Special thanks to Ashwinder and Chi for beta reading!
The sharp, piercing sensation in her chest had abated with time to a dull, constant ache.
That, she reckoned, she could at least live with. Even now, secure in The Burrow, Ginny Weasley still felt the aftershocks of everything she had been through. While she had never been a stranger to heartache and had spent many lonely evenings crying herself to sleep, the reasons behind her tears now seemed so much more complicated.
Her stress was exacerbated by the worry that every bit of rubbish on the ground held the potential for tears. Just yesterday, she had been walking back up the path towards home when she spotted a wrinkled piece of tinfoil on the side of the road. All at once, her eyes prickled painfully.
The tin foil had reminded her of poor Neville Longbottom. That awful day she had found out what Voldemort had done to his parents was indelibly burned into her mind. It was forever connected to the moment she'd witnessed him wordlessly accept a gift from his mother, who was too far tortured into insanity to understand that all she was handing him was an empty wrapper.
Neville had suffered as much, if not more, than the rest of them and had done so largely in silence. Ginny had never imagined that, behind his timid exterior and general clumsiness, he had suffered his own private tragedy.
And that was only one of a series of epiphanies she'd been having.
The end of her fourth year had been absolutely nothing like what she'd expected and she often found herself wishing for a simpler time when her only real trouble consisted of keeping up her grades and stopping herself from saying something absurd in front of Harry Potter.
After experiencing the horror of her first year, she had thought herself tougher than most. However, Ginny rapidly realized that merely surviving evil was entirely different from actually fighting it. She had always envied her brothers' lives of seemingly endless action and intrigue but now that she was a part of it, she was questioning her earlier sanity.
Being chased through an endless labyrinth of rooms in the pitch dark by a group of adult Death Eaters who very sincerely wanted to kill her was not nearly as enthralling and glamorous as she would have imagined it. If she took anything away from her time in Hogwarts, it would be that the world was, in reality, a decidedly dark place.
Circumstances were still hard in her own family. Percy was still being a git, despite the fact the Voldemort had shown his face at the Ministry, proving that Dumbledore had been right all along. She had fully expected her brother to have the decency to apologize for his behavior, even if he didn't move back home, but evidently she'd given him too much credit. When all was said and done, the only thing they'd received was a curt note politely informing them that Aurors were being assigned to watch over The Burrow, as per orders from Fudge.
The twins were faring no better with her parents, having essentially dropped out of Hogwarts and bullied their way into the Order of the Phoenix. Every time they went out on a mission, their mother looked apoplectic.
Nevertheless, Ginny also appreciated how truly lucky she was. Though her father had been attacked and hospitalized during Christmas, he hadn't been killed. Given their numbers, it was a pure miracle that none of her immediate family had been irreparably harmed so far. She still had nightmares of Ron being attacked by the brain and how she'd sat prone, helplessly watching it try to devour him. There had been more than one night that she'd woken up from that particular nightmare and run to the loo barely in time to vomit up her dinner.
And when she started to feel too sorry for herself, she would simply be reminded of the misfortunes of others, which trumped anything she had experienced.
The loss of Harry's godfather, Sirius Black, was something that she thought about almost constantly. Despite the fact that she'd known him for less than a year, she had grown to regard him as a loveable, slightly roguish uncle. He was one of the few people that she knew Harry fully confided in and it just seemed healthier for him to have a parental figure in his life. Unlike with her own parents, Harry didn't have to compete for Sirius' attention with six other people. On more than one occasion, Ginny had watched with amusement as he had started to display some of his godfather's brash behavior. She couldn't imagine what he was going through now, stuck with the blasted Dursleys all over again.
The thought of Harry caused Ginny to pause in her evening porch light ruminations and collect a cold glass of pumpkin juice from the kitchen. It was one thing to sympathize with Harry's loss, but it was quite another to think about him specifically. She wasn't quite sure how to wrap her mind around that particular issue.
