Disclaimer: All things from canon belong to J.K. Rowling.
A/N: Originally written for the Muggle Picnic Challenge at SIYE. Many, many thanks to my brilliant beta, Mistral, who I know is really busy at the moment but read this in record time. :)
The sun was warm on Ginny's skin, burning red against her eyelids. Stretching her arms over her head, she arched sleepily in the grass and yawned. A shadow passed over her face, and she cracked open one eye, smiling as she recognised the mischievous grin before her.
"You look like a lazy kitten," Dean informed her, dropping carelessly to the ground at her side.
"Who are you calling lazy?" Ginny mumbled in complaint, half-heartedly swatting at him. Her body felt too lovely and sun-soaked to move. There was something about a cloudless sky that lulled away a person's troubles...or at least made them easier to forget for a time.
"Oh, no, you're the picture of activity," he teased, easily evading her hand. Raising an arm to his forehead, he gazed down at her quizzically. "You wouldn't be hiding from Hermione, by any chance?"
Ginny frowned. "Why would I be hiding from Hermione?" Then she paused. "Have I missed a test or something? Study group? S.P.E.W. campaign?"
Dean let out a crack of laughter. "Merlin, she runs a tight ship. Poor Ron."
Ginny poked him in the ribs, and tried not to smile. "So why am I hiding?"
"Lots of the muggle-born students were talking the other day, remember? About how nice the weather's been lately and the sort of things we might do back at home? Colin and Justin went to ask Dumbledore about that idea for a picnic. Well, you know what he's like. Offered them some candy and went right enthusiastic about it." Dean's eyes were lit with amusement. "And Hermione's thrilled about the whole thing. I think it appeals to her...organizing instincts."
Ginny bit back a groan. She'd seen the older witch in a fervour many times. They'd all be on some sort of committee before the night was out.
"So, we're having a Muggle picnic."
"Mm. On Saturday. Suppose Dumbledore thinks it'll be a good morale boost or something," Dean said more seriously.
A dark emotion flitted across Ginny's face. The war was wearing on everyone. Still...
"A picnic might be fun," she offered, determined to keep the fear suppressed.
Dean rolled his eyes, but didn't comment.
Intrigued, Ginny sat up and surveyed her friend's gloomy expression.
"What?" she asked, an unsympathetic giggle bubbling to her throat. He looked positively ill. "You're a muggle-born yourself. You must've been on picnics before."
"I have," he agreed dismally. "And I was scarred for life. For life!" he repeated emphatically, scowling at her.
Ginny snorted. "What, bad cooking? Unsightly sunburn? Blanket rash? Bathing trunks fell off?" Dean blanched at the words, and she broke off with a gasping laugh. "No!"
"It's not funny!" he snapped, folding both arms across his chest. But the corners of his lips tugged reluctantly.
Ginny's hand was pressed to her mouth as she desperately tried to maintain some semblance of dignity and friendship. "Oh, that's brilliant," she announced, delighted. "Ruddy embarrassing, but brilliant. Were you at least in the water?"
"No," Dean said after a pause, voice unsteady. "I was diving for a football. And my shorts didn't feel like following."
His confession sent her into fresh fits. Wiping her eyes with shaky fingers, Ginny looked around, then leaned forward to ask in scandalized tones: "Dean...there weren't any children about, were there?"
"Children. My parents. Three teachers. An old girlfriend. My old nanny ," he revealed with remembered horror.
She sighed, shaking her head and grinning. "Thanks. I needed that."
"Oh, any time," he offered sarcastically, punching her lightly on the shoulder.
"Don't take this the wrong way," she said teasingly, "but I really wish I'd been there."
"One ex-girlfriend witnessing my humiliation was quite enough, thanks," Dean retorted.
Ginny darted a glance at him as they clambered to their feet. She was forever grateful that things had ended on such good terms between them the year before. Not that there'd been much to end. But she'd gained an incredibly close friend from the whole mismatched debacle. Of course, romantically, things had been doomed from the start when certain facts...a certain person...was taken into account.
She started, turning to look at Dean. "Sorry? What?"
He was brushing grass strands from his knees. "You'll be going to the picnic with Harry," he said again, straightening to look at her.
"Oh," she faltered, bending to pick up her satchel. "I suppose...maybe..."
Dean was frowning. "You are still dating him, aren't you?"
"No. Yes. I... it's kind of complicated," Ginny murmured, disliking the awkwardness washing over her.
"I see," he said doubtfully, watching her with concerned eyes.
She bit her lip, her earlier feelings of misgiving creeping back. "I should go," she said quietly. "Herbology at three."
"I'd walk you, but I have to meet Hannah," Dean said apologetically. He'd been dating Hannah Abbott since September, the beginning of his seventh year.
