Author's Note: Hi, everyone! I'm back! It took me an especially long time to write this one, but I had a strike of brilliance, and now it's finished. I hope it'll put everyone in a good Halloween mood. It's very season appropriate. :) Please, please review. On my last story, Harry's Gift, very few people reviewed, so please do. Oh, by the way, if you're wondering, the reason I know so much about carving pumpkins is because it's tradition in my family. So yes, every year I have to pull out those disgusting pumpkin guts. :)
Thanks and enjoy!
Disclaimer: Don't even ask me if I own Harry Potter; it'll depress me.
When the leaves of the Forbidden Forest began to turn red-gold and drop away, when the winds began to bite at exposed cheeks and fingers, and when the pumpkins in Hagrid's garden swelled to the size of cars, Harry knew it was Halloween time. He couldn't help but feel gloomy. Halloweens had never been joyous occasions for him. With the Dursleys, obviously, they had been nothing short of torturous. Of course he had never been given a costume, never been allowed to eat candy or go trick-or-treating. He had been delegated the unpleasant task of handing out candy to the lucky trick-or-treaters—and, his uncle and aunt added menacingly, if he sampled so much as a crumb of a Mars Bar or a nibble of gum, he would be slapped silly and locked in the cupboard till Christmas. It was pure misery, having to dispense sweets to others his age, to see his peers laughing and frolicking and enjoying themselves, dressed up in their fanciful costumes. Dudley, of course, always had the most expensive of costumes—mostly rather gory ones: a murderer with a mask that leaked fake blood, a zombie with plastic eyeballs hanging out of his head, or some such gruesome thing. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon spared no expense to ensure Dudley had a wonderful Halloween, while throwing the rest of their effort into making sure Harry had a horrible one.
Once he had entered Hogwarts his Halloweens had improved to some degree, but he still couldn't say they were outright fun. In first year there had been that fiasco with the troll. Then in second year there was the unspeakably depressing deathday, the attack on Mrs. Norris, and the opening of the Chamber of Secrets. The Halloweens of his third, fourth, and fifth year had been similarly marred.
All this, of course, wasn't really enough to make him dread the upcoming holiday. It was more the fact that that was the day his parents had died, had been murdered by the hand of Voldemort. It made him feel sick to think about. He had never really considered it before. All these years he had been unhappy on Halloween for so many other various, smaller reasons, which seemed minuscule in comparison. He had never realized it was the anniversary of his parents' deaths. Until now. And now, when Ron chattered on excitedly about the Halloween feast, or Hermione elatedly told them Dumbledore had booked a famous singing troupe of ghosts, Harry merely paled and said nothing. How could he look forward to Halloween, how could he have a good Halloween? He felt it would be wrong, unfair to the memory of his parents.
As Halloween grew nearer and nearer, and Harry's mood worsened, the outdoors became more inviting. The trees were all the colors of fire—scarlet, gold, yellow, brown, russet—and the skies were almost perpetually a bright, piercing blue. The weather had diminished from the heat of summer to the sweet coolness of autumn. There was only the slightest bite in the breezes; the air was crisp and fresh, scented with leaves, spices, and the gentle tang of wood smoke from Hagrid's cabin. Harry preferred being outside more than anywhere else, alone with his thoughts, musings, and glumness. Initially Hermione and Ron had searched him out each time he tried to be alone, questioning and prodding and wanting him to spend time with them. Then they had formed their new relationship, and the searches had become far less frequent, as they preferred spending time alone together. So he would pace around over the fresh-cut grass of the grounds, toss stones in the lake, and, occasionally, visit Hagrid for some tea and rock cakes. But mostly he preferred being by himself.
It was only a few days until Halloween, and Harry's mood was at an all-time low. Passing the pumpkin patch on one of his daily walks, Harry noticed something rather odd, making him pause in his relentless trudging and stare. Amongst the huge, towering orange mass of the other pumpkins Hagrid was meticulously growing, was—a normal pumpkin. Though fair sized for a regular pumpkin, it was a thimble in comparison to the others' enormity. Harry frowned at it. He simply couldn't understand why Hagrid would be cultivating a normal, run-of-the-mill pumpkin. Perhaps it was a mistake; perhaps Hagrid had accidentally missed this one with his Engorgement Charm. But Harry couldn't see how. It was quite visible, right at the front, and Harry knew that Hagrid was extremely scrupulous and thorough with his pumpkins. He wouldn't make such a careless and blatant mistake.
