“What do you mean you’re leaving?” Harry asked as quietly as his now growing panic would let him.
Ron blushed a deep red. “You remember when I told you I talked to Hermione’s parents on the feletone?”
“Telephone,” Hermione corrected.
“That too,” Ron added.
“Yes…” Harry answered nervously.
“Well, they said tomorrow is their one full day off for a while, and they wanted to have me over for the day to meet them,” Ron revealed.
Harry blinked, temporarily distracted. “You’re meeting Hermione’s parents?”
Ron nodded. Hermione’s hands appeared around his middle as she hugged him from where she was standing.
Harry closed his eyes, took a deep breath and let it out as he collected his thoughts. He opened his eyes and said, “I realize this is a big step for you two, but your parents don’t get back until the day after tomorrow.”
Ron smirked. “So?”
Harry started, then scanned the room, making sure nobody was around. He leaned over to Ron and quietly said, “I’d be alone all day with Ginny!”
Hermione swung around next to Ron and asked, “So?”
Harry gulped, the butterflies beginning to emerge in his stomach. “But… b… I… erm…”
Ron and Hermione crossed their arms in unison. Harry got the impression they had rehearsed this. This only made him more nervous. “You two set me up!”
“Two?” Hermione said, arching an eyebrow.
Harry felt his heart stop. “This can’t be happening.”
Hermione sighed, stepped forward and put a hand on Harry’s shoulders. “Tell me the truth, Harry. Which has been bothering you more, Voldemort, or your feelings for Ginny?”
Having Hermione as a close friend was wonderful on most occasions, but from time to time, Harry found himself wishing she wasn’t so blasted smart. She had read him like an open book, and to deny anything further would only insult her. “I’m not ready.”
Hermione shook her head and gave Harry a frustrated look. “Harry… Ron and I have known you a long time. We’ve watched you do amazing things, and you still have a lot ahead of you. But, we’ve also watched you nearly self destruct from the inside, and we couldn’t bring you out of it. The only thing keeping you from going over the edge this last year was Ginny.”
Harry hung his head. “It’s not about that, Hermione.”
“She cares about you a lot,” Hermione continued, not letting Harry get in many words. “I think, deep down, you know that. And Ron and I know you care a lot about her. We’ve seen the way you watch her, the things you do for her behind her back. You’ve never done things like that for anyone else, even for us. We’re not upset, mind you; we’re just saying we realize just how deep your feelings are for her.”
“I can’t put her in danger!” Harry blurted out finally, lifting his head to stare Hermione the eye.
Ron and Hermione laughed together. “You forget that she’s faced danger before,” Hermione rebutted. “Besides, why should you be the only one who’s allowed to play the hero?”
Harry swallowed hard. “I don’t think I could stand it if we got together and something happened to one of us,” he said quietly.
Hermione gave Harry a look of sincere understanding. “She needs you, Harry. And you need her. The sooner you realize it, the better. You’ve been ready for a while, you’re just nervous, and that’s okay.”
“I’m not nervous, I’m petrified,” Harry admitted.
Hermione smiled. “Everyone in Gryffindor House knows you two are going to get together. Tomorrow is your chance to talk to her without any pressure from anyone. We can’t make you talk to her, but you won’t have a better chance to do it.”
Ron stepped over next to Hermione, looking right at Harry. “Trust me, Harry, you have the blessing of the rest of the Weasley family. You belong together; all you have to do is take the first step.”
Harry sighed. “I’m not sure I can.”
Hermione smiled, then pulled Harry into a hug. “You can do it, Harry. When you put your mind to it, you can do anything.”
* * *
Harry made up his mind that night before he went to sleep. The next morning he saw Ron and Hermione off, leaving him alone with Ginny. As soon as Ron was away, he took a deep breath, let it out, and turned to Ginny.
“Looks like we have the whole day to ourselves,” Ginny said happily. “What do you want to do?”
Harry fidgeted with the chocolate frogs he was holding and hesitated just a moment. “Actually, Ginny, I think we need to talk.” With that, he handed a frog to her.
Her face turned from happiness to concern. “Uh oh; this looks serious.”
Harry furrowed his brow. “What makes you think that?”
Ginny smiled just a bit. “You always bring chocolate when you need to have a serious talk.”
He let a smile form briefly. “You know me too well.”
“Sometimes I wonder just how well,” she said pensively as she took the offered frog.
Harry nodded knowingly, then motioned Ginny to the couch. She sat down, and Harry sat next to her. As had become their normal routine, they opened their frogs and took a bite. As he did, he wondered how many other friends had similar routines and considered that this might be unique to them. This thought did nothing to calm his nerves, though.
“Is everything all right?” Ginny asked, sounding concerned.
