|SIYE Time:2:58 on 20th January 2019|
Genres: Drama, General, Romance
Warnings: Death, Extreme Language, Intimate Sexual Situations, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Sexual Situations, Violence
Story is Complete
Summary: "I've had enough trouble for a lifetime," Harry Potter tells his friends after the Battle of Hogwarts. Life, however, is not done with Harry. The Wizarding community is left in chaos and it's up to Harry to fix it, and there's the small matter of repairing his relationship with Ginny, strained after months apart. Will Harry ever be able to settle and enjoy a simple life with the ones he loves?
Hitcount: Story Total: 21881; Chapter Total: 2389
Awards: View Trophy Room
This chapter came together much more quickly than my first two, both of which took over two months each to write, edit, and publish. This bad boy only took about three weeks. This is really the first time I dive into writing Harry and Ginny together, and it was quite daunting. I enjoyed it though, and wonder if perhaps this is why I was about to write faster. Iím still struggling with conveying all those messy emotions, and I donít know if any of my characters are acting in ways that are true to their nature in canon. Alas. I feel like so much of my chapters are becoming devoted to weird backstory because Iím skipping so much time in between chapters, but I really want this story to cover a pretty large amount of time, so thatís necessary. Also please forgive the sex. The chapter is called after the song Summer Holiday by Wild Nothing. I also was inspired by a few movies, both recent and older, in my writing of this chapter. See if you can find them :)
"Are you pretending to be asleep?" a voice called curiously, quite close to Harry's ear.
"Definitely not pretending," he yawned, pulling his quilt further up to his chin. He felt hot breath on his cheek, and his nostrils were suddenly overcome with a sweet, floral scent as a curtain of hair tickled his face.
Ginny's lips were soft on his, and he instinctively turned towards her, eyes still closed, his mouth opening slightly. But she broke away quickly, nuzzling her face into his neck before he felt the bed creak as she stood up from beside him.
"When you feel like waking up," she said softly, "I think we should go to Diagon Alley. You need a broomstick, and I want to see if I can't find you something for your birthday tomorrow."
Harry cracked one eye open. The sun was streaming in in beams around Ron's bedroom, making it look even more vividly orange than usual. Ginny was smiling down at him expectantly, already dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.
"You're not going to make a fuss, are you?" he asked her wearily.
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Definitely not. I'm actually quite vexed that you've made it to eighteen. I was sure my gift for your seventeenth was going to be the last one I ever gave you, so I tried to make it unbeatable. Then you had to go and live another year," she huffed in mock frustration.
Harry sat up and stretched his arms, yawning again. "Sorry to inconvenience you."
Ginny shrugged. "Get dressed, will you? I didn't realize you'd sneak all the way back up here just to fall asleep again."
Harry threw the blankets back and stood, using his wand to summon his jeans and shirt from the pile next to the camp bed. Since Ron and Hermione had left for Australia, Harry had commandeered Ron's bed for himself, though he hardly ever slept in it.
Rather, he and Ginny had developed quite the new routine over the last few weeks, in which Harry would wait until eleven o'clock every evening, when he knew Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were asleep for the night, before sneaking down the four flights of stairs under his Invisibility Cloak to Ginny's room. As the summer wore on, this journey had become considerably easier, for the only door that he had to pass silently was her parents' room on the fourth floor.
The rest of the family had quickly retreated to their own homes after Fred's funeral, and after Ron and Hermione's departure during the first week of June, it was only Harry and Ginny who remained at the Burrow with her parents, though Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were rarely to be seen.
Mrs. Weasley had taken to bed the morning after Fred's funeral, only appearing on the house's ground floor once or twice a week. Mr. Weasley spent nearly all daylight hours at the Ministry in London, where little progress had been made in rounding up the remaining Death Eaters that had escaped after the final battle. Posters requesting information on the Lestrange brothers, Rowle, and several of Voldemort's known affiliates were scattered across the various institutions of the Wizarding world and the Daily Prophet.
Harry had given up on trying to offer aid to Kingsley and Mr. Weasley, as it was soundly rejected each time. Though several Death Eaters and many of their accomplices still ran free, Kingsley had spent the last two months ensuring that the Ministry was free of pureblood ideology amongst its officials. Each employee of the government was subjected to a hearing, after which it was determined if they could be held complicit in the capture, imprisonment, and often murder of Muggle-born wizards during Voldemort's regime.
