Why does life have to be so unfair? Harry thought and threw another stone at the quiet lake. He had spent most of the afternoon at his secret sanctuary beside Hogwarts' lake. He stumbled upon this semi-secluded area while walking one afternoon in December lost in his thoughts. It was private enough to block the noise created by the other students hanging out on the castle grounds, it being situated at the farthest side of the lake and covered by some huge rocks and trees. Since then, Harry used this as his sanctuary whenever he wanted to be alone, to escape the world—be oblivious, be invisible.
He flung another piece of rock at the lake, enjoying the ripple it created the moment it hit the water's surface. Sometimes he wished he was the lake—flowing endlessly; enjoying the company of the merpeople, the giant squid, the grindlylows, other water creatures, and the students taking a dip; and not caring if some Dark wizard plans to rule the whole wizarding world. But no, he's not the lake. He's Harry Potter, the one marked to face Lord Voldemort.
A rush of anger flowed through Harry and he hastily threw a larger bit of stone beside him. "Voldemort. It's all because of Voldemort," he muttered angrily. Everything that I wanted most was taken by Voldemort, he added to himself as another stone dived into the black waters of the lake.
It had been exactly a year since Sirius died at the hands of Voldemort's Death Eaters and that moment was deeply etched in Harry's memory. Sirius dueling with his cousin Bellatrix Lestrange...the spell hitting Sirius in the chest...his eyes widened in shock...Sirius falling beyond the veil...Bellatrix's triumphant scream.
Harry closed his eyes and balled his hands, shaking slightly with fury. Sirius's face flashed before him. Sirius was laughing; no worry lines creased his handsome face. He was the only one who closely resembled a family to Harry. It was the highest point in Harry's life when he learned that he could live with his godfather after his name was cleared, and leave the Dursleys forever. However, it was the lowest of the lowest points when Sirius died. Once again, Harry had no family. Voldemort took it away for the second time.
He slowly opened his eyes and saw the sun slowly setting beyond the horizon. It cast red, orangey rays around the place. It was almost the same time last year when they rushed to the Department of Mysteries to "rescue" Sirius and fell into Voldemort's trap. Harry cursed himself for being so vulnerable and almost leading his friends into death's hands—Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna, and Ginny.
The beautiful reddish color of the clouds reminded him of Ginny's red hair. Her beautifully freckled face materialized in the sky. He smiled. She, somehow, was the only one who could make him smile these days. In fact, she was the only person he cared so much about—much, much more compared to how much he cared for Ron, Hermione, Sirius, Lupin, Dumbledore and everyone else.
Harry started feeling that way during Christmas break. That was when he saw Ginny in a new and different light...and not just as Ron's younger sister. He was sitting alone in the common room watching the fire and hoping that Sirius's head would appear like it did before. The Gryffindor Tower was nearly empty since almost everyone had just gone home for the holidays. It was only he, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny who stayed. Harry, who was quite distant to almost everyone, did not mind being alone and avoiding the holiday festivities. Anyway, he had been spending Christmas at Hogwarts almost every year.
He was lost in his thoughts of Sirius and didn't hear someone enter the common room. He only realized that he was not alone when he heard the soft noise of a quill scratching against a piece of parchment. There he saw Ginny, her face illuminated by the soft red glow of the fire, and felt something rush through him—something familiar and different at the same time. It was like the feeling he had when he was a few feet away from Cho Chang, but then there was something new in it that he could not describe. Ginny looked up, and the instant she saw Harry, she smiled widely. Harry had to catch his breath before he smiled back. She abandoned what she was writing and joined Harry at the adjacent couch, and they talked half of the night, just like they had done during the last weeks of the summer break.
They had grown close that summer. Harry had been avoiding almost everyone and spending most of the time alone in his and Ron's room or somewhere else in the house after he had arrived at number twelve, Grimmauld Place. The Order couldn't find a safer headquarters and continued to occupy the old Black house even with Sirius dead. Being back there took its toll on Harry. Every single corner of the house, no matter how dreadful it might be, reminded him of Sirius. Harry did not know at that time which part of the summer was more unbearable—being stuck with the Dursleys at Privet Drive or staying with his friends at Grimmauld Place, which brought back painful memories.
It was Ginny who always found him whenever he was in his I-want-to-be-alone phases. He welcomed her company, though he didn't know why. At first, they only talked about the Order, school, and Quidditch. However, as the instances became more frequent, Harry found himself telling Ginny exactly what he was feeling—the loss, the pain, the anger. They stayed up almost the whole night talking in one of the unused rooms of the house. Soon, they were not only talking about their frustrations and grief, but almost anything under the sun—or rather under the moonlight.
Those late-night talks comforted Harry and helped him get through everything—from the pain of losing Sirius to the painful acceptance of who he is and of what he needed to do. It was Ginny with whom he first talked about the prophecy. She sat in silence when he revealed this to her, a reaction he didn't expect. He was anticipating a response similar to Hermione's—giving him pieces of advice and telling him to practice more defensive spells—or Ron's—staring at him blankly and waiting for the truth to sink in. But Ginny wordlessly reached and squeezed his hand and gave him a small smile—a smile that told him she understood what he's going through. A smile that said it would be all right.
