Harry looked out over the lake toward the castle. It was a lovely summer afternoon, although there did appear to be the growing threat of a thunderstorm in the direction of Hogsmeade. But otherwise, the sun was shining, the birds were singing, exams were over, and even the Giant Squid seemed to be in a good mood, performing flips and other stunts for the students who were taking advantage of their new-found freedom. Harry, however, was not in a good mood. He would be returning to the Dursleys’ in a few days, and he had never dreaded it as much as he did now. He knew that he would be safe there, protected from the danger of the Death Eaters, or even Voldemort himself, but he was less concerned about himself than he was worried for the safety of his friends.
Hermione would be acquiring a large black dog shortly after she arrived home. Her parents had been understandably protective of their daughter last summer after she had told them of the events that took place during the Tri-Wizard Tournament, but they didn’t quite understand the reasons behind Hermione’s new “pet.” Of course, Sirius was still an escaped convict, so he had only transformed out of his Animagus form and taken a disguise long enough to buy some new robes and a wand. Harry felt certain that Hermione’s parents would definitely have a problem with harboring a dangerous fugitive. But in the event of an attack on the Granger home, Sirius could transform and at least make an effort to protect Hermione and her Muggle parents.
Harry was less concerned about the Weasleys, as there had been wards surrounding the house since Harry’s arrival there last summer, and there would be at least one fully-trained wizard there at any given time. Fred and George had been exhausted after the N.E.W.T.s but felt confident that they had done well. However, the thought of anything happening to Ron made Harry feel sick.
Harry sat up a little straighter when he saw someone come out of the castle and begin to walk along the path around the lake. He could tell by the hair that it was Ginny. That’s another problem, Harry thought.
I haven’t been quite the same,
So sure the story of my life would never change.
But in a bright-eyed way, she rinsed out the soap in my eyes,
And wrote a song that I'm about to sing.
Harry had started to take notice of Ginny right around the time of the Yule Ball. Together they had watched Ron blush furiously at any mention of the upcoming dance, and Harry had thought more than once that Ron’s head was going to explode when Ginny casually asked her brother who he was going to ask to the ball. Hermione’s reactions were equally amusing until the day she turned on him and demanded to know who he, Harry, was going to ask.
He hadn’t really thought about it until then. He knew Cho was no longer an option, and his feelings for her had subsided quickly after term began. Since returning to Hogwarts, he had felt strangely alone, as if he were nothing more than a spectator watching the proceedings of a normal school year, even though this year was far from normal. Everyone was more subdued. People laughed less and spent more time talking in hushed tones, usually about Harry. So he began to spend most of his time alone, which wasn’t difficult. Even though Ron and Hermione were in complete denial about their feelings for each other, Harry couldn’t bear to be around them as long as they were not exactly flirting, but definitely not arguing. The two of them spent long hours in the library, so Harry spent time elsewhere, generally at a corner table in the common room. It was then that Harry had the chance to watch Ginny, sneaking glances toward wherever she was sitting. He had always been so preoccupied with Ron and Hermione that he had never really noticed her. Now that he was no longer distracted by his friends, she was all he could think about.
She's a magnetic girl
That I hardly even know.
So this is not another love song.
Just a list of things that I should know,
And everyone should know.
He had been so unsettled by this sudden turn of events that he did the only thing he could think to do. He knew his godfather was busy with more important things, but he also knew that Ron was the last person he wanted to ask about this particular issue. He had once idly imagined his friend’s reaction to this revelation, and he had quickly abandoned that train of thought. Fred and George were more experienced with girls, but he expected their reaction to be similar to Ron’s, and he certainly wasn’t about to ask any of his dorm-mates, for fear of being teased mercilessly, or worse, Ron and the twins finding out. So Harry wrote a short letter to Sirius:
How are you? I won’t ask where you are, since I know you won’t tell me anyway. I do have a question for you, though, and I wouldn’t bother you except for the fact that I can’t ask anyone around here without being asked too many questions. What is the best way to talk to a girl? You know, a girl who you might like as more than a friend? And how do you find out if she likes you the same way? And after that, how do you keep her brothers from turning your life into a waking nightmare? Although I don’t think real life could get much worse than my nightmares. I look forward to hearing from you and I hope you are safe.