Despite his Imperiusation, ex-Minister Pius Thicknesse had been deemed partially responsible in the wrongful executions of no less than one hundred and fifty witches and wizards at the hands of Snatchers and Death Eaters, and therefore stripped of the ability to hold a job within the Ministry. Dolores Umbridge, a decidedly willing offender, had already been exiled to Azkaban. Kingsley's method of weeding out blood purity fanatics seemed to be thus far successful, and according to Mr. Weasley, efforts were now being made to intentionally fill open government positions with various magical beings and creatures that had previously faced discrimination under the old regime.
Harry was still desperate to be useful in Kingsley's new government. His frustration at returning to school in just over a month still quietly saturated his every thought, but Harry had to admit that it was not difficult to distract himself now that he and Ginny were so wonderfully alone; free to spend their long days nearly however they pleased.
There were some responsibilities, for which Harry was grateful; he never wanted to feel the same creeping idleness he had felt in Perkins' tent last fall. Harry and Ginny had taken over most of the household work, but without the usual population of the Burrow stretching the place to its limits, the necessary time spent cooking and cleaning was negligible. Which, of course, left time for other, more pleasurable activities.
Harry pulled up a leg of his trousers, thinking about the previous night, when, amidst their quiet laughter and kisses, Ginny's hand had found its way from his arm, down his torso and into his pants. Her ministrations had left him swearing and panting, and it was with the greatest reluctance that he had left her bed hours later to sneak back up the Burrow's staircase before Mr. Weasley had left for work.
He straightened up, doing his belt buckle, and found Ginny watching him intently, her eyebrows raised suggestively. He knew that she too was reliving their brief tryst, and grinned at her cheekily. She crossed the room again, placing her hands on his chest before kissing him soundly. Harry reached up to weave his hand in her long, fiery hair, but she broke off before he could pull her closer.
"Come on," she laughed, grabbing his hand and pulling him from the bedroom. They made their way down the many flights of stairs and into the kitchen.
"Why the hurry?" Harry asked, slightly blindsided by Ginny's apparent excitement.
"I've been waiting for you to come down for ages," she said, taking a pinch of Floo powder from the flowerpot on the mantelpiece. "George says he doesn't mind if we come 'round the shop today."
Harry nodded in understanding. For nearly the entirety of the summer, Harry and Ginny had been offering to help George reopen Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. The twins hadn't been able to board the place up before being forced to flee into hiding at their Aunt Muriel's after Harry, Ron, and Hermione's escape from Malfoy Manor. Thus, most of the shop had been terribly ransacked by the war's end. George had moved back into the flat over the premises shortly after his brother's funeral, ostensibly to begin the process of picking up his business, though Harry and Ginny had privately suspected that it was to avoid witnessing the rest of the family's grief and, by extension, avoiding his own.
Indeed, Harry and Ginny had traveled to Diagon Alley at least weekly for the majority of the summer, and little progress seemed to have been made in repairing the damage done to the joke shop. George would see them reluctantly, often over a pint at the Leaky Cauldron, after which he would retreat back to his humble residence while Harry and Ginny would peruse the various shops, many of which were still lacking in the various goods and wares with which they were so familiar. Still, trips into town were still preferable to remaining around the quiet Burrow day after day.
Ginny threw the pinch of powder into the fireplace, releasing Harry's hand to step into the green flames. "Diagon Alley," she said clearly, and then vanished.
Harry took his own pinch before following after her. The sensation was as terrible as it had been when he was twelve. He watched the various fireplaces fly in front of his face, shrouded in green flames, before finding himself falling flat on the rigid wooden floors of the Leaky Cauldron.
"Still not used to it?" Ginny asked, offering him a hand.
"I'd prefer flying, honestly," Harry admitted as she caught him in her grip and yanked. "But it would be nice if someone was able to Apparate."
"Two more weeks, Potter," she said lightly. "Though I must say, it would also 'be nice' if someone was proficient enough at Apparating to be able to take his girlfriend by Side-Along."
Harry blushed, and not at the slight about his poor Apparition abilities. Though it had been over two months since their kiss after Fred's funeral, this was the first time Ginny had actually referred to herself as his girlfriend.
She must've noticed his embarrassment, for when he met her eye again, she looked slightly crestfallen. She recovered quickly, however.
"Wonder when the Ministry'll catch on that you've been Apparating all summer without your licence?" she asked lightly, giving his arm a prod. He grinned.
