Hermione was staring longingly at Ron. Again. Ginny's imbecilic brother seemed completely oblivious to the emotions of anyone, least of all his best friend. He was so dense! There he sat, demonstrating once again that even Mum couldn't instil decent table manners in hopeless cases, paying not the slightest attention to anyone else at the table. It was at times like this that Hermione needed someone to commiserate with her, to talk to someone else who had been through a similar situation. It was something Ginny had done many times in the past with Hermione; sitting together and sympathising with each other about blockheaded boys.
Ginny brought her hand up to touch her brand new necklace again, to reassure herself that it was really there. The tiger's eye suspended on a delicate golden chain was proof that even clueless males could eventually realise that girls not only like them, but that a girl can be worth loving.
Two months ago, Ginny could have easily been back in Hermione's position, staring at a certain oblivious boy as he left the Hall as swiftly as he brushed off her inquiry of his destination. Of course, two months ago was before she'd gone home for Christmas….
~@~ ~@~ ~@~
Christmas was certainly going to be interesting this year, Ginny decided. Her mother, eternally convinced that Harry needed to be included in the life of a normal family that loved him, had invited him to the Burrow over the holidays. Ginny privately thought that her mother wanted to make sure Harry was still eating properly and wasn't moping. This seemed logical; her mother had sent Ginny an immense number of owls interrogating her about those exact points, but Ginny had only voiced her opinions to Hermione. It was always safer that way; living with six elder brothers had given Ginny a healthy respect for how they could subvert anything she said and reveal it to the worst possible person.
Both of Ginny's parents, the twins, and several other Order members were waiting at King's Cross when she got off the Hogwarts Express with the boys. Her father had managed to wangle two cars out of the Ministry, who were currently being excessively helpful at the sound of the name, "Harry Potter". Harry, Ginny and Ron piled into one car under the watchful eyes of Kingsley Shacklebolt and Moody. Kingsley tinted the windows opaque, while Moody handed out hooded jackets and gruffly advised Ginny and Ron to pull their hoods up to cover their distinctive hair. The second car filled with the rest of the chattering Weasleys and Tonks, who was masquerading as Harry.
~@~ ~@~ ~@~
Very early on the first morning of the holidays, Ginny was woken by a resounding crash outside the door. She hopped out of bed and raced over to her door, careful to open it only slightly in case it was the twins playing a trick. It wasn't. She was confronted with the sight of Harry sprawled across the landing rug right outside her doorway. He was drenched with water. Ginny stared. A wet Harry delivered to her doorway was scarily similar to some of the fantasies she generally pretended she didn't have anymore. Several more loud crashes sounded. Peering a little further down the stairs, Ginny could see a smashed jug. This was exactly the sort of thing several of her brothers would do to embarrass Ginny. Ron still remembered about her crush, and Fred and George weren't ever likely to forget such good blackmail material.
Ginny's mother came hurrying up the stairs, scraping a hand through her unruly red mop to try and tame it. Ginny carefully pulled her door further closed, so that her mother wouldn't spot her peeking out. Her mother took one glance at Harry and started yelling. Ginny instinctually cringed.
"Frederick and George Weasley! Get yourselves up here, right now! You have no idea how much trouble you are in – I want to see you here this instant...."
A few more bangs and crashes could be heard and Fred came into view, closely followed by George. Ron appeared a moment later, glaring at the previous two and rubbing his arm. "Can't you two find somewhere better to sit than on the stairs?"
Ron looked at the scene before him, and stretched a hand out to Harry. His mother continued to yell at the twins as Harry accepted the help gratefully and hopped up. The entire front of his pyjama top was a bright purple, definitely not its original colour. Harry sighed. "Lovely. Just perfect," he muttered.
Ginny's mother paused in her tirade and turned to look at Harry. She gasped. "What in Daisy Dodderidge's name – you're purple!" She whirled back around to face the slightly repentant-looking twins. "What were you thinking? No, I forgot. You don't think. Why can't you be more like your brothers? Even Ron is more responsible. A fine example you are to your younger siblings." She turned back to look at Harry, looking compassionate. "Oh, Harry, dear. Take that shirt off – I'll see if I can charm out the stains." She held out a hand, beckoning.
