She did not usually do this. Not any more. For a very long time, she had watched him often from afar, but not any more.
Tonight, though, things were strangely different.
Indeed, things had been different ever since he had caught her snogging Dean in the corridor. Well, not just he, but her brother as well. However, she did not really care if Ron saw her snogging her boyfriend, but she absolutely hated the idea of having been surprised by Harry James Potter.
Naturally, Harry had never mentioned it again. He had not looked kindly at Dean that night, but he had defended her against Ron. And now she felt guilty. She had been so upset that she had lashed out at Ron furiously and she had drawn Harry and Hermione into their fight. And that had changed things.
Ever since, Ron had acted as if Hermione had personally insulted him by kissing Viktor Krum two years ago. Ginny felt ashamed. She did not even know for certain that Hermione had kissed Krum; she had assumed that Hermione had done it because Hermione never did things half way. Come to think of it, she might have been wrong. She also had assumed that Harry had snogged Cho Chang. Merlin knew how much anguish that particular image had caused her. But when she had flung that at Ron, Harry had looked somewhat bewildered. Maybe she was wrong about that as well and he was as enchantingly clueless about what to do with a girl as her wildest dreams would have him. Or at least a little clueless.
Of course, Hermione, who had thought that she almost had a date with Ron for Slughorn’s party, could not understand why Ron treated her like an outcast all of a sudden. Harry was obviously at a loss on how to explain to her what had happened, but Hermione kept up with all the dignity she could muster. However, Ginny knew that Hermione had been crying herself to sleep even before Ron had gone and moved from bad to worse, but Ginny had not dared to tell her that it was her fault, either. And then, in a desperate attempt to pay Hermione back for her alleged crime, Ron had made a total ass of himself by demonstratively snogging Lavender Brown.
The worst part for Ginny, however, was to see Harry suffer from her lack of self-control. While Ron had refused to talk to Hermione at first, Hermione, after her first outburst, absolutely refused to even stay in the same room with Ron. She was hurt to an extent that Ginny could only begin to imagine. As much as Ginny had hated her life some years ago, Harry had never intentionally hurt her.
But now she had hurt him. After growing up without any support from friends or family at all, Harry’s two best friends were immensely important to him. Ginny knew how much he depended on them; she still remembered the Triwizard Tournament when Ron had not spoken to Harry for weeks. Hermione had told her how miserable Harry had been because he had missed his best mate.
And now Harry was caught between the front lines. It was something that happened occasionally, but it had never before been so terrible.
Tonight she had been watching him sit in the common room. He was alone, as he was so often these days. Ron was somewhere with Lavender, doing something that Ginny would rather not know about, and Hermione had buried herself in the library, no doubt desperately trying to preserve her sanity by completing yet another list of reasons not to kill Ron or even herself immediately. And Romilda Vane had not yet worked up the nerve for another attempt on Harry’s virtue.
Consequently, Harry was alone, looking somewhat lost while trying to get through the piles of his homework.
She wanted to do something about it, but she had not yet worked up the nerve either to ask Dean if he minded her asking Harry to come and sit with them for a while. Harry had wanted to sit with her on the Hogwarts Express, but she had refused him even though she had more or less joined the fabulous trio over the summer. She still felt guilty about the short way she had brushed him off back then. Harry had never been impolite with her, he had never sent her away – in contrast to Ron.
Also, she did not really expect Dean to be happy with her idea. He and Harry had never been really close friends, but apparently Harry had been even more reserved this year than ever before.
He looked up from his Transfiguration essay and smiled at her. His smile was definitely something to see. She liked it.
“… erm, would you mind, … if I asked Harry over?”
Dean raised his eyebrows, as the smile slipped from his face.
“He’s so often alone now that Ron and Hermione don’t talk to each other. That’s not good.”
“If you think that’s a good idea ….”
“Well ….” he shrugged his shoulders noncommittally.
She stood up. As expected, Dean was not enthusiastic about his girlfriend asking another bloke to sit with them, but he had given her the green light, had he not? Mechanically, she straightened her skirt as she took the few steps over to the window where Harry was now rubbing his forehead as if his scar was bothering him.
He looked up at her. The surprise in his eyes, followed by a rare, quick smile touched her deeply. It told her how seldom she spoke to him and how readily he was pleased by it.
“I hate Potions,” he said lightly.
She grinned. “I’ve heard differently.”
He shook his head. “Hermione’s just jealous. I bet she wishes that Snape would take up his old position again.”
Ginny did not really know how to answer that and his green eyes looked at her expectantly.
“Would you like to sit with us?” she blurted nervously.
She could feel the light bantering mood around them dissipate. Even Harry’s eyes seemed to stiffen. He shot a glance over to where Dean was still sitting over his essay, but looking at them with a stuck-up air about him.
“No, thanks,” Harry said quietly.
That was not the answer she had hoped for or even expected.
“W-why not?” she spluttered.
“Erm …” Harry seemed as surprised by her blatant question as she was, “because I have to finish my Potions homework and … and there’s a vicious Transfiguration essay after that.”
“You can do that over there.”
Harry shook his head. “Thanks, but I’m fine.”
Ginny carefully released her breath. Here she was, embarrassing herself in order to help, while risking real trouble with her boyfriend, and Harry refused her?
“No, you’re not. You always say that, but you’re not.”
~ @ ~
“Look, Ginny,” Harry said, trying to be reasonable, “I appreciate your asking, but I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Harry could hear how Ginny’s temper was running short behind her words, and he knew that he must not overstretch her patience. He had better find a really good excuse.
