All It Takes by Summer Potter



Summary: Sometimes things don't always work out the way you plan them. Ginny must come to terms with life after the war, even if her life isn't exactly what she thought it'd be. She'll soon realize that all it takes is one little moment to make everything fall into place
Rating: PG-13 starstarstarstarhalf-star
Categories: Alternate Universe
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2011.09.25
Updated: 2012.11.19


Index

Chapter 1: Chapter 1: An Escape
Chapter 2: Chapter 2: At The Beach
Chapter 3: Chapter 3: Misunderstood
Chapter 4: Chapter 4: All in the Lyrics
Chapter 5: Chapter 5: New Beginnings
Chapter 6: Chapter 6: An Evening to Remember
Chapter 7: Chapter 7: Saying the Most Complicated Simple Thing
Chapter 8: Chapter 8: The Benefits of Dating Harry Potter
Chapter 9: Chapter 9: When in Rome
Chapter 10: Chapter 10: Back to Reality
Chapter 11: Chapter 11: A Goodbye Kiss?
Chapter 12: Chapter 12: Revenge
Chapter 13: Chapter 13: St. Mungo's
Chapter 14: Chapter 14: A Light in the Darkness
Chapter 15: Chapter 15: Chocolate and Vanilla Cupcakes
Chapter 16: Chapter 16: Define 'Normal'
Chapter 17: Chapter 17: The Necessity of Commitment
Chapter 18: Chapter 18: The Funeral


Chapter 1: Chapter 1: An Escape

Author's Notes: While this story is set in canon in July 1998 after the war, the A/U label has been attached for the small sidesteps taken here. For the most part, it is set in canon after the war.


All It Takes
Chapter 1: An Escape

“Over here, Ally! I told you we’d find her! You’re a little worry-wart!”

“I am NOT!”

“You were worried! Admit it! Mum is right there!”

Three muggle children raced around the corner, yelling to each other in pursuit of a tall woman who was laden with shopping bags. She turned at the sound of the children’s voices, her curls bouncing under a large sun hat as she smiled widely at the group of laughing, excited faces. She set her bags down beside her and hugged the smallest girl with long curly hair.

“What’s wrong, Ally, dear?”

“She thought you’d left her for good!” Mocked a tall blonde boy, grinning at Allison who looked highly affronted at being teased.

The woman kissed Allison’s cheek and stood. “Jeremy, have you been teasing your sister?”

“No, Mum!” The tall boy said, elbowing the boy next to him who began snickering at the blatant lie.

“Well, I hope not… especially since I bought us a box of cookies to share this afternoon.”

“Can I have one now, Mummy?” Ally asked hopefully, looking up at her mother with big eyes.

“When we get home, we’ll have them as a snack with nice tall glass of milk,” her mother replied gently, picking up her bags again. “Now, let’s get home. Daddy will be worried that we’ve been away for so long.”

“Dad might think we all got lost,” said the middle-child with a laugh at the thought.

“He might,” agreed the mother with a fond smile, leading her children down the path and out of ear shot of the redheaded girl sitting at the caf table. She watched the family walk away, a sort of longing in her chest as she watched them, thinking how muggle children and families were so lucky to be so ignorant of the war that had happened right under their noses.

They may have sensed the evil, the danger, and the unease of everything. They had witnessed inexplicable disasters, impossible natural elements in all the wrong seasons, and many deaths that occurred suddenly and without warning. Muggles had no idea what was causing it, but perhaps this was better. Perhaps it was easier to live their lives and pin all the strangeness down to bad luck or an unlucky turn of events. It must have been easier than suffering the loss of so many friends, of a brother, and the years of fear at the mere mention of a name.

Ginny now spent a lot of time in the village of Ottery St. Catchpole, which was just a little ways from her home. Muggle-watching made her forget of her own worries and fears, and gave her some free time to think about other people. She watched small children play and run about, she watched happy couples, families who argued, worried-looking passersby, laughing friends, and grumpy-looking shoppers. What she liked about this activity was seeing the normalcy of the rest of the world, and in particular, it was nice to see people not burdened by the scars left by Lord Voldemort on the wizarding world.

A voice startled her from her favourite pastime and she looked over to wave at the approaching two figures. “Hey Gin! Sorry we’re late!”

At first, muggle-watching had become her past-time and her vice, but it wasn’t long before she happily found herself befriended by two of them. Annie Wotler and Jackson Hendole made it possible for her to forget everything that was bothering her for at least a few hours a day. They’d met at a little town festival a few weeks back when Annie had accidentally tripped and dropped a snow-cone on Ginny. Annie had insisted on buying Ginny one to make up for her clumsiness, and then had insisted that since Ginny was alone, she should hang out with her and her friend Jackson for the afternoon- this was how it had started.

And now she was Ginny: the magic-less friend of Annie and Jackson. They were friends who did not talk about the war or Voldemort, or anything of the like. Instead, they talked about music, food, their summers, or about themselves. They talked about how much they hated Biology labs (Ginny had nodded along, agreeing with most of it), and where they wanted to hang out, or have lunch. This new friendship had become Ginny’s guilty-pleasure; a second identity, sort of speak. This was a Ginny who knew nothing of Voldemort, who had not lost a brother, who was not being driven insane by Harry Potter’s visits to the Burrow or the way he longingly looked at her before when he thought she couldn’t see. Ginny loved that she got to be a person who did not feel as if she’d spent her first several weeks of summer feeling miserable and lonely.

“I couldn’t find my phone,” Annie explained, holding up her handheld device to show that she’d recovered it. “I spent ten minutes calling it to find it.”

Ginny smiled amusedly at Annie and her dedication. Muggles seemed forever attached to their cellular telephones. Ginny’s not having one was actually a point of long, teasing, and half-outraged kind of conversation on the first day they’d met- how could she not have one? Usually she didn’t mind these differences between her and her muggle friends as they were just little things. Ginny found too that she could fib her way through most things to seem as normal as possible.

Jackson slid into a seat next to her with a concerned look on his face. “What’s up, Ginny? You look a little distracted today.”

Ginny sat up a little straighter and shook her head, easing a smile onto her face. As usual, the muggle village was no place for her sad thoughts. Jackson and Annie didn’t need to hear a censored version of her life so she waved his concern away and replied, “No, I’m fine. I was just daydreaming.”

“Ohhhh, who’s the guy?” Annie bubbled, dropping herself into a seat and plopping her large handbag onto the table. Jackson was watching Ginny curiously, his arms folded across his chest as if he was waiting for her to come out with the truth.

Ginny rolled her eyes, dismissing the idea. “I wasn’t daydreaming about a guy, thank you. It was one of those stare-into-space daydreams.”

“Well, that’s boring,” Annie complained. “You need to meet someone so I don’t feel like I’m always going on and on and on about Pat.”

Jackson chuckled darkly, running a hand through his short, chestnut-coloured hair. “If you know you do it and you know it’s annoying, perhaps you could give us a break on the topic of Patrick?”

Annie looked a little disappointed as she leaned over and playfully punched him in the arm. “You, Jack, are one of my very dear friends, and I think friendship dictates that you listen to my pathetic love-life just as I have to listen to yours.”

“When was the last time I complained?” Jackson asked with raised eyebrows.

Seeing an argument coming up, Ginny decided to play peacemaker. “Okay, Annie, any updates?”

Annie glared at her friends for a long moment before launching into a recap of her phone call with Patrick until two am last night. Ginny listened with vague amusement as Annie debated over whether or not Pat’s suggesting that they grab coffee sometime was a date or just a casual plan to hang out together. Annie had grown up with Patrick and was the clichd ‘head over heels for the boy-next-door.’ Ginny had only met the guy once, but Ginny had had the impression that Patrick hadn’t yet considered him and Annie to be more than friends.

Annie was a short, tiny little thing with long yellow-blonde hair and large brown eyes. She wore a lot of muggle designer clothes, and had a bit of an obsession with shoes. She lived about twenty minutes outside the village in the opposite direction of the Burrow. Usually Annie stayed in the village with Jackson’s family, with whom her own family was close with. Annie and Jackson had grown up together as kids, but Annie had moved out of the village with her parents after high school.

While Annie was decked out in designer clothes, Jackson often wore a pair of faded jeans and the first shirt he pulled from his closet. He was tall, well-muscled from years of playing rugby, and already brown from the summer sun, even though it was only July. Annie always teased Jackson about the girls making plays for him, but Jackson didn’t seem to be interested in the attention at all. He had dated a bit, but had said very little about his last girlfriend, only saying it ‘hadn’t ended well’ in a very bitter tone. Ginny generally liked Jackson. He was friendly, very laid-back and his laugh was contagious.

“Ann, if you just told the guy you like him, you know you’d just end this whole silly beat-around-the-bush thing?” Jackson suggested after Annie had finished her long-winded monologue on Patrick.

Ginny nodded in agreement, trying to avoid the unpleasant feeling that had suddenly materialized in her stomach as she came up with her own helpful piece of advice for Annie. “Yeah, just ask him out or move on. It’s much better to just get things out in the open now then forever worry about when he’s going to make the first move.” And if you followed your own advice, you wouldn’t be lying awake at night overanalyzing all of Harry’s words and behaviour, desperate for any sign that he still wanted a relationship.

“Ugh, I know… but it’s scary. If I mess this up, I probably won’t have another shot.” Annie flipped open her phone, scanning the screen for any new messages. “I just get so nervous. Here, let me show you how much of an idiot I sound like when I text him.”

But Jackson had grabbed the phone out of her hand and tossed it to Ginny. “Just text him, Gin. Let’s put her out of her misery. Tell him where we are, and that we’re going to get some ice cream from that place on fifth.”

Annie’s eyes went wide and she jumped to her feet to snatch her phone back. Ginny dodged the grab with a laugh and managed to click the button for her messages. Annie moaned loudly and Ginny looked up to see her friend looking so miserable that she handed the phone back with a sympathetic expression.

“No, I can’t do that to her. I know what it’s like to be in her position.”

Jackson laughed and shook his head. “You girls are silly. Guys don’t want to play any games. Just ask us or don’t. It’s much simpler that way!”

“Are you three ready to order?” A waitress asked, walking up to their table with a small notepad in her hand.

Ginny ordered herself an Iced Tea, while the other two ordered a Milkshake and a Coke. When the waitress left, Jackson banged his hand on the table, looking eager.

“So what is the plan today? I vote we head down to the beach. I don’t want to sit inside today.”

“The beach? Sounds good,” Ginny answered, thinking this was a much better plan than sitting around in town or walking about her house, feeling a little out of place. She was pretty sure she heard Ron telling her mother that the he, Hermione and Harry would be at the Burrow all day today.

Annie nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah, I’m down. It’s so nice out today. Maybe they’ll have live music out there?”

“I would love to see a concert soon,” Jackson exclaimed longingly. “We should take a trip somewhere for the weekend and catch a good concert.”

Annie was back on her phone, looking through her scheduler to see if she had any plans already scheduled there. “What weekend? My Dad wants to take my family to see my Grandma in a few weeks.”

Jackson shrugged, unsure of the exact date. “I’ll check. Would you come, Ginny? I know you’re a bit of an alien to popular culture, but I think you’d like them.”

Ginny smiled at the joke. It was true that much of what they said of pop culture was lost on her, and it was quite embarrassing when she had to learn that Hanson was a band, and that a Game Boy was a handheld gaming device. “Depends on how much the ticket is, but yeah, I’d be willing to go.”

“I’d cover you,” Annie offered distractedly, still staring at her phone screen. “Well, as long as it’s not the same weekend as when I have to go see Grandma, I say we should go. We could stay in a hotel… it’d be fun!”

As her two friends discussed plans to head to London and stay in a hotel downtown, Ginny wished that money was one of the many things that changed in the muggle world. She was poor as both a witch and as a muggle, and while most of the time, she, Jackson and Annie just stayed in the village, some of their more exciting plans often involved spending quite a bit of money and Ginny would reluctantly back out.

They finished their drinks and Jackson announced he had to head home for an hour or so to take care of a few things before they spent the day at the beach. They agreed to meet at Jackson’s in an hour and a half with their swim things and some snacks. As if agreeing on their plan, the sun shifted out from behind the clouds as they said their goodbyes.

“It’s getting so hot!” Annie exclaimed, sliding her Ray-bans onto her nose and frowning up at the sky. “Jackson, let’s go before I burn up on the street!”

Jackson smiled slightly at Annie’s dramatics and raised a hand in farewell to Ginny. “Okay, okay. See you Gin!”

She waved back cheerily. “See you!”

Ginny turned and walked up the street in the opposite direction. It was a short walk home if she moved quickly. The path was mostly shaded in the trees and thick in shrubs, which added another barricade between the muggles and wizarding families who lived in the hills behind the village. Jackson and Annie had pestered Ginny to allow them to see where she lived, a conversation that Ginny had been forced to end with a lie that her parents were terribly strict, and hated unexpected guests. This was the opposite of the truth, of course. If muggles were not repelled by charms and protective enchantments over the Burrow, her father would love to sit her friends down and question them endlessly.

This was the one major downfall about these new friendships: the secrecy. They could never really know who she was, where she’d come from, or anything about her personal life. Everything from the music she listened to, to the classes she took at school were topics that she could not discuss. Sometimes she felt uneasy about lying to them, but usually she just pushed through the awkward questions. After all, she came to the village nearly every day to satisfy some strange need to feel normal again when she so often felt that she had no idea what was normal for her anymore. Hermione was always busy catching up for school, and Ron and Harry were constantly busy with their Auror training, leaving Ginny to wander about the property missing her friends and worrying about her sanity.

The Burrow came into sight and Ginny moved briskly forward, eager to get her things and spend the day at the beach. She’d have to cast her sun-repellent charms at the house as she’d never worn muggle sunscreen in her life and the stuff looked and smelled disgusting. Annie usually applied an oily substance to her skin to help her get a better tan. Personally, Ginny didn’t think that was very healthy, but Annie swore by the foul-smelling oil.

“Ginny, dear!” Her mother called from the front porch, spotting her daughter walking in. “Back so soon?” She tossed another handful of chicken feed over the railings for the ravenous, clucking birds below.

“I’m just back for a little,” Ginny called back, nearing the house. “I’m going to the beach.”

“Oh, that’ll be nice,” her mother replied coolly. “How are your friends?”

“Good.” Ginny hated the way that her mother said the word ‘friends’ when she referred to Annie and Jackson, but she supposed that her mother knew when something was bothering her. She said it with almost an air of knowing concern, perhaps implying that she knew why her daughter had become so attached to these muggles. Ginny often thought her mother could also tell how much she needed her muggle friends right now; that it was her own way of dealing with her pain.

Molly Weasley watched her daughter with worried eyes as she stepped onto the porch. She opened the door for her and then followed her inside. “Hermione just came back from her parents. She’s been asking for you,” she told Ginny. “Hermione, Ron and Harry are in the garden now.”

“Oh, I’ll go say hello then,” Ginny answered, her mood increasing at the thought of Hermione being back. It made the Burrow more tolerable on days when Hermione was around to act as another person between herself, Harry, and the resulting awkwardness.

“Ginny!”

Ginny stopped and turned at her mother’s surprised expression as she demanded, “Where is your wand?”

Ginny sighed inwardly. This had been a frequent argument this summer as Ginny was often caught by her mother without it. “It’s upstairs, Mum. I forgot it again, sorry.”

“Sorry won’t save you if you’re caught without it! You know I don’t want you walking out there without protection on you. There are still Death Eaters on the loose… there is still danger! I allow you to walk that path through those trees by yourself, but I do at least expect that you’d be smart about it.”

Nodding, Ginny apologized and promised to bring it with her next time. She honestly had no idea why she didn’t just bring her wand- she wasn’t denying the fact that there was still some danger. It wasn’t a secret that her family had been so involved in the fight against Voldemort. She wondered if it was a psychological thing where she forgot about her wand in a subconscious effort to be more like Annie and Jackson.

Molly didn’t follow as Ginny went through to the back door and pulled it open. The three of them were sitting at the garden table, under the shade of a large white awning. Hermione jumped up when she spotted Ginny and hurried to hug her friend.

“Hello! I’m glad you’re back! I wish you’d study a bit more over here! I miss you!” She hugged Hermione in greeting, and smiled in greeting at Ron and Harry. “Hi Ron, hey Harry.”

“I know, but I get so much more reading done at my parents’ house. Where were you? In the village again?” Hermione asked curiously. “I looked in your room when I got in, but your Mum says you’re barely here anymore.”

Ginny nodded, pleased with how calm and collected she felt with Harry sitting just a few feet from her. “Yeah, I was in the village. Sorry I missed you! How have you been?” She looked around, addressing the question to all three of them, rather than just to Hermione.

“Good, I’ve had a lovely vacation with Mum and Dad. It’s nice to be back though.” Hermione sat back down under the shade of the awning and gestured for Ginny to sit as well.

“How are the muggles?” Ron asked, a little too sarcastically.

Ginny raised her eyebrows at him. “They have names, Ron, and they’re nice people. Perhaps you could bother to remember that instead of wasting energy on judging me for hanging out with them all the time.”

“I just never see you anymore, Gin,” he told her, backtracking in his tone. “It’s just weird that you spend so much time down there with them.”

“You’re never here either, and I’ve got to do something with my time or I’ll go mad.”

Ron frowned. “You’re always there, though. It’s like you’re avoiding-”

The glare from Hermione and the look from Harry shut Ron up before he could finish that sentence. Ginny looked between the three of them slowly, curious as to what Ron meant by avoiding. Did he mean that she was avoiding them or the wizarding world in general? Did they know about her guilty pleasure? She really didn’t want any of them to know of her desire to be somewhere else while she picked up the pieces of her own life. She didn’t think any of them would react well to her obsession with feeling like a muggle right now.

“We were going to play some Quidditch later,” Harry interjected. “We could use a Chaser?”

Had his eyes always been that intense and green when he looked directly at her? And when was the last time he’d looked directly at her? A familiar ache in her chest began to throb, but she quickly shoved it away- grateful that she wouldn’t have to endure being so near and yet so far from Harry all afternoon. This was the norm between them: cool, friendly invites to participate in group activities: no touching, no signs of affection, no one-on-one time. She’d been sure that he’d want to clear the air between them after the war and either make it clear that they were friends or he wanted more. But no, Harry had left it all in limbo.

Hoping she looked mildly disappointed and yet grateful for the invitation, she said “I actually have plans. Annie, Jackson, and I are going to the beach. I just came home to grab my swim things.”

“But Hermione just got back! You see them everyday… you can’t hang out with us this afternoon?” Ron asked, startled. “We’ve all been busy lately, you can’t take a few hours to hang out with us?”

Ginny hesitated, knowing Ron was right. Wasn’t this exactly what she was so irritated about all the time? Logic dictated that if she was upset that they never made time to hang out with her anymore, shouldn’t she jump on the invitation? Instead she found herself turning down the offer. “I made plans, Ron… sorry… and I do want to go. Maybe we can play later tonight?” She caught Harry’s eye and the ache continued to pain her so she started to back away. With his green eyes narrowed and looking at her like this she had a quick vision of herself pushing Harry against the broom shed after the game.

Shaking her head to clear the thought, she forced her legs to move a bit faster to get away from Harry. “Sorry, but I’ve got to get going. They’ll be waiting for me.”

“See you later, then!” Hermione called after her in a cheery, albeit strained voice. With her back turned, Ginny sighed softly in disappointment. What was wrong with her? When was the last time that she’d let Harry Potter mess with her emotions and her head? What happened to the days of being calm, composed and cool around him?

“Yeah, see you,” Harry added in a tone that sounded remotely like disappointment. Pausing mid-step, she found that this bothered her more than Ron’s rudeness. Why did he suddenly care if she didn’t play Quidditch with them? It’s not like he cared about her being around the rest of the summer. They were just friends now! Even when Harry was around, he never sought her out, he never said two words to her about being anything other than friends so what right did he have to miss her when she was gone?

If that was even disappointment, she reminded herself glumly. He could just have wanted another Quidditch player. Hermione isn’t the best at flying and he probably misses the game…

She made it inside without having turned around to demand what Harry meant by his tone. As she ascended the stairs and mentally raged over Harry daring to be disappointed in her, a second, quieter but smug voice was congratulating her on making him miss her at all. If he missed her, it meant he felt something. And something was better than nothing, which was still a lot better than her crying over her desperate wish to be Harry Potter’s anything.

As she collected her swimsuit and tossed it in a bag at her desk, her eyes found Harry, Ron and Hermione in the garden, deep in conversation. She looked down at Harry, wondering what was going through his head, and why she just couldn’t follow her own advice to Annie and just get things on the table.

“Harry, I still have feelings for you, and I want to be with you, but I don’t know what you want.”

The more she practiced it in her head, the simpler it became. So why couldn’t she march downstairs and say it? Of course she knew why- it was exactly why Annie couldn’t say it to Patrick. If she said it, and he didn’t feel the same way, it would break her. It was the thought of his rejection, however gentle and logical it was, that stopped her from doing anything about it. She knew in her heart that it was the hope of one day being with Harry again that kept her from completely breaking down. To have this hope destroyed if he didn’t want anything with her would break her already broken heart. If Harry had moved on and starting seeing someone else, it would be one thing, but he hadn’t. Instead he kept giving her lingering looks and mixed signals, and this was hope.

She turned from the window, wishing that she felt more secure and confident like she had fourth and fifth years. Being her happy, outgoing, friendly self had won him the first time around. Ginny glanced at her reflection in the mirror wondering where that girl had gone. The girl in the mirror had brown eyes that told of sadness, insecurity, and loss. She smiled a lot less since losing her brother and so many friends. She’d spent an entire year worrying about her boyfriend- or ex-boyfriend, and hoping that once it was all over, he wouldn’t have to be his stupid, noble self and run off on her to save the world. Ginny had focused on an imagined moment after the war where he’d coolly ask to speak with her in private and then snog her brains out. He’d tell her how much he’d missed her and would she like to get back together? Now she could see that she’d been silly to hope for so much; if she was an emotional and psychological mess after the war, surely he was worse?

She could hear laughter outside as she picked up her wand to put it with her other things. At least they were happier, Harry especially- his life was now unencumbered by Voldemort. He was free to do what he wanted and live how he wanted. It was just disappointing that he hadn’t wanted her back now that he could live.

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Chapter 2: Chapter 2: At The Beach

Chapter 2: At the Beach

The sun blazed overhead radiating its afternoon heat as Ginny descended onto the sandy beach with Annie and Jackson at her side. Annie wore a big floppy sunhat with her long blonde hair billowing in the warm breeze behind her. She covered her eyes in large, stylish sun glasses and wore a thin white dress over her bathing suit. Jackson had already cracked several jokes at her expense, claiming that Annie looked like she walked out of a clothing advertisement. Ginny privately agreed with Jackson that Annie’s big sunglasses and bigger hat were more goofy-looking than fashionable. Jackson wore trunks, the same T-shirt he had on before, and old sandals on his feet. Annie had already designated him to carry the heavy cooler of snacks and drinks they’d brought with them and then led the way to find a nice spot on the beach.

“Here looks good!” Annie declared cheerfully, setting down her large bulky bag and pulling out her extra large beach towel to lie on.

Ginny sat next to her, and Jackson on Ginny’s other side, setting the cooler behind them. Annie was rummaging in her bag as Jackson opened the cooler and cracked open a soda. After chugging the majority of its contents, he then offered drinks while Annie pulled out a beach umbrella. Ginny watched Annie pull it out of the bag with raised eyebrows, wondering if Annie was secretly a witch too. How else had she fit that umbrella into her bag without an undetectable extension charm?

“How did you even fit that into your bag?” Ginny asked with amusement as Annie extended the handle and opened the umbrella to provide them with some shade.

“It’s a handy travel-size!” Annie replied as she burrowed the umbrella’s handle in the sand. She settled onto her towel to remove her wrap and began applying her oily, coconut-smelling lotion to protect her skin.

Ginny opened the soda that Jackson had handed her and took a long drink, revelling in the liquid running down her throat and instantly cooling her. Happy to be at the beach, she pulled off the T-shirt to sit in her bikini top and shorts in hopes to start getting a summer tan. Jackson tugged off his own shirt and began slathering on a white lotion on his arms and legs. Ginny watched with mild interest, wondering if his lotion would do more for his skin than the oil Annie was slathering on.

“Do you need any or are you just checking out my guns?” Jackson asked with a grin when he noticed Ginny’s gaze on him.

Annie snorted at the line and continued to rub her oil on legs and arms.

“No, I wasn’t ‘checking out your guns,’ and no thanks, I put some lotion on at home,” Ginny replied dryly. She was definitely grateful for a sun-repelling charm that she could use instead of that goo. It was making both Annie and Jackson smell like a coconut and appear as if they’d been dipped into grease.

“Okay, then you can help me get my back!” Jackson said brightly, handing her the bottle.

Wrinkling her nose, Ginny reluctantly squirted some of the white stuff into her hand and began massaging it onto Jackson’s back. She was grateful for the protection of the charm her mother had cast on her to repel the sun as even spreading the lotion on Jackson’s back made her hands feel greasy and dirty. It wasn’t long before Annie asked if Ginny would do her back next, and so she agreed only if she could use the same lotion and not mix it with the oil. Annie agreed readily, but jokingly threatened Ginny if her tan came out uneven, she’d blame her for it.

Once her muggle friends were safe from the sun, they sprawled out on their towels to lounge for a bit until they could head into the water. Apparently the lotion and the oil required some drying time before Annie and Jackson could swim. Ginny stretched out on her stomach, appreciative for the shade of the umbrella and the light breeze that brushed against her skin. She closed her eyes and wiggled her toes into the sand, feeling more relaxed than she’d felt in a long time.

“Isn’t this nice? The beach was a great idea!” Annie said brightly from under her big floppy hat.

“I can’t wait to jump in that water,” Jackson said wistfully. “I wish my parents still had their boat. I miss water skiing!”

“Waterskiing?” Ginny asked, but she quickly regretted allowing her curiosity to get the better of her. She honestly felt like an idiot when they looked at her whenever she let it slip that she wasn’t familiar with something.

“Yeah, you know… you hook a pair of water skis to the back of a boat and you get pulled around?” Jackson was smirking like he usually did whenever he had to explain. “Please, please tell me this is not one of the many things I’ll have to teach you this summer? This list is getting a little long, Gin. I love being with you, but we have months, but years.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “I’ve just never seen it done before, that’s all. I knew what it was,” she lied coolly.

“Would you do it? I don’t peg you for an athletic kind of girl,” Annie asked sceptically.

Ginny fought a smile. Not athletic? Annie or Jackson would never know how good she was at Quidditch, or how many times she’d been sent to the Hospital Wing to heal a broken finger or to be tested for a concussion.

“Yeah, it sounds fun,” Ginny replied with a shrug. She’d try this water skiing without complaint- how hard could it be? It sounded like all you needed was balance, which would be a lot easier and less dangerous than a fast-paced game of Quidditch with players zooming around at break-neck speeds fifty feet or higher above the ground with lead balls pelting after you.

“Cool, well I’m sure I’ve got friends around here with a boat,” Jackson said thoughtfully. He gingerly ran his hands down his arms and legs and then got to his feet. “Okay, I’m good, let’s go swimming!” He was off to the water before Annie or Ginny could stand up, let alone agree that it was time for a swim.

“I like him better when he’s reserved and quiet. I don’t know what to do with him like he’s off like a kid in a candy store!” Annie mused, getting to her feet as Ginny shimmied out of her shorts and Annie left her floppy hat on her towel.

“You should see my brother Ron in a candy store,” Ginny said with a chuckle, remembering the first time their mother let them into a candy store and how Ron had run every which way, pleading to have everything and anything in sight. Ron and Jackson were alike in that neither appeared to have much restraint when they wanted something.

She paused, suddenly remembering her mother’s repeated insistence that she not go anywhere without her wand. Glancing back at her bag where her wand was hidden, she hesitated but then remembered she was wearing a two-piece bathing suit and there was nowhere to hide it. Besides, it wasn’t likely a Death Eater was going to pop up in the middle of the water, and more than that, she’d be in big trouble if it got away from her under the water.

Ginny was startled out of her thoughts by Annie’s screech of protest when Jackson recklessly splashed water as he ran toward them. Ginny had just looked up when she met the same fate and her worries over leaving her wand left her in one fell swoop as the cold water hit her.

“That’s chilly!” Ginny laughed, wiping the water from her eyes. Unlike Annie, she didn’t intend to stay mostly dry. She never understood why some girls got all dressed up and then refused to let their hair or their faces get wet when swimming. She moved deeper into the water with confident strides in spite of the cool temperature.

Jackson just laughed as he continued to pelt Annie, chasing her and eventually tackling her under the water. Ginny laughed at them, quickly dunking herself before she too would be tackled. Jackson released Annie and then hurried back out to deeper water where he dove under the light waves and swam a little farther from the girls.

Annie stood, pushing her long hair from her face with a smile. “He’s so dead…” she mumbled amusedly, looking for Jackson as she and Ginny moved deeper into the water.

“Why don’t we come to the beach every day?” Jackson asked loudly when he resurfaced. “I forgot how much I loved swimming!”

“Because we’re all too lazy to move our butts all the way out here,” Annie answered dryly. “But I do think we need to come here more.” Her attention was momentarily lost as three older and attractive men hurried past, laughing and calling out at each other. One of them waved at Annie with a big grin and stopped to say hello.

“Annndd we’ve lost Annie,” Jackson said wryly to Ginny, moving closer to her. “Race me to the buoy line?”

“You’re on!” Ginny agreed brightly. “Three-two-one- GO!” They both dove into the waves, leaving Annie behind to chat with the tall blonde man.

Ginny had never taken swimming lessons as a kid, but her parents and her brothers had taught her the basics. She wasn’t particularly skilled at the sport, but she was able to free-style fairly well and with some speed. She wasn’t surprised when Jackson still beat her easily to the buoy line.

“Loser,” Jackson chided teasingly.

“Maybe I let you win,” Ginny answered a little breathlessly, making a mental note that she may need to start working out again.

He pushed his hair from his face, his eyes alight with excitement. Ginny was a little caught off-guard by the happiness radiating from him, and the way the light played off the water droplets on his skin and his hair. He was grinning at her widely and Ginny had to admit it was hard to not smile back at the goofy expression on his face. His excitement at the little things was endearing.

“I wish you wouldn’t. I like a challenge. Race me back for real this time! Do you want a head start?”

“Are you guys coming back or do I have to come all the way over there?!” Annie was shouting at them. The tall blonde guy was nowhere to be found and Annie was standing waist-deep in the water, her arms folded across her chest.

“We’re coming back!” Ginny called back. “Okay, Jackson… you’re on!”

Jackson smirked. “Three-two-one- GO!”

Ginny threw herself back under the water, pulling and kicking as hard as she could. She still lost the race when they resurfaced by Annie but she’d definitely put on more speed that time. Now able to stand, she found herself nearly knocked off her feet by Jackson who had thrown his arm around her, and shook her shoulders in reassurance.

“Better effort that time… you came so close to almost not sucking, Gin!”

Ginny gasped and shoved him playfully. He pushed her back so she tumbled into a wave and onto her butt. She got back up and shoved back, knocking him under the water. Annie shrieked again when a splash of water hit her, and Jackson lifted Ginny up, scooping her above the water.

“So you do have a bit of fight in you!” Jackson said teasingly, his arms tightening around her.

“Put me down, Jackson!” Ginny yelled out, half-breathless, half-laughing. She was very aware of his hard muscles around her exposed flesh and it was making her a little uneasy.

“Not until you say you surrender. Otherwise I’ll toss you to the sharks.”

Ginny wriggled as hard as she could but to no end. “Fine, I give, I give!” Jackson grinned at her and tossed her anyway. When she resurfaced, Annie suggested they head back to the towel to relax a little before Jackson killed Ginny and before she caught hypothermia.

“How are you cold?” Ginny asked confusedly. “The water is beautiful.”

“Annie needs some more fat on her bones,” Jackson answered innocently. “She’s got no insolation.”

“You’re a jerk, Jackson,” Annie retorted calmly.

“I’m hungry anyway, let’s go in! Annie, what kinds of sandwiches did you bring?”

“I brought ham and cheese sandwiches, chips, and sodas,” Annie replied, ticking them off on her fingers. “I always get really hungry when I swim so I packed a lot… which is good considering neither of you two remembered to bring anything.”

They began their walk back to the shore, moving around other swimmers and families who were crowding into the beach to spend the hot afternoon by the cool water. Annie was moving ahead of Jackson and Ginny, more eager to leave the water than the two of them. Ginny stumbled into a hole in the sand and would have fallen onto her face if Jackson had not caught her.

“Thanks!” Ginny said gratefully, flexing her ankle hesitantly, but was relieved to find that she hadn’t hurt herself.

Jackson chuckled. “I used to be one of those kids who dug holes in the sand under the water. I’d sit far away and watch people fall into it. That’s probably what just happened to you.”

Ginny looked around for such a kid. “So you’re saying some kid is laughing at his idea of a hilarious prank right now?”

Jackson slid his arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer to him as they continued to stride through the waves. “Yeah… If you’d actually fallen, he probably would have come closer to have a laugh at you. It’s not as good unless they trip and fall over. I’ve just saved you from humiliation caused by some eight-year-old boy.”

Ginny laughed, only half-listening as part of her brain worked at why Jackson was suddenly being more ‘touchy-feely’ lately. “Well thanks for catching me. You’re my hero today… I’d be so upset if I’d twisted my ankle this summer.”

He turned to look at her with the same startlingly bright expression on his face. In the startlingly sunny weather, his lips tugged into a crooked smile and the water dripping off his muscled body made her heart skip a beat. No wonder Annie always teased Jackson about being hit on all the time- Jackson did have an attractive body under his faded T-shirts and baggy jeans. “I’d be your hero any day, Gin!”

Ginny smiled faintly, allowing the words to wash over her as she realized that Jackson still had his arm around her moments after. It felt a little strange, but not wrong. Jackson was sweet, attractive, nice, and most importantly, he made her feel normal. He generally seemed to like being around her, and if Ginny was right, he was flirting with her so naturally. It was more attention than she’d had in over a year, which also made her feel pathetic- was she actually that starved for Harry’s attention? The answer was a grudging yes but it also made her realize that Jackson’s arm around her was not what she wanted.

His fingers brushed the skin on her arm and Ginny was sure a slight blush was creeping up her neck. Jackson was definitely an interesting guy. Unfortunately, his touch wasn’t what she wanted, and it brought the uneasy feeling back. She did not want Jackson to get the wrong idea if his arm around her was more than just his way of expressing friendship.

Stealing a glance at him, she wondered if Jackson actually had feelings for her. It was nice to know that she was wanted; every girl should feel wanted. Owing to the fact that she’d felt so empty and so alone for so long, Jackson’s attention was flattering and exciting. She couldn’t deny that there wasn’t a small part of her that wasn’t impulsive and curious about Jackson. Was he a good kisser? Was he a romantic-type of boyfriend?

“Is that Ginny?!”

The voice made both her stomach drop and the arm around her shoulder feel as if it weighed ten pounds. She didn’t want to look up but her eyes shot up instinctively anyway at the mention of her name. Her eyes found the owner of the loud, blunt voice and she groaned inwardly as she spotted her brother on the shore, pointing like an idiot.

Looking away almost immediately, she gently shifted away so that Jackson dropped his arm from around her and she kept walking, deciding to ignore Ron for now. She could just kill him. And he wouldn’t be alone- he would never come alone for a day on the beach. More importantly, why was he here? He knew she was here with her friends which made her suspect he had deliberately come to spoil her day.

She and Jackson reached their towels and sat down. Ginny twisted her hair and squeezed the excess water from it nervously. Annie began chatting cheerfully, oblivious to the moment that she and Jackson had just shared, and oblivious to the fact that while Ginny was looking at her, she wasn’t taking in one word that she was saying. All Ginny could think of was the sound of Ron’s voice, and feeling a foreboding sense of dread at having Ron walk up, flanked by Hermione and Harry. Fate was just cruel sometimes.

Ginny sighed heavily and looked up again warily, watching Ron, Hermione, and of course, Harry, walk toward her. Ron looked relaxed, perhaps even confident, which irritated her all the more. Hermione looked worried and while Ginny figured that Hermione probably protested their trip to the beach, she clearly hadn’t been able to stop Ron and his bull-headed ideas. It was Harry’s look that made her nervous as there was no possible way to tell what he was thinking with the blank expression he wore. Had Harry seen Jackson with his arm around Ginny? Would he be angry? Would he feel jealous? Would he feel betrayed that she moved on without saying anything to him? Or worst of all, would Harry even care?

Harry rarely expressed anything that would suggest he cared about having her around, but then again, Ginny had seen him glare at Dean before. Would Jackson make him jealous and provoke him into one of those rare moments of expressing what he was thinking? She’d been both fascinated and irritated by Harry’s jealousy during her fifth year as she couldn’t understand why Harry only noticed her when she was already with someone else.

“Hey Ginny!” Ron called again loudly, waving and sounding very cheerful.

Ginny waved back, forcing herself to smile, though she was sure it was not a happy one. Annie and Jackson looked over now, noticing the approaching trio. Jackson pointed at them with his thumb and raised his eyebrows at her.

“Friends of yours?”

Ginny nodded grimly. “Yes, and the redhead is my brother.”

“Your brother! So we finally get to meet someone from your family!” Annie exclaimed happily, but Ginny didn’t respond. If her friends were meeting Ron and Hermione alone the situation would not have been so bad. She was irritated with her brother, but she could handle Ron. It was the fact that Harry was here that made it so terrible–how could Ron drag him into this if he had seen Jackson with his arm around her?

“Hello Ginny,” Hermione greeted, though her voice was strained and her eyes pleading. “Mind if we join you?” Her eyes darted to Jackson and Annie too, as if asking their permission as well.

“It’s so bloody hot. We thought we might as well come down here, meet your friends and cool down,” Ron told her matter-of-factly. He unrolled a beach towel that he carried under his arm and set it across from Ginny’s without waiting for an invitation.

“Oh, of course! It’s great to meet you!” Annie said, pushing her sunglasses up onto her head. “I’m Annie, and this is Jackson.”

“I’m Hermione, and this is Harry, and Ginny’s brother Ron. The three of us go to school together.”

Jackson and Harry shook hands first, and then Ron and Jackson clasped their hands. Ginny frowned when Jackson winced at Ron’s grasp- was Ron really going to be this petty?

“How was the water?” Hermione asked as she took a seat on Ron’s left.

“A little chilly, but it feels good in this heat,” Annie replied. “It’s so nice to meet some of Ginny’s friends. She’s a strange one, but we love her.”

“Yeah, she’s strange alright. Half the stuff we talk about she never seems to understand. Where has she been hiding from the world?” Jackson asked teasingly, gently nudging Ginny with his elbow.

Ginny raised her eyebrows at Jackson, wishing that he wouldn’t touch her anymore. “I am not hiding from the world… I just don’t pay attention to that kind of thing.”

“Where do you guys go to school?” Annie asked curiously. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of you around here.”

Ginny pretended to scratch a spot on her leg as she tried to come up with an answer, but Harry was quicker on the uptake. “It’s a small private school in Scotland. We’re home only at Christmas so it’s no wonder we look like we’re from another planet when people talk about the newest music or movies.”

Jackson and Annie both looked very surprised with this new piece of information, and Ginny hoped that they wouldn’t be too interested in hearing about their school. The more she had to lie about her life, the more she felt she was trying to be someone she wasn’t. She’d tried to avoid lying for the most part so as to not feel any guilt. Whenever she had to tell a little lie, she tried to move the conversation away from the topic. She wasn’t friends with Annie and Jackson to make up a whole other person named Ginny Weasley; her friendship with Annie and Jackson was about being normal for a little while. It was about having a life outside the dark things that had happened, outside the strain of the war, and the loss. It was about making friends and feeling like a regular teenager when she wasn’t quite so sure what her life would be like now.

“Well maybe Annie and I will have to come visit you in Scotland!” Jackson suggested. “I’ve always wanted to visit Scotland.”

“It is really nice,” Hermione interjected, earning her a dirty look from Ron who clearly did not believe encouraging muggles to visit at Hogwarts was a good idea.

“That’s probably not a good idea,” Ron said bluntly, confirming Ginny’s suspicion. “Ginny’s dated a lot of blokes there… a lot of jealous exes… not a good situation.” As if he were doing Jackson a favour, he looked apologetic as he shrugged at him. “Sorry, mate.”

“Ron!” Hermione and Ginny snapped at the exact same time.

Annie chuckled at the tension and stretched out on her towel. “Wow, Ginny… and here I thought you just hadn’t met many guys worth your attention or you were shy.”

“I haven’t dated a lot of blokes,” Ginny corrected darkly, itching to reach for her wand to hex Ron’s mouth shut.

To her horror, Ron innocently began ticking them off on his fingers. “Well there was Michael Corner, Dean Thomas, oh, and Harry here…”

“You two dated?” Jackson interrupted in surprise, looking between Harry and Ginny with raised eyebrows.

Harry was looking at Ginny now, although his expression was unreadable. Ginny nodded uncomfortably, wishing the sand below her would give way and she’d be swallowed up. In spite of her wish to be anywhere else, she met his gaze to prove that she wasn’t ashamed of her relationship with Harry.

“Yeah, Harry and I dated at school.”

There was a long awkward silence when no one seemed willing to speak. When loud, tinkling music suddenly rang across the beach, they all looked over, grateful for the distraction in their conversation.

“The ice cream truck is here!” Jackson exclaimed cheerily, startling Ginny who jumped slightly at the enthusiasm in his tone. Ron was looking around with interest just as Jackson grinned down at her. “Let’s get some!” He tugged on Ginny’s arm and pulled her up.

Behind them, Ginny heard Hermione hiss that something about not having the ‘right money,’ and she assumed it was to Ron. Ron never passed up on the opportunity for a snack, especially a cold one on a day like today. With a glance behind her, she noted Annie talking to Hermione now, and the boys remaining sitting in the sand. It would just be her and Jackson.

Great, she thought grimly. Let’s give Harry another reason to think I’m dating Jackson.

“What kind did you want? It’s my treat,” Jackson offered with a friendly smile.

“I’m not sure,” Ginny admitted. She knew some of these muggle trucks had a variety of cold treats that were all supposed to be delicious. Truthfully, she didn’t think she could stomach ice cream right at that moment.

Not wanting to insult Jackson who was dragging her off to the truck, she said “Well, anything, really…”

At that, his smile widened and he reached for her hand between them. His fingers laced with hers and he squeezed gently, as if gauging her reaction to this new touch.

“Sorry for the obvious distraction,” he said nervously, his cheeks turning pink. “I’m not good at this… especially not in front of your ex.” He glanced back at Harry again before returning his smile to her.

Before Ginny could say anything, he asked “How long did you date him anyway? Was it serious?”

A lump began forming in her throat. She really hated having to turn someone down and knowing that you were the reason that they were unhappy. “Jackson…”

His hand was warm around hers and she glanced down at it, her stomach churning with mixed emotions. Jackson was very sweet, and not to mention good-looking. But he was a muggle: he didn’t know her or anything about her life. Probably the worst part of it all was that Harry was no more than twenty feet away from them and she wouldn’t put it past Ron to call attention to Jackson holding her hand without any consideration to Harry’s feelings.

Ginny pulled her hand from his with a shaky exhale, hoping that Jackson would understand. She was beginning to see how much of a tangled mess she’d gotten herself into. Jackson fancied her, and he was purposely flirting with her in front of Harry, whom he just learned was her ex in order to make a bold statement about his feelings.

“No?” The pain of the rejection was written across his whole face.

“No, I’m sorry… I just can’t do this.”

Jackson nodded, his lips pulled into either a strained smile or a grimace; she wasn’t sure. He laughed awkwardly and shrugged it off as if it were nothing.

“I’m sorry. It was too fast and I just sort of sprung it on you. I’ve had a bit of a crush on you since I met you. Ugh, I should have asked before doing that. I just... like you. A lot. And I wanted to do something about those feelings soon…”He grinned at her sheepishly, his cheeks a brighter pink now.

“No, it’s okay. I’m sorry that I don’t feel that way. And it’s so complicated…” How to explain this to him without telling him the truth or hurting him? Yes, she found him attractive, and nice, and sweet, and really, if things weren’t so complicated, if she didn’t feel like she was betraying another man, and if she was one hundred percent positive that she and Harry were finished, she might have given Jackson a chance one day.

Then again, they practically lived in different worlds. Heck, they did live in different worlds and as much as she wanted to feel like a normal teenager, she was Ginny Weasley: a witch, a sister who had lost a brother, a friend who had lost so many friends, a young woman who’d seen and done a lot, and a girl who was in love with a boy who didn’t show any interest in her. How was Jackson ever supposed to know the real her unless she came clean about everything?

“Is it him?”

Ginny followed Jackson’s eyes to Harry guiltily. It was never a good idea to involve your ex with another relationship and so she just repeated: “It’s complicated.”

“No, sorry…that’s none of my business.” He forced another pained smile. “Look, can we just forget this whole thing? I don’t want to lose you as a friend.”

“Sure,” Ginny whispered in a weak voice.

They stepped up to the window where a young man took their orders of two chocolate swirl cones, and Jackson paid without question. They were handed two cones and Ginny took hers, feeling more guilty than ever at the distracted look on Jackson’s face.

She hated leaving it like this — when it would have to wait until later when they had a chance to really talk. She wished she had time to think of something to say to make him feel better. They walked back to their towels in an awkward silence. Ginny licked her ice cream cone sadly, wondering if she’d lose Jackson and Annie as friends because it would be too awkward to hang out together anymore. It wasn’t fair! She hadn’t expected Jackson to suddenly declare he had feelings for her, nor had she expected that her brother would barge right into an afternoon on the beach and make things even more messed up than they already were.

“Now I’m staying with Ron and Ginny for a few weeks,” Hermione was telling Annie as they drew nearer.

Annie was clearly dedicated to learning more about her friends. She turned to Harry next curiously. “And what about you, Harry? What do you do?”

“Harry’s in training to be one of those policemen like me,” Ron interjected on Harry’s behalf, clapping his friend on the back. Harry’s lips twitched at the half-truth. A policeman was probably as close to the truth of his training to be an Auror as was possible.

Ginny had just stopped next to her friends when Harry piped up. “Yeah, in fact, I should probably head back to the house,” Harry said, checking his watch. “I need to go and change before I head in to training tonight.” He got to his feet and he met her eyes briefly; it wasn’t difficult to see the pain there.

“Oh no!” Annie said sadly, looking quite disappointed that Harry had to leave. “Well, how about this… my cousin’s band is going to be in town soon. He’s really talented and I can get us all in to the pub. We could all hang out and have some fun.”

Ginny almost laughed aloud at this idea being labelled as something ‘fun’ for the six of them to do. To have Jackson, Harry and Ron in one room seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. Jackson on the other hand, smiled and nodded, stating that he’d been saying they should go hear a band for a while now. Ginny licked her quickly melting ice cream again so that she wouldn’t argue the point.

“You all have to come,” Annie announced, looking around to Harry, Ron, Hermione and pausing on Ginny. “It’ll be a lot of fun, and it’ll mean a lot to me and my cousin to have more people supporting him and his band.”

“Alright,” Ginny agreed at the excitement in Annie’s voice, hoping she didn’t sound too put out. With how angry Harry had looked, she didn’t doubt that Harry wouldn’t go anyway.

“We’ve got to check our work schedules,” Harry told Annie, gesturing at himself and at Ron.

“How late can you work?” Annie asked with a laugh. “It’ll be an after nine pm type of show at a pub. No excuses, boys…” she smiled confidently and turned to rummage in the cooler for another drink.

“Alright, I need to head off,” Harry said dully, taking several steps backward. Ginny looked up at him, anxious to catch his eye. She opened her mouth to say something and perhaps he noticed because he finally looked at her again, holding her gaze for several moments.

Ginny couldn’t read his expression, nor did he say anything to suggest it, but in those seconds he’d looked at her, she knew that he’d been turned around when Jackson had taken her hand, or perhaps Ron had managed to point out Jackson and Ginny in the water earlier. His expression was stony, and he averted his eyes quickly. Either way, something was up and Ginny could feel the guilt beginning to close in on her even faster.

“Maybe we should go back with him,” Hermione murmured to Ron in an anxious voice behind Ginny.

Harry shook his head, his voice deadly calm. “No, it’s okay. Stay awhile. I’ll be out late anyway.” He picked up the small bag he’d brought with him and slung it onto his shoulders. “I’ll see you later…”

Before she could stop herself, she began to follow him away from the group. “Harry!” Ginny called out anxiously, desperate to do something- anything — to rid herself of the panic that was now drowning her. She’d hurt Jackson, and now she’d hurt Harry. Harry, who was the last person she had ever wanted to hurt, and it was all because she’d allowed herself to enjoy the attention of someone else for a few minutes. This had happened because she was too scared to say anything to Harry whenever she’d had a chance.

She chased after him, feeling her ice cream dripping down onto her hand. Ignoring the sticky liquid, she called after him loudly enough so that he’d hear her. “Harry, I hope you’re not leaving because of what Jackson did. You have to know there’s nothing between us.”

Harry waved her explanation away and shook his head, continuing on his way back up the beach. “It’s fine… it doesn’t matter. I’ll see you around, Gin,” he called back over his shoulder in that same oddly calm voice.

“Harry, please don’ storm off like this.”

He spun around but continued walking backwards, a cold indifference on his face. “I’m not storming off. I’ve got Auror training, and I’ve got to go. It’s fine, we’re fine.”

Ginny reluctantly fell back and watched as he walked away from her, knowing that it was certainly not fine as far as Harry was concerned. She fought the childish urge to throw her ice cream at the back of his head until he was out of range. She wished he wouldn’t leave, but she couldn’t blame him for not wanting to stick around. She’d been selfish to think it was okay to let Jackson get away with being so flirty with her, but she’d been ignoring the little signs and teasing comments for weeks. How could she have not realized that Jackson wanted more? She’d been waiting for Harry, and blaming their lack of a relationship on him for so long, but really she was just as bad as him for avoiding that particular conversation. And if Harry had any doubts about what she wanted, he would really be thrown off now.

She returned to the group to find Jackson eating his ice cream and staring out over the water, Annie looking up at her in confusion, Hermione looking at her in pity, and Ron eyeing her as if he wanted to start shouting some sense into her. She dropped onto her towel passed the cone to Ron without a word, hoping that her offer would be enough to silence him at least until Annie and Jackson left.

“Are you all right?” Hermione asked in a low voice.

Ginny looked over at her, wishing for the first time that she could talk freely, and that she wasn’t surrounded by Annie or any of the other muggles. Sadly, the freedom she felt in the muggle world now felt more like an imprisonment to her.

“I’m alright,” she replied weakly, trying to tell Hermione with a look that they’d talk later.

“Your friend seems a bit put off,” Annie said worriedly. “Is he alright?”

Hermione nodded and sighed. “Harry’s just going through a rough patch. He’s been very distracted lately.”

Ginny pulled her towel up around herself, wishing that she could talk to Hermione and Ron and tell them everything. She could feel Jackson’s eyes on her, probably piecing two and two together, but at the moment, she didn’t care. He might as well realize that Jackson would have had to eventually find out how deep her feelings ran for Harry. Perhaps if he realized it on his own, it would be easier than him having to hear it.

How had things become so messy?

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Chapter 3: Chapter 3: Misunderstood

Author's Notes: Thank you for all the wonderful reviews and for your interest in my story :) I'm working as hard as I can to keep the chapters coming!!


Chapter 3: Misunderstood

Ginny, Ron, and Hermione returned to the Burrow together around five-thirty: two hours after Harry had left the beach. Neither of her parents had seen Harry, though Mr. Weasley was sure he was still at the Auror offices. Feeling guilty, grumpy and ready to cry, Ginny excused herself to shower and change. She took the stairs at a steady pace, repeatedly telling herself that things weren’t so bad and that she was overreacting since Harry could not possibly be as angry with her as she was thinking he might be. All she needed was a hot shower to calm her nerves and think of something constructive to say to him when he got home.

With the bathroom door closed against the rest of the world, she leant against the cool wood with her eyes closed, allowing herself to remember the way he’d looked at her before he stormed off. Harry had never looked at her with such dislike before and she did not like it. Recalling the look made her heart pound and her stomach churn. Why didn’t she instinctively pull away from Jackson? Why was she suddenly so desperate for a man’s attention that she’d go anywhere to get it? She’d grown up to be so much more than a little school girl waiting, wishing, and hoping for someone to notice her. Moreover, outside of thinking that Jackson was cute, funny, and a good friend, she felt nothing for him. She knew that Jackson had been a little flirty with her, and maybe she’d felt confident enough in herself that she’d flirted back without having realized it? How long had she allowed Jackson to be a little flirty with her? Had she been unconsciously letting this go on all summer?

She liked Jackson as a friend, but she couldn’t see herself having any kind of romantic relationship with him. In spite of her desperate attempts to escape it, her entire life revolved around the wizarding world. And as much as she wanted to hide from it, she knew that a big part of her problem was her fear and her uncertainty; emotions that could be resolved if she’d made the effort to deal with them.

Ginny, you’ve been pathetic, she reprimanded herself bitterly.

She looked at herself in the mirror with a grimace and raised her chin with determination to stop being such a sad mess. This was going to end today! She would be seventeen this summer: an adult. She wanted to finish school and play professional Quidditch. She did not want to spend the rest of her life being sad and alone because she’d spent an entire summer building a foundation of pity and an unhealthy obsession with her past with Harry.

Ginny missed her brother and her friends, but the pain would get easier. Hogwarts might not feel safe for the first little while, but Voldemort was gone: there was no safer place to be. On the bright side of things, Hermione and Luna would be back at school with her and so would most of her friends. She could almost see herself feeling normal again by November once school started and she could get back into a routine. She was sure the healing would start when she and Harry talked and had a real conversation to resolve their issues. And if not, she would go to Hogwarts in September, and she wouldn’t have to be tortured with his presence any longer. After summer, she really wouldn’t have to see him except for holidays if she really didn’t want to.

Opening the shower door, she turned on the water and stripped down to stand under the warm spray. She had to fix this! She had to talk to him and get him to understand that although she’d acted stupidly, she had no good excuse for things other than she wasn’t herself right now. She’d been having trouble sleeping all summer, and when she could sleep, she often had terrible nightmares of the Battle at Hogwarts. She often heard screams, felt her bed shake after an explosion, and worst of all, she sometimes had to suffer through a vivid recurring nightmare of Hagrid carrying Harry’s limp, dead body in his arms, but in her dream, Harry did not make a miraculous reappearance.

To walk past Fred and George’s room was also a challenge as seeing the second, unused bed made her remember that Fred would never come home. How could Fred be dead when the rest of her siblings and her parents had survived? George was not the same, but he was doing better these days. He was mature and strong enough to know that Fred would not have wanted him to be sad. It seemed that life was moving on for everyone except for her.

While she felt like her life was stuck in a standstill, the rest of the world appeared to be moving on. There were some Death Eaters still on the run, and every few weeks there would be some act of crime or some small public display of pure-blood fanaticism, but it did not cause a panic. It was as if the wizarding world knew that without a leader, the crime and public stunts would be stopped by the Ministry. The Aurors had never been more revered for their skill and hard work, and Kingsley was very public about his efforts to make the country safe. Ron and Harry spent many days at the Auror offices to complete their probationary period and skill training so that they could officially join the ranks and share their successes.

Hermione’s way of coping and form of distraction was to divide herself three ways between reading in her school books, spending time with Harry and Ron, and the rest with her parents. Ginny knew that Hermione still felt guilt over modifying her parents’ memories, especially since her parents had not taken this news well. Hermione admitted that her parents were hurt by Hermione’s secrecy and her morally-good attempt to protect her parents.

With everyone so busy living their own lives, Ginny had never felt so alone at the Burrow. This loneliness drove her into the muggle town to think about other things and to lose herself in muggle-watching. She’d met Annie and Jackson, and they’d talked about normal teenager things. It was like a vacation from all the darkness that was suffocating her these days. It let her get away from her isolation made worse by her selfish expectations Ginny had had in expecting to pick up where she’d left off with Harry. It took a few weeks into summer before Ginny had realized how much she’d relied on the idea of having Harry back in her life as her boyfriend. She supposed it had been a source of comfort and of hope to think that if they both made it out of the war, she and Harry could have a real chance together.

As she massaged shampoo into her hair, she wondered what to do. Talking to Harry was high on her priority list, but she supposed she ought to speak to Ron and Hermione first since there was no telling when Harry was going to come home. She needed to tell them the truth about what had happened and how alone she felt. Today had proven that bottling everything up and hiding with her muggle friends had only made things worse.

Ginny hadn’t anticipated that her guilty pleasure could cause so much trouble. Jackson wasn’t supposed to be attracted to her! He deserved to be with someone with whom he could share everything with, and who could know him just as well as she knew him. As for Ginny, there was no doubt in her mind that all she wanted was Harry, and it probably always would be Harry. Most of her thoughts revolved around him, and she’d seen him at his best and at his worst. She knew how to calm him when he was frustrated, and Hermione had commented that she’d never seen him as happy as he was when they’d first got together. If she’d made Harry so happy, why didn’t he want those feelings again? It was maddening that they were both single, Voldemort-free, and that they were wasting an entire summer ignoring each other.

Finished with her shower, she already felt calmer. Determined to start making things right, she felt her spirits lift a little higher. By the time she had dressed into a pair of old jeans and white T-shirt, dinner had already been served. Ginny walked down the stairs to find her parents, Ron, Hermione, and George sitting down to eat at the table.

“Sorry I’m late,” Ginny excused herself, taking a seat next to George.

“That’s alright, dear,” Molly said, passing her a dish of roasted chicken.

“What did you all do today?” Arthur asked, looking around the table.

“Harry, me, Ron and Hermione were at the beach,” Ginny answered.

“And her muggle friends,” Ron added, glancing at Ginny as if to remind her not to omit any details of what had transpired on the beach.

“Muggle friends?” George asked blankly. “You’ve got muggle friends, Ginny?”

“They’re quite nice,” Hermione interjected. Ginny smiled at her friend, feeling a wave of appreciation for Hermione and her peacemaking efforts.

“I met them in the village,” Ginny replied conversationally. “Jackson and Annie live down there. They’re my age, and they’re good fun.”

“What kinds of things do muggle teenagers do at your age?” Mr. Weasley asked with great interest, pausing with a green bean speared on his fork.

Hermione was trying to hide a smile at his blatant curiosity in muggles, but Ginny answered with a shrug. “Not much… usually we watch television, or walk around the village. I guess it’s mostly hanging around and talking.”

“Fascinating how alike we are, isn’t it? Although I do wish we could get a tellyfision! Muggles are always watching programs on the tellyfision!”

“Television,” Hermione corrected gently.

Ron swallowed a mouthful of chicken and then added loudly, “Yeah, Ginny seems quite close to that Jackson, bloke. Anything going on with him, Ginny?”

“Ron!” Hermione hissed as she glared at Ron. Everyone at the table was looking at Ginny with the same look of surprise and confusion.

Ginny set her goblet down a little harder than necessary and had to mop up the spilled pumpkin juice that had sloshed out.

“A new bloke already, Ginny? Blimey… you’re too popular, little sister,” George teased, although even his joke did not manage to break the tension at the table.

“Ginny, are you seeing this boy?” Molly asked curiously, eyeing her daughter with the same look she got every time that Ginny mentioned a new boyfriend.

All eyes seemed to be on Ginny as she met her mother’s gaze with great dignity. “No. No, I’m not.” She turned a glare at Ron and added, “And people shouldn’t jump to conclusions. It might make things seem worse than they are.”

Ron’s ears turned pink. “Don’t blame this on me! It’s not my fault Harry’s upset! I wasn’t the one walking around with some muggle’s arm around me and letting him hold my hand. You were practically flaunting it in front of him! How is that supposed to make him feel? How is that supposed to make me feel? I’m the one who has to deal with the mess, Ginny.”

“I thought Ginny and Harry were together?” George asked, peering around for someone to clear up this issue.

“I was not flaunting it, Ron!” Ginny snapped, her face burning with humiliation. “And he was the one flirting… I told him that nothing could happen.”

“Not soon enough, I guess,” Ron returned in a grumbling tone.

“Poor dear,” Molly murmured worriedly. “Ginny, you really should be more sensitive. Harry’s just come through an awful lot, and you two seemed-”

Ginny’s stomach flopped as she held up her hand to stop the lecture. She knew what her mother was going to say about what she and Harry seemed to be with all the awkward tension, the longing looks, and the careful avoiding of touching. It had seemed that they were one conversation away from reuniting.

“I know, Mum,” Ginny answered automatically, her stomach churning with guilt. Didn’t anyone understand that she’d never meant to upset Harry? She wasn’t trying to be a bad person- things just kept happening to make the situation bad. “Can we change the subject please?”

There was a long moment of silence before George jumped in. “I interviewed a couple decent people to help me out at the shop today! It would mean I wouldn’t have to worry about Ron working so many hours between the Ministry and in Diagon Alley.”

“You’re still doing hours there?” Ginny blurted.

Ron raised his eyebrows. “Yes, I’m glad you’re keeping up.”

Arthur gave his children a stern look. “Behave, both of you.” He resumed eating and turned back to George. “Well that’s a relief. When do you plan to open up again full-time?”

As the conversation turned to the joke shop and how the rest of Diagon Alley was fairing as shop owners reappeared to assess the damages and reopen their doors, Ginny found herself distracted by Ron’s reaction. Since when did he want to have anything to do with her relationships? Ron was normally blunt and he didn’t typically think before he spoke. She’d put his earlier idiocy down to what was normal for Ron. It surprised her that he cared so much about what had happened with Jackson, and made her wonder whether Ron would be easier on her and Harry in the future.

That was, of course, if Harry gave her a second chance after today. If Ron was accurate about just how much today had bothered Harry, he might have given up on her. If roles were reversed, she couldn’t deny that it wouldn’t have hurt to see Harry so easily off with another girl without saying anything to her about moving on.

Wanting some time alone to think, she wandered out into the yard after dinner. The sun was setting and the sky was a fiery orangey-red as she unlocked the door of the broom shed. She pulled out her old broom and kicked off from the ground, shooting up as high as the tree tops of the orchard. As she flew around the paddock, she wondered briefly if she had been so distraught as to officially take a break from the wizarding world, would she be able to give up everything magical? The idea of having to leave flying and her dreams of playing for the Harpies behind was not a pleasant one.

Ginny had no idea how long she’d been flying, but she stopped when it was got too dark to see anymore. She landed reluctantly, relocked her broomstick in the shed, and went inside to warm up. The house was quiet except for murmuring of her parents in the sitting room and the faint voices from upstairs. She followed the voices up to Ron’s room and knocked on the door, wondering if Harry had returned yet.

“Come in!” Ron called from behind the door.

Ginny opened it and sighed inwardly when she realized that Harry was still not back yet. Hermione smiled tentatively at her, but Ron looked unsure whether he wanted her in the room or not. Ginny shut it behind her anyway and moved to sit on the floor, hoping that Ron wouldn’t throw her out.

“Have a good time out there?” Hermione asked, breaking the awkward silence.

“Yeah, it’s nice to just fly around. I miss the pitch, though. It’s annoying to stay under the cover of the trees.” She glanced at Ron and then decided it was best to confront her brother now instead of dragging it out.

“Okay, Ron, just let it out,” Ginny said grimly. “I can see you want to say something to me, and I want to talk to you too, so go ahead.”

Ron hesitated with a glance at Hermione, who was studiously picking a piece of lint off her shirt. “I’m not… angry at you, Ginny. I just want to know why you haven’t talked to Harry about whatever it is you have with Jackson. It’s just getting a bit out of hand. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Harry’s been putting in ten to fifteen volunteer hours at the Ministry per day… he’s going to have met his required hours by August at the rate he’s going. He’s on the verge of going mental, I think.”

She opened her mouth to speak but he quickly added on, “And I know I usually stay out of this kind of stuff, but look, it’s not exactly a secret that Harry has had feelings for you all along. We just think you owe him more than putting moves on some muggle to get your point across.”

Ginny sighed, collecting herself. This was what she needed to do: to talk, to explain herself. And explaining it to Ron and Hermione would be a right-side easier than talking to Harry so this would be good practice.

“Jackson has never really been that forward before today, and I never encouraged that kind of behaviour. I guess the best explanation I have is that I’ve been feeling really alone, and unnecessarily anxious, and confused. You three have been away a lot and really busy with your own lives, so it’s usually just me and Mum around here. And when there are people around, I felt like all we can talk about was the damage done by Voldemort at Hogwarts.”

She shrugged, hoping that she was being clear. “So it was nice to be able to be around people who didn’t ever bring it up. I liked being around people who wanted to see me every day, and to be around me to just be a normal person. It was like taking a break from remembering that the house was really empty, that Fred was gone, that my brother and my friend weren’t ever around, and that Harry hasn’t talked to me for longer than the length of one of Mum’s Celestina Warbeck songs.”

“Jackson is just a friend to me. I was caught off-guard today, and I guess with everything I’ve been feeling, I sort of let things happen to just feel good for a few seconds. I have absolutely no interest in pursuing him. We’re too different, and-”

“But I saw you hold his hand after he had his arm around you!” Ron argued, cutting across her. “You kept letting it happen.”

Ginny nodded, a humiliated blush creeping up her neck. “Yeah, I dunno… I wasn’t thinking! I didn’t reciprocate anything, though. I don’t expect you to understand, but I think I just liked being liked… it’s just a normal, uncomplicated thing compared to the rest of my life. It felt nice. Did you know that for over a year, people were looking at me like I was some sort of pathetic victim? I’m the girl that Harry Potter dumped to go save the world…” she shook her head. “Not that I was looking for anyone else at Hogwarts, but I wasn’t even with Harry and I was marked as Harry’s girl. I was a walking-talking tragic romance to so many people. It became very depressing to hear people whispering about it, and it wasn’t true. It was just a constant reminder of what I didn’t have. I hated being branded as belonging to someone who had left me, and who might not ever come back.”