It was the most awkward letter Harry had ever written. He had second thoughts about sending it, but his desire to sort out these feelings he was having was greater than any embarrassment he felt, and he was fairly confident that Sirius wouldn’t laugh at him. The week that passed before he got a reply was the longest week of Harry’s life. Sirius’ response was short and to the point:
Interesting question. First, I can tell you to be yourself. Girls like that sort of thing. As for figuring out if she fancies you as well, there is a set of rules we Marauders lived by when we were at school. Your father used this strategy on your mum, so you can be fairly certain that:
1. You got to take it kind of slowly
2. You got to hurry up and make your move
3. You got to tell her how you’re feeling
4. You got to be the perfect gentleman.
A lot of this depends on timing, of course, but you really just have to play it by ear. As for the brothers, I can’t really help you there. As long as you let them know your intentions are honorable, there isn’t much else you can do. Your owl can find me if you need me. Let me know how things work out.
Harry was relieved that Sirius hadn’t asked who the girl was, although he thought it must be fairly obvious. There weren’t many girls at Hogwarts who had multiple brothers also at Hogwarts.
He was rather disappointed to discover that Colin Creevey had asked Ginny to the Yule Ball when he brought it up casually over dinner one evening in December. By that time, most of the girls Harry knew had dates, so he allowed Hermione to fix him up with Mandy Brocklehurst from Ravenclaw. He was relieved when Mandy found him in the library after her Arithmancy class and told him that she would be glad to accompany him to the ball. He was just thankful that he didn’t have to go alone. Ron had finally asked Hermione to the ball, and Harry had no desire to be around during their first date. He was, however, more than a little jealous of Colin when Ginny descended the girl’s staircase looking luminous in robes of pale gold that set off her sunset-colored hair perfectly. Toward the end of the evening, he had even gathered up the courage to ask her to dance. He was unexpectedly at ease as he joked with her about Ron and Hermione escaping to the rose garden halfway through the party, and he feigned surprise when Ginny confided that Fred and George had spiked the punch. It occurred to him as the song was ending that he ought to tell her that she looked lovely, but he couldn’t get himself to say the words.
Since the ball, Harry had bided his time, spending hours at the table in the common room with Ron and Hermione, who no longer tiptoed around as if the other were a time bomb about to go off. Ginny joined them more frequently, and Harry enjoyed her company. She was clever, and had a sense of humor similar to Ron’s. When the other two ran off, presumably to snog in a closet somewhere, he and Ginny shared significant looks and then collapsed into fits of laughter as soon as the portrait hole closed. He hoped that he was following Sirius’ first rule, because he didn’t feel at all ready to follow any of the other rules.
When you shake the walls, you got to make 'em bend.
You got to show her that
She's the balance beam
And I keep falling all around her fairy tale.
So Harry was stretched out on a grassy knoll overlooking the lake, absentmindedly watching Ginny make her way toward him. When she came up over the hill, he jumped, startled at her sudden proximity when he had just been thinking about her.
“Oh! Harry… I didn’t realize you were out here.” She sounded genuinely surprised to find him there.
“Hey, Ginny,” Harry replied. There was a slight awkward pause. A rumble of thunder caused Harry to frown in the direction of Hogsmeade. The storm was getting closer. “Are you happy to have your exams over with?”
“Of course, don’t you remember how awful fourth year exams—oh. You didn’t have to take exams last year.” Ginny looked like she wanted to melt into the ground. She was blushing more furiously than she had in recent memory. “But they were awful. How do you think your O.W.L.s went?”
“Pretty well, I suppose. I’m not ready to go home yet, though. Another summer with only Dudley to talk to? I might go mad.” Harry plucked a small flower out of the ground and began nervously tearing at its petals.
Ginny looked up at the clouds, troubled. “Surely you won’t have to stay there the whole summer, will you? You came to our house last summer. I shouldn’t think things will be any different now.”
