Ginny and Ron arrived at the Burrow early Saturday morning. As the Gryffindor common room fireplace was connected to the Floo network, they hadn't needed to sneak into the Three Broomsticks after all. Still, they had arrived at The Burrow sooty and coughing from the long journey. Mrs. Weasley greeted them with open arms and bustled them to the kitchen table for breakfast. Between mouthfuls, they added to what she knew about Harry from their letters. She was dismayed to know that Harry was losing weight and was still flying about the Quidditch stadium in the dark each night.
Ron came to his defense. "I've told you before, Mum; when Harry flies, he clears his mind. It's his way of letting off steam. Don't you agree it's better than trying to start a duel or insulting someone on purpose like Malfoy does? Harry just pushes that Firebolt of his as fast as it will go."
"We'll talk about that when your father gets home. I do hope that's soon. He and his team are finding many more dangerous items at each house he raids nowadays, and I worry about him," Mrs. Weasley told him. "In the meantime, I'd better write to Dumbledore; this is shaping up to be quite the family meeting, and most likely the result will be everyone coming home for Christmas this year, including Harry and Hermione. They'll need his permission to leave the school for the holidays."
This was welcome news to both Ginny and Ron, and Ginny felt she had accomplished something already. However, she knew she must put her two Knuts worth in and push for a weekend sooner than the Christmas holidays as well. For Harry's sake she hoped they could work something out. He needed to talk to someone, and she sincerely hoped someone in her family could help him.
As they waited for their father, Ginny glanced around the familiar kitchen, her eyes finally landing on the family clock. Her father's, Bill's, Charlie's, and the twins' hands pointed to 'Work', while her Mum's, Ron's and her own hands pointed to 'Home'. Percy's, unfortunately, was pointed to ‘Lost' which meant that her third eldest brother had yet to make amends with her parents. She shook her head, knowing that her mother kept Percy's hand on the clock out of sheer optimism. It was then that she took a second look at the clock. That's odd, she thought, there are eleven hands instead of nine! Smiling, she nudged Ron and pointed to the clock. His eyes widened as he comprehended the implications of the extra hands, which were pointing toward 'School'.
"Mum," he asked, "Why are there hands for Harry and Hermione on the family clock now?"
"Oh, that," Mrs. Weasley said smiling. "I was going to tell you about that and forgot. I had your father add the hands several weeks ago because of all the trouble You-Know-Who caused at the Ministry. I thought it would be nice to know where all of you are; I knew Ginny was in trouble several years ago when her hand suddenly pointed to 'Mortal Peril'." At this, Ginny gave an audible gasp. She hadn't known about that. "And with you, Harry, Hermione, and now Ginny haring off into who knows what kind of trouble, I wanted to at least be alerted so I could check up on all of you."
"But Harry and Hermione aren't family," Ron protested.
"To me they are, dear," her mother said with a smile. "Goodness knows, Harry could do with a little mothering every once in a while. Besides, he and Hermione have spent part or all of the summer with us for the last five years and they certainly make themselves at home when they are with us."
"If you put it that way, I suppose so," Ron conceded and Ginny thought she caught a twinkle in her mum's eye. Was her mum alluding to a possible romantic tryst? Ginny certainly hoped so for Hermione's sake. A new thought crossed her mind. Is Mum hoping for something along those lines for Harry and me, too? she wondered. Probably, for she knew her mother was a matchmaker at heart and heartily approved of Harry.
Mr. Weasley Apparated into the kitchen about fifteen minutes later, a thick satchel slung over his shoulder.
"Homework, Dad?" Ron asked.
"Unfortunately, son, that is the reality of working in the Ministry these days. The more we raid, the more forms must be completed...in triplicate! I'm beginning to think that the Ministry's motto should be changed to 'Kill a tree to save a Wizard.'"
Everyone chuckled at that and a few minutes later gathered around the kitchen table, Mrs. Weasley ready to take notes on what was being said. Ginny took it upon herself to begin the family meeting.
"Mum and Dad," Ginny began, "Ron and I want to do something for Harry. You know he's having a terrible year from what we've written to you; his mental state couldn't be worse. He refuses to talk to anyone and is too caught up in his emotions to study properly. It's as if he's distancing himself from us because of something that happened with Professor Dumbledore after the fight at the Ministry last June. He just is about as lost as a person can get."
Ron took over. "What we want to ask is this; can Harry and Hermione come home with us for a weekend in December, as soon as possible, and not related to the Christmas holiday?"
"Two days away from Hogwarts would probably be enough to at least give Harry a chance for a good night's sleep. He's told me he sleeps better when he's here," Ginny said. "Though I think he'd just settle for a couple of good naps if he could get them."
"Remember that Hermione's parents invited Ginny for that weekend in October, so it just seems natural to invite her," Ron put in.
Mrs. Weasley looked up from her notes. "And what do you two propose to do with all the homework you'll be assigned prior to your coming here? You both know you have end of term exams coming up."