“And at the same time of people whispering about me and gossiping about how much I must cry myself to sleep, I had to deal with worrying about Harry, and you, Hermione, and everyone else. I left Hogwarts early to go into hiding, but when I was there, it was awful. The school was awful, the Carrows were evil, and some of the most important people in my life were putting themselves in terrible danger.”

“You must have found it really hard,” Hermione replied softly, sympathy shining in her eyes.

Ginny nodded. “It was. But I also had Luna, Neville, and the rest of the DA,” Ginny replied dully. “I dealt with everything, and I guess I just learned to accept that people were going to gossip regardless… plus I shouldn’t complain when I think about what you three were off doing…”

Ginny ran a frustrated hand through her hair. “Anyway, I just wanted you both to know that I never meant for Harry to be so hurt by my stupidity. I just wasn’t thinking, and I don’t have a better excuse than that. And on top of that, I’m having trouble sleeping, I feel anxious a lot of the time…”

“It’s understandable, Ginny,” Hermione told her gently. “To feel like you do after what happened. It’s normal…” she glanced at Ron and then sighed. “And we should have realized you would need us too. I guess none of us have handled our emotions very well. I’ve spent a lot of time with my Mum and Dad, and the rest with Ron. I probably haven’t been spending enough time with Harry, come to think of it.”

Ron nodded, looking a bit sheepish as he and Hermione exchanged knowing, guilty looks. “Yeah, I suppose not. I’m sorry I was a git today… I shouldn’t have done that in front of your friends. Harry’s been avoiding us too, and that worries us. We’re waiting for him to snap after everything, so I guess I’ve been a little protective of my best mate.”

“He spends more time with the Aurors than what’s necessary,” Hermione added grimly. “He’s probably avoiding all of us, not just you. You know how he gets… he just holds it all in.”

“Yeah, I know. Any idea when he’s coming back? I really need to talk to him…”

“Actually, no,” Ron said, checking his watch. “Although, I don’t think he’ll be able to stay at the Ministry much longer. They’ll want to lock up for the night.”

Hermione seemed to understand how she was feeling because she reached out and put her hand over Ginny’s, squeezing reassuringly. “Don’t worry. It’ll be okay. You two will have your chance to talk.”

“Yeah… I suppose. I just hope he’s willing to listen.” She got to her feet a little reluctantly and walked to the door. “If you see him, tell him I’m looking for him?”

“We will,” Ron promised.

Nodding, she left Ron’s room for her own, unsure of what to do with herself until Harry got back. She remembered that she had a stack of letters to write to her friends sitting on her desk. She’d been slacking on returning owls and was starting to feel bad about it. She also needed to talk to Jackson over the next few days and make sure that he was alright. Losing Jackson and Annie would be painful after they’d become such a major source of comfort for her.

Ginny had only just reached her room when she nearly smacked right into Harry who was coming up the stairs. They both jumped apart startled, and Ginny desperately tried to jumpstart her brain into remembering what she had to say to him. Sadness and worry quickly overtook surprise at the way he was looking at her. It wasn’t as bad as the look he’d given her on the beach, but it still wasn’t a happy-to-see-her type of look.

He looked as if he wanted to melt through the floor, which was quite upsetting. Ginny had seen him use this look on Cho Chang and she remembered it had brought a snide sense of satisfaction. She had never thought there would come a day where he would use that look on her. She missed his goofy smile and that crooked grin he wore whenever he was about to kiss her. She missed his laugh, and how adorably nervous he looked whenever he asked to go for a walk with her.

“Hey,” Ginny managed to get out, pushing her hair from her face. “I was hoping you’d come home soon.”

“I was at the Auror offices…” he said in a dull voice, his eyes skating over hers and then in the general direction of the stairs beyond where he could make his escape from her.

“Yeah,” she took a steadying breath. “Listen, can we talk?”

He opened his mouth to say what she was pretty sure was going to be a flat-out refusal, but then he seemed to steel himself and he nodded, mumbling something about having a few minutes. Reminding herself that he did have a right to be upset, she decided to overlook his desire to be far away from her. He was confused and she hadn’t been fair to him or herself. It was now time to solve the problem.

She opened the door to her room and gestured for him to enter first. He went in without a word and Ginny could just feel the anger and frustration radiating off him. Ginny sighed and followed him, pulling the door shut behind her. With Harry there looking so uncomfortable, and as she felt extremely nervous, her room suddenly felt as if the walls were closing in on her.

“What’s up?” He asked coolly, his eyes meeting hers with a startling intensity. Ginny looked back at him, her heart beating a little faster. Did he hate her now?

“I thought I should clear this up: I’m not interested in Jackson. We’re friends… he got the wrong idea, and I let it get too far today. I’m sorry if you got the wrong impression, and I’m even sorrier that you had to see it.” There, she thought desperately. Flat-out honesty had to be the best policy here.

Harry seemed to take a few moments to recover, but then shrugged. “I never asked if you’re interested or not. Really, that’s your business. If you want to date him, you should. He’s a good-looking bloke, and you’re both single.”

Ginny bit her tongue at his fire. “I don’t want to date him, that’s kind of my point here…”

He folded his arms across his chest. “It’s just that I’ve noticed you’ve spent all your free time holed up in that village with him.” He shook his head, his anger breaking his mask of mere discomfort. “You’re always down there with him… and you seemed pretty comfortable today on the beach. You never want to hang out with us… you never seem to show any interest in being around any of us.”

It took everything she had not to raise her voice at him. She’d been humiliated if the entire house heard this argument. “Harry, it’s hard to hang out with you when you spend fifteen hours a day at the Ministry. I just talked to Ron and Hermione, and we’ve already apologized to each other. None of us have been around for the other, so don’t pin this solely me. You’re not doing anything by hiding from us.”

“I’m trying to be an Auror… I’m here so I can do some good in this world,” he retorted calmly.

“You’re trying to avoid me just like I was trying to avoid you. But I’m sorry for that and starting today, I’m going to change. I’m going to spend less time in the village and more with you guys.”

“Jackson will be disappointed.”

She gasped, startled by his jab. Usually Harry wasn’t so quick to draw a biting remark. She glared at him, and then asked, “Do you really have to be a jealous git right now? I’m trying to apologize to you, and I’ve already told you! There’s nothing going on between us. And if Jackson does feel something, it doesn’t matter. I’m not interested in him. I’m interested in us.”

She wasn’t sure, but she could have sworn she saw him flinch slightly at the mention of ‘us,’ although he continued on his rant. “I saw you today. You moved on… things changed. I didn’t expect you to wait… we never discussed you waiting for me.”

Ginny’s breath caught in her throat. “No, we never did. Can we talk about it now?”

“No.”

His one-worded answer made her laugh mirthlessly. The fault line in her chest rippled painfully as her heart threatened to fall to pieces once more.

“No? Why not? I want to talk about it! I want to get everything on the table.”

“It’s already on the table, Ginny.” And then he was moving to the door. “It’s pretty clear. I got it.”

“Don’t you dare open that door, Harry Potter!” She snapped, her voice quivering on the verge of tears. “You can’t leave before we actually talk about this. I’m tired of going round in circles with you.”

Harry whirled back to face her, his voice shaking with anger. “Fine! I’ll talk. You have no idea how hard it was to break it off and be away from you. I ended things to keep you safe… so I wouldn’t have to worry about you being targeted. All I wanted was to keep you safe… to allow myself to be sane while I was out hunting Horcruxes.”

“You think it was easy knowing that? Harry, girls at school kept coming up and hugging me because I was the girl that Harry Potter dumped to go save the world! I was never allowed to forget! Do you think I slept? Do you think I can sleep now? I’m still having a hard time… it’s partly why I’ve been so stupid.”

Creaky floorboards upstairs made them both pause and reminded them that other people were home. Harry brought his eyes back down, undeterred by the interruption. “Well, I’ve had a lot of other things going on that have kept me from thinking about us. You think I can get a good night’s sleep? Hell, you think I’ve spent the last seven years sleeping soundly? I didn’t want to pull you into my own personal hell! I didn’t want to do that to you, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t care.”

Unable to stop herself she moved closer, hastily wiping away the two tears that had dropped onto her cheeks. “If you wanted to pick back up where you left off, you could have told me. You could have said something- anything!”

“I guess I waited too long, huh? It’s been two months… wow, sorry that I didn’t take time to get my life back together first,” he said sarcastically. “If you wanted something, you could have said something. But I guess not… you’re always down in that village with Jackson. What the hell am I supposed to do?”

The volumes in their voices had been rising and so Ginny found herself half-shouting at him: “You’re supposed to fight for me!”

“I did fight! I killed Voldemort! I got rid of the one person that was keeping us apart!” This final shouted line was all it took for Ginny to finally break down.

As the tears spilt onto her cheeks and her shoulders shook with the sobs that wracked her. Across the room, Harry stared at her in awkward silence, frozen to the spot. He made a jerking movement as if he was going to go to her but he stopped himself. He scrubbed his face in his hands and shook his head. “Please don’t cry,” he murmured. “I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

“Why are we fighting like this?” She demanded hysterically, hastily trying to wipe her tears and calm herself. “Why wasn’t this easy? Ron and Hermione got it together, but we can’t. If we both wanted it, why wasn’t it like fitting together the last two pieces of a puzzle?”

Harry wasn’t looking at her anymore, but his face had gone back to being a blank mask. “Dunno… maybe those last two pieces were never meant to fit together.”

The impact of those words brought a fresh batch of tears to her eyes, but this time her cries were silent. She couldn’t believe that they were saying these things to each other. Silence had filled the room again and they stood there for several long moments, Harry not looking at her and Ginny staring at her feet, the tears still streaming down her cheeks as she silently begged him to take it back.

Harry was moving to the door again. “I should go. I can’t do this right now. I’m going to bed,” he told her moodily, opening the door and shutting it with a sharp snap behind him.

Ginny stared at her door, incredulous that he’d just up and left. With Harry gone, reason returned to her and she swiped at her eyes, angry with him and angrier with herself. She began to pace her room, her heart still pounding and as she tried to work out if he’d meant what he said or if he was just angry. The few times she’d seen Harry that angry it had been over how tortured he was with Voldemort and how worthless he’d felt.

“…maybe those last two pieces were never meant to fit together.”

Had he officially told her that their relationship was over? Were those the words she had dreaded all summer? She continued to pace for several minutes, trying to regain control of her breathing and her pounding heart before she collapsed of a heart attack. She certainly felt like she was going to fall apart if she allowed herself to start crying again.

She stalked over to the bed that had felt so unwelcome these past few weeks and dropped onto it. That conversation had not gone at all as she had expected. Some bizarre voice in her head was asking when had Harry developed a temper that could match her own, and was congratulating him on being able to have a good fight with her. This was their first ever big fight, and they weren’t even a couple to have it.

Harry had left her for such noble reasons so shouldn’t this fairy tale end with a happily ever after somewhere in the future? And now what was she to do? If Harry had actually ended things, should she keep her promises and spend more time around Harry, Ron and Hermione, or was she actually free to spend time with her friends in the village? Should she be a little cruel and spend more time in the village to make Harry think that she had gone to Jackson after all?

No, was her immediate reaction to that vindictive idea. She hated the immaturity of girls who did that.

Now that she and Harry were worse off than before, she determined that she probably had developed an unhealthy dependence on a muggle identity. Actually, she probably had post-traumatic stress disorder. McGonagall had sent every student onto the train with information on post-traumatic stress disorder but Ginny had stuffed the sheet in her trunk, still content to be alive.

Taking a look at her day, she glared at her wall in discontent. In a matter of hours, she’d allowed her own heart to get broken, pissed Harry off, broken the heart of a nice guy, and had in effect probably destroyed the friendship she had with her muggle friends.

Ginny buried her face in her pillow, allowing her tears to fall freely. She knew who she wanted, who she had to be with. She didn’t think she could bear it to have to try and really belong to anyone else. Maybe that was stupid, possessive, and unrealistic, but it was the only thing that made sense. She still had some fight left in her and once she had calmed down, she could work on Plan B. As pathetic as she felt, tonight she needed to be sad.

She just had to hope that Ron and Hermione could help her with Harry. Perhaps he just needed more time to get his life back in order. Maybe once he’d done that, they could both apologize and look back on this fight in a couple years and laugh at it.

Maybe.

Back to index


Chapter 4: Chapter 4: All in the Lyrics

Author's Notes: This chapter contains a very recent song called “Jet Lag” by Simple Plan. I realize that this is an anachronism, but it was a big inspiration for this chapter and I couldn’t bear to part with it. I do not own this song and take no credit for it.


Chapter 4: All in the Lyrics


Over the next week, Ginny found it incredibly hard not to be affected by Harry’s mood. After their fight, they had both taken to treating each other with formality in front of others. In spite of her resolve to start talking to Harry, this was not going to be a realistic option until he was ready to listen. This set back was not for lack of trying in the days following their fight. Harry had taken to the irritating habit of brushing her attempts off a “not yet, Ginny,” which made her feel like a child. Her sadness quickly turned to irritation and a childish desire to trigger a reaction out of him-- any reaction.

After the third day and a particularly rude conversation in front of Ron and Hermione, Hermione had slammed down a large book she’d been reading and glared at the two of them.

“Just apologize to each other!” She ordered irritably. “You’re both giving me a headache!” And then she’d stormed from the room with a bewildered Ron following her.

Unfortunately, Ginny couldn’t keep her temper under control for long. She had another row with him in hissed tones in the orchard after a Quidditch match one afternoon. Oddly enough, Jackson’s name hadn’t come up once. Instead they accused each other of being stupid, childish, immature, mean, and other silly accusations that were only put out there to grind salt in the wounds. When Ron had reappeared after a brief bathroom break, both Harry and Ginny had both put on nonchalant expressions and pretended as if a fight had not occurred. As frustrated as she was with him, she had to admit she much preferred fighting with Harry over being ignored by him.

Another issue was that as Ginny had refused to completely give up her friendships with Jackson and Annie, Harry still had fuel for their fire. Harry had made his claim of ‘not caring what she did’ his personal slogan, but Ginny was still careful to invite Harry, Ron and Hermione into the village with her and ensured that she divided her time more evenly.

Time in the village wasn’t the same either. Jackson had been a little awkward at first, and it usually took him a least an hour each visit to return to his normal friendly self. There was also a sad look in his eyes every time they smiled at each other, which made Ginny feel a little guilty every time she caught herself doing things like touching his arm or joking with him.

After a week and a half of constantly fighting with Harry, Ginny managed to get Hermione alone for a short trip into Diagon Alley so that Hermione could pick up a book she wanted on Charms. They had barely taken three steps out of the Leaky Cauldron when Ginny turned to her friend anxiously.

“Does Harry hate me?” She asked worriedly. “Do you think we’ll ever be able to be normal again?”

Hermione glanced at her as the entrance to Diagon Alley materialized from the brick wall that had been there moments before. “No, of course Harry doesn’t hate you! Although I have noticed that you and Harry are fighting more than me and Ron these days. And I’ve been telling you to apologize… that’s exactly how things will go back to normal.”

Ginny groaned, making Hermione chuckle darkly. “I have apologized! How do I fix it? What does he want? I don’t mind fighting and going through a rough patch… I think all couples should learn to problem-solve, but I think I need some help here. Anything and everything I’m doing sets him off, and if Harry tells me ‘it’s fine’ one more time, I may have to hex him.”

Hermione nodded her understanding of her friend’s frustrations. “Sometimes you just need to let things resolve themselves. Harry needs some time to cool off and remember that the world isn’t resting on his shoulders anymore, and to realize that you do care about him. He’s really stressing out over the little things and he’s taking it out on you.”

“You think he’s more stressed now than when he had a raging psychopath out to kill him?” Ginny asked sceptically.

“No… he’s just…” Hermione hesitated to find the words. “It’s complicated. I think he’s got some post-war psychological problems. It’s kind of like an identity crisis… this is the first time in his life that he’s able to choose who he wants to be and what he wants to do. He never had that freedom before because he’d accepted that there was a chance he might die.”

“I can understand that,” Ginny mumbled to herself.

“Exactly… and in all the confusion and the stress of settling down into a pattern, the one thing Harry knew he wanted was you, but you’ve never been farther from him. I also think that he kind of likes fighting with you.”

Ginny gaped at her. “You think he likes arguing with me? He’s said some pretty mean things!”

“Ron and I hate fighting but secretly, we kind of like it,” Hermione reminded her dryly. “I think Harry likes the fighting more than when you ignore each other. I think you should try to end a fight the way I’ve been ending my fights with Ron.”

Ginny smiled faintly, a little scared to hear the answer. “How?”

Hermione grinned cheekily. “Best way to shut a man up is to kiss him.”

Ginny stared at Hermione in disbelief for several seconds before she laughed freely and loudly. “I didn’t really need to know, but I guess that explains why you two are spending less time shouting at one another and more time in my brother’s room with the door shut!”

“We’re just talking!” Hermione said reasonably, though her face turned scarlet.

Ginny raised her eyebrows. “Really? Well, then I’m going to register my complaint that you moan too much when you talk.” Hermione busied herself with her purse, refusing to comment.

They entered Flourish and Blotts behind a small group of shoppers and Hermione changed the subject back to Harry, her face still a vivid pink. “Harry’s just mixed up, hurt, and jealous. He thinks he wants to be an Auror and he knows that he’s fancied you for a year. I guess his only long-term plans after the war were to sleep, eat, and talk to you. He missed you, Ginny.”

Ginny felt some of the sadness lift off her at the sincerity of Hermione’s statement. He missed her? She hoped that he missed her- she missed him too. “Wait, what? He’s having doubts about being an Auror?”

“We’re not sure, but it looks like it. Ron says he’s having some trouble with some of the spells lately, and he’s easily frustrated when that happens. Ron also thinks he’s having nightmares again, though Harry hasn’t said anything to us.”

“He should be talking to a professional at St. Mungo’s,” Ginny murmured worriedly. “If he’s having trouble with magic, something is bothering him.”

Hermione looked unsure. “He might, but I think we’re all affected on some level. I’ve realized that I’m become easily startled by loud noises… Ron is nervous about leaving his family… and you’ve been trying to blend into the muggle world as best you could.” She gave Ginny a meaningful look before returning to browsing the shelves, her eyes skimming the titles.

Ginny felt her cheeks heat up. “Caught on, have you? I’ve been loads better… less hiding!”

“I didn’t want to intrude. Like I said, we’ve all been affected by what’s happened and we’ve dealt with it in different ways. Harry will come around… you’ll just have to be patient. If it makes you feel any better, I can’t see him pursuing any other girl. He’s had girls coming up to him all the time but he’s turned them all away.”

That thought startled her. “He’s had lots of girls coming up to him?”

Something tightened in her chest and churned her stomach at the thought of Harry with another girl. She didn’t want to have to deal with that, but the thought of being at Hogwarts while he stayed in London as a single, eligible wizard made her feel ill. Harry would be snatched up by someone else quickly if he ever realized how much of a catch he was. Actually, this was one of the things that she loved about him: Harry was ignorant about how many witches would give their wands to go on a date with him. Many wizards might have turned cocky with all the attention, but Harry was modest to the core.

“Like I said, he’s turned them all away,” Hermione repeated patiently. “His birthday is coming up,” Hermione reminded her.

Ginny gasped. “Ugh, I forgot it was the same day as Annie’s cousin’s concert.”

“You’re not going to ditch Harry on his birthday, are you?” Hermione demanded, turning to Ginny accusingly.

“No!”

Hermione relaxed and then looked thoughtful. “Actually, it might work to your benefit. There will be lots of people at the pub and you might have more luck with him in a relaxed, casual place. That is… if Harry will go, and if Harry promises not to kill your friend Jackson.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Or take him outside to wipe his memories of me.” She chuckled darkly but then had found herself picturing a very jealous Harry doing just that. No, she told herself reassuringly, he would never do that.

“I could borrow something of Annie’s…” Ginny said thoughtfully. “Talking to Harry isn’t working so maybe I could lure him back with some kind of revealing outfit?”

Hermione smiled. “Just make sure you’re out of Ron’s line of sight. I don’t think he’d ever forgive Harry if he caught him snogging you against the stage in a miniskirt.”

“Perhaps you could distract my brother… and Jackson. I don’t know who would be worse to catch me snogging Harry: Jackson or Ron.”

They exchanged a look of mutual understanding before Hermione turned back to the book stacks, walking slowly down a very crowded aisle.

“How’s Jackson? Is he okay with you just being friends?”

Her smile faded at the mention of Jackson. He’d been a little persistent and obvious about his feelings through jokes, touching her arm or her leg, and inviting her out to do more things with him. He was fairly open about what he wanted, and truth be told, his persistence was starting to irritate her. It was difficult to be friends with someone who felt something more, and Ginny was reluctant to repeat herself when it came to her feelings. She knew what his last girlfriend had done to him and how broken up he’d been. The last thing she wanted to do was smash up what was left of his broken heart.

“It’s just awkward, but Annie never leaves us alone. He’ll have time to get over me when I’m gone.”

Hermione smiled as Ginny shook her head with an exhausted expression. “Honestly, Hermione, I know I had a few boys after me at Hogwarts, and it felt nice to be wanted and to have boys to think I was cool and pretty… but this is stressing me out.”

Hermione looked sympathetic. “Well, start dating Harry… everyone will leave you alone. No one wants to stand up to the man who defeated Voldemort.”

Ginny clapped her hands excitedly in an obvious attempt to be sarcastic. “Brilliant plan, Hermione! Why don’t I just date Harry Potter! I’m so glad I have you here to help me come up with these master plans.” She rolled her eyes and put her arm around her friend with a pained expression. “But seriously, how am I going convince Harry to come to a pub where Jackson will be?”

Laughing wryly, Hermione selected a book off the shelf and began to peruse it. “Ginny, do you think he won’t go to a pub where there’s alcohol, Jackson, and you in a mini-skirt?”

*~*

It had turned out that getting Harry to attend the concert had not been difficult at all when they used Harry’s jealousy as a key factor in their plan. Ginny had brought it up after a ‘boys vs. girls’ Quidditch match and had insisted that Hermione, Ron and Harry go with her to see Annie’s cousin play. The boys had protested and the subject was dropped as they headed into the house. Ginny fell back with Hermione and had a scripted, whispered conversation about Annie lending her a dress for the occasion, and she hoped that it wasn’t too ‘revealing.’ She knew it was a cheap move, but at this point, she didn’t have time to feel bad. Hermione had whispered back that she should probably watch her back with Jackson when he was drinking and promised that she would go to try and protect Ginny.

“Muggle boys tend to get a little flirty,” Hermione had warned her loudly enough so that the boys would hear her. “You don’t want to give him the wrong idea.”

The next morning both Ron and Harry had suddenly decided to attend the concert, and were to leave after Harry’s birthday dinner at the Burrow. Mrs. Weasley wasn’t entirely happy that Harry were spending the night of Harry’s birthday party at the muggle pub and a warning that they would be out late, but she didn’t protest too much. And so, with the boys dressed in jeans and clean T-shirts, Hermione in skinny jeans and a pink top, and Ginny in a dark brown sundress that hugged her curves, they met downstairs at ten pm to leave.

Hermione pulled open the door and led them out into the cool air. Ginny smiled at Harry when he caught her eye and was rewarded with a startled, but small smile in return. Butterflies exploded in her stomach and she self-consciously smoothed out her dress, hoping that he would think she looked good. She certainly felt pretty in the borrowed designer dress and a pair of heels; pretty, but horribly on display.

“What kind of band is this?” Harry asked Ginny as they headed toward the path that would take them into the village.

Ginny shrugged, clueless. Annie had described it to her, but it had been one of those conversations where she had nodded along without really knowing what Annie was talking about. Hermione began to rattle off some types of muggle music, to which Ron tried to compare her examples to bands in the wizarding world. Ron and Hermione walked a little ahead of Ginny and Harry, and it wasn’t long before Ron casually took Hermione’s hand mid-lecture on muggle rock music.

Ginny watched as Hermione tightened her grip on her brother’s hands and noticed Hermione taking the smallest sidestep toward Ron so that they were closer. She wondered if Harry noticed how easily his best friends had fallen for each other and she wondered if it bothered him. Did it make him feel left out? Did he want that something like that? Did he want that with her?

She debated reaching for Harry’s hand that swung backwards and forwards as he walked but then she quickly gave that up when she heard his voice in her head reminding her that they were two pieces of the puzzle that didn’t fit. Reaching for his hand now would lead to rejection and she wasn’t ready to ruin her night just yet. Her plan was to make him see that she was still worth his time. Annie swore by a nice pair of heels and a dress, saying that boys couldn’t resist girls in kitten heels. She wasn’t sure if was wearing ‘kitten heels’ but they did make her legs look lovely and long…

Annie and Jackson met them outside the pub, the music blaring out into the streets every time someone opened the doors. Annie wore a miniskirt, a one-shoulder top, and what looked like four-inch heels. She beamed and called out to them, hurrying forward to meet them excitedly with a plastic bottle filled with pink liquid clutched in her hand.

“Yay, I’m so glad you all came!” Annie bubbled, throwing her arms around Ginny.

Ginny laughed, startled by the smell of alcohol and perfume on her friend. She gently pushed her back from the embrace and chuckled dryly. “Already had a few drinks, huh?”

“Just a few,” Annie trilled, patting Jackson on the chest affectionately as he walked up behind her. “Jackson and I did a little pre-drinking,” she admitted in a loud whisper. “You guys brought identification, right? You’ll need ID to prove you’re eighteen.” She began digging in her purse and then pulled out a little plastic card with a photo of a redheaded girl named ‘Julia Marthers.’

“What’s this?” Ginny asked, staring at the card that Annie had pressed into her hand.

“ID,” Annie explained with a laugh. “I know a girl who looks a little like you. She’s nineteen.” Annie turned to Harry, Ron and Hermione. “And what about you guys?”

Hermione took a step forward and cut him off. “We’ve got identification, don’t worry.”

Annie beamed and started chattering excitedly about the concert and how happy she was that her friends had come to support her cousin and his band. Ginny met Jackson’s gaze and he grinned at her, his eyes a little unfocused as he raised a hand to wave. Suspecting he was drunk as well, she smiled back, but did not move forward to hug him. The last thing she wanted to do was scare Harry off before she could get him inside.

“Let’s go inside!” Jackson suggested, already starting back down the street for the pub. Annie took a moment to drain the contents of the water bottle and then followed Jackson.

“How are we getting in? Don’t muggle bars require you to have ID?” Harry was asking Hermione in a low voice.

“Most muggle teens under the legal age use fake or borrowed IDs,” Hermione answered grimly. “I suppose that’s what Ginny’s friends have.”

“How are you getting in?” Ginny repeated Harry’s question quickly when she noticed that Jackson was watching them confusedly before showing his ID and entering the pub.

“Come on, Ginny!” Jackson called.

“We’ll have to get in the non-ethical way,” Hermione replied tersely. “I’m not letting Ginny go in there alone.”

Hermione strode forward and took Ginny’s arm, leading her directly to the front doors. Ginny handed her ID to the large bald man standing guard at the door feeling nervous. He stared at the photo for a second and then handed it back to Ginny without a word and held out his hand to take Hermione’s ID. Ginny barely noticed Hermione pulling out her wand, but the bouncer’s expression went blank and he lowered his hand, gesturing for them to go ahead.

Hermione slipped her wand back in her pocket and gestured back at Harry and Ron to follow, pulling Ginny inside the pub. Ginny tried not to react to Hermione’s use of the Memory Charm on the bouncer or how dedicated she was about getting into the pub. Jackson met them on the other side of the door with a wide grin that was meant only for Ginny. Hating the way his eyes seemed to drink in the sight of her, she folded her arms over her chest, trying to cover as much as possible.

“Got in alright?” Jackson asked.

“Yeah, no problems,” Ginny replied distractedly, wondering if Harry and Ron were coming in with them.

Jackson noticed their absence too. “Where are the other two?”

Harry and Ron appeared behind Ginny and Hermione just as he’d voiced the question, causing his face to fall slightly. Clearly he’d been hoping that the boys would be denied access. Recomposing himself, Jackson explained that Annie had gone to the stage to wave hello at her cousin to let him know that she was inside.

The pub was already fairly crowded and full of young people of all different levels of intoxication. A small crowd had already formed at the foot of the stage to be closest to the band. The band was comprised of six people, an electric and bass guitarist, a keyboardist, drummer, and a male and female vocalist. The music was between what Annie and Jackson referred to as soft rock and rock music, and truthfully, they weren’t half-bad.

Annie reappeared at Ginny’s side and put her arm around her friend. “I’ll buy round one!” Annie called loudly over the music.

She pointed to a table in the corner and then hurried off to the bar to get the drinks. Ginny, Jackson, Ron, Hermione and Harry all sat at the table, looking around the crowded, dimly lit room with vague curiosity. Ginny wished that Jackson wasn’t sitting directly across the table from her because she could feel his eyes on her. She’d dressed up for Harry tonight, and not for Jackson, and she didn’t need him checking her out with Harry right there to witness it and get the wrong idea in his head again.

“Do you realize this is the first time we’re all out together at a pub?” Ron asked with amusement. “We’re so grown up!”

“First pitcher!” Annie announced, setting down a pitcher of beer onto the table and a stack of plastic cups. “Drink up!”

“Thanks Ann!” Jackson said, grabbing the first glass and pouring himself a full cup. He took a long drink before setting the cup down on the table with unnecessary force, making Ginny cringe. She had a feeling that Jackson’s drinking would not mellow him out, but make things worse. She just hoped that having Harry and Jackson in such close proximity to each other would not be a problem.

They sat and drank at the table, chitchatting and taking pauses to listen to the music and watch others in the pub. sipped at her beer, unsure if she liked the taste of the golden liquid or not. It wasn’t bad, but she’d tasted sweeter alcoholic drinks before and much preferred those to this drink. In the middle of Annie talking, the crowd suddenly went wild for the first few chords of a new song and people began to swarm to the dance floor, one hand in the air, the other holding a drink.

“Popular song!” Jackson commented with a laugh.

Ginny was surprised when Ron slid off his seat and took Hermione’s hand, pulling her to her feet. Hermione smiled at the gesture and followed Ron out to the dance floor, leaning in to say something in Ron’s ear as they hurried away.

“He really likes Hermione, huh?” Annie asked curiously. “They’re cute together.”

“They usually fight like cats and dogs, actually. You’re lucky you’ve only seen them being nice to one another,” Harry corrected. “And Ron used to hate dancing, but I think he’s worried that someone else might take her away from him.”

Ginny was sure he was referring to the Yule Ball when Ron watched jealousy from the sidelines as Krum had danced with Hermione. She was glad that Ron had come to his senses when it came to Hermione and that he was making an effort to keep her happy.

“Dancing is the way to a girl’s heart!” Jackson declared cheerily, getting to his feet and turning to Ginny with a confident smile. “Gin, will you accompany me onto the dance floor?”

Did Jackson never pick up on simple body-language? Did he not understand what she’d said on the beach?

To make matters more uncomfortable, she could see that Harry was staring at Jackson in a way that looked as if he was trying to strike him down with his eyes. Ginny hesitated, looking over to the dance floor where Ron, Hermione and all the other dancers were moving in a ‘grinding’ motion to the beat. The thought of dancing like that with Jackson when Harry was there was almost laughable.

“No, thanks,” she replied as sweetly and as delicately as she could.

Jackson looked shocked at her refusal. After a few seconds, he laughed and playfully punched Harry in the arm. “What? Oh, come on, it’s just dancing! Harry doesn’t mind if his ex dances with anyone, does he?”

“Jackson-” Annie began awkwardly, reaching out to touch his shoulder. Jackson shrugged her hand off, looking incredulously at Ginny.

“It’s just a dance! I thought we were friends! You can’t dance with your friends?” When he gestured toward the dance floor, he sloshed some beer onto the floor.

Ginny had no intention to go dance with Jackson, especially if he was drunk. “Jackson, I just want to sit and have some beer, okay?” Ginny argued with him calmly, praying that he would sit down. “Maybe later.” It was a lie, but it would hopefully placate him for the time being.

“Why did you bring your ex to the bar?”

Ginny felt her face flush in embarrassment at the question, but knew that she could not answer the question. I brought Harry to the bar to try and make something happen. Censoring herself, she said: “Annie invited all of us, and Harry and I are friends. Why can’t we all go and dance together in a bit?”

He made an angry noise at her response. “Can we talk in private? We need to talk about this. ”

Ginny could feel Harry’s eyes on her as she got reluctantly to her feet, silently cursing Jackson. She calmly told Annie and Harry that they’d be back shortly and followed Jackson down the rows of tables to the corner of the room for some privacy. Leaning against the wall, Ginny folded her arms and waited for him to start lecturing her. The second he’d faced her, he began to talk quickly.

“I’m just going to come right out and say it: I really like you. I’ve liked you all summer! I’ve dropped little hints, I’ve tried to come right out and tell you… and until now, I didn’t get why you spent practically every day with Annie and I, you seemed like you might like me, but then you tell me no.”

He paused, his eyes searching her face desperately for some emotion. “I hate to say it, but you’re being stupid if you think that being friends with me will make him jealous enough to take you back. I know you don’t mean to do it, but it’s not healthy, and it’s not fair to me when I’m crazy about you! You’re clearly going through a hard time with your breakup, and I know how you feel. My ex-girlfriend Sarah held me out on a limb too, and I held on. She tried to be friends with me, but it was too hard. It ended up hurting even more when she finally moved on and I had to see her all the time. You need to get out now, Ginny.”

Flustered, Ginny opened her mouth to try and reassure him but he wasn’t through lecturing her. She snapped her mouth closed, trying to be patient and just let him get out all he had to say.

“It just kills me that I know you’re doing the same thing I did, and you’re doing what Annie does with Patrick. You’re waiting around for someone who isn’t interested in you! He barely talks to you, he won’t touch you, he’s so tense and quiet… that’s not how someone acts if they like you. If he liked you, he’d have made it very clear by now.”

“Jackson, you’ve got it wrong-” Ginny told him firmly, but Jackson cut her off, still not done.

“No, I don’t. And I’m here, and I’m crazy about you, but you won’t give me a chance because you’re hung up on a guy who won’t ever come around. You don’t have to feel bad about dancing with me, or hanging out with me, or holding my hand because he’s never going to take you back. You might as well do all those things to prove that you can be happy again! And I can make you happy again!”

The words felt like a slap in the face, and perhaps they hurt since Harry had told her that they weren’t good for each other. Reminding herself that Jackson did not have all the facts, and that he didn’t understand that a war had come between her and Harry.

“Jackson, I’m sorry that you feel this way about me, but nothing will ever happen between us. I don’t feel that way about you, and you need to understand this now before it goes on any longer.” She paused, feeling badly about being brutally honest, but she had a feeling that with someone this intoxicated, it would be better than trying to sugar-coat it. “And no, you don’t understand what’s between me and Harry. It’s very complicated… he didn’t end things with me because he wanted to.”

Jackson was not to be deterred. “No, I do understand. If he’s not fighting for you, he obviously doesn’t care and it’s that simple. Give me a chance, Ginny. I’d give anything to be with you, and I’ll do anything to make you happy.” He reached out and touched her cheek gently, smiling at her. “You’re beautiful and smart and funny and mysterious…I just can’t stand by and watch this happen to such an amazing girl.”

She gently pushed his hand away, thinking that if only he wasn’t being such a bad friend, she might feel flattered by his words. “Jackson, stop, please. We’re friends…don’t ruin our friendship.”

Jackson’s smile disappeared and his anger flared again. “Why are you wasting your time with him? You look at him like you’re waiting for him to turn around, grab you, and kiss you. I’ve watched you all summer and until now, I didn’t get why you looked like you were so lost and so sad all the time. Snap out of it! He’s done with you!”

“You don’t get anything,” she snapped back. “Harry’s not who you think he is!”

Jackson rubbed his temples in frustration, before shouting, “Why are you defending him? He’s an asshole, Ginny. Let me help!”

Ginny stopped and glared at him, wishing that she could hex him for saying that. “Don’t you dare call him an asshole, Jackson!”

She felt livid at his arrogance over assuming he understood exactly what she was going through with Harry. It was only because of wizarding law that she was not allowed to put him in his place and explain everything. And because of the law, she had to stand here and take this abuse about being a stupid, little, lovesick girl.

“I get that you won’t ever go for me because you’re so hung up on Harry, and fine, I can accept that you don’t feel anything for me. But we’re still friends and I have to tell you that you’re in love with a guy who will never give a shit about you.”

“Shut up!” Ginny cried. “There are bigger things here that you don’t understand!”

“Then tell me! I want to know why you’re putting yourself through this! How long has it been since you were even with him? When was the last time he kissed you? Told you he loved you?”

Ginny didn’t bother to correct him that they had never said those words to each other. “It doesn’t matter to me, and it’s none of your business. Frankly, if I knew you were going to turn out to be such a lousy friend, I wouldn’t have bothered at all.”

He threw his hand up, glaring. “You’re driving me mad! Can you hear yourself? You’re proving my point by not answering anything I’ve asked. You can’t even defend yourself, let alone him!”

“No, the fact that we’re having this conversation proves that you’re the ignorant asshole who doesn’t understand anything. You’re the one who won’t respect my decision and just leave it alone. You’re the one who was supposedly the nice guy who was hurt by a girl… you’re the one who should understand that relationships are hard and that each situation is different. If I get hurt in the end, then so be it!”

She took a sidestep to get away from him, raising her voice to battle with the blaring music. “If you can’t respect my feelings than it proves you’re not worth my time anymore than you think Harry is. At least he doesn’t treat me like I’m stupid for daring to be in love.”

He looked slightly guilty at having implied that she was stupid. “Ginny, I don’t think you’re stupid!”

“Go to hell,” she snapped tearfully.

She shoved past him toward the bathrooms, passing Annie and Harry at the table, passing Ron and Hermione on the dance floor, and passing too many happy couples necking and giggling. She just wanted to get away from everyone and take a breath. She hated Jackson when he was drunk and wondered how much of what he’d said were things he thought when he was sober.

What really bothered her was the infuriating fact that she couldn’t defend herself or Harry. She couldn’t tell him that Harry had broken up with her to protect her, not because of another girl, or because he’d lost interest. Jackson didn’t understand how long she’d wanted to be with Harry, and how long she’d waited to have him back again.

Ginny had nearly reached the bathrooms when someone touched her shoulder and turned her around. Thinking it was Jackson coming back to fight some more, she cursed and attempted to push him away, but stopped when she realized it was Harry.

“Oh, it’s just you,” she muttered, unsure if Harry was really the better person to have followed her. He did look very concerned, and better yet, Harry looked sober. As long as he didn’t suddenly start yelling at her like he had in her bedroom she wouldn’t tell him to leave her alone.

“Are you okay? What did he say to you?” He was looking her up and down as if checking for bruises.

She dabbed at her tears and gave him a watery smile. “You saw that, huh? Yeah, I’m okay.”

“Saw it more than heard it… it’s pretty loud in here.” She knew he was trying to make her feel better about their conversation being drowned out by the noise, but it didn’t work. As embarrassing and as hurtful as it was, perhaps if Harry had heard her yelling at Jackson, he may finally believe her when she said there was nothing going on. It would have been nice to see some good come out of tonight.

“He’s just really drunk and it makes everything that much worse. He’s not normally so mean.”

Harry frowned. “What does he have to yell at you for?”

She smiled sadly and lightly ran her fingers under her eyes to check for running mascara. “About the same thing that you’re not talking to me for,” she told him lightly. “Do I look okay? I don’t look like I’ve been crying my eyes out, do I?” She took a deep breath, willing herself to calm down. It was not the time or place to vent about Jackson. Tonight was Harry’s birthday and she was not going to waste it on Jackson and his stupidity.

Harry hesitated. “Are you sure you-”

Ginny smiled a more natural smile and nodded, determined to save her issues with Jackson for another time. “It’s your birthday, Harry. Don’t worry yourself over it… he’s just being drunk and stupid. I’m perfectly, fine. Come on, let’s go back.”

She took a breath to calm herself and then lead the way onto the dance floor where Ron and Hermione were dancing together. The band was announcing that they were going to play a new song that they’d been working on lately. The electric guitar began to pick out a series of notes and the crowd screamed their approval. Ginny reached Ron and Hermione just as the male vocalist began to sing, alternating each line with the female vocalist.

What time is it where you are?
I miss you more than anything
I’m back at home you feel so far
Waitin' for the phone to ring
It's gettin’ lonely livin’ upside down
I don't even wanna be in this town
Tryin' to figure out the time zones is makin' me crazy

Jackson was thankfully nowhere to be seen, which allowed Ginny to relax a little more. If she was going to make it through tonight and not let their fight ruin Harry’s birthday, she didn’t need to be constantly interrupted by Jackson. Unfortunately, it took seconds for Hermione to notice her red rimmed eyes. Ginny forced a smile and shook her head to silently convey the message she didn’t want to discuss it now. Hermione handed her the last half of her drink and Ginny drained the glass, thankful for alcohol.

You say good morning
When it's midnight
Going out of my head
Alone in this bed
I wake up to your sunset
And it's driving me mad
I miss you so bad
And my heart, heart, heart is so jetlagged
Heart, heart, heart is so jetlagged
Heart, heart, heart is so jetlagged

Hermione turned her attention back to dancing with Ron who had his arms around her waist as they danced to the music. Ginny smiled faintly at the pair of them, glad that her brother had found happiness with Hermione. They made a good couple when they weren’t arguing with each other over silly things. Her brother was lucky that he had someone like Hermione who put up with him.

Harry’s hand found her wrist and she was surprised when he spun her around to face him instead. He grinned at her sheepishly and her heart fluttered, momentarily forgetting about Jackson. Harry wanted to dance with her? He did not put his arms around her, but he was looking at her without any concern, disappointment, sadness, or a mad desire to get away from her. Ginny felt happiness and confidence surge through her bad mood, washing everything but her excitement and happiness away. The band played on, with the female vocalist now singing the melody while the male sang the harmony.

What time is it where you are?
Five more days and I'll be home
I keep your picture in my car
I hate the thought of you alone
I've been keepin' busy all the time
Just to try to keep you off my mind
Tryin' to figure out the time zones is makin’ me crazy

Ginny thought over these lyrics, musing over how ironic it was that she’d thought most of these things about Harry. Ginny felt she could relate to the couple in the song and so she found herself repressing a smile over the irony. She loved when she found a song that related to her own life: it gave her a secret sense of satisfaction. Ginny definitely hated all last year when she and Harry were separated, and she had been struggling now for weeks to keep him off her mind.

As he danced with her to the music, Ginny wondered if this might be the start of friendship between them, if nothing else. She didn’t want to get too excited; it was just a dance, after all. Still, this was as close to normal that she and Harry had been for over a year and it gave her a warm feeling of hope.

You say good morning
When it's midnight
Going out of my head
Alone in this bed

He spun her around again, startling her into a laugh as she twirled back into his arms. This time his hands found her waist and he was smiling at her in that familiar way that made her knees wobble and her heart speed up. He still kept a small distance between them and Ginny hoped he’d close it. Had he always been so tall or had it just been too long since she stood so close to him? She was wearing heels, but he was still fairly taller than her. Her hands rested on his hard shoulders and it made her blush to notice that Auror-training was filling him out quite nicely; he wouldn’t be a scrawny kid for much longer.

I wake up to your sunset
And it's drivin' me mad
I miss you so bad
And my heart, heart, heart is so jetlagged
Heart, heart, heart is so jetlagged
Heart, heart, heart is so jetlagged
Is so jet lagged

The lyrics made her remember all those mornings in the first few days after the battle at Hogwarts when Ginny had hoped to talk to Harry, and how she’d wished he wasn’t always sleeping. Not that she’d blamed him for wanting so much extra sleep after being on the run, but it was frustrating that whenever she was awake, he’d be asleep. And when he wasn’t asleep, he was being dragged off by someone from the Order, or the Ministry, or by his friends who had missed him, and she wouldn’t see him until he came back and fell asleep again. She’d missed him so badly it had hurt.

I miss you so bad
I miss you so bad
I miss you so bad

Was he looking at her lips? Harry looked away and Ginny hoped that he’d been thinking of kissing her. It would be cheesy, and lame, and they still had a lot of talking to do, but it would be romantic as hell…

I miss you so bad
I miss you so bad

She did miss him so bad. She missed his smile and his laugh. She missed being with him and being one of the few people in the world who knew the real Harry Potter. She missed feeling ridiculously happy to be in a relationship and the accompanying constant smile on her face. She missed his lips on hers, the feel of his fingers reaching for hers. But did he miss her like that? Did he ever feel as excited, happy, and nervous around her as she felt for him? He was looking at her intensely right now… maybe he had once?

I wanna share your horizon
I miss you so bad
And see the same sun rising
I miss you so bad
Turn the hour hand back to when you were holding me.

As the music died to a few notes, Ginny suddenly realized she was closer to him than she’d been a moment ago. Had he pulled her closer? She wondered if she could slide into his embrace if she could kiss him, or even slide her fingers into his hair. With every other couple on the dance floor, it was tempting to just imitate what everyone else was doing.

When she was brave enough to take the smallest step closer, someone behind her bumped her and knocked her against Harry’s chest. He pulled back and looked down at her, asking if she was okay. Ginny nodded and laughed it off, apologizing for having fallen into him, but she felt a little disappointment. Why had he pulled away? He’d been given the perfect opportunity to hold her there, but instead he had put space between them again.

His hands were still firmly on her waist; his touch was warm against the thin cotton of her dress and it made her yearn for his hands to slide around her middle and across her back. She’d never forget how good his hands had felt against her bare skin, setting a fiery trail wherever he touched. A blush coloured her cheeks at the thoughts she was having and she tried to remind herself that thinking about those moments would only upset her.

You say good morning
When it's midnight
Going out of my head
Alone in this bed
I wake up to your sunset
And it's drivin' me mad
I miss when you say good morning
But it's midnight

Harry was looking at the band now, watching the vocalists sing into their microphones, smiling at each other as if singing to the other. She hoped he was having a good birthday and a fun night. She knew that he still cared, at least a little. He had come to the pub when he could have said no, and he’d come after her when he’d seen that Jackson had upset her. Those were good signs, right?

Going out of my head
Alone in this bed
I wake up to your sunset
And it’s driving me mad
I miss you so bad

They continued to move together, and his eyes drifted down to meet her gaze. His fingers applied light pressure to her waist and she wasn’t sure, but she could have sworn she felt his fingers lightly caress her as he’d adjusted his hold. She was terrified of breaking the gaze and of ending the moment at all. All she wanted to do was kiss him, but he was holding her too far apart for that, and she wasn’t at all sure how well he’d take to her leaning in and kissing him. Harry’s hands on her waist had been a big step, and it may only just be dancing.

And my heart, heart, heart is so jetlagged
Heart, heart, heart is so jetlagged
Heart, heart, hear is so jetlagged
Is so jetlagged
Is so jetlagged

The song ended and Harry’s hands dropped from her waist when the last few notes died. The crowd cheered loudly and amidst it all, Ginny spotted Ron say something to Hermione with a grin on his face before he kissed her deeply and Hermione threw her arms around his neck enthusiastically. Ginny smiled slightly, a little envious that Ron had kissed Hermione, but Harry didn’t kiss her. Ron might be a thoughtless git when it came to how protective he was over his family and Harry, but he had always been a romantic at heart. It was very sweet to see him like that with Hermione- so deeply in love. The band thanked the crowd and announced they were going to take a short break. Harry was watching his best friends too and caught her eye and they smiled at each other with mild amusement at Ron and Hermione’s public display of affection.

“Let’s get another beer,” Ron said as he came over to Ginny and Harry, obviously enjoying his evening.

Harry and Ginny fell into step behind them, but she stiffened and stopped moving when she saw Annie and Jackson having a heated debate at their table. Harry seemed to notice and he stopped next to her, looking concerned. She felt very reluctant to go over there and put herself in the middle of Jackson’s wrath again.

Harry folded his arms across his chest. “He’s not in a good mood tonight, huh?”

“No,” she said sadly. “I’m sorry he’s acting like such an idiot on your birthday.”

“Thanks for standing up for me,” he said suddenly and a little nervously.

Ginny took a moment to understand what he was talking about but then her jaw dropped in shock. “You heard us? I thought it was too loud…”

Harry looked slightly uncomfortable. “He looked really angry, and I didn’t want you to get hurt.” Harry explained. “When he got really close to you and kept yelling I got a little nervous that he might physically try to hurt you so I moved a bit closer. I just heard the end of your fight.”

She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. It was very sweet of Harry to feel so protective of her, although she wondered just how much he’d heard. She supposed it was a good sign that he was grateful that she stood up for him and that he was not made uncomfortable by Ginny’s unwavering loyalty to him when Jackson was calling him an asshole and inferring he was a heartbreaker.

“We’re friends and he wouldn’t ever lay a hand on me. He’s not normally such a jerk.”

“He likes you,” Harry said grimly, startling Ginny into looking up at him. Although this wasn’t news to her that Harry knew about Jackson’s feelings, what surprised her was the way he’d said it: it was like he’d sided with her instead of holding it against her. “I piss him off because he’s jealous and thinks I’m mistreating you. I guess with the alcohol and how much he doesn’t like me, it’s a bad combination.”

“I know. I wish he’d see that you’re not mistreating me. It’s hard to come up with a good reason when there’s so much I can’t explain without revealing what I am. He just thinks I’m stupid to caudle my broken heart like this.”

Harry jumped slightly, as if she’d hit him. He looked extremely troubled as he asked, “I’ve broken your heart?”

Ginny turned to face him, chiding herself for her choice of words. A pub was not the ideal place to talk about broken hearts with her ex-boyfriend. She hesitated before saying: “That’s not exactly birthday conversational material, Harry.”

He moved to stand in front of her with a troubled expression. “If I broke your heart when I left, I’m sorry.”

What was she supposed to say to that? He’d sounded sincere, but a line like that demanded an entire conversation. “It’s fine…” she said lamely.

At that moment, Jackson was stalking off and Annie was sitting alone with a drink in her hand, talking to Ron and Hermione with a grim look on her face. Now that Jackson had left, she began walking again, though she wished that she and Harry could just leave. She wanted to see where this conversation was going. He’d relaxed, danced with her, smiled at her, and apologized for breaking her heart. Surely this meant that things were going to be alright between them? Was he trying to show her that he wanted more too, but didn’t know how to say it anymore than she did?

“Jackson’s not exactly in the party-mood,” Annie said as they approached. “Apparently, he’s really peeved at you.”

Ginny sighed and looked for him in the crowd. “I know… where did he go?”

Annie shrugged. “I think he might have left. He’s pretty drunk and I offered to call a cab for him, but he basically told me off and left.”

Guilt began to gnaw at her insides. “I’m just going to make sure he’s okay and try to talk him into getting a cab,” Ginny announced. She’d feel awful if Jackson was alone and he needed help.

“Ginny-” Harry called after her anxiously.

Ginny glanced back, already on her way to the door. “Honestly, I’m just going to make sure he’s okay. I’ll come right back.”

She left before any of them could protest the issue. She had to make sure that Jackson was alright; it was her fault that he was so angry, and therefore it was her duty to set things right, although he probably didn’t deserve her concern after what he’d said to her. She was sure that Jackson would come to his senses tomorrow and regret taking his temper out on her.

She passed the bouncer and pushed open the door, shivering in the cool air that ruffled her dress and tossed her curls. Spotting Jackson a little ways down the street, she hurried after him. He was walking slowly with his hands shoved in his pockets and his head bowed. She called his name and he stopped, turning to see her approach. He waited for her with a grim expression on his face, though she wasn’t sure if it was because of his mood or because he didn’t want to talk to her. The second she got within a few feet she could smell beer on his breath and on his clothes.

She hugged herself in the cool air, keeping a small distance between her and Jackson. “I just came to make sure that you were okay. Are you heading home? Can you please take a cab?”

“Yeah, I’m going home” he answered, his voice cracking. “I saw you dancing with Harry. Winning him back, are you?”

She regarded him for a long moment, reminding herself that she needed to go back to the pub before this could escalate into another argument. “Jackson, you’re my friend, but you’ve been a huge prat to me tonight, and I expect you to apologize to me when I see you next. Harry’s a good person, no matter what you think of him.”

Jackson’s gaze wandered over her head and down the street with a sad look on his face. “If you can’t see sense, I have no interest in talking to you.” He started walking again and Ginny stood rooted in place, staring after him in horror.

Her shock shattered and she stormed after him. She was tired of everyone yelling at her and fed up with feeling like she was losing everyone she cared about. “What the hell is the matter with you?”

The second she’d caught up to him however, he put his hands on her shoulders, locking her gaze. The stench of beer was overwhelming and Ginny tried to pull away but he held her in place. “What’s wrong with me? You let me hold you before… you let me flirt… there’s something here, I know it! I can tell you’re attracted to me, even if you don’t want to admit it. If Harry wasn’t in the picture, we’d be together. So why him? Why pick the guy who’s made you this sad shadow of who you truly are? Why pick him when I’m willing to be everything he isn’t?

“Jackson let me go,” she told him firmly, though her voice came out a little nervously.

“Why?” He demanded, ignoring her.

Starting to feel a little afraid, she decided to answer, hoping that as soon as he did, he’d release her. “Because I’ve wanted to be with Harry since I was eleven,” she whispered. “There’s nothing wrong with you, Jackson, we’re just not meant to be together. We’re too different.”

“Let her go.” Harry’s angry voice startled both Ginny and Jackson who looked over to find Harry, flanked by Annie, Ron and Hermione.

“Sorry, did you want to lead her on some more?” Jackson asked acidly, dropping his hold on Ginny and standing in front of her.

“Jackson, stop it! Why did you grab her?” Annie said furiously, hurrying up between Harry and her friend. “Come on, we’re going home. You’ve had too much to drink.” She attempted to pull at Jackson’s arm, but he shrugged her off as if she weighed nothing. Annie stumbled a few steps backwards on the pavement, but held her balance. Fear coursed through her at the sight of Jackson, intoxicated and a mean drunk.

Jackson was now getting in Harry’s face. “If you really cared about her, you’d have done something about it by now. But as far as I can tell, you’ve only done something because someone else is rivalling for her affections. I’m crazy about this girl, and you’re treating her like shit.”

“You don’t know anything!” Harry retorted. “It’s really none of your business, but I do care about her.”

If Ginny wasn’t having a panic attack, she might have felt good about hearing Harry admit that he cared about her. Instead, she was too scared to move as Harry and Jackson stood glaring at each other, both standing tall and rigid. Jackson had more muscle than Harry, and he was a few inches shorter, but physical strength would be nothing if any of them used magic to ease the situation.

“What happens if I win her?” Jackson asked arrogantly, turning to grasp Ginny’s hand in his own.

His grip was tighter than he realized and Ginny cried out in pain, trying to pull free. Ron came to Harry’s side looking mutinous.

“Let my sister go,” he demanded forcefully.

Jackson dropped her hand and glared at Harry and Ron. He turned back to Ginny, his expression softening as he placed his hands on her shoulders again.

“I want to be with you,” he told her sincerely. “And if you’ll give me the chance, I’ll show you how much better off you’ll be with me instead of him. I know you’re attracted to me and I know you like me. Once you realize that Harry’s been toying with you, I’ll be ready.”

Ginny could barely find her voice to speak, and when she did, it came out on a quivering note. “Jackson, just go. Please.”

Jackson hesitated. “Come with me.”

Incredulous that he would think that there was any chance she’d leave with him, Ginny felt her anger rival her fear. “No. Go home and sober up. I don’t want you to start a fight with him.”

Jackson seemed to interpret her words different as he peered around her to smirk at Harry. “She doesn’t want me to hurt you, Potter.”

The threat would have been laughable in any other situation; there was no way that one muggle, no matter how strong, could overtake two witches and two wizards. “No, I don’t want you to get hurt.”

Jackson rounded on her. “You think he can hurt me?” He laughed coldly, sizing Harry up with a look of arrogance and cold humour. Ginny knew he was thinking that Harry’s taller, less muscular frame was the joke, but she wasn’t about to correct him and to provoke Jackson any more than he already was.

“Alright, I’ll go,” he said with the same cruel laugh. “But you do know that you care for me, and you’ll realize your mistake sooner or later. Why else would you spend so much time with us? Why else would you let me flirt with you until your ex showed up?”

“There’s nothing between us!”

“There is, and I’ll prove it!” And then, before Ginny could react, he grabbed her and kissed her.

His lips crushed hers and his fingers dug painfully into the skin of her forearms as he jerked her against him, crushing her against his chest. Afraid, humiliated, and angry, Ginny began to struggle, but Jackson was too strong for her.

“OI!” Ron shouted furiously.

Hermione groaned, Annie gasped, but it was Harry’s lack of a reaction that was the most terrifying: he stood watching in lethal silence. When his lips finally softened, he kissed her once on the nose and then pulled back with a satisfied smile. Ginny stumbled backwards the second she was free with tears burning in her eyes at her friend’s violence and his betrayal. She had underestimated Jackson and she now regretted standing up for him at all.

And then, while everyone else was still shocked at Jackson, Harry lunged forward and aimed a right hook at Jackson. Jackson grunted as he blocked the blow and tossed Harry’s fist aside as if there was no force behind it. Shoving at Harry’s chest, he made a noise of pure male fury, following Harry backwards. Annie suddenly grabbed at Ginny and pulled her out of the way just before Jackson drew his elbow back and slammed his fist into Harry’s face.

A moan of pain escaped Harry’s lips just as angry male voices from down the street erupted behind them as four men were hurrying toward them to break up the fight. Jackson glared at Harry and shook the blood off his fist.

“I’ll steal your girl and break your face,” he threatened mutinously. In the next second he had turned on his heel and stormed off.

“Are you okay?” Annie wailed, hurrying to Harry’s side. “I’m so, so sorry!”

“It’s fine,” Harry bit out, one hand on his face “We should go,” he added darkly.

Ginny grabbed his arm and looped it through her own, determined to support him if he suddenly became dizzy. She pulled him toward the trees and into the cover of the thick bush. Harry clutched at his face, the blood trickling down his cheek and onto his shirt. Hermione conjured a white cloth and handed it to him wordlessly as they hurried away from the bouncers.

“Well, this is new,” Ron said breathlessly as the group slowed to a walk now that they were far enough into the trees. “Running from muggles through a forest.”

“Ha, ha,” Harry snapped, holding the cloth to his face.

“Better than snatchers,” Hermione mumbled breathlessly.

Once they were far enough into the trees, Ginny pulled Harry to a stop and turned to him anxiously. “Let me see.”

Reluctantly, he pulled back the cloth to reveal a large bump, bruising, and a laceration near his eye. Ginny cringed and he put the cloth back on, averting the eye that was not covered by the cloth.

“I haven’t been punched since I was ten and Dudley used to go ‘Harry-hunting,’” Harry said grimly.

“Mum’s got some stuff you can put on your face and it’ll heal it up within minutes,” Ginny told him reassuringly.

They started walking again and Ginny immediately grabbed Harry’s arm again, clutching it tightly as they moved through the forest in silence. Hermione and Ron lit their wands and held them aloft for light, which helped them find the well-trodden path that would take them back to the Burrow. Ginny’s mind was trying to process a million thoughts per second as she debated whether this would drive Harry and her father apart. It was, after all, her fault that he was insulted and assaulted on his birthday.

The Burrow’s windows were all dark when they finally made it back, and so they entered the house as quietly as possible. Ginny volunteered to find the salve for Harry and to help him get cleaned up. Hermione agreed and pulled Ron with her to the stairs to head to bed. Ginny threw Hermione a grateful look; she wanted to apologize to Harry in private so he would know she really meant to.

“Want to light your wand?” Ginny murmured, going to the cabinet under the sink. Harry held out his wand as she rummaged through its contents and eventually emerged with a glass jar filled only halfway with a purple salve.

“Sit,” Ginny instructed in a whisper, unscrewing the lid. She held a clean dishtowel under the tap and then went to Harry who had taken a seat at a chair at the table.

“I’m so sorry,” she told him anxiously as he lowered the bloody handkerchief. “I feel awful.”

In the wand light, she considered his expression but he didn’t look mad. The silence of the kitchen was not an uncomfortable one, and this removed some of the tension. She gently wiped his face with the moist towel, careful not to wipe the cloth over the cut near his eye.

“I swung first,” he reminded her quietly. “I let him get to me. I probably wouldn’t have gotten hurt if I didn’t try to hit him for kissing you.”

In the dark she found his eyes and held his gaze for a long moment before she smiled slightly, her heart aching. “I appreciated it. I probably would have been expelled for hexing a muggle in the middle of a public street.”

Using the dry end of the dishtowel, she dabbed it across his cheek, glad that Harry wasn’t angry. He sat patiently as she finished with the dish towel and reached for the jar with the salve in it.

“It smells like beets,” she warned him.

“It won’t be as bad as the pain.”

Ginny paused in rubbing the salve over his bruised and swollen cheek in slow, methodical circles. “Are you dizzy? Any tingling or numbness? Feel sick?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“That’s good.” She went back to rubbing the purple salve onto the smooth skin of his face.

“That feels good,” he said after a while, his voice thick.

“It doesn’t hurt too badly?”

“It hurts a lot less with this stuff on it.”

“Mum makes it…”

“Thank you for helping me.”

Ginny smiled, but didn’t say anything. It was the least that she could do for him considering that this was all her fault. They lapsed back into silence until Ginny had finished with the salve. She washed her hands and returned to him to check her work by raising his lit wand to his face. His eyes looked overly bright in the light of his wand and she forced herself to look over the injury, and not allow herself to be lost in the emerald green that watched her.

“All done,” she whispered, lowering his wand.

“Thank you.” His voice broke slightly as he took his wand back and slipped it into his pocket and purged them into darkness.

“I’m so sorry,” she repeated, the humiliation returning to her. Harry’s hand found hers in the dark and he squeezed it gently.

“I’m sorry too… for being an idiot for so long. I don’t want to lose you.”

Ginny held her breath, barely able to see him through the darkness. She wanted so desperately to believe what he was saying to her, but she needed to know that he’d lied when he told her that they weren’t meant to be together. “Harry, you said we were two pieces of a puzzle that didn’t fit,” she managed to say weakly, glad that he could not see the pain etched on her face.

“I lied,” he whispered, standing up from his chair. His other hand touched her face gently and Ginny found herself turning into his touch, the contact sending a thrilling sense of pleasure through her.

And then slowly, he lowered his head to hers and kissed her. Harry’s lips on her erased all ability to think, her heart began to pound out a jagged rhythm, and she felt as if she might collapse with her knees shaking terribly. She deepened the kiss without having thought about it and a soft moan slipped from his throat, driving her a little wild. Harry kissed her back with an equal amount of passion and fire, his hands exploring the skin of her back and sliding them up her ribs. His hands followed the curve of her waist and he inched her a little closer.

Unable to breath, she lifted her head, gasping for air. Harry’s rapid breathing matched her own and his eyes, glassy in the moonlight, were locked with hers.

“Sorry,” he said weakly. “I guess I’m a little drunk still.”

Drunk.

The word threatened to shatter her already cracked heart in her chest. Feeling herself go rigid in his arms, she carefully stepped away from him, hating that this moment had been sparked by alcohol. She had no idea how much he’d had tonight… how much of that raw desire had been real?

“Are you alright?” His voice was anxious and soft.

“You’re drunk?” She asked shakily, hating that she cared about a few drinks.

He didn’t respond at first. “I’m a little buzzed.”

“Oh.”

The tears welled up in her eyes before she could control herself. The moment had felt so sweet, so amazing that she hadn’t stopped to consider that the perfect kiss could be worthless.

“I shouldn’t have done that,” Harry was saying now grimly. “I’m sorry… I haven’t felt brave enough to do that until now, and I’ve wanted it since May.”

That gave her hope.

“It’s okay” she told him quietly. “I just don’t want this to be something that you have to be drunk for… I want it to be real.”

“No, I get it,” he agreed easily, moving toward the stairs. “We’ll figure it all out tomorrow.” Not wanting him to get the wrong idea, and with the sexual tension killing her, Ginny slid her hand into his.

When they got to her bedroom door, Harry paused to pull her into a hug. He pulled back to rest his forehead against hers and Ginny found herself tempted to throw caution to the wind and kiss him again. It was nearly impossible to rest the temptation when he was so close and she could still feel his lips against hers.

“I’ve missed you so bad,” he murmured sincerely, repeating a line from the song they’d danced to at the pub.

The words eased some of the disappointment and Ginny smiled, almost positive that Harry would work things out with her tomorrow like he said. He kissed her cheek swiftly before he turned to go. She watched him continue up the stairs to Ron’s room and Ginny found herself smiling after him. In spite of everything that had happened tonight, he made her feel light, wonderful, and beautiful. Jackson had very nearly ruined everything, but just when she’d thought it couldn’t get any worse, things had gotten a great deal better.

Realizing that she was alone now and standing outside her door, smiling like she was fifteen again and Harry had kissed her for the first time, she turned to let herself into her room. Hermione was just climbing into bed when Ginny came in.

“You’re smiling… Can I assume that good things happened after we left?” Hermione asked in an excited whisper.

“I think so,” Ginny told her happily. “But I’ll know for sure after tomorrow.”

Back to index


Chapter 5: Chapter 5: New Beginnings

Author's Notes: Thank you to everyone who has left me such positive reviews! I apologize for the delay in getting chapter five out, but school has been extremely busy lately. Hopefully my last cliff hanger has brought you back here:P

Enjoy!


