"That's a good one," Colin Creevy said, lowering his camera, and his models relaxed. "Didn't you say somethin' 'bout food?" He looked around, but there was nothing fit to eat there.
It was shortly before Christmas and they were preparing their present for the Weasleys. Hermione had been invited to stay at the Burrow for the season and she had eagerly accepted for two reasons. Her parents had decided to go skiing in Austria so she would have not been able to see either of her friends for two weeks or so. And secondly, she was hoping to find the opportunity to spend a few private moments with her boyfriend - she and Ron having been a couple since Halloween. Harry had been invited to the Burrow as a matter of course and had accepted gladly, hating the idea to stay behind at Hogwarts alone.
So he and Ginny had figured out a present for Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. Harry had remembered Mrs. Weasley looking at a medium-sized picture frame at Grimmauld Place the summer before. It had survived the cleaning up the year before, because Sirius had explained it had been a gift from a distant relative the family had not really approved of, but it had been retained because of its material value. Sirius had found this reason enough not throw it away, and Mrs. Weasley had praised its beauty and the wonderful craftsmanship. Harry and Ginny had thought about putting a picture of the four of them into the frame as a gift, Harry having no objections whatsoever to give it away. Colin, who had developed his own kind of wizardry with a camera, had added another touch to the idea. When asked to take their picture he had suggested to make series of individual and group shots he would then fit into the frame and which would display alternatively. The Room of Requirement had provided everything for a photo session, and Colin had been happily ordering them around for at least an hour now.
"Why don't you do the Ron and Hermione shots now?" asked Ginny. "while Harry and I sneak down to the kitchen to get something."
Ginny and Harry had become very good friends by now. It had been Ginny who had been always by his side when he needed help after Sirius' death. His sojourn at Privet Drive had been only a short one that summer, and even this was due to Ginny "telling Dumbledore off" as Ron had said to Harry later. The Headmaster had come to the Burrow to discuss the when and how of Harry's going there and had insisted on leaving him at the Dursleys as long as possible because he would be safer there. Harry's friends, who had refused to be left out of the discussion, had pleaded with him to let Harry come to the Weasleys, but it had been Ginny's interference that had made the decision.
"Your suggestion may insure Harry's survival, Headmaster, but you're cutting him off from what he needs most: friends. He will come back in a worse state than even last summer."
Dumbledore had looked at her thoughtfully, and it had taken quite a while before his usual twinkle returned. "Very well, Miss Weasley. You go get him."
And Ginny had arrived at Privet Drive the very next day with a guard of Order members to extricate Harry from his family. She had happily scared Mr. Dursley and Dudley out of what passed for their wits in the process and left Aunt Petunia in deep shock. Harry had been looking like a skeleton when Ginny had walked into his room. He had had eaten little and slept even less for two weeks, but when the car that had taken them to the Burrow had turned from Privet Drive into the main street, Harry had been already fast asleep with his head resting against Ginny's shoulder. She had become his rock, she had been staying up with him when nightmares plagued him and she could make him laugh in spite of himself. She was the only one Harry never lost his temper with while he accepted her criticism with becoming penitence.
Maybe this had even helped Ron and Hermione on finally acting on their feelings for each other, which were well-known to everybody but themselves, but their dating had certainly made Harry edge even closer to Ginny. She had never considered it a burden that was put on her, on the contrary: Being with Harry gave her an opportunity to get to know the real Harry much better, which also helped her dealing with her own fears. Harry was the only one who could really understand her terror of Tom Riddle, who would still haunt her nightmares occasionally. Basically, the two of them were healing each other.
Now, they were chatting gaily about Quidditch and teachers, and Ginny let Harry in on the Weasley Yule traditions. It took them quite a while to return to the Room of Requirement and when they did, everybody seemed famished. After eating, Colin took a few more pictures of Ron and Hermione, arms around each other, and Harry felt sure Mrs. Weasley would love those.
"That's it," Colin finally said, and Hermione looked at her watch.
"Oh, dear. I must run. I promised Neville to help him with his Potions essay. Snape will kill him if it's not done properly."
Ron looked at the others. "Mind, if I keep her company?"
Harry shook his head, and Ginny called after them: "No stops at broom closets, though. Hermione's in a hurry, Ron."
