For everyone who's ever had to do anything they were too young to do.
"We're only going out - I didn't sign up for a lifetime supply of your problems," Hermione snapped to Ron. "Honestly, I don't know how you can live without me."
Ron grinned. "I can't."
That gave Hermione pause, and she stopped screeching a moment, trying to come up with a response to him that wouldn't sound mushy and fake.
"It's so hot, you could cook a Hippogriff out there," Ginny said, desperately trying to fan herself with her hand. "When is Harry going to get here?"
"When he gets here," Hermione shot back. "Honestly."
Hot weather unfailingly made Hermione seem shrewish and almost brutal. That was one of the things, Ron thought sappily, that he loved about her. It made his life difficult, but he was never bored.
"I simply can't believe you forgot to get Harry a birthday present. That's terrible. Some best friend you are," Hermione muttered, and in a fit of pique, threw her hair up, and secured it with a clip. "Ah, relief from the heat!"
"Yeah," Ginny muttered, "for about two seconds."
"I wish I could get some relief," Ron mumbled, and ducked his head when Hermione shot him a look.
"Well, there's no getting around it," Hermione announced finally, standing up. "We're just going to have to go into town and hope to high heaven that there's something there worth getting for Harry."
Grinning, Ron stood up too. "Well, Ginny, do you want to come with us?"
Ginny shook her head and chuckled. "No, thanks. I think I'll just stand here and..."
"...wait for Harry," Ron and Hermione finished together.
"Honestly, Ginny, he's not going to get here sooner if you sit by the window all day. It doesn't work like that," Hermione said, with a hint of a smile softening her impatient tone.
Ginny smiled. "It should. Am I really being that obvious?"
"Yes," said Ron immediately.
"No," said Hermione at the same time. Exasperated, she glared at Ron. "You're just anxious to see him. We're all anxious to see him."
"Go on," Ginny said, waving her hand towards the door. "You go into town and I will stay here and hold down the fort."
"Are you sure you're going to be all right here by yourself?" Ron asked, his tone slightly worried.
"Ron, it's not like I'll be home alone," Ginny said, and lifted the hair off the back of her neck. "Mum's at home, and Bill will be here any minute. Besides, Dumbledore put up the wards himself. They're nearly impenetrable."
"Nearly," Hermione agreed. When Ron shot her an annoyed look, she took a deep breath, preparing to launch into a lecture on protective and security magic.
"Hermione, no," Ron cut her off. "I can't think right now. It's too bloody hot, all right? You'd be wasting your breath. I'd have even less chance of being able to follow you than I do normally."
Hermione was once again speechless. Ginny noted with some satisfaction that Ron was getting better and better at stopping her in her tracks. Occasionally, however, he let her go, content to watch her talk.
"I'll just go get my shoes, then," she said, saving some of her dignity and running up the stairs to the room she was sharing with Ginny for the summer.
"She's fantastic," Ginny heard her brother mutter to himself, before he too wentupstairs to retrieve footwear.
The Burrow was an old house, and normally Ginny loved living there. It was full of character and quirks unique to only it. Unfortunately, one of its quirks was its resistance to Cooling Charms. Her mum and dad had tried every trick in the book, and the house still managed to get its temperatures to soar way above the comfortable level.
Of course, the fact that she was sitting on a window seat looking out at the sun probably wasn't helping much, but she wanted to be the first to get to see Harry Potter this summer.
All of last year, she'd told herself that she was over him, and that her crush meant nothing. She'd managed to convince the outside world that she had finally kicked her old love out of the picture by dating Michael, but that hadn't been the case at all.
She found herself changing, the way that all teenage girls changed. Her body changed, her emotions changed, her tastes changed - sometimes almost daily.
Harry, too, it seemed, had changed. He was quick to anger, sarcastic, and sometimes brutally honest with his version of the truth. Somehow he had managed to remain noble, and of course, he still possessed the mystical green eyes that held her in and fascinated her, just as they always had.
The one thing that hadn't changed was that she still felt an attraction to Harry that was undeniable -- an attraction that she hadn't felt with anyone else. Of course, the nature of the attraction had changed... it was so much more mature now... so different from the innocent hero worship she had indulged in as a ten-year-old. Now it was something more.
Hermione was the only who could truly understand the depth of what she was feeling, because she was going through the same thing with Ginny's own brother, Ron. Only, recently, Ron and Hermione had had 'The Talk', as Hermione liked to call it, and now they were officially 'going out'. It had been a long time coming, and Ginny was happy for them both, but it kind of made her wish that she and Harry could have 'The Talk', so that she and Hermione could be on the same level in their 'relationships' again.