Chapter 5: New Beginnings


Ginny woke the next day to realize she’d slept soundly through the night and through the morning as it was now nearly twelve-thirty. Blinking in confusion at her alarm clock, the events of last night slowly came back to her: Jackson grabbing her, Harry getting punched, cleaning Harry up, Harry kissing her… The last memory brought a giddy smile to her face as she hugged her pillow excitedly.

The kiss was so vivid in her mind that if she closed her eyes and focused on the moment, she could feel the pressure of his lips and the feel of his hands on her. It gave her hope and made her heart pound out a jagged rhythm to think that things were so very close to being normal.

She pushed her blankets back and climbed from her bed, eager to see him, figure things out, and then drag him into the orchard for a bit of catching up. She felt deliriously happy as she pulled on clean clothes and thought about the day ahead of her. Last night had been a little scary, but it was probably going to make her top ten list of memories. Heck, Harry kissing her in the kitchen would be one of her memories that might just make the top three, rivalling their first kiss in the common room. She beamed at her reflection in the mirror as she pulled a brush through her tousled hair, ridiculously happy with the fact that Harry was a passionate and spontaneous kisser. She hoped that there would be many moments in the days to come where she could just spend hours-

Focus, Ginny, the tiny voice of logic told her. You still need to talk to him and work things out. And you stopped him because he was drinking. He might regret being so impulsive now that he’s sober.

The thought made her heart sink, but she kept a good attitude, unwilling to let the possibility of the best day of summer escape her just yet. She would worry when she saw Harry, and if he ignored her, she would be free to panic.

Once she was presentable, Ginny hurried downstairs toward the noise in the kitchen, all the while wondering how the racket didn’t wake her up. Harry, Hermione, her mother, George, and Bill and Fleur were seated at the table and halfway through eating lunch. All eyes turned to see her enter the kitchen, but Ginny couldn’t seem to tear her eyes from Harry’s green ones and the crooked grin he wore on his face. When she stumbled slightly over Crookshanks who had trotted over to rub against her leg in greeting, she felt her face flood with heat and she crossed the room to take a seat next to Fleur.

He grinned at me… that’s a good sign!

“You’re finally up,” her mother exclaimed wryly. “Long night?”

The blush stayed on her face as her mind flashed an image of Harry with his hands in her hair. She shrugged her shoulders in an attempt to appear nonchalant. “It was fun,” she replied as calmly as she could.

“Well, I hope you got plenty of rest, because you’ll be out late again tonight,” her mother continued cheerfully. She passed Ginny today’s issue of The Daily Prophet and tapped the front page.

KINGSLEY DECLARED NEW MINISTER FOR MAGIC: MINISTRY PREPARES FOR CELEBRATION TONIGHT

“They’re throwing a party tonight to celebrate everything that’s happened: Kingsley becoming Minister, Voldemort’s defeat, and honouring Harry,” her mother told her excitedly.

Ginny glanced up from skimming the front page in time to see Harry rolling his eyes at the last part. She hid her smile at his expression, knowing that Harry was probably dreading being honoured in front of the wizarding world tonight.

“I was there an hour ago and they’ve already set up the Atrium,” Bill added. “Judging by the number of tables, it’s going to be a huge turnout.”

“Eet will be so wonderful!” Fleur chimed in brightly. “I ‘ave to decide what I will wear!”

“You have something to wear, Ginny, dear?” Her mother verified as she passed Ginny a bowl of fresh garden salad.

Ginny nodded, taking the bowl. “I’m sure I do. Why did they decide to have the party tonight?”

“It would have made more sense to hold off and plan more, wouldn’t it?” Ron added confusedly.

“Well, it was only a matter of time,” George said with a shrug. “Wasn’t there a party the last time Voldemort disappeared?”

Molly nodded. “Hundreds of them across Britain, but the Ministry itself has never opened its doors like this before.”

“Can anyone go?” Ron asked, swallowing a mouthful of food.

“Not anyone,” Molly replied, busying herself with a pot of tea. “But all Ministry employees and their families, friends of the Ministry, supporters or close friends of Dumbledore, anyone involved in the Battle at Hogwarts, the families of the victims from the past twenty years…”

“Wow,” Hermione murmured in surprise. “Harry, I’ll help you work on your speech, if you’d like?”

“You have to give a speech?” Ginny asked him, unable to disguise her amusement.

Harry nodded gloomily, to which Hermione made a sound of impatience and patted Harry on the arm. “It won’t be so bad, you know. You might find it gives you some closure.”

“No one will expect much, Harry,” her mother told him reassuringly. “It’ll mean so much to everyone if you just thank everyone for their support and show them that you’re doing well.”

The excitement for the night ahead was contagious, especially for how happy it seemed to make her mother. Ginny supposed that the party would be a chance for everyone to celebrate all the good things in life and to take their minds off everything they had lost. The Daily Prophet article said how each victim of the war, both muggle and wizard, would be have their name engraved on a memorial wall in the Ministry, and the wall would be dedicated that night to those families who had lost a loved one because of Voldemort. She was dreading seeing her brother’s name engraved into the marble as part of the victims because it might solidify the feelings of loss that were so often overwhelming. Still, she needed to remember that Fred died fighting, and that he did not suffer at all.

“I do have a favour of you four,” Molly said as Harry and Ron finished off the food on their plates. “The yard is getting out of control, and I’d really appreciate it if you all could tidy it up. Ron, your father taught you that grass trimming spell, so if two of you could trim the lawn, and the other two could de-gnome the garden, that’d be wonderful.”

“Sure,” Ginny agreed easily.

Harry and Ron went to get started on the lawn, and Hermione hung back with Ginny to finish off her own lunch. When the boys had shut the door behind them, Molly stared after them thoughtfully.

“He’s looking better,” she murmured.

“‘Arry?” Fleur guessed. “Yes, ‘ee ‘as more colour in ‘is face these days.”

Ginny could feel Hermione’s eyes on her, but she ignored the knowing look and continued to skim through the morning paper. She paced herself as she finished her lunch, not wanting to seem too eager to follow Harry into the garden. In actuality, she was dying to talk to him, to know what he was thinking. Beneath all her initial desires to jump him into his arms and kiss him in the summer sunshine, she wanted things to be normal between them. She wanted to go back to the days where reaching for his hand or leaning into him was as normal as breathing.

With her goblet drained and her plate clear, she could not deny her heart any longer. “Ready, Hermione?” Ginny asked, getting to her feet.

“Yes.”

“Thanks for lunch, Mum!” Ginny called over her shoulder, hoping her voice sounded calmer than she felt with each step she took nearer to the door.

“Thank you!” Hermione echoed, following Ginny out into the bright sunlight.

“It’s hot!” Ginny complained immediately.

Hermione had already pulled out her wand and tapped Ginny and herself with it as she cast a sun-repellent charm.

“It’s scorching,” Hermione agreed. “Let’s get this done before we pass out from the heat. I can help Ron with the lawn,” Hermione offered. “I’ll send Harry to help you with de-gnoming.”

“Who are you setting up?” Ginny asked teasingly, unable to hide her delight that she could have at least some time with Harry to herself.

Hermione chuckled. “Actually, since you can’t do magic until your birthday, I figured that I might as well take that job. I also don’t feel right about swinging the gnomes around.”

“Ahh, okay.” Ginny continued over to the garden and watched with amusement as the gnomes scattered at her approach, letting out a series of high-pitched squeals. One brave gnome remained rooted in his place, looking determined not to be evicted from the garden. He made an ugly face at her and spread its little legs wide as if to cover more ground.

“Alright, come on,” Ginny murmured, snatching the defiant little creature by its legs. She launched it several feet into the air and watched as it disappeared among the orchard trees.

“Good shot!” Harry called behind her, making her spin around.

“Thanks.” She pushed her hair out of her face and quickly wiped the small beads of sweat that had already begun to form on her forehead. She pleaded that she wouldn’t start sweating badly in front of him. It was one thing to be sweaty from Quidditch practice, but for him to have to watch her face melt off just didn’t feel like the romantic atmosphere she wanted.

Harry’s smile changed and he averted his eyes to the garden, though she wasn’t sure what had caused the change in his reaction. Silently reassuring herself that he was probably just as unsure of himself as she felt, she bent down to pick up another gnome to continue with their task.

“Ugly little things,” Harry commented after whipping two gnomes into the trees.

“Dad’s too nice to them… I think ours are a little more stubborn than most gnomes. I’ve seen him bribing them with bits of food to teach them tricks and certain phrases.”

“Phrases?”

Ginny nodded. “Yeah, Dad thought it’d be funny if they learned things like ‘Oh no! A dragon!’” Harry laughed at her gnome-imitation voice. “You’d be walking by the garden and the gnomes would screaming stunning spells, or warning you of dragons and other dangerous magical creatures.”

“Muggles teach things like that to parrots.”

Ginny chuckled. “My friend Molly in Hufflepuff house has one of those. Her parrot curses and can speak a little Spanish.”

They spent the next couple minutes sending dizzy gnomes flying far from the garden in silence. While it wasn’t necessarily an uncomfortably silence, her heart was dying to bring up last night. She wanted reconciliation so badly that it hurt.

“Are you excited about tonight?” Harry asked, finally breaking the silence.

“I guess… it’s exciting but also kind of depressing at the same time. I do like dressing up for things like this…”

“What are you going to wear?”

In her head, she pictured herself describing a low-cut dress that clung to her in all the right places, but she censored herself by saying: “I’m not sure yet… I’ll have to do some digging in my closet.” She tossed another gnome and then asked, “Aside from dreading having to give a speech, are you excited?”

“A little… I just hope it’ll be more exciting than the Yule Ball.”

Ginny chuckled darkly. “Didn’t you and Ron spend the entire night sitting at a table while Ron watched Krum and Hermione mutinously? No wonder you didn’t have a good time.”

He raised an eyebrow at her as if doubting that any sort of ball could be fun. “You had fun at the Yule Ball?”

“Well, yes… but I didn’t expect to be able to go until Neville asked. We stayed out quite late too.”

“I forgot you went with Neville,” Harry replied distractedly.

“Neville was very sweet!”

“I should have asked you to dance,” he added. “Might have given your toes a break.”

She laughed sadly, shaking her head. “He wasn’t that bad… everyone teases him, but he’s much more graceful when he’s relaxed and confident. And besides,” she said coolly, pausing to look at him directly. “You and I weren’t really friends back then,” she reminded him.

“We should have been.”

That sounded good, Ginny thought happily.

“Well, we’re friends now,” she replied with a happy smile, glorying in the truth of those words.

“Yeah,” he murmured, running a hand through his hair.

Ginny continued with the work, noting that he’d gone a little awkward again, but this time she sensed it was because he wanted to say something to her. He kept looking at her and then opening his mouth ever so slightly before clamping it shut.

“Any idea what you’ll say in your speech?” Ginny asked, determined to keep them on a comfortable ground.

Harry made a face at the question. “Not a clue. Any suggestions?”

She thought about her answer before she tossed another gnome. “They probably just want to hear what you think about everything… and if all you think is that you’re happy it’s over, they’ll appreciate that.”

Harry hesitated and he chucked a gnome perhaps a little too violently into the bushes, his expression conflicted. His arms were tensed and his eyes had narrowed in response to something she’d said, though she had no clue what it might be.

“What?” She prompted gently, softening her voice.

Harry shook his head. “It’s nothing.”

“You can tell me,” she reminded him. “I’m all ears if you ever want to talk.”

“I know,” he replied, loosening up a little. He forced a smile and grabbed two gnomes at once. “Maybe later,” he added in a dull voice, glancing backwards at an approaching Ron.

“You two about done?” Ron called loudly.

Ginny turned to find the lawn tidied already and Hermione and Ron putting their wands away. Ron moved to the broom shed and pulled open the door. He reached in and pulled out four brooms and set them on the ground.

“How about a game?” He asked cheerily. “It’s a bit cooler in the orchard in the shade.”

They ended up playing a game of modified Quidditch with an apple, zooming between the trees. Hermione opted out, but sat under a large tree outside their boundary lines reading a book. George had emerged from the house after spotting Ron opening the broom shed and took Hermione’s spot, teaming himself with Harry.

This irritated Ron, who felt that he should have his best mate on his own team. His inconsiderate complaints were the root cause of why Ginny had chucked the apple at his head within the first two minutes of the game, causing Harry and George to laugh whole-heartedly.

“Too bad these trees aren’t taller,” George said longingly. “Blimey, I miss Quidditch.”

Ginny nodded sadly, wishing that she was back at school to start training. She also secretly hoped that she’d get the Quidditch Captain badge with her school letter, though she hadn’t mentioned this to anyone. It would be nice to have one more thing on her resume when she applied to the International Quidditch League in March. She had heard from Charlie that scouts usually came to Hogwarts beginning in October to seek out potential talent and keep an eye on their skills, and she desperately wanted to be noticed.

When George announced he had to leave for work, they retreated into the house where it was cooler. Harry and Ron sat down to a game of chess, Hermione continued on her reading, leaving Ginny feeling awkward to be watching chess. After watching the game for a few minutes, she excused herself to go and tidy her room before her mother saw the state of it and got upset over it.

The cleaning itself took nearly an hour, but when she was done, she had swept, dusted, and put everything away. Ginny had always found a sense of satisfaction of a clean room, and took a long moment to admire her work, and the sight of her floor, which had been hidden for a while. After cleaning, she found herself writing to a few friends, and then opening her Charms book to read a little for an essay she had due in September. It wasn’t until a little after four that she realized how late it was, and there was a knock on her door.

“Come in!” She called, hurriedly reading the last of the line before she marked the page with a scrap of parchment.

She was surprised to see Harry standing hesitantly in her doorway. He grinned at her sheepishly and folded his arms across his chest. “So this is where you were hiding.”

“I wasn’t hiding, I cleaned and then I started to read,” she replied, closing her book. “What can I do for you, Harry?”

Harry glanced down the hall to make sure no one was there and then he gestured vaguely toward her window. “Ron and Hermione are… erm- otherwise engaged.”

Ginny’s eyebrows rose and she giggled. “With Mum home? Ron’s brave…”

Harry smirked and shrugged. “They’re hiding in the orchard, I think.” He took a few steps into her room, his eyes moving about curiously until they rested on a large moving poster of the Holyhead Harpies.

“Still want to play for them?”

Ginny followed his gaze and nodded, sliding sideways on her chair to see him better. “Yeah… although if I get into the league at all, I’d even play for the Canons.”

Harry chuckled, shoving his hands into his pockets and leaning against the wall beside her door. “Ron would love that.”

“He’d be my number one fan!” She agreed with a smirk, imagining herself in the horrible orange and shuddering.

He continued to look around her room and Ginny found herself waiting uneasily, wondering if he liked what he saw, but unsure why she cared at all. She watched his face, noticing that his cheek and the skin around his eye was still marred with a purplish tinge and was still a touch swollen. Did it hurt him? He was lucky the punch hadn’t broken his glasses…

“You can come in and sit,” she told him, gesturing toward her bed that was thankfully made up and free of dirty clothes.

Harry took her up on the offer and lowered himself onto her bed slowly and then leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. Ginny turned her chair to face him and stretched out her legs, half-wishing she was brave enough to go sit on her bed with him. Then again, even if she did manage to make herself move to sit with him, she knew for sure that she would not be able to resist him.

Sitting on a bed with a man she’d been crazy about since she was little, and who had kissed her last night definitely added up to her crawling onto his lap and showing him that she desired him just as much as he her.

“Did you ever think that Ron and Hermione would end up together?” She asked him, looking out her window toward the trees where her brother and her friend had hid themselves with her mother’s watchful eyes.

Harry looked thoughtful for a moment. “I dunno… I mean, when I think about it, they’ve always been walking a thin line between love and hate. It was really awkward when they were seeing other people, but I never spent too much time thinking about it.”

“Yeah, you had a lot on your mind what with Voldemort and such,” Ginny agreed wryly, to which Harry smirked and raised his eyebrows and then quickly suppressed whatever emotion had come out. “What?” She asked amusedly.

Harry shook his head. “That and other stuff…”

“Like what?”

A slight blush crept up his neck and he looked at her with a sheepish expression and he shrugged, probably trying to maintain a look of innocence. “Like debating whether or not Ron would consider it base-treachery if I asked you out.”

A delicious wave of pleasure raced through her and she found herself smiling back at him, way too pleased that he had said that. “Well, I for one am glad that he hasn’t hexed you yet for kissing me in front of all of Gryffindor… but then again, it’s my fault you took a punch to the face yesterday.”

Harry’s hand subconsciously brushed against the faint trace of the bruise to his face. “It’s a lot better today… that stuff worked wonders.”

“You may need a bit more to completely get rid of it before tonight,” she murmured, getting to her feet. “I doubt you’ll want to explain to the reporters what happened to you. I’ll go get the jar.”

She hurried from the room before Harry could refuse the offer. The last thing she wanted was to have that story in the paper; Merlin knew how they would twist the story into something much more dramatic and exciting to draw readers in. She retrieved the jar without running into anyone from her family and returned to her bedroom to find Harry had slid back on her bed to lean against the wall.

She unscrewed the jar, wondering if he’d done that on purpose to make her sit on the bed with him. Harry had always been shy in the past about telling her what he wanted when it came to the more intimate stuff. She’d made it her mission to teach him that it was okay to kiss her passionately without asking, and that being openly affectionate was okay.

She slid onto the mattress and sat up on her knees to apply the salve to Harry’s bruise. Harry took off his glasses to make it easier, and Ginny raised her fingers to his face. She realized the moment her fingers touched his skin that the proximity might make it impossible to hold her sanity as he watched her with his green eyes. She became very aware of the way his shirt clung to his chest, and the lovely smells of soap and aftershave that filled her lungs and made her stomach feel squishy.

“Thanks for doing this,” he said calmly- too calmly.

She told him it was nothing and focused her attention on carefully screwing the lid back on. When the moment started to feel awkward, she backed off the bed and went to go wash her hands. Ginny came back to find Harry standing up, halfway between the door and her bed, running a hand through his hair as he always did when he was nervous or frustrated. The action always made his hair in a worse off state than it had been before he tousled it, and it made her want to run her own fingers through it.

Stop it, Ginny, she reminded herself firmly.

“You’ll probably be bruise-free by tonight,” she told him as she came into the room again, hoping her voice sounded calm. Her head felt as if it was still full of the smell of him, and it was hard to keep a distance.

“Thank you for doing that…”

Ginny hadn’t taken another three steps into her room before he moved closer and reached out, his thumb brushing her cheek. “I’m sorry for kissing you when I was drunk,” he told her solemnly.

It took her a moment to find her voice as she looked up at him, her heart beginning to pound in her chest. “That’s okay.”

“Can we talk about… things?” His hand dropped and she nodded.

“Sure.”

He hesitated before he finally said, “I’m done with games… I’m done with the fighting, with pretending I don’t care. I do care.”

“Ginny?”

Her mother’s voice made them jump apart in spite of the fact that there was already a fair amount of space between them. Ginny’s heart sank into her feet as she turned to the doorway.

“Yes, Mum?” Her voice was etched with impatience that she hoped her mother wouldn’t hear. Her mother had no idea how important the conversation was that she’d just interrupted; it was certainly not her fault.

“Have you seen Ron and Harry? Arthur just told me that Kingsley is calling a meeting with the Aurors to discuss security measures for tonight. The boys need to leave right away.”

Mrs. Weasley arrived outside her room and looked startled to see Harry in Ginny’s room. Her knowing eyes flicked from Harry to Ginny to Harry again, though she didn’t comment. “Oh, there you are, Harry.”

“I think he’s outside,” Harry told her, stepping around Ginny. “I’ll go get him, and we’ll be off.”

He didn’t glance back at Ginny but hurried from the room and downstairs. Mrs. Weasley watched him go and waited until the door closed before she turned back to her daughter, a small smile on her lips.

“Mum…” Ginny said warningly.

Mrs. Weasley held up her hands innocently. “I’ve got no complaints… the door was open and you were talking in the middle of the room.”

Ginny’s jaw dropped as Mrs. Weasley smiled and turned to head downstairs. Ginny followed her into the hall, her expression pained. “We were just talking!”

Mrs. Weasley laughed softly. “Well, at least you say it more convincingly than your brother and his poor attempt to hide his activities with Hermione.”

Ginny was torn between the urge to laugh and a horrified reaction to her mother’s knowledge of what went on in the house. She returned to her room and rubbed her face as disappointment returned to her. She and Harry had been moments from having everything returned to normal, and the stupid Auror Department had to go and ruin that.

There’s always something getting in the way, she thought sadly, moving to her desk.

She watched as Ron and Hermione emerged from the trees, and then Ron and Harry hurried up to the house with Hermione following them at a much slower pace. As disappointed as she was, she knew that all she needed was ten minutes to talk to Harry tonight, and hopefully the party tonight would give them that time. She went to her closet to start combing through her wardrobe, half-dreading the evening when her luck would probably tear Harry away from her when a crazed Voldemort supporter crashed the party.

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Chapter 6: Chapter 6: An Evening to Remember

Author's Notes: Sorry about the wait! Please review :)

Happy Halloween!


Chapter 6: An Evening to Remember

The Burrow was a flurry of activity in the hours before the party as everyone got ready for what was rumoured in the Daily Prophet to be the event of the century. Bill and Fleur arrived at a six-fifteen to go with everyone else as a family. George had come back to the Burrow too, and had dressed in a suit that was shockingly normal until he turned around to reveal the suit’s vibrant green back. Charlie apparated from Romania around mid-afternoon, and even Percy had stopped by in the late afternoon saying that he would have to meet his family at the Ministry as he was taking care of a few last minute details.

Hermione and Ginny got dressed together in Ginny’s room, which quickly turned into a very feminine space as Ginny’s vanity became covered in various hair and makeup products, and clothes, accessories, and shoes were scattered across the floor. Hermione wore a long dress of midnight blue made of stretch taffeta that hugged her body until her hips where it fell to the floor like soft waves of water. It took a team effort between Hermione and Ginny to quickly straighten and style Hermione’s hair, but it was finished in record time.

Ginny’s gown was a fitted strapless dress that had a corset-like top and a flowing gown attached to the bodice. She and Hermione had altered a simple black dress that Ginny had had in her closet for a few years, and it was thanks to Hermione’s wand-work that made the dress look as if it were new again.

While Hermione had opted for her hair to be styled in an elegant knot and with wispy ends, Ginny curled her long hair into large curls that hung down her back and framed her face. Once they were both dressed, had done their makeup, and put uncomfortable high heels on their feet, they walked carefully down the stairs to wait for everyone else.

“Oh, good, you girls are finished!” Bill said, clapping his hands together when he saw them come down the stairs to the main floor. “We’ve got to get going. Dad and Mum are almost ready, I think.”

“Are Ron and Harry already there?” Hermione asked, glancing up the stairs as if expecting them to come down.

Bill nodded, glancing at his watch. “Yes, I think Mum said they came home to dress but left again. Since Harry is a guest of honour, Kingsley wanted him there early to meet and greet people as they came in.”

Charlie came around the corner, tanned, freckled, and dressed up in a nice suit. He was followed by Fleur who was fidgeting with one of her earrings and wearing a stunning red dress. Charlie grinned at his sister and Hermione. “You girls look nice.”

“Thank you,” Hermione and Ginny said at the same time.

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley came down the stairs moments later, dressed in their best robes for the evening, followed closely by George. As Ginny stood among her family all dressed up, the surreal quality of the moment washed over her and it was the happy, excited faces of her family that made the moment infectiously happy. In spite of all that she and everyone else had to endure, they had reasons to celebrate life.

Mr. Weasley did a quick head count as he pulled on his shoes. “Are we ready?”

“Are we taking the Floo Network, Dad?” George asked, adjusting his jacket collar.

Arthur nodded, striding over the fireplace to pick up the little bucket that contained the family’s supply of Floo powder. “Yes, due to sheer numbers, apparition would be a little risky… you’d likely land on someone if you apparated directly into the Atrium.”

“I don’t see the problem,” George joked lightly.

“Behave tonight, won’t you?” Mrs. Weasley begged of George, reaching out to pick a piece of lint off of his jacket.

“On my best behaviour,” George promised solemnly, though he winked at Hermione and Ginny who both fought to hide their smiles. When his mother turned away, he moved in closer to Ginny to add, “Fred would want me to be on my best behaviour tonight.”

“He would,” agreed Hermione rebelliously, her eyes shining. Ginny was sure she was feeling exactly as Hermione was at George’s words. Tonight would be as painful as it would be wonderful as tonight would be the final recognition of all those who had lost and were lost in the fight against Voldemort. Ginny hoped that tonight wouldn’t be too painful for her brother; George was never quite the same since Fred had died, but he was doing better these days.

One by one, they left the Burrow and re-appeared in the brightly-lit and very-busy Atrium. When Ginny stepped from the fireplace and dusted herself off, she gasped at the sheer beauty and elegance of the Ministry. The last time she’d been in the Atrium of the Ministry was when she, Harry, Hermione, Ron, Luna and Neville had come to rescue Sirius from the Department of Mysteries. The large entrance hall was barely recognizable now, and for this she was glad. It was one less painful memory to deal with tonight.

An elegant string quartet was set at the far end of the room, playing for the few witches and wizards who spun each other around on a small dance floor. The walls were covered in massive shimmery silver curtains, and a long purple carpet lined the floor between the fireplaces and apparition points to guide people into the main part of the hall. The room was filled with flowers and candles, and what seemed like hundreds of tables covered in white linens, roses, and silver dinner plates.

Guests were pouring into the Atrium from the fireplaces already, and many had already arrived. The music and the chatter of many witches and wizards created a hum mixed of voices, music, and of people moving in the Atrium. Her parents led the way toward a row of Ministry-officials who were dressed impeccably in their finest dress robes and carrying long rolls of parchment.

“Mr. Arthur Weasley and family?” The first available wizard called, beckoning her father forward. “Ahh, yes, table thirty-one, sir! Enjoy your evening!” He bowed them through and then turned to greet the next group of people behind the Weasleys.

“It’s all so beautiful,” Hermione whispered excitedly, hooking her arm with Ginny’s. “I barely recognize it!”

In spite of being awed by the beauty of the hall, Ginny was now distracted by her curiosity over where Harry was. She wanted him to see her like this when she felt beautiful and confident in herself. Not wanting to sound so desperate to find him, she asked Hermione: “Where do you think Ron is holding Harry hostage?”

“He’s over there!” Hermione said, indicating a small knot of guests surrounding a very sheepish-looking Harry, and a half-embarrassed, half-excited Ron.

Harry looked dashing in his dress robes with his tousled hair and his embarrassed smile. Ginny took a deep breath to steady herself, suddenly feeling nervous about approaching Harry. She smoothed her dress self-consciously and shook her head slightly to allow her curls to tumble down her back. She was regretting not being able to talk to him earlier since there was nothing she wanted more at that moment than to go over and slid her arms around him, claiming him as hers in a room where every witch seemed to be looking at him with interest. “Should we go save them or wait a little?”

Hermione was already accepting two goblets from a passing waiter and then handed one to Ginny, smiling slightly. “Depends on what you want… I for one think we could let the boys deal with it a little longer. It wouldn’t hurt Harry to talk to people tonight… so many people want to express their gratitude.”

Ginny chuckled and took a sip from the goblet, startled by its fruity taste. It was a berry-flavoured beverage that was surely alcoholic and quite tasty. She watched Harry say something to the group, to which they all nodded, looking thoughtful as they listened. Their conversation ended moments later and Hermione beckoned for her to follow, leading the way toward Harry and Ron. As the group parted, Ginny managed to catch Harry’s eye as she moved toward him, trying her best to seem gracious in her heels and gown. She nearly tripped over herself when he gave her a breathtaking smile of relief at seeing her.

Hermione was smiling, obviously having noticed Harry’s reaction, but Ginny ignored her. Hermione could smile that irritating, knowing smile all she wanted tonight. As long as she got a few moments alone with Harry–just enough to know that things would be moving forward after last night–she would be happy. Ron wasn’t subtle either as he ogled his girlfriend, obviously impressed.

“There you are! Harry and I haven’t had a minute of peace. And people have been asking where you are, Hermione. Honestly, I think I’ve posed for at least fifty cameras tonight. It’s really weird… we’re famous!” Ron was grinning in spite of his complaints.

“Have you met anyone interesting yet?” Hermione asked curiously, looking around the room. “There are a lot of famous and important witches and wizards here tonight!”

Ron shrugged. “So far, it’s mostly a lot of Ministry-officials or Dumbledore-supporters. Harry had to pose with an Armenian family at one point,” Ron said with a laugh. “They made Harry hold their baby for the photo. He didn’t know what to do with it.”

Harry rolled his eyes at the comment. “I’ve never actually had a lot of practice with babies, Ron. I’ve spent the last seven years trying to defeat the Dark Lord,” Harry said wryly. “Perhaps I’ll have more practice soon with the rate that you and Hermione go at it.”

Hermione swatted at Harry, but Ron continued to laugh as he animatedly described how awkward Harry had looked trying to hold a wriggling, screaming infant to pose for this family’s photo. “It was like he was trying to hold a Quaffle covered in something awful,” Ron explained to Hermione and Ginny.

“Who from the Ministry have you met?” Hermione pressed, her face still pink from Harry’s teasing jab.

“Oh, this woman wanted to meet you!” Ron exclaimed suddenly, looking around to see where the woman had gotten to. “I think she’s the one you spoke to about working for after you finish school. There she is!” Ron pointed out a tall witch with dark hair, dressed in long magenta robes.

“Oh, yes! I’ve been owling her back and forth… I’ll be right back,” Hermione said, Ron following right behind her.

Ginny watched them go with amusement, smiling at Hermione and Ron who immediately took each other’s hands as they walked toward the witch in the purple robes. She’d just turned back to Harry when he grinned at her nervously now that they were alone.

“Hi,” he blurted. There was a moment of hesitation, but then he leaned over and hugged her. Granted the hug was awkward and a little jerky, and really, she’d much prefer a kiss on the cheek, but it had been a while since that kind of behaviour was normal… even if they had just snogged in her kitchen the night before.

He released her with a small smile, avoiding her eyes. “Ready for your speech?” Ginny asked, pleased with how calm she sounded in spite of her racing heart.

He rolled his eyes, looking around at the room with a small look of alarm at how quickly the Atrium was filling up. “Well, I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. I didn’t prepare much so I’m still going to wing it…”

She smiled at his flippant resolution and took a sip from her goblet. “Your face looks good,” she told him conversationally.

His lips tugged up into a small smirk as his eyes ran from her toes to her face. “You look good in that dress.”

Ginny nearly choked on her drink at his blatant flirtatious comment. She laughed between coughs, shaking her head. The second she noticed he was turning pink was embarrassment at having her laugh at him, she tried to calm herself and reached out to pat his shoulder. “I was referring to the fact that I can’t even tell you had a bruise there, but thank you… Hermione altered this dress I already had.”

“Oh!” He chuckled nervously, running his fingers through his already tousled hair. “Well, you still look beautiful.”

“Thanks,” she repeated, her voice soft as she spun for him with a shy smile. “I’m a little scared in these heels.” She pulled the hem of her dress up a little higher to show him the height of her heels.

Harry looked at her feet and laughed. “I never know why you girls do that to your feet… how are those comfortable?”

Ginny leaned in, her eyes alight as she whispered, “I heard that men invented heels to make it harder for women to run away from them.”

He chuckled, his expression playful. “So since you willingly wore those shoes, does that mean you don’t plan on running away from me, tonight?”

“I don’t ever plan on running away from you,” she told him.

But apparently this was the wrong thing to say as Harry was suddenly looking around nervously, as if he didn’t want anyone to overhear their conversation. She also became aware of the casual space between them and wondered if he was keeping his distance on purpose. He was flirting with her, but he didn’t want to be close to her? It was possible, of course, that Harry didn’t want to attract any attention at work, especially in front of the press and with half the wizarding world watching them. She understood that, still… she still felt rejection’s brutal sting welling up inside her.

Pursing her lips, she kept a straight face as she tried to wave away her comment with a small embarrassed smile. “Sorry… I shouldn’t have said that. The Atrium filled with people and the press isn’t the ideal time to discuss things.”

He opened his mouth to reply but a voice calling their names interrupted whatever he had to say.

“Ginny! Harry!”

Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnigan, and a blonde girl that Ginny did not recognize were walking toward them. Ron and Hermione suddenly reappeared just before Dean and Seamus made it through the crowd. Somehow she found herself being hugged by both Dean and Seamus, though Seamu’s hug was a little awkward as he didn’t seem to want to let go of the blonde next to him. As innocent as Dean’s embrace was, the Jackson-incident made her uncomfortable to be hugging her ex-boyfriend in front of Harry.

“Blimey, it’s good to see all of you!” Dean exclaimed cheerily.

“Looking a right side better than the last time we saw you,” Seamus commented wryly, looking from Harry, to Ron, to Hermione in succession.

“A few good meals of real food did wonders,” Ron said, then glanced quickly to Hermione and amended, “Of course… Hermione did well with what we had.” Hermione rolled her eyes, smiling sadly at Ron’s newest habit of complimenting Hermione to cover any potential insults that might hurt his chances with her.

“Are you excited to be the guest of honour, Harry?” Dean asked, gesturing around the hall as he added, “All this for you… it must be weird.”

“Very weird,” agreed Harry wearily. “What are you two up to for the summer?”

Ginny shifted on her already uncomfortable feet and when Ginny’s elbow gently brushed a chest, she realized that Harry was now suddenly very close to her, as opposed to the distance he’d been keeping between them before. If she moved even an inch she would be leaning into Harry’s chest, but he wasn’t touching her. She tried to keep a normal expression and focus on the conversation, but Harry’s proximity was very distracting. Was Harry being possessive because Dean was there? How was it that a slightly flirty comment about never wanting to run from him was inappropriate, but he felt standing so close to her that he could count the freckles on her neck was acceptable?

“I’m going on a vacation soon. My family wants to visit Paris, so we’ll be touring France for a few weeks… I have relatives on the Southern border, so we’ll probably visit them too,” Dean was saying, pulling Ginny from her thoughts.

Seamus’s hand was stroking the blonde’s arm affectionately. “And I’m looking for a job. Me Mam is pushing for me to get working... I’m applying for a bunch of things, but I have no idea what I want to do. It feels too soon to think about life as an adult, you know. It’s the real world now for us…”

“What are you guys up to?” Dean asked, his eyes lingering on Ginny. As much as Ginny wanted to talk to Dean and possibly re-establish a friendship, she disliked his obvious looks and implied gazes. It had been a long time since they’d seen each other because Dean had been on the run from Snatchers last year, and their break-up aside, the war and near-death experiences had alleviated much of the awkwardness involved with their break-up. To see Dean now still held a little of the awkward remnants of their relationship, but personally, Ginny was just happy to see him alive.

Seamus and Ron were talking now, and Dean’s eyes lingered on Ginny for a few seconds too long- a few more seconds than she would have liked. Or maybe she was just being paranoid about men after the whole Jackson-incident? Still, she didn’t like Dean’s lingering looks now that they were broken up and had been for some time now. Dean was a good guy-- he couldn’t and wouldn’t try anything with Harry present and standing so close to her? Jackson had had no idea about Harry, but Dean knew very well their history, even if he hadn’t been there to witness her fellow classmates branding her Harry’s girl- untouchable by all.’

Hermione had just begun to tell Dean that she and Ginny were going back to Hogwarts when an elderly witch stepped up to a podium at the back of the room and called the room to her attention.

“Welcome, honourable ladies and gents,” she said graciously, her voice sweeping the entire room into a polite silence. “If you would please take your seats, dinner will be served shortly!”

The room’s volume rose once again and people began to move to find their seats at one of the many tables. “Finally! I’m starved!” Ron exclaimed gratefully.

Over Ron’s excitement over dinner and his wonderings directed at Harry over what they might serve, Dean had turned to Ginny. “Where are you sitting?” Dean asked her curiously. “It’s been so long! We should catch up!”

Hermione was quicker than she was. “We’re all at table thirty-one with Harry, but we’ll see you after dinner!” Hermione turned to Ginny, Ron and Harry and added, “We’d better get back… it’s crowded in here. See you later!” She offered a wide smile to Dean, Seamus, and the blonde girl, and then pulled Ginny along with her. Ginny smiled and said goodbye to Dean and Seamus, grateful that Hermione was all-business and no drama.

Hermione had not been kidding about needing to go find their table. The Atrium was now packed with witches and wizards moving about to take their seats, which was made it more difficult as every two feet people were stopping to greet each other between tables. Ron moved up to lead the way, followed by Hermione, Ginny and Harry.

Once they were out of sight from Dean, Ginny and Hermione exchanged a look and Ginny mouthed a ‘thank you’ to her friend, grateful that she had been there to step in for her. Unfortunately, with her attention diverted, Ginny bumped into a hurried waiter carrying a large tray full of steaming goblets. The waiter cursed as several of the goblets spilt on the tray, splashing some sort of steaming liquid onto the ground. A hand seized Ginny and pulled her roughly backwards, making her trip over her heels and stumble against a hard chest. The waiter gave her a dirty look and pulled out his wand to clean the mess before hurrying on his way without a word of apology. In the struggle, her shoe had come off and she bent to grab it, her hand on the same chest that had stopped her from tumbling to the floor. She looked up at the same time she pulled the shoe back over her heel and found herself staring up at Harry. Her face flushed pink as she became very aware of her hand on a hard, muscled chest.

“He’s going to burn somebody,” Harry said, glaring at the waiter’s retreating back. He looked down at her, his expression changing to one of concern. She was suddenly very aware of the warmth that against her palm from underneath his dress shirt.

“He didn’t get you?” He verified worriedly, dropping his hands off her arms.

Ginny cleared her throat and pushed her curls back over her shoulder, determined not to let her cool composure be destroyed by the blushing she got from merely touching him. Being this close to him with her hands on his chest had made her remember their kiss in excruciating detail. Still, she wasn’t that little girl who couldn’t move in front of him without blushing furiously anymore. She shook her head with a grateful smile. “No. Thank you for catching me, though.”

“Don’t mention it,” he murmured. “Come on, we’d better go sit down before another waiter tries to run you over.”

Ginny nodded and led the way back to their table. Most of her family was already seated and it took her all of three seconds to realize that she was sitting next to Harry. Hermione was busy smoothing her napkin on her lap with an odd expression on her face, which gave Ginny the sneaking suspicion that Hermione had switched the name tags to ensure that they sat next to each other. It also seemed more logical that Harry sit on the left-side of the table, which would face the rest of the room, instead of having his back to it. She sat down without a word, determined to keep her composure as Harry slid into the seat next to hers- their elbows nearly touching.

What was it with her heart racing every time he got close to her?

Thankfully, she made it through dinner without any slipups. She laughed, she smiled, and she made sure she made conversation with everyone as if she was completely at ease– as if she didn’t notice that Harry smelt of a cologne so appealing that she wanted to lean in and take a deep breath to fill herself with it. She kept still, hoping that she wasn’t so obvious about being aware of every movement he made, and as if she didn’t feel little tingles of pleasure every time his arm brushed hers, or a desperate longing for his hand that he had placed on his leg to slide over to her knee. Harry, on the other hand, did not seem to be affected by his proximity to her, which made her feel as if she was going mental.

During the course of dinner, many important Ministry officials spoke, as well as the families of well-known victims and survivors. Kingsley spoke last, acknowledging the efforts of the students of Hogwarts, both survivors and the fallen. He spoke of Dumbledore and his efforts, as well as the Order of the Phoenix, and all that they had strived for. And then he called on Harry, thanking him gratefully, announcing that the world would forever be in his debt after fate had been saddled on his shoulders, and he had come out victoriously. He then asked for Harry to join him up on the small stage that had been erected for the speeches-portion of the evening.

There was a smattering of applause as Harry got nervously to his feet and slowly moved up to the stage where Kingsley stood with several other important people.

Kingsley turned again to the audience. “Many of us owe our lives and our futures to Harry Potter. He has given us our freedom and our world back. He’s given our children a chance to grow up in safer world, and he has allowed us to breathe more freely. He has defeated Voldemort- the most evil wizard of all time. The Ministry of Magic has spent many weeks now trying to decide how we could thank Harry Potter for all that he has done for us. And after much deliberation, we came to a decision.”

A short witch with fly-away grey curls handed Kingsley a thick yellow roll of parchment, which Kingsley then unrolled and read out to the crowd.

“As a gift to Mr. Potter, the Ministry is pleased to award him with a gift that, for those of you who know Mr. Potter and his story, this will help to express our endless gratitude. The Ministry has set aside a property estate for Mr. Potter in his hometown of Godric’s Hollow, which we hope, will provide him with a home after he lost his all too early in life; a home that Voldemort denied him many years ago.”

The surprise of the crowd and the sound of applause was deafening. Ginny watched Harry’s face pale with shock as he accepted the roll of parchment and he shook hands, thanking everyone on the stage. Kingsley gently urged him up the forefront to say a few words and the crowd felt into an awed silence.

“Thank you for this,” Harry began awkwardly, his face now turning pink as he addressed the hundreds of people in the Atrium. Down the table, Hermione and Ron were beaming at Harry in support, and Mrs. Weasley had tears in her eyes. “I don’t really know what to say… I’ve- erm… never really been good at public speaking so I’ll just keep this short. There was a time when I thought I would not make it out alive–that I was not supposed to survive. But I made it. I survived- we all did. And I know that you want to thank me for what I did, but I could not have done it without my best friends– without the two people who stuck by me through everything. Ron and Hermione were with me stuck through it all with me- over seven years.” He paused to look at them again meaningfully.

“If Ron and Harry would perhaps like to join Mr. Potter at the front?” Kingsley asked in his deep voice.

Hermione and Ron got nervously to their feet and quickly went to join Harry on the stage. Their embarrassment was obvious as even as Ron walked away, Ginny could see Ron’s ears had gone scarlet and Hermione was a bright pink with so many eyes on her. Harry smiled at his two best friends as they stood on either side of him before he looked back out over the crowd.

“I’m proud to say that we now live in a world without Voldemort.” There were some, Ginny noticed, who still cringed at the word, and she supposed it would still be like this for a long time. There would still be fear and anxiety in the his memory as Voldemort had not died without leaving many scars on the wizarding community.

“We’ve all lost nearly as much as we have gained,” he continued, his voice catching as he looked out over the crowd. “Thank you again, for all of you who supported me, supported Dumbledore, and supported the war against Voldemort. And in spite of everything and everyone we have lost… I’d like to spend this night in celebration of the good we have gained, and to remember those who lost their lives in the fight to give the world a chance.”

Harry raised his goblet in the age-old gesture of a toast, though his hand shook slightly. “Here is to freedom and to happiness. This is in honour of those we have lost…and this is to us!” He said loudly, a nervous smile breaking across his face as hundreds of people raised their own goblets in imitation.

“Here, here!” George called loudly from their table, earning a few laughs.

The crowd drank and then erupted into cheers and applause. At the front, Harry, Ron and Hermione embraced after they drank, smiling, crying, and overjoyed at the same time. When they pulled apart, they took a photo with Kingsley, and then began a slow walk back to their table as people stood and reached out to shake their hands and exchange words of gratitude. As happy as this moment was, it was heartbreaking in a way to see her brother and his her friends acknowledge after everything, the war was finally over. They could live their lives normally at last… Ginny couldn’t imagine how different their experiences had been from her own and from everyone else’s.

Once Harry, Ron and Hermione were seated once more, Kingsley moved back to the podium and called the room back to silence. “Before we clear the tables, I have the honour of presenting the newest addition to the Ministry that will forever grace our halls here.”

Two wizards walked off the stage toward the far right wall with their wands raised. Slowly, they brought down one massive curtain to reveal a marble plaque that covered a large section of the wall. Many names were engraved there on the shining marble wall.

“We will always remember those we have lost and in their deaths, we acknowledge their courage, strength, and their role in Voldemort’s fall. Here in marble, we will always remember those whom we have lost.”

After a long round of applause, Kingsley smiled and raised his voice to be heard over the din. “And now!” Kingsley boomed over the crowd cheerfully. “The tables will be cleared for the dance part of the evening! Enjoy your evening!”

Everyone began collecting their items from the tables and standing up to either socialize or get a closer look at the wall. Tables and chairs had already re-appeared around the edges of the room to clear the center for a larger dance floor. Ginny got to her feet slowly as the band struck up and the lights dimmed overhead. As she pretended to listen to a conversation between Bill and Charlie, she watched Harry, Ron and Hermione who stood talking to a couple who had tears on their faces. The couple embraced Harry with sad smiles, and then did the same with Ron and Hermione. Once they had moved on, Harry met Ginny’s eyes and she felt herself caught up in an emotion that made her chest hurt, though she wasn’t sure why. She tore her eyes away, unable to bear whatever emotion had felt so overwhelming.

Harry was busy again talking to people who were practically queuing to speak to him so Ginny followed George who had gone to look at the wall to see his brother’s name. She would talk to Harry later, but for now, she needed to see the names of those she had lost, namely Fred, and to stand by George when he had to look upon his twin brother’s name.

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Chapter 7: Chapter 7: Saying the Most Complicated Simple Thing

Author's Notes: I present chapter seven! :)

Thank you to all you fabulous readers who have been reviewing/rating my story! I appreciate ALL your feedback.


Chapter 7: Saying The Most Complicated Simple Thing

There were many people gathering around the monumental addition to the Atrium, looking at it with expressions of awe and grief, pointing at familiar names and murmuring stories about bravery and honour to each other. Ginny caught up with George and wordlessly and together, they moved as close to the wall as possible to look upon the beautiful marble for their brother’s name. Ginny spotted it on the right-side closer to the center and she felt a lump form in her throat as she remembered the last time her family had to see Fred’s name on his tombstone. Engraved in this marble monument however, the name was not a terrible reminder of loss, but proof of his courage and his efforts.

Frederic Weasley: May 2, 1998

Losing her brother had been more difficult than she was ready to admit, but having to watch George endure this loss was far, far worse. Beside her, her brother’s face was pale and stony; his lips pressed in a firm line that drooped slightly into a grimace. The tension lines around his eyes and the way he stood rigidly next to her spoke of a pain deeper than anything she’d ever felt. Ginny had lost her brother, but for George, it was probably more akin to losing part of himself. George had been inseparable from his twin brother and although George had put on a good front, the pain of losing Fred had cut him deeply.

Reaching out, she took her brother’s arm and stepped closer, squeezing his forearm with a slight pressure as she continued to stare up at Fred’s name. George did not look at her, but his lips tugged into the ghost of a grateful smile that quickly vanished as he returned to his private thoughts. Lee Jordan made his way through the crowd toward them and Ginny released her brother as the two spoke embraced. She wanted to remain with George to make sure he was no alone, but Lee was probably the best person to comfort George right now. Ginny glanced back at the wall, her eyes skimming over the names there with mixed feelings of pride and sadness over all those who had died.

Ginny’s eyes ran down the wall, spotting many other names that jumped out at her from the beautiful marble plaque, reminding her of the cost of freedom. Harry’s parents names were the first two she read, and she felt a pinch of sadness for Harry. She could not imagine not ever having knowing her own parents, and it was miraculous Harry had become such a strong, well-rounded person without having a loving family to support him. If she was sure that if she ever ran into his Aunt and Uncle, she’d be tempted to hex them for all the extra unnecessary and cruel pain that they had inflicted on Harry.

James Potter.
Lily Potter.
Remus Lupin.
Nymphadora Tonks.
Sirius Black.
Albus Dumbledore.
Mad-Eye Moody.
Cedric Diggory.
Severus Snape.
Colin Creevey.

There were many, many more names engraved in the marble–it was heartbreaking to realize how many people had lost their lives over the years. She turned from the wall to give others a chance to see the wall up close. She glanced back at her brother, but seeing that he was still deep in conversation with Lee, she made her way back through the crowd and looked over at the table to see Harry, Ron and Hermione were surrounded by people again. Not wanting to awkwardly stand around, she turned and decided to walk around the Atrium to see who else was here tonight that she knew. She hadn’t been walking long before she ran into Luna and Neville who were both extremely happy to see her.

By nine-thirty, the party was in full-swing and many of the older guests started to depart as the music became more to the liking of the younger generations. People were moving onto the dance floor with friends, but others crowded around tables around the edge of the Atrium, enjoying various drinks and finger foods under the dim light of hundreds of candles.

Ginny found herself dancing in a group with Luna, Ron, Hermione, Seamus, Dean, Lee, and George. The last she’d seen Harry, he’d been engaged in conversation with some friends from the Aurors and he had not yet reappeared. When a slower song began to play and many people began to pair off to dance, Ginny decided this was her cue to leave. She wanted to spend some time with Harry before the end of the night, and she had a feeling that unless she went looking for him now, she wouldn’t get to talk to him until tomorrow.

After circling the Atrium once, she determined that Harry was not inside anymore, though she doubted that he’d have left without saying goodbye to her, Ron and Hermione. She noticed people exiting out a set of doors behind the band and so she headed in that direction, wondering if Harry had stepped out for some air. There were many people outside enjoying the cool night air as they wandered around a beautiful courtyard. The cobblestone walkways wound around beautiful, expansive gardens and in the center of the courtyard was a beautiful clock tower. Lights were strung amidst the trees and shrubs, providing a soft light for those who chose to be outside.

Ginny raised her dress a little to avoid letting it drag on the ground and followed the path along until she found Harry seated on a stone bench, a goblet in his hand, and a sombre expression on his face. What was he doing out here alone? She moved toward him, a little baffled that he was sitting out here all by himself when his friends were all inside and there were hundreds of people who would love to have a conversation with him.

“Hiding, are we?” She asked lightly, alerting him to the fact that she had found him.

Harry looked up from his goblet, clearly startled by her presence, but he thankfully did not look disappointed to see her. He smiled, although his eyes were troubled as he gestured for her to sit next to him. She sat on the cool stone, shivering suddenly with the combination of the cool night air and the cold stone beneath her.

Her shiver did not escape his notice. “Are you cold?”

Ginny shrugged, hugging herself. “I’m okay.”

Ignoring this, Harry slid his robe off and helped her into it wordlessly. The warmth enveloped her like slipping into a warm bath and she resisted the urge to turn her nose into the soft fabric of his Auror’s cloak and inhale the scent of him that wafted up toward her.

She hesitated, not wanting him to freeze on account of her. “Won’t you be cold?”

He shook his head and smiled slightly. “No, I’ll be fine. Besides, I wouldn’t want you to get sick because you’re sitting out here with me. You can go back inside, you know. I just wanted some air.”

Ginny arched an eyebrow and playfully and gently nudged him with her elbow. “You’re hiding out here, don’t lie to me, Potter.” She paused, looking at her feet. “My feet are killing me anyway… I could do with a break from dancing.”

He chuckled as he watched her take off her shoes and wiggled her toes in the cool, lush grass. After a moment, he gestured across the courtyard. “I never knew there was this kind of green space in the heart of London.”

Ginny followed his gaze, taking in the green grass and the extensive gardens of perfect flowers. “I think it’s been enchanted. We’re probably sitting in an alley where they keep the dumpsters.”

“I’d stop rubbing my feet into that grass, then,” he advised her, his voice light.

“It’s been enchanted… but please let me know if my feet start to reek of garbage or something.”

A small chuckle escaped him and the sound eased her. She could still make him laugh; this was a very good thing. Ginny knew that something was up, and she wasn’t about to leave until he admitted why he was sitting outside on his own.

“What are you doing out here? You’re missing the party,” he asked her curiously, beating her to the question she had been about to ask him.

“I came looking for you,” she replied coolly. “What are you doing out here, anyway?”

“Just getting some air,” he said again.

She made a noise of disbelief. “You’re a bad liar, Harry. It’s been a while since we’ve hung out, but I can tell. You don’t have to pretend with me.” She hesitated and then asked more gently, “What’s wrong?”

“It’s complicated,” he admitted quietly, lifting his eyes to watch a happy couple walk past. The man was murmuring to a woman as he slid his arm around her waist, both smiling at whatever he was saying.

“You can tell me… unless it’s about me. In that case, you should probably register your complaints with Hermione.”

It was a joke, but he seemed to think she was being serious. He looked at her sceptically for a moment, as if she were being absurd.

“No, it’s not you, Gin.”

When she didn’t take her eyes off him, he sighed in defeat and asked, “Have you ever felt like your entire life was planned out for you?”

This surprised her. “Kind of. I’m the seventh in my family to go to Hogwarts… there were lots of expectations set for me: I had to get into Gryffindor, get good grades, do well for myself like my brothers and my parents…” There was another expectation set for her last year about being expected to wait for Harry, but she decided not to mention this one.

He nodded, taking another drink from his goblet. “Well, I knew I was meant to kill Voldemort. I only had one thing in my future to work for, and when I came out alive, I was excited to have the chance to actually live my life. I just feel like I’ve been cheated of that again. Everything I could have worked for has been handed to me as a reward, but I didn’t earn any of it. I just don’t feel normal, and that’s all I want for myself. I’m getting a little tired of everyone looking at me like I’m some kind of saviour. I’m Harry Potter: The-Boy-Who-Lived, The Chosen One, The One Who Defeated Lord Voldemort.”

Ginny tucked a large curl behind her ear, thinking carefully about her response. “Harry, there are plenty of people who know you for much more than that.”

“That’s not how five hundred people in there see it,” he muttered dully. He drained whatever was in his goblet. “The war is over… I kind of hoped that life would go back to normal after I ended it all. I had an idea of what I wanted my life to be like… and it’s not this.”

He paused for a moment before adding, “It’s not that I’m ungrateful for the things they’re giving me. I don’t want to be given a free pass at life, and that’s what it feels like. I’d like to be no one- to be a normal wizard. I want to worry about the little stuff, you know? I wanted to be normal and worry about paying rent for a dingy little flat and working hard for a spot with the Aurors. I shouldn’t be worrying about how the hell I’m going to fill my new estate home with stuff.”

There was a long pause and then he looked at her worriedly. “That’s not stupid, is it?”

Ginny reached out and placed her hand on his arm. “No, of course not! I understand that you want to be normal and that you don’t want all this attention. You’ve never wanted any of the special attention you’ve always been given, and you were never given a choice in whether or not you wanted to be the one to defeat Voldemort. It was something that was forced upon you by fate.”

This made him look a little less anxious. “Thank you. I just want people to stop looking at my scar when I introduce myself. I must have met over a hundred people tonight and they always look at my forehead first. If my fringe is covering my stupid scar, they’ll keep staring until they get a glimpse!” His voice shook with frustration.

“I want to earn things instead of being entitled to them because I’m Harry Potter. And I definitely did not expect to live in anything bigger than a two bedroom, one-bathroom house until I was ready to get married and have kids one day. What am I supposed to do in a huge house by myself?”

Ginny had the suspicion that seventeen years worth of irritation and frustration was coming out tonight–not that she blamed him. If she was given a spot on the Harpies because of something that she miraculously achieved like vanquishing the Dark Lord instead of her hard work, she’d forever feel as if she wasn’t good enough to be on the team otherwise.

She rubbed his arm reassuringly. “There are still lots of choices to make, and even more mistakes to make in your life. You still have to make all the big decisions. You still have to do the job you’ve been given, and you still have to pay the bills and the mortgage on the house. And there’s nothing to stop you from selling the house and moving to your dream dingy flat. You could burn it to the ground, add another floor and a couple towers, or you could sell it and live in a basement apartment. It’s up to you what you do with all these things.”

Harry chuckled reluctantly. “Somehow I think I’d offend the Ministry and a lot of people if I burnt the house to the ground.” As soon as he’d said it, he seemed taken aback by the idea. “Wow, worrying about offending the Ministry is not something I’d ever thought I’d be concerned with.”

“Times are changing,” she agreed wryly.

They sat in a slightly uncomfortable silence for a few moments before Ginny spoke again, determined to make him feel better.

“You know what, what does everyone else matter, Harry? After you go home tonight, you get to chose what you want to do, where you’ll go, and who you’ll be. Who gives a damn what they want or what they expect of you? You may be the chosen one to them, but to my family… to Ron, to Hermione… to me… you’ve always been just Harry. And we’re the ones who care about you! We’re the ones who don’t look at your scar and think of you as Harry Potter: the-boy-who-lived.”

She placed her hands on his shoulders, her voice ringing with the conviction of her words. “To me, you’ve always been the skinny guy with an eternal need for a hair brush! You’re Harry: you’re fantastic at Quidditch, you’re gorgeous after you’ve flown around the pitch, and you’re the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Hogwarts had. And yeah, you’ve got some gold… a house… but that’s good. You have everything going for you! I wouldn’t be sitting here feeling sorry for myself… I’d definitely make use of my estate home. Build an indoor Quidditch pitch… throw lots of parties… let Ron move in with you! You have everything anyone could want… ”

When she’d told him he was gorgeous, his eyes lit up and he seemed to be accepting what she was saying–right until the end when. “I don’t have everything,” he muttered distractedly, running a hand through his hair.

Ginny raised an eyebrow sceptically at him and playfully nudged him. “Really? What don’t you have? I’m sure you could have anything you wanted.” When he still didn’t smile, she raised her eyebrows and added teasingly, “Trust me… I dare you to go in there and ask for whatever you wanted!”

He laughed once and turned to her. “Well, there was a good twenty-four hours where I thought a muggle had the one thing I knew I wanted after the war.” His green eyes held her gaze, burning with the intensity of that statement. Ginny could feel the heat rise up in her face and the happiness build up in her chest, but she couldn’t find her voice, let alone a response to his allusion.

“Gin, you are the one thing in my life right now that I know I want for sure. I knew it’s been awkward between us all summer, but I was jealous and stupid. I didn’t have the courage to say something, anything to you after the war, and then you started disappearing into the village…”

Ginny swallowed the lump in her throat, at a loss for words. Had he really just said that? Now she felt confused; she thought his glum mood hadn’t been about her? Finding her voice, she asked: “Is this about you being bummed out about the house or about how we can’t seem to find a way to get back together?”

His lips twitched as if he wanted to smile. “Both, I guess. It was harder than I can tell you to end things between us at Dumbledore’s funeral… you were my best source of comfort because you made me see there was more to my life than just Voldemort and the job Dumbledore had left me to do.” He sighed and admitted glumly, “I know I shouldn’t be so upset about the house... I’m no longer held to a prophecy and I’ve got enough gold that I wouldn’t have to work for several years if I didn’t want to. But I just keep thinking about you with Jackson… or you and Dean… or you with any other guy who has looked at you tonight.”

She smiled, incredulous that this was part of the issue; something so easily resolvable. “You don’t need to feel jealous. Harry, I’m out here because I want everything you want. It’s easy.” She took his hand without hesitation and watched as his fingers immediately laced with her own. His warm hand pressed against her cool palm and she squeezed it, subconsciously grateful for the extra source of warmth.

He eyed her suspiciously. “Really? Even though I had no bloody clue how to just say that I wanted you? What about the fact that I didn’t have much left in me to fight for you like Hermione kept telling me to? Or how I tried to punch your friend or stormed off on you on the beach?”

Why was he trying to pin the whole thing on himself? “All that stuff aside, I wasn’t lying at Dumbledore’s funeral when I told you I never gave up on you. I still haven’t. Neither of us are perfect… and this summer was rotten because of me, too.”

The cold air was starting to get to her, even with Harry’s cloak. She got to her feet, still feeling chilled under Harry’s warm robe. “Come inside with me? I’m freezing in this dress. Besides, all our friends are here… I wouldn’t want to keep you from them.” She slid her heels back on her feet a little reluctantly and waited for Harry to stand up, but he didn’t seem to be moving.

He was looking at her sceptically again, his eyes searching her face. “Why did you wait for me?” He asked in a low voice. When she respond immediately, he added, “why haven’t you given up?”

Ginny frowned at him. Why hadn’t she given up? Why would she give up? Did he not understand that he had been her source of comfort when they were dating at school? Did he not understand how much she’d liked him for years before he’d finally noticed her?

He still wanted an answer, but she didn’t have an easy one besides asking him why would she?

“I started to realize I was too much like Dumbledore because I refused to let anyone else in,” he told her in an awed voice. “Even Ron and Hermione sometimes had to struggle to make me let them in.” He set down his goblet and got to his feet, suddenly making her feel small and fragile next to his tall, now-muscled frame.

“I didn’t think about letting you in,” he added, still looking at her in wonder. “You are the only person except for Ron and Hermione that I’ve let get close to me, and it wasn’t something I had to force. It was easy- natural- like you’d been there all along.”

“I’m stubborn,” she replied in an attempt to be cheeky, but it came out more breathless. The truth was she hadn’t really tried–their relationship had been as normal as breathing. They’d only been together for a month, but it had felt like years somehow.

“You’re sneaky,” he countered.

She didn’t care that people were starting to notice that Harry Potter, the guest of honour, was standing very close to her. She was tired of playing these back-and-forth games with him, especially since it was clear that they both wanted to be together. Feeling her Gryffindor courage welling up inside her, she decided to go after what she wanted.

Closing the inches between them, she kissed him. Harry kissed her back with the same enthusiasm and Ginny fought a happy moan that threatened to escape her as her fingers entangled themselves in his hair. Harry tasted of champagne and smelt of something more delicious. This kiss was better than last night’s, and rivalled their first kiss. Last night’s kiss had been passionate, impulsive, desperate, but this was different. She’d forgotten that it had felt like this; that she could feel so happy, perfect and complete with just a kiss. She’d forgotten that kissing Harry was far better than anything else she’d experienced in the world.

When he pulled back almost all too soon, she was not able to repress a sigh of disappointment. He chuckled at the sound and pressed his forehead against hers. “I’ve missed you.”

Before she could respond, he was kissing her again and so she slid her arms around his neck and allowed herself to be lost in the kiss. His other arm slid around her waist, pulling her against him. Ginny didn’t care that they weren’t alone, or that others would witness this very private moment. She’d never felt so alive or so complete since long before Voldemort had returned to power. Getting back together with Harry was definitely something she should have done a long time ago.

Her heart was pounding in her chest and her body was humming with excitement. For one wild moment she imagined he’d pull her away to find a secluded spot to snog as he used to do while they were at school. It was whispering that broke through the moment and she pulled back first, a little embarrassed at her musings over whether or not she could convince Harry to find a more private spot.

Harry’s gaze locked on a group of gawkers and his face fell when he looked back at her. “People will talk, you know… worse than before,” he murmured to her darkly. “It probably won’t be as simple as you might think. I tend to attract a lot of bad press, and I’m only guessing it’ll get worse now that I’m seen as this ridiculously epic hero.”

True to his word, it was at that moment that a camera flash made Harry go rigid as he stepped to block Ginny from view. “Do you mind?” He asked the photographer crossly.

“Who’s the lucky gal, Potter?” The man asked excitedly, raising his camera to take another photo. “How about giving her a big smooch for the camera?”

“No thanks,” Ginny told him calmly, tugging on his hand to lead him back inside.

He sighed, relaxing slightly. “Ready for a lot more of that?” Harry asked grimly.

She smiled humourlessly. “Harry, I don’t care. Trust me, they’ve been gossiping about us since we first got together.”

“It’s going to get a lot worse,” he replied sadly.

“If they get a good one of us, I’ll have it framed,” Ginny told him cheerfully. She’d just kissed and made-up with Harry- the bloody press could print any story they wanted for all she cared. “We don’t have any pictures of us yet, you know.”

Harry looked torn between amusement and anxiety. “Do newspaper cut-outs count? We could wait and get some real pictures? Like at events and the odd photo we take together?”

“I dunno, Harry. We dated for about a month, you leave me for a year, and we’re only now picking things up. I’d say you owe me several pictures already.” She smirked at him and amended her statement by saying, “In fact, you might have to autograph a few of them for me since you’re this ‘ridiculously epic hero.’”

His face was one of mock horror, but his eyes were bright with amusement. It was strangely wonderful to be able to joke around and laugh with Harry again–it was as if nothing had changed. “Okay, I’m just going to get this on the table now: I’m not autographing my girlfriend’s pictures.”

She bristled. “You’ll be singing a different tune when I’m a world-famous Quidditch player, but now that you’re refusing me outright, I will not be signing anything of my pictures for you, Mr. Potter.”

He laughed, though he glared over his shoulder at the photographer who was still skulking around behind them. Ginny ignored this, hoping that he wouldn’t spend the rest of the night feeling tense about who was watching or what people would say. The second they walked back inside, Ginny could practically feel the surprised stares of those who noticed The-Boy-Who-Lived holding hands with her. When the whispers started, she felt Harry’s hand tighten on hers and he glanced at her with a look that made her realize he was still unsure of whether or not she cared about the gossip.

Did he expect the attention would make her bolt? Did he think she couldn’t handle that kind of pressure?

Harry’s grip on her hand confirmed this, but she didn’t want to address it. Harry needed to learn to trust in her; trying to reassure him wouldn’t do anything. She had known that Harry would be a noble prat until the day he died, and she was fairly sure that there would plenty of times over the years (if Harry didn’t try and run out on her) that she’d have to tell him to cut it out. Harry had always put himself before others; he was irritatingly thoughtful and noble. The bottom line was that she’d waited too long to be with Harry–she had never, ever given up on him. Standing tall, she smiled confidently as she walked alongside Harry, impervious to the whispers and the stares.

The music was playing a slow waltz song and many couples were still crowding the dance floor. Ginny expected Harry to lead her to a table away from the dancing couples but to her surprise, he pulled her into the crowd of dangers and into his arms. She giggled in excited surprise as he spun her around and then pulled her against him playfully–and not at all to the beat of the song.

“You dance now?” Ginny asked, pleasantly surprised.

“Yes and no,” he replied cheekily. “I’m not letting you go. I wouldn’t want to give anyone the chance to snatch you up.” His arm wound around her waist and his hand rested on her lower back. “I’ve already learned my lesson. Did you see the way Dean was looking at you earlier?”

