Ginny Weasley placed the last of the Jarveys into a fur-lined cage and handed it to Harry. They were funny creatures, to be sure—one of the only natural enemies of garden gnomes, if you didn't count her mother, and they had the vernacular of a sailor. With a strong winter storm approaching, Hagrid wanted the large, ferret-like creatures to be protected from the cold and had convinced Professor Dumbledore to let him change Ginny's detention so that she could help.
She had been partnered with Colin Creevey in Potions, and they were working on a Strengthening Solution together. Colin had ignored Ginny's instructions to add armadillo bile instead of bubotuber pus. The resulting mixture erupted onto their table and splashed onto the surrounding students. Normally, this wouldn't have been a huge problem, as she was one of the best Potions students in her year. However, since Ginny had become closer friends with Harry, Snape had become mean and vindictive towards her. He blamed her for the incident and gave her a detention.
Harry's situation was similar. He had once again responded to Snape's taunting and lost fifty points for Gryffindor, with a detention added for extra malice. Apparently, calling Snape a "greasy git" was not something he was fond of. Ginny laughed in spite of herself when Harry told her the story. Snape was understandably livid when Hagrid gave him the permission slip for Harry and Ginny's detention change. They were supposed to be extracting more bubotuber pus in the greenhouses to increase the school's stores. But even Snape couldn't override Dumbledore, who had insisted that the Jarveys were a more pressing matter. Secretly, Ginny was glad.
So here they were, herding and packing the Jarveys together. She was in charge of corralling them into the special containers, and Harry had to stack them in the shed next to Hagrid's hut. Working together, they were able to get all sixty of them packed and moved in three hours. It was well past dark by then, and the snow had begun to fall in earnest, pushed by a biting wind.
Pulling her cloak around her more closely, Ginny glanced to where Harry was returning from the shed.
"Is that the last one?" Harry almost shouted through the blowing snow.
"Yeah. Where did Hagrid go?" The last she had seen of him, he had gone back into his cabin for something to clean the Jarvey pen.
"I think he went inside. I don't reckon we should stay out much longer either. The snow is starting to pile up." He grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the castle.
Had it been two years ago, the thought of holding Harry Potter's hand would have caused her to blush furiously and stammer for the next hour. As it was, she had been able to master her feelings and take the opportunity to enjoy life as Ginny Weasley, Hogwarts' second-smartest witch. Dating other boys had been a small part of it, but putting her feelings for Harry aside was exactly what she needed in order to find new friends, to excel in her classes, and to figure out who she really was.
Her musings were cut short when Harry stopped abruptly and began looking ahead into the snow. "Can you see the castle?" he asked.
She squinted her eyes and brought up a hand to help shield them against the incessant snowfall. There was nothing but white in front of her, and as she glanced around, she realized that there was nothing familiar about their surroundings.
Harry looked down to her and said, "It was right in front of us, and now it's gone." He took out his wand and muttered, "Point Me." The wand twirled around and stopped, pointing slightly to the left on his bare palm.
His brow furrowed in concentration as he decided the best course of action to take. Ginny didn't mind letting Harry take charge of the situation. Leadership was what he was best at, and even if she wanted to help, she had been too busy thinking about Harry to pay attention to where they had been going.
And that was the whole problem, really. Letting her thoughts of Harry cloud her judgment and take control of her life. That part of her was gone, but every once in a while, in moments like this, she felt entirely under his power. It was this lack of control that had forced Ginny to re-evaluate her life; she had vowed to never let anyone have that kind of control over her again, at least not involuntarily. Ginny knew that when the moment came to commit herself to one person—and deep down inside, she still hoped it would be Harry—she would have to give up some of that control to him. But for now, it was her deepest wish to be as independent as possible.
The cold was starting to get to her through the woolen cloak wrapped around her shoulders. She hadn't brought any gloves because the Jarveys would have chewed them off. Instead, Ginny's left hand was buried deep within her robes, and her right hand was sweating in the palm of Harry Potter's firm grip as he pulled her along.
After fifteen minutes of walking, with the snow piled up to their ankles and their robes dampening, they stopped once more. Harry performed the four-point spell again and let out a frustrated groan. "It's no use. We seem to be going in circles." He looked down at Ginny and asked, "Are you all right?" Their hands had come unclasped, and he was now rubbing her shoulders in an attempt to warm her up.
