Okay, folks, I present you with my very first challenge response. One very loyal reader asked me to write a challenge for her... and this is the result. It's dedicated to Nimbirosa, who has my admiration and deepest sympathy, as she is stuck at home with a cold, with nine-year-old triplet brothers underfoot. Being the mother of a nine-year-old myself, I feel her pain.
This story is a Valentine's Day challenge and had to include: an unwilling visit to Madame Puddifoots by Harry and Ginny, a brawl with Draco Malfoy somewhere in Hogsmeade, a prank from Harry and Ginny on Ron and Hermione, a mention of Cupid somewhere, the lines "Kissing is seriously overrated," and "I'd like to test that theory" in reply. This is my response. The result is rather blatantly fluffy... for those of more discerning tastes, keep in mind that this is a one-off that I churned out in an hour... but it was fun!
Kissing is Seriously Overrated
It was every boys' nightmare. Fate was playing with them, taunting them, throwing them curveballs and expecting them to fail. Spectacularly.
Unfortunately, their female counterparts were oblivious to the struggle their male classmates were facing... the challenge to be everything to some one... the challenge of getting it right, on the first try, without appearing to make any enforced effort whatsoever, while shaking internally at the thought of messing this up, as they were pretty much certain they would, in some way that they would never understand.
Valentines Day, that most confusing of holiday rituals, had somehow managed to land on a Saturday... a Hogsmeade Saturday.
Harry paused at the corner of the corridor, peering around and darting back before he could be seen. Clear left... and again, clear right. He turned the corner.. just as Susan Bones turned into the corridor ahead of him... facing him...
There was no escape.
"Harry! I've been looking for you!"
Harry groaned... not another one!
The pretty Hufflepuff came running up to him, smiled a megawatt smile. Harry had to admit, she was a pretty girl... he'd been noticing all sorts of pretty girls in the past few months. Hogwarts seemed filled with them... but it didn't mean he wanted to...
"...go to Hogsmeade with me this weekend?" Susan smiled winningly.
"I... I'm sorry, Susan... I'm already going with...someone..."
Well, it was true. He planned on going with Ron and Hermione... Ginny would probably be going with one of the several dozen boys who had been sniffing around her, much to Ron's disgust, for the past year.
"Oh..." Susan's face fell, but she smiled. It was a small smile. "Sorry, I..."
"No... I... I would have liked to.. but I..." Harry flushed. He wasn't used to this. Girls didn't follow him about. What was it about Valentine's Day that turned them all into predators?
"You would...?" she brightened.
"Well, if I weren't... well, I'm kind of..."
Understanding lit her eyes. "Oh, you're seeing someone? I'm sorry, Harry, I didn't know."
"I..." I didn't know, either. How did she get that he was seeing someone from... well, it worked. Perhaps if he let her think that, word would get around, and they'd all leave him alone... this week alone, three Hufflepuffs, two Ravenclaws and a Slytherin had all approached him. He suspected the Slytherin was still following him about. "I... yes... yes, I am."
"Really? I hadn't heard... who?"
Harry flushed. He hadn't expected that. Susan Bones wasn't normally the type to question...
Then he saw it. There was a thread of doubt in her eyes. She thought he was lying.
Well, you are, aren't you?
"Ginny Weasley," he said, almost desperately. Then groaned internally. If this got out...
"Really?" Susan's eyes lit. "Well, everyone has expected it, of course... but no one knew that it had already happened! Oh, that's lovely, Harry, it really is! I'm so pleased for you... Hannah will be thrilled... she's a really good friend of Ginny's..."
This was going to be all over the school.
"See you, Harry!" Susan smiled happily as she walked away.
I have to find Ginny.
He didn't have far to go. Turning a corner in the corridor back towards the Gryffindor Tower at a dead run, he suddenly found himself lying in a heap on the cold stone floor... who had put a wall there?
He looked over to see the girl he'd just been racing to find in a similar heap.
"Ummmm... Sorry, Gin..."
"Why were you running?"
"It was like you had a mad Hippogriff after you... are you okay?" she asked as she got a good look at his face. He was flushed, but it wasn't from the run.
"Um, Ginny... I need to talk to you..."
"Well, it'd make for a nice change..." she commented dryly as he helped her to her feet.
"I've spent the last three days trying to avoid talking to any boy, Harry... they all seem to have one thing on their mind..."
Harry felt a flick of rage at this... anyone he found having inappropriate thoughts about Ginny...
"I hate Valentine's Day," she muttered. "At least, with you, I know that I'm not going to have to deal with that... so, what did you want to talk about?"
Harry gulped. How did he get himself into these things?