"That's ok; I don't need..." Ginny began, a little defensively.
Breaking off, she turned in surprise. Harry stood there, his hands shoved in his pockets, green eyes flickering to Dean before returning to rest on her. Her heart thumped as she looked at his messy hair and slightly askew glasses. He looked tired.
"Harry..." she said, aware that her face had lit up and slightly embarrassed by the fact.
"I..." he paused, again looking at Dean, his own face unreadable. "You have Herbology...I mean...uh, well, you know that...but...I...wanted to walk with you." His cheeks had pinked. Ginny had noticed that happening a lot recently.
"Oh." She blinked. "Well...thank you."
He nodded stiffly.
"So," Dean began, watching them curiously, "I'll talk to you later, Gin. I should find Hannah."
"Yes," Harry agreed, a little strangely. "You should."
The two boys eyed each other for a brief moment, before Dean loped away, raising a casual hand in farewell to Ginny.
She waved back warily, keeping her gaze on an increasingly uncomfortable Harry. Opening her mouth, she was forced to close it again upon realizing that she had absolutely nothing to say.
For Merlin's sake! she thought desperately. This shouldn't be so bloody awkward! This is Harry! I know Harry. I lo...
Therein lay the problem. Yes, Ginny knew Harry. She loved Harry.
And she was utterly furious with herself.
She had sworn -- sworn -- that she would never again let herself down the way she had all those years ago. She had developed a crush on Harry Potter long before she'd even met him. That crush had turned into love when she was old enough to truly understand and embrace all that meant. She loved Harry; she was in love with Harry, and she wouldn't be in the least surprised if that was the way of things until she died.
But she'd also decided that she was going to remain her own person around him: that she would be a support for him, not a nuisance. She would never again subvert her personality. She was still growing in self-confidence every day; she was outspoken; she was assertive. Hell, she was bossy.
And Harry Potter could like it or lump it.
That had been the general idea.
She sighed inwardly. Things had been going so well between them for such a long time. After he'd stopped viewing her as a shorter, longer-haired shadow of Ron, they'd really become great friends, or so she'd believed.
Better than great friends. Ginny's cheeks warmed as she recalled the day he'd asked her if she wanted to watch the Ravenclaw-Slytherin match with him -- for such a terrible actor, he'd put up a convincing impression of casualness. But she'd seen the hastily averted eyes, the whiteness of his knuckles as he clutched the Firebolt in one hand. The lingering warmth of his gaze on her instead of the players.
"It's almost three," Harry said suddenly, making her jump. "We should get going."
"Oh...right," Ginny offered lamely. She hesitated, searching his eyes, before taking a deep breath and beginning to walk in the direction of the greenhouses. The sun was still bright, and the students around them seemed cheerful, calling out to one another and laughing. Ginny scarcely heard them; her attention was focused on the sound of Harry's footsteps and quiet breathing as he walked beside her.
Her boyfriend. He was her boyfriend. At least...she supposed he was. Or he had been, until she'd ruined everything by going awkward and shy on him again.
At least she hadn't picked up the dreaded blushing habit again. Thank Merlin for small mercies.
They neared the greenhouses, and Harry slowed.
"I suppose I'll see you in the Great Hall later," he offered quietly, his look on her both speculative and intense.
"What are you doing now?" she blurted out - not wanting him to leave, despite the embarrassment of her prolonged silence.
"I have to meet Dumbledore," he said absently, still scrutinizing her face. She shifted rather self-consciously, and he suddenly smiled wryly. "I suppose you've heard Hermione's jumped on the organising bandwagon for this Muggle picnic."
Glee sprang unbidden to Ginny's eyes. "I had heard, yes. Have you been put on a committee yet?"
Harry raised a hand. "Deputy in charge of food preparation, at your service."
She giggled, partly from the relief of this renewed connection with him, partly from genuine amusement. "I take it I should stay out of her way for awhile, then?"
He shook his head in mock-regret. "Too late. She already wrote you down for 'Help with Organisation of Wholesome Outdoor Activities', I think it was."
Ginny snorted with laughter. "Wholesome?"
Harry grinned. "Yeah, she originally had an open forum for ideas on that one. Don't think she was too impressed with some of Seamus' suggestions, though."
Shaking her head, Ginny sighed mournfully. "How do I keep missing these things?" She quirked a mischievous brow at him. "So, should I ask Dobby to sneak some sandwiches for me?"
He cocked his head, regarding her with suspicion. "Why?"
"Well, if you're in charge of the food..." she began, giggling again as he gently swiped at her.
