A/N: Thanks to the normal people: Sherry, for the fantastic beta job, and Enna, for being my idea-bouncy-off'er-person.
At around two that morning Ron stumbled into the flat, having been sent home by an irritated Hermione, who had an afternoon shift the next day and desperately needed to get some sleep before dawn. He sighed, wishing he could have kissed her goodnight - she'd pushed him out of the bedroom so quickly he hadn't even puckered his lips before the door slammed in his face. They hadn't even done anything - just talked. Ron stared at the crumpled coat Ginny must have left on the ground in disbelief. Talked.All night! And she'd accused him of being secretive and insensitive! Well, just wait, he'd show her secretive! Ron was anything but - hang on, was that a man's coat??
He bent over and snapped it up. Definitely a man's coat. What the hell was another man's coat doing in his flat? Had Ginny brought someone home? Was he still there? Ron glanced up incredulously at the clock - it was two AM!
He tried to recall if Ginny had mentioned if she was seeing anyone lately. He couldn't remember. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time she'd gone out with anyone- unless she hadn't bothered to let him know, which was always possible (Ginny didn't appreciate brotherly concern as much as one would imagine) - that last bloke, Adam, that was what - two years ago? Ron shook his head. He'd almost forgotten that his sister was still young and very much capable of doing... certain things he didn't want her to be doing for another decade, at least! Nevermind that Hermione had called him hypocritical. Hermione always had a name for everything Ron said or did.
Still, the nerve of the bastard! To be in his flat all night, alone with his sister! A familiar surge of brotherly protectiveness went through Ron; he clenched his fist in the material of the jacket and went into the den to stand by the banister. Merlin help him if they were upstairs. He paused by the bottom step to listen. There was no sound, thankfully. Ron furrowed his brow - perhaps Ginny brought him home, done the deed, and he'd left? Anger stabbed at him. How dare that bastard be callous enough to treat his sister like - like some sort of scarlet woman?
Well! If he was stupid enough to leave his coat behind then the prat deserved what he was about to get.
Laughter rang out in the kitchen and Ron snapped his head around. They're still here! The git hasn't gone, after all!
He was going to have to have a long talk with Ginny after this. Grimly, Ron marched into the kitchen, flinging the door open. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
The prat was sitting with his back to the door, across from Ginny, who holding a mug of hot chocolate and laughing as she spoke. Startled by Ron's entrance, she looked up.
"Ron!" A wide smile spread across her face. "I thought you were staying over at Hermione's?"
"I thought you had work tomorrow!" he said accusingly.
She rolled her eyes at him. "No, tomorrow's Saturday. Besides, I'm too excited to sleep - you'll never guess who's here!"
"That's what I want to know, too," he snarled, whipping out the coat.
"Can't say hello, can you?" he snapped, ignoring his sister's bewilderment. "You'd think a bloke would have better manners after shagging my sister, but obviously not -"
Ginny's mouth fell open. "What on earth-"
"Hello, Ron," interrupted a voice. "Sorry to disappoint you, but we really were just talking."
The voice was distinctly familiar, and amused. Ron stopped short in the doorway, and took a good, long look at the face that beamed at him from beneath a head of messy black hair. Green eyes. Scar.
Holy dung beetles.
"Harry?" he croaked. "Is that you?"
Ginny really had been keeping a lot of secrets from him, thought Ron in a daze, as Harry stood up and embraced him.
"What are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be in Paris?" Ron sputtered, completely floored by Harry's presence. "I haven't seen you in three years, you prat!"
"It's a long story," Harry said, pulling back to grin at him.
"You've got a lot of explaining to do, mate," he said, flinging his arm over Harry's shoulder. Now that he'd got over the initial surprise, Ron was ecstatic, and the questions poured out of him nonstop. "I can't believe Hermione's not here! She's going to kill you! Why didn't you owl me to let us know you were coming? What, did Hedwig die?"
Harry laughed. "No, she's alive and quite well."
Ron shook his head, still disbelieving.
"Hot chocolate?" Ginny asked him wryly over Harry's shoulder. "I assure you it's not post-coital."
Harry was up and about long before Ginny awoke the next day, brewing tea in the kitchen. They had stayed up late the previous evening talking into the early hours of the morning but he didn't look remotely tired - in fact he was the exact opposite, cheerful and friendly, offering her wonderfully hot, steaming, delicious tea and a copy of the Daily Prophet.The offer was enticing, but she was still groggy and knew she looked like something the cat had dragged in, so Ginny declined and proceeded to lock herself into the bathroom to make herself a little more presentable.
