Two days later the Weasleys returned to the Burrow, and Harry moved into Ron's room under the attic. Ginny felt the change as a great relief. Although they were still fighting, the Burrow gave them more space to breathe and the atmosphere was less oppressive than at Headquarters. They could go outside now and enjoy the summer sun. In contrast to the male Weasleys, Harry even seemed to like doing chores for Mrs Weasley in the garden, although she presumed that it was just for the sake of keeping himself from brooding. All in all, Ginny and Harry relaxed considerably. However, they found it hard to forget their prior clashes.
When Ginny received an invitation a week later for a birthday party of a muggle friend in the nearby village of Ottery St. Catchpole, she was looking forward to a nice change of company. However, this invitation led to a conflict with her mother for two reasons. The first being that she had absolutely nothing to wear for the occasion, and her mother definitely refused to let her buy something new. The second reason was Harry The Git Potter, because Mrs Weasley insisted that Ginny take him to the party with her. Ginny had to write to her friend Sarah and ask for permission to bring a friend. Sarah granted permission gladly, of course, and thus Ginny's hopes to be rid of Harry at least for a few hours were shattered.
They did not tell Harry about this, of course, but he had the distinct feeling that Ginny did not like his coming at all. He tried to refuse the invitation, but Mrs Weasley would hear nothing of it, saying he could do with a little distraction. This led to another behind-the-scene row between mother and daughter, and Ginny was not sure if she should be grateful to Harry for trying to have made the attempt, or angry because he was forced upon her. Remember, there was a time you'd have given anything to have him forced upon you. - I know, but that's over. - If you say so.
They were to leave at half past two and walk to the village. Ginny wore a simple summer dress, and Harry found it caressed her body in a very becoming manner. He was glad that Mrs Weasley had given him some old trousers and a t-shirt of George's that did not look posh, but were better by far than anything he had brought with him. He only had things Dudley had worn years ago and even those were far too large for him. They walked down the long disused driveway from the Burrow in silence.
"So," Harry wanted to know, "how did you meet your friend?"
Ginny remained quiet for quite a while, and he began to fear she would ignore him completely, before she said, "It was an accident, really. Normally muggles aren't able to find the Burrow, but Sarah lost her way in the forest and more or less stumbled into our house. There was nobody downstairs at the moment, but the dishes were doing themselves. I found her standing in the middle of the kitchen just staring.…"
She heard Harry chuckle softly, and she had to laugh as well, remembering the situation; quite a bit of the tension between them dissipated.
"That sounds like in one of those muggle fairy tales," Harry told her. "Children get lost in the woods and find a solitary house, where an evil witch puts a spell on them or even eats them."
"Wouldn't surprise me if that had really happened sometime," Ginny muttered. "Just imagine one of the muggle-hating nutters like the Malfoys."
"Are we suggesting that the literary tradition of mischievous witches and wizards was started by the Malfoys?"
"Not a good idea?"
"No, it's an intriguing theory. And I would be the last to defend the honour of the Malfoy family."
The rest of the walk into Ottery St. Catchpole they discussed this idea, carefully enjoying each other's company for the first time this summer. They found the large house of the Parker's on a quiet road near the forest.
"Not too bad," said Harry.
"Well, the Dursley's house is much smaller than this. They must be rather wealthy."
The door opened to reveal a blonde girl just about Harry's age.
"Ginny!" she squealed delightedly and she threw her arms around Ginny. After much hugging, Ginny introduced Harry as a friend of Ron's staying with her family.
"Oh," Sarah's eyes widened, "are you ... I mean." She turned to Ginny. "Is he ...?"
Ginny rolled her eyes. "He goes to the same school as Ron and me."
Sarah's blue eyes widened a little more. She ushered them into the house, however, and introduced her other friends. It was a small party.
"I hate having my birthday during the summer holidays," she complained. "There are hardly any people around."
Harry grinned. "That's a problem, I know."
Ginny, meanwhile, observed the girls in the room looking at them, and she knew what was going on. She had seen that gaze in the eyes of many girls at Hogwarts and even in Sarah's just now. It was the effect Harry had on girls. Most of them melted the moment he turned his brilliant green eyes on them. Unfortunately, Sarah urgently wanted to speak to Ginny alone and drew her into the kitchen, while Harry was captured by two of her friends, Jessica and Belinda, who made him sit between them at the table, where they began to put him through an inquisition and to feed him sweets in between questions.
Sarah turned towards Ginny. "Oh, my God. Ginny!" She was almost breathless. "He is so ..., wow!"
Ginny smiled wryly.
"I mean, his clothes are nothing to boast of and he's not really a Hercules, either, but he is so ... mysterious, and those eyes, Ginny, those eyes.... Oh my God, did you see that?"
