Her curiosity piqued, Ginny crept closer to the shed. The doors had been left open, and since her father and Bill never neglected to lock the shed behind them, someone must be in there. Ron was hidden in his room writing to Hermione, Luna and her mum were busy in the kitchen, Dad was at work and Bill was away on Order business. Which left only one person who could be making that noise.
Harry sat with his back against the wall, legs stretched out before him, levitating small pieces of hardware and magicking them into an open glass jar that sat on a table several feet away. Across the shed, its newly-polished chrome fenders gleaming in the early afternoon sunlight, sat Sirius' antique motorcycle. He'd given it to Bill last summer soon after they'd moved into Grimmauld Place, joking in a voice tinged with melancholy that he was too old and too infamous to be courting with it anyway, so he might as well give it to someone who could appreciate its usefulness in attracting women. Ginny remembered thinking at the time that she'd never heard anything more heartbreaking in her life.
Bill'd kept the motorcycle after Sirius' death, until he and Ginny used it to pick up Harry from his aunt and uncle's house last week. As soon as they'd arrived safely back at the Burrow, Bill had handed the keys to Harry and told him the motorcycle was Sirius' legacy to him. It was the only remnant of his life that Narcissa Malfoy hadn't snatched away the moment the inquest into Sirius' death was complete.
Bits and pieces of metal lay strewn across the floor around the motorcycle. Only then did Ginny remember the glass jar had once been filled with her father's collection of nails, screws and bolts. Another, smaller jar of nuts and washers, its lid still screwed tightly on, sat on the floor next to Harry.
Ginny leaned against the door frame and crossed her arms over her chest. "You'll be at it all day, if you keep going about things like that," she said with just the mildest hint of reproof in her voice.
The bolt he'd been directing into the open jar hovered just above the lip before it fell to the table with a clatter. "Bugger," he said softly. "Now I've lost count."
"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to-"
"Nah." He gave a dismissive wave. "S'nothing."
Without venturing too close into Harry's personal space, she slid down to sit on the floor beside him. "What are you doing anyway?"
He shrugged as he coaxed a large, rusted and bent nail a few inches off the floor. "I tried to open that jar." He jerked his chin in the direction of the table. "But the lid was screwed on so tight that when I finally got it off everything went flying."
"Oh." A few pieces lay scattered nearby and she picked them up, rolling them back and forth between her hands. "Why did you want to get in the jar?"
He gave a ragged sigh. "I was trying to fix the motorcycle. I needed a bolt-" He dug into his pocket and pulled out the piece he'd needed. "-but I can't get a washer and nut to go with it."
Ginny reached over and grabbed the jar that sat next to him. Using her wand, she gave it two quick taps along the side of the lid, then with a grunt and a sharp turn of her wrist she twisted the lid off. "Here you go." She handed the jar back to Harry.
When he turned to her she saw the tracks running down his tarnish-streaked face and realized he'd been crying. He didn't say anything, but gave her an odd look that left her feeling rather unsettled. She set the jar on the floor between them. Harry went back to levitating hardware, a single piece at a time, and returning it to the jar on the table.
After several minutes of uncomfortable silence Ginny got to her feet and dusted off the dirt and debris that had stuck to her bum. "I reckon I'll go back to the house," she said.
She had just reached the threshold when Harry's voice stopped her in her tracks. "Don't go!" he cried with a note of desperation she didn't think she'd ever heard from him before. She turned around to see him looking up at her with an expression she could only describe as pleading. "I could use the company."
The intensity of his request had thrown her for a loop, and for a moment or two she didn't know what to say or do. Finally she said, "Okay. But only if you promise to use a quicker spell to clean up these screws and things."
He gave her a crooked grin. "Okay." With a wave of his wand, all the pieces of hardware sailed into the air and settled in the jar. "Better?"
"Better." She returned to her original spot. "Do you know anything about how to fix a motorcycle?"
He shook his head. "Not really. My uncle used to make me change the oil and transmission fluid on his car, but I don't even know where to begin with this."
"What did you need the bolt for then?"
"I was trying to tighten the saddle. I'd noticed it was missing a bolt while I was polishing the fenders."
