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         Naturally, Draco and Keilana split off and went their own way as soon as the trio reached the castle. Harry scampered up the steps and into the warm inner halls of Hogwarts. Ron and Luna were walking down the hallway, discussing something in undertones.

         “Hey, guys.”

         Luna shrieked and hugged him. “Oh, my gosh, Harry! Where have you been? Who did you fight with? Are you all right? What took you so long to get back here?!”

         “Nice to see you too,” Harry choked out.

         “And you claimed you weren’t worried,” Ron said dryly. “Hey, mate.”

         “Hey, Ron. How’s it going with Hermione?”

         “Very funny.”

         Luna pulled back. “Seriously, Harry. Where have you been?”

         “Jackie got worse, so we went to St. Mungo’s,” Harry replied, kissing her on the cheek. “I didn’t know I was missing until I saw Tiff and Neville day before yesterday. But Jackie’s in rehab now, so I have to come back for my pre-Newts. Have I missed anything?”

         “You’ve basically missed most of November is what you’ve missed,” Luna informed him. “You better hope Aunt Minerva can arrange for make-up periods.”

         “I’m sure she will. Have you had dinner yet? I’m starving!”

***


         “HARRY!”

         He very nearly fell down as Hermione hugged him. Ginny looked to be barely holding herself in as Harry finally detached Hermione and settled at the tables. Hermione was quizzing him a mile a minute, and Harry laughed as he answered as many of her questions as he could. As they left the Great Hall and headed back toward Gryffindor tower, however, Harry dropped back to talk with Ginny. They went several steps in silence.

         “I missed you,” they chorused impulsively.

         Ginny blushed and looked away. Harry took her hand and pulled her to a stop.

         “Did you really?”

         “I did, surprisingly,” Ginny whispered tremulously, staring up at him.

         “I did too,” Harry said, wrapping his arms tightly around her and holding her close.

         Ginny laid her cheek against his shoulder and gripped him tightly. “I thought I’d never see you again.”

         “I thought I couldn’t see you again soon enough.”

         She squeezed her eyes tightly shut, tears brimming onto her smooth cheeks. “I thought I was over you.”

         Harry pulled back to get a good look at her. “So did I. I couldn’t believe how blind I’ve been. And it might be too late to tell you how I feel, but can I say it anyway?”

         Ginny was surprised. “How do you feel?”

         “I love you, Ginny,” Harry said simply.

         Her mouth dropped open and she stared up at him in utter shock. “You .... do?”

         “I do.”

         Ginny buried her face in his chest. “I love you too, Harry,” she finally managed to react. “I love you so much!”

         Harry couldn’t express the feeling those words invoked within him. He snatched Ginny right off the stone floor and swung her around. Ron and Hermione had been watching from about halfway up the stairs.

         “Are you two gonna get back anytime soon?” Hermione yelled down at them.

         “Aww, let them have their privacy, Mione,” Ron said good-naturedly, grabbing her hand. “Come on.”

         Hermione was so shocked that she was easily led to the Fat Lady’s frame.

         “Password?”

         “Hermione?” Ron said tentatively, ignoring the Fat Lady for the moment to look at his second best friend.

         “Yes, Ron?” Hermione asked, eyes drifting toward where Ginny and Harry were chattering happily as they came up the stairs.

         “Would you go to the Yule Ball with me?”

         Hermione’s jaw dropped completely. “What?” she choked, snapping back toward him.

         Ron swallowed hard and repeated himself. Hermione’s mouth worked for several seconds, but no sound came out. Ginny arrived and smacked her on the bum.

         “For Morgana’s sake, spit it out, Mione!”

         “Yes!” Hermione gasped. “Yeah, I’ll go with you, Ron.”

         Ron’s grin nearly split his freckled face.

***


         A few days later, a long shout nearly deafened several students. But Ron and Tiffany joined in with Harry’s cheering, and so did most of the other seventh-year Gryffindors nearby. Hermione looked at them and shook her head. Pre-Newts were finally over, as evidenced by the cheerful demeanor of the students as they made their way to dinner.

         “Yule Ball is Saturday night,” Ginny commented later that night as the Gryffindors lounged around in their common room.

