The week before his 18th birthday, Ginny finds Harry in the Burrow’s attic. The air is stagnant, and Ginny cannot fathom why Harry would bid the family an early goodnight and then come up here, of all places. She had thought he had gone to bed, but his room was empty, and after searching all over, she had heard some rustling and had come to investigate.
“What are you doing, Harry?” she asks, curious. He seems to have frozen, or gotten lost, in the middle of sorting through a much-used rucksack -that would be the rustling, then- and he doesn’t look up as she seats herself next to him. She nudges his knee with hers. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
Harry shakes his head. “Nothing’s wrong. I’m just remembering…” he fades, looking down at his lap.
Ginny remains quiet, waiting for him to form the words. Many of their conversations this summer have started like this, with Harry getting lost in a thought or a memory and Ginny waiting patiently until he finds the words to tell her what has been running through his head.
After a moment, Harry takes a deep breath and jumps to his feet, as if he’s made a decision. He holds out his hand to Ginny, and she takes it, stands, follows him out of the attic. Harry leads her to his room -really Bill’s old room- and shuts the door behind them. Ginny moves towards the middle of the room, but keeps her fingers still linked with his. She walks as far as she can, and when her arm is fully extended, she turns and tugs Harry gently. Harry turns away from the door, sees her efforts to keep hold of his hand, grins wryly at her. She grins back, raising an eyebrow at him, and his smile fades slightly.
“Ginny, I, um,” he takes a deep breath before continuing. “I don’t know how to say this exactly, er, but I guess I should, ah, just get on with it and say it.” He shut his eyes a moment, and Ginny squeezes his hand. Since returning home, she’s been remembering how physical touch seems to both ground him and help him open up, and she’s made a concentrated effort to be close to him during such moments when he is so vulnerable with her.
He opens his eyes and looks her straight in the face. “I’m trying to say that I love you, Ginny, and I know I told you last year, before Dumbledore died, and I meant it then, but,” he falters a moment. Ginny’s eyes are unwavering. Two floors below them, she hears dishes clinking and her mother singing along with the wireless. She squeezes his hand, reassuring, and Harry takes a breath and continues.
“I meant it then, but after last year, I mean it even more now. I love you, Ginny Weasley, and finding this-” he motions to a piece of parchment in his free hand that Ginny hadn’t noticed before “-reminded me, and it also made me think of how things could have turned out very differently, and-” he is abruptly cut off by Ginny’s lips on his.
She drops his hand and wraps her arms around his neck; he puts his hands on her waist and draws her in closer. A moment later, they break apart, and Ginny rises on her tiptoes to whisper in Harry’s ear, “I love you, too, Harry Potter, and I’m very, very glad that you’re here.”
Harry kisses her forehead. “Me too, Gin, me too.”
She smiles at him and snuggles in closer to him. “What does that parchment have to do with all of this, though?”
Harry releases her and moves to sit down on the bed. “Here, I’ll show you.”
He leans his back against the wall, his legs settling across the width of the narrow bed so his toes graze the floor, and pats the space next to him. Ginny sits and slides her body so she’s next to him; her shorter legs mean that her feet dangle above the floor, bumping Harry’s shins.
Once settled, she notices that the entire side of her body is touching his, and she feels Harry shiver. Ginny winks at him, then realizes how dark the room is, how alone they are on this floor of the Burrow, how vulnerable Harry is being with her. She feels suddenly shy, and she squirms a bit, moving just a bit away from Harry.
It’s his turn to raise an eyebrow at her, and he scoots closer and takes her hand again. “Alright?”
She nods at him, and he leans over to peck a kiss on her cheek. Her face softens and she squeezes his hand. Harry has always been able to read her well; she has never had to worry when they are alone together. For a moment, she is filled with gratitude for how wonderful he is, for how alive he is.
Harry looks at her. “You know I took the Map with me, er, on the hunt?” His voice is quiet, low and soft. He reaches into his pocket for his wand, not breaking eye contact.
Ginny nods again, eyes widening. She has not seen the Map since the night Dumbledore died. Harry unfolds the Map without looking at it, like his fingers have memorized the movements. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good,” he whispers, almost reverently.
“While we were out there, moving around every day or so, we had no contact with anyone. It wasn’t until after Christmas when Ron, ah,” he hesitates, his eyes searching hers. Ginny says nothing, waiting for him. She loves how loyal he is, not wanting to speak about Ron’s error, even now. He coughs, clearing his throat, and Ginny waits for him to find the words.
“We didn’t know about ‘Potterwatch’ until after Christmas,” he finally continues, “and even then, we didn’t always learn the next password, so we couldn’t always, uh, listen to every report.” He takes a deep breath, shakes his head like he’s trying to come back into the present. Ginny tightens her grip on his hand. The room is silent, but through the open window floats the familiar sounds of bats hunting for their dinner.
“What I’m trying to say, Ginny, is that we were so, so isolated. The three of us out there….we had no news of anyone, we had no way to even get news, and I didn’t know if you or your family was safe. All I had was this.” He indicates the Map in his hand, and Ginny’s heart misses a beat.
