Author's Notes: First, I'm sorry that this is so long. It just came out that way. Second, thank you to both my beta readers and to those who review this fic. I hope you all enjoy it. Third, I apologize ahead of time for any grammer errors or plot holes.

* * * * *

Harry snapped awake in a split-second, panting and clutching at the sweat soaked bed sheets. He had been having the nightmare again. It was nothing unusual -- just a second dose of the memories induced by the Dementors. This one was always better than dreaming about Cedric . . .

As soon as this thought crossed Harry's mind, he began to climb out of bed. He hated thinking about Cedric; he had to find a way to distract himself. He didn't bother making the bed behind him but merely pulled on his dressing gown and glasses. Maybe he'd go down to the kitchens and give Dobby a visit. Dobby was a great distraction when you were desperate. Harry grabbed his map at this thought, and he slipped it into the front of his robe.

Harry slipped out of the heavy curtains surrounding his bed and carefully tiptoed out of the room, making sure he stepped over every creaking floor board he and Ron had unfortunately discovered in their many late night sessions. Once Harry had opened the door and began down the stairwell, he didn't bother being so cautious anymore. The thick doors could generally keep most sound out from the stairway and common room.

Harry felt a familiar sense of peace and contentment as he walked into the common room. The fire was still lit, but it was so small it merely looked as if the logs were just glowing. He went to stand in front of the fire, entranced by it. How could such a simple thing supply so much comfort?

"Harry? Is that you?" a curious feminine voice interrupted the blessed silence.

Harry jumped at the intrusion and whirled around, barely able to keep his balance at the sudden move. He recognized the red hair immediately, but the person was too small and delicate-looking to be Ron. He felt his cheeks start to warm up at how clumsy he looked, and he pushed his glasses up his nose. "Yeah, it's me. No need to worry."

At confirming her question, he turned back around. He didn't watch the fire as intently as he had before though. Something about Ginny's presence unnerved him. What was funny was that the feeling wasn't all that unpleasant. He heard the couch's springs squeak just slightly and concluded that she'd sat down.

"What are you doing up?" Harry asked, keeping his back carefully turned to her. He hoped nothing was wrong with her. Ron would be terribly upset.

"I could ask the same of you," Ginny replied. Harry noticed that her voice was clear instead of chalky with sleep. He began to wonder if she'd even slept at all, but he'd seen the dressing robe, so she'd at least had to settle down for bed.

"Why do you think I'm up?" Harry asked pointedly. There were only two reasons why Harry Potter would be up in the middle of the night. Reason one: to sneak out into the night with Hermione and Ron to break as many rules as possible and still somehow get away with it, or reason two: nightmares. Since Ron and Hermione were still safely asleep upstairs, Ginny must have figured out that it was reason two.

"The same reason I'm up," Ginny said softly. Harry heard a vulnerable note in her voice that was quite unusual. Ginny was always strong and tough; she was comfortable with who she was. Harry smiled slightly to himself. You had to be tough when you were the only girl in a houseful of men. He was sure that if Ginny came to blows, she'd be the one to conquer.

Harry belatedly heard the meaning in her words, and he turned around cautiously. He folded his arms across his chest and observed her for a moment. "You have nightmares?" he asked carefully after a moment.

"Who doesn't?" Ginny countered, suddenly looking defensive.

"Normal nightmares don't scare you to the point where you don't want to sleep the rest of the night in fear of having them again," Harry said quietly, as much to himself as to her.

"Then I guess we're just not normal people," Ginny said lightly, offering a smile.

Harry suddenly felt awkward. He couldn't think of anything to say, and suddenly it was very imperative that he find something intelligent and witty to impress her with. He didn't think about how irrational this was. Finally, he coughed nervously and shuffled his feet. He moved to sit in one of the huge, comfortable chairs that was facing Ginny. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"What's to talk about?" Ginny asked. Harry noted that her eyes became a shade darker. She looked away from him and shrugged her shoulders. "They're not so much nightmares as . . ."

"Spruced up memories," Harry finished for her. He sat back in his chair, resting comfortably on the thickly stuffed cushions. "Things so terrible that you wish it was only a memory. Horrifying things happen, things that your own mind creates."

Ginny nodded as she locked eyes with Harry again. "Why does my mind come up with such terrifying things?" She looked down at her lap, and when she spoke again, her words were choked with unshed tears. "Why can't I just forget?"

Harry felt something uncomfortable in his chest. He found the sudden need to comfort the poor girl, to make her stop crying. "I guess it's punishment," Harry said quietly, wanting to distract her. "Punishment for not doing the right thing . . ."

"I know I shouldn't have written in that diary!" Ginny burst out, her eyes blazing.

"No." Harry shook his head, reassuring her. He leaned forward in his seat and placed a hand on her thigh, hoping that it was comforting. "I was talking about myself. There are so many things I should have done, so many mistakes I've made."

Ginny looked down at his hand, shock apparent on her face. She quickly got over it and placed her hand over Harry's. He turned his hand over so that it was almost as if they were . . . holding hands. Harry blushed. It wasn't an 'almost as if' -- they really *were* holding hands.

"I'm sorry," Ginny apologized. She squeezed his hand and gave him a shaky half smile. "I'm always paranoid that-that when people look at me all they can see is that *thing* that I became in my first year. I know that nobody can forget that awful year, and there must be tons of people who loathe me because of it . . ."

Harry returned the squeeze. "Nobody could ever loathe you, Ginny. Besides, if it's comforting to know, almost everybody has forgotten about it. I guess when we get caught up in such things as the great, famous Harry Potter fainting upon the sight of a Dementor, you're misery gets ignored in the middle of it," he said dryly.

"I'm not complaining," Ginny said quickly. "I don't want people to remember. I just wish it was so easier for me."

"I wish the same exact thing," Harry said softly. "It doesn't ever happen though. I don't think I'm ever going to be granted a normal, unobserved life." He chuckled slightly. "You know, I can remember being a child and wishing that some kind of fairy would come and rescue me from the Dursleys. Sometimes, though, I wonder and even long for the unobtrusive life with them -- no matter how horrible they were to me."

Ginny's eyes became pained, and Harry was surprised to realize that the pain was for him, not for herself. "Harry, when you start thinking like that, you just remember that you are surrounded by people who care about you. We're going to stick by you thick and thin, give you as much support as you need."

Harry felt a strange thrill deep in the pit of his stomach at her words. "You remember the same thing, Ginny."

Ginny smiled, but she looked slightly confused. "This was nice, Harry," she said softly. "It feels good to get these things off my chest."

"I completely agree," Harry replied. He didn't think he'd ever shared any of what he'd shared with Ginny with anyone else. He always kept things bottled up because he knew no other way. But, surprisingly, he felt almost . . . lighter. And the best part was that he hadn't even begun to share his nightmares and fears with Ginny.

"I probably should be getting off to bed though," Ginny continued, letting enough regret leak into her voice to show him that she wasn't trying to find an excuse to get away from him. "I have Potions first thing in the morning, and I can never stand it on an empty stomach. I also can't go without sleep for a night." She snorted. "Can you imagine Snape's face if I feel asleep head first in my cauldron?"

Harry laughed. "Yes, I can. It probably wouldn't be as joy-filled as it would had it been me, though."

