It was the week before Christmas at Hogwarts, and magic—the holiday kind of magic—was everywhere.
Teachers were smiling at students in the Great Hall... friends were giving each other gifts in the common room... couples were sneaking extra kisses in the corridors.
This was not lost on Harry Potter.
The holiday season was bringing unpleasant memories back to him—memories he was trying his best not to dwell on.
The mistletoe in particular brought back disagreeable memories, though slightly less so. At the present moment, Harry was having a difficulty deciding which was worse—reliving that awkward, bumbling kiss, wondering why he had been attracted to Cho in the first place, or thinking about the fact that he was now doing Potions homework with the girl he would much rather be snogging.
Most everyone else had gone to bed already, but Harry had stayed down to help Ginny with her Potions essay. They were sitting at a table in the corner, alone, because Ron and Hermione had gone off to a prefect meeting,
"Must only be for sixth-year prefects," Ginny had observed, "seeing as the fifth- and seventh-year prefects are still here."
Ginny was now busily scribbling away on her parchment; Harry was busily watching her. He glanced at his watch. It was almost midnight.
"Honestly," he remarked to Ginny. "What 'prefect meeting' lasts this long?"
Ginny looked up and smiled. "What do you expect them to say? 'We're off to snog, so don't wait up?'" She pulled a face.
"Ugh. Perhaps not," said Harry, snickering.
Ginny turned her attention back to her essay. She seemed to be getting on fine. In fact, if he were perfectly honest with himself, Ginny was loads better at Potions that Harry was; he'd only used 'helping her' as an excuse to spend time with her, and as the common room had emptied he had found it more and more difficult not to hunt down some mistletoe and use it as a contrived excuse to snog her senseless.
Harry watched, fascinated, as a lock of Ginny's bright hair fell across her face. A freckled hand reached up to brush it back, her eyes never breaking the gaze on her essay, her lips pursed in an expression of concentration that Harry found adorably sexy.
He quickly glanced up, hoping that some of the enchanted mistletoe had found its way over, and silently cursing the mistletoe-free ceiling. Where was it when you needed it? Harry found himself wishing they had for some reason decided to do homework in the Room of Requirement.
Of course, the thought of mistletoe and the Room of Requirement had Harry becoming more and more caught up in reliving the memories from the last holiday season. The recollection of Sirius dancing around Grimmauld place, singing "God Bless Ye, Merry Hippogriffs" brought such a bittersweet feeling to Harry's chest that he suddenly found it difficult to breathe. He wondered how it was possible for one person to be so full of life and anguish at the same time.
"Harry." He looked up, and the concerned expression on Ginny's face, as well as the tone of her voice told him that she was reading his thoughts. Again.
She had that look in her eyes, the one he'd first seen last summer when she'd come upon him crying. "Harry, Sirius wouldn't want you to go around mourning. He would want you to have as much fun, and cause as much trouble, as possible." She'd only said those words once; she'd only needed to once. Every time she got that look in her eyes—every time since that summer evening at the Burrow when she'd joined him on the porch, intent on pulling him out of his sorrow—he knew she was thinking about what she had said to him then.
And she'd been right. Fred and George had left a major mischief void at Hogwarts, which Harry and Ginny were doing their best to fill. They had so much experience by now that even detentions had become opportunities for fun and pranks.
He smiled at Ginny. She smiled back, then went back to her essay.
Each time Harry found himself missing Sirius, and wishing he could ask him for advice, he would ask himself what Sirius, in his place, would have done.
That's easy, Harry thought to himself, watching another bright lock of Ginny's hair fall across her face, his fingers itching to brush it back. He would have snogged her hours ago. Days ago. Months ago. Hell, years ago. There's no way Sirius would have let a girl like Ginny pass—right in front of his nose—for so long without even noticing her, without grabbing a chance.
Inspired by a sudden surge of confidence, Harry moved towards Ginny, intent on making his feelings clear. Ginny, obviously startled by his sudden movement, dropped her quill as she jerked her head up. Harry's confidence faltered, and he lost his nerve.
"I, er… wanted to see how your essay was coming."
