Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to J K Rowling. All I own are the plot bunnies. See Author's Notes at end for other attributions
Title: Like a Queen
Word Count: 8005
"If you were with me, I'd treat you like a queen."
Ginny, shocked, stopped walking through the train's corridor. She turned to Harry incredulously. "What did you say?"
"Just that if you were with me, I'd treat you like a queen. Not like a princess, not like a sister, but a queen." Harry's voice was slightly higher than normal, which was the only way that Ginny could tell that he was nervous. Well, that and the slight flush that was working its way up his cheeks. He seemed rather. . . saddened by Ginny's comment that she was off to find Dean.
"But. . . but . . I . . . What?" Ginny, uncharacteristically, was completely stunned.
"Just, while you're sitting with Dean, think about it, okay?" And with that, Harry turned back to search for an empty compartment, leaving the youngest Weasley standing in the corridor, blocking traffic, completely oblivious to the students trying to get past her. Eventually she came to herself, turned slowly, and started walking in her original direction. Testament to her befuddled state, she made it all the way to the end of the train before remembering that she was looking for a specific set of people. She couldn't remember looking into any compartments on her excursion, much less whether she had seen Dean, or Seamus, or any of the other group that hung around together.
Sighing deeply, she turned back around, and started walking the other way, consciously examining each compartment as she passed. This didn't seem to help, however, as she stared at Dean, then continued on as if she hadn't even seen him. Dean, who up until that point had been anxiously awaiting the red-headed girl's arrival, jumped up and rushed to the door.
"Ginny! Ginny! We're right here! Didn't you see us?" Ginny just about cringed at the plaintive note in his voice, knowing that she had some quick explaining to do.
"I'm sorry, Dean, I was lost in thought." She hoped he would leave it at that, but nevertheless thought furiously, trying to plan out what to say if he did pursue the topic.
"What were you thinking about?" Dean obviously wasn't going to be put off that easily.
"Oh, just something someone said." Even as she said this, Ginny berated herself for leaving such an obvious opening for her prospective boyfriend.
"Who was it? What did they say? Was it Malfoy? I'll hex the git if he hurt your feelings!"
While it was flattering to have Dean come so quickly to her defense, it was somewhat galling to think that he had such a low opinion of her ability to defend herself from the Ferret's supposed verbal assault.
"No, no, it was just something Harry mentioned." Ginny felt herself blush at this, and cursed her betraying complexion. The fact that just thinking about Harry was still all that was necessary to make her heart rate speed up was a secret that she had no intention of letting anyone in on, much less Dean.
Fortunately, Dean was too busy getting himself riled up to notice what Ginny looked like, which, all things considered, wasn't really a ringing endorsement of his observational skills.
"What did he say? Was he being mean to you?" Dean seemed to be even more irate at this possibility than he was at the idea of Draco Malfoy's interactions with her.
Ginny had just about run out of patience with him by this point. "Dean, don't worry about it. He didn't say anything mean, or cruel. He just gave me something interesting to think about during the train ride."
Dean took this in, and thought about it for a bit. "Well, okay, but you let me know if anyone says something wrong to you. Seamus and I'll take care of them for you. Come on, have a seat and we can talk. How was your summer? Were you able to watch any football games this year?"
Ginny knew she should keep listening to him, but her mind drifted off as he continued on about football, and West Ham, and something about Americans, and a word that sounded like 'sucker'. She thought maybe she'd misunderstood him, but couldn't seem to care enough to ask for clarification.
As Seamus entered the conversation, and Dean's attention turned towards him, Ginny thought back to the summer that had just ended.
Summer that year had been beautiful. The skies were a gorgeous blue, with just a few fluffy clouds floating on the breeze. The temperature was balmy, with occasional heat waves that demanded the teenagers go for a swim in the pond. The nights were comfortable, occasionally descending to the kinds of temperatures that required a nice fire, either in the fireplace, around which they sat playing games, or outside, where they roasted marshmallows and told stories.
Ginny hadn't been looking forward to this summer, particularly. The end of last year had been rather disastrous, as things go. At times chaotic, terrifying, and depressing, it portended evil in all its manifestations. Perhaps the most-feared expectation was Harry's mood. Everyone expected that he would be even worse than he had been last year during school. He had been moody at best, and downright irascible at times, and his godfather hadn't even been killed yet. Nobody was sure what kind of a temper Harry would demonstrate over the summer, and no-one was really sure they wanted to find out.
