"Ah, relief from the heat!" exclaimed Ron as he tossed his broom on the couch in the family room of the Burrow, Harry following close behind. He ran a hand through his sweaty black hair and leaned his Firebolt, which had been returned to him through the Weasleys by Professor Dumbledore, gingerly against the doorframe. The summer had been unusually hot for Britain, and continued to be even as it was drawing to a close. Harry heard Ron walk into the kitchen, presumably to find something to drink, but did not go in himself until he heard Ron emit a small yelp of surprise, and saw Ginny standing by the oven upon his entry wearing a fairly modest bathing suit top and short Muggle shorts.
"Uh, Ginny, aren't you a bit under-dressed?" choked Ron, trying to cover his sister, while shooting annoyed looks at Harry and gesturing towards the stairs.
Ginny merely rolled her eyes before replying, "Please, Ron. At least I chose a suit that covers most of my midriff. It's so hot you could cook a hippogriff out there, and I'm baking biscuits for Mum's end of the summer dinner, which makes the kitchen even hotter, so shove off." She returned to the counter and stirred the batter vigorously, appearing to forget her company completely.
Harry folded his arms and said, "Are you alright, Gin? You seem a bit preoccupied."
"I…am…just…fine," Ginny yelled between stirs. Ron gave her a look of annoyance and stalked up the stairs, but Harry refused to give up so quickly.
"You're not fine. You didn't even come over and greet me when I came in with Ron. What's wrong?"
"You figure it out, Harry. Just think about it – I'm sure you'll be able to come up with something."
What is up with her? Harry thought to himself, stung. She hadn't even turned around when she'd yelled back at him. He busied himself with a glass of water and took it up to the room he was sharing with Ron to think. Ron wasn't there, but he heard voices from Hermione's room down the hall. She and Harry had come to spend the last two weeks of the summer at the Burrow.
The summer holiday, despite its darkening mood due to more public displays of Voldemort's rise to power, had been quite good for the trio and Ginny. Unlike the previous summer, Dumbledore allowed Ron, Hermione, and Ginny to keep Harry informed, which kept the lines of communication open and constant. Harry still had not found enough courage to tell them about the prophecy, but he had grown close to Ginny, even beginning to talk to her about his mental struggles against Voldemort. She, in turn, told him more about her first year at Hogwarts and the diary, more, he imagined, than she had told anyone else. There was trust between them, which was what hurt him the most about the exchange; he sensed she felt she could not trust him entirely for some reason. He had kept her secrets from Ron and the rest of the family, everything she had asked him to keep – about the diary, that she and Dean were not, in fact, romantically involved in any way, about her fear of being possessed again. Why shouldn't she trust him now?
And then there was his other problem – whenever he saw her his stomach did flip flops. He thought he might be beginning to have feelings for her beyond a friendship, but that meant that he would have to deal with her brothers, one of whom was his best friend. In addition, he had no idea exactly how to show a girl he fancied her, let alone ask her on a date or to be his girlfriend. Plus, Ginny had already had a boyfriend – what if he wasn't as good as Michael had been? The ideas made his head spin, and caused his stomach to do another nervous flip flop.
Maybe if he could figure out what was wrong Ginny would feel that she could trust him, or she might even begin to fancy him again the way he did her. He sat back on his bed to ponder this thought as Ron tramped in, dragging Hermione behind.
"Harry, do you know what's wrong with my sister?" demanded Ron point blank as he flipped the chair at his desk around and straddled it, leaning his arms against the back.
Harry shrugged, "Not really, I'm just trying to figure it out myself."
Hermione began pacing and said worriedly, "Well, we've got two days, twelve hours, and twenty-seven minutes to come up with SOMETHING!"
"Well, that's when your Mum's dinner is, isn't it? And we wouldn't want Ginny to be all sullen and depressed for that. What do you have, Harry?"
He shook his head and replied, "Nothing. I haven't a clue."
Hermione smiled slyly and said, "Well maybe you should ask her."
"Oh, and get my head bit off again?! I don't think so!"
"Well, how else are we going to know?"
