The light was far too bright when Ginny opened her eyes, so she squeezed them shut and burrowed underneath the covers, determined to stay there forever and hide from the harsh light of day – a plan that was thwarted when a wave of nausea rode over her, and she was forced to leap out of bed and run to the nearest bathroom to deposit the contents of her stomach into the toilet.
So this is what it's like to be hungover, she thought blearily as she slumped onto the floor. When it felt as though she might be able to move without it bringing on the need to vomit, she stood up and slowly made her way back to her bedroom.
Tonks was there, perched on the side of Hermione's bed. When she heard Ginny enter, she stood up, and grinned. "How're you feeling?"
"I've been better," Ginny said. She looked at Hermione, who seemed to have just woken up, and the second their eyes met, panic flashed across Hermione's face. She looked away, and it hit Ginny a second later. Something had – yes, there'd been a kiss, hadn't there? She'd kissed Hermione – or had Hermione kissed her? She could hardly remember. Where, and when – had they been in the boys' room, or was that just a dream? Ginny decided she hated not knowing; her head hurt far too much to try and piece it all together and it really would have been a lot easier if she could remember things clearly.
"Take this," Tonks said, handing her a vial of a pale pink liquid. Ginny looked at it doubtfully, and then drained its contents, deciding that she'd try anything that might help. It tasted revolting, leaving a bad taste in her mouth.
"Ugh," she muttered. "Yuck."
Tonks made a sympathetic face, and pulled another vial out of her pocket for Hermione. "The boys are still in bed," she said chattily as Hermione drank. "Ron seems in a pretty bad way."
"I don't think Firewhiskey is a good idea," Ginny said weakly.
"Everything in moderation," Tonks grinned. "You'll be fine in a minute or two, don't worry. Molly's downstairs making breakfast."
Eating was the last thing on Ginny's mind, but Hermione had turned over and didn't seem to have any inclination to get up any time soon, and she wasn't entirely sure she wanted to hang around upstairs with someone when she couldn't remember what had happened the night before. She allowed Tonks to lead the way downstairs.
The potion or whatever it had been appeared to have done the trick. Within a few minutes Ginny felt much better, but unfortunately her memory remained as clouded as ever. After breakfast she cornered Harry to ask him about the night before. She could remember Ron being ill; that much as least was clear, so Harry was probably the best person to ask. Unless of course she'd kissed him too. No, she couldn't have, wouldn't have – would she? Which was more unlikely, kissing him or Hermione? She really had no idea.
"Did I – did you – what the hell happened last night?" she asked.
"There was Firewhiskey and it was a bad idea," he said.
"I know that part," she said impatiently. "Did anything – were me and Hermione, did we go back to your room?"
He frowned. "Yeah, we were all there, and Ron was passed out, and – oh. I remember now."
"Are you sure you want to know?" He seemed reluctant to tell her, as though bad news were about to be imparted. It only made her more certain that she had to find out exactly what had happened.
"Yes. Tell me."
"You kissed Hermione."
"Yeah, or she kissed you, or – look, I don't know. I looked away for a second and then suddenly the two of you were all over each other. Good thing Ron was passed out."
"Don't tell him about it," she said.
"Ginny, he's my best mate – "
"Yeah, and it was a drunken thing that doesn't mean anything, and the last thing anyone needs is him stomping around the place because the girl he might have a thing for kissed his little sister, all right?"
"Does Ron have a thing for Hermione?" Harry asked as though it were a desperately shocking revelation.
"Oh, Merlin, not you too," she sighed. A week or two ago she'd been wondering why Hermione didn't have so many suitors, and now suddenly Harry had been added to the list that Ron was probably also on.
"What? No, I don't like her, not in that way, but – Ron? He never told me."
Ginny shrugged. "I don't know whether he does or he doesn't, to be honest with you, I just think he might. Anyway, just don't tell him about last night, all right?"
"All right," Harry nodded.
And that was that. She thought that perhaps Harry might use the knowledge as some kind of blackmail or something, tease her with it or threaten to tell Ron, but clearly that was just a sign she'd actually started missing Fred and George irritating her, because Harry withdrew into himself again, and it was as though they'd never had that conversation.
She wasn't expecting the badge, when it came – being chosen as a Prefect definitely wasn't something she'd anticipated. And, she thought, not something she'd particularly hoped for, either. Oh, of course it was an honour, and there was a certain glow at the thought that she had actually proven herself worthy at something, that she'd been chosen, that she wasn't the useless one in the family, but – well, it sounded like a lot more hassle than it was worth, really, and she didn't really warm to the idea of having to tell people off when they weren't behaving properly, or keep an eye on the first years, or anything like that. Hermione was the sort of girl who was Prefect material. Ginny definitely wasn't.