Ginny found herself anxiously awaiting Harry's arrival, after his "incarceration" at Privet Drive. She was happy to have been included amongst the "Ministry Six", which was how she thought of the group that had banded together to try to rescue Sirius. When she had challenged Harry, she had expected to have to fight even more against his sense of nobility to get him to allow her to go along, and was fully prepared to follow them if he didn't give in. But he had let her come, and with much less argument than she had expected. And she felt that she had been an asset in the ensuing debacle. Sure, she had broken an ankle, but had given as well as she'd gotten, and didn't have anything to feel ashamed of.
But, along with the nervousness of seeing Harry, there was another source of discomfort where he was concerned. She had always cared for him, whether expressed through the debilitating crush she had originally had, or as the friend that he had become this year. But now, she had a disquieting feeling that being "friends" was not what was fated for them. Starting from the time that he had stepped in front of Bellatrix during the battle, she had noticed him looking at her in a different way. She certainly wasn't about to read too much into these occurrences, but didn't really know how else to interpret the smiles he had sent her way on the train home, nor the grimace that had flashed across his face at her mention of having chosen Dean Thomas to date next year. Eventually, she decided that she'd just take things as they came, and see if she could at least continue to be his friend, and maybe have the opportunity to join in with the Gryffindor Trio in more of their escapades.
The Harry that showed up at the Burrow one evening, mid-way through July, surprised them all. He was more confident than anyone could remember, more self-assured. And most importantly, he wasn't wallowing in self-imposed guilt over Sirius' death. To say that the residents of the Burrow were shocked would be an understatement. Ron, as was typical, just accepted Harry's new disposition, grateful that his friend wasn't too depressed, and didn't think anything more about it. Ginny's mom just mothered him as was normal, although she did seem to be hugging Harry a little more often than before. This had caused another shock for the family—Harry didn't pull away from the physical contact. For as long as Ginny had known Harry, he had flinched away from others. If someone went to touch him, he usually moved away, and never initiated anything besides a quick handshake. But now, as Molly once again endeavored to make up for a lifetime's lack of physical affection, Ginny noticed that he held her in return, and was willing to do so as long as Molly wanted. It was as if he'd come to the realization that these signs of affection were acceptable, and trusted that these people, who had taken him in as one of their own, would never touch him in anger.
But even these observations paled into insignificance compared to what happened when Harry saw Ginny for the first time that summer. She had been curled up in a loveseat by the fire, thinking about things and considering her situation with Dean. She had rather overstated their position, on the train ride home, hoping to get a rise out of Ron. Dean had suggested that they get to know each other and maybe date next year, but she couldn't decide for sure what to do. Harry's reaction to her comment had made her somewhat wary of agreeing to do anything besides correspond over the summer, and ride back to school together. She figured that this would give her enough experience with him to make a decision, without leading him on. As she was sitting there, her father had ushered Harry and his trunk into the ramshackle home, and Ginny had watched as Harry took a deep breath, let it out, and smiled wider than she had ever seen him. She couldn't help the small grin that crossed her face at seeing his obvious pleasure at being home. As she watched, his eyes scanned the room until they fell on her. His face, which had previously been glowing, seemed to radiate an increase in warmth, and he strode quickly over to where she was. Ginny expected a polite greeting, or at most a handshake. What really happened stunned her into incoherence. He greeted her happily, then reached down, took her hands in his, and pulled her into a huge embrace. Shocked, she just stood there, trying to figure out if this were really Harry, or someone Polyjuiced to look like him. The hug continued long enough for her to get her bearings back, and at last put her arms around him to hug him back. Just as she was starting to take note of how he felt in her arms, which was surprisingly comfortable, he leaned back a bit, and then bent down and kissed her on the cheek.
"Ginny, I'm so happy to see you! How is your summer going?"
Ginny just stared. She had barely regained motor control, and he wanted her to actually talk?
"Um . . . uh . . . I'm . . .", she stammered, finally squeaking a quick "fine!"
Harry grinned at her, and said, "Glad to hear it, although if you're just--" and here he tried really hard to make his voice as high as possible, imitating her squeak, "--fine--" and dropped his voice back down to its normal registers, although in a much softer tone, "I'd suggest sitting far away from any butter dishes."
Ginny stood, agog at this new Harry, nonplussed at the teasing, but unable to come up with anything to say back to him to try to even the score.
Harry didn't seem to take notice of her speechlessness, and let go of her completely now, precipitating a small feeling of loss in the girl. "Ginny, I have to go unpack my stuff. I assume I'm in Ron's room again?" This last was directed at Molly, who had just entered the room.
"Of course, dear, and we're just about to eat dinner, so don't take too long."