"Harry? What's wrong?"
"I... ummm... I've done something kind of stupid, Gin..."
Her eyes narrowed. "How stupid?"
"Am I going to want to hex you?"
"Probably," he said, looking rather worried.
"Spit it out, Potter..." she said, her eyes narrowed further.
"I... well... I kind of..."
"Kind of what?"
"I kind of... well... they've been chasing me around the school for days, Gin... and I didn't mean to... but you were the... and then I... and she got this look in her eye... so I said I was going with you."
Ginny looked at him, confused for a moment, then with dawning recognition in her eyes.
"You told someone that I was going to Hogsmeade with you, didn't you?"
"Uh... yeah... kind of."
"Well, yes... yes, I did."
"Susan Bones?" Ginny laughed. "So, the entire school, then, right?"
"I don't think that Susan is..."
"Oh, Susan isn't, but Hannah Abbott couldn't keep her mouth shut underwater. And Susan tells her everything."
"I'm sorry, Gin."
"I'm really, really sorry... if you've already agreed to go with someone else, I'll..."
"I haven't, Harry. "
"No... I hate the whole thing. Everyone puts so much store in it all... but why, if they feel that way, don't they treat each other like that all the time? What is it about February the fourteenth that turned everyone's brain to mush?"
"I don't know," Harry said honestly, turning and walking beside her as they headed back towards the Tower.
"I mean, don't boys think that a girl would like to have the occasional flower or... whatever... through the year? Why make a big deal about it for one day and then forget any kind of romance for the rest of the year?"
"I don't know," Harry shrugged. Ginny sighed, then glanced up at him.
"They've been chasing you around the school?"
"You have no idea," he choked out, embarrassed. "A Slytherin girl... Corey something? She followed me into the boys lavoratory on the third floor..."
Ginny started to laugh.
"It's not funny, Gin... there were guys in there..."
"And she didn't seem to care. She was... well, she was kind of determined."
"I had to dodge through the cubicles to lose her," Harry admitted. "I banished a wall between two of them, and then when she went in after me..."
"I see..." Ginny snorted with suppressed glee.
"Really, Gin... it's maddening..."
"Oh, I know, Harry!" she laughed. "Ernie MacMillian did the same thing to me."
"Moaning Myrtle told him off. While he was distracted by being told off by a teenage ghost in the middle of the girls lavoratory, I escaped."
Harry suddenly had an image of using Ernie as a practice dummy at the next DA meeting. It was oddly satisfying, thinking about it.
"So, yes, I will."
"You will, what?" Harry turned to her, pulled out of his fantasy as he was mentally placing well-aimed itching charms at a helpless Ernie.
"I'll go to Hogsmeade with you." she said simply, turning and giving the Fat Lady the password.
Harry followed her into the Common Room, speechless.
The Wednesday before the fated Saturday trip to Hogsmeade, Harry was still stunned. Ginny had told him Sunday that she would go with him, and he still hadn't told Ron.
Ron would kill him, even if Harry explained the circumstances...
Oh, yes, Ron was going to kill him. Unless Harry could distract him.
Glancing around the Common Room, his eyes landed on Hermione. Something niggled at the back of his mind... a scene from fourth year... where Hermione had looked like a princess, and Ron had been speechless.
Grinning, Harry thought he had and idea. He had to find Ginny.
"You're sure this is going to work?"
"Of course it's going to work," Ginny whispered sharply. "Fred and George sent them to me... they've been fully tested... and they're their biggest sellers right now. I can't believe I haven't seen more of them around here... everyone seems to have a copy of the twin's catalog..."
"But this is Ron..."
"Exactly. He just needs to say how he feels..."
"But what if..."
"Harry, it will work, trust me!"
Harry considered that for a moment. Trusting Ginny felt right... it was just that occasionally, trusting her had the same outcome as trusting the twins.
Harry shuddered at the thought.
"Okay... but what about Hermione?"
"Harry, if you don't stop it, I will hex you," Ginny's eyes sparkled with unexpected glee. "Now, shut up and let it happen."
"Hermione will kill us if she ever..."
"Harry, stop it!" Ginny grabbed the collar of his robes and shook him, bringing his face down to level with hers. They were stopped just outside the Great Hall, and there were other students milling about. A couple of them snickered at the sight of the tiny redhead and the tall black-haired boy.
"Lover's quarrel, Potty?" Malfoy said snidely as he and his goons passed by.
Eyes sparkling more now, Ginny glared at the Slytherin and then turned to Harry. Harry didn't like that look...
He didn't have time to think anything more as Ginny's lips met his in a mind-numbing kiss. Instinctively, his hands found their way to her hips, and Ginny ground herself against him.
