A/N: The character Penny who appears briefly in this story is not Penelope Clearwater; she's an original character of mine, a Gryffindor in Ginny's year, who may appear in a story of her own at some point. Forgive her any Americanisms; she's had an odd upbringing. It seems like anyone who writes a story from Ginny's point of view has to invent female year-mates for her, since JKR hasn't given us any in canon yet.
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to my beta reader, Ahmie, for her very quick turnaround and her helpful suggestions to a first-time writer.
Disclaimer: If there's something in here you like, JKR owns it. I'm only responsible for the bad parts.
Part 1: February 12
Ginny brushed a strand of hair back from her face and let out a sigh, standing up to stretch out her cramped muscles. Potion making was difficult enough in Snape's class, when she only had Snape's sadism and Slytherin sniggering to contend with. This particular potion, however, was a far more nerve-wracking exercise, with much more than a grade hanging on the outcome. Crouching down in a cubicle of an unused bathroom didn't make it any easier.
It had taken Ginny weeks just to get up the courage to come back to this bathroom; even four years later, she was tormented by faint watery memories of opening the Chamber of Secrets here, watching helplessly as the huge serpent slithered past her averted eyes out into the halls. The sink that had once hidden the entrance to the Chamber was gone now, replaced by a slab of blank marble and several layers of magical protections, but her skin still crawled every time she looked at it.
Memories aside, however, the bathroom was the only place she knew where she wouldn't be disturbed, so she had finally screwed up her courage and entered. Few people ever dared to come in, and even Moaning Myrtle usually kept her distance; apparently she remembered too. For tonight's purposes, that suited Ginny very well indeed. She bent back down to the small cauldron bubbling quietly on the brazier on the floor and the battered copy of Potions to Bewitch Heart and Mind nearby. She read through the recipe one last time, silently checking off the list of ingredients. Powdered ruby, wine, two hairs from a unicorn's mane, gold dust, shell of dove's egg, one square of chocolate... "Right then. Step the last:" she read aloud, "at the rising of the full moon, add three petals of purest red rose, stirring deosil seven rotations, and speak this incantation with clear voice and steadfast heart:
"Caecorum aperiantur oculos,
solorum cogantur animos,
sic patatur amorem!"
A reddish glow shone from the cauldron, and the various solid ingredients dissolved as the solution turned clear and colorless. Ginny slowly let out a breath that she didn't realize she had been holding in. Unless I missed something, it looks like it actually worked.
"Oooooooo, what have we here?" Ginny jumped and looked around, then slumped against the wall of the cubicle in relief as Moaning Myrtle swooped down from the ceiling. "Sounds like we're brewing a love potion! Who's the lucky boy?"
Sod off, thought Ginny, but she held her tongue and carefully poured the potion into the crystal vial she had brought. "You know love potions aren't allowed at Hogwarts."
"Oh, yes, but I know a love potion when I see one. Whoever he is, he must be pretty special for you to break the rules for him. Or maybe you just can't get anyone to invite you to the Valentine's Ball?"
Ginny glared at, or rather through, Myrtle as she hovered over the toilet. "Maybe I made it for you and Draco. I do think he fancies you, you know..."
"That's NOT FUNNY! Here I am trying just to ask a simple question, but no, let's all pick on poor miserable Myrtle, aaaaaaauuuuuuuuu..." Her wail was cut off by a huge *splash* as she swooped to the ceiling and dived headlong into the toilet in Ginny's cubicle. Ginny cursed and jumped back, but not fast enough to avoid a thorough soaking. Her cauldron tipped over, spilling the last few drops of the potion onto her book. Grimly, she picked up the book and cauldron and tossed them into a bag. The potion, thankfully, was safely sealed away in its vial. Lovely, now all I need is for her to tell someone what I was making.
Ginny was about to open the door and step out into the corridor when the door flew open in her face, and Mr. Filch towered over her, scowling. "What have we here? A student out of bounds, yes, prowling around in places she ought not be." He poked her shoulder with a bony finger. "Explain yerself, little girl."
Her temper flared as "little girl" sank in, driving any civil answer she might have given straight out of her mind. "I was talking to Myrtle, minding my own business! Why don't you mind yours?"
Filch glared down at her, eyes narrowing. "I'll not have you talk back to me! Make you sorry for that, I will. See how you like scrubbing the kitchen floor tomorrow night on yer detention. Maybe then you'll learn to show a little more respect." He prodded her shoulder again, and finally noticed the water dripping off her robes. "And trackin' water all down the halls, no less. You go back to your dormitory and change this instant. Or I'll have you scrubbing up here, too."
