Authors Note: The characters, places, and environs of this story were created by JK Rowling and are the intellectual property of herself and her publishers. It is not this writer's intention to violate their rights in any way nor is any money being made from this work. Indeed, this little story is actually an off-shoot of other pieces of Fan-fiction, "Carpe Diem" and "Alpha and Omega" written by Imogen who has graciously allowed me to play with her toys for a few moments. Thanks for the beta and the help with my English, Genie, you've been great!
Author's Note redux: This story is actually the first piece of fanfic I ever posted. I had lost all but one of the very first drafts and thought the final lost when GT left us. When Sherylyn suggested that I might want to post this here on PS as well as Adaptations I was despairing ever being able to get the story into the same shape that it had once been in. Once again, however, the fair Imogen came to my rescue and found a copy of the final version. My dear beta here at Phoenix Song, Kalarien, has also looked it over and helped to polish it even further. I thank both of these lovely ladies for their invaluable assistance and I hope that any of you who deem to read this story enjoy it. It's pure H/G fluff with just a touch of angst for flavor. I'm not very good at either, as you all well know, but this seemed to work. Irregardless, here is my little tale of what happens to Harry, Ginny, and Hope after the fall of Voldemort in "Alpha and Omega".
With a pair of small pops Ron and Hermione Apparated into the kitchen of the small cottage that Harry and Ginny had rented in Hogsmeade. Seeing no one about, they moved through the doorway and into the living room. Immediately they saw Harry. He was sitting on the edge of the sofa with his head in his hands. 'Poor bloke's probably sound asleep,' Ron thought but Harry slowly rubbed his hands through his unkempt hair showing he was awake.
"Hi, Harry!" Hermione said brightly coming closer. Harry looked up, blinked at them and budged over nearer to Hope's crib, which sat at one end of the sofa, to make room for the two.
"What brings you ‘round?" Harry said quietly.
"We thought we would just pop over and give you two a Valentine's Day present," Ron said. "Reckoned you could use a night out and since Hogwarts is having a dance tonight..."
"We thought we'd come over and mind the baby so the two of you could go to it," Hermione finished.
"Surprise!" from Ron again.
"Thanks," Harry said softly, "but I'm afraid you've wasted your time. Ginny's not here."
"What do you mean 'She's not here'?" Ron's eyes went wide, "What's she doing? Don't tell me she's up at the library studying! It's Valentine's Day! You two should go out somewhere and be together."
"Well, that's not likely to happen."
"Well, just pop up there and get her out! I'm sure she'd like to go to the dance. She's a girl after all."
"Ron, just be quiet," Hermione said. She had twigged that something more than studying was happening. She knelt in front of Harry and put her hands on his knee. "What's wrong, Harry? Where's Ginny?"
"That's just it Hermione, I don't know." After a second Harry added in a whisper, "Ginny doesn't live here anymore."
"WHAT D'YOU MEAN SHE DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE!" Ron screamed.
"Ron, please, you'll wake the baby." Hermione said softly, "besides, I don't think shouting is going to help any." She turned back towards Harry and took his hands in hers. "What exactly do you mean Harry? Ginny doesn't live here anymore?"
Harry raised his head and looked each of them in turn, his words were spoken softly but cut through the air like knives. "She's moved out. Back to the Gryffindor dormitories, or at least that's what she said, I don't really know for sure."
"You can't be serious? When?" Ron sounded like he understood the words but refused believe them.
Hermione swatted him and Harry just hung his head.
"I suppose it started just after Christmas."
"That was almost two MONTHS ago!" Ron fumed, "Why didn't you tell us."
Harry looked straight at his best friend. "What was I supposed to say? 'Happy New Year and, oh, by the way, your sister walked out on me and the baby'?"
"You mean to say that she hasn't seen the baby...her baby...since Christmas!"
"She has stopped by... a couple of times, at the start of the new term, to pick up more of her things. She saw Hope then... but then she left again."
"Do Mum and Dad know?"
"NO! And you can't tell them. This...this would just kill them," Harry pleaded and then added like a prayer "Maybe things will work out."
"How, Harry?" Hermione asked gently, "How did this all start?"
"Well, I suppose it really started when she started studying for her term exams in December," Harry started slowly, as if the words themselves hurt to speak but gained momentum as the tale went on. "She had a group of friends that she would study with. Well, one night they were up really late revising for Potions and by the time they stopped they were all exhausted and so Ginny just kipped into her old bed in the dormitory for the night. She came home early the next morning to tell me what happened, so I'd not worry." He smiled faintly but only for a moment. "Well, we spoke about it and I said it would be OK, if she was out late studying and didn't want to waste all that time walking home when she needs her sleep like that she could...you know, stay in the tower for a night here or there. At first she would spend only a night there but when everybody went home for holiday her group decided to stay and spend the time really cramming for the NEWTs or so she said. Then it was two nights in a row. Then three and by a couple weeks into the term she had more clothes there than here. Then she stopped coming home all together."
"Maybe she is just trying really hard to do well on her NEWTs?" Hermione ventured. "She had a rough time of it last year and maybe she had a lot of catching up to do? Maybe."
Harry shrugged, "Maybe. I thought that for awhile, but then she didn't come home at the weekends either, she didn't owl, nothing, and then it struck me."
"What struck you, Harry?"
"That she was…"
Harry looked up at the wall in front of him. He didn't know if he had the courage to say this out loud, the truth he didn't want to hear spoken. "That she was home...or at least where she wanted to be and it wasn't here."
"But why?" Hermione asked, "Why did she leave?"
"She said she wasn't getting enough time to study and with her NEWTs coming up..."