"I'm sure Hermione will keep us on task by making us bring our homework with us," Ginny said with a smile. "She's really good at organizing study groups, and I'm sure she'd see to it that we didn't play Quidditch the entire time we were here. Come to think of it, maybe she'd help me with my O.W.L. preparation like she did Ron and Harry last year."
The senior Weasleys looked at each other. Finally, Mr. Weasley said, "It might take some doing, but I think it can be arranged." He turned to his wife. "Would two weeks from now be enough notice? I think the first weekend in December is the best for me. How about you, Molly?"
Mrs. Weasley nodded. "I'd better write that letter to Professor Dumbledore right away." She looked at her children. "I hope Harry knows what good friends he has. He's a lucky young man."
Ginny automatically looked for Harry as she strode through the common room the next morning. (He was nowhere to be seen.) She was feeling quite pleased with herself for having spearheaded the special weekend trip to The Burrow for him and Hermione. It would do them both good to get away from Hogwarts for a few days, and she knew Ron was looking forward to going home again just as much as she was. Hopefully, the four of them would obtain Dumbledore's permission to leave the school.
As for Harry, he hadn't been in the library when she had checked a few minutes ago; Ginny knew that Professor McGonagall wanted Sundays to herself, so Harry wouldn't be doing make-up work this morning. A thoughtful frown wrinkled her forehead as she trudged up the Girls' staircase to her dorm room. Harry could be anywhere in the huge castle or at Hagrid's, but she doubted the latter knowing that Harry hardly ever went down there these days just to talk. He's probably in the Room of Requirement again, she thought as she exchanged her toiletries for her school books. This may be my opportunity to talk to him without Ron or Hermione present.
She left the heavy bag on her bed and made her way back through the common room and past the Fat Lady who asked, "Didn't you go in just a few minutes ago?"
"Yes, I did. I needed to run up to my room for a moment." Ginny was just about to leave when a thought occurred to her. "Did Harry Potter go to breakfast this morning?"
The portrait thought for a moment. "No. He left early yesterday evening, but he hasn't re-entered. At least he didn't wake me up at an odd hour like he sometimes does."
Uh-oh. Not good. Ginny then said aloud, "Do you recall which way he went? This could be rather important if he hasn't returned."
Again, the Fat Lady was thoughtful. "Yes," she said slowly, "I'm certain he turned toward the Owlery. Is he missing?"
Ginny shook her head. "No. I think I know where he went. You've been quite helpful, thank you," she said, and turned toward the Room of Requirement hoping Harry would be there.
She was correct. Harry was again seated on the couch, lost in thought. He had drawn his legs close to his chest and was resting his chin on his kneecaps staring into the fire. It was a posture Ginny had seen him in many times before the hearth in the common room and as always, it tugged at her heart to see him like this. She walked over to the fireside and stood before him, hoping that she wouldn't startle him when she spoke.
"May I sit?" When Harry nodded she sat down next to him facing the fire.
"Neville told me you weren't at breakfast this morning." When Harry didn't respond, she continued. "I asked the Fat Lady if she had admitted you during the night, and she said no. I'm glad I found you, Harry. Hermione was getting worried." Ginny hoped this little fib wouldn't get back to her friend.
"She shouldn't have bothered. I was right here all along."
"I tried to tell her that, but you know Hermione...I think she took it more seriously than usual because Ron and I had to go home."
"Family stuff. You doing all right, Harry?"
He nodded, but seemed more interested in what the fire was doing than in continuing their conversation.
Yeah, right. Ginny thought. You're so all right you're hiding from your friends! You're not going to get away with this, Potter! She tried again to draw him out with the first thing that crossed her mind, his plans for the Christmas holiday. "Are you going back to the Dursleys' for Christmas?"
Harry's head whipped around, and he looked at her as though she had just sprouted antlers. "Are you kidding? Why would I do a stupid thing like that? Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon are about as fond of me as Ron is of spiders!"
Ginny grimaced. "That's not saying much."
"No, it isn't. But it's the truth. It's no big deal."
Realization hit Ginny hard. "I thought so," she said skeptically. She changed tactics. "It must be hard for you sometimes when most of Gryffindor House chooses to go home to our families during the holidays," she commented, compassion creeping into her voice.
Harry eyed her warily. It was as if he was trying to decide what to make of her comment. "You have no idea how hard it is sometimes," he finally admitted honestly.
Harry stood and crossed the rug to the fire. Turning to face Ginny, he said, "All my life I've wanted to be part of something I‘ve been denied by the Dursleys; a real family. When I came here and met Ron and Hermione, I finally felt as though I belonged somewhere. They liked me for whom I was and weren't scared of me because I was different. McGonagall was right-they became the first real family I'd ever had."
"What do you mean, Harry?"
Harry hesitated before explaining. "For the first time in my life Dudley wasn't around to intimidate the people who wanted to get to know me. That year I had a choice of where I could spend Christmas. I chose to stay here and Ron elected to keep me company rather than go with your parents to visit Charlie. That's when I finally understood what ‘Happy Christmas' was supposed to mean."