"Admiring my pumpkin, Harry?" A light, recognizable voice expelled from behind him.
Harry jumped and, as had been happening quite a lot lately when Harry had been hearing this particular voice, his stomach did a cartwheel. Turning around, he found himself looking at none other than Ginny Weasley. He winced. Not that she was at all bad to look at (his stomach did another uncomfortable flip-flop), but he knew she would want to talk, which was the last thing he felt like doing.
Ginny merely smiled at him mischievously, her lengthy hair making the deep red leaves of the surrounding trees appear dull in contrast.
In accompaniment of the butterflies, Harry found he also had a difficult time speaking coherently around her nowadays. "Erm—wha—what did you say? Your pumpkin?"
She had already walked over to the pumpkin and was bent down, examining it proudly. "Yep, mine."
Harry looked at her blankly. Ginny never failed to surprise him. "Er—why?"
"I'll explain in a moment," she said, running a hand up and down its smooth orange surface, peering at it like a mother searching for ticks on her child. "Yes . . . I think it's ready. Well, it's about time; Halloween's only in a few days."
Harry grimaced at the mention of Halloween; he was about to comment sourly, but at that moment a great shadow fell over him. Without the light warmth of the sunlight on the back of his neck, it was nastily brisk. Whirling around in surprise, he found himself faced with a vast, plump midriff in matted furs. "Oh—hi, Hagrid," he said, craning his neck to see his friend's face.
Hagrid's twinkling black eyes shifted from Ginny to Harry, and he smiled widely. "'Lo, Harry, Ginny. All righ'?"
Harry shrugged noncommittally, but Ginny responded with a bright, "Yes!" She straightened and dusted off the front of her robes. "Is that okay if I carve now, Hagrid?"
"Yup." Beaming, Hagrid lumbered over to her and leaned down to pick up the pumpkin. With one easy tug he had jerked the pumpkin free of its vines. He had to bend almost double to transfer its weight carefully into Ginny's arms, saying as he did so, "It's a beaut, eh? Nice and roun' . . . Though a bit puny . . . I could make it bigger, if yeh want . . ."
Ginny laughed, her arms full of pumpkin. "Any bigger and I'll have to carry it around in a wheelbarrow. Thanks, Hagrid. I hope it wasn't any trouble."
"Eh, trouble." Smiling, Hagrid waved it away with one massive hand, which the girl had to duck in order to avoid being whacked ten feet. "Not a bit, Ginny. You have fun carvin', now."
"I will." She started forward, then paused with a glance at Harry. "Do you want to help me? It's a lot of fun, you know, making jack-o-lanterns . . . I've been doing it since I was small . . ."
For several seconds Harry was deeply tempted. He had seen other families (Muggle families), carve the smiley faces into pumpkins, although never firsthand—the Dursleys scorned it and believed it too messy, and always purchased those cheap, plastic jack-o-lanterns with the electrical cords.
But then the temptation slid away at the thought of his mother and father. "No," he heard himself saying dully, "I don't think I will, thanks."
For a moment Ginny's face fell in disappointment; then she hitched a smile back on, as though determined not to let her true feelings show. "Oh. All right, Harry . . . Thanks again, Hagrid," she called, turning around. As she plodded away, Harry's eyes lingered on her long, swinging hair. It was the Weasley red, all right, but so different from her brothers'—certainly he never found himself gazing googly-eyed at Ron's locks. He found himself subconsciously naming all the varying shades of red he could see in her hair—scarlet, ruby, dark orange, crimson, burgundy, even gold when it caught the sunlight just so . . .
Hagrid waved at her retreating back, yelling, "Ah, anytime, Ginny, anytime." There was a pause, and then he faced Harry, who quickly roused himself from his Ginny-induced stupor.
Hagrid began asking Harry how classes were going, but Harry couldn't contain his curiosity about Ginny a second longer. "So . . . does she—does she always . . . ?"
Hagrid's moist black eyes softened at once. "Carve her own jack-o-lantern? Yup, wouldn't be Ginny if she didn'. She's been askin' me to keep an ordinary pumpkin, jus' for her, since her firs' year. Likes to do it; I reckon it reminds her o' home. It's tradition for her."