Ginny turned round and through the open door she could see Harry just sitting at the table, but the girls on either side of him seemed to be quite focused on him. "What?"
"Oh, he ran his hand through his hair, making it all stand, and ...he is cute!"
"He does that when he's nervous." Ginny knew exactly what it looked like. Even hearing about it made her knees turn to jelly. "And the best thing is that he doesn't have a clue what he does to girls."
"You mean he's not doing it on purpose?"
"Are you two ...?"
"No, we're not," said Ginny firmly.
Sarah looked at her as if she had said that grass was red. "Why not? You seem to know him really well."
Ginny sighed. "He's Ron's best friend, and I'm only the little sister, and ... well, he's difficult.”
Difficult, she thought, now that's an understatement.He's been through so much suffering, and he's always afraid that it will happen again and that it's his fault his friends are in danger. That's why he shuts himself in, which makes him unhappy, of course, and instead of allowing people to get closer to him, he turns on them, for which he feels ashamed afterwards …. Strange, how clear all this mess seemed to be all of a sudden. She seemed to know what Harry felt, and she was once again very sorry for him.
When they returned to the living room, Harry shot them a helpless look from across the table, while Ginny stood talking to Sarah and Jessica's date, Thomas. He was quite good looking, but as stupid as an oaf, so Ginny managed to keep half an ear on the slightly one-sided conversation on the other side of the table. Obviously the girls had been trying hard to find out if Ginny and Harry were going out, and after his simply telling them that they were not, they set to work. Belinda was making eyes at him while Jessica tried to make it obvious that Ginny was not the right girl for him, anyway, implying that Belinda would be the perfect choice.
"Just look at her dress," said Jessica.
"What about it?" Harry asked innocently.
"It's so ... simple. And so out of fashion, and so...well, just not exciting," she said it with disgust as if Ginny was wearing something slimy, and Ginny almost screamed inside. She had known it, and she would have something to say to her mother tonight. But then she heard Harry's voice again. It was very low, but there was a clear note of anger in it. "I think she's very exciting."
Ginny could not believe her ears. Had Harry Potter just stood up for her and said he found her "exciting"? And what was that supposed to mean? Was she getting on his nerves, which she had been doing without a doubt, or did he mean she was beautiful? Unfortunately, she could not hear anything else, because Thomas had decided that Ginny was not anywhere near to falling for his charm. However, he was still annoyed that the other girls were paying so much attention to that Potter guy. He loudly announced that he would join his "lovely" for a change and made over to the table, where he began to make a nuisance of himself. First he related his successes in sports, which made Harry yawn.
"Harry's a Quidditch ace," Ginny proudly remarked to Sarah. "Youngest house player in a century!"
"Oh, no!" Sarah whispered back. "Not another Quidditch fan."
Ginny grinned. She knew what Sarah meant.
Thomas then enumerated his many former girlfriends, which Harry listened to with growing irritation. Either he himself was a perfect example of a total loser or Thomas was just a cad. After a few more names Harry decided the latter. To boast like this in front of his date was disgusting.
"And you know," Thomas droned on, "I really got into a fight with my parents about that the other night. They said I was irresponsible."
The girls giggled.
"They are so stupid, really." He grinned. "They say they're only concerned with my future etc. etc., but it's all so dull. They're a real pain, you know?"
Harry listened with growing irritation. He knew from his experience with Ron, Ginny and the twins that parents were not always easy to put up with, but in spite of all the fights he had witnessed between Mrs Weasley and her children there had never been a single doubt in his mind that they loved each other. He was not so sure about Thomas. The callous air he had assumed made Harry angry.
"Sometimes, I could kill them. I think I'd be much better off without them, anyway. Don't you ever feel that way, Harry?"
Ginny gasped, she could see Harry's face darken. Very quietly he said, "I don't have parents."
In spite of Harry's effort to restrain himself, Ginny could hear all of his desperation echo with these words, and it broke her heart. But Thomas was smiling, his eyes lit up, knowing he had struck gold.
"Well, you're lucky then. Wish I had as little trouble as you."
Ginny began to move. Thomas had no idea who he was dealing with. She could hear thunder roll somewhere far away, and one or two of the guests looked to the windows with irritation. It was, after all, a bright summer's afternoon.
Harry saw Ginny from the corner of his eye. Her face showed outrage, and he sincerely hoped she would not lecture him for ruining Sarah's party, because he was near bursting. His veins were throbbing with power, and he knew he could have struck down Thomas on the spot with just a simple thought. This git, who was lucky enough to have parents who cared for him, made light of the idea of being rid of them.
But Ginny did not intend to lecture him. Instead, she stood next to his chair and, leaning against him, she lightly snaked her right arm around his shoulders. It was a simple gesture, but he understood her loyalty. She was outraged because somebody tried to hurt him, and her light touch banished all fear and all desperation. Never before had he felt so strongly that he was not alone in the world. Without thinking he reached across his chest and tightly took her right hand into his left.
