31st December 1999
“How do I look?” Harry asked uncharacteristically, nervously straightening the collar of his dress robes and turning from the mirror to seek approval from his girlfriend.
Ginny appraised Harry from where she sat cross-legged on her bed, taking in his nervous posture. She cocked her head to one side, her brow furrowed slightly. “You look a bit like Sirius actually.”
“Sirius?” Harry looked surprised at her answer.
“Yeah, I think it’s the hair.” Harry scrutinised her for more of a response but when it was clear she wasn’t going to give him one, turned back to the mirror.
He ran a hand nervously through the long, dark waves, staring at his own reflection. “Maybe I should have let your mum cut it before tonight.” Ginny’s eyebrows shot up as Harry turned to one side, eyes still fixed on the mirror. “But, honestly, this is probably the tidiest it’s ever been.”
Ginny scrambled off the bed as he spoke and removed Harry’s hand from where it was still playing anxiously with the dark strands. “No! I love it like that.”
Harry smiled and pressed a kiss to the corner of Ginny’s mouth. “You need to put some proper clothes on.”
“You mean Harry, you don’t want me meeting all of your ministry colleagues wearing just this?” She gestured down at her oversized Harpies sweater with feigned, innocent shock.
“Not on this occasion.” He smirked and continued looking at her.
“I suppose I’ll have to take it off then.” She winked at him and went to pull the garment over her head.
“Gin.” Harry groaned. “I just got dressed.” But he sounded pleased as he half-heartedly checked his golden wristwatch.
Nearly an hour later than planned, the young couple gripped hands and apparated away from Holyhead in a whirl of dress robes. Approaching the London manor arm in arm, Ginny noticed Harry’s arm tense beneath her grip.
“Hey, stop worrying. I’m sure your colleagues will forgive you for bringing me, I’m not that awful.” She grinned and Harry returned it.
The couple stepped into a lavishly decorated entrance way, a row of house elves stood one behind the other on a grand staircase and they rushed forward, keen to take Harry and Ginny’s coats from them and immediately whisk them away.
“Harry! Ginny!” A booming voice greeted them and Ginny turned to see the Minister for Magic himself, Kingsley Shacklebolt, extending a warm greeting. Kingsley still had a hand in the Auror department and worked with Harry on a regular basis, but Ginny hadn’t seen him in some time.
“Evening Kingsley.” She smiled warmly.
“You look radiant.” He took her hand and kissed the top, giving Ginny flashbacks to her girlish self, before turning to Harry. “You’re looking less like your father and more like Sirius these days.” Harry smiled and shared a look with Ginny.
They followed Kingsley into the party, which was full of people, some of whom Ginny recognised but most she did not. One of those recognisable faces turned in their direction almost immediately and Ron came bounding over, Hermione on his arm beaming.
“You made it! What kept you?” Ron asked innocently.
Harry glanced at Ginny who quirked the corner of her lip up at him and Harry mumbled something vague to Ron about being delayed. Hermione caught Ginny’s eye and muttered “Still oblivious as he ever was.”
“Merlin, what a sight for sore eyes, I’ve hit the jackpot here!” a screeching voice came from somewhere behind them and an elderly witch wearing robes of a busy floral print that reminded Ginny of curtains bustled over, an overflowing champagne glass in one hand.
“Evening.” Said Ron cautiously but the witch didn’t seem to hear him.
“Harry Potter!” she exclaimed, eyeing him up and down and walking around him the same way one would a new broomstick to get a 360-degree view. “Do you know I was just saying to my Maximus it’s about time I finally met that famous Harry Potter and he told me it was nonsense you would be here tonight but here you are, the boy who lived!”
Ginny wondered if perhaps this witch had not picked up a newspaper since 1981. She could see Harry trying desperately to remain polite and not scowl heavily like she knew he wanted to. Fortunately, the witch could not see Ron behind Harry who was doing exactly that.
“Look at you, quite the heartthrob at school I’m sure!” the witch continued loudly, knocking her glass and spilling champagne over Ginny’s foot. Harry noticed and came to Ginny’s side, one arm placed lightly at her waist. “Ohhh look what we have!” she clasped her hands together in delight at the sight of the two of them and turned to Ginny. “Now of course I don’t blame you dear, what girl wouldn’t? Those eyes, that hair. Yes my Maximus even used to have long hair like that when we were young!”
The witch did not seem to mind at all that nobody had any idea who she was, nor that none of them had uttered a single word in response to her.
“And especially now he’s a free agent as dear Rita so kindly wrote in Witch Weekly last Thursday. Such a wonderfully written piece, and I’m sure had quite the desired effect eh Harry?” she nodded to where his arm was still placed protectively on the small of Ginny’s back.
“What piece?” Ginny said nastily before she could stop herself.
The witch didn’t seem to register that anybody had spoken. “A much better choice if I do say so myself than that Quidditch girl.” She said the word Quidditch as if it meant ‘Death Eater’. “Well, jolly lovely to meet you Harry Potter, do enjoy the evening!” and she bustled off again, leaving an awkward silence.
“What has Rita Skeeter been writing about us now?” Harry said, exasperatedly.
“You know nobody reads her rubbish.” Hermione said scathingly but knowingly.