         “Oh, that reminds me, Ginny,” Hermione said from where she was curled up on the end of the sofa. “You are going to the ball with Harry, right?”

         Ginny blushed as she nodded. “Yeah. He actually asked me back before he disappeared.”

         “Are you serious?” yelped Ron, recently never to be found far from Hermione. “He’s been thinking about you that long?”

         “I’ve been thinking about Ginny a long time,” Harry replied, evicting her from the armchair. When she put her hands on her hips and glared down at him, he opened his arms to her and grinned widely.

         “Honestly, Harry,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes. But she plopped into his lap anyway.

         “I can’t believe you didn’t tell us that,” Hermione said, looking a bit put out. “You’ve been in love with Harry so long I would have expected that to be something really big for you.”

         “Well, it was kind of an accident how he ended up asking me out.”

         Harry laughed sheepishly. “You could tell?”

         “Of course I could. You shouldn’t have given me this, hmm?” She dangled her shield pendant before his eyes. “But I knew you were just being nice anyway.”

         “I wasn’t just being nice,” Harry protested. “I wouldn’t want to go with anyone else. The opportunity presented itself, so I asked.”

         Ginny kissed the tip of his nose. “You seriously have no idea when to shut up, do you?”

         “What opportunity?” Ron asked suspiciously.

         “You’ll see,” Ginny said mysteriously. “Oh, yeah, Harry. It arrived yesterday, and it’s gorgeous!” She hugged him suddenly and kissed him again, on the lips this time. “Thank you so much!”

         “What did you get her?” Hermione asked curiously.

         “Ball gown,” Harry replied simply. “It’s a Malkin original. You’ll love it.”

         “Have you seen it?” Ginny asked.

         “She showed it to me before she sent it,” Harry explained, hand on the small of her back.

         “Was it your idea to seep the blue into the hem?”

         “Yeah.”

         Ginny hugged him again. “Thank you so much, Harry.”

         Hermione’s eyes had opened wide. “I don’t have dress robes ....”

         “Well, we’ll have to go get you some,” Ginny exclaimed. “Harry, could you—?”

         “No, Ginny,” Hermione interrupted. “I can buy them. I just forgot that I grew out of my first ones.”

         “I was going to ask him if he could give us a ride,” Ginny said, smirking, “but I guess we can use the Floo in Hogsmeade.”

         “You get her something pretty, y’ hear?” Harry ordered his almost-girlfriend. “I’ll cover whatever she can’t afford.” She didn’t miss the chagrin on Ron’s face, and neither did Harry, so Harry grinned slyly and said to Ron, “We’ll make that my Christmas present to you, Ron.”

         “Shall I go low and tight then?” Ginny managed to ask through her laughter.

         “No, you don’t!” Hermione shrieked. “I shan’t wear some skimpy stripper’s gown to the Yule Ball.”

         Ron had picked up on the joke. “You hate me!” he pouted, pulling his best puppy eyes.

         Hermione glared at them all for a moment, but she had caught on now and she couldn’t contain her own laughter. “Honestly, you guys.”

         They all turned in for the night, but Harry did take the girls to Hogsmeade in the morning. Hermione was more than surprised by Harry’s spell. Ginny could barely keep from laughing at her reaction.

         “That was rather unexpected,” she exhaled rather than spoke.

         “You really hate giving people the head’s up, don ’cha, babe?” Ginny said to Harry, shaking her head in amusement.

         “Sorry, couldn’t resist,” Harry laughed, preparing to use the teleportal spell again. “Guess I’ll be at the pitch with Ron while you’re gone, but should I come get you?”

         “Nah. We can come back by Floo.” Ginny pulled him down to kiss his cheek. “Have fun, Harrison.”

         Harry disappeared in a flash, and the two girls entered Diagon Alley and headed for Madame Malkin’s. She was delighted to see Ginny back, and the two discussed the dress robes that were currently hidden away in Ginny’s closet at Hogwarts. Hermione quietly looked through the fabrics until Ginny joined her.

         “That must have been some dress Harry got for you,” Hermione observed.

         “Oh, yeah, it’s gorgeous. Didn’t I say so? No other word for it. So have you picked a color?”

