Ginny needed Hermione. She needed her logical mind. Under normal circumstances, Ginny would have the insightful witch sitting at the end of her bed, listening patiently to her recount, play by play, the latest Quidditch maneuvers. She could imagine Hermione's reaction when she said, "And then he touched my face. Touched my face! Like he . . . like he . . . " Oh blast, like what?
Hours spent pondering their mid-air collision had led Ginny to only one painful conclusion: Harry's nervous breakdown was now complete. He could hide his own chocolate eggs next Easter. He was certifiable, and without a doubt, insane. They had become, quite unbelievably, the perfect match: a pair of delusional fools, probably the product of one too many Bludgers to the head. Perhaps with his latest injury, he would return to normal, like that Oz-thingy movie she remembered seeing in Ottery St. Catchpole as a child. The twins, bless their rebellious souls, had smuggled her out of the Burrow under their cloaks. Hours later, she wanted nothing more than those ruby slippers. She kept trying to convince the Muggle ticket-taker that she really was a witch, and so, entitled to them. Yep, Harry and she were made for each other: mad as Banshees, both of them.
Oh Hermione, you'd be able to tell me what to do, Ginny's mind cried. But since Ron had decided to thrash about like eels, swapping adenoids with that ridiculous, brainless Lavender Brown, she had no one to turn to this Christmas. She'd rather braid Snape's hair than confide to her mother about this. She could imagine her reaction. "Oh, that's nice dear. He was probably wiping some dirt off your face. Such a sweet boy. But what do you mean, young lady, with that kind of irresponsible flying! I have enough to worry about without you getting yourself admitted to St. Mungo's. Now go set the table."
So Ginny was left to sit in her room and gaze out on the snow softly making its way down from a black sky. She kept one ear perked, waiting for the sound of Ron and Harry who were due by Floo any minute; Harry, having had to remain one more day at (where else) the hospital ward. The boy really should have a frequent visitor card. He was probably entitled to a double bed or something, at this rate.
But the poor bloke really had looked horrible laid out in the hospital bed like that. The only saving grace of the situation was that it allowed her to look at him, stare at him actually, without the staggering reflection of those green eyes. Gazing at him in that bed gave her time to gather the feelings that were spread across her heart like Grawp spread branches across the Forbidden Forest. Looking down at his face, he seemed changed somehow, as if focused by some mirror. He was handsome, of course, but she had always known that, even when no one else had. It came from the way he wore his emotions so close to the surface, while at the same time reigned them in so tightly. The product of a lifetime of a frustrated "almost there" love, she guessed. Not a snogged kind of love, but rather, a gather you up, brush off your hurts, rumple your hair kind of love. Ginny honestly couldn't imagine a life without it; and watching him, even in sleep, still holding everything back so earnestly, broke her heart. For she knew without any doubt from the first moment she had seen him at that train station, that she, Ginny Weasley, was the only girl who could ever love him: love him the right way, the way he needed, even if he didn't know it himself.
But he didn't know it. That was the problem. He didn't know and he didn't care. But could he? Could he learn? Could she be the one to--stop. Stop now, Ginny. Stop.
How was she going to face him again? Maybe she could stay up here in her room all Christmas. Claim some sort of strange "female" disease, which would drive the twins away, and keep her mother at a respectful distance too. But no. That wasn't an option, really. If nothing else, she loved Christmas far too much: the lights, the presents, the smells. She needed Christmas. They all did. Wartime bred too much worry and grief. They needed to escape. Harry probably needed it most of all.
The shrieks of her mother erupted from below. They were here. Heart fluttering madly, she slid off her bed and took one last look in the mirror. She wore a black turtleneck and jeans, with her hair twisted up in a bun held in place by a green ribbon, and her wand behind her ear.
The mirror sighed. "You're such a beauty. Why do you hide it?"
"Do not," she whispered back, sharply.
"Dear, you've been hiding from him forever. Take the wand out. He likes your hair."
She glared at the mirror. Taking out her wand, she tapped it purposefully on the glass. It was getting feisty in its old age.
"Don't you dare. Seven years' bad luck. Plus, you know I'm telling the truth."
She began to wonder if mirrors wandered about as portraits did. God only knew where hers had been. After tossing the wand on her bed, she slammed the door. The mirror rattled on the wall.
"No need to be prissy now!"
Smiling despite herself, she trotted down the stairs. Her eyes quickly caught sight of a pair of red-heads conspiring together in the living room.
"What's up with you two?" she asked, joining them.
Jumping apart, the twins quickly pocketed something small and red into a burlap sack, then turned and beamed.