"Lovely work there, by the way. I don't reckon they shone so brightly even when they were brand new."
Harry's brow was furrowed when he looked at her. "Are you making fun of me?"
Ginny put on her best wide-eyed innocent look and batted her eyelashes at him. "Wouldn't dream of it."
He made a wry face before looking away. "It's not wise to make fun of someone who can repel a Killing Curse."
She felt her eyebrows shoot up. "Really? Well, it's not wise to underestimate someone who can outprank Fred and George and get away with it."
She saw him glance at her briefly, then away again. "Yeah, I've noticed."
"Good. So now we know each other's limits."
He chuckled. "Reckon so."
Ginny watched him in profile for a moment and considered her next move. On a whim, she thrust her hand toward him. "I'm Ginny, by the way. Ginny Weasley."
She chewed on the inside of her cheek as she waited for his response. He turned to her slowly and looked at her as though she'd just sprouted antlers. Then, just as slowly, almost as though he feared making any sudden moves in her presence, he wiped his hand on his trousers and clasped hers. "Harry Potter."
She gave his hand a firm shake before releasing it. "Pleased to meet you, Harry. I think I've heard my brother Ron mention you once or twice."
She couldn't help grinning when he caught on to her game. "You're Ron's sister? Don't you go to Hogwarts? I think I may have seen you around."
"Yeah, I do. I've got my O.W.L. year coming up."
"O.W.L.s." He whistled. "Good luck."
"Thanks. I'm not too worried, though. S'long as I take more than three, Mum'll be happy."
Harry laughed softly under his breath. His next question, however, surprised her. "What sort of a name is Ginny, anyway?" His cheeks flushed pale pink and he worried at a splinter in the floor. "I mean, is it short for something?"
Ginny leaned her head back against the wall and rolled her eyes. She'd always hated her given name and never shared it with anyone if she could help it. "Ginevra."
"Yeah. It's Italian for Guinevere."
"I didn't know you were Italian."
She snorted. "I'm not. But Mum's mum was, and I'm named for her."
"Oh." Then, so quietly she almost didn't hear him, he said, "It's a pretty name."
He couldn't have knocked the wind out of her more effectively if he'd punched her in the stomach. For what seemed like forever she just sat there opening and closing her mouth like a fish on dry land, unsure how-or even if-to respond. At last she managed a feeble "Thanks."
Harry then made a loud throat-clearing noise that cut through the tension like a knife through softened butter. "Do-d'you know anything about how to make this contraption run?" He gestured toward the motorcycle. "I can't even get the bloody thing started!"
Once again, Harry's mercurial nature had thrown Ginny off balance. She swore internally. Would she ever be able to keep her equilibrium around him? Still swearing at herself, she fished around for an articulate response, only too aware of his steady, penetrating gaze. Finally she blurted out, "Bill's got a manual in his room, I think. D'you want me to fetch it?"
His face seemed to light up with excitement. "Would you? That'd be excellent!"
"You bet." She pulled out her wand and gave it a wave. "Accio motorcycle manual!"
She had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing out loud at the expression on Harry's face. "Your mum's going to have kittens when she sees a book flying through her house and across the garden."
"As long as it doesn't hit anyone on the way, she probably won't even notice. She learned to overlook a lot after raising Fred and George." Ginny looked up as three books sailed in through the open doorway and landed in a neat pile at her feet. "Looks like Bill had more than one manual in his bookcase."
Harry slid closer and took the topmost book from the stack. "None of this lot seems to be for the right model," he said glumly, running his finger along the spine. "Sirius' motorcycle is an Indian, and these are for-" He turned his head sharply to one side to read the titles. "-Harley-Davidson, Kawasaki, and Honda."
"It is an antique," Ginny pointed out. "Maybe Bill couldn't find a manual for the right model, and picked up every other one he could find."
"Yeah, I reckon so."
"C'mon, Harry," she said, nudging him with her elbow. "It's a start, at least. Try to look on the bright side." She picked up the manual Harry'd been examining a moment earlier and leafed through the pages until she found the table of contents. "Look!" she said excitedly, tugging on Harry's shirt sleeve to catch his attention. "There's a section on changing oil. Bill said he'd been meaning to do that for ages when we were on our way to fetch you, but hadn't yet found the time."
