Dare

A/N: This little plot bunny wouldn't leave me alone until I wrote it down. The story is a prequel to "For Love of Family" in my "Family" series. I hope you enjoy it.

Many thanks to my pre-betas Mutt n Feathers and RSS whose constructive criticism helped make this story better and to my beta, Aggiebell, for finding the time in her busy schedule to make the final approval of the story.

oOo

Saturday, 4 December 1998

Ginny flopped on her bed in the seventh year girls' dormitory with a heavy sigh that caught Hermione's attention better than her normal noisy entrance would have. She looked up and cocked her head to the side as she asked, "What's wrong, Ginny?"

"Life," Ginny groaned, never taking her eyes off the canopy of her four-poster.

"Life as in life in general, or life as it pertains to you?" Hermione asked, setting aside the book she'd been reading. She hugged her knees, settling in for what she suspected was going to be a lengthy bout of girl-talk.

"Life as it pertains to a certain maddening green-eyed wizard."

"So what's Harry done now? Forget about the Hogsmeade weekend next week?" Hermione asked.

Ginny shook her head. "Nope, so far his request for leave from the Academy has not been revoked, so he's still going to meet me at the castle gates on Saturday," she sighed.

"If it's not that, then what could it be?"

The room was silent for a long time, then Ginny nearly whispered, "I'm getting impatient, Hermione. I love Harry so much and I know he loves me; I just want to be with him as much as possible and I'm stuck in this castle and he's stuck in London, so we're stuck being apart. I just want to be done with school so we can be together!" Her voice, when she finished, had taken on a whinging quality it rarely held and she balled up a fist and pounded her mattress before flipping over and screaming into her pillow.

Hermione sighed, acknowledging her own frustration. She felt the same way about Ron, but she knew she needed to be patient. Ron had so much to deal with right now that one more thing just might break him. It had all started with Fred's death and the difficult reopening of the shop in August when George had spent less than ten minutes behind the counter before he stormed off, leaving Ron to deal with everything by himself. Ron had called Harry, Ginny and Hermione for help. The two girls had stayed with Ron, running the till and restocking shelves while Harry had gone in search of George. Eventually, Harry had found him sitting in the Muggle pub down the street from the Leaky Cauldron, nursing a bottle of whiskey. The two had commiserated a long time before Harry convinced George that he shouldn't sell the shop to Gambol and Japes and join Luna Lovegood and her father in their search for the Crumple-Horned Snorkack. Since that horrible day, Ron had been working non-stop; he had managed the shop, learned how to make or create everything in the vast inventory, and somehow managed to pass his Charms, Transfiguration and Potions N.E.W.T.s early so that he didn't blow up the shop—something Hermione found absolutely amazing. Most days now, George was coming round the shop and cheerfully interacting with customers instead of brooding in the storage room, so things were beginning to settle down enough that she was certain Ron could relax just a little. At least she hoped he could have a few more free days without feeling guilty for not being at the shop.

So when Ginny finally took her face out of the pillow, Hermione was waiting with a question. "What are you going to do about it?"

"What? Me?"

"Yes, you."

"Why?"

"You're the impatient one, so do something about it."

For the first time since she came into the room, Ginny turned to look at Hermione. "Hermione, are you suggesting what I think you're suggesting?" she asked incredulously. Hermione nodded. "I can't do that! Mum would rant for a month of Sundays if she discovered I'd done such a thing." She imitated her mother's voice with uncanny accuracy, "'Adult witches are ladies, Ginny. You must be patient and let the wizard take the lead.'"

Hermione giggled. "When did you tell her you wanted to do that?"

Ginny rolled onto her side and faced Hermione. "The summer before your sixth year, the day Dumbledore went to get Harry. Mum caught me sitting on my windowsill holding a picture of Harry that Colin had given me. She thought I was being disloyal to Dean who had been writing to me since we left the train at King's Cross."

"Were you being disloyal?"

"Not exactly. Dean had kissed me on the train—Ron didn't know about that—and promised to write to me over the summer. I thought his kisses were a nice distraction from my worry over Harry, but my feelings for Dean were never as strong as the ones I had for Harry," Ginny said with a sigh.

Puzzled, Hermione asked, "But didn't Ron catch you kissing Dean after a Quidditch practice?"

Ginny giggled. "I'm sure you remember that fight well enough," she said wryly.

Hermione grimaced, the results of that fight had been far-reaching, but they had made her realise just how deeply she cared for Ron Weasley. It had hurt so much to see him with Lavender every day…

She changed the subject. "So you know Harry's feelings for you are as strong as yours are for him, but he's just thicker than a brick when it comes to romance?" she asked.

"Merlin, yes! It's either that or he thinks I'll run the other way if he dares to declare his feelings for me," Ginny sighed dramatically. She flopped back on her back and stared at her canopy again.

"I think," Hermione said, getting up and going to sit at the foot of Ginny's bed, "you need to take matters into your own hands."

Ginny sat up and stared at her. "How do I do that?"

With a wicked grin, Hermione said, "I dare you to ask Harry to marry you!"

