The buzz from the Great Hall burst through the thick oak doors. Students from all four houses talked together eagerly. Professor Dumbledore had announced, in honor of the recovery of Gilderoy Lockhart, a Valentine's Ball. The headmaster stood at the head table, eyes alight with mirth, as the students left the hall while chatting excitedly about the event.
Harry and Ron lagged behind. Their memories of the last Hogwarts ball in their fourth year did nothing to heighten their anticipation of the event. The Yule Ball two years ago was decidedly a social low point in their Hogwarts careers. They looked at each other as they reached the portrait hole. In that one moment they both silently resolved to ask the girls they truly liked as quickly as possible.
Ron scanned the Gryffindor common room and found Hermione at a table in the corner studying. "Right," he braced himself, "reckon I should just ask her now and get it over with?"
"If the Yule Ball disaster taught us anything, yes," replied Harry.
"Who are you going to ask?"
Harry debated telling him. Ever since the holidays at Grimmauld place during his fifth year, Harry had looked at Ron's sister, Ginny, in a new light. She'd come into her own that year and stood up to Harry beautifully, putting him in his place when she reminded him that he wasn't the only one who'd had personal experience with Lord Voldemort in his mind. After the fiasco with Cho and the horrible night at the Ministry in June, Harry had felt like girls weren't in his future. Over the summer he'd become comfortable with Ginny. And when they'd returned to school last autumn he was glad that, as the trio expanded their circle to include the group from the night at the Ministry, he'd become good friends with Ginny. That Christmas he'd agonized between wanting to be alone with her so they could get closer and shunning romantic entanglement with all its complications. He'd just come to terms with shutting off his feelings entirely when Dumbledore announced the ball. Bloody Dumbledore and his romantic sensibilities. He took a deep breath. Nope, definitely not going to tell Ron.
He broke out of his reverie to see that Ron had given up hope of an answer and walked off. He'd pulled up a chair by Hermione's side and was shifting his feet and hands nervously while she finished her chapter. Harry scanned the room for Ginny. She sat curled in a chair by the fire with her book in her lap. He took another deep breath and plopped himself into the chair closest to her.
"Hi, Harry!" she smiled. He smiled weakly in return.
I've got to say something, think! he chided himself.
Ginny returned her attention to the fire. Harry sighed. He gathered his courage, turned to her and opened his mouth.
At that moment Ron jumping from his seat with a "Whoop!" punched the air with his fist and knocked over his chair. Harry and Ginny turned sharply toward the excitement (as did the rest of the common room). Ron came tearing over, a blushing Hermione in his wake.
"She said yes, mate!" Ron boasted and then stopped short, looking incredulously at Harry. "Hey, what are you doing? Don't just sit there with Ginny. Let's go and work out who you're going to ask." With that, Ron hauled Harry off to their dormitory.
What with Quidditch and homework, Harry didn't have a chance to get a moment with Ginny until the following Wednesday night. It was late and, having finished her homework, Ginny was on the sofa in front of the Gryffindor fire lazily petting Crookshanks who was curled up beside her. With a weary sigh, Harry rolled up his Potions essay, rubbed his eyes, and looked around the room. Ginny was alone, the common room was almost empty. It looked like the perfect moment. With trepidation, Harry sat down next to her.
"Ginny," Harry began, leaning heavily on his left hand as he turned to face her. "Would…" A horrid wailing yowl echoed off the common room walls, matched by ear splitting yelps of pain and screeches of surprise. Harry had bent the cat's tail painfully as he leaned closer to Ginny. Crookshanks sank claws into both students' legs in retaliation. Both Harry and Ginny jumped, struggling to free themselves as the cat did his level best to climb over them and escape to the safety of Hermione's bed. Those Gryffindors who arrived first on the scene enjoyed a hilarious flurry of arms, legs, hair and fur. As Crookshanks fled up the stairs to the girls' dormitory, Ginny and Harry lay sprawled on the floor, panting and bleeding profusely from long scratches all over their bodies. Hermione and Ron wrapped the casualties in towels and walked them to the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey admired the quantity of their scratches as Ginny laughed and Harry glowered darkly.
Though Madam Pomfrey had taken care of the scratches in an instant, the scars on Harry's courage took a bit longer to heal. He spent an agonizing week listening to Ron chatter on and on about his arrangements for the ball with Hermione and how Harry had better invite someone quickly. Ron had even taken to pointing out random pretty girls in the hallways asking, "How about her?" several times a day. In a desperate attempt to put an end to Ron's 'help,' Harry promised to invite his date that afternoon. He still hadn't told Ron that he wanted to go with Ginny.
