant and flowy, with a silver bracelet on each wrist and silver teardrop earrings.

She approached Ron, her face growing pinker with each step; Ron continued to gape. "Hi Harry, hi . . . Ron," she said, unable to meet Ron's gaze.

Ron was still staring, dazed. Harry cleared his throat slightly and elbowed his friend. As though coming out of a reverie, Ron shook his head and said in a rather choked voice, "Oh . . . er, Hermione . . . you look - you look amazing."

Hermione beamed. "Thanks, Ron, erm . . . you too."

Ron grinned as though he had just received an extraordinarily high compliment. "Well - well then . . . shall we go?"

"Sure." Hermione took Ron's arm - Ron looked startled and a bit awkward, but didn't let her pull away. And, without sparing Harry so much as a glance, they sashayed out the portrait hole.

Harry sighed deeply and morosely and was about to trail them out, when someone else on the girls' staircase caught his eye. He felt his own jaw drop, his own eyes widen as he stared. Ginny was coming downstairs. She was clad in shiny satin dress robes the lightest, purest shade of lavender. Her hair was deep scarlet, with natural highlights of gold and orange that shimmered in the light. It wasn't coiled like Hermione's, but loose and flowing, framing her beautiful face, the way Harry liked it best.

Harry felt a swell of happiness before he remembered that she wasn't his date. She was Terry Boot's.

"Harry, hi," she said tentatively, pausing by him on her way to the portait hole.

Harry worked at unsticking his throat for a few seconds, then said hoarsely, "Hi." Mustering up courage, he added, "You - you - you look beautiful, Gin."

Unbidden, a warm blush crept up Ginny's cheeks. "Thanks. Fred and George bought me the dress robes when I wrote them about the ball. They're doing great with their shop; these robes must've cost a fortune. They said I should have the best for one of my last balls at school. They also said they'd hunt down and beat any unfamiliar boy I went with," she added wryly. Harry and she left the common room together and began toward the Great Hall, where the ball had no doubt started already.

"Ginny! Hi! There you are!" exclaimed an eager voice as they reached the entrance hall. It was Terry Boot, dapper in powder blue robes that accentuated his eyes.

Harry went rigid.

"Oh. Hi, Terry," said Ginny, hoping he didn't notice how her face fell at the sight of him.

"Come on, let's go, the music's started." Without waiting for a response, Terry grabbed Ginny's hand. Harry watched him lead her off, hating him and thinking Ginny deserved better.

It was then someone tapped him on the shoulder. Jumping, he turned around. "Harry?" said Susan Bones, clad from head to foot in maroon and looking at him uncomfortably. "Do you want to go in?"

"Oh - oh sure." Very, very awkwardly they linked arms and hurried into the Great Hall.

It was miserable, ten times worse than the Yule Ball. Susan Bones was kind, but he just couldn't bring himself to like her that way. After he declined dancing to the fifth song, Harry carefully told her that she was free to dance with someone else if she was bored. Susan looked apologetic at first, but soon took him up on that offer. She spent the rest of the evening trading dances with boys of different Houses, and appeared to have quite an enjoyable time. This left Harry to sit brooding at the Gryffindor Table, watching Ginny and Terry dance through narrowed eyes. Of course, he also got the chance to observe Hermione and Ron, which was quite amusing. After dancing around each other all year they were now dancing together quite nicely. Once they had embarrassedly danced through the first few songs while standing several feet apart, the clumsiness began to fade. They danced for the remainder of the ball without pausing for a break or a drink, including the slow songs. It soon seemed as though they hadn't a clue they weren't the only ones on the dance floor, let alone in the entire world.

Finally, Harry could take it no longer. Having to see Ginny and Terry together was too much. At ten (the ball was to last until midnight), Harry stood up abruptly and stormed out of the Hall. He could feel Ginny's eyes on him when he left.

Ginny's weren't the only eyes on him as he departed. Over Ron's shoulder Hermione watched Harry stomp bad-temperedly out of the room. Frowning sympathetically, she darted a glance at Ginny, who was without doubt the cause of his angst - she too was staring at the spot Harry had just been, expression pained and regretful. Terry didn't seem to notice that his partner was less-than-ecstatic as he spun her about and chattered to her about this and that.

I've got to do something, Hermione decided. She felt an irrestistable urge to help, much the same feeling as when she was absorbed in her house-elf compaign. Absently she tried to pull from the encirclement of Ron's arms, but Ron held fast. Smiling in spite of herself, she melted back against him, forgetting her friends' predicament for a moment. Then she shook her head briskly, recollecting herself; she had to do something. No one else would otherwise, and both Harry and Ginny would have a horrible Spring Ball, their second in a row, unless Hermione was mistaken. (And of course, Hermione was never mistaken.)

"Ron, could you get us some Butterbeers, please?" she requested amiably. "I'm thirsty."