"I'm a little cold, but it'll be fine." She couldn't help it and looked into his eyes. They were so full of concern and compassion that she couldn't feel the frozen air around them anymore.
Finally, he pulled his eyes off of her and said, "I think our best bet is to get back to Hagrid's hut. If we just follow our footprints, we'll get back there eventually."
He grabbed her hand again, and they walked on into the storm. This time, however, they walked side by side, a difference that did not escape Ginny's notice.
After another freezing excursion through the whirling snow, and quite a few missteps, they found themselves in front of Hagrid's cabin. Harry banged on the door, but the lights were out, and the door was locked. Not even Alohomora would charm it open.
"Did he say anything to you about leaving tonight?" Ginny asked calmly.
"No...wait. I remember him telling Snape about meeting someone at the Three Broomsticks tonight." He leaned his head against the door and scrunched his eyes together. "Now what are we going to do?"
Ginny glanced down to the ground and noticed that the hut had shielded the snow from the wind. Hagrid's massive footsteps were clearly visible on the ground. "Look, Harry, Hagrid's footprints. If we follow them, we can make it to Hogsmeade and Floo back to Gryffindor Tower."
His eyes flitted around the hut and into the storm, then they found their way back to her face. "You...are a genius. I could kiss you right now!" Then a look of panic flashed across his face, and he quickly regained his composure. "Come on, let's go."
They trudged through the ever-growing snowdrifts and walked towards the Forbidden Forest. "I don't know about this," said Harry. "The forest isn't exactly safe, even when the weather's pleasant."
Ginny wrestled for a moment between her fear of the forest and her fear of dying as a popsicle, and then said, "Just follow the footprints, and we'll be all right, Harry."
So on they went.
Almost an hour later, Hagrid's footprints had long been wiped away by the wind, and where the forest was thick enough to block the snow, there were none at all. They were hopelessly lost, and even with the four-point spell, it was useless to try to make it out of the forest at night. The cold had penetrated every layer of clothing on Ginny's body, through her skin and seemingly into her bones. She had never been so cold in her life. Even the warming spells they tried lasted only a few minutes, with the punishing wind that swept around and through their now soaked robes.
Harry looked very agitated and was constantly asking if she was okay. She wasn't, but she refused to admit it, lest he jump into his "overprotective mode." Sometimes when he did that, it made her feel wanted and loved, but most of the time he seemed like an invasive and nosy older brother; she had too many of those in her life already.
He turned once again to speak with her, but the look in his eyes was different, almost hopeful. "Gin, I think I've found a place for us to stay for the night." Harry almost never called her "Gin," and she discovered recently that he usually did it when he was in a good mood. To Ginny, the sight of the cave entrance Harry had found was anything but good.
"Lumos," muttered Harry, as they entered the cave.
It was dark, damp, and cold. The only redeeming quality of the cave was the fact that it was out of the wind. Then Ginny noticed that it was quite spacious. It had enough room to house most of the Gryffindor fifth years and was tall enough to stand up straight in without needing to stoop.
Harry quickly cast a cushioning charm on one area of the hard floor and guided Ginny over to sit. Then he said, "I'll be right back."
With a look of horror, she said, "What do you mean, you'll be right back? You're not leaving me to sit in this cold, dark cave, Harry Potter!"
Calmly, he knelt down, lit her wand, and handed it back to her. "Stay here, Gin. I'm going to get us some wood for a fire. I'll only be gone for a few minutes," he said sweetly. Then he did something that shocked her. He bent his head and softly touched his lips to her cheek.
All thought of protest left her mind, and he quickly left for the forest. She brought her hand to her face and rubbed the spot where he had kissed her. Harry Potter kissed her! It was all she could do to not shout out loud. But maybe he was only doing it to keep her calm, to be nice to her so she didn't panic. This thought immediately dashed her hopes to pieces, and her elation came crashing back down onto the hard rocks of reality.
