When Harry looked back on it, the next day was one of those days when he wished he'd never even bothered climbing out of bed.
It all started innocently enough. Pigwidgeon was making tiny screech-like noises near Ron's four-poster and the sound awakened Harry. He reached through the curtains to retrieve his glasses from his nightstand when things took a turn for the worse. He heard Neville, talking quietly to Seamus Finnegan from across the room.
"I'm going to ask her today," said Neville in an undertone. "When I have a break, after Divination."
"Isn't it a wee bit early?" asked Seamus. "It's over a month away."
"Well, I want to make sure no one else has the chance to ask her first," said Neville.
"She said yes to you last year, didn't she? Take it easy, mate. She'll say yes to you again."
"Easy for you to say," whispered Neville in an anxious voice.
Harry heard Dean Thomas' voice join the conversation.
"You going to ask Lavender again this year, Seamus?"
Harry had heard enough. He pushed the curtains of his four-poster aside and quickly got dressed. He noticed Ron had already gone down and when he went to leave the dormitory, he barely muttered a response to Neville and the others when they called "Good morning" to him.
As he headed down the staircase to the common room, he could hear Dean Thomas' voice trailing behind him.
"What's got his feathers ruffled?"
Harry had never stopped to think that the Yule Ball was fast approaching. And it wasn't as if it were the big deal it had been a year ago, either. There was no tournament this year Dumbledore had only agreed to have the ball again because of its overall popularity with the students. He reckoned the festive event would keep the students' spirits up.
No such luck with Harry. Last year, he had been one of the Triwizard Champions he not only had to attend the ball, but also find a date. This year he didn't necessarily have to worry about having a date he could go stag, if he so desired. Hell, he could not go at all.
But hearing his dorm mates talking about the Yule Ball had stirred a surprising amount of interest in Harry. And what interested him the most or rather, concerned him the most was Neville's plan to ask Ginny.
He spent all of breakfast mulling over whether or not he should take action. He looked down the table at Ginny, who appeared bored out of her wits listening to Claire Hodgkin blathering on, then over to Neville, who was whispering something to Seamus and Dean. He's no doubt strategizing how to make his move, thought Harry. I have until after Divination to make my move but what kind of move am I going to make?
Harry began to feel downright ill. He pushed his porridge bowl aside, prompting Hermione to make an inquiry.
"You all right, Harry?" she asked with a fretful expression on her face. "You haven't seemed yourself lately."
"I'm fine, Hermione," said Harry irritably. "Quit making a fuss."
Harry gulped down a bit of his pumpkin juice and looked back down the table at Ginny.
He was unclear exactly what his feelings for her were.All he knew was that his gut wrenched every time he thought of her spending time with Neville.
But why should I feel that way? he thought. Neville's a decent chap. He's got good intentions and he seems to have genuine feelings for her and all. He's all right for her I should be happy for them both
But he wasn't happy at all.
No, Harry was not going to be able to kid himself that what he was feeling was some sort of brotherly protectiveness for Ginny. Someone with brotherly intentions wouldn't heat up like a furnace every time he came near the girl he thought of like a sister.
Harry looked over at Ron, who was chewing a piece of bacon and listening to Hermione chatter. He would probably want to throttle Harry to death if he knew what kind of reaction Harry was having around his baby sister of late.
Guess I won't be going to Ron for advice on this one, he thought gloomily.
All through Divination, Harry sat anxiously, as if he were awaiting the arrival of doomsday.
At the end of class, Professor Trelawney made a misty-voiced announcement.
"Before I dismiss you, I'd like for you all to do a tealeaf reading." She waved her hands at them and said, "Go on, then! Bottoms up! Drink your tea!"
Harry drained the contents of his teacup in three gulps, and then set it down on the table in front of him.
"Potter," said Professor Trelawney faintly. "Have you read your cup?"
"Er yes," he lied. "There's a erm a horse. I'd better be careful to avoid them to prevent any er, riding accidents."
Ron, who was seated on a pouf next to Harry, snickered loudly.
"Let me see your cup, dear," said Trelawney importantly. She turned Harry's teacup around, examined it and began to shake her head. "I'm sorry to inform you that misfortune is your lot today, Mr. Potter."
"Oh, what's new?" grumbled Ron, so only Harry could hear him.
