Preface A/N: This version is the "preferred" version. Some people may be confused or unhappy with the form of it. For you, there is a second version of exactly the same story, posted as the second chapter in this one. It should be posted at exactly the same time, and will contain exactly the same dialogue — but has extra bits in it. I prefer this version, as it lets my mind fill in the missing pieces the way I prefer.
"Harry. You've been out here an awfully long time. Are you all right?"
"Hey, Ginny. Yeah, I'm just wonderful."
"Right. Why don't I believe you?"
"Maybe because you're smarter than Ron?"
"That's not very nice, Harry. True, but not nice."
"Yeah, well, that's life."
"Well, are you at least looking forward to starting sixth year soon?"
"Oh, yeah, I can't wait. Some new evil or torture at the castle, an attempt or two on my life, maybe even on my friends' lives. That ignores the ugly guy that keeps wanting to do me in himself."
"You can't keep going on like that, you know. You need to find some happiness somewhere. Can't you think of some kind of sunshine in the gloom?"
"In case you hadn't noticed, Ginny, it's rather a blindly bright day, and the paddock is a veritable bed of roses. Sunshine isn't going to do much."
"Don't be daft, Harry. I didn't mean it literally. You need to think about something else, find a way to be positive about life for a little bit. Read a book for fun, go out with a few different girls, that sort of thing."
"So you're saying I need to find happiness in some casual dating, assuming I can find a girl that likes me and not my name?"
"Of course a teenage boy would pick out that option. Harry, lots of girls like you, and some of them even for you, not your name. And you know it."
"Like I'd ever have a clue as to whether someone liked me or not, let alone the rest."
"Well, if you're so inept, how did you ask Cho out?"
"What? She asked you out?"
"Err, not really. Look, do you really want to hear this?"
"Yeah, actually, I think I do. You mind if I sit and join you?"
"Go ahead. I never asked her out. It was the final DA meeting before Christmas last year, right, and everyone left but her. I wasn't sure what she was doing, but then she's bawling and kissing me and saying she likes me and crying all over my shoulder and, well, it was weird. And wet. Very wet."
"So she never asked you out, either?"
"But you went on dates!"
"Date, Ginny, date. As in, just one."
"That's the one that everyone heard about? The big fight?"
"Yeah. My sum total with your idea of sunshine is a desperately sad girl, confused over the death of her boyfriend, mixed up with the possibility she might like me, the guy who saw what happened to said boyfriend. Then she all but ambushed me while crying her eyes out and kissed me at the same time. That was followed less than two months later with a really, really bad, I-still-don't-understand-what-happened date."
"Harry, no one, and I mean no one, could be so thick about your one and only date."
"You really don't get it, do you, Ginny?"
"Didn't Hermione or Ron ever explain about the Dursleys to you?"
"I heard they weren't very nice, but nothing specific or anything. Why?"
"Not very nice. Yeah, okay, that's a good summary. Let me ask it this way. Did you notice when I got here, your mum gave me one of her hugs?"
"Of course. I thought you might go purple, but you stopped at red. I still owe the twins a pair of Knuts for that."
"Gee, thanks. I'm glad my health is such a casual betting topic here."
"You've lost the point, Harry. What about Mum's hug?"
"Did you notice how I hugged her back?"
"Err, not really. I don't recall seeing you move much, actually."
"Yeah. You know why?"
"Aren't you the one that's supposed to be explaining it to me?"
"I don't know what to do when someone hugs me."
"Your mum gives me these hugs that are all but back-breaking — you lot probably even bet on how many bones will creak. The thing is, the only people who have ever really given me a hug are just your mum, Hermione, and Sirius. I'm ignoring the crazy Quidditch team or excitable house-elves and half-giants, right? But when someone does give me one, it's always a surprise, you know? I never expect them. And then, well, I just kind of stand there. I don't know what to do with my arms, or hands, or anything. By the time I'm over the shock of someone touching me, and work up the notion to try and hug them back somehow, it's over."
"You're saying those are the only hugs you've ever had? Ever?!"
"Your aunt or uncle never hugged you?!"
"If they ever touched me, it wasn't in an act of kindness."
"It wasn't in an act of… oh. Oh, Harry, that's —"
"That's the way it is. Just leave it, I don't want to talk about the Dursleys."
"No, okay, all right. Um. I won't lie to you, Harry. I'm angry, angry for you, that's not right. That's just wrong. Very wrong. I won't ask anymore about it, at least not right now, all right?"