"True. All the more reason for you to get plenty of sleep at night, Harry."

As Harry stood up, Harry was reminded that he was still holding Ginny's hand. He blushed and quickly removed his hand. He folded his arms across his chest quickly, wanting to do *something* with them to erase the desire to capture Ginny's hand in his own again.

"Thank you, Harry," Ginny said politely as though she hadn't even noticed his awkward movements. She began to walk towards the girls' staircase.

"Wait!" Harry called, speaking before thinking. Ginny stopped and turned around, unable to keep curiosity out of her features. Harry coughed, looking for a diversion. He had just suck his foot in his mouth, and he had to get it out without looking like a complete idiot. He knew he was blushing, but he stumbled forward anyway. "Maybe we could, y'know, do this again sometime. Talk, I mean."

Ginny's smile was so brilliant that it lit up the whole room, and Harry felt his heart do a double beat that he wasn't used to. "I'm looking forward to it," she said. With that, she turned around and headed up the staircase again. Harry noticed that her step was considerably lighter.

* * * * *

Ginny had been surprised to see Harry that night in the common room, but it had shocked her beyond belief that he actually talked to her. She knew from quiet observation and snippets of conversations between Ron and Hermione that Harry always kept everything inside. He rarely shared his feelings, and that he had decided to talk with Ginny -- however short it had been -- was enough to have her skipping and humming songs for weeks. Then he had suggested that they talk again. She knew she let her pleasure at that show far more than she should have, but Harry hadn't seemed to mind. If anything, had he been . . . blushing? Ginny smiled to herself at the very thought. That was what she liked most about Harry. He wasn't cool and collected -- most of the time he was shy and clumsy, if she was brutally honest. She found it charming, but she would never reveal her opinions to Harry himself. He might take it the wrong way.

Ginny didn't know exactly what she had expected to happen after the little chat, but it certainly wasn't what she got. Harry smiled at her occasionally, and she was allowed to study with Hermione, Ron, and him a few times, but that was nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, he didn't act as if anything had happened at all. Ginny felt her heart sink even lower as the days past by without even a special glance from Harry. She even began to wonder if it was just a dream, but she knew she shouldn't have expected anything less. Harry Potter was as clueless as they came. Still, though, she shouldn't have gotten her hopes up.

This went on for quite a long time (fifteen days -- but who's counting?); until one night when Ginny found herself up late into the night, working on a Transfiguration essay that was do the next day. She'd caught a stomach flu and missed a whole day of classes and homework. She had been *forced* to stay in bed for over twenty-four hours.

Nobody else was in the common room -- the last of the Gryffindors had gone to bed long ago. Ginny was just getting to the middle of her rough draft when the portrait hole opened. She looked up, startled. School hours were long over.

It seemed as if a ghost had come into the room -- until out of thin air Hermione, Ron and Harry all showed up. Ron was clutching a pitcher to his chest, and Harry had a plate of sweets. She stared at them, and they stared back, just as surprised to see her as she was to see them.

Hermione began to fold the Invisibility cloak, suddenly animated. "I told them that we could just wait until Saturday, but these boys insisted that we visit Hagrid tonight -- rules or otherwise. He's pretty broken up. You know the baby dragon he brought in? Naturally, it was a harmless breed, Dumbledore wouldn't have allowed otherwise, but Draco thought it would be funny to taunt the poor thing while Crabbe and Goyle waved its tail in front of its mouth. Needless to say, it got a little upset, and, well, its tail is three inches shorter than when it started out."

Ginny nodded, used to Hermione's unnaturally fast words. The older girl took a deep breath at the end of her speech and smiled warmly. "Would you like some sweets? Ron insisted on stopping by the kitchens on the way back."

"I'm not sharing with *her*," Ron protested.

Hermione ignored him and went to sit down on the floor next to Ginny. She had all of her books and parchments spread out on a coffee table in front of her. Hermione looked at everything quickly. "What are you working on?"

"An essay for transfiguration," Ginny said. She sighed and rested her forehead on the table. "I'm utterly exhausted."

"Maybe you should get some sleep," Harry suggested. Ginny looked up, startled that he'd show such concern. He was sitting on the opposite side of the table, setting down all of his cookies and ice cream. Ron sat beside him, placing a pitcher of what Ginny decided must be butterbeer on the table.

Hermione caught her looking longingly at the pitcher. "Why don't you take a break, Ginny?" she asked gently.

Ginny caught the smell of fresh baked cookies and couldn't resist. "All right then. As long as Ron won't be a child about it," she said pointedly.

"I'm older than you are," Ron reminded her.

"Physically, yes," Hermione butted in, pouring some of the butterbeer into a few mugs that she had been carrying in her robes. She looked up and smiled charmingly at Ron. "That's not to say mentally. Ginny is far beyond her years maturity-wise."

"Do you have any proof?" Ron countered.

"You still sleep with your little stuffed teddy bear," Ginny said sweetly.

Ron's eyes widened at the low blow. "I don't want Fred and George to turn it into a spider again," he said defensively.

Ginny decided that it would be best to end the conversation. If she said anything more, Ron might get mad and decide revenge was the best way to deal with it. "Is Hagrid doing all right now?" she asked pleasantly, taking a long drink of her butterbeer. The liquid warmed her from the inside, and she felt rejuvenated almost at once.

"We kept him from getting drunk, if that's what you mean," Ron answered. He took a cookie the size of his hand and attempted to stuff all of it in his mouth at once.

"Ron!" Hermione scolded. "You've gotten crumbs all over the floor."

"The houselves will deal with it," Ron said, shrugging.

Ginny glanced over at Hermione and saw that she was literally steaming. Since Ginny sensed a S.P.E.W. argument about to take place, she turned her attention to Harry . . . only to find that he was staring at her. Upon being caught, he quickly looked down at the table. She felt something inside her begin to glow. Either she and Harry happened to glance at each other at the same moment, or Harry had actually been staring at her. Suddenly she realized that his staring might not have been a good sign. She brought her hands to hair and quickly smoothed it in case there was a piece in the wrong place. She casually rested her head on her wrist to keep her mouth covered -- what if she had something stuck between her teeth? She vowed not to smile again until she could check a mirror.

". . . unfair, uncivilized, un--. . ." Hermione was ranting.

Ginny saw that Ron's face had turned an unusual shade of red -- due to anger more than likely. She turned her attention back to Harry, figuring that they could have a side conversation without either Ron or Hermione realizing it. Harry was still looking at the table, and his cheeks were brushed with a red tint. Ginny had a strong suspicion that this redness was caused by embarrassment, not anger.

"All right?" Ginny said casually, keeping her voice low lest Hermione get mad and start yelling at her for interrupting her speech.

"I'm fine," Harry answered. He looked up slowly at her, as if he was afraid of what would happen if their eyes connected. "How are you? Have you had any nightmares?"

Ginny cast an embarrassed look Ron and Hermione's way, but neither of them were paying attention. "Probably about as many as you," Ginny responded. "Don't worry about me, Harry. I've taken care of myself for three years now, and my mother is suffocating as it is."

Harry looked surprised. "I wasn't trying to suffocate you. I was just making sure that you're doing okay."

"As long as it springs out of concern and not the believe that I am too young to fully take care of myself, it's okay," Ginny decided.