Harry turned modestly away from everyone on the landing, which meant he was directly facing Ginny's door, and started to undo his buttons. Ginny gulped. If a wet Harry in front of her door was one of her fantasies, a half-naked Harry was featured in even more of them. She squeezed her eyes shut, then reflexively opened one to peek. She would not think about the skin she could now see, glistening in the sunlight. No. She'd given up on him and thought Dean looked cute.
With cheeks now redder than Weasley hair, Harry turned around, handed over his top and bolted back up the stairs to Ron's room. Ginny, in a dreamy trance, wandered back to her bed and sat down, her treacherous mind replaying the sight of Harry's bare chest over and over. She tried thinking of Dean or Michael or Colin or any other boy she had ever considered remotely attractive, but her perfidious thoughts kept coming back to Harry. Ginny sighed and closed her eyes. She had it bad all over again.
At breakfast, Ginny concentrated on her bowl of porridge and ignored her brother's chatter about Quidditch League rankings, a conversation she usually joined in with vigour. Her mother was shooting dark glares at the twins, who were raving about the winning streak the Harpies were currently enjoying. Ginny snorted quietly to herself. Fred and George only followed the Harpies to ogle at all the players. As Ron deluded himself and insisted that the Cannons had a good chance at the Cup this year, Ginny glanced up, to catch Harry's eye and exchange an exasperated glance. Remembering her morning wake-up call she looked away, blushing. She was unable to look at him for the rest of the day.
~@~ ~@~ ~@~
It was early in the morning when Ginny was woken by someone shaking her, calling her name. She sat up suddenly, alarmed that her nightmares had woken up the entire household again. Opening her eyes, she focused blearily on two red-headed, grinning maniacs, who had stopped shaking her, and instead, moved on to tickling.
"Ginny! Wake up, you sleepyhead! Anyone would think you don't want presents!"
Giggling and batting the tickling hands away, Ginny caught sight of the stack of presents at the foot of her bed. The pile was so high that it peeked over the end of the bedstead. As her mind woke up and started to process normally, Ginny realised it was Christmas. "Bill, Charlie! I'm not a little girl anymore. You don't need to," Ginny swiped at a particularly annoying hand, "treat me like I'm eleven years old."
Bill captured both of Ginny's hands, much to her disgust. "We thought you might like someone to open presents with, since Hermione's not here. Charlie here said we should send Fred and George in to help, but I thought you might prefer a visit from your favourite big brothers."
"I suggested sending in the twins? Excuse me, Bill, but I thought that was you. It was my idea that we come in here with our present piles and spend some quality time with our ickle sister." Charlie wrestled Bill onto his back on the bed.
Used to this sort of behaviour, Ginny ignored them as she hopped out of bed, managing to accidentally-on-purpose kick both her brothers in the process. She slid her feet into the waiting slippers and detoured around a stack of Avalon Academy books. On the top book Aurelia Croxton held her broomstick in one hand and waved furiously at approaching friends with the other.
Ginny plumped herself in front of her pile of presents as Bill finally won the wrestling match, pinning Charlie to her bed. "If using my room as a wrestling arena is all you plan to do, you can leave now, and I'll keep your presents."
Charlie pushed a gloating Bill off his chest, racing over to protect his pile. "You most certainly will not! Come on, I want to see what I got. Hurry up, Bill!"
Ginny grinned and grabbed the nearest present in her pile, carefully unwrapping and smoothing the wrapping paper. Charlie caught her eye as she neatly folded it and set the paper aside – he was the only brother who hadn't teased her at some point for storing and reusing wrapping paper. After seeing the decorative hair clips and the new band for her wristwatch in the first present, Ginny gave up being careful and started to work through the huge pile, discarding wrapping paper of many hues left and right.
Bill gave a shout as he found his present from their parents, pulling the bright red jumper over his pyjamas happily. "Red for a change! Come on, you two, what colours did you get? Maybe Ron will get lucky and Mum will have accidentally switched his jumper with yours."
Charlie laughed as he opened his parcel. "Poor Ron. No, mine's brown again, but with a gold stripe on the cuffs this time. What colour is yours, Ginny?"