“Yes and no,” Harry replied honestly. “I’m not in trouble or anything like that, it’s just… I need to tell you something, and I’m not quite sure how to say it.”
Ginny smiled nervously. “Take your time, Harry. Whatever it is, you can tell me.”
Harry looked over at Ginny, into those big beautiful brown eyes of hers. He had known for months that he was falling in love with her, but he was too afraid to tell her. He wanted so much to hold her in his arms, but fear of what would happen if Voldemort found out kept him away. As the school year ended he found out that Ginny had come to terms with her own fears, and that the only thing really keeping them from becoming romantic was his reluctance to tell her how he felt. He wanted to reach out, put his arms around her and snog her right there. She was so beautiful, from her angelic eyes to her perfect nose and lips to the lines of her jawbones and every single perfectly arranged freckle on her face. He knew he wanted them to be more than just friends. Now he had to tell her.
Harry blinked. “Yes?”
Harry blushed. “Oh. Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Ginny said, almost giggling.
Harry took another deep breath. “Do you remember when you broke up with Dean?”
Ginny nodded. “Sure.”
“Do you remember what you told me when I asked you why?”
Ginny thought for a moment. “No, not exactly.”
“You said, ‘I realized he wasn’t the one I wanted to be with.’”
Ginny looked surprised. “You remembered that?”
Harry nodded. “There was another question I was going to ask you then, but I didn’t.”
“Oh?” Ginny asked, raising an eyebrow.
Harry nodded. “I was going to ask you who it was you wanted to be with, if you knew.”
Ginny smiled and blushed almost imperceptibly. “So why didn’t you ask?”
Harry swallowed. “I was afraid of how you were going to answer.”
Ginny held her smile. “Why?”
Harry looked away. The butterflies in his stomach were threatening to make him nauseous. He knew he was about to tell her everything, and for the first time in a while he was truly scared.
“Part of me was afraid you’d say you didn’t want to be with anyone,” he said slowly and deliberately, “and the other part was afraid you’d say you wanted to be with me.”
“Why would you be afraid of me wanting to be with you?” Ginny asked.
Harry closed his eyes. He could see in his mind all the times he’d faced Voldemort and the Death Eaters. “Because it would make you a target for Voldemort -- more than you are now -- and I just couldn’t stand it if I lost you.”
Ginny paused for a moment. “Harry, if you were afraid I’d tell you I didn’t want to be with anyone, then that would mean you wanted to be with me, wouldn’t it?”
Harry broke off a piece of his frog and ate it, weighing his answer as he did. He knew this was it; there was no turning back.
Harry heard Ginny break off a piece of her own frog and crunch it in her mouth a few times. “Can you do something for me?”
The butterflies swarmed around Harry’s stomach. “I’ll try.”
Harry felt something on his cheek. The something turned out to be Ginny’s hand as she turned his head to face her. She was looking into his eyes, almost begging. “Tell me exactly how you feel about me.”
Harry swallowed. “I’m not sure I can. I mean, I’ve never felt like this about someone.”
Ginny’s expression hardened just a bit. “Not even Cho?”
Harry relaxed a little. “No, not even close.” He took a breath and continued. “I realized a while ago that I only liked Cho because she was pretty. I never got a chance to get to know her before she kissed me in the Room of Requirement. After I figured out how I really felt about her, I was determined to never let it happen again.”
Harry shifted so he was turned more towards Ginny before he continued. Ginny let her hand drop to her lap.
“My feelings for you are… complicated,” Harry explained. “I know when you were younger you had a crush on me, but back then, especially in my second year, I was still very uncomfortable with the whole ‘famous Harry Potter’ thing. It had nothing to do with you, honestly, but I resisted anything that seemed to be based on my fame, and that, unfortunately, included your crush on me.
“It’s not that I didn’t like you, don’t get me wrong. You were a nice person, and always friendly to me, but it wasn’t until my fifth year that you actually started talking to me. Of course, that was the same time I was wrapped up in the whole Cho mess, and then the Ministry thing happened.” Harry turned his face away for a moment, having stumbled back onto the one topic he hated to think about. He forced it out of his mind.
“Then, this last year, everything changed. I finally got back to the Burrow, I saw you, and I swore to myself that you were a completely different person. I had always thought you were pretty, but somehow you got prettier as you got older. I started trying to find ways to be around you, and when I did, I struggled to find a way to start a conversation, but it seemed to work every time. The more we talked, the more I got to know you, and the more I wanted to kick myself for not spending time with you sooner.”
Harry sighed deeply. “Then the school year started. You met up with Dean on the train. I got depressed, but I wasn’t sure I was completely aware of it. I knew you were seeing him, but I still got uncomfortable about it. I started watching you, and I noticed that all you ever did with him was hold hands. As the school year got started, I realized that I had feelings for you, and the fact that I never saw you kiss Dean was oddly reassuring.
