Preface A/N: This version is the “alternate” version. For various reasons, I always meant for this one-shot to be a purely dialogue-based event. I was asked to try adding in at least some of the prose, and this was the result. Since the prose version was liked by others so much, it is being posted for those who want a bit more setup and a bit less personal interpretation.
There was no surprise that someone was approaching as the tall grass rustled in a sound other than wind-based enticements. “Harry. You’ve been out here an awfully long time. Are you all right?”
The source of interruption was unexpected but welcome. “Hey, Ginny. Yeah, I’m just wonderful.”
“Right.” Her voice made it clear what she thought of his effort at levity. “Why don’t I believe you?”
“Maybe because you’re smarter than Ron?”
“That’s not very nice, Harry. True, but not nice.”
Now she sounded amused, but he kept his gaze on the tips of the tall grass. Sitting with his arm over his knees, his chin resting on said arm, he had found the solitude welcoming. “Yeah, well, that’s life.”
“Well, are you at least looking forward to starting sixth year soon?”
Of course she was unaware that the discussion started over breakfast between her family members on that very topic was what had driven him outside in the first place. “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.”
She was silent for a while, and he found his other arm propelling his hand through his hair repeatedly. Her voice was much softer when she spoke again. “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?”
Harry laughed briefly, waving his free hand vaguely at the splendour in front of both of them. “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.”
She nudged him with something, probably her foot. “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.”
The logic there was beyond anything he had previously considered, and that was saying a good bit, considering all the depressing things he had been thinking of before she interrupted him. “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.”
He could tell she was amused again from her voice, but at the same time, there was an edge to it, almost as though she was annoyed with him. “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?” The brief fire of her spirit had been completely replaced with what sounded like confusion.
“Err, not really. Look, do you really want to hear this?”
She was silent for a long moment before she voiced her decision. “Yeah, actually, I think I do. You mind if I sit and join you?”
Harry finally turned his head to see her, simultaneously waving his unencumbered arm to the ground next to him. “Go ahead.” When she was settled, she gave him a little grin, which caused him to smile briefly back at her. Turning back to the grass in front of them, he went back to watching the tips wave about as if an invisible giant kept running their hands over it all. “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!”
He had no idea why she sounded irritated, but she did. “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.”
A silence settled over them as the wind picked up briefly. Harry was content to watch the grass, to listen to the whispers of the movements, and to try to push all of the disaster that was the past year away.
“Harry, no one, and I mean no one, could be so thick about your one and only date.”
The implied accusation annoyed him, and he felt that his effort at finding peace was going to be futile if she continued with her apparently limited understanding. “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.” Harry had to snort at that image. It made him think of the fellow that ran the store near Privet Drive, curt and abrupt and 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.”
Harry lifted his head up and stared at her. He realised, given her impish smirk, that he should never be surprised at what the Weasleys would find entertainment in. “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?”
Harry sighed and put his chin back on his arm, returning to the visage of green stalks and invisible giants. “Did you notice how I hugged her back?”
“Err, not really. I don’t recall seeing you move much, actually.”
“Yeah. You know why?” He was hard pressed to keep his voice light and not bitter.
“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.”
Harry gave in completely and sighed for a long moment, not particularly wanting to explain this to anyone. “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.”
Harry kept his eyes firmly on the grass, determined to ignore any reaction the redhead might have. As silence settled again, his other hand was in his hair, once more without his conscious control. Her breathing became a little more loud and pronounced, almost ragged, he thought, before she spoke again.
“You’re saying those are the only hugs you’ve ever had? Ever?!”
“Your aunt or uncle never hugged you?!”
She seemed as though she was going to work her way into a full-blown Weasley fit, but he was unwilling to lie to her. She had asked for the explanation, and as much as he had no desire to truly explain it, he knew she deserved the truth. “If they ever touched me, it wasn’t in an act of kindness.”
“It wasn’t in an act of… oh.” It was as if all the fire and anger she had been building up collapsed in on itself in an instant. “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.”
She sounded tentative, which was unusual for her. Ever since the events at Christmas, he had realised she was a different girl than the one that used to squeak and hide when he was around. The return of her uncertainty made him regret offering to tell her any of it.
“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?”
Harry waved his free hand in a noncommittal gesture. “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?” The hesitation was still there, but there was less of it. Mostly she just sounded sad.
“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.”
This time, the silence was lacking something, or rather had something added to it, a sense of strain or awkwardness. The grass and the trees would have no answers, and he knew that Ginny would have no answers either. Life was the way it was, and he had never really had answers to any of the questions until it was far too late to do any good. Her quiet laughter made him turn back to her in mild surprise.