Ginny moved aside a few more packages until she spotted the telltale lumpiness of a Weasley jumper. She prayed that it wasn't pink. She quickly undid the spellotape at either end, revealing a violet jumper. With a sigh of relief, she pulled it over her head, then dived back into her pile. A suspicious box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans from Fred was tossed onto her bed for later examination, next to the stacks of sweets from various other brothers.
Five new hair ribbons, a glass paperweight that let off bubbles when you tapped it, and a brand new Snidget charm for her charm bracelet later, she uncovered Hermione's present: a homework planner. Ginny sighed when she saw the note, written in Hermione's careful handwriting: ‘I found my planner really useful last year for scheduling my OWLs revision. I hope you'll find it equally helpful'. It looked like she was getting Hermione's assistance with OWL preparation, whether she wanted it or not.
Charlie peered over Ginny's shoulder at the planner. "I'm glad no one ever gave me one of those at school. It's not like you're not aware that you've got the OWLs at the end of the year: the professors only mention it every lesson for the entire year. I think the idea is so that you work extra hard in your lessons just to shut them all up."
Bill threw a cushion at Charlie. "Do we have to talk about exams? I can think of a million more interesting things to talk about at Christmas; that half-opened pile of presents still in front of you is only one of them."
Ginny dumped the planner into a pile of things that she intended to take back to school and turned back to the fascinating collection of unopened presents. Right at the bottom of the pile was a small present wrapped a shimmering silver paper. Ginny unwrapped the present carefully, so as not to waste the good quality wrapping paper, and gently set the paper aside with the other pieces she'd especially liked. Inside was a small package of Pepper Imps, a large bag of Chocoballs and a note, which fluttered out. Catching it as it fell, Ginny read the words ‘To Ginny, from Harry' scrawled on the fragment of parchment.
Ginny gasped. Why would Harry send her a present? She'd never received one from him before, and aside from helping her mother wrap his Weasley jumper when Ginny was ten, she'd never sent him one in return. In the past it had just seemed so presumptuous, but obviously, she needed to give him one now. The problem was that she didn't have anything for him ... unless she also gave him sweets.
The piece of paper was plucked out of Ginny's fingers. Looking up, annoyed, she glared at Charlie and snatched it back. "It's none of your business, thank you very much."
"I'm a big brother. It's always my business."
"Not this time." Ginny turned away from her brothers to sort through the boxes on her bed. She grabbed the box of Chocolate Frogs from Ron (who gave her a box every year, originally to convert her to collecting cards, and later so that he could acquire the cards for his own collection) and searched through her neat pile of ‘good paper'. Wrapping paper flew everywhere as she hunted for a usable piece that would also be appropriate for Harry. Finally, she found a navy blue piece with golden broomsticks printed on it, which seemed suitable, and hastily wrapped the box.
"Who's that for?"
Ginny swore quietly. She had forgotten that her brothers were in the room. "It's for someone I forgot to give a present to. You can't let Ron or the twins find out. Please?" If only Hermione was here! She would understand.
Bill and Charlie glanced at each other, seeming to silently come to a consensus. "We promise not to tell if you don't want us to. Honest," said Bill, who looked grave.
Charlie nodded in agreement. "We know how to keep secrets. If you don't want anyone to find out you forgot to give Harry a present, we'll keep mum."
Half exasperated and half gleeful, Ginny hugged both of them. "Thanks," she said, and she meant it. She picked up the hastily-wrapped present and trooped up the staircase to Ron's bedroom. Harry answered her knock. His hair was even wilder than usual and a piece of wrapping paper was tangled in his green jumper. The paper had dancing house-elves on it, each dressed in a mini Santa outfit.
"This is for you." Ginny handed the present to Harry and turned to go before Ron saw her.
"Ginny! Look what Hermione got me!" Ron had obviously heard her voice. He held up a copy of The Chudley Cannons: the Magic Behind the Orange, resplendent in a special edition orange-and-cranberry cover. Ginny knew that a tatty, dog-eared copy of the book already sat on Ron's shelves, but she was too polite to mention it. Ron looked so happy at the thought of getting a present from Hermione that he seemed willing to overlook minor details like that.
