When: Pre-OotP

Summary: During Harry's fourth year, what if Ginny had asked Harry how he was feeling when her brother turned his back on Harry? What if she had tried to befriend him then? How would that have affected Harry and his other friends? To cover Harry's fourth year, and an epilogue.

Rating: PG-13

Category: Drama, Romance

(A/N: Here's a little "what if" fun that I came up with. Like all true H/G shippers, it's so much more fun to get them together earlier than in canon. :-) An interesting tidbit: This story was actually written before "Unchampion", but it has just now has made its way off my hard drive and is slowly working its way through beta. At this time, I think my posting schedule will be on dates that end in "0"; so at 6 chapters long, you should see the whole story in about 2 months. If the beta/editing process should speed up, I will post the story faster.

This story just sort of came to me one evening. The fun thing is that I only had to change a couple of small events up front, tweak 1 character just slightly, and then let it all go. The final form you see here is due to the skillful wielding of a scalpel by moshpit (Josh) to help me explore a different writing style. (I also had to sponge up a lot of red ink, but I like the final result. :-) I owe a huge debt to Josh for his time and efforts with this story, as well as having fun discussing stories and writing. Thanks Josh!

I hope you have fun reading this.

Like all other fanfic, the Harry Potter world belongs to JKR, I'm just borrowing it for a short while for fun. No profits will ever be made with this.

Note on day/dates: In my version of GoF, the drawing is at the Halloween Feast, but the next day is Sunday (GoF ch-18). The reason I bring that up is to head off problems with my dates. In 1994, Oct 31st is really on a Monday. As this is a world of magic, I suppose JKR can have fun with the calendar, but I'm going to pretend the Dumbledore picks the nearest Saturday night for the Feast so I can follow the real calendar to keep track of where I am. In thinking about this a bit and in looking at the real calendar, it appears that JKR used the calendar for 1992 when she wrote GoF, or at least the dates and the days of the week seem to match very nicely that way. The Hogsmeade weekend and Sirius's note have the same sort of problem, as do other parts I'm sure.)

A Friend Indeed Chapter 1: Friends, Old and New

(Sun 30 Oct 1994)

Harry sat on a couch in front of a small fire in the Gryffindor common room on a cool, but otherwise pleasant, day. Dinner would be served soon, but he was not sure how much he really wanted to eat. Of course, a lot of that feeling was based on the new circumstances he found himself in. He unwillingly reflected on the misery he had accumulated in the last twenty-four hours, which had given him one more dire situation in life.

The year had gone as well as could be expected until last night at the Halloween Feast. That was when his name had floated out of the Goblet of Fire as the unprecedented fourth Triwizard Tournament Champion. Harry had to admit that he had small dreams of being the champion, much like everyone else, but he had not seriously considered entering. He was not old enough or experienced enough to compete. Yet, now he had no choice in the matter. That was the first problem, contributing a substantial portion of the sense of overwhelming frustration and anger.

Leaning forward to put his elbows on his knees, he ran his hands through his hair as he considered the second major problem he now had. Ron was not speaking to him anymore. This morning, Hermione had explained about Ron's position in the family and how that made Harry's best friend feel jealous of almost everything, but Harry did not think that should have come between them. They were best mates, or they were supposed to be. Before dinner last night, he would have sworn that nothing could change that fact, but now he was not so certain. A small part of his brain reminded him that they were both only fourteen, not quite grown up yet, but this non-speaking fight seemed overly childish to Harry. He felt that he really needed the support of his best mate since it was clear everyone else would be verbally beating up Harry. Harry was at a loss as to why Ron would not see such a simple truth. Harry knew he would have stuck by Ron if their positions had been reversed.

While these two recent developments battled to give him no peace, he knew the third problem was no less significant. There was the recurring misery of the pain-filled dreams, the ones that he knew were visions where people were planning to kill him. They had started earlier in the summer, and he knew Voldemort was up to something, but not what.

Ginny Weasley came down the stairs from her dorm, en route for dinner. She was a few minutes early, but that was all right; she had nothing better to do right now. As she got to the bottom of the stairs, however, she noticed a certain raven-haired boy over by the fireplace running his fingers through his hair. In other moments, she would admit that it was something she had always wanted to do. At that time, however, she could tell that either he was particularly upset or nervous about something. He looked like he was ready to pull his hair out, or perhaps curse the furniture.

Normally, she would have walked on by, gaze averted, but there was something about how he held himself that screamed a need for a friend. She also knew her prat of a brother was not being a friend at all based on the glares between Harry and Ron earlier in the day, but she was surprised Hermione was not there. Perhaps her brother was getting a lecture, which left Harry to wallow in his silent troubles. With a deep breath for strength, Ginny decided she would try to act on the advice Hermione gave her during the summer -- be a friend to Harry, and get over the shyness that was so debilitating.

Hermione had told her that she needed to get over her crush, as crushes rarely worked out. Harry needed friends, but like most fourteen year-old boys, he did not know what to do with a girlfriend. Ginny thought that certainly described her brother, Ron, though she was not so sure how Hermione knew this so well since the brunette had never had a boyfriend before.

Slowly making her way over to Harry, Ginny sat in the chair next to him and put on her very best 'I'm normal' face -- the face normally reserved for right after she had pulled a prank. Tentatively, she asked, "Harry? Is something wrong?" She watched him raise his head just long enough to see who she was.

"Yeah -- everything."

His head was back in his hands, but Ginny was enough of a student of Harry to know that any answer other than 'fine' meant he had major troubles. The problem was that she had no idea if he would even consider her someone to talk to beyond basic pleasantries, let alone someone to confide in.

"Well, if you share, maybe I can help," she offered with a half-smile that she hoped did not appear forced. That sounded like a friendly thing to do, and she would normally do that to the other third year girls that were having a problem. She had even done that for her brothers in the past, so she hoped it was the right thing to do for Harry.