"You ask her, if you're so smart! And, you're a girl, after all. Maybe she'll actually talk to you," Ron protested, defending Harry.
Hermione rolled her eyes and replied, "No, Ron, she wants to talk to Harry."
Harry furrowed his brow, confused, and said, "How in the name of Merlin do you know that?"
"Well, she told you, didn't she? She told you to figure it out, hence, she wants you to talk to her."
Ron grumbled, "Girls really should come with an instruction manual."
Hermione jabbed her finger at him and answered, "Well maybe if you paid more attention to what we say once in a while then you'd be able to determine some inkling as to what we mean when we say it!"
"Wha – Hermione! It was a perfectly legitimate statement!" Ron sputtered and looked to Harry for support.
Harry sighed and gave in, "Alright, I'll talk to her later, when the opportunity presents itself."
His chance came after dinner. Ginny quietly excused herself and walked in the direction of the orchard. He glanced at Ron and Hermione before excusing himself and following her to the base of a large tree. Looking up, Harry noticed a rope ladder and climbed as softly as possible until a tree house seemed to appear in midair. He stuck his head inside and saw Ginny looking out a window across the treetops.
"Ginny," he called softly. "Can I come up?"
Ginny started, but quickly regained her composure and replied, "Oh, Harry, yes, come on up. That's fine." Her voice sounded a little strange, but Harry did not notice that she was crying softly until he had clambered into the house and gone over to sit by her.
"Ginny? Are you alright?"
She laughed bitterly and uttered, "Well, that seems to be the question of the day. Will none of you realize that I'm most certainly not okay?"
"Well, it would help if we knew why!" Harry was frustrated and his patience was starting to wane. What was she getting at?
"Why would I want to celebrate the memory of the worst day of my life?" Ginny whispered softly and looked up into his green eyes. Baffled, he inched a bit closer.
"Worst day of your life?"
"What have we been talking about all summer?"
He thought for a moment, "Voldemort."
She nodded and continued, "And what could possibly have been the worst experience of my life?"
Comprehension dawned on Harry. "The diary. Two days from now is the anniversary of when Malfoy gave you the diary."
"I can't stop thinking about it. I'm worried that he's going to come back for me. I'm worried that everyone might be in danger because of me. So much could happen."
Harry reached over and took her hand before replying, "But you can't stop living because you're scared. That's exactly what he wants. You need to be strong, Gin, and show him that he can't have you. Seize the day, don't waste it worrying about what might happen when it hasn't even happened. And you aren't all alone in this – you have me."
Ginny appeared startled yet again, "What do you mean, 'I have you'?"
Harry smiled and answered, "You have me, I'm your friend, too. I'm here, whenever you need me."
She smiled slightly. "Then why are you holding my hand?"
Harry looked down, jumped, and stammered, "Um, well, I…I guess I might kind of fancy you, a little, possibly. And I, uh, well, I thought it might be nice to hold your hand and I thought you might like it, like maybe it would make you feel better or something and…um…am I making any sense?"
Ginny beamed, "Perfect sense." She brushed the tears from her cheeks with her free hand and enveloped Harry in an unexpected hug.
He smiled and whispered in her ear, "Anytime."
She pulled back and brushed her cheeks again, leaving her eyes closed for a second, before opening them and asking, "Do you want to go back to the house now?"
"Are you sure you're going to be alright?" Harry questioned. "Because we don't have to go back. We can talk some more if you want to. Anything you want to talk about."
Ginny thought about this for a moment, shook her head, and responded, "I think I've done enough talking for now. But, could I take you up on your offer later?"
Glad that she still trusted him implicitly, Harry nodded adamantly and assured her, "Of course! Like I said, anytime."
She smiled, stood, and made her way over to the rope ladder, climbing down it deftly as if she had been doing it for years (which, Harry supposed, she probably had). As soon as she was out of sight, though, his stomach turned as he began to wonder about the implications of his actions – how did she see him, now?