Harry slid even closer until they were seated right next to each other, their bodies touching in an almost continuous line from shoulder to foot. "Yeah? What does it say?"
Ginny thumbed to the correct page. "See? There's even a diagram!"
Harry's breath warmed her cheek as he leaned over her shoulder to study the illustration. Her heart, traitorous organ that it was, started to beat a little faster; she hadn't been this close to him in...well, ever. She'd managed to rein in the more tempestuous of her feelings for him over the past year and a half, but she knew that some feelings never truly went away. Even so, she forced herself to focus on the open book in her lap, and not to notice that he was moving his lips right next to her ear as he read the directions for changing oil on a motorcycle.
When he reached his arm across her chest to turn the page, however, she couldn't control the tiny gasp that escaped her lips. She felt him stiffen beside her and withdraw his arm. "Sorry."
She turned her head to see his face just inches from hers. His glasses had slid down his nose so that it seemed as if he were peering at her over them like a disbelieving professor. Up close, the dried tear tracks down his cheeks were even more noticeable than before, but his eyes remained clear. Ginny gave him a weak smile. "It's okay."
"Can I have that?" he said.
She looked down to see she still held the book in her lap. "Oh! Sure." She handed it to him. To her disappointment he scooted away and settled back to study the diagram, pulling up his knees to rest the book against his thighs. Ginny just leaned her head back against the wall and swallowed a groan.
Before she had a chance to indulge in self-recrimination, however, Harry's voice cut into her thoughts. "Ginny?"
Without lowering her chin or opening her eyes she said, "Yeah?"
For a moment she thought he'd ask her if she was okay. If he did, she hadn't the slightest idea what she would say. Instead, though, he said, "Can you make sense out of this?"
"Out of what?"
"This diagram. I can't make out how it's all supposed to fit back together."
Ginny opened her eyes this time to look at the book as Harry held it open for her. She had to agree with him; the diagram was very confusing. "Maybe it makes more sense if you're working with the real thing."
He turned the book back around to study it again. "Maybe," he said, frowning.
"Only one way to find out."
"True," he said. "Will you help?" She raised an eyebrow. "Neither one of us knows much about motorcycles, so maybe between the two of us we can figure it out." He shrugged and grinned sheepishly. "Y'know, two heads are better than one."
"Tell that to Charlie when he's working with a Bavarian Zweikopf," Ginny said. When Harry gave her a perplexed look she explained, "A species of two-headed dragon. Very ill-tempered, I hear."
Harry's eyes widened. "Oh." Then he grinned, the most genuine and relaxed smile she'd seen on him in ages. "I can see where that might not apply then," he said with a chuckle.
She laughed. "No, probably not."
Still smiling, he asked, "But will you stay and help? I mean...you don't have to, if you've got something better to do."
Despite the smile that lingered on Harry's face, Ginny could see the anxiety in his eyes and hear the doubt in his voice. Her heart went out to him once again. "Of course I'll stay," she said. "I'd be happy to help."
He was visibly relieved. "Excellent."
~~~~~ <<<<< >>>>> ~~~~~
Ginny and Harry spent the next several days in each other's almost constant company, working on Sirius' motorcycle. They'd take it in turns to wrangle through the stack of manuals, translating the puzzling diagrams while the other tried to put all the pieces back together. No one seemed to mind much their lengthy absences from the main house, although Mrs. Weasley made sure to send either Ron or Luna to the shed with a plate of sandwiches and a jug of iced pumpkin juice every day at lunchtime.
Except when they argued over whether to use a Phillips head or flathead screw, or cursed at an especially poorly-worded direction, few words passed between them. Whenever lunch arrived they immediately fell upon the plate and devoured the sandwiches like monks after a long fast before returning straight to work.
If Ginny had had her way they would've used their wands to make the work easier. However, Harry was so overjoyed at the discovery of a long-forgotten box of tools she couldn't deny his request that they work on the motorcycle the Muggle way. Much of it had rusted or warped over the years, and taking it apart proved to be sweaty, strenuous labor. Most nights she tumbled into bed too tired to shower or change into her nightdress; most mornings she awoke still grimy with grease and dried sweat, her arms and shoulders aching. But she wouldn't have given up a moment of the time she spent with Harry for all the hot bubble baths in the world.
