Red. That was all I could see, almost as if my vision had become clouded by the color my skin was-I could feel the blood flushing my face and neck, and I knew I was blushing harder than...than I had in a long time.
"Ginny!" Not now. "Ginny, are you all right?" I looked up to see Lavender and Parvati heading towards the portrait hole. Lavender sounded genuinely concerned, so I gave her my best attempt at a smile.
"I'm fine," I said, choking on my words.
"N-nothing. I was just heading down to dinner." My eyes were burning. Not going to-won't cry. Won't cry.
"All right, well, come to our room after dinner!"
I nodded blindly, already running to find somewhere private to collect myself as Lavender and Parvati climbed through the portrait hole.
There's a small alcove, a bit away from the common room entrance. I didn't want to think about how many times I had hidden here, pressing the palm of my hands against my eyes, telling myself how stupid I was, crying over someone who didn't even know I exist.
The conversations and footsteps passing by me sounded louder than before, and suddenly I felt that perhaps I could just go down to dinner, pretending that I was hungry and no longer upset, and that everything was ok.
Numbly I walked to the Great Hall. After an amusing dinner sitting between Neville and Colin, I felt much better and had forgotten about the incident-mostly. When Dean asked me where my prat-ish brother was, I just ignored him and I think he got the picture.
After dinner I went back up to Gryffindor Tower, and crossed the common room as quickly and stealthily as possible, not wanting anyone to stop me to talk, especially one of my dear brothers. I snuck up the stairs as quietly as I could, past the fourth year girls' room, not in the mood to face Lavender and Parvati either.
My room was empty; all of my roommates must have been in the common room still. Thank Merlin. That meant I could curl up and read my Charms text in peace and quiet.
Not five minutes later, though, there was a knock at the door, and Hermione's bushy hair and tear-stained cheeks appeared.
"Ginny! There you are. I was looking for you earlier." The look on her face-she was glad to see me-made me immediately feel guilty.
"I went down to dinner."
"Oh," said Hermione. She glanced around my room nervously.
"They're all down in the common room," I said, explaining the emptiness.
I should have followed her... Of course she would have wanted to talk. But, well, I was hungry. I guess I should have just gone straight to her room afterwards, Parvati and Lavender or no.
"Are you okay?" she asked, sounding concerned.
"I'm fine," I lied. "Are you okay?"
"Oh, Ginny." Then she sort of dropped on my bed, all pretenses lost-I could see she was really upset. Well, of course she was! "He's so... I don't understand... I mean-"
"My brother is an absolute prat," I told her, since she seemed to be having trouble getting it into words. And he really, really, truly is. At prat-ish levels previously unsuspected-uncharted, even-until today.
"Yes! And he... I mean, honestly! 'You are a girl'... Hasn't he ever wondered why I've been living in a separate dorm all these years?"
"No. He's much too much of an idiot." Though you'd think he'd have at least noticed when she grew breasts. Boys are so inexplicable. "Really, you're much better off. Just wait until he grows up a bit, then fancy him."
Hermione smiled at me feebly. "Is that how it works? I get to choose how and when and who I fancy?"
I sighed, knowing where this was going. "It's how it works now," I said resolutely.
"No," I said, getting up from my bed and walking over to the window. "I'm going to get over Harry." I could feel her disbelief, and I knew it was not unfounded. After all, I have made such a declaration before... a few times. "I mean it this time," I added
"Just like that? You're going to get over him?" her voice was behind me, and she put her hand on my shoulder, but I didn't turn around.
I will not cry.
"I'm going to try. I really, really am." What's the point of fancying someone who's never going to fancy you back? There is none. And since when did Ginny Weasley waste her time on pointless things? It stops now. The tears were gone, replaced by my new resolution, so I turned to look at Hermione. "I absolutely, one hundred per cent, without a question of a doubt, give up on Harry."
My proclamation was followed by a moment of silence, in which Hermione just looked at me, with a sort of awe and respect-I think.
Then, for some reason, I felt the need to explain my logic. "Hermione, he's never going to like me."
Oh, Bugger. Damndamndamndamn him.
"Shh," Hermione put her arms around me and stroked my hair in a comforting manner that always reminded me of my mum. "It's ok...he's just an idiot."
"They both are."
"Yeah. Look at us, crying over a couple of idiots!"
I laughed weakly. "What does that make us?"
"Sympathetic individuals with hearts too big for our own good?" she suggested.
"Absolutely hopeless," I said. "Boys only go after girls like Fleur and Cho Chang because they don't recognize true beauty." Right. Right. I'll just tell myself that.
