LIFE IS BUT A DREAM
“Well, I’ve chosen Dean Thomas, would you say he’s better?” asked Ginny vaguely.
“What?” shouted Ron, upending the chessboard. Crookshanks whet plunging after the pieces.
Was she serious? Harry wondered as he rescued three pawns, two knights and a castle from under the seat beside him even as Hermione pried a shrieking white queen from out of Crookshanks’s mouth.
“He’s too old for you, Ginny!” Ron was bellowing.
“He’s only a year older than me, Ron,” said Ginny, rolling her eyes in exasperation. “He’s the same age as Michael — and Neville,” she added, nudging Neville in the ribs.
Neville went pink.
Harry had forgotten about Ginny having gone to the Yule Ball with Neville. He glanced up at Ginny.
She caught his eye and dropped him a broad wink.
“Ginny, liking older men is one thing-”
“Boys you mean,” interrupted Ginny.
“Older boys then, liking them is one thing, Ginny, but not Dean! I know the bloke, O.K.? I’ve been sharing a dorm with him for five years. Trust me, he’s all wrong for you.”
“He wears the West Ham colors to bed,” interjected Neville unexpectedly.
Ron and Harry stared at him.
Ginny threw back her head and laughed outright.
“It’s not funny, Ginny!” snarled Ron. “If you think I’m going to sit around while you’re off snogging that little-”
“Tell me, Ron, said Hermione, putting down her book and coming to Ginny’s rescue. “Is there anyone you would actually consider good enough for your baby sister?”
“Excuse me?” said Ginny in a highly affronted voice. She was obviously offended by Hermione’s having called her a baby.
“Of course there is!” said Ron hotly, casting an odd, furtive look at Harry. “I just don’t want to see her make a mistake is all.”
“You just don’t want to admit that she’s grown up, Ron, admit it!”
“I would hardly call fifteen grown up!” said Ron, rounding on her.
“And they’re off,” said Harry, taking the handful of pieces that Luna was handing him and tucking them into the chess bag.
“Typical,” said Neville, retrieving a pawn from his mimbulous mimbletonia’s pot.
“They’re just venting all their built-up sexual energy,” said Luna matter-of-factly. She used her wand to summon the rest of the pieces from the floor of the compartment.
Harry, Ginny and Neville all stared at her gape-mouthed.
“Well really,” she said, smiling slightly, “just look at them!”
All four of them turned to look in the direction she was pointing.
Ron was on his knees, his hands placed flat on the seat on either side of Hermione’s knees, effectively pinning her in place. Hermione was leaning forward slightly, one finger poking Ron in the chest.Both of them were red in the face from yelling, but neither seemed to be paying any attention to what was going on around them. The air between them seemed to crackle with energy.
“Damn,” said Neville eloquently, comprehension dawning across his face.
Ginny stifled a giggle.
“What’s so funny?” asked Harry.
“Well, I did agree to go out with Dean,” she said easily, “but its not like anything happened, I mean he hasn’t tried to kiss yet or anything, so it’s not really worth Ron’s getting upset about.”
“Gives them a reason to row,” said Harry with a shrug.
“Since when to those two need a reason to row?” asked Neville.
“Hear, hear,” said Luna comfortably.
Harry glanced at Ginny again as Neville and Luna began discussing some of the more spectacular Ron / Hermione fights they’d witnessed. Ginny was watching him with one eyebrow raised.
“You really going out with Dean?” he asked her quietly.
“Why?” Harry asked bluntly.
“Well, he asked — and it’s not like I’ve got any other prospects at the moment.”
“Now, Ginevra, you could have any man you set your mind to,” said Luna dreamily.
Ginny made a noncommittal sort of sound in her throat.
“Well, except the one you really want of course,” Luna added, turning her popping eyes on Harry.
“Give it a rest, Luna. Harry’s my friend,” said Ginny easily.
“Yes, well . . .” Luna let her voice trail off significantly and turned to look back out of the window.
“Ginevra?” asked Harry curiously.
“Mum’s idea of an exotic name.” Ginny rolled her eyes at Harry and picked up the conversation where they had left off.
“I mean, Dean didn’t ask me until last night, and I said O.K. and we agreed to write over the summer. That’s it really, but don’t tell Ron,” she added, leaning towards Harry and lowering her voice. “Neville’s right. If Ron thinks it’s something serious, and Hermione thinks that she’s defending my independence it gives them something to go on about.”