One day Ginny found herself bent over the saddle as she tried to loosen a particularly stubborn lugnut. She'd attacked it head-on at first but couldn't get the leverage she needed, so she decided to work at it from a different angle. Still the nut refused to move, and when the crescent wrench slipped the edge gouged at the tender skin between her thumb and forefinger. "Bugger all!" she swore softly, sucking the injured spot into her mouth.
A warm, heavy weight settled over her and forced the air out of her lungs. Harry's hand, holding his wand, came into view. "Let me," he said next to her ear, and before she could protest he'd healed the cut.
"Thanks," she murmured, but he wasn't through yet. He leaned forward, pressing more closely against her, and retrieved the wrench from the floor. Then, with his hand placed over hers on the wrench's handle, he fitted the crescent around the offending nut. Together they worked it free.
Her breath still hadn't fully returned, and not just because Harry was lying almost fully on top of her. Still she managed a weak, breathy "Thanks."
Harry didn't say anything. He didn't move either. Ginny thought she could feel his heart beating against her back. Hers, she swore, had stopped beating altogether.
She turned her head to the side. His face was so close to hers she almost bumped his cheek with her nose. He couldn't have seen, however; his eyes were screwed shut and he was breathing heavily, almost as if he was in pain. She knew he could feel flashes of emotion from You-Know-Who through his scar and began to worry. "Harry?" she whispered.
His eyes flew open, his face turned redder than she'd ever seen it before, and he leaped off of her with a strangled "Sorry!"
As relieved as she was to be able to breathe normally again, Ginny was nonetheless sorry the moment of brief closeness they'd shared was over. She pushed herself off of the motorcycle and turned around to face Harry, to ask him what was wrong.
Only he wasn't there.
~~~~~ <<<<< >>>>> ~~~~~
Harry disappeared for the rest of the day but was back in the shed before breakfast the next morning. Ginny took her cue from him and declined to mention his behavior or ask him why he'd run away. Instead she fell to her work, using her wand-with Harry's blessing-to repair rips in the leather saddle and reinflate the tires. Harry, meanwhile, scoured decades of accumulated soot from the exhaust pipe and re-attached it to the frame. Around mid-morning he sat back on his heels and stretched.
"Well," he said, ruffling his fingers through his hair, "I reckon that's that."
Ginny screwed the lid back on the tin of dragon oil she'd been using to clean and soften the saddle. "You reckon we're done?"
"There's not really anything else to do. We've taken the whole bloody thing apart, cleaned it thoroughly, and put it back together again. All that's left is to fill the tank with petrol."
"Yeah. Er...Muggle fuel. It makes machines like this go."
"I know what petrol is, Harry." She snickered at the look of embarrassment on his face. "But we don't have any around here. Dad used to keep a steady supply on hand when he had the Anglia, but Bill used the last of it when we came to fetch you."
Harry's face fell. "Oh. D'you know where we can get some?"
She got up and dusted off her knees. "I think there's a petrol station in the village. It's not a far walk."
"But won't we need Muggle money for that?" His brow creased. "I don't have any, and-"
"It's okay," she said, patting his arm. "Mum keeps a jar of Muggle money in the kitchen for contingencies like this."
He shook his head. "I don't want to use your mum's money."
Ginny sighed. "Then you can pay her back. Exchange some of your wizarding money when we go to Diagon Alley next week and slip it into the jar when she's not looking."
"Are you sure?" He seemed afraid to hope too much.
"It'll be fine. We've all dipped into her jar at least once in our lives. This is just one more step on your way to becoming an official Weasley." She walked to the door. "There's a petrol can on the shelf at the back of the shed. Let me get the money and tell Mum where we're going."
~~~~~ <<<<< >>>>> ~~~~~
She found Harry waiting for her by the water pump near the front gate. By the looks of him he'd tried to wash the worst of the sweat and grime from his face and hands; she saw a dark stain around his collar and shoulders when he turned to pick up the petrol can. "Found it," he said, lifting the can into the air.