Undoubtedly, Harry had changed more this summer than he had over the past summer, Ginny told herself. He had lost his godfather, and had had a long conversation with Dumbledore that had obviously upset him very much. What if he had changed into someone that she could no longer like? What if he was hateful and mean and...
She cut that train of thought off right in its tracks. Harry could never go so far as to get to a point where she couldn't love him anymore.
Soft footsteps behind her made her realize someone was with her in the room.
"What are you looking so serious about?" a soft and deep male voice asked her.
She turned around quickly. "Harry!" Without thinking, she launched herself off the window seat and into his arms. "I'm so glad to see you! Happy Birthday!"
Harry caught her with a mild 'oof', and grinned as her mass of red hair clogged his nose. "Hello, Ginny. It's nice to see you too."
Ginny pulled back then, allowing Harry to breathe, while she gave him a thorough inspection with her eyes. He was thin, but he was always thin. He looked tired... almost like he was working too hard and not getting enough sleep.
"Harry?" There was a question in her voice that no one else had dared to ask him. Everyone had pressed him to talk, or had reassured him that he didn't have to... Ginny just laid it out there with one word.
"Ginny..." His voice broke, and he swallowed hard. "It's so damned good to be back here."
Instantly, the mothering instinct in her took over, and Ginny grabbed him again in a hug, and this time Harry returned it, wrapping his arms around her waist. Silently, she began to rock him back and forth, whispering words of encouragement.
After a minute, she broke away. Living with six brothers had taught her when to let go, so as not to embarrass him. "Come on, I'll help you put your things away."
Efficiently, she grabbed one of his bags and led him up the stairs to Ron's room. It was still that orange color, only it had faded a little, so it wasn't so offensive. In typical teenaged-boy fashion, clothes and books covered the floor of the room so that it seemed like it had no floor. Ginny paid little to no attention to what she stepped on, and just made a straight line towards the bed that would be Harry's for the remainder of the summer.
"Ginny..." She turned and faced him again. "I just wanted to say 'thanks', you know. For writing me this summer... For treating me like you've always done..." He blushed. "Well, you know what I mean."
Carefully, Ginny sat down on the bed, and looked him in the eyes. "How are you, Harry?"
The question obviously threw him, and he paused for a moment. "I'm thinking that 'fine' is not an acceptable answer, is it?"
"I was hoping you would go into a little bit more detail than that, yes," Ginny admitted, and hugged her knees to her chest, suddenly chilled by her compassion for this boy who looked so terribly lonely.
"I miss Sirius," Harry said honestly, "and being back in the wizarding world... it just seems different without him, you know? When I was with the Dursleys, I could pretend that none of it had ever happened and that I would be able to see him when I got back, but being here makes that difficult. At the same time, I feel better, just at the chance of seeing everyone again."
Ginny nodded, and desperately tried to think of something to say. "We're all very glad to have you back, Harry. We worry about you when you're gone." Suddenly she chuckled and admitted, "We worry about you when you're with us, too... it's just that your being here makes it easier to comfort ourselves, as well."
Harry smiled, and Ginny wished that she could read what he was thinking in his eyes, but the glare from his glasses made that impossible.
Feeling as though she'd been dismissed, she rose and walked towards the door. Harry's voice stopped her momentarily. "Thank you, Ginny... I guess I need to see everyone just as much as they need to see me. That definitely includes short redheads with a tendency to stick their elbows in the butter dish at breakfast."
Embarrassed beyond all belief, Ginny strode quickly away from the room, but stopped again when she thought that Harry had, probably for the first time in a long while, cracked a joke.
A short trip downstairs to the kitchen made locating her mother easy. Ginny released a dramatic sigh and sat down with a flop on one of the chairs situated next to the table. Molly Weasley looked up and beamed.
"Did you see Harry, then?"
"Of course. Do I ever sigh like that when it's not a direct consequence of having a conversation with the thoroughly insufferable Harry Potter?"
"No dear, I don't imagine you do."
"He's terribly lonely, you know," Ginny confided, and ran a hand through her hair.
"Lonely?" her mum asked, and Ginny could tell that this was a twist to the conversation she hadn't anticipated.
"Those Muggle relatives must be terrible. He let me hug him... Ron never lets me hug him anymore. Why does he have to keep living there if they're such awful people?"
Molly knew now, from a month of experience, that fourteen-going-on-fifteen-year-old girls often spoke with italics. Everything was dramatic to them... But somehow this was different. There was a plea for understanding in her daughter's voice. How did one tell a child that the world simply was not fair and not sound cruel and heartless?
"I don't understand myself, Ginny, but Dumbledore thinks it's for the best."
"Why do we always have to do what Dumbledore thinks is best?" Ginny exploded. "Mum, he simply can't go on living there with them... He needs to stay with the people the love him, for Merlin's sake!"