"I'll have you know that I'm an excellent cook, Miss Weasley," he retorted, his smile both long-suffering and affectionate. "Besides," he added ruefully, "I'm only the Deputy, as I've been told several times today already."
"Why, who's in charge?"
"Your brother," Harry answered, watching her slyly.
"Ron?" she asked blankly. " Ron's in charge of the food?" She winced in preparation for a blow. "He's not...actually cooking himself, is he?"
Harry snorted. "Oh, yes. Nobody else is going to be allowed near that grill. He's even made himself a hat."
"Dear Merlin," Ginny muttered. "Definitely going to need those sandwiches."
Colin rushed past them at that moment, arms trailing a large pile of papers and what appeared to be a sack. "For the wholesome sack races," he explained in answer to their quizzical glances. "You coming, Gin? We're going to be late."
"Be there in a minute," she assured his departing back. She looked at Harry. "Good luck with Dumbledore."
"Thanks...listen, I'll meet you outside at eleven o'clock on Saturday, is that okay?"
"What for?" she asked without thinking.
Harry faltered, his face colouring once more. "Oh. I just...assumed we would be...going to the picnic together...sorry...look, it's all right if you don't..."
"No!" Ginny assured him hastily, reaching out an arm then slowly withdrawing it. "No, I want to. Of course I want to."
"Oh, well...well, good. Great." Harry offered her a brief smile -- his eyes fixed, for some reason, on her lowered hand. "I'll see you tonight."
"Tonight," she agreed.
"See you later, Harry."
And, once again, it was awkward.
* * * * *
At half past ten on Saturday morning, Ginny approached a frazzled-looking Hermione in the common room, parchment in hand.
"Morning, 'Mione," she said, around a mouthful of toast. She'd filched some extra breakfast earlier, figuring it was best to fill up now if Ron was providing lunch. "Here's the final list of activities for today. Don't know what half of them are, actually, but Seamus seemed disappointed by everything, so I'm assuming they're safe."
Smoothing a wayward strand of hair back, Hermione took the list and cast a preoccupied glance over it.
"Uh huh...um hmm," she murmured to herself. Then she nodded briskly. "Yes, this looks fine. Thank you, Ginny."
Ginny smiled and tried to edge away before she could be allocated a whole new set of duties.
"Listen," Hermione said suddenly, looking a little nervous and quite unsure.
Ginny frowned. It was a most un-Hermione-like appearance.
"What's the matter?" she asked, concerned.
The other witch chewed on her lip and took a searching look around the near-empty room. Most of the Gryffindors were already out enjoying the sunshine.
"I know this isn't any of my business...really...but...can I talk to you for a moment? Please?" She already had Ginny by the sleeve, and was tugging her towards the chairs by the empty fire grate.
"Uh...yes," Ginny agreed, a little perplexed. The older girl had a distinctly gossipy air about her - and if there was one thing Hermione Granger wasn't, it was a gossip.
Ginny dropped down into the seat opposite her friend and raised both eyebrows. "Is everything okay?"
Hermione looked down at the quill she carried, watching her fingers as they turned it over and over. Then, she seemed to gather her courage. "No, it isn't. Is it?" Her gaze was piercing on Ginny. "Between you and Harry? It's not all right."
A tide of colour rushed to Ginny's cheeks, but departed just as swiftly. She hadn't been expecting that.
"No, I'm sorry," Hermione interrupted quickly. "I'm sorry...I wasn't even going to bring this up, but you've both looked so miserable lately and you were doing so well! Harry was doing so well. He seemed so happy, and I was so glad for you both, but then something happened -- I don't know what -- and you stopped touching him, and then..." She halted her stream of babbling, taking a deep breath.
Ginny grabbed the opportunity to cut in. "I stopped...touching him? What..."
But she knew what. She just hadn't realised anyone else had noticed.
How perfectly mortifying.
Hermione was a bright, Weasley crimson. "Oh, dear," she said fretfully. "I knew this was going to come out wrong. Ron told me not to say anything."
"Ron knows? Ron's noticed that I haven't been..." Ginny spluttered.
"Oh, no," Hermione waved her hands vigorously in the air. "Of course not. But he has noticed that things have changed between the two of you. He just thought it was better if we stayed out of it...which was very unlike Ron, really." She looked thoughtful then shook her head. "Anyway, I don't mean to interfere, Ginny, honestly I don't. Well, perhaps I do, but..."
"Hermione!" Ginny broke in. She wasn't sure whether she wanted to laugh or cry. "What did you want to say?"
There was a moment of silence before her friend asked, in a much quieter voice, "What happened, Ginny? Not so long ago, you seemed so happy...so comfortable with Harry. You actually had him laughing, and it's been the longest time... You were so affectionate with him, and it was exactly what he needed most, I think. And now..."
