Your kisses [are] like the best of wine that goes down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak. Song of Songs 7:9
"Ting, ting, ting."
Harry was watching the slim silver spoon tap his glass with a mixture of dread and resolution on his face.
Ginny was watching Harry. She was allowed to watch him now; everyone in the hall was. Harry stood, and Ginny felt the oh-so-bloody-familiar tingle racing along her skin as she let her eyes linger on him. She wondered whether she was the only person in the room who noticed how well dress robes suited him. Probably not; on the other side of Ron and Hermione, she could see her mother looking at Harry with red-rimmed eyes. Mum would be congratulating herself on her good taste in robes. Ginny felt sick at the thought that every young woman in the room, with the exception of Hermione, of course, could be thinking about Harry the way she was. Out of the corner of her eye, she even saw Fleur look him up and down in an appraising manner, before settling her head back against Bill's shoulder to listen to the speeches.
Ginny could feel the heat flood up to her face as he began to talk. Breathing deeply, she grabbed her glass of champagne and drained it, feeling the cool liquid slide down her throat, forgetting that she wasn't supposed to drink until Harry announced the toast. Beside her, her father nudged her arm. Ginny looked down, expecting a mild warning, but her dad only filled up her glass again.
Maybe it wasn't so safe to look at him, then.
He could feel her eyes on him. Out of the hundreds of eyes that were staring at him, he could feel hers. He took a risky glance in her direction and saw that she was looking down at the tablecloth. He felt slightly betrayed.
Bugger. Thinking about her in the middle of one of the more important speeches he'd ever make in his life was not an option. He Occluded his mind. The speech was the only important thing.
"I don't really have any experience with weddings and best man speeches, but I've been told that it's my job to try and embarrass the groom as much as possible."
He grinned; Ron's ears were turning pink. He saw Hermione giggle as she took Ron's hand.
"Well, some of Ron's brothers," he said, winking at the twins, "were, er, anxious that I wouldn't have quite enough material." With a snap of his fingers, a large stack of papers appeared on the table in front of him. The audience laughed. Ron mouthed the word 'gits' at Fred and George.
Harry began to flick through the papers. "So we have the fact that Ron tried to smuggle himself into Hogwarts when he was five by stowing away in Charlie's trunk, he was once found trying to remove his freckles with Mrs Skower's All Purpose Magical Mess Remover, and, apparently, Ron's Celestina Warbeck impression is even better than Ginny's..." Luckily, the laughter that greeted that comment masked his faltering over Ginny's name. Get a grip, Potter .
"But perhaps the most embarrassing thing that Ron's done," Harry continued, getting rid of the twins' 'notes' with a wave, "was being in love with Hermione for quite as long as he was without noticing."
"Here, here," shouted a rather drunk Seamus Finnegan.
Harry grinned. "Yes, by that time we'd had quite enough of their arguing. Of course, we weren't to know then that it'd get worse when they finally got together."
Hermione was beginning to look defensive, so Harry hurried on.
"Ron and Hermione have been the best friends I could have ever wished for; they've got me through some, um, really difficult times. Anyway, they make a brilliant couple, and they deserve nothing less than what I wish them: a wonderful lifetime of peaceful bickering."
Feeling very relieved, Harry raised his glass. "To Ron and Hermione!" He looked over at them and blinked hard.
He heard his words echoed in a resounding roar across the hall, then downed his glass. He sat down and filled it up again. He'd just made a speech in front of hundreds of people. He'd just talked about love and friendship and couples with her listening. He definitely deserved a drink or two.
Ginny felt worn down. Maybe because it was winter and she knew that outside it was cold and raining. That sort of weather was always depressing. Winter was a time for staying indoors, or, better still, going outside for a snowball fight or a flight in the rain, before going inside and sitting by the fire and getting out of wet clothes and ...oh, how she hated being alone. She didn't have to be alone; she knew that. She was sure that, if she tried hard enough, she'd get...somebody. But she didn't want just anybody, and the only person she did want - the person she was in love with - would never be interested in her. She'd fought to become friends with Harry, and she would have to make do with that. Yet the knowledge that she couldn't tell him how she really felt, that she'd have to hide these feelings forever, made her feel so tired. Tired and alone.
Now she was being pathetic. She watched the dancers, letting her eyes glide over every happy face. Nearly everyone in the hall cared about her, she reminded herself. How could a Weasley ever feel alone? Her parents were dancing. Ginny didn't often see her mum and dad together like that, but she was struck, as she always was, by how well they fit. They were meant to be dancing like that, with her dad's cheek against her mum's hair. They looked so comfortable. The ache in Ginny intensified. She looked on, her attention drawn, like most of the single men in the room, to Bill and Fleur dancing. Fleur was always radiant, but Ginny noticed that she looked even more beautiful when she was with Bill. She was leaning into him, and Bill's arms were wrapped around her, one hand running through the beautiful silver hair which cascaded down her back.
