A/N: The Christmas hols are over, but I thought I'd post this story over here at PhoenixSong. :-) I hope you lot like it.
"…and the ruby means… what, Ron? Harry?"
Hermione looked up and found that both of her best friends were paying absolutely no attention to her.
Ron was predictably asleep, drooling into his Potions textbook, and Harry was otherwise… preoccupied.
He was staring at his ex-girlfriend, Ginny Weasley, who was chatting animatedly with her dorm-mates as they decorated a small Christmas tree standing in one corner of the Gryffindor common room with enchanted snow and tiny golden candles.
"Oh, honestly!" Hermione reached over and rapped Ron sharply on the forehead with the edge of her Potions book.
The redhead shifted slightly before his eyes opened. "Whuzzat?" he yawned, scratching at his forehead.
"Wake up, Ron. We're supposed to be revising for Potions," said Hermione irritably. "In case you don't remember, Professor Slughorn said we were going to have a test on gemstone-based elixirs when we come back after the holidays."
"Hermione!" Ron complained, stretching his long arms over his head. "We're leaving for Christmas break tomorrow! We can study for the exam when we come back."
"Why wait? Don't you want to get good marks this year? I mean, it was awfully nice of Professor McGonagall to let us complete our seventh year after all we've missed, so it's only right that we do our best to show her how grateful we are. Isn't that right, Harry?"
Harry reluctantly tore his gaze from Ginny and turned to face Hermione, who was looking at him with a sympathetic gleam in her eyes.
"Yeah," he said half-heartedly, not really knowing what he was agreeing to. His eyes immediately flicked back to watch Ginny as she laughed at something her friend had said.
Harry, Hermione and Ron had not come back to Hogwarts during the start of the present term, having decided to try and find the remaining Horcruxes. They had found numerous clues but had not succeeded in discovering any.
When a promising lead as to the whereabouts of Slytherin's locket (involving a goblin gambling lord and Mundungus Fletcher's penchant for backing the wrong flobberworm in the highly illegal world of flobberworm racing) turned into a dead end, Harry had reluctantly agreed with Hermione and Ron that maybe they should go back to where Voldemort began his quest for immortality – Hogwarts – and try to see if the Dark Lord had left any hints within the stone walls of the castle. At the very least, Hermione had pointed out eagerly, they could make use of the massive amounts of information hidden away in the Hogwarts library to aid them in their search.
Professor McGonagall had not been surprised when they had knocked on her door late one evening towards the end of November. Although the former Transfiguration teacher asked them what had delayed their re-entry into Hogwarts, she did not pursue the matter when Harry, hoping that the mention of Professor Dumbledore's name would stave off any more questions, had mumbled a vague story about fulfilling an obligation to the previous Headmaster. The only sign that indicated that Professor McGonagall was suspicious of the whole matter was the noticeable thinning of her lips. Nevertheless, she granted the three of them special latitude and had handed them their time-tables for the seventh year with the stern admonition that she fully expected them to catch up with the rest of their classmates.
Harry had been disturbed at how few students had come back. The Patil twins were gone, as well as Hannah Abbot and Orla Quirke. Numerous other people from different years and Houses had pulled out of Hogwarts. Harry was glad, however, to find that all his original dorm-mates had returned. Neville had greeted him with quiet enthusiasm, and even Dean Thomas had spoken to him when Harry inquired about the standing of the West Ham football team. Seamus Finnigan regaled them with the tale of the shouting match he had with his parents, which had culminated in tears and a demand from his mother that he make a trip to kiss the Blarney Stone for good luck before he was allowed to return to Hogwarts for his final year.
Ginny's reaction to their return had been baffling for Harry. She had hit her brother lovingly on the arm and embraced Hermione joyfully, but only smiled and nodded at Harry, which thoroughly confused and irritated him. He thought they had parted on good terms; she had been friendly enough at Bill's wedding and had even danced with him at the reception. He had not mentioned their plans to search for the Horcruxes, but something in Ginny's eyes told him that she already knew that they were up to something. She had not asked any questions and left him with a chaste kiss on the cheek, before turning and accepting the next dance from one of Fleur's smarmy cousins. Harry had spent countless hours during their time away daydreaming about Ginny and the myriad ways he could have erased the lascivious smirk plastered on the French bloke's pasty face while he was twirling Ginny around on the dance floor.
Harry had come to the realisation that he had made a colossal mistake in breaking up with her.
His rash decision seemed even more pointless when Hermione opined that Draco Malfoy had most certainly informed Voldemort about Harry's relationship with Ginny. Ron had shrewdly added that since Harry had broken up with Ginny after Dumbledore had died, then for all intents and purposes, the Dark Lord probably still believed that Harry and Ginny were still a couple.