"Yeah. But that's the point I was trying to make. Why I don't understand girls or how you know if someone likes you. Hell, half the time I don't even understand Ron, and Hermione swears he has the emotional range of a teaspoon. How am I supposed to figure out girls when it's all Greek to me?"
"You're serious, aren't you? Even about Ron?"
"Yeah, fourth year was hard. It really drove in just how little I understand others."
"No, I don't want to talk about it. I just want you to understand that maybe sunshine for you is a few casual dates, but that's only ever going to be more rain to me."
"You really couldn't even figure out Ron?"
"No way. He has more sources of jealousy and insecurity than Cho did for crying. At least hers are valid."
"And you still don't understand what happened on your, uh, date?"
"No, not really."
"Do you want me to explain it to you?"
"Ginny, have you ever sat around and simply watched other people interact?"
"Sure, doesn't everyone?"
"Did you ever notice how people talk with their bodies? More than just how they wave their arms around, I mean. The way some people stand, or flip their hair, all that?"
"Yeah. I usually notice that when I'm talking to people, too."
"Right. When I said, 'it's all Greek to me,' that body language stuff from girls is included."
"So if you really think you can explain it, feel free. But the reality is that you'd have to start over with about when you were four or five years old, and start explaining it from there. And the real kicker is that it doesn't matter how well you explain it, I'm still not going to understand it. So I'll make the same mistakes again, or — with my luck — even worse ones."
"I don't want to talk about it, all right? Just let it go, Ginny. Really. And to be honest, Hermione's tried to explain girls and all that stuff, but it really doesn't make much sense to me."
"Okay, Harry. I'll let it go for now. But my original point is still true, you know. You need to find something that makes you happy, or feel good, or at least safe, you know? Haven't you ever had that feeling?"
"Yeah, maybe. I mean, the first few months of my first year at Hogwarts were like that, but… well, Hogwarts isn't safe or even comforting anymore. I guess it's a little like finding comfort in the familiar, but mostly it's someplace I can be free of the Dursleys, and learn some cool things. Maybe it's kind of like home, you know? When you're there, you don't really think about it, but when you're away, you'd rather be there. Lots of bad things have happened there, but I made my first friends there, and there have been good times, too. But that doesn't make it happiness or safety."
"Right. Just thinking about Umbridge is enough for me to never think of Hogwarts as either of those things, let alone everything else that's happened there. But if you don't think Hogwarts is it, then what is?"
"I dunno, really. I think there's something about here, about The Burrow, that gives me that feeling, but I've never been able to figure out what it is."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, it's weird. It hasn't always been there, but the past couple of summers when I've come to visit, at random times I just seem to feel… warm, I guess. Like everything is okay for a little bit."
"Okay, eh? That's not very clear. Is it the place or the people?"
"Dunno, Ginny, truly. I've tried to figure it out, but it's never when I'm around the same people. Lately I would try to look around when I felt it, trying to find that common thing, trying to be smart about it like Hermione would. Sometimes I catch a scent, and it's like… strawberries or maybe some of the flowers here in the garden. I thought maybe it was something your mum was cooking, or maybe a cleaning polish, or even the bloody shampoo. But sometimes I don't see anyone around, sometimes it happens when I'm flying, and sometimes it happens when all of you are in the room. I gave up trying to figure it out, and mostly don't think about it anymore — until someone tries to interrogate me on what sunshine might be like."
"That's not fair, I'm not interrogating you! Hermione would interrogate you, I'm just trying to be a friend."
"Yeah, all right. But you see why I can't answer your question, right?"
"Maybe. It's a scent, then, and not an object?"
"Dunno. I don't always smell it, you know? When we're playing Quidditch, the smell is definitely not there, but I feel it."
"So you feel it sometimes even when there's no scent. And when you do feel it with a scent, it's always strawberries and flowers?"
"Well, yeah, one of them, maybe both, something like that."
"And do you feel happy when you smell them?"
"I'm not covering my clothes with ground up flowers and strawberries, Ginny. It's not the scent, it's whatever the scent comes with, that makes me happy."
"Hmmm. What about right now? Do you feel safe now?"
"As long as we're not talking about the Dursleys, yeah, I suppose so. Why?"
"But those scents aren't here, are they?"
"No, no, I don't think so. Why? You look surprised or something."
"Uhm, just thinking about it, Harry. Just thinking."