Harry did not even bother to look up at her. "I don't think so. I mean, how can I convince people I didn't really enter myself in the Tournament? I doubt anyone but Dumbledore or Moody believe me, and Moody thinks someone did it to try to get me killed."

That was shocking to Ginny. The idea that someone would try to use the Tournament to kill Harry seemed strange, given how strangely complex a plot would have to be to succeed. At the same time, she had heard Hermione discuss in depth how many contestants had been killed in prior Tournaments, so there was some logic in the idea.

"What do you think, Ginny?" She snapped back to the present to find Harry expectantly looking at her. "Do you think I entered myself?" Harry had never talked with her much, just a few snatches of conversation here and there over the summers or during a school year, but now he was suddenly asking to know her opinion.

That was a loaded question with few easy ways out, if Ginny was to be honest with herself or Harry. With a sigh, she knew she had to be candid, but doing this with her shaking resolve to try and be herself with Harry was not easy. "Honestly? I'm not sure what to think, Harry. I suppose the easy answer is what everyone else thinks. But from what I know of you, I don't think you did. It just doesn't sound like the real you." Ginny had to fight to keep herself from blushing heavily at that statement, but she only paused for a moment. Years of acting to pull off pranks against or with her brothers had managed to get her this far, and she knew she just had to keep pushing on. "I know few people actually listened to you last night, but I heard you say you didn't do it. So I believe that's the truth." On some level, she realized she was almost rambling and thinking out loud, but Harry looked content to wait her out.

"Thanks, Ginny. You don't know how much that means to me."

It was all she could do not to blush at his painful sincerity. She knew if she let herself focus on what he said, she would be completely unable to continue. Ignoring the warmth she knew was about to grace her cheeks, she pushed the topic back to Harry's apparent woes. "I don't mean to sound callous, Harry, but putting up with what the others believe doesn't sound all that bad. You've had to deal with that before, sadly, and certainly isn't a reason for you to be pulling your hair out. You've always been proven correct in the end."

He gave a sad, hollow laugh. "No, that's only the first of three problems I'm trying to get my mind around."

Ginny paused for a moment. While Harry had revealed one problem, which was a novelty in itself, she was uncertain if she should push him to talk about the others. She wondered if he would really open up to her, or if she had truly caught him in a talkative mood. "So what else is so bad?"

She watched as Harry ran his hands through his hair. Whatever was at the root of his problems was clearly something that made him upset, and the way he kept his eyes on her left her wondering if he would trust her or not. "I had a dream this summer about Voldemort ... he was telling someone to get me for some plan of his. I don't know what he wants, but it can't be good. If someone's not trying to kill me in the Tournament, then they probably will be for him."

Ginny did not gasp at the name of the Darkest Wizard in recent history, although she did not say the "V" name herself -- yet. Her experiences in her first year here with the sixteen year-old Tom Riddle helped her over part of the name-induced fright, but she also had a healthy respect for the power and knowledge that Riddle possessed. "All right, I could see where that would be something that might worry you. Dumbledore is here as is Professor Moody, right? But considering what's happened to you in the past, I can see your reason for caution. It's not bad to be cautious, but if you tell them, they might help. Have you told anyone you trust about it?"

Harry shrugged absently. "Yeah, I told ... someone. He said he'd look into it."

Ginny wondered briefly who Harry had told, as it clearly was not Ron or Hermione -- and from the tone, it was unlikely to be Professor Dumbledore, either. "Alright, then, trust them to do what they said. Now, what's the third thing bothering you?" Ginny was proud of herself for maintaining an even and calm tone as she tried to soothe him. She was uncertain he actually was calming down, but at least he had some of his normal posture back.

Harry was quiet for a moment and Ginny wondered if his talkative mood had ended as abruptly as it began. Harry finally let out a sigh, and she was sad to see him looking almost lost. "You might be able to help me with this one. Do you know why your brother won't speak to me anymore?"

Ginny paused to rifle through her memories of the day. "I noticed he didn't sit near you this morning or at lunch, but I didn't realize he wasn't talking to you. He didn't tell you why?"

Harry shook his head, and she saw that lost look become a little stronger. "Not really. Last night, he was angry at me because he thought I put my name in the Goblet and didn't tell him how he could put his name in too, or so he said. When I told him I didn't put my name in, he didn't believe me and just got angrier. We shouted at each other a bit. It's stupid, I thought he was one of my best friends, but he doesn't believe me and ... and that hurts, you know?"

Ginny sighed, as she knew far too well what the problem was. She did not want to have to explain this, but maybe it would help Harry understand why Ron acted the way he did sometimes. "He's jealous, Harry."

Harry leaned back in his chair and looked at her levelly. "That's what Hermione tried to explain to me this morning. But I don't understand, at least not fully. Sure, there's some fame attached to being in the tournament, but it's going to be bloody hard, and may be literally bloody on my part." He groaned. "I'm only a fourth year. How do they expect me to live through this?" he asked rhetorically and with exasperation in his voice.

Ginny thought that for Harry, it was all but whining. "That's true, but there's also the prize money enticing him. Harry, don't underestimate Ron's desire to make a name for himself. I can name something special about each of my brothers, from Bill down to the twins. But when you get to Ron, he hasn't found a way to stand out yet, to be seen as someone special too."

Harry had a look of disbelief on his face, and Ginny knew that this was not going to become any easier to explain. "Ginny, he's fourteen. He hasn't had time to do anything special..."

"But you have, Harry." She continued to be calm and logical, hoping that it would help Harry truly hear what she was trying to tell him.

Harry snorted. "Yeah, right," he said sarcastically. "I'm famous for something I have no memory of, something my mother did that I don't even know about. I was one year old!"

