"Why would I want to celebrate the memory of the worst day of my life?"
With fists clenched, eyes wide and his mouth hanging open, Harry glowered at Ginny. If anyone had told him even two months ago that the petite red head standing in front of him would end up being the bane of his existence, he would have thought them barmy. This minute, if anyone asked him who irritated him more, Voldemort or Ginny... Ginny would win, hands down.
"That is not what I said, Harry, and you know it!" Ginny closed her eyes and blew an exasperated breath out between her pursed lips. She was rigid and tense; it looked as if someone had cast Petrificus Totalus on her. It was hard to believe that not too long ago, little Ginny Weasley was so enamored with Harry that she could hardly string two words together in his presence. From the glaring look in her eyes and the angry flush on her cheeks at the moment, it was all too easy to believe that she'd be happy to never speak to Harry Potter again.
It had been going on for weeks now... this feud between Harry and Ginny.
Harry was escorted to the Burrow after the shortest stay yet at Privet Drive. Although delighted at the thought of leaving his Aunt and Uncle's, Harry required quite a bit of reassurance that he was not endangering the Weasleys by being at the Burrow. Once delivered, Harry settled in for what he hoped would be a far more enjoyable summer than he had ever had. What he didn't count on was the perspicacity of the youngest of the Weasley clan.
Oh, it began well enough. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were as warm and welcoming as always. Mrs. Weasley's motherly care touched Harry greatly and he was much more forgiving with her than when he felt she was treating him as fragile.
The twins were not at the Burrow often, but when they did show up, they treated Harry with the same aplomb as they always did.
Harry wasn't sure if Ron was oblivious or very astute. Either way, Ron gave Harry the space he so desired and treated him as he always had. Harry was grateful for this bit of normalcy.
Of course, the last person that Harry thought he would clash with was Ginny. Although she'd showed a bit more tenacity in recent months, for the four years that Harry had known her she had always been very quiet and unassuming. Harry had figured that he would hear very little from her during his stay. He found out how wrong he was fairly quickly.
The radiant glow that filtered through his eyelids pulled Harry from his sleep--early morning sunlight made the bright orange colors in Ron's room nearly unbearable. Harry rose, pulled on a t-shirt and was halfway to the loo before he realized that it was his sixteenth birthday. A buoyant feeling rose within his chest as it occurred to him that, for the first time he could recall, he would be spending his birthday among people he loved. The feeling quickly sank to the pit of his stomach as he remembered that Sirius would not be here to celebrate with him.
With a darkened mood, Harry stepped into the cheerful kitchen of the Burrow. Mrs. Weasley was busy creating what appeared to be enough food to feed a small army. With her nose buried in the Daily Prophet, Ginny reached out to move her tea cup out of the way as a platter of sausages floated over to join the pancakes, fried eggs, toast and bacon already laid out on the large wooden table.
Before Harry had even reached the table, Mr. Weasley bustled into the room, "Got to run, Molly dear. There's a funny croquet set at a second hand shop in Hertford that I need to check out before they open at eight." He reached across the table for a slice of bacon and when pulling back, seemed startled that Harry was standing right next to him. "Good morning, Harry. Happy birthday, son!"
"Oh, Harry dear! I didn't see you come in!" Mrs. Weasley whirled around, spatula in hand, "Happy sixteenth birthday!"
Harry smiled weakly and nodded his thanks. He glanced over at Ginny, his smile slipping as he noticed her eying him with a disconcerted look on her face. She seemed to suddenly realize that she was frowning at Harry and broke into a wide grin. "Morning, Harry. Happy birthday."
"Thanks." Harry sat in the chair across from Ginny and tried to appear natural while returning her smile.
"Arthur, do at least take some toast with you," Mrs. Weasley scolded.
"Yes, dear." He said snatching a slice of buttered toast. "See you all tonight!" And with a loud pop, he disapparated.
Harry looked over at Ginny, who had resumed her reading. "Any news of death eater activity in there?"
