A/N: This takes place during Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts.
Harry slammed his Potions book shut and then quickly stuffed his books, parchments and other supplies into his bookbag. Hermione looked up at him, and her expression plainly showed that she was about to lecture him on his study habits. "Don't start, Hermione," he snapped before she could even open her mouth. "I'll do it later. I can't think with all this noise in here."
Her expression changed immediately, and she sighed in understanding. "I know. I'd prefer to study in the library, but Professor McGonagall asked us Prefects to keep an eye on the younger students. You'd think that we were approaching April Fool's instead of Valentine's Day - the way they're all acting."
Harry slung his bag onto his shoulder. "I need to get out of here for awhile. I'll be back later. Don't wait for me." Hermione nodded at him, and then nudged Ron's shoulder. Ron looked up, confused, then grinned rather sheepishly and pulled some cotton wool out of his ears. Harry grinned in spite of himself. "I'll be back later," he repeated, and Ron grinned, nodded, and replaced the cotton wool before ducking his head over his homework again. Harry headed toward the portrait hole, but he still heard Hermione's soft snort at Ron's behavior. He knew exactly which annoyed expression she'd give Ron before she'd then make some small gesture of affection - touch his hand or straighten his hair. Harry shook his head at the mental picture, then ducked out of the portrait hole and stalked off down the corridors, unsure of where he was going, but just knowing that he couldn't stand to be in the common room any longer.
After a few minutes, his pace slowed and he found himself wandering through unfamiliar corridors, not entirely sure how he'd got there. He sighed and shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans, allowing himself to peruse the portraits that hung on these walls. A few of them spoke to him, but most just looked at him curiously, as though they were unaccustomed to seeing students.
Some time later, he came upon a door that was slightly ajar, and it led to an obviously unused classroom. Harry carefully pushed the door open further, looking about. He couldn't sense anything odd about the room, so he cautiously eased his way inside. There were dusty desks pushed against the walls, and a larger desk near the front of the room. Harry paused in the doorway, thinking... He glanced at his watch: still a couple of hours before curfew. If he studied now, he might almost have a hope of getting a decent mark on his homework. At least here, there wasn't even a chance of anyone disturbing him. He pushed the door open further and entered. A few minutes later, he'd magically cleared away the dust around the teacher's desk, lit some of the lamps and the fireplace... and settled down to work.
It was shortly after curfew when Harry approached the portrait hole to Gryffindor Tower. He paused and rubbed his eyes tiredly as he mumbled out the password, "Pixie dust."
The Fat Lady swung aside to let him enter. "Go to bed, dear," she said as he passed. "You look exhausted." Harry sighed at the comment and shook his head, then paused in the doorway of the common room. At least it was quieter now than it had been earlier in the evening, but there were still quite a few people around. He glanced around, but didn't see Ron or Hermione, and reckoned they'd gone on to bed. He was tired, his eyes hurt from the dust that he hadn't quite got rid of, and he'd developed a headache from trying to make sense of the essay Snape had assigned them... but he didn't want to go to bed just yet. He knew he'd only dream again, and he just wasn't ready to deal with it.
One of the smaller sofas near the fireplace was vacant, and he made his way toward it almost without a conscious decision to do so. He dropped his bag next to the sofa and sank onto it, leaning his head against the back and letting his eyes close almost immediately. The gentle warmth of the fireplace danced across him, and he could sense the flickering light even with his eyes closed.
He didn't know how long he sat there before he was suddenly aware of someone sitting next to him on the sofa. He forced his eyes open to see who was there, and wasn't too surprised to see that it was Ginny, and she was looking at him intently. "Gin?" he murmured, then paused to clear his throat; he felt as if he were more asleep than awake. He glanced around quickly; most of the common room was deserted. He must have been sitting there longer than he'd realized.
"I didn't mean to wake you," she said softly.
"You didn't. I mean... I wasn't asleep."
She smiled at him teasingly. "You were doing a wonderful impression of snoring, then."
"I don't snore!"
"Harry, most people would snore in the position you were in!"
Harry couldn't suppress a slight grin; he knew better than to argue with Ginny over something like this - he'd never win. "So did you just come over to investigate my snoring?"
Ginny shook her head. "No, silly. I came to tell you to go on to bed. You've been sitting like that for quite awhile, and you're going to have a very sore neck if you stay that way much longer."
Harry started to shake his head at her, then winced. "Ow..."