Even after he and Ginny returned to the house and spent the evening talking and laughing with Ron and Hermione, Harry still could not get the nagging thoughts of how his relationship with Ginny might have changed because of what he had said and done in the tree house. He lay awake, long after Ron had settled into a pattern of easy breathing with an occasional ruffling of covers as he shifted position, considering all the possible feelings and emotions that could possibly be coursing through Ginny at that very moment. What if she was lying awake thinking about him, too? What did she really think about what he had done that afternoon? She hadn't exactly been forthcoming about her feelings beyond what she felt about Voldemort, in fact, he noticed that she hadn't said anything to him after pointing out the obvious handholding. She had just given him a hug.
What was a hug supposed to mean? Did it mean that she felt the same and was relieved that he was finally taking some notice of her, or did it mean that she thought he was sweet but did not fancy him and was merely trying to reiterate the fact that she thought of him as a friend? Or, maybe she thought they were friends before, and was surprised by his actions, and gave him a hug on impulse? If that was the case, did she feel differently now?
Harry groaned, What is wrong with me? Why am I being so analytical?
He tried to push all thoughts of Ginny from his mind and rolled over, facing the wall to prove his point.
Then why are you holding my hand? Her voice seemed to echo in his brain.
Angrily, Harry turned back towards the door, shut his eyes tighter, and tried counting sheep.
Am I making any sense?
She had said something! But, how could his bumbling efforts at explaining himself make perfect sense to her? They didn't make any sense to him! He hadn't been planning to tell her anything about how he felt about her, and the words had just tumbled out of his mouth, uninvited and certainly unwelcome, at least in his eyes. She wasn't supposed to have that affect on him – he was supposed to get information from her, not the other way around. What if she thought of him as just an added burden to her long list of things about which to be worried? What if she was lying awake thinking about ways to let him down gently before even giving him a chance to explain what he really meant, because he had certainly had not done so in a preferable manner.
Knowing that he was not possibly going to fall asleep any time soon, Harry decided to go downstairs and fix himself a glass of water, thinking that the physical action might convince his mind that he was tired and needed to rest. It had been an emotionally demanding day, he thought to himself, why should his mind be prevailing over his will?
He walked down the stairs carefully, trying not to make any noise for fear that the entire household might awaken. After pouring the cool water from a pitcher into a glass, he walked into the lounge and sat in a chair by a window, wishing he could take a walk outside, but knowing that the wards set around the house would prevent him from doing anything unbeknownst to the Weasleys.
He looked around the room and though he had known they were there before, he noticed just how many photographs there were of the Weasley children – pictures of births, birthday parties, leaving for Hogwarts for the first time, playing in the garden, and just enjoying life. He also noticed the stark differences in the mood of the pictures from before and after Voldemort's first reign of terror – Fred, George, Ron, and Ginny, the children who could not really remember what it was like to live during that time, appeared to be much happier and more playful. Granted, Bill and Charlie looked like they had been playful as well, but there always seemed to be a lingering fear about those pictures, and he noticed that they had been mainly taken inside the Burrow, rather than in the garden like most of the pictures of the youngest four. And Percy, well, Percy was perpetually worried – he never seemed to be enjoying himself once he reached an age where he could understand what was going on around him. He seemed constantly occupied with the behavior of his younger siblings, and always looking up to Bill and Charlie.
What a difference a couple years can make, he thought to himself sadly, and now those children who had escaped the pain of the first war were faced with a second, one that looked to be even more terrible than its predecessor. And they were right in the middle of it because of their actions in June, and because they were the friends of the Boy Who Lived, the boy who was cursed with that damned prophecy.
No, I'm notgoing to feel sorry for myself, he thought adamantly. That was exactly what could jade him into giving up, and that was the last thing he needed to do. He wasn't going to let Voldemort get in the way of his life, and he wasn't going to let his stupidity get in the way of his relationship with Ginny either, even if it meant that he had to give up what he wanted.
He tipped his glass upward to finish off the water and returned to the kitchen, placing the glass gingerly in the sink before creeping slowly back upstairs and sinking under the covers.
But how can I possibly discuss this with Ginny?
