The next morning Ginny lay in her bed, trying her best to ignore her mother's repeated calls to get up.
"Ginny Weasley, if you don't get down here now, you won't be going anywhere at lunch time, do you hear me?"
She groaned loudly before kicking back the covers and sitting on the side of the bed.
"Fine, fine!" she bellowed. "I'm up, okay?"
"Don't you take that tone of voice with me, young lady, or Harry will be having lunch on his own. You may be seventeen but you're not too old to spend the day at home helping me."
How did Mum know that I was meeting him for lunch? Heavens, she thought, is there no privacy in this house?
Finally hauling herself off her bed, she dragged her sleepy body along to the bathroom and got ready to face the day.
Twenty minutes later, she was sitting in her shorts and T-shirt at the kitchen table, chewing on her toast and sipping her tea. Harry, her mother had informed her, had risen early and had left the house not long after she had begun cooking breakfast. He had told her of his visit to Diagon Alley with Ginny and asked her not to cook lunch for them.
"He didn't know whether he'd be home for tea, dear, did he say anything to you?"
Ginny knew that her mother wanted to talk to her about it, but her official appointment as 'just a friend' was not something she wanted to discuss with anyone, let alone her mother. However, it was not to be avoided.
"Harry seemed a bit strange to me this morning, Ginny. Is he all right? I mean, did he say anything to you last night?"
Stop fishing Mum; the fish aren't going to bite today.
"No Mum, all he said was that he had something to tell me and asked if I would meet him for lunch today."
She tried to keep the exasperation out of her voice but she knew she hadn't. Whether her mother had spotted it or not, was irrelevant. Molly Weasley was a woman on a mission and she was not going to be denied by a minor thing such as her daughter's unwillingness to talk about it.
"He just seemed a bit preoccupied dear, like he was …well, hiding something. Anything we should know about?"
Ginny had become used to her mother's questions about her and Harry over the last few years and she sighed inwardly as she recognised where her mum was heading.
"No Mum, there's nothing you need to know!"
Please Mum, she thought, give it a rest. We are not getting married so back off and leave me alone.
"He's just got a lot on his mind at the moment," Ginny continued. "After all, he is due to start his Auror training next month. I suppose he's trying to sort things out in readiness for that."
Okay, so she did know what was bothering Harry, but she also knew that he was feeling nervous about joining the Aurors. Ginny was pleased that she hadn't needed to resort to lying to deflect her mother's unwelcome line of questions. Not that it would've bothered her. Even at seventeen, she found herself feeling guilty about lying to her mother. Not that this had ever stopped her; once she had discovered that she could maintain her trademark innocent face, whilst telling the most barefaced lie, a whole new world had opened up to her and her brothers had learned that she was not a Witch to be messed with.
"Perhaps you're right, dear."
Mrs Weasley smiled benignly at her with the air of an adult humouring a nine year old.
I know what you're thinking, Mum, thought Ginny. You think I'm still the silly little girl around Harry, don't you? Well, I'm a lot more grown up than you think. Tom Riddle saw to that.
Despite her reservations about meeting Harry, Ginny decided that she should make an effort and spent longer than usual sorting out her hair and clothes. After a frustrating two hours of trying to work out which outfit was most appropriate, she settled for comfort; a pair of faded jeans fashionably ripped at the knee, a black roll necked jumper and, to her mothers horror, her pair of newly acquired Doctor Martin's boots.
"Ginny, you can't go out wearing those, what's Harry going to think?"
"Honestly, Mum," she huffed, rolling her eyes. "Harry has seen me in worse than this."
"I'm warning you for the last time Ginny, you may be of age, but whilst you're in this house I expect a bit a civility from you."
"Mum, he's seen me covered in mud from the Quidditch pitch, beaten up and bloodied on the battle field, and he's even survived seeing how I look first thing in the morning."
"Well you're not going to play Quidditch with him, and Voldemort is no more. So why don't you go back upstairs and put on that dress you wore at your birthday? He liked you in that that one... couldn't keep his eyes off you all evening. You've still got time to change if you're quick."
