A/N: I have a lot more tolerance for authors who don't update as quickly as I would like them to, now. I had originally intended to post this final chapter only a few days after the previous one. After a week long power outage, an unexpected trip for work, and finally a brainstorm that resulted in a major revision of this chapter, however, I have finally done it. Thanks to everyone who read my first effort and I hope you've enjoyed it.
It snowed all day Friday before the Hogsmeade weekend, but the day of the trip the residents of the castle were greeted with a bright winter sun and a cloudless blue sky, although it remained quite cold. All around the castle and village trees were draped in heavy white coats of snow while sparkling drifts covered the ground. Harry and Ginny were both glad the path from the castle down to the village was charmed clear of snow or it might have proved a miserable, wet slog down to Hogsmeade and back again later that day.
Harry and Ginny both arrived at the Great Hall sooner than normal for breakfast as they had agreed to head down to the village early while the weather was still clear. They sat together quietly for the most part, both a bit nervous about what was going to happen today. They had both almost finished their meals when Ron and Hermione finally joined them there. Looking at each other, Harry inclined his head towards the door and Ginny nodded in agreement. Ron was still working his way through his first heaping plate full of eggs, bacon and toast when Harry and Ginny got up and excused themselves.
Ron stopped Harry as he was walking away "Hey, mate! Where are you rushing off to? Hang around a bit and you can walk down to Hogsmeade with Hermione and me."
Turning and seeing Ginny waiting impatiently for him at the doorway, Harry quickly replied "Well, I was actually going to head down to the village now, Ron. I was going to, uh… keep Ginny company."
"Oh, good idea!" Ron said around a mouthful of eggs, winking broadly at Harry, "Between the two of us we can keep an eye on her today and make sure that no other blokes try anything now that Dean's out of the way."
Harry looked over Ron's head at Hermione with a desperate expression on his face. She rolled her eyes at the two of them but jumped in and said, "Just take your time with breakfast, Ron, I'm sure Ginny will be fine with just Harry there. You and I can walk down together in a little while, that way the two of us will have a chance to spend some time alone together."
Ron seemed to like this idea as he mumbled his agreement and continued eating. Hermione looked back at Harry and made shooing motions towards the doorway so he mouthed 'thank you' and hurried over to where Ginny was suspiciously waiting for him.
"What was that about, then?" she asked him, her eyes narrowing.
"Oh, you know. Just Ron being Ron." he told her as he pushed to large door open and then walked though it together. "Let's go upstairs and get our cloaks and such so we can get out of here while he's still busy with breakfast."
"Alright," she agreed, "lets." and they both rushed up the stairs to the Gryffindor tower to get their winter gear for the trip to Hogsmeade.
Once the two of them finally reached the village, the pair's first stop was Honeyduke's Sweetshop. Harry bought a large box of chocolate frogs and Ginny picked up a pack of sugar quills. When Ginny wasn't looking, Harry also purchased another box of Honeyduke's best chocolate, like the one he gave Ginny for Christmas. He hoped if things went well that he might be able to surprise her with some of it later after she finished off the box he already gave her. Next they stopped in the already crowded Zonko's but after looking around for a while they both agreed that the tricks and gags they had received for Christmas from the twins from their shop were better than anything Zonko's had to offer.
As they walked shivering down the high road through town, Ginny asked to make a quick stop in Scrivenshaft's. "Do you mind, Harry?" she asked. "I've got to pick up some more parchment. There's been a lot more homework assignments this month than I figured on."
"Sure, Ginny," he assured her, "we're on no fixed schedule. Whatever you'd like to do is fine."
Ginny smiled and opened the door to the shop. Inside, they saw Ron standing in the back with a bored look on his face as Hermione compared the many different types of quills the shop offered. Sharing an amused look with Harry, Ginny quickly made her purchase and the two snuck out of the shop again without being noticed by the other pair.
Harry noticed Ginny start to shiver again as they walked back out of the shop so he asked her, "I know it's still early, but if you don't have any other shopping to do, would you like to head over to the Three Broomsticks and warm up for a while?"
Pulling her winter cloak more tightly around her, Ginny answered, "Yeah! Sounds like a good idea. Merlin! I didn't realize it was going to be so cold this morning."
As the two teens walked into the welcome warmth of the cheery pub, they both took off their hats and unwound the scarves from around their necks. It was still relatively uncrowded in the popular establishment as it was a while yet until the normal lunch hour. Harry asked Ginny to find them a small table while he got them something to drink. A few minutes later he returned from the bar and set two steaming mugs of butterbeer on the table and then pulled his wand from under his winter cloak. Waving it around the table, Harry mumbled an incantation that Ginny did not recognize.
