Chapter One: The Foolproof Plan
Harry stared deep into the burning fire. He tried to keep his eyes from the red-hot coals to avoid damaging the retina, but he couldn't help but gaze at the light as it flowed in a beautiful dance. The colors entranced him, setting him at ease with the added element of heat soothing his sore body. He was so lost in his reverie, he had not heard an exasperated Ginny enter the Common Room until she came and sat across the fire and loudly harrumphed.
Harry shook his head, bringing focus back into his eyes and looked up at her, smiling lightly, amused. Her face was flushed and her hair slightly askew. She stared into the fire, though the anger with which she glared could not have been more different from Harry's meditating gaze.
"A knut for your thoughts?" Harry asked, both curious and apprehensive.
Ginny's glare rose to Harry, who immediately lifted his hands in fearful defense. "Only if you want a knut, of course…"
Her eyes narrowed, but Harry could tell she had lightened up and would soon be ranting in her usual way.
"There are people dying out there, Harry!"
Unexpected start, Harry thought to himself. So was her anger directed at the war? He nodded at her and raised his eyebrows, prompting her to continue.
"I don't have any right to be upset about any of this," she continued. "But here I am, pissed off at the world because a few boys are being stupid! So, now I'm adding guilt to my annoyance."
"Well, maybe you are justified in your annoyance and anger," Harry offered, helpfully. "What did they do?"
"They won't stop asking me out!" Ginny all but shouted, exasperatedly.
Harry paused for a moment, his breath catching in surprise. He ran her words through his mind again, trying to follow.
"So you're annoyed, upset, and angry because boys like you to much?"
Ginny nodded, her eyebrows raised high. "Yea…that sums it up."
Harry frowned and looked at Ginny sympathetically before responding, "Yea, you should feel guilty. People are dying out there, Ginny."
Ginny sighed dramatically and shook her head. "I'm a terrible person," she said simply. "But I'm so sick of it. I get out of a year-long relationship with Dean, and within two weeks, every guy whose voice has dropped is cornering me at every possible time of the day. It's past eleven, Harry, and I was stopped two times on my way back from detention. A detention that I got, mind you, from being late to class because of boys talking my ear off in the hallways. I'm sorry, John Stevens from Leeds, but I don't care that you just got out of a relationship and your heart is ready for mending!"
Harry smiled widely at Ginny. "You know, most girls would kill to be in your place."
Ginny let out another strange noise proclaiming her frustration. "And that only adds to it, Harry. I often walk in the hallways with Luna…and time after time, I turn away these guys while she just gets ignored. It's so awkward and I feel so bad for her! She's a pretty girl. She's just a bit…"
"Magoo!" Harry finished.
Ginny nodded solemnly. "Magoo. Yes. Thank you, by the way, for taking her to Hogsmeade. She doesn't fancy you or anything, but she really enjoyed the date. She felt very special."
Harry chuckled. "It should be me who is grateful. I've never had so much fun. Did you know butterbeer has Knarckle feces in it to give a slight buzz to the consumers while avoiding the age restriction placed on alcohol?
Ginny's face screwed up in a painful expression. "No, Harry. And I didn't want to know that, either. Luckily, if it came from Luna, it can't be true."
"Cross your fingers," Harry said, making the motion himself. "So, what's the game plan?"
"Game plan?" Ginny questioned.
Harry sat up in his chair and leaned forward, the fire warming his face even more. The light danced off Ginny's hair, doubling the already plentiful shades of red with which it shone. "A beautiful, funny, smart witch like you who doesn't want to be in a relationship—it doesn't go together. You either need to give off an undesirable quality—not unlike the utter selfishness and inconsideration you are showing now," Harry added sarcastically, to which Ginny nodded her head sadly. "—or else you need to get a boyfriend. That's the only way you can stop them asking."
Ginny looked thoughtful for a moment. "You make some valid points. What do you have in mind?"
"Well, how have you been rejecting these guys? Hard and blunt?"
Ginny cringed and leaned back in her chair. "This morning I told a guy I would love to go out with him, but was getting a cold, so I would need a rain check."
Harry closed his eyes and shook his head dramatically. "This is not good, Gin. So not only is every pubescent and hormonal boy at Hogwarts after you, but they all think they have a chance?"
Ginny's eyes widened as hopelessness filled her. "I can't be mean to them! I can't tell them I'm not interested…it would hurt too much!"
"You're hurting them more this way!" Harry responded. He was very serious, but was speaking in a lighter tone to keep Ginny from beating herself up.
"I know! I really do understand that, Harry. And it's easy to sit here and claim that. But in the moment it is so hard to reject them outright. Having to look them in the eyes and…I can't do it."
"So, being mean is out of the question. So there goes one solution. How about ugly? Can you be ugly?"
Ginny glared at Harry. "Of course I can be ugly, Harry."
Harry raised his hands defensively again. "I just haven't seen it, so I didn't know!"
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Thanks," she said sardonically. "I could stop putting on makeup, chew with my mouth open, and loudly proclaim to anyone within shouting distance when my period is, yes. But I wouldn't be able to live with myself doing it. I've got to be me, and be able to look in the mirror each morning and be happy. I don't think I could keep it up without getting depressed."