"But you carve the pumpkins."
"I carve the pumpkins fer the school; Ginny makes her own. Sweet, isn' it? And she's dern good at it, too; I always say to 'er, I say, better not let the Headmaster see those jack-o-lanterns you carve—you'd put me outta the job, no problem." He chuckled jokingly. Abruptly he turned serious, although his beetle-black eyes continued to sparkle beneath thick, hairy eyebrows. "Yeh should go with her, Harry. Help her out. I reckon she'd like the company. Always has to do it alone; her brothers never carried on the tradition, jus' her. Go to her."
Harry could feel himself blush in the sharp autumn air. "I—I don't know, Hagrid . . . she's been doing it alone all this time; she probably likes it that way."
Hagrid began to smile, his tangled beard twitching faintly. "She'd like it if you was with her, righ' enough. And I'm sure yeh wouldn' find her company so bad." His tone was teasing.
Beet-red with embarrassment, Harry stared at his feet. He didn't know he'd been that transparent about his growing feelings for Ginny. "Well . . ."
"Here." Hagrid walked behind the pumpkin patch, momentarily disappearing behind the orange bulk of the vegetables; when he reemerged, he carried a pumpkin the same size as Ginny's in one hand, as effortlessly as though it were a basketball.
"How many more of those do you have back there?" Harry demanded, mystified.
Hagrid chortled. "Just the one. I always grow an extra one, see, jus' in case the other dies or wilts or gets attacked by flesh eatin' slugs. Maybe a bit overcautious, but I wan' Ginny to have her tradition. But it's turned out fine, as yeh can see, and I don' have a use for this one."
"You could make pumpkin pie," suggested Harry.
But Hagrid shook his head disdainfully. "Nah. Too small." Harry raised his eyebrows; the pumpkin, though insignificant in size compared to the enchanted ones, was still large enough for a grown man to have difficulty carrying around. Regardless, Hagrid held it out solemnly to the sixth year. "But it's yers, Harry. If yeh want it."
Harry stepped forward, then hesitated. "I don't know how to carve a pumpkin."
"Ah, well, Ginny'll gladly teach yeh that, I've no doubt. Go on, Harry. She's waitin'."
Decided, Harry accepted the pumpkin, thanked Hagrid, and began toward Ginny.
She wasn't hard to find. Her flaming-red hair made it instantly obvious as to her location. Situated quaintly on a small rock overlooking the lake, she had set her pumpkin before her and was scrutinizing it like a painter studies an empty canvas.
"Oh, hi, Harry," she greeted as he approached, looking surprised but nonetheless pleased to see him. Her eyes widened at the sight of what he held awkwardly in his arms. "How did you get that?"
Grunting, he set the heavy pumpkin besides Ginny's own, then collapsed next to her, winded. "Hagrid. He had a spare."
Ginny grinned. "Does this mean you'll carve with me?"
"Well . . . yeah. But I don't know how."
"Oh don't worry, I'll teach you. First you have to decide what kind of a face you want for your jack-o-lantern. Happy, sad, scary, crazy, confused . . ."
"Er—you can make a pumpkin look confused?"
"Well . . . er, happy, I guess."
"Good choice." Pulling a quill and inkpot from her pocket, she went on, "Then you want to draw the face in, really lightly, just to show you where to cut. I'll do mine first." She dipped her quill into the inkpot and touched it delicately to her pumpkin, beginning to sketch a triangular eye.
Harry watched her work in awe. "I didn't know the Weasleys carved jack-o-lanterns."
"Well, it's not something we brag about. Anyway, the rest of my family hasn't done this in years. Since I've left home, actually. I think the only reason we did it so long was because I liked it so much, really. Could you hold this for me, please?"
She meant her pumpkin. Obligingly Harry took it into his lap and held it steady while she drew.
Harry persisted, "I didn't know Wizarding families made jack-o-lanterns. I thought it was sort of a Muggle thing."
"Oh it is. Most wizards don't. But my dad, obsessed with Muggles as he is, he found out about it one day at work, and we've been doing it ever since."
"Why didn't Ron ever mention it? Why doesn't he help you?"