"Excellent," she said. "I brought a twenty. D'you reckon that'll be enough?" She held out the note for his inspection.
"I reckon so, but I can't say for sure. I think petrol usually costs about a pound and a half a liter, and this can can't hold more than ten liters."
"Then we'll just have to be sure not to buy more than we have enough money for." She handed him the note. "Why don't you carry this? You have more experience with Muggle money than me."
Harry pocketed the money while Ginny unlocked the gate and swung it open. One of the cows, seeing a potential escape route, tried to push its way past, but Harry shooed it away before he slipped through and helped Ginny close and lock the gate.
"What's the easiest way to the village?" he asked.
She pointed toward some trees at the bottom of the hill to her right. "There's a path through those woods," she said. "Ottery St. Catchpole is just on the other side." She started off down the hill, Harry matching her pace stride for stride.
"D'you go there often?"
"Not as much as I used to. The shopkeepers don't like it when people come in to look around and don't buy anything. Mum likes to do her marketing there every now and then though, and if I'm not at school I might go with her."
"Oh." He didn't have anything else to say after that, so they walked the rest of the way in companionable silence. Ginny rather enjoyed the quiet, much to her surprise; she had inherited her mother's loquacity, but today she was content to walk in silence with Harry beside her and listen to the wind rustle through the trees.
They reached Ottery St. Catchpole just before the watch on Harry's wrist chimed noon and found the petrol station on the outskirts. Harry had more or less correctly estimated the cost of petrol but it turned out the can only held about seven liters. The station attendant, after filling the can, counted out the change in several grubby notes and a few coins into Harry's hand before wishing them a good day with a toothless grin. Harry and Ginny thanked the man and walked out.
"We have just over eleven pounds left," Harry said. "Would your mum mind if we had lunch here?" Ginny opened her mouth, about to reply, when he added, "I'll pay her back for the full amount, I promise. I'm just so hungry right now I could eat a hippogriff."
Ginny couldn't help smiling at him. "You know Mum, Harry. She can't bear the thought of any of her boys going hungry." She chuckled. "But I think Buckbeak would be offended to hear you say that."
He grinned at her crookedly, but her sharp eyes caught the shadow of pain that flitted across his face. She kicked herself mentally for having mentioned Buckbeak; although Harry hadn't said anything to her-or even to Ron, as far as she knew-she knew Sirius' death earlier that summer haunted him.
The shadow passed quickly, however, and was replaced by Harry's usual mask of impassive detachment. "D'you know of a good place we could go?"
"There's a small pub near the center of town. I've only been in there once, but it should do." She led him down the crumbling, potholed street to what passed as Ottery St. Catchpole's city center, a tiny square bordering an ancient horsechestnut tree with several cast-iron benches set around its massive trunk. A wooden sign swinging from one of the buildings that lined the square advertised the Frog & Peach. Ginny took a deep breath to prepare herself for whatever might be inside and pushed open the heavy wooden door.
The interior was dark, almost gloomy, but neatly kept. A few booths in the darkest corners were occupied and an elderly woman stood behind the bar drying glasses, but otherwise it was empty. Ginny spotted a table beneath a hanging lamp and headed toward it.
"I'll place our order," Harry said quietly. "D'you know what you want?"
Ginny pursed her lips. "A jacket potato should do fine."
"Are you sure? We've got enough money if you want something more."
"No, that's okay. I don't have the same appetite you and Ron do." Harry chuckled. "Why don't you give me the petrol can while you get our food." She watched Harry walk up to the bar and speak to the barkeep before sliding into one of the rickety wooden chairs.
Harry returned a few moments later with two tall glasses filled with amber liquid. "It's cider," he said as he handed her one of the glasses. "I reckoned you wouldn't like Muggle soda, and the barkeep said you look too young to be drinking ale."
"Cider is fine," she said. She raised her glass. "Cheers."
He clinked his glass against hers. "Cheers."
The effervescence of the cider tickled her nose when she tilted the glass back to drink. She was thirstier than she'd thought, however, and was rather surprised to see that her glass was almost empty when she set it down. "Blimey," she breathed.
