Harry Potter, captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, was looking out over the Quidditch pitch at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Why isn't everything as easy as Quidditch, he thought. This morning, the headmaster had announced that there would be a Valentine's Ball this year. This had produced a characteristic effect on the students, depending on whether they were male or female.
The girls found the idea brilliant, and by now - late afternoon - were in advanced states of planning: partner, dress, make-up (here in random order). The boys were aggravated. Those who had a girl friend were worried about dancing, those who did not, were even worse off.
Harry belonged to the latter group, in spite of the fact that there were more girls than not who would have gladly accepted his invitation. However, Harry had no idea he was so popular and he knew there was only one girl he would like to go with. The only problem was that he did not know how to ask her and if she would say yes.
Ron Weasley entered the common room of Gryffindor tower to find Hermione Granger, the second of his best friends, sitting over a pile of books. No surprise here, he thought. As he watched her, a piece of parchment slipped from the table, and Ron went over to pick it up.
"Hey, Hermione, you've just dropped this."
She smiled brightly at him. "Thank you, Ron. How was practice?"
Ron had difficulties concentrating, although he usually was not at a loss to talk about Quidditch, but something about that smile was unsettling.
"Hey, Harry. Aren't you coming?"
Ginny Weasley, new star chaser on the team, good friend, best mate's lit..., no, younger sister, amazingly clever, very powerful, incredibly gorgeous, extraordinarily sweet, most wonderful, red-headed witch on the face of the earth.
"Thought you'd gone with the others."
"Nope. Couldn't drag myself out of the hot shower. My captain insisted on training in spite of north pole temperatures. Katie says you're worse than Wood."
Harry grinned. "You don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about. I've never advised anybody to get the Snitch or die trying."
Ginny grinned back at him. "But you fly like that, anyway."
"That good or that desperate?"
"Depends. What are you doing here, anyway? Aren't you cold?" She shuddered.
Ginny hugged herself. "Can't you do that in spring? It's bloody icy."
Harry shook his head. "Why aren't you wearing one of your mum's sweaters?" An idea formed itself at the back of his mind. "Want to borrow mine?"
She looked at him with a little uncertainty, so he pulled off his warm sweater, a Christmas gift, and offered it to her. She took it with a grateful smile and slipped it over her head. It was green like Harry's eyes and featured a large "H" on the chest. It went quite well with Ginny's long red hair. She linked her arm with his and dragged him towards the castle.
"Now, come along. The team hates you, but they'll still kill me if you catch cold because of me."
They quick-marched up to the castle and continued to Gryffindor tower at a more leisurely pace, all the way chatting about Quidditch and their prospects for the championship. On arriving at the common room they found Ron and Hermione seated near the fireplace. Ginny went over and curled up on a sofa, as near to the warming fire as possible.
"Where've you been?" asked Hermione. "Everybody else came in at least twenty minutes ago."
"Harry," said Ron in an unearthly voice, "why is my sister wearing your sweater?"
"Because," Harry rounded on him, while dropping on the couch next to Ginny, "she was cold and you were not there to act as protectively as you sound!"
That was enough to shut Ron up for the moment, but not enough to check the smile that sprang to life in Hermione's eyes. Harry felt slightly irritated by it. However, his irritation stood no comparison to Ron's, when they went down to dinner later on, and Ginny was still wearing the Harry's sweater.
"Still cold, Gin?" Ron asked suspiciously.
"No," she said, "I'm fine."
"You're cold, Ginny?" a Ravenclaw fifth year eagerly threw in from the next table. "Need somebody to warm you?"
She beamed at him, rubbing the arms of the sweater. "No, thanks, I already have."
Seeing Ron's glare, the Ravenclaw decided not to press the issue. But Hermione noticed with interest that Harry was staring a hole into the other boy's head. He had had a funny sensation on his arms, where Ginny's hands had touched his sweater. Could this be the way it felt to be caressed by her?
"Hermione," Ron's voice invaded his thoughts, "you've dropped your napkin."
"Oh, thanks." Hermione was smiling, but Harry thought the look she gave Ron was ... somewhat surprising.
The mystery of Ginny, Ginny and the sweater or even how a caress from her would feel like, in short, total agitation, continued to haunt Harry for the days to come, because she showed no intention of giving the sweater back. During classes she had to wear her school robes, but even then Harry thought he had caught a glimpse of something green in her school bag once or twice, and as soon as lessons were over, she would change into something more casual that would involve his sweater. It looked good on her, too. She wore it with jeans or as a short dress with a belt and tights; both outfits were equally becoming. Harry liked to see her wearing it, his problems were of a different nature.
First of all there was Ron, who did not take his sister's interest in his best friend's wardrobe too well. His suspicious eyes followed Harry and Ginny whenever they came across each other. His second problem was Ginny herself. He knew she had given up on him, but why was she wearing his sweater all the time and making him nervous? He had decided to go to the ball - with her or not at all. Which lead to his third and fourth problem: How to ask her out without being royally embarrassed in front of the whole school and/or losing her friendship, and: the rest of Hogwarts' female population who seemed determined to hunt him down. He had stopped counting after the tenth girl had asked him, if he already knew whom to take to the ball. He had fallen for this approach only twice. The first question would unavoidably be followed by a second one that was really more of an offer than a question.
