A/N: This scene takes place back in Harry's 6th year at Hogwarts, sometime around the end of October.
"Harry, mate, DO something," Seamus said around a mouthful of cornflakes. "All you ever do is moon over her. You're like some love-sick puppy, for Merlin's sake."
"Oh, come on," he said, sounding a bit strained as Ginny rose to leave the table with several of her girlfriends. His plate of sausage and eggs was extremely interesting all of a sudden. "I am not."
"He's right, Harry," Neville said, taking a swig of pumpkin juice. "It's getting embarrassing."
"Look," Dean said, nudging Harry in the arm with his wand. "We've got a Hogsmeade weekend coming up. Why don't you ask her to go with you?"
Harry heard a roaring in his ears: ask her out? He was a walking disaster when it came to girls; his experience the year before with Cho was a perfect example why he should chuck his aspirations for becoming an Auror and head for the nearest monastery.
Still, he thought to himself, as Ginny walked past him and waved gaily at him, it's nice to dream.
Ron, named Prefect for the second year in a row, rushed into the Great Hall and skidded to a stop at the table before sitting down and piling his plate with food. "Sorry I'm late – ickle midgets getting stuck on the stairs to the dormitory." He stopped mid-bite and looked at Harry, who was brick-red and fumbling with the marmalade. "What's with him?"
"We're tired of Harry mooning around after Ginny," Seamus said, passing Ron the toast. Ron's eyes goggled.
"What are you talking about?" he said, stuffing a sausage in his mouth and rolling his eyes. "They're just friends, you gits."
"Fat lot you know, Weasley," Dean said. "Though, I shouldn't be surprised, given your own lack of enthusiasm towards the fairer sex."
"Whadda you mean by that, Thomas?" Ron said, glaring.
"Weasley," Seamus said with a laugh, "you've been besotted with Hermione for three years, mate, and you STILL haven't done anything but beg for her notes." Ron choked on his juice and flushed to the tips of his ears. "Tell you what, gents," Seamus continued. "I propose a challenge: by the end of dinner tonight we get dates for the next Hogmeade weekend. Failure to succeed in this task will result in…" he swung around, as if looking for something. Finally he stopped, gazing out of the window, a slightly crazed grin covering his face. "A swim across the lake. Nude. In December."
The shouts and obscenities were blistering, earning them the attention of a mob of second years towards the end of the table and a glare of reproach from Professor McGonagall.
"Swim across the lake, starkers? You're mad, Finnigan," Ron said in hushed outrage, throwing down his toast in disgust.
"Knew you wouldn't have the guts, Weasley," Finnigan said smugly.
Well, that was that: the gauntlet had been resolutely thrown down. Their standing as honorable Gryffindors, brave and true, was at stake.
"Right. I'm in," Ron said, nodding at the rest of the sixth-year Gryffindors boys.
"Brilliant," Seamus said, "I'll ask Lavender if Weasley asks Hermione. Dean, you ask Padma...and you" he poked Neville with his wand, "ask Luna." He cast a final glare at Harry, "That leaves you, Harry. You've got to ask Ginny."
"Like that will ever happen," Ron said, shaking his head and failing to notice Harry's frown.
By lunch, Harry was beginning to grow concerned about this hastily issued challenge, for Neville rushed over to them before Potions with an enormous smile on his face: "Luna said yes!" All too soon, the dinner bell rang, finding Harry and Ron to be the only ones who hadn't taken up the challenge.
Like a man on his way to the gallows, Harry was trudging down the stairs from his dormitory to the common room when he heard two very familiar voices bickering at full volume.
"You ignore me all day long, leaping up and running anytime I came within five feet of you, and NOW you want to talk?" Hermione said, shoving books into her bag.
"Hermione, wait a minute," Ron said, dodging out of her way as she headed towards the stairs.
"No," she said, stomping up the stairs past Harry, continuing her way up the girls' dormitory steps. "I will not ‘wait a minute'. What do you want: to copy my notes from Transfiguration? If you'd listened to Professor McGonagall you wouldn't have transformed Pig into a badger."
"No, that's not it," Ron said, pushing past Harry and standing on the landing at the foot of the girls'steps.
"Well you can't have my notes from Potions – I've loaned those to Lavender," she said, turning her back and opening the door to her dormitory. Ron stormed up several steps only to freeze a split second before the familiar, klaxon-like alarm began to reverberate throughout the tower as the stairs transformed into a slide. Girls flooded out of the dormitory to see who'd been stupid enough to try to come up again.
