A/N: This is an alternate story of Harry and Ginny's developing relationship in HBP. My story features a slightly more self-aware Harry, and a Ginny that has perhaps gotten over her crush a bit more than the character in the book actually did. Other events of the book are generally ignored so just assume that unless directly contradicted by my story these events take place in the background.

Harry Potter had been thinking about Ginny Weasley a lot recently. After the death of his Godfather during the battle in the Department of Mysteries last spring, Harry had spent the beginning of his summer holidays back with his hated relatives, sinking into a profound depression. Most summers, Harry would be eager to leave Number Four Privet Drive as soon as possible in order to see his wizarding world friends again. This year, miserable as he was there, Harry had been almost dreading the end of his days at with the Dursleys. At least they mostly left him alone these days. When he did go to stay with the Weasleys, the first few days at the Burrow where every bit as uncomfortable as he had feared. He knew deep down that Ron and Hermione just wanted to help him, but the way they went about it only caused him to retreat deeper into his depression or sparked short lived but violent rages that left him drained and feeling even more guilty.

But where his oldest friends seemed to be able to do nothing for him, the youngest Weasley seemed to know just how to handle him. Whether it was some quiet companionship, a distracting game of one-on-one Quidditch, or a swift kick in the arse when he was being too much of a self absorbed prat, she gradually dragged him out of his grief and despair and when he was finally ready to talk, she was there to listen without judging or trying to dig out and dissect his every thought and feeling. As the summer passed, he was able to spend more time with Ron and Hermione without every conversation degenerating into a fight, but he found himself more and more often seeking out Ginny's company. In some ways he started to take her presence in his life for granted and feel that she would always be there if he needed her.

The falsehood of that assumption was brought to his attention when she excused herself to go sit with some of her friends on the train back to Hogwarts at the end of the summer. Ron and Hermione where off on their prefect duties, leaving Harry sitting by himself for most of the ride. Even when the two prefects joined him later, he found himself missing Ginny's warm smile and quick wit.

Since returning to school, Harry still saw Ginny but with so much of her time taken up with classes, preparations for her OWLs and her school friends, he found himself really missing her. As the days passed, Harry began to realize that his feelings for Ginny were fundamentally different than those for Ron and Hermione. He wasn't sure but he realized that he wanted more from Ginny than he wanted from his other friends. Sometimes when she was around, it seemed like there was something in his chest that would wake up and rumble in pleasure. It wasn't just that she was pretty, although Harry could readily admit to himself at least that he found her very attractive. It was that she seemed to fill a hole in his life that he had not previously realized was even there. He wanted to let her know what his feelings for her were and to ask her if perhaps she still might feel anything for him besides friendship, so it was with this in mind that he tracked her down several weeks after the beginning of the term, after the first Hogsmeade weekend of the school year was announced.

"Hey, Ginny!" he called to her as he caught her on her way out of the Great Hall for her first class of the day, "Wait up a minute."

"Morning, Harry!" she replied, "What's up?"

"Well, you know the first Hogsmeade trip is this weekend?" he asked, "I think your brother and Hermione might be getting close to actually admitting the fancy each other, so I don't really want to tag along with them. I, uh… was wondering if you'd like to go together with me?"

"Sure, Harry!" she immediately replied with a smile. "That sounds like a wonderful idea. I'd love to."

"Brilliant!" he beamed, "I know we both have to get to class now, so we can talk about when to go and what we want to do later, yeah?"

"Okay, I'll see you later!" she said as she turned and ran to catch up with her classmates.

Harry had been rather nervous about asking Ginny to Hogsmeade, but he was quite excited at how well it had gone in the end. Turning in another direction he walked rapidly to his own first class, with a wide grin on his face. He was really hopeful that the talk with Ginny this weekend would go just as well.

Harry and Ginny were both quite busy the rest of the week with lessons and homework, so they never had time for more than a quick greeting or a hurried wave between classes or after dinner. When Friday finally rolled around, Harry decided he could not wait any longer to talk to Ginny so they could firm up their plans for the following day. With this thought in mind, he found a chair in the Gryffindor common room where he could wait for her to come drop off her books before going down to dinner. Maybe they could even sit together in the Great Hall while they ate and talk about what they could do in Hogsmeade.

As he sat there daydreaming about his coming day with Ginny, the young redhead came rushing through the portrait hole, book bag in her hand.