Ginny smiled. "I'm almost done." She scooted closer so Harry could see over her shoulder while she continued writing. The words blurred in front of Harry's eyes. He couldn't remember anything about essence of beetle, anyway, and especially not with Ginny's perfume ensnaring his senses.
"Are you looking forward to the holiday?" she asked as she began to roll up her parchment.
"Er, yeah." Harry couldn't stop his mind from drifting back to the events of the previous year. He remembered saying goodbye to Sirius at the train station, upset because he hadn't known when he would see him again, not knowing—
"Harry." Damn. That look again.
"No, really, I am looking forward to it," he said, with conviction. And he was. He and Hermione had been invited to spend Christmas at the Burrow, and Harry couldn't think of a better place for it. It was bound to be warm, comforting—
"— with lots of snow ball fights in the day time, then we all come in and get dry and sit around the fire in our pajamas with hot chocolate," Ginny said. "Bill will be there, he's bringing Fleur, and Charlie's coming back from Romania. I think Mum's invited Professor Lupin and Tonks over, too."
"Won't it be awfully crowded?" asked Harry. He was trying to imagine how all of those people would fit inside the tiny Burrow. "Where is everyone going to sleep?"
"Oh, I wouldn't worry, Harry." She gave him a sideways glance and a sly smile. "There's plenty of room in my bed."
Harry's heart was suddenly beating out of control. That was another thing Ginny had been doing. It was a rather new development, and Harry still hadn't gott used to it—though he doubted he ever would. She'd bite her lower lip, then give him that shrewd, devious look, and say something suggestive.
She's only joking, he told himself, trying desperately to take in normal amount of oxygen without noticeably hyperventilating.
Harry had no idea why she had started doing that to him. At first he thought that maybe she knew of his feelings for her and was making fun of him, but Ginny would never do that. And she'd never actually commented on his reaction, so Harry figured he did a pretty good job of disguising it. One of these days, however, he was going to crack and actually take Ginny up on her suggestion.
When his breathing had returned to normal, Harry noticed that Ginny was packing up her stuff.
"Let's go to bed," she said.
"Ok!" Harry agreed eagerly.
She gave him an odd look. "Oh, Harry, if you were tired you didn't have to stay up to help me. I could have had Hermione look it over in the morning."
"Oh, no, it's ok. I'm not that tired, I just wanted to…hm." Harry tried to think of a way to cover his slip up—he hadn't really thought she'd meant that, it was just a reflexive reaction!—but Ginny seemed willing to let it go.
"You might want to have Hermione look it over in the morning, anyway. I was never too good with essence of beech wood."
"Ok," said Ginny, smiling sweetly. She leaned over the space between them to peck him on the cheek.
How about a snog goodnight? Harry thought desperately.
"Goodnight," she said, softly padding to the girls' staircase, her shoes on one arm, and her books on the other. "I'm going to bed before the lovebirds come back and I have to suffer through their endless display of affection."
Harry chuckled, the called out softly, "Goodnight." He watched Ginny go up, then sank into the arm of the sofa, where he sat, daydreaming. He only fled up to the boys' dormitory when he heard the sounds of a couple approaching the portrait hole.
Christmas at the Burrow, Harry discovered, was everything he had hoped it to be.
After a rather hectic morning of opening presents, he and Ginny had escaped the crowded living room to the relatively quiet kitchen, where they were assisting Mrs. Weasley by tasting all of the desserts she was making.
"Ron and Hermione have been rather peaceful all break," he remarked to Ginny, biting into a lemon tart.
"I noticed!" agreed Ginny. "It must be all the Joy." She said 'joy' as if it were a proper noun—making Harry think of some invisible force that had surrounded them and taken over their lives, forcing Ron and Hermione get along.
"What?" Harry hadn't experienced any Joy, other than the usual Weasley-happiness, Ginny-wonderfulness joy.
"Oh, you know. Joy in the world, Joy… Joy to the world, and all that."
"Oh, right. Do you know why the world is joyous?" Harry asked.
That was a game they had been playing all holiday. Mr. Weasley apparently went around every year humming Muggle Christmas songs, singing when he knew the words—usually only the titles. Ginny had picked this up and would interject phrases into their conversations. Harry teased her for not knowing the actual content of the song, but Ginny insisted it was easy enough to figure out.