She laughed as she perfected her pumpkin's nose. "Ron never liked pumpkin carving. He doesn't like jack-o-lanterns at all."
Harry blinked. He had thought he'd known Ron from top to bottom, but his friend's aversion to jack-o-lanterns was a revelation. "Why not?"
She laughed again, impishness in her eyes. "He had a bad experience."
Harry started to grin. "Were the twins involved?"
"Come to think of it, they were." Having finished with her drawing, she lifted the pumpkin from Harry's lap, and then took Harry's pumpkin into her own lap while handing him the quill. "Your turn."
Harry frowned uncertainly as he touched the tip of the quill to his pumpkin. "Erm . . . how do I draw on this? It's so lumpy."
"You've just got to be careful, that's all. Careful, slow, and neat."
"If you say so." Gingerly, screwing up his face in suspense, Harry touched the point of the quill to the pumpkin. He started to draw, slowly, wobblingly. A drop of black ink dribbled from the quill point as he was finishing the triangle that was to be his jack-o-lantern's right eye. "Oh, damn!"
Ginny laughed. "You don't have to get so worked up; it's just a jack-o-lantern."
"Oh yeah. Sorry. Well he'll just be a crying pumpkin, I s'ppose."
Ginny frowned at him. "Are you a wizard or not?" Reaching into her robes pocket, she procured her wand and jabbed it at the ink trail. "Scourgify." Immediately the imperfection vanished.
"Oh—right." Sheepishly Harry reloaded his quill and commenced drawing the left eye. "What happened to Ron, then?"
Ginny's grin returned full measure. "Well, it was one year around Halloween time . . . This was before the twins had entered Hogwarts, so even though they didn't have a wand they could still perform magic without getting into trouble with the Ministry—well, Mum would scream at them till she blacked out, then send them to their room for a week, but anyway . . . Sometimes they liked to steal Mum or Dad's wand, just for a short period when they thought they could get away with it. And as it was near Halloween, we had just carved our pumpkins. And when no one was around Fred and George magicked Ron's to, well, bite."
"Yes. He had made a cute little pumpkin, with a big smiling face and round eyes, and one minute he was opening the top to put a candle inside and the next—it lunges at him and clamps its mouth over his arm."
Harry couldn't help it—he laughed.
Ginny started laughing too. "So he started yelling and flailing around and so on. The twins and Bill and Charlie and I were rolling around on the floor by this time, as you can imagine, but Mum and Dad weren't, er, so thrilled. They set to work trying to rescue Ron. Well, it got sorted out all right, and Ron wasn't even hurt—I mean honestly, it was a pumpkin. He was just shaken and scared and a bit bruised up. He's always hated jack-o-lanterns since. That was the last year he carved one. Traumatized him for life, poor boy."
"You don't sound that sympathetic."
"I'm not. The look on his face when it happened was too priceless."
Harry chortled, making his hand move—the mouth was now an uneven slash across the bottom of the jack-o-lantern's face, and there were several more smears of ink. "Well, er, I'm done."
Ginny took it out of her lap and set it next to her own. The difference was considerable—Ginny had drawn expertly, without mistake, and Harry's was scratchy, drippy, and—
"Awful," he said flatly.
"No, it's not, it's . . . well, no, it's awful. I thought you wanted a happy face; why did you do a scary one?"
Harry glared at her in mock outrage. "It is a happy face."
Ginny glanced back at the pumpkin and cocked her head at it, considering. "It looks like he has indigestion."
"Fine, he's a happy pumpkin with indigestion."
Ginny giggled, then once more resumed her businesslike tones. "Alright, next part is carving. First you have to take out the top. Like this." She took a small carving knife from her other pocket. Carefully but firmly, she stuck the knife into the pumpkin's skin, at a point close to the stem. She showed him how to saw around the stem, then, once she had had cut all the way around, to pull it up and take off the top. When Harry had done the same—or, rather, Harry had attempted and Ginny had ended up doing it for him—she announced the next step of the process: removing the guts.
Harry stared at her in horror. "The guts?"
"Guts? Pumpkins have guts?!"
"Yes, guts, and are you really that squeamish?"
Harry hastily dropped his revolted expression, and henceforth resolved to act manlier. "Erm, so how do you do that?"