“You do realize that all their arguing is just a form of foreplay,” came Luna’s dreamy, sing-song voice from behind her magazine.
Harry, Neville and Ginny all snorted with laughter.
“What’s up with you lot?” asked Ron, finally looking around.
Both he and Hermione looked rather hot and bothered but oddly satisfied for all that.
“They should just shag and get it over with,” Luna added in a clear and carrying voice. “That would ease the tension considerably.”
Neville made a choking sound.
“Who should just shag and get it over with,” asked Ron interestedly. His eyes ran from Ginny, who was shaking with suppressed laughter, to Neville, who had gone a deep plum color and finally came to rest on Harry.
“Seamus and Lavender,” said Harry quickly, sensing danger.
“Oy, mate, that is not a mental picture I’m comfortable with,” said Ron, his face screwed up in distaste. “Oh Merlin, can you imagine? Me wand, Lavender lass,” Ron said, imitating Seamus’ brogue. “I can’t reach me wand!”
To Harry’s surprise, Ginny responded with an almost perfect imitation of Lavender’s soft, breathy voice.
“Oh, Seamus, let me — oh my! It certainly is — small!”
“Yes, lass, but it gets the job done, you just swish and flick!”
“But, Seamus, it has fingerprints all over it! When was the last time you polished it properly?”
The entire compartment was howling with laughter and even Hermione, who had looked both shocked and appalled at first was grinning broadly by the time they were done.
“That really wasn’t very nice,” Hermione said reprovingly.
“Oh, lighten up, Hermione,” said Ginny, wiping her eyes. “After the stories you’ve told me about Victor’s wand-”
“What about Vicky’s wand?” asked Ron threateningly, rounding on Hermione who was now spluttering denials and had turned a pleasing shade of red.
“Lends a whole new perspective to the term ‘scarlet woman’ now, doesn’t it?” Ginny asked the others as Ron and Hermione began shouting again.
“Is there a wizard equivalent to aspirin?” Harry asked her, rubbing at his head but grinning broadly nonetheless.
“A bit,” Harry conceded.
“Well, I’m really not very good at healing charms, but here’s what I used to do for Bill when he’d get a headache, he said it worked like — well, like a charm.”
She sat down on the floor behind Harry — her back against the seat, her knees on either side of him.
“Now, just lean back against me,” she directed.
Harry leaned his head back obediently and she guided it back until he was resting against her chest.
“Now, close your eyes,” she directed.
Once he had done so she began massaging his face, scalp and neck. Her fingers were firm and cool and seemed to know exactly where they would do the most good, for within minutes he could feel all of his tension and worries being smoothed out beneath her touch. It was as if she were using some sort of magical iron.
“Are you sure you’re not using magic?” Harry murmured a few minutes later, and instantly regretted speaking when her fingers paused.
“Does your head still hurt?” she asked.
“Not as much, but please don’t stop,” he pleaded.
Ginny’s fingers resumed their ministrations and Harry couldn’t help but wonder at the change in her. When had she become this sure of herself? When had she become this confident around others? This was certainly a far different girl from the ten-year-old he had met on the concourse between platforms nine and ten five years ago. Five years, had it been that long?
Harry could feel himself drifting into a pleasant daze somewhere between wakefulness and sleep even as his thoughts drifted back . . . and back . . .
* * *
He was following the red-headed family down the concourse between platforms nine and ten.
“Now what’s the platform number?” said the boys’ mother.
“Nine and three-quarters!” piped a small girl, also red-headed, who was holding her hand, “Mom, can’t I go . . .”
“You’re not old enough Ginny, now be quiet.”
And then, once they were on the train and the whistle had sounded Harry had watched as the little girl — the woman had called her Ginny — began to cry.
“Don’t, Ginny, we’ll said you loads of owls,” said one of the twins.
And then the girl was half laughing, half crying as she ran to keep up with the train until it gathered too much speed, and then the train had pulled away, leaving the small, tear-stained figure far behind.
Harry had felt bad for the girl. She was probably the youngest of the lot, all of her brothers gone away.
* * *
And then Harry knew that he had fallen asleep for even though he could still hear Ron and Hermione bickering about Victor Krum and Luna’s voice droning on about something to do with the trip she and her father had planned to find a Crumple-horned Snorkack, and could feel Ginny’s hands on his face and neck, he could also hear her voice in his head.