"I know you can take of yourself," Harry said. He smiled slightly. "I wouldn't want to come up against you in a fight. You'd have my skin and bones pinned on the floor in seconds." Harry suddenly looked down at the table again, blushing.

Ginny wondered if he was thinking what she was thinking -- having him pinned beneath her wasn't such a bad idea. Since he looked uncomfortable, she decided to tease him a little bit. "Would you like to try it some time, Potter?"

Harry shook his head quickly and gulped noticeably. "No, no." He laughed shakily. "Don't want to get bruised up, now."

"It wouldn't have to hurt," Ginny said, letting her voice lower a level to make her sentence huskier. "It might be--"

". . . arrogant, stupid red-haired idiot!" Hermione finished. She stood up and stomped out of the room and up the staircase.

"Oh, no you don't!" Ron yelled after her, jumping up to race to his own stairs. "You don't always get the last word, Hermione!"

"Oh, yes I do!" Hermione yelled. There was the sound of a door slamming.

Ron looked defeated. He turned around to see Ginny and Harry's stricken expressions. He rubbed nervously at the back of his head. "Girls," he muttered in explanation. Then he turned around and stomped up the stairs. "Stupid girls . . . stupid *Hermione* . . ."

As soon as she heard the boys' dormitory door shut -- almost as loud as Hermione's, but not quite -- Ginny began to laugh. Harry began to laugh with her, and soon Ginny was controlled by the uncontrollable. It wasn't this funny, but when she stopped laughing, Harry's laughs enticed her to begin another bout, and vice versa until both finally collapsed on the floor, gasping for breath.

"They're frustrating," Harry panted.

"Amusing," Ginny corrected. "I can't wait to see when those two finally get together. We'll *never* have any peace."

Harry sat up straight, stricken. "Together?" he echoed, sounding utterly confused.

Ginny sat up, slower than he had, studying his weird expression. "Yes. Together." She saw his blank expression, and it dawned on her. "Don't tell me you don't see all those dances those two do around each other?"

Harry's eyes narrowed. "What?"

"Why do you think they fight so much?" Ginny continued. "They're fighting their attraction -- can't you see?"

"They're only fifteen!" Harry protested. "And they-they'd never . . ." He shuddered. "That's horrible."

"Fifteen?" Ginny gaped at him. "Too young? Harry, are you *mad*? They're problem is that Hermione has realized her feelings for Ron, but he's too dense to take a look at his own opinions of her."

"Hermione likes Ron?"

"The whole school knows it, Harry," Ginny said, utterly amazed that he hadn't seen this before. "Dean and Seamus have a gamble up on when Ron finally gets a clue."

"That's a lot to process . . ." Harry said softly. He brought a hand up to the bridge of his nose and pinched, a classic sign that he had a headache. He began to chuckle softly after a few moments.

"What?" Ginny asked, curious.

"You're right. I'd hate to see those two try and have a relationship," Harry said. "Can't you just imagine them as an old married couple at the grocer's, arguing on whether to get prunes or prune juice or both?"

"Prunes?" Ginny asked, confused.

"A Muggle fruit," Harry explained.

Ginny saw that there was one cookie left, and she reached for it without thinking. Her hand bumped against something else, and she realized that it was Harry's hand. Something tingled up her arm -- the same feeling she'd gotten when Harry held her hand two weeks and a day beforehand.

"Sorry," Harry said quickly. "You take it."

"No, that's fine," Ginny said. They both looked anywhere but each other, the cookie forgotten. Ginny felt the irrepressible desire to touch his hand again.

There was a long awkward silence. Harry finally stood up, and Ginny followed suit. "I'd better get to bed," Harry said quickly.

"I have to finish my essay," Ginny said. "Thank you for the drink and cookies . . ."

"What's your essay on? Maybe I can help," Harry said shyly.

Ginny felt her heart soar again. She would say anything to keep him there for a few more minutes. She'd say anything to keep him there for a few more *seconds*. "I missed last week's class, so I have to write an essay about what we learned. Only, I didn't learn it." She sighed in frustration.

Harry climbed over the table to look at the papers she had scattered around. They both sat down at the same time, and Harry scanned over what she'd written so far. "Why porcupines can't be turned into Persian cats," he read aloud.

"I thought you could Transfigure *anything*," Ginny said glumly.

"You can," Harry said. "We worked on turning porcupines into cats last year too. You must have gotten the assignment mixed up."

Ginny's eyes widened. "Oh, God."


"I let Brooke Hargett give me the assignment. She-she said that Professor McGonagall had instructed her to," Ginny said, groaning.

"And?" Harry prodded.

"She's a Slytherin. I didn't think much about it at the time. I was flustered from all of the homework I missed out in Charms as well, and she just slapped on the pile of books."

"How long have you been working on this?" Harry asked.

"Two hours," Ginny said miserably. "Now it's too late to go and ask McGonagall for the proper instructions . . ."

"I have an idea."

"What?" Ginny asked. She looked up at him. He had grabbed the Invisibility cloak, and he was waving it in front of her. "Oh, no! What if we get caught, Harry? I've never been in that thing before. What if I do something wrong. Wh--"

"You sound like Hermione," Harry said. He stood up and shook the cloak out. "Just stand close to me. I'll tell you what to do. I have the map to check and see if anyone is coming."

"What do you plan on accomplishing?"

"We'll slip into McGonagall's classroom and find her schedule."

"Isn't this a little much for one class?" Ginny asked.

Harry shrugged. "Do you really want to not do an assignment for McGonagall?"

"Point taken," Ginny said.

* * * * *

The next morning, Harry awoke after only two hours of sleep. After helping Ginny acquire the assignment from McGonagall's class, he'd decided to also help her do the essay. Since they joked around and talked more than they worked, it had taken nearly three times as long as it should have. Yet, Harry didn't regret this. He'd always like Ginny, found her company to be quite enjoyable, but it seem as if something had changed recently. It was a subtle, elusive change though, and Harry didn't really want to meditate on what it meant.

When Harry and Ron arrived at the Great Hall for breakfast, they found Hermione and Ginny sitting across from one another, chatting agreeably. By unspoken agreement, Ron went to sit by his sister, and Harry sat next to Hermione. Ron had completely forgotten about the fight he'd had with his best friend the night before, but sometimes Hermione would punish him for days afterwards.

Hermione was in a pleasant mood though, and she seemed to have forgotten about the argument just as completely as Ron had. "You two are nearly half an hour later than usual," Hermione admonished, pointing her fork accusingly at them. "I woke up *before* Harry today," Ron said.

"Uh-oh," Hermione murmured. She squeezed his shoulder gently and quickly. "Did you have a nightmare?" she whispered.

Harry felt utterly disgusted at her. She was treating him as if . . . he was a child. He shook his head and shrugged her off, wishing heartily that he had sat next to Ginny instead.

Ginny must have sensed his predicament, for she decided to explain for him. "As a matter of fact, Harry was up late helping me with my essay," she explained. Harry shot her a quick smile of thanks. She returned it shyly, and he felt something twist in his stomach. Something not quite unpleasant.