"Remove the guts? Simple." First Ginny hitched up the sleeves of her robes (Harry followed suit, still feeling privately disgusted), then plunged her hands unflinchingly into the hole she had made at the pumpkin's top. There was a nasty squelching sound, and when she extracted her hand, it was holding a fistful of slimy orange gunk, layered with fat white seeds.
Harry's eyebrows shot to his forehead. "That's the inside of a pumpkin?!"
"Harry, Harry, so young, so naïve." She deposited the guts into a large bowl beside her. With that she reached back into the pumpkin, coming up with another few fistfuls.
"There's more of that rubbish?"
"Loads more. And unless you want to be leagues behind, you'd better start de-gutting."
Harry shuddered at her lovely word choice. "But . . . ugh . . ." Squeezing his eyes shut and wrinkling his nose, like a five-year-old presented with something icky, he let his hand descend into the depths of his own pumpkin. His fingers met with cold, damp, slippery muck.
Ginny had paused in her rooting to watch him, eyes glittering with wicked amusement. "That's it, Harry—just fix your fingers around it and pull."
Harry obeyed—and out came his hand, coated with wetness and sticky with seeds and goo.
"There you go—that's it."
Empowered, Harry reached in for a second handful—and another, and another. Despite the unpleasant, squishy feel, and the funny, sweetish smell, it really wasn't that bad.
"See? Rather satisfying, isn't it?" Ginny laughed. "You can pretend it's Snape's brains you're removing or something."
After envisioning this, Harry smirked and agreed, "It is satisfying."
Once mining out the guts became automatic, Harry continued to pump her about her childhood. He was vastly intrigued by it; she had had one so unlike his own.
"So was Ron always preyed on by the twins? Or was it rare?"
"Well, Gred and Forge prank everybody within fifty paces, as you know; but in our childhood Ron was mainly subject to their mischief. I mean, he's the logical choice. Think about it: Bill and Charlie are too old and smart and strong to take too much of that. Percy explodes and rants if you so much as approach him with a rubber chicken, or anything that looks like fun and games. And I'm the girl and the youngest," she rolled her eyes, "so naturally Mum's more protective of me than anyone; the twins knew if they preyed on me too much Mum would kill them. But then there's Ron." An evil smile lit her face. "He's younger than them, he's dumber than them, and let's face it, he's none too quick on the pickup—and Mum and Dad wouldn't punish them as much for doing something to Ron."
"Ron must've had a hard childhood," Harry teased.
"Well let's just say he got turned into a lot of different things—once a cockatoo, but my personal favorite was a wallaby—his toys were never safe, he couldn't trust any sweets he ever got, and his hair has been turned green twice. Once green with streaks of purple in it, very lovely."
Harry shook his head, smiling. "I'm glad I'm talking to you," he confessed.
Ginny suddenly straightened, looking at him with a large grin. "Really?"
"Really. It's interesting. Talking to the little sister, you find out so much more than your friend would ever tell you."
And just like that, the smile disappeared. She bent back down over her pumpkin, wrenching out the greatest quantity of guts yet with harsh, jerky movements. The guts fell into their pile with a loud, wet smack.
It took Harry a few moments to realize what he had said. His chest constricted; his nails dug into his palms. Stupid, stupid, stupid! he cursed himself. He hadn't meant it that way at all.
"You know, Ginny, that didn't come out right . . . I mean, I—I don't just talk to you because of Ron . . . I mean, I like talking to you—"
"It's okay," she said quickly, though her scowl was fierce as she dredged up the last morsels of seed and slime from her pumpkin. "I understand that. I'm just Ron's little sister to you, that's okay, I accept that . . ."
Harry swallowed. How to say what he was feeling without mortally embarrassing himself? "No—you're more to me than that—I mean—I don't just think of you as my best friend's sister, I really don't. . . ."
Ginny said nothing, but Harry thought maybe her cheeks her a tad pinker than the weather merited. "Now it's time to carve," she said at last, cleansing her and Harry's sticky hands with a clever charm.
Glad of the subject change, Harry scooted closer and asked, "Alright, how d'you do that?"