Her previous relationship with him all seemed so distant now. That idiotic Valentine's Day poem. The embarrassing way she'd worshipped him like a hero. Ginny could hardly believe she was capable of such simpering. In a ploy to be a bit less pathetic, she had set her mind at the start of last summer to spend a Potter-free year and, surprisingly, she'd done it.
Granted, having Michael Corner as a boyfriend had been a pleasant distraction, as was living in the Black mansion with the Order, but she wasn't about to sell herself short. She'd detached from Harry remarkably well, all things considered. Viewing him strictly as a 15-year-old boy and not some mini Greek god, she'd started to realize the myriad of ways in which he was flawed. She soon came to realize the value of such an approach as that type of objectivity saved her a good deal of unnecessary angst. For example, when he'd started up with Cho Chang partway through the school year, she'd privately considered him Harry Potter: The Boy Who Was Daft.
Every female at Hogwarts and at least half the males knew that Cho was still reeling from Cedric Diggory's death. While Ginny's heart went out to the girl she formerly loathed as a main competitor for Harry's affections, she had no illusions as to Cho's suitability for romance. She was downright unstable.
If Harry didn't have the sense to see that for himself, well, he deserved the fallout.
On the other hand, despite being able to see Harry's relationship with Cho as the unmitigated disaster it was destined to be, deep down, there was something about the fact that he had pursued her which irked Ginny personally. It probably had something to do with the feminine revulsion for being considered second fiddle, but she couldn't really even call herself that since she didn't exactly qualify as…well…a fiddle.
And now, now that his mercifully brief relationship was officially over and Ginny too was free since Cho had ironically ridden off into the sunset with her own ex-boyfriend, she didn't quite know what to think.
Then there was also the problem of even labeling the current state of their relationship. Ginny and Harry weren't quite friends, although they were much more than they had ever been before. The few letters that he had sent to Ron thus far had surprisingly inquired after her as well, making her feel that, for the first time, she had the pleasure of exercising her own identity a bit. There was potential in that.
Draining the last of her pumpkin juice, Ginny settled back on the porch steps with the vague discomfort that seemed linked to thinking about Harry nowadays.
Something about it just seemed so selfish. There was so much more going on around them that it seemed childish to continue to pine for him. How could she keep her head stuck in dreams of epic fairytale romance when Voldemort was running about, torturing people and trying to kill her loved ones? She imagined that there were better ways to spend her time than mooning over whether or not Harry Potter fancied her.
At this point, it seemed fruitless to even hope.
Perhaps, she mused, this was what it was to grow up.
It was several weeks later when the letter from Dumbledore finally arrived.
Ginny had been sitting in the kitchen, flipping through the Daily Prophet when a school owl swooped in and dropped it in her mother's lap. It turned out, as per her father's request, Dumbledore was lending permission for Harry to spend part of the summer at The Burrow.
The reaction to this news was almost instantaneous. Mrs. Weasley started fluttering around the kitchen enumerating two weeks' worth of preparation for his visit. Ron started cheering and ran to owl Hermione. Ginny merely leaned her head against the cool wooden table and felt some of the tension ebb out of her. Having Harry to stay with them at The Burrow was a relief on one front as it meant that he was temporarily out of the Dursleys' way. On the other hand, she doubted it would do much to reduce her conflicted thoughts.
Upon his arrival that warm morning in late July, she found that he wasn't quite as anti-social as she had expected. She reckoned he had done much of his brooding at Privet Drive. Upon further observation, she reassessed her opinion and started to suspect that, if anything, his pain hadn't decreased. He had simply become better at hiding it.
In quiet moments when Ron and Hermione were otherwise engaged, he would gaze out the window and Ginny would see the profound sadness in his eyes reflected by the glass. She, in turn, would be forced to quickly exit the room, blinking away tears of her own.
There was nothing more frustrating than having deep feelings for someone and constantly worrying about his well being when he in turn only regarded you as an acquaintance.
