Author's Note: Well, this is my fourth fanfic. It's taken me forever to write, much longer than the others, but at last it's finished, and hopefully not too terrible. It's basically lots of humor and fluff, what I do best! :) Your reviews will be unimaginably appreciated!
Disclaimer: Nope, I don't own anything.
The summer before his sixth year challenged Harry Potter in many new ways. He had to deal with the grief of his godfather's passing; accept his own fate, which seemed intertwined invariably with Voldemort's; he had to endure Dudley's mortal terror of him, and his aunt and uncle's shoddy treatment. But, most of all, he had to figure out what to buy a certain red-haired witch for her birthday.
Harry's time spent with the abominable Dursleys had been (mercifully) brief that summer. The Weasleys had picked him up in mid-July, and he had been recuperating at the Burrow ever since. Harry was infinitely glad he hadn't been confined to the moldy depths of Grimmauld Place again - just being in the former house of Sirius, to recall certain things Sirius had said or done in this room or that, would be torturous. But the Burrow provided a sense of peace, comfort, and happiness that Harry needed desperately to heal his sorrows. He loved that house, with its rambling halls and stairways, the disgruntled ghoul in the attic, the gnomes overrunning the garden, and, most especially, the people who resided there. Fred and George had come out with half a dozen new items for their joke shop during Harry's short absence, which entertained them all (only when Mrs. Weasley was well out of sight and earshot, of course). Hermione joined them but days after Harry's arrival, and, while she did tend to nag he and Ron about the summer homework they had yet to complete, it was always wonderful having her around. Ron and he played endless streams of chess - one game even lasted past one in the morning, with Ginny and Hermione booing and egging them on by turns. During the day Ginny, Ron, and he played Quidditch tirelessly, Hermione usually taking refuge under a tree and going through book after book. Perhaps one of the most interesting developments of the summer was Ron and Hermione getting together, which they did after numerous arguments and a few screaming matches.
And, most importantly, his birthday. For it was that day, July thirty-first, that made him realize something very significant.
Harry awoke that morning without the faintest idea it was his birthday; thanks to the Dursleys it had never been a very celebrated or momentous occasion before. He shoved on his glasses, dressed hastily, and plodded down the stairs. When he entered the sunny drawing room he was greeted by -
"SURPRISE!" And then an ecstatic, "Happy birthday, Harry!"
Harry goggled at the grinning crowd of people arrayed before him - the Weasleys, of course, all looking rather pleased with themselves; Hermione, smiling at him hopefully; and then there was Tonks, Mad-Eye, Mrs. Figg, Lupin, and Kingsley Shacklebolt. All waving and smiling at him, so friendly, so caring. A number of streamers were hung here and there; the coffee table was stacked with presents swathed in colorful paper.
"You - you all - I can't believe -" Harry sputtered, wondering how he could come close to expressing the gratitude bursting inside him.
"Oh don't think this isn't going to cost you," said Fred matter-of-factly.
"It's going on your tab," agreed George.
"No problem, mate!" said Ron jovially, ignoring the twins, who were now throwing about tiny flesh-colored bits of confetti that they had manufactured to look like Harry's face. "Reckon you could use a good birthday! But you should thank Ginny, mostly - it was her idea." With a wolfish smirk, he prodded his sister forward; Ginny shot him a rather irritated look at being singled out, but her expression softened when she turned to Harry.
"Happy birthday, Harry," she said quietly.
"Thanks," he replied, and for some reason, that meant more coming from her than anyone else.
"Well, are you just going to stand there or are you opening presents?" demanded Tonks, her hair aquamarine and her nose as pug-like as Pansy Parkinson's.
The twins practically dove at Harry to ensure he opened their gift first. It was square and rather heavy, wrapped neatly in brown paper. As everyone took seats on couches or armchairs, Harry stared at the parcel on his lap hesitantly.
"Er - it won't explode, right?"
Fred pretended to look offended. "Harry. It's as if you don't trust us!"
"Can't imagine why that'd be," added George airily, as Tonks bit into one of the hors devours set out on the table alongside the presents and turned instantly into a rhubarb with purple hair.