They did a little tidying up, and Ginny was looking for her hair band, but Harry had picked it up already. When he handed it over, seemingly knowing exactly what she had been looking for, she smiled at him gratefully and found Colin looking at them with a thoughtful gaze.
"I was just wonderin'.... Why don't we do a few Ginny and Harry shots?"
"We did one or two," Harry said.
"I know. But they...don't seem right all of a sudden."
"What do you mean?" Ginny threw in.
"Now, come on. You're the closest friends I know - except Crabbe and Goyle, perhaps. Those shots were quite distanced, they don't show it, I'm sure."
Harry and Ginny exchanged a look. Harry was not certain, but he thought he saw her blush slightly.
"Is there still time?" he asked. But neither Colin nor Ginny seemed to have anything else to do, so Colin put his camera back in position.
It felt strange. Colin let them do quite a lot of things they had been seeing Ron and Hermione do for their pictures. Thinking about it: Under normal conditions they touched each other quite often. They sat close to each other frequently, seeking each other's comfort, and Harry would put his arm round Ginny's shoulders, but all that was done unconsciously. Now they leaned into each other on purpose - or rather, on command. Harry behind Ginny, Ginny behind Harry, she on his left, he slightly off centre and so on...It gave both of them something to think of. Ginny had not pondered for a long time over how Harry's eyes were glowing green under his unruly hair and how the muscles on his shoulders felt under her fingers. And Harry had not allowed himself to notice how Ginny's amber eyes caught the light, how her hair reflected the radiance of a candle, the perfect curve of her luscious lips, not to mention...You better stop it there, Potter. At one point they looked at each other, their eyes locking. It was a moment of deep understanding, both could see the fascination of the moment in the other's eyes - and just before embarrassment had a chance to kick in, Colin's camera went off.
He grinned at them smugly. "Brilliant! If I didn't mess it up, this will be the best picture of the whole lot."
Only then did Harry notice that he was holding Ginny's hand, that their faces were quite close to each other and that Ginny seemed flustered while he felt out of breath all of a sudden.
Christmas at the Burrow was a joyous affair, and one of much company. All the family arrived on the Twenty Fourth, except Percy who was still doing his best to be a disgrace to the name Weasley. But they had Hermione and Harry to fill in his space. Harry and Ginny had been yearning for Christmas because they both knew something had happened during that photo session in the Room of Requirement, but neither of them had an idea how to deal with it. Neither wanted to lose the friendship they had, but both felt the urge to take it further. So they had tried to act "normally" around each other and wait for Christmas - away from Hogwarts where privacy was only a relative value, and with presents that could mean something.
The morning of Christmas Day, however, was only the beginning of new torture. Mrs. Weasley was over the moon with the changing pictures in their beautiful frame and was often seen glancing at it with discreet tears in her eyes in the days to come. In the upheaval of presents being opened and shown 'round nobody noticed that Harry and Ginny had only exchanged slips of paper that basically said the same: "I'd like to give you my present when we're alone. Meet me here later tonight." Neither of them was very relaxed that day; they kept glancing at each other, trying not to blush when being caught. Harry had to fend off Ron's nosy questions about what Ginny had given him, while Ginny was under siege from Hermione. The evening dragged on with dinner, games and conversations, but at ten Mrs. Weasley, who had started the day most early, said goodnight, Ron and Hermione made an unobtrusive exit slightly later, and Mr. Weasley produced a bottle of Firewhisky from somewhere he was hoping his wife would never find it to have a wee dram with his elder sons, which now included the twins. After a whole day of eating and a feast for dinner, the whisky made those who drank it drowsy even more quickly than it would usually have done. By twelve o' clock there were only two people still lingering in opposite corners of the living room.
Harry got up slowly to meet Ginny in the middle of the room. For a second they did not know what to do, but Harry could see that she was almost bouncing with excitement.
"Would you like to go first?" he asked.
"Definitely." She hurried to produce two small parcels she had hidden behind some books earlier.
"Start with this one." She handed him a cube shaped one, and Harry ripped off the paper. Inside was a small wooden box with a Snitch engraved on the lid. His eyes widened as he opened it. On a velvet covered socket lay a perfectly crafted Golden Snitch. Harry carefully took it from the box and it spread its tiny whirring wings. He let it go and caught it again before it could leave his reach.