Hermione looked up sharply. "So, that's why you're so upset with Harry?
"Yeah." I'd forgotten Hermione wasn't there the entire time, she didn't know...suddenly I realized we had a lot to discuss. "Harry asked Cho. He said, just before you came."
"Oh, Ginny, I'm sorry-"
"No," I said, even more determinedly than before. "It doesn't matter." It didn't. It didn't.
We stood quietly for another moment, and the whole thing came flooding back to me. "But...oh, Hermione, it was awful." We were sitting back down on my bed, and she put her arm around me.
"Tell me what happened."
"After you left...Ron tried to get me to go to the ball with Harry."
"Yes! And I had to say no! I mean, I wanted to say no." I did. I did. "I'd rather not go at all than be a sympathy date-and it wasn't even his idea! It was bloody Ron's!"
"But you wanted to go with him," Hermione stated, quietly.
"Yes," I said. She knew it, I knew it, all of bloody Hogwarts knew it. But it still hurt to admit. Damn him. "But I'm glad I'm not. I really am. Mostly. But then-oh, Hermione, this is the awful part."
"Well, before you came Ron and Harry were both going on about how pitiful they were, not having dates-"
"They are pathetic."
"Yes!" This is why I love Hermione so much. We agree on all the most important things.
"If they had any brains at all they could have had the best dates in Hogwarts."
"I know! But they don't, at all."
"You were saying?"
"Right. Then Ron started in on Neville, and how he's lame as well, because he doesn't have a date-" Hermione gasped "-and they were laughing, Hermione, they thought it was so funny, that Neville would actually ask you." I think that's what hurt the most-that two people I cared so much about were so insensitive, such gits, so insulting to two other of my favorite people.
Hermione's mouth gaped open. "What? Those pigs! Of course I'd have gone with Neville, if Viktor hadn't asked me first."
"I know-as if there's anything wrong with being Neville's date..." I don't know what's worse, that they actually think no one would want to go to the ball with sweet, nice Neville, or how low they must think me to have stooped, agreeing to be his date. Or that I even care what they think, the stupid, insensitive jerks.
"Of course there's nothing wrong," she assured me.
"We're only going as friends, anyway," I said needlessly.
"You'll likely have a much better time with him than you would with Harry, anyway."
And as much as I didn't want to think so, I couldn't help but agree with her.
"Ginny, Harry's not ready for you. He's much too much of an..." Hermione paused, then yanked open the drawer to my nightstand, grabbed a small, worn sheet of parchment, and, scanning the list of alternate adjectives, continued, "moron." Actually, I'd been waiting for her to do that for a while now. Calling Harry and Ron "idiots" over and over again is only so satisfying; the list usually comes out a lot sooner in most of our conversations on the subject.
"It doesn't matter anyway." Even if it is good to hear. "I just told you I've given up on him."
"Ginny," she started, in a wary tone, and I knew she was thinking of the...few times I've said this before.
"No," I interrupted her. "Hermione, I haven't told you what happened next."
"Oh! Go on, then." She waited almost eagerly for me to continue, but I knew she wasn't going to like it.
"Complete, utter-" I grabbed the list "-dim-witted, insensitive, obtuse, stupid gits!"
"Yes," Hermione dutifully agreed.
"They're so dumb...argh."
"Yes?" Hermione prompted.
"They were saying-how you'd just made up having a date, so you wouldn't have to go with Neville."
Hermione stared at me. "What?" she whispered, her voice showing her shock. "But-" she sputtered, "as if I'd do that...as if I couldn't possibly, conceivably, have ever found a date!"
"Oh, Hermione, I know-how ridiculous that is! They're so daft. Honestly, won't they feel perfect morons when you show up with the most lusted-after bloke at Hogwarts!"
"I suppose," said Hermione, but she looked awfully dejected, and I wondered for a split second if maybe I shouldn't have told her. But I tell Hermione everything.
"Well, then..." I continued, hoping to distract her. "Of course I told them you weren't lying, and Ron tried to get me to tell him who you're going with, but of course I didn't, and then...oh, ugh."
"He's such a half-brain."
"Yeah, I know. That must be why he tried to get me to go with Harry."
"Yeah. I mean, he just said 'this is getting stupid-"
"Got that right," Hermione muttered
"-Ginny, you can go with Harry.' Just-assuming that I didn't have a date-"
"Oh no!" Hermione mocked. "Who on earth would want to go to the ball with a smart, funny, cute girl like you? For all he knows, Oliver Wood could be coming, just for you!"
"Well, he's not. I'm going with Neville. So then I had to tell them...and they'd just been making fun of-"
"Well, it definitely serves them right, then! They were making fun of him, but he's the one with the date!"