"But Harry, that can't be it. There has to be something more."
Ron began to pace the room. Turning past Hope, asleep in her crib, he shook his head. "It just doesn't make sense. Why would she leave? You didn't do anything did you, Harry?"
"Ron!" Hermione leapt to her feet.
But Ron continued, "You didn't...I mean...There wasn't...you know...another woman? Was there?" Hermione just gaped, wordless that Ron could ask such a thing.
"No, no other woman." It seemed to physically hurt Harry to get out the next words. "But I think there might be...another man."
"Harry! You can't mean... that you... and a... I mean..." Hermione cuffed Ron in the back of the head.
"Harry, really. I can't imagine that Ginny would ever do anything like that. I mean, she's devoted to you and Hope. She just couldn't."
"Yeah Harry. I know it sort of took me a while to get used to the idea of the two of you together, I mean in the beginning... She's my sister, my little sister and the idea of you, don't get me wrong, Harry, you're great, my best mate and all, but Ginny, she's just, you know, my sister and the idea of her and anybody." Ron shook his head and looked at the carpet, after a moment he raised his eyes again and looked straight at Harry. "Then things happened and I got to seeing that you two're just so perfect. I mean, you just, y' know, fit. She wouldn't have. She never would have done anything like that. She just couldn't."
Harry didn't answer. He just rose and went over to the fireplace. Reaching onto the mantelpiece he picked something up and handed it to Hermione. Ron leaned over her shoulder and saw it was a photo, a Wizarding photo, of Ginny. She was standing next to a rock on the shore of the Hogwarts lake. She was just standing there but, as they watched, another figure entered the shot. It was obviously a male, another student. He walked up behind Ginny and reached out to her. Taking her by the upper arms he turned her towards him as he leaned over and then he kissed her. The motion ended there, with the two of them locked in a kiss, then abruptly the scene restarted with Ginny standing alone looking out over the lake.
"Harry, this doesn't prove anything..." Hermione stammered.
"Doesn't it?" he asked. "You know the Muggle saying, 'a picture is worth a thousand words'? Well a moving picture...that must be worth a lot more."
"But Harry, it's still a snapshot. You don't know what happened next."
"I...I don't think I want to know what happened next," Harry stammered as he turned away and returned to the sofa. He sank back down and buried his head in his hands, oblivious to everything but his grief.
Hermione turned to Ron and whispered, "There's something just not right here."
Ron answered shortly, "That's for sure and my guess is that it's Ginny that's the not-right part."
"Ron! How can you say that? She's your sister!"
"And she's Harry's wife! Just look at that picture. You have to admit, it's not good."
"No, I'll admit that. It doesn't look good" she said hesitantly. "But still. Something's just not right. Look at this picture again, Ron."
"I've seen it once, thanks, and that was enough."
"Really Ron, ignore who's in it. Just look at it critically."
"I can't, Hermione, I can't ignore it. That IS Ginny and the bloke she's kissing is NOT Harry, not her husband. I just can't get past that."
"Well then go talk to Harry," she said curtly, "you're no help to me."
"About what?? Quidditch?"
"No, you prat, about how he feels, about what he wants to do."
"Hermione... I don't think I can do that. I mean, mates just don't talk about that stuff."
"You mean you don't care!?"
"No, I care, you know that. It's just...I dunno...That mushy stuff...It's for you girls not us...blokes just don't."
"You mean to say that you would rather see him miserable than talk to him about it?"
Hermione's mouth drew into a very thin line that looked like nothing so much as Professor McGonagall in a particularly foul mood.
"Ronald Weasley, you march right over there and you help your friend, your best friend, deal with this, because if you don't...so help me, I'll..."
"OK, OK, I'll go...I'll talk to him...about his..." Ron squirmed, "feelings. But you owe me one."
"No Ron, you owe Harry. And a lot more than one."
Ron turned and went to Harry on the sofa, while Hermione turned her full attention to the photo.
"C'mon, budge up," he said. Harry looked up morosely and moved over to make room.
"So, Harry," he began "I guess all this has been pretty rough, huh?" Stating the obvious, he thought to himself with a kick, that's a great way to start.
"You could say that," was all the reply Harry gave.
"It must make you feel sort of...terrible...and stuff." He was no good at this, Ron thought, he barely knew how he felt himself half the time, how was he supposed to talk about how Harry felt?
Harry just shrugged his shoulders and said, "Hmmmp".
"I mean, we're mates you know, and if you felt like talking...it'd be, y'know, OK."
"It might help, you know... To talk about...it... Do y'think?" It was a question for the both of them.
"So, d'y'want to?"
"You know, talk about it. How you're feeling and all."
Harry shrugged his shoulders and sank his head back into his hands. Ron looked at him and shook his head.
"Well, that's all for this then."< Ron said abruptly, then he leaned over and using both hands gave Harry a hard shove that nearly knocked him off the sofa.
Harry barely kept his balance and gave Ron a shocked look. Then he did the only thing he could do. He shoved back, just as hard as he could. Ron rocked back and grabbed the arm of the sofa to keep from falling. Then he shoved again and Harry grabbed his arms and yanked. Ron fell into him and grabbed Harry around the ribs. With a grunt the two men fell to the floor. Hermione looked on in shock.
"Ron! Harry! What are you doing?" If she expected an answer she was disappointed for the two of them were entirely too occupied with trying to rip each other's arms off to speak. With a wave of her wand Hermione sent Hope's crib rolling into the kitchen, following quickly with a Cushioning charm to bring it to a safe stop. With a prayer she listened to make sure that the commotion hadn't disturbed the baby then cast a Silencing charm at the doorway to spare her from hearing the crashing as her father and her Uncle Ron began to roll around on the floor.