"That can't possibly be true! You must have been included in the Dursleys' celebrations, right?"
"I don't know how much Ron has told you about the Christmas presents they've sent me, but my only experience with Christmas at the Dursleys was to watch Dudley open mounds of presents every year. I sometimes didn't get to open anything!"
"That's awful! How insulting!" Ginny exclaimed indignantly.
"That's the Dursleys for you," Harry remarked glumly. Then he brightened. "You can imagine what it felt like to actually receive real presents for the first time!" Harry smiled, remembering, and began rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet.
"You know," he said thoughtfully after a silence, "I felt accepted by my other housemates, too, when I became Seeker for the Quidditch team. Suddenly, I was important for my abilities and I gained confidence with each game and practice." He stopped bouncing and leaned back against the mantle.
Ginny nodded. "I remember how excited everyone was my first year about our chances to win the Quidditch Cup that year, especially after that Slytherin game where a Bludger broke your arm and Lockhart de-boned it."
Harry grimaced. "Do you have to bring up Lockhart?"
Ginny smiled wickedly back at him. "In Gryffindor tower, at least, you were the most popular player on the team! You have no idea how worried everybody was after that game."
"I think I do," Harry said thoughtfully. "But it was short-lived once the Basilisk began petrifying people."
It was now Ginny's turn to scowl. "I think I've made my point," she said wryly as Harry chuckled.
He sobered. "That feeling of belonging changed last year. I was kept in the dark about Voldemort's activities last summer and by the time I got to Grimmauld Place, I was angry at everyone. It wasn't a good way to start a difficult school year."
"No one ever said Fifth Year was going to be a piece of cake, Harry."
"You've got that right. Especially with Umbridge around." Ginny watched in fascination as Harry began rubbing at the thin white scars covering the back of his right hand as he brought up the former High Inquisitor.
"She was definitely not everyone's favorite teacher," she commented dryly. "Well, maybe Slytherins'."
"Yeah, Malfoy and Parkinson practically fawned over her."
"And delighted whenever anyone from the other houses were given detention in her office."
Harry looked down at his hand. "I don't know which was worse; Umbridge ordering me not to tell lies or her banning me from ever playing Quidditch."
A frustrated sigh escaped Harry and his face took on a guarded expression as he suddenly demanded, "Remind me why we're talking about this."
Ginny sighed, too. She was feeling encouraged by how Harry was uncharacteristically opening up to her, and his abrupt change of heart was rather frustrating. "I dared you to tell me about your life at the Dursleys'," she said simply.
Harry turned away, staring over Ginny's head at the tapestry on the opposite wall. "Well, now you know," he mumbled.
"No, Harry, I don't. However, I suspect that last year you began feeling as though you had never left that cupboard they stuffed you into when you were little."
He didn't look at her. "You've got that right."
"I also know that Ron has told Mum and Dad and Siri- other members of the Order- about how abusive they are to you. Why else would Lupin, Tonks and Mad-Eye cornered the Dursleys at King's Cross last summer?"
Harry didn't respond verbally, but his body language suggested he was withdrawing into himself.
Ginny nearly panicked and kicked herself mentally. Everything had been going so well...and now she had almost ruined the moment by saying something stupid. She couldn't let the conversation just die right here after reminding Harry of how unloved he was. What kind of friend does that? she wondered.
There seemed to be one more hurdle she must ask Harry to jump before she could make her point and she knew she was treading on shaky ground as she said, "Ron mentioned once that the Dursleys tried hard to squash the magic out of you in every way possible when you were little- that they still do. I've seen the look of loathing in your eyes at King's Cross every summer and I think I understand how much you hate going back to Privet Drive."
"You've guessed it," Harry muttered, turning to face Ginny again. Her heart went out to Harry when she saw the dejected, somewhat angry look on his face. "Watching all of you go home to loving families tears at me every time summer holiday comes around, because when I go home, I'm treated like something lower than dirt."
"They hate magic that much?"
Harry began to pace between the couch and the fireplace. "It's not natural to be a wizard in their family, Ginny," he told her bluntly. "Whenever I did something as a child that they considered unnatural, they either gave me chores to do or shut me in my cupboard as punishment!"
At this, Ginny closed her eyes and shuddered. "And they even gave Dudley the things you wanted just for the pleasure of seeing you suffer!" she whispered. How could they justify such abominable treatment? It wasn't right: their conduct towards her friend made her so angry!
Looking up at the young man pacing in front of her she said sadly, "I'm sorry, Harry. I know I've dredged up bad memories and I shouldn't have. It's just that I'm trying to understand your correlation between living at the Dursleys' and your feelings about last year."
He stopped in front of her. "Don't you see it, Ginny?" Harry asked her vehemently, his frustration very evident. "Both Umbridge and now Professor McGonagall have taken away what I want most to do besides becoming a qualified wizard and possibly an Auror; they know I love Quidditch and they've taken that away from me. McGonagall seems to think that by denying me my place on the team I'll straighten up and get over what is bothering me, what is keeping me up at night. She is so wrong!" Harry turned back to the fire and banged his palm against the stone mantelpiece.