What it meant was she noticed much more than the others but said much less. It was an odd predicament to be in as her reluctance to speak with him had little to do with a fear of rejection. As far as she was concerned, Harry had already rejected her romantically. It had more to do with giving him a reason to push her away altogether. Even if she couldn't convince him to love her, she had to convince him to be her friend. There was a particularly stubborn part of her psyche that refused to release the notion that Harry was meant to be a part of her life in some way.
Since their friendship was in its infancy, she often found herself stuck having bland conversations with him when the desire for more ate away at her. Then again, she wasn't being entirely fair. It wasn't as though they were completely superficial with one another. Ginny had already shared many deliriously funny moments with Harry that were entirely genuine. In fact, their evening chess matches had all but become legendary in the Weasley household.
Challenging him to a game that first night had been a particularly unnerving experience for her, but it had soon paid off.
Once it became clear that they were evenly matched, Harry's competitive streak had ignited with such fierceness that he'd recruited Ron as a ‘consultant' since he reasoned that no one better than a fellow Weasley would have insight into her strategy. In retaliation, Ginny had joined forces with Hermione. After one particularly raucous evening, Mr. Weasley was appointed official referee and scorekeeper and they had made an event of it ever since.
Currently, the girls were two games ahead of the boys (and thus had earned the adoration of the chess pieces, much to the boy's consternation) but Ginny expected them to regain their footing shortly.
"Hermione, hurry the bloody hell up."
She started at her brother's rude bellowing and glanced up from her position perched in the window seat, momentarily closing the book in her hand.
"I've been ready to go for the last ten minutes, Ronald Weasley, so don't you shout at me. I'm waiting for Harry, he isn't down yet."
"Harry!" Ron shouted, "I'm starved!"
At the sound of footsteps on the stairs, Ginny quickly snapped open her book again, ducking her head so that she wasn't caught watching them.
They were going to town for lunch. She had forgotten that.
As if in response, her stomach grumbled and she felt a red flush start at the bottom of her neck.
Sometimes, it was really dreadful to be left out. Now that she thought about it, she too was hungry. Unfortunately, she was stuck in her seat until the other three left, as she couldn't quite bear to fix a sandwich in front of them. It would look like some sort of passive aggressive request to be included.
"I spent thirty minutes waiting for the washroom- twenty because you were in it and ten to let it air out. That means we're late because of you," Harry shot back, jumping the last three stairs to the landing.
Ginny heard Hermione chuckle and she fought the smile tugging at her own lips as she stared dutifully at the page she was allegedly reading.
"Sod off," Ron grumbled. "Ready, then?"
Ginny bit her lip as she heard the squeak of something opening. There was the sound of footsteps followed by fading voices and the screen door banged shut behind them. After a miserable beat, she let her eyes drift upwards but realized, with horror, she'd looked too soon. Ron was still in the house glaring at his watch.
Before she could look away, his eyes met hers.
"Good grief, how many times do I have to say that we're leaving? I don't care what part you're on or how interesting it is. Ginny, get up, put that thing down and let's go before I starve to death."
Had she not become so good at schooling her emotions, she had no doubt that she would have flung the book down, leapt off of the window seat, skipped up to her brother and thrown her arms around his neck in shocked joy. Instead, she casually stood and set it aside, moving at as leisurely a pace as she dared.
"Sorry, I didn't hear you. It's a really engrossing book."
He mumbled something about what a bad influence Hermione was being on her before they hurried out of the house to catch up with the others.
Much later, after that evening's chess game had concluded (another victory for the women), Ginny was still basking in the glow of belonging.
She watched Ron and Hermione wander outside onto the porch and was surprised when Harry didn't follow them. Her surprise deepened when he came to sit across from her on the sofa. There was something so deliciously adorable about his messy dark hair that she almost missed his first comment.
"Just between you and me, I'm thinking of firing Ron."
She grinned. "Not much help, is he?"