Now Ron had Harry in a headlock but Harry reached forward and around and grabbed one of Ron's legs. He lifted with all his might. Ron toppled backwards and his foot caught at an end table causing a vase perched there to fall to the floor and shatter.
"Ron! That's the vase we gave them for their anniversary!" Hermione shrieked. "Reparo!" The shards of the vase flew back together and the repaired vase sat once again on the end table. Just in time for Harry to knock it over with his arm as he swung at Ron's head.
"Accio!" Hermione called, summoning the vase from mid-air safely into her arms, but not the end table. Harry's leg snagged it as Ron spun him around and sent it flying into the stone fireplace.
Harry launched himself at Ron and with a grunt sent him crashing onto the coffee table, which collapsed under their combined weight. Ron put Harry in another headlock and was pulling him around the room when Harry drove a thumb in between Ron's ribs. With a yowl Ron let go. The two men faced each other over the ruins of the living room furniture.
"So," Ron panted, "feeling better?"
Harry stopped and looked quizzically at his friend. A trace of a grin crossed his mouth and he said, "Yeah, a bit. I guess."
"Good," Ron said between gasps. "Well, d'you love her?"
"My sister, do you still love her?"
"Enough to fight for her?"
Harry stood straight and nodded fiercely, "Yeah."
"Well then, what are you standin' round here for?"
Harry nodded his head in firm resolution. Both Ron and Hermione knew that look and they knew what it meant, they had both seen it often enough. Harry turned and went for the door.
"Uh, Harry?" Ron called.
"What is it now?" Harry said as he impatiently turned back towards them.
"If you're planning on crashing the dance, you might want to change first," Hermione said quietly.
Harry looked down and grinned. His robes were in a shambles from the scuffle, torn right down the middle and in several other places as well.
"Yeah, I guess you're right there. I think I've got something in the bedroom."
Ron followed him in, ready to start the fight all over again should Harry's resolve begin to fail. Harry grabbed a clean and pressed set of robes from the wardrobe and Ron helped him into them.
"I got them for one of those ceremonies the Ministry held last summer, I guess they'll do," Harry said.
"They're clean and I don't see any tears. What more could you want?" was Ron's reply.
The two of them left the room and Harry continued out the front door.
"Don't worry Harry," Hermione called after him, "we'll watch the baby for you."
"Yeah," Ron added, "all night if we have to!"
After the door was closed Hermione turned to Ron and asked, "Did you pick out that outfit for Harry?"
"Nah," he answered, "Harry did. Said it was from one of those Ministry shindigs last year. Why?"
"Figures it wasn't you."< She said ruefully, "He looks absolutely smashing in it. All the girls in Hogwarts will be swooning over him. That is if Ginny doesn't kill them all in a jealous rage first."
"Hermione," Ron asked quietly, "do you think Ginny really could've...?"
Hermione looked at him firmly and answered, "No, I do not. Something's going on here. And that picture is the key to it. Now you go and mind Hope, and don't go disturbing her. I want to have a closer look at that photo."
Adrian Baine did a slow turn around the dance floor feeling rather pleased with himself, as usual. The girl on his arm was lovely and by the end of the evening, he felt assured, she would be his.
"Yes, I do believe I've done it," he said smugly.
"Done what?" replied Amanda Torres.
"Why broken up the happy couple, of course." Then he added with a leer, "Don't you remember our little wager?"
Amanda idly flipped a curl of her black hair over her shoulder. "Oh I remember all right." For the millionth time this year she wondered what had compelled her to make that bet. In fact, she wondered what attracted her to Adrian at all. Oh sure, he was dead sexy and cultured but he was also self-absorbed, vain, and he had yet to spend an evening with her without insulting her. Yet she had made the bet and, to be honest with herself, she wouldn't mind losing all that much.
"Adrian," she asked, "why are you so set on splitting them up? I mean it can't be just our silly bet. I mean, I'd be willing..."
"NO! It's not the friggin' bet!" he snapped. "And I know you'd be willing. I knew that when we made the bet."
Amanda felt her face flush. The bastard!, she thought, why did he always have to do that? She let out a long breath and said, "Then why?"
"Because I can, that's why."
"That's not a reason."
Adrian sighed, as if he were talking to an ignorant child, and explained. "When you did up your hair this evening, did you use magic?"
"Why?" Then before she could answer he continued, "Because you can. Why do things the Muggle way when you have the power to use magic? Did you use magic to press the wrinkles out of that little shift your wearing yet again?"
Her face colored again, just because she didn't have the money to buy a new outfit every time she went out like he did that didn't give him the right to...
"Of course you did. Why? Because you had the power to. The very reason we all are here at school is to learn to use the power that we all have," he sneered a bit at this, "at least in varying degrees. So why am I going to break up that insipid little couple? Because I have the power to." He smiled. "Just think of it as another type of homework exercise."
"But it's not right to use people like that," she stammered.
"Not right to use people?" His tone of voice made her want to slap him. "Come on, we all use people. We do it all the time."
He did a quick turn about, in perfect time to the music, to better view the other people dancing, and to be viewed by them.
He continued, "I'm using you. You're using me..."
"I most certainly am not!"
"Don't be dim, my dear Amanda. You are trying with all your might to use me. You like my money, you like being seen with me, and you like the idea that one day I might decide to let you marry me and take you away from those dregs you are forced to live with."