"It wasn't what he wanted." The words blurted out before Ginny could hold them back. "He didn't like me touching him, Hermione. He always got so awkward...and he never tried to initiate anything. He never held my hand, or kissed me, or..." Her voice trailed away, and she flushed painfully. "I just...I never feel like he wants me near him in that way. I've wanted to be close to him for so long now, but he's such a lovely friend, too...and maybe it was a mistake to take things further than that."
"No." Hermione's voice was firm. "No, it wasn't a mistake. I've never, ever seen Harry as happy as he was those first few months you were dating."
Too embarrassed to look up now, Ginny made a noise somewhere between doubt and misery.
"Ginny..." Warm fingers reached out and gripped her own. "You just...you have to understand. You're connected to Harry in so many ways that Ron and I will never be a part of. But there's a lot about his life that you don't know...probably a lot that none of us know. This is all so new for him. I mean, yes, we're all aware that he's clueless about girls." Ginny snorted and Hermione smiled. "But a real relationship is a whole new territory, and he's floundering. For someone who grew up completely without affection or acceptance to suddenly be in an environment where he's offered both unconditionally, well..." She sighed. "He has no idea what to do. Even the idea that someone might want to touch him with...with love has to be completely alien to him. And the thought of reciprocating, of risking rejection like that...Ginny, he's probably terrified."
Ginny smoothed the fabric of her cotton skirt repeatedly. Meeting Hermione's sympathetic gaze, she bit her lip and asked, "Did he talk to you about this?"
"Harry talk about his feelings?" The other witch rolled her eyes. "No. But he did ask if I knew why you've been avoiding him. He's completely confused, Gin. Nags Ron and me at least three times a day to tell him if he's been a prat somehow. And the fact that you have a lot of close male friends doesn't help." She grinned a little wickedly. "You know Harry's the jealous type."
"He's jealous?" Ginny asked blankly. "Of who?" Then she thought back to the other day, before Herbology. "Not of Dean?" she realised, aghast.
Hermione gathered her papers together. "Dean," she confirmed. "Neville, Colin, Seamus. Justin."
"But...they're my friends, 'Mione," Ginny said emphatically. "Nothing more."
"I know that," Hermione replied quietly. "And Harry probably used to know that, too. But I doubt if he knows quite what to think anymore. Look," she said, getting to her feet and offering Ginny a supportive smile. "I should go and make certain Ron hasn't set fire to anything yet. But think about what I've said. Please?"
Ginny sighed and leaned back into the armchair. She shook her head in contemplation, but the other girl obviously mistook it for a refusal.
"Think about it," she repeated, rather bossily.
Ginny couldn't help smiling. There was the Hermione she knew.
They were in for a long day.
* * * * *
She stepped out into the sunshine and paused for a moment, enjoying the feel of it against her face. Hopefully, such lovely weather in April was a sign of unexpected, good things to come this year. Shielding her eyes against the light, she saw Harry leaning against a moss-draped wall, waiting for her as promised. He was wearing a t-shirt over swimming shorts and looking down towards the lake, where she could already hear splashing and happy shrieks. Happiness bubbled in her stomach, and she smiled, enjoying the guilty pleasure of observing him unnoticed.
He turned then, however, as if feeling the weight of her gaze. His body went perfectly still as he looked at her silently. Light sparked in his eyes, red tinged his cheeks, and Ginny fought the urge to fidget. And blush. It wasn't as if she were standing there starkers, after all. Her cotton top and skirt were perfectly decent.
And perfectly see-through in the sun, she was to figure out later.
Harry pushed away from the wall and came towards her.
"Morning, Ginny," he said, smiling at her. "Get everything on Hermione's list done?"
"Yes." She grinned ruefully, rolling her eyes. "You?"
"All the food is packed on ice and waiting for Ron to ruin it."
Ginny lifted a small bag and waved it at him. "Sandwiches for two, with Dobby's compliments. He said to say hello to his Harry Potter. And remind you that you're a terrible swimmer and shouldn't stay in the lake too long."
Harry looked affronted. "He did not! Did he?"
She smirked at him. "No, actually, he didn't. I'm saying that."
"I am not a terrible swimmer!" he protested, taking the bag from her.
"Harry," Ginny said, looking up at him calmly. "Extremely dire situations aside, you aren't exactly a natural in the water."
Then, with Hermione's words in her ears...and just because he looked so cute when he was aggrieved, she arched up and kissed him on one lean cheek.
Harry immediately turned bright red and looked torn between extreme pleasure and embarrassment. His mouth opened and closed a few times.
"Actually," Ginny said, regarding him thoughtfully, unable to resist. "I take it back. Very fish-like."