It was typical, she thought. Just when she had a glimmer of hope for Harry to show a teensy bit of romantic interest in her, nothing ever came of it. They had become friends over the past year and a half, but it never seemed to go anywhere. She felt stuck in the rut of comfortable companionship. Ron and Hermione had sorted out how they felt about each other and left Harry feeling a bit left out. Ginny had been there to take up the slack. The problem was that he was treating her the same way he treated them, as a friend. Before her fourth year, that would have been the best thing in the world to her, next to a full-out snog session with The Boy Who Lived. But the new Ginny needed more than that. She needed to be loved back, and anything else was simply not going to make her happy.
So she had resigned herself to the fact that Harry was never going to look at her that way, and she developed a hardened determination to keep her feelings locked up deep inside. She knew that the only way for those feelings to be unlocked was for Harry to treat her as she wanted to be treated, to love her back. So she stopped her childish pining and became Harry's friend, but in the process, she lost something that had kept her hope alive. Hope of being loved by Harry Potter. When she gave up on Harry Potter, she gave that hope away, and she had never been the same.
Harry returned with an armful of wood and dropped it unceremoniously in the center of the cave. Bits of wood flew everywhere, bouncing off the cave walls and skittering in between Ginny's feet.
"I've got one more load. I'll be back in a tick," he said.
One more load? There was enough wood now to fill the hearth in Gryffindor Tower! Soon enough, however, he returned with an armful of not wood, but rocks.
"No, but we can transfigure them into blankets." Harry's face was sweating, and his hair was impossibly messy from the wind. But looking into that face, alight with so much happiness, melted her insides and pushed the freezing cold out of her mind. She sighed as he moved some of the wood into a pile in the middle of the floor and the rest into a second pile near the back of the cave.
With an Incendio!, a warm fire was burning merrily in front of them. Smoke carried out of the cave entrance easily, and they sat down close together to get their bodies warm. It was the best she'd felt all day. Her robes were still wet, and the air was only beginning to warm around them, but the heat of the fire comforted her in ways she hadn't believed possible.
Harry displayed an impressive bit of transfiguration, and they had several cozy blankets and two pillows at their disposal. Next, Harry conjured a plate of sandwiches. They greedily ate their sandwiches, and the plate disappeared.
"I'm impressed," said Ginny. "Where did you learn how to do all this?"
"Oh, well—the transfiguration is standard sixth-year stuff," he said nonchalantly. "I learned how to conjure things with Dumbledore. He's teaching me a little on the side, like how to do wandless magic, Apparate, and some other things." Ginny noticed his embarrassment, as he was scratching in the dirt with a twig and wouldn't look her in the eye.
Her jaw dropped when she realized what he had said. "You can do wandless magic? And...and Apparate?"
His eyes shot up to meet hers in surprise. "Oh! Did I say that? That was...kind of supposed to be a secret."
"Well, I'm certainly not going to tell anyone." She waved her hand dismissively. "But you absolutely have to demonstrate!"
With a giddy look on his face, Harry held his hand out and said, "Orchideous." A bouquet of daisies and mums appeared in his hand. "Here you are, fair lady." He bowed his head and held them out to her in mock reverence.
Ginny's cheeks colored a bit as she took the flowers from his hands. They smelled lovely and reminded her of the Burrow's garden. Ginny glanced over to Harry and noticed that he was still looking at the ground, and although it was hard to tell in the reds and oranges of the fire, she thought for sure that he was blushing.
Suddenly, he whipped out his wand and scrunched up his face in concentration. Then with a crack, he disappeared and reappeared at the cave entrance. His sudden Apparation caused Ginny to fall into the space he had just occupied because, she realized, she had been leaning on his shoulder.
Harry walked back to the fire and occupied his former position on the floor. "Sorry about that, Gin." She smiled up at him and resumed leaning against his shoulder.
"'Sall right, Harry." She tried unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn. Then she realized something and asked, "Why can't you just Apparate to Hogsmeade?"
Apparently, the yawn was contagious because Harry's face split in a large yawn as well. "Well, I've only been able to go short distances so far. Besides, I didn't know how far the wards went into the forest. So I couldn't try earlier." He looked at her appraisingly and then said, "Even if I could Apparate out of here, I wouldn't really know how to tell anyone where to find you. It's a nightmare out there right now."
"I guess you're right," she offered. "The only thing we need now is some hot chocolate!"
His eyes lit up, but then he said, "I can transfigure some cups for us, but I don't have any hot chocolate."