Amanda flushed again. Why bother with blusher at all, she wondered, since this bastard seemed to insist on making her do it naturally every chance he got. Yes, she admitted, her family was not wealthy, but they weren't poor either. Not like the Weasleys. She had everything thing she needed, and her clothes and books were not hand-me-downs. At least, not yet. Her father had been a Death Eater, though a minor one, but still that had been enough to get him a life sentence in Azkaban. And now her family was without an income, living off what little money there was saved over the generations. Still, she thought, that could turn around. If she could just marry well, then maybe her uncles and brothers could leverage that into better jobs and more things for the family. She hesitated, maybe Adrian was right after all, she realized, maybe I am just trying to use him. Maybe that's why I'm so willing to put up with his insults.
"Don't frown that way, Mandy. Maybe, just maybe mind you, I will decide to marry you someday. You do come from a fine pureblooded family after all, even if they are currently... 'underpaid' shall we say? And you do look good on my arm. Besides, frowning leads to premature wrinkles and we wouldn't want that."
Amanda pulled herself closer to him, to hide the frown she still wore. There's got to be a better way than this, she thought to herself.
"Still, you know Adrian, you haven't won the bet just yet."
"What do you mean? She's here alone isn't she? She's been living in the dormitory since the beginning of term?"
"How did you manage that by the way?"
"Oh," he said smugly, "It was quite simple really. Back at the beginning of the Fall term I overheard her in the library. She was bragging to her friends, telling them the tale of how she and that Potter fool had defeated the Dark Lord. She told them all that she had Potter under some love charm or other that bound him to her and that during the fight the Dark Lord had severed it. Now she was afraid that Scar-Boy would see her for the poor wretch that she is and fall out of love with her. After that, it was child's play. I pretended to befriend her in class, helping her to catch up in some of the Potions work that she had missed, all the while slowly feeding her fears and insecurities. By Christmas she was convinced that he was bound to leave her sooner or later and the only thing left for her was to beat him to it. It was all just so simple."
"But they have a child, how could you convince her to abandon her own baby?"
"How could she care for it? She has no money, no prospects. That runt was obviously better off staying with him than it would be with her." He put on a sickeningly unctuous tone. "Out of love for the baby she had to leave it where it could be best cared for."
Amanda shivered at just the tone of his voice. "But that doesn't mean she won't go back to him," she countered.
"Ahh, but I've already taken that into account, my dear. Even if she should try to go back to him, I doubt that the Wizarding World's little hero would take her. Not after the little Valentine I sent him."
"The picture, you stupid girl, remember? You're the one who took it, after all."
"Yes, I know," she said with as much haughtiness as she could muster, "but, if anything, that shot would just show that she'd done nothing wrong."
"If I had sent the picture as you took it, yes, but that isn't the way I work."
"What do you mean?"
"Sometimes, my dear Amanda, half a truth is better than none." He smiled down at her in a way that made her wonder what half-truths he was telling her.
"Besides," he said with a tilt of his head towards the door, "I think we will shortly be witness to the final act of my little play."
Amanda turned her head to look and gasped at what she saw.
Ginny Potter nee Weasley stood next to her best friend, Carissa, just slightly apart from a knot of younger girls in front of the refreshments table and looked out at the couples dancing. She was tapping the toes of one foot lightly but Carissa noticed that it was not in time to the music. Ginny was extremely distracted.
"Ginny," she asked for the umpteenth time this evening, "tell me again why we're here?"
Ginny's head jerked around to look at her friend, "Yes, it is a great party isn't it?"
"Hullooo...Ginny! Are you even with us?"
Ginny looked down at the floor and flushed. "Aw, I'm sorry Carrie. I'm a little distracted I suppose. What did you say again?"
"I asked 'What in Merlin's name are we doing here?'"
"What do you mean? It's a school dance and we're attending," she said. "It's called having fun."
"Oh? Are we having fun yet?" Carissa replied caustically.
Ginny looked about to reply then saw it was no use. "You could be," was all she said.
"How? It's a Valentine's Dance. D'you see my boyfriend around here anywhere? 'Cause if you do, I'd like you to introduce us. I'm curious to see what he'd look like. But more to the point Gin, what are YOU doing here?"
"I'm sure I haven't got the slightest idea what you're talking about," Ginny replied coolly.
"C'mon Gin. You've been moping around since the beginning of term. You've been nothing but miserable the whole time. What the hell are you doing here? You've got what every girl in the tower would give her eyeteeth for, every girl in school for that matter, if not the entire Wizarding World. What happened? Let me try to help."
"You wouldn't understand Carrie. Nobody would." Ginny scuffed her shoe against the floor in irritation.
"Oh yeah, I forgot," came the sarcastic reply. "Ginny's problems are so unique, so rare that we mere mortals wouldn't stand a chance of even beginning to comprehend the difficulties of having a wonderful husband who has proven that he would move the very world for us, and a beautiful baby, and everything. How could we?"
Ginny's head snapped up, her eyes bright. "That's not fair and you know it!" Carrie relented, she hadn't meant to hurt her friend but she needed somebody to kick her in the bustle. "Things are complicated..."
"Sure they are, Gin," she said quietly, "but you're going to have to face them sometime. And the longer you wait the worse it gets."
Ginny nodded slowly. "I know but I can't help but be afraid."
"Afraid of what?"
"That it's already too late," came the soft reply.
"Well, you might think it's too late," she said looking over and beyond Ginny's shoulder, "but somehow I don't think anyone's told him that."