"Well, you hold the knife like this, and . . ." She began instructing him on the finer points of pumpkin-carving, then set to work on her own. Though Harry was sure the skin of the pumpkin was tough, Ginny must've been stronger than he gave her credit for; she had no trouble cutting through the thick layer of orange, painstakingly following the ink lines she had drawn for herself.
"What d'you think?" she asked several minutes later, setting down the knife and cocking her head at the finished jack-o-lantern.
"Beautiful," Harry said admiringly, although he was more so looking at her face than the jack-o-lantern's.
She passed the knife over to Harry with a grin. "Alright, it's your turn, Potter. And mind you don't cut your fingers off; you don't want to get blood on your pumpkin."
Fumblingly, rather nervously, Harry poked the tip of the knife into one of his pumpkin's eyes. Only through much pushing and straining did it sink in. He was uncertain about this. The only truly sharp knife he had ever used had been the one Sirius had given him (which was nothing more than a ruined, twisted, melted length of metal now), and he had used that solely for unlocking doors.
Watching him with her knees drawn up to her chest, Ginny laughed. "Harry, you're handling it like a wand, not a knife. Here, you hold it like this, remember?" And, without warning, she reached out and placed her hand over his on the handle of the knife. Harry stiffened as heat spread down his neck. Seemingly unruffled, Ginny arranged his fingers over the handle, then guided him along as he cut out the pumpkin's eye.
"See? Like that." She sounded a little breathless.
"Oh, erm, okay, I get it . . ." He started on the other eye with more confidence and skill. He was half tempted to act inept, just so she would put her hand on his again.
It took Harry twice as long to carve his pumpkin than Ginny, but that was to be expected, and Ginny was nothing but patient and helpful, if not a bit teasing.
As he was cautiously carving out the mouth, weaving his knife in and out between crooked teeth, he made a snorting, half-laughing sound. Ginny looked at him in surprise. "What?"
"Oh, nothing . . . just imagining what Malfoy would say if he could see me now."
Ginny sniggered, and then adopted a nearly perfect version of Malfoy's mocking, malignant voice. "'Carving jack-o-lanterns, Potty? Isn't that a bit low, even for you? What are you, a Muggle five-year-old?' "
Harry molded his face into a thoughtful expression. "What do you think the punishment would be if I enchanted my pumpkin to maul him?"
"Hmm, I don't know, there's probably not a rule about that, as it's never happened. Maybe you could just turn him into a pumpkin."
"And carve something on it."
Ginny chuckled. "Carve 'I love Harry Potter' on it. Or 'Go Gryffindor!' Or 'I Heart Muggles.' "
"He'd appreciate that," Harry agreed. With a last great effort, he carved around the remaining tooth and jerked his knife free of the skin. "Okay. All done." He felt a swift sense of pride, gazing upon his jack-o-lantern, even though it was rather appalling and resembled the face of someone who had had plastic surgery that had gone badly wrong.
"Hm," said Ginny. "If anyone asks you, say you meant to draw the scary, contorted, in-pain face of a person with leprosy."
Harry blurted a laugh. "Aw, come on, it's not that ba—okay it is that bad. But I'm sure you weren't all that great your first time."
"No," Ginny admitted. "I cut away too much, so the front of the pumpkin caved in. Of course," she added pertly, "I was six, as opposed to sixteen."
With that, Harry picked up a handful from the bowl of guts and chucked it at her. It struck the front of her robes with a slap. She gasped and sprang to her feet, like a cat flecked with water. "Harry Potter!"
"I'm in for it now, aren't I?" he said grimly—right before a chunk of slime pelted straight into his face. Sputtering, shaking his head, and spitting out a few of the oily seeds, he whined, "That's a foul! I only got you on the clothes!"
"Don't mess with Ginny Weasley, pumpkin-boy." But there was suppressed laughter in her voice.
In response he threw another wad of guts, but as his glasses were so besmirched with the stuff he missed by a few feet. This gave Ginny the chance to chuck another handful—he ducked hastily before coming back with a counterattack. There followed a ten-minute free-for-all, which concluded when both of them were so slime-covered there wasn't really any point in throwing any more.
"A little while ago I didn't even want to touch this stuff," said Harry, wiping off an inch-thick coating of the goop from his glasses, "and here I am, covered in it."
"Least you don't have it in your hair," said Ginny, trying to untangle a number of seeds from her bedraggled locks, which were now more orange than red.