Ginny eyed him venomously and shouldered past him into the corridor before he could ask just what she had been doing. At least Filch didn't know her connection to the Chamber of Secrets, or he would have been far more angry, or perhaps frightened, to find her in this particular bathroom. As soon as she was around the corner from Filch, she pulled out her wand, pointed it at herself, and muttered "Dessicato." Immediately the water evaporated away, leaving her robe clean. She shook her head ruefully and continued on to her original goal, the kitchens. I suppose I really should learn to hold my temper.
At this hour of the evening, most of the post-dinner cleaning was already done, but she barely had a chance to ask for pumpkin juice and a few biscuits before the house-elves eagerly loaded her down with enough to feed all of Gryffindor for a week. Basket bumping against one hip and cauldron against the other, she staggered up the stairs to Gryffindor Tower.
The Common Room was crowded when she entered, but fairly quiet. Her fifth-year classmates were all buried in their textbooks, revising for their O.W.L.s, and Snape had apparently given the sixth-years a particularly vicious Potions assignment. Ginny suspected that the Potions master was just trying to cause whatever misery he could in the two days remaining before the Valentine's Day Ball. Her intended victim was concentrating on that very assignment as she entered, to judge from the rebellious expression on his face and the stack of Potions texts on the table where he sat with Ron and Hermione. Ginny's stomach did a slow, queasy roll. The tension of making the potion and her flare of anger with Filch had burned out now, leaving her wrung out and nervous about what she was about to do.
The boy's had enough time to notice me on his own, she thought. Even Ron has finally cottoned to on how he and Hermione feel about each other. And I couldn't stand to see Harry ask someone else to another ball. All I'm doing is helping things on a little bit. She squared her shoulders and headed toward her dormitory to put her cauldron away.
"Oi, Ginny! Shouldn't you be getting ready for those O.W.L.s?" Ron had seen her, and Harry and Hermione looked up, too. Ron looked relieved to have found a distraction, and from the frown on Hermione's face, Ginny guessed that they must be in the midst of yet another argument. Harry, on the other hand, smiled at her, and her heart fluttered. He usually doesn't look at me like that.
"Uhh, right, I just had something I had to do after dinner. Let me go get my books..." She managed to escape up the stairs before her face turned too brightly pink. I thought I had got over blushing around him! Quickly she stuffed the bag with the potion book and cauldron under her bed and hid it behind a pile of books. She grabbed a couple of textbooks at random, set the tray from the kitchen on top of them, and arranged the biscuits and the four goblets she'd nicked on the tray. Finally, with a deep breath, she took the vial out of her pocket and emptied its contents into two of the four goblets. The instructions from the potion ran through her mind as she slipped the vial back in her pocket. "Whensoever the two unacknowledged lovers drink hereof, each upon seeing the other will recognize their soul's mate. The bonds of true love being everlasting, the effect hereof will never fail nor dim..."
Right then, I'm going to do this. Without blushing.
Ginny took another steadying breath and walked carefully back down the stairs to the Common Room. Harry was still sitting across the table from Hermione, who was glaring frostily at Ron. Ginny walked over with what she hoped was an appropriately casual air.
"I nicked some pumpkin juice and biscuits on my way back up -- I thought we could all use a bit of something." She set the tray down in a clear spot on the table, turning it so that the doctored goblets were nearest her and Harry, and filled them with pumpkin juice.
Harry smiled up at her, and her stomach flopped again. "Thanks, Ginny, that was sweet of you."
Ginny smiled back, pleased with herself for maintaining her calm. Just as she reached for her goblet, though, something hard hit her in the back of the head. She turned around and saw that Neville and Seamus were playing a game of wizard chess behind her. Neville's queen had just knocked one of Seamus's pieces off the board with such force that it had flown several feet through the air and struck her. Neville mumbled an apology and picked up the errant piece while his queen glared at him disapprovingly.
Somewhat rattled by the distraction, Ginny turned back around. Ron shook his head, chuckling, and handed her a goblet. She lifted it and drank. As the cool juice flowed past her lips, she suddenly remembered what she was attempting, and nearly choked. Stay calm, Ginny Weasley. This doesn't taste any different, you know. That's a good thing, I wouldn't want Harry to realize his was doctored.