Owls arrived from various sources. The twins wrote a letter to Ron and Ginny expressing their solemn disappointment in Ron's good OWL results and Ginny's position of responsibility. Ginny kept hoping to hear from Percy, hoping that this wretched badge would have at least one useful purpose and make her seem worthy in his eyes, but there was no word from him.
Her mother kept fussing over how wonderful this was and how proud she was of her. Ron reassured her that this would die down in a few days. Hermione congratulated her rather stiffly. There had been an awful lot of stiffness between them lately and Ginny was one hundred percent sure that she could trace the origin of it back to the morning after the night of the kiss.
She kept on having arguments with Hermione in her head, in which she was wonderfully eloquent and knew exactly what she wanted to say, but so far she hadn't been able to bring up the subject, and the longer it went on for, the more ridiculous it seemed. Why should she have to say something, anyway? She wasn't the one who was behaving so strangely just because of one little drunken kiss that she could barely remember. It was Hermione who should be apologising, who should talk about it and analyse it to death if she felt the need to do so.
And anyway, Ginny didn't know what to say because she really couldn't remember what exactly had happened, or who had kissed who, and it seemed stupid to start discussing something when she didn't even have the basic facts.
She was hoping Tonks would pick up on some of the tenseness that seemed to be floating around the house, concentrating wherever she and Hermione were at any particular moment, but Tonks seemed distracted and their conversations grew less and less frequent, leaving Ginny feeling rather alone despite being in a house full of people.
She ended up taking Neville up on his offer and meeting him for a Butterbeer one afternoon. He looked alarmingly happy to see her, his round face lighting up with what she felt was an inappropriate amount of joy.
"I, um – d'you think we might, maybe, we could go out sometime?" he suggested shyly once they'd ordered.
She hesitated for a moment and it took only that for his face to fall.
"Never mind," he muttered.
"Oh, no, it's not that," she said, reaching out to pat his arm from across the table. "It's just –"
"You and Dean. I should have known."
"No, it's not, it's – it's someone else," she said. "And we're not together or anything, but I – I don't know."
Neville looked at her, puzzled.
"I really don't know," she said softly, and then smiled brightly at him. "Let's talk about something else."
The rest of the time was taken up with talk about school and the Order. Ginny chattered on for a while about how she didn't actually want to be a Prefect and how it was over-rated and silly, really, and Neville smiled and nodded, and they tried to figure out exactly what the Order might be up to, but neither of them had any idea and as soon as the conversation ran dry, the awkwardness returned, and there was a mutual decision to part ways. Or rather, Ginny made an excuse about having to get back and Neville nodded and said that he better had too, his gran was waiting for him, and they scurried away from one another as fast as they could.
She hadn't said that the someone else was someone she was romantically interested in. Not in so many words. Okay, so maybe it had been implied, but there was still room for doubt. And anyway she'd only said it to try and deflect the blow for Neville. Never mind that she'd had a moment of panic when it occurred to her that actually what she was saying might be close to the truth, and it might very well be that there was a someone else, a someone else that she'd kissed one night and hadn't had a decent conversation with since.
She tried to sort it out in her head, cursing her living situations for leaving her with far too much time to think and not enough time to do anything useful, like practise Quidditch, and came to the conclusion that maybe she liked Hermione and maybe she didn't, but the most pressing issue at the moment wasn't sorting that out, but dispelling the chill between them.
She was waiting in their room for Hermione to return from wherever she was – Ginny had no idea whether she spent her days with Ron and Harry or whether she'd found some corner to curl up in with a book – when there was a commotion downstairs, and curiosity meant that she was down the stairs in a flash. Not a literal flash, unfortunately, unlike Tonks and Lupin who Apparated just as she reached the last step.
Several people were rushing in from outside, including a bloodied and bruised Harry. Ginny looked at him in shock before he was hurried on past, into the kitchen. She moved to join them, but Tonks held her back. "You can't go in there, Ginny. It's – just go back upstairs, all right?"
"What's going on?" she demanded, but Tonks refused to answer, instead holding her firmly and guiding her up the stairs. She finally let go and Ginny returned to her room, creeping out a few moments later to find out what exactly was going on. She pressed her ear against the heavy kitchen door but it had been sealed; she couldn't hear a thing.
There were footsteps on the stairs. Hermione and Ron.
"What's going on?" Ron asked.
Ginny clenched her fists. "I don't know. They won't tell me, they won't let me in there, and Harry's in there, looking like he's been in a fight or something, he's bleeding. He came in with some of the people in the Order."
"Where was he?" Hermione wanted to know.
Ginny shrugged. They turned to Ron, who looked equally baffled. "I didn't even know he'd gone… said he wanted some time to himself, but I didn't know he'd gone out, you'd think he would have said…"
"Well, he didn't, clearly," Hermione snapped.