"Oh, there's our favorite little sister."
"I'm your only little sister."
"True, how true. Shame that really."
Ginny scowled, "What's in the bag?" She bobbed her head between her brothers as they shielded the sack behind them.
"Now you wouldn't be saying anything about this to anyone if you valued your . . . what do you think, bro?"
"Life?" answered George.
"What are you two up to?"
"If we told you we'd have to kill you. And Mum would be right teed off to have you laid out on the kitchen table when she needs the room."
"Prat," Ginny smirked as Fred wrapped his arm around her head.
"Oi. There he is! Hogwarts' finest." Fred cried, dropping Ginny's head unceremoniously.
"Hey, guys!" Harry nodded, smiling, coming in from the kitchen. Then his eyes fell on Ginny, and his smile vanished.
"Oh, hi, Ginny."
The twins looked between the pair of them; then eyed each other circumspectly.
"Looks like we got here just in time," Fred whispered to George.
"Couldn't agree more."
Ginny flashed them a frown and pushed by, brushing against Harry as she stalked off into the kitchen.
"What's got into her?" Ron asked, appearing at Harry's side, biscuits tumbling out of each hand.
"Don't know." Harry lied, and grabbed a red-iced reindeer.
"Hey, watch that."
Harry laughed as Ron shouldered him good-naturedly. He was about to take a bite into the reindeer biscuit when it spun around in his hands and made a run for it.
"Mum's self-materializing flour, mate. My apologies."
Harry eyed the cookie with alarm as the reindeer flashed doe eyes at him.
"Aw, just bite its tail off," scoffed George, "you'll get used to it."
"Yeah," Fred concurred, "Although I always get a bit teary-eyed after chewing off Santa's head and watching his body twitch around like that."
Harry, turning slightly green, took pity, and placed the biscuit down on an end table where it quickly trotted off behind the sofa. He loved magic, but there were limits. After all, the Weasleys' hadn't been raised on Rudolph.
Christmas Eve day dawned bright and sunny. After a noisy and boisterous breakfast, Mrs. Weasley exiled everyone into the yard, shouting, "Out the lot of you, you're crazier than a bunch of pixies in a tin can!" the door slamming shut behind her.
Last night's snow had left the meadow blanketed in huge drifts of white so bright that everyone had to shield their eyes. Half-blinded, it took only moments until the first snowball was fired, then, after the arrival of Bill and Fleur, all bets were off. During the ensuing melee, teams were quickly established: Ron and Harry, the twins, and Ginny and Bill; Fleur stating, "Do you zink I'd be seen doing zat nonsense? Hah."
This caused Ginny to flash Harry a raised eyebrow. He smiled back. Seconds later he found her at his side. "Do you zink we should nail her now or later?"
"Now. Definitely now."
With that, they hurled an armful of snowballs at the blond beauty who cawed in horror, her true nature flaring dangerously. Bill chuckled, and eyeing Harry and Ginny, spoke out of the side of his mouth, "You may think twice about messing with a part-Veela, you two."
"It hasn't stopped you," Ginny retorted.
Bill smiled and shrugged his shoulders in agreement, "Yeah, but there's messing and then there's messing."
"Wouldn't know what you mean," cried Ginny, ducking a barrage of icicles launched by the twins. For a moment, her eyes met Harry's, and she flashed a brilliant smile.
"Guess you haven't been doing the right kind of messing," Harry murmured, firing off a snowball. Before Ginny could react, Harry grabbed her wrist, "Here, cover me," and they edged toward a clump of trees, their backs pressed together, their wands at the ready.
"But you're the enemy!"
"Just keep moving. We're all against the twins, aren't we?" Harry said, feet away from the iced-over limbs.
She laughed, and shot back, "So you think I don't know how to mess, Potter?" twisting slightly against him while she conjured an ornate snow fort.
"Nice," said Harry impressed, pausing in his bewitchment of an army of snowmen. "I think you know how to mess just fine," he shot her a crooked smile, his eyes dark. Surprised, her eyes widened, but before she could say a word, he grabbed her arm, "Run!" a slew of snowballs catapulted from across the field.