He glared at her with smiling eyes. "Comments like that will result in a sound whipping on the Quidditch field."
"In your dreams, Potter," she scoffed.
He laughed, and, so naturally it might have been a normal gesture from him, he reached out and took her hand.
The breath caught in Ginny's throat and stupid, foolish tears stung the backs of her eyes. It was pathetic, really, that such a small offering of affection could do that to her. But pathetic or not, she suddenly -- for the first time in awhile -- felt hopeful.
Of course, having taken her hand, he didn't seem to know what to do with it. Ginny pushed her fingers through his and held on tight. He squeezed back slightly without looking at her.
"Well," said Ginny. She stopped and cleared her throat. "What do you want to do first? Sit? Have a look at my wholesome activities? Make fun of Ron in his hat?"
"Oh, if it's an option, I'll always go for taking the mickey out of Ron," Harry told her solemnly.
"Harry," Ginny announced. "You're definitely a Weasley."
He grinned and started forward, tugging gently on her hand.
When they reached Dumbledore's designated area for the picnic, she saw Ron right away. Actually, Ginny thought, regarding her brother with a mix of dismay and barely-suppressed hysteria, they could probably see him from Hogsmeade.
"That's, um," she began, voice shaking wildly. "That's an awfully large hat."
Harry's mouth was twitching, his eyes bright. "Yes, it is," he agreed unsteadily.
Ron, a cheerful beam stuck on his face, appeared to be in his element. Wrapped in a sauce-splattered apron, he was fiddling enthusiastically with knobs on the barbeque grill. Ginny hoped he knew what he was doing, although she doubted it. The choice of headgear tended to take away any confidence in his abilities.
"That's a chef's hat, right?" she asked Harry tentatively.
"Right. Well...sort of," he amended, sounding enormously amused.
"Why...um..." She desperately fought down the laughter. "Why is it pink?"
"That was the only paper Professor McGonagall would let him have." Harry snickered. "Although I'm pretty certain she wasn't acting out of concern for the school's stationery supplies."
He nodded towards a section of the grass, where several teachers had set themselves up under beach umbrellas. There seemed to be a lot of chuckling and furtive glances in Ron's direction.
The amateur chef fortunately remained oblivious.
"Nice hat," Ginny called out as they approached.
He looked up and grinned at the sight of them, nudging the pink monstrosity to a jaunty angle, in a gesture very reminiscent of Fred and George.
"Hey," he began happily, before his gaze dropped to Harry's chest and the smile fell off his face. "Oi, Potter," he said severely. "Where's the deputy's badge I made you?"
"Er," said Harry, wincing.
Hoping she looked sufficiently concerned, Ginny nodded seriously. "Oh, it's all right. He just took it off so it doesn't get damaged. You know - if we want to swim or something."
"Oh, right." Ron nodded back. "Good thinking. Well, if you want to go for a swim, it'll be safe, at least. Even for a ruddy awful swimmer like you, Harry."
Harry made a noise of outrage, and Ginny snorted, nudging him playfully in the side. "Safe?" she asked Ron curiously.
He pointed wordlessly with his spatula. Ginny and Harry both turned in the direction of the lake, in time to see Hermione raise a whistle to her mouth and shout something at a hapless, happily splashing, first-year.
"What's she doing?" Ginny asked on a giggle.
Hermione was wearing a strange orange scarf around her head. It was becoming increasingly clear why she and Ron were a couple.
"Apparently, she took some kind of advanced swimming lessons this summer," he said gloomily. "Fancies herself a lifeguard."
'Phweet!' went Hermione's whistle again.
Harry watched warily as she harangued Colin out of the water, gesturing wildly.
"Uh, maybe we could go swimming later," he suggested in an undertone to Ginny.
She nodded quickly.
"Dumbledore put her in charge of water safety after she saved Eloise Midgen," Ron explained, sighing. "Like she needs to be put in charge of anything else. I'll hardly see her today as it is."
"What? Was Eloise in trouble?" Ginny asked anxiously.
Her brother snorted loudly. "Didn't look that way to me. Wouldn't be surprised if 'Mione had pushed her in to make a point, though. Mental, that one," he finished tragically.
"Ron!" Ginny protested, as Harry spluttered on a laugh.
A sudden burst of shouting alerted them to the beginning of the sack races. All three gazed at the scene speechlessly: Ginny and Ron completely befuddled by the spectacle; Harry looking extremely relieved that he wasn't participating.
"Blimey," said Ron eloquently. "It's awfully dangerous, isn't it? Merlin, Finch-Fletchley just trampled on that poor first-year! She looks mad...ouch! Bloody hell, is that allowed?"