“Then it happened: You broke up with him, and you said he wasn’t who you wanted to be with. I found myself hoping, but I was always so afraid of getting close to anyone, especially you. As the year went on, we started spending so much time together, and it felt so good and so right just to have someone like you to talk to. I’ve told you things I haven’t even told Ron and Hermione, you know that?”
Ginny nodded slowly. “I know.”
Harry continued, “By the time the year ended, I was starting to get depressed again. I was torn between my feelings for you and wanting to keep you safe. I couldn’t find a way to let myself get close to you without putting you in danger. It’s been tearing me apart every since.”
Ginny paused, then softly said, “How do you really feel about me, Harry? Stop beating around the bush. Please.”
Harry forced the emotions that where threatening to surface back down inside him. “I care about you a lot, Ginny. I think you are the most wonderful girl in the world. You are beautiful, and feisty, and so much fun to be around. But the best thing is, you are caring and brave and honest. You are everything I ever hoped to find in a girl if I was every lucky enough to be with someone.”
There. It was done. He had told her how he felt. He snapped off another piece of chocolate, crunched it in his mouth until it was in several small chunks, and sucked on the pieces slowly while he waited for Ginny to tell him what he already knew: it was too late, she was over him, but she still wanted to be friends.
“Would you like to know the answer to the question you never asked?” she asked, her voice sounding a little shaky.
Harry swallowed his chocolate. “I’m not sure if I want to know, but I think I need to know.”
Again, Ginny turned Harry’s face toward hers. “Can’t you tell?”
Harry smiled instinctively, but didn’t let it linger. “I thought you were over me.”
Ginny nodded. “I was. But that was before I got to know you. If I’d known things weren’t going to work out between you and Cho, and had I known what was going to happen last summer, I never would have started seeing Dean. There was a time I thought you were just being snobbish and rude. Hermione kept telling me you weren’t like that, but I didn’t really believe it until she started the D.A. My perception of you started changing that summer at Number Twelve, but that day in Hogsmeade was the turning point for me. Michael and Dean both got tired of me talking about you.”
Ginny cradled Harry’s face with both hands. “You are the bravest and most noble person I know. Even with all that has happened to you, you are still willing to put yourself in danger to protect other people. I know your destiny puts you squarely in the sights of Voldemort, but I don’t care. I care about you so much, I’d risk the danger just for the chance to have something special with you.”
Harry couldn’t keep the tears from forming. “I’m afraid, Ginny. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
“I don’t either,” Ginny replied, her own emotions starting to surface, “but whatever happens, I want to be with you, and I don’t mean just as friends.”
Harry could feel a tear running down his cheek. Ginny took a moment to brush it away. “I want us to be more than friends, too,” he said as every hair on his skin stood on end. “I’m just so afraid. I don’t know where to start.”
Ginny smiled through her own tears, and Harry couldn’t help but smile back. Without another word, Ginny lowered her hands onto his, picked them up and put then around her back. Then she leaned in, put her arms around his back and held him. Instinctively, he hugged her back; the instant he did, he let go of his emotions, allowing himself to cry softly into her hair. She stroked his back softly until he gathered himself, letting out a long sigh.
At this, Ginny sat up and leaned over towards him. Their faces where very close together, and she was looking into his eyes. Before he could become afraid, she was moving slowly towards him. He let it happen, closing his eyes when she did just a split second before their lips met. It was the most incredible feeling he had ever experienced; she continued to press her lips to his for several seconds before pulling back to end the kiss.
“Thank you,” Harry said suddenly.
Ginny smiled as she opened her eyes. “For what?”
“For being there for me over the last year. I don’t think I would have made it without you.”
Ginny put her arms around Harry’s neck and smiled. “You’re very welcome.”
She kissed him again, only this time it seemed more deliberate. Harry got the impression she was no more skilled at kissing than he was, but he didn’t care. This was Ginny, and right then nothing else really mattered.
Once she pulled away, she got around to asking, “So, what exactly are we going to do today?”
Harry blushed and smiled. “We could just hang around here and snog.”
Ginny’s face reddened a little, but it was quickly replaced with a wicked grin.
“Uh oh,” Harry said. “I know that grin. What are you thinking?”
He watched as she pulled her arms away, rubbed her finger into the chocolate frog, then took the melted chocolate and smeared it onto her lips. After a few moments her lips were covered in a thick coating of chocolate. Her task complete, she put the frog down, put her arms around Harry’s neck and looked at him mischievously.
“You want me to kiss you with chocolate on your lips?” Harry asked, wondering what he had got himself into.
Ginny grinned evilly. “No, I want you to lick it off.”