"I'm sure they have already," he replied in his best Percy voice. "But generally when someone defeats the darkest wizard of all time, he's afforded certain allowances."
She laughed. Harry felt relief wash over him. He'd yet again avoided the inevitable conversation about the exact nature of his and Ginny's relationship. He knew he wanted to be with her for as long as possible, but he didn't know what it would be like for them when they returned to school. 'Or,' his thoughts voiced treasonously, 'if you return to school.'
Harry shook his head. He had to go to Hogwarts to finish his N.E.W.T.s. Kingsley had made it abundantly clear that he would not be permitted by the Ministry to aid in the tracking of the Death Eaters still at large until he had obtained Auror qualifications.
Ginny was now brushing soot off the front of his t-shirt. She surveyed her work approvingly before turning towards the door. Harry smiled at Tom the toothless bartender before following her into the alleyway behind the pub. She stepped back so he could reach out his wand to tap the correct brick, and took hold of his hand again as the wall shifted itself into the shape of an archway. Together they passed into the once-again bustling streets of Diagon Alley.
All of the shops dedicated to the Darks Arts that had been founded during Voldemort's regime were now closed, and though several storefronts were still empty, business was returning, both new and old.
In the first weeks after the war, witches and wizards had waited in hours-long lines for once-simple errands; obtaining gold from Gringotts had to be scheduled weeks in advance, and basic potions ingredients were sold out in nearly every shop. Now, however, it was again becoming possible to buy leisure goods, and Ginny had been itching to get into Quality Quidditch Supplies since it had reopened the Tuesday prior.
They made their way down the narrow cobblestone street, eyes following them curiously from windows and doorways. Harry had gotten quite used to this, but was still rendered rather uncomfortable when a stout little wizard ran out of Flourish and Blotts and insisted on pumping his hand excitedly while offering his profuse thanks.
Hoping to avoid further painful interactions with strangers, Harry kept his gaze on the ground in front of him, allowing Ginny to drag him down the street towards the sporting shop. He didn't look up until she gave an audible gasp in front of Madam Malkin's robe shop.
"Harry, isn't that Tonks' mum?" she asked. "In the shop there?"
Harry looked up to see where Ginny was gesturing, and indeed, through the seamstress's front door, he could see the figure of Andromeda Tonks, bending over a pram. A tiny hand was waving up at her over the side of the carriage.
Harry's face felt as though it was on fire, and he immediately jumped away from the store.
"Let's go, Ginny," he said hurriedly.
"Don't be ridiculous," Ginny replied. "You were just telling me yesterday that you still feel terrible for how you acted at the funeral, and look, she has the baby with her!"
"She's just trying to do her shopping," Harry said, panicked. "I'm sure she doesn't want to be bother- Ginny!"
For Ginny had already wrenched the door to Madam Malkin's open, the bell jangling behind her.
Several of the shoppers looked up interestedly at Ginny as she entered, their eyes widening with excitement as Harry followed her across the threshold. Ginny paid this little attention as she strode purposefully up to Andromeda and her pram.
"Hello, Mrs. Tonks," Ginny said. "I'm Ginny Weasley. I was a friend of -"
"Yes, dear, I remember you from the funeral; Arthur Weasley's daughter," Andromeda interrupted, seemingly unperturbed by their sudden appearance. "Nymphadora always spoke very highly of you."
Ginny was clearly pleased. Harry walked up to stand just behind her as she peered keenly into the pram.
"Oh, he's so sweet," she exclaimed. "What do you think, Harry? Does he takes more after Remus or Tonks?"
Harry, who had been pretending to be particularly interested in a bolt of velvet just above Andromeda's right ear, looked back with a start at his name.
"Oh, er, well, Tonks, I suppose," he said, gazing at the turquoise-haired baby. Teddy was notably larger than the last time Harry had seen him, and though Harry's immediate reaction was to guess that Teddy looked more like his Metamorphmagus mother, as he looked closer, he saw that the child bore the same facial characteristics as his late-father, even surrounded by his baby fat: the triangular jaw, the high cheekbones. Unlike Remus, however, there was nothing in the slightest about this child that could be described as wolfish.
"How is he?" he asked Andromeda.
She looked at Harry shrewdly, as though she couldn't decide what to make of him. "He's alright, given the circumstances," she said. "He sleeps well; he eats well. He laughed for the first time yesterday."