Ginny tried to think of another way to explain it, but it all came back to Ron being envious for what Harry himself disliked. "Harry, Ron doesn't see it that way. He sees that you're famous, that people look at you differently. You stand out, you're unique," she tried to explain, but it was obvious Harry was not buying it.

Harry's tone was surprising to her with how much anger was in it. "He can have my fame if he wants it. I'll trade places with him any day he wants. He can have my fame and the Dursleys, and I'll take his family and normalcy."

"Maybe you should tell him that," Ginny suggested after a moment of silence. "Maybe that would open his eyes."

Harry gave a small shrug, and deflated before her eyes. "Maybe, if I could get him to listen to me."

"Give him some time, he eventually will." Ginny surprised herself that she had forgotten about putting up a facade and her effort to be more casual around Harry. She had become so engrossed in the conversation, she had stopped acting. With a feeling of having a small triumph in hand, she let a conspiratorial smile come upon her face as a devious idea came to her. "So in the meantime, Harry, would you like to have a new friend?"

Harry had a faint spark in his eyes as he shrugged. "Sure, but who?"

She rolled her eyes, suddenly understanding what Hermione meant about how clueless Harry could be at times. "Me, you prat."

For the first time that day, Harry smiled, and it made Ginny happy that she had achieved that. "You're already my friend, Ginny." Then his expression darkened. "Uh, Ginny, I suppose I should apologize to you about that."

Ginny could not find any connection between his two statements, and she knew her confusion showed after she tried to puzzle it out. "Apologize for what?"

"Well, I haven't been a very good friend to you," he admitted. "I'm sorry I didn't ... well, help out more the past couple of years."

Secretly, Ginny was thrilled to hear that, yet she knew that even if he had tried, she would have been unable to handle it. "Harry, you don't have anything to be sorry for, truly. I'm a year younger and I have a different circle of friends." As she reflected on why she would have had a hard time accepting Harry's help before, she started to blush slightly. "Well, and I didn't really make it easy on you to be my friend." As she felt her blush become stronger, she realized that she still could not be totally normal around him, at least not without significantly more practice.

Harry was apparently adept at being clueless, for he seemed oblivious to her struggle to maintain her composure. "Maybe, maybe not, but I still could have been more friendly."

"You were never rude, Harry."

"Still, I could have been friendlier." Harry's stomach rumbled loudly, and Ginny giggled when he looked at his abdomen as if there was a monster that he was trying to stare down.

After getting her amusement under control, she stood up. "Okay, friend, let's go to dinner. It started a few minutes ago so we really should be going anyway." She waited for him to stand, before they started walking to the portrait together.

"So, Harry, what did they tell you that you have to do for the Tournament? Can we help you?"

As they walked out the Portrait hole, Harry sighed dramatically. "Yeah, my friends are allowed to help me train. I think I'll need that desperately." As they walked on, Harry's voice dropped in volume. "They said the first task was supposed to be on the 24th of November. It's supposed to test bravery and courage."

Ginny thought about that for a moment, primarily focusing on all the things she knew Harry had already done requiring those two traits. "Did they say how?"

"No, that's the courage part. We're supposed to figure it out on our own when it happens. I'm going to be so ..." he finally just faded out.

"Screwed?" she supplied helpfully.

Harry smiled again as they reached the bottom of the stairs, and he reflected on how nice Ginny was being to him. "Yeah, that word probably works just as well as what I was thinking." They laughed together and Harry realized he was feeling a lot better than he had been before she sat down with him in the common room. "Ginny, thanks for talking to me when you didn't have to."

Her smile was simple but honest, and he was glad to see she was feeling happy too. "Sure, Harry, that's what friends are for. You'd help me if I needed it, wouldn't you?"

They walked for a few more seconds, nearing the Great Hall, and Harry thought about what she asked. "I did once, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat, Ginny."

Harry saw Ginny pale slightly as she caught his reference to her first year. When she stopped walking just before they entered the Great Hall, he stopped with her, the noise from all the students eating easily heard through the open doors. Ginny's voice lost the humor that it had held during their conversation, and she sounded almost afraid. "I never want you to have to do that again, Harry."

Harry tried to reassure her with a smile, but he knew he needed to explain it. "I know. I don't want to do it again either, but I would." As she started to reply, he overrode her words with a gesture. "That's what friends are for, Ginny. Come on, let's eat."

Ginny slowly smiled back at him, understanding what he was telling her, and took a few quick steps to catch up with him as he turned and continued into the Great Hall. Ginny wondered if this was what Hermione meant for her to do.

As they walked into the Great Hall, a number of heads started turning their way and the murmurs started. Ginny could see Harry starting to withdraw into himself again, and it saddened her more than she would ever tell him. She liked how alive and normal he had seemed a few minutes ago, as it was much like he had been at The Burrow.

He stopped walking about half-way down the Gryffindor table, clearly not sure where to sit. Ginny saw Ron was sitting near Dean and Seamus, while Hermione was a few seats farther down, and Neville was across from her. "Over here, Harry. Sit by Neville." With a small push on his back, Harry moved to the spot she indicated and sat down, while she sat down next to him.

Hermione looked at Ginny, obviously analyzing the situation. After a moment, she smiled at her friend before turning to Harry. "How are you doing Harry?"

"Fine," he told her his usual answer. Ginny knew that the open and talkative Harry was gone for the moment, so she poured some pumpkin juice for him, hoping he would take that cue to start dishing out food for himself. She was pleased to see that he did exactly that while she poured her own juice in turn. It was a fairly quiet meal for the four of them, except when Hermione asked everyone if they had done all of their homework for tomorrow. Harry sheepishly admitted he still had an essay for Binns left, but under Hermione's stare he promised he would finish it after dinner.

