When Ron and Hermione caught up with Harry for History of Magic, it was clear that something had happened. Hermione had smiled at him briefly, quite shyly; then she took her usual seat beside Ron. Ron had a faraway look, a look that Harry had not seen before. And yet Ron and Hermione still didn't seem to want to talk to each other.
In the middle of Professor Binns's boring-as-always lecture, Harry scribbled, "What happened?" on his book and pushed it towards Ron.
Ron's reply was short. "You'll know soon enough."
Harry had to smile.
"So when exactly is ‘soon enough'?" Harry asked Ron after Divination as they headed towards the Great Hall.
Ron didn't answer.
Harry looked around him. Ron had disappeared.
Harry, Dean, Seamus and Neville walked back to Gryffindor Tower after eating together at dinner. Harry quickly looked around for Ron and Hermione, but neither one was to be found. Instead, he spotted Ginny on an armchair by the fire, reading.
Ginny looked up from Sciences of the Muggle World. "Oh, hi, Harry," she said nonchalantly, then went back to her book.
"Have you seen Ron and Hermione anywhere?"
"I thought Ron was with you."
"Yeah, but he disappeared after Divination."
"Mmph," said Ginny.
Harry stared at her. The Ginny of the old days wouldn't do that—she'd probably look away, yes, but this Ginny wasn't even blushing. He again marveled at how much she had changed.
Now why does that bother you so much? a voice inside his head said. Wish she still had a crush on you, eh, now that she's a lot prettier than before?
Harry mentally threw a punch at the voice. Ginny, however, was now looking at him with a puzzled _expression on her eyes.
"Do I have something on my face?"
Harry couldn't help it. He put a hand on each arm of her chair and leaned down so that their eyes were level. "Look here," he began. "All year you've been nothing but cool to me. You've smiled at me, you thanked me when I helped you with homework—but…look. Are you mad at me or something?"
Ginny gaped at him. "If I were mad at you, would I ask for your help in Muggle Studies?"
"You didn't ask for help."
"Well, would I have thanked you?"
"Yeah, to be cordial," Harry said.
Ginny gave him a disbelieving look. Then, slamming her book shut, she sat up straight and looked back at Harry's eyes. A bit slanty. Sepia-brown. Sparkling because of the fire behind me. Or maybe that's how her eyes look when she's mad at you? Oh, shut up, Potter.
"You look here," Ginny said with a look that certainly outdid Hermione's dagger stare, "since I was ten years old I acted like a total geek around you. And you never gave me the slightest second glance. I was just Ron's little sister. But I learned to change all of that. You're a great guy and all, but you're not really worth having a crush on—a total waste of time, I finally thought. In fact, I just realized that I don't like you one bit."
Harry blinked. That certainly wasn't the little Ginny he had known. "Uh, is this the part when I'm supposed to say, ‘Great, that's minus one stalker'?"
To Harry's surprise, Ginny burst out laughing. She was laughing so hard that tears formed in her eyes. Harry didn't know what to do—he didn't feel like laughing at all.
"Yeah, I guess you could say that," Ginny said after a while, wiping her eyes. She straightened again, but this time, she was smiling…warmly. Towards him. For the first time in…oh, about seven months. Not that he had been keeping count….
"So I should be glad," Harry stated.
"You should rejoice," Ginny said. "Really, Harry. I'm over it. Really," she said again when Harry looked doubtful. "I won't send you any more singing cards, I won't put my elbow on my porridge again…you'll finally lead a normal life without me."
"Without you?" Harry was grinning by now. "What kind of a normal life is that?"
"Oh, shut up," Ginny said, grinning back.
It was strange…Harry felt as if something had been lifted from his back, after Ginny gave him that warm smile…that warm smile, that was something, wasn't it? It was sort of cute…now why am I noticing? …But the feeling was mixed with a bit of confusion. How could Ginny just manage to say that? It was unnerving…it was something like Ron had said… "You don't know what it's like when one of your best friends suddenly comes out and says, ‘Hey, I'm love-struck with you.' It's scary." But something of the opposite—it was a bit scary, when one of the girls you knew was love-struck by you suddenly says, "Hey, I don't like you one bit."
