A/N: This was written for Tari as a birthday present…I'm finally getting around to posting here at PS.net. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I had fun writing.
The tingling started at the backs of her eyes, then moved down to her nose; she was going to sneeze at any moment. Sure enough, an explosion of wetness left her and blew across the large, dusty tomes she was searching through. She only had one more book to find, but it was proving to be more difficult than she had anticipated. She sneezed again, harder this time, and managed to cover her mouth and nose with a tissue-less hand. She sniffled and, after searching unsuccessfully in her robe pocket for her kerchief, consigned to using the inside of her sleeve. She pocketed the slip of parchment listing the book she needed to find in haste, and rolled up her left cuff, annoyed once more that she'd forgotten something as important as a hankie. If anyone should have remembered to carry one, it was her. Any woman who calls herself a lady should carry a handkerchief, her mum would always say. It was one of those things children would always roll their eyes at, but then they'd secretly wish they'd heeded their mother's advice.
"Here," a voice came from slightly behind her.
She whirled around, her nose hidden behind her bulky cuff, to find a crisp, white handkerchief waiting for her.
"It's better than a sleeve. Cleaner," Harry said.
Ginny could plainly hear the amusement in his voice but couldn't bear to look him in the eye as she took his proffered gift. Of all people! Why did he have to find me wiping snot on my sleeve? She wanted the earth to swallow her whole. Her face was burning with embarrassment and she wondered if she'd ever recover from it. I'll probably still be blazing scarlet up 'till I leave Hogwarts. She wiped her nose and then her dirtied sleeve, muttering her thanks. She held the wadded material out for him to take then stopped halfway, uncertain. Do I offer it back now that I'm done?
"No thanks," he laughed as he eyed it critically. "You can keep it."
"Right," she said, finally meeting his eyes. The corners of his eyes were crinkled in a smile behind his glasses, somehow making her embarrassment melt away. They were bright and happy, something she was seeing more and more of lately. She couldn't help but smile back. It really was funny… in a mortifyingly dreadful sort of way. She pocketed his handkerchief (not at all savoring the fact that she was now in possession of one of Harry's personal belongings) and rolled down her sleeve to cover her too-white wrist. She hated her skin. She always burned in the summer and when she was lucky enough not to, she only got more freckles. It seemed that any amount of sun, however small, was meant to turn her fair skin into a muddled mess of spots.
"The dust on these books gets to me too," he said kindly and she silently thanked him for making the whole situation easier to bear.
"You'd think old lady Pince would dust them, the way she carries on about the stupid things," Ginny said, gesturing with her head to where the witch's desk sat somewhere beyond their sight. "They're filthy things, aren't they?"
"Don't let Hermione hear you say such a thing," Harry said with a smile. "I don't know if she'd ever forgive you."
Ginny shrugged and laughed. "I'm sure my brother has already insulted everything she holds dear. Enough, I'd say, to grow some type of immunity to insults."
Harry laughed again, his eyes dancing. "Yes, but Hermione is finding it more and more difficult to be angry with Ron these days."
Ginny wrinkled her nose. "Don't ask me what she sees in him. He never says the right thing."
"You have to give him credit though…he tries."
Ginny snorted. "You call Ron ignoring that Hermione's a girl for four years, only to realize it when it's nearly too late, 'trying'? 'Cause I call it pathetic…."
Harry smiled faintly, if not a bit strained, and nodded, a sudden silence reining over them. The lightness of their conversation suddenly seemed dampened by her words, but she didn't rightly know why. She struggled to find something to say but couldn't. It was strange, but lately she had felt a little uncomfortable in Harry's presence and their friendly banter. Ginny had grown to consider them friends over the past year, and had no problem telling Harry exactly what was on her mind. That all changed, however, a mere few weeks ago when he'd held her hand. It hadn't been a romantic gesture in the least, he had only been helping her through the portrait hole after a kitchen raid, but she could not ignore the flip-flop of her stomach at his touch. She had schooled herself into being over Harry. She really believed she had been over him, but the wall of resistance she'd built up had come crashing down that night. It was stupid, she knew; stupid of her to fall right back to where she'd been before. It made her angry, even, that she was so weak.
Of course, since then she had tried to get back to where she had been -- unconcerned romantically toward Harry Potter -- but it just seemed so much more difficult now. It was harder now, she realized, because they were real friends; Harry actually spoke to her and laughed with her…touched her in the most innocent of ways but always left her skin burning.