Ginny followed Carissa's gaze and saw Harry standing by the doors to the Great Hall. He must have just entered and he was looking around the room. Ginny noticed he was wearing the dress robes she had picked out for him the previous summer, when all of the celebrations were being held for the final defeat of Lord Voldemort. It was vaguely military looking, almost like a uniform. Sharp creases ran up the broad legs of the jet-black trousers. The vestments were a rich scarlet with gold piping at the lapels and collar, the Gryffindor colors. On top of it all was a cloak, cut more like a cape than the usual and thrown over his shoulders. It was as black as the trousers and lined with scarlet. It was held closed by a gold clasp and had epaulettes of gold braid at the shoulder. It looked fabulous on him with his black hair and flashing green eyes. Ginny glanced at the other girls in the hall and saw the looks on their faces. Her cheeks burned with possessive jealousy and she turned away to conceal it.
* * * * *
Harry strode into the Great Hall of Hogwarts determined to bring Ginny back with him. He looked around the room, searching for her. He noticed the decorations, balloons hung suspended in the air, streamers of pink and white ribbons curled down from them and draped across the ceiling above him. Magical white frost glittered on the tall windows catching the light in shimmering patterns. The center of the hall had been cleared and couples twirled around it as music played. Large round tables had been set up around the dance floor and were filled with people laughing and enjoying themselves. They were children Harry noticed, although many were scarcely more than a year younger than he. His last years at school had been filled with the tensions of the war raging outside against Voldemort, there had been few occasions for dances then but now the fear was gone. Harry then realized it was not so much that these students were children but that they could be children. With the threat of Voldemort and the Death Eaters over, they had abandoned their worries and were free to enjoy their time at school without having to worry about what was happening outside the walls of the castle. He wondered what it was like, to attend school without being haunted by fear. He envied them this time but knew that he, himself, could not go back to it. It was too late for him; time had moved on and carried him with it, he was finished with school and now bore the responsibilities of his child and caring for her.
His eyes passed over the crowd, recognizing only a few of the faces, and then he saw her. She was standing by a long table covered with trays of pastries and finger sandwiches. She held a cup of punch in one small hand. Her back was turned to him so he could not see her face but he knew her all the same. The light scattered in her hair, showing more flashing tints of red than Harry knew existed and his heart leapt in his chest. A single fiery rose in a garden of winter blooms. He looked at her for a moment, drinking in her beauty, when he suddenly understood.
The understanding struck him physically and he took a half step backwards at the impact. He turned away from her, struggling to come to grips with this newfound knowledge. She hadn't run away from him, and she hadn't been taken. She was here because this is where she belonged. It had been his fate, decreed long before his birth, to face the Dark Lord, not hers. He had been destined to fight that battle and live with the consequences, not she. Yes, she had given him strength, and he had drawn her into the battle. She had freely given of her youth and herself to aid in his fight. She had risen to the challenge and together they stood until the end. But the end had been reached. The fight was over. Could he really blame her for wanting to live what was left of her childhood? Could he be so selfish as to expect her to not to want this as he would want it in her place? This was her time not his. He had taken from her more than he had any right to and so he could not deny her what little there was left. His anger drained away as he realized that he could never ask that of her and so he would go. Quietly and forever.
Harry turned towards the doors of the Great Hall, intent upon trying to remain unobserved. His breath was short and try as he might he just couldn't seem to fill his lungs. It felt as if an iron band had been wrapped tightly around his chest, exerting a constant pressure that stopped him from drawing breath and forced his heart to pound so hard it felt as if his ears were about to burst. His eyes burned and his vision blurred through the tears he fought not to shed. He tilted his head back, trying to look as if he were watching the bewitched ceiling and hoping to swallow back the tears before anyone could see them.
He was about to step out of the hall when he felt someone tapping at his shoulder. He blinked hard and turned back. His heart stopped as he saw it was Ginny. Her eyes held his and he fought not to show how it affected him.
"Harry?" she asked. Harry just nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
"Harry. May I?" He tilted his head at her, puzzled, and she waved a hand at the dance floor. "May I have this dance?"
Harry didn't know what to say and didn't trust himself to speak as she put her hand in his and, half pulling him along, began to dance. Harry held her close, both to hide his own face and avoid looking into hers. The music was soft and slow but he barely heard it.
"Harry, I think we need to talk."
So, this was it, he thought, no quietly slipping out to just let things go. She had him and she would have this final meeting. Oh well, best to have done with it, he hoped, maybe it would hurt less to just get it over with. Harry swallowed hard, forcing the tears away, pushing the pain back, deep inside his chest where it couldn't get out. He had to remain calm, the last thing he wanted was to make a scene. Willing his control into place he released her somewhat so that he could look at her.
She looked up into his eyes, those dazzling green eyes that she could so easily just get lost in, and saw that he had closed them off. The walls were up. Blast!, she thought. She needed him here. If she was to work this out she needed him to be here with her, to be all the way here and not hiding himself behind barriers. She thumped her forehead against his chest. She needed to try.
"Harry," she began "I think I need to tell you why..."
He cut her off. "No Gin. There's no need to explain, I understand." She shook her head, how could he understand when she didn't understand herself. Damn! Why couldn't he just listen to her instead of closing himself off and pretending that none of it mattered.
"I understand and I'm not angry, really. At least not anymore. I suppose these things just happen. We were so young, too young really, and Dumbledore sort of sprung the whole thing on us. I can't blame you for this and I don't. Maybe no one's to blame."
"What? What are you talking about?" This makes no sense, she thought. He's talking like things are already decided. Like things are settled and over with...like things are over... Ginny felt her cheeks burn. Hurt, frustration, anger, guilt, and loss all swirled together in her heart and she felt faint from it.