A quiet belch from beside her brought out the giggle she'd tried so hard to suppress a moment ago. "Sorry," Harry said, setting down his empty glass. "Reckon I drank that too fast."
"I reckon it's a good thing the barkeep refused to sell us ale," Ginny said. "Do we have enough money left for refills?" Harry dug into his pocket and pulled out a note. "I'll be right back."
There must have been another employee working in the kitchen, because when Ginny returned to the table their food had already been served and Harry was making short work of his burger and chips. When she handed him his refilled glass, he tried to smile at her with cheeks so fat he looked like a chipmunk in autumn. Ginny just shook her head.
"Sometimes I wonder where you and Ron put it all," she said with a sigh as she sat down.
"All that food you eat. I've never seen anyone eat the way you two do."
He noisily washed down his mouthful with a gulp of cider. "Dunno about Ron," he said, "but I'm storing up fat for when I go back to the Dursleys next summer."
Ginny looked up sharply, not sure if she was supposed to laugh at that or not. Harry had returned to his food, however, so she kept quiet and began cutting up her potato.
~~~~~ <<<<< >>>>> ~~~~~
When they left the pub a little while later the sky, which that morning had held only a few fluffy white clouds, had grown leaden and forbidding. Ginny cast a baleful glance upward and pulled her arms around her midsection, hugging herself.
"Looks like it might rain," Harry said just as a roll of thunder echoed in the distance.
"We should go then," she said, heading off down the street. "If we're lucky we'll make it home before it hits."
They walked quickly through the village. The petrol station attendant waved to them as they passed on their way out of town, but Ginny and Harry kept going. Soon they had entered the small forest between Ottery St. Catchpole and the Burrow. The thick canopy overhead blocked out what little light managed to break through the cloud cover, giving the woods an air of darkness and menace. Ginny found herself walking a little bit closer to Harry, drawing comfort from the warmth of his presence.
After they'd walked some distance, when the outlines of the village could no longer be seen through the trees, Harry came to an abrupt halt and looked around, his gaze furtive and mysterious.
He glanced at her, then off into the distance again. "Er, Ginny-" He shifted his weight from foot to foot. "-would you hold this for a moment please?" He thrust the petrol can at her and, scarcely giving her time to grab hold of it, took off at a run into the trees.
"Harry!" Ginny cried. "Where are you going? Don't leave me here!"
"Don't go anywhere," came his disembodied voice. He'd completely disappeared into the thick underbrush. "I'll be right back."
Ginny shivered. Thunder had pealed once again, much closer this time, and the wind had picked up through the trees, making an eerie keening sound that raised goose pimples on her arms. "Hurry up, Harry," she muttered.
Soon she heard a crashing noise in the direction Harry'd run off in. Alarmed, Ginny pulled out her wand and trained it towards the sound. Much to her great relief Harry himself emerged from the underbrush, wiping his hands on his trousers. He froze when he saw her wand pointed directly at him, however.
"Don't DO that to me!" She pocketed her wand. He approached her cautiously and retrieved the petrol can. "Why'd you go tearing off like that anyway?"
His face colored. "I...er...I had urgent business." He dug a trainer-clad toe into the fallen leaves that blanketed the ground.
"Urgent business?" she exclaimed. "What the bloody hell-" Her cheeks grew hot as she grasped his meaning. "Harry Potter, don't tell me you just-" She laughed at his deepening blush. "I am shocked!"
"Sorry," he mumbled, still staring at the ground. "Couldn't wait."
Ginny just laughed again and rolled her eyes. "Boys!" she muttered good-naturedly.
A loud thunderclap sounded very close by, making Ginny jump. "We should go," she said, turning in the direction of home.
Harry's hand on her arm stopped her before she'd gone more than a few steps. "Ginny, wait," he said in a quiet, serious voice.
She gave him a puzzled look. Harry'd always been a mass of contradictions, but they seemed to be even more pronounced this summer than ever before. "Is something wrong?"
"No," he said, running his hands through his hair until it stood on end. "It's just that...there's something I've been meaning to talk to you about."