Harry nodded, feeling fleetingly surprised at how happy that bit of information made him. Teddy laughed. Teddy, who had no parents, whose great-aunt murdered his mother, whose great-uncle's wanted sign was gazing blankly down at him from a shelf at this very moment, was happy. Ignorance was truly bliss, Harry supposed.
Harry peered at Teddy again, who threw up his chunky little fists towards his godfather and smiled brightly. Harry, almost without realizing what he was doing, reached out his hand to clasp one of his godson's. He ran a thumb over the tiny knuckles, and felt a smile spread easily across his face.
"I'm sorry about how I acted at the funeral," he said abruptly to Andromeda. "I… it's been a long summer." He looked up and saw that her gaze had softened.
"Yes, it has," she said simply.
Harry released Teddy's tiny fingers.
"Maybe I could come by sometime," he continued. "To your house, I mean. To see him."
The corners of Andromeda's mouth turned upwards, just slightly. It was hardly a smile, but it was certainly promising.
"I think that would be fine," she said, and Harry grinned.
"I'm proud of you," Ginny said as they walked through the door of Quality Quidditch Supplies. "That was brave."
"Courage hasn't been my strong suit lately," Harry mused, "if the bravest thing I can do is make tentative plans to stop by for tea with an old woman and a baby."
Ginny turned back from a display of broom-handle polish to look at him, but said nothing.
"Since the war ended everything just makes me feel so… uncomfortable, I guess. I don't know," Harry finished. Ginny still didn't speak. Suddenly Harry felt a hand at his elbow. He turned sharply, hand flying to his wand, resting snuggly in his jeans pocket.
"Harry Potter!" a mousy-haired witch squeaked from about a foot beneath his line-of-sight. "It is such an honor! I never-"
"Hang on!" Ginny said behind him, inexplicably. "That's not Harry Potter! That's my cousin, Barny Weasley!"
Harry turned back to Ginny, who was standing squarely with one hand on her hip, hair tossed over her shoulder. He grinned.
"Oh," the little witch chuckled nervously, clearly not believing Ginny's outlandish claim, but still startled by her interruption. "Yes, well anyways, Harry, I-"
"Have I not just said that he's Barny Weasley?" Ginny asked arrogantly, swatting Harry's shoulder with her hand. "Harry Potter saved the lot of you from Voldemort, and Barny here gets all the praise? Come on, Barn. Let's go!"
And with that, she stalked off to a wall of Cleansweeps. Harry made an apologetic face to the bemused old witch and went to stand next to Ginny.
"That was a bit rude," he said, though he couldn't help but smile broadly.
Ginny's eyes were narrowed. "No more rude than her badgering strangers trying to do their shopping," she said.
"Isn't that what you just did to Andromeda?" Harry asked, laughing.
"That was different. Teddy's your godson," she sighed, before turning to look at Harry. "I'm sorry. I just don't know how you put up with it. The things you've gone through in the last year… and then everyone acts like they have some kind of claim to you."
Harry put an arm around her shoulder. "They don't understand," he said quietly. He looked up at the Cleansweeps.
"Need a new broom, then?" he asked lightly. "I don't know if these'll do for the Captain of the Gryffindor team."
"There's no way I'll make Captain now that you're back. Besides, I'm so out of practice; I haven't played in a real match since the night we beat Ravenclaw last spring," Ginny said.
"What are you talking about?" Harry asked. "You didn't play last year?"
Ginny shook her head. "I thought I told you," she said. "I hit Blaise Zabini with a stinging hex our second day back, after I heard him saying some disgusting things about Muggles outside of Transfiguration. Snape gave me a 'lifelong' Quidditch ban for that."
"Snape did?" Harry asked, surprised.
During their long nights spent curled together on Ginny's tiny bed, Harry had slowly revealed to her so much of what had happened to himself, Ron, and Hermione since the night of Bill and Fleur's wedding. Horcruxes, Hallows, the Ministry break-in, Malfoy Manor, and even Ron's departure had been the topic of many evenings. It had been greatly therapeutic to reveal so much of himself to Ginny; he felt that they had gotten to know each other better over the last six weeks than the six years prior that he'd known her.
Ginny, in turn, had detailed for him her time at Hogwarts the previous term; painting horrible images of attempting to rebel against the Carrows with Neville and Luna, but always being thwarted by Snape. She was hardly impressed by Harry's description of Snape's bravery, but had noted that Snape had been surprisingly known for doling out less-severe punishment than the Carrows. Harry was now startled to hear that she received such a strict sanction for magic in a corridor; such infractions were typically penalized with a loss of House points.