"Oh . . . okay," Ron said, though obviously reluctant to discontinue their slow, relaxed dance. Disengaging from her arms, Ron paused and gave the Great Hall an expectant once-over. He frowned in bewilderment. "Hey! Where's Harry?!"

Hermione rolled her eyes, thinking, once again, that boys had to be the most clueless creatures on the face of the Earth. "He's probably in the loo or something, Ron, don't worry," she lied placatingly. Informing Ron of the situation, she thought, would only complicate it. He became hotheaded easily and was sure to go about things the wrong way.

"Oh, right." He started toward the banquet table, where sumptuous snacks and pitchers of Butterbeer and pumpkin juice rested, then paused once more. This time he was eyeballing the nearby Ginny and Terry, as though they were doing something highly scandalous and immoral, instead of just dancing harmlessly. "After this ball's over, I'm going to really lay into that Boot prat, he won't know what hit him; I can't believe Ginny chose the wrong bloke again - she and Harry - "

"Oh Ron, don't be silly," huffed Hermione. "Leave the situation alone. Those two can get together without your interference." But mine might help, she added silently. "Now could you please go get the Butterbeers? I'll grab us a seat."

Ron cast one last crabby look at his sister and Terry Boot; then he glanced back at Hermione, and his expression softened. "Okay." Before he had even thought about it he bent down and kissed Hermione on the cheek, then, scarlet flaming up over his face at his own audacity, he strode hastily and jerkily toward the banquet table.

Smiling goofily, Hermione touched her cheek - before remembering there was a purpose to sending Ron off fetching drinks. She made a beeline for Ginny and Terry, who were rotating slowly on the dance floor. Tapping Ginny's shoulder, she said conversationally, "Hi, Ginny, can I talk to you for a minute?"

Ginny looked bemused but, truth be told, rather relieved to be freed from Terry's embrace. "Sure, Hermione. Would you excuse us, Terry?"

Terry shrugged good-naturedly. "All right. I'll go get us something to eat, Gin." He set off toward the banquet table - inwardly Hermione wished him Godspeed, as Ron was there too.

"What is it, Hermione?" Ginny wanted to know, following her friend back down to one of the many small, individual tables set up around the Great Hall, as opposed to the usual four House tables. She took a seat across from the bushy-haired girl and peered at her curiously.

"It's Harry."

Biting her lip, Ginny averted her eyes, glumness apparent on her face. "What about him?"

"He left the Hall a minute ago . . ."

"Yeah I saw," Ginny responded heavily. "Do you know why?"

"He didn't come out and tell me, but I think I can guess the reason."

"What is it?"

"You."

"Me?" repeated Ginny stupidly, taken aback.

"Yes, you." Hermione took a deep breath. She knew Harry woud kill her for divulging his secret, but she also knew that if she didn't do it, Ginny would never learn the truth. "He likes you, you know. A lot."

Ginny's cheeks glowed hot pink. "He - no he doesn't - I mean, he did ask me to the ball, but it was probably as a last resort - I mean there was only a day left - I don't think you're right, Hermione -"

"I know I'm right," intercepted Hermione loftily. "Because he told me so himself."

Ginny froze. "You're - you're sure?"

"Very sure. I'd stake my one hundred and three percent grade in Charms class

on it, as a matter of fact."

It was only then Ginny believed the girl - Hermione Granger wouldn't recklessly gamble her grade on something she wasn't certain of.

"So - so what should I do?" Ginny inquired shakily.

"Go after him, of course. I think he went out onto the grounds."

"Right. Just one thing I have to do first." She glanced over at Terry, who was being reamed fiercely by Ron. Standing, Ginny sighed. "Well, I guess I'd better go save the boy before there's nothing left of him; Ron looks about ready to draw his wand."

A shock of brisk night air hit Harry as he thrust open the double doors and strode onto the front lawn. The last hints of winter clung to the air icily, forcing up goosebumps on Harry's arms. A crescent moon hung high overhead, slim and silver amongst a star-speckled sky. Misery writhing inside of him, Harry trudged across the dewy grass and collapsed near the lakeshore. The lake was a great expanse of black, bejeweled with tiny, shifting diamonds of light from the moon.

He breathed in the sharp, fragrant air, scented with damp grass and flowers. Every few seconds the image of Terry Boot whirling Ginny across the dance floor seared across his mind, making him feel sick with a mixture of jealousy and self-disgust. If he only would've had the courage to ask her even a day sooner, that could've been him in Terry's place, having fun at a ball for the first time in his life . . .

It was fifteen minutes after he had come out before the light crunch of grass from behind jerked Harry from a doleful reverie. Automatically his fingers flew to his wand. Turning his head, he spied - Ginny. She was silhouetted in the golden light that spilled in patterns from the windows of the castle.