"Mum! We're just friends! Will you stop trying to–"
"I'm just saying dear, that a mother notices things and…."
Ginny tuned her mother out as she worked her way through her, '1001 reasons why you should marry Harry' list. Truth be told, she had her own list, which, she went through on a regular basis. It was a habit that made her alternatively depressed or hopeful, depending on the last thing he had said to her. Not that it did her any good, when all was said and done, she was still only his best friend, and she wanted more than that.
There had been times, over last few months, when she had the distinct impression from Harry that he was looking to take their relationship on further. How many times had she cursed an untimely interruption by Ron? Or one too many probing questions from Hermione at just the wrong moment? She loved them both to bits, and was happy that they had each other, but sometime she felt that they couldn't quite let her take pride of place in Harry's life. There was always something that came up, and sent him back behind the barriers that had kept Voldemort out of his mind since the debacle at The Ministry in his fifth year. Oh sure, he'd be back to smiling and joking around everyone, but Ginny knew that she'd missed out again. And now, she was convinced, her chance had gone.
"Ginny? Ginny?" Her mother's voice broke through her musing and back to the present. "Hadn't you better be going?"
"Sorry Mum, I was–"
"That's okay dear, give my love to Harry and tell the twins I'm expecting them home before seven tonight."
"Will do, Mum."
She headed towards the fireplace passing Ron on the way.
"Hey Ginny," he smirked. "Nice boots, who's the lucky lady?"
"Sod off, Ron. Go and play with your stereotypes elsewhere!"
"Ooo, temper temper. Don't tell Harry, Ginny, you know what he's like when he's jealous!"
Ginny pulled up abruptly and turned and faced her brother. Ron's smile disappeared as she fixed him with a less that friendly grin.
"Well think on this, Ronald Weasley," said Ginny calmly. "I've shared a bed with Hermione, more times that you have over the years."
As Ron spluttered with embarrassment, she closed the gap between them, swinging her hips in an exaggerated fashion. She placed her hand on her brother's shoulder and whispered huskily in his ear.
"You know Ron," she purred, "now you've mentioned it, I do remember seeing Hermione in a pair of very sexy, pink silk knickers." She licked her lips and continued. "She did look good enough to eat; I wonder what she's doing tonight?"
Ignoring his last jibe, she took a pinch of glittering powder from the flowerpot on the mantelpiece. Tossing the Floo powder into the flames, she watched the fire turn emerald green, then stepped in and called out, "Number ninety-three, Diagon Alley!"
When the whirl of the flames and spinning stopped, Ginny stepped out of the fireplace and into the garishly decorated shop owned by her twin brothers. There she found a nervous looking Harry waiting for her.
"Hi Ginny, glad you could make it. Mind if we make a quick exit? The twins haven't given me a moment's peace since I got here."
"What's the matter, Harry? Have they been trying to get you to test their latest offerings? I thought that you were exempt from all that?"
"Well it wasn't that, it was… well… they…." He looked hopefully at her as if asking her not to pursue this any further.
"Okay, Harry, I'll take pity on you. As much as I love them, they can be a bit overbearing at times."
Their plans for a quick exit were thwarted when Fred jumped out from behind a display of Drying Drinks ("guaranteed to make the drinker even thirstier than before.").
"Ah there you are, Gin-Gin! Tut, tut, sis, your manners these days. First you keep The Boy Who Lived waiting, and then you try and sneak off before we, the guardians of his moral welfare and his reputation, can give you…"
"… The Talk," finished George.
"Sod off, you guys, we're only going to lunch."
"Ah, that's what you say but…"
"… many a young wizard has been lured out 'just to have dinner' and wound up having a wanton witch…."
"Wheedle their way…"
"… nay worm their way …
"…into his wand pocket…"
"… or his wallet …"
"… no wallets, Fred, they're for muggles…"
"… yeah but it began with W and got the message across and …"
"When you guys are quite finished!" snapped Ginny, her patience quite exhausted by now.