She looked down at Harry, who was frowning at his parchment and sucking on the end of his quill. Half of his pumpkin juice was already gone. She felt a warm flush wash over her. "Er, Harry? How's the assignment going?"
Harry looked up at her, and his green eyes met hers. "It's Snape all over again, you know. 'Describe, with examples, six ways the effects of potions can be made more permanent, or less.' I can only find three so far and... is something wrong? You look worried about something."
"Err, umm, no, nothing... just tired, you know..." Ginny tried to ignore the twinges of alarm that began to rise inside her. Isn't it working? He doesn't look any different. And I don't feel any different.
"Well, sit down and join us. Hey Hermione, where's Persian Potions and Uzbek Unguents?"
"Oh, I think Ron must have it. He must have appropriated all my books by now, since he apparently can't be bothered to find his own sources." Hermione pulled the requested book out of the pile in front of Ron, shaking her head, and passed it over to Harry. "Hones-"
Hermione's voice caught suddenly. Harry's hand brushed hers as he accepted the book from her, and their eyes met and locked. They gasped simultaneously, and Ginny felt something like an electric shock leap from them both. Ron seemed to have felt something too, for he looked up at that instant with a puzzled frown. "Wha-?"
The scene played out in front of Ginny in horrible slow motion, like watching Harry tumble off his broomstick at that Quidditch match three years ago. Harry and Hermione stood, gazing into each other's eyes in wonder, as if seeing each other for the first time. Slowly, so slowly, Harry pushed back his chair and crossed around behind a bewildered Ron to stand in front of Hermione.
"Harry?" she breathed.
"Hermione?" He caressed her cheek, brushing a curl of hair back from her eyes.
"D'you want to..." She nodded towards the portrait hole, carefully, as if not to break contact with his hand on her face.
"Err, yeah. Let's, ah, go for a walk."
Ron looked back and forth from one of them to the other, baffled. "Cut it out, you two, this is scary."
Harry and Hermione didn't seem to have heard him, or much of anything else. Harry took Hermione's hands in his, and she smiled at him dreamily. Without another word spoken, they walked hand in hand towards the portrait hole. The low buzz of conversation faded away to startled gasps and silence as the couple slipped out of the Common Room.
Reality came crashing down on Ginny as the sound of the portrait swinging shut echoed through the stunned silence. Oh my God, oh my God... the goblets got switched, Hermione got the potion instead of me...
Ron finally broke the silence. "Bloody hell!"
"They really had us going there," Fred chimed in. "I didn't know those two could pull off an act like that. Bloody brilliant." Then he saw the stunned expressions on Ron and Ginny's faces. "Err, that was an act... wasn't it?"
Ginny couldn't take any more. "Ron, you utter prat! Don't you see what you did?" She hurled her half-empty goblet at him; he ducked the goblet itself, but pumpkin juice showered over his face and robes. "This is all your fault!" Sobbing, she ran up the stairs to the fifth-year girls' dormitory.
Nothing broke the ensuing silence but the sound of pumpkin juice dripping from Ron's hair to the floor.
* * *
Part 2: February 13
Ginny roused from a fitful sleep the next morning to find Penny shaking her. "Ginny, wake up, wake up, you'll be late to class."
Ginny peered up at her friend blearily. "I don't care. Leave me alone." She tried to roll over and go back to sleep, but Penny grabbed her shoulder.
"God, Ginny, you look like you've been crying all night! What's the matter with you?"
Ginny groaned and sat up. Sleep wasn't doing her much good anyway, with last night's scene replaying itself over and over in her dreams. "You mean you didn't hear?"
"Hear what? Did something happen? Did someone get hurt?"
"Well, no... well, yes! Errr. Oh sod it, let's just go down to breakfast. I'm sure you'll hear all about it soon enough."
As soon as Ginny came down the stairs to the Common Room, all conversation ceased. All the Gryffindors present were looking at her with some mixture of sympathy and bafflement. Colin Creevy managed a strangled "Good morning, Ginny," but Ginny just mumbled an indistinct response and headed out the portrait hole.
Penny kept silent for most of the trip to the Great Hall, but finally her curiosity got the better of her. "What is up with them? They're acting like someone died. Ginny, are you sure everyone is OK? Your brothers? What about Harry?"
Ginny rounded on her friend. "Harry, huh? Harry... Harry and Hermione... they..." They turned the last corner into the Hall, and Penny stopped dead, staring.