She smiled into the mirror as she brushed her teeth, thinking about what they'd talked about: Harry had told them about his travels, wonderful tales of foreign cities and exotic places that Ginny listened to eagerly. She could have listened to him speak of palm trees and Stonehenge forever, but he'd stopped eventually and playfully demanded that they tell him about what they'd done in the last three years. Ron took his word for it and started raving about the Chudley Canons - the team he played for - and how they had made it to the finals this season. In between their long-practiced banter and comradely chatter, Ginny hadn't been able to get another word in edgewise. She hadn't minded too much - it was a pleasure to see Harry, and a better one to hear him talk so comfortably and freely in front of others. She could see that his decision to travel had been a good one.
She went back into her room, pulled open the doors of her wardrobe, and flipped through the hangers. Robes, robes, robes - maybe the blue set she'd got from Gladrags last Christmas as a gift to herself (worth the money, really, though it made Ginny unbearably guilty to think of the exact amount she'd spent on them) or should she go with the dusty mauve? Either one might be a bit much though, Ginny thought, since the blue was actually made of silk, and her mauve robes were meant for special occasions. She came across the spangled, self-ironing, beautifying, slimming, fattening, lengthening, and temperature-adjusting robes that Mrs. Weasley had picked up for her one summer (from Madam Malkin's sale in Diagon alley), and bit her lip to keep from laughing. The robes had come with a free frog-skin belt, as well - isn't it absolutely adorable, Ginny?The green sets off your hair so well! Unfortunately, it never got the opportunity to set off anything, as Ginny hadn't worn it once (she would rather die).
Actually, she decided, robes were probably not a good idea. It was the weekend, after all - robes were presumptuous and unnecessary, and besides, Muggle clothing was actually quite comfortable when it came down to everyday wear. Ginny flipped through her hangers to the opposite direction, until she reached the skirts, blouses and trousers in the back of her closet.
Too short, too long, too orange... ugh, where did I buy that?? In the end, she settled on a nice light blue skirt, and a floaty white blouse that was perhaps a tiny bit low in the front (not that anyone would really notice - or so she hoped... well, maybe just one person...) because it had a scoop neck.
Ginny looked at her reflection. Her hair was a little on the stringy side today, but this was a vast improvement over how she must have looked last night, opening the door. Wet, exhausted and miserable. Gee, what a great combination. Frankly, she was still surprised Harry had enveloped her in a giant hug on her doorstep - right after she'd managed to croak out a shocked "Harry?" whilst staring at him in what she imagined had been a not-so-becoming way. Most people, she thought wryly, would have run away in terror at the sight of her in that state.
Not Harry, though. Harry had smiled at her and the first thing that had come out of his mouth (aside from 'Hi') had been, "It's great to see you." Ginny was still recovering from the shock of seeing him standing there in the drizzle, his hair as dark and unkempt as ever, his eyes still as vividly green as she remembered them. He hadn't changed at all in three years, appearance wise.
She pushed her hair off her face and breathed deeply, looking into the mirror again. Had she, herself, changed much in those last few years? Was she taller, thinner, fatter? Was her hair still as red as it had been, was her face adorned with more freckles? Did she look older? Or had she not changed at all, the way he hadn't? She didn't know, and no matter how hard she scrutinized her reflection, she couldn't tell.
Ginny's stomach grumbled, and she shook her head, shutting the wardrobe door firmly.
Breakfast, she thought, willing the nervous butterflies in her stomach to go away. What's the matter with me, she wondered, why am I so tense? The pangs of hunger almost drove them out, but not quite. Oh well. There would be time to deal with that particular demon.
Ginny bumped into Harry as soon as she'd walked out of her room, turning to close her door (she'd left a mess of clothes on the floor which would have to be sorted out later). She'd backed into him accidentally.
"Hi," she breathed, flushing. "Sorry, I didn't see you there -"
"Hi," said Harry, smiling. "I was just going to the loo..."
"Right," she said awkwardly, stepping aside to let him pass. Her arm tingled ever-so-slightly where his arm brushed it. What on earth was that??
Harry had begun to make breakfast in the kitchen, there was an open package of bacon lying on the counter, so Ginny fetched a pan from the cupboard and her extra wand - her old one, actually, the one she'd used throughout her years at Hogwarts. It was rather ancient in design, and covered in scratches and dents, but she was too attached to it to toss it out. So she kept it tucked neatly between a bag of extra-fine sugar and a jar of pickles that had come with the apartment in the upper cabinet beside the stove. It was a rather strange place to keep a wand, but it came in handy, particularly when she was cooking.