"That was nice of you," Hermione said. Her voice was filled with relief. She must not have wanted Harry to shut her out of the nightmares. Usually he ignored her pleas for him to share with her and Ron what plagued him during the night, and she was continually frustrated by this. He knew she worried, and he wanted to make her stop, but he just didn't feel comfortable talking about them. Not with his best friends. It sounded ridiculous -- but Harry knew Ron and Hermione inside out. He knew what each of their reactions would be to anything he said. Hermione would remind him that whatever his mind came up with wasn't true, remind him of what really happened. He wasn't an idiot, he knew what really happened. That didn't mean he had any control over what his mind came up with in the middle of the night when he was the most vulnerable. Ron would be uncomfortable about talking about so much emotion. He'd somehow change the subject or offer an awkward bit of comfort that would just make Harry feel like more of a freak. He didn't want any of that.

Harry shrugged nonchalantly. "I knew the material since we worked on it last year, and she was so tired already. I wouldn't have felt right doing otherwise."

"Staying up in the middle of the night with my little sister, eh, Harry?" Ron said jokingly. He smiled at Harry through a mouthful of food. "Should I be worried?"

Harry's heart did something funny. "No," he said quickly. He wondered if it was too quickly. Hermione shot him a strange look, but Ron just kept on eating as if Harry hadn't said anything. Harry glanced surruptitiously at Ginny. She was studying him intently, as if she was trying to figure a puzzle out.

"Ginny," Harry said, a sudden thought striking him, "point out which of the Slytherins is the one that gave you the false homework."

"Huh?" Ron asked. His mouth was too stuffed for him to say anything else, so he chewed furiously. He swallowed and quickly took a drink of pumpkin juice to wash it down. Once he felt ready to talk, he turned to face his sister. "What's he talking about?"

Ginny looked down at her plate and tried to stumble out an answer. "Just . . . I mean . . . nothing to get upset about . . ."

Harry felt bad for exposing her problem to Ron, who would obviously act irrationally. "It's an inside joke," Harry said quickly.

Ron raised his eyebrows at Harry. "Okay," he said as though his best friend was insane. He used his fork to pick up a whole sausage and began to take a bite. Before closing his lips around it, he added an afterthought. "You were aware that inside jokes are supposed to be *funny*, right?"

"No, I wasn't. Thank you for clarifying that for me, Ron," Harry said dryly.

Ron smiled smugly. "I'm here to help."

"And you do quite a fine job of it," Hermione added in, giving him a once over and looking away with her nose stuck in the air.

"Hey," Ron scolded, "no need for sarcasm. You love me more than life itself, I know."

"Just keep on dreaming, Ronnie," Hermione said mock-haughtily. She stood up, picked up her bag stuffed with books and parchments and such, and slung it over her shoulder. "Unlike Ronald, the man whom I love more than life itself, as he claims, I do not have a bottomless stomach. Harry, will you accompany me out of the Great Hall and to Potions? I'd like to have a private conversation with you."

"I'm the one you're s'posed to be having private conversations with," Ron protested.

Hermione ignored him as she walked out of the Great Hall, shoulders back and head held high, confident that Harry would follow her. Harry didn't want to upset his friend, so he began to get up. He wasn't that hungry anyway.

"Bye, Harry," Ginny said so softly Harry almost thought that it had been a delusion.

He looked up sharply, saw her sweet lips turned upwards in a friendly smile, and felt that quivering in his insides that always made him wonder what it would be like to . . . Harry let that thought trail off into oblivion. Better not think things like that when he was so close to Ron. Better not think things like that period. Ginny was Ron's little sister, and Ron had made it clear that no man would be good enough to date her. What made Harry think he had special privileges? Harry smiled in return. "I'll see you at lunch, Ginny."

"What, I don't get a good bye?" Ron called out.

Harry had already started out of the Great Hall, so he just raised his arm and gave Ron a backward wave. He thought he heard a snort coming from Ron's direction, but he couldn't be sure.

Hermione was waiting for Harry just outside the Great Hall. As soon as she set eyes on Harry, a sly smile came to her face. "Come," she said, gesturing for him to follow her.

"What is it?" Harry asked suspiciously.

"You helped Ginny do her homework last night?" Hermione asked.

Harry's heart beat sped up. "Yes, why?" he croaked out.

"It's just unusual, that's all," Hermione said. She looked over at him, catching his green eyes in her brown ones for just an instant. She shrugged and looked straight ahead again. "You don't usually give Ginny the time of day."

"I do!" Harry protested.

Hermione shook her head. "No, you don't, Harry. Look, don't take any of this the wrong way, I'm not accusing you or scolding you or anything. I'm just inquiring."

"Why are you inquiring?" Harry asked, exasperated.

"Do you like Ginny?" Hermione asked casually. Too casually.

"Of course I like her," Harry said immediately. "She's funny and sweet and kind and intelligent and beautiful and charismatic and--"

"I'm going to guess that you've got quite a few more to add to the already flourishing list, but do let me stop you," Hermione said. "The picture is clear enough already."

"What picture?" Harry asked, dreading Hermione's answer.

"Tell me that you have no interest in Ginny Weasley as anything but a friend," Hermione commanded suddenly, stopping in her tracks and tugging on Harry's arm to keep him from walking any father without her.

Although Hermione's brown eyes were boring straight into him, he couldn't meet her gaze. He couldn't even bear to mumble a denial. Hermione was doing what she did best -- pointing out the obvious and forcing everyone else around her to see it as well. And he thought he'd been so good about hiding the tingly feeling that made him long for Ginny's presence.

"I rest my case," Hermione said after a few moments, once it was clear that Harry had no answer to give her. Completely surprising Harry, Hermione's face lit up in a brilliant smile. "I'm very happy for you, Harry."

After declaring this, Hermione began walking again. Harry stood confused for a moment, then started to follow her. "What?"

"Ginny is good for you," Hermione said. "She's a wonderful person, Harry, and you'd better not do something to screw this up."

"Screw what up?" Harry demanded.

"What you have with Ginny."

"But I don't have anything with Ginny!"

"Not yet," Hermione said mysteriously.

"And what exactly is that supposed to mean?" Harry asked, not liking the tone of her voice at all.

"It's supposed to mean that I am going to be a true friend and intervene in both of your lives," Hermione supplied, not a trace of guilt or shame in her words.

"At least you're honest about it," Harry muttered. "I don't need you to intervene. I'm doing just fine on my own."

"Harry," Hermione said, stopping him again. "Do you want to be more than friends with Ginny?"

"Maybe," Harry mumbled, embarrassed. He didn't like talking about his feelings, but Hermione had practically read his every thought.

"You do," Hermione informed him. "And I'm going to make sure that you do the right thing. Ginny likes you too, Harry."

"You think?" Harry asked hopefully, looking up quickly to measure Hermione's gaze.

Hermione laughed and patted him on the back. "See what I mean about being clueless?"

Harry wasn't quite sure that he saw what she meant, but he didn't comment on this. Hermione was willing to help him, and he was too intrigued to turn her down.

* * * * *

That Friday evening, Ginny Weasley could be found curled up on a couch in the common room across from the twins. Fred and George were going into a detailed account of a prank they planned on playing on the Slytherins. Ginny was blocking them out, starting to drift off into a light sleep, when Harry came over to sit next to her. She shot forward out of the cushions, and she knew her cheeks were bright red. She just prayed that Fred and George wouldn't find it necessary to tease her about it.

