"What are you doing?"
Colin didn't look up. "The shutter's not engaging as quickly as I'd like. I think something's gummed it up."
"And you had to take apart the whole camera for that?"
Colin glanced up for a short moment at Ginny Weasley, who'd sat down across from him at the table. His heart skipped a beat, then resumed at double-time. "If I'm cleaning the shutter I may as well clean the whole thing, yeah?" At a muttered spell, a steady stream of air issued from the end of his wand, blowing away dust that had gathered in the nooks and crannies inside the camera.
Ginny watched him in silence for a time. "Have you had any luck with... you know?"
Colin shook his head. "No one wants to take a third year to the Yule Ball. I really want to go, I think it would be brilliant, but no one is going to ask me and anyone I ask is just going to think I'm asking just so I can go - which is true, I suppose." He shrugged and tested the shutter a few times. It gave several satisfactory clicks, the mechanics thrumming melodically through the body of the camera, and Colin began reassembling the various parts strewn about the table. "How about you?"
Ginny sighed. "Pretty much the same. I mean - I know who I'd like to ask, but -"
"I bet Harry would go with you if you asked," Colin pointed out. "Your brother's his best friend, after all."
"No," Ginny said quickly, spots of colour rising on her cheeks. "I don't... no. Just no."
"Rubbish, this age limit," Colin said, holding his camera up to his eye to test the focus of the lens. "First the Tournament, now the Yule Ball. I mean, I get the Tournament, it's really dangerous and I can't believe Harry finished the first task - except that was mostly flying, not magic, wouldn't you say? If he doesn't know enough magic then I don't know enough magic, certainly. But for a ball? Why have an age limit on a ball? A ball's not dangerous."
"Colin, you're babbling again," Ginny pointed out.
Colin clapped a hand over his mouth. "Sorry," he said, voice muffled against his fingers. If he couldn't keep control of his tongue, McGonagall might very well make good on her threat to Spellotape his mouth closed.
He expected Ginny to get up from the table and do something else, but she continued to sit, as though debating something with herself. After he'd deemed it an appropriate amount of time since he'd last said anything, he dropped his hand from his mouth. "There's a Hogsmeade Christmas visit planned for that evening." A short sentence. Good. "I guess it's some sort of consolation prize, for people who can't go to the ball. Or don't want to. Second and first years can't go to either, of course, but -" He cut himself off before his verbosity ran away with him again. His stomach did a somersault as what he was truly getting around to saying gripped him. "Would - would you like to come with me? We could... go to the Three Broomsticks? Or, um, Zonko's. Although they're probably closed Christmas, so just the Three Broomsticks? I'll buy you a Butterbeer?" He mentally smacked himself upside the head to get his voice unstuck from ending every sentence like it was a question.
There was an odd little smile on Ginny's face. "That would be lovely," she said, and Colin's heart soared.
"Great! Um, yeah! Great!" Colin clicked the shutter on his camera a few times for lack of something else to do with his hands. Ginny grinned nervously, then stood.
"I'm going to go to bed. See you in Potions."
"Good night!" His voice sounded squeakier than it normally did. He swallowed, and the full force of what he'd just done hit him.
He'd just asked Ginny Weasley out on a date. Successfully.
He felt a little dizzy.
The next few days proved that there was indeed something that could still his runaway tongue: he simply had to be distracted enough by an impending date that his inner monologue got stuck on its way out. All during History of Magic, he found himself watching the back of Ginny's head, wondering if her hair was really as soft as it looked. In Herbology, Professor Sprout had to ask him three times to hand her a watering can because he'd been immobilized by the thundering realisation that he might get the chance to kiss her in less than two weeks' time. And in Potions, Professor Snape docked Gryffindor five points for Colin's abysmal job preparing his goat spleens - he'd been more focused on watching Ginny at the next table over and had boiled the spleens down to barely usable mush.
Would he kiss her? He wasn't sure. He'd never kissed anyone before. He wasn't sure how. Of course he'd seen kissing on television, but those were planned and the people doing it had practice. He could see definite awkwardness figuring out where noses went, and what happened with teeth? He was sure he could suss it out if he was given enough time, but what if he was rubbish enough that she didn't give him enough time? And what did he do with his hands? He couldn't keep them in his pockets, that was ridiculous, but...
These were the deep thoughts in which he was lost on Friday morning, his orange juice and eggs untouched before him on the table. Dennis was sitting at his left elbow, putting away porridge as though it were his last day on earth.
A shadow passed over his right side, and he looked up - and nearly swallowed his tongue as his eyes took in fiery locks and brown eyes and freckles. "Ginny! Hi!"
"Hi," she said. Colin immediately recognized a note of slight despair in her voice, and he felt his smile falter slightly. "Colin, I... last night someone asked if I'd go to the ball with him. And, well, I was so excited that someone asked me, even if it is Neville, and I really want to go and so I said yes, and then I remembered our... plans and..."