“I suppose that Dean wouldn’t be too happy.”
“I asked him, of course. It’s okay.”
Damn. Damn Dean. Harry knew that Dean would not like him to sit with them. The way Dean had looked at him meant nothing else but “get lost”. And Harry would have liked to get lost, but Ginny seemed intent on not allowing him to do so.
“Believe me, it’s not,” he looked at her seriously, trying to convey his meaning without words, “a good idea.”
“You have,” Ginny countered in the same manner, “said that before.”
Harry rolled his eyes in despair.
“Now, what?” she asked with obvious irritation.
“Ginny,” he stuttered, “I ….”
He sighed. “You don’t understand.”
He knew he had made a mistake at once.
“Oh, it’s that again, is it? Little Ginny’s too young too understand anything. She doesn’t know what it’s like to fight Tom, she ….”
“That’s not what I meant,” he broke her rant.
“What is it, then?”
Ginny’s eyes sparkled with anger, and Harry thought she had never been more beautiful. He knew he was in trouble, but to see her like this made it almost worth it to be eaten alive.
“I … I just can’t, okay?”
“No, it’s not okay.”
“That’s what I wanted to know in the first place.”
They stood facing each other, trying to stare the other one down. Harry averted his gaze first, afraid that she would see more in his eyes than he wanted her to.
“Well?” she demanded.
“Can’t you just let it go?”
“Not until you tell me why you don’t want to sit with us.”
Harry sat down, his knees suddenly weak. He did not want to interfere with the relationship between Ginny and Dean. How could she like him, if he ruined this for her?
“You don’t want to.”
He shook his head.
“Just one reason, Harry. One reason I can understand.” She sounded almost pleading.
He shook his head again. “I just can’t. Why don’t you let it go?”
Ginny straightened her back, suddenly furious again. “Because I’ll be damned if you don’t give me a good reason for refusing a perfectly friendly offer.”
“I told you, I can’t.”
“One reason, Harry.”
“I just can’t, okay?”
“No, it’s not okay,” she said, emphasising her words by jabbing her finger at his chest, “I want a bloody reason.”
“Can I … be of assistance here?”
Dean had arrived. Their intensive discussion had obviously driven him to assert that he played a role in Ginny’s life that should not be overlooked – he could not have chosen a more inappropriate moment.
Ginny whipped round.
“No,” she said in a tone nothing else but smouldering, “you can not. I’m perfectly able to handle this myself.”
Dean retreated hurriedly before her, and she turned back on Harry with the suddenness of an attacking cat.
“Now!” Each of her freckles was a furious star of temperament against the creamy silk of her skin; she was so wonderful, but she infuriated him to no end.
“Just leave it.” He was losing his temper too.
“I will not,” she hissed. “I want to have a reason from you.”
Something broke lose deep inside of him and shot out of his mouth before he could stop it. “I can’t stand it.”
The expression on Ginny’s face changed to incredulity. “That’s your reason? I repulse you so much that you don’t want to sit with me in the common room?” She was so hurt she had totally forgotten that Harry had refused Dean as well.
He closed his eyes, tried to nod, in order to make it end, but he just could not bear the ache in her voice and eyes.
“What is it then?” she screamed and Harry jumped up again, partly shocked, partly angry.
“It’s you and Dean,” he spat.
“What?” Her eyes were wide with surprise, but that could not stop Harry anymore.
“You want a reason? You really want a reason? Fine. Just remember I didn’t want this. I’ve never wanted to interfere. But you’ve asked for it.” He almost growled with pent-up frustration. “I can’t stand seeing you and Dean together. I tried to ignore it. I even tried to be happy for you. I know you gave up on me, I know you’ve moved on, and I tried telling myself that it’s for the best. I tried telling myself it’s better for you to be safe with Dean, because you’d never be safe with me. There’s a bloody Dark Lord out there who wants to kill me, and he would be simply delighted to harm you just to make my life hell. And I don’t want that. I’ve lost too many people already, too many loved ones. But guess what? It didn’t work. I’m still jealous. It’s difficult to keep up a straight face, even from a distance. But sitting with you, seeing how you smile at each other, seeing up close how happy you are …. No thanks.”
Suddenly, he realised what he had said, and the weakness in his knees returned. Harry sat down heavily.
“I just can’t do that,” he muttered.
“What are you saying?” she asked in a whisper.
“You heard me,” he answered, burying his face in his hands.
She did not reply, but he could hear her moving away from him. Resignedly, he opened his eyes to see a mane of red hair disappear up the girls’ staircase.
“Ginny …!” Dean called after her, but she did not stop, and Dean’s eyes flashed over to Harry.
(A/N: This idea came long before HBP as a possible development after OotP, but I never managed to write it down. I expected it to dissipate after HBP was published, but it didn’t. So I changed some things to fit it into the framework of Book VI. Originally, the idea was that Ron and Hermione would get together so Harry would feel a bit left out. It turned out that their estrangement and Ginny’s involvement in it provided an even better setting. So, there you go, it’s AU, but I hope you’ll enjoy it. Let me know.
A lot of people have worked on this. Thank you to Wolf’s Scream and Grimmrook. It is also the last chapter Jenadamson read for me, before relenting to the pressure of RL. Thank you so much Jen! Sherylyn has jumped in to get this published and I owe her for that. – Look at my profile for a disclaimer.)