Author's Note: A big thanks to PS and especially my betas Theresa and Jen. You girls are great!
Disclaimer: The characters and places in this story belong to the wonderful J.K. Rowling.
Harry Potter shuffled into the Great Hall, surprised to find it barely filled. Glancing at the ceiling, he saw the pinks and gold reminiscent of sunset. Snape must have let him out of Occulmency earlier than usual. But that was to be expected, Harry thought. Tonight was an Order meeting, and Snape probably had other things to do besides teach Harry.
A quick scan of the table revealed that Ron and Hermione had not shown up for dinner yet. Too tired to care where they were, Harry plopped down in the closest seat and rested his elbows on the table. His stomach grumbled. Staring at the empty plates, Harry willed dinner to show up early. When it didn't, he sighed a little and started to practice some Occulmency techniques. Just when he had successful cleared his mind, someone broke into his solitude.
"Harry! I've been looking everywhere for you. You'll never guess what happened!" Ginny Weasley sputtered as she flung herself into the seat next to him.
Harry couldn't stop himself from smiling at her. From her red cheeks and generally disheveled appearance, he guessed she probably had been running around the entire castle looking for him. "You've finally found us a decent pair of Beaters?" he guessed, although it seemed highly unlikely.
Ginny groaned. "I wish. No, this news isn't that good. But it's not bad either. In fact," she added after pausing to think about it, "it is actually very good news. I think you'll really appreciate it at least," she said with a wink. Sometimes Harry wished she wouldn't do things like that. It made him feel awkward.
"Well, what is it?" he asked, trying to hide his discomfort.
Ginny was obviously oblivious to Harry's feelings because she smiled and leaned in to tell him the news. "Ron just asked Hermione to go to Hogsmeade with him next weekend!"
"Oh," Harry said. He looked down at the table, his feeling of discomfort growing. "I know."
"You know?" Ginny asked in disbelief. "But…I mean I overheard him do it and you weren't there."
"He told me last night that he was going to ask her. I guess I kind of forgot about it," Harry explained, even though it was a lie. He hadn't forgot about the talk he and Ron had, although he was trying to.
"But…don't you find it exciting?" Ginny asked in confusion. Harry could see her out of the corner of his eye. She was looking at him curiously and Harry didn't like it.
"I suppose," Harry muttered with a shrug.
"Harry, are you okay?" Ginny asked, reaching out to touch his arm.
Harry pulled away. "I'm fine," he said, looking towards the entrance. Ron and Hermione had just walked in together. Her face was still pink with delight, and Ron looked like he'd just won a million Galleons. They spotted Harry and started to make their way over.
"You are not fine," Ginny said calmly, although Harry could detect some annoyance in her tone. "Harry, you've been acting very weird lately. I wish you would tell me why."
For a brief moment, Harry considered it. But the idea was too frightening. Instead he simply voiced his fears. "What if I did, and you couldn't do anything about it?"
"Just because I won't have an answer doesn't mean you can't tell me," Ginny said in exasperation. "Sometimes it helps just to talk to a friend."
"Yeah, a friend," Harry mumbled feeling more miserable than ever. Thankfully, he was saved from any further response by the arrival of Ron and Hermione.
"Hope we're not interrupting," Ron said, arching an eyebrow at Harry.
"No, sit down," Harry replied quickly, sending Ron a warning look.
Ron ignored it. "You sure you're not busy making any plans? For the weekend perhaps?"
Harry glared at Ron and quickly glanced at Ginny to gauge her reaction. She seemed to have been overtaken with giggles. "Real subtle, Ron," she laughed. "We already know about you and Hermione. Congratulations," she said, giving Hermione a knowing smile as the happy couple sat down.
"Yeah, that's great," Harry added. "We've been waiting for it for years."
Hermione smiled widely, even though Harry could tell the attention was embarrassing her. "How was your Occumlency lesson?" she asked, clearly wanting to change the subject.
"Short," Harry replied. "Snape let me out early."
"Does that mean you're getting better at it?" Ginny asked.
"No," Harry replied. "Well, I mean, I am getting a lot better, which doesn't mean I'm good at it yet. But he cut the lesson short because of the meeting tonight." The food suddenly appeared and the students began filling their plates.
