Disclaimer: All things from canon belong to J.K. Rowling.
A/N: Originally written for the Muggle Picnic Challenge at SIYE. Many, many thanks to my brilliant beta, Mistral, who I know is really busy at the moment but read this in record time. :)
The sun was warm on Ginny's skin, burning red against her eyelids. Stretching her arms over her head, she arched sleepily in the grass and yawned. A shadow passed over her face, and she cracked open one eye, smiling as she recognised the mischievous grin before her.
"You look like a lazy kitten," Dean informed her, dropping carelessly to the ground at her side.
"Who are you calling lazy?" Ginny mumbled in complaint, half-heartedly swatting at him. Her body felt too lovely and sun-soaked to move. There was something about a cloudless sky that lulled away a person's troubles...or at least made them easier to forget for a time.
"Oh, no, you're the picture of activity," he teased, easily evading her hand. Raising an arm to his forehead, he gazed down at her quizzically. "You wouldn't be hiding from Hermione, by any chance?"
Ginny frowned. "Why would I be hiding from Hermione?" Then she paused. "Have I missed a test or something? Study group? S.P.E.W. campaign?"
Dean let out a crack of laughter. "Merlin, she runs a tight ship. Poor Ron."
Ginny poked him in the ribs, and tried not to smile. "So why am I hiding?"
"Lots of the muggle-born students were talking the other day, remember? About how nice the weather's been lately and the sort of things we might do back at home? Colin and Justin went to ask Dumbledore about that idea for a picnic. Well, you know what he's like. Offered them some candy and went right enthusiastic about it." Dean's eyes were lit with amusement. "And Hermione's thrilled about the whole thing. I think it appeals to her...organizing instincts."
Ginny bit back a groan. She'd seen the older witch in a fervour many times. They'd all be on some sort of committee before the night was out.
"So, we're having a Muggle picnic."
"Mm. On Saturday. Suppose Dumbledore thinks it'll be a good morale boost or something," Dean said more seriously.
A dark emotion flitted across Ginny's face. The war was wearing on everyone. Still...
"A picnic might be fun," she offered, determined to keep the fear suppressed.
Dean rolled his eyes, but didn't comment.
Intrigued, Ginny sat up and surveyed her friend's gloomy expression.
"What?" she asked, an unsympathetic giggle bubbling to her throat. He looked positively ill. "You're a muggle-born yourself. You must've been on picnics before."
"I have," he agreed dismally. "And I was scarred for life. For life!" he repeated emphatically, scowling at her.
Ginny snorted. "What, bad cooking? Unsightly sunburn? Blanket rash? Bathing trunks fell off?" Dean blanched at the words, and she broke off with a gasping laugh. "No!"
"It's not funny!" he snapped, folding both arms across his chest. But the corners of his lips tugged reluctantly.
Ginny's hand was pressed to her mouth as she desperately tried to maintain some semblance of dignity and friendship. "Oh, that's brilliant," she announced, delighted. "Ruddy embarrassing, but brilliant. Were you at least in the water?"
"No," Dean said after a pause, voice unsteady. "I was diving for a football. And my shorts didn't feel like following."
His confession sent her into fresh fits. Wiping her eyes with shaky fingers, Ginny looked around, then leaned forward to ask in scandalized tones: "Dean...there weren't any children about, were there?"
"Children. My parents. Three teachers. An old girlfriend. My old nanny ," he revealed with remembered horror.
She sighed, shaking her head and grinning. "Thanks. I needed that."
"Oh, any time," he offered sarcastically, punching her lightly on the shoulder.
"Don't take this the wrong way," she said teasingly, "but I really wish I'd been there."
"One ex-girlfriend witnessing my humiliation was quite enough, thanks," Dean retorted.
Ginny darted a glance at him as they clambered to their feet. She was forever grateful that things had ended on such good terms between them the year before. Not that there'd been much to end. But she'd gained an incredibly close friend from the whole mismatched debacle. Of course, romantically, things had been doomed from the start when certain facts...a certain person...was taken into account.
She started, turning to look at Dean. "Sorry? What?"
He was brushing grass strands from his knees. "You'll be going to the picnic with Harry," he said again, straightening to look at her.
"Oh," she faltered, bending to pick up her satchel. "I suppose...maybe..."
Dean was frowning. "You are still dating him, aren't you?"
"No. Yes. I... it's kind of complicated," Ginny murmured, disliking the awkwardness washing over her.