Ginny sighed and laid the paper on the table, turning it so that Harry could see the front page. Large lettering proclaimed the appearance of the dark mark in three separate locations last night. Harry pulled the article closer and began reading. Harry felt Ginny's eyes on him as his posture began to slump and his hand came up to comb through his unruly hair. By the time he had finished reading the report, his brow was furrowed and his jaw was clenched.
Mrs. Weasley's voice broke the quiet, "Harry, you'd best fill up your plate before Ron and the twins get down here."
"I'm not hungry." Harry replied tersely. The sound of chair legs scraping on the floor shattered the peaceful atmosphere of the kitchen as he left the table and strode into the lounge. He stopped in front of the fireplace, and stared into the cold, empty grate. It was a battle of emotions. He didn't know whether to be angry or afraid or depressed.
"That was rude," a quiet but firm voice spoke behind him.
Angry it was.
"Mum is so worried that those awful relatives of yours starve you. She's gone out of her way to make sure there are plenty of your favorite foods to eat. It's bad enough that you don't have the decency to thank her, but I won't stand for you treating her like that!"
"I'm sorry, Ginny!" And he truly was. His body tensed up more. "There's just only so much I can take! How many deaths are going to be on my head before this is over?"
"What? On your head?" The volume of Ginny's voice increased and Harry turned around to face her.
"It was my blood that brought Voldemort back! It's my fault he's out there killing people!"
"How can you say that? You didn't willingly donate blood to him, he took it!"
"It is my fault! I took that bloody cup! I made Cedric take it with me!"
"Harry, you didn't know that cup was a Portkey!"
"That doesn't matter. I shouldn't have even been in the tournament! My getting selected was dodgy... Sirius even told me it was most likely someone trying to get to me. I shouldn't have competed!"
"You had to--it was a magical binding contract. You didn't have a choice!"
"I had a choice in trying to win," he spat.
A crash by the stairs caught both their attention. Mrs. Weasley was standing with one hand on the railing and a broken tea cup at her feet. Her eyes were bright with tears and she gazed at Harry with a look of pity on her face.
Bile rose in Harry's throat and he strode swiftly to the stairs, slowing down only long enough to mutter a soft, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Weasley" before racing up to Ron's room.
Harry stayed in Ron's room until lunchtime, when he decided to join Ron downstairs for a bite to eat.
"Where's your mum?" Harry asked as he loaded up his plate. He was hoping for a chance to apologize properly to Mrs. Weasley.
"She and Ginny went to Diagon Alley to pick up a few things for tonight," Ron replied. "Hey, wanna take our brooms out for a bit after we eat?"
"Sure." Harry really didn't want to. He hadn't flown on his Firebolt since getting it back from Umbridge. Every time he saw it, it reminded him of Sirius. "But do you think I could use either Fred or George's broom? Mine has some bent twigs and stuff and I don't feel like working on it before we fly."
The Weasleys and Harry enjoyed a sumptuous supper that evening in celebration of Harry's birthday. Harry was only a bit uncomfortable. Ginny had scowled darkly at him when she entered the kitchen and sat as far away from him at the table as she could.
Once everyone had finished eating, George brought over a pile of gaily-wrapped gifts. Harry felt a little strange, as he had never opened up his birthday presents in front of an audience before. With a little encouragement from Ron, though, he had soon opened the first gift which was from the twins. Buried in the tissue paper that filled the box was a folded slip of parchment. A strange look came over Harry's face as he opened and read the parchment.
"Well... what is it, mate?" Ron asked. When Harry didn't answer right away, Ron tore the parchment from his hand and read it. His eyes grew wide and he muttered, "A year's subscription to Playwizard?"
"Boys!" cried Mrs. Weasley, a scandalized look on her face. A whoop of delight escaped from Ron as the twins patted Harry's back and Mr. Weasley chuckled. Harry quickly took the parchment back from Ron and placed it in the box. With slightly tinged cheeks and a quick glance at Mrs. Weasley he laughed, "Thanks, guys."