Ginny rose from the couch and went to stand beside him. "How is she wrong? I'd like to know."
"It's complicated," he said, seeming to clam up yet again.
Ginny decided it was time to ease up a little on Harry and change the topic. He obviously wanted to keep something private, probably whatever it was that he'd come here to think about in the first place, but she needed to let him know that he could talk to her.
"If you every need someone to talk with again, I'm willing to listen," she told him quietly and reached up to pat his elbow.
Harry glanced down at her touch, but she didn't withdraw her hand. "Thanks, Ginny."
"Any time." She paused, composing her words carefully and hoping what she was going to say next wouldn't put Harry on the defensive yet again. "Harry, I've been wondering about something and I'd like an honest answer."
Harry eyed her apprehensively, but made no comment.
"Is the reason you've made such a mess of this year your nightmares or your grief over Sirius' death? Or is it...something else?"
Harry stared into the fire for a long time before answering. "I suppose it's a little of both combined with something else. Last year wasn't a good year for me and I'm still feeling the effects, I suppose."
"I think we all are. Both the good and the bad. Look at how Ron finally realized what Hermione really means to him and finally acted on it? Or how about Neville? He proved to himself that he wasn't almost a Squib; that even though he has his limitations, he can still hold his own and be an important part of a fight if necessary."
"Those are the good things, Ginny. What I can't get out of my head are the bad things."
"I thought so... " She was silent for a moment, thinking. "Do you really think it's a good idea to dwell so much on the negative stuff?"
Harry began to pace. "It's best if I remember. So much of what's happened in the last year has been my fault."
"Oh, come off it, Harry," she said huffily, beginning to pace herself. "Thinking that you have to shoulder all the responsibility for what happened last year is uncalled for. You think it's the noble thing to do, but it isn't. Thinking that you deserve to hurt so much it interferes with your school work is not right! I've been watching you all year, Harry, and it pains me that you won't forgive yourself for being human. It's killing you, and I don't like what you're doing to yourself...neither do Ron and Hermione. You didn't ask to be who you are and you don't deserve to have your world turned upside down every time you turn around." She was close to tears now, but she didn't care. She was too emotionally involved in the moment and needed to speak her mind.
"I deserve everything that's happened to me, Ginny," Harry told her quietly.
"You don't, Harry. But I guess it doesn't matter to you how much others hope for your futureor want to help you shoulder your burdens. I can see you're determined to shut me and everyone else out." With that, Ginny sank onto the sofa and buried her face in her hands, letting the tears fall freely through her fingers.
She heard Harry approach and felt the cushions sink under his weight. "Ginny, don't cry," he said awkwardly, putting a hand on her arm. "I'm sorry I've upset you. Here. Wipe your eyes."
Ginny took the proffered handkerchief. She tried one more time. "We care...I care about you. That's why I'm upset and I hope you know you can always talk to me and I won't try to judge you."
"I'm beginning to see that. It's just going to take me a while."
They sat in silence until Ginny said, "But Harry, I still don't see why you left Gryffindor tower yesterday and didn't return last night."
"Think about it, Ginny. When you and Ron left without telling me yesterday morning what could I do?"
"Stay put and be safe."
"Yeah, like I'm really safe anywhere any more."
Ginny didn't like where this conversation seemed to be going, so she shifted tactics. "What did you do after you left the tower?"
"I walked around the lake mostly- don't worry, I made sure I stayed warm this time. When it got dark, I came up here. I just couldn't get over the fact that the two of you hadn't told me you were going home."
Ginny gasped, the realization of what he had just said finally registering. "Oh, dear! I'm so sorry, Harry! Ron was supposed to tell you we were going home days ago. Oh, I'm going to hex him into next week for forgetting to tell you our plans!"
"Don't. Gryffindor needs him Saturday for the Ravenclaw game. Ron needs to concentrate and having a residual twitch won't do him any good. It took Malfoy over week to recover completely from your Bat Bogy Hex last June, you know." Harry smiled at the thought. "There's no need to apologize, Ginny. I figured you had your reasons for telling only Hermione where you were going."
"But we were so thoughtless...."
"Just let it go, Ginny. I'm not angry with you or Ron." He turned to face her. "I'm finally angry with myself, though. You see, this is the first chance I've had to hole up somewhere and think about things uninterrupted, when I haven't awakened from a nightmare and had to deal with it."
Ginny nodded, trying understand what Harry was telling her.
Harry sighed and then continued. "For the last month, I've listened to Professor McGonagall's diatribe about upholding the Hogwarts educational standards and not letting self-pity ruin my chances for top marks if I want to be an Auror. Basically, she's been telling me to grow up. I guess I've known she's right all along, but have been too thick to admit to myself that I've been wrong about a lot of things. Anyway, I decided I can't wallow in self-inflicted misery much longer. It's not getting me anywhere and it's not much fun."