"What kind of misfortune?" inquired Harry, ignoring Ron's comment.
Ron shot him a quizzical look and Professor Trelawney beamed at Harry's newfound interest in what she called "the mysteries of the future."
"It's unclear exactly what," she answered Harry in a grave tone.
"Big surprise," muttered Ron.
Harry was about to tell him to shut up the anxiety of the day was wearing thin on him but he didn't particularly need Professor Trelawney to tell him anymore. He knew exactly what bad luck was waiting for him in the not-so mysterious future.
I've got to do something, thought Harry as he hastily left Professor Trelawney's classroom to follow Neville.
"Wait up!" gasped Ron, trying to keep up with Harry's pace. "Where's the fire?"
"I just need to get back to the common room," Harry called back to him quickly, nearly knocking a third year Hufflepuff boy off his feet as he did. He muttered a rushed "excuse me" and continued on.
"What for?" shouted Ron, who was lagging quite a bit behind him. "What's so bleeding important in the common room that we need to run there like it's a bloody race?"
Harry didn't answer him. He couldn't think clearly enough to make up a decent excuse. He was still rather unsuccessfully trying to come up with a way to stop Neville from asking Ginny to the Yule Ball.
"Pixie dust," said Harry impatiently to the Fat Lady. Neville had apparently gotten there with enough time for the portrait hole to close back up perhaps then he had enough time to begin to ask Ginny. Harry's palms began to sweat as the Fat Lady swung her portrait aside.
Ron caught up, but Harry plunged on through without so much as giving him a backward glance.
I'm too late, thought Harry as he entered the common room and saw Neville standing near Ginny and some of the other Gryffindor fourth years. Think! he told himself urgently. Do something anything but quick!
But Harry didn't know exactly what to do, so he did the first, rash thing that came to mind. He bounded clumsily across the room towards the lot of them. He nearly toppled over Lewis Grimes as he approached them.
"Hiya, Harry," said Colin Creevey brightly. "What's the problem?"
"Ginny," Harry said breathlessly. "I need to speak to Ginny."
Ginny looked at him perplexedly.
"It's really important," he added. He almost tacked on "Sorry, Neville," but thought that would have been going a bit too far.
"All right, Harry," said Ginny. She followed him to an unoccupied corner of the common room. "What is it? Is it about the you-know-what practice? Neville was about to ask me something "
"Er " said Harry dully. Now that he had successfully gotten Ginny away from Neville, he was at a loss for what he should do next.
And to compound the problem, Harry realized they were no longer alone in the corner. Ron had joined them and was standing, arms folded, and looking quite cross.
"What's going on here?" Ron asked impatiently.
"Harry was just about to tell me weren't you, Harry?" said Ginny.
"Er " repeated Harry bleakly. "I was just about to tell her something " He was hoping something brilliant would fall out of the sky to save his neck. "Something about the the you-know-what we've been working on."
This seemed to satisfy Ron. He knew "what" Harry was referring to and was content to leave them to discuss it, though he did mutter, "Could have said so earlier," as he walked off.
Ginny, on the other hand, was still looking puzzled.
"So, what about the you-know-what?" she asked curiously.
"Er " Harry was feeling less than graceful at communication at that present moment. "That's not exactly why I called you over here."
His ears were heating up again.
"I called you over so " He paused.
"Yes?" Ginny asked.
"So you wouldn't make a mistake," he blurted out.
"A mistake?" she asked, herutter confusion apparent in her voice. "A mistake about what?"
"About what Neville was going to ask you," said Harry, glancing over at Neville, who was resting his elbow on the chessboard. Harry was guiltily hoping Neville had lost his nerve.
"How do you know what Neville was going to ask me?" Ginny raised an eyebrow at him and for a split second, Harry felt like Molly Weasley was staring him down instead of her daughter.
Harry swallowed hard. She had him now. He had painted himself into the proverbial corner.
"I I I," Harry stammered. "I know he was going to ask you to the Yule Ball and I had to stop you from making a huge mistake by accepting him." The words had tumbled out of his mouth before he could stop them.
"And why do tell would accepting Neville's offer to go to the ball be a huge mistake?" Her eyebrow was still raised.
If only she would put that eyebrow down, maybe I could say something that would make some sense, he thought desperately. But the only things Harry could utter were an endless string of "ers" and "erms."