A few minutes later, Ron padded into the kitchen, barefoot and in his pyjamas. His hair was a wild mess, and unlike Harry, he showed signs of having been deprived of sleep. Ron blearily opened one eye and stared at her.
"Are you going somewhere?" he asked, cocking his head.
Ginny blinked. "Who?"
"You," he replied, rubbing his stubbly red chin. "Why are you all dressed up?"
"I'm not... dressed up." Ginny felt her face flush. She turned around to look at the stove instead so he wouldn't see her face and tended to the bacon, willing herself not to blush.
Ron threw her back a bemused look, shrugged, and sat down at the table, reaching for the pitcher of milk. "Where's Harry?"
"He's in the bathroom," she said, flipping the sizzling bits of bacon in the hot frying pan.
"Fry me an egg while you're at it, will you?"
Ginny rolled her eyes over her shoulder at him. Lazy git. "Fine, but get me the eggs yourself."
"You have a wand!" he pointed out.
True. She flicked her wand at the cupboard across the room and a carton of eggs flew out of it, landing softly in her outstretched hand. She set the carton on the counter and made another quick flick of her wrist. Two eggs rose from the tray of a dozen, and cracked themselves neatly on the side of the pan. Ffzzzz! The new additions to the pan sizzled loudly, and Ginny got rid of the egg shells by levitating them to the rubbish bin.
"Anything else, Master?"
"Fresh squeezed orange juice, my girlfriend in a silk nightie, and a Firebolt X-2, please."
Ginny snorted. "Sorry, brother dear, all you get is a side of bacon."
Ron heaved a melodramatic sigh, and picked up the copy of the Daily Prophet that lay beside his plate.
"I didn't know Firebolt X-2's were available already," said Ginny, raising an eyebrow. "Aren't they supposed to be even faster than the latest Cleansweep?"
"They aren't," said Harry from the doorway. "Not until next fall, I think."
"And yes," replied Ron, flipping idly through the newspaper. "About twice as fast."
"Acceleration of 200 mph in 8 seconds," said Harry, taking the pan from Ginny and motioning for her to sit down. "Redesigned handle, double coating of diamond polish and it comes with its own graduated breaking charm, among many other fine features."
Ginny nodded, impressed. She hadn't ridden on a broomstick for ages. Not since leaving Hogwarts - and she discovered suddenly that she really quite missed it. Ron, being on the Chudley Canons, was naturally up to date on the latest models, but it surprised her to see that Harry, too, had kept up.
"Ragmar says he'll try to get us on them next season," said Ron, sounding a bit smug. "He reckons the league sponsors will heft the bill since we made it to the finals this season."
"That'll be one big bill to heft," commented Ginny wryly. "They aren't cheap, are they?"
Harry grinned. "I'm still on my old Firebolt," he said, gesturing at the broomstick tied to one of his trunks stacked against the corner wall of the kitchen. "I didn't do much flying this winter, unfortunately. Too many blizzards in the Alps."
"Lucky you," said Ginny wistfully, "You got snow. We had a grey Christmas."
"Rain, rain, rain," muttered Ron. "Let me tell you, I was pretty damn glad when it stopped raining and we got sunshine for a while. English weather."
"At least you didn't get caught in a storm," said Harry, emptying the eggs onto Ron's plate. He dished the bacon onto another plate for Ginny. "I remember huddling in a tiny cave about 40 km above sea level."
"How did you get back down?"
"I Apparated, once I'd warmed up enough to remember that I could."
Both Ron and Ginny laughed at that. Harry looked amused at the memory, but continued frying strips of bacon as he reminisced aloud about other unfortunate situations that had arose during his travels. Ginny listened contentedly, enjoying the sound of his voice and the way Ron would insert a sarcastic comment every now and then.
"I think we ought to move these things," said Harry ruefully, after tripping over his broomstick handle for the third time, as he moved between the stove and the table, serving more bacon. It occurred to Ginny that he hadn't mentioned any plans now that he was back. He'd only spoken of what he'd done, not of what he was going to do next.
"Harry, what would you have done if Ron and I weren't home last night?" asked Ginny, frowning at his luggage. "Did you have a place to stay?"
"Er - well, no," he admitted, dumping the pan into the sink at last. "I came back on short notice, and I didn't really know where to go last night - that's why I came here. I didn't think you would turn me out."
Ron smirked into his plate of eggs. "It's not a problem," he said, yawning copiously. "You can stay here. We've got a spare bedroom, haven't we, Ginny?"
"Well, yes..." she said slowly, her voice trailing off.
"Yeah," said Ron, a smile growing on his face. "I reckon you can move in here with us, and we'll split the rent!"