"Oh, that's not a problem. Mum taught me how to magic some up when I was eleven. Apparently, there is some kind of traditional Weasley family recipe that's passed down from mother to daughter. You get the cups, and I'll pour," she said, smiling cheekily up at him.
Soon enough, they were sitting on magically softened rocks by a magically started fire with transfigured cups of conjured hot chocolate. "Being a witch certainly has its advantages," said Ginny.
"Too right!" Harry said merrily. "And being friends with the smartest fifth year comes in handy, too." He grinned widely and drained the last of his drink.
Ginny blushed modestly and changed the subject. "So, are you excited about Christmas?"
"Definitely. I can't believe Dumbledore is letting me stay with your family! Not counting last year, it's going to be my first Christmas away from Hogwarts since I knew I was a wizard."
Ginny frowned at the implied mention of his horrid relatives. "I still can't believe that your aunt and uncle didn't ever celebrate Christmas with you."
"Well, that's not exactly how it was. They celebrated Christmas and even went to church in the evening. But I think it was only because they wanted to be seen by the vicar. I even got a present every year!" He laughed heartily to himself.
"I thought Ron said they never gave you any presents."
"Oh, it wasn't much. The first Christmas present I remember getting was a broken shoelace from my cousin's shoe. The only reason they gave it to me was because I asked why I never got any presents right after he broke it. From then on, it was like a running joke to see what kind of useless thing they could pass off as a present." Harry's face fell a little as he reminisced about his childhood.
Ginny reached out her hand to take his, something she had never done before. "Well, let me tell you what you can expect for Christmas at our house."
His eyes lit up when she said this, and the new Harry was back. Ever since Sirius had died, Ginny had taken it upon herself to be Harry's distraction and confidante. He fought her at first, but eventually the Weasley determination had won out, and Harry poured his feelings out to her. It was the most vulnerable she had ever seen him, and Ginny made sure he knew she would always be there for him. It gave her some measure of pride to have been the one to help him heal. Now if only she could convince him that she could be more than a friend.
"Well, there are two traditions that are worth mentioning," she started to explain, but he interrupted.
"What are the ones that aren't worth mentioning?"
"Those were invented by the twins to annoy me, mostly. If they even think about trying to enchant mistletoe to hover around me for the holidays, like they did last year, I'll hex them like nothing they've seen." Ginny's eyes were on fire, and her face twisted in rage. Then as quickly as it came, the fierce look went away and was replaced with the normal, sweet visage most people encountered.
"Where was I?"
"Right. So, the first one is the Weasley family gift exchange. We've never had enough to all get everyone something, so we draw lots at the end of each holiday for the next Christmas. I've got Charlie's this year." Even though she hated having secondhand robes, Ginny had never been ashamed of being poor the way Ron was. "Then after the obligatory feast, we have a traditional family play."
"A play? You mean like acting, memorizing lines, costumes, and stuff?" Harry looked mortified at the thought. Ginny nodded her head, and he continued, "I don't think it's such a good idea that I go home with you this year. Maybe I'll just stay here and drink eggnog with Hagrid."
Ginny slapped him hard on the shoulder. "You will do no such thing, Mr. Potter." He knew he was in trouble when she called him that. "Mum's been making the costumes for a month, and you've already been given a part in the play. If you don't come, you know how despondent Mum will be." She gave him a soulful look, complete with cute puppy dog eyes.
"All right, all right. I'll go, but don't think for a minute that I'm going to enjoy it." She almost would have believed him, had it not been for the twinkle in his eye.
"Right. Don't worry about a thing, Harry. I made sure your part isn't too big." Harry still looked apprehensive, so she added, "So you can win the Triwizard Tournament, but you can't say a few lines in a play?" She poked him in the ribs and was rewarded by making him jump slightly.
Harry got up quickly and put more wood on the fire. When he sat down again, he grabbed a blanket and draped it around them. Ginny noticed, however, that he didn't take his arm off her shoulders after the blanket was firmly secured. She bent her head down onto his shoulder and snuggled in close. Harry tightened his embrace so that his breath was blowing the hairs on her forehead.
"You know, Harry, I'm glad that we got lost in the forest together. I've really enjoyed this time with you." Ginny turned her head and buried her face in the crook of his neck. His scent overwhelmed her senses, and a sigh escaped her lips.