Ron glared at her. "No need to take it out on me."
Hermione sighed. "Sorry. Just – why won't they tell us what's going on? Do you think he got into trouble, and the Order came to his rescue? I don't like to think of him going off on his own and – well, last summer it was Dementors, and if he's out there, alone – well, there's a lot of people out there who aren't entirely fond of him."
"Yeah, but he's fine, right?" Ron said, looking at Ginny for reassurance. "Just a bit battered, but all right, yeah?"
Ginny nodded. "Yeah. I mean," she said to Hermione, who seemed to need comforting more than Ron, or perhaps she just felt the need to comfort Hermione more, "he's been in much worse scraps before. You know what he's like. Things happen to him, but he's a survivor."
They sat on the stairs, waiting. Hermione spent the time biting her lip and Ginny was reminded of how much she disliked the décor of the place. Ron kept on shifting positions and sighing impatiently, as though by exhaling the world would suddenly decide to let him in on all the secrets they currently weren't privy to.
"Do you have to keep doing that?" Hermione snapped.
"What else am I supposed to do?" Ron glared right back at her.
"Cut it out," Ginny said tiredly, not particularly wishing to devote too much energy to breaking up a potential argument between them.
"I don't know, anything, something useful," Hermione spoke to Ron as though Ginny hadn't said a thing.
"It's not as though you're being incredibly productive either," Ron retorted. "You could at least go look up a book or something, it's about all you're good at."
"Oh, and what's your skill, Ron, being a lazy unmotivated slob?"
"SHUT UP!" Ginny screamed, standing up. "I know you're angry and upset and scared, and I know that Harry's the centre of the universe and it's a big deal when things happen to him, but please, please, stop FIGHTING!"
She sat back down again, and then stood up again, and then wandered up the stairs in the need to get away from both of them, and from whatever was going on downstairs. Her cheeks were hot, with both rage and embarrassment. It probably hadn't been necessary to yell at them. But they'd been behaving so – irritatingly. And insulting each other – they weren't usually so vitriolic, and either this was all about them being secretly madly attracted to each other, or else it was all about Harry and his life, and she decided she hated it, hated it all, and that she was utterly sick of all of this. She wanted to be back at school, or out on the Quidditch pitch, or wandering around Diagon Alley, or at home, anywhere but here.
Hermione had followed her up the stairs. "I'm sorry about the fighting," she said in a small voice.
"I'm sorry about the screaming," Ginny offered.
They stared at each other for a moment, and then Ginny said, "I'm sorry about – the other thing. That night. I don't even really remember what happened, but – well, things haven't been the same since, and I just –"
"Yeah," Hermione said, her face reddening, "I think we'd better just forget it ever happened. We probably shouldn't have had so much to drink. Alcohol clouds people's judgement." She looked as though she were about to launch into a speech on the exact effects of alcohol, but then thought better of it.
A door opened downstairs and they could hear Harry's voice, and Ron's. The girls moved to join them. Hermione seemed relieved at the distraction and Ginny wasn't entirely sure she wasn't. The levels of awkwardness had been even higher than her time with Neville.
Harry had been cleaned up and tended to, it seemed, or perhaps Ginny had only imagined that he'd been injured. The adults departed, nodding in greeting to the four gathered on the stairs as they passed by, and then Harry filled them in.
He'd gone out to meet Hagrid and ended up running into one of the Ministry, who had attempted to hex him. Fortunately one of the Order had been shadowing the man, suspecting him of having switched sides, and had stepped in just in time, though Harry hadn't managed to completely escape injury in the fight that had ensued.
He told the story staring at the ceiling. Ron wanted all the gory details, but Hermione elbowed him when he asked. "He's just had a traumatic experience, Ron," she pointed out. "It's okay if you don't want to talk about it, Harry."
It was only later, back in their room, that Hermione pointed out to Ginny that Harry hadn't explained why so many of the Order had turned up. And he hadn't said why he was going to meet Hagrid, either.
"I don't want to push him for all the details," she said, "but I just get the feeling he's not telling us everything."
Ginny considered this. "He's probably not," she concluded, "but if there was anything big going on – he'd tell us, right? Well, you and Ron, anyway."
"I suppose," Hermione said, although she sounded doubtful.
"He knows how frustrating it is not to know things, he wouldn't want you two to be left out," she continued. "The other things probably just aren't important, that's all. You're making too much out of this."
"Do you really think so?" Hermione asked, and then considered it. "Perhaps."
In reality Ginny wasn't entirely sure. Hermione pointing out the things Harry hadn't explained had sent a chill down her spine. But she did believe that if it was something crucial, Harry couldn't have kept it to himself. And anything else? Well, she thought, everyone was entitled to their secrets.