Now, he had been back at Hogwarts for almost a month and Ginny seemed perfectly content to just remain friends. He was at a loss on how to tell her that he wanted to resume their relationship and despaired that she would never know that he loved her, Voldemort be damned.
He missed her so much.
"Just tell her already, Harry," said Hermione softly, interrupting his reverie. She put her book down on the table, nodding encouragingly.
Harry looked at Ron in surprise. His best friend had a peculiar expression on his face – a cross between concern and amusement.
"Your spot-on imitation of Moaning Myrtle is driving me nuts. Ginny still feels the same way about you, you know."
"How can you be so sure, Ron?" asked Harry dubiously.
"I just am," said Ron with an air of finality. "I've been watching her ever since we came back, and she has that same look in her eyes that you get whenever you see her. You know–" Ron adopted a forlorn air, "–the lovesick puppy look?" He chuckled when Harry protested feebly. "Besides, I need to win back the five Sickles I put in the House pool that you two would get back together before the hols are over."
"Ron!" Hermione gasped. "Harry's lovelife is not something you should be wagering on!"
Harry did not know whether he should feel insulted or thrilled by the fact that Ron had put in that much of his meagre funds simply because he believed that Ginny still had feelings for Harry. He decided that it was a sign that he should finally gather up his vaunted courage and do something to remedy his miserable situation. He was rising from his chair when the faint scent of flowers made him abruptly sit down again.
"Hi," said Ginny brightly, settling down beside Hermione and making Harry's stomach do flip-flops as she was now sitting directly in front of him. Ginny peered at the Potions book, which was still open to the page on gemstone-based elixirs. "Oh, what a coincidence; we're discussing the meanings of semi-precious stones in Muggle Studies right now. Each month supposedly has a birthstone, and each stone is uniquely significant, right?"
"Yes, that's precisely what we–"
"We should be planning what fun activities we're going to do at The Burrow," Ron rudely interrupted Hermione, who glared at him. "Not revising like some kind of desperate know-it-all."
Ginny rolled her eyes at Harry and grinned. Harry gawked at her for a moment before grinning back. Ginny always knew how to make him laugh.
"For example, Ron, since you were born in March, your traditional birthstone's the aquamarine," she said loudly, forestalling the brewing argument. "It supposedly bestows courage, insight, and, believe it or not–" Ginny paused and giggled, "–sensitivity."
Hermione let out an expressive snort, and Harry laughed loudly.
"Hey!" Ron looked indignant. "I'm a sensitive bloke!"
"Right, you're about as sensitive as a Blast-Ended Skrewt," Hermione muttered.
"Oh yeah?" Ron scowled and turned to his sister. "What about her birthstone, the sapphire?"
Everyone gaped at Ron.
"How do you know that?" Ginny asked him, looking slyly at Hermione who was turning pink around the ears.
"Please," Ron waved a hand impatiently in the air, "her birthday's on September nineteen, so her birthstone's a sapphire."
Ginny and Harry exchanged amused glances as Hermione became pinker and ducked her head to hide a delighted smile.
"Well, simply put, the sapphire is a symbol of wisdom," said Ginny.
Ron slapped the table in triumph. "See, even your birthstone says that you're a know-it-all."
Hermione's smile vanished. She stood up rapidly, almost knocking her chair to the floor. She nodded curtly to Harry and Ginny, then stomped up the girls' stairs, leaving Ron to stare confusedly at her retreating form.
"What did I do?" he asked.
"Oh, Ron," said Ginny despairingly. "If you don't know, then maybe you should go to bed and think about it. You don't want Hermione to spend the entire Christmas break angry with you, right?"
Ron's eyebrows knit together. "Yeah, but what did I do?" he repeated, looking at Harry for help.
Harry opened his mouth to explain, but Ginny laid a hand on his arm to stop him, effectively shutting down all his coherent thought processes. He shrugged helplessly at Ron, who frowned again and rose from the table.
"Right. See you two in the morning."
As Harry watched Ron grumpily march up the stairs to the boys' dormitories, he quickly became aware that except for a couple of fifth-year girls who were gossiping by the fireplace, he and Ginny had the entire room to themselves. Harry glanced at Ginny, who was now flipping through Hermione's Potions book with one hand and absentmindedly playing with her long red tresses with the other. He took a deep breath to calm his nerves; this was the first time since he had come back that he had been alone with her.
"Ginny?" he said, wincing at the uncertainty in his voice.