"Yes, Harry, Snape did," Ginny said, a bit peevishly. "Anyways, I have a broom that works perfectly fine, thanks. You're the one that we need to be shopping for. Do you think you want another Firebolt?"
Harry thought miserably of his old broom, a Christmas gift from Sirius. He didn't know if he wanted another one; he knew it just wouldn't feel the same having not come from his late godfather. Still, he supposed he had to have something, and there wasn't a better racing broom in Europe. He turned to the wall of Firebolts, seeing that there were now quite a large stock of them, compared to years ago, when he had been one of the first wizards in the world to own one. He beamed suddenly with pride, remembering the feeling of unwrapping Sirius' gift for the first time, feeling the handle of the broom vibrating softly under his grip.
"Harry! Ginny!" a voice called out, breaking Harry out of his reverie. He and Ginny turned to see Neville Longbottom making his way towards them through the packed shop. He reached Ginny first, pulling her into a massive hug before in turn throwing himself on Harry, who received him with a cry of joy.
"How are you, Neville?" Harry asked, stepping back and looking him over. His friend looked nearly-returned to his pre-War robustness; no more scrapes or bruises covered his face, and he had gained back some of his jolly coloring and plumpness.
"Can't complain," Neville shrugged. "I had to get some new dragon-hide gloves for Herbology, and Gran's just bought me an owl for my birthday."
"That's right!" Harry said. "Happy birthday!"
"Happy birthday," Ginny murmured.
"Thanks," Neville grinned appreciatively. "Any plans for yours?"
Harry shrugged. He hadn't seen much of Neville since the week after the battle, when most members of the Wizarding world were running into each other at various funerals. He had figured Neville was with his grandmother, taking the summer to recover after her time spent on the run and his year of beatings and torture.
"Herbology? Are you going back to school, then?" Harry asked, trying to sound casual.
Neville nodded. "Don't really want to, but I'm realizing there's not much I can do without having done my N.E.W.T.s. Doesn't help my mood much either, that those two are still on the run," he said, indicating a large poster of Rabastan and Rodolphus Lestrange, hanging in the shops window. "But I am completely unprepared for examinations. We didn't manage to actually get much schoolwork in last term, did we, Ginny?"
Ginny shook her head, looking slightly uncomfortable. Harry grabbed her hand, brushing his thumb over her fingers. He knew it was difficult for her to talk much about the school year with the Carrows, and she still hadn't been sleeping well. It worried him, honestly, especially just after her reaction to his comment about Snape. Ginny was a fairly resilient person, but she had changed after the last school year and the death of her brother. She was a bit quicker to anger, a bit quieter, and a bit less mischievous. Harry had found that one of the most difficult struggles of the past few weeks was Harry and Ginny acknowledging to each other that they were no longer the same two people that had spent hours lying by the lake at Hogwarts over a year ago.
Neville seemed to notice Ginny's discomfort. He stepped towards her, his face sincere.
"Look, I don't think I've had a chance really, to say that I'm sorry for what happened to Fred. And I know it'll be brutal, going back to Hogwarts, after everything that happened last term, but it's not going to be like that again. McGonagall's Headmistress, and I know she won't just sweep last year under the rug. Everything with the Carrows… we shouldn't act like it was some normal thing to happen during a war, you know? We all suffered, we can't pretend otherwise."
Ginny's eyes were wide, but she still steadfastly met Neville's gaze.
"Thanks, Neville," she said, before throwing Harry a strangely penetrating look.
Neville nodded for a second time. "I've got to get back to Gran, but I'll see you two around," he said, smiling kindly.
He left the two of them standing there, holding hands. Harry didn't know what to say to her, but Ginny broke the silence quickly.
"You know what?" she said. "I really think you should get a new Firebolt."
"You do?" Harry asked.
"Yeah," Ginny said, smiling. "But mostly because I want you to to let me have a go at it."
Harry ended up choosing a random Firebolt from those stocked at Quality Quidditch Supplies. It was a Firebolt, but not his Firebolt, he couldn't help but think as he slid his Galleons across the counter. It just didn't feel the same, and Harry was beginning to suspect that nothing ever would.