"He also got a homework planner. Again. And of course, I got one, too." Harry crossed the room to dump her present on his bed and pick up the little book with a look of mild exasperation on his face. "Fortunately, she also gave me a copy of Calamitous Curses: The Spells They Won't Teach You Outside of Auror Training, so I won't be feeling so bad about doing this." He threw the planner in the bin. "Hermione is one of my best friends, but sometimes...."
Ginny sat down on the end of Ron's bed, narrowly missing a pile of the twins' fireworks and a box of Drooble's Best Blowing Gum. "She gave me a planner, too." Looking at the book Harry received, she asked hopefully, "You'll be teaching the DA some of the spells in that book, won't you?" Calamitous Curses was notorious for containing barely legal spells that the Ministry would rather the general public didn't learn, and because of this, purchase of the book was extremely restricted. Ginny decided that Hermione must have begged Tonks for a copy, as pretty much every other way of obtaining it was highly illegal and generally involved Knockturn Alley.
"'Course I will." Harry smiled at her, then hurriedly looked away.
~@~ ~@~ ~@~
Christmas dinner was uneventful until it was time for pudding. The entire table was covered with a spread of cakes, puddings and other Christmas delicacies. The room filled with the familiar sounds of a Weasley family dinner: the clinking of dishes being passed, several conversations going on at once, and the pops and crackles of indoor fireworks.
"Fred! Don't hog all the potatoes!"
"Ron, you're off your rocker. The Canons don't have a chance this year."
"The goblins still haven't chosen sides yet, Dad. I think it's going to take something drastic to make them decide."
"Harry, could you pass the custard, please?"
Harry lifted the pitcher and stood up to hand it to Ginny. He stretched his arm over the table and she reached out to grasp the jug. A particularly loud firework exploded overhead and Harry jumped, the container slipping through his fingers.
Ginny made a wild grab for the pitcher and sent an empty glass flying, though she was able to place the jug down carefully. Harry was not so lucky, knocking Ron's bowl across the room and managing to stick his elbow in the dish of brandy butter. His face a burning red once again, he'd quickly stripped the green jumper off and dropped it on the floor. Ginny could tell by the heat rising in her face that she looked little better.
Mrs. Weasley gave Fred and George a look that made Ginny think that her mother knew exactly where the very noisy fireworks came from.
Fred thought so too. "Even if we did give fireworks to family members as Christmas presents, Weasley Wizard Wheezes aren't responsible for what the recipients do with them. Really." He glanced at Ron, who was looking slightly embarrassed. "Harry and Ginny were the ones who dropped the pitcher...."
"I think, as it's Christmas, you can all help me clean up. It would be lovely to have a little extra assistance. Bill, when you're finished, you could start on the earlier dishes. Charlie and Ron, you two could dry and put them away. Fred and George could clear the table without using magic, and Ginny, dear, you can dry the dessert dishes."
Harry looked up. "Do you want me to help, too?"
"You don't have to, Harry, but it's good of you to offer. Could you put the dessert dishes away?"
Ginny pushed her bowl slightly forward and rested her forehead on the edge of the table. Why did mothers have to be so interfering, and why did Harry have a nobility streak wider than Hogwarts? Well, if she had to work with him, she could at least talk to him. Harry had been so pleasant this morning....
After everyone had finished eating and all of her brothers had escaped from the kitchen, Ginny was still stuck in there, drying dishes. She decided that maybe it was pleasant having Harry help her; he hadn't skived off like certain other brothers had, leaving her with half of the soup bowls and a handful of cutlery to dry as well as all of the dessert crockery. It was times like this she missed Percy - he was the brother who would have stayed to help – but Harry was a decent substitute, who wasn't currently being stubborn and refusing to be humble enough to admit he was wrong.
Harry had put away what was dry of the crockery, and had come over to help Ginny dry up. His now-dirty jumper was tied around his waist, as he hadn't had time to take it upstairs to clean it, yet.
"You'll need to get someone to clean the butter off your jumper. If you leave it, it'll stain badly, plus just using water will only make it worse. I ruined a shirt that way, once."