Ginny listened quietly for the most part, not used to sitting with the others during meals at school. It was when Neville commented to Harry about the Durmstrang students that the conversation picked up. "They seem a bit intimidating to me," Neville commented.

"I suppose I can understand, at least at first impression," Harry said after a moment. "But look a bit closer and I think you'll find they're a lot like us. Stand up straight and don't flinch when you look at them and you'll be fine." Ginny found herself nodding along with Hermione.

"That's easy for you to say, Harry," the shy boy told his friend, "you're a Champion."

Harry snorted, disbelief evident on his face. "I may have had a bit more fighting experience than you, Neville, but I don't think I'm significantly better." Ginny was curious to know why Harry would say that, since she knew he was quite a bit better with spell work than Neville.

"Harry," Hermione interrupted, "you're the best person in our Defense class for a reason."

Ginny caught the edge of Harry's disappointed look at Hermione, which was unexpected. When she saw his head nod faintly in the direction of Neville, who now was looking at the table quietly, she realized what he was doing.

Hermione appeared to catch on even faster, her friend's face taking on a smile as the bright witch looked back at Neville. "But you're right, Neville isn't far behind. I bet he could do as well as you with a little more practice." Ginny was happy to see Neville look back up, a mixture of disbelief and hope obvious on his face. She saw Hermione flash a smile before turning back to Harry, as her countenance became almost as stern as McGonagall's. "Speaking of which, you are going to train for your tasks, aren't you?"

Harry winced slightly, and Ginny knew everyone was uncomfortable when Hermione locked on to you as a target. "Yeah, Ginny suggested that." After a moment of stirring the remains of his dinner on his plate, Harry brightened slightly. "Hey, there's an idea. Would the three of you help me train? Aside from helping me, you lot could learn new things, too."

Hermione looked like someone had just given her a first edition of Hogwarts: A History. "Great idea, Harry. We just have to make sure that it doesn't interfere with our homework."

Ginny wanted to laugh at Hermione's predictability with regards to homework, but she managed to drink some of her juice instead. She saw Harry give her a faint smile before he turned back to Neville. "What do you think, Neville? Want to join us?" Harry asked.

Neville was clearly surprised by the question. "I -- I don't know. I don't think I'd be much help," he finally got out.

"Come on, Neville. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Just think, you might even get to learn something that would be fun to try on Malfoy." As Ginny heard an intake of breath from Hermione, Harry apparently heard it too. She saw his head turn to Hermione as he shot her look that said, "Don't." Hermione seemed to deflate after a moment, though it was apparent that it had been hard for her to bite her tongue.

"Well, OK, I guess," Neville finally agreed.

Ginny was happy to see that Neville's response made Harry smile again. Harry look at each of them in turn, before he announced whatever he was thinking about. "Excellent! Let's talk about it on our way back." Since the group was already done with dinner, they walked back to Gryffindor Tower talking about their new practice sessions. As times were suggested for possible practice sessions, Harry always made sure to check with Ginny as to whether it would work for her schedule, since she had different classes than they did. As they approached the common room, it was finally decided that Tuesday night would be their first time.

When they arrived at the Tower, Harry's demeanor was almost completely different from before Ginny had found him when she came down for dinner. In an almost cheerful tone, he said, "I'm going up to read my history so I can write that essay for Binns. Good-night, all, I'll see you in the morning." As they all bid him good-night as well, he looked specifically at Ginny. "Thanks for everything," was all he said as he left them. His simple thanks left Ginny once again fighting to control her rising blush, frustrated that even when things seemed to be going well, Harry could always get a reaction out of her.

Neville left to go join a game of Gobstones that was already in progress, while Hermione went upstairs to get her book bag, saying she wanted to read ahead in Potions. Ginny decided to do the same thing, except it was Charms for her.

When she made it back to the Common Room, Charms books and papers in hand, she joined Hermione at her table. She passively watched Hermione write some notes based on her Potions textbook, but found her thoughts too fleeting to settle for study just yet. Still having not opened her Charms book after a few minutes, Hermione looked up at Ginny and asked, "It looked like you and Harry were pretty friendly tonight."

This time Ginny was unable to stop the blush that came to her face. "Yeah. I ... I saw him here on the way to dinner." She paused to try and think of some way to explain what happened. "He looked like he wasn't feeling too well. Like he was really upset over something." Shaking her head at the memory of Harry before she talked to him and as he went up to work on his assignments, she was glad that she had helped him feel a little better. "I remembered what you told me over the summer, and ... and I tried. I sat down and tried to be a friend, and it worked!" Her blush, which had slowly been receding, came back in full force. "In some ways, I can't believe I did that. I'd go thank Fred and George for helping me with my acting skills, but they'd want to know why and demand some sort of payment."

Hermione laughed lightly. "Keep it up Ginny. No one can guarantee what will happen, but be a friend to Harry and he'll always be there for you. Also, if you keep acting, you may find after a while that it's all natural and there is no need to act."

That was an interesting thought, and one that kept coming back to Ginny for the rest of the night.

The next week had been horrible for Harry. Other than Hermione, Ginny, and Neville, none of the other students believed his protestations that he did not put his name in the Goblet. Hagrid believed him, but that did not really help with the other students. Harry thought he could have survived this much better if only Ron had stood by him, like he had in their second year, but Ron was mostly ignoring him now. Harry had found that when Ron did not actively ignore him, his supposed friend was making fun of him too.

That was when he found what a god-send Ginny was. Several times, she found him in the Common Room by himself, where she would come over and talk to him about normal things: his homework, her homework, spells that might be useful, even Quidditch. Harry found it easier and easier to talk to her, his discomfort from her crush slowly vanishing as they gradually built a friendship knowing each other, rather than about each other.