Harry quickly opened the next few presents. He smiled wistfully when he opened the gift from Remus. It was a notebook containing a neatly written recollection of some of the more dubious pranks pulled off by Moody, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs. Harry tucked it away in his pocket when he noticed the twins eying it with a look of longing.
Of course, Hermione had sent him a book. The title, Defense and Offense in Spellcasting, made Harry's stomach churn as he thought of the prophecy and his role as a potential murderer.
"Oi! Open mine!" Ron was practically hopping up and down with excitement. Harry grinned at him and found the gift with Ron's name on it. As he pulled back the shiny purple paper, a slightly battered snitch was revealed. Ron quickly explained that this was a regulation snitch made especially without the anti-summoning charm. "Let's you practice with a real snitch without having to risk losing it. When practice is over you can just use Accio and it'll come right to you."
"Thanks, mate," Harry said while grinning broadly at Ron. His grin faded a bit as he remembered that he had been banned from Quiddich for life.
Harry quickly moved to pick up the smaller of the two remaining presents. The tag read 'To Harry, From Ginny' in precise calligraphy. Harry looked cautiously towards Ginny at the far end of the table but her eyes were glued to table top in front of her. Taking a deep breath, Harry opened the box to find a digital wristwatch with a black band.
"You knew mine stopped?" Ginny briefly glanced up at Harry and barely nodded her head. "Thanks, Ginny!" Harry said smiling warmly.
The last gift was from Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. Underneath the wrapping was a large tin of fudge tied with a bright green bow. Peaking out from under the bow was something small and red. Harry untied the bow revealing a pocketknife.
Mr. Weasley said excitedly, "It's called a Swiss army knife. It does just about anything you can imagine." Picking the knife up off the tin, Mr. Weasley started pulling out all the blades of the knife. "See here, this one takes the lids off those fizzy drink bottles... this is a screwer... we never could figure out what this curly one is for."
"Corkscrew... to take corks out of wine bottles" Harry informed him dully. He was trying very hard to keep a smile on his face, but looking at the tool in Mr. Weasley's hand brought to mind images of the knife that Sirius had given Harry for Christmas two years ago. The ache in Harry's heart grew and his eyes began to burn.
Mr. Weasley glanced hesitantly at Mrs. Weasley and cleared his throat. "Yes, well see, dead useful," he said as he handed the knife over to Harry and smiled reassuringly.
"Thank you so much," Harry managed to choke out through his forced smile, "It's great."
Mrs. Weasley then brought out a magnificent chocolate cake topped with sixteen bright green candles. Ron and the twins busied themselves clearing away the discarded wrapping paper. It didn't take long for the group to finish off their cake and begin grumbling about over-full stomachs. In the commotion of everyone rising to leave the table and a final round of thank yous, Harry noticed Ginny throwing her napkin onto the table and headed out into the back garden. A surge of irritation swept through Harry and after his last expression of gratitude, he went outside in search of Ginny.
Coming up behind her standing near the frog pond, Harry blurted out, "Just what is your problem?"
Ginny whirled to face Harry, a deep frown etched across her forehead and she retorted, "Why are you acting like this?"
"Me? I'm not the one storming out the back door!"
"You just make me so mad!"
"What have I done?"
Ginny's shoulders sagged and she sighed deeply, "Harry, I know things have been bad for you and I am truly sorry. I'd do anything to make things right for you, really I would. But I am so tired of seeing my family hurt! It seems like no matter what we do, it ends up pushing you away. We don't know what to do to help you because you withdraw and won't tell us what's going on!"
Harry rolled his eyes and shook his head, "Ginny, you just don't understand!"
Ginny looked fit to be tied, "What's to understand? First you make everyone feel like they have to walk around you on eggshells, then you make my mum cry, and now you make my dad feel horrible giving you a present!"