The door to the common room opened. It was Ron and Hermione. Hermione gave Harry and Ginny a smile and a nod, and hurried up to her room. Ron, on the other hand, walked over to Harry.
"I want to talk," he said in a low voice. His face was expressionless.
"Uh…sure." Talk about unnerving. The Weasleys could certainly do that to Harry. Ginny looked back and forth at Harry and Ron, obviously confused.
Ron led the way to their dormitory. When Harry slammed the door shut, Ron faced him.
"Hit me. On the face. Really hard."
"Why?" Harry asked. This was really weird, to say the least.
"Just do it," Ron insisted.
Harry hesitated. "Well—okay—it might not be hard enough, but I'll do my best—"
Harry swung his arm back and slapped Ron on the face with all the strength he could muster. Ron staggered back, clutching his jaw.
"Ah…great," he mumbled. "I was awake."
"Awake?" Harry knotted his forehead, pushing his glasses back up his nose.
"Yeah…thanks. I was awake," Ron repeated as he walked over to his bed.
Harry watched Ron draw the hangings of his bed closed. He bit back a smile. "Lucky bloke," he muttered.
It was clear in the next few weeks that Ron and Hermione had finally made up—or, as Seamus had aptly pointed out, "probably even made out." Dean and Neville had laughed hard, but Harry had to shake his head in disbelief. He simply couldn't imagine his two best friends doing that, especially after all their bickering.
He still hung out with them, of course. Ron and Hermione were more or less their usual selves, except that the fights took less time than before, and they were more playful. Once or twice, Harry caught the two of them looking at each other, smiling in a way he had never seen before.
But by the time they began to walk along the corridors with Ron and Hermione discreetly touching each others' hand, Harry began to feel like a third wheel. He suddenly felt conscious that they were doing all the sweet stuff couples do, and there he was, acting like a chaperon. As a result, he began to hang out with the other Gryffindors, usually Dean, Neville and Seamus.
By the middle of March, Harry had become quite used to this setup. But sometimes it didn't feel right. Some time ago, they were quite a threesome, brewing Polyjuice Potion in the girls' bathroom and sneaking around the school at midnight. They were, simply put, best friends. He kind of missed them—although he knew he shouldn't feel so, because he was really happy for them, as he had pointed out to Ginny over dinner one Saturday.
"Still alone, aren't you?" she said, sitting down beside him. A couple of fourth-year Gryffindor girls gaped at them.
"Yeah," he replied. "The fun kind of diminished, if you ask me."
"Hmm. Too bad when your two best friends fall in love, eh?"
Harry looked at her. "Is it really? I've always noticed something going on between them."
"Yeah, me too. I've been noticing for ages."
However, as Harry lay on his bed that night, he couldn't help but ponder on a phrase Ginny had used—fall in love. Do you really "fall in love", like falling from a broomstick fifty feet high? Did it happen all of a sudden for Ron and Hermione—had Ron fallen with a loud thump on Hermione over Transfiguration one day, when she turned that French poodle into a St. Bernard?
He wasn't sure what it meant yet. But thinking about his two best friends made Harry retrieve the box from under his pillow. He stared at his parents' wedding rings, held fast to each other by some powerful force.
He involuntarily touched his scar—the remnant of the deadly curse that his mother had sacrificed her life for, out of her love for him. Maybe that's what love is, Harry thought, the greatest force on earth.
Easter Sunday was part of a Hogsmeade weekend. The Hogwarts students, third-years and above, happily marched off to the nearby town.
The first place Harry, Ron and Hermione went into was The Three Broomsticks, the place for their favorite drink.
"Ah, butterbeer!" Harry drank from his tankard in one great gulp. "Blimey, I missed this place."
"Same here," Ron said, drinking from his own tankard quickly—so quickly, in fact, that he almost choked.