"I see," he said doubtfully, watching her with concerned eyes.
She bit her lip, her earlier feelings of misgiving creeping back. "I should go," she said quietly. "Herbology at three."
"I'd walk you, but I have to meet Hannah," Dean said apologetically. He'd been dating Hannah Abbott since September, the beginning of his seventh year.
"That's ok; I don't need..." Ginny began, a little defensively.
Breaking off, she turned in surprise. Harry stood there, his hands shoved in his pockets, green eyes flickering to Dean before returning to rest on her. Her heart thumped as she looked at his messy hair and slightly askew glasses. He looked tired.
"Harry..." she said, aware that her face had lit up and slightly embarrassed by the fact.
"I..." he paused, again looking at Dean, his own face unreadable. "You have Herbology...I mean...uh, well, you know that...but...I...wanted to walk with you." His cheeks had pinked. Ginny had noticed that happening a lot recently.
"Oh." She blinked. "Well...thank you."
He nodded stiffly.
"So," Dean began, watching them curiously, "I'll talk to you later, Gin. I should find Hannah."
"Yes," Harry agreed, a little strangely. "You should."
The two boys eyed each other for a brief moment, before Dean loped away, raising a casual hand in farewell to Ginny.
She waved back warily, keeping her gaze on an increasingly uncomfortable Harry. Opening her mouth, she was forced to close it again upon realizing that she had absolutely nothing to say.
For Merlin's sake! she thought desperately. This shouldn't be so bloody awkward! This is Harry! I know Harry. I lo...
Therein lay the problem. Yes, Ginny knew Harry. She loved Harry.
And she was utterly furious with herself.
She had sworn -- sworn -- that she would never again let herself down the way she had all those years ago. She had developed a crush on Harry Potter long before she'd even met him. That crush had turned into love when she was old enough to truly understand and embrace all that meant. She loved Harry; she was in love with Harry, and she wouldn't be in the least surprised if that was the way of things until she died.
But she'd also decided that she was going to remain her own person around him: that she would be a support for him, not a nuisance. She would never again subvert her personality. She was still growing in self-confidence every day; she was outspoken; she was assertive. Hell, she was bossy.
And Harry Potter could like it or lump it.
That had been the general idea.
She sighed inwardly. Things had been going so well between them for such a long time. After he'd stopped viewing her as a shorter, longer-haired shadow of Ron, they'd really become great friends, or so she'd believed.
Better than great friends. Ginny's cheeks warmed as she recalled the day he'd asked her if she wanted to watch the Ravenclaw-Slytherin match with him -- for such a terrible actor, he'd put up a convincing impression of casualness. But she'd seen the hastily averted eyes, the whiteness of his knuckles as he clutched the Firebolt in one hand. The lingering warmth of his gaze on her instead of the players.
"It's almost three," Harry said suddenly, making her jump. "We should get going."
"Oh...right," Ginny offered lamely. She hesitated, searching his eyes, before taking a deep breath and beginning to walk in the direction of the greenhouses. The sun was still bright, and the students around them seemed cheerful, calling out to one another and laughing. Ginny scarcely heard them; her attention was focused on the sound of Harry's footsteps and quiet breathing as he walked beside her.
Her boyfriend. He was her boyfriend. At least...she supposed he was. Or he had been, until she'd ruined everything by going awkward and shy on him again.
At least she hadn't picked up the dreaded blushing habit again. Thank Merlin for small mercies.
They neared the greenhouses, and Harry slowed.
"I suppose I'll see you in the Great Hall later," he offered quietly, his look on her both speculative and intense.
"What are you doing now?" she blurted out - not wanting him to leave, despite the embarrassment of her prolonged silence.
"I have to meet Dumbledore," he said absently, still scrutinizing her face. She shifted rather self-consciously, and he suddenly smiled wryly. "I suppose you've heard Hermione's jumped on the organising bandwagon for this Muggle picnic."
Glee sprang unbidden to Ginny's eyes. "I had heard, yes. Have you been put on a committee yet?"
Harry raised a hand. "Deputy in charge of food preparation, at your service."
She giggled, partly from the relief of this renewed connection with him, partly from genuine amusement. "I take it I should stay out of her way for awhile, then?"
He shook his head in mock-regret. "Too late. She already wrote you down for 'Help with Organisation of Wholesome Outdoor Activities', I think it was."
Ginny snorted with laughter. "Wholesome?"
Harry grinned. "Yeah, she originally had an open forum for ideas on that one. Don't think she was to