Harry answered her happily, gave Molly a hug too—a small voice in Ginny's head piped up, "that's two hugs"--and grabbed his trunk. Taking the stairs two at a time, he disappeared from her view, something that she was very grateful for. Sinking back down into her previous position, she lost herself in thought, not noticing the smiles that Molly and Arthur directed towards her in response to the scene they'd just witnessed.
Ginny was dragged out of her reverie by Dean reaching over and taking her hand. It was somewhat of a shock to her—they had never held hands before, and she couldn't help but think he was assuming quite a lot. She admitted that he was a nice person, and rather handsome, in his own way, so when he had approached her at the Leaving Feast and asked if he could write to her over the summer to see if maybe they could be more than just friends, she hadn't felt any hesitation about agreeing to it. But she couldn't think of anything she might have done to indicate that their dating was a definite thing. She knew that her feelings for Harry, which, while having always smoldered below the surface of her thoughts, had started warming up, but had kept her bargain with Dean, writing him as a friend, and leaving her options open.
But with his proprietary grabbing of her hand, she felt, deep inside herself, a small protest, a thought that this wouldn't ever be right. But whatever part of her had a problem with her hand being in Dean's refused to elaborate, so she was forced to think things through on her own. Was it, perhaps, that it was uncomfortable holding hands with him? Well, his hand wasn't too sweaty, although she would have preferred it to be a little drier. Was he holding too tightly? Hmmm, that was at least a little bit true, so she shifted her fingers a bit, trying to get him to loosen up, which he eventually did. Unfortunately, the loosening of his grip didn't satisfy the rebellious part of her, so she kept thinking. After another couple of minutes, though, the only thing she could come up with was that his hand was just too soft. The softness of his hands didn't surprise her—he was, after all, an artist. He certainly wouldn't have gotten calluses from painting and drawing, not like she did playing Quidditch. It was unreasonable to expect him to have matching calluses, wasn't it? But as soon as she thought that, that small voice inside her smirked and said, "Yes, but the hand you should be holding has calluses on it."
Ginny was left to once again ponder her situation, and complain inwardly at the rudeness of teenage boys, as Dean let go of her (not without some relief on her part) to move closer to Seamus, who was currently examining a magazine that had a girl in a fluorescent purple bikini on the cover.
That summer had proven to be even more full of surprises than she had expected. Harry's new behavior, which had flabbergasted everyone, continued with no sign of abatement. He arose every morning eager to start the new day, and found pleasure in participating in all the activities that went on at the Weasleys' home. He de-gnomed the gardens with vigor, and went flying as often as possible. The only area that he was rather reluctant to engage in was swimming.
But Ginny had adapted to "Happy Harry" as she called him, and didn't allow him to miss out on this most wonderful of activities. The second time he begged off from one of their trips to the pond, she took him aside, and grilled him about it.
"All right, Harry, what's going on?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, Gin," he answered, but wouldn't meet her eyes.
Ignoring the small thrill of pleasure at the nick-name, she glared at him.
"Yes you do! This is the second time you've refused to come swimming with us. Why won't you come?"
"Um, well, I just don't like swimming," was his rather half-hearted rejoinder. But Ginny noticed that he looked down at the floor as he said this, and his cheeks turned pink.
"Have you ever gone?" She was rather curious to know the answer to this—she knew the Dursleys weren't very nice to him, but couldn't imagine that they wouldn't have let him go to the local pool.
"Of course I have!" he replied indignantly. "I just didn't enjoy myself."
This was better, at least he was looking at her now. Over the years, Ginny had become rather adept at reading Harry's body language, and she could tell that he was telling the truth. But there was still something there that she couldn't quite categorize.
"Okay, now we're getting somewhere. Why didn't you enjoy yourself?"
Harry looked down again, as if ashamed, and mumbled something under his breath.
"I'm sorry, Harry, I didn't catch that. I'm not going to be mad or anything, and I promise I won't tease you too much. I just want to help you have fun."
Finally, he looked back up at her, and clearly stated, "Dudley and his friends went too. It wasn't very fun trying to stay away from them so they couldn't throw me into the deep end and laugh. I had already had to be rescued by the lifeguard once, and knew that Dudley would tell Uncle Vernon when we got home. So, I just sat on the chairs by the side and waited until it was time to go home."
Ginny was aghast. No wonder he didn't want to go with them!
"So, you've never learned how to swim?"
"Well, no, but you don't have to make fun of me about it!"
Harry's response stung Ginny's sense of fairness, and she was just about to respond hotly, when she recognized the other emotion that Harry was broadcasting—it was shame. Instantly, her pique went away, to be replaced with compassion.