The tone of her voice implied that she didn’t think things were any different. In that moment, Harry knew he had to tell her how he felt, before she went home to the Burrow thinking differently. She looked so forlorn standing there, fiddling with the hem of her too-long robes, and he knew that now was the time for him to hurry up and make a move. The wind picked up as Harry stood and walked over to Ginny.
We took a walk in the rain.
I suggested, she confess:
"There's a heart nearby to cast the shame."
“Of course things are different now, Gin,” he said gently. She looked up at him strangely. Suddenly, he couldn’t take his eyes away from her brown ones. “Things are very different now. Ron and Hermione… well, they’re… together. And Fred and George will be busy with preparations for the shop.” He paused. “So, I guess when I do come to the Burrow, I’ll be spending most of my time with you.” The look on Ginny’s face made his heart do somersaults in his chest and gave him the courage to continue. He moved a bit closer so that he stood directly in front of her. “I’ve been meaning to tell you for some time now, Ginny, that… damn.” He turned and looked out at the lake.
Ginny cracked a smile. “Harry Potter, watch your language. What’s gotten into you? You never swear.”
Harry grinned weakly. “Too much time around Ron, I guess. But that isn’t what I wanted to say,” he said quickly. A raindrop suddenly appeared on his glasses and he knew he didn’t have much time. “I really wanted to ask you to the Yule Ball,” he blurted. “But Colin beat me to it. And then you looked so beautiful that night, it was all I could do to ask you to dance, and I wanted to tell you again, but I couldn’t get the words to come out.” Ginny looked completely dumbfounded by his sudden revelation, so he forged ahead. “And every day since then, I’ve wanted to tell you. In the library, in the common room, at dinner… it’s been all I could think about whenever you were around. It’s been driving me crazy all year, but I think I might have gone completely mad this year if you hadn’t been around. You were there when other people weren’t. And it happened so quietly, I didn’t even notice it at first. It almost seemed like it happened overnight. I went to bed one night and when I woke up, I… I couldn’t wait to see you. I just wanted to be around you, spend time with you, and get to know you. Because I hadn’t before.” The raindrops were falling faster now, and a loud rumble of thunder shook them. “So I guess what I want to know is… what do you think, Gin? Could we give it a try?” He stopped himself and looked over at her. Her face was unreadable. She made no movement toward him. Harry felt as if he had fallen off his broomstick. He sighed. “At any rate, I just thought I might tell you, because… well. I thought you should know. But we should get inside before this storm gets any worse.” He stepped around her to head back toward the castle, but she caught his arm as he passed by.
“Harry, you daft idiot,” she said quietly. “I didn’t really want to go to the ball with Colin. I spent every minute of every day in December wishing that you would ask me. And every minute of the ball wishing that you had.” It was pouring down rain now, but neither of them seemed to notice that they were getting soaked. “I’ve loved spending time with you this year. I had no idea that you felt the same way, Harry.” Her red hair hung around her face in damp strands, but he thought she was more beautiful than she had been at the ball. He caught his breath when she moved close to him, wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in the front of his jumper. His arms seemed to wrap themselves around her of their own accord. It seemed completely natural to be standing here in the rain, holding Ginny in his arms. They were both completely drenched, but neither of them seemed to notice. Ginny looked up at him with an expression that he couldn’t quite name, but the look on her face made his heart race. Before he realized what was happening, Ginny had wriggled out of his arms and was racing back to the castle, laughing. “Catch me if you can, Harry Potter!” she called out. He stood watching her for a moment, enjoying the sound of her voice saying his name, and admiring her hair as it streamed after her like a scarlet banner before chasing her back to the castle.
But I'm giddy like a school boy.
You got to handle with care:
This is not a toy.
He ran as hard as he could, but she was faster than he had expected and he didn’t catch up with her until the front steps, almost into the entry hall. He grabbed her hand and pulled her back to him, putting his arms around her again and holding her tight. She looked up at him and before he even knew what he was doing, he had bent his head and was kissing her on the front steps of Hogwarts.
Then gradually we touched.
And though our clothes were wet, we sat and smiled.
I never thought I'd smile so much
The first kiss always says the most.