Throughout his ostracization by the majority of the castle residents, Hermione remained her stalwart supportive self. As she continued to support Harry, he witnessed Hermione stop helping Ron with homework, either because of Ron's actions around Harry or something else that had left Hermione in a huff one evening. The added benefit to the temporary split between Ron and Hermione was that they fought less. Hermione managed to get more done, and everyone else was thankful they did not have to listen to the frequent bickering.

Their first training session as a group for the tournament had also been useful. Hermione had come prepared with a list of all the spells they had learned in their first three years, as well as all the spells they should learn that year during class. The four friends worked hard together, especially at Summoning Charms, which Harry and Neville had had difficulty with in Flitwick's class earlier that week. Ginny was doing slightly better than they were, which was a little surprising to Hermione considering that Ginny would not have that charm in class for another year.

Harry had penned a long letter to Sirius about being picked, and the subsequent fallout amongst his friends over everything. Unfortunately, the reply was slow in coming back, though Harry hoped that Sirius was still safely hidden and the delay was not due to being on the run.

The biggest incident of the week came in Potions class, which was not a surprise. That was when Malfoy and all of his "friends" showed off their buttons that alternately said "SUPPORT CEDRIC DIGGORY" and "POTTER STINKS!" while gloating over their cleverness. After Harry and Draco had exchanged spells, which ricocheted to hit Goyle and Hermione, Snape arrived and showed his Slytherin colors.

Snape told Hermione nothing was wrong with her, when her front teeth were now so long they extended past her collar. Ron had appeared to be his old self and started shouting at Snape with Harry. They had both lost points and received detention, but Harry's thought that this act might herald the restoration of his best friend was lost. As Harry looked at his friend, hoping they could be normal around each other again, Ron stalked off to join Dean and Seamus.

Harry appreciated Colin coming to rescue him later during the same class for the weighing of the wands, even if he had had a horrible few minutes with Rita Skeeter. Harry was still devastated over Ron continuing to ignore or avoid him. Fortunately, his devastation prevented him from saying much to Rita before Dumbledore rescued him, though he was uncertain what her acid green Quill was likely to make from his depressed mood.

After the wand inspection, which Harry felt was a bit silly, he went to dinner only to find Hermione was not there. Ginny changed from her place with her friends to sit with Harry and Neville shortly after he sat down, but he was uncertain why until she started a conversation after their collective silence.

"Harry, what's wrong?"

He could hear the concern in her voice, but he only looked down at the food he had slopped onto his plate and been absently pushing around. As he made a thoroughly grey mess out of his food, but not really eating, he slowly described his day. At the end, he pushed his plate forward and put his arms and head down on the table in front of him, not really hungry.

Ginny looked at Neville, and he just nodded back as though in silent agreement that Harry had told it accurately and fairly. She could not believe how badly Harry had it some days; it just was not right for a teacher to act like that. Of course, Ron was being a git-extraordinaire, which was atypical considering the two prominent gits in Harry's life were Malfoy and Snape. Without even realizing what she was doing, she started to rub Harry's back. It was something her mother always did for her and her brothers when they were unhappy or feeling under the weather.

She had been rubbing his back for a few moments while thinking about his problems, when she heard, "That really feels good..."

It was all she could do not to make a surprised sound and to keep up the motion as if this were completely commonplace. Fortunately, Harry did not see her massive blush, but when she glanced at Neville for a moment, she saw him grinning widely at her. Using her other hand, she held a finger up in front of her lips and Neville nodded, before he returned to his dinner, obviously suppressing his mirth.

Ginny knew that Harry had good reason to feel depressed at things, but at the same time, she knew he had to take care of himself. Not eating might be OK for one meal, but he had been eating sparsely ever since being picked as a Champion, and she knew it was slowly taking a toll on him. His obvious enjoyment of her rubbing his back, however, gave her the germ of an idea to fix at least one problem going on.

She stopped her motion and softly said, "Harry, you need to eat something to keep up your strength. You don't have to eat a lot, but eat some food -- let's say ten bites. If you'll eat ten bites for me, I'll rub your back some more if you want." She was not sure what his reaction to that would be, but it was worth a try. Would he see her as helpful, or just one more person forcing him to do something he did not want to do. She knew his stubbornness was incredible from the stories Hermione had relayed through the years.

To Ginny's amazement, Harry slowly sat back up and started eating. He ate over half of his plate before he laid his head back down. Smiling to herself, she started rubbing his back again while she thought about his problems again. Turning to Neville, she softly asked him, "Neville, do you have any ideas about what we could do to help Harry?"

Neville shook his head. "Sorry," he told them both.

Ginny gave a small smile back, then she noticed her twin brothers, who were sitting down the table, stand up to leave. An idea suddenly sprung into her head. "I've got an idea and I need to go check it out. I'll meet you both back in the Common Room later." Jumping up, she left her friends and walked quickly to catch up to her brothers.

Harry raised his head up off of his arms to watch her leave, then looked over at Neville.

"Sorry, Harry," Neville told him. "I'm your friend too, but I'm not rubbing your back."

Harry snorted. "Prat."

"Git." They both started laughing before getting up and slowly making their way back to the Tower. Harry was surprised to find himself in a much better frame of mind now.

Ginny caught up with her brothers just as they reached the bottom of the stairs. "Hey, I need to talk with you two."

Fred looked behind him. "Hear something bro?"

"Naw, nothing there. Let's go plan our next prank," George suggested.

"My dear brothers, if you will give me a few minutes, I'll give you an idea for a truly fun prank at Malfoy's expense."

The twins stopped where they were and looked at each other. With a smile, they simultaneously turned, each grabbed one of Ginny's arms, and they promptly escorted her down the hall and into a secret passageway. A wave of each of their wands and she knew the area was protected from their conversation being overheard. Once they were settled, they both looked at her expectantly.