"Thanks." Harry avoided Ginny's eyes, picking up another stack of plates. She sighed. She hadn't really meant to bring up embarrassing memories from the past, but the conversation about butter was filling her mind with images from just before she started Hogwarts, and that really wasn't what she wanted to think about at the moment.
~@~ ~@~ ~@~
Harry managed to embarrass himself at least a dozen other times by the end of the holidays. Ginny was fairly certain that she was the only one to notice the incidents, as Fred and George spent a large chunk of that time testing products on unsuspecting family members. Ginny wondered several times since if this had been the only thing that saved Harry from interrogation and torture at the hands of eager Weasley brothers wanting to ‘defend their ickle sister's honour'. Of course, she thought with a snort, she was more than capable of defending herself, even without using magic. She finally decided that the twins' activities could not have been for the purpose of hiding Harry's developing clumsiness, simply because they would have enjoyed tormenting Harry too much for them to forgo it.
On the last day of the holidays, Ginny noticed Harry looking distracted and worried. He looked like he needed someone to talk to, and since Ron either hadn't noticed or hadn't been able to shake Harry out of his preoccupation, it needed to be someone else. Ginny had managed to break Harry out of one of his endless circles of self-recrimination last year, and she intended to do it once again. She consulted her mother, who had also noticed, and the Weasley women spent half an hour plotting together while making a batch of double chocolate biscuits. This couldn't be allowed to fail.
After dinner, Ron was shooed upstairs by their mother to finish packing his trunk. Ginny's brothers, usually rambunctious until unearthly hours, drifted off to bed. Her father disappeared outside to his shed, muttering about seeing if the car would start. Ginny had seen the car that was his latest project and was certain that he was checking that it could still fly and become invisible for tomorrow morning. Her mother shut herself in the kitchen, to start the post-Christmas break stock take of her pantry. Harry remained downstairs, staring into the fire. Ginny curled up in a nearby chair, reading a back issue of Witch Weekly, as it was the only reading material within reach.
Ginny was annoyed to discover that she had already perused this issue on another occasion when she was deadly bored. Having read all the half-way decent articles too many times before, she moved on to the less decent articles, and when she ran out of those, to the downright dreadful articles. Soon, however, she realised that there was only so many times she could reread articles about how Lucius Malfoy's clothing clearly pointed to him being a Death Eater, while another article five pages later quoted Narcissa Malfoy's clothing under ‘latest winter styles'. Did Witch Weekly's editors really expect their audience to leave their minds in their handbags while reading? She tossed the magazine to the floor with a sigh of exasperation.
Harry looked up. Ginny doubted that he'd realised that anyone was still downstairs.
"Stupid rag. How people can enjoy reading it, I'll never know."
"What?" Harry looked confused.
"Witch Weekly." Ginny stooped and picked up the magazine to show Harry. "Anyway, if you want to talk about anything, I'm willing to listen."
Was it just those that Ginny knew, or did every male prefer to communicate in as few words as possible? And why did they find a change in subject so hard to grasp when talking to her? "Something's bothering you. I was offering to listen, if you wanted to talk to someone about it."
"I'm fine." The tone discouraged any further inquiry, but Ginny was well aware of Harry's standard ‘I'm fine' response, which meant the exact opposite.
"Can I tell you something, then?"
"There's this boy I know. He's a bit of an idiot, but I still like him. He's had a hard life, which means all of his friends make slight allowances, but it drives me crazy when he avoids telling someone how he's feeling. I'd like to know what's wrong. I'd like to help him when I can because, despite what he thinks, I do understand a lot what he's going though."
"Ginny...." Harry continued staring towards the fire, though Ginny was certain he couldn't really see it.
"You have to talk to someone, Harry. You can't just keep it all bottled up inside of you; it'll just poison your mind and try to express itself in more destructive ways. Look, if you can't talk to me about it, go talk to Ron."
Harry looked positively distressed by the last suggestion. "I can't talk to Ron; it's – it's personal."
Ginny stood up and headed towards the door.
"Where are you going? You're not going to get Ron, are you?" Harry sounded a little panicked.