He smiled at Ginny. "Brilliant. I've always wanted one, but never managed to get it. Thank you!" He gave her a hug and could feel the same tension in her that had been there for more than two weeks now.
"There's another one," Ginny said and held out the second parcel. It was rectangular and flat, slightly larger than a postcard. "It's a little more ..." He could hear the insecurity in her voice. "Personal."
He raised his eyebrows. "More personal than my own personal Snitch?" He placed the ball into the box and closed the lid. When he took the other parcel he touched Ginny's hand accidentally, which sent a tingling sensation through his arm. The package held a frame of light wood, slightly polished with a stand on the back to prop it up. In it was the last picture Colin had taken of them. Harry looked at it thoughtfully. It was really a great picture, there was something in the way they looked at each other that was ... special. But suddenly an idea crossed his mind. It had been before boarding the train from Hogwarts to London. A fellow fifth year student of Ginny's, Kate, had bumped into Harry on the platform and looked at him deeply. "I had no idea you had such a killer look inside you," she had remarked and smiled enigmatically before climbing into a compartment. Harry had not understood what she meant, but he could make a shrewd guess now.
"You wouldn't happen to have one of these in your dorm?"
Ginny blushed as only Weasleys could. "I'll kill Kate. I told her to keep her mouth shut, but she had to try her luck with you, of course."
"Oh." He had not understood it as a pass at him. "Well, no luck for her there."
He took Ginny in his arms and made sure this was not just a hug, but an embrace. His lips fleetingly caressed her cheek and he felt like swooning the moment he touched her smooth skin.
"Thank you, Gin," he whispered in her ear as she returned the embrace. Harry could have stood like this for the rest of the night, but he was actually eager to show her his present.
"Can I give you my present now?" he murmured into her soft hair.
She looked up expectantly. "Yes!"
Hurriedly, he took her hand, nervous all of a sudden, not knowing how she would react. Would she like it or would she think it a terrible idea. At the kitchen door she stopped him.
"Where are we going, Harry?"
He looked back at her, nonplussed at first, then he smiled apologetically.
"I couldn't really wrap it, you know. It's outside." He dragged her to the back door, opened it and stepped out. The weather had been much too warm for the time of year, but now the wizard weather seer had foretold that snow was coming. It was cold and clear, Ginny immediately clasped her arms around her body, not knowing if she should giggle or grumble at Harry. He smiled at her encouragingly.
"Hold out your right arm."
"The saying is, pulling the leg, not the arm, Harry."
He beamed at her. "Trust me."
There was no arguing with this. She held her arm out, and Harry stepped behind her, just close enough that their bodies seemed to touch, which seemed more thrilling than anything else that night. His head was suddenly next to hers, almost resting on her shoulder.
"Now, you won't hear him, but don't get frightened."
Ginny wanted to turn to him, but he was standing too close for that now, and then he let out a peculiar sort of whistle.
"There he is." he whispered "Look over to the trees."
She looked into the direction he indicated, and could just make out something large and light glide towards them, and then a snowy owl landed on her arm and gave a low hoot like a greeting.
"Sweet Merlin," she squeezed out, leaning slightly against Harry. "Is this ... this cannot," she stammered. "Hedwig?"
She could hear rather than see him smiling. "No, Hedwig's up there."
As she turned she discovered Harry's owl sitting on the Burrow's roof behind them.
"Besides," he continued, "this is a male. And he needs a name."
"Well, you named Pigwidgeon, didn't you? But if you'd rather have Ron naming your owl in turn, we can ask him tomorrow."
Harry was looking a little distracted now. Didn't she like it? "Your Christmas present."
Ginny looked torn in two, and drew a deep shuddering breath. "Ok. A name." Carefully she lifted her hand to stroke the soft white feathers and a happy smile lit up her face.
"He has a regal air about him, hasn't he? He should have a king's name then - but not a long one. What about Henry?"
"Seems fine with me."
So Ginny looked at her new owl. "Would you like 'Henry'?"
Henry hooted proudly and nibbled her finger.
"It's Henry then. Now, what do I do with you? Would you like to come inside or would you like to go hunting with Hedwig?"
Henry flapped his wings, and when Ginny raised her arm he took off to join Hedwig on the roof.