"First, you need to answer a question. Do you believe Harry? Do you think he put his name in the Goblet or not?" Ginny waited while they looked at each other for a few seconds.

"Honestly?" George asked. Ginny nodded. "No, I doubt he really did. We're in sixth year, and if we couldn't figure out how to do it, then we doubt he did."

"We just haven't figured out how it happened. Though, my money is on the idea that he convinced someone older to put his name in for him," Fred said.

"Harry said he didn't do that, and Dumbledore believes him," Ginny countered.

The two boys looked at each other for a little longer, until Fred told her. "I suppose we believe him then, but does it really matter?"

"Yeah, he's in the Tournament," George said.

"It's would mean a lot to him to know that people believe him. Will you please tell him your opinions?"

"We could, but what's in it for us?" George asked.

Ginny smiled. "A fun prank."

"Ooh," Fred said with relish. "That's the 'Ginny got a good Christmas present' smile. What did you have in mind?"

"Maybe public nudity?" George asked with glee.

Ginny shuddered. "Please, by all that's holy, no!" Taking a deep breath to try to cleanse the thought of a naked Malfoy from her head, she told them, "You've seen those buttons Malfoy made?" They nodded. "Can you put a charm on the doorway to the Great Hall so that anyone who is wearing the button and passes through the doorway has their button changed?"

"That could be done..."

"What did you have in mind?"

"You can leave the 'Support Cedric' part, as I don't want too much attention or retribution pointed at Harry, but change the 'Potter Stinks!' part to 'Malfoy Wets His Bed'", Ginny told them. "That should embarrass Malfoy, but be clean enough not to get anyone into too much trouble."

"That might be easy enough..."

"But wouldn't it be more fun to say something more pointed?"

"Sure, I'd love for it to say 'Malfoy Loves Snape', but Snape would get personally involved then, and I'd prefer to deal with him separately," Ginny told them.

"OK, I think we can do that."

"Yeah, it's for a good cause."

"And when you have a good idea for Snape, you come see us."

"Though beware that Snape is very hard to prank."

"I'm sure," Ginny agreed. "I'd like to do something like a charm that makes him say 'points to Gryffindor' when he tries to say 'points from Gryffindor', but that would be too obvious. I need to be subtler."

"Right you are sis."

"So when do you want this charm on the door?"

"As soon as you can," she told them. "Take an extra day or two if you need it, as this needs to be right the first time."

The smiling trio of Weasleys headed back to the Common Room, alternately suggesting outlandish pranks to try against Snape.

(Thu 9 Nov)

Harry, Hermione, Ginny, and Neville arrived at dinner, intending to eat quickly before hurrying to an unused classroom near the Tower to practice spells. Ginny looked up from her dinner just in time to see a small commotion over at the Slytherin table. As she was about ask Harry if he could see what the problem was, one of the Hufflepuffs at the next table started laughing and pointed to himself.

That Hufflepuff had his back to her, but his friend across from the table pushed the button on his chest and she saw it change from 'Support Cedric Diggory' to 'Malfoy Is A Squib'. She almost spewed the juice she had been trying to swallow. With a huge grin on her face, she nudged Harry sitting next to her and pointed to the badge on the Hufflepuff.

Harry snorted and then started chuckling, before he got Hermione and Neville's attention, who were both sitting on the other side of the table, to turn around and look at the badge. "I wonder how that happened."

"You can thank me if you like," she said coyly and blushing only slightly.

Harry stared at her. "You did that?" His voice was soft, as though trying to keep the conversation between the two of them, while Hermione snickered and Neville laughed loudly.

"Not personally, but I convinced a couple of people to do it for you," she confessed, matching his apparent efforts to keep their conversation private.

"Oh, that's why they told me that believed me." Harry's large smile came back. "You're brilliant, Ginny, completely brilliant."

Between his smile and his green eyes looking into hers, Ginny wanted to melt, or else grab his face and snog him senseless. That thought caused her to blush deeply and she turned back to her plate in embarrassment.

"Ginny. Ginny." She still couldn't face him. "Ginny, look at me, please," Harry finally begged her and put his hand on her shoulder. He had never touched her before and she thought that must mean something. Hoping for the best, she finally looked over at him and held her breath. "Thank you, you don't know how much that means to me," she heard him say. It was all she could do not to hug him.

When he returned to his food, Ginny looked over at Hermione. Her brunette friend merely smiled at her.

Their practice session that evening went well, except that Harry was still struggling at Summoning Charms, though he was getting better overall. Ginny knew that he was also struggling with the fact that Ron still had not spoken to him all week. She had talked to him about it, and tried to encourage him to concentrate on the friends he did have, letting Ron have the space he needed to work out whatever his problem was. It did not help that Hermione kept trying to get Harry and Ron back together again, which neither one was ready for. Ginny suspected that there would be no reconciliation until Ron grew up enough to apologize for saying Harry lied as well as for saying that Harry put his name in the Goblet.

(Sat 19 Nov)

The Saturday before the first task was a Hogsmeade weekend. On the way to the magical village, Hermione started on her lost cause again, and it was not about House-Elves. "Harry, I heard Ron say that he's going to be at the Three Broomsticks for lunch. How about we meet him there?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "No," he said simply. As she opened her mouth to try again, Harry went on. "Look, until he apologizes, I don't want anything to do with him and I don't see why I should have to be the one that goes to him."

"He's right, Hermione. Ron's been a real git lately, far more than usual, and I should know," Ginny said.

"I agree," Neville added quietly. "If you could hear some of the things he says in our dorm room, Hermione, I don't think you'd be so nice to him. I wondered about the feud for a little while at first, but I don't anymore. Ron's not acting like a friend at all. I'm just glad he shuts up when Harry is around."

Hermione sighed. "Well, Harry, would you be unhappy with me if I had lunch with Ron?"