In the middle of the dance floor, Ron and Hermione, her brother and her best friend, moved slowly together to the music; Ginny wondered whether they had any idea of what was going on around them. Their absorption in each other was wonderful and awful ... compared to it, her life felt so empty and inadequate and ...
Ginny raised her glass to her lips, only to find it empty. A waiter appeared and filled it up high with champagne. He gave Ginny an odd smile.
She realised how awful she must look -- a tearful bridesmaid with an empty glass, sitting on her own and staring sadly at the happy dancers. Pulling herself together, she looked around for someone to join.
Tonks and Charlie were sitting together and talking nearby. They wouldn't mind if she joined them. She stood up, just as Tonks moved in for a kiss. Maybe not. George and Alicia were laughing at Fred and Angelina, who were dancing with much flinging around of hands and wiggling of bodies. Ginny wasn't quite sure what they were dancing to, exactly. It certainly wasn't the music everyone else was hearing. She didn't fancy being happy with George and Alicia, nor did she really want to join Percy and Penelope, who were looking after Ginny's young nephews and nieces. Being good old Auntie Ginny was just too much effort. She decided to go and say hello to a group of ex-Hogwarts students, who were sitting at a table on the other side of the hall. She picked up her drink and was surprised to see that it was empty again. Shaking her head, she swayed across the dance floor, ignoring the looks from all of her brothers apart from Ron, who didn't notice her.
He was drawn to the table. Normally, he'd have tried to avoid it. She was there, and he might say something stupid. He didn't trust himself when she was around. Especially not when he'd had a few drinks. And yet he found himself approaching the group: making a joke about Colin, who was photographing the couples on the dance floor; clapping Neville on the back; complimenting Parvati and Padma on having found more attentive dates ("Yeah, I owe you for that, Harry," Dean said, slinging his arm round Parvati); and then stumbling for words when faced with Ginny.
"That's a nice dress," he tried. He saw Lavender roll her eyes. Had that been a bad move? Ginny certainly didn't look too happy. "Er...would you like another drink?" he asked, seeing her empty glass. She nodded and smiled. He wished his heart wouldn't do that. He couldn't remember quite when his heart had started leaping every time Ginny smiled. He supposed he should be used to it by now, yet it still shocked him. Realising that he hadn't moved and that Luna Lovegood was looking at him strangely, Harry left in search of more champagne.
When he finally found one of the waiters (he wished Hermione had let the house-elves serve at the wedding), he grabbed as many glasses as he could carry. Remembering he could use magic, he charmed the glasses to follow him. He chose one and drank it quickly, feeling the welcome tingle of the alcohol. He couldn't handle this. Not when there was romantic music and couples, not when she was looking so stunning in that blue dress. The alcohol should be distancing him from those feelings. So far, it wasn't working.
Sipping his second glass, he returned to the table. There were fewer people now. Ginny was sitting with Luna, while the Creevey brothers looked over the photos Colin had taken so far.
"They're all dancing," Ginny said, pointing to where Dean and Parvati, Seamus and Lavender, Blaise and Padma, and Neville and Hannah were dancing.
"Oh," Harry said, wondering what to say. He watched the dancers. "Neville's improved."
Ginny smiled. "Yes, that or Hannah's better at steering than I was."
Harry looked back. Hannah Abbott did seem to have a firm grip on Neville, but Neville appeared quite happy to follow her lead. He was stroking her arm and whispering in her ear. Hannah went pink and giggled.
Feeling that he was somehow invading their privacy, Harry looked away. He picked up two champagne glasses and offered them to Luna and Ginny. Luna declined, but Ginny took the drink and held on tightly.
"They all look so happy," she said, with half a smile. Harry's heart lurched with a rush of pure love. He watched her watching them; her eyes were half-closed, her cheeks flushed, and her smile was happy and sad all at once.
Just then, Theo Nott, a blush on his usually pale face, came up and asked Ginny to dance. Harry reminded himself that Theo was a good bloke, who hadn't followed in the footsteps of his Death Eater father but had instead joined the Order and risked his life. It was not okay to want to punch him.
Luckily (no, he shouldn't think it was lucky), Ginny said no. Theo stood at the table, looking even more pink in the face. Harry was just about to make himself invite him to sit down when Luna spoke up.
"I'd like to dance with you, Theodore."
Theo glanced at her. Harry snuck a look at Luna, too. She looked nice this evening, in a pale pink dress and, luckily, no radishes. Theo must have thought this, as well, because he smiled at Luna and held out his hand, leaving Harry sitting with Ginny.
"Don't you want to dance?" he asked.
She took another slug of her drink. "I wouldn't mind. But he didn't want to dance with me."
"Yes, he did; he asked you first."
Ginny sighed. "Honestly, Harry." Her voice was quite loud, and she waved her hand at him. He wondered what was wrong. "He wanted to dance with Luna."