That did it. Harry had now officially gone from irritated to angry. "I haven't asked anyone to treat me any different! And I didn't mean to make your mum cry... I don't know how to make her stop feeling bad for me! As for your dad, I can't help how that knife made me feel... what it made me think of!"
"How can anyone know how you feel? You hardly say two words to anyone anymore! Not that I can imagine anything you having to say would excuse you for being such a prat."
"What am I supposed to say? Excuse me everyone, but this knife here reminds me of the one my godfather gave to me... the second Christmas present I ever got from him! Oh, and in case you all don't recall, he's dead now and I'll never get anymore presents from him. Never mind the fact that I ruined that same knife a couple of months ago during a little adventure of mine to the Department of Mysteries... the very same night and place he died. Did I mention it was all my fault?"
Ginny stood speechless. Her posture was less rigid than it had been moments ago and she appeared to be thinking very hard as her gaze was fixed over Harry's left shoulder. Just when he thought she was going to apologize to him, her back stiffened again and she curtly told him, "You're still a prat, Harry," and walked towards the house.
"What?" Harry jogged to catch up with her and grabbed a hold of her arm.
Ginny yanked her arm out of Harry's grip and spat, "I'm sorry my dad gave you a gift that reminded you of Sirius. He had no idea; just as I'm sure you didn't purposely set out to hurt his feelings. You might seriously consider clueing him into why your reaction was less than enthusiastic." She took a deep breath and continued, "As for your little 'adventure', I was there, too... remember? How on earth do you figure Sirius' death to be your fault? If I understand correctly, that Lestrange woman killed Sirius!"
"Well, you don't understand at all! Sirius wouldn't have been there at all if I had learned Occlumency properly! I played right into Voldemort's hands and Sirius died trying to save me!"
"What I do understand is that the only reason you went to the ministry was to save Sirius! I know he didn't really need saving, but what if he had? What if Voldemort was torturing Sirius... what if you died trying to save him... would it be Sirius' fault?"
"Well then, why is it your fault that he died trying to save you?"
Harry opened his mouth to respond and then closed it. He was getting confused. No, Ginny was missing the point. If only he'd managed to learn Occlumency none of it would have happened. It was his fault. Harry closed his eyes and shook his head. Opening his eyes again and looking hard at Ginny, he said flatly, "You really don't understand." and strode past her and into the house.
To say that life at the Burrow had become tense was an understatement. Although no one really knew what was going on between Harry and Ginny, it was obvious that the two of them were getting along together about as well and oil and water. Any innocent comment could end up in a loud row. Everyone had given up trying to get them to make peace, or even come to a stalemate--icy glares and stony silence were about the best to be hoped for. For the sanity of the household, the remaining Weasleys took it upon themselves to either keep the combatants separated or distracted from one another.
"Excuse me," Harry mumbled coldly after he had bumped into Ginny in the hallway.
Ginny just glared as she walked into the bathroom and closed the door.
"And you call me rude!" Harry snarled.
"I'm busy, Harry. Go away!" came her faint voice from behind the door.
"You'd like that, wouldn't you? For me to just disappear off the face of the earth! Well, don't worry, Voldemort may get me yet!"
"That's a horrible thing to say, Harry Potter!" Her voice was much louder this time.
"As if you'd care!"
"Of course I'd care! That's you're problem... you just can't understand that people care about you!" Her volume continued to increase.
"Well, you know, it's not like it's done me any good!"
The door flew open and Ginny stepped out. Her face was reddened with anger, "What the bloody hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Only that people who claim to care about me always..." Harry's tirade was interrupted as Ron came barreling down the hallway.
"Oi! What's all the commotion about?" Ron looked from Harry to Ginny. "Uh, Ginny, aren't you a bit under-dressed?" said Ron, trying to cover his sister.
At that moment, Harry realized that Ginny was standing in the hallway in nothing but her bra and knickers. Apparently Ginny just realized it, too as she squeaked and darted back into the bathroom and slammed the door.
"You can close your mouth now, Harry. And put your eyes back into your head, will ya?" Ron punched Harry in the arm as he walked towards the stairs shaking his head.