She led him over to a fallen, hollowed-out tree that lay nearby and sat down, patting the trunk beside her. Rather than sit, however, he chose to prop his foot on the tree and gaze off in the distance. "What is it?" Ginny asked. "What did you want to tell me?" She hadn't the slightest idea what weighed so heavily on his mind, but she feared it couldn't be good.
"It's just that-" He chewed on the edge of his thumb. "I wanted to thank you, is all."
That was the last thing she'd expected him to say. "Thank me?" He nodded. "For what?"
He sighed. "For-For helping me with Sirius' motorcycle."
"Oh!" she said, still perplexed. "Well, I had fun. It sure beat reading tarot cards with Luna."
His smile was vacant and distracted. "I-I also wanted to thank you-" He took a deep breath. "I wanted to thank you for not asking me if I was okay." Ginny stared at him in stunned silence. "I know Ron and Hermione mean well, but sometimes I wish they'd just leave off with all the concern. Sometimes it...sometimes it's worse than the hurt itself."
"I'm not okay," he said, his fists clenched. "I don't reckon I will be for a long time. But I'm getting through all this, one day at a time. I just...I just need people to give me a chance. To let me do this on my own terms." His gaze, when he turned to look at her, burned all the way through her. "D'you understand what I mean?"
As much as she hated to admit it, she did. She'd felt much the same the summer after her first year, when her parents had hovered over her until she thought she'd go spare. If it hadn't been for the trip to Egypt and seeing Bill and Charlie again, she just might have.
Before she could say anything, however, Harry'd pulled away, closing in on himself once again. "I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't have-"
"Harry, wait!" she cried, leaping to her feet. She grabbed at his hand. "Don't apologize. I do understand." She laced her fingers through his, holding him fast. "But I hope you understand that we all love you very much and hate to see you hurting like this."
A small, sad smile turned up the corners of his mouth as he looked down at their joined hands. "I do. That's what gets me through each day."
"I'd like to see you doing better than just getting through."
He took a step closer and squeezed her hand. "Someday, maybe. For now, though, it'll have to do."
The look he gave her then raised the hairs on the back of her neck. His eyes, normally such a bright, clear green, had grown dark and fathomless. Before she could voice her alarm, however, a bolt of lightning ripped through the sky overhead, electrifying the air all around them. She ducked instinctively, throwing her arms over her head, but Harry yanked her to him and held her tight. "C'mon," he growled, "let's go before one of these trees comes crashing down on us!" Then, taking her hand in one of his and the petrol can in the other, he raced for the edge of the forest.
The clouds burst their seams just as Harry and Ginny passed beyond the woods, drenching them in large, icy droplets. Ginny squealed and dropped Harry's hand. "Make for the shed!" she shouted. "It's the closest building!"
Her chest burned as she ran up the hill as fast as she could. Because Harry's legs were longer than hers, however, he reached the gate first and opened it for her just in time. Together they pushed it shut and ran for the shed as though flames licked at their heels.
Ginny fell to the ground just inside the door, panting with exertion. Her lungs felt as though they were on fire. Harry collapsed against the motorcycle and hung his head between his knees, gasping for breath. Beyond the sanctuary of the shed the storm raged.
"Bloody hell!" Ginny exclaimed once she'd regained her breath. She was soaked to the bone and cold to boot. Her hair lay plastered against her face and back and her trainers squelched when she stood up. "Urgh," she said, toeing them off and removing her socks.
Behind her she heard a chuckle. She turned to see Harry trying to wring out his T-shirt. "What are you laughing at?" she said.
"Nothing," he said, though he laughed again. "I don't reckon you know any useful drying charms?"
She shook her head. "We'll have to do this the old-fashioned way, unless you want to risk a run to the main house."
"No thanks," he said. "Your mum'll have kittens for sure if we traipse into her kitchen looking like this."
"She'll send us both straight to bed with warming pans and bowls of chicken soup."
The look on Harry's face made her laugh out loud. "Some Pepperup Potion would be nice right about now," he said.
"Can't help you there." She walked to the doorway and looked out. The rain showed no signs of letting up anytime soon, although she hadn't heard any thunder since the strike that sent them running.
"Looks like we could be here all afternoon," came Harry's voice from right behind her.