Ginny stepped closer, resting her head on his shoulder. “Yes, thank you for getting all jealous. You’re a little possessive, but luckily, it’s quite cute,” she replied dryly.

He surprised her again by pressing a kiss to the side of her head in front of everyone on the dance floor. Ginny felt as if her happiness had formed a large bubble in her chest. Harry might be a little paranoid about losing her to someone else, but she was sure that that feeling would go away once they settled back into a routine. Just as he would have to learn to trust her, she would have to learn to cope with Harry’s life after the war. Not only would he be putting himself in danger with the Aurors, but she also didn’t doubt she’d be praised, hated, envied, scoffed at, and the victim of many rumours and hurtful gossip all at the same time.

“Thank you for coming to find me,” he told her, his face completely serious.

Ginny smiled and lifted her head to look at him. “Don’t mention it.”

“It’s been a while… I’ll have to review the finer points of being a good boyfriend. I guess I’ve started by finally having the courage to ask you to be my girlfriend again.”

She raised an eyebrow at him, her smile teasing. “I dunno, Harry, did you actually ask? I don’t think you’ve ever actually asked me. Both times you’ve ‘asked’ by way of a very public kiss, and now that I think about that, I don’t think it’s very fair. You can’t do something that romantic… a girl can’t say no to a boy who spontaneously kisses her like that.”

Harry grinned at the memory of the first time they had kissed in the common room. “I thought girls loved the spontaneity of a romantic kiss. Would you prefer the kiss or me awkwardly forcing the words out? Probably messing it up in the process?”

She laughed at him and shook her head. “I wouldn’t trade that kiss in the common room for anything. Although watching you trying to nervously form the words might be just as memorable. Maybe tomorrow you should awkwardly ask me. Just for a laugh, you know. I promise I won’t say no.”

He rolled his eyes and lowered his head to hers like he was about to kiss her. Ginny held her breath, her heart faltering under the anticipation. “I forgot how troublesome you were,” he said amusedly. The words made her heart melt slightly and the urge to kiss him right there in front of the crowd overwhelmed her. She couldn’t formulate a response let alone remember her own name. When her brain regained its thought processing, she made a mental note to work on remembering to breathe around Harry.

“You’ve finally asked her, mate?” Ron’s loud voice asked, startling them both. Ginny was grateful to see that Ron still supported the idea of his sister and his best friend, even if they were openly affectionate in front of him.

Harry stepped slightly farther from Ginny as he looked over his shoulder to grin at Ron. “Not exactly… your sister says I can ask her out tomorrow.”

Ron tugged Hermione through the crowd and he started dancing with her next to Harry and Ginny. Hermione beamed at Ginny, her cheeks pink as Ron’s arms slid around Hermione’s waist as a sign of open affection. “Why are you making him wait until tomorrow, Ginny?” Hermione asked curiously.

Harry beat her to the explanation. “Apparently she’s quite looking forward to me fumbling over the words to ask her. She says girls like that sort of thing?” Harry explained conversationally, glancing at Ginny with a teasing smile.

Ron gaped. “Girls don’t actually like watching that sort of torture?” He looked at Hermione, who chuckled at Ron’s horrified realization. “You know exactly what we want to say, but you stand there and make it even harder? That’s awful!”

“Poor Ron,” Ginny chuckled, watching Ron begin to demand an answer from Hermione about how long she’d known about his feelings but purposely waited to let him suffer through the asking-her part.

“At their wedding, I’m going to talk about how many years I’ve had to watch them bicker over every little thing because they loved each other,” Harry told her low enough so that Ron wouldn’t hear.

Ginny chuckled as Harry spun her around this time, a little more gracefully. They fell into a comfortable silence as they simply moved in sync to the music, completely at ease. Ginny felt extremely content with life at the moment. She was finally back with Harry! Her heart felt as if had swollen up in her chest from happiness. Waiting for him last year had nearly killed her with all the worry and fear she had suffered. Looking back, this moment, the kiss in the garden, and the weeks to come seemed to make it all worth it.

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Chapter 8: Chapter 8: The Benefits of Dating Harry Potter

Author's Notes: Thank you to EVERYONE for all your fabulous words of encouragement and your very helpful input throughout this process! I really appreciate each and everyone of you who has taken the time to keep clicking on my story for the updates :) **Updated 03/26/12

Without further ado, here is chapter eight. Chapter nine should be along shortly. Happy reading, and as always, please rate/review!


The next week and a half consisted of some of the happiest times that Ginny could ever remember having as she and Harry spent much of their time together. Auror practices took up most of Harry’s day and he spent at least one day on the weekend with Teddy, but the rest of his free time was spent with her. Things were finally feeling good again and Ginny was hard pressed to wipe the smile off her face. A few of her favourite moments included spending a rainy afternoon inside helping Harry to paint his living room and ending the night curled up in his arms while watching a muggle movie, and the other was their one-on-one Quidditch match in his backyard. Ginny had accidentally knocked him off his broom and when she landed to make sure he was alright, he pulled her down with him and they’d spent several minutes snogging in the grass.

There was something about spending time with Harry that made her feel whole, warm and wonderful. She’d forgotten what being with Harry felt like after being separated for a year and living day-to-day while the war brewed. Ginny had forgotten how much she loved his laugh or the way he smiled before he kissed her. While they had their fair share of awkward moments and hesitant movements to hug or kiss, there was something easy about being with Harry–something that needed no practice at all.

There were also things about Harry that she known about him that she was learning now. She’d always known that his aunt, uncle and cousin were never nice to him, but Harry had never told her about his childhood with them. It had only been a week and a half, but in those eleven days, he’d talked more about his past than he ever had with her. It felt incredibly nice to know that he trusted that way, to say the least.

She also knew much more personal things such as he loved when she massaged his head and ran her fingers through his hair, or that he always kept a picture of his parents on his desk. Ginny had quickly learned that he was embarrassed by his scar and that he felt awkward about her kissing his forehead and staring at the angry red line there. She had never realized before that he was as hesitant about being intimate just as he was hesitant about letting her in. He was more comfortable with initiating holding her hand and putting his arm around her, but he wasn’t the type to push her against the wall and kiss her–something that she was determined to change about him.

When it came to getting Harry to let her in, Ginny had never pushed it as she knew that this was something Harry had never been good at–even with Ron and Hermione. Harry always had to consider the safety of others as the people closest to him tended to get hurt. Now that the danger was past, she figured that he would slowly learn to open up, and so far, his past considered, things were going well. For now, she asked questions and if he didn’t answer, she didn’t push. She could tell how much he appreciated this about her, and she figured that this outward sign of gratitude meant that someday, she wouldn’t have to hit these brick walls. Besides, the way she saw it, they had all the time in the world to really get to know each other.

Perhaps part of the reason that she wasn’t anxious to force him to open up was because she knew that there were things she wasn’t ready to share with him. Just as Harry didn’t like to talk about certain things about the war, there was a part of her that she didn’t want him to see yet–the part that still suffered from fear, dread, and from nightmares. Harry knew a little of her feelings after the war, but he didn’t know that those bad memories and bad feelings had yet to disappear. She didn’t tell him that she’d started the summer with mild insomnia and that even her current nightmares had the power to keep her up for hours. She just didn’t seem to have the energy to bring the subject up, and it was hard to want to talk about it when her waking hours were spent in such a positive mood.

And the darkest secret she kept from him was her most irrational fear–the thing that still haunted her nightmares: the memory of watching Hagrid carrying Harry back from the forest. This fear was not helped by Harry and Ron talking about the elusive Death Eaters who were still on the run, and who wanted him dead. Not to mention the people across Britain who still muttered about what Voldemort might have achieved had Harry Potter not defeated him. Ginny supposed she couldn’t blame Harry for not being worried about these murderous elusive Death Eaters; next to Voldemort, they were nothing. Still, his eagerness to jump right into dangerous Auror missions to make the world a better place terrified her, and she’d already had to live with losing him once–she was sure that she couldn’t survive it again.

Regardless, Ginny made it through June, July and now most of August without many breakdowns. While the nights were still hard and she struggled through low points in her time alone, things were better now than they’d been all summer. Ginny no longer felt the urge to hide in the village and to pretend to live in a world that she so obviously did not belong in.

Ginny did miss her friends, and a nagging voice at the back of her head kept reminding her that she owed them more than silence. She did need to see them again and make sure that her friendships were still in-tact. After all, Annie and Jackson were the reason that she’d kept her sanity at the start of the summer and without them, she doubted that she’d have been able to get out of bed.

Unfortunately, the subject of visiting the village was a little uncomfortable between them. While Harry had not and would not forbid her from seeing Jackson, she knew that the idea bothered him. He said very little on the subject the few times that visiting her friends had come up, but it was obviously that whenever someone mentioned her muggle friends, Harry was thinking about his birthday and Jackson’s aggressive behaviour. Ginny knew that Harry’s discomfort about her visiting Jackson was fuelled by jealousy, a dislike for someone who had hit him, and the fact that all Harry knew about Jackson was that he had a temper, he had proven himself violent, and that he was attracted to his girlfriend. In spite of her intentions to talk to Harry to make him understand that his reasons for wanting her to stay away from the village and Jackson were not all rational, she did not want to start a fight with Harry over it.

Realistically, Jackson was better off without her and she had no idea how to maintain a friendship with him until Jackson got over his feelings for her. There was also the question of guilt about pretending to be such good friends with someone who was not allowed to really know her, nor was he ever allowed to be a full part of her life. Aside from being a witch, her life had been significantly affected by dark magic and by the war that it was so much a part of her that it was hard to separate it from who she was. It had been much easier to pretend to be a muggle and make up stories about herself than to skirt around her true identity. This was the reason that most wizards kept to themselves–muggle relationships were hard to maintain without letting them in on the secret.

When she’d brought up her dilemma with her mother, Molly had told her that ultimately, if she wanted to be friends with Jackson, she should. Her father, forever the muggle-lover, insisted that Ginny could certainly maintain her friendship with Jackson and Annie. He argued that her being a witch would be an unspoken truth about herself; a part of her ‘cultural’ identity that did not have anything to do with getting along with muggles and sharing common interests. Personally, Ginny did not see how this was possible after doing it since the start of the summer.

“You’re British, but you don’t talk about it,” her father had reasoned. “You’re a witch, and you won’t talk about it either. It’s just an unspoken truth that has nothing to do with why you’re friends with these people.”

Her mother had also reminded her that even if she felt guilty about upsetting Harry by visiting Jackson, she could not hide behind this reason if she wanted to develop a strong relationship with Harry.

“You won’t like every woman that Harry hangs around with,” Molly had said. “But that doesn’t mean that he should stop being friends with someone, just because you feel jealous. You and Harry have to develop a foundation of trust if you’re going to be together. It might bother Harry at first, but he needs to trust you, and realize that you aren’t romantically interested in Jackson.”

“And because you’ve got nothing to hide, perhaps Harry would feel better if he were included in your plans with your muggle friends every once and a while,” Arthur added.

With this advice in mind, Ginny promised herself that she would make plans to see Annie and Jackson before the end of the summer. Even if she and Jackson were not on the best terms when she left for school, he would have several months to get over his crush before they could try again. Her only goal was to make sure that they left things in a better state than they currently were. She knew that the first time she saw her friends, Harry could not be there–the tension between the boys would ruin any chances of repairing the friendship. If things went well, however, and she wanted to see them again, she’d invite Harry along to try to smooth things over.

Around five-thirty on a rainy Friday afternoon, Ron returned from Auror training alone and came up to her room to find her.

“Gin?” He called, knocking loudly on her bedroom door.

“It’s open,” she called, looking up from a Quidditch tactics book she’d borrowed from Harry a few days earlier. “Hey Ron. How was training?”

Ron shrugged. “Tiring… a lot of stealth drills and stuff. It’s all review for our exam.”

The lack of excitement in his voice was due to the fact that this would be one of many training exams that they would have to undergo to be fully-trained Aurors. The Ministry had been nice enough to admit them to the program without their N.E.W.T.S, but on life experience alone. In spite of being able to skip one step, they were still required to complete the full three years of additional training and testing. Both boys were already counting down the days until they would officially be Aurors for the Ministry.

“I’ve got a message for you,” he told her. “Harry’s gone to look after Teddy for a few hours, but he asked me to tell you that he’s picking you up later.”

She brightened at the last part. “Picking me up for a date?”

Ron was still getting used to the idea, and while he didn’t look awkward telling her this, his voice sounded reluctant. “Yeah… out to dinner or something.”

Or something. Leave it to Ron to be vague about the details or forget to ask for them all together. “Did he say where… or when?”

“No. He was in a bit of a hurry to get to Andromeda’s.”

“Are you and Hermione going to come?” She asked, half-hoping the answer was no. Lately, they’d been doing a lot of double-dates, and usually she didn’t mind. However, her days with Harry were slipping away all too quickly and any alone time they got was precious.

Thankfully, Ron shook his head. “No, I promised Hermione that I’d go over to her parents’ for dinner.”

Ginny smirked. Ron didn’t like having dinner with Hermione’s parents. As nice as they were, Hermione’s father was a little protective of his daughter and often made Ron feel uncomfortable. The Weasleys also thought it strange that even though they had Hermione to perform magic on larger issues such as a repairing broken things or protective enchantments, the Grangers much preferred the muggle way. Hermione rarely took out her wand in front of them, but Ron wasn’t used to muggle inventions like the vacuum cleaner or lighting a fire in the fireplace with matches.

“Good luck,” Ginny said, trying to wipe the smirk off her face. “Maybe leave your wand at home this time.”

Ron’s look of apprehension was replaced by a slightly amused one. “Thanks. Do you think I should go in full wizard’s robes to impress them, or stick to my best wool sweater from Mum?”

It was difficult not to laugh. “Wear your cloak, but muggle dress… don’t light anything on fire or try to do any complicated magic.”

“I’ll log that away with the other one hundred things I should try not to do in order for her parents to like me.”

As much as she teased Ron, Hermione had expressed concern that Ron might never actually commit with a proposal if he was afraid of her parents. As a result, she had forced Ginny and Harry to swear to cut down on the teasing, and tell Ron that her parents did accept him.

“Ron, you know they know that you and Hermione are serious. If they’re giving you a hard time, it’s only because they know you’re there to stay. If they didn’t think you actually cared about their daughter, they probably wouldn’t bother to have you around to be tortured so often.”

He nodded, looking slightly less apprehensive at his sister’s words. “You’re right. Well, I gotta go. Have fun on your date.” He pulled the door shut, leaving Ginny feeling thankful that at least she didn’t have to fuss over making the in-laws like her. Even if Harry’s parents were alive, she was much more graceful than her brother was, and therefore suspected that she wouldn’t have had to try as hard.

Ginny glanced at her watch, wondering how much time she had until Harry came to get her. Since Harry wanted to take her to ‘dinner or something,’ he likely wouldn’t be later than 8:30 if they were eating dinner. She wished that Ron had had a mind to ask for details, but she supposed that boys did not consider the importance of such details in relation to the necessary time needed for a girl to get ready. Boys wore slacks or jeans, collared shirts or dress shirts, while she had many, many more options. Jeans or a skirt? Blouse? T-Shirt? Casual? Was it semi-formal or formal? What about business-attire? Purse or clutch? Sneakers or heels?

Ginny tore a piece of paper from a roll of parchment on her desk and dipped her quill into the inkwell to write a quick letter to Harry.

Ron says we’re going to “dinner or something.” Your best mate is the king of details, but I’d like a little more information.

Ginny smiled teasingly and added: Should I wear a short skirt or can I go in my sweats?

Folding her note, she went up to Ron’s to borrow Pig. Ron wasn’t in his room, although judging by the sound of running water, he must have hopped in the shower. The tiny owl zoomed out and began to flutter around the room, emitting excited hoots at his newfound freedom. Ginny watched him and with the reflexes of a Seeker, snatched the excited owl midair.

“You funny bird,” she muttered, holding out the small note for him to clutch in his beak. “Can you take this to Harry for me?”

She went to the windowsill and unhooked the latch to set him free. Pig gave a muffled hoot of excitement before soaring out the window, swirling in the air with enthusiasm as he went. Ginny watched him fly away before she returned to her own bedroom to finish reading about famous Chaser tactics, hoping to pass the time until Harry got back to her.

*~*

Harry had replied to her owl nearly an hour later and it had taken Ginny several minutes to get Pig to land with the letter so that she could read it. Pig had completed his journey so quickly that he needed several minutes of rest on Ginny’s desk before he allowed her to carry him back up to Ron’s room.

Harry had written his reply on the back of her note in a messy scrawl:

Wear the skirt anyway.

She’d fought a smile over the next hour at those four witty words. Harry’s reply hadn’t provided any real information, which made him about as useful as Ron, but it had eased her worries over what to wear. She’d decided to look nice enough that she wouldn’t look out of place at a fancy restaurant, or too over-dressed if this date included a cheeseburger joint in muggle London.

She knew that Harry had arrived when she heard her mother call out his name cheerfully downstairs.

Ginny looked at her reflection in the mirror as she smoothed her hair one last time, pleased with the outcome of her efforts. Normally, she didn’t put so much time into how she looked when she was with Harry. She did think about her and worry about it, but she rarely did more than make sure she’d brushed her teeth, combed her hair, and didn’t look like an unattractive mess. After all, Harry had seen her covered in mud and dirt from Quidditch, and he’d fallen for her during the school year when she wore her Hogwarts robes which were not at all revealing or flattering. However, being unsure where exactly he was taking her, she decided to look decent by wearing a pretty black top, a red skirt and a pair of sandals. She’d put on a little makeup and made sure her hair was straight and shiny.

“Where are you two off to tonight?” Her mother was asking Harry as Ginny came down the stairs.

When she met his eyes, she felt a familiar burst of pleasure and excitement course through her when his eyes lit up and he suddenly stood a little taller.

“It’s a bit of a surprise,” he replied sheepishly, turning his eyes back to Mrs. Weasley. “Hey Gin.”

She tried not to outwardly react to how he called her ‘Gin.’ She didn’t need Harry and her parents to see how ridiculously embarrassing she actually was when it came to Harry. She had worked so hard to hide her twelve-year-old self that never wanted to stop smiling and to sing love songs at the top of her lungs.

Harry was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved blue knit sweater under his black jacket–nothing too fancy, but he did look good.

“Ready?” He asked her.

“Yes.” She hoped she sounded cool and calm.

“Have fun,” Mrs. Weasley said from her seat by the fireplace as she folded laundry, eyeing her daughter and Harry. “Try to make curfew, dear,” she added to Ginny.

“Yes, Mum. See you later,” she told her mother as she grabbed her own muggle jacket off the hook at the door before following Harry outside into the cool night air.

“So… where to?” She asked, pulling on her jacket. Harry took her hand and led her in the direction of the disapparition point.

It was a cool night, but not chilly. There was a light breeze that rustled the trees, and the world was quiet aside from the clucking of the chickens and the chirping of the crickets in the grass. His fingers intertwined with hers and he tugged her a little closer to her as they walked.

“You look very pretty,” he told her sincerely. It was difficult to see in the night, but Ginny was fairly sure his cheeks coloured slightly when he said it.

“Thank you. You look pretty good yourself, Potter.” Ginny eyed the way his hair stuck up at all ends. “Even if you didn’t brush your hair for our big date!”

“I thought you liked it best when I look like I’ve been flying for hours,” he reminded her, pretending to look wounded.

“You must be mistaken,” Ginny replied, fighting a silly smile. She’d let slip that his hair was one of her favourite things about him during a particularly mushy private moment after they’d flown their brooms around Harry’s property last week. “Are you going to tell me where we’re going?”

Harry grinned at her. “I think it’ll be better if I just take you there. I want to see your face.”

What kind of answer was that? “Can I get a hint?”

“No hints. But there are rules.”

“Rules?” They stopped walking and he pulled her up against them.

Ginny laughed at his serious expression as he lowered his face to hers and kissed her sweetly. “One: I get to make all the rules, and you’ll have to go along with it. Two: I get to kiss you tonight without worrying about who is taking our picture or talking about us. This is a real date, and we’re going to pretend that no one else matters.”

“No one else ever matters,” she reminded him, her voice a little breathy. She slid her arms around him and inhaled the scent of fresh soap and aftershave, revelling in the sweet smell that made her want to kiss him all over.

Patience, Ginny, she reminded herself in a voice that sounded just like her mother.

He ignored her. “And rule number three is more for when you’re away at Hogwarts,” he told her, taking a step back and pulling out a small silver Quill from his pocket that was likely their port key to the mystery destination.

Ginny looked at the quill as he twirled it between his fingers. She looked back up at him and was a little startled by the emotion now showing on his face. It wasn’t often that she saw him like that–with his heart on his sleeve. She knew he meant it when he got this look in his eyes that showed just how vulnerable he was with her.

“I don’t know about you, but it’s starting to hit me that I won’t get to see you or talk to you whenever I want. I don’t want the distance to ruin this, so I thought we should have one really good night–just us–to remember that we’re good together, and that I care about you.”

A hesitant smile flashed across his face. “Just in case, you know? I know some couples start fighting that we’re not sending enough owls, or we’re being short with each other, or we fight because of the distance. Things are about to get complicated, so I thought we might need tonight.”

Ginny took a breath and nodded, unsure of how to respond. They had barely talked about the distance that was soon to take up the next year, and likely more of their lives. Between Harry’s career, her school, and getting to play professional Quidditch, he was right to say that things were about to get complicated.

The sweetness of his words made her eyes sting with the urge to cry. Ginny wanted to tell him that he didn’t need to do anything extra to remind her how much she loved being with him, and she was sure that his being away last year and the battle at Hogwarts had put their relationship into perspective. She honestly doubted that if a break up was to come about, it wouldn’t be because of something stupid like not owling each other enough.

Before she could respond, he smiled again and the moment was past. “Ready?” He asked, holding the quill out for her to touch.

“Ready,” Ginny whispered back, extending her fingers to the quill. She met his gaze just as the world began to disappear around them.

When the world re-materialized, they were standing behind a few large, very green trees. Ginny turned around to find them behind a tall iron fence. People were directly beside them on the other side of the fence, though no one glanced their way. Shops lined the opposite side of the road and a few cars drove down the cement roads.

She peered around, wondering where in London he’d taken them. She didn’t recognize the area, though she could be sure that it was muggle London.

“Where are we?” She asked curiously.

Harry grinned knowingly, as if he expected her to know. Instead of taking her hand as he usually did, he wound one arm around her middle as they walked toward the fence. He urged forward and together they passed through the iron fence, as if it didn’t exist at all.

“Muggle barrier?” Ginny guessed, as she hopped off the ledge and onto the street.

She opened her mouth to again ask Harry where he’d brought them, but it was then that she spotted the monumental stone building that stood before them, illuminated by beautiful lights against the black sky.

Her jaw dropped as she gaped at the beautiful golden light that bathed the ancient architecture; a sight more beautiful than anything she’d seen before. It was insane, ridiculous, and yet more romantic than anything she’d ever expect from a boyfriend. She faltered forward a few steps as she stared up at the multi-levelled amphitheatre that she’d always dreamed of seeing as one of the many wonders of the world.

“Rome?” She demanded, her voice breaking with emotion and shock. “We’re in Rome?” She whirled to face him, half-expecting him to tell her that it was a joke, and that they weren’t actually in another country.

Harry chuckled and shrugged. “I told you it was a surprise.”

She turned back to stare at the Colosseum, unsure what the appropriate reaction to this was. Should she cry, laugh, jump up and down, throw herself at him? She settled for a half-strangled laugh over a sob, her heart pounding in her chest.

Harry leaned in and kissed her. “Like I said… when you’re at school, and if the distance ever feels hard, you can look back on that time that I took you on a date to Rome and things will… you know… be okay again.”

She hastily mopped at her eyes, trying to get a grip on her emotions. “You’re crazy, Harry” she said, feeling dazed. “This is too much. You know I already like you, right? You know I’ve fancied you since I was about ten, right? You didn’t need to do this. You don’t need to spend all your gold on one night in Rome.”

Harry laughed. “I didn’t spend all my gold, don’t worry. And this way you’ll fancy me for a little while longer. Plus I actually wanted to go somewhere with you and not worry about who was watching. It’s just me and you; no interruptions, no press…”

Another slightly hysterical giggle erupted from her throat as she threw her arms around him and kissed him with as much emotion she could possibly put behind one kiss. She wanted to express how much this meant to her. She also wanted him to realize that he didn’t need to keep hinting at needing to do something extra to make her like him more or to make sure that their relationship lasted the distance, but she wasn’t sure she could try to convince him of anything so important without bursting into tears. She’d tell him later–make him see that he didn’t need to do crazy things to make her stay–she had enough reasons without being taken to romantic destinations.

“Anyway, we’d better get started. We’ve got dinner reservations in about ten minutes,” he told her, smiling brightly.

“Dinner in Rome,” she repeated, still dazed by the reality. “Yes, let’s go.”

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Chapter 9: Chapter 9: When in Rome

Author's Notes: Hello everyone! I apologize for the length of time it took to update this chapter, but life got in the way. I want to thank everyone who has left me wonderful reviews, thoughts, and critiques, and I hope you enjoy this chapter! Cheers to a new year of amazing fanfics!


Ginny still couldn’t believe that Harry had taken her to Rome. Of all the insane, crazy, wonderful, romantic things that she had ever heard, a surprise date in Rome was hard to beat. They’d been walking down the street for five minutes and Ginny was still unable to wipe the gigantic smile off her face. She only felt a little silly that she was practically skipping down the sidewalk, holding Harry’s hand and pointing out every little thing that caught her eye.

“This is crazy,” she repeated blissfully for the tenth time, squeezing Harry’s hand in her own.

He grinned, clearly proud of himself as he replied, “I’m glad you’re happy.”

“Why Rome, though? Why not into London for a nice dinner? Probably would have saved you some money, and I’d have loved it either way.”

“I was here last week for an assignment,” he told her, keeping his tone casual as he was unable to delve into anything specific with so many muggles walking around. “I was only here a few hours, but it was mostly business-stuff. The little bit of time I got to tour Rome was great, but I kept wishing you were there with me. Planning the trip was pretty easy since I’ve got a friend who works with port keys.”

“This is the nicest thing that anyone’s ever done for me. Thank you for bringing me here!”

“You’re welcome.” He pointed out a large stone building a couple of blocks away. “That’s where we’re having dinner.” He waited until a group of muggles walk past before he added in a quieter voice, “And then I thought you’d like to see some of the wizarding shops. There’s one in particular that you’re going to go crazy for–it’s supposedly one of the best Quidditch supply stores in the world!”

If possible, her mood perked up even further. “Wow. The wizarding part of Rome must be gorgeous with all the old architecture here.”

“It is. It’s very different from Diagon Alley,” Harry agreed solemnly.

When they reached the restaurant, Harry held the door for her and Ginny walked in, feeling giddy. She had never, ever been taken out by a man for an expensive meal. She was used to dates in Hogsmeade and finding private moments in the Hogwarts castle–she felt positively spoiled here in Italy with Harry.

The inside of the restaurant was painted in a dark, royal blue colour with beautiful wood trim around the walls and around the doors. The restaurant was dimly lit, fairly crowded and very chic. Ginny felt Harry’s hand slide around her waist to rest on the small of her back in a very normal gesture of affection. The Maitre D’ took Harry’s name and then beckoned them to follow. They were seated at a small table near the back of the restaurant, given menus, and then the Maitre D’ bowed himself out murmuring words in Italian that Ginny supposed were an encouragement to enjoy themselves.

A massive crystal chandelier hung in the middle of the room, casting a soft glow around the room. White and gold candles sat on each of the tables, which were covered in a clean white tablecloth. A string quartet played soft, classical music at the opposite end of the room, creating a very romantic and elegant atmosphere.

“Harry, this is beautiful!” She whispered, sitting down across from him and feeling a little out of place. She’d always felt a little awkward about being in such upper class places when she came from such a poor family. “Also maybe a little too expensive,” she added, her sub-conscious stirring with discomfort.




Harry handed her a menu and raised an eyebrow at her. “Just for tonight, can you not worry over the price of things? I wanted to do something special for you. After our date in Rome, you can lecture me on anything you want, and I promise I’ll only buy you cheap meals for as long as you want.”

She took the menu with a reluctant sigh, fighting a smile at his teasing tone. He was spoiling her and she did not want him to think that he could just do this type of thing whenever he wanted. Having no money her entire life had taught her to understand that one needed to be sensible with the money they did have, and Harry should not be spending large portions of it on her for one meal. All the same, she knew that Harry would be more offended if she kept worrying about it all night. Deciding it would be both rude and embarrassing for her to lecture him on this subject in the middle of a fancy restaurant, she succumbed to her ultimate wish to enjoy every single second of tonight.

Aside from fumbling in the Italian language to order their food, dinner was amazing. After a three-course meal, dessert, and a few glasses of a delicious red wine, Ginny could not remember feeling so incredibly satisfied with her life. The dinner was made even better by the fact that no one knew them, which meant that no one pointed, or stared, whispered. No one came to ask for autographs or to take a picture that would likely appear in the morning edition of the paper with some scandalous piece of gossip attached to it.

She and Harry talked about everything from school, to Quidditch, to her family, to work, to speculating about what the funny-smelling white stuff was on top of her chicken. When Harry told her a funny story involving Ron and an examination for the Aurors, she found herself drifting from the conversation and thinking about Harry himself, and how proud she was of him. It was strange to think that while he’d grown up, he’d never had a loving family to support him, and the family he did have spent most of their energy trying to repress who he was. He’d never had the chance to grow up in a loving home, or have a normal childhood. He’d never grew up like a normal teenager and had normal relationships. He was so tormented by darkness and evil, and couldn’t afford to trust in other people, girls especially for fear that they liked him for his fame, or worse, that they would prove a danger to him by being untrustworthy.

It made her feel incredibly special that he’d chosen her to be with, and that he trusted her as he did. She was also one of the few people that he’d let in over the years. Her, Neville and Luna were the only ones aside from Ron and Hermione to push past the defensive walls he set up. And now, he was eighteen, still young, but more mature than most men his age. He’d taken her to Italy on a date to impress upon her how much he cared, and how serious he was about their relationship.

Ginny hadn’t thought of him as ‘Harry Potter’ since she was about thirteen, but as she sat in an incredibly expensive restaurant in Italy, on a date with Harry, it was hard to keep her inner child’s childhood crush contained. Harry might not have let many people in over the years, and therefore didn’t have much experience in the serious relationship-department, but there wasn’t a doubt in her mind that she would never live one day where she wouldn’t want him like she wanted him at this very moment.

After dinner, Harry paid in muggle money and led her back outside. It had gotten a lot cooler outside and she hoped that there would be a tea shop or something in the wizarding part of Rome where they could stop for something warm to drink where they could get warmed up.

“So where do we go from here?” Ginny asked, buttoning up her jacket.

Harry checked his watch and grimaced. “I wanted to take you to wizarding Rome, but I guess it’s probably too late. Most of the shops will be closed.”

Ginny felt her disappointment begin to bubble up in her chest–she’d really wanted to see wizarding Italy. “What time is it?”

“Nearly eleven. Rome is an hour ahead of London.”

Trying to keep her face neutral, she shrugged. “That’s too bad. I guess we better call it a night, huh?” The idea of returning to her normal life after tonight made her feel quite sad.

Her tone seemed to amuse him. “Yeah, I guess.” He took her hand as they crossed the street and started back down the way they came. “This way…”

It occurred to her that even if they couldn’t tour any of the shops, he could at least take her into the wizarding part of Rome so she could see what it looked like. Perhaps they still had time? “What time does our port key leave?”

The same amused smile returned as he answered her, “At two.”

“In the morning? Why so late?”

Harry chuckled. “No, Gin, two p.m., tomorrow afternoon.”

Ginny stopped walking and stared at him in surprise. This was an overnight date? “We’re staying overnight? In Rome?”

He nodded, still smiling. “Yeah. That’s okay, right?”

She stared at him, expecting him to be joking, but apparently he was serious. “It’s okay with me,” she replied slowly. “But maybe not with my parents…”

He chuckled again. “I cleared it with your Dad, don’t worry. He knows and he’ll tell your Mum.”

“How did you get my Dad to agree with your little plan?” Ginny was torn between nerves, shock, and excitement. A whole night alone with Harry was quite intriguing.

His smile faded slightly, as if he wanted to be careful with what he told her. “It wasn’t a short conversation, but he agreed. He did say that you were probably safer with someone who defeated the most evil wizard of all time than any other bloke. I guess defeating Voldemort means I qualify for protecting you in another city.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Harry, I don’t think it’s me my Mum might worry about, but more my innocence.”

“And that’s why I talked to your Dad, not your Mum. I didn’t want to have ‘the talk’ with your Mum.” He took her hand again. “Come on, it’s cold out and I want to get to the hotel before midnight.”

Hotel? Harry Potter had brought her to Rome for an amazing dinner and he’d rented them a hotel room for the night? How he had convinced her Dad to agree to the plan, she didn’t know, but as they walked, she began to forget about the disapproval her Mum was probably feeling, and started to think about the benefits to the situation. A whole night to be with Harry, just the two of them was something that they’d never, ever had before.

There was never a chance for any sort of privacy before, and the prospect of a closed door without listening ears or judging looks was a very tempting one.

“So you’re not going to tell me how you got my Dad to agree to this, huh?” She asked.

He shook his head, still amused. “Maybe someday. It’s not important.”

It certainly felt like it was important. What did he say? What had he promised to make her parents agree that she could spend the night in another country, alone, with her boyfriend? “That’s unfair,” she complained, curiosity gnawing at her. “What did you say to my Dad? Did you have to make some unbreakable vow that this was purely an innocent date and that you’d keep your hands off me at all times?”

He raised his eyebrows at her and then laughed. “Do you think your Dad doesn’t like the fact that I’m dating you? Or that I’d hurt you? And since when is your father someone who demands a person to make an unbreakable vow? Plus, I have definitely not kept my hands off you as we’ve held hands, hugged you and kissed several times tonight.”

She folded her arms across her chest, a little embarrassed to actually bring up the subject of sex between them. “I only said that because I didn’t want to suggest what I thought you’d actually…” she trailed off, her cheeks blushing.

Harry smirked. “What did you think I actually promised?”

Ginny rolled her eyes at his feigned ignorance. “What did you think?” He asked again, his eyes teasing as he nudged her.

Ginny met his gaze, suddenly determined not to back down to his challenge. “Did you promise my dad you’d bring me back a virgin?”

He burst out laughing, his cheeks turning scarlet as he laughed. “I talked to your father, not Ron. Ron might make those blunt demands, but not your Dad. Again, do you think your father is someone to make me swear on my own life about your virginity?” He chuckled again. “Would your dad even use that word? We talked. I asked, he eventually agreed, end of story.”

She didn’t doubt that she’d get the answer out of him some day. “Okay, fine, I give up,” she conceded, feeling she owed him this bit of privacy after all he’d done for her tonight. Really, the only thing that mattered was that she could go home tomorrow without her parents threatening to lock her up and throw away the key.

They walked in silence for several minutes, passing through what Ginny assumed was a tourist hotspot judging by the ruins of old stone monuments and buildings that muggles were pointing and staring at. Ginny looked at all the wreckage and she began to wonder about Hogwarts again. She didn’t know why she was so anxious to know about how much the castle would have been repaired after the battle--- well, other than a fear of being reminded of the horrible war.

Harry interrupted her thoughts. “Did you know that the wizarding community here in Rome is one of the oldest in Europe?”

Momentarily grateful that he couldn’t see her face clearly in the dark as Harry was uncannily good at seeing the emotion on her face. “I think I knew that. Weren’t some of Rome’s muggle emperors wizards?”

“Yes, and unfortunately wizard Emperors like Nero called a little too much attention to themselves. The wizarding magistrates pushed hard for something called ‘damnatio memoriae’ so that any physical reminder of that emperor would be destroyed. They didn’t want anyone to know too much about these emperors. It’s the reason why muggle classical scholars only have a limited amount of information on certain emperors. Muggles are fascinated by those emperors who stood out by their poor leadership style, and especially those who were portrayed to be mad. Some of the stories got through, but luckily, muggles are blissfully ignorant.”

“What do you mean?”

Harry chuckled. “Well, Emperor Caligula transfigured a Senator into a horse when he disagreed with him. Muggles tell the story as Caligula wanted to insult the Roman senate by simply bringing in a horse and making him a Senator.”

“Weird.”

“The more interesting the story, the more attention was called to these wizards who were doing awful things. Still, the muggles haven’t completely forgotten…”

They walked a little farther down the street, passing various other couples and late-night tourists.

“Do you think people will eventually forget and leave me alone?” Harry asked suddenly, startling her with the sudden change in subject.

“No one will forget,” she replied gently. “But your life isn’t wrapped up in the Dark Arts anymore. You’ll find peace, Harry. People won’t forget completely, but you’ll be able to live your life freely now.”

“I don’t want to be hounded for the rest of my life,” he told her wistfully. “I don’t want to have to spend my life watching my back, or worrying about your safety, or your reputation. I don’t want to worry that one day my wife or my kids will be attacked by paparazzi, or that rogue Death Eaters who want to remind people of the old days might try to hurt them.”

She nodded, squeezing his hand. “I know. Some things you can’t control, though. The world is moving on, Harry.” She was sure that while no one would quite forget Harry, the world would move on to other tragedies or moments of excitement that would allow him to live relatively in peace. She hoped that she could say the same for herself. Would she feel these feelings of dread forever?

Harry seemed pleased with her answer. “You’ve got to admit that it’s nice to be in public and not be followed by photographers or be watched by a crowd of people.”

“It is. I suppose we can just run away to beautiful places like this whenever you feel trapped.”

After they shared a grin at their new plan, Ginny added: “Part of me doesn’t mind the gossip,” she told him with a dark chuckle. “I saw a cover of Witch Weekly with a picture of us captioned: Potter’s Perfect Proposal. It had some bogus story about you proposing to me and that we were planning on honeymooning in Brazil. It’s nice to have some entertainment every once and a while.”

“Glad you can put up with it. Yeah, I saw that one,” he admitted moodily. “Does your Mum still read that rag? I shouldn’t worry about Howlers if she reads anything particularly racy?”

“No… but my brothers do for a laugh sometimes. George wanted to frame that proposal story, but he says he’s waiting for the gossip about illegitimate children.”

“Great.”

“Well, you are England’s most eligible bachelor!” Ginny teased, poking him playfully so that his grin returned. “Did you expect the press to lay off? I expect there are a lot of women are following those tabloids with an unhealthy obsession over our dating life.” She wrinkled her nose. “Probably waiting for me to make a colossal mistake so that you’ll be back on the market.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “I feel like a piece of meat whenever I hear that phrase. Some random witch wrote me a little while ago, wishing I was ‘on the market!””

Ginny dropped his hand and instead wound her arms around him, pecking him on the cheek. “You haven’t noticed that you no longer look like a starved teenage boy? That Auror training has made you quite a catch, Mr. Potter. You’ve got plenty of female admirers… more than Romilda Vane and all the other gooey-eyed girls at Hogwarts.”

A slight blush crept up his neck. “Thank Merlin you’re the secure type, then. Not jealous or paranoid.”

She laughed and kept one arm around him as they walked. “No, I think my Bat Bogey Hex is good enough to keep away those daring to snatch you away from me.” She wrinkled her nose. “And I don’t think nagging you and keeping tabs on you all the time is the way to keep a boyfriend. I’ve seen that kind of behaviour drive them away.”

“True,” he agreed. Then he grinned at her again. “Although, perhaps this is one thing you’re lacking in?”

Ginny gaped. “What?”

“Well, you don’t constantly moon over me as The-Boy-Who-Lived, or the one who finished Voldemort. I’m a conquering hero, Gin. Perhaps you should try a little harder to hold my attentions.”

Scoffing at him, she dropped her hold on him. She knew he was kidding, and although she was amused, she was a little surprised he wanted to joke about that. Wasn’t that a touchy subject with him? His joking about it might mean he was becoming more okay with who he was!

“Really? I believe we had a totally different conversation at that party. But if that’s what you like, Harry… I could start etching your name in my books again and sign everything Mrs. Ginny Potter!”

He did a double-take. “You used to do that?”

She tried to restrain the blush that had started to colour her cheeks. Good one, Ginny. “No,” she lied, feeling her face heat up. She started walking again, this time ahead of Harry, but he caught up to her, snickering.

“You’re a terrible liar, Ginny.”

Ginny moaned as he laughed a little harder at her. “It’s not my fault. You were very handsome and I had a terrible little girl crush on you.”

He stopped her again, this time under a street light so she could see his face. He was fighting a smile as he pulled her in close by her waist.

“Past tense? The girl who used to sign her name with my last name doesn’t think I’m handsome anymore? I think Romilda Vane might disagree. Whose last name do you etch in your books now?”

Ginny smiled as he leaned in to kiss her, his lips an inch from hers. “Shut up, Harry,” she breathed back. “And if you tell any of my brothers that, I swear I’ll-”

He ended her threat with a passionate kiss that sent a shiver of pleasure down her spine. She could feel her heart beating loudly in her chest as he pulled her against him, urging her closer. As she pressed into his chest and wound her fingers into his soft hair it suddenly occurred to Ginny that they had an entire night of unsupervised time ahead of them. And while that was exciting and very lucky, it also made her a little nervous.

Still, this was Harry. He wouldn’t force her to do anything that she didn’t want to do, and since the only other girl he’d dated had been Cho Chang, she was fairly sure she was a bit more experienced in the intimacy department. But things were certainly changing now-- they were no longer just two students at school. Ginny was in her final year of school, Harry was settling into a career and so things were a lot more serious.

“Are you okay?” He murmured as he pulled back, apparently noticing her distraction so she quickly pecked him on the lips and nodded.

“Just getting a bit chilly,” she murmured. “Let’s keep going.”

The more she thought about having a serious relationship and having a possible future together, the more it made her think about all the things she still needed to share with him. Harry still didn’t know very much about how she was still hurting after the war–he didn’t know about the nightmares that she still had, or the overwhelming, dark thoughts that dragged her down to a low place whenever she was alone.

I need to tell him about everything that’s eating me up inside, she thought miserably. This wasn’t just an impressive date–this was proof that things were serious, that he expected their relationship to last longer than a few months. Harry was not the type to whisk away any girl to a foreign country, and he certainly wasn’t the type to open up to just anyone. If Harry, who had suffered through years of misery, torture, and evil had begun to open up, why couldn’t she?

“I haven’t ever been to a hotel before,” Harry commented as the bellhop greeted them and opened the door for them. “Well once, but it was a dingy little place my Uncle took us to escape all the Hogwarts letters that were trying to find me.”

“Never?” Ginny asked, a little surprised that he’d lived in the muggle world, but never stayed in a hotel.

“Yeah, but the Dursleys would never treat me to anything like a hotel. They’d leave me with Mrs. Figg.”

“Buon Notte.” Greeted the woman at the check-in counter in a very thick accent. “Do you have reservations?”

“Yes, under Harry Potter,” Harry replied. “You speak English here?”

The woman smiled. “I heard you speaking English when you came in. To work at the desk one must be at least bilingual. We get a lot of tourists!” She began typing into her computer to find Harry’s reservation. “Where are you joining us from today?”

“England,” Harry replied.

“Very nice! And yes, I see you have Room 437. The elevator is just down that hall and to the right. Here are your keys! Have a good night, sir!” She offered a wide smile and two sets of room keys.

Ginny accepted the keys and she and Harry walked in the direction of the elevator. The hotel smelled vaguely of chlorine and fresh paint- a nice combination overall. As they neared the hall, Ginny spotted an indoor pool through a glass wall which was closed for the night.

“Next time you whisk me away for a romantic date in another country, let me know I at least need an overnight bag,” Ginny said, wishing she’d brought her bathing suit and a few other key essentials like a tooth brush or bed things.

Harry grinned sheepishly. “Sorry. I should have mentioned…” he reached into his pocket and pulled out a palm-sized backpack and handed it to her. “I had Hermione pack this. I charmed it.”

Ginny took the tiny bag into her hand with amusement, marvelling at how prepared Harry was for tonight. She was glad for a change of clothes and at the thought of being able to brush her teeth. She certainly didn’t want to have to worry about having bad breath for her first sleep over with Harry. Not that that was her biggest concern for her first sleepover with Harry… There were much bigger things here: like an unlimited amount of time to just lay in his arms, to kiss him, and to be locked away in their little corner of the world.

The elevator went up to their floor fairly quickly and it was only a short walk to their room. Ginny could just hear her mother pitching a fit about this part of their date. Her heard began to beat quickly and she found even her palms were getting a little sweaty. She began to wonder again how Harry had gotten away with this part with her father. Had he made the unbreakable vow to make him completely at ease about her staying overnight in Italy with Harry? Had he perhaps told her father that they were in separate rooms?

“This is us!” Harry said quietly, unlocking and opening the door for her.

He flicked on the lights and allowed her to pass ahead of him. The room smelled of fresh soap and clean laundry, and was fairly large to accommodate for the two double beds that took up most of the space. Two small night tables with large white lamps sat on either side of the headboard, and an alarm clock sat on the far-left table. There was a television in the entertainment unit, half-hidden by cupboard doors, and a door to a very white bathroom to her immediate right.

“This is nice!” Ginny commented, looking around with interest. She found herself feeling a lot calmer at there being two beds-- two beds gave her a choice. She walked over toward the window and pulled back the heavy drapes to reveal a beautiful view of Rome. She sighed happily, taking in the sights of the city under the moonlight. “Thank you for bringing me here.” She turned back around to face Harry who had followed her to the window.

“You’re very welcome,” he told her cheerfully.

“So is this how you’re planning on treating me now that you’re twice as famous as you were when I first started seeing you? Whisking me off to foreign, romantic places to impress me and make every other girl jealous? Because if it is, you may want to be careful. I might come to expect this kind of thing from you.”

Harry chuckled. “I like spoiling you. And I wanted to do something big to show you my gratitude.”

She moved closer, pausing in front of him. Harry looked up at her with a look that made her knees feel weak, and made her heart flutter in her chest. She felt like she was the most desirable thing to him–like the most beautiful, wonderful thing on the planet. “Why?” She asked, her voice catching.

“Because you have no idea how grateful I am that you’re you… you’re so cool and sweet and nice. You’re normal, and down to earth, and beautiful. And you’re the only girl, aside from Hermione, of course, that still looks at me the same after the battle at Hogwarts… hell, you’re one of the few people who treats me like a normal person. It’s just easy with you. I like that I can be myself and be honest about who I am.”

She smiled, but his words caused a pang of guilt that she hadn’t yet told him about her struggles to get over the war and her own emotions. She hadn’t told him that she had recurring nightmares about screaming, about blood and Hagrid carrying her boyfriend’s lifeless body back. She hated dreaming about her own scream when she believed for a few heart-stopping minutes that Harry was dead, and that all hope was lost. The dreams were less frequent now, but the memories still haunted her. Sometimes she felt anxious and nervous for no reason at all. It all seemed ridiculous when she was with him; when she could touch him and talk to him, and remind herself that the awful things she saw at night were only dreams and they couldn’t hurt her.

Ginny slowly lowered herself to the bed to sit next to him, stunned. “Harry, there was never any question in my mind what I wanted- it was always you.” She swallowed hard. “You don’t have to do big things like this to make me understand that you’re grateful for our relationship, because I’d be there for you regardless.”

He put his hand on her knee, his palm warm on her skin, but he didn’t speak. Ginny steeled herself to tell him, to let him in as much as he’d let her in. There was something about this moment that told her it was okay to open up, and to share with him.

“I don’t know if I’m okay,” she continued, her voice shaking slightly. Get a hold of yourself, Ginny, she warned herself.

Harry’s thumb stilled where it was gently stroking her knee and he looked up at her, his expression calm, but his body tense. Ginny placed her hand on his face, guilty that she perhaps had just insinuated that she wasn’t okay with him.

“I mean me, personally,” she clarified. “I had a hard time of it since you left… but it’s been really bad since the final battle. I have nightmares… uncontrollable anxiety… sometimes I can’t sleep… it’s like there’s this shadow hanging over me.” She shuddered at the thought of her nightmares.

He looked at her a long time before he moved the hand that was on her knee moved to her hand. He looked peaceful and calm, as if this news didn’t trouble him in the slightest–as if he didn’t doubt her ability to heal. “You won’t feel like this forever. Sometimes it just takes longer to heal.”

She wondered how well he had taken his own advice. “Are you better?”

She watched his face carefully, but his expression was guarded. “I’m better than I was, but no… I suspect it’ll take me a lot longer. Can I tell you something?”

“You can tell me anything.”

Harry squeezed her hand and met her gaze. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, or think I’m an insensitive git… but I’m really grateful that you’re such a strong person. I love that about you. I love that you’ve never pushed me to open up, or forced me to try and talk about everything that’s going on. I can’t tell you how good that felt to just have someone who was just a source of strength, comfort and hope in my life.” He paused for a second, before adding, “And I know that maybe you don’t feel as strong as you once were, but you are that strong person and you will be her again.”

Ginny smiled slightly at the sweetness of his words. It felt good to hear him voice that he loved being with her for more than just a distraction or a good time. “Can I tell you something?”

He met her smile, echoing her own tone. “You can tell me anything,” he replied.

“Dean and Michael used to think that I was too strong, too independent. They preferred to be the macho, protective man and have someone to comfort and caudle and be cute with. I used to get so mad at Dean for trying to do things like help me through the portrait hole. I don’t like feeling weak, or that I can’t do things for myself.”

He shook his head. “I know. You’re just not that type of girl. You’re strong, confident, and you know what you want, and are willing to work hard to get it. I needed someone like you–someone strong. Someone who gets what I’ve been through. I like not having to hide my past from you. You already know everything about me. And I think we can both agree that neither of us are clingy or needy people,”

Ginny slid her arms around his neck and kissed him, pleased that she had shared a little, and that she had even a little more confidence in their relationship. “Definitely not too clingy or needy. So…” she grinned and then gave him a long, languishing kiss. “What do we do now?”

“We could snog for a bit?” He suggested innocently.

“Deal,” she breathed, repressing a giggle.

She slid her fingers through his hair, excitement rippling through her veins as he kissed her enthusiastically. He slid his hands down to her waist and had lifted the hem of her shirt to gently caress the skin there. Her hands slid to his shoulders and then to his chest, feeling the hard, hot muscles beneath the thin sweater he wore. How long had it been since she’d lasted tugged off his shirt and ran her fingers along his bare chest?

Her fingers wandered to the hem and she pulled upwards with the intent of removing his shirt. Harry chuckled, pulling back to allow her to tug it over his head. It got stuck, however, causing them both to laugh and Harry to yank it over his head so it wouldn’t suffocate him.

“Better?” He asked with a grin, tossing it on the floor. Ginny grinned, running her hands down his chest and around to his back.

“Much.”

“I’ve missed you,” he sighed softly.

“Harry, you need to stop talking before my brother finds us and barges in here to stop us,” she replied between kisses as she gently eased him down onto the soft mattress.

“Ron won’t find us,” Harry disagreed. “And if he does, I’ll hex him for interrupting us,”

They shared a small laugh before the kissing continued. Ginny kicked off her shoes and found herself rolled under Harry after several wonderful minutes. When the moment became fairly heated, and Ginny became increasingly aware of the need to make a choice of stopping or going much farther than she’d intended tonight, she slowed the kisses and they both came up for air.

“Yeah, we probably should take a break,” Harry murmured, sitting up on the bed.

Ginny nodded, biting her lip to keep from grinning like an idiot as she sat up as well and adjusted her clothes, pushing her hair from her face. She slid to the edge of the bed and then got to her feet. “Can I have my pajamas and my toothbrush? How about we get changed and then watch some muggle television for a bit?”

“Sounds good.”

He pulled the shrunken bag from his pocket and enlarged it for her. Ginny pulled out an old pair of black shorts, a green Harpies T-shirt, and her toothbrush before hurrying off to the bathroom. Locking the door, she turned to look at herself in the mirror, taking in her flushed cheeks and her tousled hair with mild amusement. As she re-dressed in her pajamas, she made a mental note to look into buying sexier bed clothes–something more grown up than the old clothes she usually wore to bed.

She brushed her teeth and washed her face with soap and water, before finger-combing her hair. Satisfied, she took another look at herself in the mirror, wondering at the woman in the reflection. Being in Italy, she felt giddy, grown up, and extremely happy. Admitting to Harry that she wasn’t as emotionally and psychologically well as he might think had felt good, and while she knew the conversation wasn’t over, it had felt good to at least hear that he didn’t underestimate her ability to be okay one day.

When she returned into the main room, she found Harry already changed into striped pajama bottoms, though he was still shirtless. Ginny grinned, but didn’t say anything about his decision to remain shirtless. Harry might have agreed with her decision to take a breather, but he wasn’t playing fair with his chest and muscled arms exposed.

She climbed into the bed and cuddled up next to him. “I found this movie on,” he told her, turning up the volume. “It’s a family-film that I watched as a little kid. It’s the only decent thing on right now.”

“That’s cool, I’m not picky. It’s more about lying here with you in this bed, and enjoying the fact that it’s just us two here. And that Ron still hasn’t found us.”

He smiled and pressed a kiss to her head. “I told him I was thinking about taking you to Spain.”

“What?” Ginny laughed. “You lied to Ron? I thought you said he wouldn’t burst in here!”

“I said he wouldn’t burst in here because if Ron got the urge to look for us, he’d be looking in the country,” Harry answered, smirking slightly.

Stifling a laugh, she shook her head. “Some best friend you are,” she muttered teasingly.

“It’ll teach him not to try to interrupt us in the future,” Harry disagreed lightly. “I don’t get much time alone with you.”

Ginny tugged the sheets up around them and rested her head on his chest, feeling so at peace with the world that she felt as if nothing could ruin this moment for them. Luckily, Harry had thoughtfully prevented the chance of a certain someone finding them and throwing open the door to ruin a perfect night.

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Chapter 10: Chapter 10: Back to Reality

Author's Notes: A/N: Sorry for the length of time it took to update this. This was the one chapter that wasn't even completed at the end of my first draft, and even after I got it written out, I ended up changing it quite a bit. (As in, I had Harry take her to Paris, etc etc). Hopefully you're still with me and eager for this update… I'm pretty excited for the next few chapters : ). Thank you for all your support thus far! Please review! I appreciate ALL your comments and ratings!


When Ginny opened her eyes the next morning, it wasn't because she was ready to wake up. Beneath the thick bedcovers she felt extremely warm and too comfortable to move. Yawning, she closed her eyes again and rolled over, turning into a warm body. She opened her eyes again, a slow smile spreading across her lips when she remembered where she was.

Taking advantage of the fact that Harry was still asleep, Ginny propped herself up on her elbow to look at him as he breathed slowly and deeply. Remembering falling asleep with him widened her silly smile and she lowered herself against the pillows, content to just lie there with him. They'd just spent the night together in Rome, of all places. This trip signified that this relationship wasn't just casual anymore–Harry was clearly serious about her.

She gently reached out and pushed away the lock of hair that hid his scar and she lightly traced the raised, pink flesh with curiosity. Not many girls could say Harry Potter let her kiss his scar. He was more subconscious about it than anyone realized. It was a silly thing to be proud of, but while Harry saw it as something ugly that was a constant reminder of his past, Ginny didn't agree. She saw it as a mark of his bravery, of having the courage and strength to accomplish something that no one else could. Ginny had noticed whenever someone pointed out his scar, Harry would flatten his fringe to hide it. He did it less around her, which suggested just how comfortable he was becoming around her.

Harry gave a particularly loud sigh and rolled over, turning away from her. Well, sleeping in the same bed as Harry wasn't as romantic as she'd once imagined it might be. Sure, the falling asleep, curled up with him part was nice, but the reality was that he couldn't keep his arm around her all night, unless he wanted his arm to go completely numb. Harry also mumbled in his sleep, which had startled her at one point. But it wasn't just Harry who made it a little less romantic. Ginny knew she was a cover-hog and judging by the sheets that barely covered him, she wondered if he'd been cold at any point. Then there was morning breath, snoring, and looking like a scary, unfeminine disaster in the morning to worry about.

Minutes ticked by before she decided to get up and let him sleep a little more. She climbed carefully from the bed, adjusted the covers so that he would be covered up properly again, before tiptoeing into the loo. With the door shut, she flicked on the lights and immediately turned on the water for the shower. While Harry had seen her dirty and messy from Quidditch practices, she didn't want to ruin the assumption that she rolled out of bed looking gorgeous so early in their relationship.

When the water was hot, she climbed in. After scrubbing shampoo into her hair, she quickly decided to shave her legs and underarms. After conditioning her hair, she took some time to rub flowery-smelling body lotion across her skin before there was a knock on the door that made her jump.

"Almost done!" She called over the spray of the water.

There was a pause and then the door opened, causing Ginny to squeak in surprise and try to cover herself. The shower had frosted glass doors and she'd hung her towel over the door, so there was no chance he'd see anything, but she still panicked. They hadn't seen each other this naked before.

"Morning," he said, sounding just a bit smug.

"Good morning," she replied, wiping the last of the suds off. "I'll be out in a second."

"You snuck out of bed!"

Ginny paused under the spray, raising her eyebrows. "I didn't sneak! I wanted to shower, and I didn't want to wake you."

Around the towel, she could make out the blurred form of Harry folding his arms across his bare chest. "Uh-huh."

Ginny turned off the water and awkwardly stood still, unwilling to tug down the towel that secured her privacy. "I didn't mean to sneak," she answered, wishing he'd leave.

He chuckled. "Okay. I'll take the shower, if you're through."

Ginny waited, but he didn't move. Then she heard the sound of his pyjamas being tugged off and tossed on the floor. Biting her tongue, she yanked the towel down and quickly wrapped herself up in it, grateful that he couldn't see through the glass anyway. She opened the shower door and carefully stepped out to find him standing before her in his boxers.

"Hi," he said, giving her the biggest, sexiest grin she'd ever seen. Her heart stuttered in her chest as she kept one hand firmly on her towel. She pushed her soaking hair over her shoulder and hoped her face wasn't bright red.

"Hi," he replied, stepping towards her to lean in and kiss her. With his lips on hers, Ginny used her other hand on his shoulder to steady herself before her knees gave out. How was it fair that men could roll right out of bed, with their hair messy and still look gorgeous? He ended the kiss and flashed another heart-stopping grin. "I'll be quick. We'll get some breakfast and then I'll show you wizarding Italy!"

"Okay," she answered, feeling annoyed with herself that she couldn't find real answers with him smiling at her, wearing nothing but boxer shorts, his hair mused and his eyes bright, unhidden by his glasses. She hesitated, tempted to start a snog session against the bathroom counter, but changed her mind. Harry in his boxers while she was in a towel? They'd never leave the hotel room and seeing wizarding Rome was just too tempting.

She closed the door behind herself, just as the water turned back on and she grumbled, shaking her head to clear the fog. She hadn't been that nervous and dumb-founded in quite some time, although she supposed that it was a very good thing that she had such a positive reaction to Harry.

After breakfast at a little diner in the muggle city, Harry led her down several crowded streets to take her to the entrance of wizarding Rome. Once off the main drag, they took a sharp turn between two ancient-looking buildings up a steep path that led to an old cement staircase. Ginny found herself quickly out of breath as they kept climbing upwards. When the path finally even out again, they faced tall, black, iron gates that blocked their path. Beyond the gates was just the rest of the street, though it was deserted.

"You'll need your wand," he told her, drawing his own. She copied him and watched as he approached the gate and inserted the tip into a rusted old-fashioned key hole in the center of the gates. There was a soft white glow from the keyhole and Harry suddenly walked through the gates as if they were the wall between platforms 9 and 10 at King's Cross, but did not reappear on the other side.

"Harry?" She called out, confused.

"Just put your wand in the lock," came his voice, invisible beyond the gates.

"Strange," she mumbled, inserting her own wand into the keyhole. As soon as the lock glowed, she withdrew it and held out her wand to test the iron gates, but her hand sailed through it. Striding forwards, she suddenly found herself on the other side, Harry next to her, and facing a crowded courtyard.

Harry smiled. "Welcome to La Piazza di Fuero."

Ginny glanced backwards at the iron gates behind them and then turned to admire the scene before her. Rather than an alley, wizarding Rome was a large city-square with a massive hearth in the center with dazzling red, blue, and gold flames burning brightly. Surrounding the square were many tall, multi-storied buildings with shop signs outside of each of the doors. Between the buildings were small streets that led away from the city's center.

"This is beautiful," she breathed, taking it all in. "It's so different from Diagon Alley."

"I know. All those off-shoot streets lead to houses of witches and wizards who prefer to live in the wizarding part of Rome, and that far street there," he indicated the farthest street, directly on the other side of the courtyard. "That leads to their government buildings and many of those are still in their original Roman architecture."

"Wow. I don't even know where to run first. This must have been what you and Hermione felt the first time you came to Diagon Alley after living in the muggle world."

He chuckled. "Probably." He tugged her hand and began to lead her forward. "Come on! I want to take you to their Quidditch supplies shop. You'll love it."

The Quidditch supplies shop was on the second level of the third building, next to an ancient-looking bookstore. Harry opened the door and gestured that she should enter first. Ginny thanked him and walked in, stopping dead when she looked around at the large room filled with everything from brooms, clothes, equipment, books and more. Ginny was sure that one wall of this shop would put Quality Quidditch Supplies to shame.

"Buon Notte," greeted a tanned wizard wearing long red robes. He began pointing around the shop helpfully, spouting off information in Italian.

At the end of his long-winded speech, Harry chuckled nervously. "English?"

He nodded and clapped his hands together, bowing slightly. He held up a finger and disappeared through a side door that likely led to a back room. Ginny turned to the first wall which held rows upon rows of broomsticks, all jammed closely together and hanging from golden display mounts. She held up a hand to run her hand down the nearest, nicest broom, admiring the polished wood.

Harry took one of the brooms down and examined it. "The guy who owns the shop makes many of these brooms. 'Julio e figlio' is the brand."

Ginny took down the room from the mount as Harry did and ran her hand over the wood. "I've heard of them before. One of the reserves on the Cannons flies on a Julio broom–a WindGiant, I think."

"The WindGiant is favoured by Greenland, actually," said a female voice in a thick Italian accent. Ginny and Harry glanced around at the same time to find a young woman with thick caramel coloured hair and startling violent eyes. "Hello. I am Madelena. Are you looking for anything in particular?"

"Just looking," Harry replied. "I was here a few weeks ago and I knew my girlfriend would love to see the store." He hung his broom back up and started walking along the row.

Madelena flashed a dazzling smile and pushed her hair over her slim shoulder. "Charming," she said, moving closer. Ginny raised her eyebrows at Madelena, noticing her black robes that resembled more of a Roman toga that traditional robes. The toga-like outfit she had on exposed her shoulders and arms, and hung loosely around her knees.

Ginny repressed a snort and turned back to the brooms, pulling another broom from the display mount to get a closer look. Madelena made a pleased noise and came over to Ginny.

"That's one of our specialty brooms–a stunt broom called 'Aeolus.' We mainly sell them to professional fliers looking to make a living in the flight-stunt business. It might interest an admirer, such as yourself?"

Ignoring the fact that Madelena didn't consider that she could possibly be a good flier, she examined the cherry wood and how the broom was much, much thinner in design than most brooms. "What's special about it?" Ginny asked, turning the broom in her hands, surprised by its weightless feel.

"It is very advanced in aerodynamics, and it has much better turning and directional capabilities. Plus the broom itself is longer, so the rider can flatten out on it and place their feet on the wings here," she indicated the two silver metal rungs near the tail-end. Madelena took the broom from her and pushed her foot down on one of the rungs. It slid backwards along the broom, closer to the tail. "You push your weight backwards and flatten out along the broom for better grip and speed."

Harry had picked up a box containing a golden snitch and came over with it in his hand. "Have they ever been used in a Quidditch game?" He asked curiously.

Madelena hesitated. "Yes, but most teams favour a particular broom, but as this is a stunt broom, not many entire teams are willing to risk switching to a broom that isn't standard for Quidditch games. Most players struggle with it as it requires different riding techniques. It takes practice and stunt brooms are not standardized brooms. Although, this broom may allow a player to out-fly any opponent."

"And why is it called Aeolus? Aren't most brooms given names to suggest their capabilities?"

Madelena giggled and tossed her hair again. "Oh, you British have long forgotten Roman mythology. Aeolus is the Latin god of the winds. This broom has been named after the one who ensures the wind and power of storms are on your side as you fly."

"Can you imagine using this in a match?" Harry asked her, his eyes lit up excitedly at the possibility. "It would make my Firebolt look like a Cleansweep."

"Do you play?" The woman asked Harry curiously.

"Not anymore. She'll play professionally one day, though," Harry answered, reaching for Ginny's hand.

Madelena smiled again, though with Harry holding her hand, she could have sworn she saw Madelena's eyes flash with disapproval. Clearly the woman didn't have any problems with making her interest in Harry quite clear.

Still, her voice was friendly when she said, "Ah, very good!" The woman said. "You must be very proud of her. Still, it is a pity that you do not play. I bet you looked quite handsome playing for your school,"

Behind her, Harry laughed, perplexed. "How do you know that I used to play?"

She gave him another dazzling smile. "Even in Rome, there are books on Harry Potter. Your last unofficial biography was published a few years ago, although I expect another will appear shortly to include your greatest feat of all. You are a fascinating, handsome man, Mr. Potter."

Ginny set the broom back on the wall and turned to look at the woman incredulously. Had she really just outright flirted with her boyfriend? When he was holding her hand? Harry looked embarrassed and he suddenly busied himself with looking at the brooms again. Madelena caught Ginny's eye and took a step back, though she still did not appear to be sorry for being so openly flirty.

"Well, I shall let you browse. Please call if you need anything," she said, leaving them be.