"See? 'S'why I gave up, I never could find a pattern to it."
"Mm-hmm. There's probably a pattern, Harry, it's just not one you could figure out."
"Yeah, well, that's pretty much my life story."
"I really hate having wet socks."
"Uh, Ginny, you're not wearing any — you're barefoot."
"Look, you said Hermione tried to explain 'girls and stuff', but it didn't work, right? So I'm going to try to help. With two of us, maybe you'll understand."
"Err, okay? Should I take notes?"
"Harry, you know how you told me that it's all Greek to you?"
"Thank you for telling me that. When you get confused, don't assume something. Just ask me what's going on. I promise I'll always do my best to explain it to you. Do you know why I hate wet socks?"
"Aren't you the one that's supposed to be explaining it to me?"
"Cute, Harry, using my own words against me. If your socks get wet, and you don't take them off, what happens?"
"Well, in an hour or so, they'll dry out."
"No, they won't."
"Uh, Ginny, I've had wet socks and —"
"No, Harry, they don't dry out. Your body heat dries them out."
"What? No way. The air does."
"Harry, when my socks get wet in the morning, and I continue wearing them, do you know what happens?"
"Uh, they dry out?"
"I go to bed with very cold, very wet feet."
"Do you like having cold feet?"
"Have you ever had cold feet for an entire day?"
"You have no idea how much I, as an underage witch, hate having wet socks. At school, I can dry them out. Here, I have to change them immediately, and that's a pain. Sometimes I don't have any clean ones to wear. And that means I have to do a whole bunch of laundry. So I really, really hate having wet socks."
"Right. You hate wet socks. For the record, I'm sincerely sorry if I ever made your socks wet."
"You've nothing to be sorry for, Harry. You always clean up after yourself in the bathroom. My brothers, however, had to be educated on the topic."
"Do I want to know?"
"That's why they fear my hex."
"You can hex them, but you can't dry your socks out?"
"Oh, I got in a lot of trouble for it. If I had instead dried my socks out, I would have got in almost as much trouble, but they would have only laughed it off and kept doing it."
"Hmmm. So they made your socks wet, and you hexed them?"
"Not the first time. Not even the tenth time. I asked nicely, I pleaded, I tried to barter, and when all else failed… on the thirteenth time, I used a hex Mum taught me. The Bat-Bogey."
"Okay, note to self. Do not be near Ginny if her socks are wet, or about to become wet."
"See? You're starting to understand already. But as much as it might seem like a Ginny thing, it's not. Most girls hate wet socks. We don't have the same circulation boys do, generally, so we can't have any wet clothes on and assume they'll dry out. We have to change our clothes. The longer we're wet, the colder we'll be, and you do not want a cold, angry witch contemplating getting even with you."
"So you're telling me if I'm on a date, and she gets wet, I should use a Warming Charm? Or a Drying Charm? Or just run for it and never show my face again?"
"Don't be daft, Harry. Ask your date which one is right for the time."
"Oh, sure, I can see that now. 'Look, I get confused easily by girls, so can you tell me if I should take my lumps or just run for it?' I don't think that's going to be much sunshine, really."
"I hate having chapped lips, Harry."
"Changing the topic, right. Is there a hex involved here, too?"
"It depends on why I'm having chapped lips. But do you know what most girls do about the problem?"
"Err, does it involve sandpaper?"
"Sandpaper? You can make paper out of sand?"
"Never mind. Go on with your, uh, explanation."
"Right. Here, hold this jar for a second."
"What is it?"
"Lip balm, Harry. You know what that is?"
"I've heard of it. Never touched it before, though."
"Well, this will be another first for you then, you'll get to know what it feels like. Open it, please, and tell me what you think."
"Huh. It looks kind of, well, greasy. And it seems to smell familiar, like —"
"Remember, I'll always explain things to you. But right now, you need some sunshine in your life, and I promised that you'd learn what lip balm feels like."
A/N: This one-shot is the necessary setup for another one-shot. The second (forthcoming), entitled "Shoes", is in response to a challenge thrown down by Sovran and Melkior. However, it needed a certain subtle shift in the canon universe, and this is the cause of said shift. The effects are for the actual challenge piece.
Thanks to the short and secret beta team: Chreechree, cwarbeck, and Sherylyn.
(And yes, Echoes is still going. One-shots are easy, but the complexity of Echoes takes more time. When work and RL are crazy, it's hard to get that extra time.)