Ginny threw him a sharp look. Here? But that would mean that she would be living with two men. Ginny was torn - on one hand she wouldn't mind sharing a house with Harry at all. On the other, she had... hesitations. There was the question of what others would say. What their landlord would say. They couldn't exactly hide him. Ginny caught Harry's eye apprehensively. He was regarding her, clearly waiting for her to speak.
"So?" asked Ron, lifting an eyebrow. "What do you say?"
It's not like Ron won't be here, she told herself, catching Harry's doubtful expression. She felt guilty, for having to deliberate. Besides, she couldn't deny that having a third split in the rent would be a big help.
"I can always find a hotel if it's inconvenient," said Harry, clearing his throat. "I don't want to impose on you -"
"No, no," said Ginny hurriedly, "That's not necessary! Of course you can stay here!"
So the matter was settled. Moving in was simple - Harry didn't have any belongings that had to be shipped over. Just his luggage and that was quickly moved into the spare bedroom. Hermione came over after work, furious that Ron hadn't owled her right away the night before to let her know Harry had come home. Together (a bit like old times, thought Ginny wistfully, watching from a side) they conjured up a bronze plaque that read 'Harry's Room' and fixed it upon the door, in memory of the system that had once been implemented at the Burrow. Ginny's mouth quirked up a little, thinking of her childhood home. She was willing to bet the rooms, though empty now, were still exactly how they had been before all the Weasley children had moved out.
"There. Finished," said Hermione in satisfaction, sheathing her wand. They all stood back to admire the shiny plaque, bearing Harry's name on it.
She stood up on tiptoe to kiss both Ron and Harry on the cheek. "Welcome back, Harry."
Harry smiled at her. "Thanks, Hermione."
The rest of the week passed by in a whir of old friends, visitors, and good cheer for Harry. All the Weasleys who were currently residing in Britain came by at some point. Bill brought Fleur and their two little girls, Aly (truly a Delacour-Weasley with her vivid red hair, heart-shaped face, and startlingly blue eyes) and Ellie (who Mrs. Weasley raved about being the FIRST WEASLEY EVER with blonde hair!). Fred and George, sporting shocking new haircuts (purple-Mohawks!?) and flamboyant robes swung by one evening and set their kitchen on fire. After Ginny had thoroughly panicked (and hexed them) they'd laughed and told her it was a new gag of theirs, best used by those seeking revenge. Ginny kicked them out of the house and figured out how to tear down the illusion within an impressive ten minutes.
Even so, their visit did not quite compare to Percy's, in Harry's mind. Percy had come up the steps heaving a giant, elaborately decorated basket of fruit (made up to look like some kind of float). He'd worn a very humble (!!) and apologetic look on his face, and seemed to be on edge the entire duration of his visit, until at very last he'd blurted out in one breath that he was sorry for what he'd done back in Harry's fifth year and that he knew he'd been quite thick and blind and that Percy would be ever so grateful if Harry could find it in his heart to forgive him. To which, a taken aback Harry had laughed, and replied that he couldn't even remember what had happened. (Which was partly true, so much had happened between then and now that he'd been shocked to discover how guilty Percy was still about the whole thing.)
Following that was the circle of old friends and Hogwarts classmates - Dean and Parvati called, bringing with them Seamus Finnigan, who was now the anchorman for Stream 5 News on the WWNV (Wizarding Wireless NetView), and the very same afternoon Neville Longbottom dropped by, looking as cheerful and clumsy as ever. He knocked over two picture frames, fell on the stairs, and somehow managed to break an ugly figurine of a ballerina Hermione had bought for Ron, which made Ginny rather happy. Tonks, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Alastor Moody popped in one afternoon for tea - Mad-Eye insisted on interrogating Harry on his travel habits and wasn't appeased until Harry told him he exercised constant vigilance no matter where he went.
They had visitors galore, but after the first week, things died down a little. Truth be told, that wasn't the only interesting change that Harry's presence in the house brought. What really set Ginny out of sorts was the fact that she wasn't used to having to share her living space with a man - Ron didn't count, because Ron spent nine out of ten nights over at Hermione's - and secondly, Harry was strangely neat. Ginny herself wasn't a slob, but the way Harry picked up dropped cushions and placed them back on the sofa, or cleared away his dishes right after he ate from them made her uncomfortable. He didn't seem to mind picking up after her, either, and that was distinctly embarrassing.