"Oh no, little sis…"
"No, not finished yet…"
"You see we are concerned that you young witches, with your… boots… may be leading our Chief Financial Backer and Sleeping Partner…"
"… into other types of 'sleeping partnerships' …"
"It's okay, guys," interrupted Harry. "If you can't trust your sister who can you trust?"
"Well…" said George.
"Listen, you prats," snarled Ginny, her temper barely under control, "Harry and I are going for a harmless little lunch and if we don't get going soon we'll be late… won't we Harry?" She fired a pleading look at him only to find a bemused grin looking back at her.
"Ginny's right you know, we must get going, thanks for protecting my honour; I'll let you know if I'm Virgo Intacto at the end of the meal."
This last remark earned him a huge guffaw from the twins and a glare from Ginny that would've made a lesser man weep. He took hold of Ginny's hand and smiled at her.
"It's okay, Ginny," laughed Harry, ignoring the withering look on her face, "I'll trust you with my virtue, if you'll trust me with yours?"
Well what do you know, thought Ginny. Harry Potter laughing and making jokes about sex with a girl, wonders never cease!
Still holding her hand in his, Harry led her to a part of Diagon Alley that she'd never been in before. When she looked at the shops, she realised why; they were all aimed at witches and wizards with the sort of money that she, a poor Weasley used to hand-me-down clothes, could never hope to shop in. As she gaped at the clothes and the prices, she felt Harry link his arm around hers.
"This way, Ginny," he said, turning her away from the main part of the street into a small side alley. He led her up a flight of stones steps and through a set of oak doors into the restaurant where they were due to have lunch.
They were greeted by a very casually dressed man whose jeans and T-shirt seemed out of place in such an expensive part of the alley.
"Bonjour Harry, Mademoiselle. Ça va?"
"Oui Alphonse, ca va bien.Tu as une table pour nous?
"Naturellement, étape de cette façon. Je m'assurerai que tu es aucun dérangé."
"And where did you learn to speak French?" Ginny whispered in his ear.
Harry smiled at her. "Now where would my air of mystery be, if I told you all my secrets?"
"You've never told anyone, all your secrets," she said in a low growl.
"Yes, but I've told you more than most. And anyway, some things are best kept hidden."
This was a familiar argument, and one Ginny knew she would never win. Some things, in particular those relating to his time at the Dursleys before Hogwarts, Harry had never shared with her, and she suspected that he never would.
"Anyway Ginny, enough of the past, let's enjoy our meal and try and keep our virtues intact."
Harry helped Ginny into her seat and then sat down opposite her. As they settled into their seats, the menus magically appeared before them and they set about the task of choosing what they were going to eat.
"That was wonderful, Harry, how did you find this place?"
"Fleur told me about it; it seems that this is where she brings important clients…"
"… and important friends as well, like Bill…?"
"Well, Miss Nosey Parker Weasley, who Miss Delacour brings here is none of your business…"
"… But obviously yours?" She grinned at him mischievously.
"Well, she's kept in touch since my fourth year. Seems to think that I need to be updated as to how her younger sister is doing."
"And how is she doing?" asked Ginny rather more abruptly than she had intended.
"I think she's doing okay," muttered Harry. "I can't say that I pay that much attention any more." He waved his hand absently as if dismissing the thought from his mind.
"Oh, so you did, once upon a time?" she teased.
"Well," said Harry leaning forward with a glint in his eyes she'd swear he borrowed from the twins, "when the beautiful Mademoiselle Delacour writes to a scrawny youth like me, said scrawny youth tends to pay attention." He leaned back and fixed her with an inquisitive stare.
"Why the questions, Miss Weasley? Jealous?"
Ah, she though, now the game's afoot. Time to up the stakes a bit.
"You know, Harry," she said leaning forward showing him just how a Weasley knowing look was meant to be done; "you sounded just like Malfoy then."
"Nice try, Weasleby," he said with his best Malfoy sneer, "why don't you answer the question?"
"She's a bit young for me to be jealous of, don't you think, Harry? Anyway, why should I be worried? After all, I was the original 'damsel in distress' saved by 'The Great Harry Potter'. I think my position is secure."