"What will you do?"
"Get rid of that pile of back assignments that is slowly dwindling in McGonagall's office a lot faster and keep up with my current homework load, for starters."
"That's good. What else?"
"Let's just leave it at that right now, all right? There is something else, but I don't want to go into it right now."
"Is there anything Ron, Hermione and I can do to help you?"
"No. This is something I have to deal with on my own."
"All right. I'll accept you want to keep this to yourself a little longer. Just think about this, though...when I was getting over that horrible year with Tom Riddle, Mum and Dad insisted that I talk about it once to get it over with. It took me most of the summer to work up the nerve, but once I did, my nightmares and depression were easier to deal with. They've never completely gone away, but I have ways to cope now." She stopped and looked deeply into Harry's troubled face. "I just hope that you'll find a way to master what's bothering you. I really do."
Harry stared at her for a long moment before muttering, "Yeah, me, too."
The two of them sat in silence watching the fire. Finally, Ginny glanced at her watch and found that it was past lunch time and she was quite hungry. Breakfast at The Burrow had been a long time ago. "Harry," she queried, "Have you eaten anything since yesterday morning?"
Harry shook his head. "I don't think I've eaten since Friday at dinner."
Ginny sighed in exasperation. "You need to take care of yourself better, Harry. You're going to get sick again if you don't."
For the first time that day Harry smiled genuinely. "You sound like your Mum," he told her.
Ginny smiled back. "Good. She'll be proud of me," she said. Then, to the Room itself she requested, "May we have a plate of sandwiches, some fruit, and something to drink, please." Moments later, Dobby strode through the door bearing a tray heaped with sandwiches, a bowl of assorted fruit, and a flagon of pumpkin juice.
"Here you are, Miss Weezy. Is there anything else Dobby can get for you and Harry Potter?"
Ginny smiled at the elf. "No, thank you, Dobby. I appreciate your bringing our meal so quickly and efficiently."
Dobby bowed low and left the room. Ginny giggled to herself at the thought that Dobby was actually slightly embarrassed by her praise.
Harry noticed Ginny's giggle. "What?" he said, irritated.
"Oh, nothing. Just a private thought. Here, help yourself. We're not going back to the common room until you've had a decent meal."
Harry acquiesced and he and Ginny spent the next three-quarters of an hour munching happily and talking about Quidditch.
Several nights later, Ginny quietly left her dormitory to make her way down to the common room. She'd been awakened by a nightmare and had found it hard to go back to sleep. Maybe a few minutes reading by the fire would nudge her toward slumber again.
She paused at the bottom of the Girls staircase. Someone was already in the common room, and since it was one in the morning, she didn't feel like walking in on two of the sixth or seventh years snogging in a corner as she had several other times. She never knew who was the most embarrassed; the couple she caught, or herself. At any rate, she listened for the distinct sounds of kissing and, hearing none, made her way through the dark toward her favorite squashy armchair.
She was just about to sit down when a voice called quietly, "Who's there?"
"Ginny Weasley," she replied, pausing. "Harry? Is that you?"
"Yeah. What are you doing up?" He was huddled at the very end of one of the couches facing the dying fire. He looked sad and withdrawn with his arms hugging his legs and his chin resting on his knees.
"Can't sleep. I've got a lot on my mind and decided to try to read myself sleepy," Ginny told him indicating her History of Magic book. "What about you?"
"The same," Harry muttered with a huge sigh.
Ginny walked over to him. "May I sit here?" she asked and plopped down next to him without waiting for an answer. It was then that she noticed his eyes were red and puffy and his face glistened with sweat. "Are you all right, Harry? Has something happened?"
Harry passed a shaky hand over his face. "No, it's nothing like that, Gin. I'm fine, really." He glanced at Ginny and seeing her skeptical look, tried again. "That's not true. I...I...Ginny, I had another dream. I woke Neville up it was so bad." He paused, seeming to steady himself. "It wasn't like those I had last year. No, this one was much more...terrifying...very dark and scary. I woke up screaming. Neville was shaking me awake to get me to stop. He said I was yelling that something couldn't be true, that it was all Professor Trelawney's fault. I've...I've never awakened Neville before; it's always been Ron who's gotten to me first. I felt so bad about it, I came down here."
It was happening; Harry was opening up to her. Ginny put a hand on his arm. "I'm sorry about your dream, Harry. Would telling me more about it help? Or would you like to talk about something else?"
"I don't know. There's a part of me that wants to tell someone and another that doesn't." Harry said with a sigh.
"Would you just like some company, then?"
"Yeah, that would be nice," he said and settled his chin back onto his knees, gazing steadily at the fire again as the emotionless mask he wore most days fell into place.
Ginny smiled at Harry, opened her book, and settled back against the sofa cushions, hoping that the tedious prose would quickly make her sleepy so that she could leave Harry to his brooding.
She had read three pages when she heard Harry inquire hesitantly, "Ginny?"
"Can I ask you something?"