She felt his lips press onto the top of her head, and he said, "I couldn't think of anyone else I'd rather be stranded with." Ginny noticed that they were now rocking slowly back and forth. The motion, combined with the hypnotizing effect of the dancing flames, was making her very sleepy. She felt safe in his arms, safe and complete, as if up to that point she had been living her life as half of a whole.
Harry's voice broke into her thoughts and woke her up. "So you never told me why you gave up on me. Hermione told me that you gave up on me ages ago. To be honest, I kind of missed the blushing, shy Ginny."
She raised her head off of his shoulder and looked him in the eyes. "I gave up on the idea that you would ever like me the way that I like you."
He visibly swallowed and said, "And exactly how is it that you like me?"
This was it. Now was her chance to be honest and tell him how she really felt. "I used to think I loved you. When I was eleven, I thought it was love, but I was only really in love with the idea of being in love with you."
There was a pause as she considered her next words. Harry said, "What about now?" His gaze was open and vulnerable. Ginny felt strangely powerful as she considered what he was feeling. She realized that right now, she had the ability to break his heart. This new understanding puzzled her, but she didn't have time to contemplate it.
"Now?" Ginny was stalling, and she knew it. But she also knew there was no way to get out of this situation without confessing everything. Harry could always tell when she was being less than truthful.
He nodded and waited patiently for her to continue.
"These past few months have given me the ability to get to know the real Harry, and now I know without question how I feel about you. I want—no, I need to tell you, but I'm just too afraid to do it."
Through scrunched eyebrows, he asked, "What do you mean, ‘afraid'?" Turning less serious, he said, "I find it hard to believe that anything would frighten Ginny Weasley." His smile warmed her heart. She struggled within herself over just telling him and risking the friendship they had made. Was he ready to know how she felt? If he was still too emotionally broken, her confession could push him away.
He was still looking expectantly at her, so she swallowed her fear and said, "You frighten me sometimes. When I think about losing you to Voldemort or to someone else...."
"What do you mean, ‘someone else'?" he whispered.
Ginny captured his gaze again and said, "I'm afraid of losing the chance of loving you, Harry. And of being loved by you." Tears were forming in her eyes, and she made to brush them away, but Harry caught her hand in his.
"Ginny," he said, with a seriousness that was so strong, it captivated her. "There's no one else who could love me like you." Her breathing stopped with a hitch, and she desperately tried to decipher his feelings from this statement.
He continued, bringing clarity and assurance to his words. "There is no one else I could love like you, Ginny." Harry brought his hands up to cup her face, and he used his thumbs to wipe the tears away from her eyes. "I love you, Ginny Weasley."
Something deep within her burst at hearing the words she had dreamed about hearing from him for four years. It was so powerful, it made her dizzy, and she had a hard time forming the words she desperately wanted to say. Could it really be possible? How could he feel this way after she had given up all hope that he would? It was as if she could only have what she wanted when she had put it out of her mind that it could actually happen.
Then, of their own volition, the words were spoken. "I love you, too, Harry. I have loved you for two and a half years. Ever since your fourth year, when I started to see how much it cost you to be who you are. Even when I tried to date other boys, it was always you who I loved."
Harry's eyes were now clouding with unshed tears, and he asked, "Would you mind terribly if I kissed you?" She managed to shake her head a fraction, still not believing that all this was real. He moved in closer, and she tilted her head automatically to the side. Harry's breath was mingling with hers, and when their lips finally connected, it was the final piece of a puzzle she had been trying to solve her whole life. She was complete, with nothing missing. All of her fears left her and were replaced with a joy that threatened to overwhelm her.
They broke the kiss, and she clutched at his robes with all of her strength, sobbing uncontrollably into his chest. Harry's arms held her close, as he patiently let her emotions run their course. It was appropriate, she thought, because he had been the one sobbing on her shoulder three months ago when he finally let his grief over Sirius go.
At length, they separated, and Ginny wiped helplessly at her eyes. "Your robes are a mess...." She laughed at the wet spots on his front.
"I'm not worried about it. It's actually preferable to how they got wet earlier." They shared a laugh again, and he captured her lips again in a kiss. "I just wanted to make sure it was real," he said, after they broke apart for the second time.