         “No, not really.”

         “A style?”

         “Not at all.”

         Ginny frowned at the girl. “Hermione, you know you’re like an older sister to me, but seriously! Don’t you have any ideas on what you want this dress to look like? Because if you don’t, Aunt Faye will come up with something of her own, and you’ve grown quite a lot since you got your first set of dress robes.” She shot Hermione a sly look. “If you know what I mean.”

         Hermione blushed deeply. “Well, since I’ve got them, I may as well keep them, right?”

         “All right, you – who are you and what have you done with Hermione?”

         “Look, I am willing to go a little crazy, but keep it modest, all right, Ginny?” Hermione pleaded, moving her hand from a beautiful deep emerald silk. “You can pick everything: the colors, the style, the trim – everything! But only if you keep it modest.”

         “Fine,” Ginny pouted. But she brightened quickly. “I think we should go with peach. You do look lovely in pinks, especially pastels. Aunt Faye!” she called around the silk rack. “Are you busy?”

         “I am now,” Aunt Faye said with a smile. “What scheme would you like to go with, love?”

         “She wants pink,” Ginny answered for a rather skeptical Hermione. “And could you do something with a lot of sheer?”

         Aunt Faye’s eyebrows wiggled mischievously. “Are you questioning my skill?”

***


         “Think they’re doing all right?” Ron called out as he and Harry practiced some dives.

         “Of course they are,” Harry replied, pulling his Firebolt up at the last second and skimming his heels along the grass. “Hey, I’m sorry I missed the game against Hufflepuff. Did you do all right?”

         “Yeah, we won. Ginny cut it kinda close with their Seeker, but the rest of us were all right. They’re just not the same without Flint.”

         “We play Ravenclaw next, right?”

         “Yep,” Ron said with a nod. “Hope they practice during vacation. They’re gonna need it.”

         “I dunno,” Harry said. “Gryffindor vs. Slytherin gets a lot of attention just because it is Gryffindor vs. Slytherin. Ravenclaw has a pretty good team. We just have to practice harder.”

         Ron looked at him for a moment. “I hate you, Harry. Seriously.”

         Harry grinned right back, but his eye caught movement along the street to Hogsmeade. “Hey, they’re back! Wanna fly over and pick them up?”

         “Pick them up on what? Our broomsticks?”

         “It’s been done before.”

         “Harry Potter, if you even think of getting Ginny on that shaft with you—!”

         “Race ya!” Harry yelled over his shoulder.

         Ron sighed loudly and turned his own broomstick toward Hogsmeade. They dropped to the ground near the girls, and Harry summoned his Firebolt’s carrying case. Ron summoned Ginny’s case, commenting that he really needed to buy one of his own.

         “You should buy a whole new broom,” Ginny retorted as she linked arms with Harry and the four began walking toward Hogwarts. “That one barely flew when you got it, and it’s falling apart now.”

         “Maybe I should get you that instead of Hermione’s dress,” Harry commented, elbowing Ron.

         “I like my Cleansweep,” Ron replied adamantly.

         “I don’t understand why you enjoy Quidditch so much,” Hermione said. “It’s nearly gotten you both killed more than once.”

         “But it didn’t,” Harry said with a sweet smile.

         Ginny laughed. “Don’t bother, Hermione. No way are you gonna get either of them to criticize Quidditch.”

         “Boys,” Hermione muttered darkly.

         “Would you even like us if we were girls?” Ron said, looking completely serious. Hermione gaped at him for a moment, and her shock brought a grin to his face. She snorted and smacked him lightly on the arm.

         “Did you get the dress?” Harry asked Ginny as Ron and Hermione continued to poke fun at each other.

         “Yeah, we got it. It’s beautiful.”

         “What’s it look like?”

         Ginny put a finger to her lips and winked impishly. “Hi-mi-tsu.”

         “Aw, come on.”

         “You’ll see it Saturday. But, but! It’s pink. I’ll tell you that much.”

         “You’re impossible, Ginny,” Harry said, slipping his arm around her waist.

         She smiled up at him. “Now really, honey. Isn't that why you like me so much?”

         Harry just smiled and kissed her ear.

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