Ever since that night, Ginny had started recounting her experience with the diary—even telling him what she had wrote about him unabashedly. He never knew how hard it was for her—how she had fought Voldemort by herself, how she stood strong and resisted him until the end. Harry slowly found himself admiring her for her courage and bravery, and this admiration eventually grew without him willing it to happen. He only realized what he truly felt for Ginny one day...that night in the common room.
She gave him a greater reason to continue studying Occlumency with renewed vigor. He was determined not to let anything like the incident that led to Sirius's death happen again, especially not with Ginny. He couldn't bear that kind of loss. He couldn't let anyone know his feelings for her because he knew—like what happened to Sirius—Voldemort and his Death Eaters might use her to get him...again.
Harry's recollection flashed to four years ago, his second year at Hogwarts: The time Ginny had a huge crush on him. Harry thought of the singing Valentine, Ginny blushing furiously at the sight of him and putting her elbow at the butterdish, the smile they exchanged at King's Cross at the expense of Percy, the other singing get-well card she gave him in his third year, the Quidditch World Cup, Ginny and the twins' war dance when he got cleared from his charges two years ago. Harry smiled at these memories.
However, his smile faded at the thought of Ginny, first with that Ravenclaw git Michael Corner and then with Dean Thomas. She had given up on him last year because he had not given her the time of the day because she's just Ron's sister. And now that he fancied her, he was just her friend and her brother's best friend. That was another reason why he couldn't tell her yet.
A heavy sigh escaped Harry's lips. You're such a prat, Potter, he scolded himself. Such a great prat.
Harry threw another piece of rock at the lake. His thoughts then wandered to the last time Ginny was here with him, the first time he had let someone in his sanctuary. It was also dusk in early spring and they were relaxing after a tiring Quidditch practice. She was teasing Harry about Cho; they were playing against Ravenclaw the following week and it was the first time Harry would face Cho after their disastrous "relationship"—if you could call it that—last year. Ginny, who must have a pinch of the twins' genes, successfully irked Harry with her endless teasing. Harry, who couldn't think of any way to tease her back, resorted to tickling her. Ginny whacked him endlessly on his every attempt.
He chuckled as he remembered how flushed Ginny's face was from laughing so hard and how beautifully her eyes sparkled. If only that would happen again, he thought.
"Knut for your thoughts?" a voice said, startling Harry from his reveries.
Harry looked up and saw the same red-haired girl he was thinking about standing beside him, giving him a smile. "Oh, hi, Ginny," he greeted. The soft blowing breeze fanned her hair, making it sway around her face and shoulders. Blimey, she's beautiful, Harry thought to himself.
"Mind if I invade your solitude?" Ginny asked, sitting down beside him.
Harry shook his head. "No, I could use company actually. How did you know I'm here?"
"Well, you're not with Ron and Hermione on a great day like this, so I guessed you'd be here thinking again," she said with a small smile. "Though I doubt you would want to be with them right at this moment."
"And why is that?"
Her smile broadened. "I think they've finally found guts."
Ginny nodded. "Yep. And I believe they don't want to be disturbed."
"Finally," Harry chuckled. "You reckon they'll stop bickering and let us live normal and peaceful lives now?"
She rolled her eyes. "I doubt it. They were arguing when I first saw them; then, the next thing I knew, they were snogging...in the common room."
Harry laughed at the image of his two best friends. "I might as well get used to being alone." Ginny's brows furrowed. "They probably won't want me tagging along every single time now, will they?" he added.
She giggled. "Right. And I can just imagine Ron ripping your head off if you tried to interrupt their snogging session."
They both laughed heartily. Harry saw that twinkle in her eyes when she laughed—that twinkle he loved. "Yeah. And, may I ask," he said, facing Ginny, "why aren't you with Dean on such a great day like this? Aren't you supposed to be having your own sessions?"
Ginny gave him a puzzled look. "How can you have a snogging session by yourself?"
Harry raised his eyebrows.
"We broke up," she said softly. "Well...I broke up with him."
"Why? I thought you really like him?"
"I thought I did. But then I realized that he's not the one for me."
Harry fought hard not to smile; he should be sympathizing with Ginny. "Since when?" he asked instead.
"Almost a month ago."
"Why didn't you tell me? I should have been there when you cried over him," he said with a small smile playing on his lips.
Ginny punched him on the shoulder. "I didn't cry over him, you prat! I was the one who broke up with him!"
"Why then?" asked Harry, wondering why she hadn't mentioned it to him even once.
"Why didn't I tell you? Well, you have bigger problems. Mine's miniscule compared to yours. Plus, I'm already okay. No need to worry."
"But I want to be there for you, listen to you...like you're here for me."
Ginny's lips curled into a smile. "I know, Harry. But you don't have to worry; it's nothing I can't handle. I'm a big girl, you know."
Harry gave her a teasing look. "So, big girl, have you found Dean's replacement yet? Or are applications still open?"
"Nah, I've already found a replacement."
His spirit dampened but he hid it. "Who is it?"