"If it isn't, I'm offing myself straight away." Then, turning serious, she said, "I've waited a long time for you, Harry Potter."
He sighed and said, "I know. I'm sorry about that. I've been such a prat about this, Gin. I've only loved you for two years...and only worked up the courage to tell you just now. You know, it's funny, but I started to feel this way about you when you started dating that Corner fellow. I guess you only had to show me one time that I could lose you, and I figured out that it was love."
Ginny woke up feeling warm and secure. It was the best she had ever felt, and it baffled her to think that her four-poster bed could produce such a feeling. She blinked her eyes open, and bright light streamed into them. It was much too bright for it to be her dormitory. Then something moved behind her, and the memories of the night before came flooding back to her. Harry's arm was draped around her middle, and amidst the torrent of happiness that surrounded her, she despaired at the thought that she wouldn't be able to experience waking up with Harry again for a long time. With a smirk, she thought that she would have to arrange for them to get "lost" again.
Harry stirred again behind her, and she turned to see his face. He was quite handsome without his glasses, and she wondered if there was a charm or potion that would fix his nearsightedness. His eyes fluttered open and then settled on her face. "Good morning, sleepyhead," she whispered, as his eyes drifted closed again.
"Good morning, yourself. I'm not ready to wake up just yet. I was having a fantastic dream about this pretty girl...." He opened one eye to gauge her reaction, and she slapped playfully at his chest.
"She'd better have had red hair," she said warningly.
"I seem to recall that she did. But her name was Guinevere," he said with mock alarm. "Funny that."
"Well, my name is Virginia, not Guinevere."
Instead of replying, he leaned in to kiss her, but she pushed against his chest and turned her head away. "Oh, no, you don't. I'm not kissing you until I've brushed my teeth."
Harry reached into his pocket and produced two candies. "How about a Pepper Imp?" She grabbed one and popped it into her mouth.
"You weren't planning this, were you?" Ginny batted her eyelashes at him seductively. "Getting lost, snogging me senseless, and then sleeping together in a cave?"
At that moment, they heard a noise at the front of the cave and rose together to see what it was. Ron came tumbling in the entrance and scrambled to his feet. "Bloody hell!" he exclaimed. "What's been going on here?" He looked suspiciously between Ginny, whose hair was mussed, and Harry, whose robes were more than slightly disheveled.
"H-Hey, Ron," Harry stuttered. "We were just about to leave and head back to the castle."
Ron eyed him suspiciously and said, "How come you two are all snuggled up together, then? Hold on. Have you been sleeping with my sister?" He was seething at this point, and Harry was about to get his wand out to defend himself, when another figure slid into the cave.
"Oh!" was all that Hermione was able to say at finding Harry and Ginny together, still clinging to one another in the frosty morning air. Ron took a step forward to get to Harry, but Hermione was quicker and grabbed his cloak. "Ron, let's give them some space. We can talk about it on the way back to the castle."
Hermione led a grumbling Ron back outside the cave, and Harry let out a sigh of relief.
"What are we going to tell them?" asked Ginny.
"One thing is for sure. We aren't going to lie about us. We've both waited too long to just hide it away. I want everyone to know," he said.
She beamed up at him and threw her arms around his neck. "I love you, Harry." Her muffled words came from the front of his robes.
He planted a kiss on the top of her head and said, "I love you, too, Gin. Let's get out of here and back to school. I've got a date with a warm shower."
She giggled, and they helped each other make themselves more presentable. They grabbed a blanket each and headed for the exit. As they were leaving the cave, they heard Professor McGonagall's distinctive voice ring out, "What do you mean, you found them sleeping together?"
They laughed again and walked into the morning sunshine, content with knowing the truth. Knowing that together, they were whole and could overcome anything that came their way. Overprotective brothers, misunderstanding teachers, and even the Dark Lord himself didn't stand a chance at ruining what they had finally found together in the cave last night. Their love had found an opportunity in an unusual set of circumstances, and Ginny knew that she wouldn't trade last night for anything in the world.
A/N: This story was inspired by Arabella's wonderful fiction "Not as a Last Resort" and is my attempt at a Harry/Ginny version. Any similarities to her story are intended. ;) Once again, thanks are due for my wonderfully diligent and patient beta, Lucyjekyll.