Ron walked quickly towards the lake on a clear, cool day. He had just run down from the Gryffindor common room. He was almost out of breath and couldn't bear to run anymore. Looking along the shore, he sighed in relief. He stopped a little distance away, caught his breath, and walked casually towards the shore.
He could see Harry sitting there, idly tossing rocks into the water. Ron had watched Harry become increasingly depressed ever since the Valentine's Day Ball was announced. They had an argument the night before; Ron had been a little too insistent that Harry tell him who he wanted to ask out. Harry had denied he wanted to go but, at the breaking point of the argument, he had blurted it out.
"GINNY! OK RON? I WANT TO TAKE GINNY! HAPPY NOW, YOU GIT?"
Ron had watched as Harry stormed out of their dorm room. He knew better than to follow him. He had spent the whole day frantically trying to find a way to break back into a conversation with Harry when he'd learned where he was.
Ron stopped right beside Harry and held out a chocolate frog. He watched as Harry looked over and saw his shoes, then up to the chocolate frog, then to Ron's face, then back to the frog.
"Truce?" Ron asked
Harry took the frog and nodded. "I haven't had anything to eat all day."
"You're welcome, mate," Ron said, sitting down. He waited while Harry devoured the frog.
"Look, I'm sorry Harry. I was trying to have a bit of fun. I didn't know you were so… well, I don't know what you were. But now that the secret's out that you like Ginny maybe we should talk about it."
"You haven't told anyone else, have you?"
Ron shook his head. "No way, Harry. Wasn't easy; everyone was asking why you were upset. I told the lot of them to bugger off and let you be."
Ron waited for Harry to say something. He wasn't going to make the same mistake twice.
"I'm sorry Ron. It's just that I haven't yet worked out my feelings for Ginny. The moment the ball as announced I knew she was the one I wanted to ask. But at the same moment I also knew that I couldn't. I can never let her know how I feel."
Ron nearly blurted, but he stopped himself just in time. Take it easy, mate. This is serious.
"Why not?" Ron asked quietly.
Harry finally looked Ron in the eye. "Because, Ron. Don't you see? Voldemort will never stop hunting me. As long either of us are alive I will always be at risk. I don't know what would be worse, me losing Ginny to Voldemort, or the thought of Ginny falling in love with me only to watch me die."
Ron let these words settle in his mind. "So, you figured the only way you could protect her was to keep your feelings to yourself and never tell anyone."
Harry nodded and returned his gaze to the lake. Ron was suddenly very aware of how lonely and depressed Harry was feeling. A lump surfaced in his throat.
"Well, let's say for a moment that Ginny does love you. She's not little kid anymore Harry. She's been through a run-in with Voldemort herself, you know? She can take care of herself."
Harry looked back at Ron impatiently. "What's your point Ron?"
Ron looked as serious as he could. "If you love her, and she loves you, don't you think she deserves the chance to decide for herself if she wants to risk being with you?"
"Absolutely not Hermione!" Ginny was putting her laundry away in her dorm room while Hermione checked over her latest essay.
"Come on Ginny. It's been ages since you and Dean broke up. He was a git and you know it. You've been losing yourself in your schoolwork; you need to take a break and rejoin the world. Have some fun, for Merlin's sake!"
"Hermione, you know Harry has a lot on his mind. He has more important things to worry about than this stupid little ball. He has his destiny to contemplate, Hermione. When do you think, with the world of things he has to worry about, that Harry has any time for thinking about romance?"
"Well, he thought about Cho."
"Wrong Hermione! Cho barged in to Harry's life, and look what happened! I don't…" she stopped suddenly.
"Don't what? Come on, Ginny!"
"Drop it, Hermione!"
"No Ginny, I won't drop it. What were you going to say?"
Ginny rounded on Hermione, suddenly in tears. "I SAID DROP IT!" She returned to her laundry, sobbing.
"Look me in the eyes and tell me you don't still have feelings for Harry."
Ginny rounded on Hermione again, furious. She lost her battle with her will and collapsed into Hermione's lap, hands to her face, crying openly.
"I don't want to lose my one and only chance of being with Harry."
Hermione let out the breath she realized she was holding. It was as she had suspected. The secrets were out. Ron had talked to Harry, only to discover that Harry had been developing feelings for Ginny all along, holding them back only to protect her. Now Ginny was holding back, waiting until Harry could clear his mind of all the sorrow that plagued him. At this rate they would never get together. Two brave and tragic Gryffindors, sacrificing their needs out of their love for each other. Ron and Hermione knew that Harry needed Ginny, and now she knew that Ginny needed Harry, too.
"You love him, don't you, Ginny?" Ginny nodded into her hands, not looking up.
"Have you ever considered the possibility that the one thing Harry needs now more than anything is love?"
Ginny sniffed back a tear. "Harry can get that from anyone. It doesn't have to be me."
Hermione held Ginny's face in her hands and slowly brought it up, looking at her sternly. Ginny's face was red and wet with tears.
"Is that what you want? Do you want Harry to get the love that he needs from somebody else? Do you want Harry to give his love to somebody else?"
Ginny's face contorted in her grief as she shook her head.
"Then you must go to him Ginny. Be with him. Be there for him. You must have the courage to give Harry your heart. Do you understand?" Ginny nodded.
Hermione pulled Ginny in and hugged her, letting Ginny cry out her pain.
"I have an idea, Ginny. I think I know how we can do this. Leave it to me."
Ginny stood nervously outside the Great Hall. She could hear the music on the other side of the door and the low hum of people talking and having a good time. She knew what she wanted to say but it was taking all of her courage to keep from running straight back up to her dorm room. Hermione had promised her she'd do anything and everything to make sure this went off smoothly. Ginny wanted to be with Harry so she had agreed.