"Ginny! I was afraid I might have missed you again." Harry greeted her with a smile. "We still haven't had a chance to talk about what we are going to do tomorrow."

"Great! I was hoping I would run into you here, Harry" she replied. "I just need to make a slight change of plans and wanted to let you know"

"Uh, what do you mean change of plans? We're still going to Hogsmeade tomorrow, aren't we?" he asked nervously.

"Oh, sure!" she answered him, sitting down in a chair facing him. "The thing is, Dean Thomas just asked me if I would go on a date to Hogsmeade with him tomorrow! I told Ron last year on the train home that I had picked Dean to replace that ponce Corner, but to tell the truth I mostly said that to wind Ron up. I did kind of fancy Dean, though, so I've been hoping he would notice me this year and he has!" she continued happily.

Harry felt like he had taken a Bludger to the stomach.

"So, what, you're just dumping me at the last minute to go with Thomas!" he asked her harshly.

Ginny seemed surprised by Harry's angry response.

"No, Harry!" she tried to reassure him, "I told him I had already promised to go with you as friends, so he suggested that he could come along with us both. I just thought that later in the afternoon you wouldn't mind if Dean and I spent some time off alone."

Friends. Harry had built up all these fantasies in his mind about this weekend, and all the time Ginny thought they were just going as friends.

"Why the bloody hell would you just assume that it was okay for Thomas to come along without even the courtesy of talking to me, first? I though you and I had plans for tomorrow, not you, I and whatever prat decides to invite himself along, too!"

"What's wrong with you, Harry!" Ginny yelled back, starting to get angry herself. "I know you and Dean might not be best mates like you are with Ron, but you've been sharing a dorm room with him for years now. I thought you got along with him just fine? What difference does it make if you go with one friend or two?"

"Fine!" Harry barked, "Bring him along. Why should I even care!"

Jumping up from his chair, Harry stormed out the portrait hole, causing the Fat Lady to berate him for slamming her picture shut and leaving an angry and confused Ginny behind.

Harry skipped dinner that night and didn't return to the Gryffindor tower until well after curfew. Not having any desire to see either Ginny or Dean bloody Thomas, he left again in the morning before any of his housemates rose for the day. He spent most of his day on top of the Astronomy Tower, sourly watching students in pairs or small groups stroll down to the school gates and on to Hogsmeade. Later in the day he easily spotted Ginny's bright, coppery hair which seemed to glow in the afternoon light, as she walked hand-in-hand back to the castle with a tall, dark haired boy. With a lump in his throat, Harry just trudged back to his dorm room, climbed into his bed and closed the curtains around him, skipping dinner again that night.

A few days later Harry was sitting by himself in the Gryffindor common room just before curfew. Ron was out doing his prefect rounds, and Hermione was in the library looking up some additional information for a Transfiguration essay they had been assigned earlier that day. Having given up on getting any further homework done himself, Harry was sitting in his favorite chair again, staring into the common room fire and trying not to think about Ginny, who was out somewhere with that prat Dean.

Ron walked into the common room with a stormy expression on his face. He stomped across the room and flopped unceremoniously into the chair next to Harry's.

"Bloody hell!" Ron grumbled.

"What's the problem? You and Hermione have another row?" Harry asked, not really terribly interested at the moment in his friends constant arguing.

"No, it's not Hermione this time, its Ginny!" He replied, "I was out doing my rounds this evening and found her and Thomas together in a deserted corridor. When I asked them what the hell they were doing out there, Thomas got all defensive and Ginny told me to bugger off," he huffed, "They looked all flushed and Ginny's hair was a mess. I'm sure I probably just missed them snogging." Ron's face looked like he had just bitten into a lemon.

Harry felt a sharp pain in his chest and just grunted in acknowledgment.

"You agree then? She shouldn't be going around like that with Thomas. The bloke's no good for her," Ron asked.

"Course not," Harry replied, scowling into the fire, "Thomas is a prat."

"Right! I ought to tell Ginny to…"

"Ha!" Harry interrupted, warming to the subject, "Good luck trying to tell Ginny to do anything. Remember when you tried to tell her about that ponce Corner last year?"

At this point, they were interrupted by the subjects of their conversation as Ginny and Dean crawled in through the portrait hole. Dean looked uncomfortable but Ginny just glared at her brother and dragged her companion over to the steps up to the dormitories with her head held high. Looking to make sure Ron was still watching, she deliberately pulled Dean's head down and kissed him on the lips, before releasing him and flouncing up the stairs to the girl's rooms. Thomas took a nervous look over at Ron and then quickly made his own way up the stairs to the boy's dorms.