"What was that that spell, Harry?" she asked, shrugging out of her winter cloak and hanging it over the back of her chair as the heat of the roaring fireplace in the pub finally began to warm her up. "I don't think I've seen that one before."
"Oh! It's a spell called Muffliato," he told her as he pulled his own cloak off. "It prevents anyone from overhearing our conversation. I figured since it was too cold out to wander off and find someplace for a private talk, this would be just as good. Plus there's the benefit of warm butterbeer!"
"Sounds like something that could be right useful to know," she smirked. "You'll have to teach that one to me."
"Sure, Ginny," he replied with a smile. "Just don't mention it to Hermione, yeah? She doesn't really seem to approve of it much. Course, that might be because Ron and I use it to talk in class without the teacher hearing us."
Ginny laughed and picked up her butterbeer. Harry looked at her as she took her first sip of the warming beverage. She was wearing two jumpers over a heavy button-down shirt due to the cold winter weather that day but it still could not disguise the fact that Ginny was not a little girl anymore. Her bright red hair hung loose today, falling below her shoulders and framing her face with a curtain of copper and gold that glistened like a halo in the light of the fire behind her. Her cheeks were still red from the recent cold outside and her large, brown eyes seemed to sparkle with her recent laughter. Harry didn't think he had ever seen anyone who looked lovelier at that moment than Ginny Weasley. The beast in his chest seemed to agree as it almost purred at the contentment of spending time alone with the redhead.
Taking a long sip of his own butterbeer to steady his nerves, Harry decided to get on with what he thought of as the main reason for their long delayed trip to Hogsmeade. "Well, Ginny," he began, "I suppose now that we've warmed up a bit and have some privacy, I'd like to, well, explain to you how I feel about you. If you'll listen, that is?" he added hopefully. "Now, I don't expect anything from you in return for this, Ginny, but I just… I really wanted to let you know how I feel."
Ginny looked at the serious expression on his face and knew she couldn't refuse him. "Alright, Harry, I… I can't make any promises but I'll listen."
"Thanks, Ginny." he said, "Well, the first thing I wanted to say was thank you for what you did for me last summer. I don't think I ever really told you how much that meant to me and what a difference you made. I don't know how I would have gotten over losing Sirius and… other things that were bothering me without your help."
Ginny was pleased at the sentiment but rather surprised that Harry had started his talk this way. "That's alright, Harry. That's what friends do for each other."
"That's just it," he continued, "Ron and Hermione are my friends too, but they weren't able to help me even half as much as you did. That's part of the reason I… well, I started to like you the way I do."
Harry took another sip of his warm butterbeer and continued, "I mean, over the last year or so, I really began to notice what a bright, funny, strong and pretty witch you are. Any bloke with two eyes and half the sense of a flobberworm would fancy you for those reasons, though." Harry was staring down into his mug of butterbeer so he didn't notice the slight blush that crept across his companion's cheeks.
Ginny found herself a bit embarrassed but also in a strange way excited at the way Harry was opening up and talking to her about how he felt. True, he had opened up about his feelings of grief and guilt regarding Sirius last summer, but this was different. This was about how he felt about her! During her only two serious relationships with other boys, even after months of dating, neither Michael nor Dean had ever really spoken to her about how or why they liked her and here was Harry opening up his heart to her without even knowing if she would be willing to return his feelings.
"The thing is," Harry finally continued, "you just seem to 'get' me better than anyone else ever has and you're, well… strong enough to stand up to me when I'm being a git."
"Well, that's definitely a handy trait when I'm around you!" Ginny interrupted, with a mischievous smile that softened her words.
"Yeah," Harry chuckled, while rubbing the back of his neck, "I reckon it is! Still, that's something that neither your brother nor Hermione can do for me and I really need that sometimes. I've had a lot of time to think about this and I think, maybe it's because you and I share something that neither of them do," he looked steadily into her eyes at this point.
"Do… do you mean…?"
"Yeah," Harry continued softly as he reached out and took her free hand in both of his, "neither of them has had their lives touched by Voldemort. Not directly the way we both have."
Ginny swallowed and looked away but Harry maintained his grip and squeezed her hand gently. "I… I kind of think that that can help me understand you too, Ginny, in ways that no other bloke will ever really be able to understand you."