“I’m surprised that you even noticed me back then,” she said, and he could hear the smile in her voice.
It’s a dream, Harry told himself. Go with it, it won’t hurt to respond.
“Your whole family fascinated me.”
“Because you never had one?” Ginny’s voice asked.
“That and the fact that there were so many of you. And then that next summer, do you remember Gin?”
He could feel her smile. Of course she remembered.
* * *
They’d been sitting at breakfast, he and Ron, having just arrived in Mr. Weasley’s flying Ford Anglia when there had been a diversion in the form of a small, red-headed figure in a long nightdress who had appeared in the kitchen, had given a small squeal and had then run out again.
“Ginny,” Ron had said in an undertone to Harry. “She’s been talking about you all summer!”
* * *
“God, I can’t believe that I was ever that silly!” came Ginny’s abashed voice. “Blushing and stammering and knocking things over.”
“It was cute!” Harry insisted.
“It was stupid!” Ginny argued in his head.
“Well, you got over the clumsy bit, didn’t you?”
“Eventually, yeah, but you were so nice to me anyway, giving me all those expensive Lockhart books!”
“The git wanted to use me as publicity!”
Oddly, Harry could feel Ginny’s laughter as a deep sort of rumble in her chest. Now why would she be laughing for real if he was imagining — dreaming — the entire conversation?
“At least he didn’t have a mad crush on you!”
“You mean like sending me singing Valentines and things?”
“Harry, that wasn’t me!”
“But it was, Fred and George told me so!”
“Well, they put me up to it. I lost a bet and that was my payment.”
“Quite the talent for verse. I wish you could have seen your face when the cupid was singing. It was priceless!”
In his head Harry began to sing;
“His eyes are as green-”
“Harry!” Ginny protested.
“As a fresh pickled toad-”
“Merlin, did you have to remind me of that?”
“His hair is as black, as a blackboard.”
“I’m not listening!”
“He’s really divine.”
“I’m throwing up now.”
“I wish he were mine.”
“I’m ignoring you!”
“The hero who conquered the Dark Lord.”
“You’re never going to let me live that one down, are you, Harry?”
“Nope,” said Harry comfortably.
Funny, but he could swear that he could feel the heat creeping up Ginny’s face. At least she wasn’t cold.
She’d been so cold when he’d found her on the floor of the Chamber of Secrets. Behind him he could feel Ginny shiver.
“Don’t think about that, Harry, please?”
One of her hands was still smoothing his face and neck. The other was now wrapped around his chest. It felt good there. Natrual. Harry put one of his own hands over hers where it lay, nearly on top of his heart.
“I was so afraid that you were dead, Gin,” he whispered.
“I would have died if it hadn’t been for you, Harry. But it’s over now. Tom Riddle can’t hurt us any more.”
“But Voldemort can.”
“I almost lost you to him fourth year,” she said softly, her arm tightening protectively around his chest.
“Well, it turned out alright in the end.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the way I see it, we’re not finished yet.”
“Oh yeah, right,” said Harry, then winced as another pain shot through his head. “Damn that hurt,” he muttered out loud, his voice gruff in his own ears.
So had the realization that she had been dating Michael Corner.
“Why, Harry, I didn’t think you noticed.”
“Of course I noticed,” said Harry, grinning as the fingers of her right hand resumed their gentle massaging.
“You seemed a bit, erm, preoccupied at the time,” said Ginny, stifling a giggle.
“Yeah, you know, with getting into Cho’s knickers.”
“Hey! I never, we never-”
“I know, I know, but I thought you didn’t care particularly about me back then.”
“It’s sort of hard to explain,” said Harry sheepishly.
Honestly, how could he ever sufficiently explain his feelings for Ginny Weasley? Very complex. His best friend’s sister, his adopted parent’s only daughter, fellow Gryffindor, excellent Quidditch player and friend.
“I’m you’re friend?” said Ginny eagerly.
“Of course you’re my friend,” said Harry with a snort. His friend, yes, but ever since he’d saved her life in the Chamber of Secrets, there had been — something else.
“You’ve felt it too?” said Ginny softly.