Ron's face was twisted in another sour expression, "Yeah, you've got a point there, mate," he conceded. "Still, I'm going to be keeping my eye on her and Thomas and I better not see him taking any… liberties with my little sister, or else! Say, you're almost like another brother to Ginny, so you keep an eye on them too, yeah?"

Harry's stomach twisted at the idea of only being 'like another brother' to Ginny, but he guessed that was probably how she saw him. She certainly didn't seem to see him the way he saw her.

"Sure, Ron," Harry sighed, "I'll keep an eye on Thomas, too."

"Good! By the way, don't mention our little talk to Hermione, yeah?" he said quietly as he looked towards the portrait hole, where the bushy-haired witch was herself now crawling through, pulling her oversized book bag behind her. "She'll probably just tell us to mind our own business, but Ginny's my little sister so that makes it our business."

For the next few weeks, Harry did his best to just avoid both Ginny and Dean Thomas. When he was forced to be in Ginny's presence, like at Quidditch practice, he just avoided talking to her more than he absolutely had to and excused himself afterwards as quickly as possible. Just seeing them holding hands or sitting together seemed to stir up a monster in his chest that wanted him to go over and bash Thomas for being anywhere near Ginny.

Unfortunately, when he finally ran across the two of them it was at the worst possible time. Harry was returning late from Quidditch practice after having sent the rest of the players back almost twenty minutes ago and decided to take one of the many hidden corridors of the castle to save time. When Harry pushed open the tapestry to take his usual shortcut up to Gryffindor Tower, however, he found himself looking at Dean and Ginny, who were locked in a close embrace and kissing fiercely as though glued together. Harry's first reaction was to hex Thomas into jelly and he was actually reaching for his wand when he realized how pointless that would be. Ginny didn't have any feelings for him anymore and she was going out with Dean now. Hexing him would not change that.

Dean was looking embarrassed. He gave Harry a shifty grin that Harry did not return, and started to stutter some sort of explanation while Ginny turned bright red and tried to fix her messy hair and robes. Harry just looked at Ginny for a moment, then slumped his shoulders as he turned and left the surprised and embarrassed couple standing there.

Later that evening, Harry was sitting in the almost deserted Common Room trying to get the picture of Ginny kissing Thomas out of his mind, when the couple stepped through the portrait hole and walked over to the stairs leading to the boys and girls dormitories. After wishing each other a quiet goodnight they both started to walk up their respective stairways. When he was about half way up, however, Dean noticed Harry sitting in front of the fire and after pausing nervously for a minute, turned and walked back down and over to the sitting figure.

"Um, hey, Harry…" Dean began.

"What do you want, Thomas?" Harry replied tiredly, pulling off his glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose.

"About what your saw earlier," he said, "well… it's not exactly what it looked like"

"It looked like you and Ginny Weasley were snogging each other's brains out," Harry replied curtly.

"Um… well, yeah I guess that is what it was." Dean said with a chuckle. "I, uh… I was wondering… are you going to tell Ron about what you saw?"

"Why would I do that?" asked Harry.

"Well, you know. Your best mate's little sister and all…"

Harry turned and looked at Dean. "Ginny's not a little kid anymore, Thomas, she can make her own decisions about her life without Ron's interference"

"Oh, that's great!" Dean replied, relieved. "You know how Ron can be. I know he's not too chuffed about me going out with his sister as it is. I was afraid he'd end up hexing me if he was to find out about tonight."

"I'm sure that Ginny can handle any hexing that needs to be done without Ron's help. I've seen how good she is with her wand." Harry stated with a grim look on his face.

Dean laughed a bit nervously before Harry continued. "Just keep this in mind, Thomas" he said with a sudden, cold look in his eyes, "If you ever hurt or disrespect her, after Ginny's done with you I'll be having a go, too. I've got lots of hexes and curses I never got around to teaching in the DA last year, you know. I'll bet it will take Madam Pomfrey at least a week to get you sorted out again when I'm done."

"N-n-no worries, mate" Dean stammered, his voice a bit higher than normal. "I'll make sure the situation never comes up" he finished before rushing up the boys stairway and into their room.