Once she was gone, Ginny sighed in exasperation. "She was dying to get her claws on you," she murmured, feeling a little self-conscious.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Not interested," he replied, keeping his voice light. "Come look at these chaser's gloves! They're hand-crafted!"

Ginny half-wanted to pull Harry from the store like a possessive girlfriend, but she also wanted to keep looking. Harry seemed to notice her hesitation and her disinterest in the gloves and his expression suddenly turned sheepish expression, as if waiting for her to lecture him on something that wasn't at all his fault. Deciding that this wasn't even a matter worth arguing over, she forced herself to show a little enthusiasm.

"Did you buy anything last time you were in here?" She asked.

Harry looked a little startled, as if he'd expected her to say something else. "I bought a Quidditch set," he replied, moving away to point out the one he'd bought. "It was something I felt I should own for myself."

They looked around for several more minutes before Ginny suggested they look around at another shop. She'd gotten tired of Madelena sneaking lusty looks at her boyfriend every few minutes, though Harry didn't seem to notice. He readily agreed to show her more of the city and led her back outside, suggesting they get gelato and walk around.

Unlike Diagon Alley, the wizarding part of Rome seemed like an entire other city. It was comprised of a central courtyard area, with several streets leading away from it. Ginny liked the concept of the hidden city better than what they had in London. It gave the wizards the chance to live in their own city, or even just outside it. To have the entire city hidden from muggles also meant that one could live their lives without worrying so much about living quietly around muggles. In the distance, it was possible to see people zooming around in the sky on broomsticks.

"I could settle down here," Ginny voiced over a bowl of strawberry gelato. "This is amazing."

"I could too, for a while," Harry agreed. "But I think ultimately, I want to be in the country."

Ginny smiled. "You've decided that the house you got isn't so bad?"

Harry shrugged, stirring his gelato around the plastic bowl. "It's still pretty empty and lonely, but in the long run, I know I won't regret it."

"It wouldn't be so empty if you put furniture in it, you know," Ginny reminded him with a smile.

"True. It also wouldn't be so empty if I had a roommate."

That thought surprised her. "Who do you want moving in with you?"

"Ron was talking about wanting to move out of the Burrow, so I asked if he might want to move in with me."

"Wow. What did he say?"

"He got pretty excited. Especially since I own the house, so I don't have any rent or a mortgage to pay off. He'd basically be only paying the other expenses like water and stuff." He took another spoonful of gelato. "Also, I've been thinking of selling Sirius' old place."

"Really?"

Harry nodded, his expression suddenly troubled. "It's an old house, and I don't think it's ever going to lose its pure-blood, grimy feel. Hermione suggested I rent it out once I get it cleaned up and get Mrs. Black's portrait off the wall. I might do that… just as a personal form of revenge against the pure-blood mania if I rented it out to half-bloods… or even muggles! It is a muggle residence, after all."

"Poor Mrs. Black would be rolling in her grave if she knew," Ginny snickered.

"Yeah, every time I've been in there since I brought it up with Hermione in the hall, she starts screaming about it. Of course, I probably should taunt the portrait."

"I'm glad that you're in that new house–I don't think you'd be happy in that dark, old house."

"No, I don't think so either."

After gelato, they continued to wander into different shops and buildings, including the local hotel, a caf, their bank (run by goblins, but the name of the bank was written in ancient Latin, making it impossible to read), and their pet shop. Ginny especially liked the pet shop, which featured colourful parrots and other large birds, as well as owls, cats, ferrets, bats and huge, vicious-looking dogs that were actually quite friendly. When their time started running short, they kept to the streets instead of going inside the shops and admired the ancient architecture that was still intact, unlike the muggle architecture outside the walls.

At five minutes to two, they had to stop their touring. Harry had shrunk their overnight bag and brought it with him, so they didn't need to go back into the muggle part of Rome. The last few minutes Ginny had in Rome were sitting on a bench under the shade of a tree, watching as witches and wizards bustled around with families, friends, or just out running errands. When the port key was activated, Ginny closed her eyes, sad to be returning to her regular life.

The port key brought them back to the apparition point of the property. The familiar sights, sounds and smells of home were bitter sweet to her.

"Welcome home," said Harry.

"Thanks for everything," Ginny replied, hoping she didn't sound too disappointed for having to come back home. "That was probably the best date I'll ever have."

Harry grinned. "You're welcome. I just hope your mum won't be too upset with me."

Ginny hoped that too, but she didn't want him to know just which subject her mother would bring up about this date. "I doubt she'd ever say anything to your face, if she is," Ginny commented dryly, knowing her mother would prefer to corner Ginny the second that Harry disappeared.

Ginny opened the front door and called out for her mum to let her know that they were back. Hurried footsteps answered her and Ginny took off her shoes, hoping that those were excited footsteps and not angry ones. Molly came down the stairs, her expression calm.

"Hi Mum!"

"There you two are! I was getting worried," her mother exclaimed, pausing by the door with her arms laden with laundry. "Did you two have fun?"

"Yes! Rome is amazing, Mum. I don't think I'll ever be able to be impressed by Diagon Alley ever again." Ginny replied cheerily as she removed her shoes.

"Is it larger than Egypt's wizarding town?" Mrs. Weasley asked curiously.

"About the same," she replied. "Do you need any help with that?"

Molly shook her head no. "No, but perhaps you could clean your room. It's a bit of a disaster with clothes strewn everywhere."

"Okay," she agreed easily, happy that she didn't seem to be in any kind of trouble.

Ginny turned back to Harry to ask what he wanted to do. Unfortunately, he had an answer all lined up. "I need to go check on my schedule at the Ministry," he told her. "I'll be back in a bit," he added, touching Ginny's arm meaningfully before he turned to leave again.

"Don't want to watch me clean, huh? Alright, I'll see you later, then." She smiled and waved, but knew that this might give her mother a chance to corner her.

"Bye!"

Harry left and Ginny hadn't taken two steps toward the stairs before her mother cleared her throat and set the laundry down on the kitchen table, gesturing that Ginny should take a seat. Ginny did so, feeling uncomfortable once more–apparently she wasn't going to get off easy.

Her mother sat across the table, her eyes narrowed but her expression relatively calm. "So, you had a nice time with Harry?"

"Yes," she answered, her voice coming out a little shakily. Was her mother angry at her? Worried about her? Or did she just disapprove of Harry's whole idea of a date?

Molly regarded her daughter for a long moment before she sighed and folded her hands on the table. "Ginny, dear, I realize that you are almost an adult, but I just want to make sure that you've thought everything through."

Thought everything through? "What do you mean?"

"You and Harry have both been through a terrible lot- Harry especially. And this spontaneous, huge romantic gesture tells me that things are quite serious–more serious than I would have expected for a couple who just got back together. And the last time that Voldemort disappeared, there was a lot of celebration in commemoration of feeling safe again. Couples were eloping and getting married more than they were when the panic started over Voldemort rising to power. I'm worried that you two may be rushing into things in all the excitement of Voldemort being gone."

Ginny felt her face heat up at the subject of marriage. "It was just a date," she replied, though even as she said, she knew that an overnight trip to Rome was not any small gesture of affection. "Harry and I aren't planning to get married any time soon. We've never even talked about that."

"Your relationship with Harry is a little different, and I realize that," Mrs. Weasley continued without any reaction to Ginny's statement. "You've had to mature beyond your years with everything that has happened. And I can see that you care for Harry a lot- you've always cared for him ever since you were little. You've grown up with these feelings, and these feelings have changed and become deeper than ever. But I just want to make sure you know what you're getting into with him. Harry has not had an easy life, and a serious relationship with someone like him may take a lot of time and patience."

Ginny opened her mouth to answer, but her mother wasn't done. "Harry is a wonderful young man, and he is respectful, kind and caring. But he's also endured more than any person in his short lifetime. It would not be fair to either of you if you did not take the time to consider what you're getting into. It may take a while for him to trust in your relationship, for him to come to terms with everything that has happened. Granted, he is doing much better, but his dark side is still there. It took him so long to makeup with you this summer that it made me concerned that your relationship with Harry may become unhealthy once the 'honeymoon' period is over. He may be dependent, depressed, uneasy about things… he may have a hard time with you away at school. You two just have a lot of time apart ahead of you, and your relationship seems to be very fast-paced."

"Mum," Ginny said quickly, managing to jump in. "I know that Harry and I have a long way to go, and I know you're concerned, but I've known what I was getting into with him since we started dating. I know who he is and what he's gone through. I've always known those things–I've watched him go through it at school."

Her mother nodded. "I'm just worried what long-distance might do to the two of you. It's a very difficult relationship to be in, and I wouldn't interfere in this if we hadn't just lost Fred, and Tonks and Remus. Things might be great now and you two are doing so much better, but you're about to be separated and undergo a lot of strain with the pressures of your own lives. Harry is starting a new job and you want to go off and play professional Quidditch after school."

While all this was true, Ginny knew in her heart that she wanted and needed to take the risk. "It may be hard… I'm not foolish enough to think that this will be easy, but I can't not be with him, Mum. I don't care that he'll be here while I'm at school, and I don't care that if I make Quidditch tryouts we may be separated longer than a year. We'll make it work," she said, the truth of it resonating deep in her chest. "No matter how hard it might be, I want to be with him. It feels right."

Molly finally smiled and patted her hand reassuringly. "Okay, then. I know you love him, Ginny. I just wanted to talk to you and make sure you've thought everything through before one of you gets hurt. I wanted to make sure you weren't caught up in the hype of being in love at this time- especially when he comes up with secret plots to take you to Italy."

Ginny tried to keep her expression neutral at the mention of loving Harry–it wasn't a subject that she wanted to bring up with her mother when it hadn't yet come up in her relationship with him.

"Just please be careful. Promise me you'll stay on the right track… no running off and getting married until you're done school. And be safe," she said, adding emphasis on the last word. "I don't need to remind you that as a Weasley woman, you likely will have no trouble with fertility."

Ginny felt heat rush to her face and a sudden, anxious desire to escape overwhelmed her. "Mum, I'm going to school. And after that, I want to play professional Quidditch," she managed to say in a strained voice. "I cannot afford to get pregnant."

Her mother smiled at her, looking relieved. "Good. And you remember the contraceptive spell I taught you?"

An embarrassed groan escaped her. "Yes," she grumbled, thoroughly embarrassed now.

Mrs. Weasley rolled her eyes. "Oh, honestly, Ginny, relax! I know how heated things can get in the moment. You can get all huffy, but you need to be careful and remember to cast it before you two engage in-"

Ginny jumped to her feet, having heard quite enough. "Yes, yes, I know!"

Her mother fought a smile. "Okay, I'm done. I'm glad you had a nice trip. At least with Harry, I know that that boy would do anything to ensure you were protected." She gathered her laundry in her arms and took it into the next room, leaving Ginny feeling flustered and embarrassed.

Not wanting to hear another mention of love or safe sex, Ginny hurried upstairs to tidy her room. She put away all her clothes, cleaned off her desk, made her bed and tossed a damp towel in the laundry hamper. As she cleaned, she noticed the Holyhead Harpies calendar on her wall and it occurred to her how few days of summer there were left. Aside from wanting to spend as much time as she had left with Harry, Ron and Hermione, she did want to say goodbye to Jackson and Annie. She knew that Harry wouldn't exactly be supportive of visiting Jackson after what had happened on his birthday, but the bottom line was that they were her friends. She didn't want to run off to Hogwarts not having tried to end the summer on a good note. Besides, Jackson had acted badly one night all summer, and Annie shouldn't be shunned on account of Jackson.

With her room now in an acceptable condition, Ginny headed outside to her father's shed. Her dad had set up a muggle telephone in here several summers go. No one really used it except for Hermione on the odd occasion, but it was useful to get in touch with Annie and Jackson to figure out times to meet up in town.

With the shed door cracked open for extra light, Ginny picked up the receiver and punched in Annie's number. It rang twice before a messaging service clicked on and Ginny hung up with a sigh, disappointed that Annie was–as usual–on the phone. As much as she wanted to make up with Jackson, she had been hoping to avoid calling him first. Taking a breath, she dialled Jackson's number and the phone began to ring.

"Hello?" A male voice answered.

His voice sounded strange after not hearing it for so long. "Jackson?"

"Ginny?" His voice was thick with relief. "I'm so glad you called."

Ginny sank onto a rickety old chair by the phone. "I was wondering if you guys wanted to get together soon?" Ginny asked, hoping to avoid an awkward phone call. She much preferred to actually fix things between them in person.

"Yeah! Yeah, I'd love that. I'll get in touch with Annie… when are you free?" He spoke quickly and anxiously, as if he was just grateful they were speaking at all.

"Whenever," she replied, twisting the cord around her finger distractedly.

There was a pause during which Ginny heard Jackson shuffling in the background. "Meet you tomorrow at Penny's Caf? Let's say three-thirty?"

She felt the small prickle of excitement at seeing her friends again. Penny's Caf: they're usual hangout, and a public place. "Yeah, okay. That sounds good."

"Gin?" His voice was suddenly, softer, more hesitant, and Ginny tensed, silently praying that he wouldn't try to fix things over the phone.

"Yeah?"

"I'm really glad you called. I was worried that I wouldn't-… that we wouldn't see you again." The sincerity of his voice combined with his stumbling over his words made her blush. Ginny ran a hand through her hair and tightened her grip on the phone.

"I wouldn't have left without saying goodbye," she told him honestly. "I'm still upset with you, but we're friends. I won't be home until Christmas and I don't want to leave here on a bad note."

"Until Christmas? Wow, this boarding school sucks," he joked. "My school-" but Ginny didn't hear the rest of the sentence; someone was calling her name outside the shed.

"Ginny?"

Ginny jumped, nearly dropping the phone at the sound of Harry's voice. He was back already? Hadn't he gone into work? She could hear him moving across the lawn, probably toward the shed. She could also hear Ron and Hermione, talking and laughing.

"… and I can't even handle doing group projects on weekends," Jackson was saying. He chuckled and then sighed happily, sounding completely at ease. "I have so much to tell you. So does Annie–she'll be bursting with updates for you. She finally went out with Patrick! She's been walking on a cloud!"

Ginny chuckled, sounding fake even to her own ears. Harry, Ron and Hermione were sounding incredibly close. "I'm excited to see you guys. I can't wait. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?" she told him quickly, standing up.

"Oh, okay." The reluctance wasn't hard to miss. "See you tomorrow, Gin. I can't wait!" He hung up the phone and Ginny had just placed the receiver on the hook when she heard Ron suggesting to check the shed.

Ginny moved toward the shed door just as it was thrown open, blinding her with sunlight. Shielding her eyes, she could just make out Harry's shape. He chuckled, startled to find her. "There you are!"

"Yeah," she exited the shed and smiled as her heart pounded nervously in her chest. Why was she such a nervous wreck? She felt like she'd been caught doing something horrible, which was obviously ridiculous. There was just something not right about calling a man who wasn't your boyfriend, and one whom your boyfriend didn't like. "I thought you went into work."

"I did, just to check my schedule. I go in tomorrow though, so I figured I'd come back and spend some more time with you." He raised his eyebrows at glanced over her shoulder. "What were you doing in there?"

Ginny ran a hand through her hair, silently lecturing her racing heart. "Just using the phone," she replied as coolly as possible. She emerged and caught Hermione's eye and knew that Hermione had already pieced together what she had been doing in the shed.

Ron and Harry were still in the dark apparently as Ron raised his eyebrows and shifted the broom he had in his hands. "You were using the phone? What for?"

Ginny bit her lip, unsure if she should lie and say she made plans with Annie, but not Jackson. It wasn't like she wasn't allowed to hang out with her friends, but there was something nagging her in the back of her mind. Was it because she was only going to see her friends when Harry was gone? When Ron and Hermione weren't around to tattle to Harry? Perhaps she just felt guilty because Harry would see this as sneaking around behind his back?

Shaking her head to clear her ridiculous worries, she reminded herself that this was no big deal. It wasn't like she was going to see Jackson by herself–she was going to visit both her friends for a couple hours. Suddenly Harry's expression darkened and Ginny could practically hear the click in his head as he figured out who she'd called on the phone.

"You called Jackson?" Harry guessed.

Ginny avoided Ron and Hermione's gazes. "Yeah, I wanted to see if Jackson and Annie were free to hang out before I left for school–since I probably won't see them for the whole year."

Harry stared at her for a long moment. "Oh. When are you going?" The tension in his expression wasn't hard to miss.

This isn't a big deal, she reminded herself. Stay calm. "Tomorrow, just for a few hours."

He looked irritated at that answer, but she needn't have asked why. "Were you going to tell me?"

Ginny met his gaze steadily. "Yes, of course. I just made those plans now, and it's no big deal."

Harry didn't say anything at first. Ginny tentatively touched his shoulder, hoping to smooth things over before he got too upset. Hermione had tactfully pulled Ron off to the side, giving them some privacy. "I need to see my friends, Harry. I know the idea of me being around Jackson makes you uncomfortable, but-"

"Well he treated you like trash and then tried to beat me up," Harry interrupted her irritably. "Can you blame me? He's lucky I didn't hex him,"

His threat surprised her–in fact, coming from Harry, it sounded almost ridiculous. When had he ever jealously threatened someone? "I need to see my friends, Harry," she repeated, more firmly this time. "Can you blame me? They kept me sane when I was going through a really hard time."

Harry looked torn at this. "I know, I know. But why do you need to see him now? All that tension we had between us is over. We're happy! The way he acted at that bar was completely over the line."

"Harry, they saved my sanity! Probably more than I've let on. Harry, I wasn't sleeping, I was having really awful nightmares… I felt awful all the time. They were a distraction from all that–being with Annie and Jackson meant I could pretend to be someone else." She shook her head. "And yes, I am happy with you now, and while that stopped most of those bad feelings, they're still there. And I owe how okay I am partly to Annie and Jackson. They're my friends! Jackson might have acted like a git one night, but he was drunk and upset."

He stared at her, still frowning. "You still feel awful sometimes?"

Perfect.

This wasn't the time for that conversation. "Sometimes," she admitted softly. "But I am better now… especially since I got back together with you." She didn't want to go into the details of her nightmares, or admit that a huge part of the reason that the nightmare of Harry's death didn't occur so often was because she was dating Harry–it was harder to worry about someone she spent so much time with.

When he didn't speak, she squeezed his arm and then reached for his hand. Vaguely aware of their audience, she wished Ron would stop looking at them, but she kept talking. "Harry, you know better than to be jealous, right? Wasn't that the whole purpose of taking me to Rome? To be a reminder of how good we have it when times are hard?"

"Yes, but I didn't anticipate you going to hang out with someone who is in love with you," he replied bitterly. "And why can't we talk about these feelings you have after the war?"

"We will, I just haven't found the moment to bring it up. I like not thinking about it, and you make me happy. You let me forget." She sighed in exasperation and added, "Jackson isn't in love with me… it's just a crush! And any feelings he has, he'll get over. They don't matter. We're still friends. I need to keep my friends, Harry."

"Jackson has proven he's got a bad temper. I don't want you in that village without me," he returned grumpily. "It's dangerous."

"Jackson won't hurt me," Ginny disagreed, her patience waning. "You just saw him when he was really drunk. He's a really nice person, I promise. And he's not the type to steal me away from you–not that if he tried, it would work. I like being with you. I love being with you… you're the only man I ever think about, even with Jackson and Annie–you were always on my mind."

That seemed to soften him up slightly. His fingers flexed slightly around hers.

Ginny took a breath, grateful that the worst of the fight was over. Testing the waters, she dropped his hand and slid her arms around his neck. "You trust me?"

He nodded, but there was a troubled look in his eyes. "I trust you."

She smiled tentatively and kissed him. She was vaguely aware of Ron muttering something and the sound of Hermione swatting at him. He kissed her back, but when it ended, she could tell that he was still upset by this–as if he had a whole lot more to say, but was at least willing to drop it for now.

"Thank you. And I promise… I'll only be gone for a few hours. I just need to say goodbye. No big deal."

"No big deal," Harry repeated dully. "Okay."

Back to index


Chapter 11: Chapter 11: A Goodbye Kiss?

Author's Notes: For those of you who have been wondering about Jackson and Annie, this chapter may come as a relief to your curiosity as Ginny confronts Jackson for the first time since Harry’s birthday. Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed this story! I appreciate your kind words and thoughts! Enjoy! Again, I must apologize for the wait. I don’t really have a good reason this time… except that I went to Harry Potter World in Florida for the week, so I was completely M.I.A. from writing :D. Please review!!


Chapter 11: A Goodbye Kiss?

The next morning, Ginny was surprised to find Harry in a relatively good mood. He and Ron were scheduled to go into the Ministry for one-thirty, but Harry didn’t seem to care anymore about her plans in the village. With Harry acting so normally, Ginny had nearly forgotten that she and Harry had had a disagreement about her going to see her friends today. The strange part about it was that Harry didn’t say a single word about it, which she hadn’t anticipated. In fact, she’d mentally prepared a speech to say to him to ease any concerns he might have.

At 1:20 when Ron hurried down the stairs to go into work, Ginny paused in her doorway to wait for Harry to follow her brother down, assuming that he’d say goodbye to her first. Harry, dressed in his navy blue trainee robes, came down the stairs as expected moments later and called out to Ron that he’d be just a moment. Preparing for his pleas to ask her to be careful or perhaps beg her not to go, she was taken by complete surprise when he moved into her room, swept her up in his arms and kissed her.

Stumbling backwards, Ginny kissed him back with a bewildered chuckle. His arms tightened around her and he kissed her so passionately that she felt like she might fall over if he wasn’t holding her up. The kiss ended just as spontaneously and he released her, leaving Ginny breathless, startled and pink-faced. He gave her a wide smile, squeezed her hand, waved with his other, and hurried from her bedroom without a word. Staring at the spot where Harry had been moments before, Ginny raised one hand to her mouth, unsure of what to make of that kiss–that very fiery, lovely kiss.

Since when did Harry grab her and kiss her like that? He had never been the ‘shove-you-against-the-wall, have-to-have-you-right-now’ type of guy. It was a great kiss, no doubt–definitely making her list of top five kisses with Harry, but what inspired him to that moment of passion? Shaking her head to clear her befuddled thoughts, she went to find Hermione to ask her what she made of Harry’s burst of passion. Harry and Ron had left and Ginny found Hermione reading a large book of sorts at the kitchen table, but she shut it when Ginny asked about the situation.

“He just ran in, kissed you and left?” Hermione repeated, giggling at the thought. Hermione also seemed unable to believe that Harry had suddenly decided to become the type of passionate boyfriend who just grabbed his girlfriend and kissed her thoroughly just for the heck of it.

“Yes,” Ginny said, unable to keep the smile off her face. Her lips were still tingling from the spark of electricity. “It was a great snog and I’m not complaining. I was just wondering if you had any idea what changed in him that got him from acting a little put-out to his big goodbye kiss?”

Hermione shrugged, her fingers absent-mindedly flipping through the pages of her book. “No idea. He hasn’t said anything to me and I doubt he said anything to Ron. Maybe he just wanted to make sure you remember him today when you’re in the village? Or maybe he is actually fine and just wanted to kiss you goodbye? Who knows, Ginny; Harry is a closed book most of the time.”

Ginny nodded, wishing that Hermione had better insight into Harry’s sudden mood change. She hoped that it just been a burst of passion and nothing abnormal, but even at Hogwarts when they were together, Harry had always been more sweet and gentle. She worried that he had kissed her like that because he was jealous or worried about losing her. The notion was ridiculous, but she knew that if roles were reversed, she likely would be reacting the same. No matter how logical the situation was, when you yourself were faced with it, jealousy was never a rational emotion.

“I just think it’s weird that he didn’t say anything about me seeing my friends today.”

“Harry probably realizes that he can’t stop you. He knows you’d never do anything to jeopardize your relationship.”

Did he though? If he did, why did he seem uncomfortable with the idea? “I hope so. I just need to say goodbye to my friends and try to fix things with Jackson. I know he hasn’t acted like it lately, and that no one of you have really seen that, but he is a nice guy.”

Hermione’s sceptical expression made her sigh. “I know you don’t really think so, but that’s okay. I’ve known him all summer... he wasn’t ever really forward until that day on the beach. Something changed in him that day.”

“And you’re really okay going to see him when you know he has a crush on you? Isn’t that awkward?”

Ginny contemplated her answer for a moment before she shrugged and shook her head. “No more awkward than being around Dean. That stuff doesn’t really bother me, I guess. I know I don’t feel the same way about him and I never have–he’s not Harry. And besides, it’s not just Jackson I want to see it, it’s Annie too. Jackson’s going to apologize and I don’t see why I should be petty and avoid Jackson just to see Annie. I’d rather get everything out on the table. If today doesn’t go well, then at least I know I’ve tried.”

Hermione looked at her for a long moment as if she had a lot more to say on the matter but wanted to word it carefully. “You realize that Harry has never had the best self-esteem? His muggle relatives ruined his self-confidence, and he’s been forced to carry a lot on his shoulders. Harry liked you for a while at Hogwarts before he finally worked up the nerve to do something about those feelings. When you finally broke up with Dean, he was clearly struggling with the decision to act on his feelings or not, and I think he was concerned that someone else was going to snatch you up before he had a chance. He might be worried that Jackson will snatch you away from him.”

“He mentioned that worry at school,” Ginny admitted softly. “I know his self-confidence isn’t that great, but even if Jackson does want me, it doesn’t matter. I understand that none of this is rational, but Harry needs to get it through his thick head that I’ve always wanted to be with him–no one can change that.”

Amused at the memory of the days when Ginny used to trip over herself or blush furiously whenever he paid her the least bit of attention, Hermione fought a smile as she replied, “I think that’s a hard concept for any person to take in, let alone Harry. He knows he can trust you as a friend and a person, but to know that someone loves him like you do–wholly and unconditionally–that’s hard for someone who’s grown up where people have either thought of him as a hero, or as psychologically unstable, or as the enemy. Anyone who lived like has would struggle with that kind of trust.”

Ginny felt a blush creep up her neck at the mention of loving Harry as this was a subject she hadn’t thought much about. Loving Harry was dangerous–she’d loved Harry as a girl, and despite the fact that it wasn’t the real, walk-through-fire love that could only come from a real relationship with him, it had still hurt terribly when nothing had come of it. What if things didn’t work out? What if they broke up after she’d given him her heart? Would she be able to move on? Moreover, with the war, falling in love hadn’t been a subject at the forefront– she and everyone else she knew was living day-by-day and leaving thinking of the future for a time when it wouldn’t hurt so much to have the hopes for the future burnt to the ground. She didn’t want to rush into declarations of love when things were finally becoming more normal. For now, she was content to be dating Harry and happy in the moment. Whether or not she truly loved Harry was a thought to consider at a later time.

Ginny knew that Hermione was right and didn’t doubt that she herself had a long way to go when it came to maturity and trusting Harry with her whole heart. She was sure that this was something that would come with time. Unfortunately, it didn’t change the fact that she wanted and needed to say goodbye to her friends today. It wasn’t just a point of her being stubborn; she did actually like these people. Annie and Jackson, while they could never truly know her as a friend without letting them in on the fact that magic was real and that she was a witch, they did know nearly everything else about her. They were friends, regardless of their backgrounds and the things they didn’t know about each other.

Moreover, she didn’t feel right about leaving things the way they were–this would surely be hanging over her all year long–even if today did not go very well, she at least needed to try and settle things.

“I don’t want to leave without resolving things. Harry needs to trust me that I only care about him.”

“I know,” Hermione replied patiently. “They’re your friends, regardless of what happened. Maybe Harry realized that too?”

“Maybe. Don’t tell him this… but after today, I don’t have major plans to spend time in that village. I’m going to say goodbye… I realized that I can’t be in both worlds and I don’t want to pretend to be someone I’m not forever, and the closer I get with Annie and Jackson, the guiltier I feel that we can’t ever be best friends.”

“Wouldn’t that make Harry feel better though? If he knew you weren’t going to see Jackson anymore?”

Ginny smiled sadly. “If you were in my shoes, and Ron wanted you to stop seeing a friend of yours… would you give him that satisfaction of telling him that?”

When Hermione didn’t answer, Ginny chuckled darkly. “I thought so. It’s not something we need to talk about. It’s a decision I made because of me, and not to end some silly argument that shouldn’t be affecting my relationship with Harry.”

“True,” Hermione agreed. “You seem like you’ve got it all sorted out… and Harry clearly isn’t upset anymore, regardless of his motives. Maybe you shouldn’t over-think that kiss and hope that he continues to be that forward.”

Ginny smiled at the thought. “I wouldn’t mind at all if he wanted to do that a little more.”

A little uncomfortable with the dreamy voice that Ginny had used, Hermione re-opened her book with a bemused but exasperated sigh. Deciding to leave her to read like Hermione clearly wanted, Ginny left her to it.

The truth was that as much as she wanted to fix things with her friends, she really wasn’t sure how to fix the awkward situation with Jackson. Ginny didn’t have any expectations that Jackson could be expected to get over her on command, but she wanted to at least give this friendship a fighting chance for the future if they ever ran into each other.

A little while later, Ginny left her house for the village and entered the caf where she promised to meet Annie and Jackson. She pushed open the door to the diner, glad to be out of the hot summer sun and indoors where it was much cooler. She shifted her bag up to her shoulder and froze when she spotted Jackson sitting alone at a table. Annie’s absence made her feel suddenly unsure if she should go over or not, but then Jackson saw her and waved her over.

He got to his feet slowly and watched her approach with a wary expression that probably mirrored her own. Since when was she meeting Jackson alone? Jackson pulled out a chair for her and then sighed. “I told Annie to give us half an hour,” he explained worriedly. “I wanted a chance to apologize and beg for your forgiveness without an audience.” In front of him he had took two iced teas and he pushed one toward her with a hesitant smile.

Ginny took the seat and lowered herself into it. All things considered, this was probably the best way to handle things between them. “Okay,” she conceded, taking a grateful drink of the iced tea. She wasn’t quite sure what to say or how to start.

Swallowing a mouthful of iced tea, she met Jackson’s worried gaze and found herself feeling frazzled at the memories of the last time she’d been around him. Apparently just sitting across from him was enough to make her realize that she was more upset than she’d thought. Her heart had started beating a little faster and she felt anxious just sitting near him.

Jackson ran a flustered hand through his hair, musing it in a way that Ginny realized was all-too like the way that Harry did whenever he was stressed out. For the first time, this made her feel uncomfortable–how many other mannerisms did Jackson have that were so like Harry’s? Were these similarities the reason why she felt so comfortable with Jackson?

Drop the psychoanalysis, she silently reprimanded herself. Jackson looked different, acted differently and definitely missing was the spark she always felt with Harry. She felt normal with Jackson, not nervous. She felt too comfortable, definitely in the friend-zone. Jackson was an attractive guy, but he didn’t make her heart pound or make her do stupid things like trip over her own feet or stick her elbow in the butter.

Jackson met her gaze determinedly. “I’ll just get right into it. I was drunk, I was stupid, and I can’t believe how I treated you. I’m so sorry,” he began quietly, his face shining with sincerity. “I haven’t been the same since my ex broke up with me and while I know that’s no excuse, I haven’t been thinking clearly. I was happier after I met you… You’re a wonderful person, and I found I could be happy and normal and relaxed again. I didn’t even take the time to consider that you didn’t feel the same. Too much alcohol brought my feelings of rejection out in a really bad way. I was hurt and angry and jealous that another girl that I liked could choose not to be with me. I projected a lot of my anger onto you and onto Harry.”

Gripping her glass, Ginny took a steadying breath and said, “Until I walked in here… I didn’t think I was actually angry with you. But Jackson you were jerk–a complete and utter jerk! You were scary and petty and mean. You cornered me in that bar, you yelled… you said awful things.” Ginny shook her head in disbelief. “And then outside, you were even worse.”

“I know,” he said resignedly. “And I wish I could take it back. I’m so, so sorry for how I acted. I never wanted to be this person, Ginny. I thought I met the love of my life and then she left. And then I met you, and you were cool and I think I just got it in my head that maybe she left so I could meet you.”

“That’s not really an excuse, you know,” she replied tersely. “They way Annie talks about your ex, I get the feeling I’m not like this girl at all.”

“No, no! You’re not! I just mean that I met you and were nice, pretty, funny… and I was looking to meet someone else. I just didn’t stop to think about how you felt.”

Ginny waited, feeling awkward as she stirred her straw distractedly around the glass. A lot of this made sense–Annie had mentioned Jackson’s ex-girlfriend quite a few times throughout the summer. All she knew was that he’d loved her since high school and then she’d broken his heart–stomped on it, Annie had admitted grimly. As angry as Ginny felt, she did feel a little sorry for him that he was so emotionally unstable.

“I’m not even really sure how to act around you right now. Part of me knows I should be really angry and tell you off and walk away…”

Jackson’s shoulders slumped. “And the other part? What’s it telling you?”

Ginny stared at her drink, wiping away beads of condensation that slid down the glass. “The other part doesn’t want to lose you as a friend–if we can even be that.”

“Ginny, I don’t want to lose you as a friend either. I never should have kissed you, or yelled at you, or hit Harry. I don’t even know why I did that--that’s not like me. Annie was livid with me, so don’t think I’ve gone unpunished for how I acted. Annie and I have known each other for most of our lives and she knows that I’ve never really behaved like that. I just lost it that night. I’m sorry that you and Harry were on the receiving end.”

He leaned forward slightly. “And I know you’re probably still upset with me, but I just wanted you to know that I am sorry. I’m a total git, and you have every right to be angry with me.”

Jackson sighed again and hesitated. “I respect that you don’t feel the same about me. I can see that Harry is the one you want.”

Suddenly very uncomfortable with the turn in conversation, Ginny held up her hand, her heart beating faster in her chest. She didn’t want to talk about his feelings for her–they didn’t need to get into that topic at all. “Jackson, please don’t do this, I-”

“Just let me finish,” he interrupted pleadingly. “I do have feelings for you, but I can see that Harry is a good guy, and that while whatever weird thing you two are going through, I see the way he looks at you and how you look at him. I never should have pushed myself in the middle of that–not when it was quite clear that you missed Harry like I missed Sarah. Only I didn’t want to admit to myself that Harry was actually someone who cared about you right back, and unlike Sarah, you two would eventually be back together.”

He’d known that Harry would make it up with her soon? Still awkward and unsure of what to say next, she felt she should at least show she was grateful for his honesty and his maturity. “Thank you.”

“Think you can forgive me?” He asked anxiously. “Honestly, I want to be friends.”

Ginny hesitated over her response. Of course they were friends–she came here to try and sort things out. What worried her was how much he may like her because it sounded like a lot. Being here might not be a good idea if he liked her so much that it hurt him to be around her. Then there was also the pressing issue that Jackson had treated her awfully at the bar.

“You called Harry an asshole, you told me I was stupid for wanting to be with him…” she trailed off, feeling angrier as she thought back on the memory. “You humiliated me. You grabbed me, you pushed Annie… you kissed me. You were violent, Jackson. I’m really not sure I can forgive you for that.”

Jackson bowed his head, ashamed. “I know. I never should have done or said any of it. I’ve regretted it from the moment I got home that night. Ask Annie when she gets here, but I’ve never, ever done anything like that. I’ve never been in a bar fight or anything.”

Ginny stared at him, unsure if she wanted to forgive him. “Sarah really messed you up, huh?”

His startled expression and immediate discomfort told her that he clearly had not expected her to say that. He shuffled uncomfortably in his chair and nodded, resting his elbows on the table as he folded his arms defensively. “Annie thinks so,” he replied dully. “I’m not over it,” he muttered.

Sympathy started to replace some of the anger. She could understand how he felt, and perhaps even why he’d been so angry. “It takes time to heal those wounds,” Ginny told him quietly.

“Yeah,” he agreed wistfully. “Anyway… I really am sorry. Think we could maybe start over?”

Ginny hesitated over the question. Could they start over as friends? “I dunno, maybe. What about your feelings for me? You know that we need to take a breather right? You need to forget those feelings.”

“I am forgetting them. It was just a crush! And besides, I hid them for most of the summer, after all.” He flashed a sad smile at her.

This didn’t really sound all that hopeful. “Even if I decide to forgive you for being an awful friend, I don’t want you to get hurt, so if-”

But he cut her off. “Ginny, we’re friends,” he repeated, emphasizing the last word. “We’re meant to be friends. I can see that now. I accept that we’re just friends.”

He looked so sincere and so relaxed in spite of the situation that Ginny decided that she could accept his words. He may not be able to be truly her friend for a while, but for now, they just had to get through today. Maybe next summer, they could run into each other and it would be okay.

“I’m still upset with you, but okay,” Ginny finally said, smiling tentatively. “Friends it is.”

A wide, relieved smile broke across his lips. “Thank you. We’ve really missed your weird lack of pop cultural knowledge. I’ve already got of list to subjects to grill you on.”

Ginny snorted and took another drink of iced tea, her heart slowly returning to a regular rhythm. “Yeah, your lives must have been really dull without me around to laugh at.”

“A little,” Jackson replied dryly. “So what’s new? How’s Harry?”

Ginny looked at him for a long moment, her eyes narrowed. Jackson noticed her reaction and he held up his hands innocently. “I’m not asking because I’ve got a sick curiosity to know… I just wanted to make sure I didn’t ruin things between you two.” He paused and then added, “And I’d like to apologize to him too, at some point. I owe him an apology as well.”

She slowly lowered her glass onto the table. There was no way that Harry and Jackson would be anywhere near each other at any time soon. “Jackson, it’s just a little weird when you ask about him. I don’t think friends should have this conversation when one friend likes the other.”

Jackson made a face. “It’s only weird if the other friend keeps bringing up something the first friend wants to put behind him and pretend it never happened. Besides, I’m seeing someone.”

That surprised her. “You are? You’re not doing that thing where you pretend you’re dating someone so you seem more over someone else?”

He laughed loudly and shook his head. “No, no. Her name is Clare and she’s a friend of Annie’s. We’ve only been out a few times, but she’s a nice girl. See? I’m fine. Like I said… it was just a crush. It’s not like I’m in love with you.”

The subject of love made her feel flustered again. She didn’t quite believe that he was completely over his feelings for her–there was still that awkward tension in the air that said otherwise. “I think you should have led with ‘I’m seeing someone,’” she grumbled. “It might make it a bit less awkward. Harry is good. He’s graduating from his police program soon,” she replied, pleased that she recalled the name of the fake profession that Harry was working toward.

“You guys work things out yet?” He asked, a catch in his voice, but his care-free expression didn’t change.

“Yes,” she replied as casually as possible, trying to see any flicker of pain on his face, but there was none. “Now can we change the topic?”

He nodded, leaning back in his chair casually. Jackson’s gaze flicked to the door and suddenly, as if he’d flipped a switch, he waved and grinned brightly at someone over her shoulder. “Annie is here.”

Ginny wasn’t quite sure what to make of their conversation, but she knew that it had gone as well as it could have. Annie hurried over with a squeal of excitement, her blond hair flying out behind her as she rushed over to the table.

“Hello!” Annie hugged Ginny first and then Jackson before sitting down between them, her large eyes looking between her friends suspiciously. She pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head and smoothed out the brown dress she wore.

“Did you two chat? Are we all friends again?”

Jackson caught Ginny’s eye and he grinned again. “We were always friends, Ann.”

Annie smiled brightly. “Good, because I didn’t want to intervene in this awkward little situation and neither of you want to see my wrath.”

Jackson sobered and nodded. “She’s not kidding. She once hit me over the head with a frying pan.”

Ginny nearly choked on her iced tea. “What? Why would you do that?”

Annie rolled her eyes, absent-mindedly twirling her hair around her finger. “Because he told me my new dress made me look like a carrot.” She smirked and added, “Also, I was ten and had a wicked temper.”

“You did look like a carrot,” Jackson muttered loud enough for her to hear. Annie raised her hand to swat him, but Jackson laughed and jumped to his feet, dodging the playful slap. “I’ll get you an iced tea.”

“Good idea,” Annie returned lightly, watching him go. As soon as he was out of ear shot, Annie whirled to face Ginny, her eyes wide with concern. “So he honestly apologized? Things are good?”

Ginny nodded, startled by Annie’s energy. She forgot how chipper Annie always was in any situation and it was a little strange after being away from it for so long. “Yeah, he apologized, we’re good.”

Annie beamed. “Good. I’d beat him again with a frying pan if he didn’t. This whole thing was just ridiculous and I still can’t believe how he acted.” She dug her phone out of her bag and shoved it under Ginny’s nose. “On another note, just look at what Pat texted me last night. What does this even mean?!”

Chuckling at her sudden change of topic, she turned her attention to the cell phone that Annie held out. The next several minutes were spent dissecting Patrick’s text messages, which Annie said were vague and she worried that he was losing interest already. When Jackson returned with the iced tea, he scoffed at Annie’s panic and told her to stop over-analyzing. It resulted in a small, playful fight between her friends, which Ginny watched with great amusement.

In spite of the semi-awkward start to this visit, Ginny felt happy. She’d missed being normal and hanging out with these people. She began to feel a little sad that she’d go away to school and not see them for an entire year until she caught Jackson sneaking a glance at her. The year would be good for him, especially if he was serious about this Clare-person. He clearly needed time to start over and forget Sarah altogether. Hopefully Clare made him happy enough that he’d finally be able to move on. If Jackson could move on, then friendship was entirely possible.

Jackson started a conversation about the stress of picking a university after high school and he asked Ginny what she wanted to do after school. Feeling a little flustered again by their cultural differences, Ginny replied that she wasn’t sure, but she was thinking of getting a job.

“I might get a job,” Annie chimed in seriously. “Let me know where you decide to apply! Maybe we can work together!”

Jackson smirked. “Good luck, Ginny. Don’t apply to any shoe shops or cosmetic stores if you want to avoid her.”

“What makes you think I want to work at places like those?” Annie asked, folding her arms across her chest. “I really want to work at the veterinarian clinic, not selling shoes. If I worked in retail, I’d be spending more money than I made for sure. Besides, I really want to work with animals one day.”

“That would be cool,” Ginny commented before Jackson could line up another jab. She was pretty sure a veterinarian was a doctor for animals, but she clarified before she could help herself. “Like pets and stuff?”

“Yeah! I think I’d really love that.”

Luckily, Jackson and Annie missed the clarification. “You’d be good at it,” Ginny agreed encouragingly.

“Thanks, Gin!” She clicked a button on her cell phone so the time appeared on the screen. “Can we order some food? I’m starving!”

“Yeah, me too,” Jackson agreed, getting to his feet. “I’ll grab some menus.”

He returned within seconds holding menus and he distributed them. Having a very limited amount of muggle money on her, Ginny decided on just a hamburger. While her friends pondered over the menu, Ginny excused herself to use the washroom.

With the door closed, she moved to the sink first to check her appearance. She flattened the flyaway hair on the top of her head and stared at her reflection, suddenly realizing that she was waiting for the mirror to scold her for not running a brush through her hair more often. The muggle world was so strange sometimes–she was certainly glad that the wizarding world made life interesting. Mirrors were supposed to lecture you, hands should not be dried under a noisy, hot-air dryer and muggles needed to serve butterbeer. Iced tea was nice, but it didn’t have whipped cream and it didn’t make you feel all lovely and happy inside.

After doing her business, she washed her hands and made a face at herself in the mirror before heading back to the table. She was about to sit down when Jackson gestured with his hand, knocking her purse out of her hand. Annie laughed at Jackson’s lack of grace and told him he was lucky it was Ginny’s bag and not the waitress with a tray of food.

“Sorry, Gin,” he told her sheepishly.

Ginny chuckled and told him not to worry. She bent down to pick it up, grateful that her wand didn’t roll out onto the floor for her friends to see. She was just about to straighten when her eyes flickered to someone walking slowly past the cafe, dressed in all black. Ginny slid into her seat but paused to turn back around, feeling as if something was off. It was then that she noticed the person was wearing a black cloak–and had moved into the street, facing the cafe window. A wave of terror washed over her as the masked figure raised their wand and their lips moved to mouth a curse she couldn’t hear.

“NO!” Ginny screamed, plunging her hand into her purse digging for her wand. Annie, Jackson and all the other customers jumped in their seats and stared at her. Ginny had just closed her palm around the cool wood when the explosion shook the entire caf and knocked Ginny off her feet.

The glass exploded into a million shards and rained down on the occupants of the caf with a deafening crash, adding to the sounds of splintering wood, shattering cups, and the bangs of tables and chairs that blew out of the way. Ginny and her friends were thrown to the floor and buried under the debris of the diner. When the diner stopped exploding, the moaning, crying and terrified sobs began. Ginny clutched her wand in one trembling hand and pushed the remains of a table off her with the other, looking around desperately for her friends. Jackson had dropped to the ground, his arms over his head and when the caf stopped raining glass, he lifted his head with a moan. Annie lay collapsed underneath what used to be two chairs, a table, and a portion of the ceiling.

“Annie!” Jackson yelped to Ginny’s right, wiping blood off his head as he reached for Annie who was lying still under the rubble.

Ginny forced herself to breathe and to remain calm. “Keep her safe,” she hissed to Jackson, grateful that he could stay here and protect her. Turning her eyes toward the window, she added in a shaking voice, “And stay down, whatever happens.”

Jackson stared at her, wide-eyed, afraid and confused. “What are you going to do? Ginny, don’t! They’ll kill you!” He made to stop her when she raised herself up on her knees, wincing as she knelt into something sharp.

“Miss Weasley!” Called a cheerful, but cold voice. “Stand up nice and slow, if you would. No need for us to knock down the whole building with all these poor muggles inside.”

“We’ll do it if we ‘ave to, lovely,” added the second menacingly. “Come out ‘ere and show us yer pretty face.”

Feeling sick to her stomach, she forced herself to ignore Jackson’s death grip on her arm. Ginny took a breath to steady herself, her mind reeling. What was she supposed to do? She needed to contact the Aurors somehow, but how would she do that? And how was she supposed to protect her friends? She needed to lure these Death Eaters away somehow…

“We can see you, lovely. Stand up now, thank you. Or we kill the muggles, starting with the handsome young gent next to you.”

“NO!” Jackson snapped furiously, interrupting her thoughts. “Don’t go out there! Why do they want you?”

“It’s okay,” she managed to say in a braver voice than how she felt. “Just stay here with Annie.” Her voice broke as she took in Annie’s still form in Jackson’s arms. Annie was bleeding profusely somewhere, forming a small puddle on the floor. She pried Jackson’s hand off her arm, which probably shouldn’t have been so easy, except he released her as if he’d been burned.

Two diner occupants got to their feet across the room, their clothes partially coated in debris that had blown onto them. “What do you want? Who the hell do you think you are, blowing up a shop?!”

Then, out of nowhere, someone amidst the rubble tossed something that looked like a piece of cement that had blasted from the wall. It slammed into one of the Death Eater’s legs and he shouted out in agony. Cursing, his partner raised his wand and lit up the remnants of the shop with a blast of green light, knocking out the man who had dared to shout at him.

“Now then, Miss Weasley,” called the Death Eater who’d been hit, his voice angrier this time. “Tick tock, lovely, we’ve got a schedule!”

“Ginny,” Jackson moaned, his face pleading. “Don’t go.”

Ginny couldn’t find her voice to say anything to him, even if she had anything reassuring to say. No one else knew but her who these people were, what they wanted, and what they were capable of. No one knew how a beam of green light could strike a man dead, and no one knew that they could wipe everyone out with a wave of their hand. No, she had to go–it was only right when she at least had a small chance of defending herself and everyone else.

Unwilling to disapparate and risk the Death Eaters taking their fury out on her friends and unable to see any other choice, Ginny got slowly to her feet, her heart hammering loudly in her chest. The masked figures called out to her again, but Ginny was only barely able to comprehend the sound of their voices over the sounds of the injured, the crying, and the distant sound of panic and terror. As she moved to the door, careful not to make any sudden movements and keeping her wand clutched at her side, she briefly wished for the first time that Harry had stopped her from going into the village without him, but moreover, she wished that Harry’s kiss goodbye had lasted a bit longer this morning.

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Chapter 12: Chapter 12: Revenge

Author's Notes: Thank you for all your thoughts and comments!!! I appreciate each and every one of them and hope you're looking forward to this chapter. (I do apologize for the cliffhanger, but I didn't want to break this chapter up). I also want to offer a fair warning that this chapter is much darker than the others, and may contain some content that younger readers may find disturbing.

On a happier note, I hope you enjoy this update! Thank you again, lovely readers, and I hope you enjoy Chapter Twelve: Revenge.


Chapter 12: Revenge

Forcing herself to move toward the Death Eaters was no easy feat. This was made especially difficult with her mind overwhelmed with panic, fear and a desperate need to find a way to save herself, her friends and as many muggles as she could. She recognized that she was only one witch versus two wizards, but she still had to try.

In the sunlight, she could see that most muggles had taken cover, or were at least running indoors. She was vaguely aware of the soft sobs and murmuring of those behind her in the diner, but she didn’t look back. She wasn’t sure she could look at Jackson’s face or see Annie’s limp body without breaking down. Annie and Jackson needed her to stay strong and keep a clear head. After all, they’d been hurt by being her friend; she was partly to blame.

“That’s it, lovely, just come out here.”

“She is lovely, ain’t she?” Cackled the shorter Death Eater, his mouth twisting into an awful smile that made her blood turn cold. “I don’t blame Potter for loving a pretty thing like you.”

“What do you want?” Ginny demanded, keeping a firm grip on her wand in case she needed to block any spells they tried to hit her with.

“Revenge,” the first Death Eater replied coolly, flicking his wand in her direction. “You see, we’ve had our entire lives destroyed by your boyfriend. We figure we could at least inflict a little pain to try and compensate for his ruining everything.”

“Could we have a little fun with her first?” The other asked, still smiling at her in that same sickly way. Ginny was unable to react when he suddenly lunged forward and caught her neck, dragging her forward.

Cold terror filled her as she was slammed against the Death Eater. He chuckled as he turned his nose into her hair, inhaling deeply. His free hand slid slowly up her arm and Ginny closed her eyes, a sob escaping her before she could stop herself. No, she wouldn’t let him hurt her.

And then, quite suddenly, she was released and shoved roughly away. Ginny whipped around in time to see the first Death Eater raise his wand. Luckily, she was faster and blasted apart the ropes he likely intended to tie her up with.

Anger and resentment gave her the courage to retaliate. “Expelliarmus! Stupefy!”

The stunning spell made contact with the second Death Eater and he collapsed in a heap, but the other managed to block her disarming spell.

“Don’t be difficult!”

Ginny backed away several steps and fired a number of spells toward the Death Eater, all of which he dodged or blocked, but his expression grew hard and frustrated and this gave her more strength to fight back. She refused to be an easy target; she’d been in Dumledore’s Army and she’d survived the Battle of Hogwarts. She wouldn’t let them just take her–she’d fight with everything she had.

In another round of spells, she managed to trip and bind him and it was then that Ginny started to run, praying that the binding jinx held. Disapparating was her first instinct, but she was sure they’d kill her friends if she just left. Her only other option was to run and lure them away from the caf so that they’d forget about Annie and Jackson. She planned to disapparate the moment they were out of sight of the caf, hopefully giving Annie and Jackson a better chance.

There was an angry shout behind her, but Ginny didn’t glance around. Urging her legs to move faster, she raced down the street, only to be engulfed in a bright red light that stopped her progress. The light was followed by an agonizing pain that caused her to crumple to the ground with an ear-splitting scream. She’d forgotten how unbearable the Cruciatus Curse was as she screamed and wriggled, attempting to escape from the pain that stabbed every inch of her.

When the curse was finally lifted, Ginny turned her head and blinked the tears from her eyes to see that the shorter Death Eater had woken up and was storming towards her. His mask was missing and he wore a terrifying expression that gave her the strength to want to get up. Ignoring the protest of her muscles, Ginny pulled herself to her knees and picked up her wand before hoisting herself up to her feet.

He raised his wand but this time Ginny dodged the bright steam of red, feeling dizzy at the movement. She knew she needed help and fast. Deciding she had no other choice but to try disapparating from this short distance and hope they left her friends alone, Ginny attempted to disappear.

The Death Eater cackled when she didn’t move and Ginny let out a cry of fear at the realization that they’d put a anti-disapparition spell on the village. She was trapped here until help arrived–if it ever arrived. The only other way out of the village was to run for it, but she wasn’t sure she could make it.

“Stupefy!” Ginny screamed, her voice cracking as she cast the spell. Her body was exhausted and her shaking hand caused the spell to miss by quite a bit.

“There’s no way out but running, and trust me my aim is better than yours!” He taunted. “Crucio!”

“Protego!”

The force of her spell caused the spell to ricochet off the shield and rocket into a nearby building. There was a deafening roar and flames exploded on the building, blasting out windows and the door. Ginny and the Death Eater were momentarily distracted as they shielded themselves with their arms from the blast of flames, smoke and debris. Screaming filled the streets as several muggles burst from the building and ran further down the street.

Seeing opportunity under the protection of the thick, black smoke, Ginny ran for the blazing building. Figuring she could probably run to the Burrow by taking cover in the trees that separated the Burrow from the village, Ginny zigzagged directly into the smoke, dodging the spells that were shot at her back. This was a much longer route back to the Burrow, but she didn’t see another option for escape. It was now or never. Spells flew around her, but the second she got close to the smoke, she knew she would be safe. Casting a Bubble-Head charm to ensure she had a fresh supply of oxygen, she raced through the wreckage, over burning pieces of the roof and through the black smoke that practically blinded her.

When she suddenly slammed into a fence, she cursed and raised her wand to blast it to bits. She was getting out of here no matter how much magic she had to use around the muggles. She took a few steps back and shut her eyes, hoping that blasting an iron face wouldn’t be too dangerous from this distance. Though, if she moved any farther back, her clothes would catch fire.

Shielding her face, she turned her head away and pointed her wand at the fence. The iron gates snapped and shot out from the rest of the fence, leaving a jagged hole for her to climb through. Hurrying forward, she pulled herself through it and started for the trees. For the first time, she felt hope course through her veins. She’d keep to the safety of the tress and cast a Disillusionment Charm on herself as an extra precaution.

Ginny hadn’t taken five steps before a blood-curdling shriek that sounded all too like Annie made her freeze and whip around to face the village with a horrified gasp.

“Annie?” She whispered.

All thoughts of escaping vanished as her mind flew through all the horrifying things they could do to Annie before they killed her. She couldn’t leave if it were Annie–if they were torturing her and Ginny ran anyway, what kind of friend was she? What kind of Gryffindor was she if she ran away? Without another thought, she hurried back toward the village, this time sneaking around the backs of the shops and up an alleyway where she could see the whole street.

What she saw made her stomach churn. The first Death Eater was standing again, his wand trained on the blonde dangling from the flagpole. To Ginny’s horror, it was most definitely Annie. Blood stained her dress, and ran down her arms and dripped onto the street below. Even from her hiding place in the alley, Ginny could hear her sobs for help, but her voice was weak. Repressing the urge to vomit, Ginny spotted the other Death Eater pacing the street.

Anger and the thirst for vengeance welled up within her. She wanted to kill them for doing this. How dare they attack Annie and entire village of muggles! If they wanted to capture Ginny this bad, they could have killed her and been done with it; no one else needed to get hurt. Taking a breath to steady her quivering hand, she aimed her wand and hit the second Death Eater with another stunning spell and then walked boldly out onto the street with only one Death Eater to deal with.

“Let her go!” She shouted at the Death Eater who held Annie up on the flagpole. She was surprised at the strength and fury of her own voice. It didn’t at all match how exhausted and terrified she felt.

“Let her go?” He repeated gleefully. “Why certainly!”

Ginny gasped in horror as the Death Eater turned his wand away and instead trained it on Ginny. Annie screamed again as she was released, but Ginny was able to slow her fall and place her on the ground, though not as gently as she wanted. Ginny had no idea where Jackson was, but she hoped that he wouldn’t be so stupid as to present himself as another target. Ginny was only partially certain that they’d leave Annie alone now that she had shown herself.

Just as she shifted her gaze to the Death Eater, a jinx hit her in the side and pain ripped through her abdomen and back, her free hand clutching her stomach where it ached as she stumbled back a few feet. Fortunately, it wasn’t half as bad as the Cruciatus Curse. Furious and desperate to end this, she fired a jet of green light from her wand–something she’d only done once during the Battle of Hogwarts.

The spell missed its target by an inch. “Stupid girl!” Hissed the Death Eater.

“Why are you doing this? All this for revenge? Killing me will only get you locked up faster!” Ginny demanded, breathing heavily. “Showing yourselves was very risky… the Aurors are on their way.”

He laughed, but his face was still incredibly angry. “I don’t think they are… it’ll take a while before the Ministry is notified that a muggle village is under siege. And by that time, you’ll be dead. And as for getting caught, it doesn’t matter. As long as we send a message to Potter, the Ministry and the rest of the world that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s supporters are still powerful! Avada kedavra!”

“Expelliarmus!”

Both spells missed. “So you share Potter’s specialty, do you? I’m here to kill, so you’ll need to do better than disarming and stunning. Let’s see that killing curse again!”

Refusing to be bothered by his taunts, she aimed her wand at the cement beneath him. There were other ways to beat him without resorting to murder. “Reducto!” The ground beneath him was blasted open and he fell into the gaping ditch in the ground with an angry scream. Having bought herself some time, though she doubted it was much, Ginny began to run again.

She hadn’t gone more than a few feet before an electric current wound up her leg and abdomen like a snake and wrapped tightly around her arms and legs, burning her skin and sending repeated shocks through her body. She collapsed and slid forward a few feet, her face sliding painfully against the cement. Thankfully, she hadn’t dropped her wand, albeit her arms were trapped uselessly at her side. The pain was unbelievable as the snake-like electric rope burned her over and over again.

Unable to believe that after all she had survived, she was being defeated like this–tortured like a helpless animal. They didn’t want to fight fairly or win by skill; they wanted to kill her in the most humiliating fashion possible. Fear and rage exploded within her and somehow, she managed to throw whatever curse it was off her. She aimed her wand with her aching, burning right arm and hit her pursuer with a stunning spell. He retaliated again, but this time she managed to propel her shield charm large enough to protect her from this spell, though not from the next.

“Expelliarmus!”

Her wand was tugged from her fingers and Ginny was forced to watch as her only method of defence was taken from her. Helpless and terrified, she watched as the Death Eater caught it with an evil smirk. Thankfully, the first Death Eater one had been momentarily taken out of the fight by the crack in the ground, but apparently nothing could keep his friend down.

“You’re talented… but not quite as talented as your boyfriend. Avada kedavra!”

The killing curse missed, but not by much. There was a loud shout of fury as the first Death Eater clamoured from the hole in the ground, his robes stained with blood. He looked exhausted, but he stood on his feet and shouted something to his companion. Suddenly, a jet of red light streaked from behind Ginny, knocking the injured Death Eater several feet down the street and landing roughly against a parked car. Ginny looked around for her saviour and nearly sobbed in relief to see Hermione racing toward her. With a quick flick of her wand, she sent Ginny’s wand flying back toward her.

Ginny caught her wand with a moan of relief. “Are you okay?” Hermione called worriedly.

Nodding once, she turned back to the Death Eater. “Yeah.”

Hermione lifted an icy, brave glare to the shorter Death Eater. “The Ministry has been notified. Leave now!”

The Death Eater didn’t respond. Hermione’s demand was ignored. Instead he turned his wand on Hermione and Ginny and began duelling twice as hard. Ginny barely registered the way Hermione duelled with precision, varying her spells and taking careful aim. Ginny tried not to be disheartened by the fact that even with the two of them, the Death Eater was still putting up a fight.

The burning building’s flames grew brighter in intensity as they fought and Ginny wasn’t sure how long they’d been duelling when the building gave a loud bang and it suddenly collapsed, shooting fire and sparks as the foundations gave out. The distraction stopped all three duellers and Ginny had just raised her wand when her stomach sank at Hermione’s high-pitched scream and she whirled in time to watch her friend fall to the ground and stay there. She turned her head a fraction of an inch and nearly missed the sight of a brick that was hurled at the head of the Death Eater who’d been knocked out only several minutes before, who must have hit Hermione with a spell. He was now unconscious again beside the car, hopefully for good this time.

The other Death Eater hadn’t been distracted by the brick that slammed into his friend’s head. He made use of Ginny’s distraction and hit her with a spell that sent her flying sideways into the wall of a shop. As she slid to the pavement, the pain that erupted from every bone in her body made her feel sick and dizzy as it threatened to make her pass out. However, some part of her mind knew that she was in more danger by lying there, and she forced herself to her knees in spite of her body’s protests. Leaning against the wall, nausea got the best of her and she vomited heavily, her vision swimming. Her unfocused eyes dropped to the scarlet of her shirt and one hand shakily dropped to touch her abdomen, finding it was wet and warm with fresh blood.

“Bastard!” Ginny heard Jackson shouting, his voice somewhere close by. There was another male cry of pain and Ginny closed her eyes, leaning her pounding head against the wall.

Come on, Ginny, you can’t give up now, she coaxed herself anxiously. Get up.

“Ginny!” Jackson yelling anxiously, his hands grabbing her shoulders. “You need to get up. You need to move!”

Ginny tried to tell him she was trying, but even lifting her head to talk to him and meet his eyes made her feel ill.

“Wand?” She managed to get out, hoping he knew what she meant.

“Here,” he said gruffly, shoving the cool wood into her hand. Without waiting for her, he tugged her to her feet and pulled her forward a few steps. Ginny resisted the urge to vomit again as she allowed him to move her, grateful that he was still alive and willing to help her.

“Get her out of here!” Hermione shouted, and Ginny felt a moment’s relief that Hermione hadn’t been hurt after all.

“Ginny, you’re bleeding,” Jackson moaned, tightening his grip on her as he trudged forward.

Recalling that she had seen her shirt covered in blood, she pointed her wand at herself and made bandages shoot from her wand and wrap themselves tightly around her middle. To her surprise, she found some relief in the bindings that would at least stop some of the bleeding. Taking a deep breath, she looked around for Hermione, straining her eyes to get past the blurred vision caused by being thrown into a brick wall.

There was a shout of fury, and then a Death Eater yelled, “NO! Do it! NOW!”

Knowing that she was about to die, Ginny pushed away from Jackson to protect him and raised her wand to defend herself. If she was going to die today, she’d die from injuries, and not in one small moment of being hit with a curse.

“AVADA KEDAVRA!”

To be in direct line of the killing curse was something she would never forget. The green light was mystifying in a way-- it stopped time and filled her world with the terrible brightness. Within a second, the green light was replaced with the warm sunlight and Ginny was being dragged to the ground under Jackson’s weight.

Jets of red, purple and yellow lights were suddenly flying in every direction on the street, but Ginny was barely able to comprehend that help had come at last. Tears were falling down her cheeks as she managed to roll out from under Jackson and grip his shoulders, half-lying on top of him since she couldn’t keep herself upright.

Her voice sounded far-off even to her own ears as she called Jackson’s name. Her whole body shook as the tears streamed from her eyes and blurred her already unfocused vision. Jackson couldn’t be dead-- he could not die for her. Her quivering hands slid to his neck to find a pulse and when she felt nothing, she gripped his face again, pleading for him to wake up.

“Jackson!” She screamed louder, blinking back the tears that would not stop coming.

“No, no, no, no.” Where was her wand? She had to try and wake him up. Enervate. The spell was so simple. Where was her wand?

Another wave of nausea washed over her as her ears began to ring. Giving into a subconscious desire to lie down, she dropped on top of him, letting the tears fall onto his dirty, bloodstained shirt. She wished she knew CPR–muggle first aid skills might help–didn’t anyone ever try muggle first aid when the killing curse was used? CPR would restart the heart– Hermione had taught her that once.

“Ginny Weasley,” said a new voice, hands touching her back gently, but Ginny gripped Jackson’s shirt tighter and kept all her weight trained down. They would not move her, not until someone helped Jackson. She could wait–Jackson needed help now. “Ginny, can you open your eyes? Can you feel this? Can you hear me?”

But Ginny felt nothing except for the crushing realization that Jackson was dead. Dead because of her; dead because the Death Eaters found her and killed Jackson because she tried to run away.

“Harry! Harry, she’s here!” She recognized Ron’s voice above the ringing of her ears and an awful blaring noise-- muggle sirens, perhaps? Ron was talking, whether to her or someone else, she didn’t know or care.

She became aware of a wetness beneath her cheek against Jackson’s chest and by the warmth, she knew it was blood. Was it hers or Jackson’s?

“Wait, Potter might not want to see–”

“Is she alive?” This voice was Harry’s voice without a doubt, but Ginny couldn’t meet his eyes and face the truth of what had happened.

His question slowly registered in her brain as she closed her eyes. Was she alive? That was a fair question, since she certainly didn’t feel anything close to being alive. Ginny wondered at the question as she lay draped over Jackson’s body, crying and barely able to breathe. No matter how many times she tried to breathe in, the air just didn’t want to come. Perhaps she would die here like this. After all, she’d been hit with a lot of spells and been thrown into a brick wall. Then there was all the blood that could be hers…

Someone touched her shoulder and she cringed away from the firm touch, burying her face in Jackson’s shirt. The hands became more demanding and tightened on her shoulders as they tried to coax her to sit up. When she wouldn’t listen, more hands were touching her arms, her back, her abdomen, her head, and every other part of her, but she didn’t know why. The feeling of those invasive hands made her feel guiltier and more nauseous. Had the Death Eater gotten to her at last? Would he touch her with those awful hands and kiss her before he killed her?

“NO!” Ginny shouted in a strangled voice, attempting to squirm away from the hands.

“Move!” Harry yelled. “Let me through!”