"There's an Order meeting tonight?" Ron wondered as he plopped some potatoes on his plate.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Yes," she told him flatly. Leaning in towards Harry she asked, "Do you know at all what it's about?" Harry shrugged.
"It must be important," Ginny said, as she poured some pumpkin juice.
"Why?" Ron asked.
"Because I saw Professor Lupin come in earlier. I nearly ran him over on my way to the Great Hall," she admitted sheepishly. "It must be pretty important though if people from the outside are coming in for it."
They descended into silence for a while, contemplating what the meeting could be about. After a few minutes though, Parvati Patil, who was apparently having some sort of female trouble, pulled the girls' attention away. Unfortunately for Harry, Ron seized the opportunity.
"So…" he whispered across the table.
"So what?" Harry gritted back.
"What were you guys talking about anyway?"
Ron sighed. "Harry, just ask her. It's really not that hard. I should know."
"That was different," Harry said defensively.
"No, it wasn't."
"You knew she'd say yes."
"I did not."
"Then, you're an idiot," Harry muttered.
"Are you backing out?" Ron said, narrowing his eyes.
"Maybe," Harry replied. "Look, Ron, it was a stupid idea. Ginny and I are just friends."
"So were Hermione and me until about twenty minutes ago."
"You and Hermione were never just friends," Harry snorted.
"I could say the same about you and Ginny. She fancied you for forever-"
"Not forever," Harry interrupted. "For three years. Then she got over it. End of story."
Ron shook his head. "Harry, we're lousy at this."
"This girl thing. We should get another opinion," Ron said, scratching his head. "I suppose I could owl the twins…."
"No!" Harry replied a little too loudly. He glanced over at Hermione and Ginny, but the two were still absorbed with Parvati's problem. "Not the twins," he whispered.
"I know!" Ron hissed excitedly. "Why don't you go find Lupin? You could ask him about it."
"I could," Harry said slowly. Ever since Sirius's death, he'd become closer to his old professor. Hermione had told him it was only natural; they represented to each other what they had lost. And Remus had proved to be easy to talk to, although not as easy to talk to as Sirius. Not that Harry had ever really talked to Sirius about girls.
"Yeah, okay," Harry decided. "I'll go ask him."
"Ask who what?" Ginny asked, causing both Ron and Harry to jump.
"Uh…ask Lupin what the meeting was about," Ron lied quickly.
"You don't think he'll tell you, do you Harry?" Hermione inquired as she rejoined their group.
Shrugging, Harry stood up, his dinner long forgotten. "I'm hoping he'll be able to tell me something."
Order meetings were always held in Dumbledore's office. However, since Harry didn't have the password, he would have to wait in the hallway outside the office's gargoyle entrance. He knew Order meetings could sometimes run long, so he'd stopped by Gryffindor Tower to get his invisibility cloak just in case he was still waiting after curfew.
Settling down outside the entrance, Harry had just realized he should have brought a textbook with him as well when the gargoyle sprang to life and several teachers started to exit. McGonagall saw Harry first and walked over, her face unreadable. "Something the matter, Potter?"
"I, uh, just wanted to talk to, uh…Remus," he said, as the man in question appeared behind McGonagall. Harry clambered to his feet and gave the adults a weak smile.
"It's all right, Minerva. He can walk me out," Remus said pleasantly, although he was eyeing Harry with a modicum of concern. Professor McGonagall nodded her assent, before following the rest of the teachers down the hallway.
"Well, Harry, what's on your mind?" Remus asked when the two were alone.
"I need your advice," Harry said as they started to slowly make their way down the corridor.
"About what?" Remus asked.
"About – Oh never mind," Harry said, thrusting his hands into his pocket. "It's not important."
"It must be a little bit important," Remus told him. There was an awkward silence. Finally Remus asked slowly, "Does it have something to do with the Order?"
"Huh?" Harry replied. "Oh, no. No," he answered with a sigh. "But see, that's what's important. I should be worrying about that. Not some dumb girl."
"Ah," Remus said. "A girl."
"Yeah," Harry confirmed miserably. "A girl."