"Because it's finally Quidditch season again?" she asked, biting into a brownie.
Suddenly, with the agility Harry would have expected more of Fred and George than her, Mrs. Weasley beat something out of the air with her frying pan. The something proceeded to pick itself off the floor, dust itself off, and zoom away. It was the renegade sprig of enchanted mistletoe that had been terrorizing the Burrow since dinner the night before, where, unfortunately, Harry had been sitting across the table from Ginny. Unlike the mistletoe at Hogwarts, which drifted gracefully and slowly across the ceilings, this mistletoe moved rather quickly and almost violently from head to head, with the single goal of hitting as many targets as possible.
He exchanged a glance with Ginny, and together they crept out of the kitchen, trying to get as far away from the scene as they could.
"Fred! George!" Mrs. Weasely's voice rang shrilly through the house. They scurried out to join the rest of the family in the living room, away from the shouting match.
Ron and Hermione were sitting apart over a game of chess, but everyone else was gathered in a circle, engaged in a tournament of Exploding Snap, which Harry and Ginny quickly joined.
They had been playing for about five minutes when Harry saw Charlie lean over to whisper in Tonks' ear, but he took no real notice until Tonks nudged Professor Lupin with her elbow, seemingly to relay the message. By the time Harry looked up to see what was the distraction, everyone was staring over the thin layer of smoke to the corner by the fire where Ron and Hermione were sitting. Above them was Fred and George's mistletoe. Harry watching in horror as they, seeming unaware of their audience, leaned in closer, closer—
He jerked his head around—judging by the cheers that erupted, just in time—to see that Ginny had done the same. Her eyes were squeezed shut. She opened them to look at Harry when he nudged her.
"Ew," she whispered.
"I know. Let's get out of here." All the Weasleys were too busy reacting to Ron and Hermione's kiss to notice when Harry and Ginny slipped out the front door and made their way to the side of the porch.
"I definitely could have gone the rest of my life without almost seeing that," he told her.
"Me too. Or at least until their wedding day."
Harry chuckled a bit at that. "But kissing in front of all of us? What could have possessed them?"
"Well," said Ginny, taking on a serious tone. "To be fair, 'Tis the Season."
In spite of himself, Harry felt a grin spreading across his face. "'Tis the season for what?"
Ginny smiled, too, biting her bottom lip—which never failed to send shivers down Harry's spine. "Um, snogging under mistletoe?"
Suddenly a whizzing noise caused him to look up in alarm. There, just above them, centered perfectly between their two heads, was Fred and George's renegade mistletoe. Harry's heart began beating very rapidly.
"Ginny…" he looked down from the mistletoe in time to see her do the same. Her gaze was on him, expectant. Now what was he supposed to say? "I think I'm in love with you," seemed out of the blue, but "Can I snog you?" sounded like a stupid question.
Bugger this, thought Harry, practically lunging himself at her. The last coherent thought he had was that he could always blame it on the mistletoe. He didn't have much room for thinking after that; he was too busy kissing Ginny.
They broke apart, Harry wasn't sure how much longer later, when he heard two loud voices coming through the door. Fortunately Fred and George didn't notice them standing, in very close proximity to each other, on the side of the porch; they continued walking straight into the yard.
Harry felt himself going red, and when he looked at Ginny he saw that her cheeks were tinged pink, too. A flash of movement caught his eye, and Harry watched, to his dismay, the mistletoe fly away, looking for a new target. He barely stopped himself from calling for it to come back.
He turned back to look at Ginny when she said his name softly. Her cheeks darkened but she continued to look directly at him. "Was that just for the mistletoe?"
"No," he answered. To his relief, Ginny looked relieved. She glanced quickly at where Fred and George were walking, than back at him.
"Maybe we should go somewhere more private, then." Ginny gave him that sly look again, but this time her cheeks turned pink. He nodded eagerly, swallowing the dry lump in his throat.
As she took his hand and led him back to the house, Harry found himself thanking Fred and George, the author of every Muggle Christmas song he could think of, and whatever genius had come up with mistletoe.