"See?" she teased, but she moved closer to him. "Turn around..." she ordered, grabbing his shoulders and turning him slightly as she began to gently massage his neck. He hissed as her fingers dug into tight muscles. "Sorry..." she murmured, shifting her fingers again. Within a few moments, he could feel himself begin to relax beneath her expert touch, and he let his eyes drift closed again.
"Here." Ginny lifted his head away from the back of the sofa with one hand and pushed a pillow into place. "Don't undo all that work I just did!" she teased quietly.
"Sorry," Harry mumbled. "How'd you learn..." he paused as a monstrous yawn overtook him. Ginny giggled. "Sorry," he repeated. "How'd you learn to do this?"
"I have six brothers. Where do you think?" she answered.
Harry nodded slightly as her fingers moved over his shoulders, kneading them gently. "Am I doing it too hard?" she asked quietly after a few more moments.
"Dunno..." Harry mumbled.
"What do you mean, you dunno?"
"Dunno how it's supposed to be done," he answered sleepily.
Her hands stopped for a moment, then she leaned closer and asked softly, "Harry. Haven't you ever had someone rub your shoulders before?"
He shook his head. "Uh-uh. But 's'nice..." he murmured.
Ginny's arms slipped around his shoulders and she squeezed him affectionately. Her breath was warm on the back of his neck as she whispered, "Then I'm glad I was the first."
Even half-asleep, Harry could feel himself redden slightly. "Me, too," he answered.
Ginny's hands returned to his shoulders, working at the knotted muscles. "Are you awake enough to answer a question for me?"
Ginny paused, then said quietly, "Hermione thought you seemed rather... irritated... when you left earlier. Were you?"
Harry sighed. He should have known Hermione would notice. "A bit, I guess." He paused, and Ginny waited patiently for him to continue. "All this..." he waved his hand, vaguely indicating all the decorations and notices in the common room. "I dunno... I've just never really understood all the attention to Valentine's Day, I guess."
Ginny's hands paused in their ministrations. "What do you mean?" she asked carefully.
Harry sighed and shifted around to face her, even though he was enjoying what she was doing to his shoulders. One of her hands stayed on his shoulder as he turned, the other came to rest on his forearm. He looked down at the hand on his arm then gently covered it with his own, feeling her fingers easily intertwine with his. He studied their fingers for a moment, gathering his thoughts. "Gin, I know we've been... closer lately. And I know girls... expect things at Valentine's. It's just..." He met her eyes for a moment before looking away, staring into the embers in the fireplace. "I've never had anyone to think about at Valentine's, Gin. I mean, last year, Cho - well, she hinted that I was supposed to ask her to do something or whatever, but... she chose the teashop and everything, and it... well, you know that was a disaster. So...I... I dunno..." He paused again and took a deep breath. "I dunno what to do," he finished softly. He could feel his face heat up again as he spoke, but he forced himself to add, "I know things are supposed to be a surprise or whatever, but... I really don't know."
Ginny's eyes danced teasingly at him, and he could see a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. "Is that why you haven't asked me to the dance?"
Harry reddened even more, and he couldn't look at her as he nodded. "I'm sorry, Gin, but... I'm a terrible dancer - you've seen me! And... I just don't want to embarrass you like that."
Ginny giggled, then leaned even closer and gently turned him back to face her. "Harry, I promise that your dancing would not embarrass me in even the slightest possible way." He started to protest, but she silenced him with a finger on his lips. "But that's not important, Harry. The only reason I would want to go to the dance is just to be with you. I wouldn't care if we danced or not."
Harry stared at her, trying to judge her sincerity. "Really?" he asked cautiously.
She smiled warmly. "Really. Honestly." She studied him for a moment, then said softly, "So... will you take me to the dance?"
He swallowed hard, still looking into her eyes for confirmation. "Gin, are you sure? I really-" She smiled again, encouragingly. He tightened his grip on her hand. "If you're certain, then... yes, I want to take you to the dance... will you go with me?"
She smiled even more broadly and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "I'd love to go with you."
He let out a breath he didn't even realize he'd been holding. "Thanks," he said quietly.
She grinned cheekily at him. "That wasn't so hard, now was it?"
He chuckled in relief. "No, it wasn't." He shifted positions, moving one arm across her shoulders, and she snuggled against him, tucking her head onto his shoulder. They sat in silence for a few moments, staring into the fire, and then she said quietly, "Are you going to tell me why you don't like Valentine's Day?"