After a few moments of silence, Remus said, "You know Harry, giving advice is a lot easier when I know what the situation is."
"I know," Harry replied. "Well, I like this girl. But…well, it's complicated."
"Complicated?" Remus asked.
"We have a history. Sort of," Harry explained.
"So, you've gone out with her before?"
"No. But she used to like me when we were younger. A lot. And then I sav-" Harry stopped himself. For some reason he didn't really want Remus to know it who he liked. "Anyway, she stopped liking me a few years ago and now we're friends. And, you know, at first when she stopped liking me, I was glad. It was a relief. But now I wish…."
"You wish it was like before, when you were sure of her feelings," Remus finished for him.
"Exactly!" Harry cried, astounded at how simply Remus was able to state his complex thoughts.
Remus chuckled. "You have no idea how like your parents you are."
"I know, I know," Harry moaned. "I remind everyone so much of my father."
"Yes, you do. But right now, I was thinking about how your mother was in a situation very much like this."
"My mother?" Harry asked in shock. He couldn't remember anyone telling him he was ever like his mother.
"Are you familiar with the circumstances that led to your father's appointment as Head Boy?" Remus asked suddenly.
"Huh? Oh, uh no," Harry answered, thoroughly confused by the change of topics.
"Ah, well, at least you know about the prank that was pulled in our sixth year?"
Harry thought for a moment. Hadn't his father and Sirius pulled a lot of pranks every year? Harry wasn't sure he'd heard the specifics on any of them. Except for…Harry nodded slowly, remembering how his father had rescued Snape after Sirius's joke had gone sour.
"Well, the headmaster felt that it showed a great strength of character on James's part, risking his life for his rival's. And since James and I faired evenly in academics, Dumbledore awarded your father the position of Head Boy."
"You mean, my dad stole Head Boy from you?" Harry exclaimed in shock.
Remus shook his head. "No, Harry. I quite agreed with the headmaster's decision. I was truly indebted to James for stopping Severus."
"Oh, right," Harry replied sheepishly.
"I think the incident made your father re-evaluate some of his decisions during his time at Hogwarts, and the appointment as Head Boy only increased his sense of moral duty. A different James got on the Hogwarts Express for our seventh year than any of us were used to."
"I bet Sirius didn't like it," Harry said without thinking.
Remus smiled. "No, he didn't. And neither did your mother."
"I think it made her nervous at first. She always knew how to handle your father; how to ward off his advances; and how to dole out the detentions. But the new James didn't act like the old. He was more mature and he respected her. It wasn't long before they were on friendly terms. Of course, I observed all of this from their interactions. But I was to learn later that during that period Lily started to have feelings for your father."
"When'd you learn that?" Harry wondered.
"When your mother told me."
Harry felt his jaw drop in shock. "She told you?"
"I was quite amazed myself. But she felt she needed my opinion. You see Harry, James knew his arrogance and constant advances were never going to sway your mother. So, he gave up and decided to be content with being her friend. So, when Lily started falling for him, she had no encouragement on his behalf. She came to me, I suppose because I was the least likely to tell James about it later, to ask if I thought he was still interested in her."
"And what'd you tell her?"
"That she had to find out for herself."
"What?" Harry exclaimed. "That's cruel."
Remus stopped and gave Harry a funny look. "Why?"
"Obviously my dad was still in love with her. Why didn't you tell her that?" Harry asked.
"Harry, if your mother was truly serious about your father, nothing, not even her own wounded pride, should have kept her from finding out."
"So basically your saying…"
"Talk to this girl. Tell her how you feel. Maybe she's just become very good at hiding her feelings."
"Yeah, or maybe she'll laugh in my face," Harry grumbled.
"If she's truly your friend, I doubt that," Remus replied bemusedly. He laid a hand on Harry's shoulder and looked him in the eye. "And if you really like her, nothing should keep you from telling her. Because there's nothing more difficult to accept than old regrets." Squeezing slightly, Remus let go of Harry's shoulder and continued down the staircase towards the Entrance Hall.
Harry remained frozen on the step, his resolve firming. Remus was right; he had to talk to her. "Remus," Harry called.
Remus stopped at the bottom stair and turned around. "Yes?"