“You really couldn’t even figure out Ron?”
Harry smiled faintly back at her amused expression. “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?” She was grinning again, but it was a way that he found peaceful. She was not laughing at his expense, but laughing at the understanding she had gained. She really had grown up from the butter dish days.
“No, not really.”
“Do you want me to explain it to you?”
This time, Harry laughed back at her briefly. She understood on one level, perhaps, but it still was far from real to her. When he looked back toward the grass and beauty of nature, the tension that had been there before was gone. “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.” She still sounded amused, but also as though she were beginning to doubt his ability to make a point. “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.”
Shooting the bird of peace would have been simpler, he thought, as the tension slowly worked its way back into the roller-coaster of their bouts of silence.
“I don’t want to talk about it, all right? Just let it go, Ginny. Really.” Harry forced a chuckle, trying to bring some levity back. “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.” She nudged his shoulder, and he caught a glimpse of her hand hovering to nudge him again if he failed to elaborate. “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.”
Ginny sighed deeply. “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?”
Her inquisitiveness was back, he could tell. He debated about whether he should say anything, but it made little difference in long run. “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.” Harry shrugged for a moment and ran one hand through the grass by his trainers. “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!” He knew she was only mock-annoyed with him, but it was nice to hear her reverting to her more normal self. “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?” There was the briefest hesitation again in her voice, which surprised him.
“Dunno. I don’t always smell it, you know? When we’re playing Quidditch, the smell is definitely not there, but I feel it.”
The silence was short, but it was also comfortable. There was no detraction from the calming sensation of just being outside. “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?” There was an undercurrent in her tone, but he had no clue what it was from. Given the Weasley sense of humour, he was almost certain she was going to wind him up about it.
“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?”
There was something in her tone that made him look over at her. “No, no, I don’t think so. Why? You look surprised or something.”
“Uhm, just thinking about it, Harry. Just thinking.”
He was less than sure she was being forthcoming with him, but it mattered little. He was content to sit and enjoy the quiet, and he knew there was no way he was ever going to figure out what it was that made The Burrow feel more welcoming and safe than anyplace else. “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.”
Harry had to blink at the abrupt change of topic. It made no sense to him, but there was something in her face, in her voice, that reminded him of a bit of chocolate in the library last Easter. Glancing down, Harry confirmed his suspicions that she was moving into the territory he would never really understand. “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?” He was unable to keep a bit of sarcasm from his voice, but she had no reaction to it.
“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?”
Harry found his confusion mounting, but he was resigned to whatever was coming. “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.” Her hair was falling around her face at the vigour of her shaking it in denial. “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.”
“Uhm, okay?” They were now officially on the topic of wet socks, this was something he realised. The why of their topic being wet socks was as elusive as catching the hands of the giant moving the grass about.
“Do you like having cold feet?”
“Have you ever had cold feet for an entire day?”
She nodded sagely at him, as though that explained everything. He tried to keep his confusion from showing, but she just smiled gently at him. “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.”
Harry gave up. He understood what she was saying, but he had no idea why she was telling him. Moreover, he realised he would never know why she told him. “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.”
He knew he was staring at her, but her smirk coupled to her words brought his entire brain to a screeching halt. “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.”
Two things were immediately apparent. First, he did not want to find out what other casual offence of ignorance would warrant such a treatment from Ginny, and second, her mum was to be accorded the same respect and careful attention to detail. “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.”
There was a faint glimmer of comprehension sneaking up on him, although he was still uncertain what to do with the information. “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.”
Harry winced, wondering what other strange curses would be involved in this new line of conversation. “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?”
Now Ginny was staring at him as though he had lost his mind. “Sandpaper? You can make paper out of sand?”
With a sigh, Harry shook his head briefly. “Never mind. Go on with your, uh, explanation.” He tried hard to make the last word sound normal, but her eyes flashed and he knew he had failed.
“Right.” She reached into her trouser pocket and extracted something small and shiny he had no recollection of ever seeing before. “Here, hold this jar for a second.”
“What is it?”
“Lip balm, Harry. You know what that is?”
Ginny’s smile was downright scary, and when it was combined with the voice and determination from that chocolate caper, he wondered with some trepidation over what strange tale was unfolding now. “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.” Harry was staring at the waxy material, noting in passing that its red colour was an incredibly artificial shade compared to the family of redheads around him. Bringing it closer, he could feel something tickle the back of his brain. “And it seems to smell familiar, like —”
As Ginny leaned closer, he became aware of a scent of flowers subtly filling his mind. “Uhm…”
“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.)