"Where are Ron and Hermione?" Fred asked.

"Having a row?" George suggested.

"More or less," Harry answered, shrugging. "Hermione's doing her homework and trying to convince Ron to do his. Ron is trying to convince Hermione to wait until Sunday to do her homework so that we can do something fun. Neither of them are getting anywhere."

"You busy then, Harry?" George asked.

Harry shot Ginny a look. "Well, I--"

"Great," Fred said. "We need your help. You aren't particularly fond of any of the Slytherins, am I right?"

Ginny glared at Fred for interrupting Harry. She'd wanted to see what he had to say, why he'd glanced at her before speaking.

"No," Harry snorted.

"Didn't think so," George said. "We're planning an all-out prank fest for those twits. A little going away present from us, the infamous Weasley Twins."

Harry looked suddenly attentive. "What are you going to do?"

"It's not definite yet, of course," George said. "But we're thinking about sneaking into their common room in the middle of the night and . . . er . . . doing a little *redecorating*."

"Purely in the interest of the Slytherins," Fred added quickly. "All of that drabby black has got to be bad for them--"

"Psychologically speaking," George put in.

"It wouldn't by any chance give you some kind of . . . satisfaction to turn that black to something much more colorful such as . . . hot pink?" Ginny said, giving the twins a look that she copied from her mother.

"I like the way you think, sister dear," Fred said, smiling happily. "I really feel as if we're leaving the Weasley legacy in good hands."

"Maybe we should have spent more time training you throughout the years," George said sadly.

"I think I'm doing fine on my own," Ginny assured them. Though it would be interesting to learn how Fred and George put some of their mad plans into action, she didn't want to get their hopes up. She enjoyed a small prank on her brothers here and there, and she loved the aftermath of most of the twins', but she didn't think she'd ever be able to pull a big one off by herself.

"Suit yourself."

"I can help," Harry said. "We can use my Invisibility cloak."

"A great lad we've got here," George said, pointing at Harry.

"You're like a brother to us," Fred agreed.

Harry looked uncomfortable at the compliment even though it had been spoken lightly. A slight tinge of pink appeared on his cheeks. Ginny found this endearingly charming. She had always imagined the heroes of all of the legends she'd heard as a child to be completely in control of their emotions, spending all of their time fighting dragons and saving beautiful, glamorous Witches. But Harry . . . Harry was *human*. He had his faults, and that just made Ginny love him all the more.

"You're too kind," Ginny drawled. "He hasn't got the hair or the freckles to be one of us."

"I said *like*, Ginny," Fred said, annoyed.

"She's just in denial," George said. He smiled at her. "You're such a dear, but so transparent."

"I'm sure I don't know *what* you're talking about," Ginny said coolly.

"You don't want Harry to be your brother because you *fancy* him," George clarified very kindly for her.

Ginny felt her cheeks warm up, but she tried to remain calm and unaffected. She couldn't look at Harry, but she sensed that he was staring at her. He was so clueless sometimes. She knew she was as transparent as glass, everyone knew that she had a crush on the Great Harry Potter . . . except for his Greatness himself.

"Have you been inside the Slytherin's common room before?" Ginny asked, steering the conversation away from herself. Fred and George were so excited about their brilliancy that they let her do so without an embarrassing comment or two. (Or three, or four . . .)

"Loads of times," Fred said casually. "We don't even have to use the map anymore -- we've got the password memorized."

"I've been in there too," Harry added. "Second year. The Polyjuice Potion incident."

"I don't think you've told us about that one," George said, sounding interested.

Harry shuddered. "Ron and I used the Potion to turn into Crabbe and Goyle."

"Why would you do that willingly?" Ginny asked, shocked.

Harry looked at her, and she thought she saw something like fear in his eyes. "No reason," he mumbled.

Ginny had people protecting and worrying over her so often that she could detect it from a mile away. For some reason, she felt unreasonably angry. Harry was one of the few people who *didn't* act like she was so delicate she might brake if she wasn't taken care of properly. "No, Harry. Why did you use the Polyjuice Potion?" she demanded softly. She stared straight at him, willing him to look up and meet her eyes.

He did so, meekly. "We thought Draco was . . . behind those . . . things."

Ginny arched an eyebrow. "Do you mean when I killed chickens and set a snake loose on unsuspecting victims?" she asked casually.

Fred and George gasped simultaneously. "Ginny!" Fred scolded in a tone akin to a whisper.

"Excuse me," Ginny said politely. She stood up abruptly from the couch and walked to the portrait hole, literally shaking with a mix of anger, grief, and pain. She didn't like remembering what had happened, but even worse than that she hated that people wouldn't talk about it. It was real, it had happened. Even if you pretended as if weren't so, Ginny's past was ugly and unmistakable.

* * * * *

Harry watched Ginny's retreating back and began to mentally kick himself. He shouldn't have even brought it up.

"What did you do that for, Harry?" George demanded as soon as their sister was out of ear shot.

Harry turned slowly to look at the twins. He had forgotten they were there. "What?" he asked dumbly.

"You went and upset her," Fred cleared up for him. He let out a deep breath. "I don't know if I want you helping on this prank."

" *I* went and upset her?" Harry asked incredulously. "Are you sure it wasn't you two?"

"How could it have been us?" George asked, confused. " *You* brought it up."

"Maybe that's what she needs," Harry muttered as he stood up and followed Ginny's path out of the common room. He knew that it might make Fred and George suspicious -- his following Ginny -- but he was past the point of caring. Ginny didn't mind that he'd brought up her first year, she was upset because he had tried not to. He'd foolishly tried to "shield" her. Hadn't he learned already that Ginny utterly despised this?

She hadn't gone very far down the hallway, so it wasn't hard for Harry to find her. When he did, he noticed with a twinge in his heart that she was crying. He remembered Hermione's first instruction. ". . . spend some quality time with her. Get to know her better."

Harry hadn't been around crying women very much, and Mrs. Weasley's and Hermione's tears had always left him paralyzed, but he couldn't bear to see Ginny, sweet and strong Ginny, crying because of him.

"Ginny?" he asked tentatively, taking cautious steps towards her.

Ginny looked up at him then turned her back so that he couldn't see her face. "Why did you follow me?" she croaked out, wiping furiously at her cheeks.

"I feel guilty," Harry began. "You told me that you don't like thinking about what happened, and I just thought that I shouldn't bring it up. I forgot along the way that you're fiercely independent and don't want anyone trying to protect you."

Ginny paused for a few minutes after his little speech, observing as tears quietly fell down her cheeks. When she finally spoke, her voice was barely above a whisper. "Harry, if I ask you a question, can you promise me that you will tell me the absolute truth?"

Harry nodded swiftly. "Of course."

"When you look at me, what do you see?" Ginny asked.

Harry felt trapped. Her blue eyes had him pinned to the spot as she waited earnestly for his answer. He couldn't tell her what he really saw when he looked at her. Ron would murder him alive. "What do you mean?" he asked carefully.

Ginny looked down at the ground, her confidence replaced with shame. "Do you see a monster? A monster . . . like the one I became because of Tom?"

Harry felt his heart clutch inwardly in a bitter, painful fashion. Without thinking, he moved even closer to her and tentatively put his arms around her. She returned the gesture whole-heartedly, wrapping her arms around him and burying her head in his shoulder, soaking his shirt with tears.