Ginny looked like a teakettle, ready to steam. "Harry, give me one good reason why I shouldn't accept Neville's offer, should he ask?"
Harry wanted to speak. He really did, but it was as if his mind had been temporarily taken over by the mind of a common garden slug.
"Can't you give me a reason?" said Ginny angrily.
Harry couldn't say a word. His mouth had become paralyzed.
"Fine then!" spat Ginny. She stormed from the common room and out the portrait hole, letting it slam so hard behind her, some of the tapestries on the wall waved vigorously from the force.
Neville and the group of fourth years shot Harry a questioning look. Ron walked over to him and gave him a knowing look.
"That was not about the you-know-what. Care to fill me in?"
"No," said Harry flatly. "I really don't."
Ron stared at him, baffled, and Harry trudged up the staircase to his dormitory.
He flung himself on his mattress and drew the curtains around the four-poster. He was willing to skip dinner and go straight to bed. He was more than ready for his day from hell to end.
The next day, Harry gave serious consideration to wearing his Invisibility Cloak all day long.
Ron had been acting tetchy around him all day. Harry had refused to tell Ron what the spat between Ginny and him was all about. Hermione was itching to find out, too, but Harry had taken to telling her to mind her own business every time she opened her mouth around him and by the time dinner had rolled around that evening, she had given up.
That's when Harry had spotted Ginny for the first time that day. He knew he'd have to grit his teeth and talk to her. He'd managed to find a Boggartearlier that day and needed to ask her when a convenient time would be for them to practice her Patronus. He could just hear her response now, "When they're ice fishing in hell, that's when!"
He watched Colin and Claire tell Ginny goodbye.
Now's my chance, thought Harry. Ginny was sitting alone.
Harry ignored whatever Ron had said as Harry got up from his place at the table and moved to sit next to Ginny.
Ginny didn't look up from her Yorkshire pudding as Harry plopped down beside her.
Harry gave her a sheepish look as he started to speak, "I was wondering if you're ready to move onto the next level with the Patronus." He said the last word in a whisper. Katie Bell and Alicia Spinnet were sitting nearby, talking to Fred and George Weasley.
Ginny put her spoon down on her napkin and turned to Harry. Her face was almost stiff. "Just so long as you promise not to inflict anymore dating advice on me."
Harry gulped. He wanted desperately to ask her whether or not that meant she had accepted Neville's invitation or not, but he valued his head too much to make that inquiry sitting so close to Ginny's wand hand.
"I promise," said Harry awkwardly. "Are you busy now? We could go to the empty classroom I've put our makeshift Dementor in there."
Some of the color drained from Ginny's face, but she nodded. "All right, then. I have some Transfiguration homework, but it can wait."
As they walked along the corridor, Ginny's mind reeled. Just when she thought she had Harry Potter all figured out. He's a complete mystery to me, that one, she thought as they walked together towards the empty classroom.
Secretly, she couldn't help but be a little pleased with him, even if that pleasure was laced with loads of annoyance. He had tried to stop her from going to the ball with Neville that could only mean one thing. He wanted to go with her. But why if that were the case didn't he just say that? Boys are total, raving idiots.
Amid her thoughts, a soft voice broke through.
"Oh hello, Harry."
Great, bleeding horntoads! thought Ginny miserably. Of all the people to run into in this enormous castle!
Cho Chang, with her perfect skin and onyx-colored hair stood in the corridor adjacent them.
"Hi," she said to Ginny. Ginny felt the need to dive behind the nearest tapestry to hide her freckled-skin and her flame-red hair. She was feeling utterly inferior in the presence of Cho. "I'm Cho and I think you must be Harry's friend Ron's little sister."
Oh, what gave it away? thought Ginny glumly.
"This is Ginny Weasley," Harry said, introducing her.
"Nice to meet you, Ginny" said Cho politely. "I'd better be going I have a lot of studying to do," she added. "See you later, Harry."
"G'bye, Cho," said Harry.
Ginny looked at her feet the rest of the way to the empty classroom, not wanting to see any sort of _expression on Harry's face that might tell her he'd rather be following Cho to the library than going with her to work on defense practices.
Had Ginny braved a look at Harry's face, she would have found him, not pining away after Cho, but looking directly at her, Ginny. In actuality, Harry had hardly stopped looking at her the rest of the way to the classroom.