Breathing heavily, they ducked behind the ice block barricade. Ginny's mind was reeling. Was he actually flirting with her? Or had a block of snow become lumped in her ear? Knocking her head to one side, she inched around the corner to get an eye on the twins who had charmed some gnomes to tunnel through the snow. Packing a large snowball in her hands, she raised her arm, but then felt a strong pair of arms grab her and hoist her onto the fort, "Got her Ron! Ready?" Ginny squirmed madly, screaming as an avalanche of snow cascaded on her head. "Harry!" she screamed, wrenching in his arms; but he didn't budge; a look of delight suffused his face. "Harry, I'm going to kill you!" He just laughed and held her tighter. Ginny, battling the desire to remain locked in his arms versus that of freezing to death, did the only thing any independent, adventurous snowball fighter could do in her position.
She played dirty.
Really dirty. Six older brothers had produced a stunning survival mechanism within this petite redhead. Long ago she had abandoned fighting her way out. Cunning and nerve were her well-honed weapons. Harry, not having the luxury (or burden) of any siblings would fall, she felt sure, within seconds.
First, she began coughing and gasping for air. Harry, concerned, pulled her off the fort, asking her if she was all right. Perfect. Step two. Ginny swayed in his arms and fell, passed out into the snow. Harry bent over her, loosing her scarf, calling her name over and over. A second later, she bolted upright and whipped him onto his back. Bingo! Then the truly dirty work began. She began to tickle him. And she wouldn't stop. Even when he rolled her over and over in the snow. Even when she kneeled over him, wrestling his wrists down. Even when she took her head and ground it into his chest.
Sputtering, "Sttopp—Giinny!" over and over, Harry laughed uncontrollably. She didn't budge. All of a sudden, Ginny's woolen hat came off; a sea of crimson hair flowed over Harry's face. Ginny yanked her head up; her hair whipped back, radiant in the sunshine; she laughed uproariously and looked down into Harry's face.
Except he wasn't laughing.
He wasn't smiling either.
He was staring.
Her laughter trailed off like a brook tumbling over stones. He held her gaze. His breathing lumbered; his pulse hammered under her hands as her hair began to slide down in curtains, draping his face. White puffs intertwined; their chests rose and lowered, bathing Ginny's face in warmth. She closed her eyes. Terrified to move, they slowly became very aware of the other: her hands on his wrists, her legs on his hips.
Harry closed his eyes, feeling the electricity of magic floating in the air.
"Bloody hell, Ginny," he whispered, and twisted his grip to grab her wrists. He licked his lips and inhaling her breath, raised himself and kissed--a mouthful of snow. Spitting wildly, a cavalcade of snowballs descending on his face, Bill's shouts of "yes!" echoing across the meadow.
Gulping, Ginny scrambled to her feet, backing away, "Sorry. Sorry."
"Yeah," Harry mumbled, clearly dazed.
But before any more could be said, the snow fort rose in the air. The twins, laughing manically, held it aloft for a split second before it plummeted onto a clueless Harry and Ginny.
The same thought ran through both of their minds, lying buried there under three feet of snow. Thank God. Something to put out the fire.
The Weasleys' dining room table bowed under the weight of plates, platters, bowls, and tureens, steaming hot and heaped to the bursting point with Mrs. Weasley's excellent cooking. The din was deafening as the whole family (minus Percy of course) plus various relatives and friends gathered round. Auntie Muriel, whose lipstick-stained teeth and green hair net added a festive flare to the proceedings, sat at the far end of the table next to Professor Lupin, who, thin and tired looking, sat deep in conversation with Mr. Weasley. Harry made a mental note to grab him tomorrow if possible.
Desserts followed; Harry breathed a sigh of relief to find none of them moving. After two helpings of the treacle tart, Harry sat back feeling warm and content. His eyes wandered down the table and found Ginny. His heart swayed at the sight of her, her hair once again piled casually on her head, held in place by a long green ribbon. She was sitting next to Auntie Muriel and looked utterly miserable. She smiled weakly at him, rolling her eyes and grimacing, then nodded her head slightly toward the batty woman who kept raising her glass in toast after toast. The only problem was, no one else was drinking, and more importantly, there was no wine in her glass.
Since the afternoon, Ginny had treated him perfectly normally, a fact that bothered Harry more than he cared to admit. She evidently didn't know what he was seconds away from doing to her out there in the snow while her tiny body straddled him, and her lips hovered inches away from his. She didn't know or didn't care. As much as he ached to believe otherwise (and ached was the operative word here), his heart told him Ginny Weasley would forever view him as her brother's best friend. Lord, he envisioned a lifetime of Weasley birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries as nothing more than her defacto big brother, standing off to the side. "Harry dear, would you mind holding little Dean, Jr.," he could hear Ginny laugh, as she passed him her firstborn only to flutter off with her husband. If she and Dean had enough kids, maybe he'd end up a godfather. Great. His heart twisted a bit at this, remembering Sirius. He took a swig of butterbeer and closed his eyes. Merry Christmas, Harry; here, hold the nappy.