Molly Weasley shook her head, uncertain what to tell her daughter, because in truth, she felt the same way about Harry, and always had.
"There must be some logical reasoning why Dumbledore wants to do this the way that he's planned, dear. There's nothing else the rest of us can do, except for take care of Harry while we have him."
Ginny nodded, then. The fire of Weasley determination was lit in her eyes. "We're just going to have to take care of Harry while we have him," she agreed, and stood up. "I think I'm just the Weasley to do it, too!"
Molly let out a delighted laugh. "I think you are too, dear."
Ginny danced up the stairs, pure delight in her new cause showing on her face. The sight of Harry watching her stopped her immediately, and she struggled to catch her breath.
She really didn't know how he did it - catching her off-guard and unprepared for the impact the mere sight of him often caused on her system. At this particular time, he was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, a sort of half-smile on his face.
"Do you always walk up stairs so... energetically?" he asked, amusement more than coloring his voice.
"Yes," Ginny managed. "I get more exercise that way."
Harry pushed himself off the wall and crossed to her, unexpectedly sitting down on the top step. "Everything sort of feels different, now."
"Does turning sixteen really make all that much difference?" Ginny teased.
Harry laughed. "No, being... here. It's different. You know, without Percy and..."
"I imagine," Ginny muttered. "Percy's a stupid prat. He should just come back. We need him here."
Harry looked down at his shoe as though it were the most interesting thing in the universe. "I'm sure he'll get over it, eventually."
"Not soon enough for me," Ginny reassured him. "When he does come back, though, I have dibs on being the first to punch him. Or curse the daylights out of him. Whichever I feel most like doing at the time. At the moment, the thought of causing him actual physical pain sounds quite gratifying."
Harry laughed, and there was no fake or forced sound about it. Even he looked surprised at the sound coming from his mouth. "I doubt you'll actually do it, though."
"Why? Do you think I'm not strong enough, or something?"
"No! Merlin forbid!" Harry held up his hands in protest. "I'm just saying that you'll do the typical Weasley thing. You'll say it was nothing and welcome him back with open arms. That's the real beauty of what you have. What Ron, what you... what all of you have. A real family who doesn't judge, forgives mistakes, and loves unconditionally."
At that moment, Ginny felt as though she were the most blessed person on Earth. She was sitting on the steps, talking with Harry, living in a house with a family who loved and cared for each other, which was a great deal more than a lot of people had.
"Those Muggles you stay with, are they really awful?" she asked, tentatively. She didn't want to become the target of one of his unpredictable mood swings, but she also wanted to know the truth.
"They try to make my life pretty miserable," Harry admitted, and tried to shrug it off as though it meant nothing to him.
"But, you're related to them! Shouldn't they at least... try?"
Harry shook his head at this particular brand of naiveté. "I'm related to them, yes, but I get the feeling Aunt Petunia and Mum didn't get along too well. Also, I'm a wizard, so I'm not normal, you see. For the Dursleys normality is perfection. I'll just never fit that bill."
"Well, we're more than happy to have you with us," Ginny said, her tone deliberately brighter, "and normality certainly wouldn't help you fit in with this group of people. The crazier you are, the better."
Harry nodded. "It's nice to know you have a home to come to. Even if it's not really yours."
"Oh, Mum would kill you if she heard you saying that, Harry Potter. She thinks of you as one of the family, and if she does, the rest of us don't question it. Besides, you're already an honorary Weasley."
Harry's eyebrows drew together. "How do you figure?"
"Well, only a true Weasley would have given Fred and George the money to set up their shop, and don't try to deny it, because I know it's true."
Harry worked his mouth, trying to get his vocal chords to say something, anything, but Ginny stood up and walked around him.
"Ginny!" he called suddenly.
She turned on her heel and smiled at him. "Yes, Harry?"
"I, um... I wanted to say..."
Ginny grinned at him, a grin full of innocence and youth and vitality. Harry seemed to being having trouble breathing after that.
"I wanted to ask you... will you stand next to me for Sirius's memorial next week?"
Tears suddenly filled her eyes, and she nodded.
Number 12, Grimmauld Place, had not seen the number of people that had turned out for the memorial services of Sirius Black in a long time. They spilled out into all the different rooms, chatting and socializing in quiet, respectful voices.
There was one boy, however, that everyone made a point to stop and talk to. He had clear green eyes and a sorrowful expression that made every mother's heart in the room ache with a unique pain. Molly Weasley was the only one who felt she could act on that ache, though, and she came over and squeezed him tightly for several minutes.
Rather than protesting, as one of her own boys might have done, Harry simply soaked in the love and comfort radiating from Mrs. Weasley's body. It brought to mind the words of her own daughter. He's terribly lonely, you know.