Across the room, Carrie watched the two of them dance, and saw them begin to talk. She also saw other couples begin to circle closer, like sharks. She couldn't let her friend's pain be used as gossip for all of Hogwarts. She drew her wand from the folds of her cloak and with a whispered incantation silver sparks descended around the dancing couple, forming a screen around them blocking all sound from escaping. Sensing what had happened, the other dancers held off, giving the couple space, but still they circled.
Harry broke eye contact and stared over Ginny's shoulder. "I suppose I was sort of a fool. I had no right to expect you to feel the same way I did. To have the same needs as me. How could you?" His voice faltered for a moment but Harry took a deep breath and regained his composure. "You see, Gin, it's like my whole life I've been hoping, or maybe wishing is more right..."
"Wishing? Wishing for what?" She thought for a moment that the walls around his heart were coming down, that HE would come back to her, to help her figure all this out, but no, they were still up and now the walls were in control again.
"I've never had a family, at least not that I can remember. I've always been alone."
"But Harry, my mum's always treated you as if you were one of her own."
"Yeah, as if. I mean, your mum's great, and your dad too. They've always treated me as if I were one of theirs. But ‘as if' s'not the same as 'is'. Not really. Everything I know about being a part of a family, a real family, I learned from yours. You and your family showed me what being a family meant, but I'm not a part of it, not really. In the end, I don't belong. My parents are dead. They died a long time ago and I don't have a family." Harry said this with finality and Ginny felt tears in her eyes. "But then Dumbledore came and told us about the prophecy and Truitinae Bonitas. None of it made a whole lot of sense at the time, not to me anyway, but then he started talking about ‘extending the Potter line' and about...about us. Suddenly, I saw a chance. A chance to have everything I've ever wanted. A family, a family of my own. A place where I belonged, really and truly belonged. I never stopped to think of how young we were, maybe too young. Or that you might not be ready. Might not want the same things... or want me." Harry shook his head fiercely again before he continued.
"I don't blame you for this. Maybe nobody's to blame, sometimes... sometimes things just happen. It hurts a little but I'm not angry, not anymore." He hesitated a moment before going on, gathering his strength. "I'll make any arrangements you want. You don't have to worry, you know I'll take good care of Hope. And you can come see her whenever you want. You can come down to the cottage, I'll clear out for the day if you don't want to... or I can take her to the Burrow, to your mum, whenever you want to see her if you don't want to go to the cottage."
"Harry," Ginny said with a halt "what do you mean ‘visit'? You make it sound as if I'm...as if I'm leaving you."
"Haven't you?" he answered calmly, not even looking her in the eyes, just staring over her shoulder at the wall.
"How can you say that?" she gasped when it struck her. Like a small voice in the back of her mind it spoke up, ‘Haven't you already left?' Like a brick in her stomach it hit her, ‘Haven't you already left him? Where did you sleep last night? And the night before that? And the night before that? Where do you eat your meals? With him? When you got dressed for this dance, did you get one of your own dresses out of your own closet or did you beg one off one of the other girls. You're the one who left so how can you blame him for seeing it for what it is?'
Ginny clutched at his shirt with both her hands and buried her face in his chest, shaken to her core.
"No. No. That's not what I want. Harry, I don't want to leave you," she said, tears wetting the front of his robes.
"Then... why... why did you?" he spoke haltingly and bent his head to look at her...really look at her. Ginny could see that he was confused but more also. The walls were still there behind his eyes and around his heart, but she could sense chinks, small cracks in them. Maybe it wasn't too late. Maybe she could still fix this.
"I don't know." She hesitated, trying to come to terms with her own actions, before speaking again. "I didn't, at least I didn't think I did. I never wanted too, not really."
"Gin, you're not making sense." The cracks were growing, she could feel it. A little of his heart was shining through. Please, Harry, oh please, I need you. I need you to be here. To be here with me, if we're going to fix this. And we can. We can make this right again. Please, Harry, come back.
"I know I'm not," she said. "It's just... I don't understand it myself."
"Maybe...deep down inside...maybe you're looking for a reason to...?"
"NO! I'm not looking for a reason to leave you. I don't want to leave you. It's just..."
"Just what, Gin?"
"Have you ever," she began, "ever wondered what it would be like if things were different? What if?"
"You mean like what if my parents hadn't been killed? Like what if I got to grow up with a real family? Or what if Sirius hadn't been framed by Wormtail? Or what if I had been clever enough NOT to win the Tri-Wizard? What if Cedric hadn't died? What if..."
"OK, OK, you know what I mean." Ginny almost smiled. "What if things had gone differently? What if Dumbledore hadn't suggested that we...? Would we still be we? Would you choose to be here? With me?"
"Don't interrupt me. I need to say this. Do you have any idea what it's like?"
Harry shook his head in confusion.
"Harry, I was ten years old. Do you remember being ten?"
Harry shook his head. Ten was so long ago. Ten was alone, locked in a cupboard. Ten was before Hagrid, and Dumbledore, and Voldemort, before he knew magic even existed. It was so long ago.
"I was ten years old, Harry. Ten! I didn't even like boys then. I thought you were all just a bunch of walking snot factories." She couldn't help but giggle and she brushed a tear from her cheek with one hand. "We were all walking along the platforms in King's Cross, getting ready to send the boys off to school. It was Ron's first year and for the first time in my life I would be alone. No brothers around. Just me and my mum. There were so many things, girl things, that I was looking forward to doing with her, now that all the boys would be gone. And then what happens? I just finish waving good-bye to Fred and George and I'm about to to Ron, when up walks this tousled-haired kid with broken glasses and clothes about four sizes too big. He's alone, he looks lost and a little frightened but he's trying very hard not to show it. He's got these incredible green eyes and, as he asks my mum how to get onto the platform, it hits me and I know."