Her response to the chance meeting with Cho in the corridor was very telling, even for someone who had acted as thickheaded as Harry had lately.
I know a jealous look when I see one, thought Harry.
And Ginny had practically turned green, all the way to the roots of her brilliant, red hair. He let a smile slip across his face though she didn't see it and he did this despite his initial desire to try to remain cool and casual the rest of the evening. He couldn't help being quite satisfied by Ginny's reaction to Cho. It seemed as though he still possessed the power to make her have a butter dish accident or two every now and again.
Then in the course of his smug thoughts, Harry had a disturbing one. What if she's already said yes to Neville, just because she's sore at me for acting like such a git?
Harry didn't have much time to consider that scenario they had arrived at the empty classroom. They entered and, shoving all thoughts of the Yule Ball aside, Harry walked over to a small, wooden chest sitting atop a dusty, old teacher's desk.
"There's a Boggart in here," explained Harry. "Did you cover them in Defense Against the Dark Arts last year?"
"No," said Ginny. "I'm afraid Boggarts weren't in Professor Moody's 'Constant Vigilance' curriculum."
"Well," said Harry. "Professor Lupin used Boggarts with me for Dementor practice. It was the only way I could test the strength of my Patronus without facing a real one."
Ginny was looking rather uneasy as she eyed the wooden box, which rattled every so often as the Boggart fought to free itself.
"It's okay if you're a little bit nervous," he said to her soothingly. "I'm here with you I won't let anything bad happen to you."
Ginny nodded and Harry walked over to release the latch on the wooden chest.
"Step a little closer," said Harry calmly. "And hold your wand ready I'll back away as soon as the chest is opened."
Ginny held up her wand and focused on her happy thought Harry's face as she awoke in the Chamber of Secrets. She heard his voice echoing in the gloomy chamber as she recalled the memory It's all right, he had said.
"I'll open the chest on the count of three," the present Harry said. "One, two, THREE!"
He unlatched the box and jumped aside. There was a loud cracking sound and Harry gaped in horror at what came out.
Harry had fully expected to see a Dementor spring forth from the wooden chest, but instead saw a person he recognized all too well a boy of sixteen, with jet-black hair.
And he was rounding on Ginny with lightning speed, like a snake about to strike its victim.
"YOU BORING, SILLY, STUPID GIRL!" he thundered. The Riddle-Boggart's eyes gleamed with an evil glint of red.
Ginny shrieked and backed slowly away, still holding up her wand and murmuring, "You're not here you're not real don't have to listen to you "
Harry leapt at the Boggart and roared, "RIDDIKULUS," forcing it back into the wooden chest.
He ran to Ginny's side and clasped his arms around her.
"It's all right," he whispered in her ear. "It's gone I'm here. It's all right."
Ginny sobbed into Harry's shoulder for a long time and he held her tightly as her tears soaked his school robes.
Finally, he muttered, "I'm so stupid how could I presume that what would scare you the most would be a Dementor? I should have known better. I'm so sorry, Ginny."
Ginny sniffled and leaned out of the embrace to look Harry squarely in the eyes. "You didn't know. It's not your fault "
"You didn't need to relive that "
"It wasn't real, Harry." She drew in a deep breath. "It frightened me, but I knew it wasn't real."
"You have a lot more courage than some people would give you credit for you know that, don't you?" he said to her softly.
"Let's see how much," said Ginny.
"What do you mean?" asked Harry, furrowing his scarred brow in wonderment.
"The Boggart will turn into a Dementor if he sees you, right?"
Harry nodded slowly.
"I'll stand back a bit and when the Dementor appears, I'll try my Patronus on it."
"I don't know, Ginny," said Harry apprehensively. "Maybe we've had enough excitement for one evening. And besides " Harry stopped.
"What?" asked Ginny.
"Maybe a Dementor isn't what I'm most frightened of anymore."
Maybe, he thought, what frightens me the most are these feelings I'm having for you these wonderfully frightening feelings. He suddenly had to squelch the desire to reach over and touch her cheek.
"We'll never know unless we try," said Ginny.
"Don't let anyone ever tell you that you're not brave," he said with a grin. "Okay if anything other than a Dementor comes barreling out of that box, let me have at it. Otherwise, it's all yours for the first go."