"Oh Harry, I'm not taking the mickey or anything. It's nothing to be ashamed of, not knowing how to swim. In fact, Charlie didn't learn how to swim until he tried to get a job on the dragon reservation. He used to just play in the shallow part of the pond, no matter how much we teased him about it. But it's a prerequisite for dragonhandlers, since there's a large lake there and one of their duties is to help the dragons bathe themselves. It took him awhile to learn, but now that he has it figured out, he loves to come swim with us."
Harry seemed mollified at this, but still not eager to get into the water.
"Wait a minute. You swam just fine during the Tri-Wizard Tournament!"
Harry looked surprised at this. "That wasn't me, Gin. I took Gillyweed to be able to breathe underwater, and it allowed me to swim. When it wore off, I couldn't swim well anymore, and I had the hardest time getting back to shore. I was rather worried that people would make fun of me for struggling so hard at the end, but no-one seemed to notice."
Ginny remembered watching him struggle to bring Ron and Gabrielle back, but realized that everyone had been too caught up in his having rescued two hostages to notice his lack of swimming ability.
"Tell you what, Harry. I'll teach you how." Ginny didn't know what possessed her to offer—it wasn't like she had ever taken lessons herself. She didn't know how to teach something like that. And what was worse, what if Harry thought it was some girlish endeavor to get him to notice her in a swimming costume? Granted, she wouldn't mind if he did notice her in that way, but she didn't want him to think it was engineered!
Harry blushed bright red at this, which Ginny didn't know how to take. Either he was thinking along the same lines as she was, and the idea of being in close proximity with her in the water, clad in less than they normally were, was something he liked, or, and this was more likely, he didn't like the idea of someone like her teaching him how to swim.
Deciding that she'd like to know which of those two scenarios it was, she commented off-handedly, "After all, what are sisters for?"
Harry lost his smile at this, and looked at her intently. "Ginny, you're not my sister, you're my friend. I've seen how your brothers treat you, and I don't like it. If that's what it means to have a sister, then I'm glad I don't have one."
Ginny cursed her fair complexion as the blood ran to her cheeks. It was true that her brothers usually either ignored her, or teased her, and that she had wished countless times that they wouldn't. But it was startling to find out that Harry had seen this, and had thought about it enough to consciously decide not to treat her the same way. And this just added fuel to the notion that she liked this new Harry even more than she had the old one.
Forcing herself to speak evenly, she responded, "That's not what I meant, Harry. I just meant that family members help each other out, and if you'd like to learn how to swim, I'd be happy to show you."
Harry seemed to accept this, and Ginny could see him genuinely consider the offer. "Okay, that sounds fun. I've seen how much you enjoy it, and it would be nice to get some relief from the heat."
After sending him off to borrow some of Ron's swim trunks, Ginny let her mother know where they were going, and took a quick look in the mirror to make sure she was appropriately attired for the occasion. She had chosen her black one-piece to use today, and was grateful that she had, as she felt she looked very nice in it. It was modest, a necessity with Molly Weasley as her mother, and Harry probably wouldn't feel too uncomfortable seeing her in it.
The swimming lesson went very well. . . eventually. Harry had a hard time adapting to movement in the water until Ginny happened to mention that to her it was like flying, just without a broom. This comment brought Harry up short, and caused yet another huge smile to break out on his face.
"Really?" he asked. "That sounds like much more fun than swimming does. Why don't they call it 'flying in the water'? That would be much more exciting to learn!"
His enthusiasm translated itself into eagerness to learn, and after an hour, he was doing very well. He certainly couldn't match Ginny's grace and style, but he got where he needed to go, and more importantly, he was having a grand time. He even felt comfortable engaging in the regular Weasley Water War, which Ginny's team subsequently won, much to the chagrin of Ron, Fred, and Percy.
Once again Ginny was interrupted in her musings by her compartment-mates. Lavender and Parvati entered, mid-gossip about some scandalous happening that they had heard of further down the train. Absently greeting them, she found herself thinking about the two newcomers. They certainly worked at being the Gryffindor Princesses. They flirted shamelessly with the boys in their house, not caring what the other girls thought of them. Ginny knew that Hermione didn't have a lot of use for her two year-mates, although she had mentioned that she thought they were relatively harmless. Ginny had watched as first one, then the other had gone through the cycle of boyfriend and breakup, more than once throughout the last year.