But before Harry could become too morose, a piercing shriek erupted from the far end of the table, "Eeeck!" Fleur, arms flailing, was screeching in horror. The whole table froze. The young woman was bouncing up and down on her seat, shaking her head like an epileptic poodle. On her cheek was this thing, sucking the living daylights out of her. It resembled a red snitch with holly-like wings. Its most striking characteristic, however, was a staggering pair of ruby red puckered lips that were currently cemented to Fleur's face.
"Make eet stop, Bill!"
Bill tried swatting it away with his hands, but it didn't move. It just kept sucking, and sucking and…
"Fred and George!" Mrs. Weasley bellowed, "What have you done!"
The twins looked sheepishly at the Weasley matriarch. "Well, we . . . um . . . "
"It's the latest from our testing labs, Mum. Flying Spanish mistletoe. It's brilliant, really."
"I'll say!" cried Ron and Ginny, near tears.
"Prats!" Bill said, casting his brothers a most unholiday-like scowl.
"No worries. Just kiss her."
"Pleaze, someone, quickly," and she turned to Ron who sat next to her, and grabbed hold of his collar, an ashen look of panic on his face.
"No!" howled the twins. But it was too late. The moment she yanked Ron's lips against the silky pink skin of her cheek, the mistletoe screamed, "Ariba!" and hunkered onto Ron's face like there was no tomorrow.
Harry nearly fell off his chair, whooping hysterically.
"Get if off!"
"Sorry, bro, it's gotta be someone you love, otherwise it takes, oh, Merlin knows? How long do you think, George?"
The other twin scratched his head and pursed his lips. "You know, we never really tested that in quality control."
"Uhhh!!!" Ron moaned.
Harry and Ginny couldn't look at each other without convulsing into fits.
"Oh, come here, young man!" Mrs. Weasley commanded, "You can wash the dishes while you're being sucked. It's no never mind to me."
Tears rolled down Harry's face. Bill held his side, and even Fleur couldn't contain herself.
"Who's up for a game of Exploding Snap?" Fred asked, hoping to divert the attention from his latest invention.
The younger brigade, rollicking in giggles, split from the older. The former taking over the living room; the latter, the kitchen. Moments later Ron reappeared, the mistletoe having calmed down to a leisurely snog.
"Don't say a word," he said to Harry, who promptly shielded his eyes, sputtered a laugh, and glided toward the far end of the couch away from his friend.
An hour of so later, after the guests and parents had conveniently disappeared for the night, the twins raised their eyebrows in question. Charlie lay near the fire next to Bill and Fleur; Harry sat back on the sofa; Ginny lay against his side, Arnold in her lap. Harry was secretly enjoying this position, well aware it was only a matter of time until Ginny realized that her back was pressed against his legs, not Ron's, who had flopped down to the floor a while ago, the mistletoe murmuring something about his dreamy eyes.
"Ladies and gentlemen," George announced, clearing his throat, then paused, and smirked at Ron, "Well, we'll make an exception for you."
"I think 'poor sot', would be a good name for him," Fred interjected.
"Right then. Ladies, gentlemen, and poor sot, it is with great pleasure that we announce our latest endeavor. WWW's after-dinner libations."
Six pairs of eyebrows shot straight up.
"Is it safe?" Ginny asked.
"Does it move?" Harry countered.
"Oh, foolish mortals, you. It's safe and stationary. In fact, it's the most amazing thing you'll never remember drinking." With that Fred pulled out a glowing blue bottle that seemed to fluoresce silver when shaken. After George conjured up six glasses, the bottle opened itself, tipped, and poured periwinkle-silver fluid liberally into each one. The liquid steamed and bubbled like some ethereal primordial ooze until it settled down to a dull fizz.
"I am not drinking zat! Zat dinner was bad enough!!"
Ginny glared at Fleur; Harry raised an eyebrow at her and mouthed, "The dinner was wonderful." She smiled back and snuggled closer into his legs.
Suddenly feeling extraordinary, Harry piped up, "Why won't you remember drinking it?"
"Because, oh Chosen One," Harry rolled his eyes as Fred continued, "This is Absent-ithe. It'll make you feel wonderful, so wonderful, well--why don't we all have a sip?"
Everyone, save the twins, looked panicked. Gryffindors all, none of them moved.
"Oh hell, why not," Ron said finally, "I mean, how much worse can it get?"
Harry and Ginny shared a look for a second before Ron downed the drink in one gulp.