Ginny straightened her robes and held out her wand, a look of pure determination plastered on her face.
Harry released the latch once more and out of the box came a Dementor. It moved noiselessly towards him.
"Expecto Patronum!" she shouted. Her wand emitted a cloud of silver, but it wasn't strong enough to have even the slightest effect on the Dementor. Harry raised his wand to finish what Ginny had started, but he was too late.
Thud! The Dementor had closed in on him too quickly.
Ginny swiftly realized what had to be done. She raised her wand high and shouted out the charm she hadheard Harry use on the Boggart earlier.
She forced the Boggart back into the wooden chest and ran to Harry's side. He lay flat on his back on the floor, his glasses askew and droplets of perspiration on his forehead.
"Oh, Harry!" Ginny shouted desperately. "Wake up!" She grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him.
Harry's eyelids popped open and Ginny had never in her life been more pleased to see his striking green eyes staring back at her. She adjusted his glasses for him as he began to sit up.
"Thanks," he said quietly, wiping his forehead dry with the sleeve of his robes.
"Now," Ginny said firmly. "I think we've had enough excitement for one evening."
Harry managed a weak smile and nodded in agreement.
"We'll leave the Boggarthere for now," he said. "Maybe we can eventually figure out a way to use it where one or the other of us doesn't end up a puddle on the floor."
Harry and Ginny walked back up to Gryffindor Tower, neither speaking much. Harry had been keen enough to remember a bar of chocolate and offered a chunk to Ginny as they climbed the staircase. When they neared the Fat Lady's portrait, Ginny stopped in the corridor.
"What's wrong, Ginny?" Harry asked in an undertone.
"Harry, at the risk of inciting any more excitement on what has already been a very exhilarating evening can you please tell me something? Please tell me why you didn't want me to go to the Yule Ball with Neville."
Harry thought for a moment. After all that had gone on that evening, he decided it would be preposterous not to tell her the truth.
"I guess it's because there's someone else I'd rather you go with," said Harry, looking down at his shoes in a very apparent attempt to avoid her eyes.
"And who might that be?" asked Ginny, rather coyly.
"Er " said Harry. "Well me."
"All you had to do was ask, Harry Potter," said Ginny softly.
"Oh," said Harry, dumbfounded.
"Well, aren't you going to?" asked Ginny.
"Going to what?" Harry suddenly feared his slug-brain was making a comeback.
"Ask!" said Ginny excitedly.
A wide grin broke out across Harry's face.
"Yes, I am," he said.
I'm going to need new dress robes oh, I hope Mum'll get me some new ones and my hair oh, what should I do with my hair? Should I wear it up or down? He asked me to the ball I can't believe it I'm actually going to go to the Yule Ball with him.
Ginny's thoughts spun around in her brain like a vortex. She must have looked odd in her euphoric state, because Claire Hodgkin walked over to where Ginny was sitting, on the end of her four-poster, and stuck her button nose right in Ginny's face. She blinked her blue eyes a couple of times and waved a hand in front of her.
"Ginny!" she said. "What's come over you? I do hope a charm didn't backfire on you or anything you look positively peculiar."
Ginny tried not to glare at Claire Claire was her friend, but she was a little dense sometimes.
"No, I'm not the victim of a freak charms accident," she told Claire. "It's just that I've got a secret."
Claire's blue eyes beamed and she clapped her hands together eagerly. "Oh, goody! I do love a good secret do tell!" She plunked down on the bed beside Ginny and began to twirl a lock of her flaxen hair around her forefinger.
"All right," Ginny agreed. She was dying to tell someone. "Just promise not to tell anyone yet. No one else knows "
Claire grinned. "Oh, cross my heart and all that other stuff. Just tell me! Please!"
Ginny smiled and said, "I've got a date to the Yule Ball."
Claire looked a little disappointed. "Oh, that's all I've known about that for ages. Neville's finally gotten around to asking "
"I'm not going with Neville," said Ginny quietly, a look of satisfaction on her face.
"You're not?" asked Claire, confused. "Well, who then?"
Ginny's smile widened. "Harry Potter."
"No way!" said Claire, her jaw dropping. "You're joking. Did you ask him?"
Ginny gave her a disgusted look. "I didn't! He asked me."
The nerve of her! thought Ginny huffily.