Harry shook his head. "It's not that I don't like it... it's just..." He sighed and leaned his head against the back of the sofa again. "I should have known you wouldn't let me off about that, shouldn't I?"
She squeezed his hand. "Definitely. Talk."
Harry closed his eyes for a moment, letting his thoughts drift back over time. He'd never have imagined that he'd be in this situation: being able to talk to anyone - especially someone like Ginny Weasley! - about how he felt about things like this. "I guess... do you remember that Valentine you sent me your first year?"
"Oh heavens! Did you have to bring that up?" Ginny moaned, ducking her head against his shoulder, obviously embarrassed.
Harry nodded. "I'm not trying to embarrass you, it's just..." He sighed, then said quietly, "It was the first Valentine I ever got, Gin. I-I just thought you should know."
Ginny looked up at him abruptly, then brought one hand up to cup his cheek, turning him to look at her once more. "Oh Harry - I'm sorry!"
Completely confused, Harry stammered, "'Sorry'? W-what are you...?"
"I'm sorry that the first Valentine you ever got was so horrible!"
"It wasn't! I mean... I was embarrassed about that dwarf, and about Malfoy, but... I was just..." He paused and disentangled himself from Ginny as he leaned forward to put his elbows on his knees and lean his head on his hands. "I was just glad someone... it was just nice to get one anyway," he said softly.
He felt Ginny's hands on his shoulders again, then one hand began to gently stroke his hair. "Want to tell me about it?" she whispered. "You don't have to... just - sometimes it helps to share things."
Harry sighed. "It won't change anything," he whispered.
"I know. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't ever talk about what happened."
Harry stared down at the knees of his jeans. "How do you know something 'happened'?" he asked huskily.
Ginny squeezed his arm gently, the fingers of her other hand still playing with his hair. "Because I know you, Harry James Potter. I know you very well."
Harry nodded. "Yeah, I guess you do." He paused for a moment, and then quietly began to talk. Ginny already knew that he'd never had any real friends before Hogwarts because of Dudley's influence with the other kids at school, and about the way all the Dursleys had treated him. But he'd never told anyone about the very first Valentine's Day he really remembered, the first year he'd been in school...
In typical fashion with students of that age, Miss Honeywell, the teacher, had talked to the students about what they would be doing to celebrate Valentine's Day, and told them that they would all be making Valentines for each of the other students in the class.
No one would be left out.
By that point in the school year, Harry already knew that Dudley and his friends would have generally ensured that he'd be left out. But since they were to do things in school... he couldn't stop the small thrill of hope that rippled through him.
Over the next couple of weeks, Harry had pasted and colored and decorated to his heart's content, until he'd accumulated a stack of cards that he could pass out the following day to all his classmates. He carefully put the cards in the special folder that Miss Honeywell had given them and put them in his desk before he left school for the day.
The party the next day was very nice. Harry even got to have one of his favorite types of biscuits before Dudley and Piers ate the rest, and he managed to stay far enough away from Dudley not to have his punch dumped on him.
And then it was time to hand out the cards.
Each student had a special box with his or her name on it for the other students to put their cards into.
Miss Honeywell had all the students take their seats, and she passed among the rows, handing out the boxes of cards. Students' faces glowed as they happily dug through their boxes.
Finally - finally! - she handed Harry the box with his name on it, smiling sweetly at him as she did.
He glanced around. Dudley and Piers and some of their friends were watching him. He gulped. This wasn't good.
He set the box on his desk. It didn't seem very heavy, but maybe... well, paper didn't weigh much, did it?
His heart in his throat, he hesitantly opened the top of the box and peeked inside.
He tried to keep his expression blank. He really did.
But something must have shown, because Dudley, Piers and the rest of their friends burst into raucous laughter.
Harry bit his lip, desperately trying to hold back his disappointment, and - above all - not let Dudley know how much he'd got to him.
He glanced around desperately. Miss Honeywell was only a few seats away, leaning over to look at a card that one of the other children was showing her. Without stopping to think, Harry grabbed the box from his desk and leapt to his feet. He hurried to the teacher's side. "Miss Honeywell... Miss Honeywell..." he could scarcely wait for her to turn to him.
"Harry, you should wait until... what's the matter?" she asked, kneeling to look him in the eye.
"I don't feel well. C-could I go to the loo? Please?" he whispered, hoping that for once Dudley wouldn't overhear anything.
She studied him for a moment, then said quietly, "Yes, of course. Go ahead."