Harry’s voice was murderous and Ginny lifted her eyes in shock to hear him yell like that. Whoever had been trying to lift her up released her and new, gentler hands touched her shoulders and gently tried to make her sit up. Harry’s voice softened when he spoke to her, which was good since she couldn’t take anyone yelling or making her feel worse than she already felt. Moving her eyes up to Harry’s face, she was almost glad that all she could make out of his features was his messy black hair. The world spun around Harry’s blurred figure.

“Ginny! Ginny, look at me, please. Can you look at me? You need to let Jackson go.”

Could they help Jackson if she let him go? Could they reverse the killing curse? Harry had survived it, but he was the only one. A fresh wave of tears spilt down her cheeks and a sob erupted from her when another pair of hands suddenly and roughly pulled her away from Jackson. Feeling as if she were being torn from apart of herself, she screamed, her hands desperately reaching for Jackson. She had to say goodbye–she needed to tell him she was sorry. Managing to grab onto Jackson’s hand, she felt comforted in the warmth of it. Dead people didn’t have warm hands, did they? But no, he was dead– she had seen the green light.

Her shaking hands somehow managed to touch his face and she turned his head towards her so she could see his face. His eyes were open, lifeless and haunting. Repulsed by the shocking image of death and her own mental inability to accept that he was gone, Ginny instead reached for his hand again. She didn’t want to look at him anymore, but she didn’t want to leave him. This was her fault. And where was Annie? Was Annie okay?

“Get her on a stretcher, too!” Ron was shouting. “Can’t you lot see she’s hurt?”

“Ginny,” coaxed Harry in a broken voice. “Ginny, you need to go to St. Mungo’s. There’s nothing you can do for him. Let’s get you help.”

The tears were still falling down her face as she reluctantly dropped Jackson’s hand and closed her eyes. Feeling broken both inside and out, she fell limp into a pair of arms that caught her. She wished the guilt and the pain would swallow her up so that she wouldn’t have to face everything later. Ron moved into her line of sight and he began talking to her, but she couldn’t hear him, or perhaps she could, but her mind didn’t want to hear him. She couldn’t keep her eyes on her brother when they scooped up Jackson’s body and moved it away from her. Ginny had a blurred vision of Jackson cradled in the arms of a burly-looking Auror as he waited to rest the body on a stretcher. Jackson looked so much like Harry in the man’s arms; the sight made her absolutely sick.

Where was Harry? It took several seconds to find him again, but he did not look happy. Whether he was mad at her or just angry in general, she couldn’t tell. He was talking quickly to another Auror, pointing out into the street. Harry was alive; he’d fought so much harder than she’d fought today. He’d defended his friends and killed the most evil wizard of all time. Today, she’d let Jackson down and she wasn’t sure she’d saved herself.

Ron pulled her to her feet and wrapped his arms around her. Ginny turned into her brother’s embrace, no longer wanting to see the body that she knew was Jackson’s, but that looked like Harry’s. The world was spinning and it was becoming hard to pull air into her lungs. Her stomach burned terribly and she lifted her shaking hand to touch the spot where it hurt–her shirt was soaked with blood.

“Ginny?” Ron’s voice said. He murmured something unintelligible, but she managed to pick out Harry’s name somewhere in the muddle of words. Closing her eyes, she gave into the pounding of her head, the dizziness and the sudden desire she had to sleep.

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Chapter 13: Chapter 13: St. Mungo's

Author's Notes: And here we go for another update :). I'm probably taking a short writing break for a few weeks just so I can wrap up my final assignments of my undergraduate career, and to get settled into work. Thanks again to everyone who has taken the time to review! Without further ado, here's chapter thirteen.


It was the soft sounds of passing footsteps and murmuring voices that slowly roused Ginny from sleep. Taking a deep breath, she opened her eyes. Shifting her head on the pillow, she froze when the movement triggered a sharp pain in her head. As she stared at the white ceiling above her, her mind shifted through her memories until she remembered where she was. The memory of the green flash of light startled her and a soft sob escaped her. Jackson was dead, Annie had been badly hurt, and half the village had been blown apart by Death Eaters who had come to kill her.

She remembered feeling sick and dizzy and she remembered a lot of shouting. It occurred to her that this was first time since the street that she’d been able to see without blurred vision and this, at least, was a huge relief. She recalled being thrown into a brick wall, which had probably given her a bad concussion. As the tears stopped, she sighed, grateful that she’d survived. Her brain felt fuzzy as she tried to put her memories back into a logical order, but things a bit out of order and dream-like until she remembered the burly Auror lifting up a dark-haired teenager that was Jackson, but was so much like her memory of Hagrid holding Harry that it made her feel ill just to think about it.

Another sob escaped her as her memory brought her back to that flash of green light and the feel of Jackson’s weight pulling her down to the concrete. It was unfair that he had to die for her, especially so soon after she had made things up with him. He’d died protecting her and while she’d lived through a lot of heroism at the Battle of Hogwarts, it was hard to accept that Jackson had chosen to die for her.

“Ginny!”

Ginny turned her head sharply to see a door to her right open and Hermione hurrying in, looking perfectly healthy. “How are you?”

Hermione bent to give her a careful hug and then perched herself on her bedside looking concerned. Ginny debated the question groggily, feeling too out of it to decide on one answer. How was she? For starters, she felt tired. Also, scared, hurting, guilt-ridden, miserable, confused, anxious, and one million other things that were not even close to defining her as being ‘good.’

“Jackson’s dead?” She asked, her voice thick from crying. She already knew the answer, but her memory of the flash of green light and watching the Aurors pick up Jackson’s body seemed too surreal to be true. Jackson didn’t belong in her world–how could he die apart of a world he wasn’t a part of? How was it possible that one moment she’d been worrying about jealousy and Jackson’s friendship and the next, she had to watch him take the killing curse for her?

Hermione’s face fell and she nodded. “I’m so sorry, Ginny.”

Tears welled up in her eyes again, but Ginny wiped them away with a shaking hand. She met Hermione’s worried eyes and took a deep breath to calm herself. She didn’t want to fall to pieces here–not in front of Hermione, or anyone else who could walk in. “It wasn’t your fault, Hermione. Thank you for coming when you did. You saved my life. You were the one who called the Aurors?”

“Yes, right after I saw the smoke coming from the village. I could hear the screaming from the garden, so I used the Floo to contact the Aurors’ office and then ran out the door to find you. I disapparated to the edge of the village when I couldn’t disapparate directly onto the street. I suppose they must have cast an anti-disapparition charm on the village.”

“They did,” Ginny confirmed. She shifted uncomfortably on the bed, but the action caused a sharp pain in her abdomen. She lifted her blankets to peer at the bandages wrapped around her middle. “What’s wrong with me?” She had a vivid memory of hitting a brick wall and then vomiting everywhere, but she didn’t feel quite as broken as she remembered. She hoped to God that she wasn’t paralyzed or somehow had her life greatly diminished by a couple of stupid Death Eaters.

“You were in bad shape, but you’re loads better now. You broke two ribs and fractured your skull. You also lost a lot of blood from your abdomen, chest and back, plus you had a few cuts on your legs and a big scrape on your face.”

Ginny raised her hands to touch her head, but found no bandages and no sign of a mark. She ran her hands through her hair to find the source of the pain she’d felt earlier, wincing when she found a tender spot at the back of her head. Her fingers found a small lump on her scalp, but no sign of a cut. She then touched her face, but found that that was already healed. Upon examining her arms and legs, she found a few minor bruises and a various scabs on her legs that had already healed.

Hermione watched her assess the damages, adding, “They healed the injuries you didn’t get from curses within a few minutes. Apparently, your skull fracture was pretty small, so it healed over quite quickly. They gave you a lot of healing potion, plus a strong sleeping potion. They didn’t think you’d have any lasting damage from the head injury, but they said they’d test you when you woke up.”

“And my stomach?” She asked, touching her bandaged middle experimentally to see if it ached at all. She quickly retracted her hand when pain immediately flared to life under her touch.

“You got hit with a curse sort of like the one Harry once used on Malfoy in our sixth year, but not as brutal. It still did a lot of damage and you lost a lot of blood. Not to mention you were thrown into a wall and had a serious head injury…”

Ginny suddenly flashed back to the street where she realized her shirt was stained with blood. She didn’t recall feeling horrible pain, but she supposed that her desire to survive had pushed through the pain. “Oh,” she murmured. “How long have I been out?”

“Only a day… it’s ten-thirty in the morning. How are you feeling? I know emotionally, you must be a mess, but physically? Are you in a lot of pain?”

“No,” she admitted gratefully, stretching carefully. Perhaps a little stiff, and her stomach and head hurt, but nothing she couldn’t tolerate considering the extent of her injuries. And anyway, she didn’t care about her injuries knowing that Jackson was dead. And what happened to Annie? She was afraid to ask, but the question burned in her mind. And what would they tell Jackson’s family? Was she in any trouble for having used so much magic in a muggle settlement? Had they been able to adjust the memories of those who had witnessed it?

Hermione glanced at her watch. “Everyone just stepped out for something to eat. Harry’s been storming in and out of here every hour. He should be back soon, though.” She glanced at the door, as if expecting Harry to charge through it at any moment.

This bit of information triggered a fuzzy memory of Harry sounding livid as she laid on top of Jackson’s body. Harry hadn’t wanted her in the village at all, and he always got so upset when anyone was put into danger because of him. She just dreaded seeing him come in here, angry about her being hurt and about the Death Eaters. She didn’t have it in her to try and calm him down, or to feel much anger herself when all she felt was sadness and guilt over her friend.

Trying to sound nonchalant, she asked, “Is he angry with me?”

Hermione seemed taken aback by the question. “Angry with you?” Hermione repeated, startled. “No! He’s just…” Hermione trailed off, sounding exasperated. “You wouldn’t believe the security on this floor, right now. He’s gone a little mad. Even Ron, who agrees that you need protection right now, thinks Harry’s gone a bit overboard. He’s not even a proper Auror yet and he’s given orders to the entire fleet.”

Hermione gave a small smile and leaned in before adding, “And he’s never exercised his ‘I’m the-boy-who-lived and the chosen one’ titles before. That’s how you know he’s completely lost his head.”

The thought of Harry getting so worked up over a few injuries made her feel ill. Deciding to change the subject to calm her racing heart, she looked Hermione up and down to search for sign of injury on her.

“Are you okay? Were you hurt?”

Hermione shook her head. “Not really, but I wasn’t there for long.”

Ginny nodded and rubbed her stiff neck absent-mindedly. “You’ll need to teach me how to duel better so I don’t end up this bad of shape again.”

Hermione did not look amused at her attempt to keep it light. “Ginny, you did incredibly well in that village. Don’t even think for a moment that you could have done more. The Aurors are impressed that you lasted as long as you did, not to mention that you survived at all.” She hesitated, and then added, “And as for your friends… well, there’s nothing that could have predicted they’d get targeted by Death Eaters, or that you could have done anything more to protect yourself and two others while duelling two Death Eaters.”

Suddenly, there were voices right outside her door and Ginny found herself suddenly very anxious to have her whole family swarming in here just yet. She was a mix of emotions, and behind her slight feelings of anxiety, there was a desperate need to cry for Jackson. She wanted to grieve for her friend and she wanted time to understand and accept what had happened.

“Is the whole family here?”

“Yes, but not here at the hospital. Bill was here this morning and Percy has been in and out. Everyone’s been so worried about you.”

The mere thought of having more than a few people in her room at a time made her nauseous. “Can you tell them I don’t want a scene? Not everyone in here at once? Maybe just Mum and Dad, and you and Ron for now?”

Hermione nodded and stood to pass on the message. “There’s no one else at the hospital right now anyway, but I’ll tell your Mum just in case they show up.” She paused near the door, however, her expression suddenly nervous. “And what about Harry? I’m just going to warn you now that even if you don’t want him in here, it won’t matter. He’d break down this door and refuse everyone else entry.”

Feeling a little guilty at her lack of a desire to see Harry right at this moment, she forced herself to nod anyway. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to see him, it was just that she was terrified of what he thought of the whole situation, and more than that, she had an awful feeling that this was going to drive a wedge between them, especially since he did not want her in the village at all. If Harry was as riled up as Hermione said, she wasn’t sure she could handle him–she was on the verge of a breakdown, and if Harry was even the least bit upset, she was sure she’d fall to pieces.

“Harry, too, of course,” she replied, only sounding a tad unsure.

As Hermione hurried out into the hall, Ginny listened to the voices in the hall as she stared at the white ceiling, feeling–what? Pain, for the most part, but there was something else–something that made her feel almost empty inside. The small rational voice in her mind told her that it was normal to feel so horrible after someone dies. After all, it was very similar to the feeling she’d had after Fred’s death, and long after the Battle of Hogwarts.

The door suddenly opened and her parents came in, followed closely by Ron and Hermione. Molly hurried over to her, bursting into tears as she approached. Suddenly, Ginny found herself being practically smothered by her mother, who sobbed into her daughter’s shoulder. Once her dad had pulled her mother away, he bent down to give her a tender hug and a kiss on the cheek, murmuring that he was happy to see her awake.

“I’m okay,” she tried to reassure them, figuring that everything aside, she was okay. She was alive, and all things considered, she wasn’t badly hurt. ‘Okay’ was probably an acceptable description without pouring out her heart to her mother.

Her mother frowned, stroking her cheek. “Don’t be brave, Ginny. You’ve been through so much, dear. Are you hurt? Oh, I knew going into that village alone wasn’t a good idea.”

Ginny swallowed the urge to cry. “Mum, please don’t lecture me.”

“Lecture you?” Mrs. Weasley exclaimed hysterically. “Ginny, I’d n-never… not when you’re so…” she broke off, half-turning into her husband’s arms.

Feeling suddenly guilty for upsetting her mother, she decided to change the topic. “Did they catch the Death Eaters who did this?”

“Yes,” her father replied gravely. “We have that to be grateful for. Harry’s on the warpath to push their trials forward. He’s worried about copycats and about letting this type of rebellion-idea spread.”

Molly swatted at her husband. “Arthur, don’t tell her that!”

Ginny considered this piece of news. So she was still in danger? “Harry’s worried that others might try to hurt me? Why? Because those Death Eaters failed?”

“No,” Molly said, a little too sharply. “He just doesn’t want anyone to get any ideas about any kind of rebellion, not specifically against you.” And then suddenly, she smiled. “It’s sweet to see how much he cares about you, Ginny, dear. You should see the security in St. Mungo’s, right now.”

“Although there’s no one guarding the rest of the wizarding world,” Ron chimed in dryly.

Great, so Harry had stationed the entire Auror force outside her door. Pushing past this, she moved to her next pressing question. “What about the village?” Ginny asked.

“I’m not sure what’s going on,” her father answered honestly. “Harry will tell you, I’m sure. You can ask him when you see him.”

“Your friend Annie is recovering in a private room a few doors down,” her mother told Ginny gently, settling down in a chair she’d conjured to sit by her daughter and hold her hand and stroke her hair.

“Annie is here?” Ginny practically squawked, grabbing her sheets and tossing them aside to get out of bed. However, the second she tried to sit up, a powerful wave of nausea and a fresh burst of pain stopped her. She sank back toward the mattress with a soft cry of surprise at how much sitting up had hurt.

“Don’t you even think of getting up,” her mother scolded, helping her back into bed and under the sheets. “Annie is sleeping, anyway. She’s fine and they’ve fixed her all up. I’m sure they’ll let you see her before she’s discharged. Anyway, she’s been put under a sleeping draught so she doesn’t have to suffer while she waits for you.”

Well, that was good news at least. Annie was alive and well, and sleeping just next door.

“Why isn’t she in a muggle hospital if she’s fine?” Ginny asked confusedly. “Why would they bring her here? And what do you mean ‘so she won’t suffer?’”

“She’s seen so much, Ginny,” her father reminded her gravely. “And she’s lost her friend in a tragic accident that she doesn’t understand. The Ministry can’t have her wandering around St. Mungo’s, either.”

Her mother patted her hand, her expression soft. “And there’s something else we should tell you. Ginny, you know that under the law, muggles aren’t allowed to know about us. Harry’s bent the law enough to have her stay here while she waits for you, but after you two have a chance to say goodbye, she’ll have her memories modified and erased.”

“So, she won’t remember what happened today? That’s good.” Then she frowned. “But what about Jackson? How will they explain the fact that her best friend is dead? And how will they explain the state of the village? I should probably know the story just in case I don’t get to talk to her until after they use the Memory Charm.”

Everyone looked to Ron, who shrugged. “Harry will probably know when he gets back. I haven’t heard anything about the story.”

“But I can see her before they wipe her memories?” Ginny asked worriedly.

“Yeah,” Ron answered.

After a long moment, her mother returned to stroking her hair affectionately. “I’m so sorry about your friend Jackson, Ginny. You were very lucky to have such a good friend,”

“I know,” Ginny mumbled weakly.

“A real hero,” her father added somberly. “It’s too bad that more wizards can’t realize that wizards and muggles can form such meaningful friendships with each other.”

No one spoke for a long moment and when Ginny tried to stifle a yawn, her mother kissed her forehead and got to her feet. “You should rest, sweetheart. I’m going to go find a healer to fetch you another sleeping draft. Your body needs more rest.”

“Okay,” she agreed dully. Half of her wanted to protest, but the other half desperately wanted sleep. Truthfully, she wanted to just turn off her brain for a little while and not think about anything. She wanted not to feel for a while–at least until she was awake enough to sort out her thoughts and her feelings.

Her mother located a healer almost immediately and in a matter of minutes, a sleeping draft was pressed into her hand after first having to swallow three other types of healing elixirs and potions. With her stomach full of liquid, she leaned against her pillows and allowed her mother to tuck her under the blankets. She closed her eyes, and let the tug of sleep drag her under to the place where she could hide away from her mind.

*~*

BANG.

Ginny looked up, shielding her face from the debris and the dust that blinded her vision. Somebody’s cold laugh sounded over the screaming, the explosions and the bangs of spells hitting their targets. Ginny turned on her heel and tried to run, though her legs felt like lead and were unable to run fast enough to dodge a jet of purple slight that knocked her sideways.

She was aware of the blood soaking her clothes, but she stood up anyway, terror overriding all other senses. Someone pulled her to her feet — Hermione, with a determined, hardened expression.

“I’ve got you,” she told her in a fierce voice.

“Okay,” she raised her wand and fired a few spells back at her attackers. Giants, spiders, dementors and Death Eaters were still pursuing her, though. The force of the dementors’ presence filled her with an icy coldness.

Suddenly, Jackson was there, holding her free hand. “Fight, Ginny!” Jackson was shouting at her determinedly. “You can do it!”

A giant, who’d randomly appeared too close for comfort, roared murderously and swung a huge club in her direction. Cloaked figures were approaching, killing students and muggles as they pressed forward. Her friends and Aurors were dropping like flies. Ginny turned to run the other way when Hagrid appeared, parting the crowd of allies as he came forward. As always, his huge arms cradled the still-form of Harry in his arms. Great sobs shook his massive shoulders and large tears splashed down his face.

A scream escaped from a deep, horrible place in her chest. “Harry!”

“Ginny, move!” Jackson was shouting in her ear. He pulled her roughly toward him, knocking her out of the way of the killing curse. “I’ve got you!” He told her.

Ginny turned her glassy eyes from Jackson’s face to Hagrid holding Harry and found herself now staring at Jackson’s limp body in Hagrid’s arms. Was it Jackson or Harry? Confused, she turned her head to see Harry standing in front of her, his wand raised.

“EXPECTO PATRONUM!” A beautiful silver stag erupted from his wand, pushing the dementors, and surprisingly, the spiders and giants back as well. He turned his head to look at her, his face dirty and blood stained. “You can’t give up,” he told her. “You can’t ever give up.”

Ginny opened her mouth to tell him that Jackson was dead–that he’d died for Hogwarts, and she wasn’t sure why he was here, but she didn’t get the chance. A deafening bang made the world explode and Ginny felt herself thrust backwards into oblivion, Harry’s hand slipping away from hers in the darkness.

“Ginny?”

The silence of the room in contrast to the noise of the explosion was terrifying in contrast. She found herself sitting up, staring into blackness and in her panicked state, it took her a long moment before she realized that it had been a dream, and it was dark because it was night-time. When she noticed someone moving toward in the darkness, she found herself unable to shout for help. When a light clicked on next to her, she found herself staring into Harry’s illuminated, worried face.

She let out a long sigh of relief, feeling stupid that she’d panicked–she was in St. Mungo’s and hadn’t everyone kept joking how much security Harry had put on the floor? Of course, she was safe.

She ran a still-shaking hand through her hair and lowered herself back to the mattress in attempt to stop her aching abdomen, gently placing her hands on her stomach and willing the pain to go away.

“Hey,” Harry said, sinking into a chair next to her bed. “Sorry if I scared you. You were having a nightmare and I got up to turn on the light and make sure you were okay.”

Still startled, Ginny looked him over, feeling guilty at how tired he looked, and the size of the chairs in the room–sleeping in them couldn’t be comfortable. He had dark circles under his eyes and his face was pale under the light of the lamp. The good news was that he didn’t seem to be in any sort of rage or mad state–he seemed tired and reserved, but not angry.

“You okay?” He asked worriedly when she didn’t speak, his brow furrowing.

Shaking herself out of her thoughts, she nodded rather jerkily. “Just a little shaken up, sorry. I’m okay.”

“That was some nightmare,” he murmured anxiously, searching her face. “They can be pretty vivid… I use to have them all the time. What were you dreaming about?”

His concern and how much he understood how she felt made her feel a tiny bit better. At least, if nothing else, Harry understood how she felt. It was nice to have someone like him in her life so she didn’t have to open up or explain things when she didn’t even understand them. That was one of the perfect things about being with him–he just got it.

Hesitant to relive the dream, she sighed. “Kind of a flashback from the war, but it was different. Jackson was there…” she trailed off, realizing that even saying his name in front of Harry made her feel apprehensive.

“Were you sleeping?” She asked, wanting to change the subject away from her dreams. “Harry, you don’t have to stay here. You can go home and sleep. Besides, I understand you’ve moved the Auror headquarters here,” she told him, trying to keep her voice light.

Harry didn’t smile, though. He merely shrugged and ran a hand through his hair, leaving it messier than it had been before. “I wanted to be here… just in case.”

Ginny didn’t like the conflicted, upset look in his expression. He looked almost lost, like he wasn’t sure what to do or what to say. She was grateful that he wasn’t in whatever raging mood he’d been in earlier, but she didn’t like this reserved, distant one either. She knew that while he wouldn’t voice his thoughts, she was fairly sure that he would be internally blaming himself for this.

She didn’t like the fact that he didn’t seem to want to be close to her, or that he didn’t even sit on her bed like Hermione had. He had taken a seat in the chair at a respectable distance, looking all tormented and exhausted; far from where she could comfort him. Ginny hoped it was the concussion affecting her thinking, but the fear that Harry might end things with them for her own safety began to seem very real to her. If he even suggested anything like that, she wasn’t sure what she would do. She’d already lost her friend today, and she didn’t want to think what kind of a wreck she’d be if she lost him too.

“What time is it?” Ginny asked him, finally breaking the silence. She had to keep him talking if she wanted to get whatever he was thinking out on the table.

“A little after three,” he replied quietly. “Are you still tired?”

The realization that it was three in the morning and that no one had woken her up to say goodbye to Annie jolted her. “But Annie was supposed to be discharged! I didn’t get to talk to her before she left!” It surprised her how fast she was crying at this knowledge, but the tears dripped onto her cheeks and streamed down onto her hospital gown. She’d wanted to take advantage of her only chance to have a real conversation with Annie, and to explain things without having to go along with whatever lie they told her.

Harry shook his head, suddenly panicked by her outburst as if she’d hurt herself. “Don’t worry, she’s still here. I won’t let them clear her memories without letting you two say goodbye.”

In her highly-emotional state, affection for Harry welled up within her and the reassurance that she hadn’t missed her chance, made the tears come. She suspected that her head injury had something to do with her inability to control her emotions. “Thanks,” she replied in a thick voice, unable to say anything else without blubbering.

While trying to regain composure, she also became aware of her desperate need to use the washroom. Spotting a door across the room from her bed that likely led to the loo, she shoved the sheets back.

“What are you doing?” Harry asked suspiciously, holding out his hands like he was going to stop her from getting up.

“I need to use the loo.” She managed to turn her legs over to the edge of the bed, biting her lip against the stinging sensation in her abdomen. It increased when she leaned forwards and slid her feet toward the floor.

“Hold on,” he murmured. His tone indicated he was still a little aggravated, as if he didn’t think using the washroom was a good idea until she was completely healed. Harry slid an arm around her and helped her get to her feet.

Leaning heavily on Harry and remaining bent over to keep the pain to a minimum, she was able to walk. Harry kept a firm grip on her as they walked and when he helped her inside the washroom, he hesitated to release her.

“I’ll be okay, you can go.” The last thing she wanted was for him to have to see her pee–there was something so unromantic and uncomfortable about that that she was sure she could sit down and get back up on her own. There was no way that she was ready to let him be there for such a private thing before they even said ‘I love you.’

“Okay,” he agreed, stepping aside and closing the door for her.

Ginny edged to the sink and caught a look at herself in the mirror. She blanched at how awful she looked–her hair was an absolute disaster, she was pale, no makeup, and wearing an awful green hospital gown. No wonder Harry was being distant–even on her worst day of Quidditch practices, she hadn’t looked this bad. She did her business quickly, washed her hands and then splashed water on her face. She made a brief attempt to to flatten her hair and then sighed when she failed to look like less of an embarrassment.

Opening the door, she was startled to find Harry standing right outside, waiting. He didn’t say a word, but immediately slid an arm around her and helped her back toward the bed. When they stopped at the bed, she was surprised when Harry’s other arm slid under her legs and lifted her carefully onto the bed like a child.

“I hate this,” she muttered grumpily, watching him pull the bed sheets back up and sit back down in the chair.

“You don’t like being taken care of?” Harry asked, a hint of amusement in his voice.

“I broke up with Dean because he kept trying to help me climb through the portrait hole,” she replied irritably. “I hate feeling helpless.”

Something flickered in his expression, but she was unable to determine what it was before his expression turned neutral again.

“How are you feeling? Does it hurt? Should I get the healer to get you another healing draft?”

She supposed people would ask how she was about fifty times a day for the next little while, though she couldn’t really say why this time was funny. It was such a silly question–one that she’d probably have to lie about for the next little while. Not wanting to lie to Harry, she folded her arms with a sigh. “Harry, I’ll be honest with you when I say ‘I feel like shit.’”

This time, he did crack a grin at her half-cheerful bluntness. The tug of his lips seemed to break the ice that made him seem so rigid, and he relaxed his posture. “I think that’s to be expected, but trust me, I see huge improvements from when we brought you in here.”

She made a mental note to ask her family not to show her any pictures that the Prophet might have snapped of her when they brought her into St. Mungo’s. “How are you? Are you okay?”

Another ghost of a smile flashed across his face as he answered her. “I guess I’ll be honest with you too. I also feel like shit, but I guess it’s expected when someone tries to kill someone important to me.”

He did look like shit, but she’d never tell him that. He seriously needed a shower, a change of clothes and a good night’s sleep. Ginny ran her fingers along the bandages across her abdomen absent-mindedly. “Has everyone else gone home?”

Harry nodded. “Visiting hours are over.”

“Breaking the rules, Potter?”

“No one has dared to try and kick me out yet,” he replied coolly. “Besides, it is policy that after something like this happens, you need to be assigned Ministry-protection.”

Great. How long would Aurors be trailing her? And was that why he was still here? Was he just on guard-duty until his shift was up? Hoping to hide her desperation to have him stay here with her, she decided to encourage him to go home. If he left, he was trying to put some distance between them, and if he stayed, she would know he wouldn’t break up with her. It was petty, but she didn’t care–being attacked by Death Eaters seemed like a good excuse to be petty.

“Harry, I’m perfectly safe here. You can go get some sleep, if you want, Harry. You must be exhausted.”

His expression grew dark again, and he spoke with a hint of ferocity in the answer that made her colour. “I can’t go home and leave you here.”

No, I don’t want you to go home either, she thought anxiously. Especially not now that she was awake and could be left alone with her thoughts. Deciding there was nothing else for it, she lifted herself up and reached over for his hand, wincing when her stomach ached in protest of the movement. He frowned at her paining herself and scooted his chair closer, taking her hand in his. His fingers felt cool in her hand, and he didn’t lace his fingers through hers like he normally did. Why was he being so distant? Did he think he was going to hurt her by being close? Or worse, did he want to keep a distance?

“I suppose I should thank you for the DA lessons,” Ginny said, trying to keep things light as she laced her fingers with his, squeezing his hand. He might be trying to put some space between them, but she wasn’t going to give him up without a fight.

“If you didn’t teach us back at school I probably wouldn’t have lasted as long as I did.”

“You don’t need to thank me for that,” he replied in a dull voice. “You should probably be angry with me, though.”

She stared at him, her heart beginning to speed up. “Why would I ever be angry with you? Because of what happened? It wasn’t your fault!”

“They’d do anything to get back at me,” Harry growled, more to himself than to her. “They tried to kill you to hurt me. They killed Jackson, two other muggles and blew up a village.”

Tears stung at her eyes again and she squeezed his hand. Two other muggles had died too?

“Harry, it wasn’t your fault,” she replied, a little shrilly. She tried to tell him it was the Death Eaters, but all she got out were the words “Death Eaters,” and even then, they were pretty garbled by sob that threatened to burst from her. The pain of losing Jackson, of nearly being killed, of being thrust into a living version of her nightmares was boiling up within her, and she wasn’t sure when it would come bursting out.

Harry was watching her worriedly and his other hand covered hers, stroking her knuckles. “I’m sorry. I should probably let you get some rest, huh? You look so tired…” He glanced at his watch, and then at the door.

What? He still wanted to leave? What was wrong here? “No, I’m not tired,” she said, her voice broken as she fought against the urge to cry. She felt so incredibly vulnerable, though she knew it was a whole mixture of factors making her feel this way. Still, Harry had her heart in his hand and it felt like he was squeezing it.

“Gin, you’ve been through a lot. You really should get some rest to give the potions and the healing drafts the time to work, and I’m keeping you up and upsetting you.”

She stared at him through her tears. “Please stop trying to convince me to go to sleep. It’s like your planning your escape.”

A frown line creased his forehead at the comment. “I’m not planning my escape,” he disagreed quickly.

“Then what are you doing?” She wanted to sound firm and strong, but instead she sounded miserable and broken.

“I’m here to make sure you’re okay,” he replied, frowning.

She hated his hesitance. She was too tired and had been through too much to analyze what he said or how he was acting. A sob finally escaped her as she shook her head slowly, defeated by the pressure of her emotions. “I’m not okay, Harry.”

Concern shone in his eyes, but he still held her hand loosely in his. The touch felt awkward and wrong and she hated it. She wanted his arms around her and his lips against hers. She was alive, though she felt empty inside with him so far away. “What can I do?”

She glared at him, unable to understand why he was acting so distant. She dropped his hand, stung by rejection and settled back on her pillows. “Harry James Potter, if you want to leave then just go. I can’t handle this right now. My head is killing me, my stomach hurts and I just can’t…” the tears came in earnest now, cutting off her sentence.

He stared at her, his eyes wide. He swallowed hard and shook his head. “I don’t want to leave , Gin, that’s why I’m still here. There’s a guard outside your door... I’m not really here officially working. I’m here because I’m pushy and refused to leave your side.”

She glared at him for a brief moment before she sighed, convinced that he was being sincere. “Then can you please not sit in that stupid chair anymore?”

A true smile cracked across his face at her exasperation, but he agreed. If he wasn’t going to be near her, she didn’t want to deal with how awful it’d feel to see him trying to fall asleep across the room and refusing to close the distance between them. She needed him there beside her-- now more than ever. He bent to remove his shoes and his robes so that he just wore a white T-shirt and his pants. When he slid onto the bed, she let out a sigh that was supposed to sound exasperated, but instead it sounded like a tearful sigh of relief.

“What are you full-naming me for?” He asked, his voice gentle. “Because I helped you to the washroom? Please don’t tell me that I deserve to be dumped because of that,”

This was more normal for them. Hope replaced the panic and illogical anguish that had brought her to tears.

“No, it was because you were being thick,” she grumbled in reply, reaching for his face when he settled onto the bed next to her. She pushed the hair from his eyes and slid her fingers down his soft cheek and along his jaw. The simple reassurance of being able to touch him helped to calm her racing heart and her bout of anxiety. He was here, he was alive, and he wanted to be here with her– she could get through it if she had him there to help.

“I was being dramatic,” she added. “I don’t break up with boys because they’re being too nice, you know. It was driving me crazy that you were being distant and sitting in that chair, rather than lying here with me.”

“I’m sorry I upset you,” he told her seriously, pressing a kiss to her forehead, her cheek and then a soft one to her lips. “You were in a lot of pain before. I wanted you to have your space so you could get better. I didn’t want to bump into you and accidentally hurt you.”

“Really? Because you always do this,” she argued, her voice faltering as she added, “I know what’s going on in here.” She poked him in the head as she said it. “I won’t be able to handle it if you decide to do what I know you’re thinking about. Please don’t leave.” She lifted a hand to hastily wipe away the last of her tears, but he gently pushed her hand aside and did it for her.

“I won’t leave you,” he assured her in the same gentle and patient voice. “I won’t ever leave you.”

He did sound sincere, but in her emotional state, she needed more confirmation. She could always apologize for being so pathetic once she was in a better state of mind. “The not-leaving option requires you to stay on this bed with me. All boyfriend-requirements are in-effect for this option.”

A small smile tugged at his lips as he carefully put an arm around her and gently urged her closer. “All of them, huh?” She went willingly and cuddled up next to him, grateful for the security of his embrace. “Like what?”

“This,” she murmured, laying her head on his chest, pressing her ear to his heart. With Harry’s arm around her, she felt her worries and fears being to dissipate. The large hole in her chest felt a little less gaping when his arm eased her up against him protectively. Just a simple reminder that he cared for her seemed to make the world a little less terrible.

She could go through hell on earth and relive her worst nightmares, and lose a friend–but as long as she had him, she was sure that the rest of the world was bearable. The pain of losing Jackson and of this memory would get easier to deal with, but she was one hundred percent positive that losing Harry would finish her.

With Harry here and holding her, she couldn’t remember why she’d felt anxious about seeing him earlier. Having him next to her was about the closest she felt to being okay again, though she supposed that Harry in a bad/panicked mood would only have made her more anxious.

“What do you think I’m thinking?” He asked in a gruff voice, gently stroking her hair and upper back where there were no bandages.

Ginny looked up at him, adjusting her position so that the tender part of her head wasn’t on him. She was exhausted, so much of her was physically hurting and she was certain that the attack on the village would bring her nightmares and anxieties since the war back to the forefront. Still, in spite of everything that could physically and emotionally hurt her, she feared Harry’s next move more than the healing process and more than her emotional and psychological well-being.

Ginny was certain that inside Harry’s head, he was having a mental debate over how much danger she was in. With the ridiculous security measures, and how irritated he’d been earlier, she knew that there was probably a reason to believe that she was in true danger. “Well, for one, I’m willing to bet that you’re blaming yourself for me getting hurt. And two-- and I swear to Merlin if I’m right on this one, I’m going to hex you, Harry Potter.”

He waited patiently, still stroking her back calmly. She took a breath, steadying herself. The last thing that she wanted to do was sound desperate or clingy. She wasn’t the sad little pathetic school girl she’d once been. She was cool, calm, and collect. She was independent and strong. But right at this moment, she felt that if he even suggested they take a break until the Death Eaters were caught, she’d fall to pieces.

Unable to speak louder than a whisper, she said, “I’m afraid that you’re thinking of going separate ways again until the danger is gone.”

When he didn’t say anything right away, her heart seemed to freeze and wait for the line that would break her. Vaguely cursing her head injury- sure that the concussion was making her emotions all wonky, she waited for him to speak, grateful for the dark room so that he couldn’t see the tears that had formed in her eyes at his pause. His silence was deafening and she was forced to wait in suspense.

“You don’t think it’s a good idea?” He asked quietly, staring at the opposite wall as his fingers toyed with her hair.

It took her a second to respond, fighting her automatic response to pull away and cry. In spite of how unstable she felt, she didn’t want to let her emotions drive him away. “You’re giving me a choice?”

He nodded, waiting for her to speak. She’d never had a choice last time, and that’s why she’d been able to let him go. She’d let him break up with her because she knew that it hadn’t been about Harry and what he wanted, but what he had to do. There’d been no fighting fate last time, but this, if he left her now–would be his decision.

She willed her emotions to stay in check when she answered, “No, I don’t think it’s a good idea. I think it’s the worst idea you’ve ever had!”

To her surprise, he gave a short, dry chuckle of amusement at the certainty of her answer. “I ended things last time to keep you safe,” he reminded her. “It worked…”

“Yes, but Harry the Death Eaters already know you care about me–that’s why they attacked me. You could leave me now, but they know you’ll still come for me. They know you care.” The irrational part of her mind had another answer all lined up, but she was glad she went with this one. It sounded so much more logical than saying something along the lines of ‘if you leave me, I won’t survive it again.’

His fingers froze for a long moment, before they continued to stroke her hair. He didn’t speak and Ginny carefully lifted herself up to sit, ignoring the pain when she did so. Harry frowned and put his arms around her, bracing her.

“Lie down,” he told her, his voice sounding a little flustered. “You’re going to start bleeding again!”

“Not until you swear you won’t do anything stupid. They already know you’ve got feelings for me, and I proved that I can protect myself and survive. So it’s either we’re together or we’re not.” There, that was as forward as she could be without being irritating.

He looked at her a long moment before he sighed and pressed his lips to hers. At first, Ginny resisted against him, not wanting his kiss to distract her from their conversation, but as it turns out, she had little fight left in her. She kissed him back, losing herself in the wonderful feeling of his lips against hers. The kiss wasn’t a long one and he pulled back sooner than she expected, one hand sliding up to cup her face.

“I promise. And for the record, I wasn’t going to suggest it anyway,” he told her. “Now please lie down before you give me a heart attack with worrying about you.”

Relief swept through her and made her eyes water. Damn concussion. Feeling happier than she’d felt since waking up, she kissed him again, allowing him to gently ease her back down. He ended the kiss when her hands slid around his neck to hold him there, but he pulled back again with a soft sigh.

“You need to rest,” he murmured against her cheek.

Her head hurt anyway from where her head had landed on the pillow, so she gave in with a smile and shifted to lay with her head against his chest, his arms encircling her once more.

“Out of curiosity, why wouldn’t you have brought it up?”

She felt his shoulders shrug. “It was just a thought. I didn’t want to put a hold on us again. I want to be with you.”

She smiled against his chest and closed her eyes again. When he said he didn’t ‘want’ to put a hold on their relationship, it had sounded pretty synonymous with ‘can't.’ It was nice to hear that Harry couldn’t bring himself to break up with her this time around. It meant that they were stronger–more real than just a couple of kids dating at school.

“Alright,” she said, very satisfied with that answer. She stifled a yawn and closed her eyes, her fingers sliding up his chest to rest on his shoulder.

“I won’t leave you ever again,” he repeated gently, pressing a soft kiss to the top of her head. “I need you in my life.”

Something deep in her chest throbbed at these words and Ginny pursed her lips, grateful that he couldn’t see the how ridiculously happy that made her. He didn’t think he was capable of leaving? He needed her? How often had Harry outwardly expressed that he needed anyone? After all, he’d spent his entire life being so selfless and protecting others that he was more practiced in pushing them away than letting them in.

Her head was pounding, bandaged, and she was concussed. She probably looked like hell, and probably fairly ridiculous with her head bandaged up. And yet, here was Harry Potter, saying wonderful, romantic things that made her heart pinch and swell up.

“I need you too.” She needed him like she needed air–her life had been dull and empty until she’d started dating him. Having Harry in her life, was like someone had opened the curtains to let the sunshine in.

They lay in silence for a long while. Finally, when Harry spoke again, Ginny was already drifting off into sleep. Harry’s touch was soothing, as was the sound of his heart beating in his chest.

“I should warn you now that I’m planning on being very protective of you for the last bit of the summer. I can relax a bit when you’re at school–at least I know you’ll be safe there.”

She smiled sadly against him at the thought of leaving him soon for school when all she could think of right now was laying in his arms forever. On another note, if he thought she’d be safe at Hogwarts, it meant that the castle was back in good shape. “Hogwarts is safe again?”

“Yeah. I hear it doesn’t look that different from what it used to be. Some of the staircases are behaving a little better, they haven’t gotten to replacing nearly-half the portraits, and there are plenty of new suits of armour to replace the old ones, but that’s about all you’ll notice.”

That was comforting news–she had been a little nervous about how much she’d be reminded of the battle, but now it was definitely going to be a new start. She was sure that some things would still bother her–things that would stay burned in her memory forever, but at least she could move on and these things would become a little less painful.

The room was silent except for the humming of the fan in the corner, and the sound of their breathing. Inside the room, with Harry next to her, she felt–okay. Life would get better–she still had her friends and family to get through it. There was one more year at Hogwarts, Quidditch trials and her career and so many other things to look forward which would not be darkened by any of these awful things of the past.

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Chapter 14: Chapter 14: A Light in the Darkness

Author's Notes: FINALLY a chapter update! I apologize for that long delay, but I’ve just finished my undergraduate degree so as you can imagine, I was quite busy for that last month and I had next to no time. Regardless, I’ve been adding bits and pieces, but here it is at last! Thank you to EVERYONE who has shown so much support and offered your kind comments. Oh, and one last thing, you may recognize some familiar ‘advice’ in this chapter, which is intended as being very similar to advice that is given to Harry by Dumbledore. It was intended to be a nice little parallel between their experiences with death. So that’s it! : ) I hope you enjoy chapter fourteen!


Chapter 14: A Light in the Darkness

All too soon, Ginny was roused by the shifting of the mattress and the feel of cool air brushing against her side. Blindly reaching for the blankets and for the body that had kept her warm until now, she lifted her head off the pillow and groped in the dark to find Harry. She opened her eyes groggily to find Harry leaning in to kiss her lips gently before slowly pulling back with a soft sigh.

“Where are you going?” She asked sleepily. Her hand found his face and she cupped it, sliding her fingers into his tangled hair.

His lips pressed into hers once more before he pulled back to look at her and stood up. She could barely see his face in the dim light of the rising sun that was peaking out from behind the heavy drapes covering the window. His warm fingers smoothed her hair from her face as he spoke in a rough, just-woken-up kind of way. “Sorry I woke you. I have to go in for training today, but I’ll be back later.”

“Stay a bit longer?” She asked over a yawn that she was unable to stifle. Exhausted as she was, she did feel better though she was sure that sleeping so well was partially due to the comfort of having Harry so close.

Harry shook his head no. “I need to go home to shower and change. I’ll see you after, though.”

She nodded, too tired to try and convince Harry to stay when he obviously had to go. She murmured ‘okay’ and then laid back down with another yawn, almost immediately tumbling back into sleep. When Ginny woke up again, it was to the sound of murmuring voices and then to the snap of the door. Startled, she opened her eyes to find Ron entering the room with a copy of The Daily Prophet in his hand. Judging by the amount of bright light in the room, it seemed to be about mid-morning. Momentarily confused about how Harry’s departure and Ron’s entry had seemed to have happened in a matter of seconds from each other, she made a mental note to take fewer sleeping drafts–she was losing grip on her sense of time and she didn’t like that she slept through more noise and light than she normally would. Being knocked unconscious by exhaustion was one thing, but with potions was another.

Ron looked startled to see that she was awake and Ginny waved at him with one hand and rubbed the sleep from her eyes with the other.

“Morning. How are you?” Ron asked as he dropped himself lazily into the chair by her bed.

Desiring an answer to that herself, she stretched her arms and legs carefully. When there was no pain and minimal stiffness, she stretched her abdomen and turned her hips side to side to test for any pain. Her stomach ached only slightly at the movement, but it was such a huge improvement that she decided it wasn’t even worth complaining about. Lastly, her fingers combed through her hair, exploring her scalp to find that there was only a very small bump, but no other pain here.

Pleased with her findings, she smiled and answered him cheerily, “Much better. Think I can go home today?”

“Probably,” Ron answered thoughtfully. “Mum’s gone off to find a healer to ask about you, so I’m sure you’ll have an answer very soon.” He peered at her for a long moment before he seemed to relax. “You look better–much more like yourself.”

“That’s good.” She peered around the room, wondering how much time she had to kill. For the first time since waking up in St. Mungo’s, she didn’t feel tired anymore. Moreover, she wanted desperately to get out of this bed and out of her room. She’d been lying down far too long and was beginning to feel restless just thinking about being trapped in bed.

“What time is it?”

Ron unfolded his copy of the paper as he spoke, scanning the headlines. “Just after nine.”

So it was only nine a.m. She wondered what time Harry had left her, only to realize that Ron was here and not at the Ministry. “Oh. Don’t you have training with Harry?”

Ron shook his head. “Harry takes the morning stealth class, but I take the evening one. I hate getting up early when I don’t have too.” He looked up from his paper suddenly and set it in his lap. “Bloody hell, I forgot! Harry said he spoke to the Captain earlier this morning and he said that if you still want to talk to Annie before she has her memory altered, you need to do it the minute you wake up. St. Mungo’s is getting a little testy about giving out a bed to someone who doesn’t need it,”

“Can I see her now?”

Ron nodded and stood, folding his paper as he got to his feet. “I can go get her now, if you promise to eat something?” He motioned to a breakfast tray that she hadn’t noticed earlier. “The healers say they can’t give you any more healing drafts until you get something in your system. The sooner you eat, the sooner you can come home.”

Her stomach churned at the thought of more healing drafts, although the food didn’t look repulsive. Still, there was something slightly off-putting about it. Weighing her options, she realized that if she refused to eat, she expected Ron to sit back down and refuse to let her see Annie. It was eat and risk the queasiness or play it safe and lose out on her chance to meet with Annie.

“Alright, deal,” she agreed, pulling the tray toward her and picking up a fork to poke hesitantly at the scrambled eggs on the plate.

Ron waited and watched her take a bite before he was satisfied and turned to leave. He got as far as the door before he stopped and turned, his ears turning a bright pink as he seemed to mull over what he wanted to say next.

“What is it?”

“Don’t think that I don’t know that Harry slept here last night,” he told her dryly, raising an eyebrow as he spoke.

Ginny gaped at her brother, startled that he knew such a thing. She was even more shocked when he added, “you know, the least he could have done was enlarged the bed so he could have stretched out. You’re such a bed hog!” And with that, he was gone.

Ginny stared after him and then laughed quietly to herself, completely blindsided by her brother’s comment. Ron had definitely just made a lighthearted and teasing joke about the size of the bed, rather than lecturing her about sleeping with Harry. Taking a reluctant bite of the scrambled eggs, she wondered for a few moments over how he’d found out, but supposed that any Auror on watch in the hall would have noticed Harry leave the room early this morning. If this piece of gossip had gotten back to Ron, chances were that it had spread pretty fast and this was rather amusing that people found this so fascinating. However, considering her experience with rumours about Harry, perhaps people would come up with some juicy ones that would really test Ron’s newfound maturity and patience. As she ate, she promised herself that if the Prophet printed anything about a midnight romantic visit from Harry, she’d cut it out and have it framed.

She finished her scrambled eggs while her stomach protested only mildly. She found that she was indeed hungry, and that the food was going down better than she’d extended. Finishing eggs and a piece of toast, Ginny had taken a bite of an orange slice when the door opened and Annie stepped in. Seeing her friend, Ginny dropped the fruit on the plate and swallowed the mouthful of orange hurriedly.

“Hi,” Ginny said, suddenly feeling incredibly nervous to be in the room with Annie..

Annie smiled back just as hesitantly and closed the door behind her. “Your brother says we can talk for a bit?”

“Yeah. Sorry I haven’t been to see you, but I haven’t been able to get out of this bed,” Ginny said apologetically while examining her friend carefully for signs of injury. Aside from the awkwardness of this moment, Annie looked fine. Her wrist was wrapped up and she had the faintest trace of a bruise on her leg, which was revealed beneath the same brown dress that she’d worn on the day of the attack.

Sensing the tension between them, Annie bit her lip and then folded her arms across her chest as she moved forward slowly. “How are you feeling?”

Ginny swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. She hadn’t expected a wave of emotions to slam into her again the moment she saw Annie. She was relieved to see that Annie looked good, but seeing Annie just reminded her of losing Jackson. She wondered if Annie was angry about all this, considering that if roles were reversed, she wouldn’t be doing so well after being involved in such a situation.

“I’m feeling better. How are you?”

“All good, except for my wrist,” Annie said as she held up her bandaged left arm. “It was broken, but your doctors fixed it.” She grimaced at her bandaged wrist, as if she was unsure if her wrist being fixed by magic was a good thing or a bad thing.

“You can fix anything with magic, huh?” The vain attempt to lighten the mood made Ginny feel even guiltier. She’d never seen Annie so subdued before–it wasn’t right.

“Nearly,” she answered timidly, anxious to start apologizing and explaining. She shifted over on the bed and Annie immediately closed the distance between them and climbed up on the bed to sit across from her. The two friends looked at each other a long moment before Ginny found her voice again.

“Annie, I’m so sorry that you got dragged into this,” she began miserably. “I never, ever thought that being around you would be dangerous. I can’t-”

The rest of the sentence was cut off by Annie suddenly leaning in to hug her tightly. Tears formed into Ginny’s eyes as she hugged Annie back. Annie began to cry and Ginny’s own tears dripped onto her cheeks as she held her friend. They sat like that for several minutes, sobbing into each other’s shoulders for the loss of their friend. With Annie here, Jackson’s death felt more real than it had before. Before now, his death had seemed nothing more than a horrible nightmare, but it was real–Jackson was gone.

When her tears began to subside, Annie slowly pulled back with a heavy sigh. “Oh, it’s not your fault–none of this is your fault.” She took a steadying breath and then offered a watery smile. “You were so brave fighting those guys on your own. You saved my life–you saved a lot of lives in that village.”

“I just wish I’d been faster to save Jackson,” Ginny found herself whispering, the guilt making her feel nauseous with the intensity of it. “I could have protected him–I could have done something- anything- to make sure he made it out alive. I’ll never forgive myself for that. All I wanted was to say goodbye before I went off to school–I just wanted to say goodbye to both of you and to make sure that we were still friends after what happened at the end of July wit Harry!”

Annie’s eyes went wide and she reached for Ginny’s hands, squeezing them in hers. “Ginny, you can’t think like that!” She scolded, her voice sharp, though her eyes were still brimming with tears. “Jackson would never have wanted you to blame yourself. I’ll admit, I was barely conscious, but I watched him move in front of you to save you–he knew what he was doing. He wanted to protect you. You couldn’t have changed his mind about what he wanted to do.”

A sob escaped Ginny as she shook her head in disbelief. How had Jackson died to save her from Death Eaters in a muggle village? Death Eaters, Voldemort and magic–those were not muggle things and they were not things that were supposed to happen to Jackson or Annie. They were her friends from the village, which was supposed to be a place where no one knew anything of the magical world and the terrible things that had happened there because of dark magic.

Ginny found herself talking in a whisper, more to herself than to Annie. “I can’t believe any of this. I can’t believe Death Eaters showed up in that village, I can’t believe I had to fight them, and I can’t believe Jackson is gone.”

Annie squeezed her hands, her expression troubled. “I know…”

Annie looked lost as she sat across from Ginny, looking so small and helpless. It hurt Ginny terribly to see her friend like this when she was so normally outgoing and full of excitement and life. She watched as Annie’s eyes drifted toward the curtained window, her expression sad. “He was a good friend. We were both lucky to know him…”

“We shouldn’t have lost him,” Ginny muttered bitterly. “Not Jackson, too,” she added even more softly. Annie turned her eyes back on Ginny, her expression changed to confusion at her last comment. It suddenly occurred to Giiny how much Annie didn’t know about who she was and this suddenly made everything worse. They were separated by worlds of difference–how was she to explain everything?

Deciding she needed to try, she asked softly, “Did they tell you what happens next?”

She was referring to the Aurors who would wipe her memories, but she wasn’t sure how much Annie knew about what happened after they talked. She wanted this conversation to have meant something, even if Annie couldn’t remember it later. Since her memories would be changed either way, she felt she owed it to Annie to be completely honest with her for the only time that she could be so open and honest.

Annie nodded, wiping her tears with the back of her bandaged hand. “Yes, Harry told me that I’m not going to remember what happened. He says I’ll have new memories about what happened in the village.”

“Yeah…” Ginny swallowed hard, touching Annie’s hand. “I’m so sorry about that. You must be so unhappy about having your memories altered, but that’s the law and I can’t–”

Annie suddenly chuckled darkly and interrupted Ginny’s spluttered apology. “Actually, I’m not really upset about that part.”

Surprised, Ginny leaned back against the pillows of her bed. “Really? You’re not? If it were me, I think I’d be really upset if a bunch of freaks told me they were going to take away my memories!”

Annie raised her eyebrows at Ginny’s dramatics and then sighed, her amusement turning to sadness once more. “When they told me that they were going to change what I remember about Jackson’s death, I was really angry and scared,” Annie admitted softly. “But after I had some time to process it, I’m kind of glad that they are.”

“What do you mean?”

Annie hesitated and then scrubbed her face with her hands in frustration. “I don’t understand any of this, Gin. I would be more miserable having to live a life where I would never be allowed to understand how my best friend died. I’d spend my whole life always wondering about why and how Jackson died. I know there’s bigger things here than what I can wrap my mind around and I don’t want to be alone in that wondering for the rest of my life. You wouldn’t be allowed to talk about it… you can’t include me in your life. I’d be alone in that knowledge for the rest of my life.”

Ginny considered this, frowning slightly. “That would be hard,” she agreed slowly.

“Whatever new story I’ll remember, it’ll be easier than this one. It won’t be the truth and I wish it could be, but I don’t want to obsess over the details when the general facts will be the same. Besides, it’s not like they’re taking anything anyway. Harry said they’re just going to change how I remember what happened, but it’ll be the non-magic version with guns or something. It won’t be exactly right, but at the very least, I’ll have a shot at mourning and then moving on in life. I want to remember my friend for how he lived and not how he died.”

Annie seemed so resolute in her belief that Ginny knew that Annie was truly okay with having her memories altered. Of course, in a perfect world, Annie would be allowed to know about magic, her world, and be able to talk about it with Ginny. In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be this separation of the magical and muggle population. Really, they were no different–they each experienced life the same way with love, friendships, hardships and death.

“I didn’t want this for you,” Ginny sighed, feeling miserable.

“Would you honestly be able to fully move on from something you could never talk about because no one would believe you? Wouldn’t you feel incredibly alone and confused? Maybe it’s the easy way out, but I share everything with the people I love, and Jackson was my best friend for years. I’m heartbroken that he’s gone, but death is death, and I believe that God has a plan for each one of us. Jackson was put on this earth to meet us both and change our lives in many ways.” Annie let out a breath and offered a sad smile as she added miserably, “I’ll miss him forever, but that’s fate. I’ll always remember him, but life goes on…”

Ginny considered this, half-concerned that she didn’t have Annie’s assurance and maturity about such things like life and death, especially considering how fast she was forced to grow up with the war. Annie was right that it was very different to have to lose your best friend in a way she was not allowed to understand, rather than losing him in a tragic accident that would hurt terribly, but at least she could move on in the end. Still, Annie was hurt and confused by secrecy and even if she could never know about it after today, Ginny wanted to be honest about everything for once.

“I want to tell you everything before they do it. I want to explain it all so that we can at least have these moments of being completely open with each other–of being true friends.”

Annie tilted her head slightly, her brow furrowing. “Ginny, none of what you’ve been hiding has kept us from being true friends. It didn’t matter. We loved you because you were you and not because of your secret lifestyle.” She paused before adding softly, “but I’d really like the whole truth before I forget.”

“I’ll tell you anything you want to know,” Ginny replied firmly, her heart quivering in her chest with the effort that not crying was costing her. Actually preparing to tell her story for the first time was like cracking open a dam that had built up a substantial amount of pressure behind it. There had been so many times this summer when she’d wanted to tell her friends about all the awful feelings that had threatened to drown her.

They sat in a momentary silence while Ginny silently debated about where to begin. Deciding to start with the most basic facts, she leaned forward slightly, feeling a little strange to be saying these words aloud. “Well, for starters, I’m a witch. I don’t wear a pointy hat or anything weird like that, but I’m a witch.”

A small smile tugged at Annie’s lips as she let out a long sigh. “I know it’s true, but it’s so strange to hear. Go on.”

In spite of the seriousness of the things she wanted to say, Ginny found herself wanting to smile back. It was surreal being able to tell Annie about who she truly was. “Me and my whole family are witches and wizards–my friend Hermione and Harry too. I go to a school to learn about magic and to become a proper witch.”

Ginny paused again, shifting awkwardly on the bed as she continued to explain that the men who were in the village are called “Death Eaters” and that they used to serve this really evil wizard called Voldemort. She told Annie that Voldemort had been around for years, but at the end of the school year, there was a battle where Harry beat him and her world — the wizarding world–was free of this evil wizard. She explained that the men in the village were trying to get back at Harry for ruining their lives by capturing and probably killing Ginny.

At the end, Annie stared at her in horror. “Harry–as in your boyfriend? Harry beat a seriously evil wizard that your police couldn’t? Why did it have to be him?”

Ginny hesitated and then found herself smiling slightly. She supposed it did sound ridiculous from Annie’s point of view. She didn’t want or truly need to get into a long explanation of Harry’s history and the importance of prophecies. Since she had no idea how long she had to talk with Annie, it was important to stick to the most important facts.

Instead of offering another long explanation, Ginny replied: “It’s a really long and confusing story, but basically Harry was destined to kill him– it had to be Harry.”

“No wonder you love him,” Annie replied faintly. “The guy’s a superhero.”

A small, but real smile tugged at Ginny’s lips and a small giggle escaped her at the thought of Harry as some sort of superhero. She supposed that some people did think of him that way–as someone who saved the world and would go down in history books as a some sort of saviour. Pushing past this, she continued with her explanation.

“Harry’s destiny was why Harry left me in the first place–why we were broken up at the start of the summer. He left me a year ago to find a way to beat Voldemort.” At that moment, she recalled arguing with Jackson at the bar and out on the street about how poorly he felt Harry treated her. Perhaps Annie also thought back on that memory because she immediately pushed past the awkward moment.

“So you’re magical and you were attacked because these criminals wanted revenge on Harry?”

Ginny nodded, relieved that Annie was understanding and accepting the gist of it. That was the wonderful thing about Annie–when it was important, she didn’t need to focus on all the little details. She listened and worked hard to understand. “And by being friends with you, I accidentally put you guys in the middle of it.”

Annie seemed to take all this in for several long seconds before she finally replied wearily to Ginny’s guilt-ridden statement. “Ginny, until yesterday, I didn’t believe in magic. However, I’ve always believed in fate. You said Harry was destined to kill this evil wizard and I think we’re all destined for something. We were destined to meet each other and this was fated to happen. Jackson’s plan was to be a great friend, and then to die a hero. You didn’t cause his death by being friends with us–it was already in the cards.”

“I still lost him,” she argued miserably, but Annie wasn’t hearing it.

“We both lost him, but it wasn’t your fault. And if nothing else, we have each other. We survived and that’s something to be happy about. You should never spend your life feeling sorry for the dead–he’s in a better place.”

They sat in silence for a long moment before Annie shifted over to recline on the hospital bed next to Ginny.

“It still hurts, Annie. I’ve lost so many people,” Ginny admitted quietly, her voice catching. She cleared the lump that had formed in her throat before she finally explained what she meant by having lost so many people. “I lost my brother Fred, just before Harry won the war. And we lost good family friends–Lupin and Tonks, Moody, and so many people from my school. A lot of people died this spring and many, many more before that. Sometimes it’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t worry about someone leaving and not coming back.”

“No wonder you were so broken up,” Annie murmured sadly. “Jackson and I could see that you were distracted by something all the time. I know you tried to pretend that you were fine, but it was easy to see you were hiding something. We never asked because we figured that you’d tell us when you were ready.”

More tears dripped onto Ginny’s cheeks as she looked over at Annie. “You have no idea how much I wanted to tell you.”

Annie looped her arm through hers and nodded, understanding her friend’s grief. They sat in silence for another long moment before Ginny spoke again. “I usually come home for Christmas,” she spluttered anxiously. “I’ll come see you?”

Annie smiled and nodded. “You had better come visit me! Besides, who else is going to tell me to get my head out of the clouds?”

“In case you hadn’t noticed, I tried not to do that. I had my head in the clouds with Harry and everything else that was going on. I felt like a hypocrite telling you to move on with Pat. And now look at the two of you– finally dating and happy!”

Annie grinned, her expression brightening at the mention of Pat. “I don’t have as much luck as you and Harry. I really care about Pat, but I’m a little envious I don’t have the same connection with him that you have with Harry. I suppose after everything you’ve both been through, nothing else would ever make sense. He absolutely loves you, you know that?”

Ginny felt her face colour and a warmth spread over her at the confidence in Annie’s tone. She opened her mouth to tell her that she and Harry hadn’t actually said these words to each other yet, but the door opening stopped her. A woman in Auror robes stepped into the room and Ginny felt her heart sink that her time with Annie was probably about to be cut short.

“Ladies, I am sorry to interrupt, but I’m to inform Annie that she needs to be taken home in the next few minutes — her parents are getting quite worried and demanding to be taken to see their daughter.”

Annie looked startled and she told the woman she’d be out shortly. The door closed again and Annie turned and embraced Ginny again–more tightly than before. Ginny hugged her back and silently reminded herself not to cry. This was not a goodbye–she’d see Annie again soon.

“It doesn’t hurt,” Ginny murmured in an attempt to comfort her friend about having one’s memory altered. “And I’m sorry again–for everything.”

“It’s not your fault, Ginny. And I know that I can’t take away any of that guilt or try to pretend that I wouldn’t feel responsible if I were in your shoes, but please remember that Jackson wouldn’t have had it any other way. Jackson would have always chosen himself to protect his friends.”

“I miss him,” Ginny admitted miserably, a soft sob escaping her. “He was a good friend!”

“I miss him too,” Annie murmured, pulling back. “But my mum always said that we should never pity the dead–they go on to a much better place. We both have so much else to live for, so we shouldn’t waste it in sadness.” She chuckled at herself. “I sound like my mother.”

Ginny found herself smiling too. “She sounds like a smart woman.”

Annie grinned and slid off the bed. “She is. I need to go home so that my parents can see I’m alright. I’ll see you soon, Gin.”

Ginny wiped her eyes and nodded. “Yeah, I’ll see you soon.”

And with one last wave and smile, Annie left. Ginny sat on her bed for a long moment before the tears finally began to fall. She cried for several long minutes for Jackson, letting her heart cry the pain out. When the tears finally subsided, she couldn’t deny that she did feel better. Jackson’s loss still hurt, but after Hogwarts, loss was something fairly familiar, and Annie was right about not wasting her life being sad. She had come through far too much to let herself dwell on the misery of life. Somewhere up there, someone had decided that she would survive and she knew now that she would leave here feeling okay–a little weary–but okay.

There were too many things to look forward to and more challenges to work through that would keep her from obsessing with the past: Quidditch, graduating from Hogwarts, trying out for the International Quidditch League, seeing Harry, spending time with her friends and family…

Yes, she was okay. Annie was right-- life was too short to waste it in sadness.

* * *

Ginny was released from St. Mungo’s at exactly four PM and was taken home by her mother, only to be ordered into bed and force-fed some of her mother’s delicious vegetable soup and fresh bread. While she was discharged with a clean bill of health, the healers had warned her to take it easy over the next few days, lest she wind back up in St. Mungo’s with her concussion acting up. The cuts she had inflicted from the curses had healed over and all that was left of the evidence of the cuts were a few thin, white scars, which she had been assured would disappear soon, so long as she kept applying a special ointment twice a day.

Hermione was waiting for Ginny in her room with a solitary yellow flower in a little green pot. The flower swayed gracefully in the soil, its pedals dancing and its stem twisting and shifting as if it were dancing to music only it could hear.

“Isn’t it pretty?” Hermione had exclaimed excitedly. “The flower dances whenever it senses positive energy. It will live as long as its owner is happy! I read about them a while back and thought it’d make a nice ‘get well’ present!”

Ginny smiled at the dancing flower and place it gently on the window sill. It gave a delighted little wriggle to be placed in direct sunlight.

“So how are you feeling?” Hermione asked, turning her attention away from the flower and onto Ginny.

“Much better! Although, Mum is insisting that I rest in bed. I had hopes of escaping bed for a while…”

Hermione smiled sympathetically. “She just wants to make sure that you get well. She’s worried about you and who could blame her? You were in bad shape.”

Ginny sat on her bed and leaned back against the pillows with a sigh. “Yeah, I know. What about you? What’s new?”

Hermione became excited as she told Ginny that her mother had allowed her to use magic to fix a necklace that her father had given her back when they were dating. Apparently the chain had broken and Mr. Granger had requested his wife wear the necklace for their wedding anniversary dinner. Beside herself with worry and anxiety that Mr. Granger would be upset at hearing the necklace had broken, Mrs. Granger had asked Hermione to fix it. This was the first time Hermione had used magic in her house without being made to feel as if she were doing something wrong. She also told Ginny had she and Ron had plans tonight with Hermione’s parents, and after the necklace incident, she was sure that tonight wouldn’t be as awkward.

“I still can’t believe your parents aren’t comfortable with you dating a wizard,” Ginny said, a little troubled with the hope in Hermione’s voice as she wished for tonight to go well.

“It’s not specifically that I’m dating a wizard, is the concept of magic that makes them uncomfortable. They associate Ron with the world of magic because that’s the world he grew up in. My parents do like Ron and they know that he makes me happy, but ever since I lifted the memory charm, things have been weird.”