Silence descended on the room as Ginny pondered the challenge. Then, with a slow grin lighting up her face, she said, "I'll do it!"

"Harry will never know what hit him!" Hermione said, and with that she and Ginny began making plans.

oOo

Wednesday, 8 December 1998

Ron found Harry staring into his pint of Guinness when he entered their favourite Muggle pub, the Seldom Inn, near the Auror Academy grounds. Just the way his friend sat clued in the usually thick wizard that there was something very serious on Harry's mind. Ron ordered a pint of stout and took his drink to the table.

"How's your week going?" Ron asked, taking a seat opposite Harry.

"Don't ask," Harry growled.

"That bad? Did you get saddled with guard duty this weekend?"

Harry finally looked up. "No, nothing like that. In fact, I'm looking forward to seeing Ginny very much this Saturday," he said glumly.

"You don't sound very enthusiastic, mate," Ron commented as he raised his glass and took a long pull.

"I can't get your sister off my mind," Harry nearly whispered. "I think about her all the time and it's beginning to interfere with my training."

"Did she dump you for some git at school?" Ron asked, the hackles on the back of his neck beginning to rise.

"Don't be daft, man," Harry said. "Ginny wouldn't cheat on me."

"Then what's got you all worked up," Ron asked.

"I love your sister, but don't know how to tell her."

For once, Ron knew what to say in a conversation on this subject. "She loves you, all right. In fact, she only has eyes for you," he said confidently.

Harry eyed him over the rim of his glass. "You seem sure of yourself."

"Harry, Ginny looks at you with the same expression Mum looks at Dad when she doesn't think we're looking; you know, all sentimental and doe-eyed with that sentimental smile she has just for him," Ron said.

"She does?" Harry asked incredulously.

"Of course she does. Ginny's had a variation of that look since she sat next to you and put her elbow in the butter dish."

"That long?"

"Yep, and it gets stronger the longer you two are together. You don't have to worry about Ginny looking at other blokes, if that's what you're worried about."

"Good to know," Harry mumbled. He ran a hand through his hair, looking frustrated. "But how do I tell her, Ron? I'm no good when it comes to romance."

Ron sat back in his chair. "Have you sent her flowers? Girls like that sort of thing."

"Uh-huh. Every month," Harry replied.

"Purchased tickets for the two of you to a Harpies match?"

"That's one of her Christmas presents."

"Met her in Hogsmeade?"

"She'd skin me alive if I didn't show up."

"No, she wouldn't. She'd be disappointed and spend the day revising if she couldn't see you."

"She would?"

"Either that or she'd go up on her broom and practice throwing a Quaffle at the hoops, imagining the rings had the face of your supervisor in the middle and his nose was her target!"

Harry snorted into his beer. "I've wanted to do that more than a few times lately," he said.

Ron grew serious. He'd thought of this last question in relation to Hermione. He'd even gone so far as to venture into the Muggle jewellery shop two streets over, but discovered he didn't have the gold to purchase what he wanted. Telling Hermione how he felt would have to wait another year. "Have you purchased a ring?"

Harry's expression told him everything he needed to know, even though his response was a silent shake of the head.

"You don't have to have a ring, you know," Ron said. "All you have to do is ask."

A stricken look flitted across his friend's face. "I can't do that, Ron, I'd get tongue-tied and mess everything up and Ginny would laugh and run the other way."

"A recent nightmare?"

Harry chuckled darkly. "Last night, in fact."

"Harry, mate, there's only one cure for that kind of dream," Ron said, a wicked grin splitting his face. "I dare you to propose to my sister!"

"I… I… I can't take a dare like that!" Harry exclaimed.

"It's just four little words. You know you want to."

Harry stood up and went to the bar. He came back with a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label scotch and two shot glasses. He poured two shots and handed one to Ron. "If I'm going to take that dare, you're going to help me plan it!" he said, throwing back his drink and pouring another.

Ron downed his own shot and poured himself another. "Gladly, Harry, but only if you help me when it comes time for me to propose to Hermione."

oOo

New Year's Eve 1998

The Burrow rang with the voices of revelling Weasleys, their various spouses and "significant others" as Hermione had come to label the non-Weasleys who had managed to join the group over the course of the year. Angelina Johnson sat next to George on the sofa while a witch Percy had brought stood in a corner talking to Fleur. Hermione thought the woman's name was Audrey, but it could have been Aubrey; Percy had introduced her very quickly, in almost a mumble, as if he was anticipating being teased mercilessly by his brothers. Hermione had been happy when Ron and George had smiled and greeted the newcomer without pranking her; she seemed very shy and had clung to Percy's arm for the first fifteen minutes after their arrival.

Stepping out of the kitchen into the sitting room, Hermione began counting noses as per Molly's request; only Harry had yet to arrive and from the looks of it, if he were any later, he'd miss dinner. Not the thing to do on New Year's Eve.

The fire in the sitting room suddenly flared green, emitting a rather frazzled-looking Harry, who mumbled his apologies before going to hang his cloak up and say hello to Ginny and Molly. The squeal of delight from the kitchen told her that Ginny was happy Harry had finally made it. He remained in the kitchen for a few minutes before coming back into the sitting room, allowing Hermione to study him without being noticed; something was up… Harry looked a bit nervous.