Harry and Hermione were sitting side by side at the Gryffindor table, chatting brightly over breakfast. They were unusually conspicuous because of the broad ring of empty space around them; no one was sitting within ten feet of the oblivious pair. As Ginny and Penny watched, Hermione smiled adoringly at Harry and popped a bit of toast in his mouth. Harry laughed and hugged Hermione tight against him, and she kissed his cheek and nestled her head in the curve of his shoulder.
"What the... how... ok, when did this happen? I thought she was finally getting together with Ron! Uh... Ginny?" Penny turned, but Ginny was no longer standing next to her; she was running full tilt out of the hall, nearly bowling Draco Malfoy over in the process. He shouted something rude, but she ignored him and ran on until she had to stop and double over to catch her breath.
I thought it must have been a bad dream, or maybe it somehow would have worn off by the morning. But it wasn't and it hasn't. She leaned her head against the cold stone wall, trying to choke back sobs.
I've lost him, haven't I? I've well and truly lost him. All because I got impatient and tried to push things along.
She gathered up the shreds of her composure and headed off to Herbology. Several of the Hufflepuffs in class looked at her oddly - I see news travels fast, how lovely - but Professor Sprout promptly led them into the greenhouse to tend the dragon lilies. When Penny joined her at their worktable, Ginny gave her such a quelling look that she didn't say a single word for the rest of class. After Herbology, Ginny went off to Arithmancy while Penny had Divination. Arithmancy was normally a fairly dry subject for Ginny, but today she found Professor Vector's droning lecture oddly soothing - until she remembered just who had recommended Arithmancy to her in the first place. Her quill snapped in two in her hand, and Professor Vector peered at her curiously until she blushed and looked down at her notes.
Hermione! All this time I thought she was my friend. And then I see her with Harry like that and I just want to strangle her. Couldn't she at least have the grace to look embarrassed? She sighed. I suppose I must have got that potion just right, for once in my life. Pity I can't get a grade from Snape for it.
By the time Arithmancy was over, Ginny's stomach was growling fiercely. No breakfast was hard on a stomach used to Mrs. Weasley's generous cooking. Realizing she couldn't very well starve herself, she gathered up her courage and headed down to the Great Hall. To her relief, however, Harry and Hermione were nowhere to be seen. She sat down in a little pile of misery and picked over her lunch. Penny came in a few minutes later and sat beside her.
"Lavender told me about last night, Ginny. God, that must have been a shock, to see them like that. Did you really have no idea?"
Ginny shook her head mutely. Not a chance that I'm going to admit to her that it was my fault.
"Can I do anything?"
You could feed them both to the giant squid. Me too, while you're at it. - "No. I'll just have to get over it, won't I? It's not as though we ever had a relationship, after all."
Penny gave Ginny a long searching look, and finally patted her awkwardly on the shoulder. "Well, if you want to talk, I'm here."
"Thanks, Penny. You know, it's just that I've always had Hermione to talk to as well... but now I can't exactly do that, can I?"
Penny just shook her head. "No, I guess you can't."
As the perfect cap to Ginny's day, she had double Potions that afternoon with the Slytherins, who all sniggered at her unmercifully. When she finally turned to snarl at one of them, however, Snape heard her and took twenty points off Gryffindor for fighting. Worse yet, her Somnifying Solution came out bright orange instead of milky white, and when she splashed a drop on the beetle she was using as a test subject, it flew madly in circles about the room before exploding over Snape's head in a puff of purple smoke. "Very well, class, now that Miss Weasley has demonstrated her ineptitude to all of you, you may go. Oh - and ten more points from Gryffindor." Ginny scowled and packed her things away hurriedly as the rest of the class filed out laughing at her, but when she started to follow them out, Snape stopped her. "I have asked Mr. Filch to assign your detention to me, Miss Weasley. I will expect you here immediately after dinner tomorrow. I do hope I'm not disrupting your plans for the Valentine's Day dance."
Ginny clenched her jaw and gritted out "No, Professor."
"No?" Snape looked mildly disappointed. "Very well then. You may go."
Ginny stalked out of the dungeons and back up to Gryffindor Tower. No one was there, for once, and the silence in her dormitory was a blessed relief to her nerves. Probably all out enjoying this sunny day while it lasts, walking around the lake, laughing and holding hands and - She flung herself down on her bed with a muffled sob. After a few minutes, she drifted off to a fitful sleep.