Ginny turned to look up at him with raised eyebrows. "You say that like it's a bad thing."
"Nah," he said with a far-off smile. "But now that Sirius' motorcycle is fixed-"
"We couldn't possibly have anything else in common?"
She sucked in her breath when he looked at her, his eyes dark as before. She hadn't meant to sound so arch, but he'd given her the distinct feeling he wasn't keen to spend any more time with her now that they'd accomplished what they'd set out to do. "That's not what I meant at all," he said.
His darkly intense gaze made her nervous, and she crossed her arms over her chest in a feeble show of bravado. "Then just what did you mean?"
His gaze lowered. Feeling even more self-conscious, Ginny pressed herself against the doorframe. "What I meant was-" he began hoarsely. He licked his lips and dragged his gaze up to her face. Ginny felt all her blood drain away. "Oh, bugger this."
Before she had a chance to react, Harry was kissing her. He had her pinned against the doorframe with nowhere to run and he was...oh, dear, sweet Merlin, she thought she was going to faint. Water dripped from his hair into her half-closed eyes as his fingers dug into her hips and pulled her closer. Someone, she had no idea who, groaned at the back of their throat.
Just as quickly as he'd begun Harry wrenched his lips free of hers. Ginny opened her eyes to find him staring at her, his face pale, his breath ragged. "Harry?" she whispered, bringing her fingers up to her lips.
"Bloody hell," he croaked. "I-I'm sorry." He took off into the downpour before she could stop him.
~~~~~ <<<<< >>>>> ~~~~~
Mist curled up from the garden and outlying fields when Ginny stepped out of the kitchen on to the Burrow's back porch. The storm had passed some time ago, but the air still lay dank and humid all around as twilight slowly blanketed the countryside. She trotted down the porch steps and across the garden toward the shed, curling her toes against the sensation of wet, slippery grass. The tiny shapes of gnomes ran giggling past her into the shadows.
She was disappointed to see the shed empty of all save Sirius' motorcycle and her father's collection of Muggle artifacts. No one, not even Ron, had seen hide nor hair of Harry all afternoon. Her mum's anxious starts every time a board creaked or an owl hooted had driven Ginny to the point of distraction, so she fled outdoors the first opportunity she got.
A lantern hung on a nearby peg; Ginny lifted it down and ignited the wick with her wand, then carried it over and set it down on the work table. The lantern's flickering yellow glow danced over the motorcycle's polished chrome fenders and satiny smooth saddle. Ginny ran the tips of her fingers the length of the motorcycle, thinking back on the past several days. This afternoon's kiss notwithstanding, something had changed between her and Harry since they started working on the motorcycle together. She couldn't put her finger on when it happened, or how, or even why, but deep in her gut she sensed things wouldn't ever quite be the same. Part of her worried that the fragile understanding they'd come to the previous year was irretrievably lost. Then she recalled Harry's kiss and couldn't help thinking with an almost irrational hope that something new and wonderful lay just beyond the horizon, if only they could reach it.
Lifting her leg high, Ginny straddled the motorcycle. Her feet barely reached the floor on either side. She'd seen Bill give Harry the keys, but she could use magic to start the engine. Just as she was about to retrieve her wand, however, she sensed movement. Someone mounted the motorcycle behind her.
"Looking for these?" Harry's voice asked. A set of silver keys appeared before her face and jangled gaily.
"Harry, I-" She tried to turn.
She froze. He slipped the key into the ignition and turned on the motorcycle. Ginny felt the powerful engine roar to life beneath her.
"Don't you want to drive?"
"I don't know how. Bill said you could show me."
"I filled the tank with petrol earlier. I've been waiting for you." Her heart leaped up into her throat. "D'you want to take it for a spin?" Ginny felt, rather than saw, his arms extend past her sides and grasp the handlebars. Unable to speak, she simply nodded. "Okay then, you'll need to show me what to do."
Only too aware of his chest against her back and his thighs pressed tightly around her hips, Ginny leaned forward and set the clutch into first gear. She then released the brake. "Ready?" she asked, her foot on the gas, her hands atop his on the handlebars.
She felt Harry's head move up and down where his chin rested over her shoulder. "Let's go."