Perhaps the two older girls were trying to find something that would make them happy. Ginny put herself to thinking more fully about this. After all, they seemed to be able to attract almost any boy they wanted. At this thought, Ginny found herself unaccountably grateful that neither had set their cap for Harry—perhaps they knew that it would be a lost cause, or maybe they had been warned off by Harry's friends, but either way, she was happy that Harry hadn't had to go through the drama of a relationship with the two "Flirts of the Tower". After all, Cho had brought more than enough drama with her when she had shown her interest in him.
So, Lavender and Parvati don't seem to think they'd get what they want from Harry, Ginny thought. What was it that they really wanted then? She cast her mind back to the times when she'd seen either of the two with their boyfriends. She remembered seeing Lavender in Hogsmeade with her date, who was constantly asking her if she wanted to do this or that, or opening doors for her and assisting her through them, or buying any little bauble that she seemed to fancy. Parvati's relationships had been less obvious, but at dinners Ginny had seen her current beau choosing food for her and making sure it was arranged on her plate the way she liked it. Thinking more about this type of behavior, Ginny realized that she had hit it spot-on when she had referred to the pair as the Gryffindor Princesses. They both wanted to be treated like royalty, kept on a pedestal and kept away from any discomfort or strife. They were looking for someone to wait on them hand and foot, and wouldn't be content until they'd found such a doormat.
With her new-found insight, Ginny started thinking about Dean, and his actions towards her when they had found each other on the train this morning. He had automatically jumped to her aid, without even asking if she wanted him to. This was a somewhat worrying tendency. Even at the end of the year last year, he had insisted on helping her get up from her seat at the Leaving Feast. And his letters to her, the parts that weren't filled with recounting, in exhaustive detail, the many football games he had gone to, were full of statements that seemed to indicate that he didn't think she was completely capable of taking care of herself—vague admonitions to be safe, and promises that he'd "take good care of her". Ginny realized that he didn't know the story of their trip to the Ministry, and cut him some slack for that, but by Merlin! Did he think she was a stumbling idiot? He had even had the temerity to suggest that Quidditch was a little rough, and that maybe she should look into getting some training on playing more defensively, so that she wouldn't have to take so many chances.
Rather upset at where her thoughts were taking her, Ginny allowed herself to slip back into memories of the summer past.
Harry had gotten up early that morning, earlier than normal, and was out flying in the paddock. He did that occasionally--he said it was the time he felt the most free, the times when he was able to forget all his troubles and cares, and just glory in the wind and the speed. Ginny had awoken early too, probably jogged into wakefulness by his tread on the stairs. Rather than allow herself to fall back asleep, as she was accustomed to doing, she decided she'd go for a fly too. If Harry didn't mind, then she'd join him, and if he did, well then, she'd fly close to the house instead. She rather hoped it was the former, as she always enjoyed flying with someone who could match her talents, and whatever else he was, Harry was a fantastic flyer.
Trudging through the dew-laden grass towards the paddock, she took a moment to think about how different this summer had been, especially compared to what she had expected. Harry's easy acceptance of her into what had formerly been a Trio was nothing short of miraculous. If that had been all that had changed, she'd still have counted her lucky stars. But even better than that was his new happiness. True, he could still get depressed, but those times seemed to never last too long, and it was easier to bring him out of them than it had been the previous year.
The Weasleys had discovered that the best way to bring him out of his down times was through, surprisingly, physical contact. Molly had gotten to give Harry more hugs this summer than she had ever done before. Mr. Weasley had gotten into the habit of placing his hand on Harry's shoulder when he saw him staring off into space. Ron would clout him on the shoulder and cajole him into playing chess, or flying, or gnome-tossing. And, wonder of all wonders, if Ginny were in the room, Harry would actually walk over and touch her on the arm. It had taken her awhile to figure this out, though. The first few times he had done this, she had smiled at him, and patted him on the shoulder. That seemed to work acceptably well, although she couldn't help but feel there was something missing. Then, one time, instead of patting him on the shoulder, she gave him a quick hug. The difference was startling--his smile broke out again, and he bounced off to do something fun. This, of course, prompted some deep thinking on Ginny's part, and the start of a plan. Ever since then, when he came over to her and touched her arm, she gave him a hug. As the days progressed, it seemed as though he sought her out more frequently, sometimes even looking in another room if he couldn't find her present. Ginny didn't know what to make of that. Afraid to read into it too much, she decided to enjoy the moments, and trust that she was getting to be, at the very least, closer friends with him.
Ginny arrived at the paddock and gave up her deep thoughts for the moment, in favor of Harry-watching, one of her favorite pastimes. Harry was flying slow circles, following the fence-line, except for the one place where it went into the woods, and appeared to be thinking rather deeply about something. Two and a half circuits after she showed up, he finally noticed her, and descended to where she was waiting.