"I know you were mad at him and quit helping him with his homework. Did he apologize to you?" Harry asked, wondering if Ron had apologized to her and not to him.

Hermione sighed. "No. I've tried to forgive him anyway so as not to lose our friendship, but I won't help him with his homework until he apologizes for what he said to me."

"Well, that's between the two of you. If you want to go, go," Harry said matter-of-factly. "He's your friend and you can have lunch with whomever you like. My only objection is you trying to make me be his friend right now."

"Thanks Harry," she said as they entered the small town. Hermione's face lit when she saw a sign ahead. "Look! They're having a sale on quills. Let's go!" She picked up the pace to a very brisk walk, leading the foursome to the first shop.

The other three all smiled and chuckled. Harry was not opposed to going in the store, unlike Ron would have been. That thought caused Harry to think about his friendships again. He absent-mindedly picked up a pack of a dozen quills and some more parchment. Their homework had been using a lot of parchment recently. As he paid for his packages, he felt Ginny tug on his arm to get his attention.

"Harry, what's wrong? You look lost suddenly."

Neville was the last to pay for his supplies, so Harry answered her while their friend cashed out. "I think I just had a personal revelation a few minutes ago, and I'm still trying to absorb it."

"Want to share?" the redhead girl asked while they slowly walked out the door, back into the cool November air. Before he could answer, Hermione and Neville walked up.

"Harry?" Hermione got his attention. "Do you mind if I go meet Ron now?"

"Hermione, you can do whatever you want to. You don't have to ask my permission or anything. You're my friend, and I'll be yours no matter what, right?"

Hermione gave him a brilliant smile as she nodded quickly. "Thanks, Harry. I'll come find you later."

As Hermione started go, Neville turned to Harry. "I think I'll go with her. I don't want her to have to face that alone."

Harry smiled at his friend's retreating back. "Now that's interesting."

"It is," Ginny agreed. "Hey, you want to sit over there for awhile? That bench looks like it should be out of the wind." Harry shrugged his indifference and followed her over. "Yeah, this is better. So, Harry. What was your revelation?"

Harry looked down for a moment as he tried to decide if he wanted to share this or not. Considering how much he had shared with her over the past few weeks since the Halloween Feast, he decided he might as well. "Only because you're a close friend, you understand?"

Ginny nodded. "I'll keep it to myself, I promise."

"It occurred to me that I didn't mind following Hermione into the store to buy quills, unlike Ron, who would have put up a fight and would have expected me to say something too. That made me think about the influences my friends make on me. I've heard it said that you can tell a lot about a person by their friends."

"I've heard that saying," Ginny told him.

"Well, lately, I've been paying more attention to some of the advice Hermione is always handing out, including the usual about doing my homework. And you know, my grades are improving and I'm doing a little better in class too. I've started to really get to know Neville, and I like him, I think he could be a very good friend. His confidence is slowly improving, and that's changing him in a good way."

Ginny nodded along as he made his points. "I agree. Neville is coming out of his shell. His grades are improving too, if you haven't noticed," Ginny pointed out.

Harry smiled. "I have, it's been something Neville and I have discussed over our occasional game of chess. I like playing him at that game, and I think it's because he doesn't take it so seriously and we're pretty evenly matched. With Ron, it was always just a way to pass the time, I never really liked playing the game."

Ginny chuckled. "No one likes playing Ron at chess, Harry."

"I suppose. Then there's you, Ginny." Harry noticed Ginny shiver slightly, but realized it was probably just the cold wind blowing around the town. "You've been the most surprising friend of all. I wasn't sure what to expect of you at first, but you've helped me in ways I hadn't imagined. Just talking to you, like this, really helps me." Harry was not sure he wanted to go on, but he found he could not stop himself. "You calm me somehow and make me feel better. Considering all I've been having to deal with, and how -- how starved I am for friendship at times, you can't know how much that means to me, but it means a lot."

Ginny wanted to swoon. After he did not continue for a few moments, she realized she needed to say something. "And all of that is because Ron started acting the git and left you alone?"

"Yeah," he said despondently. "That's what's so sad. I stop hanging around who I thought was my best mate, and then my life actually improves. That's wrong in so many ways that I don't know what to do."

Ginny paused slightly to consider that and could easily see his point, but as a friend, she felt that she had to say something. "Harry, please don't think about it like that. Your best friend, as you think of him, left you, and he took his childish and immature ways with him. That has freed you to grow up and become a better person." She could tell that her words were not particularly comforting, but she hoped he would be able to think about them and maybe understand things a little better. "Harry, I love my brother because he's my brother, but I'll also tell you he can be like a five year-old far too often. When Ron grows up somewhat, he'll be your friend again -- I know you'll take him back. But just like you told Hermione to have lunch with whomever she wants, you have to let Ron do what he wants too. If that means he leaves you for a while, then that's what happens and nothing that happens in the meantime is your fault. You're allowed to enjoy life, you know, so enjoy it."

Harry looked at her, studying her face. "Are you sure you're only thirteen?"

Ginny looked down. "No, I'm far beyond thirteen, mostly from my own stupidity."

"No!" She looked up at his forceful denial. "No," he said more gently. "It wasn't your fault and you weren't stupid. I had to battle him too, and he was strong. You were strong to resist him for so long. We should not have ignored you, so you would not have wanted to spend so much time with that damn diary."

"Thanks again, Harry," she said softly.

"Anytime, Ginny, anytime. You know, it's easy for the rest of us to forget the full impact of that year on you, but you can never forget, can you? You have an understanding of him and his knowledge."

She mutely nodded. It was depressing to think about that year. She was unsure exactly how they even gotten on this subject, but she knew she wanted to change the topic. Then she felt an arm around her shoulders pull her to him briefly before letting go. She looked up at him and saw a small smile.