"Do you...do you sometimes feel like you have no control over your life?" Harry had turned to look at her. The mask was still there, but not as intensely.
Ginny closed her book, keeping a finger between the pages to mark her place. "You mean like when Mum tells me I'm too young to be involved in something or I can't do it because I'm a girl?"
"Sometimes," she said pensively. "Especially when it has something to do with the Order I want to be involved in. Obviously, I'm not too happy about it. I hate being excluded and will voice my opinion, if that's what you mean."
Harry nodded, acknowledging her answer, then asked, "How did you feel last year when Umbridge started posting her Educational Decrees?"
Ginny thought a moment. "Angry, certainly. And maybe a little rebellious."
"But you were happy most of the time, even after Fred and George left?"
"I was sad when they left. I had thought we'd spend the entire year together, no matter how bad a year it was, and was a little confused as to why they hadn't directly told me and Ron what their plans were."
"You reckon they dropped hints, though?"
"I'm sure they did, but neither of us realized what was going on until the day they set off the swamp, even after their stunt with the fireworks," she said opening her book again to mark her place with her bookmark instead of her finger. "Come to think of it, Ron and I should have cornered Fred and George after they talked to you about their diversion and tried to dissuade them from doing it. Ron told me Hermione really laid it on thick that day." Harry smiled, remembering, as Ginny said thoughtfully, "I don't know why we didn't, although I remember not wanting to get in trouble with Professor Umbridge."
Harry nodded again and stared back at the embers. He seemed to retreat into himself once again at the mention of the former High Inquisitor and Ginny watched him stroke the scars on his hand for the second time in a week.
"Harry, what are you feeling right now?" she finally asked.
"I'm confused, Ginny. There's a lot of stuff swimming around in my head right now," he told her. "I guess I feel…overloaded. Scared, maybe, too."
"How so?" She waited in silence, her hand now resting on his shoulder.
"It's like I can't control what's going on in my life."
"Do you mean your grief over Sirius?"
Harry shook his head. "I deal with that when I'm on my Firebolt. Being back on the Quidditch team helped a lot with that."
"Then it must be something else?"
Harry didn't answer her right away. After a long moment, Harry seemed to shake himself mentally. When he spoke, his voice was barely above a whisper. "I heard the prophecy, Ginny. The one Voldemort wanted."
"When?" she murmured. She couldn't believe what Harry seemed to be about to reveal.
Harry's voice grew stronger as he continued. It was as though he had made up his mind to trust her. "I…I heard it...that night in Dumbledore's office."
"The night we fought the Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries?"
"How? I thought the ball smashed during the fight."
"It did...when I ripped Neville's robes." Harry stopped and ran a hand distractedly through his hair making it stick out even more than it had been. "Dumbledore retrieved his memory of it using his Pensieve, though."
"You're saying that the prophesy was told to Professor Dumbledore? Who was the Seer?"
"Professor Trelawney. She made the prediction to him when she interviewed for the position of Divination teacher before I was born."
A little "Oh," of surprise escaped Ginny as she assimilated this information. "So after she made the prediction, Dumbledore hired her?"
"It looks that way. Funny, isn't it, how my life seems to be full of such coincidences," Harry remarked dryly.
"I'm not certain I'd term it that way, Harry. It does look rather dubious, though, as if Professor Dumbledore had some ulterior motive." She paused, thinking. "I remember seeing the label under the prophesy. It had a bunch of letters, probably the initials of the Seer and receiver, a mention of V-Voldemort, and a question mark before your name. Do you know what it all means?"
He took a deep breath before continuing. "Uh huh. The sphere containing the prophesy was marked ‘Unknown' by the Department of Mysteries at the time the prediction was made. I reckon they didn't know who the second predictee was."
Ginny was beginning to see pieces of the complex puzzle fall into place. "But your name was added to the label? Why?"
"Voldemort killed my parents."
"And gave you your scar," Ginny volunteered and began thinking aloud. "So that means...that for some reason V-Voldemort singled you out. Harry, why would he bother trying to kill you when your parents were working for Dumbledore?"
"He didn't know all of the prophesy."
"But...how did he know about it in the first place?" Ginny frowned, thinking hard. "Don't tell me...someone was listening to Trelawney's interview...and they were discovered before Professor Trelawney finished with the prediction." When Harry nodded she continued. "Okay...Answer me this: how come only you were targeted? Weren't Ron and Neville and Seamus and Dean and Hermione and all the rest of your class born in 1980, too? Why weren't they earmarked?"
Harry sighed and said, "Trelawney predicted that the one to kill Voldemort would be born in late July to parents who were working against him. Ron, Dean, Seamus, and Hermione all were born in months other than July. And their parents were either Muggles or weren't defying Voldemort."
"So...that leaves...Neville? Oh, my..." Ginny stared at Harry as she said, more than a little alarmed, "His parents were Aurors! He was born in July, too!"
"How did you know that?" Harry asked, startled.