"Thanks," Harry said with a smile. Remus returned the smile as Harry spun around and ran back up to Gryffindor Tower. He had to find her before his nerve failed.
The common room was crowded, but he had little trouble locating her. She was in their usual corner, with Ron and Hermione seated on the sofa next to her. The three were deep in conversation as Harry approached.
"Oh Harry," Hermione said when he had reached the sofa, "did you find out anything from Lupin?"
"He didn't tell me a single thing about the Order," Harry said truthfully as he sat down in a chair across from them. He glanced at Ron, who was obviously interested in hearing what Remus had said on matters other than the Order. "But I did get to chat with him," he said with a poignant look at Ron.
Ron took the hint. "Hey, Hermione, weren't we supposed to do some extra rounds tonight?" he asked standing up.
"Because of the meeting," he told her, grabbing her hand to pull her to her feet. "All the teachers were busy."
"The meeting's over, Ron," Hermione tutted in annoyance, although Harry noted she let Ron continue to hold her hand. "Besides, curfew's not for another half hour."
"Well," Ron said, pulling her towards the portrait hole, "that means we've got half an hour to ourselves then." Hermione quickly protested, but her protests were in vain, because Ron succeeded in getting her out of the common room a moment later.
Moving down to take Ron's place across from Harry, Ginny giggled. "If I ever see them snog, I'll probably have to do a memory reversing charm."
"Yeah," Harry agreed with a laugh. "Me too."
"But I'm glad they're happy," Ginny said contentedly.
"Me too." Harry took a deep breath. "Ginny, I need to talk to you."
Hazarding a glance at her, he saw worry and shock on her face. But there was also curiosity. "You can talk to me about anything," she said honestly.
"I know. And you were right at dinner. Something has been bothering me." He paused, deciding the best way to proceed. "I – I was wondering if maybe you'd like to go around Hosgmeade together next weekend."
"Oh, Harry," she muttered, sounding very much like she pitied him. Harry felt his heart sink a little. "Of course I'll go around Hogsmeade with you."
"You will?" Harry asked confused, although the words buoyed his spirits.
"Yes. But you know, just because Ron and Hermione are going out now, that doesn't mean you're not still their friend."
"What? Ron and Hermione?"
"It's okay to be upset, Harry," Ginny continued. "But I'm sure the next Hogsmeade weekend will be back to normal with the three of you together again. Just give them some time to get used it to. And until then, you can always spend time with me or Neville or someone."
Harry blinked. "Ron and Hermione have nothing to do with this," he said bluntly.
"They don't?" Ginny asked in confusion.
Shaking his head vehemently, Harry continued, "What's been bothering me lately has to do with you. And me."
"Oh," Ginny said quietly.
"So, when I asked you to Hogsmeade," Harry continued, gulping hard, "it was because I wanted to spend the day with you. Because I like you…a lot," he added lamely.
The silence stretched out between them and Harry wished she'd just say something. Anything. But when she finally spoke, she didn't say any of the things Harry expected. "You know, when I was younger, I used to imagine you'd say something like that to me."
"Yeah," Ginny said, a smile tugging at her lips. "But we were usually out by the lake, or maybe atop the North Tower. Somewhere romantic, you know?" Harry nodded, although he didn't find the lake or the North Tower particularly romantic. "And the speeches you made? Much more romantic," Ginny said, with a few giggles. Harry eyed her skeptically. "I know," she said solemnly although her eyes were still laughing. "It was all wrong. Not you at all. That's because back then I didn't know you. Not like I do now. Not as a friend."
"A friend," Harry repeated, looking away and trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice.
"Harry, not all friends stay friends," she replied, drawing his gaze back to her. "Look at Ron and Hermione."
"So, what's your point?" Harry asked, now feeling thoroughly confused.
"My point is, I haven't let myself think about anything but friendship with you in a long time, because dwelling on other stuff was entirely too unhealthy for me. So…give me time to get used to the idea."
"And what idea is that?" Harry asked, wanting to be sure he understood.
"That Harry Potter just asked me on a date," Ginny said with a smile.
"As long as you let me get used to the idea that you said yes," Harry replied.