"Hi, Ginny, what are you doing up this early?"
"What, don't you think I can arise as early as The Boy-Who-Lived?" she responded, knowing that he'd hear the teasing note in her voice and not take her words amiss.
"Well, to tell you the truth, Gin---" and there was that rush of pleasure again at the shortening of her name. "--I don't know that I've ever seen you up this early, at least, not this summer."
"Well, Mr. Youngest-Seeker-in-a-Century, the dawn doesn't belong to just you. I'll have you know that there have been at least two other mornings that I've gotten up early enough to see the sun come up!"
"Oh really?" Harry didn't seem to believe her. "And when, pray tell, were these two fabled mornings?"
"Well, once when I was five, I asked my dad to wake me up to see the sunrise. I had heard him telling Mum about how fun it was to watch the sun rise with her, and I wanted to see why it was so great. He smiled at me and told me he'd wake me up the next morning to see it."
"Well, how was it?" Harry asked.
"Um, I don't know. I woke up and went outside with him to watch, but fell asleep in his arms. The next thing I remember was waking up in my own bed, and it was already breakfast time."
Harry tried, he really did, to not laugh too loud, knowing that the Burrow wasn't that far away. But a summer's worth of thriving amongst the always exuberant, and usually noisy, Weasleys had conditioned him to let loose and really enjoy the moment. So, he laughed. Ginny joined in, knowing that it was something special to be able to make Harry laugh like this, and happy that she had been able to do so, even at her own expense.
After he had wiped away the tears of mirth, he managed to ask her about her second pre-dawn experience.
"Oh, come on, you were there!" Ginny responded, thinking that he really was rather dense to not remember this time. "The Quidditch World Cup? I was there too, walking towards Stoatshead Hill at some unearthly hour just to catch a portkey."
Harry instantly sobered. "That's right, you were. I'm so sorry, Gin, sometimes I forget how oblivious I was back then." A sad look crossed his face, and Ginny's heart fell, thinking that he was remembering the horrors that were visited upon him back in his fourth year. But Harry surprised her with what he said next. "Ginny, I think that I need to apologize to you for that."
"For what?" For the life of her, Ginny couldn't think of why he would feel the need to apologize to her for anything that happened that year.
"For not noticing you. I'm sorry that I ignored you. I should have been a better friend to you."
"Oh, Harry, don't worry about it--I turned out okay, in spite of everything. I honestly don't think we would have been able to be as good of friends as we are if I hadn't gone through everything that I did."
Harry thought about this for a moment. "You mean, with Riddle and all that?"
"Maybe you're right. Knowing that you understand Voldemort in much the same way that I do, makes me feel less lonely in the world."
Ginny smiled at him, impressed that he'd been able to tell her this--the old Harry would have just blushed at the thought, and ignored it. "And I know that you understand me, and that makes me feel better too."
Sensing that they'd had enough of the serious discussion, Harry decided that some teasing was in order.
"Well, Princess Weasley, I don't think we just came here this morning to discuss deep things. Didn't you want to fly?"
By the time he got to the end of his question, Ginny's eyes were flashing, and her cheeks were red, but not with a demure blush.
"Don't call me Princess!!" she practically yelled at him. Only the fact that her wand was still in her pocket allowed Harry to escape a severe hexing.
Harry flinched away, hands raised to ward off her anger. "I'm sorry, Ginny, I didn't mean anything by it!" He couldn't for the life of him figure out what he'd done wrong. "I was just teasing . . ." He trailed off, not sure of how to salvage what had been, up until now, a very nice conversation.
Ginny closed her eyes, and forced herself to breathe evenly, and slowly, calming herself down. She knew Harry hadn't meant anything by it, and it was really unfair of her to take out her frustrations on her friend like that. Eventually she opened her eyes again and looked at Harry. But seeing the shame and guilt on his face didn't make her feel good at all.
She smiled at him, well, at least she flexed her lips in a small approximation of a smile, and tried to explain. "Harry, I'm not mad at you--"
"Could have fooled me," he mumbled in response.
"Harry, please, just. . . let me explain, okay?"
"Sorry, I'll try to listen."
"Without interrupting?" she asked, with a slightly more humorous glint in her eye.
"Well, no promises, but I'll do my best." Harry seemed to be responding better now, as he realized that she really hadn't meant to blow up at him, and regretted the action.