They watched as Justin Finch-Fletchley sprinted towards the castle, tripping out of his sack, pursued by a furious little girl with a red face and clenched fists.
"It's Rosa Small, the Hufflepuff," Ginny said, through her giggles. "She's the one who kicked Snape in the shins last week."
Harry and Ron eyed the child respectfully.
"Gosh, Madam Hooch is really fast, isn't she?" Ginny said, astonished by the teacher's speed as she careened down the plain in her sack.
"Fast, and dangerous," Harry pointed out, as the flying mistress nearly threw a competitor out of her way to leap to victory.
"Heck," Ron said, taken aback. "Good thing Hermione didn't see that."
Ginny could hear her, still lecturing Colin on the dangers of trying to snog his girlfriend and attempt the backstroke at the same time.
"Merlin," Harry muttered. "Maybe we should get out of here while we still can, Ginny...Ginny?"
"Huh...what?" she asked absently, her attention on a large silk butterfly soaring overhead. Reaching out, she tugged on Harry's sleeve. "Harry, what's that?" she asked, fascinated by the beautiful thing.
He didn't answer for a moment, and she looked down expectantly. He was watching her face, a slight smile hovering on his lips, his eyes a very soft green. She stared back at him, caught by the intimate expression.
The sound of Ron coughing and groaning something that sounded like, 'Get a room,' caused them both to start.
"Er," said Harry, clearing his throat and flushing. "That's a kite. The seventh-year Muggle Studies class made a whole bunch of them this week."
A large bumblebee joined the butterfly in the sky, weaved around it, and then was pulled away by a running Ravenclaw.
Ginny, head tilted back, watched as the first kite came closer to them, temporarily casting shadow on the sun.
"Oh, hi, Luna," Harry said, and Ginny grinned at her friend. Ron just stared uncomfortably.
"Did you make that, Luna?" Ginny asked, nodding at the butterfly kite. "It's beautiful."
"Oh, no," said Luna breezily. "Theodore Nott made it. But he didn't seem interested in flying it just now."
Harry blinked. "Theodore Nott takes Muggle Studies?" he asked cautiously.
"Of course," the blonde girl said blankly. She smiled. "He's wildly unpredictable."
"I see," Harry said doubtfully, not looking as if he did at all.
"Would you like to have a go? It's very soothing," Luna explained seriously. "I'll hold that for you." Without waiting for an answer, she pushed the kite string into his hand and lifted their bag of sandwiches away. Then she turned and beamed at Ron.
"So, you're cooking, Ronald? That's wonderful. My father says it's important for society that men know how to cook."
"Uh...right," Ron answered awkwardly, keeping his gaze fixed studiously on Hermione's figure by the lake.
Harry glanced at him wickedly. "Come on, Gin, let's go over there. Wouldn't want to invade Ron's cooking space. Interfere with the master chef, and all that."
Ginny snickered at the horrified look on her brother's face. As they walked away, she could hear Luna's voice continuing in interested tones, "Are those meat sausages you're cooking? I don't eat meat. My father says..."
"That was rather cruel," she said teasingly to Harry, his fingers still warm around hers.
He darted an amused glance back at her. "Am I in trouble?"
"You're always in trouble, Harry," she returned, only half-joking. "But I'll let it go this time."
"Oh, thanks," he said dryly. A rather pensive look appeared in his eyes for a moment. Then, shaking his head, he smiled at her and held out the kite string. "Here."
Ginny reached out and took it gingerly. She was surprised by the unexpectedly firm pull. The wind was picking up. A sharp gust sent the kite dancing and the cord almost sliding out of her grasp. Harry reacted as she did, lunging forward, and she found herself pressed up against him tightly, a large hand warm on her waist.
They both stilled -- but, strangely, after a few motionless minutes, the situation stopped feeling awkward. With the butterfly kite tugging at her hand, and Harry's breath hot against her neck, his fingers stroking slightly against her stomach, Ginny felt utterly content and quietly...timeless, almost.
Of course, it was never going to last.
If there was one thing to be counted on at Hogwarts, it was that Draco Malfoy -- the slimy, slithering little git -- was extremely adept at interrupting quiet, content moments.
"Isn't that sweet?" the familiar voice drawled from Ginny's left. As usual, those tones sent icy tongues lapping at her spine. She shivered, and Harry straightened, his body stiffening.
"Shouldn't you be off saving someone, Potter? Waving a heroic sword? Making a bloody great prat of yourself?" Draco grinned nastily. "You're looking awfully...tense, there. Almost... Petrified . Of course, if you're going to date the Weaselette, you have to expect..."
He got no further. Harry, one hand pushing Ginny behind him, had his wand under the Slytherin's nose in seconds.