"FRED! GEORGE!" rumbled Mrs. Weasley, leaping to her feet. She merely flicked her wand at the Tonks-rhubarb, and Tonks became Tonks again at once.
The blue-haired Auror didn't look even vaguely disconcerted at having recently been a fruit. She simply shrugged and said good-naturedly, "I see you've progressed from Canary Creams to Rhubarb Crackers. Very clever. Are the brownies safe?"
"About as safe as anything ever gets in this house," sighed Mr. Weasley.
"Well then, go on, boy, open it," urged Mrs. Figg impatiently.
So, screwing up his face in suspense, Harry tore open the gift. It didn't turn out to be harmful at all - well, at least to him. It was an entire collection of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes - including a whole set of Skiving Snackboxes, Canary Creams, Extendable Ears, and much more. A whole smorgasbord of sweets and jokes; Harry couldn't wait until he got back to Hogwarts to test some of it out. Mrs. Weasley looked reproachful, but Harry knew she wouldn't be able to rid him of it - it was his birthday present, after all.
"All that, free of charge," announced George proudly.
"Well, not necessarily - again, see your tab at the end of your stay here in Weasley Suites," put in Fred.
The next presents were standard, though vastly appreciated - Quidditch paraphernalia from Ron; a case of very handy polish for his wand and a book on curses from Hermione. Charlie had sent him the hard, jet-black scale of a Hungarian Horntail, supposedly the same he had battled in fourth year. Bill gave him an extremely interesting book about Egypt, with detailed, rather gory pictures of the different mutated mummies; and a card and some new school supplies were from Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. From Mrs. Figg he received a small, homemade chocolate cake (which smelled uninvitingly of cabbage). Lupin and the three Aurors chipped in to buy Harry his own miniature Foe-Glass, as well as several other knickknacks, including a generous tin of chocolate from Tonks and a crisp new set of quills from Lupin.
Harry couldn't begin to thank them. It took an hour straight unwrapping before the presents thinned enough to see the last present, the present at the very bottom of the pile. . . .
It was small, flat, and rectangular, and covered in emerald-green paper. With a jolt Harry realized it could only be from one person - Ginny. He glanced at her quickly - but she was looking down at her feet and said nothing.
Instead of the energetic, cheerful chatter of before, everyone was silent, as though deeply interested to see his response to this particular gift. Even the twins were eerily quiet, although they exchanged looks from time to time and wiggled their eyebrows, as though reveling in some private joke.
Feeling unaccountably nervous, Harry began to open the parcel. The paper fell away weightlessly, and Harry's throat went dry as his eyes alighted on what she had given him.
It was a picture, set in a simple but elegant wooden frame. Harry gaped down at the image. For it was a picture - of Sirius.
Obviously it had been taken the last time they were at Grimmauld Place - from the looks of it Sirius was in the drawing room. Firelight flickered in the derelict old fireplace, whose mantel had been festooned with greenery and garland; for it had been around Christmas at the time of the photo's taking. Sirius sat in the scratched, forest-green sofa near the fireplace, his pale face grinning at the camera . . . it was the same charming grin, the same devilish gray eyes. Harry's stomach roiled, and he had trouble keeping his hands steady. As Harry stared at him, stared and stared until his unblinking eyes began to burn and itch, Sirius winked and then let out a bark-like laugh. Harry bit his lip to keep from whimpering . . . he had forgotten that laugh, the exact sound and note of it . . . it had been so long since he had heard the real thing.
Everyone around him was tense and expectant. Ginny was on the edge of her seat, nails digging into her knees, teeth gritted. And then, very softly, she whispered, "Do you hate it?" Then, when he couldn't seem to speak, she continued, quickly and feverishly, "My friend Colin sent me a camera that year for Christmas . . . and . . . well . . . I saw Sirius there and I thought I should take the opportunity to . . . and he agreed, and . . . well."
Finally, Harry unstuck his throat. "Ginny," he said, rather more hoarsely than he would've liked, "I love it."
Ginny froze. "You - you do? I thought you might be . . ."
"It's the only recent picture I have of him. I - I never thought I'd see . . . well . . . thanks, Gin," he finished weakly.
Relieved, she grinned at him. He grinned back.