"No," Harry whispered into her ear once he'd gotten over the initial pleasure that her proximity gave him. "Not at all. I never saw a monster, even when I saw you down in that cave. I only saw a little girl, used viciously . . . a hollow body that was empty of her usually vibrant self."

Ginny clutched at him even more fiercely and let out a sob.

Harry rubbed her back awkwardly, hoping that it was soothing. "Nobody blames you for what happened, Ginny. It wasn't your fault."

Ginny sobbed again, but she finally began to speak. "I knew that I shouldn't have written in that diary, but I did anyway."

"Ginny, hundreds of people have done even more atrocious things than you under Voldemort's spell, and we forgave them without a thought. It wasn't you that was acting, it was *Tom*."

Ginny collapsed against him in another heave of sobs, but Harry thought they sounded less pain-filled than before. At least, he hoped so.

He held her for what must have been a long time, but the minutes blurred together so that he wasn't sure. Eventually, her sobs began to subside, and he felt her trembling against him. He felt that familiar twisting in his stomach. He had been too preoccupied with comforting her to think about *that*, but now that she seemed to be getting better, it was plaguing his mind.

When Ginny finally pulled away from his embrace, her eyes were red and swollen. She still seemed to be beautiful to him though, and he felt as if something was lodged in his throat. He swallowed hard to try and rid himself of the feeling.

"I'm sorry," Ginny whispered. She looked ready to go into a big speech, but Harry interrupted her.

"Don't be," he returned. Their arms were still around each other, and he gently began to rub the small of her back. "Ginny?" he murmured.

"Yes?" she asked, looking up at him with an unreadable stare.

"I wanted to ask you . . ." Harry took a deep breath. (". . . spend some quality time with her. Get to know her better. . .") "WillyougowithmetoHogsmeadetomorrow?" he blurted out.

Ginny smiled at him. "I'd love to."

* * * * *

The next afternoon, Ginny was beside herself in preparing for her first "date" with Harry Potter, the boy whom she'd been in love with since the summer before her first year when she listened to Ron's tales of the heroic boy who was as selfless and kind as they came. Harry had stuttered his invitation out to her, but she'd understood every word. After all, she'd been waiting five years to hear those very words.

Upon going back to the common room, Ginny had sat with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. She was surprised that no one seemed to realize that she was glowing from the inside out, but she should have known better. Once they all decided they were too tired to stay up another minute, Hermione had pounced on her when they were safely in the girls' dormitories. Ginny had told her quickly what happened, and Hermione seemed almost as excited as Ginny was. She offered to help Ginny get ready, and she'd arrived in Ginny's dormitory nearly an hour ago.

Ginny had decided on a lightweight dark forest green robe since the weather was nice. The color brought out her hair and, unfortunately, her freckles. Hermione, who had received training several times under Parvati and Lavender, helped Ginny to conceal the freckles with makeup. It wasn't totally perfect, but it was considerably better. Ginny didn't want to appear as if she was trying too hard, so she'd worn her hair down instead of the extravagant style she was tempted to telling Hermione to do. After all, she wasn't completely sure that Harry meant they were going on a date. Hermione assured her that he did, but Ginny couldn't help wondering if he just wanted to become a closer *friend*. Anyway, he went to Hogsmeade with Ron all the time. Hermione assured her that it wasn't the same thing at all.

Once Ginny had whisked her wand over her face in search of flaws and found none, she decided to check her reflection in the mirror. She was nervous, but she was sure that she looked a lot better than she usually did in ragged school robes, her face scrubbed clean with no meddling makeup, and her hair laying flat behind her ears. Hermione had helped her with a few hair spells she'd discovered, and Ginny's thick hair looked sleek and shiny, falling perfectly straight to frame her small face. The dark green robe seemed to make her glossy tresses glow, adding to the glamour that she'd already achieved. Her face seemed smoother and creamier in color thanks to the various makeup Hermione had shown her how to use. (Lavender and Parvati always had plenty of Muggle makeup available.) Thanks to the light shadow that was applied to her eyelids, her eyes were bright and bigger than usual. She was shocked by how so little of the eye shadow could transform her. She hadn't been able to be talked into lip stick, but Hermione had forced her to wear a little gloss. Ginny wasn't quite sure what it was, but it tasted good and made her lips sparkle in the light. She quite liked the effect it had.

"Did I do a good job?" Hermione fretted, her hands wringing nervously. "I've never helped in a makeover before, and I'm sure Harry will like you however you are . . . but do you like it?"

"I do," Ginny said softly. She twirled slightly, and the soft fabric of her robes moved with her. "Thank you, Hermione, you're a Godsend."

"I do try," Hermione said mock-modestly. She smiled at Ginny through the mirror. "You look absolutely gorgeous."

"Thank you yet again," Ginny said, turning around. She smiled sincerely at her friend. "I just hope I can be as much help on your first . . . um, you know . . . with Ron."

Hermione frowned. "Maybe all those beauty spells went straight to your brain."

Ginny laughed lightly and hooked her arm through Hermione's. "Let's go down to the common room. I can barely wait to go. It seems so crazy! I've been to Hogsmeade a million times, but it's different now that I'm going *with* someone."

"Understandable," Hermione commented. "Especially when that *someone* is the Great and Mighty Harry James Potter, the Boy Who Lived."

"You're exaggerating," Ginny said. "And teasing me too."

"Just wait until Fred and George see you like this. They'll never let it go."

Ginny froze on the stairway. "Oh, no! I'd forgotten about them. Check and see if they're there, will you, Hermione?"

Hermione nodded and walked the rest of the way down the staircase. She peeked out into the common room. She turned around and nodded encouragingly at Ginny.

When Ginny stepped into the common room, the first thing she noticed was that Harry was sitting with Ron, Fred, and George. She glared at Hermione. "You can be a really mean person sometimes."

"No, no," Hermione argued, "I did the friendly thing. See, if I had told you the truth, you wouldn't have come down, and you would have missed going with Harry to Hogsmeade."

Ginny continued to glare at Hermione but didn't say anything. Hermione was right, and Ginny didn't want it to be rubbed in. Besides, at that moment, the Weasleys and Harry all seemed to take notice of the two girls.

"Oy! What's wrong with your face, Ginny?" Fred asked pleasantly, motioning for Hermione and Ginny to come over to the couch they were sitting at, playing wizard chess against Ron and Harry.

Ginny knew her cheeks were flaming, and she brought her hands up to them instinctively.

"She could say the same to you, George," Hermione said defensively.

"I'm Fred," Fred protested. He rolled his eyes. "You can't even tell us apart?"

"Oh, yes, I see the difference now. George, is your hair about a millimeter longer than Fred's?" Hermione asked sarcastically as she moved to sit down next to Ron.

Ginny let her hands fall from her cheeks when she felt that they were safely peach again. She noticed that Harry was staring at her. When he knew she caught him, he didn't look away but instead smiled a genuine smile at her. "Are you ready to go?" he asked.

"Go where?" Ron asked absently as he studied the board. "I want to finish this game first."

Harry coughed, and Ginny noticed his cheeks turn as red as hers had been a moment before. She felt sympathy for him. Explaining to her brothers that he was taking her out on a date wasn't exactly a way to get on their good side. "I wasn't talking to you, Ron."