“Hermione.” Ginny started, appraising her friend with a knowing look. “What has she written?”
Hermione hesitated. “Just to make it perfectly clear, I do not make a habit of reading Witch Weekly.”
Ron interrupted. “Yes dear, we all know your reading habits are rather more intellectual.”
Hermione ignored him. “But, last week one particular article was drawn to my attention. It’s one of the most ridiculous yet.”
“What did it say?” Harry asked with a groan as if he was expecting the worst.
“Oh, nothing much.” Hermione began breezily. “Just a short piece about how you, Harry, had ‘seen the error of your ways’ and broken it off with Ginny and were looking for another girl to ‘mend your broken heart’.”
“WHAT?” Ron thundered. “She can’t print that about my sister!”
But Harry was laughing. Between his fame and Ginny’s rising popularity as one of the Holyhead Harpies’ newest team members, they had endured rather a lot of press attention, thankfully most of it positive or at least true. “Of course, we can always rely on dear Rita to bring the tone down.” He chuckled at Ginny. This subject had been the source of much amusement for both of them many times before now.
“What’s new?” Ginny joined in Harry’s laughter to reassure Hermione she hadn’t upset either of them by sharing this news. “Harry, walk?” She lead her boyfriend away by the arm towards an exit which opened out onto a large and deserted balcony. They wandered further down and came to a rest, looking out over the view, London’s city lights sparkling in the distance. Ginny stood at the balcony and Harry stood behind her, his arms wrapped round her body in a protective embrace.
“You’re okay about the Rita Skeeter thing, aren’t you?” he questioned gently. Ginny nodded silently.
“Of course, everyone knows all she writes is rubbish.” Harry let out a breath it sounded like he had been holding in and loosened his grip from around her, coming to stand close beside her. “Where are we staying tonight? Mine or yours?”
“But… Harry, you’ll be there in the morning won’t you? You don’t have to be at work and I don’t have training.”
Harry mumbled something about Kreacher, gazing into the distance. When he finally met Ginny’s gaze, he paled at her expression.
“Don’t think I haven’t noticed Harry.” She snapped, more sharply than she’d expected to. “You lie with me, put an arm round me, stroke my hair, wait for me to fall asleep and then —“ she broke off, a surprising tightness in her throat. “and then you leave.”
“Ginny-“ Harry started, picking up on her sparkling eyes.
“Don’t give me the usual ‘got to be at the office early’ line. I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking you’re lying beside me and you’re gone. Do you know how that makes me feel Harry?” the tightness in her throat was giving way to anger and she felt her face flame.
“There’s more to it than that.” He said, with a sense of calm that made Ginny feel like a silly, spoiled teenager.
“Then tell me! Let me help you! Stop pushing me away. Stop making me feel like…” Harry stared at her evenly, wanting her to continue. “Like Rita Skeeter’s got it right!”
Harry’s expression darkened and Ginny felt, for one panicked second, that he was going to leave her stood there in angry tears. She almost looked away rather than watch him leave, when he faced her with an anguished expression on his face. He placed his palms together in front of his mouth, fingers resting against his nose, and sighed heavily. He lowered his glasses a few inches with one hand, the other coming to pinch at the bridge of his nose agitatedly.
“I love you Ginny, so much.” He said after a long pause, his glasses replaced.
“And I love you Harry, you know I love you. But I hate how you think you need to do everything alone-“
“You’re right.” He interrupted. “I’ve been stupid.”
Turning to look out over the view, he placed both hands on the balcony, his posture steady and firm. Ginny stood just close enough to hear him without any part of the two touching.
“Since joining the Auror department, I’ve been getting these… dreams.” Harry looked out into the distance, almost angrily and, Ginny realised quickly, shamefully. “They haven’t… I haven’t… not for ages, not since-“
“Last year.” Ginny finished for him tentatively.
Harry looked up at her gratefully. “No. But recently, they’re back, worse than before. I wake up… shaking… to my own screams.” It was clear that this admittance to Ginny was causing Harry a great deal of pain. “I can’t put you through that.”
Ginny’s expression hardened. “What if I want you to?”
“No Harry! You think you’re protecting me from some awful unknown tragedy only you have experienced but can I remind you I know exactly how those dreams feel? What it feels like to wake with that much panic running through you. Alone.”
“Ginny, you haven’t been having…?“
Ginny turned from him, unwilling to see his reaction to her admittance. “Why do you think I want you to stay?” she said in a small voice.
Harry was by her side in a heartbeat, warm and strong arms engulfing her in a tight embrace, harsh whispering in her ear. “I’m sorry.” He breathed into her. “So sorry, I had no idea, why didn’t you tell me?”
He pulled back to face her. “Why didn’t you?” she retorted. “You’re not the only one stubbornly trying to protect their loved one.”
Harry grinned. “We’re quite the pair.”
“We’re a pair of idiots.” Ginny sighed, allowing her head to fall so that her forehead was resting on Harry’s shoulder.
“Gin?” Ginny murmured in response. “Rita Skeeter never gets it right.”
Ginny giggled faintly. “So, tonight, you’ll stay? You’ll be there?”
Harry kissed the top of her head sweetly. “I’ll always be there Ginny.”