And that was precisely when he realized it: he liked Ginny Weasley. A lot. Perhaps he had for a while, but he had been restraining it; perhaps the other weighty matters in his mind had pushed the matter of Ginny Weasley to the back. But now the fact stared him full in the face. He made a funny little half choking, half gasping sound and averted his eyes quickly from Ginny's shiny brown ones.
There was a second of awkward silence, before Mrs. Weasley stood and announced warmly, "Well, come along, Harry, dear, you must be starving; breakfast is on the table."
That opened the floodgates - conversation and laughter filled the air once more; the lighthearted, congenial atmosphere returned. Harry stumped to the kitchen along with everybody else, but his head was abuzz with thought. What was he to do now? He liked Ginny - but how was he supposed to go about showing her that? He had had tribulations enough with Cho - or the Human Hosepipe, as he now liked to think of her - and that experience, needless to say, had left him feeling even more confused.
Nothing had been done about it up till now, and it was the ninth of August. He hadn't even known that Ginny's birthday was August eleventh. Until now. And of course this just had to be the year where finding a present would prove most difficult!
"Honestly, Ginny, you're going to be fifteen; are you sure you want presents anymore?" Ron asked her that day at midmorning, as he desolately rooted around in his depleted wallet. Truth to tell there were more cobwebs than coins in the shabby old wallet, which had previously belonged to Charlie.
Hermione snorted indignantly, stroking Crookshanks as she reclined on the couch. "Ron! It's your sister's birthday; you can't not get her anything. How many times do you turn fifteen?"
"It depends on who you ask. Look at Fred and George - they're eighteen now and they don't act a day older than ten."
Harry and Ginny laughed, and Hermione's lips twitched slightly, but she controlled herself.
"Oh you don't really have to get me anything, Ron, it's all right," Ginny assured him, shrugging. "You should save your money."
Ron brightened immediately. "Great! That leaves me enough to blow what I have left on Honeydukes - did you know they have a new kind of gum that never loses flavor? Their spokesperson is a bloke who's been chewing this stuff for the past eighty-three years - 'course, he's also got no teeth - but small price to pay -"
"Ron!" reproved Hermione and Ginny at the same time, scowling.
Ginny crossed her arms and said, "Fine then, I revoke my generosity! If you're just going to spend your money selfishly on your road to becoming the fattest person in the world - Harry's cousin notwithstanding - instead of your own sister . . ."
Ron grunted irritably. "Well when you say it like that it makes me sound like a selfish prat!"
"You are a selfish prat," said Hermione and Ginny flatly, and in unison no less.
"I - you - women." Ron threw up his hands in submission, stuffed the few Sickles and single Knut in his trouser pockets, and grabbed a pinch of Floo powder from the pot on the mantel. "Well, are we going present-shopping or not?"
"That's better," said Ginny with satisfaction, and she kissed Ron on the cheek before hurrying out. Ron watched her leave through narrowed eyes, then called after her, "Don't expect more than a hand-me-down quill and a piece of parchment as a gift from me! And maybe some lint . . . if you're lucky!"
With that he tossed the powder into the fireplace; at once a roaring green blaze erupted out of nowhere. One by one the three stepped in and yelled, "Diagon Alley!" Their pockets jangled with money as they spun dizzyingly in place several times, before, at long last, stumbling out into the Leaky Cauldron. Harry's feeling of nervous indecision increased as he trailed his two friends out of the pub, brushing ash from his shirt distractedly. What was he going to get Ginny?
While Ron chuntered about his lack of wealth (oblivious to the fact that no one was paying him the slightest bit of attention), Harry fell into step beside Hermione as they strode down the street.
"Er, Hermione, so . . . what - what exactly does Ginny . . . want? I mean, did she, er . . ."
Hermione smiled rather cunningly. "Oh, don't worry, Harry; I'm sure she'll like whatever you get her."
Harry merely frowned, unconvinced. He had no clue what to buy for her. The only girl he'd ever given gifts to had been Hermione, and that didn't qualify. Buying for a girl who was your friend was quite a bit different than buying for a girl you fancied.
"Oh, Ron, would you stop your complaining?" said Hermione crossly five minutes later, as they browsed through a trinkets store. "If you're so short on money you could make her a craft or something."