Harry hurried from the room, but somehow managed to not quite break the rules about running. He ducked into the very last cubicle in the bathroom and locked the door. With all his strength, he hurled the box at the back wall, and it made a very satisfying smack! as it hit. Harry wrapped his arms around his chest, hugging himself as he slowly sank onto the floor in the corner. Hot tears streaked down his cheeks as he drew his knees toward his chest, then rested his forehead against his knees. He rocked back and forth miserably, sobbing almost silently, unable to keep himself from crying this time.
He knew he didn't have any real friends. But for once, just once, he'd let himself hope...
He didn't know how long he sat there, but he finally wiped away the last of his tears and got shakily to his feet. He went to the sink and splashed his face with cold water until he at least didn't look so much like he'd been crying. He met his own gaze in the mirror above the basin, using his still-damp fingers to try to coax his hair into covering the scar on his forehead. His eyes hardened as he stared into the mirror. Dudley will never know... he promised himself.
An ember in the fire popped, and Harry jumped, startled out of his reverie by the sound. He plucked off his glasses and rubbed his eyes tiredly. "So... now you know," he said quietly, still not looking at Ginny.
"Did Dudley ever find out?" she whispered.
Harry shrugged. "I left the Valentine's box in the loo, so he had a pretty good idea. He just couldn't ever make me admit anything." He leaned back against the sofa again, his eyes still closed. Somehow, he couldn't make himself look at Ginny. Not after baring his soul like that. He just wasn't accustomed to talking about things that made him feel so much.
He heard a soft sniff from beside him, and he frowned absent-mindedly. He was trying to force his eyes open when he heard it again. His eyes flew open of their own accord and he stared at Ginny in shock. She was crying. "Gin? What's wrong? Did I... what's the matter?"
Ginny scrubbed at her eyes with one hand, and Harry hastily dug into his pocket for his crumpled handkerchief. He handed it to her, his own hand shaking slightly. "Ginny? What's wrong?" he asked again, worriedly.
"It's all right, Harry, you didn't do anything. It's not you... I mean, it is, but... it's not your fault," she stammered while she wiped her face with his handkerchief.
"Gin... I'm sorry, please, I - I didn't mean to..." he began, stumbling over the words as he somehow managed to get his glasses back onto his face and reached for her free hand.
Ginny smiled at him shakily and gripped his hand tightly, reassuringly, then reached up with her other hand to gently touch his cheek. "Don't worry, it's okay," she whispered. "I'm not upset at you or anything. I just - I can't imagine anyone being so cruel to you when you were so little. It just breaks - " she paused and took a deep, shaky breath, "it breaks my heart to think of how lonely you were and how they treated you and just - just everything. I wish - I dunno, I guess I wish there were some way to make those things be 'all better' for you somehow. I know there isn't, but... I still wish," she finished softly, still looking at him intently.
He couldn't tear his eyes away from hers. The deep brown pools of her eyes shimmered in the firelight, her wet lashes clung together, making them even more visible than usual. "You-you do?" Harry whispered uncertainly. Ginny nodded silently, her eyes speaking volumes of emotions. The hand on his cheek moved through his hair toward the back of his neck, and then she slowly pulled him closer. Harry swallowed hard. No one had ever cared like she did... His hands slid up her arms, around her back...
Her lips pressed against his, slightly salty-wet with her tears, but warm and inviting. Harry tightened his arms around her and her arms slid around him, holding him tenderly, lovingly. Their mouths moved as they shifted positions, drawing each other closer both physically and emotionally.
They separated a few minutes later, and Harry was slightly surprised to realize that Ginny was now almost sitting in his lap, she was so close to him. She pressed her forehead against his, looking deeply into his eyes once more. Her hand was on his cheek again, her thumb gently stroking his cheekbone.
He swallowed hard against the tide of emotion he could read in her eyes. "I'm sorry I made you cry," he murmured.
She smiled at him and stroked her thumb across his bottom lip. "You didn't," she whispered. "I only cried because I care about you so much."
Harry closed his eyes briefly, fighting back a surge of almost-panic. "Gin..." he began.
"Shh. I know what you're going to say. He's not going to control me anymore, Harry. I won't let him. And I won't let him control us." She caressed his cheek again. "Look at me," she said quietly. She waited until he complied, then she spoke softly, but with a fierce intensity. "He has controlled far too many things in your life, Harry. He can't control this. He can't control your heart." She paused, then added, "Or mine."