"No, I'm just getting some hot chocolate from the kitchen." In the kitchen, her mother fussed, preparing the big jug that Ginny asked for, and opening a battered sky-blue biscuit tin to find biscuits to go on a plate. That specific tin was her mother's special one. It contained the best quality biscuits and was charmed against thieving fingers and pranks – even the twins had never managed to get past its defences. With mugs, hot chocolate and biscuits marshalled on a tray charmed against tipping, Ginny carefully carried the ensemble back on into the living room.
Harry had barely moved. Ginny set the tray down on the coffee table and moved the table and her armchair so they were both closer to Harry. She poured hot chocolate into a mug and held it out to Harry, who accepted it and plonked his feet on the table.
Sitting back and sipping from her own mug, Ginny watched Harry over the rim. He looked right back at her.
"Do you promise you won't laugh?"
"I think I like a girl. I've been noticing her for years without thinking about it, but I just recently realised I liked her. The problem is that she used to like me, but she's given up on me."
"Has anyone ever told you that giving up on someone isn't the same as getting over them? You're so dense, Harry. That girl just thought that you would never see her as anything besides your best friend's little sister."
"Would that little sister of my best friend rethink the ‘giving up' if the boy told her that her hair glows in the firelight, and that he really, really likes her? Even if the said boy is a senseless idiot for not realising how he felt earlier?"
"That would depend on whether the boy intends on remembering this conversation once he gets back to Hogwarts."
Harry reached out and picked up a piece of shortbread, crunching it thoughtfully. "Then, I think we've reached an accord." He looked relieved. "D'you know, I feel much better now. Thanks, Ginny."
~@~ ~@~ ~@~
Once they got back to school, Ginny realised the problem. Although she saw Harry every day – at mealtimes, during Quidditch training, in the DA, and just studying in Gryffindor tower – they were always surrounded by other people. Ginny wanted to spend some time alone, just with Harry, but she was swamped with the extra homework assigned by teachers who kept telling her that the additional essays were good practice for her. There wasn't much free time to start with, and the majority of what little free time she found was taken up by Quidditch and the DA. After tolerating the situation for a fortnight, Ginny finally decided that it was time for drastic action.
Ginny picked up her Divination book and a handful of her notes and walked over to the table where Ron, Hermione, Harry and Neville were clustered. "Would any of you be able to help me with my Divination revision?"
Ron laughed. "Oh come on, Gin. Why bother studying for it? All you need to do is make up miserable stuff and Trelawney will lap it up. You don't really need to pass your OWL in it, do you?"
Hermione thumped Ron on the arm. Ginny just wrinkled her nose at him. "Some of us, unlike you, actually have ambitions outside of Quidditch, brother dear. Some of us actually want to get decent marks."
"I'd help you, Ginny, if it was anything but Divination. I don't know enough about that nonsense to make it worth your time." Hermione looked torn between the scorn she felt for Trelawney and her worry that there was a subject she couldn't help Ginny study for.
Harry looked at Ginny curiously, then swept all his homework into one pile. "I'll help; I think I remember enough from last year to help you. Why don't we go down to the Library? I remember there being some useful books there."
Ginny felt incredibly grateful that Harry had understood and been able to come up with a half-decent story so quickly. Harry raced upstairs to grab his leftover notes from fifth year, then the two headed out the portrait hole together.
"Thanks for volunteering to help me out with this."
"You mean, we're actually going to study Divination?" Harry looked perturbed. "I thought that it was just a neat excuse of yours to get us some private time together."
"Oh, we're having that too, in the corner of the Library. I'd just also like to get decent marks in Divination."
Harry reached out and took Ginny's hand. "What are we waiting for, then? We want to get that revision out the way quickly, so that we have time for other stuff before Ron sends out a search party for you."
Laughing, the two fled to the library. Madam Pince glared at them as they entered. They quickly composed themselves, but exchanged glances. Ginny had to look away quickly though, as seeing Harry only made her want to laugh harder.
~@~ ~@~ ~@~
It was after midnight one night in January when Ginny woke up screaming. As she remembered the details of the nightmare – one combining Tom Riddle and the Department of Mysteries – she checked her curtains. The silencing charm had held, and none of her dorm mates had woken. Professor Flitwick had taught her the spell early in second year, after she'd woken up the entire dorm for the fifth consecutive night with her screams.