Harry didn't see much of Ginny for the next few days. It was just as well... he'd seen a bit too much of her so far, both figuratively and literally. He didn't know if she was avoiding him out of anger or if she was just royally embarrassed. Truth be told, Harry was privately amused that Ginny had gotten so flustered by him that she tramped right out in front of him half naked. Then again, he was a bit miffed at himself for apparently being so self-absorbed that he didn't even notice. Maybe he was a prat.
Two weeks before the start of term, Hermione came to stay with the Weasleys. It took less than a day for her to realize the situation and join the Weasleys in an effort to keep Ginny and Harry from killing each other. "Let's all go swimming at the pond today," was her suggestion the following afternoon when the heat was oppressive and the tension even more so. Getting everyone to agree was a feat that only Hermione could accomplish.
"Surprised you got Potter here to leave his shell," Ginny hissed at Hermione as the group walked together to the swimming hole.
"You're just full of biting comments, aren't you Weasley?" Harry had hung back and was walking next to Ron.
"Fred, does this make my bum look big?" George was at the front of the gang of teenagers striking a ridiculous pose and modeling his swim trunks. Diversionary tactic number one was underway.
Grinning cheekily, Fred retorted, "They sure do, but sad to say they make some parts look really small!"
Ron snorted and glanced over at Harry. Unfortunately, it appeared that the diversion had failed. Harry eyes were burning a hole in the back of Ginny's head.
"What? No snide remarks?" Harry's comment had brought her to a standstill. Everyone stopped, waiting for the counter-attack. Ginny stood frozen in place for only a moment before resuming her trek, not bothering to respond to Harry's taunt. The twins, Ron and Hermione breathed a collective sigh of relief.
As they topped the hill and the pond came into view, the twins broke into a run. As they closed the distance to the sparkling water, George's voice could be heard yelling, "Last one in is a house elf!"
Hermione uttered an offended, "Oh!" and Ron glanced sideways at Harry. Harry gave Ron a maniacal grin and they simultaneously dodged around the girls and ran toward the water. Hermione tutted and Ginny snorted, shaking her head.
By the time the girls had arrived at the water's edge, all four boys were in the water splashing each other in an all out water war. Hermione and Ginny were satisfied to simply stay on the sidelines watching. When the twins became distracted by a turtle they spied on the shore, Ron and Harry made their way out of the water.
"Ah, relief from the heat!" exclaimed Ron as he flopped down onto the bank. "Too bad we're still too young to do magic outside school. A glass of iced pumpkin juice would be great right about now."
"But we don't start to learn conjuring until next year," admonished Hermione.
"Yeah, but I bet you could do it now... couldn't you?" Ron gave Hermione an appraising look.
Hermione blushed lightly, "Well, that's a bit moot since we can't do magic now anyway. But it wouldn't hurt you all to start studying, too." she quickly added.
"Hermione! It's a hol-i-day. You know what that is, don't you? It's leisure time away from work, devoted to rest or pleasure. Looked it up myself in a book my dad has!" Ron looked at Harry and said in a stage whisper, "Knew she'd try to bring up homework... I prepared for it." Harry snorted and watched Hermione's mouth open and close several times in exasperation.
Apparently without a response for Ron, Hermione turned her attention on Harry. "Have you had a chance yet to look through that book I sent for your birthday?"
The grin on Harry's face quickly faded as he was once again reminded that he was fated in life to either kill or be killed. Before he even had a chance to respond, Ron swept Hermione up in his arms and ran for the water yelling, "Hermione's on holiday!" Her shriek was cut off as Ron dove in and their heads went under the water.
Harry looked over to where Ginny had made herself comfortable on an old quilt that had been spread out on the ground. She was eyeing him with a clearly annoyed look on her face.
"What did I do now?" Harry asked in a frustrated tone.
"You were doing it again. That 'I'm-acting-normal-so-everyone-gets-comfortable-then-out-of-the-blue-I-start-brooding' thing."