Hermione turned to fretting over the evening ahead of her, recanting all the different times that Ron had come over to visit her and her family. Ginny listened with amusement to Hermione’s obsessing over Ron and worrying that tonight wouldn’t go well.

“Ron had better not take his time leaving the Ministry,” Hermione “I know he doesn’t really like coming over, but my parents need to get to know him better. They need to see him like I do! They need to see that being a wizard isn’t all about danger and magical solutions.”

A little skeptical that her brother’s sometimes bluntness or poor table manners were not part of this issue, she fought a teasing smile as she asked, “Ron hasn’t done anything in particular to not make your parents not like him?”

“No,” Hermione sighed. “Ron is perfectly charming! Ever since I undid the memory charm and told them what I did to protect them, they’ve been completely anti-magic and they’re taking it out on Ron. I think my parents think that magic has had a bad influence on me.”

“Which would include dating a wizard,” Ginny supplied grimly. “Hermione, I’m sure they’ll get over it. They love you!”

“I know that, but their attitude is exactly why it’s so important to talk to Ron before we go–I’d like to limit the amount of wizarding-world conversation tonight. They do like Ron, but they’re just so adverse to anything at all magical.”

Ginny reached over and patted her arm sympathetically. “This will pass. Besides, being nervous about bringing something home to your parents is normal. You’re lucky you get to go through that rite of passage in a relationship. I kind of wish I had that experience–meeting the in-laws, I mean.”

Hermione seemed to appreciate the truth of these words, until she made a noise of disbelief and rolled her eyes. “I have this awful feeling you would have had it easy. If James Potter was anything like Remus or Sirius, I’m sure you would have had any easy time. Lily Potter seemed to be a favorite student at Hogwarts, not to mention she married James Potter. Sorry, Ginny, but I don’t think that would have been the same thing.”

“Mothers can be pretty protective of their sons. It took my mum a long time to accept Fleur, remember?”

“That’s true.” Hermione thought for a moment before she added in a whisper, “do you think your Mum will accept me as a daughter-in-law if Ron and I ever get married one day?”

Ginny laughed aloud and nodded. “I think she’s already expecting you and Ron to get married one day. Just don’t rush into it and she’ll be over the moon when you announce the news!”

Hermione grinned, looking much more cheered up. “Well, I don’t even want to consider marriage until I’m done with school and have a job.”

“Hermione?”

The sound of Ron’s voice came up the stairs, causing Hermione to leap up from Ginny’s bed and hurry to the door.

“Up here!” She called back, glancing back at Ginny. “I’ll see you later, okay?”

“Good luck!”

Moments later, she could hear Hermione lecturing Ron about getting changed and then needing to prepare him before they left. Ron groaned loudly, reassuring Hermione that everything would be fine. He argued that they were just meeting the Grangers and “not with the bloody Queen.” Hermione followed him up the stairs, poking her head back into Ginny’s room to give her an exasperated look before keeping on Ron’s heels as she followed him up the stairs.

“Ron, I just want everything to go better than last time, okay?”

Ginny chuckled and picked up a Quidditch magazine that Charlie had given her at St. Mungo’s. Not wanting to eavesdrop on the happy couple’s argument, she began to read. She’d only just turned the page when Harry appeared in her doorway, his hair windswept and still dressed in his Aurors’ uniform.

“Hi Harry,” she said happily, a little embarrassed by the eagerness in her tone. She hadn’t seen him since he’d left her hospital bed and hadn’t realized how much she’d missed him until now.

“Can you hear the lovebirds arguing about going to dinner?” He asked mischievously, moving into her room. He sat next to her on the bed and leaned in to kiss her hello.

“Hermione’s been in here complaining about how her parents aren’t exactly warming up to Ron.”

Upstairs, Hermione’s shrill voice came through the ceiling, “well if you don’t want to eat my mother’s meatloaf, then don’t eat it!”

They both laughed quietly for a moment.

“Want to come to my house for dinner?” Harry asked. “I promise, no yelling will be involved in the dinner arrangements.”

Dropping the magazine again, she smiled up at him. “Sure!”

He grinned and stood up. “Lovely.” He helped her up, though Ginny didn’t really need it. She felt strong enough, albeit a little stiff. Still, it was nice that Harry was so concerned about her.

“And that’s how you make dinner plans,” Ginny joked dryly, grabbing a sweater before following him out the door. “No bickering or raised voices!”

“I’m really glad we don’t fight like those two,” Harry told her, not bothering to hide his sincere relief. “I think I’d go mental trying to keep track of when we were and were not speaking.”

“They don’t mean it,” Ginny said with a chuckle. “My brother’s been in love with her for years.”

When they got downstairs, it took Ginny a few minutes to track down her mother to tell her that she was going over to Harry’s for dinner. She wasn’t sure if her mother was a little disappointed that she wasn’t going to be home for dinner, but she didn’t object and told Ginny to be home in good time so that she could get a good night’s sleep at home.

“What’s the plan for dinner?” Ginny asked Harry curiously as they left the Burrow.

“I’ve got it all planned out! I’ve been looking forward to spending a quiet night in with you for a while now. We’ve got to make the most of the few weeks of summer we have left. It’s going to be difficult to find quality time alone together when you’re at school.”

Ginny smirked. “Difficult, but not impossible, Harry. There are lots of places to hide away.”

“I’m not sure if I should be worried that you’re so familiar with all these private spots, or relieved that I’ll definitely have some time to be alone with you,” Harry commented quietly, more to himself than to her.

Ginny laughed at this, choosing not to respond right away so as to playfully keep him guessing. The truth was that she hadn’t used all of these spots. Wanting to spend time alone with one’s boyfriend but not having anywhere to go was a common problem. To remedy it, the girls in Ginny’s dormitory had essentially compiled this list of spots over the last few years to avoid having to sacrifice the entire dormitory to each other.

“Don’t worry,” Ginny told him with a reassuring smile. “I haven’t used all of them,”

Harry rolled his eyes, still looking a little uncomfortable. His reaction made Ginny have to fight to hide the laugh that wanted to escape her control. Harry was so cute when he was a little jealous!

They apparated to Harry’s and almost immediately after re-appearing on his property, Harry’s fingers intertwined with hers and he held her hand all the way up to the front door. Ginny silently thanked the heavens that Harry had more of a clue about being a good boyfriend than Ron had with Hermione. She also shared Harry’s deep relief that they didn’t fight like Ron and Hermione. Ginny preferred the normalcy of their relationship and the easiness that existed between them.

Harry unlocked the door and led her inside. Ginny paused on the threshold, startled to see that the inside of his house had changed quite a bit since the last time she’d visited. It was finally starting to look more like a home than a big, empty house.

“Done some decorating, have you?”

Harry closed the door behind her before he answered her. “Actually, I’ve hired a decorator. So far I’ve done this front hall, the kitchen and my room.”

Ginny’s eyes moved around the front foyer, appreciating the work that the decorator had done. The entrance had been painted an off-white colour, with beautiful crown mouldings along the walls. Two large and colourful vases filled with exotic-looking flowers sat on either side of the door, and the staircase had been widened and given new black banisters. Looking down, even the floors had been redone with a dark hardwood.

“Spending a fortune on home dcor?” Ginny asked, feeling awed at the grandeur of this room alone.

“Mostly it’s transfiguration–there’s a great company in Salisbury that I hired to do all this. I just pay the workers by the hour and they do all this. All I said was to keep it simple and so far, I’m happy with their work.”

“It looks really good, Harry! How much are you going to have done?”

“Not too much more. I can do the wall-colours by myself and I’ve gone out already and bought most of the furniture. Mainly, they’re filling the rooms and improving the structure of the house. I’m also debating on using my backyard as a Quidditch pitch. I figure it’ll help with ensuring that my girlfriend visits me.”

Ginny chuckled and looped her arm through his before telling him seriously, “Good idea, because why else would I come?”

“You’re mean,” Harry moaned, his lips twitching as he repressed a smile. He kissed her anyway before they moved into the kitchen. Harry dropped her hand and instructed her to sit while he got started on dinner. She tried arguing with him at first, but when he quite literally used magic to make her sit on the counter to watch, she gave up. He handed her a butterbeer and then removed the charm that was forcing her to stay where she was.

“You know, if you wanted me to come over solely to see you and not for your Quidditch pitch, perhaps this could be accomplished by not using your fancy Auror magic on me?” She suggested innocently, taking a sip of the delicious butterbeer.

“If you don’t want me to use my Auror training on you, then you’ll have to let me spoil you every once and a while. All you have to do is sit there and enjoy the dinner I’m going to make for you.”

Ginny smiled and watched him move around the kitchen. “Harry, you spoil me all the time. You take me to Rome, you make me dinner, you manage to relocate the Auror fleet outside my door at St. Mungo’s…”

Harry smiled as he worked on preparing the salad. She paused before asking her next question in a sweet voice. “Was that the first time you pulled the ‘I’m Harry Potter’ card to get your way?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Harry replied calmly, keeping his eyes on the salad bowl. “But I’d like you to sit there and let me, Harry Potter, the-boy-who-lived, make you dinner.”

Ginny burst out laughing, nearly choking on her butterbeer as she fought to swallow the mouthful she’d practically inhaled. “Well-played,” she giggled. “Be glad I’m no longer the silly little girl who thinks of you that way because I think eleven-year-old me would have positively fainted at such a request.”

“Or fallen off the counter,” he muttered teasingly, easily dodging a playful kick that she aimed at him from where she sat.

“Alright, boy-who-lived, I’ll let you cook. Just don’t burn anything!” she replied with a chuckle.

As Ginny watched him start out on dinner (chicken, vegetables and salad), Ginny considered how easily Harry was able to make her smile and feel good again. Earlier today, she’d felt positively miserable, but Harry was certainly able to help her to feel happy. Sure she was still sad, but Harry made all the bad things tolerable and gave her a reason to feel good about being alive. She deeply missed Jackson, but it was good to know that even after everything and everyone who was lost, there was still hope for happiness.

Back to index


Chapter 15: Chapter 15: Chocolate and Vanilla Cupcakes

Author's Notes: To my lovely readers, here is chapter fifteen! We’re almost at the end! Also, I’ll offer a fluff-warning for this chapter.

As well, Harry has a line in this chapter that is paraphrased from my favorite Potter-related fan creation and so I take no credit for it; it does not belong to me. I’ve been far-too amused and I really wanted to somehow thread it into my story and I've finally done so in this chapter. Fifty house points to whoever can recognize it! The answer and credit for this line is at the bottom of the chapter.


With the chicken in the oven, the salad ready and the table set, Harry turned his attention to pouring himself a large goblet of butterbeer before hurriedly tidying up his pre-cooking mess. It was almost startling to see Harry so at home in the kitchen since she would never think of Harry as someone who loved to cook and could do it well. She was thoroughly impressed to see him so adept at making dinner when he added spices to the chicken and then started preparing the sauce that he intended to pour over it once it was cooked.

“You’re good at this,” she told him wonderingly, also feeling a little embarrassed at her own cooking abilities, which severely lacked in comparison. She sincerely hoped that Harry wasn’t under the impression that she must have inherited a talent for cooking from her mother. Unfortunately, it was just her mum who had that gift and not her. “Honestly, Harry, I didn’t know you could cook!”

Harry shrugged good-naturedly, ever the modest gentleman whenever anyone ever complimented him. “I know the basics. I had to be able to cook anything on demand for the Dursleys.”

While Harry said this quite casually, she couldn’t help but think of the many chores he had forced upon him, as well as the emotional and psychological abuse he had gone through in that house. She felt an urge to hop off the counter and hug him, but she resisted and remained where she was. Harry had never really talked about his home life and while it wasn’t the worst childhood, it certainly hadn’t been a happy one, and re-living it wasn’t helping anything.

Fortunately, Harry changed the topic before she could work out what to say next. “Next time I’ll serve wine,” he told her as he wiped the heavy cream off his upper lip. “Somehow butterbeer isn’t a very romantic drink for date night, but I didn’t get around to thinking about wine. I just went shopping for the stuff to make the food and that was it.” He grinned at her and put the half-empty bottle of butterbeer back into the refrigerator.

He regretted not having wine at their romantic dinner? She was seriously beginning to feel spoiled and quite useless in this relationship. She needed to come up with a big, romantic gesture before the end of the summer. At Hogwarts, they hadn’t really had time for the mushy, romantic stuff, which apparently they were really missing out on moments like this. She had never exactly pegged Harry for the romantic type, but here he was, making her dinner and expressing his regret at not serving wine, and taking her off on surprises dates to romantic foreign cities.

“Butterbeer can be pretty romantic if you kiss the whipped topping off me.”

Harry raised his eyebrows and chuckled. “We’ll give that a try on one of your Hogsmeade trips.”


They sat in silence for a moment before Harry spoke up again, his expression changing to one of puzzlement. “It’s weird to think I’m not going back to Hogwarts. I’m a little jealous, actually. I miss it.”

“You do? I’d have thought since you didn’t go back last year that it would be natural.”

“Not going back last year made sense,” he replied thoughtfully. “I knew at Dumbledore’s funeral that I wasn’t going back. I guess the fact that Hermione and you are going, but Ron and I aren’t is what’s weird. Plus, you get to go have an actual school year. I haven’t had one of those since–”

“Never! Harry, when have we ever had a quiet year at Hogwarts?” She asked sympathetically. He chuckled in acknowledgement of their school careers never being just a boring year of educational pursuits.

“Going back will be weird,” she said after a long minute, realizing again that she was not yet rid of the dread she felt about returning to the castle. In fact, now that her return to Hogwarts was so close, it seemed even more daunting. Every time this feeling returned, she tried to remind herself that the castle was fixed, that the promise of classes, of Quidditch and of routine would keep her from remembering how many people died on the grounds last spring.

“Are you excited yet? I mean, this year will be more normal for you. You probably won’t have to start up an illegal defense against the dark arts club until at least after the holidays.”

Ginny laughed while she considered the question, trying to sort out her true feelings from her fears. She was excited, but there was still some psychological factor that was making her anxious about going back. She wasn’t sure if it was just her brain’s inability to accept the fact that You-Know-Who was gone and that they weren’t in any danger. She was eager for the normalcy that this year practically guaranteed since anything bad that happened would seem miniscule in comparison to last year.

“Yeah, I miss Hogwarts, and I’m excited to go back to being normal. No more murders or dark magic or people going into hiding. I want to be a student and be with my friends and worry about my NEWTS and Quidditch scouts.” She set her butterbeer on the counter distractedly. “I miss the normalcy of my life as a normal teenage girl.”

“It’s been a hard couple months,” Harry agreed with a sigh. “For you, especially.”

Those words hung in the air for what seemed like hours. Ginny felt their meaning and she was suddenly remembering Jackson taking the killing curse for her. When the memory ended with her collapsing into Ron’s arms, she looked up and found Harry watching her with a sympathetic and concerned expression.

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t sure if I should ask, but I have to. Are you okay?” He hesitated before adding quietly, “all things considered?”

Taking a breath, she nodded. “I got to say goodbye to Annie. I just miss him and I’ll always miss him. Like Fred, like Tonks, like Lupin, like Mad-Eye and like all the others that I’ll miss. He’s just one on a list of many friends who gave their lives so that others could live in a better world.”

Harry sighed, his expression full of grim understanding as he looked at her. “Too many people have been lost.”

They stood in silence for a long moment and Ginny half-wished he hadn’t asked how she was. She didn’t want to spend much time evaluating how she was. She knew that Harry probably didn’t want to talk about Jackson. It was too complicated to consider how Harry felt about everything. Jackson had had a crush on Ginny and yet while she knew that it was their friendship that made him ultimately step in front of the killing curse to save her, she wondered if Harry and others had interpreted this as an act of love or something equally untrue and awkward. She knew Harry too well to know that if he did think that Jackson died for love, he would never bring it up or hold it against her.

“Someone from the muggle liaison’s office sent me an inter-departmental memo today,” Harry was suddenly telling her, although the tension in his voice suggested this was something he was unsure about saying. “Jackson’s funeral has been scheduled in a few days time. I thought you’d like to attend so I asked for the details.”

Startled that Harry not only had this information, but also that she hadn’t even considered that she would be able to go to the funeral at all. With Annie’s memory wiped, it had felt like Ginny had lost her too. “I can go?”

“Of course! They’re getting me the address and the time by tomorrow.”

The idea of sitting through Jackson’s funeral was a little daunting, but she really wanted to go. It meant she could say goodbye and at least pay her respects to Jackson’s other friends and his family. Harry still looked hesitant, as if there was more to what he had to say.

“I wanted to ask you something, but it’s totally fine if you say no. Would you mind if I went with you? I know I didn’t know him as a friend and I wasn’t close to him, like you were…”

Perplexed, it took her a moment to realize asking her this was what had him so anxious.“You want to come to his funeral? Why? Is it dangerous for me to go by myself? Do the Aurors think that the Death Eaters might try something?”

If the Aurors believed that her attending the funeral might attract more Death Eaters than she simply wouldn’t go. There was no way she was attracting any more danger and putting more innocent people in harm’s way, just so she could attend.

Harry shook his head quickly. “No, it’s not that. I just really want to pay my respects to Jackson. If you two had never become friends, I might have lost you a few days ago.”

Ginny swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. She’d been worrying over Harry’s jealousy and awkward feelings about Jackson having sacrificed himself to save her and all this time, he’d been worrying about asking her if he could go with her to the funeral for his own reasons? How pathetic was she being, and how wrong she was about Harry. Did she really think that Harry was so petty that Jackson’s death would be an awkward, terrible thing between them?

She really needed to work on her self-confidence and common sense. She was sure she’d never been this anxious about stupid things before the war had occurred. Apparently, it made her want to see the worst in people, just in case she got hurt in the end…

He held up his hands placatingly, as if anticipating anger on her part. “If you need to think about it, that’s fine. Like I said, I understand. You two were friends and I know that usually only friends and families go to these things.”

“Harry, if you want to come, you can,” she told him quickly. “I don’t mind.”

He looked pleased and slightly relieved. “Good. I just feel like this is something I really want to do. I wish I had the chance to tell him how grateful I am that you two became friends.”

“It’s really nice that you want to go.” She nodded as she said this, feeling the conviction in her own words. It was incredibly nice that Harry wanted to go and pay respects to someone he’d barely known, let alone liked. “And, it’ll be nice to have you there for support,” she added.

Harry smiled in thanks and then bent to check on the chicken while Ginny considered Harry and his desire to come to the funeral. He really wanted to pay respects to Jackson? She really needed to give Harry more credit for being a better person. She was too wrapped up in pathetic drama and insecure feelings to even consider that Harry was far more mature than most young men at his age.

Then again, perhaps her fears weren’t so far off from being a possibility. If the roles were reversed and she had found Harry clinging to the body of a female friend who had just died to save him, she wasn’t sure how she would be feeling right now. She supposed she would accept, as Harry did, that this female friend was only a friend and it was only friendship that motivated her to take the killing curse. However, she wondered if she would always secretly wonder about another possible motive, which likely would be supported by the sight of Harry clinging to this girl’s body after she’d died for him in what might appear to be a tragic end for love. Thinking back to that moment where she had been unable to let go of Jackson, she knew that her inability to part with him had not been a conscious action, but something desperate and driven by loss, fear and by her substantial injuries and loss of blood.

Watching Harry, she began to realize just how emotionally messed up she must be. Since when had she become such a cynical person to think like this? Since when had she begun to fear any little thing that could possibly disrupt the good things in her life? Had it been the experience of the war, losing Fred and too many others really damaged her? Or had this cynicism developed after the incident in the Chamber of Secrets? And more importantly, would she always be jaded?

“What’s wrong?”

She silently cursed, realizing that her thoughts must be plain as day on her face right now. She probably looked like she’d seen a ghost.

“Nothing, I was just thinking…”

Harry’s expression became sympathetic at once, making Ginny feel a little embarrassed.

Pull yourself together, Gin, she lectured herself.

“I know a lot of bad stuff has happened, but at least we have a more normal life ahead of us. From now on, it gets better.”

He sounded so sure of himself that Ginny felt herself wanting to agree with him, but something held her back. Suddenly she remembered Annie’s last words to her and she knew that ultimately, Harry was right. She would have a normal year at Hogwarts–she’d go to classes, see her friends, sleep in her dormitory and eat in the Great Hall. Voldemort and his Death Eaters were gone, and the few that weren’t in Azkaban were being pursued and would be caught and punished. No one would attack the castle, there would be no Dementors hovering over the castle grounds and no basilisks in the pipes. Harry, Ron and Hermione would not disappear again and she no longer had to live in fear of losing another family member.

“It really will be okay, won’t it?” She found herself asking him anxiously. She studied Harry’s expression as she asked the question, but there was no hint of doubt on his face.

Ginny marvelled at how much Harry had sacrificed and at all that he’d survived and overcome. The fact that Harry was standing here before her, seemingly happy, normal and so sure of himself that the idea of being normal began to seem realistic.

“Of course,” he replied easily, moving toward her. His arms slid around her and he lowered his face so he could press his forehead against hers. “We have each other, after all.”

He kissed her gently, but it was full of feeling and meaning that only helped to give her hope that Harry was right. Surrendering her fears, if only for right now, Ginny melted into the kiss feeling very glad to have made it this far. If anyone deserved a happy ending, it was Harry, and if she made him happy by being with him, then who was she to hold him back? Harry deserved to have a normal life, a career, stability, happiness and a family if he wanted it. Anything he wanted, she thought, she’d help him get it. The world was a hell of a lot better to her with Harry alive, well, and happy in it.

She pictured herself being a family with Harry–something that she hadn’t done in a very, very long time. She had abandoned her embarrassing daydreams of marrying Harry Potter shortly after Dumbledore’s funeral. She knew that she if allowed herself to think of such a future and Harry died, she would never move on. But now that Harry was here, kissing her in his kitchen and telling her that their future was wide-open, thinking of a future with him came easily back to her.

Harry would propose to her and she’d throw herself at him with an exuberant ‘YES!’ Her mother would cry from happiness at the news and her brothers would tease her endlessly since her childhood crush on Harry Potter had not been a secret. She’d play Quidditch professionally and come home to him after a series of away-games, having missed him desperately.

When the kiss ended, she found herself smiling at him, more from her wayward thoughts than from the kiss itself, but Harry didn’t need to know this. They moved to the table with the intention of chatting more, but Ginny found herself feeling lighter. A future and a normal life were in sight! Heck, even if it didn’t go the way she wanted, the fact that she had the option for a normal life and a future dimmed the pain of her past.

“Happier subjects now, I promise. Your birthday is in a couple days,” Harry was saying now as he took a seat across from her at the table. “What are your plans?”

Ginny had nearly forgotten about her upcoming seventeenth birthday. “A quiet dinner with my family,” she said without a second thought. “And you and Hermione, of course,” she added hastily. In her mind, they were family already and had been for a long time– even before she and Harry had started dating.

“I’ve already got your present,” he boasted cheerfully. “I hope you like it.”

She found herself blushing at his excitement. “You didn’t have to get me anything, Harry.”

He waved her modest response away and took out his wand to summon more butterbeer to the table. “I had it picked out for a long time.”

“You spoil me,” she murmured, while secretly enjoying the tickle of self-centered pleasure that came from knowing Harry had put real thought into getting her a birthday gift.

“I don’t! Anyway, you deserve something nice!”

“You do, but okay. I can’t wait to find out what it is!”

Harry looked pleased and then got up to go check on dinner once more. “I need to keep an eye on the food. I’ve charmed the oven to be a bit more efficient than a muggle one, but I haven’t done enough cooking with the oven to know if the charm is too powerful. There’s a slight chance I might burn down my house.”

“Does my father know that you charm muggle kitchen appliances to make them more efficient?”

Harry chuckled as he checked on the chicken. “He’s the one who taught me how to make them run without electricity. I also have my refrigerator and dishwasher running with magic. I’m saving a fortune on monthly utility bills.”

“Your home is a nice mix of muggle and magic,” she noted, realizing this for the first time. “I suppose it shows where people come from. My family doesn’t use these muggle appliances, but you and Hermione will.”

“I’m used to them, I suppose. I’m already used to cooking food this way and I’m too lazy to figure out how to cook the traditional wizarding way.”

“Fair enough,” Ginny remarked with a smile, thinking to herself that her mother would jump at the chance to teach Harry if he ever mentioned his lack of ‘normal’ cooking skills.

As the food was served, the conversation eventually turned to their friends from school, as Harry and Ron learned a great deal simply by being at the Ministry and running into various classmates. Most recently, Harry had run into Parvati Patel in the Atrium and they’d talked for several minutes. More specifically, Parvati had talked while Harry listened for several minutes. Nonetheless, Parvati was starting an internship with the Department of International Magical Cooperation. Apparently, she was excited that her work would allow her to travel and get some time away. She had also told Harry that she hoped to attain a position at Hogwarts to teach Divination in the near-future, but this did not seem to be a possibility. Trelawney was once again the sole instructor of Divination as Firenze had returned to his colony, and Trelawney was apparently in no hurry to retire. Parvati then told Harry about Padma, who wanted to work with young children and was enrolled in a childhood education program.

“And after all this,” Harry exclaimed, his voice full of exasperation at the memory of the chatty Parvati. “She ends the conversation by complimenting me and asking if I’d like to go get a drink with her some time.”

Ginny smirked, but managed to repress her urge to laugh. The thought of Parvati so boldly flirting with Harry was far more amusing than it was distressing. Knowing that Harry truly was embarrassed, she kept her amusement hidden and then patted his arm sympathetically, hoping her expression didn’t betray her true feelings.

“You can’t blame her. You are a catch, Harry…”

Harry rolled his eyes and pushed the remainder of his chicken around his plate. “I can’t believe I didn’t do enough damage at the Yule ball,” Harry responded in a mutter.

“You were fourteen–now you’re this strong Auror and ridiculously good-looking.”

Harry glowered at her briefly before shaking his head with a small, sheepish smile on his face.

For dessert, Harry uncovered a batch of chocolate cupcakes and set store-bought tubs of chocolate and vanilla frosting and bottles of sprinkles on the table.

Harry sat back down looking quite pleased with himself. “I asked Hermione what she thought would be a romantic dessert and she suggested it might be fun if we decorated cupcakes. Personally, I think a boyfriend should supply decorated cupcakes, but I hope you like it.”

Excited by the prospect, she waved his concern away. “I love this idea!” She picked up one of the spatulas that Harry had set on the table and opened the container of vanilla frosting.

As messy as the activity was, cupcake-making turned out to be a lot of fun. Ginny glanced at their growing collection of decorated cupcakes, chuckling as she noticed the amount of frosting and sprinkles she applied to her own cupcakes in comparison to the smaller and neater-looking cupcakes that Harry was making.

“Don’t be stingy on the frosting, Potter” Ginny lectured with a smirk, deliberating smearing a large amount of frosting all over one of her cupcakes. She took a large wallop of vanilla out of her own frosting container and plopped it on top of the small amount of chocolate he had already spread out onto the cupcake.

Harry laughed, his expression torn between amusement and trying to force an expression of mock-horror. “Hey, now! That’s too much! I want to taste the cupcake under the frosting!”

Ginny continued to smile as she dragged her spatula over the cupcake, attempting to smooth the ridiculous amount of frosting down. “More is always better!”

Harry dipped his own spatula back in the container and used it to smear chocolate frosting across Ginny’s cheek. Gasping as the cool frosting touched her skin; she leapt back and touched her cheek with a laugh.

“That was uncalled for, Potter!”

Harry chuckled. “More is always better,” he scoffed playfully.

Ginny grinned widely as she jerked forward, brandishing her own vanilla-laden spatula toward him. Harry was too quick for her and he leapt backwards with another laugh. Jumping up, Ginny chased him around the table, her spatula extended as if it were her wand.

“You’re going to get it!”

Harry laughed in response, flicking his spatula at her to spray her with a spritz of chocolate. It splattered on her chin and neck and when she attempted to retaliate, she missed her target. Realizing that she was definitely losing this fight, she turned and fled before he could decorate her face with any more frosting. She raced from the kitchen, squealing when Harry nearly caught her arm as he pursued her. Bolting into the dining room and through the living room, she paused to glance over her shoulder when she didn’t hear his footsteps behind her anymore. Confused, she wheeled around to find that he wasn’t anywhere to be found.

Taking a step backwards in confusion, she whirled back around, intent on finding a good hiding spot where she might be able to surprise Harry. However, she hadn’t taken two steps before Harry materialized out of thin air and she slammed into his chest with a shriek of surprise as well as an unpleasant dull pain in her abdomen, although she ignored the latter. His arms wrapped around her, enveloping her against his warm body.

“NO!” Ginny pleaded between peals of laughter. She tried to wriggle free but it was no good–she was helpless as Harry tightened his grip on her and ran the tip of his spatula across her clean cheek.

“It looks good on you,” he mused, his lips close to her ear. The tickle of his breath on her skin sent tingles down her spine as he spoke. “Like war paint.”

Reminding herself to get a grip, she attempted to break free of his arms, but he was too strong. “Not fair, Harry!” She laughed as she tried to wriggle free. “I thought we agreed on no Auror tricks!”

He grinned widely at her, unconcerned by their previous agreement. “What fun is that?”

Before she could formulate a response, Harry shifted his grip on her and kissed her fully on the mouth. Ginny resisted only for a moment before she gave into the kiss and tossed her arms around his neck in surrender. Harry chuckled against her mouth as he kissed her, pleased by his victory.

After a few minutes of the heated kiss, his lips moved to her cheek, her jaw and then to her other cheek, kissing away the chocolate. She felt slightly disappointed when his lips left hers, but the kisses he pressed to her chocolate-covered skin were equally delicious. Ginny stood still as he kissed away every inch of the chocolate in sweet little kisses that tickled her and made her toes curl in her socks.

“Chocolate wins,” Ginny whispered with a smile as he kissed the last of it away.

Noticing the bits of chocolate that had rubbed off onto his own face, she debated trying to run for more frosting to continue this little fight when she became aware of the way Harry slid his hands down her sides to her waist, tugging her even closer against him. She felt her face blush at the intimacy of the moment and her heart fluttered in her chest. She bit her lip, waiting for him to kiss her again. Harry was looking at her with an intense expression, his eyes a bright shade of green that bore into hers, making her suddenly incapable of speech or thought. Feeling inexplicably exposed under his gaze, her smile faltered and she shifted in his hold.

“What’s–” Her intended question to ask why he was looking at her so intensely was interrupted by his blurting of three words.

“I love you.”

The words came out a little too quickly and too nervously, and were followed by a bright red blush of Harry’s cheeks, but she barely registered his uncertain and slightly embarrassed reaction. The words hung in the air for one stunned moment before Ginny felt her lips pulling into a wide smile. Pleasure replaced surprise as she stared up into his face, about to ask him why he was looking so nervous when she realized that she hadn’t said anything yet and he was probably panicking in the silence.

He then smiled nervously back at her, his expression unveiling more embarrassment as he took a breath and explained, “I’m been in love with you for a long time now but I wasn’t sure when to say it or how to bring it up since I’ve never said those words to anyone before. I thought you should know how I felt before something else crazy or dangerous happens that try to come between us.”

He sounded so sure of himself and yet so vulnerable at the same time. Was this real? Was Harry really standing here, holding her and telling her that he loved her? Realizing again that she still hadn’t spoken, she forced herself to focus. “I love you too,” Ginny told him, feeling her face flush as she spoke.

It was weird to hear herself say these words aloud. She had been careful not to think about loving Harry and to avoid considering how deep her feelings ran all year. The possibility of losing Harry had been too great during the war and then afterwards when they were broken up, but now that those words were out in the open, she felt naked–she felt as if it wouldn’t take much to break her if this wasn’t real. It all got very serious and scary and yet indescribably wonderful in one little moment.

She couldn’t count how many times other people had mentioned how much she and Harry must love each other but Ginny had always mentally brushed it off. She’d become so practiced at not allowing herself to think about actually, truly, deeply being in love with Harry, that it had become natural to do so. Loving Harry was something she felt, but not something she was consciously allowed to think about. Loving Harry had become about not giving up hope, instead of thinking of a future, of marriage, of kids, or happily-ever-afters. But now, finally, it was different. Being in love with Harry meant the possibility of a future, of new, non-life-threatening challenges and obstacles.

“Good,” he breathed, grinning with more confidence. “Good, I’m glad.”

His relief made a small giggle escape her and she buried her face into his chest, sliding her arms around him tightly. “Harry, you’re making it sound as if you thought I might run away from you.”

He made a face and let out a soft sigh. “Please don’t make fun. I’ve never told a girl I loved her–for all I know, the usual reaction is for the girl to run away.”

She lifted her head and gave him a skeptical look before pressing her lips against his. “You’re ridiculous,” she whispered between soft kisses.

“You had to know before you went back to school,” he murmured seriously. “It would have been weird to tell you in a letter.”

She grinned, but she mentally agreed with him. “Maybe a little.”

Harry grinned back before he kissed her again, this time with a great amount of happiness behind the kiss. He lifted her slightly, his arms wrapping around her as he pulled her feet off the floor. When the kiss ended, Ginny buried her face into his neck, inhaling his scent of fresh soap, laundered clothes and a hint of aftershave. Harry had told her he loved her and she’d said it back. She felt lighter, as if she’d been held down by the prospect of not being able to be happy and in love with her boyfriend.

“Shall we go back to the cupcakes? We’ll call a truce on our little frosting fight.”

“Please,” she replied a little breathlessly. Her heart was hammering out an uneven rhythm and she was beginning to feel a little disorientated. Was this actually happening? Was it normal to feel this unbelievably happy? She hoped Harry couldn’t see her ridiculous reaction to those three little words. Beginning to panic over her body’s reactions, she suddenly became more aware of the very dull pain still resonating in her abdomen.

They made their way back into the kitchen, Harry’s arm still around her waist as if he wasn’t ready to let her go. She tried to focus on how happy she felt and less on the pain.

“Do you think Ron has told Hermione he loves her?” Harry asked suddenly, his expression curious.

Ginny smiled at the memory of Hermione telling her that Ron had said ‘I love you.’ “He has and I hear he also blurted it.”

Harry’s cheeks flushed red again at her teasing accusatory look. He shrugged and kept his eyes forward as he spoke. “It’s rather scary for a bloke to tell a girl he loves her. It makes you look like an idiot if you don’t say it back.”

“Must be why boys rarely tell girls that they like them.”

They proceeded to eating a few cupcakes, which was thankfully much less messy than making them. Managing to eat two before her stomach began to protest, she helped Harry clean up the mess, although his part was much faster owing to the fact that he could use magic. As she moved, she became more and more aware of the dull ache where her skin was still healing and by the time the last plate was stored away, she regretted running from Harry, instead of just accepting the chocolate-assault.

“Are you alright?” Harry asked, frowning when he noticed how quiet she’d become over the last several minutes.

Ginny dropped her head and nodded, smiling in spite of the burning sensation that radiated upwards from her hips to the bottom of her ribcage. She became aware that she her hand was pressing over the wound and she dropped her hand, embarrassed that the pain was interrupting the magic of the evening.

“I shouldn’t have let you run,” he said grimly. He sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “Your mum might never let me see you again the next time you’re sick or hurt!”

She smiled to reassure him. “Honestly, I’m fine. It just stings a little.”

Unconvinced, he shook his head and led her into the living room. “Maybe I should take you home, just in case.”

He was seriously going to cut the night short after saying ‘I love you’ just because she was in a small amount of discomfort? Really? Unwilling for the night to end, she took his hand and squeezed it. “No, come on! Please, Harry, honestly, I’m fine. I just need to sit for a bit.”

Harry hesitated, his eyes flickering nervously to the fireplace as if he was debating forcing her to take the Floo network home. “Gin, you just got home from the hospital and your mum wanted you home early.”

The thought of going home and being forced into bed by both her mother and her boyfriend was a tad stressful and she could feel her emotions boiling up after days of a potion-induced sleep and the stress of the attack in the village. “Just a little longer? Please? Mum will send me straight to bed if she finds out I experienced a few seconds of pain. I’m really okay.”

He regarded her for a long moment, as if trying to decide whether or not she was telling the truth. It was cute that he was so worried about her, but she wasn’t about to let him end the night. Ginny waited patiently, ignoring the slight urge to let her temper flare up at him and tell him she was a big girl. He was just worried about her and she needed to get used to him worrying about her. Worrying meant he cared, after all.

“Alright,” Harry agreed at last. Whether his agreement was because of her pleading expression or his own wish for their evening to go on a little longer, she wasn’t sure.

Ginny settled onto the sofa with a happy smile and watched as Harry held out his hand to the fireplace with a look of concentration. The fire roared to life and he glanced at Ginny with a tiny look of pride in his newfound abilities.

“Wandless and wordless magic, huh?”

“I’m trying to impress you with more of my new Auror tricks,” was his clever reply as he sat and put his arm around her.

“I am impressed. Although, if you expect me to stay in this relationship solely on the expectation that you constantly must have a cool new Auror trick to show me, you’d better have bigger and better things planned in the months to come.”

He chuckled and kissed her forehead. “Good thing we’re working on compelled-apparition in the fall.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s really complicated and we’re only supposed to use it in emergency situations, but it allows an Auror to force you to apparate to a location of their choice.”

“Like side-along apparition?”

“Sort of, but only the one person goes. Like I said, it’s really complicated to force that on someone and obviously pretty dangerous. It’s easiest on unconscious victims since as they don’t have fully conscious minds preventing that kind of compulsion.”

“Interesting. So when you showed it off to me, where would you have me go?”

“I could use it to bring you to my house, or I could have Ron use it on you to send you to me.”

She rolled her eyes with a smile at the idea. “Yes, because I’m sure Ron would be willing to send me to your house alone.”

Harry leaned in and kissed her again, this time on the lips and with deliberate slowness. “He knows you’re here now and he’s not upset by it.”

She smiled slightly, only half-paying attention to their conversation as his lips glazed hers and his warm breath blew in her face before he kissed her again. In spite of the distraction, she was able to come up with a witty reply. “He’s with Hermione and not thinking about what his best friend is doing to his little sister.”

“Ron isn’t sixteen anymore,” Harry reminded her quietly, his lips trailing to her neck. “He knows I love you and that I have no intention of ever letting you go.”

She chuckled, knowing that it was true that Ron had grown up a lot since their days at Hogwarts. “I know, it’s just fun to make fun of him,” she joked, very aware of the way his hand slid down her side to her waist.

She smiled as his lips moved along her neck and she closed her eyes at the delicious tingles running down her spine. She slid her fingers into his hair and leaned back on the couch, enjoying the sensual assault. She loved it when he kissed her neck, trailing his lips to that tender spot behind her ear. Hell, she loved it when he kissed her. It was very different than other kisses she’d shared with anyone else.

With Harry, her heart sped up and her breath caught in her chest. With Harry, she forgot the world and everything was like fireworks. With Harry, she felt nervous and confident at the same time. She felt security, she felt happy and she felt hopeful. She had trouble thinking clearly around him when he kissed her and when he smiled, she was sure that his was the most beautiful smile in the world. She was in big trouble when it came to Harry and although she’d known this since she was little; she hadn’t known it would be anything more than a silly crush.

“How are you feeling?” He asked, his voice husky as his lips left her skin and he pulled back just enough to look her in the eyes.

“Very good,” she whispered back honestly, sliding her feet under her on the sofa to sit up on her knees. The pain had very nearly disappeared. “You?”

He chuckled and his fingers glided across her stomach lightly, avoiding the area where she was still injured. “Does it still hurt?”

“No, I pretty much forgot about it,” she told him, leaning in to kiss him again. “You shouldn’t have stopped in case it hurt again. I need to be distracted!”

His laughter was breathy as he kissed her back, sliding his arms around her and pulling her onto his lap. “Distract you, huh?”

She murmured her assent, though was she was too hazy to respond with words. All she was aware of was Harry and his lips and his hands on her. His hands drifted back to her waist, his fingers pressing into her shirt and to the slight bit of skin exposed where her shirt had risen. She shifted closer to him, deepening the kiss and pressing him into the back of the sofa. A soft moan escaped him as the kiss continued and Ginny ran her hands down the front of his shirt, feeling his hard chest beneath the soft fabric.

She felt a desperate need to feel alive as she kissed him, wishing to be more submerged into the feelings of bliss she felt while kissing him. Perhaps Harry felt it too because he no longer stopped the kisses and he seemed to lose himself in the moment as well, urging her closer and subconsciously pushing her shirt up a little higher to feel more skin.

His fingers on her skin seemed to light a fire wherever he touched and she suddenly wished he’d touch her more and all over. Harry, however, seemed to be careful to avoid her front, particularly the area where her skin was still scarred from the curse.

Suddenly, Harry pulled back and gently pushed her sideways, easing her to lie on the couch. Ginny found herself grinning like an idiot until his mouth founds hers again and he came down on top of her, pressing into her and winding his fingers in her hair. While he kissed her, she slid her hands around him and tugged his shirt up insistently. She got it nearly halfway up before he stopped and propped his elbow up on the cushion to keep most of his weight off her.

“Clothes on this time, okay?” He said, his voice still husky with unmasked pleasure.

She looked at him for a long moment, wondering why he didn’t want her shirt off as badly as she wanted to throw his across the room. His cheeks were pink, his hair was a wild mess and his breathing was ragged as he looked down at her, looking every bit the most gorgeous wizard she’d ever seen in her life.

“I promise it’s a bit more fun if the shirt is off,” she tried to sway him, her fingers toying with the hem of his shirt.

He smiled at her, perhaps a little sadly as his free hand caressed her face. “Not when you’re still healing and you need to go home soon.”

Deep down, she knew that Harry was being sweet and sensitive. What he was saying was that he didn’t want to rush anything and he certainly didn’t want to risk undoing any of the healing her body had done in the last twenty-four hours. Deep down, she knew that Harry was nothing if not a gentleman and put her before his own wants and needs. In spite of this, it didn’t stop the irrational sting of rejection in her chest. It was silly and stupid, but nonetheless it was still there.

“Alright,” she replied, her voice breaking slightly as Harry lifted himself off her and straightened his clothes.

Ginny sat up and smoothed her hair, trying to fight the irrational emotions threatening to turn her into a pathetic girl who cries when her loving boyfriend says ‘no’ for a very legitimate and sincere reason.

“Hey,” he murmured, his voice soft and a little teasing. “Please don’t look so sad.”

“Sorry,” she cried, exasperated with herself as she made a noise between a laugh and a sob. “I’m being stupid. I’m tired, that’s all.”

Harry leaned in and kissed her gently on the lips. “Gin, it’s not that I don’t want you, but this isn’t the right moment. You just got out of the hospital and you need to be home really soon. I’m not about to test your mother’s patience when she’s been worried sick about you.”

She nodded, silently telling herself that Harry was just being his caring, sweet, perfect self. She forced another smile and sighed wearily.

“I know, I’m just being stupid. Ignore me.” She felt even more embarrassed to having such a stupid reaction to Harry telling her this wasn’t the moment to get intimate on the couch. More than that, any messing around might be ruined by pain, or even upsetting, self-conscious feelings about the scars on her stomach. She also wouldn’t put it past her mother to Floo Harry, demanding to know where her daughter was and catching them in a compromising position.

“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I really just don’t want to let things get too far before we’re ready and the moment is right.”

She kissed his cheek, wishing she could stop looking so dejected and embarrassed. “Thank you.”

He smiled at her hesitantly before he reached over and squeezed her hand. “I love you, you silly, beautiful girl.”

“I love you, too.”

They looked at each other for another long moment before Harry glanced at the clock on the wall. “I should really take you home, though.”

Ginny got readily to her feet, feeling more willing to go home if it meant dropping this embarrassing subject. “Yeah, I probably should. Thank you for dinner. This was really great and it definitely got my mind off of things,” she told him as sincerely as she could. There were no words to describe how grateful she felt that Harry was able to make her forget the horrible events of the last few days. It was nice to be able to smile and laugh and be normal again.

“You are very welcome.”

Ginny leaned in and kissed him briefly on the lips. Harry handed her the bucket of Floo powder on the mantle and Ginny took a pinch, tossing it into the flickering yellow flames. The fire turned bright green, the flames dancing merrily as she stepped into the grate.

“Night, Harry.”

“Goodnight!”

“The Burrow!”

The flames grew bright and she closed her eyes, feeling herself flying past many grates and households until the flicking light behind her lids ceased and she stepped into her own house. There was no one downstairs, but the light was on in the kitchen and there were soft, murmuring voices upstairs. She was a little surprised that her mother wasn’t waiting for her by the grate, eager to reprimand her for staying out late tonight when she should be in bed, resting.

Ginny headed upstairs, feeling suddenly very tired and eager to get into bed. Now that she was back home, her scars were more persistently aching and she was trying to remember where she’d left her special salve when she entered her bedroom and found Ron and Hermione kissing quite passionately in the middle of her room.

The two stumbled apart at the sound of her entrance and Hermione turned a bright pink, her expression resembling a deer in headlights. Ron, however, didn’t look phased by the interruption. Instead, he was grinning as he waved a hand in greeting.

“How was your night, Ginny?” He asked conversationally, as if his sister hadn’t walked in on him passionately embraced with Hermione.

“Great Ron,” she answered amusedly, raising her eyebrows at him. “I’d like to go to bed now, so maybe you two could continue saying goodnight in another room?”

“Mum is up there,” Ron explained matter-of-factly, but Hermione had another answer all lined up.

“That’s alright,” Hermione spluttered, now also fighting a grin, although her face was still very pink. She gently nudged Ron toward the door. “Thank you for a lovely evening, Ronald,” she added firmly.

“Erm… you’re welcome.” He paused, as if trying to read Hermione’s expression to discover if the ‘thank-you’ was actually code for ‘meet me somewhere else.’ After a few seconds, his shoulders slumped ever so slightly and he bid both Hermione and Ginny goodnight, shutting the door behind him.

Hermione held her face in her hands, a nervous giggle escaping her. “Sorry! We didn’t mean for you to walk in on us. And for the record, we don’t make a habit of kissing in your room.”

Ginny laughed and waved it off. “It’s okay, Hermione. Just promise you’ll stay out of my bed and I’m fine with it.”

Hermione gaped in horror for a brief moment before she hurriedly changed the subject. “So did you and Harry have a nice evening? Your hair is quite messy so I trust his goodbye kiss was just as good as mine.” Her sly comment made Ginny giggle in surprise at Hermione’s boldness.

Ginny moved to her dresser and searched for some pajamas. “Quite good, although next time I’ll have Harry drop me off in Ron’s room when we say goodnight.”

“Alright, alright,” Hermione mumbled.

“Tonight was great,” Ginny replied, deciding she’d tortured Hermione enough. She turned around smiling before she said, “Harry told me he loves me.”

Hermione gaped and then squealed in delight in a very un-Hermione-ish way. “Really? That’s wonderful! I mean, it was obvious he loves you, but I’m so glad he finally told you. How did it happen?”

Delighting in the tingling, walking-on-a-cloud feelings surrounding this new memory, Ginny lowered herself to sit on her vanity table as she spoke. “We were making cupcakes, which turned into a bit of a frosting fight. Harry chased me and managed to catch me… and then he just said it.”

Hermione beamed. “Good for him! I hope you said it back?”

“Of course I said it back! I love him!”

Hermione smiled knowingly, folding her arms as she made a small noise of exasperation. “You’ve always loved him. It just took the two of you forever to figure out how perfect you were for each other.”

“Only five years of school!” Ginny argued half-heartedly, smiling widely. “By the way, that’s a shorter amount of time than how long it took you and Ron to figure it out.”

Hermione grinned back. “I blame the boys. Us girls had it figured it out ages before that”

Ginny chuckled. “Me too.”

*~*

A/N: “You never tell a girl you like her-- it makes you look like an idiot!”- A Very Potter Musical.

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Chapter 16: Chapter 16: Define 'Normal'

Author's Notes: An update at last! This chapter and me did not get along for the longest time! Nothing I wrote for Jackson’s funeral was good enough to be released so I just kept writing different versions until I found one I could actually use. Thank you to all my readers and to everyone who have left reviews! It’s for you that I keep fighting through the writer’s block. Also, I would like to apologize for the ending—I absolutely couldn’t resist this one, but I’ve had this moment in the story planned out since chapter 1—I just didn’t know when I’d drop it in the plot : )


Hogwarts was on fire.

Everything around her seemed to be burning and collapsing into heaps of rubble. The collapsing walls and towers were trapping students, Death Eaters and teachers alike. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a giant running toward her with his club raised with the intent to kill, his terrifying battle cry ringing over the sound of the screams and falling castle.

Her wand shook in her hand as she managed to blast the club from the monster’s hand and took advantage of the giant’s moment of shock and confusion to run away. The farther she ran away, the louder the screaming got; there was no escaping death. Hopelessness began to set in as the strength left her legs and she collapsed to the ground with a muffled cry for help. Exhausted, she lifted her head and gasped at what she saw ten feet away: Harry and Voldemort facing each other, their wands raised to kill.

Voldemort seemed to be radiating power while Harry looked worn down, tired and weak. “Harry, no!” She tried to yell, but her voice wasn’t loud enough.

Voldemort's killing curse lit up the world and blinded her so she had to shield her eyes from the intensity of it. The power of the curse blasted dirt into her eyes and jerked her head up and cried out in relief to see Harry again for Harry still standing. Voldemort, on the other hand, had vanished. Harry turned to face her and was looking at her with a wide smile on his face–the kind of smile he wore whenever he looked at her in a private moment between them. The smile gave her the strength to stand and Harry came to her.

“I did it,” he whispered, his lips very close to hers. Ginny revelled in the feeling of Harry’s victory and survival. The stark contrast of the despair and weakness she’d felt moments ago, compared to how well she felt now was startling. His fingers slid through her hair and he pressed his forehead to hers. She wanted very badly for him to kiss her.

Instead of granting that wish, he took a breath and asked hopefully, “Do you love me?”

“I love you,” she whispered back without missing a beat. It was all she wanted to kiss him and feel happy and whole again.

He tightened his grip on her momentarily before leaning back, looking at her quite seriously. “That’s why I need to go,” he told her grimly. “You shouldn’t get your hopes up like this. The school is burning, Ginny. It’s my fault.”

And then he took several jerky steps backward, looking at her with regret and sadness. Unable to find her voice to beg him not to leave again, she was forced to watch as he turned his back on her and walked back toward the castle.

Ginny woke up with a sharp gasp of air and stared at her ceiling, tangled in her sheets and feeling miserable. Another day, another dream. At least this one wasn’t her usual dose of self-inflicted torture wherein she saw Harry dead in her dreams. It had been a long time since she dreamt of Harry refusing to be with her. Apparently her sub-conscious wasn’t ready to give up her old fears just yet.

Stupid, irrational fears, she reminded herself grumpily. Voldemort was gone–if they broke up, it wouldn’t be because Harry had to go save the world.

A distraction came in the form of an owl tapping on her window with a note tied to its leg. Ginny yawned and stumbled from her bed, ignoring the dull ache in her abdomen when she practically rolled off the mattress. The pain was definitely going away, but quick movements still triggered some discomfort. She opened her window and allowed the dark brown owl to fly inside. It wasn’t an owl she recognized, but when it ruffled its feathers importantly, held out its leg and stared up at her reproachfully, she guessed this must be an owl from the Ministry.

Sure enough, the note was marked with the Ministry’s insignia at the top of the parchment, although she recognized Harry’s writing. With its burden removed, the owl hopped back up to the window sill and took off without another look back. Ginny sat down on the floor to read that Harry had found out the dates of Jackson’s visitation and funeral, which would be held tomorrow and the day after.

Below this piece of important information, he wrote:

I’m in training all day today, but I promised your Dad I’d come over for dinner. Ron finally made up his mind about moving in with me so I guess it’s a celebratory thing. I made him swear he wouldn’t charm any other walls orange, except the ones in his own bedroom. I need to keep the walls Chudley Canons Free since I’ll need to have Harpy green around the house and orange and green would clash terribly.

I’ll see you for dinner.

I love you.

-Harry.

Ginny re-read the note once more, lingering over ‘I love you.’ Turning on the over-analyzer in her, she noted how carefully Harry had written these last few words. This was the first time she’d seen it in writing and it gave her a thrill similar to the one she’d felt after hearing Harry say it for the first time. She was vaguely aware that she was a real idiot in love, but she didn’t care. Hearing Harry tell her he loved her was a thousand times better than when she’d heard it from Dean. This was real… this could be the forever type thing. This thought made her smile widen and she folded the letter carefully and slid it under her pillow for now. Her sub-conscious could keep having stupid dreams all it wanted–the fact was that she finally had what she’d wanted all along.

Hermione was downstairs by the time she’d showered and dressed for the day. Hermione was hurriedly unrolling a very familiar roll of parchment, a look of pure excitement on her face.

“Hogwarts letters are here!” Hermione sang cheerfully without looking up. Her excitement turned to fascination as she read on. “Look at all the books we’ll need for our N.E.W.T year!”

Ginny chuckled at the enthusiasm only Hermione could hold over seeing so many books listed on one roll of parchment. She picked up her own letter and jumped slightly to realize it was bulkier than normal.

Hermione beamed and set her own list down at last. She held up a tiny pin that Ginny recognized right away. “I got Head Girl. And I’d say yours most definitely contains Quidditch captain!”

Ginny didn’t wait to find out. She tore into the letter and pulled the parchment from within, desperate to see the glint of the badge she’d dreamt of attaching to her robes since making the Gryffindor team. The small badge dropped onto the table, causing both Ginny and Hermione to squeal in delight.

“Congratulations!” Hermione exclaimed.

Ginny stared at the little badge with excitement. Ever since she’d gotten to Hogwarts, she’d dreamt of following after Charlie and becoming Quidditch captain. When Snape and the Carrows took over Hogwarts, Quidditch had immediately been cancelled along with any other activity that invited school spirit or merriment. There had been no effort to select captains or schedule games and she’d lost her chance at having the badge at her first opportunity. But now, now that she would play as Captain, this would double her chances of being allowed into the International Quidditch League.

“Thanks! Congratulations to you, too! Head Girl, huh? That’s pretty great!”

Hermione sighed happily and clutched her Hogwarts letter to her chest. “It’s going to be a good year!”

Ginny glanced down again at the book list. “A crazy year.”

Hermione chuckled. “Yes, but crazy in the normal sense. It’ll be academically crazy, for us. Actually, this will be our first boring year at Hogwarts, if you think about all the other years.”

“I’ll believe it next spring when we get through the year without any dark magic or freakish accidents occurring.”

Choosing to ignore this comment, Hermione turned her attention to fixing herself a cup of tea. As she stirred her tea bag around the mug, she changed the subject. “It’ll be weird to be in your year. It’ll be weirder to be hanging around with someone who actually cares about getting their homework done at appropriate times,” Hermione added a few moments later, causing Ginny to smirk just a bit. While she was a right side better than Ron or Harry when it came to homework and studying, she knew once Quidditch got underway, Hermione would become totally unimpressed with her dedication to completing ‘Excellent-level’ essays. This year, Quidditch and Harry’s visits would become her new distractions.

“It’ll be weird without the boys,” Ginny murmured.

“Yeah…” Hermione’s smile faltered as she considered this. After a long moment, she spoke again. “Can I tell you something?”

“Sure.”

Hermione hesitated before speaking. “They were my first real friends. Before them, I never really fit in anywhere.”

Ginny regarded Hermione sympathetically for a moment. Did she really think that this year would be lonely for her? Everyone at school respected her and liked her, especially since the start of the DA. “Hermione, you know you have me, Luna and everyone else right? Lots of DA members are coming back… you’ll know plenty of people.”

Hermione smiled, the relief clear in her expression. “Thanks. I know… it just sort of feels like I’m starting again, you know. I realize that I’m not really a social person, but it was nice to have Harry and Ron–to have real friends.”

“You still do,” she reminded her gently.

Ginny started on making toast before adding, “And if you think Harry and Ron won’t be sneaking into the castle and sneaking us out every once and a while, you’re crazy. What’s a year at Hogwarts without breaking a few school rules?”

Hermione chuckled sadly. “That’s true. Although without Harry and Ron, I feel that my rule-breaking days are basically behind me.”

Ginny grinned, feeling the challenge in these words. She shrugged as she said, “I don’t think you realize just how much I’ve learned from Fred and George.”

*~*

The visitation for Jackson was held the following day at a funeral home at the far end of the village. The morning of the visitation, she kept thinking how the guilt would forever sit with her no matter how undeserving she realized was for his death. It was an impossible thing to live with the sacrifice that Jackson had made for her. Up until now, she had only been fretting over her own feelings of guilt– she had never even gone to how his family might feel when she met them at the visitation.

Upon expressing her feelings to Harry about this, Harry had offered to let her borrow his invisibility cloak so that she could attend on her own terms. It was a tempting offer to be able to pay her respects without seeing the possible looks of blame, of anger, of sympathy. She didn’t want to have a room full of strangers looking at her and judging her. Still, she turned the offer down, wanting to do this right. She needed to say goodbye to Jackson, but she also needed to face his family and friends and tell her how sorry she was. She needed to know that they didn’t hate her for what happened, and if they did, at least she wouldn’t spend the rest of her life wondering about people thought. As much as part of her wanted to hide from the guilt and blame, she had already made the decision to face life head-on after spending so many years fighting the darkness Voldemort had cast upon the world. The war had already been won and she’d come through everything– she would not waste it by hiding in fear any longer.

Harry was still going to attend the funeral with her tomorrow, but as for the visitation, Ginny wanted to do this by herself. She wanted to say goodbye on her own first and she wanted to say goodbye to Jackson properly, without worrying about Harry watching or having to watch. A tiny part of her wanted to have him with her for the visitation as well, but as difficult as she knew this was going to be, she knew that she needed and wanted to do it on her own.

And so, when Harry dropped her off, she walked into the funeral home on shaky legs and the terrible feeling that she might throw up or cry if she had to speak to anyone. There was already a line inside leading into the private area where Jackson’s family stood around Jackson’s casket. Ginny joined the queue, her heart beating frantically in her chest as she waited for her turn. As she moved up slowly, she could see that each person in line was given a chance to speak with each family member and offer their condolences before passing the casket, which was open for viewing.

As Ginny’s eyes moved over the line of family members, she found her gaze freezing repeatedly over the figure in the casket. Seeing Jackson, she felt the guilt and sadness fill her up. She was suddenly lost in her last memory of Jackson and she began to feel a strong urge to run outside for air. Could she do this? How many people had she seen lying in coffins over the last year? How was this any different?

This is very different. Jackson died to save you.

Wiping her clammy hands on her skirt, her eyes skated nervously over the line of family again, landing on Jackson’s parents. Ginny had only had brief contact with them over the summer and she remembered very little about them. Their proximity to their son made the reality of having to face them all the more intimidating.

Jackson’s father was a tall, slender man with hair like his son’s, and a short, trimmed beard. He stood very straight and seemed almost robotic as he shook the hands of the mourners, his expression stoic, as if he was beyond expressing the pain he surely felt. Next to him stood Jackson’s mother, who unlike her husband, was not masking her pain. She was a small woman with curly blonde hair pulled back into a simple ponytail. Every few seconds she’d raise a shaky hand to wipe her tears and offer a small smile as she said ‘thank you’ to each person who expressed their condolences. Her eyes were red and her face was blotchy from crying–her mother had looked the same throughout Fred’s funeral service; this memory was not a comforting one.

As Ginny moved up the line, Jackson’s still figure became harder and harder to ignore. Her heart squeezed as she finally allowed herself to really look at him, knowing she needed to look at his face now before she got to the casket and totally lost it. Her legs kept moving forward with the line, but she felt numb as she took in Jackson’s relaxed expression. He was dressed in a simple black suit, white shirt, no tie and shiny black shoes. His hands were folded over his stomach, the fingers relaxed against his shirt.

“Hi, thank you for coming,” said a soft female voice.

Jolting back to reality, Ginny turned to face one of the first of several family members. The speaker had to be a little older than Ginny, but she looked nothing like Jackson or his parents.

“I’m Lydia, Jackson’s cousin,” Lydia said, reaching out to shake her hand.

Feeling oddly jerky, Ginny reached out to take her hand and shook it, wishing she her hand wasn’t so sweaty. It took her a moment to gather her thoughts and force her tongue to work.

“I’m Ginny–a friend of Jackson’s,” she managed to say, her voice cracking as she said her name. Did they know the name of the friend he’d died for? How much did the Aurors remove from their memories?

Apparently the Aurors left this piece of information as Lydia was startled and she dropped Ginny’s hand quickly as if she’d been burnt. Her eyes became very round and Ginny found herself tensing for any onslaught of whatever emotion Lydia might be feeling. However, after the world’s longest pause, Lydia nodded slowly and swallowed hard.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Lydia murmured. “We wondered about you, of course,” she stammered. She glanced toward Jackson and then back at Ginny, again offering her hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Ginny replied, feeling stupid at how derivative this must sound coming from her and after hearing it a hundred times over.

“Thank you,” Lydia said calmly. “Jackson would have…” She cleared her throat and seemed to fight the tears that had suddenly welled up in her eyes. “Thank you for coming,” she repeated, perhaps finding it easier to say than to say anything of substance.

Ginny nodded, trying not to dwell on Lydia’s reaction. She had six more relatives to meet before reaching Jackson’s parents and Jackson himself. Strangely, everyone seemed to have the same expression of shock and then reserved reaction to hearing her name. No one seemed to get angry or overly upset and everyone spoke quietly, which was frustrating, as the next relative had no idea who they were meeting next. Ginny wondered if their shock came partly from the fact that Jackson had died to save someone they’d probably never heard of. At least, there was a very good chance that no one knew about Jackson’s crush, so there would be no misconstruing of the reason Jackson had stepped in front of her. They might hate her more if Jackson had died for some random girl that had turned down an actual relationship with him.

When she finally came to Jackson’s father, the fear of being hated and blamed became the strongest. She wasn’t sure that his parents would even remember her as their meetings had always been brief. However, when she moved in front of her father, his eyes widened and he seemed to freeze and his mother grabbed her husband’s arm in surprise. Perhaps they’d been waiting for me to come, perhaps they’d expected I wouldn’t come– it was difficult to say.

No one said anything for a long moment as Ginny stood there, unsure of what to say or how to act without an indication from Jackson’s parents.

“It’s Miss Weasley, right?” Jackson’s father, Mr. Hendole, asked in his deep voice.

“Yes, sir,” Ginny replied in barely a whisper. She wished she sounded braver or less terrified, but it couldn’t be helped now. She was glad that her tongue was working at all.

His parents exchanged a look before turning back to Ginny. “We’d hoped that you’d come,” Mr. Hendole said, holding out his hand. “I wish we’d actually met on better circumstances-- perhaps if we’d been acquainted better earlier, it might be less of a shock to hear what happened.”

“Johnathan!” Mrs. Hendole whispered, sounding slightly irritated as she stared at her husband.

Mr. Hendole patted his wife’s hand. “I don’t mean that to sound cruel. I just mean that I wish our son had been a little better at introducing us to the friends who meant most to him–he was always a private young man.”

“You clearly meant very much to Jackson,” Mrs. Hendole whispered. “It’s clich, but I know my son would prefer to…” she trailed off, unable to finish that sentence. She let out a small, shaky breath and then added, “you know… before letting his friends get hurt.”

Ginny shook her head slowly. “He shouldn’t have had to.”

“No,” Mrs. Hendole agreed in a faint whisper.

This surprised both parents. “Well, I am very glad to have met you,” Mr. Hendole said, holding out his free hand.

“My friendship with Jackson meant a lot to me–I miss him very much,” Ginny managed to say as the tears welled up in her eyes. She shook Jackson’s father’s hand, unable to stop the tears from coming now.

“His friends meant the world to him, we know that much,” Mr. Hendole replied calmly. “He would do anything for his friends and family.”

“I know,” Ginny agreed miserably. “I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am for your loss.”

“Thank you,” whispered his mother, her eyes full of tears as well. “It’s your loss, too, of course. I’m sorry you’ve lost a friend, so young.”

Too young to have lost a brother and so many friends, she thought miserably. She met Mrs. Hendole’s eyes and suddenly she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around her, sobbing. Ginny returned the hug, totally lost as to why she deserved this.

“I can see how hard this is for you,” Mrs. Hendole whispered to her. “My son would do anything for his best friends–any friend of his that meant that much to him doesn’t deserve to shoulder any blame,” she whispered shakily. “We certainly do not hold you accountable for what happened.”

Hearing these words, Ginny felt a great weight slowly lift itself off her shoulders. Jackson’s mother released her and held her at arms length. “Jackson was a good man–please don’t let his actions go to waste. Live your life, do not be held by grief.”

“It’s not your fault,” Mr. Hendole said, his voice catching.

Unable to stop herself, she said, “I watched it all happen–I didn’t have time to stop him and I had no idea he would jump in front of me.”

Mr. Hendole’s hand found her shoulder and he squeezed in reassurance. “That’s who he was,” he simply said quietly, repeating his wife’s words. “I know for certain that my son would never want you to bear the guilt of his death, Miss Weasley.”

Ginny nodded, hastily mopping up the tears she’d shed. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, unable to find anything else to say.

“Thank you for coming,” Mrs. Hendole said sincerely, pulling her back into a final hug. Ginny bit her lip to keep from completely breaking down at the kindness from these people. Part of her wished that they could know the whole truth and truly understand the circumstances in which Jackson had died.

Just before she released her, Mrs. Hendole whispered in her ear: “Jackson wanted you to live your life–please promise me that you’ll really live it. That kind of act should never be forgotten,”

“I will,” Ginny promised sincerely.

Mrs. Hendole released her and after exchanging final looks of understands with his parents, Ginny took the final few steps to Jackson himself. There was no pain or suffering on his face; there were no marks on his skin that told of a struggle. He looked calm and peaceful; he looked like Jackson.