"Don't do anything I wouldn't do," Ginny admonished him, sounding like her mother, before she went back inside, followed by a slightly confused Harry, who had no idea if she liked his present at all. It was only in the living room that Ginny's brain began to function properly again.
"Harry?" On turning around she saw he was puzzled. "Have you just given me an owl for Christmas?"
He cast her a timid look. "Yeah?"
Suddenly, she hurled herself at him. As he did not expect anything of the kind, she knocked him clean over and they landed on the couch, Ginny on top of Harry, her arms tightly round his neck.
"Oh my..." she whispered into his neck. "I don't believe it. I don't believe it. That's the most beautiful present I've ever had."
She jumped up again, stormed out, and Harry could hear the backdoor. In a flash Ginny was back and jumped on him again.
"I just had to go and check." Her lips touched his ear as she spoke, and he trembled. "Oh, he's splendid. Thank you so much." She pressed herself against him with all her might, and she felt how Harry's hands moved to the small of her back, firmly encircling her slender waist, and she drew back enough to stare into his green eyes. It was like the moment their picture had been taken - seeing their own feelings reflected in the other's eyes. One of his hands was at her shoulder now, exerting a light, but inviting pressure, and she moved closer again. Her lips were slightly parted, under her right hand that lay on Harry's chest she felt his heart beating wildly, and he slightly tilted his head upwards to meet her, his warm breath mingled with hers....
"They must be here, somewhere..." came Ron's voice from the staircase, and they jumped apart.
"There you are." Ron was dragging a reluctant Hermione with him.
"What do you want?" asked Harry.
"Hey, no reason to be uncivil." Ron grinned. "We've just been discussing the fact that we still don't know what you gave each other for Christmas. And then we thought it was funny that neither of you were in your beds at this time. We were simply concerned that there was something wrong, you know?"
Meanwhile Hermione had assessed the situation: the slightly dishevelled appearance of Harry and Ginny, the blush on their faces, Harry's irritation and the livid rage in Ginny's eyes, and she made wild gestures behind Ron's back to distance herself from his attempts at teasing. Harry and Ginny looked at her, at each other and could hardly avoid laughing all of a sudden.
"Thank you for your concern," Ginny said coldly, looking at her brother. "But I think I'll go to bed." She turned to Harry and quickly kissed his cheek. "Thank you." she whispered and left, giving Ron a look that wiped the grin from his face.
"Well?" Ron turned to Harry in a brave attempt to keep up his face. "Having a nice evening, were you?"
"She'll make you pay," Harry said with a toneless voice and started to the staircase as well. "Goodnight, Hermione."
He could hear a thumping noise behind him, and Ron's voice. „Ouch, what was that for?"
Boxing Day proved to be worse than Christmas Day for Ginny and Harry. Both of them had got up early in the hope to find an opportunity to talk to each other, but Mrs Weasley beat them to it and made them help with breakfast instead. Ron had obviously forgotten anything Hermione might have said - or he simply ignored it - so he and the twins were making it their business to tease Harry and Ginny as much as they could, especially after they found out about their respective gifts.
"Couldn't you have found a heart with wings?" they asked Ginny, who turned deep red with embarrassment and anger.
"You gave her an owl?" Ron asked incredulously. "That must be the most valuable gift you've ever given to anyone."
"I don't care what it cost," Harry explained. "Ginny's my friend."
"Yeah, just friends, that's what you are, mate." George chimed in, pointing at the frame that was standing in a prominent place on the mantelpiece. Just now it showed the picture of Harry and Ginny looking into each other's eyes. Luckily, they had somehow managed to keep the existence of two smaller copies of it a secret so far. Ginny, nevertheless, looked close to tears at that point and left the room, followed by Hermione, who meant well, however, she precluded Harry from going in her place.
The next days were not better. Christmas was followed by a weekend this year so everybody had decided to take off the twenty ninth and thirtieth and have a full Weasley family week. For Harry and Ginny that meant that they had no chance for privacy at all. Ron and the twins seemed to make a sport of watching them and dramatically stumbling over them whenever they managed to get a moment together. In the summer the garden and forest around the Burrow would have offered some means of escape, but the weather had changed after all - not just to snow fall, but to a full fledged blizzard. Leaving the house was out of the question; wind and ice were howling around the Weasley's home and large snow drifts blocked the doors. In an attempt not to lose his temper Harry took to shrugging off the constant intrusions and insisted that talking to Ginny on her own was his privilege as a friend. Ginny, however, did not cope too easily. She seemed increasingly worried, and in the end, Harry almost had a feeling that she avoided him.