The next day seemed to go in a blur for Harry. He tried to find Ginny alone and idle for a second, but she always seemed to be doing something for her mother or talking with Hermione, and Ron always seemed to want to take advantage of the daylight hours to be outside and practise Quidditch or go for a swim in the lake. Harry was constantly busy, and so were his thoughts. Even with his midnight resolve not to let confusion over his present relationship with Ginny rule his mind, he still could not shake ideas of how he might broach the subject with her one on one.
He had never really had a talk with any girl about defining their relationship, at least not one that went well. He had sort of had one with Cho, but she had caught him totally off guard and he had been completely unprepared for the encounter. How did one go about bringing up how one felt about another? Because it was not that he loved Ginny, he only fancied her, and he had already sort of told her that, did he really need to tell her again?
But maybe she hadn't taken him seriously the first time. She only gave him a hug. Granted, she had said that what he was saying made perfect sense, but that could mean anything. And did she even want to discuss their relationship? What if she didn't fancy him back? Wouldn't she have said so in the tree house?
Girls really should come with an instruction manual, he thought to himself glumly, before another thought crossed his mind.
Well, maybe if you paid more attention to what we say once in a while then you'd be able to determine some inkling as to what we mean when we say it!
Hermione! Hermione was a girl, well, of course she was a girl. He wasn't Ron – he knew that, though he did think of Hermione as more of a sister than anything else. Did brothers and sisters talk to one another about this sort of thing? He had no idea. He had heard Dean and Seamus talking to one another about girls, and he knew that Hermione and Ginny talked to one another about guys, but he could not talk to Ron about the fact that he fancied his little sister. He knew that Ginny did not talk to Ron when she fancied a boy, but did she talk to Charlie or Bill? What about Colin? He knew that Ginny felt about Colin the same way he did about Hermione, even though she didn't really need any more brothers. Did she talk to him about blokes that she fancied?
Well, it's worth a try.
He found Hermione reading a book on a blanket outside. Ron and Ginny were close by practising for the upcoming Quidditch season – Ron had been named the captain for the following year and he was planning on making Ginny a Chaser and reinstating Harry as Seeker, just as Ginny had predicted at the end of the previous term.
Harry sat down on the blanket next to Hermione and remarked nonchalantly, "It's a nice day, isn't it?"
"Yes, it certainly is," she agreed as she set her book down. Harry looked at the title – Sense and Sensibility.
"What's that you're reading?" he asked her.
"Oh, it's a book by Jane Austen. She's a British Muggle author from the nineteenth century." She blushed. "I'm not sure if it's a book you would like, Harry. It has a lot to do with love and characters who fancy one another but are too afraid to tell the other person or are unable to tell the other person because of societal norms and class differences, or because their family forbids them to do so, or because of money. It has a lot to do with being sensible in love, but still taking chances, just as the title suggests I suppose. I've read it a couple times, she's a brilliant author."
Harry was stunned at the appropriateness of her statement, but managed to comment, "Really? Well, that's certainly interesting, I guess. Actually, I was wondering if I could talk to you about something that's quite similar to that, in some respects."
"What, have you suddenly fallen in love with an unattainable girl?" she teased.
He shook his head and corrected, "No, I gather she's probably attainable, that is if she fancies me back and if I don't get killed by her brothers." Oh Merlin. He realized that he had revealed too much, again.
But Hermione did not seem too surprised. "So you do fancy Ginny then."
"Um, well, yes, maybe a little. I mean, I'm not in love with her or anything, but I might fancy her, possibly. But, don't tell her!" He groaned and his whole body seemed to slump downwards. "Why can't I ever express myself in the right way about this?"
She laughed as he struggled through the words, "Oh, Harry, I thought you might. I've thought for a couple weeks now, actually. You're really not very good at hiding what you feel from those who know you well."
He stared her straight in the eyes and questioned, "Ginny knows me well, do you think she knows? Besides the fact that I already told her."
"You told her?! When?"
He blushed and admitted, "In the tree house. I wasn't planning on it, but the words just sort of tumbled out, you know? It was after we talked about what was bothering her, and I wasn't any more eloquent than I was with you a moment ago. I completely botched it up. She probably thinks me daft, which would not be far from the truth."