Ginny pulled back, took his hand and threw a look at Malfoy, who was standing, staring open mouthed at them.
"It was, Malferret... but I know exactly what to do to make him forgive me..." she said in a low voice, pulling a speechless Harry after her.
Ginny and Harry made their way to the Gryffindor table, to find Ron and Hermione already there, bickering about the size of portions Ron was taking.
"I'm a growing boy, Hermione... I need protein!"
"Six pieces of chicken is excessive for anyone, Ron," Hermione said, pursing her lips.
"I'll work it off playing Quidditch."
"It would be better if you took less, and spent more time studying..."
"Pumpkin juice?" Ginny smiled happily at them, holding up the flagon.
"Thanks, Gin..." Ron held out his cup. Ginny took it and poured it nearly full. With a deft movement, Harry saw a small pink tablet fall from her seemingly closed hand into the cup.
"Thank you, Ginny... Ron, it amazes me that your sister and you were raised in the same family, sometimes..."
Plop. A second tablet fell into Hermione's drink. The unsuspecting witch took the cup from Ginny.
Ron was drinking deeply. Hermione sat her cup down, took a bite of roasted potato, and then chewed. Harry glanced at her twice, nervously. Ginny squeezed his thigh warningly.
And then, Hermione lifted her glass, and drained it.
Within minutes, it seemed, both got rather strange looks on their faces. Hermione was sending surreptitious glances Ron's way, and Ron's hand was edging closer to hers every time she reached for something on the table.
Harry and Ginny watched, fascinated.
Suddenly, Ron put down his fork and turned to Hermione, his face red.
"Oh, Ron... I know!" she threw her arms around him, and they embraced joyfully.
"I thought you'd..."
"I do!" she cried.
"I..." Ron shook his head, just as Hermione did the same. "That was odd... Hermione?"
"Ron?" she looked oddly at him. "Why are you...?"
Harry and Ginny glanced at each other, panicked. The effects were not supposed to wear off that quickly!
"Hermione... why are you...?"
"Ron..." Hermione turned embarrassed eyes away, noting the extreme interest of several students from neighboring tables. "I think we've been pranked."
"We..." Ron turned suspicious eyes on his sister just as there were several loud pops. Turning horrified eyes up, Harry and Ginny saw what could only be described as a nightmare in pink.
Two fat, rather angry-looking cherubs, one with a feral gleam in his eye, had appeared above Ron and Hermione. They were surrounded with floating pink hearts which popped like soap bubbles, only to be replaced with others, seemingly out of thin air.
Ron slowly turned around, his eyes frightened.
"Oi, you gonna kiss her, or do I have to make you?" his Cupid pointed a rather nasty looking arrow at him. Ron whimpered.
Ginny, trying not to laugh through the dawning horror of what they'd done, stood and grabbed Harry's hand, pulling him behind her out of the Great Hall as Ron and Hermione's raised voices followed them. The remainder of the students in the Great Hall burst out into laughter.
Escaping up the stairs and through several corridors, they came to rest against a stone wall in a part of the castle Harry seldom ventured.
"Do you think we lost them?"
"I think," Ginny panted. "That the twins were being rather optimistic when they said those tablets had been fully tested."
To say that Ron and Hermione were mildly annoyed would have been an understatement. Ron, upon finding out that his sister had snogged Harry senseless outside the Great Hall, was even more furious. Unfortunately, the cupid hadn't gone away, simply taken to shooting random arrows off in any direction whenever people were about, causing Ron to become a bit of a pariah in the Gryffindor Tower. Whenever he appeared, people scattered like cockroaches in the light.
Hermione's cupid merely bit out rather offensive, and colorful, curses at anyone who ventured into her path.
When Ginny and Harry confessed to what they'd done, Ron flushed hotly, and Hermione had sat, silent and stunned.
"Look, we just wanted you two to admit what was going on between you... has been going on for years!" Ginny said shortly. "You like each other, why don't you just admit it?"
"Who says that we haven't, Ginny?" Hermione stood.
"We don't tell you and Harry everything, you know," she said shortly.
"What?" Harry turned surprised eyes on Ron, whose ears were turning a delicate shade of crimson.
"Well, we were going to... but we didn't want you to..." Ron muttered.
"So you're already together?" Harry said.
"Yes, Harry, we are. We were going to tell you at Hogsmeade this weekend," Hermione said, her voice rather curt. "Instead, we're now suffering humiliation in front of the entire school."
"Never mind, Harry... just get rid of this damned Cupid!" she spat, turning and retreating to the girls' dorm. Ginny followed helplessly behind after casting an apologetic look at Harry.