A voice calling Ginny's name woke her about an hour later, and she sat up and rubbed her face groggily. Hermione was standing at the door, watching her, wringing her hands and looking anxious. "Ginny? Look, I - I'm sorry. I really need to talk to you..."
Yeah, you do, all right. "Well?"
"Look, I know this must all have been a shock to you, and -- "
She broke off as Ron's voice echoed up the stairs. "Hermione, are you up here?"
"Bollocks, I'm not ready to talk to him yet. I'll - I'll see you later, Ginny, all right?" Hermione ran up the stairs toward the sixth-year girls' dormitory and Ginny slumped back down on the bed.
Well, that at least sounded like it might have been the beginning of an apology. And I suppose I can at least stare at Harry at dinner and make him fidget.
Harry did indeed fidget at dinner. His obvious discomfiture gave Ginny some small consolation as she watched him from her seat several places down the table. He was still smiling at Hermione foolishly, and once or twice he started to put his arm around her, but Ginny noticed him looking her way several times with a pained, and somewhat confused, expression. The other Gryffindors sitting around them looked thoroughly befuddled, as if a dementor had cheerfully seated itself at the table and asked them to please pass the chocolate. Ron was at the far end of the group, sitting next to Fred and George, who were apparently trying to console him. He looked more lost than anyone else there, and well he should, realized Ginny; he had lost a real girlfriend, not just a crush, and he had no idea why.
I've got to tell Ron, she realized, he has a right to know how I screwed up both our lives. And then... I'll have to tell them.
After dinner, most of the Gryffindors went back up to the Common Room. Harry and Hermione wandered off towards the library - of course, where else would Hermione take a boy? - and Ginny considered following them, to confess her guilt in a more private setting, but decided she would have to tell Ron first. He was easy enough to spot when she entered the Common Room, sitting alone at the same table where they had been studying last night, with an utterly lost expression on his face. The scorched remains of a house of Exploding Snap cards lay before him. He eyed Ginny warily as she approached. "Come to shout at me again?"
"No, Ron. I came to apologize."
"It probably is my fault, you know. I never know how to act around Hermione, and all we do is fight. That thing about taking all her books - I didn't think she'd be angry if I just borrowed a couple. I suppose she got tired of all the arguing. Harry seems much more her type anyway. I just wish she'd have told me first."
"No, Ron, it really is my fault. Listen... last night when I brought the pumpkin juice over, I ... I slipped something in two of the cups, and they were supposed to be mine and Harry's, only you didn't know and you switched them without my seeing you."
Ron was only half-listening, being too occupied in enumerating his own faults. "I know I'm not the brightest light on the tree, and Harry's much more charming and polite, and they both have Muggle upbringings, so they have more in common, and he doesn't take her library books, and - you did WHAT?"
Ginny winced. "Ron, please, don't shout. This is hard enough as it is. I said, I had put something in my cup and Harry's last night. It was a l-... lo-..." Ginny swallowed and took a deep breath. "It was a love potion. I just wanted Harry to ask me to the Valentines' Ball, and I just got so mad at him for never noticing me, so I thought I would help things along a bit. He and I were supposed to drink that potion and look at each other and, well, somehow Hermione got my cup instead."
Ron's jaw was hanging open as he listened, and a red flush slowly crept up his face. "Ginny," he said in a too-quiet voice, "are you telling me that my two best friends are off snogging each other in a broom closet somewhere because you decided you couldn't wait for Harry to ask you to a dance, and you couldn't even get a simple potion straight? A potion, I might add, that could get you expelled from school?"
"Me? You're the one who switched cups on Hermione and me. Obviously the potion was right, or we wouldn't be in this mess..." - I suppose he has a point.
"Well, this explains why Harry keeps avoiding me - he didn't even come up to bed last night. You are going to be in so much trouble when Mum hears about this. How long does this last, anyway?"
Ginny looked down at the table. "That's the thing. I spent all night looking in Potions to Bewitch Heart and Mind, but I couldn't find anything on how to reverse it. I think my copy has pages missing. The only thing I found makes me think it's p-... permanent."
Ron's voice was still dangerously calm. "Permanent?"
Ginny nodded miserably.
"GINNY WEASLEY, YOU ARE SO DEAD! WHEN I GET DONE WITH YOU, THERE WON'T BE ENOUGH OF YOU LEFT FOR MUM TO - " Ron broke off suddenly, realizing that every eye in the Common Room was turned towards them. Ginny looked around, saw all her housemates staring at her, and fled up the stairs to her dormitory in tears, slamming the door so hard that Godric Gryffindor's portrait swung crazily from one corner where it hung over the Common Room fireplace. He staggered and fell in the corner of the frame, looking indignant, as the other Gryffindors looked from Ron to the stairs and back again.