Ron looked up, confused. "Who were you talking to?"

"Ginny," Harry said quietly.

Ginny stood awkwardly by the table and watched as her three brothers all looked at her in shock. Hermione coolly observed the scene. She offered Ginny a quick smile of encouragement.

"What do you mean, Harry?" George demanded as soon as it had caught up to him.

"He *means*," Ginny stepped in, "we are going to Hogsmeade for lunch."

"As friends, right?" Ron asked immediately. He whipped around to look at Harry. "Just like you would go with Hermione or me, right?"

"Of course not as friends," Fred said, sounding miffed. "I think he fancies her just as much as she fancies him."

"Just mind your hands," George advised, nodding at Harry. Harry's eyes widened in shock at the command. Ginny's cheeks turned scarlet again.

Ron looked at the twins in bewilderment. "You mean you're okay with this?" he demanded sharply.

Fred shrugged. "Better Harry than anyone else."

"Exactly," Ginny intruded. She motioned to Harry. "Let's be off then."

"All right then," Harry said softly, standing up and casting a suspicious look over the youngest Weasley boys. When he was assured that the twins were serious and Ron wasn't going to try to go to blows, he walked around the couch to Ginny's side. They left the common room together.

Once out in the hallway, Ginny let out a deep breath. "Thank you for enduring that, Harry."

Harry shrugged uncommunicatively. "I was expecting something of the sort to happen."

Ginny felt as if she was on a broomstick. Her heart sped up and her stomach was filling up with butterflies. Harry must really be determined to go with her if he expected to have a run-in with her brothers. He knew what they were like.

They left the castle in an uncomfortable silence. Ginny couldn't think of a word to say, and Harry seemed to be in the same predicament. Finally, when they reached the entrance to Hogsmeade, Harry coughed to get her attention. "Where do you want to go to first?" he asked, his voice low.

Ginny was about to say that it didn't matter as long as she was with him, but she didn't want to appear that desperate. "There really isn't anything there we haven't seen before, so why don't we go get a mug of butterbeer?"

"Sounds good," Harry said. He looked at her tentatively, but she pretended not to notice. A moment later she felt his hand clasp awkwardly over hers. She was so happy she felt like she could burst, but she didn't want Harry to know as much.

It didn't take long for them to get to the Three Broomsticks, and once inside they chose a booth snuggled into a little corner where they would be unobtrusive. Madam Rosmerta came around at once, a friendly smile on her face. Her eyes were twinkling when she realized who it was, but kindly she didn't say anything.

"Two butterbeers, please," Harry said politely.

"I'll be right back," Madam Rosmerta promised.

Ginny watched her go and fill up to mugs of the delicious drink. She brought them back to the table with the instructions to call her if they needed anything else. Once they were safely alone, Ginny began to feel uncomfortable. She didn't know what to say. Finally, she decided to tell him something that had been on her mind since the night before.


"Yes?" Harry asked, looking relieved that she was doing the talking.

"Thank you," Ginny said. She saw Harry's confused look and decided to clarify for him. "I know I keep bringing this up, but . . ." She shrugged. "After everyone found out about what happened with, y'know, Tom and the Chamber, nobody talked about. My whole family acted like it was a sin to mention anything that might remind me in the slightest bit. At first I was relieved -- I didn't want them to blame me and think of me as someone working with You-Know-Who himself. It's always on my mind though. I always have nightmares where you don't come to save me, or Tom makes me murder you in cold blood or . . ." Ginny shuddered. Harry opened his mouth to say something, but she stopped him. "No, Harry, let me finish."

She took a deep breath and pushed aside all of the memories. "So, you see, I always kept it to myself. I didn't know how much it was hurting me until I spilled a little of it to you when we got to talking about nightmares a few weeks ago. And, last night, you . . . strange as it may sound, you really made me feel better. Just talking about what happened, about my hidden fears . . . it made everything okay again."

Harry reached his hand across the table, and Ginny recuperated the move so that they were holding hands. Harry squeezed gently and smiled at her. "You know what I think, Ginny?"


"I think that we're a lot alike," Harry said. "I keep things locked up as well, and I just don't talk about any of to anyone because I have the same fears you have. On a subconscious level, I'm always afraid that Hermione and Ron will realize what a horrible person I am, how much pain and misery I cause, and decide that it would be an overall safer choice for them to just let me go, to forget all about me. On another level, I'm always terrified to talk to them about anything the least bit to do with Voldemort because, well, I know exactly how they're going to react, and that's not what I need. The only thing I need . . . is for someone to listen."

"I'm listening," Ginny said.

"I know you are," Harry said unhesitatingly. "And I've said a few things to you that I've never told anyone else. But . . . I can't just spill out everything that's ever happened to me at once. It would overwhelm both of us. I'm trying to open up for you, Ginny, because I know that you're different."

"I am?" Ginny asked softly.

Harry nodded and caught her eyes in his own. As she stared into the green depths, she barely recognized the sensation of Harry's thumb running across her wrist. "You're different from anyone else I know," Harry continued.

"Is that a good thing?" Ginny joked feebly.

"Very good," Harry clarified for her. He let go of her hand and broke her gaze in one motion. Ginny was startled at the abrupt movement. Harry began to stir his drink, staring into the swirling liquid as though it held all of life's answers. "I like you, Ginny . . . a lot."

Ginny couldn't believe what she was hearing. Something willed her to reply immediately, before the moment turned into the haziness of a dream. "I like you too, Harry," Ginny replied softly. She gave him a half smile. "A lot."

Harry's face lit up in a grin, and he looked at her again. She was nearly blinded by the intensity of both his smile and his eyes. "Really?"


Harry reached across the table to take her hand again, that same smile in place. Ginny couldn't help returning it. Her stomach was doing wild flips, and her fingers tingled where they were entwined with his own. She felt giddy and utterly happy.

"Well, well, well. Look at this."

Ginny recognized the voice immediately, intruding upon her perfect moment with Harry. Still, she snapped her head to the side to see Ron standing at the edge of the table. Hermione was behind him, looking guilty for not being able to stop him, Ginny supposed.

"Did you hear my brother tell you to mind your hand, Potter?" Ron asked pointedly.

Ginny felt Harry pull away from her, and she shyly moved her hand down by her side. "What are you doing here, Ron?" she demanded, sounding much more calm about the situation than she felt. She had a lot of anger keeping her going. Having the moment intruded upon by Ron was worse than finding out it was only a sweet dream.

Ron sat down at the booth next to Ginny and nudged her to scoot over. Hermione sat down carefully next to Harry, folding her hands on the table and looking at them intently.

"If you play footsie, I'll know," Ron warned.

"Ron!" Hermione interrupted sharply.

"What?" Ron asked blankly.

"You're insufferable," Hermione complained. "Why can't you just leave them alone?"

"Because it's my *sister* and my *best friend*, that's why," Ron explained, his face taking on a familiar tinge of red.

"Yes, and they'd like to enjoy each others' company," Hermione said. She stood up and took Ron's arm. "Stop being such a baby and take me to Honeydukes."