On his own in the corridors for the first time all day, Harry saw Ginny descending into the dungeons for her potions class. She was too far ahead for him to casually catch up, so he quietly aimed his wand at her bag and muttered "reducto." As he'd anticipated, her bag split and the contents spilled across the base of the stairs.
"Oh no, Ginny, let me help you," offered Harry, rushing up to her.
"Thanks, Harry. It's a second-hand bag; I knew it would go eventually."
"Here," Harry smiled, handing over her quills. Their hands touched as her fingers closed around the quills. He smiled more broadly and began. "Ginny, would you…"
"What kind of mess is this?" snarled Professor Snape as he approached the foot of the stairs. "Hurry up, Miss Weasley, or it's ten points from Gryffindor." To emphasize his threat, he kicked the pot of ink by his feet. It skittered into the wall and cracked open, spilling black liquid all over a small wrapped package Ginny had received from her brothers Fred and George that morning, a package of Weasley's Basic Blaze Box Wet Start Fireworks. With a frightening explosion, the stairwell erupted into a stupendous quantity of flashes and sparks. Harry and Ginny threw themselves on the floor to avoid a bright orange Catherine wheel.
"Oh, those are my favorites." Ginny cooed as she watched the display in awe. "Look, Harry!"
Harry sighed and dropped his forehead to the floor, shaking it side to side in frustration and disbelief. As the first explosions subsided, Harry looked up. Roman candles showered golden sparks twenty feet down the passageway. The twins' famous Catherine wheels careened up and down the stairs in dizzying spirals of pink and orange. The second wave of fireworks exploded at that moment. Rockets whistled and burst all around in spectacular displays of form and colour, whilst Ginny and Harry, realizing the floor wasn't the safest place to be, scrambled on their hands and knees to take cover behind suits of armor at the bottom of the stairs. It was then that Harry noticed Professor Snape.
Professor Snape still maintained his place at the bottom of the stairs, remarkably unscathed, but stunned at the apparent audacity of those particular students setting off a prank at his very feet. Fireworks shot around him at a breathtaking pace. Coming to himself, he peered through blinding flashes of colourful shapes, finally locating the hiding culprits. As he strode toward them, spluttering with fury, a particularly lovely bottle-rocket burst overhead, raining lime-green sparks on his hair and robes. His hair just smoldered, but his robes promptly ignited in a flash of green flame. Horrified at the professor-shaped flame approaching them, Harry and Ginny cast freezing charms at Snape's robes and the flames extinguished. Now covered in soot and frost, Professor Snape limped past them snarling, "Fifty points from Gryffindor! Detention, seven o'clock," in his most poisonous voice. He painfully climbed the stairs, his frozen robes crunching with each movement and a tail of smoke trailing from the glowing embers on his cuffs. By now the fireworks had escaped from the dungeon passageway into the upper halls. Students and staff alike poured out of classrooms thrilled with another Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes display. Professor Flitwick was heard clapping his little hands with glee and admiration.
"Most ingenious students I've ever had," he sighed in remembrance of Fred and George before stepping out to extinguish their creations.
Without question, detention was wretched. Madam Pomfrey had burst out laughing at the sight of Professor Snape smoldering and shivering in her hospital wing. And, when his robes spontaneously reignited, she laughed herself to tears while he franticly hit himself with pillows to put out the blaze. Humiliated and in pain, Professor Snape was convinced that the fireworks were a deliberate prank. So Harry and Ginny were put to work scrubbing out filthy cauldrons and specimen bottles with toothbrushes in separate rooms to make them as miserable as possible.
Detention only strengthened Harry's resolve to ask Ginny to the ball. After surviving cat scratches, a fiery inferno and blistered hands Harry felt he'd endured too much to give up now. As he climbed through the portrait hole afterward, he noticed that almost all the Gryffindors had paired off. He forgot the pain in his hands as his heart began to ache. The dance was only a few days away and smiling couples were strewn about the common room discussing their plans. Even Ron and Hermione were snuggled up in the cozy spot by the fire. Ginny wasn't in sight. He felt miserably alone and quickly snuck upstairs to fling himself on his bed in frustration.