* * *
Part 3: February 14
Ginny crept down the stairs early the next morning, looking around for Ron fearfully. He had not tried to come into her dormitory last night (or perhaps Penny and the others had stopped him), but she was in no hurry to face his temper again. The Common Room was empty, though, and she breathed a sigh of relief as she headed out the portrait hole to breakfast. Just as she was leaving, the portrait swung aside ahead of her, and she ran headlong into whoever was coming in. The person staggered and grabbed at her for support, and she fell over on top of the unfortunate oaf. "Sorry," a male voice mumbled, "didn't mean to knock you over - terribly sorry..."
Ginny flailed about to try to regain her balance, and her hands found a shock of thick unruly hair and a pair of glasses. She gasped, suddenly connecting them with the voice. "Harry? What are you doing just coming back at this hour?" She staggered to her feet and backed away from him, inasmuch as one could in the tight quarters of the portrait hole.
Harry also stood, and as her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she saw that Harry once again looked distinctly embarrassed. "Er, I - we - library. We were in the library."
"We?" As soon as the word escaped her lips, she knew who Harry meant. "No - never mind - I really don't want to know, all right? I just hope you're happy." She shouldered past him and out into the corridor.
"Ginny, wait! I really need to talk to you..." His voice trailed off as she ran down the steps toward the Great Hall. You know, Harry, that was one of the longest conversations we've had in weeks? Pretty bloody pathetic, isn't it?
Ginny was one of the first handful of students to trickle in for breakfast. By the time Penny arrived, Ginny had already finished her breakfast and was draining the last drops from her teacup. Penny walked up and hugged her. "I just wanted to tell you again, whenever you're ready to talk, I'm still here, OK?"
Ginny nodded. "Maybe later tonight, all right? Oh, wait, I've got Snape's detention, and you're going to the Valen-" She caught herself. "Well, you just have fun with your Hufflepuff boy tonight, and I'll tell you what's going on tomorrow." She stalked out of the Great Hall with a cloud over her head.
I forgot what day it is today. I was so hoping to be going to that dance with Harry, and now he's - no. I will not let myself think about that.
Professor McGonagall looked up with mild surprise when Ginny was the first student to enter the Transfiguration classroom; Ginny was usually one of the last to arrive. "Good morning, Miss Weasley." McGonagall peered over the tops of her glasses. "Is something the matter?"
"Err, no, Professor. Good morning." - Lovely. If McGonagall is asking me questions like that, I must really look pathetic.
McGonagall eyed her a moment longer, but other students had started to filter in, and she made no further comments. From that point on, Ginny's whole day felt like one long silent scream. She barely listened in any of her classes, skipped lunch to avoid the Valentine's Day decorations going up in the Great Hall, and when her last class ended (Professor Flitwick let them out fifteen minutes early "to get ready for the dance"), she wandered listlessly to the kitchen to grab a roll and something to drink. Finally, with a resigned sigh, she walked down through the empty halls to the dungeons. Snape was standing at the front of the Potions classroom, rolling up his lecture notes. He gave her a surprised look as she walked in.
"Perhaps you should invest in a watch, Miss Weasley. You're rather early."
Ginny couldn't even find the will to rise to his bait. "Yes, Professor."
Snape shook his head. "Ah, so much for the fabled Gryffindor spirit. In any case, since you're here, you may as well begin. The worktables need a thorough cleaning, and after that, the floors. Then, since you're displaying so much industry, clean the floors in my office as well. Without magic, of course. The mop and bucket are there in the corner."
Ginny set down her books and her robe and started in. The workbenches had to be cleaned with Picklenox's Polishing Preparation, a noxious yellow-green liquid that stung her eyes and ate at her hands, leaving her skin pitted and raw. Knowing Snape's penchant for finding fault with anything a Gryffindor did, she carefully scrubbed each bench until she had removed all the accumulated stains from several months of messy students. The longer I stay, anyway, the less I have to deal with everyone who's going to that ruddy Ball.
Snape watched her closely at first, but he apparently concluded that she was miserable enough, because he declined the opportunity to taunt her further. When the last of the classroom floor was finally clean, Ginny peered into his office. It was dimly lit by a few flickering candles, and Snape was sitting at a small worktable scribbling notes from a book. He looked up as she entered.