"Ron. He said something about it in passing several years ago. This is the first time I've thought of that..." She concentrated hard as she said, "So you're telling me that the two of you were singled out, but only one was given the scar. And...And..."
There was complete silence in the common room, save the popping of the coals in the grate, as Ginny gaped at Harry. "Merlin's beard, Harry! You...you've been chosen to...to...to kill V-Voldemort!" She exclaimed quietly. "Now I understand!"
He looked directly at Ginny, although he seemed reluctant to speak. "I…I'm a marked man, Ginny," he said flatly. "When Voldemort killed my parents and then tried to kill me, he marked me as…as the only one who can ever defeat him. Just as Trelawney said. Do you understand, Ginny, that no matter what I do, my life is not my own? That my destiny is to kill or be killed?" Harry shuddered.
Ginny took Harry's hand in hers. "That's a lot to deal with," she whispered.
"But that's it," Harry protested. "I'm not dealing with it. I can't get it out of my head that no matter what I do I will either be a murderer or a victim! I have no choice! Do you understand what that means? Do you? I do, and I can't face the truth! It's eating me up inside, Ginny, more than my guilt over causing Sirius' death. I can't eat, I can't sleep. I'm so distracted and scared I can't concentrate on anything except Potions!"
Harry wrenched away from Ginny and stood up, walking over to the hearth. He kept his back to her as he leaned his forehead against the ancient stone. "You're the first person I've told about this," he continued quietly. "I couldn't face Ron and Hermione in June knowing what their reactions would be. I couldn't face their compassion. They have no idea what a burden I'm carrying around. They'd be repulsed knowing what I know." Turning around he said, "Now that you know, I don't understand how can you calmly sit there and look me in the face when I've got blood on my hands!"
Ginny joined him in front of the mantelpiece. "It's all right to be scared, Harry. No one ever said you shouldn't feel that way. I mean, you're carrying a lot of responsibility!" she began. Again, she stepped closer and placed her hand upon his arm. "And as impossible as it seems, Harry, you are my friend. I've known you a long time; I think I know who you are. And because you're my friend, I don't look down on you because you can't change the circumstances in which you find yourself. I want to try to help you accept your fate. You're a good person, Harry, the best. No matter what happens, or when it happens, or how it all ends, I believe in you, even though you've never asked me to. Ron and Hermione feel the same. We would never abandon you or think less of you because you were chosen to vanquish V-Voldemort. I, we, will always be your friends."
Harry stared at her. "You mean it, don't you?"
"I do, Harry, with all my heart. And I hope that the knowledge that we're behind you will help ease your mind a little." Ginny peered into Harry's eyes. All she could see in the dim light was a look of astonishment at her words. She hoped what she was about to say would give Harry the idea that his friends would never abandon him.
"Ron was going to talk to you about something in the morning. Mum and Dad want Ron and me to come home for the weekend the first week in December. Charlie's coming home briefly and they want the whole lot of us to be there. They want you and Hermione to come, too, since you're practically family. Mum owled me tonight that the two of you have permission to come with us. Think on it, Harry, and talk it over with Ron in the morning."
Ginny yawned widely. "I need to get back to bed. Will you be all right?"
Harry smiled for the first time that night. "You know my answer already. I'll never turn down a chance to go to The Burrow. And yeah, I think I'll be all right, at least for tonight."
A few moments after leaving Harry in the common room, Ginny crawled back into bed and pulled her hangings shut. She took her wand from her dressing gown pocket and with a practiced flick, cast a silencing charm around herself to ensure privacy: if she got any sleep the rest of the night she knew it would be troubled. Her roommates didn't need to be rudely awakened by one of her dreams and with all she had been privileged to in the last hour she was certain her mind had new worries to experiment with. With a sigh, she settled back into her pillows and let her mind take over.
Why, oh why, did she always have to become involved with boys with "issues"? She seemed to have a penchant for taking on troubled souls! For all his normalcy, Michael had been so afraid to hex her during DA meetings that she doubted that he had learned a thing; and when he had, his concern over her well-being had been so intense that it had made her sick! Besides, he was almost as obsessed over homework as Hermione and often put his studies over her. As for Dean, he was so ordinary it was almost laughable. Certainly he worried that he and his Muggle parents would be targets for You-Know-Who, but he was nothing compared to Harry.
Poor Harry. Poor troubled Harry. She knew in her heart that he would not want her to think of him in this manner. He hated it when people pitied him. It was just that she suddenly had an idea of what it was to be Harry Potter.
Ginny had had no idea the burdens Harry had been carrying the last six months. As isolated as he had been during the summer, it was easy to see just how simple it would be to let the knowledge imparted to him by Dumbledore weigh so heavily on his shoulders that he became consumed by it. She wished he had said something sooner; but he hadn't been ready. If only he had trusted me or Ron or Hermione...Then again, it was so typical Harry to stoically remain silent while his friends watched him suffer.