"So, Potter, you snogged my sister in the main hall in front of everyone, huh?" Ron's voice was furious.
Harry, sighing, turned back to his friend, noted the slyly grinning Cupid, and groaned. How did he get himself into these situations?
Saturday dawned bright and cold. Harry was sullen. Ron was furious with him, Hermione was exhausted after spending two late nights trying to find some way of getting rid of their increasingly offensive guests. Ron's had take to passing wind at every opportunity, and Hermione's had been making suggestive overtures to Slytherin males. Goyle now had a rather adoring look on his face every time he encountered Hermione in the corridors.
But Harry hoped to fare better today. Yesterday, in the middle of dinner, while Ron gave Harry the silent treatment and Hermione tried to ignore the snickering glances of others, both Cupids, and their accompanying hearts, had disappeared as quickly as they had appeared, leaving behind a puff of pink smoke.
So today, they would not have to put up with the constant presence... but Harry was uncertain as to whether Ron and Hermione were going to want to walk into Hogsmeade with he and Ginny, or if he'd damaged their friendship beyond repair.
Sighing, he threw his legs over the side of his bed and silently headed for the showers.
Ron was silent as they went down to meet the girls in the Common Room before walking to breakfast. The meal was largely silent until Hermione sighed and looked at them both.
"I'm sorry." she said.
Harry's eyes widened, Ginny nearly choked on her banana.
"You're sorry?" Harry asked. "We're the ones who..."
"No... what you did was... wrong. But I understand why you did it," Hermione admitted.
"You what?" Ron asked indignantly. "Having that bloody toxic pink cherub following me everywhere was like having the bloody Dragon Pox! And you're..."
"They did the wrong thing for the right reason, Ron," Hermione sighed. "We should have told them before."
"Ron... it wasn't fair to keep it from them. It wasn't."
"Okay... it wasn't... but they've been doing the same bloody thing! They were snogging in the main hall, Hermione..."
Hermione flushed. "What Harry and Ginny choose to tell us about their relationship is their business, Ron... I just wanted it clear that I'm not comfortable with keeping our relationship from them any longer."
Harry and Ginny exchanged glances. Ginny blushed, and Harry was suddenly hit with the overwhelming urge to be alone with...
"... so you'll be coming, as well," Ron was saying darkly. "So I can keep my eye on you."
"Err... sorry, what?"
"Madame Puddifoots, Harry," Ron growled. "If I'm going, so are you."
"It's a silly tradition," Hermione had a tinge of pink to her cheeks. "But it's the only place to get a decent cup of tea, and if we don't show up, Lavender and Parvati are going to kill us. They went to all the trouble of reserving the place for the afternoon for the seventh years and their guests only..."
Harry gulped, glancing at Ginny again. They didn't really have to...?
Ginny sent him a look, then glanced over at Susan Bones, who was watching them with great interest.
Apparently, they did.
They walked into Hogsmeade early, and when Ginny and Hermione stopped to look in a shop window, the boys did too. Until they came to the chocolate shop. Members of the male fraternity of Hogwarts were already going into the shop in great numbers. Harry and Ron glanced at each other, paling.
"I would imagine that Honeydukes would have something more... appropriate to your wallet, Weasley," a smirking Malfoy approached them, a large box of what appeared to be chocolates under his arm as he exited the shop.
"Come on, Ron," Hermione pulled his arm, trying to pull away.
"No, not this time, Hermione," Ron said quietly. "I'm sick of his put downs."
"Ignore him, Ron!" Ginny hissed, looking at Harry. "Harry, do something!"
"Potter? Do something?" Malfoy laughed. "Do what? You can't argue with the truth, can you, Potter? Weasley hardly has the means to buy a packet of ice mice, much less quality... anything," Malfoy glanced meaningfully at Hermione.
And at that, Harry saw red. He didn't even consider his wand... and before he knew it, Malfoy was laying on the ground, the box of expensive chocolates he'd been carrying was laying in the snow beside him... and Harry was rubbing his fist, which had just made startlingly painful contact with Malfoy's jaw.
Ron stood by, his eyes wide with surprise. Crabbe and Goyle helped Malfoy up.
"Money doesn't necessarily ensure quality, Malfoy," Harry said in a low, dangerous voice. "Any member of the Weasley family is worth ten of you."
He turned his back on the Slytherin, and took Ginny's arm, leading her away. Glancing down at her, he knew that what he had said was true. Ginny was living proof of it.
"I think I could use a cup of tea," Hermione said quietly from where she and Ron walked next to them.