"You will clean the floor and that workbench --" he pointed across the small room -- "and you will disturb nothing else. When you have finished to my satisfaction, you will be free to go."
Ginny nodded. With all the furniture and bookcases crammed into the office, precious little floor space was actually accessible to clean. Snape drifted back out to the classroom to work on his notes - I suppose he doesn't care for the fumes either - and with him out of the way, Ginny made short work of the last of the cleaning. She was about to walk back out to tell Snape she had finished when her eyes fell on the book he had been taking notes from. He had apparently been looking up something about alternative recipes for Veritaserum - in Potions to Bewitch Heart and Mind. With a quick glance at the doorway to make sure she was not being watched, Ginny flipped rapidly through the book until she came to her ill-starred love potion. In Snape's copy, however, the text continued onto another page that had been missing in Ginny's.
"...the effects hereof shall never fail or dim. Know, however, that no potion nor charm can long turn aside a heart that has already given itself to another. If this potion be administered to a person whose love is freely given elsewhere, its effect shall surely fail ere the second rising of the moon."
Ginny's pulse beat faster. There might be hope then... at least for Ron and Hermione, if not for me. Carefully she flipped the book back to Snape's page and stood. As she did, she heard a noise behind her, and she whirled to find Snape standing in the doorway.
He said not to touch anything. Did he see me?
Snape scowled, but if he had noticed what Ginny had been doing, he gave no indication. He inspected the floor carefully and ran a fingertip over the workbench. "Very well, Miss Weasley. You are dismissed."
Ginny grabbed her books and robe and dashed out before Snape could find anything else for her to do. Moonrise, moonrise... when is it tonight? It was just after dinner two days ago, so it should already have... She came up the stairs to the ground floor of the castle to be greeted by the nearly full moon shining in a window. Good. Oh please, please....
She was out of breath by the time she finally arrived at the entrance to the tower, but managed to gasp out the password, "Felix coniunctio." The Fat Lady smiled indulgently and asked "Have a nice time at the ball, dear?" but Ginny didn't spare a breath to answer her.
When she entered the Common Room, Harry and Hermione were sitting on a couch across the room, still in their dress robes from the Ball. Their backs were to Ginny, but she heard their voices quite clearly across the otherwise empty room.
"Harry, I don't think I can wait any longer. Let's do it before I lose my nerve."
"Are you sure you're ready?"
"I - I think so. I've just never done anything like this."
"Well then, let's go... Er, Hermione?"
"I'm glad I'm doing this with you..."
As Ginny watched with rising horror, Harry took her hand and led her up the stairs to the boys' dormitories. Where are they going? He's taking her up to his bed?! Of all the - Ginny's heart sank straight down to her shoes; apparently her hopes had been for nothing. The potion should have worn off by now if Snape's book were accurate, but Ginny couldn't think of a way to interpret the scene she had just witnessed except that Harry was taking Hermione upstairs to -- Give the boy this much credit. When he sees something he wants, he doesn't waste time. No wonder he's such a good Seeker. Trying hard to hold back the tears that welled up in her eyes, Ginny threw herself down on a couch in front of the fireplace and curled up in a tearful little ball.
She looked around, disoriented. The fire had burned lower, and shadows blanketed the room.
A hand squeezed her shoulder, and she looked up through bleary eyes to see who was interrupting her misery.
It was Harry. Guess he really does work fast, then. Even changed back out of his dress robes already.
"God, I'm glad I found you. I thought I'd have to look all over the castle." Harry pushed his hair back nervously. "Can I, um, talk to you for a minute?"
Ginny stared up at him listlessly. "All right, Harry."
Harry sat down next to her, fidgeting. "I suppose I owe you an apology. Hermione explained some things to me in the last couple of days - "
I just bet she did!
" - and I know all of this must have been pretty painful for you."
"It's all right, Harry. You... don't owe me anything, you know."
"No, well, yes I do. I didn't really realize how you felt about me. I was just being dense, I suppose. And I'm sorry that I didn't see it before."
"Really, Harry. You don't have to -"
Harry interrupted her, looking into her eyes for the first time. "Please let me finish. This is pretty hard for me to say. I... I think I ought to thank you, too. What you did finally made me look at my own feelings, and now I'm starting to understand what I've been feeling all along."
"Harry, if you're happy with - wait a minute, what do you mean, 'what you did'?"