"You're babbling," Colin said faintly. Ginny nodded. Colin took a deep breath. He felt as though he'd swallowed a stone. "We can go another time," he offered. "I know you wanted to go to the ball. And there will be other Hogsmeade visits, but there probably won't be other balls."
"Are you sure?" Ginny looked miserably hopeful, as though she couldn't decide which emotion was appropriate. "I feel terrible, I know you were so looking forward to it."
But had she been? The sudden doubt cast a gloomy shadow over the previous week. "It's no big deal," he said, and if the words felt hollow to him they either didn't sound so to Ginny or she didn't notice. "I don't mind. I'm glad someone asked you." He forced himself to not glare daggers down in Neville's direction at the end of the Gryffindor table. "Do you have dress robes?"
Ginny's jaw dropped. "Oh no! I don't! I didn't even think of that - I'll see you in Transfiguration, Colin, I've got to go write Mum!"
And with that she was gone. Colin swallowed and turned back to his eggs and juice. It looked thoroughly unappetizing.
"What was all that about?" Dennis asked through a mouthful of porridge.
"Nothing," Colin said. He handed his brother a napkin. "You've got your breakfast all over your face."
Dennis grabbed the napkin and began wiping at his cheeks. "So you're not going to Hogsmeade next Friday, then?"
"Apparently not." Colin sighed. "Save a seat for me at lunch, will you?" He slung his book bag over his shoulder and began the walk to Transfiguration, both dreading and looking forward to seeing Ginny seated at the desk in front of him.
Dennis had fallen quite soundly asleep in Colin's bed in the dormitory, and Colin didn't have the heart to wake him. Instead, he wandered aimlessly down to the common room. The handful of first and second years who had stayed over Christmas had long since gone to bed, and exhausted partygoers had been trickling in for the past hour. Those who had gone to Hogsmeade were either still there or had come back long ago. Colin settled himself into one of the window benches and gazed disconsolately over the grounds, pearlescent with snow and lovely in the moonlight.
It hadn't been a terrible day. He'd been woken by Dennis pouncing on his bed, just like he always had Christmas mornings at home. They'd unwrapped presents - practical fare from their father and grandparents, as per usual - and tromped down to breakfast. The rest of the day had been devoured by the giant snowball battle royal on the snowy school grounds, interrupted briefly by the giant Christmas dinner in the afternoon. The numbers of their rivals had begun to decrease drastically by five o'clock, as students elected to either get ready for the ball or head down to Hogsmeade. By the time darkness had fallen, Colin couldn't feel his face and Dennis's lips had turned blue, and they'd spent the rest of the evening in Colin's dormitory with hot chocolate and game after game of Exploding Snap.
Colin had had worse Christmases. He wasn't going to complain that this one could have been better if it had been spent in Hogsmeade with Ginny.
He jerked as he was torn from his reverie, turning to face her. It was though thinking about her had summoned her from thin air. The fire had gone to mostly embers, and the lamps had dimmed as the hour slipped closer to midnight. It made her green dress robes nearly black. Her hair had fallen from the curls she'd set it into earlier, and her eyes had the shadows of a person ready for sleep. Colin thought she looked beautiful.
"All right, Ginny?" he managed after far too long just looking at her. "How was the ball?"
Ginny nodded thoughtfully. "It was good. I had fun. I wish you could have been there."
"Yes, well." Colin shrugged. His breath caught in his throat as she took a seat on the bench next to him.
Ginny coughed and looked around the common room. "You are aware that you're sitting under mistletoe, aren't you?"
Colin's eyes widened of their own accord as they darted upward to spy the bunch of distinctive white berries. He licked his lips. "I didn't even see that," he said, staring accusingly at the sprig. "Who put it there?"
He sensed movement from the corner of his eyes and returned his gaze to Ginny, who was suddenly much closer to him on the bench. He swallowed. Every muscle felt frozen as she came nearer, and as her eyes closed he shut his as well -
Noses and teeth turned out not to be problematic.
They pulled apart with a gasp as a grinding noise issued from the portrait hole. Ginny jumped off the bench, blushing. "Merry Christmas, Colin," she said in nearly a whisper, and she slipped silently up the stairs to the girls' dormitory.
Colin still felt frozen, though now he also had a foolish grin on his face. It evaporated very quickly when Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger both came through the portrait hole, sounding as though they were at the beginning of a very passionate row. They didn't see Colin as he made his own quiet and hurried exit up to his dormitory.
"Budge up," he said to Dennis, "or go to your own bed." Dennis mumbled something and rolled out of Colin's bed, rubbing his eyes as he shambled from the room. Colin settled into the blankets and the foolish grin began to tug at the corners of his mouth again as he closed his eyes and burrowed into the pillow.
He had had much worse Christmases.