"It's dinnertime," commented Harry, scrubbing off his watch to squint at the time.
"I'd love to see the faces of everyone when we march into the Great Hall, looking like this," Ginny chortled, wringing out her hair. "Especially if we acted like nothing was wrong. 'What d'you mean, I have something on my shirt?' "
"I'd rather not. It's okay if you call me pumpkin-boy, but the rest of the school chanting it wouldn't be so pleasant."
"You're right. Scourgify," Ginny said, pointing to Harry with her wand. Instantly the seeds and guts layered over Harry evaporated into thin air. She performed the same spell on herself, then sighed with relief once she was spotless. "Good. Although I think we'll still smell like pumpkin till we shower."
"Small drawback. So what're we gonna do with these?" He indicated the two jack-o-lanterns, Ginny's faultless one and his, jagged, slipshod, and rather grotesque, and particularly substandard in comparison to hers.
"Light them, of course. Although we should wait till it's darker, to really heighten the effect." It was early evening by then, and the sun, though setting, still splashed the world with its gradually dimming light.
"Okay," he said amenably, and together they returned to the castle for supper.
"Where were you two all this time?" Ron demanded the moment they took seats beside he and Hermione.
"Doing exactly the same thing you and Hermione were doing," said Ginny casually, spooning peas onto her plate.
Ron froze with an expression of utter horror. Hermione's head snapped up from the book on witch-hunts she was thumbing through to gawk at Ginny and Harry in shock.
"What, I thought you and Hermione were studying?" said Ginny, all wide-eyed innocence.
"Oh—oh yes—right," coughed Ron, slumping back with relief. "Studying. Yeah, that's what we were doing too." He exchanged a glance with Hermione, and they averted their eyes quickly and returned to eating, both faces redder than natural.
Harry and Ginny exchanged highly amused looks. They had perceived right off the bat that Ron and Hermione's "studying" times were usually just private snog sessions. It was so fun to torture them this way.
The minute both Ginny and Harry were finished eating, Ginny glanced up at the enchanted ceiling, which was now totally black and speckled with stars. "All right, it's dark enough now, Harry, let's go," she said, setting down her fork and rising.
Ron and Hermione were engrossed in an argument about homework and barely noticed them get up and start to leave. Finally, when they were nearly out of the Hall, Ron called out, "Oy! Where're you two going?"
But Harry just waved in response, and they hurried down the corridor and out onto the grounds. Without the glare of the sun to tame the chill, it was objectionably cold. Their faces and hands were soon numb; they hugged themselves against the hostile air. Thinking of the temperateness of the daytime, they hadn't thought to bring cloaks or gloves.
Though the night was dark they found the rock upon which sat their pumpkins easily—the light from Hogwarts's countless windows, plus the feeble glint of the moon, was sufficient to illuminate the way. Stopping before the two unlit jack-o-lanterns, Harry thought of something he hadn't considered before.
"Oh—d'you have candles?"
"Candles," scoffed Ginny. "We do have wands, remember?" Removing the top from her pumpkin, she stuck her wand in and murmured, "Illumine." Immediately a bright, unwavering light flared from inside, and it lingered even when she pulled her wand out and replaced the top. The golden glow spilled from the eyes, nose, and mouth of her jack-o-lantern prettily. She did the same to Harry's, and then they stood back to admire the effect.
"This is the best part," said Ginny reverently, the light from the jack-o-lanterns reflected in her eyes.
"Nah, better than the guts-pulling part?" joked Harry.
Ginny's lips quirked. "By a small degree, yes."
A few minutes passed in companionable silence, before Ginny's brow furrowed and she said, somewhat hesitantly, "Harry . . . what's been the matter with you? These past few weeks, I mean?"
Harry went rather rigid. He hadn't thought of his parents, or what they would think of this, once in the past few hours. Did that make him a horrible son?
Yet, though Hermione and Ron had asked him this many times and it had nettled him to no end, Harry found he did not mind as much with Ginny. "Er . . . well . . . I just don't like Halloween, that's all."
Ginny started. "How could you not like Halloween?"
Harry drew a deep breath. Did he really want to tell her? He was silent for a minute or so, reluctant, before he relented. "It's—I dunno, maybe you haven't realized this, but . . . it's the day my parents died."