Then there was the issue of explaining the arrangement to her parents, in particular Mrs. Weasley, who didn't like the idea of Harry's bedroom being right next to Ginny's. She had to fight to keep a straight face while Mrs. Weasley fussed about locks and extra curtains on the windows (something which Ginny didn't entirely understand). Harry watched politely and took Mrs. Weasley's concerns very seriously, a tactic which actually did help in the end. She seemed to be convinced by the end of the day that Harry was a perfect gentleman, and would take care of Ginny like he would his own sister.
Which was probably true, she reflected. Harry treated her much in the same way Ron did, only he was a bit nicer and didn't complain as much. Ginny figured she should count her blessings - at least now that Harry was here, she wasn't alone so much. It was nice to have someone to come home to every night, and Harry made a wonderful companion.
The best part was that they got along so well these days. They were both older, and - well, at least she thought so - wiser. Not that they'd really ever not got along with each other, but there had been the occasional spat now and then, particularly during Harry's angsty teen years. Ginny herself had been no better at sixteen. The best way to describe it, she supposed, was a clashing of wills.
Certainly they'd had their fair share of arguments. Not little squabbles - no, those belonged to Ron and Hermione, who seemed incapable of letting a day go past without at least a little bickering - but real fights. Harry was - or had been - maddeningly protective. In some ways he was worse than Ron - no Ginny, it's too dangerous; no Ginny, you can't come with us; no Ginny, this isn't your fight - enough to drive her insane. She was touched that he was concerned for her well-being, but honestly! It wasn't as though Ginny were made of glass. Admittedly, she'd always been on the small side - and she still was - but it galled her every time Harry decided she wasn't up to par with him and Ron and Hermione.
Ginny understood, she saw his talent and admired him for it. She respected Hermione's skill, and she even grudgingly admitted to herself that she could learn a thing or two from her brother. But she was annoyed that Harry didn't seem to notice her ability - it was as though he permanently looked down at her through a distorted glass of his second year. Ginny did not need saving anymore. Harry didn't seem to want to stop.
That was really when the crush stopped. Suddenly Harry wasn't so great anymore. He was just another boy, with a slightly more interesting past than most, and a slightly more handsome face than some... but there were plenty of good-looking boys at Hogwarts. He had never liked her like that, anyway. It was time to accept it and move on, she'd realised, and it had helped that she'd had Michael around to keep her distracted. He was a nice boy, really, and more insightful than most people gave him credit for.
Of course, he was still just a boy, and boys got jealous, boys did stupid things. Boys thought that if a girl joined an army run by her older brother's best friend, cheered for him, respected him, and generally spoke positively of him it meant that she liked him in a non-platonic way. Which, ironically, was rapidly becoming the exact opposite of how Ginny felt about Harry. As her fourth year drew on, she thought less and less of Harry and more and more about him. About what he was doing, what he was facing, and how she could help him. In a way she was trying to redeem herself for her weaknesses. It wasn't about getting him to notice her - it was about saving him, so that she could finally be free of that particular shackle on her life.
She decided she didn't want to be in love with someone who wanted to save her all the time, anyway. It was annoying. If Harry couldn't bring himself to respect her as a witch, then he didn't deserve her affections. Of course, she still admired him and liked him, but Ginny was not about to go on languishing over a boy who didn't realise she existed. So she made it her mission to show him just how capable she was.
Then the unexpected thing happened, and Michael and Cho got together. Ginny found it extremely ironic, but she thought of it as another sign: boys just weren't worth the trouble. Things with Dean ended on the same note: everyone she liked seemed to like someone else better. It stung a bit, but there was little time for romance anyway. Voldemort was back, and the mere thought of him instantly killed the mood.
Well, for some people.
When Ron and Hermione started going out(secretly, they thought, but no one was that blind) Harry spent more time on his own. It suited him, though, which bothered Ginny. She thought that the last thing Harry should be allowed to do was wallow in misery and dig himself deeper into ridiculous, self-blaming thoughts. It was a painful reminded of her own experiences, and she had learned her lesson well: Never let yourself be alone. Don't be stupid again.
So she made an effort to talk to him whenever he looked dangerously alone, or lost in what could be bad thoughts. She joked with him, tried to find out what sort of things he liked to do best with his free time, and cajoled him into doing them with her. Ginny even bullied other people into the cause. Harry didn't understand why Neville kept following him around, chattering incessantly, and why Colin Creevey suddenly decided it was his mission to teach Harry the intricate details of developing Wizarding Photos, or why Luna Lovegood was suddenly so keen on reading his palm and telling him he'd be a very rich business man someday. In the end, it became clear that the only thing that truly made Harry happy was flying, and playing Quidditch, so Ginny went out of her way to play badly, thus necessitating extra practices and lessons from the Captain - Harry himself.