"I'll ask her at breakfast. I don't care if everyone hears. This can't go on," he muttered through clenched teeth.
Harry awoke later than usual the next morning and hurried to breakfast. He had a sense of urgency to ask Ginny before she left for her first class. The Great Hall was its usual morning flurry of owls, students and food. Harry spotted Ginny half way down the Gryffindor table talking with Colin Creevey on her left. His heart fluttered as she flashed the smile he loved so much and then shriveled painfully the next moment when she flung her arms around Colin's neck in a delighted hug.
"Of course I will," she promised.
Harry stopped dead in his tracks and felt wretchedly sick. His breath came in short gasps and his eyes blurred with embarrassing tears. He didn't notice Ron and Hermione come to greet him. The entire room was an unfocused whirl of colours and sounds, except for Ginny's delighted face turned toward Colin. Thrilled to be going to the ball with Colin, Harry thought. She's never looked at me that way. I'm such a fool. Without paying heed to his closest friends, Harry spun on his heel and strode out of the hall, head bowed in defeat.
The next two days were a painful blur. Harry sat as far from Ginny as possible at meals, more toying with his food than eating it. He spent evenings on his bed with an open textbook in his hand, not focusing on any of the words. Over and over as he wished he'd told her of his feelings sooner, he reminded himself that it wouldn't have mattered. She wanted Colin, not him. And why not? Colin was a nice guy. He was a nice safe guy with charming manners who enjoyed her company and wasn't afraid to show it. And, after the ball, Colin and Ginny would most certainly become a couple. Colin as Ginny's boyfriend meant an end to all the times Harry had Ginny to himself. She'd, no doubt, want to spend all her free moments with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend. Colin and Ginny. Harry's mind tortured him with scenes of the pair snuggled intimately in the common room, hand in hand at a corner table in the Three Broomsticks, and walking together between classes. Harry mourned the loss of Ginny in his life and the wretched circumstances which kept him from her.
The night of the ball found Harry unshaven and scruffy in Dudley's worst cast-off clothes, his appearance mirroring his mood. He lay on his bed in the dark with the hangings drawn so he wouldn't have to see his roommates' pitying looks. They'd tried to reason with him all day, encouraging him to come anyway, to have a little fun. All his homework and You-Know-Who, they reasoned, seemed to be affecting him more than usual. He assured them he was fine, reminded them how awful the Yule Ball was for him, and insisted that he preferred a quiet evening in the Gryffindor tower. They gave up and let him have his way. Harry could hear happy exclamations from below and rapid footsteps clambering out the portrait hole. Then all was quiet and he was alone in his misery, listening to a late winter storm lashing at the window near his bed. The howling of the storm matched the howling of his heart. He didn't even bother to light a candle, preferring the darkness.
So focused on misery was he, that he didn't hear the door to his room open. A slight figure rustled quietly to his bedside, slipped inside the hangings and sat lightly next to him.
"Go away, Hermione. I'm fine," he snapped when he felt someone sit beside him.
"If I'm not Hermione," a quiet voice whispered, "do I still have to go away?"
Harry opened his eyes to an elegant figure silhouetted by the light from the open door. A candle spluttered to life on his bed-side table and he gaped in wonder. It was Ginny sitting gracefully on his bed, hair piled glamorously on her head with soft tempting curls escaping around her face. She was dressed for the ball in beautiful shimmering robes of muted apple-green. The colour was perfect for her. It made her skin look like porcelain and brought out the auburn tones of her hair. Harry had never seen anyone so beautiful. His heart hurt to wretchedly that he felt nauseous looking at her. His brow furrowed in pain and he closed his eyes against her.
With a tender look of concern she smoothed her fingers across his brow, trying to soothe away the pain. She drew the backs of her fingers down his temple gently placed her palm against his cheek. He drew in a breath sharply and Ginny withdrew her hand, as though afraid that touching his face was hurting him in some way.
"Why aren't you at the Ball?" he asked, eyes shut tightly.
"I was worried about you." She emphasized her concern by cautiously wrapping her hand around his fingers on the coverlet, watching for further signs of pain.
Harry opened his eyes. Opening his eyes was a mistake. He was mesmerized by her lips, glossy and full. And those adorable freckles. Oh, he loved her freckles. They gave her face character and life. "I'm fine," he lied, reveling in her touch. The more noble side of his personality prompted him to draw his hand away, but his heart knew this wouldn't happen again and wanted the moment to last as long as possible.