"Okay, well, Bill and Charlie used to call me 'Princess' when I was a little girl, and I really liked it. I dressed up in long dresses, and Bill would make me a crown out of paper, and I'd use a kitchen ladle for a sceptre. . . Stop laughing, it's not funny!"
Harry tried valiantly to suppress his giggles, and finally managed to quiet down.
Ginny continued, after a suitable glare. "Well, that went on for quite some time, but then Fred and George decided to get in on the act. But they didn't play nicely about it. They called me 'Princess' when they were mad at me. Being who they were, they tended to get into a lot of trouble, whereas I hadn't started my reign of prankery yet."
Harry snickered again, but managed to keep quiet enough not to interrupt the narrative.
"So, they saw me as being 'Little Miss Perfect', and I got very tired of hearing them refer to me as 'The Weasley Princess'. They pretended that I was a pampered little girl who never had to do anything like chores or get sweaty. Well, you know me, that didn't sit very well. I figured that I could do just as much as they could. And when I couldn't because I was so much younger, it really made me mad. It got so bad that I finally asked Bill to call me something else, because it brought up such bad feelings. That's when he started calling me Spitfire. Well, the fact that I hexed Fred and George so often also made the name fit pretty well too. So, when you called me 'Princess' it just evoked all those bad memories again. I'm sorry about that--I know you didn't mean anything by it, but please, don't ever call me that again." She looked at him with pleading eyes, hoping that he understood what she was saying, and that she wasn't rejecting him.
Strangely, Harry felt closer to Ginny now than he had before. Knowing that she hadn't had the perfect childhood, and had been called names that hurt, made him glad that he'd tried to be more friendly to her this summer. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and shared one of his closely guarded secrets with her.
"I know exactly how you feel. Uncle Vernon and Dudley always called me a 'freak' when I was growing up. In fact, for the first few years of my life, I thought that was my name. They don't do that anymore, but whenever I hear someone use that word, even in the most innocuous of circumstances, it takes me straight back to my cupboard, and I can hear them yelling in my head."
Ginny felt her eyes start to sting at hearing this from Harry. Now wasn't the time, but she was definitely going to ask what he meant by 'cupboard'. Looking away for a second to regain her composure, she turned back to him, and said, "Well, I guess we agree then--I won't call you 'Freak', and you won't call me 'Princess'. Deal?"
"Sounds good to me. Ready to go flying, my Queen?"
Ginny just stared at Harry. "What do you mean, your Queen?" she finally asked him.
"Well, I figured you're not a Princess anymore, and you're certainly not a commoner, so what better than a Queen? And I kind of like the idea of having something to call you that no-one else does."
Ginny didn't bring up the fact that he already had a nickname for her. He called her "Gin", which no-one else ever would, because normally she hated being called that. When he did it, though, it sounded sweet.
"Queen, eh? Well, that's got a much better image behind it than the 'Princess' title. The queen helps rule the land, and supports the king and is his equal, and no-one ever tells her what to do. So, okay. I don't mind you calling me that, but don't do it in front of any of my brothers--they'll never let you, or me, hear the end of it. Okay?"
Harry easily agreed, and they mounted their brooms and took off into the beautiful crisp morning air.
"What!?" Ginny answered irritably. She was not happy about having been pulled out of that particular memory. Flying with Harry was just about as close to heaven as she could imagine. The little voice inside her chose that moment to speak up again. "If flying is so wonderful with Harry, kissing him would be incredible!" She reflexively went to push that idea away, then decided to pull it out all the way and look at it. She knew she had a decision to make, and soon. The trip to school had been more edifying than normal for her, and she liked the direction her thoughts were leaning.
Dean, not realizing that her attention had left him again, continued on, oblivious. "Nothing--you just looked like you were asleep, and we're almost there. It's time to put on your robes, my Princess."
Ginny gritted her teeth, but then thought about her reaction. Sure, she didn't like being called "Princess", but it didn't bother her nearly as much coming from Dean as from Harry. She had heard once that the opposite of love wasn't hate, but indifference. And in reality, she really didn't feel anything towards Dean beyond friendship, and didn't care to try to make more of it than it was. He had, once again, showed her what a relationship with him would be like; he would assume things, and she would get mad. He would treat her like a porcelain doll that might easily break, and she would hex him. They wouldn't really have a lot to talk about, and they'd get bored with each other. These thoughts ran through her head in a split second, and she made up her mind.
"Dean, can you come with me for a minute, please?" She knew what she wanted to say to him, but didn't really think that saying it in front of all his mates would be very kind.
Dean got a rather happy look on his face, and eagerly jumped up, rushed to the door, and held it open for her.