Ron looked at the stony expression in Hermione's eyes then back to the table where Harry and Ginny were silently willing him to leave. He gave up with a sigh. "I'll be back though," he informed Harry and Ginny. Hermione snorted and tugged on his arm. He followed her out the door, not wanting his arm ripped out of his socket if he tried to resist.

"Sorry about that," Ginny said quickly. "He's a complete prat."

"I know, I have to live with him," Harry joked, giving her a half smile. She smiled brilliantly at him, and his face lit up as well. She felt stupid for just smiling dopily at him, but Harry was doing the same thing. It was just . . . the feeling that she had made her giddy and excited all at the same time, and she wasn't sure what to do with it, it was so new. Harry must have been experiencing the same thing too.

"Ginny . . .?"


"Do you want to come with me to Hogsmeade again next time?" he asked shyly.

"Of course."

"And maybe the time after that?"

"Wouldn't miss it for the world."

"And in between that time . . . maybe we could . . . hang out?"

"Harry?" Ginny asked, smiling. "Are you asking me out?"

Harry took a deep breath and looked up at her. "I suppose so. Is that okay?"

"It's more than okay," Ginny said. "I'd love to . . . er . . . be your girlfriend, I guess."

"Do you think Ron will kill me?"

"Don't worry, I'll protect you."

"And your other brothers?"

"They're not as protective of me as Ron. We were closer when we were younger, and he seems to think that he's grown up and I'm still a child."

"I beg to differ."

Ginny laughed. She had always thought that flirting would be hard and she wouldn't understand what exactly to do, but it had come easily and naturally.

"Are you done?" Harry asked, nodding at her cup.

"Yes. Are you?"

"Mm-hmm. Want to get out of here before Ron comes back?"

"Definitely," Ginny answered. Almost as if by magic, Madam Rosmerta appeared.

"You done, kids?" she asked.

"Yes," Ginny answered.

Rosmerta handed Harry the bill, and he quickly paid her from his own pocket. Ginny started to protest, but he told her that he had special rights to pay for her meals since he was now her boyfriend. They both blushed bright red at saying something so private aloud, but Madam Rosmerta just chuckled as though she got that all the time. She collected the bill and their empty glasses and left the table.

Ginny and Harry stepped out of the booth simultaneously, and Harry reached for her hand almost by habit. Ginny hadn't imagined it possible, but it felt even better holding Harry's hand now that she knew that they were going out. She still found it hard to believe. It had happened so fast.

They stepped out into the nice weather and just began walking down the old streets. They steered clear of Honeydukes. When they stopped by the Shrieking Shack, Harry began telling her the story of Sirius Black, both dog and human. By the time he finished, the sun had moved considerably in the sky. Ginny felt as if she knew Harry a little better, and she even inquired on Sirius Black's health. Never in a million years would she have imagined she'd ever asking that, but just hearing Harry say that he was innocent was enough for her. The fact that he had facts to back up his statement just made it ring even clearer.

Hogsmeade's Hogwarts students were leaving already, so Ginny and Harry were unbothered as they sat on the steps leading up to the haunted house. Neither of them felt particularly afraid of being so close to it, as Ginny would have only yesterday; Lupin was long gone, and unfortunately would most likely not be returning.

They laughed for a little while over a story of Ginny's childhood. She had fun telling him the most embarrassing stories about Ron that she could think of. She had quite a few amusing ones of Percy too.

Once they had told all the stories they could, Ginny felt as if she knew Harry better than she had only that morning. He had admitted that talking about the dark times in his life was hard, but he seemed happy to tell her little stories that always ended with both of them laughing so hard they got cramps.

"Wow," Ginny said after a few moments of companionable silence.


"Look at the sky," Ginny instructed. "It's glittering with stars. What time did we get here?"

"Time flies when you're having fun," Harry commented lightly.

"Well, I don't know about the *fun* part . . ." Ginny teased.

"Hey!" Harry elbowed her playfully in the side. It didn't hurt, but Ginny pretended to be mortally wounded. "Are you okay?" Harry asked earnestly, looking worried.

Ginny was going to tell him she was fine when she thought of something even better to say. "I'm not sure," she said softly. She made a noise to indicate that she was in great pain. "It really hurts . . ."

"I didn't hit you that hard," Harry said, but his eyebrows were still knitted together.

Ginny had always been a good actress. She used it to get her brothers into trouble countless times when they were growing up. "You know what my mum used to do whenever one of my brothers hit me?"


"She'd kiss it, and it would be all better," Ginny said in a daring whisper. Harry's eyes widened when he realized her implications, and he looked at her in shock. She arched an eyebrow daringly. Harry carefully lowered his head and placed a chaste kiss on her side.

"All better?"

"I'm not sure . . ."

Harry sucked in a deep breath then went in for the kill. Ginny felt his lips press against hers lightly. The moment ended before she could get a grasp on it.

"What about now?" Harry whispered.

"Hmm . . ." Ginny pretended to consider. "There's still a dull ache."

"Let me try again." Harry kissed her again, but this time he lingered long enough so that she felt her heart speed up and her stomach twist into knots. He pulled away, but still kept his face close. "Am I doing this right?"

"Most definitely," Ginny affirmed. She put her arms on his shoulders, and he leaned down for another kiss. Her arms felt limp, and she wrapped them carefully around his neck. She felt his hand go to her waist, trying to pull her closer. Everything seemed dazed with ragged edges, dulled by the feelings Harry was creating inside of her.

Until Ron came in.

"What the bloody hell is this?"

Ginny's arms dropped immediately from Harry's neck and they jumped away from each other as if shocked by an electric current. And not in the pleasurable way Ginny had just been experiencing. Ron was standing at the top of the hill, about ten feet away from them. Hermione and the twins were standing behind him. Hermione was muttering something in Ron's ear, but he ignored her. The twins looked ready to make a few jabbing remarks that would make Ginny's cheeks redder than ever. Ron looked lethal.

Harry stood up, and Ginny followed suit. "We were just talking," Harry explained.

"Talking my arse. Come on, you guys," Ron said, motioning for the twins to follow him as he started to stomp towards Harry.

Harry put his hands on Ginny's waist and put her in front of him. "You promised you'd protect me if he came at me," he reminded her.

"Ron, funny you should show up," Ginny said, a slow smile spreading across her features. "I was just telling Harry that story about your friend Daisy Macey. Remember her?" Ron glowered. "Do you think Hermione might want to hear the story too?"

Everyone was laughing except for Hermione and Ron. Hermione because she didn't know the story, but Ginny had every intention of telling her when they went to bed that night. Ron looked torn between embarrassment and brotherly protection.

"No, I don't think Hermione would enjoy that particular story," Ron gritted out between clenched teeth.

"Hmm." Ginny shrugged. She pretended to just notice the time of day. "Wow, it's getting really dark. Why don't we head back to the common room. Maybe play a game of chess."

Ron glanced at Hermione, who was smirking. He looked back at Ginny angrily, but he knew all about the Daisy Macey story. He had no intention of allowing Hermione to hear it. "That sounds like a grand idea."

Ginny heard Harry sigh with relief next to her. "If this story doesn't last, you could always threaten him with the one about the gnome hole."

"Oh, I do intend to," Ginny said with a wicked laugh.

"Do you think he'll come around?"

"With the right embarrassing stories hanging over his head, he's bound to," Ginny assured Harry.