In the Gryffindor common room, Ginny Weasley slammed her Potions book irritably, not caring that the noise made a nearby pair of second years jump in alarm. She sighed, and let her head fall to the desk in front of her with a resounding thump.
Ginny lifted her head and squinted up at Harry. "Unfortunately. Snape's holding a grudge, I think. He simply refuses to mark me any higher than ‘P' on our practice exams," she answered, her voice laced with exhaustion.
Harry chuckled and dropped into the chair beside her. "Ignore him – he doesn't grade the final O.W.L. exams. They've got special examiners at the Ministry who do that. I passed my Potions O.W.L., and Snape never marked me higher than a ‘D'."
Ginny stared at him in disbelief. "He's mad, I think. Biased against Gryffindor."
"No doubt," Harry agreed fervently. He squinted at her, his mouth twitching.
Ginny frowned. "What's so funny?" she demanded, her eyes narrowing to slits.
"Nothing – nothing. I can just tell you're a bit frustrated." Harry answered, averting his eyes.
"Spit it out, Potter."
"It's just – you banged your head rather hard on the desk a moment ago, didn't you? Only there's a rather large bump in the middle of your forehead that I don't recall being there at dinner…"
Ginny's eyes widened, and one hand flew up to her forehead in dismay. She barely had time to discern the fact that there was no bump before Harry burst out laughing.
"Wretch," she growled, throwing a cushion at him, but she couldn't help smiling herself.
From his armchair by the window, Harry blinked owlishly at the book he cradled. He had been reading the same page for a quarter of an hour now, and only vaguely realized that it had something to do with Disillusionment Charms. He kept getting distracted by the figure that lay on the other side of the common room, curled up on one of the couches by the fire.
They were the only two left in the common room now, and Harry once again scolded himself for his reluctance to go up to his own dormitory. Ginny had nodded off halfway through a Transfiguration essay, her quill still clutched tightly in her fingers. He had removed it, of course, before the ink ran and blotted what work she had managed to get done. Then he had returned to his silent vigil across the room. She had been asleep for over an hour now, and still Harry found it difficult to just leave her there.
Just wake her up and tell her she should go upstairs, he told himself, not for the first time. It's not as if she'd want to spend the entire night down here, she's not going to hex you…
But the idea of shaking Ginny awake made Harry break out in gooseflesh, for some reason, and every time he started to put his book aside to go wake her, something stopped him.
So he watched her sleep instead, and fought with his own conscience.
You're only making sure she doesn't have another nightmare, Harry told himself firmly. You are not afraid of her pulling away again… calling you Tom… He dragged his eyes back down to his book once more, glaring at it fiercely.
Across the room, Ginny stirred restlessly, and Harry's gaze jerked up to focus on her once more. She shifted in her sleep, blazing hair spilling over the edge of the couch and cascading toward the crimson-and-gold rugs. Harry swallowed hard, forcing the lump out of his throat.
It was barely audible, but Harry was listening for it – a slight whimper from Ginny, as her forehead creased into a frown.
"Not again… not again, Tom, please… you can't make me… I won't let you… stop—"
She bolted upright without warning, her eyes wide open and staring at the fire. Harry watched in alarm, hoping that she had simply woken from her nightmare, and would gather her things and head up to the girls' dormitory.
Her blank stare traveled the course of the common room, and finally came to rest on him. Harry stared back, and to his shock, her expressionless stare faltered. Anger replaced the blankness, and Ginny's brown eyes flared to life.
"Stay away from my family, Tom," she said clearly, gritting her teeth as she glared her hatred at Harry. "My parents – my brothers – Hermione – Harry – you leave all of them alone," she growled.
Harry stared back, mesmerized. She sounded more coherent than the past two times he had seen her sleepwalking. More than ever he wondered if she was really awake and lucid, but confused.
"You can't have them – you can't have him – I won't let you," Ginny snarled. She balled her fists up and raised them slightly, as if she wanted to strike out at Voldemort.
Slowly, Harry got to his feet, eyes never leaving Ginny. He put his hands up in front of him, trying to seem as harmless as possible, and crept toward her.
Alarm flickered in Ginny's eyes, and she flinched as Harry took another step forward. "No," she whispered. "Stay back. I'm warning you."
"It's not Tom, Ginny," Harry said softly, hands still in front of him. "It's Harry – not Tom – Harry, Gin."
Ginny's hands clutched at the cushions of the couch. Before Harry could react, her wand was in her hand, pointing directly at him. "Stay back," she hissed. "I'll – I'll hurt you, Tom, I swear I will."
He was close enough to touch her now, but Harry simply stopped. He was sweating slightly; with his hands up, he couldn't reach for his own wand. Even attempting such a thing could set her off.
"Ginny, don't you know me?" Harry whispered softly. "I'm not Tom – I'm Harry."