Grabbing her dressing gown, she pulled it on as she walked down the stairs, shivering a little. She'd grown enough in the last few months that she needed a bigger one. It was always warmer in the common room, where she could watch the glowing remains of the fire and not be interrupted.
Downstairs, Ginny dragged one of the comfy, overstuffed armchairs closer to the fire. She grabbed a handful of sticks and one of the smaller logs from the wood box to start rebuilding the fire.
She held her bare feet toward the blazing warmth of the fire, tucking them up under her dressing gown once they became uncomfortably warm. As she rearranged the edge of her gown, she heard a slight clatter and a creak as the portrait hole opened.
Ginny peered over towards the entrance but saw nothing until an Invisibility Cloak was removed and Harry rolled it up to tuck under his arm. He was carrying his book bag, which bulged in several unusual places and clinked as he moved.
He looked over towards Ginny with a start. "Just a minute." Harry disappeared up the boy's staircase, to appear a few minutes later, still carrying his book bag, but with a lap rug as well. He crossed the common room, collapsed into the chair opposite Ginny and dropped his bag to the floor with a sigh.
"Rug?" Harry held the blanket out to Ginny. "You looked like you could use it." He kicked off his shoes with another sigh and rummaged in his bag. A thermos, two mugs and a biscuit tin appeared, all of which Harry placed on the little table between them. He pulled out a pair of socks with a confused look on his face. "Why are these in here?"
"Maybe you packed them one day when you were in a hurry. I know I've found odd things in my bag sometimes when I've overslept." Ginny didn't mention that those mornings were usually the ones when she'd had nightmares and had finally fallen asleep around 5AM from sheer exhaustion.
"I don't think so. I'm sure they were at the bottom of my trunk; I haven't worn them in ages, because my feet are too big."
Ginny looked at the thick woollen socks, and leaned over, snatching them out of Harry's hand. As he began to protest, she calmly pulled them onto her own feet, which she wiggled at him. "I forgot to put some on when I came downstairs, and I don't want to brave the stone stairs again. These fit me just fine, and they're lovely and warm."
Harry shook his head and unscrewed the top of the thermos. Pouring hot chocolate into both mugs, he handed one of them to Ginny. "Why are you up so late?"
"Why are you?"
Harry looked slightly embarrassed. "I had a nightmare, and I thought that some hot chocolate might help."
"I had a nightmare, too. It's a lot more pleasant down here by the fire than it is up in my dormitory, and I didn't want to go back to sleep."
"Some things you just don't want to return to. Voldemort is certainly one of them." Harry opened the biscuit tin and peered inside. "Looks like Dobby gave me shortbread and yoyos. Want a biscuit?" He held the tin out, and Ginny snaffled a handful of biscuits. Harry smiled.
"Thanks. No, Tom isn't exactly a pleasant thing to dream about. Do you often do this? If you do, I'm almost surprised we haven't run into each other before." Ginny popped a piece of shortbread into her mouth, savouring the buttery taste.
Harry shook his head. "I usually just stay in my dormitory, staring at my curtains and wishing that I wasn't the Boy who Lived. Wondering what it would be like to just be normal and feeling more and more guilty that I'm here and so many other people aren't."
"It's not your fault, Harry. You didn't kill them. The people who murdered them are to blame, not you. You've always done the best you could in bad situations," said Ginny comfortingly.
"If I'm not to blame, why do I get the nightmares and the guilt? Why don't they just leave me alone?" Harry took a deep gulp of his hot chocolate, looking resentful.
Ginny stared into Harry's eyes, willing him to listen and to understand. "Dumbledore once told me that the dreams and the memories will never really go away. He also said that by remembering, we honour those who died and we can work towards never letting it happen again. There are some things that children should not have to know or see. Our generation is being systematically exposed to many of them. Far too many."
"Seeing or knowing even one of those things is too much, Gin. Somehow, I still see us all as a bunch of innocents." Harry stared into his mug, as if he were trying to discover the meaning of the universe within its depths. "We've seen these things, but not by choice. Most people don't even understand what it is they're being forced to see."