"Well, what did she say back to you?" Hermione questioned him further.
"I asked her if I was making any sense, and she said that I was making perfect sense, and then she hugged me. And that was it. I asked her if she wanted to talk about anything else and she said not right then, but maybe later. Then we came back to you lot and I haven't had a chance to talk to her about it since." Harry finished with a sigh and looked at her in exasperation.
Hermione immediately relaxed and assured him, "Oh, but you have nothing to worry about, then! She told you that you were making perfect sense, so she feels the same way! Trust me, Harry. She fancies you back. You should talk to her about it. You won't regret it, really. Talk to her."
Harry regarded her with doubt and protested, "Are you sure? I really don't want to make things worse between us."
Hermione nodded and persuaded him, "I'm positive. Find some time to talk to her tonight or tomorrow, but don't wait until we go back to school. You might think you'll have time, but we'll probably be completely swamped with work. It is our sixth year, you know, and it's Ginny's fifth year. She'll be studying for O.W.L.'s. Carpe diem, Harry."
She sighed, "Have you never heard of that before? It's Latin and it means 'seize the day.'"
He stared at her for a second before mumbling, "This is just too odd."
"What do you mean?"
He laughed and said, "Never mind. Alright, I'll find some time to do it. Think you can maybe distract Ron?"
Hermione seemed to be far away for a fleeting second but came back to reality so quickly he was sure that he had been mistaken, "Not a problem. Just find a time to pull her aside."
Harry nodded and was about to return to the house when she turned to him again and stated, "I'm proud of you."
He hesitated, "What?"
"I'm proud of you for taking control of the situation. You've really changed this summer. I'm glad."
Again, Harry thought he could see a fleeting sense of disappointment in her voice, but he could not place it so he just smiled and replied, "Thanks."
That evening Hermione insisted that the four of them pack for Hogwarts so that they would be able to help Mrs. Weasley with preparations for the party the following day and be able to enjoy the last evening of the summer together. She promised Harry that she would distract Ron for him once she had finished so that he would be able to go to Ginny's room and talk to her. As the clock ticked onwards and he grew closer and closer to finishing his task, Harry's stomach began to churn more and more and he felt almost as if he was going to be sick.
This is not good.
Luckily for him, Ron was not having much luck at getting his things in order. He was unable to find spell books, his clothes weren't cooperating when he tried to pack them, and Pig kept zipping about the room in excited anticipation. Ron finally threw him out when he reached his limit, just as Hermione let herself into the room and observed the commotion.
"Ron, do you need a little help?" She questioned carefully.
Red faced, Ron grunted, "I'm bloody fine. I just can't find some of my things."
"Rubbish," she retorted. "And don't swear. I'll help. What do you need me to do?" Hermione set to folding his clothes just as Harry was adding the last few items to his trunk. Sighing in satisfaction, he sat down on his bed and leaned against the wall.
"Oy! You're done, mate? Well, give me a hand!" Ron pleaded his friend, but Hermione broke in.
"It's your own fault that you don't have it done, and besides I'm helping you. Harry, why don't you go see if Ginny needs a hand with anything heavy in her room?" She gave Harry a pointed look and Harry felt his stomach clench with anticipation.
"Um, yeah, good idea Hermione. Good luck with that trunk, mate." Harry hurried out of the room before he changed his mind and began walking in the direction of Ginny's room. His heart beat faster and faster with every step he took, pounding in his ears, and making him feel like he could wake all of Britain with its tenacity. Finally, he reached his destination and stood staring at her door for a few moments before hesitantly raising his hand and knocking twice shortly.
He saw the knob begin to turn and his stomach clenched again.
Relax, it's just Ginny. Oh, but she wasn't just Ginny.
He looked up just as she opened the door to reveal the room of a person who certainly had not been packing. Clothes were everywhere, books were strewn about the floor, and it looked as if she had really been reading a book. Her soft red hair which she had worn down that day had been pulled back into a low ponytail at the nape of her neck and she was dressed in comfortable trousers and a t-shirt – in short, she looked as if she were ready for bed.