Ginny's eyes cleared for a moment, and she stared at him uncertainly. "Harry?"
"Yes, Gin. It's me. Tom's not here."
"It's just a nightmare, Gin. He's not here. He can't get you – you're stronger than he is."
Tears began to trace their paths down Ginny's cheeks, and she still stared at him in disbelief.
"Remember last year, Gin?" Harry kept his voice low, soothing. "You helped me slip past Umbridge, when I needed to talk to Sirius. You hexed Malfoy to within an inch of his life. Rode a thestral all the way to London. Dueled with Death Eaters in the heart of the Department of Mysteries. And you survived. Voldemort can't touch you anymore."
Ginny's eyes closed, and her wand slipped from her fingers as she covered her face with her hands. She sobbed uncontrollably as Harry closed the distance between them and awkwardly put an arm around her shoulders. To his shock, she buried her face in his shoulder and wept. He pulled her into a hug, hoping desperately to stem the flood of tears.
"Shh, you're just fine, Ginny Weasley. If anyone can resist Voldemort, it's you."
"H-Harry—" she choked, still sobbing.
"It's okay, Gin. Just a nightmare."
Ginny had lifted her face to stare at him, and he glanced down reluctantly. Her face was streaked with tears, making the smattering of freckles across her cheeks stand out even more. She hiccupped slightly as she blinked up at him. Impulsively, Harry dropped a feather-light kiss on her forehead, on the imaginary ‘bump' he had teased her about earlier.
Ginny swallowed, and closed her eyes briefly. "Sorry – sorry, Harry, he made me—"
"He won't make you do anything anymore," Harry said fiercely, locking eyes with her. "You beat him once, Gin, you will again. I'll help, if you need me."
"Need you – please H-Harry, need all of you – can't do this alone –"
"You won't have to," he said, and before he realized what he was doing, Harry leaned over and kissed her softly on the lips.
The warmth of her mouth surprised him more than anything, and he almost jerked back in shock. He had never actually initiated a kiss before; Cho had taken that particular step last year, and he hadn't been able to do much of anything except pat her awkwardly on the shoulder when Cho burst into tears right there under the mistletoe.
The irony of the situation wasn't lost on him – Ginny's cheeks were still streaked with tears, as well. But just as Harry started to pull back, she breathed a tiny sigh of contentment, and her fingers reached out to trace his jaw line.
It was a lot harder to pull away after that. Harry's thoughts scattered wildly as Ginny deepened the kiss. His last coherent thought for the next few minutes was to wonder if Ginny was still asleep.
Even if the insistent tugging at her robes hadn't wakened her, Hermione's voice would have. Ginny opened her eyes blearily and tried to focus on the Gryffindor prefect.
"Ginny, what in Merlin's name are you doing asleep in the common room?" Hermione asked worriedly, peering down at where Ginny was curled on the couch.
"Dunno," Ginny answered with a yawn. "I was working on Transfiguration, and I was just so tired…"
"Come on, then, let's get you to bed – it's barely dawn, honestly, Ginny—" Hermione tsked, bustling Ginny to her feet.
Ginny gathered her books as quickly as she could, frowning slightly as she searched for her quill. As she straightened and turned to follow Hermione, she froze, a puzzled expression on her face.
"Hermione – why's Harry asleep in front of the portrait hole?" Ginny asked quizzically.
Hermione craned her neck to look around one of the huge armchairs. Sure enough, Harry had apparently confiscated every cushion Ginny herself wasn't using, and made a sort of barricade in front of the Fat Lady's portrait. He was firmly ensconced in the middle of the mad little nest, asleep. He had partially burrowed under the cushions, with only his head and upper torso visible, but his expression was more relaxed than Hermione had seen him while awake.
"Looks like he's guarding something, doesn't it?" Hermione mused. "Honestly, he really does have some strange nobility complex, doesn't he? I hope he's not trying to keep the whole blasted tower safe or something," she muttered.
Ginny's expression was troubled as she watched Harry asleep in his fort of pillows. "I don't think he was… let him sleep, Hermione, Ron'll come looking for him in an hour or two." She smiled slightly, her eyes a bit unfocused. "You know, Hermione, I had the oddest dream last night…"
A/N: Couple of quick acknowledgements for this, my first multi-chapter fic: emphatic thanks to the ladies (and gentlemen) of the Orange Crush, whom I haven't seen in ages, but gave me the first inspiration for this story. Much love to Altaria Volante, who I suppose qualifies as my "pre-beta". She wields the meat cleaver and makes me hack apart my huge complicated sentences. And thanks to RG as well, my very first beta reader ever – for a great deal of encouragement and excellent advice. And finally, thank you to everyone who reviews: I read them all, take the comments to heart, and appreciate the encouraging words!