Draco looked down at it contemptuously. "Now, now, Potty. That's not allowed today, is it? Isn't that the point of this revolting Muggle-fest? And with the wondrous mentor Dumbledore right over there, too."
"Believe me," Harry said icily, between gritted teeth. "It'll be worth it."
Ginny sighed loudly, feeling more annoyed than anything. She'd finally been feeling like things were getting back to normal with Harry -- it was better than it'd been before, actually, now that he'd stopped jumping like a startled house-elf every time she touched him. And, of course -- of course -- Malfoy would come along to ruin it.
And she didn't particularly appreciate being shoved behind her boyfriend like some helpless storybook heroine, either.
Pushing Harry's restraining hand out of the way impatiently, she rolled her eyes at The Git.
"Malfoy," she addressed him sweetly, ignoring the curled lip and sneer of distaste. "Unless you'd like to find this very pretty kite lodged in an extremely uncomfortable place, I suggest you sod off."
Harry's body jerked with amusement. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Professor McGonagall weaving toward them, edging past a group of Gryffindors playing Horse Shoes. Harry saw her, too. Slowly lowering his wand hand, he stepped back to Ginny's side, a supportive palm resting against her hip.
"Where's the Mudblood, Potter?" Draco hissed. "And the other Muggle-lover? Pretty sad that it's come to this -- only Tom Riddle's toy to watch your back."
McGonagall on the warpath or not, Harry lunged forward again with an angry growl. Ginny let go of Theodore Nott's butterfly kite and flung both arms around his waist, forcibly hauling him back.
"Harry, no!" she gasped out in his ear. "It's not worth it. He's not worth it."
Harry went still in her hold, panting with fury. Ginny's eyes were fixed on his face, tension pooled in her middle. She knew that look: the all-consuming rage that occasionally shattered his self-control.
His hot green gaze flickered to hers and stayed there. She could feel him exhale against her skin and the pads of his fingers close around her wrists. But he didn't push her away. Stepping back, he wrapped an arm firmly about her.
"She's right, Malfoy. Sod off."
Draco's eyes were fierce and almost...longing. "Your time will come, you know," he whispered contemptuously. "And I'll be there for the final blow. You're going to rot in..."
He broke off hastily and took an involuntary step back as another wand sliced toward him.
"You do anything to Harry," Ginny told him steadily, "And you'll regret the day you set foot here. You miserable, pathetic, sniveling little snake."
"What's going on here?" McGonagall's voice rang out with authority.
Harry nudged Ginny, and she slowly slipped her wand out of sight. He smiled at Malfoy -- an odd, cold, proud smile.
"By the way...I'm damn happy, knowing that Ginny's got my back." He looked around. "After all -- who's got yours?"
The shot hit home.
Malfoy let out a strangled snarl and reached for his wand, ignoring McGonagall's command to stop. Just as it snapped level at Harry's face, there was a whirring noise, and a flying silver object hurtled past Ginny's nose.
A horse shoe, thrown haphazardly by Neville Longbottom, had just hit Malfoy.
In an extremely uncomfortable place.
Ginny gaped down at the squawking boy.
"Huh," she said. "I think Neville just halted the Malfoy line in its tracks."
Harry winced in reaction.
"Mr. Malfoy, get up at once," McGonagall snapped unsympathetically from behind them.
A whimper came from the direction of the grass.
"Is someone hurt?" Madam Pomfrey, apparently having developed a sixth sense for embarrassing injuries, rushed to join the fray. Bending at Malfoy's side, she clucked her tongue. "Where are you hurt? Let's have a look, then."
A giggle crept up Ginny's throat, and Harry suddenly developed a cough.
McGonagall bent a fierce glare upon them. "I do believe I saw three wands out," she said severely. "And we'll discuss this later. In the meantime, have a sausage."
Ginny frowned. "Er...pardon, Professor?"
The teacher was holding a wrapped sausage in each hand. "Your brother has started serving lunch." She passed them over to their reluctant recipients.
Harry eyed his. "Isn't this your lunch, Professor?"
McGonagall cleared her throat. "Yes, well. I'm afraid that I don't have time to eat just now."
Clearly dismissing them, she turned her attention to Malfoy and his pained squeaks.
Students were flocking to the banks of the lake to eat, spreading blankets and swearing at poorly constructed deck chairs. Harry took Ginny's hand again, and they wandered slowly along to a quieter area.
Ginny soon discovered that trying to sit down while holding a sausage and remaining modest in a skirt wasn't easy. A line of tomato sauce dripped from her bread and splattered down her front. She scowled, and Harry regarded her thoughtfully.
"At least it matches your hair," he offered, in what she felt was a very unnecessary, boy-like comment.