A few minutes later, Harry sighed and followed him up the steps to the sixth year boys dormitories. Neither Harry nor Dean noticed the redhead standing in the shadows half way up the girls staircase.

The next day, after searching for over an hour, Ginny tracked Harry down as he was working on an essay for his potions class at a table in a far corner of the library.

"There you are!" said Ginny as she tried to catch her breath. "I've been running all over the castle looking for you, Harry."

"What do you want, Ginny?" Harry asked warily "I'm kind of busy here. I've still got two more feet to do for Snape before tomorrow."

Ignoring his attempt to brush her off, she crossed her arms over her chest and stated, "I heard you and Dean talking last night in the common room,".

"Oh…" Harry replied, sheepishly.

"Yes, and while I would appreciate if you stopped threatening my boyfriend…" Ginny stopped for a moment as a strange expression passed over Harry's face when she said 'boyfriend'. It almost looked like... sadness or maybe regret?

"Um," she continued "Yes. Well, you can be kind of scary when you want to be. Dean seems to be afraid to touch me now and has been looking over his shoulder whenever we are together since last night."

Harry smirked but said nothing.

"Well, aside from that, I did want to thank you for the other things you said. About me being able to make my own decisions and fight my own fights. That's something I row about with my parents and brothers all the time so it's nice to hear that at least someone else agrees with me"

"Oh," Harry said, turning back to his parchment "No problem." and then mumbled, "It's just the truth."

Ginny pensively watched him scratch away at his essay for a few moments and then straightened up and spoke again.

"Harry, what's wrong?"

"I don't know what you mean," he replied, not looking up. "Nothing is wrong."

"Yes it is!" she insisted, "Harry, I thought you and I got to be so close over the summer, but since that Hogsmeade weekend you'll hardly even talk to me! You are obviously still mad and I'd like to know why. It can't be just because I invited another person to join us for the day."

Ginny took a deep breath and continued "I know you were upset about the Hogsmeade trip, and you were right I should have talked to you before I invited Dean along. I realized later that the whole reason you asked to go with me was because you didn't want to feel like a third wheel around my brother and Hermione, and I went and put you in the same situation. I was just afraid if I turned down Dean and then went with you he might get the wrong idea and I didn't want to scare him off. I am sorry, but at the time I honestly thought that since we were just going as friends you would not mind if I invited one more person along…"

Clenching his teeth, Harry finally looked up and interrupted her "Fine!" he said, slamming his quill down on the table, "You want to know what's wrong? That's what's wrong, Ginny! I never said I was asking you to go with me as a friend."

"Wh-what…?" Ginny asked, her eyes wide with surprise.

"I didn't just ask you to go with me just because I didn't want to go with Ron and Hermione. I was asking you on a date because I like you, Ginny," he repeated, then his anger seemed to die and he seemed to slump in defeat. "Although... I suppose I can't blame you for assuming that, after the way I ignored you for so long. Not a day has gone by since then, however, that I don't kick myself for not making it clearer that I fancied you and I was asking you on a date in the first place."

Ginny's stood staring at Harry, her mouth hanging open, seemingly unable to respond to this revelation.

"You were right, we did get really close over the summer. Actually, I think I was starting to notice what an amazing person you were back last year when I got to spend so much time with you during the DA meetings. I was so tied up with what was going on last year, however, and then what happened at the… at the Ministry, plus you were going out with Corner most of the year, that I didn't have time to think about what that meant. Over the summer, though, I really did start thinking about you as your own person. Someone who was bright and strong and independent and passionate and funny and very pretty and not just Ron's 'little sister' anymore. I felt like you had become an important part of my life."

"Then we got back to school I was starting to realize I was thinking about you as more than just a friend and I thought that maybe, just maybe if we could spend some time alone in Hogsmeade together I could find out if you might be able to feel the same. Then I could ask you properly to give me a chance to be your boyfriend. Instead you wound up ignoring me and going out with that prat Thomas and I've just ended up regretting what an idiot I had been to let you get away because I didn't recognize how amazing you really are until it was too late."

Harry saw Madam Pince glaring angrily at the disturbance he was making, so before she came over and told them to leave, he sighed and stuffed his books and parchment back into his bag and stood up from the library table. "I'm sorry I just don't want to talk about this anymore. I'm heading back to the tower." and he walked out of the library, his shoulders hunched and his eyes downcast, leaving Ginny even more confused than before.