Ginny felt the tension in Harry's shoulders, and she knew his power was gathering around him like a bubble that was about to burst, but then he relaxed under her hands; the thunder receded. Under his tension she discovered surprisingly muscular shoulders; suddenly his left arm moved and he took her hand, fixing it firmly.
"You don't have the faintest idea what you're talking about," Harry said to Thomas, who wanted to laugh, but could not with those eyes staring at him. Instead, he turned to an easier target.
"Look, Ginny's come to the rescue."
Ginny would have let go of Harry's hand now, but he wouldn't allow it. He rather leaned into her and his thumb tenderly rubbed the palm of her hand.
"Your rescue, not mine," he said, now calm.
Thomas managed to squeeze out an unconvincing little laugh and Harry got up. "Excuse me, I need to exchange some ideas with Sarah on how difficult it is to get a few nice people together for a party during the holidays."
His irony was obvious, even if he had not smiled at Ginny. He had tried to let go of her hand, when getting up, but now she did not want that. He looked at her, his deep eyes scanning hers and then he towed her along towards Sarah. In a mirror opposite he could see Ginny giving the girls a face that clearly meant, "Hands off this boy!" It gave him butterflies.
* * * *
It had been a nice party after all. The over-eager girls had decided that it was no use trying to split Harry and Ginny up, and Thomas held himself back. Harry and Ginny had to leave around seven, having promised Mrs Weasley they would be back by dinner time. After leaving the house, Harry headed for the Burrow, but stopped when he recognised that Ginny was still standing at the garden gate. She smiled at him in a way that made him dizzy.
After a moment she said, "Well, Potter, only acting the gentleman when other people are around, are you?"
She held out her hand. He went towards her and shyly took her hand in his, leading her away. A certain idea formed at the back of his head.
"I wasn't sure I should do that. After all, you're dating Dean."
"Well, you did, remember? On the train?"
Ginny shook her head. "I've never dated Dean. I just wanted to shock Ron as much as possible. I needed a break from his going on about that git Michael."
Harry looked relieved. "Oh, good, I hated the idea of Ron making a nuisance of himself in the boy's dormitory."
"Well, you can still have that - if he finds out that we've been holding hands."
"I'm willing to take the risk. Perhaps I can draw on the years of friendship we've shared. Or Ron comes back changed?"
"I do hope my dunce of a brother learns something abroad. Maybe he'll even learn something about letting somebody else know about his feelings."
"For Hermione, of course. Don't tell me you haven't noticed."
She frowned at him. "I'll get you for that one."
"Telling my other brothers we've been holding hands. I've quite a number of protective brothers at my disposal, you know?"
"Wouldn't do that if I were you."
"And why not?"
"Because A: your brothers would not only punch my lights out, but also follow your every step."
"Not good. And B?"
"And B: We couldn't hold hands anymore."
"Hmm …." She fell silent.
"Will you set your brothers on me?"
She looked at him as if she was considering the question earnestly. "Perhaps not."
"I didn't start this."
"You did. You wouldn't let go."
"But you said I was exciting."
"Oh." He seemed to flush. "You heard that."
"Do you find that embarrassing?"
"Because you were only being polite and don't think I'm exciting, or because you were trying to tell those harpies off and don't really think I'm exciting, or because you do think I'm exciting, but didn't want me to know you do?"
Harry was definitely red in the face now, but he had picked up the dangerous undertones. "Because I do think you're exciting, but I didn't want to tell you."
"Then here's some news for you: girls like to be told they're exciting."
"I suppose they do, but to be honest, I didn't think it was in my place to mention it to you."
"Because for all I knew you were dating Dean," he explained carefully.
Ginny was mentally kicking herself.
* * * *
What might have happened, if I hadn't said this stupid thing? Oh, I really like Harry's hand in mine.
What's this going to be?
I don't know, but it's definitely better than our fighting during the last week.
* * * *
"But I'm not," Ginny said.
"Yes, I understand that."
"So you do think I'm exciting?"
She was relentless and he felt he was blushing again. What the hell is going on? We've been at each other's throats for the last week, she didn't even want to take me to that party today, and now we're holding hands, and she's near to pushing me to admit that she's the most amazing girl in the world.
"Haven't I said so?" he asked.
"And why do you think so?"
Time to turn this game around. "Well, I won't tell you. Not now, anyway."
"Because it's a little unfair, don't you think? By now, I've told you twice that you're exciting, and I don't even know if you simply enjoy hearing it from a boy or if it means something to you because it comes from this boy."