"No, not really. And my pawns all hate him."
"Well, they have good reason to."
"He did something particularly nasty to them last fall. They've refused to behave with him ever since. That's why Bill bought him a new set for Christmas."
"I didn't realize chess pieces held grudges. What'd he do?"
Smiling, she launched into the convoluted, sordid experience of Ron's pawns for Harry's benefit. Carefully describing all the cheating schemes, indentured servitude, and three weeks locked in a cabinet mixed up with some particularly vile toy soldiers, Ginny ended her woeful tale ten minutes later to dead silence.
Glancing up, she noted that Harry's head was resting gently against the arm of the couch. The light reflecting off of his glasses had prevented her from seeing that his eyes were closed, but the soft shape of his mouth and his non-responsiveness added up to one thing. He was fast asleep.
Rising from her chair as quietly as possible, she retrieved a sheet from the linen closet to drape over him.
Most people, she realized, would be deeply offended by the fact that someone had fallen asleep in the middle of a conversation. Ginny reckoned that she would react no differently, had that someone been anyone but Harry Potter.
Quite to the contrary, she was rather honored. In her mind, his actions implied a trust that she didn't realize they shared. His being at ease enough to fall asleep in her presence showed a willingness to be a bit less self-contained and more vulnerable than he normally was. Perhaps that's what friendship was-a series of seemingly disconnected and insignificant events which led to small breakthroughs. Breakthroughs like the fact that Harry was now actually snoring on the couch in front of her.
Then again, it was entirely possible that she was over-thinking the whole thing, that he found her dreadfully boring, and that she should indeed be deeply offended.
Positioning the sheet properly, she fought the urge to reach out and trace her finger down his famous scar as it peeked innocently out from behind his dark locks.
In her fantasies, such an action would cause him to wake up, stare at her with those gorgeous green eyes, capture her hand with his and kiss her fingers lightly before moving on to the rest of her.
In real life, she had no doubt that she'd do something idiotic like accidentally slip and poke him in the eye, thereby waking him up and leading to a decidedly less pleasant series of circumstances.
Pushing her hair from her eyes, she tried to ignore the fact that she'd just broken one of her cardinal rules. No fantasizing about Harry under any circumstances. It wasn't the first time she'd violated that particular one, but she'd been clean for at least two months and it was especially irritating to be violating it when she was trying her utmost to be his friend.
Frowning, she realized she was just going to have to try harder.
The screen door slammed then, jolting him awake. After shooting her a vaguely disoriented look, he glanced down at the sheet around his shoulders and pulled himself up into a seated position.
Blushing, Ginny looked away.
"Night all," Ron called. "I'm off to bed!"
"Oh..err…me too." Harry stood so fast that she didn't have a chance to step away and for a moment, they were inches apart. She couldn't be sure given the dim lighting, but he looked a bit pink as well.
"Thanks, Gin." He put a hand on her shoulder as he stepped around her to jog after Ron. She closed her eyes briefly, reveling in the musky, masculine scent of him and the feel of his white t-shirt as it brushed against her arm.
Sitting down onto the sofa he had vacated, she shivered despite the fact that it was still warm from his body heat. She would indeed have to try harder.
If Ginny had been asked to predict what this summer would offer her, the last thing she would have said was a sense of normalcy. And yet, there they were.
When the idea had been broached it seemed so painfully obvious that it was doomed for failure. In fact, Ginny had all but rolled her eyes when her father had suggested it. Much to her shock (and, she strongly suspected, everyone else's) Harry had been the one to enthusiastically support a pick-up game of Quidditch to mark the last day of his visit.
Given the fact that, aside from chess, it was the only thing he had shown any interest in since he'd arrived at The Burrow, the adults had all but tripped over themselves to set something up. Tonks, Lupin, and Moody had come to escort him home that evening and their services were immediately engaged in conjuring up some goal posts and delineating the pitch boundaries in a nearby field.