“Yes,” Harry admitted. Yes. He’d felt it too. He’d felt the surge of pride when she had suggested that D.A. stand for Dumbledore’s Army. He’d felt the twinge when Hermione had announced that Ginny was dating Michael Corner. Just a twinge, but it had been there. He’d felt the urge to take her in her arms and comfort her when she’d found out about her father being attacked. He’d felt grateful when she had voluntarily sought him out and set him straight when he’d thought that he was being possessed by Voldemort. He’d felt the flush of admiration when Ron had gloatingly told them how Ginny had hexed Malfoy with the Bat Bogey Curse, the protectiveness when Bellatrix LeStrange had threatened her in the Hall of Prophecy at the Department of Ministries and the fear when he’d seen her hit in the face with the stunning spell.
“But I snapped at you, about me being the only other person you know who’d been possessed by Voldemort.”
“I deserved it,” said Harry bluntly. “For acting like an idiot. By all rights you should have been holding a grudge against me for being such a prat, but no. You helped me get into Umbridge’s office, and came with me to the Ministry. I should have known better!” he said finally, his voice shaking.
“Harry, there’s no way you could have known.”
“I should have waited!” said Harry desperately, “I should have been more careful! I got Sirius killed! I could have gotten you all killed!”
He shuddered. Through his mind flicked images from the night at the ministry; the thestrals flying smoothly and silently through the chill evening sky . . .all of them jammed into the decrepit phone booth . . . the black circular room with it’s ice-blue candles . . . the glass spheres raining around them as they ran for cover . . . the brains wrapping their gaudy tentacles around Ron’s arms . . .blood pouring from Neville’s nose. . .Tonks’ limp body falling from stone tier to stone tier. . . Hermione lying as still as death . . . Luna flying through the air . . . Mad Eye Moody’s magical eye beneath his foot . . .Ginny’s face going slack as the stunning spell hit her in the face. . . Sirius arching gracefully backwards. . .
“You didn’t have to come with me that night you know.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Because, you git, I love you.”
Though he knew that he was imagining the whole conversation, stuck as he was somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, Harry could have sworn that his heart had skipped a beat at her words.
It’s Just a dream, he told himself sternly. Hermione said it herself last summer. She gave up on you ages ago. Besides that, you prat, she’s going out with Dean Thomas. She told you so herself.
“A lot can change a year,” said Ginny’s voice in his head.
“Wishful thinking,” said Harry out loud.
“What’s wishful thinking?” said Ginny, also out loud. From the sound of her voice, however, she was very nearly asleep herself.
“Just tell me that it was a dream,” said Harry, smiling as he felt her breath tickling his ear. God he liked the feeling of being held by Ginny Weasley!
“I can’t do that, Harry.” Her lips brushed his ear as she spoke and Harry felt his eyes fly open.
The train was slowing down. They had almost reached platform 9 3/4 . Luna, Neville, Ron and Hermione were pulling down boxes, bags and trunks from the luggage racks.
Harry sat up abruptly and turned to look at Ginny who was smiling and stretching behind him.
“How’s you’re head?” she asked brightly.
“It’s — it’s all better, thanks!”
“My pleasure,” said Ginny in a rather throaty voice, and then winked.
“If you’re going with Dean, why aren’t you riding with him?”
“Do you really need to ask me that, Harry?”
“What do you mean?”
“If you need me to explain, Harry,” said Ginny, standing up in one fluid motion and retrieving her bag from the seat, “then perhaps it would be better for you to believe that this last hour was just a dream after all,” she said cryptically.
She smiled at him then, a slow, rather seductive smile, one hand trailing across his face, lingering briefly on his lips before she leaned forward and gave him a swift kiss on the cheek.
“See you later, Harry. Have a good summer,” she said softly, and was gone — off onto the platform.
Harry watched her go and wondered to himself if perhaps he could just stay right here — refuse to get off the train — refuse to go back to the Dursley’s — wait right here for Ginny to come back.
He raised a hand to his cheek, touching the spot where she had kissed him. He wasn’t entirely certain as to what had just happened. Had he imagined the entire conversation? Or . . .With a sigh he collected Hedwig’s cage and his trunk and made his way onto the crowded platform. He supposed he should be feeling depressed at the prospect of another summer with the Dursley’s where he’d have plenty of time to think about everything that had happened during the previous year — everyone he’d hurt — everyone he’d lost . . .and Ginny.
In spite of his dreary prospects there was a small, lopsided smile on his face when he emerged from the barrier into King’s Cross Station, squinting against the dazzling June afternoon sun.