"I WANTED TO ASK YOU TO GO TO HOGSMEADE WITH ME THIS WEEKEND!" Ron bellowed over the sound of the bells as he slid downwards, crashing into Harry and causing the two of them to end up in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. Parvati and Lavender squealed with delight as Hermione stood as still as a statue, her book bag forgotten at her side. Ginny gave her a congratulatory slap on the back, sending her sailing down the stone slide to crash into Ron, who had been helped to his feet by Harry. This time, it was Ron and Hermione who toppled onto the ground at the bottom of the stairs.
Without a word, she flung her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek while the girls of Gryffindor Tower cheered. Harry had to suppress a smile – Ron's face turned as bright as a cherry. Rising to his feet, he offered his hand to Hermione.
"Care to join me for dinner, Hermione?" he said, helping her onto her feet. Beaming, she linked her arm in his and the two of them made their way out of the portrait hole.
Way to go, Ron, he thought to himself, happy for his two best friends. But suddenly his happiness turned to stark terror as he realized he was the last one NOT to have a date for the weekend, and he only had another hour left. He turned abruptly to see the ends of Ginny's bright red ponytail slip out of the portrait hole on her way to dinner.
Damn. I'm going to have to do this in front of the whole bloody school.
Ginny and her roommates were chuckling over Gryffindor's recent love match (who were, at that moment, chatting quietly with their heads tucked close together) when she noticed Alice becoming as white as a sheet and silent.
"Alice, are you all right? You look as though you've seen a ghost."
"H-hi Harry," Alice said hoarsely, staring at a spot over Ginny's right shoulder.
Ginny spun in her seat to find Harry standing behind her, looking slightly pink and nervous. "Hi Harry!" she said brightly and scooted down the bench to give him some room to sit. "How are you doing, now that your best mates are ‘an item'?"
"Oh! Er…" he said, going from pink to red in a nanosecond, "'bout time, don't you think?" He settled down onto the bench next to her and picked up a spoon left behind by another student.
"I'm glad you stopped by – I've been wanting to talk to you about a little strategy for our first Quidditch match next weekend," she said briskly, reaching for the pitcher of pumpkin juice to her right. A movement caught her eye, and she turned in time to see four pairs of male eyes dart away from where Harry was sitting and become quite interested in the plum pudding that had appeared for dessert in front of them. "Harry," she said warily, turning to face him, "why would Dean, Seamus, Neville and Ron be staring at you down here?"
"GinwouldyougotoHogsmeadewithmethisweekend?" Harry stammered. She blinked at him, her brow furrowing.
"I'm sorry?" she said, ignoring the giggles coming from the girls sitting across from her.
"I was wondering…" he said, appearing to be a bit out of breath, "if you… if you would go to Hogsmeade with me…this weekend. Just me, you and me…together…I mean…not a big crowd..."
A light bulb was flickering on in the back of her mind and she smiled. He scrambled to his feet, looking as though he wanted to run full-tilt out of the Great Hall. "Oh God…Gin, can you come with me, outside, now?"
She spun on the bench to look up at him, to see the flush of embarrassment playing across his cheeks and down his neck, the way his eyes flitted back and forth between her, the door and the sixth-year Gryffindor boys at the end of the table. Perhaps it was time to put him out of his misery.
"Um…sure, Harry," she said, shyly She rose from the table, her friends staring as she gathered her book bag and headed towards the exit, Harry trailing behind her. For a moment, she thought she'd heard a distant "YES!" coming from where the sixth year Gryffindor boys were sitting, but before she could turn to confirm this, Harry was behind her, nudging her forward until they were out of the door.
They walked in silence towards the great oak doors which led out onto the grounds. At one point, Ginny's hand brushed against Harry's which caused him to jump and place an extra foot between them. As they descended the steps to the grass, he picked up the pace, causing Ginny to take two steps to keep up with each of his. They were halfway between the giant beech tree and the lake when she'd finally had enough.
"Harry, what on earth is going on?" She stood stock still, hands on her hips, demanding an answer.
"Er…Gin," he said, raising his eyes to meet hers for mere seconds before returning to scrutinize his shoes, "we've spent a lot of time together this past summer, right?"
"Yes, Harry," she said, "we had a good time this summer."
"Playing Quidditch, mucking around with Fred and George's new inventions," he went on, now starting to pace back and forth in front of her.