"Hold this." She handed him Ron's effort and stripped off the shirt. The bathing suit that she wore underneath was Molly-approved and hardly revealing.
Harry didn't seem to be aware of that fact.
His eyes widened slightly and he swallowed, the tips of his ears reddening. Ginny swore he became more a part of their family every day.
"Wow. Quidditch playing is definitely doing her some good," a voice piped up.
Harry swung around and glared at the unwitting Slytherin.
Ginny blinked and took her sausage back. It didn't look any more appealing than before.
"I suppose it would unsupportive not to at least try it," she said.
"We have to," Harry replied matter-of-factly. "Luna's stolen our sandwiches."
Summoning her Gryffindor courage, Ginny steeled herself and took a bite. She watched Harry chewing.
They both swallowed at the same time, and sat wordlessly for a moment.
"Huh," said Harry.
"Son of Merlin," said Ginny.
"It's actually edible."
"It's actually good ." Ginny took another bite appreciatively. "I have new respect for Ron." She looked over at her brother frantically dishing out food, pink hat bobbing. "No. It's gone again."
Continuing to eat in comfortable silence, they watched Dumbledore hand a thrilled Madam Hooch her sack race trophy, and Dean and Hannah be awarded the prizes for the best swimsuits. Ginny felt that Hannah was particularly deserving of the accolade, outfitted in full Muggle diving attire. Dean's costume, on the other hand, was somewhat befuddling to most present. The football-themed swimming shorts were eye-catching at best, but the huge belt that he wore cinched tightly over them was generally agreed to be rather bizarre.
"Harry," Ginny said quietly, finishing her lunch. "About Dean...we're just friends, you know. It was never meant to be anything more than that."
Harry plucked at a strand of grass. "I know," he said finally. He looked up at her. "Sorry if I've been acting weird."
She shook her head. "I'm sorry I've been acting weird." She sighed. "It's just...I don't know...this...it feels so right that...sometimes it's hard to believe it's real. I don't know."
"No, I know." Harry reached out and touched her hand. "Believe me. I know."
She turned her fingers and wrapped them about his own. "But it is real. And it's right, I know it. I'm not going anywhere, Harry."
'I love you.'
The words went unspoken, but they were in the air. They were there. And, looking into his eyes, she felt them returned.
He gazed at her intensely, then, catching her by surprise, he leaned forward and pressed his mouth to hers. His lips were dry and warm and lovely.
And he'd never kissed her before.
In all the times they'd kissed, he'd never actually been the one to take that first step.
Ginny froze in shock and delight. Before she could move, return the gesture, Harry pulled back. He looked mortified.
"Sorry." He paused, searching for words, cheeks flaming. "I thought..."
Ginny reached up, slipped her hands into his tangled hair, and brought his head back down to hers. He responded instantly, sliding his arms around her back, pulling her into his lap. As she arched up into him, he deepened the kiss, a low growl of satisfaction starting in his throat.
"You do realise that you're completely wrecking my wholesome Muggle picnic?" an amused voice said loudly.
Harry, startled, jerked his head up. More than a little light-headed, Ginny stayed snug in his embrace and leaned her cheek against his chest.
Hermione hitched a rubbish bag higher, looking particularly smug.
"This is very inappropriate behaviour, you know," she insisted, a happy smile beginning to appear. "I was modeling this after a family picnic, not some clandestine lovers' meeting."
Harry looked at her calmly, his arms tightening on Ginny. "Hermione, please don't take this the wrong way...but go away."
She shook her head at him. "How rude. Anyway, you can do that later. I need help cleaning up, so..."
A horrified shout interrupted her. It sounded like Professor Vector.
"Mr. Weasley! You didn't turn the grill off! Help! The sausages are on fire! Get some water at once, Weasley. No! That's lighter fluid!"
"Oh...honestly!" Hermione cried. Forgetting about the two of them, she tucked her bag under one arm and dashed off to rescue Ron.
"At least the food tasted nice," Harry shrugged, seemingly unperturbed and unsurprised by the disaster.
Ginny nodded serenely. "I can't really say anything. Dad used to have a Muggle barbeque, too. I blew it up last summer." She shuddered. "Maybe I'm more like Ron than I thought."
Harry looked down at her, his expression mischievous. "Maybe you are." He grinned slyly. "But you definitely look prettier in a bathing costume."
Unable to find anything to say to that, Ginny tucked her face back down against him and came to the conclusion that there were three undeniable facts in life.
Ron Weasley and flammable Muggle objects should never be more than nodding acquaintances.
Nobody in their right mind should ever give Hermione Granger a whistle and a clipboard.
And Harry Potter would always be able to make her blush.