Ginny was sullen again as she and Harry Flooed back into the Burrow. The trip to see George had hardly gone as planned. They had arrived at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes to find George surrounded by unpacked boxes, staring idly out the window.
"Been waiting for us to start, have you, you lazy arse?" Ginny had asked playfully, but as George had turned to face them, Harry could see that it was not laziness that hindered George from unpacking the merchandise, for most of the shop had finally been repaired, but something else entirely.
"I don't want to do this without Fred," George had said, looking at them desperately. "Verity brought in boxes today; we got our first shipment of Slug Belchers, inspired by Ron of course. Fred and I thought them up before the war, and he never saw them past the prototype, and now they're here, and I - I just can't."
Ginny sighed, and crossed the room to speak with her brother in hushed tones.
Harry was left to begin sorting the Belchers, setting up the display stand with a quick "Erecto" and levitating the various boxes onto it, frowning as Ginny and George's voices became louder and louder. Fearing that he would be dragged into whatever dispute it was, he proceeded to assemble the rest of the stands and displays, soon aided by Verity, who had returned from her lunch break.
They had stepped back, rather impressed with their own work, when Ginny grabbed him suddenly by the arm and dragged him from the shop towards the Leaky Cauldron. She didn't say a word until they had stepped from the fireplace into the Burrow's kitchen.
"He can't give up the shop," she huffed, grabbing a pot off the rack and setting it over the stove. "It's the only thing he has now; it was his whole life's work. What will he do without it?"
"Maybe it was only what he wanted to do if he could do it with Fred," Harry suggested as Ginny began chopping onions without magic. "What are you making?"
"Soup," she said, tossing a square of butter into the pot before scraping the onions off the chopping board in after it. "I don't even know if he could do anything else. He's got no N.E.W.T.s and only three O.W.L.s!"
Harry thought that Ginny sounded quite like her mother when she spoke like this, but refrained from voicing this opinion.
"And do you know what he said to me?" she asked, dumping a can of stock over the onions.
"What?" Harry asked.
"He said that if the family wasn't going to be supportive of him closing down the shop, he had other people who could help him figure out what to do next. What do you think that means?"
Harry's mind flashed to Angelina Johnson, but again kept his mouth shut.
It took most of the afternoon for Ginny's concoction to simmer into something edible, so she and Harry spent the rest of the day traipsing around the garden, kicking gnomes about and reminiscing about two summers ago, when they played two-a-side Quidditch in the very place with Ron and Hermione. At one point, Ginny sank down under a nearby tree, curling into a ball as she stared out at the hills where the Lovegoods lived.
"I miss my brother," she mumbled, and Harry had sat next to her, pulling up bits of grass and wondering sadly which brother she was referring to, though he had a clue. He had kissed her then, not sure if it was to make her or himself feel better.
They didn't speak much through dinner, and Mr. Weasley came home shortly thereafter. While Harry asked him about his day at the Ministry, Ginny tiptoed quietly upstairs to ask her mother if she wanted anything to eat. Mrs. Weasley declined.
"That's the third dinner a row she's missed," Ginny muttered worriedly as she walked back into the kitchen.
Mr. Weasley rubbed his eyes.
"Don't worry about your mother, Ginny. It'll take time, but she'll be alright," he said wearily, but Harry privately thought that he too had been looking rather peaky.
They chatted a bit longer about Arthur's work and Harry and Ginny's trip to Diagon Alley, before Mr. Weasley gave them a small smile and trudged up the stairs to bed.
Ginny followed first, and Harry cleared up the dishes, taking a moment to feel proud of his newfound ability to do household magic. He wasn't very good, but it was a definite start, he thought, washing the sponge rotate itself over a plate. He smiled, remembering the first time he met Tonks, who had eagerly attempted and failed to charm his socks into folding themselves into his school trunk as she stole him away from Privet Drive when she was fifteen.
And then it was Harry's turn to make his long journey up to Ron's room, where he would change into pyjamas and wait until he knew Mr. and Mrs. Weasley would be soundly asleep.
He occupied himself tonight by reading Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches, though he was sorry to see that there was no chapter on how to help the witch you want to charm adjust to the trauma of losing her older brother and several classmates in a battle against the darkest wizard to ever live.
He normally tried to wait until a few minutes after eleven before sneaking back downstairs, just to be sure the Weasleys were certainly, positively asleep, but today had been so difficult, and he was so tired, that after the clock struck Harry waited nearly half-an-hour before yanking the Cloak over himself and making his way to Ginny's room.