"Oh, Ron," Hermione groaned, handing him a napkin and slapping him lightly on his back. "Be careful!"
"Yeah—okay—thanks." After a succession of coughs, Ron gave her a grin that she returned.
Again, Harry felt that he shouldn't be hanging out with the two at this moment. He finished his butterbeer and looked up at Hermione. "Say, uh—I think I'll be dropping off at Gladrags—I'm short of socks after I put a hole on one."
"Oh, okay—we'll just finish this and we're coming—"
Harry waved his hand dismissively. "Nah, I'll go by myself."
"But if you're—"
"Come off it, guys, I'll be fine!" Harry rolled his eyes inwardly. After all these weeks, Ron and Hermione still hadn't set aside the notion that he was not okay.
A few minutes later, Harry was walking across the road past the Shrieking Shack. He stopped for a while and stared at it, memories flooding back…it was where he learned the truth about his parents' deaths: who really betrayed them, and how….It was where he met his godfather….
It was a strange thing...everything around him was as quiet as if nothing was happening in the wizarding world. He knew that a great lot was happening indeed, what with...Voldemort returning and the Death Eaters united once again. Yet at this moment, everything was just plain peaceful—too peaceful, in fact. Despite everything that had happened last year, no news of any attack had reached them in Hogwarts. Dumbledore and the others were probably doing a good job of keeping the wizarding world as peaceful as ever....
Harry whirled around. He saw Ginny Weasley running towards him from the other end of the road. Her red hair, shining bright copper under the spring sunlight, was flying all about her.
"Hey," Harry said when she caught up to him, panting hard, her cheeks flushed. She's really cute, he thought idly.
"I felt bad seeing you alone, staring at this haunted place." Harry almost let out that it wasn't haunted, but the sight of the two Gryffindor fourth-year girls staring at them from where Ginny had been caught him unawares. "Oh, don't mind them," Ginny said. "They think hanging out with the famous Harry Potter is…you know, something out of the ordinary."
Harry sighed. "They should know I'm just an ordinary kid," he said.
"So I've told them," said Ginny. Harry looked at her, surprised. "What, aren't you?"
"'Course I am," said Harry. "I'm just…well, glad that you look at it that way."
They were walking westward, and they could just see the sun almost touching the mountains on the horizon. Harry sensed Ginny shiver beside him. He felt a sudden urge to hug her warm.
"You cold?" he asked instead, mentally giving his brain a pinch.
"No…I just find the sunset beautiful," she said. There was an amused, dreamy _expression in her eyes. "Isn't it?"
"Yeah." The sun, fiery red-orange, cast golden rays across the pinkish clouds around it. They watched it for a while as its bottom began to hide behind the mountains. "You should see the sunrise, though. It's even more amazing to look at."
Ginny looked at him. "You can do that—wake up very early in the morning and watch it?"
"Oh yes—when Wood was still captain of the team, he'd wake us up before sunrise to have a head start at Quidditch," Harry told her. "Our dormitory faces east, and sometimes I wake up early just to look at it—then go back to sleep."
Ginny giggled. "I've never thought of you as a sunrise-type of person, you know."
"What exactly is a sunrise-type of person?"
"Oh, you know…all dreamy and stuff. Always looking for a happy ending—something like that."
Harry grinned. "You ought to know a lot more things about me—but I thought you were an expert already?"
Ginny kicked him hard on the shin—hard enough to make Harry yelp in pain. The two of them laughed out loud; Harry suddenly realized that had never felt more at ease with another girl. And this was not only because Ginny was younger than he was. It was…for some other reason. He couldn't quite put a finger on it.
"You know what, Ginny Weasley?" he contented himself by saying this, and he meant it. "You're all right."
And for the first time since last year, Harry saw a pink tinge creep up Ginny's cheeks.
"Thanks," Ginny replied, her eyes sparkling under the light of the sun.
Author's Notes: Thank you, Lisa, for all the help; Amy, for clearing up all the British English stuff; and my reviewers. You guys keep me going! =)