Ginny took a deep breath and wiped away her tears as she stared down at her friend, silently thanking him for his friendship, for being in her life and for saving her. In her head, she told him she was sorry that they’d fought and that she wished she could have protected him. If she’d had a few moments alone, she would tell him everything. She’d tell him why he’d died and the reason that they were attacked. She’d tell him that magic existed and that there was a whole part of her life that she’d from him, partly out of necessity, partly because the life she’d assumed with Jackson and Annie had been perfect because it hadn’t had anything to do with magic or her past.

“I’m so sorry, Jackson. I’ll never forget you,” she whispered, uncaring that she was probably holding up the line and that people were watching her.

Wishing she could say more, but knowing she couldn’t say what she wanted without having privacy, she reached out and touched his cool cheek briefly. “Goodbye,” she murmured. “And thank you for being my friend–you have no idea how much I needed you in my life.”

She could feel Mr. and Mrs. Hendole’s eyes on her as she walked toward the exit and it was all she could do to hold her imminent breakdown inside. Despite how terrible she felt, Ginny felt a small flicker of happiness that she’d said goodbye to Jackson and spoke to his parents. The second she’d walked toward the front door of the building, a sob ripped from her chest.

Fortunately, many people around her were crying so it wasn’t strange that she moved to a bench by the door and sat down to have a moment alone. She cried because she missed Jackson, she cried because of how difficult that goodbye was and she cried because Jackson was just another person who had died because of the evil that Voldemort had brought to the world. It was sickening to think that yet another muggle family had been affected by a war that they had no part in and no awareness of.

Taking a breath to calm herself, she straightened her clothes and glanced around, glad that Harry wasn’t around to see her like this. As much as she liked having a shoulder to lean on and someone supportive to depend on, she needed to have a moment to let her emotions out.

Her tears slowly subsided as she tried to focus on the people walking about. There were still plenty of people coming into the funeral home and lots more hanging around the cars, both coming and going. There were lots of sad faces and tears, lots of hushed voices and many whispers about what a tragedy this had been. An older woman passed with her teenage son, shaking her head with disappointment as she spoke vehemently.

“It makes me sick. Who comes into a little town like this and attacks a group of kids in cold blood? You always hear awful things like this on the news, but you never expect it to happen to your town!”

Ginny watched as the teenager shook his head, expressing his own shocked opinion that such terrible things always seemed to happen to nice people. Ginny silently agreed with this statement as she stood to leave, deciding she didn’t want to hear anymore laments about being unable to understand why this had to happen. As much as she wanted to be honest with Annie and Jackson’s parents, the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy was doing more good than harm.

She peered around the parking lot, wondering if Harry was coming back soon to pick her up, or if he was still here. As it turned out, she did not have to wait for long.

“Ginny!”

Ginny spun around to find Harry walking toward her, dressed as a muggle in jeans and a red T-shirt. Ginny smiled to see him, her emotions reeling in the opposite direction as she hurried to meet him, throwing her arms around him and kissing him the second she got close enough to reach for him.

Harry made a noise of surprise as he caught her, but he kissed her back enthusiastically. When she pulled back, he was smiling dazedly. “What was that for?”

Having no other answer or than she’d suddenly really wanted to feel Harry’s lips on hers, she shrugged. “I needed that.”

He chuckled and kissed her once more before taking her hand and leading her back the way he’d come. He waited nearly a minute before asking her how the visitation had gone. He listened as she told him about what Jackson’s parents had said to her and how good it had felt to hear that they didn’t blame her.

“It was just not what I expected,” she told him. “I didn’t necessarily expect them to hate me, but I figured it would be awkward and no one would know what to say to each other.”

“They seem like nice people,” Harry replied with a shrug. “I guess they’re not really surprised that their son did what he did. I don’t think your parents would be, either. What happened to Fred was different, but if he’d died to save you or another one of your siblings, no one would think it was out of character.”

“That’s true,” Ginny admitted thoughtfully. She sighed and ran her free hand through her hair wearily. “Well, now it’s just the funeral now and then it’s all over.”

“And then life starts to go back to normal.”

“What is normal? I don’t think I remember what normal is.”

Harry chuckled grimly as he shrugged. “You’re asking me? My entire life to this point hasn’t been normal. You’re one of the few things in my life that actually gives me hope that I could be normal.”

She couldn’t help but smile at that. He’d expressed something similar back when they’d first started to date and it had made her feel good then, too. He’d also said the time he’d spent with her had been among the happiest memories he could remember. Harry wasn’t exactly openly romantic, but the few times he did say something romantic or mushy, it was always blatantly honest, unrehearsed and yet completely from his heart.

He squeezed her hand in reassurance and she smiled at him. “Hopefully we’ll be normal together one day.”

He glanced at her, his expression thoughtful. “It’ll be sooner than you think, Gin.”

As it turned out, Harry had his broom hidden in some bushes about a five minute walk from the funeral home. He cast a Disillusionment charm on them and then climbed on the broom. Ginny got on in front and gripped the cool wood tightly as it shot high up into the clouds where no muggle could spot anything unusual.

“I can’t wait to get back on the Quidditch pitch,” Ginny shouted over the noise of the wind as Harry urged his Firebolt to pick up speed. “I miss this.”

She suddenly remembered her very good news from this morning. “So, guess who is the new Gryffindor Quidditch Captain?”

“That’s awesome! Congratulations!” Harry exclaimed in her ear over the sound of the wind. “You’ll make a great Captain!”

“Thanks! I think so!”

He chuckled at her confidence and pecked her on the cheek. Up in the air on a broom with Harry, it was difficult to hold onto her grief from the visitation. It was still there, of course, but flying and being with Harry took away most of the sting. There was something about being with him that made her feel lighter.

Harry had them back at the Burrow in less than five minutes and he set them down in the garden where Ron and Hermione were sitting. They both looked happy to see them as they got off the broom. Without even thinking about it, Ginny slid her hand into Harry’s and walked with him toward Ron and Hermione.

“Hi! You weren’t gone long! How was it?” Hermione asked curiously.

“It was sad, but I’m glad I went. Jackson’s parents were really nice to me… it was good to be able to say goodbye.”

Hermione looked relieved and then she gestured to the empty seats, her eyes very bright. “That’s good. Sit down! Your mum made cookies and there’s some lemonade on the table!” She put a bookmark in the book and closed it eagerly, seeming a little too excited.

Harry and Ginny exchanged amused looks as they took seats. Hermione seemed a little too happy to see them–something was definitely up. Harry reached for a cookie and Hermione poured them both some lemonade in silence. Ginny glanced at Ron, hoping to discover the true reason behind Hermione’s good mood, but Ron was a closed book. He was avoiding everyone’s gazes and practically inhaling cookies.

“What’s up?” Harry asked suspiciously, breaking the silence. He looked between his two best friends with narrowed eyes, though he seemed to be fighting a smile.

“Nothing!” Hermione squeaked nervously, putting on a cheery smile. Ron glanced at Hermione, or rather glared at Hermione, continuing to devour the cookies, but Hermione didn’t seem to notice. “What’s new with you, Harry?”

“Hermione, what’s up?” Ginny asked with a laugh. “Ron, please stop. You’re going to choke.”

Ron glared and picked up another cookie, but Harry was faster, now actually smiling.

“Accio!” The cookie Ron held, as well as the entire plate, slid over to Harry’s side of the table.

“Oh, don’t worry! I guess it’s a little awkward–we had a stupid fight–but its nothing!” Hermione babbled, waving her hand as if to dismiss the issue. “We’re good, aren’t we Ron?”

“Yeah,” Ron replied shortly as he got to his feet. “Excuse me, I fancy a walk.”

“Do you want a cookie to go?” Harry asked teasingly, holding up the cookie he’d swiped from Ron’s hand. Ron, however, ignored him and continued walking.

They all watched him start back up to the house, swinging his arms rigidly as if he were really upset about something. Ginny folded her arms and turned back to Hermione. “What sort of fight involves Ron storming off and you acting all nervous? Don’t you two usually scream at each other for a while?”

“It’s really nothing,” Hermione said with a sigh, although her cheeks were turning pink. She hesitated and then sighed heavily. “Harry, maybe you should go after him!”

Harry looked reluctant, but he stood up as Hermione requested. “Fine, but I’m only listening to this for a maximum of ten minutes and then I’m taking Ginny back to my house where no one fights. And by the way, when Ron moves in with me, you two need to get a long for at least 4 days of the week.”

Ginny chuckled at Harry’s mock-threatening tone. “Wow, Harry, no orange walls outside the bedroom and you set conditions on how often they have to like each other… you’re a strict landlord!”

He grinned back at her before sighing and turning toward the house. “I don’t know why I get involved,” he muttered.
Hermione was watching Harry walk away so to bide her time, Ginny took a cookie from the plate and took a bite of it, figuring Hermione would tell her when she was ready. She’d taken the last bite of her cookie when Hermione slammed her hands down on the table and leaned forward, her expression panicked. Ginny jumped at the noise, her eyes shooting to the rocking glass of lemonade that nearly tipped over.

“Okay, we may have a problem,” she moaned. “Ron asked me to marry him.”

Ginny began to choke on a mouthful of cookie and Hermione sat with her face in her hands, shaking her head slowly back and forth. Managing to clear her airway after several good coughs, Ginny gaped at her friend in shock, unable to believe her ears.

“Excuse me?”

Hermione jumped to her feet and began to pace around the table. “MARRY ME! Your stupid brother asked to marry me!” Hermione cried miserably. “Well, sort of… I mean, he didn’t actually ask, but he brought it up! We were talking about how long we’ve known we loved the other one and then… ugh, I dunno. Maybe he didn’t ask!”

Before Ginny could enquire how Ron may or may not have proposed, Hermione bulled ahead into full-out panic mode.

“This isn’t right! I’m not done school! We haven’t even really dated! You and Harry have dated more than we have! It should be you two first! Harry should ask you to marry him! Ron shouldn’t ask me! I shouldn’t be asked! Maybe Ron told Harry what he was planning to do– ugh, I’ll kill Harry Potter if he supported this ludicrous idea!”

Ginny held up her hands, starting to feel nervous listening to this panic attack. “Whoa, Hermione, calm down! I don’t think Harry made Ron propose to you!”

Hermione’s eyes filled with tears. “I can’t calm down, Ginny! Ron’s thinking about marriage and all I’m thinking is that I love him and I’m going to miss him this year at school! Does that make me a terrible person? Do I not love him as much as he loves me? And what if he did ask me to marry him and things are ruined? What if he dumps me? I can’t lose Ron!”

“Okay, back up. Let’s walk through this slowly and we’ll talk about it. You’re not a terrible person and you and Ron both love each other very much. He won’t break up with you!”

Hermione moaned and continued to pace around the table. Ginny watched her movement, a little amused, but also a little scared of another explosion of illogical arguments. She was dying to know what had actually happened, but she was also curious to know how this had come up. However, most of Ron and Hermione’s arguments came up spontaneously during what would be normal conversations for other couples.

The good thing was that this fight, just like every other fight between them, was always out of love. They might want to kill each other in the moment, but Ginny knew that her brother adored Hermione and that Hermione loved Ron. It wasn’t hard to see that they actually liked the fighting–at least on a subconscious level. She wondered how they would handle not being able to fight like this while they were separated during the school year. Normally, she didn’t like to get into the middle of their couple’s spats, but if the Howlers started coming in, she vowed to hex Ron into a peace treaty for the duration of the school term.

As she watched Hermione circle the table, wringing her hands nervously, she tried not to laugh. She reached for another cookie and began to chew, waiting for the real explanation behind this latest Granger-Weasley blowout.

So much for being able to relax with Harry, Ron and Hermione--- apparently it wasn’t quite the time for a normal, drama-free life.

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Chapter 17: Chapter 17: The Necessity of Commitment

Author's Notes: Well, it’s been a while, folks. The writer’s block on this story has gotten pretty heavy, but I’m moving along again. Sorry for the delay! Again, I thank all of you for the wonderful reviews and critiques I’ve gotten! I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts! Without further ado, chapter seventeen!


“Hermione?”

Hermione sighed and stopped pacing, placing her hands on her hips. “I can’t lose him, Ginny,” she pleaded, as if Ginny might be able to do something to stop what Hermione thought was an impending break-up.

Confused, Ginny tried to look as reassuring as possible. It worried her that Hermione wore the same expression of pure panic she always had the night before an exam and that wasn’t exactly an easy mood to calm her out of. “You won’t. Now walk me through what happened because I can’t help until you fill me in.”

“One minute we’re talking about school and how Ron is going to sneak into the castle to visit me. He started to tell me he was really going to miss me and that he couldn’t wait for the day when we wouldn’t have to spend time apart.”

Ginny smiled at this last part, which made Hermione smile reluctantly back at her. She loved hearing that Ron could be cute with Hermione since the sensitive, down-to-earth version of her brother was so rarely visible in the presence of their brothers.

“Hermione, that’s not a proposal…”

Hermione sunk down into a chair wearily. “Then he asked me what I wanted to do after school and I told him I wanted to travel for the summer and see the world. I want to take a real break, you know? None of us have had a relaxing summer in years. Maybe we could all travel together?”

Ginny nodded and waved the idea away, making a mental note to discuss it later since she definitely supported this idea. Hermione continued, looking more uneasy as she approached what Ginny was assuming was the actual moment of the proposal. “I also told him I want to focus on getting a good job and that my job would be my priority for a while. Ron asked if I was going to live with my parents and I told him no’ because I’m hoping to rent my own flat. Then he asked if I thought we’d ever live together.”

Hermione paused again to shift in her seat, looking very uncomfortable. “I couldn’t say no, so I just told him the truth. I said I wouldn’t move in with anyone unless I was engaged.” Hermione wrung her hands nervously. “I’m sort of traditional that way.”

In truth, she was surprised at Hermione’s not-so-subtle comment. Usually, a line like this was a hint that a guy could ask about marriage. Hermione, it seemed, wasn’t aware of the reaction that saying this would normally trigger in a man. “So he asked you to marry him?”

Hermione bit her lip and shrugged. “He started on this really lovely speech and part of me wanted to just agree with him on everything, but I’m not that person”

Ginny groaned and leaned forward. “Hermione, tell me what he said! I’m dying here!”

“He said: ‘Well, you’ll just have to marry me, then.’”

Ginny stared at Hermione, a little incredulous that her brother had so boldly said this. Ron was blunt, but she never thought her brother would be so brave. However, after digesting this, Ginny didn’t think this was the equivalent of asking, “will you marry me.” Truthfully, she believed that Ron wasn’t really proposing, but he was fishing to get a sense on where Hermione was in the relationship. She had a feeling that if she were in Ron’s shoes, she would have a hard time reading Hermione’s thoughts in a relationship. Boys and romance weren’t exactly in her strong suit in her world of academia.

“And what did you say to that?”

“I told him no!” She spluttered, a little wild-eyed.

Hearing Hermione squeak out a panicked ‘no’ was all Ginny needed to hear to understand why Ron had stormed off. Hermione was being her logical, reasonable self, while Ron was trying to be romantic and trying to see if Hermione had put any thought into a future with him. While she knew Hermione meant no harm, her sounding so alarmed at a hypothetical question of marriage would no doubt hurt Ron’s feelings and ego.

Ginny sighed, wondering if she would even be able to explain to Hermione why this little incident was her fault. “Did you freak out when you said no? Did you say anything else?”

“I might have seemed a bit panicked, but the way he was asking…” she groaned. “He was looking at me so seriously and he was suddenly so close to me. I panicked! I totally panicked! Now I’m going to lose him because Ron probably thinks I don’t love him!”

Ginny had to smile at this. “Are you kidding? If he seriously wants to know if you’d be willing to marry him, then he’s a bit beyond breaking up with you over one little comment. Just go and talk to him. Please. Go and fix this before this blows up into a bigger thing.”

Hermione hesitated, beginning to get the panicked look in her eye again. “Ginny, I can’t agree to marry him.”

She rolled her eyes, smirking only just a little bit. Poor Hermione. “He’s not asking right now, Hermione. He said it to figure out if you’d ever be open to a future with him.”

Hermione glanced back up at the house in the direction of Ron’s window. “I do want a future with him, but he can’t ask me yet! Not for another few years! This is just not the opportune time to get married! I don’t want to rush off and tie the knot just because we’re all still thrilled that the war is over and You-Know-Who is gone.”

“Ron knows that. And just because I love you, I promise to mention to Ron that you’ve got a timeline and if he wants you to say yes, he’s got to wait a bit.”

Relief and gratitude lit up Hermione’s face at Ginny’s promise and she leaned over and hugged her. Ginny hugged her back with a smile, happy that she was able to resolve this little incident so quickly.

“I’m being stupid, I know. I just don’t want to ruin anything–Ron and I are really good right now.”

“I know you are.”

Hermione smiled at her. After a beat, she added, “I do love your brother. A lot.”

“I know. You’re not being stupid. I probably would have panicked too, or worse.”

“I’m being stupid,” Hermione disagreed heavily. She seemed to pull herself together and she said determinedly, “I need to tell him I’m sorry.”

Ginny stood up, collecting the plate of cookies and the jug of lemonade while Hermione collected the glasses. Together, they made their way up to the house in a comfortable silence, although Ginny could tell that Hermione was still mulling things over in her head. She wondered if deep down, Hermione had actually been dying to hear Ron say something so romantic and committed. Hermione confided in Ginny many times over the years that she wished Ron would be more open about how he was feeling and what he was thinking. As panicked as Ron’s comment had made her, Ginny bet that there was a part of Hermione that was overjoyed to hear that Ron was thinking about a future.

“Has Harry been talking a lot about visiting you? Ron brings it up nearly every day. I don’t think he understands how busy we’re going to be studying for N.E.W.Ts.”

Ginny shook her head no, grateful that Harry didn’t bring it up so much. She wasn’t ready to think about being away from him for so long. Ginny also wasn’t ready contemplating not having enough time to spend with Harry. After the visitation today and being reminded that life was unpredictable and unfair, there was a part of her that never wanted to leave his side. As irrational as this was, particularly since the war was over, the feeling wasn’t going way yet.

“He’s probably just worried about how the distance is going to affect your relationship. It’s the first time we’ll all be apart for the full year!” The reality of this statement made her heart twinge. Truthfully, the pain of being apart from Harry last year was much worse. At least this time, they could write to each other and Ginny would know that he was safe–or at least as safe as he could be while training to be an Auror.

“I don’t see what an engagement would do to change that,” Hermione said darkly.

Ginny shrugged, not wanting to argue about this. Personally, if Harry had made a similar comment to her, she wouldn’t have freaked out at all. She didn’t know how to explain this to Hermione without starting a debate of reason about matters of the heart; love just wasn’t a rational thing. “Maybe he figured that being engaged would make things between you more secure? Maybe he figured it would be a way to guarantee that at the end of everything, Ron would have you.”

Hermione seemed to be sceptical at this idea, rather than admiring the gesture. “Putting a ring on my finger wouldn’t secure our relationship. In fact, it might put more stress on our relationship. I’m not ready for it and a ring comes with certain promises. Any anyway, even if I was ready, I would never want to spend the first few months of my engagement separated from my fianc.”

One point for Hermione; an engagement was a time to celebrate. A ring on her finger would be a constant visual reminder of missing someone and being unable to see them. During their N.E.W.T year, there wasn’t much time for distractions from studying and completing assignments.

“No, I suppose not, but it would seem like a guarantee to some people. And isn’t that what we all want? A guarantee that after everything we’ve been through, we finally will have our happily-ever-afters?”

“It should be easy after everything we’ve been through,” Hermione agreed sadly. “And yet, it won’t be. There’s still a lot of hard times ahead of us. What if my work makes me travel? Harry and Ron’s schedules will be hectic even after they finish training. And you, you’ll be travelling for games and attending parties and events… not to mention the Harpies are against male-visitors.”

All the wonderful things about the Harpies, Ginny believed their only downside was their aversion to male visitors. She secretly hoped that this rule wasn’t as strictly enforced as she’d heard it was. However, Ginny wasn’t all that worried, even if it was a strict rule–Fred and George had taught her that any rule always has a loophole.

“All Ron thought he was doing was getting to the happily-ever-after part sooner by proposing. He knows he’ll end up doing that someday anyway. Just please go talk to Ron before you two start bickering over it. I like it when you two get along.”

“We don’t fight as much as you think so,” Hermione replied with a smile. “Usually the fight ends just as soon as we’re alone and–”

Ginny held up the juice jug pleadingly, hiding behind it to avoid hearing any of the gruesome details. “Please don’t. I’m supportive, but please don’t mistake that for interest in how you and my brother problem-solve.”

Hermione giggled. “Fine. You and Harry are pretty well behaved in comparison. I wouldn’t want to disrupt the pattern of your relationship.”

Well-behaved? “What is that supposed to mean?”

Hermione’s grin widened as she shrugged nonchalantly. “Just that unlike Ron, Harry always stays in his bed at night.”

Ginny gaped at Hermione. “You sleep in my room some nights! Please, please don’t tell me my brother joins you?”

Hermione seemed very proud as she replied, “Only sometimes.”

Ginny made a mental note to rant to Harry later about Hermione’s shocking behaviour. She didn’t want to know if anything had ever happened while she was asleep. She’d never trust Hermione in her room again! How had she never heard Ron in the middle of the night? He wasn’t exactly light-footed on the house’s creaky floorboards…

They were nearly at the back door when Hermione stopped, replacing the smug look on her face with curiosity. “What did you mean before when you said you probably would have panicked, or worse?”

Grimacing, Ginny continued up to the house. “I probably would have said ‘yes.’”

Now it was Hermione’s turn to look incredulous, which made Ginny blush. “Ginny!”

Laughing, Ginny shrugged, wishing her face wasn’t turning pink. “I told you– I would have done something a lot worse.” Much, much worse, if she became engaged before she was a legal adult, her mother would kill her.

Hermione shook her head slowly in disbelief, smiling widely. “I’ve always pictured Harry proposing with a ring. I don’t think he’d do an impromptu proposal. I’d say Ron is definitely more likely to suddenly propose.”

Ginny smirked, stepping in closer so that her voice carried less. “When I was eleven, I always pictured Harry proposing in his Hogwarts robes, by the lake, at sunset. He’d have a big bouquet of red roses and a big diamond ring in a little black box.”

Hermione burst into giggles. “Wow. By the way, this will be the story I tell at your wedding. I’m sure Harry will be delighted to hear that while he worried over pure evil ruining his life, you were fantasizing about Harry wanting to marry you!”

Ginny grinned, not bothered by this promise. “Go ahead–that’s not even my most embarrassing little girl fantasy.”

“I probably don’t want to know.” Hermione sighed happily, looking much more cheerful. “Look at us, talking about marrying those boys!”

“We’re so grown up!”

Hermione opened the door but paused in the doorway to turn and smile at Ginny. “Thanks, Gin. For talking to me, calming me down… I really appreciate it.”

Ginny patted her friend’s back and grinned back at her. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll be telling this story of your freak out about marriage on your wedding day.” Hermione groaned as she moved to set the glasses down on the table before hurrying up the stairs to Ron’s room.

Ginny put the juice and cookies away before turning her attention to cleaning the glasses. It took only a few minutes to clean, dry them and then put them back on the shelf. Just as she was finishing, Harry came downstairs to meet her.

“Ron and Hermione are talking,” he told her, gesturing vaguely at the ceiling. “They very subtly told me to leave the room, so we’re free to go. What do you want to do now?”

Ginny hung the damp dishtowel to dry and then walked over to Harry and surprised him by sliding one arm around his neck and kissing him deeply. Harry seemed a bit surprise by her enthusiasm at first but he kissed her back eagerly, pulling her closer. Ginny tried to put a lot of unspoken gratitude into the kiss as she again thought about how lucky she was that their relationship wasn’t nearly as dramatic as Ron and Hermione’s. They might enjoy the sparks, but Ginny much preferred contentment and passion without the occasional yelling.

Harry kissed her back willingly, placing his hands gently on her waist, his fingers pressing lightly into the skin where her shirt had risen. Harry suddenly ended the kiss a few minutes later when a floorboard creaked somewhere upstairs, startling him. He pulled back, his cheeks red as if he were embarrassed to almost get caught snogging her in the kitchen.

He did a quick look around to make sure that Mrs. Weasley wasn’t about to burst in on them and then grinned widely at Ginny, clearly very pleased about the kiss, in spite of its abrupt end. “What was that for?”

Ginny shrugged and leaned up to kiss his cheek, wishing he wouldn’t jump apart like they were really doing anything wrong. “Just because. What did you want to do now?” She hoped that it would involve some time alone together to hang out. She was feeling a little emotionally drained after today’s events. What she really needed was some time to be distracted by Harry.

“Dunno. Hang out? I feel like the other two will be occupied for a while.”

He chuckled, sensing the double meaning in her words. “Probably. What do you want to do?”

“Come on,” Harry said, stepping forward and pulling her up against him. The moment she was pressed against his chest, he apparated them away from the Burrow and back to his place.

Ginny gasped in air, startled by the sudden disapparition and their re-appearance in Harry’s living room. She hated side-along apparition, as convenient as it was. Apparating by one’s self wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable and it did come with the minimized chance of splinching. She trusted Harry and his apparating abilities, but Ginny really was not a fan of that form of transportation.

“Smooth, Potter. That Auror training is really working well for you, huh?”

“I’m pretty fast at disapparition. We’re working on the speed in which we can vanish and re-appear. The trick is to be able to do it quickly and as quietly as possible, and at a variety of distances.”

Patting the scarred area on her abdomen with one hand, she placed her other hand on Harry’s chest and said sweetly, “Harry, I’m impressed, but if you suddenly apparate me places, I might have to hex you a little bit.”

He grimaced and placed his hands over abdomen, noticing the sign of discomfort on her face. “Sorry. It still hurts, huh?”

She waved it away, not wanting to worry him. Although it might be too late for that, judging by the guilty look on his face. “Not really. It just twinges with certain movement–usually if I sit up to fast or if I twist funny.”

“I won’t do it again,” he promised solemnly. “I thought apparating us away was sort of romantic in the moment.”

Not wanting him to be dissuaded from doing spontaneous romantic things with his newfound magical talents, she kissed him briefly and then smiled, cupping his cheek. “You can use me a little for practice after I’m all healed up.”

“So, what were they fighting about anyway?” Harry asked curiously as they moved to sit on the sofa.

She chuckled and laid her head back against Harry’s arm that wound around her. He pulled her close and Ginny yawned, feeling very content at this moment. She loved being with him like this–there was nothing like these feelings of warmth, comfort and security.

“Hermione thought Ron asked her to marry him.”

Harry jerked forward on the couch, startling her and disrupting her short-lived bliss. “What?!”

She laughed at his reaction, studying his expression of sincere disbelief. “He didn’t actually propose, but Hermione thought he did. He made some sort of implication that he wanted to get married and Hermione freaked out because it messed up her perfectly scheduled plan for her life.”

He nodded, relaxing a bit as he sat back again, turning slightly to look at her. “Yeah, you don’t mess with the plan.” He looked thoughtful for a moment, his expression allowing flickers of his shock and disbelief. “Wow. I didn’t see that coming so soon. They just got together at the Battle, you know.”

Ginny raised an eyebrow at him. “Yeah, but my brother’s had feelings for Hermione for as long as I can remember. He’s had years and years to love her–I guess it makes sense. Besides, he didn’t actually ask. They were talking about moving in together and Hermione said she wouldn’t unless she was engaged first. Ron’s reply was: ‘well, you’ll have to marry me.’”

Harry made a noise of disbelief, back to looking shocked, and something else? Did he look a little appalled at the idea? “Move in? I thought Ron was moving in with me?!”

Ginny chuckled, raising an eyebrow. “Harry, we’re talking after school–not now. Don’t get your knickers in a twist! I’m sure Ron is still going to be your roommate.”

“Still, it seems fast, doesn’t it? Ron proposing to Hermione? So he’ll live here for a year and then go live with her? That seems like a lot of moving around.”

Ginny shrugged, not wanting to really get into this with Harry. Why was he having such a hard time with this? She didn’t want to start analyzing why Harry was opposed to the idea of Ron proposing to Hermione. She knew that boys were usually slow to realize when feelings started and it was useless to argue over when Ron had fallen in love with Hermione. Really, it wasn’t even either of their business. Personally, she didn’t think Ron’s comment was out of the blue–it was obvious they were meant to be together and that they loved each other very much. It didn’t matter when they made their relationship official when they’d only been apart because of other big life-events getting in the way. Was he really surprised at how much Ron and Hermione cared for each other? Had it never occurred to him that they’ve loved each other for years, whether they were aware of these feelings or not?

“Hermione thought it was too soon, too?” Harry asked curiously. “She said no?”

Feeling a little disappointed in Harry’s reaction, she made sure to keep her tone light so he wouldn’t catch onto how this was making her feel. “Yeah. She doesn’t want to think about marriage until after she’s got a job. Personally, I don’t think she’d turn Ron down again if he times it right after she’s done school. Although, I did promise Hermione I’d mention to Ron when a good time to ask would be. She doesn’t want to say ‘no’ again and hurt his feelings.”

Harry didn’t look so sure, but the nervous denial wasn’t hard to miss in his voice. “I don’t think so. I think if Hermione isn’t on track with where she wants to be, I don’t think she’d agree.”

Ginny laughed a little incredulously at his persistence. “Why? They love each other– Hermione just doesn’t want to lose Ron by rushing into anything. Why is that so hard for you to believe?”

“I just know Ron really well,” he replied quickly. “And I also think that if Hermione turns him down a second time, Ron might wait a lot longer before asking again.” He looked quite certain about this, but still he added hastily, “I dunno, I just think it’s fast.”

Ginny shrugged, holding her relaxed smile despite her disappointment in whatever weird feelings Harry was having about this topic. “Well, either way… Ron didn’t really ask Hermione. Nothing has changed because he was just fishing for an answer.”

Harry nodded, smiling back at her. “Yeah. Nothing’s changed…”

Ginny tried to keep a neutral expression as she began wracking her brain for another subject. She needed to get her mind off of this and forget about it before she began over-analyzing Harry’s stunned and disbelieving attitude. He seemed almost against the idea when he spoke of Ron and Hermione’s relationship being too new. She knew that it shouldn’t bother her that Harry seemed to be really shocked at the idea–it really was a surprise that Ron was thinking about marriage. Harry didn’t have a mean boyfriend-bone in his body and he wasn’t trying to make any sort of comment about their relationship or his own insecurities.

Besides, she wasn’t even of age or done school yet. She had her whole life ahead of her to worry about a commitment from Harry Potter! A few minutes ago, she’d been feeling incredibly happy to just be alive and be with someone who made her feel happy and secure. It wasn’t the right time for them to worry about a commitment when they were just getting back into their relationship.

Unaware of the thoughts that were gnawing away at Ginny’s heart, Harry got up and turned to her. “Do you want something to drink? I’m parched.”

“I’ll have some water, thank you.”

He smiled at her and agreed, promising he’d be right back. Ginny watched him walk away in the direction of the kitchen and then she sighed wearily, mentally lecturing herself to forget about it. When it came down to it, Ginny didn’t want a proposal from Harry any time soon. She just wanted to be with him and get through the school year. Like Hermione, she had a plan for her life and goals to achieve.

Still, after everything that happened, there was something incredibly wonderful and attractive about the idea of happily-ever-after. These feelings probably came from the fact that they’d both come so close to dying and losing each other. She’d spent months and months fantasizing about Harry and what kind of life they could have if they both survived the war. She had had happy dreams about engagement and marriage and buying a house and babies–dreams that had gotten her through a lot of dark and miserable times. Reality sucked in comparison to her imaginings about what life looked like after the war, but this was real life. The happy-ending was only worth it because it came with patience, dedication, love and understanding and Ginny didn’t want to screw anything up by bringing this up with Harry and ruining things between them.

As sure as she was about Harry, she knew he might not feel as sure about her. After all, Ginny had been in love with Harry for much longer than he had had feelings for her. Ginny had had much more time to consider what she wanted out of life. She’d had months of this last year to decide what she wanted, while Harry had probably had no time as he risked his life to end the war. And as much as she wanted Harry now and forever–she also wanted him to be sure about wanting her that way too. All it would take would be one little moment of her pushing to ruin their relationship.

No, this was nothing to worry about. She was just tired of being hurt and just like she’d told Hermione, part of her wanted to know she would have a happy ending. This wasn’t a fantasy; this was real life and a real relationship.

“Everything is good,” she whispered to herself, sounding a little more confident in the truth of these words. “Just the way they are.”

By the time Harry came back with two glasses of water, they were no longer alone. Ron and Hermione suddenly appeared in the fireplace, both looking happy and relaxed.

“Thought we’d join you,” Ron said by way of a greeting. He clapped Harry on the back before dropping onto the opposite couch from Ginny.

“Wow, I’m surprised you didn’t have to uphold your own not well-behaved relationship patterns before coming over here,” Ginny said slyly, giving Hermione a meaningful look.

Hermione grinned wickedly at Ginny before quickly sobering up so as to not have to explain anything to Ron or Harry. “No, we wanted to visit. We only have a few weeks left before school starts! We need to make the most of our time together.”

Harry glanced at Ginny and then chuckled at her less-than-happy expression before sitting next to her, leaving Hermione to sit next to Ron. Ginny found herself feeling quite content to be sitting in a room with Harry, Ron and Hermione like they used to do at Hogwarts. It was nice to have it feel like the old days where things were less chaotic and their biggest concern was final exams. What made this moment even better was the realization that unlike the times that they sat in the Gryffindor common room, everyone was happily in a relationship with the person they’d wanted to be with all along.

Ron and Hermione, as much as they bickered, were clearly very happy and in love. Ron sat close to Hermione so that their arms touched. It wasn’t an overly romantic position, but the way they leaned in toward the other and the way they were touching even when they weren’t aware of it, spoke volumes about how much they cared for each other. Observing them, Ginny imagined it wouldn’t be long after school when Ron would manage to get a ring on her finger– Ginny doubted Hermione would turn Ron down, provided Hermione was graduated and was actively job-hunting. There was just something about how Ron and Hermione looked together and how they acted that suggested that the love and adoration between them was the forever kind.

“Have you and Ron discussed a lease yet?” Hermione asked curiously.

“Lease? I don’t think we’ll be getting one,” Harry said, setting his glass of water down on the coffee table. “Ron, when are you moving in?”

“Whenever I get my stuffed packed up,” Ron answered before turning to look at Hermione with a perplexed expression. “Why would Harry and I need a lease?”

“Well, it’s the right way to do things. You never know what might happen.”

“What would happen? Most people don’t help their best friend hunt down Horcruxes. That kind of loyalty doesn’t need a lease!” Ron replied cheerfully. “We’re good, aren’t we, Harry?”

Harry grinned at Ron, fully aware that Hermione was not impressed. “Yeah, I suppose you’ve proved you’re trustworthy. No lease, it is!”

Ginny leaned into Harry comfortably and listened in amusement as Hermione began lecturing the boys on doing things properly. She glanced at Harry who was grinning, and it was his relaxed, happy smile that officially made her decide that she most definitely had nothing to worry about. This was still new, but she could feel it deep down that this was right. Hermione had been right when she’d said that a proposal was no guarantee that things would work out and Ginny didn’t want one until they were both ready for it. Until Harry felt ready for that step, she didn’t want to rush it. More than that, she trusted him and respected him. If he wanted to be with her, he would be and it was as simple as that.

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Chapter 18: Chapter 18: The Funeral

Author's Notes: Well, it's been a long time, but I've finally, FINALLY got an update. These last few chapters have been really difficult to write because of the subject matter, and I apologize for the length of time. Nonetheless, I've updated now and hope to keep this train rolling :) Thank you to everyone who has stuck with me and please continue to review!


Chapter 18: The Funeral

Today was the funeral. This was it.

Ginny appreciated Harry’s desire to go with her now more than ever. While she was glad that she attended the visitation by herself, the funeral would be a lot harder to do alone. This was saying goodbye forever, and only after sitting through a lot of sad eulogies and watching the pain of others crush many other people, while it threatened to do the same to her. Just thinking about today made her feel terribly nauseous. Ginny had done this far, far too many times now.

After a quick breakfast and a long shower, Ginny donned her black skirt and black blouse, which she’d kept hanging neatly on the hook of her closet door since returning home. Taking it off the hanger, she realized how depressing it was that she’d never actually put it away with the rest of her clothes.

Once she was dressed, she sat down at her desk to see to her hair and face. She brushed her hair and pulled it back into a simply ponytail, applying minimal little makeup–just enough to hide the evidence of the poor sleep she’d gotten last night. She’d learned a few months ago that makeup was something to be used sparingly at funerals, no matter how waterproof the package claimed it to be.

As a finishing touch to her outfit, Ginny dug out a bracelet she hadn’t worn in weeks. Jackson had bought it for her when they’d met back at that muggle festival. It had absolutely no value and was sold by an eccentric woman who was trying to turn a profit selling her ugly handmade jewelry. The bracelet was the only half-decent item on display and was made of knotted black string and purple and blue beads. With the eccentric woman eyeing Ginny, Jackson and Annie, all of whom were trying not to rudely comment about the jewelry, Ginny spotted the bracelet and complimented the poor woman. Jackson immediately agreed and purchased the bracelet, making the woman very happy.

Once they were safely away from the booth, Jackson made them pause as he tied the bracelet on Ginny’s wrist.

“It’s a friendship bracelet,” he’d said. “You’ve got to wear this ugly bracelet to prove yourself to us.”

“Are you initiating Ginny into our pathetic group?” laughed Annie, eyeing the bracelet as if she’d rather die than trade jewelry with Ginny.

Jackson grinned at the sight of the bracelet securely attached to Ginny’s wrist. “Yep. I’d make you wear a hideous bracelet, but I know you don’t like me that much.”

“I prove myself by putting up with you all these years,” Annie retorted with a wide smile. “Ginny can prove herself by wearing that thing. I’ve done my part.”

Ginny admired the bracelet, deciding it wasn’t as bad as Annie thought it was. It was kind of cute, in a child-like arts-and-crafts way. “I like it.”

Jackson thumped Ginny on the back and playfully shoved Annie away. “She likes my friendship bracelet. You’re out, she’s in.”

Annie gasped in mock-horror. “Some loyal friend you are!”

“Didn’t you make us friendship bracelets when we were little? You took yours off and now look what’s happened–you’ve been replaced by my new friend Ginny.”

The happy memories from that day made tears well up in Ginny’s eyes as she thought about how good it had felt to hang around such normal and happy people. Right from that moment, Ginny felt comfortable for the first time in nearly a year. For the first time, she forgot that her brother and numerous other people were dead; she forgot that she was missing Harry; she forgot that she was dying to forget how bloody awful it felt to be miserable, confused and tired from the time spent in hiding, fighting and then recovering.

Ginny fumbled with the clasp of the bracelet, wishing she’d thought to wear it more often throughout the summer. Ginny had buried the bracelet after Jackson had flirted with her on the beach in front of Harry. While the bracelet was the butt of a joke and not a romantic-gesture, she didn’t want to have any even slightly romantic ties with Jackson. Ginny wished she’d been less oblivious to Jackson’s feelings so she didn’t have to hurt him. She wished that she’d realized how he felt sooner so they never would have fought–if they hadn’t fought, she wouldn’t have met her friends in the village that day.

Ginny began to cry in earnest and the bracelet slid between her quivering fingers and hit the floor. She bent down to pick it up, hastily wiping away the tears that blurred her vision.

“Ginny?”

Ginny jumped slightly at the sound of her own name as she stood up with the bracelet in hand, and offered a warm, but watery smile to Harry.

He sighed, looking concerned as he came into her room, dressed in his nicest muggle suit. “Come here,” he murmured, pulling her into his arms.

Ginny hugged him, hating that she was crying even before they got to the church. Taking a deep breath, she kept the hug short and pulled back to kiss him hello.

“Hi. Sorry, I’m already a mess,” Ginny babbled, hurriedly managing to attach her bracelet. Despite her trembling fingers, she managed to get it fastened in record time.

Harry waved off her apology and reached for her hands. “It’s a funeral. This is a sad day. You’re allowed to be sad, Gin.”

Ginny cleared her throat and clucked her tongue impatiently. “You’d think these things would get easier, the more you go to them.”

She dropped his hands and crossed the room to dig out her good black shoes from her closet. Her shoes, at least, she’d stored away.

“Are we meeting Annie at the church?”

Ginny nodded, thinking that despite of all the terrible feelings that would result from today, at least she would get to see Annie. Between having Harry and Annie there, she hoped that today might not be as hard as the visitation was.

“We should getting going,” Ginny said with a glance at the small clock on her bedside table. She wanted to get a good seat and she certainly didn’t want to walk in late. She was sure enough people would already be looking at her once they figured out that she was the girl Jackson died to save. “How are we getting there?”

Harry took her hand and together they walked out of her bedroom. “We’ll apparate. We’ll have to walk a little ways to get to the church, but it’s not far.”

Once downstairs, Ginny peered around for her mother to let her know they were leaving. “Mum?” Ginny called loudly. “Harry and I are going to the funeral!” Her voice shook slightly on the word funeral–this was going to be a very long day.

Hurried footsteps sounded overhead and Ginny and Harry stopped on the stairs to look up. Molly Weasley appeared, leaning over the handrail with a concerned look on her face.

“Alright. And you’ll be apparating straight there?”

Ginny knew that her mother didn’t like the idea of her going back into the village again. It didn’t matter that the visitation was not interrupted by the appearance of any Death Eaters–it probably would never matter again. Her mother had come too close to losing another child to not be concerned. She didn’t blame her mother, though; she’d come close to having lost two.

“I’m taking her by Side-Along, Mrs. Weasley,” Harry interjected in a reassuring voice.

Mrs. Weasley smiled, looking a little grateful, but clearly still worried. “And you both have your wands?”

Ginny knew the question was actually directed at her–as if Harry Potter, the most targeted teenager of the century would walk anywhere without protection. “Yes, Mum.”

She nodded and raised a hand in farewell. “I’ll see you later, dears. Please be careful.”

“We will,” Harry promised.

“Bye, Mum.”

They walked in silence to the disapparition point of the property and when they stopped at the spot where the charm ended, Ginny closed her eyes and braced herself for the unpleasant feeling of side-along disapparation. Learning at school hadn’t been as uncomfortable as side-along, which always made her stomach church. Luckily, Harry was quicker than her parents were at side-along disapparition. All that Auror-training was really paying off, judging by Harry’s more precise ability to reappear more quickly in another location.

Harry brought them to a forest, with no sign of the church or any other indication of human civilization. Harry wordlessly led her along, obviously aware of where they were in relation to the church. Ginny was glad that she’d chosen black flats, rather than heels.

A thought suddenly occurred to her and she smiled wryly. “Isn’t it going to seem a little strange for us to emerge from the forest?”

“No, we’re coming into the back lot of the church.”

As it turned out, they only had to walk for a few minutes before the church came into plain sight. The church itself looked very old and had no other buildings in the immediate vicinity. There was a very small and old-looking cemetery to the right of the building, surrounded by a wrought iron fence and nearly overrun by long grass and weeds.

The parking lot was already filled with cars, with more cars lining up to pull in off the dirt road. Many people were milling around, some heading inside the church and others standing around to talk to other mourners. Ginny recognized a few people from the visitation, but she was surprised to see just how many teenagers her age were here. It now occurred to her that Jackson was from a very small town and that therefore most of his schoolmates would probably be here.

“Ready?” Harry murmured as they moved across the backyard to the front of the church.

“Yes,” she answered firmly, keeping her eyes firmly ahead of her. She was glad her voice sounded resolute, because she wasn’t entirely she was telling the truth.

“Ginny!”

Annie emerged from her parents’ car, forgetting the close the door before hurrying toward Ginny. The girls threw their arms around each other and Annie immediately let out a strangled cry of pent-up emotion. Hearing Annie start to cry made Ginny’s eyes fill with tears as she hugged Annie even tighter. It was strange how one moment you felt okay, but the second you faced another person going through the same thing, you felt apart.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Annie whispered in her ear. “I need you.”

“I need you, too,” Ginny whispered back.

They broke apart after a long hug, each hastily wiping up their own tears. Annie spotted Harry and immediately threw herself on him next.

Ginny tried not to laugh at Harry’s look of surprise as he hugged Annie back.

“Hi, Harry. It was nice of you to come today!”

Harry awkwardly patted Annie on the back, glancing at Ginny as if he wanted help. Poor, Harry. He never knew what to do with girls. Ginny supposed she should consider herself lucky that Harry was no longer incredibly awkward with her anymore.

“I wanted to pay my respects,” Harry told Annie, gently releasing her as soon as he could.

Annie smiled sadly and pulled a tissue from her purse. “You’re very sweet.” As she moped up her makeup with shaking fingers, she suddenly froze and then frowned, her eyes narrowing as she stared at someone over Harry’s shoulder.

“Oh my god,” Annie whispered.

Both Ginny and Harry looked in the direction that Annie was looking, but Ginny didn’t understand what had upset her. Annie irritably crumpled up her tissue in her hand and folded her arms across her chest with an angry huff.

“Sarah is here,” Annie whispered, still watching the person-in-question. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s just weird…”

Harry looked more confused, but Ginny now understood why Annie was bothered. “Sarah? As in Jackson’s old girlfriend?”

Annie sighed, looking more and more upset as the seconds ticked by. She nodded curtly. “As in the bitch who broke his heart and took off without a word? The one who hasn’t shown her face here since before dumping him in a letter? Yep, that’s her.”

“Which one is she?” Ginny asked curiously. She’d always wondered about Sarah; who she was and what she looked like. Over the summer, both Annie and Jackson would hint at how bad that breakup had been for Jackson, but they never explicitly spoke about Sarah. It was clear that the topic of Sarah was still a very painful topic for Jackson.

“The one with the purple sweater,” Annie said tartly, still glaring.

The girl in the purple sweater was standing with two older people who were likely her parents. She stood clutching her purse, her expression grim and her head bowed slightly. She had short, shoulder-length dark hair and olive skin. She wasn’t overly pretty, but she was tall, slender and wore a pretty black dress that emphasized her long legs.

“I hate that I hate that she’s here!” Annie moaned. “She should be here! It’s just weird… I’m still angry at her for how she broke up with Jackson. And it’s really weird that no one has seen her before today! I wonder who told her about what happened…”

“Did you get along with her?” Harry asked, sounding mildly interested in the drama.

Some of Annie’s anger faded and her shoulders slumped at Harry’s question. She hesitated, looking thoughtful, before answering him. “We were good friends until things started to get serious between Sarah and Jackson– I let them have space, you know? Our friendship got put on the backburner as she and Jackson got closer.”

“That must have been hard,” Harry murmured sympathetically.

Annie nodded sadly, her eyes locked on where Sarah stood. “It was. Especially since she told me that she was leaving before she told Jackson. She asked me to tell him–She asked me to do her a favour by telling him she was leaving. I got mad at her and told her I couldn’t. I pointed out that she and I had barely spoken in months and that she had no right to ask me to do that.” Annie sighed heavily. “She left anyway. Jackson got a letter from her a few weeks later, telling him what neither Sarah or I could. I felt terrible…”

Ginny stared at Annie, trying to process this information. She glanced at Harry who held the same look of sympathy for both Annie and for Jackson. Before either of them could think of a response, Annie put on a brave smile and excused herself to go say hello to some friends that had just arrived.

“Wow,” Harry muttered. “No wonder things got weird between you and Jackson at the bar that night.”

“I guess you never really know what someone’s been through,” Ginny murmured, now realizing that all of them had been through hard times and that they all had secrets–it wasn’t just Ginny who was hiding a part of herself. Both Annie and Jackson carried a lot of resentment and hurt feelings over what Sarah had done.

“We should go find seats,” Harry suggested gently, changing the subject. “The funeral will be starting soon.”

“Yeah,” Ginny agreed, turning her attention back to what she was here for. “Let’s go.”

As it turned out, the church was nearly full when she and Harry walked through the doors. They sat in a pew near the back, at the end a row of teenagers who looked about their age. Ginny looked around, pleased to see that so many people were here to pay respects and honour his memory.

The funeral service was led by an elderly reverend who had a deep, moving voice. Ginny hadn’t been raised in a Christian household, but the way this man spoke was really awe-inspiring. He led his sermon and then stepped aside so that members of Jackson’s family could speak.

It was at this point that many members of the congregation started to weep, Ginny included. Harry kept a stoic expression throughout all the heartbreaking eulogies about Jackson, but the times that Ginny glanced at him, she sensed he was reliving the anguish and loss he had experienced after losing so many other people in his life.

To his Ginny’s surprise, Annie was one of the last speakers, and one of only two non-family members to speak, the other being Jackson’s long-time rugby coach and teacher. Ginny braced herself for what she knew would be an emotional eulogy. Annie was clearly having a hard time controlling her emotions as she gripped the sides of the podium, her hands quivering as she collected herself to speak about her best friend.

“Jackson and I have been best friends since we were little,” she began softly, keeping her eyes on her notes. “And in my whoe life, I have never known anyone who is kinder, or as good of a friend as Jackson. Jackson always put his friends first; there was never any question of his priorities. He was loyal, and honest; brave, and the best friend I could ever ask for.”

“I will never forget my friend, my brother and the bravest guy I’ve ever met. In his last minutes on this earth, I will never forget the look of determination on his face, despite how hopeless we were, despite how dangerous it was.”

Ginny felt her chest tighten as Annie slowly raised her tear-filled eyes and found Ginny in the audience. She sharply inhaled, begging herself not to cry as others turned to look at Ginny. Beside her, Harry’s hand clasped hers, giving her the strength to exhale and keep it together.

Annie continued, “He died to save my friend and me. He gave his life to protect us, and he didn’t hesitate before he stepped in front of my friend, or when he shielded me, or when he tried to keep me from being taken. I wished I could have stopped him, I wish I could have done something to save him, but when I think about all the ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys,’ I realized something when I think about that look of sheer will to make good win over evil: I realized that there was no stopping him. Jackson would always have chosen to put his friends first. That’s who he was, and as much as I hate that he’s gone, I realize that the reason he’s gone is the reason that I loved him so very much.”

Tears clouded Ginny’s vision and she lowered her head, tear drops falling onto her lap. Harry squeezed her hand even tighter and pulled their clasped hands onto his knee.

“Jackson, I miss you, I will always miss you. Thank you for being there in good times and bad; thank you for making every day an adventure. Thank you for being the person that I will forever look up to. You will always be my hero and my best friend.”

The small chamber choir began to sing a beautiful song as Annie stepped away from the pulpit and was embraced by Jackson’s parents. Several men moved up to the front of the church and each took hold of one of the golden rails of the coffin. The reverend came forward and gently closed the lid over Jackson’s still form. He began a final prayer over the choir and everyone bowed their heads. In one fluid motion, the men lifted the coffin and carried Jackson slowly down the aisle.

Everyone in the church stood up and watched as the coffin was carried away. As it passed her, Ginny’s knees shook slightly as a sob overcame her. Harry’s arm encircled her waist and steadied her. The moment the coffin disappeared out the doors, Ginny turned into Harry’s arms and cried on his shoulder, no longer able to hold her heart in check.

“It’s okay,” he murmured. “It’ll be okay.”

She already knew it would be okay, but it was still wonderful to hear him say it. If Harry could come through the worst, so could she; this was what she kept telling herself. Ginny’s cries eased up after a few minutes and as she took her final calming breath, she realized she felt a bit better. She still felt a horrible gaping hole where she’d lost Jackson, but after the visitation and the funeral today, there was a new ray of hope for a future; one where people were free of Voldemort.

Ginny wiped up her tears and silently followed Harry and the rest of the crowd out of the church. Outside, the coffin was just being loaded into a black vehicle and Jackson’s family had moved to the road, standing so close they were all touching, forming a semi-circle around the car.

“This will be the last one,” Harry said confidently, wrapping an arm around her waist reassuringly.

Ginny glanced up at the grey sky overhead, glad that the rain had held off for today. Funerals were even worse when it was raining.

“Yes,” she agreed, only managing to sound half as sure as he did. “Let’s go find Annie.”

Harry nodded and gestured toward Jackson’s family. “I think she’s probably by the car.”

Harry and Ginny hadn’t gone five steps before someone tapped Ginny on the shoulder. They turned and Ginny found herself face to face with none other than Sarah, Jackson’s ex-girlfriend. They stared at each for a long, awkward moment before Sarah offered a small, uncertain smile of greeting.

“Hello,” she said in a soft voice.

Ginny was really unsure of what to do or say. She’d been curious about Sarah, but she’d never expected Sarah to seek her out. Why had she come to talk to her?

“You’re Ginny?” She asked in the same soft voice, tucking her hair behind her ears. Ginny thought she seemed like a very timid person, which was not at all what Ginny had imagined an ex-girlfriend of Jackson’s to be. She’d always pictured Jackson to be with an outgoing, happy-go-lucky type of girl.

“Yes. You’re Sarah, right?”

Sarah’s eyes widened slightly. “Oh, you recognize me?”

“Annie and Jackson have mentioned you.” Speaking of Annie, would Annie be upset at Ginny’s talking to Sarah? Somehow, she didn’t think her friend would be thrilled at this meeting.

Sarah looked between Harry and Ginny, her cheeks turning scarlet. “Oh. Well, I just wanted to come over and tell you I think you’re very brave. It must have been awful…”

Sarah’s eyes went to Harry again, her gaze lingering on him for a few seconds longer than Ginny liked any girl looking at her boyfriend. Pathetic jealously bubbled over her sadness and over her unease. Sarah seemed to realize that she was staring and she moved her gaze back to Ginny, her cheeks still a bright cherry red.

Sarah took a small step closer and glanced over her shoulder, her expression uneasy. Ginny took a tiny step back out of discomfort and habit. She didn’t see Sarah as a threat, but she didn’t like any stranger so close to her–it limited one’s ability to pull out one’s wand for defense. A sad, but true fact of the world they lived in today.

“Thank you,” Ginny replied a bit stiffly. Sarah’s eyes turn again to Harry. Why did she keep looking at Harry? One look at Harry made it clear to Ginny that he was just as uncomfortable with this as Ginny felt.

Sarah hesitated, starting to appear more uncomfortable as the seconds ticked by. “I saw the village not long after– I still cannot believe all the damage. It must have been terrifying to be in the caf when the window exploded. I still can’t believe they blew up the caf, and two other businesses! And what curse did they use on you that cracked the street open?” Sarah babbled anxiously. “It’s a miracle that more people weren’t killed.”

Ginny opened her mouth to reply that it was actually her curse that cracked the street open, but then she realized what Sarah said. Her mouth snapped closed in shock and she stared at Sarah, unable to believe her ears. Curse? No… there was no way that Sarah could be a witch…

“I knew you looked familiar!” Harry exclaimed suddenly, startling Ginny.

A ghost of a sad smile flicked across Sarah’s face before she nodded once, peering around anxiously as if looking for any eavesdroppers.

“You go to Hogwarts?!” Ginny demanded in a sharp whisper. She stared at Sarah, trying to place her in her memory of Hogwarts students, but came up blank.

“I’m in Hufflepuff,” Sarah explained quickly. “I’m a year younger than you. I didn’t go last year, though. My parents pulled me out of school because of the war and we went into hiding.”

Ginny’s head was spinning as she realized what this meant. Annie was still angry with Sarah who’d abruptly left last year, which Ginny now realized was because of the war; a war which muggles were oblivious about. Jackson had had his heart broken and he would never have known that it was because of the same secret that Ginny had kept: a secret about a world that Jackson had no part of.

Jackson had the worst luck in girls…

Harry obviously wasn’t as interested in the way Sarah’s secret had affected the social dynamics between her friends. Instead, he was more shocked that Sarah could be a witch who spent part of her life here in the village. “I didn’t know there were more wizarding families living around here.”

“My dad is a muggle and he lives here. I spent my time between here and London since my parents are divorced. Because of the Floo network, no one ever realized how often I wasn’t here in the summer. It was easy to go back and forth between houses whenever I waned.”

“I can’t believe I don’t recognize you,” Ginny murmured in disbelief.

Sarah shrugged. “We ran in different social circles. I don’t play Quidditch and we’re in different houses and different years… it happens.”

“So Jackson never knew about you,” Harry summed up, looking sympathetic.

Tears welled up in Sarah’s eyes as she shook her head slowly. “Sorry if this is weird, but I recognized you and Harry, and I needed to talk to someone who knows. Listening to all these lies about how it happened and why… listening to people talk about how much it hurts and how they don’t understand why it happened… it makes me sick! I just can’t listen to it anymore.”

“I know,” Ginny whispered, truly understanding how Sarah felt about keeping the truth hidden from the people they loved most.

Sarah sighed miserably before adding, “That’s why I broke it off with Jackson.” And suddenly, Sarah was crying, making Ginny felt terrible and even more uncomfortable. She didn’t know Sarah well enough to just hug her, as much as she wanted to do just that

What were the odds that Jackson had met two girls who had decided that they couldn’t be with him because he was a muggle? After Ginny had basically doing the same thing to Jackson this summer, she now understood why Sarah had abruptly ended things and left Jackson alone, confused and hurt. It was too dangerous to be associated with muggles… her association had gotten her friends attacked in the village, while Sarah had left before it could happen.

“I made a mistake,” Sarah was sobbing. “I was scared–I didn’t think he would accept me for who I am, but I couldn’t lie anymore! I didn’t have time to tell him the truth and I wouldn’t be allowed to tell him anyway unless we were planning on getting married. As much as I wanted to be with him, I wasn’t sure marriage was ever in the cards, the way my life was going. Then the war started and I had to leave. I didn’t have time to figure out how to lie, how to let him down gently. I just knew I had to leave and cut off all connection with him. I didn’t want to put him at risk by associating with me.”

Jackson–poor Jackson. Left broken hearted because of a reason he would never have heard from her. “You were just trying to protect him, Sarah… you did the right thing.”

“Yes,” Sarah whispered, peering around nervously again. “I also altered his memory of me–I know I shouldn’t of, but Jackson was so determined to go after what he wanted. I was scared that he’d come after me if he didn’t believe I was done with him. I was lucky I did it before the Ministry fell–they were so busy and paranoid with other things, that they didn’t notice my underage magic.”

“That was a very brave thing you did,” Harry told her sincerely.

Sarah shrugged, unwilling to accept the compliment. “Listen, I heard you’re friends with Annie. I know she must hate me and I’m sure she hasn’t painted a pretty picture about me, but I swear, I never wanted to hurt him. I need someone to know that. Everyone my age gives me these dirty looks– they know I broke his heart before he died. They know I really hurt him, and they know I never got to make it right.” She looked at Ginny desperately. “You’ve got to believe I never wanted to hurt him.”

Sarah looked so tortured and desperate, even after Ginny swore she believed her. Sarah just kept on talking, as if she didn’t hear her.

“I heard what happened in the Daily Prophet. I just came over you to tell you thank you for fighting for him. I loved him, and I’m glad he had a friend like you to protect him. Some people might have just run when the Death Eaters showed up, especially after what happened at Hogwarts. And yet, you stayed. You fought, and you nearly got yourself killed.”

“He was my friend,” Ginny whispered fiercely. “I’d never have left Jackson and Annie. I just wish I could have done something to save him.”

Harry’s expression turned very serious as he touched her arm to get her attention. “Ginny, you were hurt–the Healers are surprised you were still conscious when we got there.”

Sarah gave a watery smile for a moment and then said, “A friend of my mum’s is a Healer. Apparently you’re a hero in their eyes–they still talk about how you still fought, even when it should not have been physically possible.”

Harry nodded, pleased that he had Sarah’s support on this. He looked at Ginny in a way that made his gratefulness apparent. “I’m grateful to him, for saving Ginny when I couldn’t. I nearly lost her…”

Sarah looked between Harry and Ginny and smiled again, this time more sincerely. “You’re very lucky to have each other. I’m happy you guys made it through so you could be together–I always thought you deserved someone strong like Ginny to make you happy, Harry. All those girls who loved you for being famous… they don’t deserve you.”

Harry seemed embarrassed by Sarah’s sincerity and Ginny fought a smile over his discomfort. She agreed whole-heartedly with Sarah, and despite the mood, seeing Harry’s discomfort over a compliment was always a little amusing. Poor guy…

There was a long moment of silence before Sarah cleared her throat and looked around again.

“Anyway, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make today any worse… I just needed to talk to someone who would understand. As much as I wanted to come back here, I hate that no one here really understands. I hate that they look at me like I’m this heartbreaker…” She shook her head sadly and then her eyes flicked from Harry to Ginny. “I should have stayed or come back sooner… I should have been here. I could have helped you, Ginny…”

Ginny bit her lip, unsure how to really make Sarah feel better when deep down, she was asking so many of the same ‘what if’ questions herself. “You don’t know you would have gotten here any faster than my friend Hermione, or Harry and the Aurors. It’s not worth beating yourself up over…”

“Ginny!” Annie appeared suddenly, startling Harry, Ginny and Sarah. Annie came closer, eyeing Sarah in a slightly suspicious fashion. Ginny watched as Sarah’s shoulders slumped in defeat, already sensing Annie’s disapproval and dislike.

“Hi, Sarah,” Annie greeted awkwardly. Ginny was grateful that Annie was not the type of person to be mean to anyone without a direct cause, otherwise this moment would be way worse.

She badly wanted to make Annie be nice, but she knew that there was no way to explain why it was necessary for Sarah to leave like she did. Sarah’s lower lip quivered like she was about to start crying again, but she managed to hold it together.

“Hi, Annie,” Sarah returned softly. “I’d better go. It was nice meeting you, Ginny. And you, Harry, it was really nice meeting you.” Translation: like most people, she was very happy to meet Harry Potter. “Maybe I’ll see you around…”

“Nice meeting you,” Harry replied politely, but Sarah was already quickly walking away and likely didn’t hear him.

“What was she talking to you for?” Annie asked incredulously. “She wasn’t being mean, was she? I wouldn’t be surprised if she found out that Jackson had a little thing for you and was coming over to size you up, or something.”

Harry tensed slightly at that comment and beat Ginny to reassuring Annie about Sarah’s motives. “She was just being friendly,” Harry supplied calmly.

Annie looked skeptical for a moment, but then lost interest. This was probably because of the daggers Ginny was staring at Annie for bringing up Jackson’s crush in front of Harry.

Annie glanced at her watch and then back at Ginny. “I was wondering if you wanted to come with me to where it happened? I wanted to leave flowers and just... be there. It just feels more personal than being at the church.”

At first, the idea of returning into the village was not a pleasant one, but then Ginny thought that maybe she needed to go back there as much as she’d needed to come to the funeral today.

“Sure,” Ginny agreed slowly, reminding herself that she had her wand, and moreover, the danger had past.

Harry released her gently. “How about you two go, Ginny? It might be good to get closure…”

“Oh, Harry, you can come, too,” Annie said quickly, looking guilty. “I didn’t mean to exclude you.”

Harry didn’t look upset by the idea of letting Ginny go without him. Instead, he seemed to think it was a really good idea.

“No, I think you two should go.”

Part of Ginny wanted him to stay, but the other part of her was telling her to be brave. Going back to the part of town that had been blown apart by Death Eaters would be hard, but it wouldn’t be nearly as hard as going back to Hogwarts would be, and this was coming up quickly. “I can meet you at your place after,” Ginny told him. “Just don’t tell my mum you left me.”

Harry smiled and kissed her briefly. “I won’t. Just swear you’ll be safe, okay?”

Ginny nodded, squeezing his hands. “I promise. I’ll come straight to your place after.”

Harry nodded, but he was hesitating. “I’ll leave the keys where we came in,” he told Ginny meaningfully. “That way you can come right in.”

It took Ginny a minute to realize that Harry was telling her he was going to leave a portkey that would take her directly to his house. Trying not to laugh at his poor attempt at subtlety, she agreed and kissed him once more before he said goodbye to Annie and walked off.

“He’s a good boyfriend,” Annie remarked when Harry was out of ear-shot. “It’s nice that he worries about you. He obviously really loves you.”

Ginny smiled in spite of the situation, fully appreciating the fact that Harry did worry about her and cared about her very much. There was something about being around death that reminded you how lucky you were to be alive, healthy and happy. “I know. I love him, too.”

Annie bit her lip, suddenly looking guilty. She grasped Ginny’s arm, looking as if she might start crying again. “Listen, I’m really sorry for bringing up that Jackson had a thing for you. I know that neither of you like to think about it… I was just a little riled up by seeing Sarah again.”

“It’s okay, don’t worry about it.”

Annie breathed a sigh of relief. “Good. I don’t want you mad at me, and I wouldn’t want to cause anything weird between you and Harry. You’re much happier than when I first met you.”

Ginny smiled her agreement, getting a final glimpse of Harry’s retreating back before he disappeared around the side of the church. “Anyway, we should get going before it rains.”

“Yeah, good idea,” Annie agreed with a quick look up at the sky. “I’ve got flowers in the car I’d like to leave there, just give me a second.”

“I’ll wait here.”

Annie smiled gratefully and hurried off, winding her way through the crowd. Ginny’s gaze fell on Sarah who was standing with her parents again. Their locked eyes and Ginny offered a friendly smile, raising her hand. Sarah waved back, her eyes sad, and her expression speaking volumes about her pain and guilt.

Ginny marveled at the unpredictability of life and how small the world was. She’d spent a lot of time feeling alone in her guilt and isolation from Annie over the truth about Jackson’s death, never thinking for a moment that someone else could be going through the exact same thing. She didn’t recognize Sarah from school, but their lives had run parallel to each other for a long time. They both lived through the war and although Ginny had the larger reason of Harry, Ginny and Sarah’s secret had cost Jackson pain.

As Sarah turned away, Ginny promised herself that she would seek out Sarah at school. Sarah should not have to suffer alone, especially when their pain was one in the same.


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