She looked him in the eyes. "You don't look fine, Harry. Something's been troubling you for days."
"It's nothing," he sighed.
"It's not 'nothing,'" she insisted. "You've been trying to tell me about it for weeks now. What is it?"
Harry couldn't stand it. His head and heart throbbed with pain. He drew his fingers away and scrunched his eyes tighter. "You'd better get back. Colin will miss you."
"Why would Colin miss me?"
Harry's eyes startled open. Ginny looked puzzled, and continued. "He's having way too much fun with Elizabeth tonight,"
"He's what!" Anger rose to push aside his self-pity and he sat up looking at her intently. "He invited you to the dance and then went off with your roommate?"
"Harry, stop," Ginny interrupted. "Colin wasn't my date for the ball. He asked Elizabeth and has every right to enjoy her company." She found Harry's hand again and slipped hers under it. His heart fluttered. "What gave you the idea he'd asked me?"
"But, but I heard you say you'd go with him when you hugged him at breakfast Thursday," Harry stammered, afraid to even hope.
"No, what you saw was me thanking Colin for a lovely picture he'd given me, a photograph of you and me in our Quidditch gear after we won our first match this year. It's one of the best he's ever taken and he made me promise to frame it."
Harry gaped at her again. "He didn't ask you to the ball?"
"No, in fact, I don't have a date for the ball," she murmured, looking into his eyes expectantly.
"You don't?" It was quite hard to think clearly while he could feel the softness of her fingers. Unconsciously, he let his thumb caress the back of her hand.
"Why?" Shecouldn't possibly have wanted to go with me?
Ginny rolled her eyes. That familiar snarky look cleared Harry's brain enough to make him feel incredibly foolish for his cowardice. "Because, you didn't ask me," she explained. "Honestly, Harry, like I'd want to go with anyone else."
She took hold of his other hand and pulled him up. "Come on. I've been waiting to dance with you for weeks. Get dressed." Ginny handed Harry his dressing gown and pushed him toward the showers. Harry complied automatically. Not daring to believe his eyes and ears, his brain had shut down again.
I must be dreaming. When I get back she won't be there.
But when Harry returned, his dress robes were laid out and Ginny was sitting on Ron's bed.
"Let me know when you're ready," she smiled and drew the bed curtains around her to give him privacy. Her muffled voice called out, "You've had quite a difficult few weeks haven't you?"
"You have no idea," Harry confirmed.
"After your second attempt to ask me, I worked out what was going on. I could have throttled Ron when I realized what he'd done. And then poor Crookshanks."
"Poor Crookshanks?" Harry blurted. "We were the ones with mortal wounds."
Ginny snorted. "Your expression in the hospital wing tipped me off. And then the fireworks. You know, that was the most deserved detention I've ever served."
"You didn't set that up on purpose?"
"No, no. It was completely coincidental. I just don't regret a moment of Snape's torture." He could hear the grin on her face as she added, "Did you know the twins sold out of their entire stock of fireworks the next day?"
Now it was Harry who snorted. After a minute of silence he spoke again. "You can come out, Ginny, I'm decent. Can you give me a hand with this tie?"
Ginny drew back the bed hangings and Harry heard her sigh softly as she looked him over. She reached up to knot his tie and Harry felt a little jolt of electricity when her fingers brushed his freshly-shaved neck. He smiled wickedly when he noticed her hands trembling a bit. He caught the soft expression on her face as she closed her eyes and inhaled. "Mmm, you even smell handsome." Opening her eyes, she added playfully, "There you go Cinders. All ready for the ball."
Harry caught her hands in his. Her little show of nerves had given him courage. The moment was too beautiful to waste. He was tired of being timid. Her eyes shone bright and hopeful. He felt certain of her feelings and for the first time, sure of himself.
He drew her close and kissed her, a soft kiss full of care and wonder. As they drew back, he reached up to wrap one of her tendrils of hair around his fingers.
"You're so beautiful," he whispered as she smiled into his eyes, "I can't believe you actually wanted me." His heart filled with wonder at his good fortune as she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back. Having Ginny in his arms was the most natural feeling in the world. She belonged there. He held her there for a moment after the kiss ended, nuzzling into her neck.
"Harry?" She murmured against his cheek.
"You owe me a new bag."
Written for the Live Journal Harry/Ginny Fic-a-fest Valentine's Challenge 2005