Overhearing a quickly mumbled conversation between Ginny and Hermione was not making things easier. Hermione had asked, "How's it going?" and Ginny had answered, "He's ripe. And you?" Hermione had only rolled her eyes in despair and had muttered something indistinct with "dropping". Who was 'he'? Harry was on the edge of insanity. In his despair he retreated to the most unlikely place: the depths of the huge library, hiding behind a high pile of books. But sometimes your problems will find you wherever you go ....
Ron was sitting in the common room, trying to concentrate on an especially vicious essay, but was distracted by Hermione time and again. Usually, she was a concentrated worker, but tonight she seemed to be dropping everything that was not quick enough to jump from the table itself. Ron had picked up her spare quill at least twice, he had saved her ink just before she could send it over the table's edge, he had dived under several seats and tables for parchments, and now, he saw, her Potions book was dangerously close to losing its balance.
He jumped up. "I'm tired. Good night, Hermione."
He never saw the glare she sent after him, or how she sighed and secured her Potions book, neatly aligning it to the table's edge with her usual attentiveness.
"There you are."
Ginny Weasley, wearing his sweater, looked a bit put out, but was still the most enchanting girl he could possibly imagine.
"What are you doing? It's almost curfew."
He looked at her helplessly. "Working?"
She picked up his parchment which had only ten lines or so written on it.
"Not very successful, were you? - What have you been doing?"
He just had to smile, the situation was simply too funny. He had been thinking about her all the time, of course. Luckily, she smiled back at him.
"Are you coming to the tower?"
He nodded. "Just let me clear up this mess."
She moved to help him the way friends do, and he could not avoid looking at her. How she would tuck a strand of unruly fiery hair behind her ear, while taking a look at the back of a book with her golden eyes and deciding where to put it. Ginny was immensely cute, whatever she was doing, but when she bit her lower lip like this she was just irresistible. She had to notice his staring right away, of course. When she smiled smugly at him, he was grateful that there were so many shadows in the library, hoping that she would not be able to discern the colour of his face. When they left, he had not overcome his embarrassment yet and was hoping to find a safe topic for conversation, but when he opened the door for her, she accidentally brushed his hand with hers, which cleared his mind of all safe topics, and he blurted out: "So, still happy with my sweater?"
Her look was questioning as she said, "Partly."
"Not warm enough?"
"Oh, it's warm all right, but that's not the only reason for wearing it."
Ok, he thought, here we go. "Which other reason is there?"
She looked at him as if he had said something not too intelligent. "The Ball."
He did not understand, so he tried to joke. "It's a good sweater, but I don't think it'd be the proper outfit."
She smacked his arm. "I won't wear it for the Ball, but I'm wearing it before the Ball." When he stared at her helplessly, she rolled her eyes at him. "Honestly, Harry. Is it so hard to understand? I'm wearing the sweater of a guy, who is well-known for being close with me. It effectively scares away most of the uninvited cavaliers who'd ask me for the Ball."
This gave Harry something to think about. He rated his knowledge of girls as underdeveloped. There were a few boys who were even more stupid than himself, of course - Ron, for instance. But, if Harry had noticed that Ginny was the most wonderful person in the world, it was quite likely that others had done so as well, and he would not be surprised to hear that quite a lot of guys tried to make a pass at her. Ginny, however, had given the whole school a hint that there was no use asking her in the first place. A hint? Had there been an emphasis on "uninvited" just now? He knew he would never go to the ball if Ginny went with somebody else. Their relationship had changed over the year, because ever since she had given up her crush on him, they had been growing closer. Even in his screwed up fifth year in Hogwarts she would have made it on the list of persons who were most important to Harry Potter. After Sirius' death it had been her loyalty, understanding and patience more than anything else that had saved him from making a total prat out of himself again. And now she was irreplaceable.
"Mr. Potter! Miss Weasley! It is after curfew. What are you doing out here?"
Harry's musings had brought them almost to the portrait of the Fat Lady, when they ran into Professor McGonagall.
Harry snapped out of his reverie. "Sorry, Professor. Ginny got me out of the library. I had forgot the time, and we're on the way to the common room."
Unconsciously, Harry had straightened and taken half a step forward as if trying to protect Ginny from whatever was coming now. Ginny had noticed, though, and so had Professor McGonagall. She felt reminded of another black-haired boy she had caught with a red-headed girl some twenty years ago, and Harry was ready to swear afterwards that he had seen the Head of Gryffindor house almost smile benignly.
"Off you go then," she said. "And no detours."
The second she had hesitated had given Harry all the time he had needed to finish his calculations. Ginny had been dropping hints.
Wait a minute! What did Ron say this morning? Hermione had developed a disposition to dropping things when he was there. - Oh!