Her father seemed to think it was easiest to split up teams along the lines of Weasley vs. Everyone Else. So, Ginny, Ron, and the twins had taken one side while Tonks, Harry, Hermione and a clearly reticent Lupin had taken the other.
Though he was initially annoyed to be playing against his friends, Ron had taken all of three seconds to immerse himself in the competition. His sense of family pride was clearly improving his Quidditch skills.
"Nice save, Ron!" Hermione waved at him from across the field.
Ginny could almost see her brother's ears turn red.
"Oi, whose side are you on, eh Hermione?" Tonks huffed from the mild exertion of her missed goal. "A little less eyeing the other side's Keeper and maybe they wouldn't be slaughtering us."
Masterfully ignoring the implications of that statement, Hermione merely muttered something about having been dragged into the game in the first place.
The twins cackled gleefully.
Like a true Auror, Tonks responded instantly to Harry's warning. She shrank in size just enough so that the Bludger glanced off her shoulder instead of knocking her clear off her broom. Springing back to full form, she erupted into a litany of particularly clever curses, Ginny's mind returned to the task at hand.
Unlike Harry, who was darting every which way a few feet below her, she was content to float in silence and allow her eyes to exert the most effort as they tirelessly skimmed the air for the telltale gold.
She had thought, at first, that it would be intimidating to play Quidditch against him, especially in the position of rival Seeker. But now, after successfully capturing two snitches in formal games, thereby holding her own against some of the best players in her school, she felt infused with a certain cool confidence.
All in all, she mused, it had been nice to have him along for part of the summer. It had given her time to mold their relationship into something resembling a proper friendship and although he hadn't been particularly encouraging, he also hadn't pulled away. They had gradually got to the point where their discussions had moved from inane comments about school and friends to slightly less inane comments about school and friends.
It wasn't much, but it was leagues better than she had expected and gave her some sense of accomplishment.
She glanced down at him then and almost laughed at the dark concentration in his eyes. It was as though his life depended on finding the Snitch.
She simply didn't have it in her to take any game that seriously.
As if to underscore her thoughts, Harry suddenly shot forward. Following his gaze frantically, she saw the gleaming sphere next to Ron's left ankle and cursed herself for her distraction.
Seamlessly, she shot off in the same direction, but kept her higher position.
As Ginny was lighter, they were neck and neck as they approached her still-oblivious brother. Harry darted in a diagonal downward arc towards him while Ginny took her broom into a headlong freefall from above.
Tonks paused in mid-shot as her eyes caught on the action taking place. This caused Ron to look up and let out a scream vaguely reminiscent to the one emanating from Hermione.
Ginny supposed, in retrospect, that it had to be somewhat terrifying to see one's sister dive bombing one from above at the same time one's best mate was rushing forward in the manner of a kamikaze pilot.
With little time to dwell on such things, Ginny's gaze narrowed at the Snitch darting seductively around his foot and briefly allowed her vision to widen enough to encompass Harry's position.
She realized, with irritation, that his head start had been more than she could contend with. He was going to get there first.
Without thinking about the consequences, she shot down behind her brother and kicked out as she passed him. The heel of her shoe caught him in the back and he lurched forward, pinwheeling wildly.
Just as she had hoped, his flailing limbs quickly tangled themselves with Harry's outstretched arms, and Ginny saw Harry's hand thrust away inches before it reached the Snitch.
Fingers grasping greedily in the air, she felt the gentle flutter of wings against her palms and knew she'd caught it.
So great was her euphoria that she neglected to gauge her distance from the field and pulled out of her free fall too late. Hanging upside down from her broom with her knees hooked over the handle she felt long sharp blades of grass increasingly dig into her back as she desperately tried to slow down enough to let go. Moments later, she tumbled onto the ground and came to a stop on her side, smile plastered firmly to her grimy face. "I caught it!" she hollered, thrusting her arm up from her prone position.