"I won't tell you."
"Why won't you tell me? I thought I'm your friend," Harry said, pretending to look hurt.
"Because it sounds stupid," she snickered at his reaction, her cheeks turning pale pink. "Plus, I don't know if the feeling is reciprocated."
"And why do you say that?"
"Because he doesn't consider me more than a friend. He never has." Ginny looked at Harry. "And he's busy with other things – more important things. Things he need to do. I know how important they are for him."
Her eyes meet Harry's. They gazed at each other for a second; Ginny smiled shyly and looked away. "So, tell me," she began in a mischievous tone, "are you brooding about Cho again?"
"Am I... what?" he snapped.
"Feeling miserable because of Cho," she teased.
"I am not," Harry retorted, giving her a disgusted look.
"So, if you're not moping about Cho," she continued, giving him a teasing look, "it must mean that you've found her replacement then."
Harry looked at Ginny and smiled. "As a matter of fact, I did."
"Who is it then?" she asked excitedly, inching closer to Harry.
A smile played on his lips. "I will not tell you."
Ginny's face clouded. "And why not?"
"Because I don't want to."
She crossed her arms and looked hurt. "I thought I'm your friend!"
Harry laughed. "Now look who's talking!"
"Hmp!" Ginny childishly turned her back on Harry.
He continued to laugh and tickled her sides. Ginny tried to slap his hands away and giggled. It sounded like music to Harry's ears. He stopped laughing and turned to her, his face set. "Actually, Gin, I do want to tell you, but I can't. Not now."
Her laughter died and she looked at Harry, perplexed.
"Not now, not with everything that's happening," he continued. "It seems like everyone I love has been taken away from me—my dad, my mum, Sirius—and I can't afford to lose her too." He looked at Ginny's eyes. "I can't tell anyone because that might put her into more danger. Being associated with me makes her Voldemort's next target. I can't...and won't let that happen." He looked down at the silent lake and said, "I don't know what I'll do if I lose her."
Ginny reached for his hand and squeezed it comfortingly. "I know, Harry. You must love her very much."
Harry nodded. "I do, Gin. God knows how much she means to me…." He paused and looked at Ginny, "...how much I love her."
She smiled. "When all of this ends, you'll tell her then?"
He let out a sigh. "Yes...maybe I will. But then, I don't know if the feeling is reciprocated."
Ginny raised her eyebrows. "Why do you say that?"
Harry colored slightly and chuckled. "Well, let's just say that I'm a huge prat." He turned to face the lake and ran a hand through his hair, making it stand on end even more. "I've known her for years but I've considered her no more than my best friend's sist...than my best friend until now."
He glanced briefly at Ginny, whose expression was unreadable, then turned back to the lake. "I never spared her a second glance before. I should have, but I didn't. And now she only considers me her friend."
"Promise me you'll tell her what you've told me when this war ends."
Harry looked at her. "Why?"
She stared at his eyes. "Because if there's one person who deserves to be happy, it's you, Harry." Ginny gently squeezed his hands again.
"But, Gin, she might not feel the same way as I do."
Ginny's rich brown eyes gazed directly into Harry's green ones. "She does, Harry. I know she does."
"How can you tell?"
Her cheeks turned a faint shade of red and she smiled, still not breaking their eye contact. "I know she does because it's not hard to love you, Harry. You're such a great person, and that's why I—we love you very much."
Harry looked down and blushed. He glanced up at Ginny again; she was still looking at him intently. He held her gaze and noticed how beautiful and expressive her eyes were. Those eyes told him how deeply she understood him. Harry's lips broke into a small smile. What she had just said was as good as her telling him she loved him. He reached for her hands. "Ginny," he began, "I -,"
He looked at her eyes; they were shining and searching. I love you, he said wordlessly while holding her gaze, but he couldn't find the words to say it out loud. Not yet.
Her eyes stopped searching as if she had heard what he had silently told her. "Thank you," Harry whispered instead.
Ginny's brow furrowed. "For what?"
Harry smiled at her genuinely. "For listening. For being here. For being my friend."
He found it rather bittersweet when she returned his smile. "Don't mention it, because I expect you'll do the same in return," she said, winking at him. She inched closer and rested her head on his shoulder.
Harry froze, not believing that he had her in his arms – well almost. He wanted to hold her close to him, but he hesitated. Finally, he settled his arms on her back and placed his head on top of hers, and they watched the sun disappear beyond the horizon.
He looked down at the lake and saw their reflection. He noticed how her head fit perfectly on his shoulder. They somehow fit right together. Harry softly -- and discreetly -- kissed the top of her head, savoring the moment.
Ginny looked up. "Hmm?"
Harry shook his head and smiled. "Nothing, Gin." She returned her head to his shoulder and snuggled closer.
Maybe, he thought, just maybe, my luck will change after all.
A/N: My first stab on a Harry Potter fic. The inspiration for this one came to me one morning on my way to work. Thanks to Khean for the image on the lake bit and to Bernard for giving me an idea on how to subtly express your feelings to a very good friend. Thanks also to my wonderful betas – Flor, Thalia, and KC. You guys rock.