Ginny looked a bit shocked, he noticed. Her casual attempt to tease him had turned against her. Obviously, it was a game both of them could play, but Harry, having the weight of the world on his shoulders, had hit the deeper notes immediately. He recognised it the same instant, but could not think of something light and fluffy to say. Silence had fallen between them, but, he registered with relief, she was still holding his hand. Maybe he could save the day by paying her back even more.
"So, what did Sarah mean with 'not another Quidditch fan'?"
Ginny's eyes widened. "You heard that?"
He shrugged. "Thomas' conversation was not really entertaining, so I didn't pay attention too much, and the word 'Quidditch' in a room full of muggles does stand out a little, so to speak."
Ginny was still looking at him. "Did you hear what I said too?"
Harry grinned at her savagely. "As I said, the word 'Quidditch' stood out. And so did my name."
This had the desired effect. It was harmless, but intimate enough to make Ginny blush. What is this? We've been constantly fighting as long as we were alone, then we go to a party with other people, and the only thing we seem to have been doing is paying attention to each other even when we were at different ends of the room, fighting for each other and holding hands. And now he's saved me again. He got us out of that corner.
"So," Harry's voice got her back from daydreaming, "what did she mean?"
Ginny giggled. Gratefully, this was something she could tell him. "When Sarah and I met we became fast friends. She understood that she better not tell her parents about the fact that we were ... a little different. In fact, I don't know what she told them at all. They must have found it funny that their daughter went to visit people they had never heard of before. Anyway, she enjoyed being at the Burrow, because everything was so strange and mysterious, and there was also ... Ron."
"Ron?" he laughed.
"Yes, Ron. Sarah had a wild crush on him, when they were ... six? Unfortunately, little Ronnikins only had one passion at that age ..."
"Quidditch?" Harry suggested.
"How did you know?" She feigned surprise.
"Seeker's instinct," he replied with mock-haughtiness.
"Oh, is it? Anyway, Ron kept pestering her about Quaffels and brooms, while she was trying to wind flowers in his hair. Needless to say her crush wore off soon enough."
Harry found the whole idea very funny, and they continued to discuss Ron's early love life. Mrs Weasley was relieved to see the two of them so relaxed with each other, and they spent a very agreeable evening chatting in the kitchen, until Harry said he was tired, and Ginny decided to go upstairs as well. They said 'good night' in front of Ginny's room. Harry went on for Ron's room on the next floor when he heard Ginny call his name. He turned back and saw her standing in her door. The light coming from inside the room only showed her silhouette while her face was a dark shadow.
"Yes?" he said.
"It meant a lot that it came from you."
* * * *
Ginny slipped back into her room and quickly closed the door, leaning against it from the inside. Her heart was beating fast.
What am I doing?
Are you out of what passes for your mind, Weasley? Hasn't he brought you enough heartache over the years? You want to start this all over again?
... Then again: It had meant a lot to her that he found her exciting, in fact, more than from anybody else in the world. So, with Sarah's words: Why not?
* * * *
Harry was still standing on the stairs looking at Ginny's door. Slowly he turned and went upstairs, softly closing the door behind him. He felt strangely unquiet, something was moving in his stomach.
What is this, Potter? Are you developing feelings for Ginny? Hey, it's Ginny, only Ginny!
Well, yes. She's Ron's little sister, remember?
This idea silenced his inner voices - if briefly. When he was lying in the dark, he turned in his bed, over and over.
She is Ron's sister, but so what? Does that make her less ... exciting?
Is she exciting?
What makes her so?
Well, so many things ....
Come on, tell me! Start at the top.
There's her hair.
What about it?
It's flaming red, lots of curls, unruly like herself, but light and soft ... like herself. Her eyes are like brown amber, they catch the sunlight. She has little freckles around her nose. Her lips are full and moist ….
Forget about it, Potter, Ron'll kill you!
I know, but have you seen her neck? It's slender and graceful, as are her arms.
Her br... well, she definitely has two of them. They look ... promising under her dress. Only the heavens know what they look underneath. Oh, Merlin, Ron's certainly going to kill me!
Let's forget about this for now. Her tummy is flat and firm. I could see that when she was standing next to me today.
You're in trouble, boy.
Can't help it. Her .., no, I won't think about that ... Wonder if she has red hair down there, too.
Harry James Potter!
Ok, ok, think about her legs. Firm, curving, shapely ... very shapely, indeed, curving upwards.
You're not making this any better, Potter.
Ok, her feet. Small…nice actually. There are so few people who have nice feet ... Oh, and her hands. Also small, but strong, very attractive, nice to hold. Her nails are short, very well-kept. Neither long claws like those of Lavender Brown's, nor bitten down like, uagh, Millicent Bullstrode's. Today she used a little clear nail polish. She doesn't use much make-up, that's nice too….
You are in trouble, deep trouble….
Harry drifted off to sleep, a smile on his face.
(A/N: Thanks to Jenadamson for her patience and help. Look at my profile for a disclaimer.)