He slipped inside her room and pulled off the Cloak. Ginny was sitting with her knees pulled to her chest again, staring at him.
"I'm worried about you," he said, not bothering with any pleasantries.
"Why?" she asked.
"I can't keep up with you," Harry told her, crossing the room and sitting down on the end of the bed. "You're swinging all over the place, from upbeat to miserable to bitter..."
"It's called being a person, Harry," she said drily. "You've never been notorious for your consistently good moods, either."
"Yeah," Harry said. "Yeah, I suppose your right. Can you just... will you just tell me, please, if there's anything I can do to help you? Half the day I've just felt like I've been getting on your nerves and I - I don't want that. You're pretty much the only good thing in my life right now. I want to be that for you, as well."
He could see her soften a bit, and she untucked herself, crawling across the bed towards him. His heart thudded as she rested her head on his shoulder.
"Alright," she said, pausing for a moment before continuing. "I want to talk to you about the battle."
Harry stuck a finger under his glasses, rubbing his eye. He had been expressly avoiding that particular conversation for nearly six weeks, out of a terrible fear that she would ask him what it was like the moment that Fred had died.
"We were both there," he reminded her weakly. "I'm sure we experienced most of it the same way."
She rolled her eyes at that comment. He didn't blame her.
"Harry, look," she said, drawing a long breath. "I just want you to tell me what it was like for you, when you thought you were going to - to die."
Relief flooded through him. It didn't seem that she was going to ask him about Fred after all.
"Oh," he said. "That."
"What did you think I was going to ask you about?" she wondered.
"Nothing," he said with a grimace. He pulled her down with him so they were cradled in each other's arms, the moonlight pouring onto them from her window. He didn't know where to begin.
"I'm not trying to upset you," she said, snaking an arm across his chest and laying her head next to it. "I just - I can't stop thinking about it. How terrible it must've been for you, all alone, even with the Resurrection Stone, and I - I…."
"It was terrible," Harry said, interrupting her gently. "I can't even tell you what I thought about, honestly. I think, after I learned what I had to do, I was mostly running on sheer adrenaline. None of my thoughts were too clear, I just knew I had to get to the forest."
She pressed her lips softly to his shoulder.
"I knew I couldn't see Ron and Hermione," he said. "If I saw them, I didn't think I'd be able to go through with it. What I remember most of all was this really overwhelming desire to live. I remember feeling my heart thudding along and thinking that it was ironic, that I was still so alive, but marching towards death."
"And then I saw you."
He felt Ginny freeze beside him.
"You saw me?" she asked him.
"You were helping a girl on the grounds. She was injured, I guess."
"Vicky Frobisher," Ginny said, her voice weak. "She was in my year, shared my dormitory. She died there, on the grass. I went out because I couldn't stand being in the Great Hall anymore, being around Remus... and Tonks… and Fred. I wanted to find someone to help, and I did. And then she died while I held her hand."
Harry didn't know what to say. "I'm sorry," he told her, running his hand up her arm. "I'm so sorry, Ginny."
Ginny didn't speak, so he pressed on after a moment. "I remember wanting to call out to you, wanting you to convince me to go back… but then I realized there was nowhere to go back to. If I didn't go then… There was never any life for me, beyond Voldemort.
Ginny gave a watery chuckle. "I wouldn't have tried to convince you to go back," she said. "I would've gone with you, though. I would've gone with you to the very end."
Harry looked down to see her staring up at him, and was surprised to see tears in her eyes. He knew she cried, of course, especially in the days after the battle, when her eyes were rimmed with red nearly every time he saw her. But he didn't think he'd ever actually witnessed her in the act of crying, apart from when they were very young.
"I know," he said. "I know you would've." And he did. He knew Ron and Hermione would've never let him go, would've insisted he keep fighting, but that Ginny would've understood; that Ginny always understood.
He knew then another thing, something that he wondered suddenly if he'd always known, maybe from the first moment they kissed in the Gryffindor common room. Something he wanted Ginny to know, too.
"I - I - you…" he began, losing his nerve as quickly as he had discovered it. How did he phrase the words he had never heard said to him, never expected to hear, never said himself.
"You were the last thing I thought of before - before I was hit by the curse," he blurted out, deciding this was easier.
"I - what?" Ginny said, looking up at him again.