They became friends. She found that she quite liked his company when he wasn't being sulky or protective, and she thought he may have felt the same. Sometimes she allowed herself to believe that a tiny part of Harry may have liked her in that special way, because old habits die hard, and because... well, he was Harry. But then she saw how protective he was, how easily he dismissed the jealous glances of other girls, and she almost instantaneously realised: I've got another brother.
It didn't hurt too badly - not nearly as much as she would have thought. Some part of her had already decided long ago that it was hopeless. She didn't need another brother, but she liked Harry too much to hold it against him. Just to see how he would react, she dated Dean again briefly (who, at the time, was on the rebound from his fifth break up with Parvati), and Harry, quite brotherly, had a chat with Dean and came back, looking pleased with himself. Ron also returned a couple of days later, looking confused after finding out that someone had beat him to the 'hurt-my-sister-again-and-you-die' speech. That was the final nail in the coffin that held Ginny's hopes.
Being Harry's friend got harder after that, particularly in his last year. The war waged on, tensions were high, people were dying and it wasn't just names in the Daily Prophet anymore. It was terrifying. Harry became so paranoid Ginny thought he was channeling Mad-Eye Moody in his sleep.
They had their first big fight in March of that year. Harry was trying to shut Ginny out. He was planning to find Voldemort alone, and fight him alone. Harry was trying to save her again. She hated it.
To this day Ginny still didn't know what had possessed her to do it, but it had seemed like the right thing to do at the time. They were in the middle of a Quidditch match, and Harry's voice, 'I don't want you getting hurt for me!' kept echoing in her head.
Then she saw the Bludger.
It had hurtled out of nowhere, and Harry, who it was headed for, didn't look up. She'd seen the Snitch gleam next to him. She should have screamed or shouted out a warning. Likely Harry would have dodged it if she had, but this did not occur to her until afterwards, in the Hospital Wing.
Instead she'd shot forward on her broom, directly in front of Harry, intercepting the Bludger's path with her body. It hit her squarely in the chest, knocking her off her broom, and breaking two of her ribs. Ginny fell for what felt like ages. When she landed, pain exploded in her leg and she realised dimly that it must have been broken, too.
A couple of seconds later, before she blacked out, Harry landed with a careless thud, flinging his Firebolt and the Snitch aside. He dropped to his knees beside her, absolutely shaking with fury.
She'd merely smiled up at him, defiantly, as if to say, 'You can't stop me.'
He never did try to stop her after that.
"I've got the weekend off," said Ginny on Friday evening, after Ron and Hermione had disappeared to a dinner Hermione's research partner was throwing for their colleagues. She worked as a researcher for St. Mungo's, developing and investigating the sources and cures of several new magical afflictions that had popped up in recent years. Ron thought it was the most boring job in the world, but Hermione enjoyed her work immensely.
"Excellent," said Harry in return, grinning at her. "I wanted to take you out for dinner."
"I was going to cook," she protested, gesturing at the ingredients for pasta she'd left out on the counter. "You needn't waste your money -"
"It wouldn't be a waste," he said firmly, shoving his hands into his pockets. "I wanted to catch up with you. We didn't get a chance to talk much before Ron got home, and the rest of the week has been hectic."
In fact, they'd actually had at least an hour that night, but most of that had flown by for Harry. He'd not been able to believe his eyes, when the door had opened, and it had been Ginny standing before him, looking every bit like she had at sixteen. Perhaps a little taller (though not by much) and her hair was wetter than he remembered it ever being, but still - wonderfully Ginny. It was then that he realised just how much he'd missed her presence in the last three years.
For a brief, but vivid period of his life, Ginny had been his cornerstone. He'd never told her this, of course, but he thought she might have an inkling of just how much he owed her. It was clearly obvious that she'd been one of the few things that had kept him sane, in his last year of Hogwarts, when everything else in his world had fallen horribly apart.
Three years, thought Harry, marveling at the world of difference - and indifference - it had created. Some things were exactly as they had been, others would never be same. He couldn't quite decide if Ginny was the former or the latter.
He still hadn't quite figured out what to do with himself, even after three years of roaming the world and seeing as much as he could see. Certainly Harry had seen many things, met many people, heard many stories - but the story he most longed to hear was his own, and it seemed that it was the one story he couldn't lay his hands on, no matter how far and wide he searched for it. Then, on a particularly stormy evening three weeks ago, while riding in the last compartment of a train headed for Luxembourg, Harry had been struck by a huge, aching desire for... home. The pattering of raindrops against the streaked window panes had reminded him painfully of riding on the Hogwarts Express, of the enchanted castle with its enchanted ceiling, and of people, of friends that he'd left behind.