Ron blinked at her, and then started laughing. "What - knit her booties or something? But that's your thing, Hermione, and besides, mine could never look as much like woolly bladders as yours do." Ron had to duck to avoid Hermione's resentful swat.
In the end Hermione purchased a pretty turquoise inkpot and a homework planner, much the same as the one she had given Harry and Ron last year. Ron bought her a set of hairclips that snapped open and closed at will (pinching his fingers several times).
"Ron, what am I supposd to get her?" moaned Harry a few hours later; his hair was even more on end than usual, the result of raking his fingers through it agitatedly.
Ron shrugged. "Dunno . . ." Then he added, with a very furtive smirk, "Jewelry's always nice."
"Not you, her."
Ron scowled. "Ha-ha, Harry."
A few minutes later, when Ron paused by Neville (who was being towed along by his forcible old grandmother, in the midst of shopping for school supplies) to chat with him enthusiastically, Harry fell back beside Hermione. As Ron obviously wasn't going to be of any help in the gift-giving front, he decided to rely on Hermione. The girl dispensed good advice, sometimes. When it wasn't about homework.
"What is it, Harry?" she asked amiably, returning a few coins to her purse. "Worried about what to get for Ginny?"
Harry frowned at her speechlessly a moment, then waved it away; he would puzzle out Hermione's psychic abilities later - there were bigger fish to fry right then. "Yeah. What d'you think?"
"Harry," she said, with an air of great patience and wisdom, "Ginny won't care if you get her a dead fish,so long as you get her something." Harry arched his eyebrow skeptically, and Hermione amended, "Well, okay, dead fish is nixed, but, Harry, the point is, it doesn't have to be something grand or perfect. Just so long as it's . . . from the heart."
"Girls always say that. Doesn't mean they mean it. If Ron, your boyfriend, got you something weak - like a potted plant or - or a paperweight - for your birthday, would you be thrilled or get your knickers in a knot, I ask you?"
"Leave my knickers out of this, if you please," said Hermione primly. "And no, I wouldn't be upset." Harry crossed his arms and glared at her, and the girl sighed and broke, "All right, maybe I would be a bit displeased - honestly, a paperweight - but that's because he's my boyfriend, and I would expect better from him. Ginny's not your girlfriend."
Harry made a tiny whimpering noise, and Hermione's eyes widened at once in comprehension.
"Ohhhhh . . ."
"Come on now, I thought you were the perceptive one," said Harry grumpily, reddening. He hated admitting things like this, but Hermione was sure to find out at some point, and possibly she would have some counsel for him.
It was then that Ron returned to them, and it was time for them to go back to the Burrow. Harry felt a sense of defeat and shame as he staggered out of the green fire and into the Burrow - he hadn't gotten Ginny anything, and it was the ninth of August. Ginny's birthday fell in two days.
"I dunno why you didn't get Ginny anything," Ron groused later that day, as he and Harry begrudgingly did their Transfiguration assignment for the holidays (Hermione had made them) in Ron's bedroom.
Harry jammed his quill into the inkpot in frustration, spattering his essay with dots of black. "Well . . . I couldn't find anything . . ."
"Harry, it's Diagon Alley. It's a whole street full of all sorts of shops. You could've gotten her a million things, especially since you could afford a lot more than anyone else can."
"Ron . . ."
"Why are you being so picky, eh?" He jabbed the dog-eared tip of his quill at Harry, as though expecting a confession of some sort. "Come on, out with it."
Could it be? Had Ron guessed his secret? Was Ron actually being perceptive? Perhaps dating Hermione had been a good influence.
Harry stared at Ron like a goldfish would a cat, his mouth opening and closing, eyes round and gaping. "I'm - I don't know what you mean -"
"You can tell me, you know. We're all alone, I won't say anything, you know, and I don't mind. I mean - well, if you wanted to - I mean, I know she's crazy about you - and you - you would be good - so - I've been thinking and - yeah. It's okay with me."
Harry cocked his head, thrown. "Erm, did that incoherent mass of words mean what I think it means?"
Ron stuck his quill in its pot slowly, consideringly. "Yeah. It did. I mean, if you think it means what I mean it to mean then . . . yeah. You did. I mean . . . what? What are we talking about?"