"That's why we fight, Harry. We're fighting so that others don't have to wake up to find their families dead or missing. We're fighting so that our children can have childhoods, not thrust into the war as they are born, not recruited as mini-soldiers as Ollivander hands them their wand. We're fighting this, so people can live." Ginny drained her mug and poured herself some more hot chocolate from the thermos. It was comforting.
"The more I see, the more I realise that the terror of Voldemort's first rise never really ended. We all talk about it is like it's a second war, but it really isn't. It's still just the first war, with a lull after a major battle. Everyone paused to regain their strength. Only, the lull was long enough that the idiots in the Ministry declared that everything was safe and changed back to peacetime priorities and politicking." Harry's voice became louder and sardonic as he spoke of the Ministry. With a worried glance at the dormitory staircases, Ginny reached out a hand to calm him down, to stop him from rousing other House members.
After pausing for a deep breath, Harry continued in a more modulated tone. "If you watch the adults, they're all slipping back into patterns that they probably developed the first time around: give out as much information as is safe; teach us students what we need to know to survive; stockpile resources and train replacements; spend as much time with family as possible; try to predict the next moves in the game. All of us who were young last time are just copying them; we're trying to learn the rules as we go, without understanding the bitter reasons behind the rivalries. You know your father hates the Malfoys, and you copy that, but you don't know why. Even things like ‘insults at work' and ‘planting the diary' are just retaliatory acts for something that no one's ever properly explained to you."
"We're fighting on their terms. What can we do but counter their attacks? I don't think that just asking them nicely to stop is going to do have much of an effect. It's not as if we can say ‘Please?'" Ginny sighed.
Harry looked over at Ginny. "I don't know what we can do. Keep learning, I suppose, so that one day we might know enough to help ourselves."
Ginny suddenly realised that she wanted to stay down in the common room for the rest of the night. "If Hermione was here, she'd tell us both that we need a good night's sleep to learn. I don't want to go back to the nightmares, though."
Harry ate another biscuit, thinking, then replied. "Sleep down here, if you want. I'll guard your dreams."
As Ginny snuggled up under the lap rug on a couch, drifting off to sleep, her last thought was of how only family members had ever done that for her before.
~@~ ~@~ ~@~
Ginny sat next to Harry that Valentine's Day, both of them in their Weasley jumpers. She had bullied Harry into wearing it that morning after he'd given her her wonderful new necklace. Harry had pointed out that the colours matched those of her eyes reflecting firelight. In front of which, he had pointed out, was his favourite place to look at her.
Harry rubbed at his elbow, small flakes of white powder cascading past his fingers. Ginny laughed at the rueful expression on his face as he tried to get rid of the dried butter.
"I told you that would happen if you didn't clean it up," said Ginny. "Oils and alcohols are nasty stains to remove once you've let them set in like that. Why didn't you get someone to clean it ages ago? I can't believe you spent almost two months avoiding wearing that, just because you hadn't cleaned it! Dirty clothes have never worried any of my brothers, apart from Percy, and anyway, it suits you."
Harry sighed. "Yes, I know it goes with my eyes," he muttered. "Your mother knits it like that deliberately. I didn't ask your mum to wash it because I didn't want to explain that I wanted her to wash butter from the sleeve. Once I was back at school, I hid it down the bottom back corner of my trunk. If it wasn't for Dobby covering the entire dorm with air-freshener charms, everyone would probably be shying away from me right now." Harry wrinkled his nose. "What is that smell?" he mimicked.
Ginny laughed. She liked that her sense of humour was in tune with Harry's, and that she could share secret jokes with him. As Hermione stared longingly at the oak doors of the Great Hall, which Ron had so recently passed through, Ginny smiled privately to herself. Yes, boys weren't always utterly dense - her Harry was living proof of that.
AN: When I started on my Valentine's fic, I never imagined that it would spawn something like this. Thanks must go to Blue, without whom this wouldn't nearly be the length it is; to OHGinnyfan, who consistently grounds my grammar and expressions; and to all of my reviewers who wanted to know whether "something was going on" between Harry and Ginny. This wouldn't be here without you.