Harry shifted on his feet and met Ginny's eyes briefly. "I suppose… uh… do you need help finding any books?"
"No," she answered immediately. "Thanks though."
Harry nodded but did not move to leave. He simply stood there, his eyes resting on the floor then on the gritty shelves to the right. For something to do in the weirdly awkward moment, she fished out her booklist. She glanced at the title of the remaining book and swept the bindings for the matching name.
MacDonald, Magnus, Maguire, McCleman… why is he still standing there? The hairs on the back of her neck were standing up for some strange reason and she had to fight to keep looking at the author's names before her. Mackey, Mickelson, Miller, Mills… he'll go away soon enough.
"Gin?" he said, clearing his throat with a little cough. "Um…"
She stopped her work and waited without moving, not daring to believe….
"What are you trying to find?"
Her stomach dropped.
"Oh, uh…" she glanced down to her parchment.
"It's for Transfiguration: Vanishing Theory by Margaret Sanitariton."
There was silence again as Ginny pretended to peruse the shelves.
"Gin?" Harry said again after a few moments. "Er, do you think… that is, do you have plans for this weekend?"
Her stomach erupted into a mass of fluttering butterfly wings at the simple question, but she quickly dispelled any exciting thoughts. They were friends, that was all. Friends: that word had never seemed so unkind before. And as far as she was concerned, Harry was just as thick as her brother when it came to acknowledging the feminine sex.
She spared a glance in Harry's direction, who was busy raveling and unraveling a string connected to his cuff, his cheeks pink. There was something incredibly endearing about his cheeks being that shade that made her sigh inwardly. Stop that!
"Friday I have detention with Snape and Saturday night I have a study group… OWL year and all."
"Oh," was all he said, still not looking at her.
Then against her better judgment as a friend, she continued, "But I don't have plans on Sunday." She hoped she didn't sound eager.
He looked up and met her eyes. She had never seen him look so anxious. "Oh. Well… do you, er… do you want to do something? Go to Hogsmeade or something? With me… the two of us?"
For a moment she wasn't sure she'd heard him correctly. Just the two of them? Like a date? Apparently her lack of response was coming off as more than surprise because Harry visibly recoiled, taking a few steps backward.
"It's not that big of a deal… I just thought I'd ask because Ron and Hermione, see, they're wanting to be alone and I thought that maybe…." He didn't finish, but took another step back. "I guess I'll see you around, then?"
"Harry," Ginny said, amused and exasperated at his behavior at the same moment. "I'd love to spend some time with you."
Again, she hoped she didn't sound too eager. Harry stopped and nodded, sending her a small relieved smile. "Right. Sunday then." He threw her one more smile, turned on his heel, and was gone.
She stared blankly at the tomes in front of her, contemplating what had just happened. Had Harry Potter asked her out? Was she actually going on a date with him? Surely no… but yes! They were going to be together, alone. This thought alone caused a myriad of emotions to surface, which she quickly shoved aside. She had been alone with Harry countless times, she reminded herself. Even in intimate broom cupboards waiting for Filch to pass them by and then many more occasions under his invisibility cloak in dark corridors. Those times were altogether innocent… well not entirely, they certainly weren't supposed to be sneaking around, but on a romantic level, there was nothing to fantasize about. Would everything be different now? She didn't know if she wanted their adventures together to be any different. But nonetheless, happiness welled up inside her to the point of sending giddy shivers across her skin. She was going on date with Harry! She wanted to squeal girlishly, something she had promised she'd never do, having seen other girls her age act in a similar fashion. But now she understood perfectly the need to release some excited energy.
She couldn't help herself; she thrust her fists into the air and stamped her feet. Yes! she cried in her head. Yes! Yes! Ye--
She stopped, her arms still raised, and turned her head. Harry was standing not three feet from her, a crooked smile on his face.
She gulped. Oh, Merlin, this is worse than the snot on my sleeve! She smiled sheepishly. "I've finally found the book I was looking for," she said lamely, letting her arms drop to her sides. "You know, for Vanishing spells."
Harry smiled. "Well, I just wanted to ask you when you wanted to go on Sunday. Does ten o'clock sound okay?"
Ginny nodded, pulling a random book from the shelf without looking at the title. She wouldn't look at him if she could help it. Merlin, this is going to be a long week. "That sounds fine."
"Great. And, uh, Gin?"
"Here's the book you were looking for," he said, handing a slim, grey book he had been holding toward her. "Margaret Sanitariton, right?"