With this declaration, Ginny felt like the walls she had not even known she put around her feelings for Harry start to crumble, just a bit. She knew that with both her other relationships she had always held something of herself back. Secretly, she had always been afraid that if they knew the darker parts of her past they would judge her and find her tainted or unworthy and reject her. Yet, Harry knew her past and what's more he understood, like not even her family or closest friends would ever be able to. Yet he still thought she was someone special, someone worth caring about, someone he wanted in his life.
Ginny started to realized that perhaps she had not really put her feelings for Harry behind her as much as she had believed. "You… you may be right about that, Harry. I've certainly never talked to either of my boyfriends about my first year here at Hogwarts."
"Like you told me last summer, Ginny," Harry quietly told her while looking into her eyes again, "Sometimes you need to talk about things that trouble you. I know that with my life I need someone that can listen when I need to talk, and there's no one that can do that for me better than you. But more than that, I'd like to be able to do the same for you when you need it. I know you're strong, Ginny, you've shown me that time and again. Another thing you've shown me, though, is that you don't always have to be strong alone. I think sometimes maybe two people together can be stronger than either of them are apart."
The atmosphere at the table seemed to be charged with magic as the two teens stared into each other's eyes. Gently, Ginny pulled her one hand out of Harry's grip and then took both his hands in hers, lacing their fingers together on top of the table. Hesitantly, Harry started to lean across the table. Without thinking Ginny leaned forward, too, and they both closed their eyes as their lips touched for the first time. It was a soft, gentle kiss, but both of them felt like strong emotions were flowing through that tentative connection.
"Wow!" Harry said with a sense of reverence as he opened his eyes again and sat back in his chair. His first kiss with Cho had never been anything like that!
"Uh, yeah… wow!" said Ginny as she too sat back and tried to collect herself. She was hardly inexperienced at kissing and had snogged both her boyfriends much more thoroughly than this in the past. Still, none of those kisses, enjoyable as they had been, had seemed to touch her heart the way this first kiss with Harry had.
"Maybe the middle of the Three Broomsticks isn't exactly the right place," Harry said, looking around to see if anyone was watching them, "but I would really like to do that again."
"Yeah," Ginny replied without thinking, "I think that maybe I would like that, too."
"So, what does this mean, Ginny?" Harry asked her, hopefully.
The young redhead shook herself, "I… I'm not sure, Harry" she replied, looking away for a moment. She felt him stiffened and start to pull his hands away, but she gripped them tighter and stopped him.
Looking back at his disappointed expression, she continued, "Harry, you know I had that horrible school girl crush on you when I was younger. Not only did that hurt when you didn't even notice me," she held up one hand to stop the retort she saw the retort forming on his lips, "but it made me… less that I should have been. Even back then, I had always thought of myself as a strong and independent young girl. I could stand up to Ron's temper, I could give as good as I got with the twins and their pranks, I wasn't even afraid to teach myself to fly a broom when the whole family told me I was 'too young' for it," she made a sour face at this statement. "When I was around you, though, it was like I was another person. I had problems even staying in the same room, let alone talking."
As her hand dropped, Harry took that as permission to respond so he said, "Ginny, first I want to say that I did notice you, but… well, I was only a year older myself and I just didn't know how to deal to you. I never had anyone besides your brother and Hermione that ever seemed to really like me for just me, so I just wasn't sure what to do when you acted that way. I'm sorry I responded by just not doing anything but I was a clueless boy and I just didn't know any better," he sighed.
"As far as being less of a person around me… I guess I can understand what you mean about how you were back in those days, but surely you realize how much you've grown since then? I think it has to be obvious to everyone else. Well, except maybe your brother Ron," he added the last under his breath. "You certainly have no problems speaking your mind to me now!" he finished, with a slightly cheeky grin.
This brought a tiny smile to lips as she took a swipe at him with her free hand. "Yeah," she said, "but what's to say that I won't go back to acting like that silly little girl, if I was to start liking you that way again?"
"Honestly, Ginny," he answered, looking her in the eyes, "I just can't see the strong, feisty, confident young woman sitting here in front of me ever turning back into a silly, stammering school girl."
Ginny sat silently in thought for a moment, at least a tiny bit pleased by Harry's flattering description of her. All the more so as she knew how clueless Harry was about flirting and empty complements. If he said something like that, he really believed it.
She finally had to admit that no matter how much she might deny it, even when she had been going out with first Michael and then later with Dean, there had been that small, hidden part of her heart that still longed for Harry. Was he right, though? Was she strong enough now, mature enough now, to have a real relationship with her childhood crush? Could she let him inside her defenses and yet still remain herself? Could she still be the sort of strong, independent witch she wanted to be and at the same time be Harry Potter's girlfriend? She rolled this question over in her mind.