Of course she had known, but with Sirius, at least, he had some sort of father-figure. As much as she tried, Molly knew that Arthur and herself would never be to Harry what Remus and Sirius had become.
Next to him, her hand on his shoulder, sat Ginny, and she would, every now and again, lean over and whisper words of comfort in his ear, or prompt him with who was speaking to him. They had smiles, it seemed, reserved only for each other, and their presence and brand-new-love lightened what would have previously been an unbearably dark occasion.
"Hello, Harry," a voice said from above him, finally one he recognized. Harry leapt to his feet and incased Remus Lupin in a hug. "How are you faring?"
"All right. Ginny's been looking after me. How are you doing?" He grinned suddenly when he saw Tonks just behind Remus, her hand lightly on his back. "Wotcher, Tonks!"
Tonks turned a soft shade of pink, but reached over to pat Harry on the arm, anyway. He surprised her when he threw his arm around her in a half-hug.
Much to everyone's surprise in the room, he leaned down and whispered in her ear, but only loud enough that Remus and Ginny could hear. "Since you're obviously here with Remus, that makes you one of the family," he said, and laughed as she returned the hug full force.
Ginny, meanwhile, was greeting Remus.
"How is he really?" the former professor asked.
"He's sad, and confused," Ginny said, "but I think we're going to make it."
Suddenly, a bell tolled throughout all the house. Conversations and movement ceased. The voice of Albus Dumbledore soared above the crowd.
"We are here to honor the memory of one of our own. A hero who never gave up in his quest to bring down Lord Voldemort, and a man who changed the lives of everyone he touched. Sirius Black."
Automatically, the crowd chorused, "May he rest in peace."
"Sirius didn't make many requests about the services at the time of his death. He always believed they were more for the people living, and wanted us to remember him in the way we saw fit. However, I think that he would have more than applauded the young man who will now speak about his life, Harry Potter."
Ginny's hand gripped his shoulder, and he smiled down upon her, eyes full of sadness, but a resolve shone through them, too, that assured her that he was going to make it. Obviously, he'd known about this before, and didn't want to tell her about it. Or anyone else, for that matter, as murmurs rose up from the crowd.
Harry made his way up to the pulpit where Professor Dumbledore had been standing and took out a little piece of paper.
"It isn't often," Harry began, "that you meet a man like Sirius Black. He was, in everything he did, unique, as I'm sure all of you who knew him will attest to.
"He had a vibrancy, a life about him when I knew him that I think came from all those years of non-living during his wrongful imprisonment in Azkaban prison. Sirius tried to live, really live... Squeezing the life out of every moment he was given, because he understood that at any moment, it could be taken away.
"I've been told that he loved deeply, when he did love, and I know that he was uncompromisingly loyal to his friends and family, even unto death. He never turned away from a challenge. Instead, he embraced them."
Harry chuckled before he spoke the next phrase, "Sirius was fond of doing things that... well... didn't make much sense. Any sane person knows that escaping from Azkaban doesn't make much sense. Any sane person would know that standing alone against the world in a pursuit for vengeance to honor the memory of your best friend and his wife doesn't make much sense. Most likely, a sane person would tell you that risking it all for what you believe in with no hope of anything ever coming out of it doesn't make much sense.
"I think we can all thank a Higher Power that Sirius never did much of anything that ever made much sense.
"Sirius was a good godfather, a better friend, and a good man. His passage beyond the Veil leaves us all saddened and grieving, but I don't think that he would want any weeping or mourning on his behalf. In fact, the next time you go by Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes, purchase a dungbomb and set it off in the most ridiculous place you can think of. Sirius would be more than honored by the gesture."
As he ended, a wave of applause swept through the crowd. There were few dry eyes in the room, and Remus kept nodding in approval, as though Harry had said just the right thing.
The ceremony ended without any attention from the media, and Harry was grateful there were no Daily Prophet reporters there to take questions and ask questions that were nobody's business but his own. Also, it meant that he and Ginny could hold hands or touch as often as they would like, and no one said a thing about it.
No one, that is, except for Ron, who just muttered, "Took you long enough," under his breath, and went to fetch the drink that Hermione had wanted.
The sun was going down in the sky, and Harry was finally alone, sitting on the window, where Ginny had waited for him just a week before. His tie was loosened and he had long since taken off his shoes.
As the first star came up in the sky, Harry smiled and touched the glass of the window with one finger. A sense of peace swept over him, and after a long moment, he stood up.
Sticking his hands in his pockets, he murmured to the star, "Until next time... Sirius."
I wanted to take a moment and thank my PS.net beta for this particular fic, Sherry.