"That sound's wonderful, actually, Hermione," Harry said firmly, coming to an instant decision. "You and Ginny go ahead and grab a table, Ron and I will be right there."
"Harry..." Ginny glanced back to where they'd just had their encounter with Malfoy.
"It's okay, Gin... he won't do anything more. Just go get a table... I want to talk to Ron."
Ginny glanced at her brother, then at Harry, and then nodded decisively. Taking Hermione's arm, she pulled the other witch towards the pink-fronted shop with the huge scrolled writing on the sign outside it's door.
"Harry?" Ron looked at him curiously, almost eagerly. "Are we going to go kick his arse again?"
"Waste of time, Ron," Harry shook his head. "We've got something more important to do."
They met the girls a few minutes later in Madame Puddifoots. Ginny eyed the large boxes they both carried suspiciously before speaking.
"We ordered tea. They were going to chuck me out for not being a seventh year... but Hermione told them that I was your date..."
Harry flushed. "Good."
He placed the box he carried in front of her. Her eyebrows rose.
"Well,it's traditional, I understand..." Harry flushed, glancing at Ron who he was relieved to find was doing the same. Hermione looked thrilled at the box in front of her. "Go on... open it up."
Both girls burst out laughing the moment they saw what was in the boxes. Hermione threw her arms around Ron and giggled happily. Tension eased out of the red-haired Gryffindor.
"Oh, Harry... what a lovely statement!" Ginny laughed, her sparkling eyes looking up from the large box absolutely filled to the brim with packets of ice mice.
Malfoy be damned.
It was some time before they started becoming more and more aware of what was going on around them. Ginny snorted when they spotted Ernie MacMillian and Hannah Abbott at a corner table.
"It's amazing that they can still breath, with his tongue down her throat like that," she muttered. Harry, who had been wondering about that himself, glanced down at her, a flush on his cheeks.
"It's disgusting," Ginny said, tossing her serviette down and standing, picking up her box. "Okay, I'm done... I can't take this tooth-rotting sweetness any longer."
Ron and Harry jumped up, eager to be gone as well. Hermione followed, looking rather strangely at the couples surrounding them, then, sighing, followed.
They walked down the main street of Hogsmeade, Ron and Hermione hand in hand, and Harry and Ginny following behind. As they walked, Ron and Hermione pulled further away from them, Harry and Ginny walking rather more slowly.
Harry sighed. He glanced down at the girl walking beside him, silently. He wondered how he could have been so blind for so long.
Ginny Weasley was special, he could see that now. He supposed he'd known it for some time. The attention from the other girls would have been uncomfortable in any case, but he probably wouldn't have ignored it quite so determinedly if his attention wasn't really focused elsewhere.
How had he not seen...? After watching Ernie and Hannah, Harry was rather uncomfortably aware of the kiss he and Ginny had shared. It had been a very enlightening experience... quite enjoyable, actually...
"Kissing is seriously overrated," Ginny muttered.
"Excuse me?" Harry began to wonder if she could also read minds, in addition to her other talents.
"Kissing," she said darkly, a hint of a flush to her cheeks. Harry was unsure if she was embarrassed, angry, or if the cool breeze was the cause. "It's overrated."
Harry swallowed. Perhaps she hadn't been as affected by the kiss as he had...
"I mean, all that..." Ginny waved her free hand about in a dismissive gesture. "I think it's overrated. I mean, really, all it is is touching your mouth to someone else's. where does all the... fluffiness come from?"
"Fluffiness?" Harry's eyebrows knit together.
"You know... the feelings... behind... it," she finished lamely, glancing almost desperately ahead at her brother and Hermione, who were now a good two hundred yards away.
Harry looked at them too, then down at her, and then thought about that kiss of Ernie and Hannah's. It didn't look like it was the same kind of kiss that he and Ginny had shared. It seemed more... wet.
Which brought a rather pleasant image to his mind.
Stopping determinedly in the snow, he turned to her, taking her arm and turning her to face him.
"Overrated, huh?" he said, studying her face. She was flushed, and this time, Harry was almost certain it wasn't the cold or the exercise. "I think I'd like to test that theory..."
It was much more like their kiss in the main hall than Harry would have thought, but it was certainly more... well, intense. Harry pulled away, his eyes dark as they studied her face. Her eyes were closed, her lips parted and swollen, and she still had her face turned up to his. She slowly opened her eyes to reveal a gleam of something there that made Harry's stomach twist in a rather pleasant way.
"Well, I could be mistaken. That didn't seem overrated at all," she smiled. "But I would imagine I'd need to do that again, to decide for sure."
Immediately, Harry leaned down and kissed her again.
No, not overrated at all.