They both sat for a while in silence, holding hands and sharing the warmth of the nearby fireplace until Harry noticed Madam Rosmerta making her way over to where they sat. He quickly pulled his wand out under the table and cancelled his privacy spell before she reached them.
"Would you two dears like something to eat now? I've got a nice batch of stew back in the kitchen or maybe another couple mugs of butterbeer?" she asked them.
As it was finally lunch time, and feeling that now was not the time to press the redhead for an answer, Harry looked over at Ginny and when she nodded her assent, he replied, "Yeah, that sounds great. How about two big bowls of stew and a couple more mugs of butterbeer?"
"Coming right up!" she agreed before turning and walking back to the kitchen behind the bar. She returned a moment latter levitating a platter with two bowls of stew, two mugs of butterbeer, and a loaf of crusty bread.
When they smelled the savory aroma of the stew, the couple realized how hungry they both were and eagerly started eating their lunch. After sopping up the last of the delicious stew with their bread, the two sat back and continued talking quietly about school and their friends. Ginny suddenly realized that here she was, sitting with Harry and talking with him like a normal teenage couple. She had held hands with him and even kissed him today without falling apart or becoming overcome with embarrassment. Harry was right, she could do this!
Finally, a look of determination coming over her face, Ginny said, "Harry, I think I've made a decision."
"Y-yeah?" he answered nervously.
Reaching across the table again, she recaptured Harry's hands and looked him in the eye. "I think… I think I would like to give us a try, Harry. I reckon you're right about me being different than I was, and after the things you told me today I feel like I want to prove you right."
"That's brilliant, Ginny!" Harry exclaimed, his whole face lighting up. Squeezing her hands gently he looked down for a moment before he asked, "Well, if we are going to try being boyfriend and girlfriend, do you think we could try that kissing again?"
As they both blushed at Harry's suggestion, she chuckled and replied, "I think that may just be something we can do."
Sliding his chair around the small table until he could put one arm around the back of her chair, the two teenagers leaned towards each other and their lips touched again. Still a bit uncertain, Harry didn't press to deepen the kiss but both of them relaxed into it a little more than before. Pulling back for a moment, Harry looked into her warm, chocolate eyes for permission and then they continued their slow, gentle exploration of each other's mouths.
After a while, though, Harry pulled back this time with a worried look on his face.
"Something wrong, Harry?" asked Ginny, a note of concern in her voice.
"I just realized, Ron thinks I'm here with you today to keep the other blokes away from you. What's he going to say when he finds out I did that by asking you to be my girlfriend?" he replied, a nervous grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"Oh, that's what he thinks, does he?" she asked, pulling away from the arm resting on the back of her chair and crossing her arms over her chest.
"Well," Harry continued, sounding a bit nervous at Ginny's reaction, "I'm not sure exactly where he got that idea. It's not like I told him I was going with you just to keep an eye on you. I just didn't exactly tell him we were going on a date together."
She relaxed a bit at his response, "Well, I reckon we'll find out soon enough, won't we? Unless, that is you want to keep this a secret…?"
"No, Ginny! I don't want to have to sneak around with you. I'm certainly not embarrassed to be seen with you, I know that I'm one lucky bloke to have someone like you as a girlfriend."
This seemed to be the right answer, as Ginny relaxed the rest of the way and resumed holding Harry's hand on the table and even leaned forward to give him another quick kiss. After that, they spent the rest of the afternoon in the warmth of the pub, sipping their butterbeer, holding hands, and talking about everything and nothing, just enjoying each other's company.
Late that day, the new couple was finally walking up the high street on their way back to the school. Harry has still not gotten over the newness of the situation and had a silly grin on his face as he shyly held Ginny's hand. Noticing someone looking at them, the redhead bumped into his shoulder and nodded across the street to owl Post Office. In front of the building stood Dean Thomas and his friend Seamus Finnegan. Thomas was glaring daggers at Harry while his friend nervously pretended to be interested in the old notices posted on a bulletin board next to the door.
"Better watch it, Potter." Ginny said with a smirk. "You may end up with Ron and Dean teaming up against you this time."
"Like I said before, Weasley," he airily replied, "It will take more than a couple of prats to get me to give up on something as good in my life as you."
The couple continued down the street, Harry chuckling as Ginny's cheeks turned a bright pink that had nothing to do with the cold.