She glanced over her shoulder into the kitchen where Ginny was levitating a platter of chops onto the table; if Hermione didn't know better, she would have thought her friend ill because her hands were shaking so much it affected the platter's flight through the air.

She sidled over to the table and helped Ginny position the platter in the middle of the table. "Nervous?" she asked.

Ginny looked down at her hands. "Does it show?"

"A little. Do you think you'll make it through dinner sitting next to Harry?"

"And not vomit? It won't be easy, but I'll get through it."

Hermione gave Ginny a quick hug. "You'll do fine. Just think about how much you love Harry and want to be with him, just like you told me."

Ginny took a deep breath and blew it out. "Thanks, Hermione. That helps a lot."

Hermione glanced at Ginny's hands. They weren't shaking any more.

Dinner was a fun meal, more fun than Christmas dinner had been, because Molly wasn't crying tonight and Angelina and Audrey—she'd cleared that up when Ron had called her the wrong name three times in a row—added their own brands of holiday cheer by telling stories and participating in the general conversation. Hermione was happy to see, too, that Ginny did indeed get through the meal without having to excuse herself due to her nerves. What surprised her most was that Harry seemed much quieter than normal. She glanced at Ron, who winked at her, tilted his head towards Harry and smiled. Hermione bit her lip and raised an eyebrow. Ron nodded imperceptibly. The next few hours were going to be interesting.

After dinner, because the group was so big, the group separated with men taking over the sitting room while the women settled comfortably around the table after cleaning up the feast.

"Anyone up for some tea?" Molly asked.

Under affirmations of agreement, Ginny turned to Hermione and whispered, "I'd rather have a shot of Ogden's Firewhisky."

Hermione giggled into her hand. "Your mother would have kittens if she heard you say that."

Ginny glanced at her mum who had Levitated the family teapot and six mugs to the table and was busy handing out the tea, milk and sugar. "Hermione, she's going to have those kittens when she hears what I'm going to say to Harry in an hour," she said.

Hermione patted Ginny's hand. "Actually, I think she's going to squeeze the two of you flat," she giggled.

"At least we'll be flat together if Harry accepts my proposal," Ginny said. She added milk and sugar to her tea and passed the bowl and pitcher to Hermione.

Hermione smiled and passed the milk and sugar along to Fleur. She hoped, for her friend's sake, that Harry would be able to find his voice in order to accept his girlfriend's proposal.

oOo

For once, Ron couldn't concentrate on a chess game. He found it exceedingly funny that the one who appeared nervous was himself rather than Harry. However, the closer it came to midnight, the more distracted his friend was becoming. Still, Harry was more focused on the game than Ron was.

"Your turn, mate," Harry said as he sat back in his chair.

Ron looked at the board, suddenly realising that Harry was about to checkmate him. Could he get out of this bind?

"What happened here?" George asked as he studied the board. "Am I confused or have you two switched colours?"

Ron shook his head. "Harry's beaten me fair and square," he said with a shrug.

George slapped Harry on the back. "Looks like luck is with you, mate. This only happens once a year!" He glanced at Ron and then back at Harry. "Harry, is Ron up to no good this evening?"

Harry laughed, sounding a bit nervous. "Not even close, George, not even close."

oOo

The hands on the sitting room clock said ten minutes to midnight when Molly brought a tray of glasses into the sitting room where everyone was now gathered. Arthur was close on her heels with several bottles of chilled champagne in a bucket of snow floating in front of him.

"It's nearly time, everyone," Molly announced cheerfully. "The new year is nearly upon us."

"Let's hope it's better than the last," Audrey said, glancing about the room.

"I'll drink to that," George said. His eyes automatically went to Fred's portrait that sat on the mantle.

Bill poured the champagne and floated a glass to each of the occupants in the room except his wife.

"How come you're not having a glass?" Molly asked her.

Fleur smiled and seemed to glow all of a sudden. "I do not drink because Beel and I are expecting our first child," she said with a small, satisfied smile.

Molly squealed happily and went to embrace her oldest and his wife while Arthur raised his glass to the happy couple.

All too soon, the clock began to chime, sending everyone scrambling for their glasses. As the last chime rang through the room, everyone chorused, "Happy New Year!"

However, over and above the general din, another version of the words drowned out the others' celebration, making Hermione glance at Ron with a small, private smile which he returned.

"Happy New Year! Will you marry me?" Harry and Ginny asked simultaneously.

There was a shocked pause, the room becoming deathly still, and then the two lovers in question were in each other's arms, crying, "Yes, yes!"

Hermione never knew who started clapping, but it didn't matter. What did matter to her was that the happy couple was suddenly engulfed in a pile of happy Weasleys with Molly in the centre, tears of happiness streaming down her cheeks. A hand slipping into hers made Hermione jump and look away into Ron's captivating blue eyes.

He gestured with his head as he said, "Do you think they're happy?"

Hermione smiled. "Very."