Harry looked into those eyes, glowing with emotion, and felt a surge of determination to match hers. He nodded. "You're right, Gin. I-I've lost enough. I won't lose you, too." He leaned his forehead against hers again and let his eyes close. "You mean - you mean too much to me," he whispered, unable to keep himself from saying the words any longer.
Ginny shifted slightly, and her lips met his again. The kiss this time was different, not as tentative as the other few kisses they'd shared, and Harry forgot all sense of time as he lost himself in the world of Ginny's kisses. His hands slid through her wondrous hair, moved over her back and shoulders, as her hands roamed over him in response.
When they finally parted, slightly breathless, Harry knew that something had changed between them. "Are - are you okay now?" he asked quietly.
She smiled at him and nodded. "Yeah," she said softly. "Are you?"
He hesitated for a moment, thinking. "Yeah," he answered. "I'm better than okay, actually."
Ginny's eyes twinkled at him. "Do you think you could get some sleep now? Perhaps without all the snoring this time?"
"Hey!" he squawked indignantly. She giggled, then kissed the end of his nose.
"I'd rather stay here with you, but if McGonagall should come in..." her voice trailed off ominously.
Harry grinned and gave her a look of mock-horror. "Oh, the scandal of it!" he gasped.
Ginny giggled again. "It is late, Harry. And you looked exhausted when you came in earlier." She pushed his hair away from his eyes, then smiled again. "Would you like me to finish massaging your shoulders and then send you off to bed like a good boy?"
Harry snorted, then grinned. "Well, the massage part sounds nice, at least." Ginny smirked at him, then she shifted positions on the sofa and he turned again so that she could reach his shoulders more easily.
It wasn't long before Harry felt as if all his muscles had turned to jelly, and he'd really be quite content to spend the rest of his life as a puddle in the Gryffindor common room. He felt a tug at one arm, and he groaned at the very idea of moving. "Nooo..." he protested.
He heard a very familiar chuckle. "C'mon, Mr. Potter. If McGonagall finds you here, you'll wish you had moved!"
"Nooo..." he repeated, but found himself being hauled to his feet, quite against his will.
Ginny giggled, then leaned in to whisper into his ear, "I'll give you a good-night kiss after I get you up the stairs."
Harry blinked at her groggily. "Promise?"
"Promise," she answered, tugging on his hand once more. This time, he followed much more readily. She wrapped one arm around his waist as they climbed the stairs, and he thought dimly that this was an incredibly nice way to go to sleep... and then she stopped, turning toward him, pulling him closer. He stared down at her, blinking at her owlishly. She grinned at him, then wrapped one hand around his neck and guided him toward her as she tilted her face toward his. One brief, hesitant touch of her lips, and then she pressed toward him, kissing him deeply, wrapping her arms tightly around him.
A few moments later, they parted, and Harry found himself literally leaning against the wall for support. Ginny giggled. "Go to bed, Harry, before you fall asleep standing up."
He grinned sleepily. "I could stay awake a lot longer if you'd kiss me like that again."
She smirked at him. "I'll kiss you like that again when you're awake enough to remember it." She reached past him and opened the door to his dormitory. "Go to bed," she ordered, and he vaguely thought that she sounded very much like her mum at that moment. She quickly kissed him again, then said, very quietly, "Goodnight, Harry."
"G'night," he mumbled as she grabbed his shoulder and pushed him through the doorway. He stumbled toward his bed and collapsed onto it.
A heartbeat later, he felt a hand on his shoulder, and nearly jumped out of his skin. "Shh!" Ginny was right beside him. "Get in the bed, Harry. At least take off your shoes."
He kicked off his shoes as she tugged at the blankets, and he somehow managed to wriggle beneath them. Ginny leaned over him and pressed a quick kiss to his forehead. "Sweet dreams, love."
Harry mumbled a reply, but even he wasn't sure what he said. "Sweet dreams," Ginny repeated.
And for once... they were.
A/N: MAJOR thanks to Lissa, Chele and Imogen for input and feedback and special thanks to Allie for the "emergency" beta job! Imogen says that children in their first year of school most likely wouldn't exchange Valentines in the UK, but... well, I liked the idea too much to give it up!
Eventually, I'm going to write what happens ON Valentine's Day for Harry and Ginny, but this is enough of a "kick off" for our Valentine's Contest for PhoenixSong for now (not as a contest entry, just for fun!). Thanks for reading... now get writing your own! ;-)