"I remember, although I'd rather forget the Skiving Snackbox they snuck onto my plate at dinner the night of your birthday," she said, remembering how she'd had to spend the evening with an icepack on her nose.
"Yeah," Harry said wanly. Ginny's brow furrowed.
She took his hand, at which point he went stock-still and rigid. "Based on what you told me in the Great Hall, I'm guessing you've just asked me out on a date?"
He nodded. Then he shook his head. "Er…"
Ginny stamped her foot. "Harry, what's wrong? I thought we'd gotten to be good friends this summer, and now you're nervous and twitchy, you won't look me in the eye, and something tells me if you would run back to the castle and lock yourself in, you would!" She tossed his hand aside, turning on her heel and marching back towards the castle. "Why on earth would I want to go out on a date with someone who can barely utter a coherent word to me?"
"Ginny, wait!" Harry shouted behind her. She could hear his footsteps as he ran to catch up to her, but she didn't care. Suddenly, just as she reached the shade of the beech tree by the lake, his hand closed on her shoulder and spun her around to face him. She gasped at the strength of his hand and heat it radiated through her blouse.
"Ginny, I'm sorry," Harry said, relaxing the grip he had on her shoulder. "You're right, we are good friends. Maybe that's why this is so damn hard."
She looked up into his eyes, much closer than she'd originally thought. She could see flecks of hazel surrounding his irises, something she'd never noticed before, and the length of his inky black lashes – something she had noticed before, many, many times. "Just talk to me, Harry," she said softly. "I want to listen."
"That's just it," he said, his hand leaving her shoulder and, taking off his cloak, he folded it into a neat square, placed it onto the ground and offered her a place to sit. Smiling shyly, she sat down, tucking her legs beneath her. He sat next to her on the grass with one leg outstretched, his gaze drawn to the lake for a moment before returning to meet her gaze. "You've become a good friend to me, Gin, and I don't want to do anything to jeopardize it. But lately," he paused, plucking at the grass between them, "when I see you…or when I hear your voice, I feel…well…nauseated."
"Oh, that's nice," Ginny said, her brows coming together in a frown. Harry slapped himself on the forehead.
"No, I…see…that's what I mean! I can't even think of the right words to use when I'm around you anymore." He snatched off his glasses and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. "Everything I want to say comes out in a jumble or completely wrong when all I really want to say is I like you, Ginny." He tucked his glasses back on and looked into her eyes. "I like you a lot."
Ginny blinked. She blinked again. "What did you say?"
Harry paled. "God, you're not going to make me say it again, are you?"
Ginny glared. "I just might if you find it that hard to say in the first place."
"See?" Harry cried, throwing his hands in the air and rising to his feet. "See what I mean? I'm a babbling idiot when it comes to you, Ginny. Fine, you want to hear it again? I like you, Ginny. I like you so much that I've tripped over my own feet at least half a dozen times whenever you come into the common room. That time I fell off my broom in practice? Had nothing to do with getting hit with a Bludger; you'd just come out onto the pitch in your uniform – I've never told you that you look amazing in your uniform, have I? Well, you do. And I won't even tell you how many times my elbow has wound up in my plate or my bowl whenever you walk by."
Ginny rose to her feet to stand in front of him, all sound in the world stilled except for the sound of his voice.
He stared at her. "Well? Say something! I think my chest's going to explode or something if you don't say something soon!"
She pressed her palms against that chest and smiled up into his eyes.
"What took you so long, Harry?" she said, unable to hold back the tears from falling. She felt as though he could see into her very soul, so serious was the gaze he cast upon her. His hands reached up to cup her face, the pads of his thumbs brushing the tears from her cheeks.
"Will you go to Hogsmeade with me, Ginny?"
Radiant with joy, she nodded, only to have her world shift on its axis with his kiss.
There would be no naked swimming in the lake THIS December.
Author's Notes: A huge thank you to Aibhinn, Robin and Marian for their help with my first piece of fluffy goodness! The idea for this piece came from a song Robin shared with me one day (yes…it's a song-fic) called Why Don't You & I by Carlos Santana, featuring Chad Kroeger from the group Nickleback. Now, I'd never even heard of Nickleback (God, I'm old), but when she sent me a copy of the lyrics I found myself nodding like an idiot. Then I heard the song and everything was perfect. If you go toCarlos Santana's website it's the song that's playing in the background. Three cheers, Robin!