"You're confusing me."
"You're confusing me!"
"Well then tell me what you just said means!"
"No, you tell me what you think it means."
"No way! If I do that, and I'm wrong, you'll pummel me."
"Oh yeah. Well, okay, see, it's like this." Ron took a deep, steadying breath, fiddled around uncertainly for a few moments, then said, "Well . . . if you want to date Ginny . . ." he screwed up his face, "well, I reckon . . . it's fine by me."
Harry sat there, dazed, stunned, and vaguely embarrassed. "You - you mean it?" he said, shoving up his glasses from the tip of his nose.
"Yeah. I do. And do you . . . ?" He raised his eyebrows slightly, apparently unable to bring himself to utter the words "fancy my sister."
Well, if Ron wasn't going to turn him into a cabbage, or punch him, or commit any other act of abuse, Harry supposed it would be safe to divulge his secret to someone else. . . . "Erm, yeah. Yeah I do." It was amazing, really, that he had told this to two people in one day, when before he had been planning to take it with him to the grave.
Ron's face split into a grin. He looked deeply proud of himself. "Might I say, for the record, that I have been predicting this since second year?"
"Oh you're a right old Trelawney, you are, mate," returned Harry sarcastically.
"That offends me, you know!" Ron suddenly became earnest. "So, what will you get her?"
"Trelawney? I was thinking Divination: A Beginner's Guide."
Ron looked annoyed. "Hey, I'm the funny one, remember? I'm serious, Harry! I'm Ginny's brother, you know, I can just tell things about her - and it's really important to her, all right, what you get her!"
Harry averted his eyes to his incomplete Transfiguration essay mulishly. "Thanks for lifting the pressure, Ron."
"Well . . ."
"It's just - it's got to be something important, you know? Something special. I don't want to get her just any old thing, you know, like an inkpot or hairclips - sorry," he added hastily to Ron, who shrugged with indifference. "But . . . I don't know what."
"It's not that hard, Harry," said Ron pompously, as though he were quite the expert on buying for love interests.
"Oh yeah? But I don't want to buy her any duds, you know, like that perfume you got Hermione for Christmas last year that smelled like trolls' feet!"
Stricken, Ron colored. "Hey she said that smelled really good, all right!"
"No, what she said was, 'It's really unusual.'"
"Oh yeah," Ron mumbled, looking down. "But - but this year I'll get her something better! Like - like a potted plant or something! Girls love that sort of stuff, right? Or maybe a book about Arithmancy, she's always going on about that, or maybe a paperweight to help her with all that parchment she has -"
Harry stared at Ron derisively. "You need even more help than I do."
Ron smirked at him. "Well at least I got her a present."
Shifting restlessly, Harry sighed. "Good point."
Their discussion ended a few minutes later, when Hermione burst into the room, glanced nosily over their shoulders to assess their work, and then ruptured into a lecture about using one's time wisely - for they had been up there working on "homework" for the past hour, and both had only about a paragraph each.
The next day soon dawned, bright and blue-skied, the eve of Ginny's birthday. After some heavy begging on Harry's part to Mrs. Weasley, the trio were permitted to revisit Diagon Alley. Mrs. Weasley was extremely reluctant to allow them, considering the dangers now that the second war had begun - but she relented when Bill offered to come along and look after them. He was due at the Order's headquarters at twelve, however, leaving Harry only an hour to shop. But it was better than nothing, he supposed, and was soon stepping into the Floo powder-induced flames.
When he left Diagon Alley an hour later, he was heartily dissatisfied. Rushed by the limited amount of time, frantic now that he only had a few hours until Ginny's birthday, he was force to settle - the last thing he had wanted to do. He ended up purchasing - very unwillingly, but because nothing better presented itself, and because he didn't have time to be overly selective - a quill. Yes, it was that bad. At least the quill wasn't any run-of-the-mill writing utensil - it was a rich emerald-green, because Ginny had declared that to be her favorite color, and rather like a Sugar Quill in that it tasted sweet and sugary (rather like cotton candy) when one sucked on the top. But it could write, and it was also enchanted to have a never-ending supply of ink on its point, so that inkpots were rendered unneccessary. It was a very nice, expensive quill, but still that, a quill, and Harry had wanted something quite a bit more extravagant and - dare he say it? - romantic. Even Hermione had to work not to scoff.