"You know what?"
"I know," she raised her head and looked him straight in the eye. "I know that no matter what else happens, no matter who else comes along, I know... I KNOW that I will never love anyone else as long as I live. I'm ten! I don't even like boys! And I know you're the one, the only one for me." She sniffed and Harry noticed she'd surreptitiously wiped her face on his robes. "Well, if that's not bad enough, a couple of days later we get an owl from Ron: ‘Guess what, Mum? That kid we met at King's Cross? The one you helped get on the platform? That was Harry Potter! Yes, THE Harry Potter! I've seen the scar! We're both in Gryffindor! We're mates!" She smiled ruefully at the memory and Harry couldn't help but grin.
"Too bad, huh? Why couldn't I have just been some everyday bloke off the street?"
"Yeah. Well it gets worse." She grabbed at his lapels again and pulled herself closer to him. "Next thing I know, you're a Quidditch star, ‘youngest Seeker in a century!' Then you're fighting trolls in bathrooms and three-headed dogs, romping through the Forbidden Forest with Centaurs, giant chess sets... I reckoned I was lost, what hope was there for me? Then you came to visit over the summer and I couldn't stop tripping over myself."
"You were cute though," he said trying to lighten her mood, "and butter is so much easier to spread after it's been mashed a bit by an elbow." Ginny colored and swatted his chest before resuming her grip on his shirtfront.
"Yeah, you say that now but what did you think at the time? And then I started here, and all the girls talked about was you. How cute you were, and how brave you were, and how they all wanted to be your girlfriend. And here I was, poor little Ginny Weasley, without a Knut to my name and wearing my brother's old robes hemmed up so that I wouldn't trip over them. Then there was the diary." She paused and her face clouded at the recollection. "You saved my life. I didn't know what I was going to do."
Harry stopped and put his arms around her, hugging her tightly to him, no longer even pretending to dance. She looked up and suddenly there he was. It was him, really him and Ginny couldn't hold back her tears any longer. They rolled down her cheeks unchecked and soaked into his shirt. This wasn't Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, that Harry frightened her, truth be told, with his grim determination to sacrifice himself for the good of all. This wasn't Harry Potter, the Quidditch star, with all the girls in Gryffindor chasing after him, that Harry always brought out nothing but jealousy in her. This was her Harry, the frightened little boy looking for how to get on Platform 9 ¾. The boy who grew up locked in a cupboard under the stairs. The one she wanted to hold in her arms during the dark nights until the nightmares faded. This was her Harry and she never wanted to let go of him again.
"Then Dumbledore gave me that book and I found the charms. The one that your mother used to protect you when you were a baby...and one I could use. A charm I could use to protect you. You were so determined to meet Voldemort and I was so scared you wouldn't come back. I had to do something. And I did," she said with a fierce pride. "Finally, after all you've done. After all the times you've saved my life, there was something I could do for you. And I did it. I protected you. I was able to keep you safe, at least for a while. That charm formed a bond between us, Harry." Harry nodded.
"Then Dumbledore came to the house and talked to us. Mum and Dad knew, hell, everyone knew how I felt about you and they saw how you felt about me. You said that you loved me and I wanted to believe it."
Harry opened his mouth to speak but Ginny placed a finger over his lips.
"Just let me finish. Dumbledore gave me the chance to make all my dreams come true. He said we could be together and... well, and everything. I knew you only felt you loved me because of the charm I used but I thought that it would be enough. I thought in time I could make you really care for me and it wouldn't be just the charm anymore. So I agreed. I was so happy when you asked me to marry you. I had dreamed of it for so long, admittedly I usually dreamed that you waited until AFTER we both finished school but..." She shrugged.
"And then Hope came along and I thought everything was perfect. No matter what happened I would always have a part of you." Harry hugged her closer, knowing the part of the story that came next. "Then Voldemort came. Right into Hogwarts, he came for us, and I fought. As hard as I could, I fought him." Ginny sighed deeply and continued, "But he cut the bond between us. The Charm, our link, whatever it was, it was gone."
"But Dumbledore beat him. Voldemort is gone forever."
"Yes, but our bond was still broken. I tried not to think about it. I hoped it didn't matter. But I knew. It was gone. It was the bond that made you love me and without it, it was only a matter of time before... before you stopped caring. I had everything I'd ever wanted and I knew I was going to lose it. I guess I didn't want you to leave me and so I left first."
She had finally said it, given voice to the fear that haunted her dreams for almost a year. She looked up into his eyes, those green eyes that had always been able to look into her soul; look into her very soul and take possession of it. She didn't know what else to do but give herself over to them.
"Ginny," Harry smiled down at her. "Ginny, did you even read about that charm we did?" She nodded, feeling irritated; of course she had.
"Ginny, remember. That charm could only work if there was a bond existing between the two people involved, and the deeper the bond the stronger the charm would be."
"I love you, that's the bond..."
"No, Ginny. Not a one way bond. The charm required a bond BETWEEN the two people."
"Well, you saved my life," she tried hesitantly. "Dumbledore said that that type of life debt created a bond..."
"No Gin, that wouldn't have been enough. Not for the charm to work the way it did."
She held him close, not daring to hope.
"Ginny, I love you," Harry said. "I don't love you because of some charm and I don't love you in spite of it. I love you, pure and simple."
She looked up and saw his own tears running down his cheeks.