"Okay," Harry said, grateful for the honesty. "For the record, I'm grateful you don't parade your period around."
"You are welcome."
Pensive silence pervaded for a long moment before Harry concluded, "You can't be mean, you won't be ugly…you've got to get a boyfriend."
Ginny sighed loudly, for what Harry hoped would be the last time. "Harry, that's what I'm trying to avoid! After I ended things with Dean, I realized I needed some me time. You have no idea what toll a relationship going nowhere has on a girl. He wasn't that in to it. I wasn't that in to it. Secrets and lies start, feelings get hurt, and by the end of it, I was emotionally drained. I'm not ready to go through any of that again."
Harry nodded. "Then just get a fake boyfriend. Tell people you have a boyfriend. You can say he doesn't go to Hogwarts. Maybe he lives in Hogsmeade."
Ginny considered this for a moment. "I don't know…I think the lie would come back to haunt me. Not only will I be lying, but completely fabricating a human being. I think I would feel worse guilt than I do from caring about all of this in the first place."
Harry didn't quite understand why she would feel guilty. It's not as though it was a real person she would be hurting. But, he admired her integrity anyway.
"No…a fake boyfriend won't work, either." There was a pregnant pause. Harry watched Ginny's face as she stared into the fire again. Slowly, he saw her eyes light up and a smile come to her face. She slowly looked up at Harry. "Unless…"
Harry raised an eyebrow. "Unless?"
"Unless I find someone who wants to be my fake boyfriend."
Harry leaned back in his chair. "I suppose that would work. So you don't mind lying about a fake person…but it's fine to lie about a real person?"
"Well if he is okay with it, then it wouldn't really be a lie. We would be a couple for all intents and purposes, but we wouldn't really be one. Behind closed doors we wouldn't talk about our feelings or snog. We would do our own thing and be single. But to the public, we would hold hands as we walked through the halls. When we studied, we might do it at the same table. But we wouldn't have to care about the other person."
Harry smiled bemusedly at her. "Good luck finding a guy who is game to do that. Plus it has to be believable, so you can't just ask Colin to fake it. After all, everyone knows he's gay."
Ginny smiled. "I can think of a guy."
Harry shook his head in disbelief. "You mean you can think of a guy who is straight; who is good-looking, charming, and smart enough for the people to believe he caught you; who is perfectly fine with not being able to snog you when he feels like it, but have the obligation to walk you to classes whenever he is able; and who is capable of keeping a secret that big for as long as you want him to?"
Ginny nodded emphatically before answering every one of his conditions. "I can think of a guy, who I assume is straight, he's gorgeous—chased by many of the girls in the school, himself—funny, and smart enough to catch me. It will be especially obvious because I used to have an infamously public crush on the kid. He won't want to snog me or get emotionally invested in my life due to some heroic notion of keeping me safe from his enemies. And he'll be perfectly willing to walk me to classes when he's available because he is only at the school in actuality a few days each month when he's not off chasing the aforementioned enemies with Dumbledore! Finally, this guy has been keeping secrets infinitely times bigger than this for much longer than the short time I will be asking."
Ginny sat smugly as Harry sat petrified, shaking his head back and forth emphatically. "No. No…No."
Harry paused before adding for good measure, "No."
Ginny started nodding. "It's foolproof, Harry!"
"What do you mean, foolproof? That won't work at all!"
"And why not?" Ginny asked.
Harry racked his brain, but could not actually come up with too many concerns. "Won't that be weird for you?"
Ginny shrugged. "Not really. It's fake, after all. Would it for you?"
"Yes," Harry responded immediately. "Think about what Ron would say! And at Christmas, what will Fred and George do to me!"
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Fine, we'll let Ron and Hermione in on it. I'm sure Ron will be happy keeping me off the market for a while. And as for Fred and George…this doesn't have to last long. Christmas is nearly two months away. I highly doubt I'll need that much alone time. And if I do, we just won't tell my family. No big deal."
Harry contemplated this for a long time. He looked at Ginny, who gave him a very hopeful look. Harry cared for her deeply. After Sirius' death, she had become a true friend. She helped him through his mourning, and over the summer, she reminded him to have fun. His entire sixth year, she was there for him when he needed a pick me up. She always made him laugh and desire to be better. She was one of the reasons he had accepted his fate and determined to face Voldemort with such determination.
It was Harry's turn for a deep sigh. Afterwards, he spoke solemnly. "Ginny, you've always been there for me. Now it's my turn to return the favor." She started to squeal happily and stood to give him a hug. He held up his hand to stop her momentarily. "But the second this affects our friendship in any way, I'm out."
Ginny nodded. "Harry, I care about you too much to let a relationship change that." Harry chuckled and opened his arms. She hugged him fiercely and whispered a thank you.
After a moment, Harry recalled what Ginny said earlier. He looked down at her and said with indignation, "And of course I'm straight!"
Ginny looked up with mock confusion. "I said I assumed you were."