He could feel Ginny stand up a bit straighter. "Oh," she said softly. "I see. I'm sorry, Harry."
Harry didn't know what to say. He was already sinking into his customary mood of regret and self-pity.
"I am sorry about your parents, Harry, and I'm also sorry that you're being such an idiot."
Harry opened his mouth to reply—then her words processed, and he shut his mouth with a clack of teeth, gawping at her. "What did you just say?" An insult was the last thing he had expected.
"I said you're an idiot, Harry! Maybe not all the time, but you're acting like one now, that's for sure. You can't mope about that, you can't make yourself have a miserable life and Halloween just because of that. Harry, it's horrible and sad, but it happened and you shouldn't let your life be ruined by it. You should remember your parents and love them and respect them, but you shouldn't put yourself in these bad moods just for that reason! That's not what they wanted, Harry! They sacrificed themselves so you could live, could be happy, not so you could sulk around wishing things were different. Because you can wish all you want, but nothing's going to change. The only thing you can change is your attitude about things, which, at the moment, stinks."
Stunned, Harry stood stock-still and let her impassioned words roll over him like waves. He couldn't decide whether to be furious by her reproofing, or to admit he was wrong, as he now realized he was. All he did was stare at her, silhouetted by the combined luminosity of the jack-o-lanterns.
Ginny sighed. "But I'm not going to change your bloody mind, am I? All I want for you is to be happy, but you're too thick to do that, are you? Harry, you've got to—"
"I've never had a happy Halloween before," he said stiffly, abruptly. He didn't know why he'd said that, but the words had tumbled out.
"Well, this one can be your first. There's a first time for everything, you know. You may just discover you like the holiday." Crossing her arms, Ginny turned back to face the pumpkins, apparently too upset to speak anymore.
Several minutes passed in silence. Then—
Ginny turned back toward him, uncrossing her arms. "Do you mean it?" she asked, half as if she thought he were being sarcastic.
"Y-yeah. I do. I mean—and it's not just thanks for that—it's just thanks for . . . everything."
Ginny snorted bitterly. "What've I ever done for you?"
He felt his heart crumple a little. "How can you even ask that? You've done so much . . . you've helped me get over Sirius's death; you've helped me deal with the prophecy; you've made me laugh even when I'm feeling terrible; I've been able to tell you things I can't tell anyone else . . . and—and you taught me pumpkin-carving."
Ginny managed a smile. "Well, that's true. Right useful, that is."
Peering at the jack-o-lanterns they had carved together, now seemingly two grinning (or, in Harry's pumpkin's case, distorted) faces afloat in the blackness, he decided it was now or never. Biting his lip and screwing up his face with nerves, Harry reached out rather tremblingly, and did what he had not for the life of him been able to do with Cho—he took her hand. It was small in his, and cold from the low temperature; but nonetheless it felt unequivocally right. After a moment, it returned his warm, affectionate grip. She gazed up into his eyes, looking a little startled, a little confused, a little uncertain. A little hopeful.
"Gin . . . erm . . . I like you. A lot. I have for a while now, and I was—wondering if you'd, erm, like to go out with me, on the next Hogsmeade weekend." He said the last in a rush, hardly daring to look at her in fear of rejection.
Ginny glanced down at the dim, dew-laden grass, expression solemn. "You're too late, Harry."
Harry's heart stopped. His eyes widened, his grip tightened on her hand. He felt a lump obstruct his throat. Oh no—she had begun to date someone else—why, why hadn't he asked her sooner—
"You're six years too late, actually. But," and now the old Ginny twinkle was back in her eyes, with a hint of mischievousness, "better late than never, I always say. I'd love to go with you." With that she rose up on her tiptoes and kissed him full on the lips.
He grinned at her once they had broken from the kiss. "That was a very evil thing to do, you know, make me think you were going to turn me down."
Ginny shrugged, looking happier than he had ever seen her. "I had to get you back somehow for not noticing me all those years. That was as good a way as any. Now come on; let's take our jack-o-lanterns inside and show Ron."
Harry frowned as he and Ginny began to pick up their pumpkins. "But I thought you said Ron hated jack-o-lanterns."
Ginny's grin was impish. "Exactly."
And, together, they returned to the castle.