All too soon it was August eleventh. After a sumptuous, banquet-like lunch (all of Ginny's favorites, of course), it was time to open presents. It was a much quieter affair than Harry's birthday, simply himself, Hermione, and her family, all except Percy. And that seemed to be the way she wanted it.
Ginny opened all of the presents with much enthusiasm, laughter, and thanking. When she opened the twins' package, an explosion of stupendously colored fireworks spewed out, followed by three doves, a white rabbit, and a shower of confetti in the form of Ginny's face (Harry had to restrain himself from snagging one and keeping it). And inside that, among twisted firework remnants and rabbit droppings, was a new invention of Fred and George's, a set of luridly purple pills.
"They're called Soprano Sweets," explained Fred, while his mother looked on with slit-eyed disapproval.
"They dissolve insantly in any liquid," George went on, "and they make the drinker of that liquid start singing uncontrollably in high soprano - for any length of time from one minute to fifteen minutes, depending on the amount you drop into their beverage."
"We're counting on you to drop at least three of these into Snape's goblet of pumpkin juice," said Fred confidentially.
"Only joking, Mum!" But when his mother's gaze had flicked elsewhere, Fred shook his head at Ginny and mouthed, "No we weren't."
Ginny, Harry noticed, carefully picked her way around Harry's gift, clearly saving it for last. Harry's gut wrenched horribly. She obviously expected something grand and meaningful, just like what she had given him. But she was in for a disappointment . . . it was just some stupid, boring quill . . . Perhaps Harry was overreacting, but he couldn't help but feel miserable and revolted with himself for his ineptness. . . .
Harry gritted his teeth as Ginny shredded the wrapping on his gift several minutes later. "What could it be?" she mused aloud, flashing him that smile he loved so much, as she lifted the lid of the diminutive box. Slowly she reached in and lifted the brilliant quill out. Perhaps Harry was the only one to see - it was only for a fraction of a second, and he was watching her fixedly - but Ginny's face fell. Then a mask of cheerfulness enveloped it once more, and she looked up at Harry and said, "Thanks! It's beautiful."
"It - it has an unending supply of ink already in it, so you don't need inkpots." Harry found his lips forming the words of their own accord. He was too discouraged, too embarrassed, for anything else. For his birthday she had given him something he would treasure all his life and beyond, something he had set out and would own and cherish forever . . . and he, he had gotten her some silly little quill that she probably didn't need? How he hated himself!
"Oh, isn't that lovely?" crooned Mrs. Weasley, examining the crisp, fluffy green quill kindly. But Harry could see she was inwardly thinking the same thing he was.
After the presents Ginny stated it was Quidditch time, and as she was the birthday girl she had the choice of activities. The twins, Ron, Bill, and Charlie all readily trooped outside to the field, brooms in hand, with a resigned but polite Hermione, loaded with several tomes she had recently bought herself, which she planned to read while the others played. The rest of the day passed in a blur for Harry, whose mind was on his disappointment in himself about the substandard present. Before he knew it he was stuffed with another incredible feast of Mrs. Weasley's, he and Ron having a chess match in the drawing room, Ginny and Hermione on the floor, playing with Crookshanks and chatting.
"Your move," said Ron, cupping his chin in his hand as he studied the chessboard.
Dubiously Harry sent a pawn a space forward. Without a word Ron's bishop leapt onto the pawn, wrestled it the ground, and captured it in a vicious headlock. Harry grunted irritably and went again, although he could already tell he was going to lose.
"So . . ." said Ron, "what are you going to do now?"
"Lose with flying colors."
"No, I mean about Ginny." He lowered his voice with a wary glance at his keen-eared sister; but she was busy chattering away to Hermione, and not paying the boys the least bit of attention.
"You should talk to her," said Ron firmly.
Harry's innards squirmed at the thought. "Eh . . ."
"If you don't, nothing's ever going to happen, you know."
"What makes you so involved in your sister's love life all the sudden?" demanded Harry, although in hushed tones.