"You looked like you needed a hug, and as your mum wasn't here, I guess it fell to me."

That warmed her like nothing ever had. "Thank you, Harry. You don't know how much that means to me."

"You're welcome. I guess we're even then, each of us helping the other where we can. How about some lunch? Maybe we can find a small table somewhere," Harry suggested.

She nodded and they started slowly walking over to the Three Broomsticks. On their way there, they ran into Hagrid. After their hellos, the giant bent down to softly speak to them.

"'Arry, can ye get to me cabin tonight without being seen?" Harry nodded. "Be there at midnight, then. I got somethin' to show ya, somethin' very important." He stood and walked off without another word. Ginny looked at Harry, who met her gaze, and they both shrugged at the same time, which brought a chuckle from him as she gave in to a light giggle.

Ginny followed Harry into the Three Broomsticks, where they found a small table and had an enjoyable lunch. After they were done eating and talking about the Quidditch teams around the country, Hermione and Neville joined them again as they left the pub, and the foursome had a fun afternoon walking around the village.

Harry rather quickly notice Hermione was not her usual buoyant self, but it was not until they were walking back to the castle that he decided to find out why. "Hermione? What's wrong? You've been very quiet the whole afternoon."

She looked at him a bit warily. "I'm not sure you want to know," she told him a bit pensively.

"Try me," he told her, before he saw a strange look flash across on Neville's face. "What is it?"

Hermione finally just sighed. "It's something we heard at lunch. I'm sorry for doubting you Harry. I asked Ron how he felt about you, since I had been sure he was missing you like you are him, as he had told me that before. But I'm not so sure now, and I'm sad to think that your friendship is in such a state."

Harry put a smile on his face that was only slightly forced. "It's OK, Hermione. Ginny and I talked about friendships over lunch too, and I think I've come to realize that I'm better off without a lot of influence from Ron right now, and maybe that goes for the three of you too. I find that sad, like you do, but Ginny pointed out that we seem to be growing up and he's not."

Neville and Hermione both looked at him, then at Ginny. "That was really insightful, Ginny," Hermione said, before she turned back to Harry. "And if he were to grow up, would you be his friend again?"

They walked on for a few seconds before Harry said, "Yeah, I think so. But I doubt he'd be a best friend again, or at least not for a long time. He seems to like hanging out with Dean and Seamus, so I suspect I'd treat him like them -- casual friends but not someone I'd actively try to spend time with."

"I understand," Hermione told him as they approached the castle. "I understand both the feeling and the sadness of what's been lost, though I won't give up hope for both of you."

Harry was unsure what to say to that, so he kept quiet as they went straight to dinner.

(Sun 20 Nov)

The foursome was sitting at one end of the long Gryffindor table having an early breakfast; no one was near them, which was what Harry wanted. "You won't believe what I saw last night." At the others questioning looks, since they knew he had gone to meet Hagrid, he softly said, "Dragons."

"Dra..." Ginny squeaked before Harry put his hand over her mouth.

"Ssh, yes dragons," he confirmed in a whisper. "Your brother Charlie was there, too. Anyway, that's what the first task is. We have to get something past them it seems."

Ginny paled, while Hermione went silent, and Neville dropped his fork and it clattered onto his plate rather loudly in the sudden silence.

"We need to research dragons and how to subdue them," Hermione finally said.

"Yeah, I'm with you on that," Harry agreed vehemently. "In my talk with Sirius last night, he said there is an easy way, but Ron came downstairs and interrupted the conversation so Sirius didn't get to tell me." Harry knew his tone became venomous at the end, but he was unable to prevent it.

Neville mumbled something, and Ginny said, "Evil git of a brother..."

Harry lightly put a hand on Ginny's shoulder to stop her. While he was unable to make his tone warm, he was successful in removing the bitterness. "I was angry too, but now that I've thought about it, it wasn't really his fault. He had no idea what he was interrupting, and I would have had to stop the conversation no matter who it was coming into the room. It was just Ron's bad luck that it was him."

Hermione raised an eyebrow at him. "That's very mature of you, Harry."

"I promise you, that was not what I was thinking when it happened."

Ginny's quiet laughter made all of the foursome smile, though Harry was happy she no longer was focusing her ire on Ron. While he had been truly hacked off when Ron came down to the common room, a restless night of thinking about it showed him that it was not really his former friend's fault.

"What else did Sirius say?" Hermione asked.

Harry explained about Sirius telling him that Karkaroff was a former Death Eater. Worse, Harry had been told that Bertha Jorkins knew all about the Tournament and had disappeared, so it was likely Voldemort knew about the tasks in advance -- and that his enemy may be setting a trap. His friends all had thoughtful expressions, but did not say anything specifically. He then turned the redhead sitting beside him.

"Ginny, while I was looking at the dragons, I heard Charlie say that your mother believes all those Daily Prophet articles." He left it at that and hoped she would pick up on his thought; he was not disappointed.

"Oh no," she shook her head. "I'll write her and try to fix that. Maybe I can do that while you three research dragons."

"Sorry, I can't," Neville said. "I haven't finished the essay for Snape."

"No problem, Hermione and I can do this," Harry said. Since they had all finished breakfast, they all went to take care of their tasks.

Harry and Hermione had half a dozen books in front of them on dragons. As they were really getting started in their readings, she pointed out to Harry how Viktor Krum was watching them. Feeling uneasy, Harry suggested she check out the books so they could go back to their common room to look through them. It was a bit of a relief for Harry, and based on her expression, for Hermione as well, when they were finally on their way back to the tower, books in hand.

(A/N: I must credit Sovran as I borrowed one line from his "Meaning of One" story, and then I changed it slightly to fit here and not look like I was trying to plagiarize him. But it was such a great line that it's stuck in my head ever since I read it months ago. Thanks for allowing me to do that Dave.)