'Yeah', Ginny thought to herself, 'I think this might possibly be the best decision I've ever made.'
"Thanks, Dean, this won't take very long." At this, Dean's face dropped perceptibly. Obviously this was not a prelude to a snogging session, although he probably still had hopes that there would be a kiss involved.
There was, although he wasn't very happy with it. She took his hand, kissed him on the cheek, and said, "Dean, I have really appreciated getting to know you better through our letters and during this train ride. It's been rather eye-opening for me, and I've been able to make some good decisions about my life. Unfortunately, one of them is that I don't think we'd be a very good couple. I like you, but I think I'd rather stay friends with you than take the risk of ruining it by trying to make it something it's not."
Dean just stared at her, dumbfounded. "But, things were going so well there in our compartment! How could you have decided to break up with me from that?"
Ginny shook her head in bewilderment. "Dean, we were never officially together. We decided that we'd think about it, and ride together to see if we thought it would be a good idea. I'm sorry if you came to a different conclusion than I did, or assumed that all this meant we'd agreed to go out. It was never my intent to lead you on, and I don't want to hurt you, but I really do believe we'd be better friends than boyfriend-girlfriend."
Dean's look of shock slowly gave way to acceptance. He nodded once, then said, "Well, I suppose this isn't too big of a surprise. I had hoped that spending time with me would show you that I'd be a good match for you, but I guess I was really battling something too strong for me. You still love Harry, don't you?"
Ginny was taken aback by Dean's understanding. She had thought that she'd been rather careful about not showing any signs of the affection she felt for Harry, but obviously she hadn't taken enough precautions. "Dean, yes, I do care for Harry quite a bit. But in truth, he's not why I don't think we'd do well together. You and I are just too different to really make a go of it, and that means that, sooner or later, I'd want out of the relationship. I don't want to wait until later, and hurt you more."
Dean grinned at her and replied, "Okay then, I'd really like to stay friends. Who knows? Maybe Harry will be an idiot and you'll be available for long enough for me to try to win you again."
Ginny smiled back, and answered, "Well, we'll see, but don't let the possibility of dating me keep you from enjoying your time at school. I've seen how Parvati has been eyeing you lately--you might enjoy spending some more time with her."
Dean got a happier look in his eyes at this. "Really? I hadn't noticed. Are you sure?"
At Ginny's nod, he leaned forward, kissed her on the cheek, and said, "Thanks for everything, Ginny. And if you don't mind a piece of advice, don't let Harry ignore you for too long before you make a play for him. I've overheard some comments about how fanciable he has gotten to be, and know that there are quite a few girls willing to pick up where Cho left off."
Ginny laughed and said, "Thanks Dean, I'll remember that." Privately she was thinking that there wouldn't be very much chance of her waiting too long. She had started to plan out her next actions, and was just about positive that they'd have a very happy ending.
After talking with Dean, Ginny went back into the train compartment to make sure she hadn't left anything behind. She was a little nervous at her planned course of action, but excited at the same time.
Seamus, Lavender, and Parvati had already left, for which she was very grateful--she didn't think she could handle making inane small talk right now, not when she was poised to take what felt like the greatest chance of her life.
Leaving the train, she tried to figure out where Harry would be. She knew Hermione and Ron would be busy with prefect duties, and hoped that Harry would have promised to wait for them. Fording the stream of first-year students heading towards the towering mountain that was Hagrid, she approached the line of waiting carriages. Shivering at the memory of the thestral ride the year before, she walked past them quickly, scanning the occupants for the person she was in search of.
From up ahead, she heard Harry's voice. "Hermione's definition of 'pretty quickly' doesn't match with mine very well."
Ginny could hear a low rumbling as someone answered him and quickened her pace, breaking into a jog.
She heard Harry chuckle in response as she reached the door to the carriage.
Ginny reached up and opened the door, and climbed inside. Quickly noting that the other occupants were Neville and Luna, but ignoring them in her urgency, she turned to face Harry. Her heart felt like it was going to beat its way out of her chest, but she refused to believe that was due to anything other than her having run to the carriage. Of course, the annoying little voice spoke up again, "Yeah, because you're so out of shape that a little jog makes you puff like a Swedish Short-Snout." That little voice was getting to be rather irritating, she decided.
Looking Harry straight in his gorgeous emerald eyes, she asked, "Were you serious?"
"I've never been more serious in my life," he responded immediately.
"Then prove it," she shot back, and, seating herself on his lap, she kissed him.
A/N: The idea of "If you were with me, I'd treat you like a queen" comes from a wonderful book called By Love and Grace, by Anita Stansfield.