"Before Voldemort cast the Killing Curse," Harry said. "I thought of you, and your eyes, and what it felt like to be kissing you."
"Did you really?" she asked, sounding almost amazed.
"Yeah," he said, praying she would understand what he was trying to tell her, without him having to say more.
She shook her head, as if trying to dislodge the memory of Vicky Frobisher from her brain. Harry let his hand move from hers onto her thigh, where he traced small patterns on her skin. Would there ever be a time where touching her didn't cause butterflies to erupt in his stomach?
She suddenly reached for his left hand, raising it so they could read the numbers behind the battered glass of his wristwatch. It was eight minutes past twelve.
"Happy birthday," she breathed.
"Thanks," he said, pressing a chaste kiss to her crown. For a moment they lay still, facing each other on Ginny's tiny bed. But then Ginny hooked her leg around Harry's, drawing him further into her. She kissed him gently on the lips, and Harry responded in turn, pressing his tongue to hers as she opened her mouth slowly. She broke away, smiling.
"Are you ready for your gift?" she asked him, her eyes glittering.
"Sure," he said sleepily, rolling onto his back.
Ginny sat up, hovering over him for a moment before taking his hands and raising him as well. They sat on her bed facing each other, Ginny still holding both of Harry's hands in her own.
"I couldn't think what to get you," she said. "Everything in Diagon Alley was crap."
Ginny looked rather nervous, and Harry's curiosity was getting the better of him. Ginny looked back down at their linked hands.
"Oh, fuck it," she said, and released her grip on Harry to pull off her t-shirt. Harry's heart thudded as she tossed the fabric off the bed and turned back to him, her pale breasts illuminated by the glow of the moonlight from her window.
"Happy birthday," she said again, before weaving her hands through his hair and kissing him again, not slowly this time, but passionately, thrusting her tongue into his mouth as she pressed her naked chest onto his shirt. His arms flew up as he pressed his hands to her ribcage, brushing his thumbs across her nipples as he had done countless times this summer, though always through her shirt.
"Ginny," he said out of the corner of mouth as she continued to assail him. "What are you doing?"
She leaned back. "What do you think I'm doing?"
"I mean, er, do you really want to do this? Are you sure?"
Her dark eyes blazed as she looked at him, and she tucked her hair behind her ears. "Yes," she exhaled, sliding off his lap and rolling towards the space where her bed met the wall.
Harry turned so that he was hovering over her. Ginny pushed her knickers down and kicked them off her feet. Harry gulped again, his eyes feasting on the sight of her. Her body was so familiar to him after these last few exploratory weeks, and yet he had never actually seen all of her at once like this. She was so lovely, covered from head to toe in freckles, her hair fanned out on the pillow beneath it. She was breathing heavily, her breasts rising and falling rhythmically.
He paused for a moment. 'It's just Ginny' a small voice said in the back of his head. 'Tell her, tell her now.'
But now Ginny was reaching down, towards his own bottoms; the old pyjamas that he'd had for the last year, since his time in the tent, when lack of privacy had made modest sleepwear essential… and suddenly his hips were free, and the pants had slipped down his legs, and then Ginny was looking up at him, and words were lost to him, all except one.
"Ginny," Harry whispered.
Minutes, hours, maybe weeks later, Harry collapsed on top of Ginny, who pressed a kiss to his temple as he murmured sweet nonsense in her ear, not entirely sure what had just happened. It took him a moment to fully grasp what he'd just done, pushing himself up to look at her.
"Oh, fuck, Ginny, I'm sorry!" he cried, as her body began to shake with laughter.
"It's alright," she said, giggling uncontrollably.
"Are you mad at me? I didn't mean to… I really wanted you to... " he trailed off, looking her over. She continued to laugh, tears beginning to leak out of the sides of her eyes. Harry groaned, collapsing back on top of her as she wrapped an arm around his neck, sniggering in his ear.
Harry took a deep breath and rolled off of her, onto his back, smiling.
"What's so funny?" he asked, though he was laughing himself now.
She couldn't answer through her chortles, she just shook her head. Harry snorted.
"Oh, leave me alone," he told her, but he grabbed her waist and pulled her to him, kissing her again. "Fuck, that felt good."
She buried her face in his chest. "It did," she agreed. "Maybe next time you'll manage to last more than sixty seconds."
"Oi!" he said, but already, less than thirty minutes in, his eighteenth birthday had probably been the best of his life.
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