"Yeah, you're right!" It was funny, but I hadn't thought of it that way...Harry and Ron were losers. They were the ones who couldn't find dates. "Anyway, Ron looked really shocked. Probably because he couldn't believe that I'd found a date, or that Neville found a date, or that two people who wouldn't otherwise find dates were smart enough to go with each other."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Please. Oliver Wood, remember? And I bet there's a ton of girls who would go with Neville, if he shed his shyness long enough to ask them."
I laughed. "That's right. Ok. Next time there's a ball and I'm allowed to bring a date, I'm writing straight to Oliver."
I allowed myself a brief fantasy of showing up at a future ball in brand-new robes, my hair done up, on the arm of Oliver Wood. Harry, of course, would immediately realize what a git he's been and apologize and we would sneak away to snog for ten hours.
Or maybe we wouldn't. Maybe I'd let him suffer for a while. After all, I've suffered for three years! But anyhow, my favorite part was when he first saw me. His eyes lit up-gone was that sad, haunted look-and I could see him thinking, "Who is this beautiful girl?" There was confusion, and then, as he realized it was me, he asked himself, "How could I have never noticed her?" Then there was everything: respect, admiration, love. I could see it all in his beautiful green eyes. I could see-
Nothing. I couldn't see anything. Ugh.
"Hermione," I said abruptly, probably shaking her out of a fantasy of her own. "Harry is such a prat. The entire time, he was just sitting there. He didn't say a word when Ron said I should be his date. Not 'Oh yes please, Ginny, could you-that would really save my skin,' or even, 'That would be acceptable.' He just sat there, looking dark and blank and brooding over his rejection from his beloved Cho, and never said anything because he just doesn't care about me at all, and ugh! I hate him!"
I was breathing very fast, and Hermione, having set calmly through the entire outburst, just said, "You know that's not true."
My mind quickly ran through the entire speech I'd just made. Which part isn't true? I couldn't remember all of it, so I just focused on the last bit.
"Of course not, no. I could never hate Harry. I just wish-"
"No, not that," said Hermione. "You can't honestly think that Harry doesn't care about you."
"Of course he doesn't! Can you think of one indication, one tiny example, one single event, one glimmer of hope that would ever, ever lead me to believe otherwise?" And if she says...what I think she might say, I swear by Merlin's purple, sequined shoes, I will scream.
Good on her part, Hermione just sat there silently.
"See?" I asked pointedly. Then quickly switched topics. I was supposed to be giving up on Harry. This wasn't going to help.
"But all that doesn't matter now that I've given up on him," I said as nonchalantly as I could. Hermione just grunted. She looked sad, lost in her own boy troubles again. Well, at least I'd managed to distract her for a bit with mine.
"Listen," I said. "It really doesn't matter. You're going to go to the ball and have a fabulous time without them."
"I suppose," said Hermione unenthusiastically. "I'd better go back to my room." She gave a sigh so tragic one might have thought she was exaggerating. "I've been avoiding my roommates as long as possible, but I don't think I can put it off any longer."
"Do you want me to go back with you for a bit?"
Hermione's face lit up. "Oh, no, you don't have to..."
"Don't be silly, of course I will." I'm such a good friend.
It's not that I don't like Parvati and Lavender; I do. Hermione does, too. They can be loads of fun, when one is in the mood for them. But they've been increasingly impossible ever since the ball was announced. They've got the whole of Hogwarts-professors included-paired off on a scented, pink piece of parchment in the fourth year girls' dorm. Worse-someone must have hit them with a strong Confundus Charm, because they were convinced that Harry was going to askme to the ball. And-oh-of course he didn't. I knew he wouldn't--and listening to them babble about it for the last few weeks was not what I needed to hear. I thought they were going to strangle me when they found out I'd agreed to go with Neville.
Hermione gave a brave smile and pushed the door to her room open. Immediately, Lavender and Parvati looked up from where they were perched on Parvati's bed. They leapt up and ran over, practically pouncing on Hermione and me as we tried to get to Hermione's bed.
"Hermione!" shrieked Lavender. "Who are you going to the ball with?!"
Hermione winced, but otherwise gave no indication she'd even heard her roommates shrill demand, reaching her bed and flopping down on it.
"Oh, come on! I'll tell you who I'm going with, if you tell us!" Parvati offered gaily.
"No deal," muttered Hermione.
"Wait," I said, turned to Parvati, a sinking feeling in my stomach. "Who are you going with?"