Harry ducked his head, and a ghost of a smile played around his lips. "Well, this is Hermione you're dealing with, after all. She started to suspect something was up almost right away, I mean, people just don't act like we did that night without a good reason. Hermione and I have been friends for a long time, you know? But neither of us ever felt anything more for each other, not until, well..." He blushed slightly. "She said she thought about it a lot after we went to bed that night, and realized that you must have done something. We spent all of the next night in the library trying to figure out what it was, but we didn't get very far until Hermione, umm, went into your dormitory and found your potion-making kit. And then we asked Ron, and he said you had told him."
Oh no, Ron. I forgot about Ron... what will he say now? - "Is he still mad?"
"Well, he was at first, but I think we managed to convince him that it's all for the best."
"For the best? Harry, how can you sit here in front of me and say that? It's wonderful for you and Hermione, and I hope you're happy together. But I know Ron really liked Hermione, and now -"
"Ginny!" He laid his fingertips across her lips to silence her. In spite of herself, she felt a warm glow suffuse through her body from his touch. Get over yourself, Ginny, she thought, but Harry looked into her eyes and her train of thought promptly derailed.
"You're still not getting it. Once we figured out what you'd done, Hermione went back down to the library and found another copy of that book. It looks like yours is missing some pages." That ghost of a smile returned to his face for a moment. "So we knew, of course, that it wasn't going to last much longer. I think most of it was gone after about five minutes, to be honest, but we were still both pretty confused for a while."
Ginny's world teetered dangerously. "If you're not still in love with her, than what was that about dragging her up to your bed a little while ago?"
Harry sputtered. "Up to my bed? Ginny!" He cocked his head at her curiously. "You were here? We didn't hear you come in. Ginny, Ron was up in our dorm. Feeling quite sorry for himself, I might add. Hermione and I went up there so we could apologize to him. As I am now doing with you."
"Where's Hermione, then?"
"Oh, I lent them my cloak. They must have slipped out of here without waking you... I think they were going off somewhere to make up."
Ginny looked into Harry's eyes, and her breath caught as she finally realized what she was beginning to see there. "And you...?"
"Well, I told you, I wanted to thank you. This whole episode has made me see a lot of things for the first time. Like the girl who's been right in front of me all this time, only I was too dense to notice her." Harry laid his hand on Ginny's and looked straight into her eyes. "I just hope that she hasn't given up on me now that I've finally come to my senses."
Ginny gasped, and her entire universe once again rearranged itself around her. She shook her head slowly. "No, I - I think you've still got a chance with her. If you can forgive her for being such an idiot, she can probably find a way to forgive you, too." Ginny tried to smile, but her voice trembled and she could manage only an anxious look. "Do you think you can forgive her, Harry? Maybe?"
Harry pulled her gently upright on the sofa and leaned towards her. As their eyes locked, she felt his breath on her face as he softly whispered "Yes," just before his lips brushed hers. Ginny realized she was crying again, but this time they were tears of joy. Harry brushed them away from her cheek and smiled wonderingly at her. "I've been such an idiot. I can't believe it's taken me so long to get up the nerve to do that."
"You can't believe it? I've been waiting years for you to do that, you know. Harry..." She threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly, burying her face in his chest, until Harry lifted her face up to his and kissed her again lingeringly. Ginny closed her eyes and gave herself over to the wonderful electric feeling of his lips on hers. Suddenly she giggled and pushed him back so she could look at him.
"Now Harry, I have got to ask you one thing." She tried to make herself sound stern, but she knew her smile and the glint in her eye must be giving her away. "Did you kiss Hermione like that?"
Harry chuckled. "I actually thought about it, you know. For all of two or three minutes. But even when I was so far under the effects of that potion that I hardly knew who I was -" he grinned at her - "I knew it just didn't seem right somehow. Hermione is my friend and I love her as a friend... but kiss her? Euuugh."
Ginny laughed delightedly and pulled his head down so she could kiss him again. "And do you think the same of me?"
Harry's answer took a few minutes to deliver. As they were catching their breath, Harry laughed again and looked at his watch. "Hey, look, it's still not quite midnight yet. That means I get to tell you... happy Valentine's Day, Ginny."
"Happy Valentine's Day, Harry. I can't believe I'm actually getting to say it to you."
His arms circled around her and pulled her tight. "Just one thing, Ginny, I need you to promise me..."
"What's that, Harry?"
"Next Valentine's Day, just make it chocolate, all right?"