Harry was immediately defensive, "Who are you to tell me how to act? You don't know what I'm thinking! You don't know how I feel!"
Ginny quickly stood up and started walking a short distance away from the pond. She stopped just out of earshot of Hermione and the boys and looked pointedly at Harry with her arms crossed tightly in front of her. Harry stood up to join her away from the others.
Ginny barely waited for him to reach her before she started in again, "That's right! I don't know! And Hermione doesn't know, and Ron doesn't know, and Fred, and George, or my mum and dad! We don't know because the great Harry Potter wants to play guess-my-mood!"
"What do you want from me? You want me to repeat out loud every bloody thought that comes into my head?"
"Well considering what you've been doing so far, that would definitely be an improvement! But no, maybe just opening up to let people who care about you know how you are feeling would be a good start!"
"Fine! Fine! You want to know how I feel? I bloody well feel like hell!"
Harry was livid. His face was flushed with color and his was voice strained. "Why do I feel like I do? Well let's see... I grow up with relatives who loathe me and take every opportunity to make me miserable," he started ticking off on his fingers, "I finally get a chance to get away from them only to find out the wizard who killed my parents is out to kill me, too; every year at school brings another dark wizard into my life who's hell bent on destroying me; I've been kidnapped, watched an innocent person killed just because they're with me, been subjected to the Cruciatus, had blood drained from me; I was reviled in the public as an attention seeking lunatic, called a liar and forced to cut my own hand open night after night; I've had Voldemort poking around in my brain causing me excruciating pain; I ended up risking my friends lives and getting my godfather killed because I have a 'saving people thing'; and then I found out that my whole life revolves around some bloody prophecy that says I either need to kill Voldemort or he's going to kill me!"
Harry's heart was beating rapidly, he was out of breath and his throat was sore. Ginny was staring at him with her eyes wide and her mouth open. She took a deep breath and said calmly, "Harry..."
"Don't bother!" Harry huffed, "If you're just going to say you're sorry..."
Ginny's eyes narrowed, "I wasn't! I mean, I am sorry..."
"Well, I am too! But fat lot of good it does me!" Harry spat.
"Harry, listen to me!" Ginny held her hand out as if to stop his tirade. "I am sorry and wish I could say something to make everything better but I can't. What I was going to say was, well... what was that about a prophecy?"
Harry cringed. He hadn't meant to do that. He didn't know if he was ready to share that with anyone. But figuring he already had, he sighed and said, "It was the same prophecy Voldemort was after. When I returned to Hogwarts, Dumbledore told me what the prophecy said. Basically it foretold the birth of someone with the power to defeat Voldemort... me, it seems. And it said that in order to live, one of us has to kill the other."
Ginny looked into Harry's over-bright eyes for what seemed a very long time. She placed her hand gently on his forearm and took a breath. Harry braced himself for the expected sympathy. He was disappointed.
"Harry... you do realize what this means, don't you?" She asked tentatively as a grin spread across her face and lit up her eyes, "This means that you can defeat him. No doubt... no questions... you can... you have the power to defeat him. It gives us hope and that's a good thing."
Harry stared at her in disbelief. It hadn't occurred to him to consider the prophecy might have a good side. The confused look on his face was slowly replaced by a small smile. "I suppose it is." He felt as if one small weight had been taken off his shoulders.
"You look relieved, Harry."
"I guess, in a way, I am. It's one less thing to worry about anyway."
"I'm glad if I helped you even just a little."
Harry smirked at her, "Does this mean you'll stop attacking me?"
Ginny's smile brightened, "Well... I got you to open up and talk, didn't I?" Before he could respond she quickly added, "I'm going for a swim now... coming?" She turned and headed back toward the pond.
As Harry watched her retreat, he thought that she really was the most frustrating, obstinate, and infuriating girl he had ever met. Grinning widely, he decided that he really liked that about her. Running to catch up, he looked forward to their next fight.