He got off at the station in Luxembourg and promptly turned around, going back where he had come from.
Harry knew it was bad form, to show up like that on their doorstep without so much as a note in advance, but his decision had been abrupt, and what with Hedwig delivering Remus' birthday gift to him, Harry hadn't really had a means of contacting them. Remus, after inheriting Number 12 Grimmauld Place and the rest of Sirius' family fortune, had opted to move to the countryside, to a quaint little Muggle village to live out the rest of his days. Harry was happy for him. He deserved a little peace and quiet after all that he'd had to endure.
"It must be great," sighed Ginny, staring at him enviously as she boiled the pasta, "Being the epitome of freedom."
"I needed some time to get used to the idea," he said, breathing deeply. "Being free isn't something I know a lot about. I really intended to go through with Auror training, you know. It just... didn't work out that way."
Ginny nodded, and she didn't question him about his decisions the way others had.
"That's life," she said reflectively, prodding at the simmering pot. "But I think you're going to have to get used to it - you've got an entire life of it ahead of you, after all."
"I know," he said, relaxing against the back of the chair. "It's a bit frightening, to tell you the truth."
"All that money and time," teased Ginny. "Whatever will you do?"
His lips curved into a smile, but his eyes stayed thoughtful. "There's a lot to do in the world. I'll find something."
"You will," she agreed.
"In the meantime, I'll help you cook."
Ginny laughed. "Well, that's the first time a man has offered to help me cook. Ron doesn't know a teaspoon from a colander."
"I've cooked my entire life," said Harry mildly, unaware of the admiring look Ginny threw him. "It's no big deal. I learned a few things on my travels, as well. You'll have to let me cook for you sometime."
"That would be wonderful," Ginny said, stretching her arm to reach into a cabinet.
"What do you need?" Harry stood up. "I'll get it."
"Just the salt -"
He rummaged about in the cabinet, sorting through the unopened bottles of spice, and pulled out a few tubes of toothpaste in puzzlement. "Why do you keep toothpaste with your cutlery? And floss?"
"Long story," she said wryly, stirring the pot. "Can you pass me the salt shaker, then?"
He did, looking at her curiously. "What happened?"
"Well, Mum and Dad went on holiday with the Grangers last year, after Ellie was born. You should have seen Mum - she was looking worse than Fleur by the end of the pregnancy, so Ron, Dad and I made her go. Hermione asked her parents to take Mum to Prague with them, and they said yes, I suppose they wanted to get to know their future in-laws better." Ginny paused and handed Harry a fork. "They must have hit it off really well on the trip - I mean, Hermione's parents are dentists. He's sent Dad tons of tubes of toothpaste and toothbrushes and floss. We've got jars of floss, in different flavours. Mum sends them over to us when they run out of room, or Dad can't brush his teeth fast enough before the next parcel comes. It's almost sweet, really."
Harry laughed. "How does he have the time when he's Assistant to the Minister for Magic?"
"Harry, it's Dad. He finds time."
"Fair enough," said Harry, grinning. He felt his grin softeninto a smile. "What about you? How have you been doing?"
Ginny doled out the pasta onto two plates, setting one in front of him and sliding into the next seat with her own plate. She took a casual mouthful before she started.
"I'm working for the Ministry, you know that. Actually, I'm in Dad's old Department - Misuse of Muggle Artifacts, only I got in after he was promoted, so we never had to work together. I think he's a little bitter about that, but Bones keeps him busy. You wouldn't think so, but he gets more regular hours than I do - his boss is nice. I work for the biggest moron in the entire wizarding community - Botham." She shuddered, rolling her eyes at the name, and Harry had to hide his grin. "I would launch into a detailed description but I don't want you needlessly losing your appetite."
"He sounds terrible," said Harry sympathetically.
Ginny speared another piece of pasta, nodding. "He is. I hate him. Dean does too."
"Yeah - you work together, I assume?"
"Yes, we've been working under Botham for about two years now."
"Ah," said Harry. He peered at her in mild interest and felt an inexplicable twinge in his stomach as she lowered her eyes from his face to focus on her food instead. She dangled her fork in the air for a second.
"So," she said brightly, looking up again. "Are you seeing anyone?"
"Me?" He was taken aback. "Well, no, I've not been in one place long enough in the past three years to really get to know anyone."
"Pity," said Ginny teasingly, taking a sip of water. "I bet you tempted quite a few women, though."
Harry gave her an amused look. "Why do you say that? I never told anyone who I was. I don't think many of them recognized me - there were a few here and there who wanted an autograph, but for the most part," he said, eyes twinkling, "I was Perry Weatherby."