Ron was taking care of things on the other end. They had told Harry that Ginny wasn't feeling good and wasn't going to be there. Harry, of course, hadn't asked if she had had a date or was planning to attend alone. Ron told him to come anyway; there were going to be special sweets and drinks for the ball, and he didn't want to miss them. Harry hadn't totally bought in to this but Ron was his friend and he finally agreed to go stag. Phase one had been successful.
Phase two was another bit of info that Ron laid on him casually. He told Harry that some of the girls might wait outside the door, hoping for a date. Ron had suggested that if there was anyone there Harry knew he might be a gentleman and ask her to go in together as friends. Harry had thought this was a noble idea. Phase two was complete.
Now it was all up to Ginny. She had her large dress cloak on with the hood up. Hermione had helped her pick out the right dress in Hogsmead ("Harry's going to flip!"). It was a summer yellow that brought out her eyes and complimented her skin. All she had to do was wait for Harry to arrive and surprise him. If all went well they would be going to the ball together but not just as friends.
Ginny heard footsteps and turned to glance. To her horror she saw two of Harry's female classmates coming towards the door. Ginny feared Harry might choose to take up Ron's advice and ask one of them instead of her. She didn't dare say anything to them. She relaxed a little as the girls' dates arrived and took them into the ballroom. Ginny sighed in relief as she stood there in front of the doors, watching them close.
"Excuse me? Are you going to the ball?"
It's Harry! Don't panic. Breathe. Time to put on a little show. You want to be with him. Take your time. Do this right. Don't rush it. Just relax…
Ginny turned around slowly, lifted her head and pulled back the hood of her cloak, at the same time using her arms to push the rest of her cloak back over her shoulders, revealing her dress. Hermione was right on; Harry took several seconds to recover.
"Hel… Hello Ginny. What are you doing here? Ron said you weren't feeling well."
"I wasn't," Ginny said truthfully, though she meant emotionally, not physically. "But I started to feel better, so I decided to come down to see if I could hook up with someone." Of course, she meant someone in particular.
"Oh. Well, I'm glad you're feeling better." He paused. Ginny was wondering what was going through his mind. Was Ron right? Did he really have feelings for her? Was he going to hold back forever?
"Do you want to go to the ball with me, Ginny?"
"I'd love to Harry!" Ginny said a bit too quickly.
"We can go as friends, you know?"
Ginny quickly tried to hide her disappointment. She did pretty well, she thought, considering. "I'd like that, Harry."
Harry offered her his arm, and she took it. They walked up to the doors and entered the ballroom. Ginny didn't know if she could keep the tears away.
This isn't how I want it, she thought. It's not enough. Hermione's words played back in her mind:
"Do you want Harry to get the love that he needs from somebody else? Do you want Harry to give his love to somebody else?"
Ginny stopped dead six steps inside the ballroom. Hermione's words faded out with:
"You must have the courage to give Harry your heart…"
"What's wrong, Ginny?"
Ginny pulled Harry aside. There was nowhere to be alone here. Fortunately the noise level was loud enough that she thought she could talk without everyone else hearing.
She gathered up all her courage and took hold of Harry's hands.
"I don't want it to be like this Harry. I want to go to the ball, but not just as friends."
She watched as Harry's depressed look returned. Ginny could see that some students were starting to stare. Other students were turning to see what was going on. Ron and Hermione were getting into position to run interference and give her the time she needed.
"I understand Ginny. I'm just happy I can be your friend." He smiled bravely and then tried to drop his hands as he turned to walk away. Ginny quickly squeezed his hands tighter to keep him from leaving.
It was now or never.
"I want to go to the ball with you, Harry. As more than friends. As a couple."
Harry's eyes opened quickly, and then went a bit depressed again. "Ginny, I care about you a lot. I know I've never told you that, but I do. I want to be with you but I'm afraid of what it would mean if Voldemort ever got his way. I don't want to cause you any pain."
Ginny stood there, speechless, holding Harry's hands. She hadn't expected Harry to admit this to her. He did love her, she knew it…
"You must have the courage to give Harry your heart," Hermione's voice said again in her mind.
"I love you, Harry. I want to be with you, no matter what. I know you don't want to cause me pain, but I can't help how I feel about you. Please let me be with you."
Ginny could see the tears welling up in Harry's eyes. It was the first time she had ever seen Harry on the verge of crying.
"I love you too, Ginny. I was so afraid to tell you before. Every time I felt lonely and wanted someone to be with the only person that came to my mind was you."
Courage, Ginny. She leaned to him, and he met her lips with his.
After few seconds the clapping began. They broke their kiss clumsily. Ginny turned to find half the ballroom's occupants gathered in a half-circle around her and Harry, cheering.
"It's about time!" "Way to go, Harry!" "Aw, Ginny, we're so happy for you!"
"All right, all right, show's over, nothing to see here, move on, move on…" It was Ron, who had been standing guard by him the whole time. He and Hermione broke up the crowd, who went back to dancing or talking or whatnot. Ron came back over to Harry.
"You've got to try the heart cookies, Harry. They're incredible. I'd go have one with you, but I promised my date this dance."
Ginny watched Harry's face as the surprise hit him. "What date, Ron?" Ron didn't answer as he walked towards the dance floor and joined up with Hermione.
Ginny watched Harry as he turned back to her, smiling. He looked like he was going to kiss her but his eye caught something behind Ginny. She looked behind her to discover Professor McGonagall watching them.
Harry let go of her hands and offered her his arm again. "Come on Ginny, let's get some punch. Plenty of time for snogging later." Ginny blushed and took Harry's arm in hers, nodding playfully.