"Well . . ." Ron leaned over the board conspiratorially and muttered, "Well, I don't want her with any old git, and she's just going to attract more idiots if I don't do something. So I figure you're the best git - I mean, er, bloke - for the job. Plus she's nutters about you, has been since she was ten. And I, well, don't tell her this, mind . . . but I want my sister to be happy. You know?"
Harry didn't know, as he'd never had a sister, nor any siblings, but he could imagine. He nodded, brow creasing slightly, and returned to the game. He still wasn't sure if he could actually bring himself to say anything to Ginny that night.
By the time Ginny stood up at eleven and announced she was heading to bed, Harry still hadn't done anything. Ron shot Harry a quick, desperate glance, but Harry remained still and silent. Bidding them a cheery goodnight, Ginny disappeared off to her room. Harry thought he saw Ron and Hermione exchange a dark look. A few minutes later they, too, decided to retire for the evening. Since he had nothing else to do and no one to talk to, he followed suit.
As he pulled on his pajamas and listened to Ron wiggle into a comfy position on his bed, he caught movement from out the window. Something was moving out on the backyard. Immediately alert, he tugged on his night shirt quickly and peered out. The moon was full and glaringly bright, illuminating the yard in white and silver. He could see the figure clearly: petite and red-haired and nightgowned, and seated on the garden bench. So Ginny hadn't gone to bed after all.
As Harry came to a decision and charged to the door, Ron asked groggily, "Where're you goin', Harry?"
"Erm - just gonna get some water, Ron."
Ron rolled back over and stuffed his face into his violently orange pillow. "'Kay."
With that Harry set off across the dark, quiet house, and was soon striding over the moonlight-tinted grass to where Ginny was sitting. He hadn't thought to don shoes, so his feet were soon wet and cold with dew, but he didn't particularly care about that at the moment.
Ginny turned her head when she heard his footfalls, looking mildly surprised to see him there. "Harry? What are you doing? Shouldn't you be in bed?"
She smiled. "I didn't feel like sleeping yet. It's only my birthday for another fifteen minutes, did you know that? It's been my secret tradition since I was six to stay awake on my birthday till it's completely over, till it's midnight and a new day. Childish, I know, but . . ."
"It's not childish," said Harry breathlessly, full of admiration for her. "I like it."
She shrugged. "Thanks."
A companionable silence settled over them, as Ginny stared up silently and reverently at the giant orb of the moon, and Harry stared down at his twiddling thumbs, trying to organize in his head what he wanted to say.
"Ginny, about your present . . ." he began awkwardly. He didn't want to say it, but he figured he might as well get everything out now.
Ginny cocked her head. "What about it?"
"I didn't like it," he replied bluntly. "It wasn't good enough for you."
Ginny's eyebrows rose. "Harry, it's a really nice gift . . ."
He wrung his hands in exasperation. "Yeah it's nice, but it's not great, it's not anything of any real value. Look what you got me! A picture of Sirius, something that valuable, something that wonderful - and all I get you is a quill?"
Ginny looked rather perturbed. "What am I supposed to say to that, anyway? Am I supposed to agree with you? You're badmouthing your own present!"
"Yeah, I know, because it stunk worse than that perfume Ron gave Hermione."
Ginny frowned, then laughed and said, "Oh you mean eau du troll?"
Momentarily Harry thought, I knew I wasn't the only one who thought it smelled like a troll! But then he continued, "I'm just telling you, I'm sorry I got you that. It wasn't very good. I'll do better next time. You deserve better."
"Harry . . . what are you trying to say?"
"I'm trying to say . . ." Closing his eyes briefly, he mustered up his courage and plunged on, "I like you."
Ginny's eyes expanded slightly, but she took it more calmly than he would've guessed. "You do?"
Harry grimaced in humiliation. "Yeah, I do."
"I see." Pause. "Then there is something you can give me, in compensation for that shoddy quill."
Harry opened his eyes and looked at her skeptically. "There . . . is?"
"Yes." But Ginny didn't say anything more after that, simply smiled hugely; and after a few moments of puzzlement, Harry got the message.
Leaning forward, he whispered, "Happy birthday, Gin," and kissed her on the lips.