Ginny's lips twitched. "The twins have forgiven him, you know, after he unsubtly went out of his way to help them get a permit for their fireworks factory."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "That doesn't sound like Percy."
"We've all got our own issues to sort," she said mildly. "I'm just glad to see Mum happy again. Thirsty?"
"What about you?"
"Are you seeing anyone?"
"Erm," she said, looking slightly flustered. "Even if -" She paused and stood up, going over to the stove. "Oh damn, the sauce is burning - well, I'm really busy anyway, and like I told Dean -" She burned her fingers on the edge of the pan and let out a small yelp. Harry winced, watching as she sucked lightly on her thumb, although for entirely different reasons. Dean, he thought, how could he have forgotten about Dean? Ginny had dated him on and off during her last three years at Hogwarts, and as far as Harry remembered, they'd been together at Christmas four years ago when he'd visited the Burrow briefly during Auror training.
"- I've got a lot on my plate right now," she continued, "Speaking of which - could you pass me one of those, please? Yes, just off the counter - thank you."
"No problem," he muttered, wiping his sweaty palm on his trouser. "You still see each other often, though?"
"Oh, yes, we work together, remember?" she replied, scraping the contents of the pan onto the plate, shaking a lock of hair off her head. "Practically everyday."
Everyday? Harry's stomach sank a little. Did they spend much time together outside of work, then? He spun his mug in his hands uncomfortably. "How is he, anyway? Very busy, I assume?"
"Yes, I suppose," Ginny disappeared behind the door ofthe fridge briefly, but he could still hear her voice, and the sound of her steps descending into the cellar. She came back up, holding a jar of olives. "You wouldn't think it though, the amount of time he still makes for his girlfriend."
"Oh," said Harry, setting down his mug with a clang. "Does he come over a lot, then?"
"Hmm?" Ginny frowned at the jar, trying to open it. Harry would have offered to open it for her, but he knew she wouldn't appreciate the gesture - Ginny was quite the feminist, even if she refused to admit it - and he was too preoccupied with the idea of Dean, lounging in the living room, or Dean sitting in the very seat Harry sat on, or... his was distracted by the small frustrated sigh Ginny made, as she gave up on the jar and reached for her wand. She thwacked the top of the jar with it, emitting sparks, and the lid popped off, landing in Harry's lap. "Sorry, Harry - what were you saying? Oh, no, not really. I've only ever been to his flat once or twice myself."
Once or twice? Harry blinked. "Er - he doesn't live with his parents, does he?"
"No, of course not," said Ginny, laughing. She threw Harry a questioning glance. "You seem awfully curious about Dean..."
Harry cringed inwardly, but he merely shrugged, hoping she wouldn't notice the heat creeping up into his face. Was it too obvious? Did she think he was being overly nosy?
"I'm just catching up on people, that's all," he said slowly. "It's good to hear that you're all doing well."
A strange, pained expression fluttered over Ginny's face, as though she'd just remembered something.
"What's the matter?"
"Well -" she began, flustered, "There was a bit of an accident on our raid yesterday, you see - Dean's actually in St. Mungo's right now..."
Harry lifted his head in surprise. "He is?"
Ginny nodded, and muttered something about futons.
"Shouldn't you be visiting him?"
She looked vaguely guilty. "I would, except - well, I was planning to go again today - oh damn, I forgot to owl Parvati, I hope she knows - but you showed up, and I - I forgot completely..." She looked nervously away. "You must think I'm terrible."
On the contrary, Harry thought himself horrible, for feeling a flash of (hopeful) pleasure to hear that she'd forgotten all about her boyfriend (who was hospitalized!!) because of him. Then he frowned, wondering why she had mentioned owling Parvati. What did Parvati have to do with any of this?
"I hope this doesn't interfere with their plans," said Ginny fervently. "I'd feel so terrible - but the Healer told me one week, and his bachelor party isn't until then, so -"
"His what?" blurted Harry, practically hooting.
Ginny gave him a startled look. "His bachelor party - I'm sure you're invited, now that you're back -"
Harry struggled to form words. "-You mean - there's going to be a wedding?"
"Yes," she said, beaming. "Isn't it wonderful, Harry? A wedding!"
"Congratulations," said Harry weakly.
She laughed at him. "Save that for when you see him and Parvati."
Ginny waved her fork in his face, looking amused and slightly bewildered. "Harry? Hey - over here. Wedding, remember? They're getting married next month. We're all invited."
Oh. "Right," he said, blinking. A small smile spread over his face. "I'll make sure to be early."