Claire smiled brightly. "Congratulations, then. After all these years, you've finally snagged your man!" She patted Ginny heartily on the back. "What do you plan on wearing? And I could make a few suggestions on what to do with your hair can't have you going to the ball with limp hair, now can we? We have to make you look simply smashing!"
We? She's like some demented fairy godmother, thought Ginny nervously. She eyed Claire's golden ringlets, curled eyelashes and rouged cheeks Claire always looked as proper as a porcelain doll. She was very becoming, but not quite real.
Ginny caught her own reflection in one of the mirrors hanging in the dormitory.
If Claire's a porcelain doll, then I'm a she looked down at her worn-out school robes, once again bought second-hand a rag doll.
I'm hexing Claire Hodgkin's big, fat mouth the next time I see her, thought Ginny as she stormed down the corridor, trying to put distance between her and the two biggest menaces to society she'd ever met her twin brothers.
"Tell us, Ginny," called Fred. "What kind of love potion did you use on Harry?"
Ginny turned around to face himand George, both of whom had sprinted to catch up with her.
"Oh, do shut up!" growled Ginny. "Or I'm owling Mum about that thing I saw you two working on the other day in the common room "
"You wouldn't dare," said George, in outrage.
"That's a low blow, Ginny we're only having a bit of fun," added Fred.
"Well, have fun at someone else's expense from now on, will you?" said Ginny in a hurt tone.
"We didn't mean to get you this upset, Gin it's just that, well, you've been mooning over Harry forever and he hasn't so much as given you the time of day "
"We just supposed you slapped a right good love spell on him," said Fred. "But he really asked you?"
"Ron didn't pay him off to ask you, did he?" asked George, seriously.
Ginny shoved her brother hard. "No, Ron didn't pay him off!"
"Yeah, George where would Ron get the money to pay Harry off?"
The twins doubled up with laughter. Ginny glared at them.
A voice from behind Ginny startled her.
"What's so funny?"
Ginny turned crimson and devious grins crept across the faces of her brothers.
"Oh, nothing, Harry," said George, putting on an innocent voice.
After the twins had left, Harry turned to Ginny.
"Where are you headed?"
"To dinner," said Ginny meekly. She was busy thanking her lucky stars that Fred and George had resisted the urge to make jokes in front of Harry. But she wasn't too sure how long they'd be able to hold back.
"Me, too," said Harry. "I'm meeting Ron and Hermione in the Great Hall. Why don't we walk together?"
"All right," said Ginny.
As they entered the Great Hall and took seats at the Gryffindor dining table, Ginny noticed a cascade of whispers from all around them.
Claire is getting the worst hex known to wizard kind I'm going to make her mute for the rest of her days, thought Ginny as Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil suppressed a fit of giggles as she and Harry sat down next to Ron and Hermione.
Ron gave herand Harry a look of astonishment. "There's a blazing rumor about you two," he said in a hushed tone.
Hermione nodded. "Everyone's saying you're going to the Yule Ball together. I think one of the fourth years started all the gossip."
"Well," said Harry, as Ginny hid her face in her hands. "It's not really just a rumor I mean, it's true and all "
Ginny looked up and saw Ron's mouth gaping.
"And before you ask, Ronald Weasley, I used no means of trickery or bribery "
Harry chuckled. "Of course you didn't," he said to Ginny. He turned to Hermione. "What's the big deal?"
Hermione whispered to him, "Neville he's a little upset. Everyone's saying you "
"I what?" asked Harry impatiently.
"You stole his girl," said Hermione quietly.
Now Ginny's mouth gaped. "I am not Neville Longbottom's girl!" she hissed angrily.
"Seamus Finnegan and Dean Thomas think you and Neville should have a duel over her," said Ron in an undertone.
Harry snorted a laugh.
"Oh, they can't be serious?" he asked in disbelief. "Well, I won't do it I don't fancy zapping one of my friends over a simple misunderstanding."
"You should at least go talk to him," said Hermione softly.
Ginny looked down the tableat Neville's dejected face.
"No," said Ginny, stopping Harry from getting up. "I'll talk to him."
Ginny went over to Neville, whispered something in his ear, and the two of them left the Great Hall.
Author's Note: Thanks to Sherylyn, I'll never forget to pack chocolate again! ;) Thank you for the tip.