"All right, maybe I wasn't ten years old. Maybe it took me a bit longer, but I got there." He smiled and laid his cheek against her hair. "I guess I always knew how you felt. At least after the butter dish incident." He felt her giggle into his chest and it made his heart swell. "Remember, back in fourth year? At the start of the Tri-Wizard Tournament?" She nodded without taking her head away from his chest. "When Ron was hacked off at me. I'd never felt that alone before, but deep down inside, I knew it would be OK, ‘cause ‘Ginny still liked me'. Just that thought gave me strength. Even if I'd've made a complete fool of myself, I knew you'd still like me and that pulled me through. No matter how bad things became, or how alone I felt, I could still hold on to that one truth: ‘Ginny still likes me'. I don't need a charm to love you, Ginny. I do."
"Just look at them," Adrian snorted, "crying like a couple of babies. It's pathetic."
"I think it's sweet," Amanda said.
"Sweet? How could think THAT'S sweet. They're just a couple of pathetic weaklings."
Amanda looked into his face and for the first time saw it and him for what he really was. They weren't pathetic, he was. All his bravado, and manipulation, and cruelty were just a mask to cover a pathetic little nothing. "If they're so weak then how come they won?"
"How come they won? You mean defeated the Dark Lord? That was Dumbledore not them. The old fool stumbled on some ancient trick and used them to defeat him."
"I wasn't talking about Voldemort." She watched him wince at the sound of the name spoken out loud. "I was talking about you."
"What are you babbling about?"
"They beat you. You couldn't break them up, all your lies couldn't defeat their love. You lost. So who's weak and pathetic now?"
Shaking with fury, Adrian pushed her away from him and she fell to the floor with a thud, but no one noticed. All heads were watching as two people walked arm in arm out of the Great Hall.
"And you owe me a hundred Galleons, you ugly arse!"
"Ah ha!" Hermione called, "I knew it! I just knew it!"
"Knew what, love?" Ron called from the floor where he was playing with little Hope. He had ‘accidentally' woken her up right after he finished fixing all the furniture he and Harry had broken. Luckily, being a Weasley and having five older brothers meant that fixing broken furniture was something he was fairly adept at.
"Why the picture, of course," she replied. "I knew there was something phony about it."
Ron stood up and carried the baby over to the table where Hermione was sitting. He leaned over her shoulder and watched the photo. Ginny was standing near the lake, the boy walked up behind her.
"I don't see any changes," Ron said reluctantly.
"Just wait for it."
The fellow took Ginny by the arms and turned her, he leaned over to kiss her. This was the moment that Ron expected the action to stop but it didn't. The boy barely got his face down to Ginny's when her arm whipped back suddenly and she let fly with a wicked roundhouse punch that caught the damn fool right on the point of his chin. He stood up on his toes with the force of the blow and Ron watched as his knees wobbled, then buckled, and he fell to the ground in a heap.
"Ha!" Ron called, "That's my little sister! Serves the bastard right."
"Somebody used a restricting charm to stop the motion just as he bent down and forced it to restart instead of showing us the rest."
Ron continued to watch as the idiot got to his knees to try to stand and Ginny put a boot rather forcefully into his backside.
"Once a Weasley, always a Weasley," he said proudly. "Hey, you think we ought to go show this to Harry?"
"No," Hermione replied knowingly, "they'll both see it when they get back. No need to disturb them now."
"You're that confident that they'll work things out?" he asked.
"Yes, I am, and I'm always right. Aren't I?"
"So why don't you put Hope back in her crib and we can get to bed. I don't think they'll be getting back until morning and I'm sort of tired."
Hermione lowered one eye and replied, "Sort of."
The two of them entered the Entrance Hall flushed with the thrill of renewed love. Holding Ginny's hand close to him Harry asked, "Where to now, my love?"
Ginny smiled up into her husband's eyes and said, "Harry darling, take me home."
Harry faltered, momentarily confused, "The Burrow?"
"No, you silly git, home. Our home."
"You are my home Gin, now and always." Ginny grinned widely and fell into his arms. "Besides, I sort of got the impression that your brother and Hermione might be rather disappointed if we came back right now."
"You don't mean... They plan on... Right there? With Hope asleep!" She couldn't hold back the giggles.
"Well, it's not like they can get a lot of privacy at the Burrow."
"OK, well, where to then?"
"I've got an idea," and he grabbed her hand and started to run up the stairs. Ginny was quickly lost in all the twists and turns of the castle but Harry remained confident and sure of his course. At last, they ducked under a hanging tapestry and stood together outside a large oaken door that brought back warm memories to Ginny.
"Harry, is this...?"
Harry was happy to see she remembered. "The Hogwarts Honeymoon Suite?" Harry answered with a wicked grin. He swept her up into his arms and kicked open the door.
"It'll probably be covered with dust" Ginny said as Harry set her down.
Turning in a slow circle she drew in a deep breath. There was a fire crackling in the grate, the large four-poster bed was freshly made and the duvet pulled down.
"How did they know?"
"It was probably Dobby," Harry replied. "He most likely ran straight up here as soon as he heard I had walked in the gates."
There were giggles and a loud crack behind them. By the time they had turned around he was gone, but on the table was a tray of chocolate covered strawberries and a bottle of champagne with two glasses.
"It's a good thing he likes you," Ginny said, matching Harry's grin with one of her own.
"Too right. You tired?"
Several hours later, the two lay cocooned in the warmth of each other's arms. Ginny turned and looked deeply into Harry's eyes. She rose onto her knees, letting the covers fall away from her. Harry picked up her left wrist and lightly ran his fingers over the faint scar there; a lightening bolt the mirror image of his own. Then he raised it to his lips and softly kissed it. Ginny's breath caught and she traced the scar on Harry's forehead. She brushed the hair back and carefully aligned their two scars, pressing them together. An electric current shot through both of them as they locked gazes and softly whispered...