Harry points to the upper corner of the Map, and Ginny leans in close, her shoulder pressing into his chest, so she can see. In scrawly font, Gryffindor Girls’ Dormitory identifies a group of rooms. Not quite breathing, Ginny looks from the Map to Harry.
He gazes back at her, a sad smile on his lips. “I would watch for your dot, Ginny, and I would stare at it all night, willing you to be safe and unharmed.”
He clears his throat and looks away from her, staring at the trunk at the foot of the bed. Ginny tilts her head and watches him; she can almost see his thoughts cross his face: all the times he turned away from her in a desperate attempt to keep her safe, from Dumbledore’s funeral to Bill and Fleur’s wedding, to the Room of Requirement on the night of the final battle. The guilt and anguish on his face is almost too much to bear, and Ginny opens her mouth to say something, anything, but the words don’t come.
“I walked past you, you know,” he says suddenly, still looking away from her.
Ginny shuts her mouth, swallows. This is unexpected. “When?” she asks, her mouth dry.
“On my way to the Forbidden Forest,” he answers quietly, and Ginny frowns a bit, trying to remember, and then it comes to her.
“You were… Harry, I thought I felt somethi-” Ginny drops his hand and scoots over on the bed, crossing her legs and sitting so their shoulders form a right angle. He turns toward her now, unable to avoid her intense gaze. She stares at him, brows drawn together slightly, and she reaches out to trace her fingers over the scar on his forehead. Harry holds her gaze, unblinking, and her hand drops from his face to his chest, pressing firmly where she knows a newer scar rests.
“I’m sorry, Ginny,” Harry says hoarsely. “I’m sorry that I didn’t, that I couldn’t stop. I wanted to, but I knew if I did-” his voice broke off, and Ginny grabs both his shoulders and pulls him to her. He wraps his arms around her waist and rests his head on her chest; Ginny runs one hand soothingly across his back, and her other hand strokes his hair.
“It’s alright, Harry, it’s alright,” Ginny murmurs. She feels hot tears soaking into her shirt, and she squeezes Harry tighter. She thinks of how long Harry has been carrying this awful burden, takes a shuddering breath. “It’s alright,” she repeats around a lump in her throat.
He lifts his head up and gapes at her. His eyes and nose are reddened, though his cheeks are pale. “How can you say that?” he asks incredulously. “Don’t you see how selfish I was? I broke up with you, went on the run for a year, tried to lock you in the Room of Requirement while your whole family was fighting, and just told you that I didn’t say goodbye as I walked to what I thought was my death. How can you possibly say that it’s alright?” He heaves a breath. “How are you not furious with me?”
“How can I be mad at you for sacrificing yourself for the world? Are you seriously asking that?” Ginny retorts, and Harry blinks, taken aback.
“Harry,” continues Ginny, softer now, “I can’t be mad at you for not stopping on your way to die, because you were on your way to die for me. For my family. For the whole bloody world! Listen,” and she cups his cheek with one hand, forcing him to meet her eyes again. Harry blinks again, and Ginny leans in and swiftly kisses his cheek.
“Listen, Harry,” she repeats, “what you did was so brave. I cannot imagine anyone else willingly walking, alone, no less, into the Forest to face Riddle, yet you did. You did, and I am so, so proud of you.”
She brings her other hand up to Harry’s other cheek and strokes his face gently. Harry stares at her intently, searching her face. “I can’t be angry at you for being selfish in one area when you’ve been so unselfish in all the rest.”
Harry huffs a sigh. “Even when that selfish area is the one I care most about because it’s you?”
Ginny smiles at him, shakes her head, fighting back a sudden onslaught of tears that well up in her eyes. Harry quirks his mouth at her. “Don’t you cry, too.”
Ginny laughs, feeling the tightness in her chest loosen just a bit. If Harry can joke, he must be feeling at least a little better. She pulls his face to hers and gives him a long, deep kiss; he kisses her back, and Ginny feels every bit of trust and healing Harry presses into her.
After a long moment, Ginny pulls back, eyes shut. She takes a deep breath, opens her eyes. Harry is inches from her, smiling gently. He reaches a hand to stroke her cheek, and Ginny lets out a little sigh. Harry’s smile widens, his eyes sparkling in the dim room.
“Reckon that’s the best response I could have hoped for, telling you not to cry and then getting snogged,” he teases, sliding his hand from her cheek to the back of her neck. Ginny shivers; he knows that she loves it when he touches her there, and now the lump in her throat is gone but her stomach is full of butterflies, and Ginny squeezes Harry’s shoulders and pulls him even closer.
“Don’t get used to it, Potter,” she whispers, leaning forward to plant kisses along his jaw. Harry shuts his eyes and a groan escapes his closed lips. “Besides,” she continues, slipping her hands into his hair, “you spent nine months on the run not snogging me. It’s my turn to be selfish.”
Harry catches her lips with his and slides his other hand up her back. “I suppose it’s only fair,” he agrees, rather breathless after pulling back from her slightly. Ginny merely raises an eyebrow at him before leaning in again.