She smiled at him and exclaimed, "Harry! I expected you to be packing."
"Well, I was, and I finished. Unlike some people, as it would appear," he teased her gently.
She shrugged and replied, "I procrastinate, what can I say?"
"Well, do you want some help?"
"Sure! Maybe you'll actually convince me to get it done."
She invited him into the room and set him to work gathering up her spell books and other school supplies and placing them in a corner to be packed when she was ready while she folded her clothes and packed them in her trunk. After a few moments of comfortable silence, when Harry felt that his stomach had settled, he spoke up.
"Ginny? I was actually wondering if we might possibly talk about something."
She turned and tucked a lock of stray hair behind her ear before asking, "What about?"
He took a steadying breath, "What happened in the tree house."
She looked him square in the eye and he felt the weight of her stare like a ton of bricks, "You mean when you were holding my hand?"
He nodded slowly, never taking his emerald eyes away from her own chocolate brown ones. She settled on her bed, pulling her knees under her in a comfortable position, and he pulled the chair from her desk over to sit by her, waiting for her to say something else.
She looked him in the eye again and said, "What did you want to know?"
Taking a deep breath to steady his quickening breathing, he admitted, "Well, I really botched things up in there, and you probably think me mad, but I wanted to reiterate that I really do fancy you and think that you are a wonderful person."
Harry couldn't look at her any longer – it was agony not knowing how she thought. He stood and began pacing the room, running his fingers through his already messy hair. "Blimey, Gin, I can't get you out of my mind. I can't believe it took me so long to realize how amazing you are, but I can't ignore it now."
He turned back toward her and looked her full in the face again, so that she would know the intensity of his feelings. "I don't expect you to fall completely head over heels in love with me in return, but I just want to know if there is any remote possibility that you might fancy me in the future, or if you do now. That's it. No pretenses, no obligations. I just want to know how you feel."
He never tore his eyes from her gaze and she just stared back at him, wide-eyed, in shock.
"Now would be a good time for you to say something," he offered, heart pounding wildly in his ears.
She swallowed and answered, so softly that he wasn't sure if he had heard her correctly, "I feel the same way."
"What?" Did she just say what I thought she said?
She repeated, voice shaking, "I feel the same way. I never really gave up on you, even when I was going out with Michael. That was something that he was constantly jealous about, that was. But, the bottom line is that I do fancy you, Harry. I have for a long time now, and yes, there is definitely potential for the future."
Harry could hardly believe his ears – he was sure he was dreaming.
He managed to croak, "Are you serious?"
She laughed and assured him, "Yes, very much so."
"Wow. I mean, that's really, wow…" He collapsed onto the bed in relief and took her hands in his own.
Ginny giggled some more and squeezed his hands gently. Beaming, he pulled her into a hug and then settled backward, suddenly feeling awkward again.
"Well, um, I think it's probably too soon for rash action, yeah?"
She furrowed her brow and questioned, "What?"
"Well, I mean, well it's not as if I've ever done this before, but I think it's generally better for all parties involved to take things slowly, right? I mean, I've known you for the better part of five years, but that doesn't mean I know everything about you. Isn't it generally better to get to know the person and then decide whether or not to become a couple?"
Ginny considered his statement for a moment before agreeing, "Well, yes, I guess some people do it that way. Is that what you'd like to do, Harry?"
He thought and then replied, "Maybe for a little while, yeah? And then we can talk about it again? I'm not sure I feel quite ready to face the wrath of six brothers."
"Even if one of them is your best friend?" she teased.
"Especially if one of them is my best friend!" They laughed together and Harry was struck by how right it felt and how comfortable she made him feel, not like Cho at all. Pleased, he gave her hand a little squeeze and pointed to her scattered belongings around them.
"Well, should we finish getting you ready for the term?"
She nodded and replied, "Sure. Thanks for telling me how you feel, Harry."
He smiled at her, a true, wide, unabashed grin, "Anytime."