It was a testament to how far they had come, that her experiences in the Chamber could be joked about and that Malfoy had become a figure of fun.
Almost in spite of herself she had enjoyed the meal immensely and all the tension she'd felt before hand had gone.
When was the last time I felt this content? she asked herself. Ah, yes, at my birthday dancing with Harry. It always comes back to Harry, doesn't it?
The last thought brought her down to earth with a bump, and reminded her that she was here today to give Harry his freedom.
"So, Ginny, I bet you're wondering why I asked you to have lunch with me today?"
"Well, I did wonder but…"
"Well then, let me put you out of your misery..."
No Harry, you're about to put me into misery.
"I've been doing a lot of thinking over the last few months and I've made a few important decisions about my life."
"Oh, such as...?" She tried to sound casual, but she could hear the tension in her voice.
"Well, I've decided that I can't do anything about being famous, but I can do something about what I'm famous for. You know, Ginny; I'm famous for death and not for life–no, that's not right."
He looked away from her, as if the words he was looking for were somehow sitting at the table next to them.
"What I mean is, I'm famous for being the destroyer of Voldemort. And I'm always linked with all the death and destruction associated with the second war. Hell, I even spent a good part of my life, before you came along, believing it was all my fault.
"I've had enough of that Ginny. I've decided that if I have to be famous, then I'll be famous for enjoying life. The new Harry Potter will be famous for life, love and happiness."
"And what exactly does that mean, Harry?" You know what that means, stupid; it means 'bye bye' Ginny Weasley, hello witches of the world.
"It means, first of all, that I'm not going to become an Auror. I've owled them to tell them I will not be taking them up on their 'kind' offer to become a trainee. I've had enough of dark wizards to last me several life times. It's someone else's turn. I've done my bit."
"So what are you going to do then, Harry," she asked. She forced herself to smile at him. "Become an international playboy?" and leave me behind?
"No, Ginny, I'm going to play Quidditch. I owled Oliver Wood at Puddlemere asking for a trial. I know it's a bit late as pre-season is already underway, but I figured that they might take a chance on the 'Famous Harry Potter'."
"And what did he say?" asked Ginny, intrigued despite herself. This wasn't what she expected.
"Well, he said that he'd see what he could do for me."
"I got an owl from them this morning. I'm joining them on the seventeenth."
"Oh, Harry, that's great!"
"There's one catch."
"I only have until the end of the month to prove myself. If I'm not up to scratch by the end of August then I'll have to try again next year."
"But you will be, won't you Harry? I mean you are good enough, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I think I'm good enough, Ginny. It's more a question of if I'm fit enough and strong enough. After all, I haven't done a lot of training recently, have I?"
"Well, you can start tomorrow can't you? Ron and I'll join you."
"Ginny, that's very kind but I can't see Ron wanting to spoil the last few days of his summer training with me, and I'm sure that–"
"Well, I'll join you," she said defiantly.
As if in response to her last remark, Harry went quiet and seemed to find it difficult to look her in the eye.
Oh dear, she thought, here it comes. That'll teach you to be too pushy. Can't 'wow' the witches of the world from a broomstick, if you've got a red-haired harpy hanging on the back.
"Well, actually," he said awkwardly, still not looking at her but instead fumbling with something in his pocket, "I wanted to talk to you about that. You see, Ginny, one of the other things I've been thinking about is… well… you and me. I've looked at my life and decided that… well… things between us have to be different from now on."
It took all of Ginny's self-control to keep a look panic and disappointment off her face. Much as she'd schooled herself for this, when the moment had actually arrived, she knew that she was very close to losing it.
"It's okay Harry," she said, "I know that…"
"No, please hear me out, Ginny. What I want to say is that…"
"Honestly, Harry, it is okay I know…"
"No, Ginny, will you just shut up and listen to me! I'm sorry to shout but this is very difficult for me."
And it's easy for me? she thought.
"What I wanted to say was…." The fumbling in his pockets stopped and he pulled out a small green velvet box….