Everyone stared at him in horror-laced fascination, as though waiting for another head to sprout, or wings, or something? One minute passed, two … and nothing.
Ron smiled. "Guys, that was great. It tastes like, like … "
"We've roughly based the formula on Amortentia; tastes like whatever you most fancy."
Moments later, the rest of the group toasted and drained their glasses. It was good, Harry thought, delicious in fact. A warm glow began to spread through his body.
Three games of Exploding Snap and three rounds later (Ron was on his fifth), Bill and Fleur had disappeared. Ginny was now leaning against Harry's chest, her head nuzzled under his chin. Life was good, Harry thought. No life was unbelievably brilliant.
As if roused by the same sentiment, Ron jumped to his feet (the mistletoe lay snoring on the floor, having sucked its last), and stood on a chair. Raising his glass into the air, he announced in a bombastic, half slurred fashion, "I LOVE HERMINONE GRANGER. LOVE HER. LOVE HER." Then bowed, arms outstretched.
"So do I!" cheered Ginny.
"Me too!" shouted Harry, who instantly felt Ginny stiffen, and not wanting to risk her moving one inch, added rapidly, "Like a sister!"
"YOU BETTER," bellowed Ron, stumbling down onto his knees, "She's the best."
Harry eyed Ron warily, then glanced at the twins.
"Don't worry, mate; he won't remember a word of this in the morning. It's the wonder of Absent-ithe. Not one memory at all. Sip, enjoy, no worries --that's our tag line."
"Is this legal?" Charlie demanded of his brothers. But his protests went unheard as the remaining hour and bottle were spent in toasting everyone that the group remotely had any affectionate ties to whatsoever.
Near midnight, Harry became vaguely aware that the room was completely dark except for the fire. Bodies lay littered across the floor. One body, however, lay quite peacefully and warmly next to his.
He looked down; in his arms Ginny slept contentedly, the firelight dancing across her hair. His heart wrenched within his chest at the sight of her. Merlin, she was so beautiful, so small. She fit against him perfectly. No, she fit him perfectly. He slowly and gently moved his arms around her and rested his cheek against her hair, daring to kiss her brow. A moment before his lips touched hers, however, the blasted mistletoe lodged itself onto his face, and he jerked, waking her up. Slowly realizing where she was, she blinked owlishly back at him; her face broke into a grin as he smirked at the insane mistletoe beating madly against his cheek.
Without asking her, without waiting one more minute, without worrying that some untold catastrophe would result, Harry gathered her in his arms and kissed her.
They should have heard the mistletoe falling dead, like a metal pellet to the floor; they should have heard the snores of the room's inhabitants; they should have heard a great many things. But the only sound that mattered was a soft, passionate moan coming from both of them as they pressed deeply into the sofa.
"Harry?" Ginny whispered, with her hair up in his fingers, her green ribbon falling, "We won't remember."
He simply clutched her face in his hands and kissed her so she would never forget.
Near dawn, Harry carried a sleeping Ginny to her room. Laying her down, he brushed back her hair; his breath mingled with hers as his lips kissed her one last time. Ginny, still lost in sleep, began to kiss him back, but he broke away. If the twins were right, neither of them would remember a thing in the morning. Harry's heart ached. She had only kissed him because of the Absent-ithe, and even so, the memory would soon be lost. Suddenly angry, he clenched Ginny's ribbon in his fist. Why couldn't he keep anything? Overwhelmed with emotions he had never experienced, he stretched out next to her, and felt her body against his, warm and intoxicating in sleep. He kissed her passionately, tasting the last of the liquor, then rested his head against her forehead--he desperately wanted her to open her eyes and remember, before he closed his eyes and forgot.
"Merry Christmas, Ginny," he whispered, smoothing her face one last time. No matter what tomorrow would hold, here, now, he had the best present of his life.
The following morning a bunch of bleary, red-eyed young men and women dragged themselves from bed, and with hot tea in hand, gathered around a Christmas tree loaded down with presents. Harry's eyes traveled up the boughs, and halted in surprise at the sight of a gilded gnome sporting a flying Spanish mistletoe earring and carrying an empty blue bottle.
Everything contained herein belongs to J.K. Rowling. I just wish she'd ask me to read her last chapter—could you imagine? Special thanks to my brilliant and talented beta, Kelley, who rights my wrongs and salvages my pathetic French. Merci beaucoup.
Notes: Yes, I know, our underage witches and wizards shouldn't be allowed to use magic at the Burrow. They received a special pass from me for the holidays. Cheers!