"Hello, Harry," she said softly, approaching. Muttering a greeting, Harry turned his back on her, staring out over the still lake; undeterred, Ginny gathered the skirt of her robes and sat down beside him on the ground. Harry was, once more, impressed with Ginny; he knew other girls would never have considered sitting on muddy, dewy grass, for fear of staining their outfits. Ginny didn't even wince, simply arranged the lavender dress robes carefully about her so she could rest comfortably.

The two sat in silence and looked out over the dark, beautiful landscape. Harry was puzzled; why in the world had she left the music and lights and festivities of the Great Hall for the lonely, rather chilly outdoors?

"So . . ." began Ginny awkwardly.

"Have a nice time at the ball?" Harry found himself asking, his tone harsher than he had meant it to be. "With Terry?"

Ginny looked down at her hands, which were clasped in her lap. "No, as a matter of fact, I didn't." Surprised, Harry's head flew up to look at her. "Which is what brings me out here," she finished levelly.

"I - you looked - you didn't have a good time? Why not? And - wait - where's Terry? Won't he be waiting for you?" An irrepressible note of bitterness crept into his voice.

Sighing, Ginny shook her head. "No, he won't. I told him I was sorry and that he was great, but I could never think of him as anything but a friend."

Harry felt as though twenty pounds of weight had just been lifted from his shoulders. The bitterness and jealousy disintegrated. "And wh-what did he say to that?"

Ginny shrugged. "Oh he was nice about it, perfectly gentlemanly, of course. When I left the Great Hall a few minutes ago he was sitting at a table with Susan Bones, who seemed to be consoling him." Cracking a slight smile, Ginny added wryly, "You and I seem to have the habit of our dates getting together on us, Potter."

Swallowing hard, Harry said with difficulty, "So you never - I mean - you didn't - I mean, Terry - "

"No, I never liked Terry Boot that way. He's sweet, but not my type."

Nervously Harry yanked up blades of grass and fiddled with them as though they were the most fascinating objects in the world. "And . . . and what is your type?"

A mischievous grin stretched across Ginny's face. "Oh, I don't know," she replied casually, although her twinkling eyes gave her away. "I like green eyes a lot."

"Really?" Inwardly Harry winced at how hopeful his voice sounded.

"Yes. But not just regular green, grass-green or leaf-green. More, say . . . fresh pickled toad-green."

"Wha - oh!" Harry blurted a laugh at the memory of the singing valentine he had been sent in his second year.

Grin lengthening at this positive reaction, Ginny continued slyly, "And black hair's good too . . . but normal, flat black hair is so boring, don't you agree? I like extremely messy black hair, black hair that sticks up in all directions and would as soon eat a comb as be tamed by it."

A pleased blush spread across Harry's cheeks as he looked at her. It seemed impossible to him that he had been so downtrodden minutes earlier; now happiness and glee coursed through every inch of him. He felt silly with delight.

"And it wouldn't hurt if he had some sort of, I don't know, distinctive mark or feature . . . like a scar. And it has to be in an interesting shape too. A bunny rabbit, maybe? No, no . . . a cloud? A lightning bolt, that's it. Even better." Ginny began to tick the stipulations off on her fingers. "So toad-like green eyes, messy black hair, lightning bolt scar . . . hmm, let's see . . ." She grinned at Harry. "Know anyone who fits the description?"

Harry appeared to deliberate the matter, barely able to control the huge smile upon his face. "Hmm, I don't know, I'll have to get back to you on that one." With that, Harry leaned toward her and kissed her deeply. He couldn't even recall telling himself to do so; it had simply been a natural and impulsive occurrence. For the first half-second he was horrified at his own boldness; then he was lost in the bliss of it all. Kissing Ginny was the most wonderful thing he had ever done, he was sure - even flying couldn't match this.

Neither was certain exactly how long the kiss lasted, but when they broke apart they smiled at each other with sheepish happiness.

By the time Ginny and Harry returned to the Gryffindor common room that night, it was past midnight and the ball was over. There were a number of tiredly murmuring people climbing up the staircases to their respective dormitories as the two strolled in. Only one couple was seated on the crimson couch directly before the fireplace. They were murmuring tenderly to one another, and over the top of the sofa Harry and Ginny could make out one red head and one very bushy one.

"Hello," said Harry to the pair from behind.

Ron and Hermione jumped up from the couch and blushed faintly.

Hermione looked from the beaming Ginny to the grinning Harry, to the way they were holding hands, and smiled in a satisfied, knowing manner. Nothing could escape Hermione.

" 'Lo, mate," said Ron, staring at Harry apologetically, and oblivious to Harry's and Ginny's linked hands. "I'm sorry you had a lousy time at the ball. Second in a row, I know . . . but don't worry, I reckon the next'll be better . . ."

"What are you talking about, Ron?" interrupted Harry.

Ron stopped, mouthed soundlessly a bit, and then said confusedly, "But . . . didn't you . . . I mean . . . you didn't look like you were having a good . . . then how was the ball?"

Strengthening his grip on Ginny's hand, he looked at her proudly. "It was bloody brilliant."

The End