On the night before New Year's Eve, Harry hardly slept at all. The situation was tearing on his nerves. Here he was, having fully realised that he was in love with Ginny Weasley, supposing that she felt the same for him in spite of all pretences of being over him, and he could not even get a minute alone with her to tell her. In fact, he was so exasperated with the whole situation that he did not feel one bit embarrassed about telling her in the first place. He knew it was simply a necessity to do so. Finding the opportunity was the difficult part. It was only early in the morning when the wind outside fell and things were unusually quiet for the first time in a week that he was overwhelmed by sleep.
When New Year's Eve dawned, the blizzard had lost its force and only occasional snow flakes were still falling from a leaden sky. Harry slept in and when he entered the kitchen much later than he would usually have done he found the twins, Ron and Hermione there.
"Where's Ginny?" he asked automatically.
"Ginny's in a bit of strange mood this morning," answered Ron. "She went outside with Henry and Hedwig at least an hour ago ... Aren't you having breakfast?"
Harry had not even bothered to sit down, but had simply stuffed a piece of toast into his mouth.
"No. And if any of you think about following me, you'd better not."
When he had left the kitchen and was groping for his cloak he heard Hermione's voice behind him: "Sit down!" When he returned to go out by the back door he could see Hermione with a determined face, while the twins were wearing identical expressions of shock.
In the deep snow Harry had no difficulties finding Ginny's trail. It led him out of reach from the Burrow through a patch of forest and to a place that overlooked a small river. Here was Ginny staring out over the deeply snow-covered landscape with Henry and Hedwig perching in a tree to her right.
When she heard him fighting his way through the thick snow she turned round and gave him a faint smile.
"I was beginning to be afraid you wouldn't come."
"I didn't get any sleep before the storm was over and only woke up just now."
"Are they on your heels, yet?"
"Don't think so. I told them not to, and Hermione seems to have backed me up."
He took a step closer, but Ginny held up her hand.
"What do you see in me? A friend?"
He made a helpless gesture. "Of course I do."
Her face fell, her gaze dropped to the ground.
"Ginny, what is it?"
She seemed lost for words. "I...Harry, don't you...." She hid her face in her hands, then looked at him with her amber coloured eyes that were warm in spite of the cold snow around them.
"You know, I had a crush on you since I first saw you, don't you?" He nodded. "You didn't notice me, though. I was only Ron's little sister for you. When I saw you in the Chamber it was like a gift from heaven: I had been saved, and above all, you had come for me. But when you told what had happened in McGonagall's office it became clear to me that you didn't go down there for me, but because it was just what you had to do. Still, it was only in my third year that I managed to give up my hopes on you, and be independent - somewhat at least. But this is not true anymore." Her tone betrayed anguish now. "We have grown so close since last summer, closer than I had ever imagined, and being your friend means so much to me ...." Ginny's voice died down to a whisper and tears glistened in her eyes. "But sometimes, being friends ...is just...not enough."
Harry's mind was racing. He had known or guessed much of this, but he had never understood how very painful it must have been for Ginny, and that he had no monopoly on premature sorrow. Most of all her strange stress on the word 'friend' had irritated him. He knew now that whatever he would say, he must leave no space for misinterpretation. In an instant he had closed the space between them, taking her left hand and firmly encircling her waist with his other arm. She was much stronger than one would expect in a person of her size, but Harry would not let go.
"Gin," he urged. "Hear me out, don't judge me before I'm through."
She stopped struggling and nodded.
"Good," he sighed. "Now, you were right. I had to go into the Chamber regardless of who was down there, that's what Hermione calls my people-saving-thing. And I had not much interest in you beyond the fact that you were Ron's sister, which got only slightly better, and I'd rather not elaborate on last year's disaster." He gave her an ironic smile, and she almost giggled into his chest, but he turned serious again at once. "I was the most terrible prat Hogwarts has ever sheltered in his walls, and you ..." He chuckled. "You've prevented me from breaking my own record. You've been the best friend I could've wished for." Her eyes darkened and she looked away from him, but he let go of her hand and cupped her face with his right, making her look at him again. "I'm not finished, yet."