She was certain that he had not told her everything. The rest of it, she felt, would surface in time. He had left her with the impression that what he had left out was just as troubling as the prophesy, that it was something deeply personal and possibly more important than knowing he was the Chosen One. The questions came fast and furiously. Could it truly be he was the only one who could vanquish Voldemort? Did he really have the power, yet undiscovered and untapped, to rid the world of the Dark Lord? Another, more startling thought suddenly surfaced. Ginny hoped she wasn't reading more into what had transpired between them down in the common room than was really there. Harry had trusted her tonight. Did they share some common experience or connection that was stronger than the wizard's debt between Harry and Wormtail? Was she somehow mysteriously connected to him through Voldemort other than their connection trough the Chamber of Secrets? The answers were as elusive as the questions were disquieting. She hoped that eventually Harry would trust her enough to finally tell her everything.
Brave, noble Harry. She felt her connections with him tonight more acutely than she ever had before.
They were connected by their mutual experiences in the Chamber. They had connected earlier this year as they struggled with the evil they experienced in their nightmares. They were connected by their adventures at the Department of Mysteries. They were connected by her concern for him as she watched him struggle to accept what life had thrown at him. Harry wasn't just her brother's best friend any more: he was her friend, too, no matter how intricately they were connected through Voldemort.
Dearest Harry. The Harry she had cherished since she was little...
He had unknowingly wrapped himself around her heart from the first time Bill had told her Harry's famous story. For as long as she could remember he had been there causing her to blush and giggle when she thought of him. Then, when he became Ron's best friend, she had wanted him to be her best friend, too. It hadn't worked out that way since he saw her mostly as Ron's little sister and did not reciprocate her feelings. Therefore, she had spent a good deal of time during the past two years trying to "give up on" but not "get over" him. For Ginny, there was a subtle difference. To her, "giving up" meant moving on, exploring other relationships, while still maintaining their friendship rather than dumping Harry completely. She could never do that, because no matter how hard she worked to exorcise him from her heart, he refused to budge. She wanted his friendship and trust, and wanted him to see that she had changed and grown while he wasn't looking. From where she stood now, though, it didn't look as if Harry wanted to be more than friends with her. Would he ever? Only time would tell. In the meantime, Ginny was willing to explore relationships with other boys.
She had wanted so much to have a normal teenaged girl's life fancying and dating a myriad of boys before ultimately choosing the one to spend the rest of her life with. Her time with Michael Corner had taught her a lot about feelings and respecting another's views. It had been a great experiment that hadn't really worked, though; Harry had always been at the back of her mind and she had found herself comparing the two with Michael always lacking. No one, it seemed, could compare to Harry.
As for Dean Thomas, Ginny had told her brother on the train home at the end of last year that she had chosen Dean, but had omitted that Dean, at the time, didn't know. The truth was that she and Dean were just friends; their friendship could best be explained as platonic with no romantic connotations whatsoever. It amused Dean, once Ginny had owled him about the situation and asked for his cooperation, that Ron was such the "protective older brother" when it came down to Ginny's affairs of the heart. Dean, it transpired, was having just as much fun bating Ron as Ginny. Many evenings, as part of their ruse, they studied at the same table while corroborating on assignments from their Muggle Studies professor; it turned out that Dean was quite helpful when it came to explaining the intricacies of Muggle life from an insider's point of view. Ginny was grateful to Dean for going along with her scheme, and wondered sometimes what Harry thought of their being a "couple." Did he even think about her with other boys?
My Harry? Maybe if he could get past his "issues" he would feel confident enough to notice her. She wanted him to notice her and thought it would be nice to be able to call him her boyfriend. However, the question was would he want her for his girlfriend? Only time and circumstances would tell, and in the meantime, they were friends...
She had meant what she had said to him about never abandoning him. She had realized for the first time tonight that the crush of her younger years had changed over time and developed into deeply rooted feelings. She didn't really know how to define how she felt; she knew some would call it "love". She decided the word she wanted was ‘devotion'. However, if it was love, was it the kind of love that would last an eternity like that of her parents or the kind that burned hot for a short time and then fizzled? Whichever it was, it certainly had gone unrequited; but she was content with that, for she knew now that she had Harry's friendship and for this moment in her life, that was enough. If he needed her, she would be there for him no matter what.
Ginny lay in these comforting thoughts during the wee hours of the morning, letting her body relax further against the pillows. Soon, she slept and did not stir again until Hermione, probably due to Ron's concern over her absence at breakfast, brought her some pumpkin juice and a stack of toast shortly before lessons.
~~To Be Continued~~
A/N: As always, I am grateful for the time and effort my beta Aggiebell put in to read over this chapter...twice! She is a delight to work with and I look forward to her comments each time I send her a chapter. Thanks...
If anyone has spotted the reference to the lyrics from the title song, "You're Still You" sung by Josh Groban on his debut album, congratulations. When I first heard the song, I knew that one of Harry's friends would have to sneak at least some of the words into a conversation. Full acknowledgement of the song, its composer, and lyricist will be given at the end of the next and final chapter.
Thank you for reading and reviewing. I hope you have come to appreciate Ginny as much as I have.