The question that remained was if Ginny had also given hints as to which boy should ask her to the ball. It would be quite like her to do what Harry had been hesitating to do. So, there was only one thing he could do. He grabbed Ginny's hand and dragged her off to the common room.
"Harry," she laughed, "McGonagall said 'go', not 'run'."
But he only smiled at her and drew her onto a sofa near the fireplace. The room was almost empty. It was the middle of the week and most people had gone to bed early. Of the remaining few no one was near enough to overhear their conversation.
"Gin," he said without letting go of her hand, "I need your help."
She looked at him expectantly.
"It's because of the Ball. What kind of garment could a boy borrow from a girl to give her a hint that he fancies her and to scare other girls off at the same time?"
Clearly, Ginny had not been expecting this, but she seemed willing to give it some thought anyway.
"Difficult," she proclaimed. "In most cases the girl would be smaller than the boy, which rules out most garments as long as you don't intend on asking that Parkinson cow." Harry's face showed nothing but horror, so she continued, "Good, I was hoping you wouldn't. Still, the female anatomy is slightly different, so there is something boys could wear." She seemed to blush for a moment, but fought the colour back and giggled instead. "I've heard, some people consider it a turn on, but I just cannot imagine you wearing a girl's knickers. Also, nobody else would know, except your dorm mates, and they might find it a bit ... kinky?" She could hardly contain her laughter, and Harry could not blame her.
"Let's rule knickers out."
"Ok. Then there are accessories. Cho Chang wears these neon coloured plastic rings. So you could ask her for one of those. Most girls would notice that."
"Good idea!" Was there a shade of disappointment on her face? She tugged on her hand, but he would not let go. "But I won't ask Cho." Was she relieved? She had stopped pulling at least.
"Then you could do it the traditional way. The knights in shining armour used to ask the lady of their favour for a scarf to wear in battle."
"Like one of these?" Ginny wore a scarf round her neck. It was the same creamy colour as her skin.
She nodded and nervously wetted her lips. "There's one other solution I could think of."
"To simply get it over with and ask her."
He grinned at her. "Now, that's a kind of bohemian idea."
She smiled at him, but he could see the insecurity behind it. Her fingers twitched a little, and a cloud of Hippogriffs were rising in his stomach.
Ginny had become increasingly tense, while Harry seemed to enjoy her attempts at finding a girl for him. But now he raked his free hand through his hair, which he would always do when nervous and make it stand on end even more. She adored him for it, and all she could do was sit there and not jump on him.
"Ginny, I know you're supposed to have given up on me, but I don't want to believe that. If you give me up, I'll be truly lost. Nobody's as important to me as you are, and I will not go to the ball, if you don't want to go with me."
She had closed her eyes, but now she opened them, locking with his. He could see fires dancing there.
"What are you asking me, Harry?" she whispered.
"Will you go to the ball with me, Ginny?"
"Yes, I will."
Now or never. His free hand reached for her, his fingers trailed along the side of her face. "And will you be my girlfriend?"
"Yes, I will."
He was not quite sure she had said yes because his blood had been pounding in his ears.
"And may I kiss you?"
And now, finally, she smiled and leaned closer to him. Her lips brushed his. He saw it happen as if he was standing outside himself and could feel it happen at the same time. Her lips were wondrously soft and warm, matching his own. She tasted sweet and all of a sudden he just had to get closer, dropping her hand, he drew her towards him, and she wound her arms round his neck, ran her hands through his hair. The gap between them had closed, and they were lost ...
When Ron Weasley awoke the next morning he found that Harry, who must have returned to the dormitory late in the night, had left his bed already. When he walked down into the common room there was only Hermione waiting for him. She had not seen Harry, either. When they left for breakfast Hermione dropped the hair band she had been toying around with, and Ron picked it up for her. They found Harry at the Gryffindor house table in the Great Hall, sitting closely to Ginny. Ron and Hermione dropped into seats opposite the two and Ron looked sharply at his best friend.
"Harry? Why're you wearing my sister's scarf?"
Harry looked back in the most innocent way, but Hermione still thought he looked as guilty as hell.
"For the same reason I'm holding her hand under the table," Harry said casually, while Ginny smiled and rested her head against his shoulder.
Hermione was very impressed with the ease both of them displayed. Neither of them seemed the least embarrassed, in spite of the fact that the colour of Ron's face was getting dangerous.
But before he could go off, Harry grinned.
"And you better not ask what garment of hers I'm not wearing."
This threw Ginny into a fit of giggles that made the two of them move even closer.
Ron looked bewildered. "Do you know what they're talkin' about?" he asked Hermione.
"Not exactly, but I got the drift. Harry has picked up the hints Ginny has been dropping, and now they have somebody to go to the Ball with ... Which you, my friend, have not." She grabbed some toast and got up angrily.
Ron looked thoroughly put out and glared at Harry. "I'll get you for this one, Potter." But then a thought seemed to hit him, Harry and Ginny burst into laughter as they observed his face working.
He jumped up. "Hermione, wait!"
(A/N: See my profile for a disclaimer. Thanks to my beta, Jenadamson, for her patience with my erratic punctuation - and with everything else.)