There were a few moments of silence as Ginny waited for her team to start their requisite cheering but the silence stretched on, and she slowly pulled herself up onto her feet.
The players had come to a stop a few feet above her, but instead of looking at Ginny, all eyes appeared to be on Harry.
She watched, her mouth suddenly dry, as the shock of dark hair roughly made its way towards her on foot. From above, she could see Ron hovering, slightly battered but no worse for wear. He sent her a vaguely accusatory look, and strangely, so did Hermione.
It took Ginny a few seconds for everything to register.
The unnatural silence…the looks…
Her mouth fell open and the Snitch slid from her hands, fluttering languidly to the ground.
It had simply never occurred to her.
She wasn't supposed to have done it.
She wasn't supposed to have beaten Harry.
Bad enough that he was summering with the Dursleys, that he'd broken up with Cho, that he hadn't been offered Prefect, that his godfather was dead, that Voldemort had returned…she had to then go and make it worse by defeating him in the one thing he'd seemed interested in doing the entire summer.
She felt downright ill.
Crashing through the field, Harry finally emerged. He pinned her with a fiery look. "Ginny Weasley-"
"I am SO sorry-"
"- that was bloody brilliant!"
With a whoop of laughter he rushed forward and lifted her in the air, knocking her breathless.
A decidedly delayed cheer went up from the other players.
"It was also entirely illegal," Tonks cut in, leaning over so violently she nearly slipped off her broom in the process.
Lupin smoothly reached out and grabbed her forearm, hauling her upright. "Quite right, actually. You're not allowed to collude with another player on your team to impede a Seeker's progress when pursuing the Snitch. Closest thing one can do to stop it is for a Beater to send through a Bludger."
This particular comment ignited an argument from Hermione about the validity of following such particulars during an informal game, especially when Ron clearly had had no idea what Ginny was going to do.
George mumbled something about Lupin's mastery of the rules compared to his ability to actually play Quidditch.
Fred simply made a coughing noise that sounded suspiciously like ‘Percy'.
For her part, Ginny wasn't paying attention to any of it. She was still dizzy with the incredible surge of warmth and heady pleasure she felt as Harry bounced her around in a tight hug. He only let her down after almost dropping her in his jubilation.
They smiled at each other, breathless.
"Illegal or not, that was incredibly fast thinking and flying. I thought I had you there. That'll show me I s'pose."
"No, you were right, you did have me. I just fight dirty."
"Should've been sorted into Slytherin."
She pretended to bristle at the comment, "Sticks and stones, Harry. Sticks and stones."
He laughed. "You know, Sirius once said that girls weren't reckless or mad enough to be top Quidditch players-,"
Though she tried valiantly to recover, the shock over hearing Harry say his godfather's name must have shown clearly in her eyes because he suddenly stopped in mid-sentence.
The others were still joking amongst themselves and hadn't noticed the increased tension in the air.
A look of raw pain rippled onto his face and she quickly averted her eyes. His grief threatened to choke her. He took a deep breath and she could all but hear his emotional defenses snapping back up.
"I was just…well…I suppose you've proven him wrong, eh?"
She merely shook her head at the ground.
"Yes. Well. I should probably finish getting packed up."
And that was it.
The moment was ruined forever.
Except for Lupin and Hermione, no one else was piqued by Harry's abrupt jog towards the house, especially because Ginny followed closely behind to cover the haste of his departure.
Once they had reached the front porch she allowed him more space to sprint alone ahead of her and up the stairs. The sound of a door slamming caused her to flinch. She felt a sudden burst of magic and knew he had warded himself into one of the upstairs rooms.
Slowly, she walked around the side of the house and into the garden. With a natural ease that spoke of practice, she carefully walked to the left edge of the lawn and settled herself behind the aged trunks of two tall oak trees. She waited there patiently until she heard the assorted voices of her companions enter the house behind her.
It was only after the porch slid closed behind the last one that she finally allowed herself to cry.