She blushed, I noted with waning satisfaction, as the guilty expression crept across her face. "Well...just after you went off to dinner, Harry asked me. I wouldn't have said yes," she added quickly, "but I knew you were already going with Neville, and Harry looked so..."
"Desperate," Hermione muttered, just so I could hear; I pretended not to.
"It's all right," I said with a heavy sigh, sinking onto Hermione's bed. "It doesn't matter." Not again. I've already cried enough for the git today.
"I don't think Harry deserves to have you as a date, Parvati," Hermione said, making the other girl blush even deeper. "They were being awful prats about Neville, saying that I'd just made up having a date so I wouldn't have to go with him-which of course made it awkward for Ginny to explain she couldn't go with Harry, because she already had Neville for a date."
Parvati looked at me in surprise. "Harry asked you?"
"He didn't. Ron offered me to him."
That made Hermione giggle but, rare as that occurrence was, I was more surprised when concern won the inevitable war with Parvati's pride at being a second choice.
"Oh Ginny." She sat down gently next to me. "That's awful. Hey-" she looked almost pained "-why don't we trade dates! I'll go with Neville, and then you can go with Harry! Eh?"
"No," I said heavily, noticing the look of relief on Parvati's face. "No, I-I'd rather go with someone I'm friends with than with someone who's never noticed me at all."
"Oh," said Parvati. "Well I'm sure-"
"It's all right," I insisted. "I've given up on Harry."
Lavender and Parvati let out a simultaneous gasp. "Oh but-"
"It's not open for negotiation," I said harshly.
Parvati and Lavender exchanged a woeful glance. I knew they were disappointed, I knew they loved to talk about Harry and me, almost as much as I did. Did. Too bad. Unlike Hermione, they actually believed every time I said I was giving up on Harry. It was nice not to have to insist that this time, I really mean it. (I do.)
"But, Ginny...he's a champion! He's so fit, and awfully sweet." Lavender tried to remind me why I like-liked-Harry so much, but I refused to let it work. As if I fancy him because he's a champion! Or would, if I did fancy him.
"Yes, yes, yes. But he's also a brainless git." Parvati and Lavender giggled. "Can we please not talk about this anymore?" I pleaded.
Parvati shrugged. "Oh!" she said, as if suddenly remembering something. She gave a pained look to Hermione.
"What?" asked Hermione.
"Ron's going to go with my sister, Padma," Parvati said cautiously.
"...so? I don't care who Ron goes with!" Hermione stared out the window, and I exchanged an awkward glance with Parvati and Lavender. "I'm sure he's glad to be going with someone attractive, anyhow," she sniffed.
"Oh, silly!" exclaimed Lavender. "You're so pretty, if you'd let yourself be! Hey-why don't you let us fix you up for the ball?" Lavender and Parvati looked at each other excitedly.
"I-I can't. I've already promised Ginny I'd get ready with her." Hermione looked at me desperately. I smiled. "Isn't that right, Gin?"
"Yeah," I agreed dutifully. "That's right. Look," I continued. "I'm tired. I'm going to bed."
"Ooh, yes," said Parvati. "We all need our beauty rest-big event coming up, after all!" Hermione snorted.
"Who did you say you're going with, Hermione?" Lavender asked sharply.
"I didn't," said Hermione.
"Right. Night all." I only felt slightly guilty for abandoning Hermione-I knew she can handle these two. She's had to live with them for three years.
I wasn't sure what to feel as I climbed back up the stairs to my own room. I kept thinking about Harry, the way he looked when he was sitting there, the things he said, the things he didn't say... he looked so melancholy, and it infuriated me that despite knowing what he's upset over, a part of me still wanted to do anything I could to comfort him.
I remembered what I'd told Hermione, that she should wait 'til Ron grows up a bit, then fancy him. But I can't get over Harry. I've tried...Merlin knows I've tried. It seems so unfair that he has this hold over me, that one look from his eyes-even if they're passing right over me-can turn me into butter.
It's horrible the way he paralyses me. I hate it. With Harry...all I really want is to be his friend, to be able to talk to him, share a joke with him. Yet this seems all so frustratingly, ridiculously out of reach. Why shouldn't I be able to be friends with Harry?
Maybe what I should do is avoid him for a while, to get him out of my mind. Because even if I can't get over him, I have given up on him-it's Cho he fancies, not me. I'd rather pretend he doesn't exist, so I can have a good time with Neville, without him. And I hate the stupid ball, for bringing all of this to a head.
I hope I wake up tomorrow, I fervently wished as I climbed back into bed, to find that all this was just a horrible nightmare.
Thanks to Joe, Rach, Christina, and Rebecca. I love you all dearly. This may turn into a series. We shall see.