The determination in his eyes became hypnotic, and she just had to return his gaze. "I'm very lucky to have your friendship, because I know you don't give it lightly, and I don't want to lose it, but ...." She noticed that wrinkles appeared on his forehead, partly hidden by that adorable black messy hair he had. "Something's changed ...I don't think it was during that photo session with Colin, it just made me realise...that...that you are the most important person in my life, and that sometimes ... being friends is just not enough."
Ginny was very much aware of his hands now, one on the small of her back the other one on her face. Her thick winter clothes were too warm suddenly, her stomach seemed light, and Harry's green eyes came ever nearer, his hot breath caressed her lips, his mouth touched hers, carefully, stronger. Her eyes closed and she gave up any control she had, she wound her arms round his neck, holding on for dear life, and Harry's legs gave way the same instant, and so they sank to their knees, locked in their first kiss.
When it ended, Harry knew he had a silly smile on his face that just would not go away, but he did not care, because she smiled back at him, and he had never seen anything as beautiful.
Ginny could not control her face, she felt the corners of her mouth drawn up in a ridiculous manner, but Harry did not seem to mind, because he smiled at her in a way that let her beg for more. It did not take much begging.
"There's one thing you haven't explained yet."
"I was probably too intent on kissing you." He smiled and it took her breath away, so she just had to reward him with more kisses.
"What did you want to know?" he asked finally.
"Every time you insisted you were my friend in front of those gits that pretend to be my brothers, I wanted to cry out that it was...well, you know...not enough." She hit him in the chest. "Why the hell did you do that to me?"
His eyes showed nothing but bewilderment. "I'd no idea, I just wanted to make clear that what we do is a matter between you and me only, you know...that we don't need anybody to step in."
"Is that a promise, Potter?" She was very serious all of a sudden.
"What do you mean?"
"Exactly what you said. Much of our lives has been determined from without, there were so many things we just didn't want, but had no chance to get out of, but this ... is all ours, just you and me, nobody else." She pressed her body to his and whispered in his ear. "We'll decide what we do and when we do it."
Her resolve could have been frightening, but Harry felt just thrilled. She was so very alive, so beautiful and so close. This was his chance for something in his own control...together with Ginny.
"You're my dream of a woman," he whispered back and threw her into the snow trying to prove his words, kissing every inch of her face, and she clung to him, as if she would never let go again. Panting they realised that they were lying in two feet deep snow that was creeping into every opening of their clothing, and Harry got up to draw Ginny to her feet. She beamed at him.
"You want to go back?"
"No, but we'll be very cold soon, I haven't had any breakfast and we'll have to face the music sooner or later - so it might as well be now. Is that ok with you?"
She took his hand. "As long as you're with me ...."
"Try to get rid of me!"
She shook her red hair and laughed. "No way!"
Teasing and kissing, they made their way back to the Burrow. Letting themselves in by the backdoor they found the kitchen deserted. They took their cloaks to the hall and went into the living room, where they found the whole family. All faces turned towards them.
"Harry," Ron said, and his tone was not teasing. "You're holding hands with my little sister."
"Obviously," he confirmed.
Fred stood up. "Care to explain?"
"There's nothing to explain," Ginny said calmly. "We're holding hands because we're in love."
"Love?" repeated Mrs. Weasley. "Aren't you just a tad too young?"
Harry stepped behind Ginny, wound his arms around her waist, and she entwined her fingers with his.
"Yes, we're too young. Too young to be possessed by Voldemort." She was rewarded by a collective flinch. "Or to lose those we love." Harry burrowed his face in Ginny's red locks and she reached up to wind her fingers into his hair. "We're far too young for a war, but we haven't been asked, have we? But we've decided that there's something nobody has a right to control. Will you deny us this happiness in all this mess?"
Nobody answered. Hermione smiled at them, and Mrs Weasley, for once, recognised a power of will greater than her own.
"Good," Ginny stated. "We're off to the kitchen, then. We're starving."
(A/N: My first published fic, I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks to my beta Jenadamson for her patience. If there any mistakes left, flame me.)