He wasn't sure how on earth she knew.
"S'obvious. He likes her. Which is good, 'cause she likes him, too."
"I don't know how women understand these things."
Ginny laughed. "It's because men are stupid." She finished off her drink, and leaned forward on the table, propping her chin up on her hand. "Men are really stupid," she said, looking out into the dance floor.
Harry fought the urge to kiss her. She had a point; that would have been very stupid.
"D'you want another drink?"
She nodded into her palm. He passed her a glass and picked up one for himself. He was a mess.
She was a mess. By now, she was probably a drunken mess. Good, maybe she wouldn't be able to remember this awful evening tomorrow morning. A tempting thought. She watched the shapes dancing together. She wasn't sure if tears were making them blurry, or whether the champagne was making her blind.
"Ginny? Um, if you want to dance, then, er, I don't mind dancing with you."
Streuth, men really were useless. She shook her head, not trusting herself with words.
They sat in silence, and each ticking second was like a knife in her flesh. She sipped her drink slowly. It was ridiculous, really. She'd known Harry for so long, why should she be reduced to this sorry sozzled state? Where was her Gryffindor bravery? Come to that, she'd been hiding her feelings for so bloody long -- why was it so difficult tonight?
She was rescued, if that was the right word, by her parents. Ginny found that she was slightly more drunk than she'd thought, as she sat up straighter and plastered a smile on her face. Next to her, she could see Harry doing the same. She'd noticed that he'd had quite a bit to drink, but he seemed to manage it better than she did. He looked perfectly at ease as he pulled up a chair for her mum. Through the sort of filter that separated her brain from her surroundings, she recognised that her mother was trying to get Harry to dance.
"Harry, dear, I haven't seen you dance all evening."
Her dad glanced at her knowingly. That meant that Mum had drunk a bit, as well. That or it meant that Dad knew that she...with Harry...no, it must mean her mum was tipsy.
"Ginny would love to dance with you, Harry. Wouldn't you, Ginny? Ginny!"
Harry's voice, explaining that she hadn't wanted to dance. Her mother's voice, shrill this time.
"Ginny! You'd like to dance with Harry; the poor boy hasn't danced all evening..."
Harry's voice, rushed, asking Mum to dance, instead. Was he that keen not to dance with her? Or was it because she had said no?
Ginny giggled, suddenly finding the situation very funny. Harry was dancing with her mother! He must be so embarrassed.
Her eyes followed the odd pair as they weaved their way through the other couples. Her mother was showing him what to do; he picked up the steps quickly. He'd be a decent dancer.
All at once, Ginny imagined herself sitting in the shadows at the other weddings -- Dean and Parvati were engaged, and she'd heard that Neville was going to ask Hannah over Christmas. Even Luna would probably marry Theo and leave her alone, the only spinster. What about watching Harry dance with his bride? It was bad enough watching him being heart-achingly polite and chivalrous with her mum. She wanted to feel his arms around her. It'd be so painful, though, feeling what she would never have.
It couldn't hurt more than this.
Would she ever dance in the spotlight? Would she ever be the bride? No. She knew without asking herself. This wonderful thing would never happen to her. She couldn't marry anyone she...Ginny sighed. She wouldn't marry anyone who wasn't him. Piercing resolution was carried on a spear through her heart. She'd be good old Auntie Ginny for the rest of her life; she'd be sitting in the shadows at her nephews and nieces' weddings.
She felt wonderfully detached. It didn't matter any more. She would be alone, she would be unloved. What was the point in struggling? It didn't matter any more. It never would. She leaned back and smiled. She was free.
A hand appeared in front of her face. She made out Harry, standing before her. He looked over his shoulder at her mother and back at her.
"I was wondering whether you'd changed your mind," he said.
"Thank you, Harry. I'd love to dance with you." She stretched out her hand to meet his and managed not to flinch as his warm palm brushed against her own. His fingers closed around hers, and she found herself on her feet. The whole world rushed to her head as she let him lead her to the diminishing crowd of dancers.
Colour, many bright colours exploding behind her eyes, filling her brain, swirling about in her head. Her body began to move to the music, and she let it. She smiled and moved her head to feel her hair wave against her back. She was detached, she was free, she would never be loved, she had no reason to fear Harry Potter's touch.
"Ginny?" His voice was quiet and unsure. He let go of her hand, and, for a fraction of a second, she missed its warmth before she felt his hands on her waist. She breathed in, wishing she hadn't eaten any of the heavily-iced wedding cake. He looked down at her, and she saw two hazy Ginnys reflected in his glasses.
The colour was his eyes; green was her language.
They swayed, looking at each other. Ginny felt held by his eyes, spellbound, as it were. She wondered if there had been a love potion in her champagne. But she already loved him.
"Thanks for dancing," he said.
She moved closer to him, and his arms held her there. Tired, she let her head find rest against his neck. She belonged here like this. This was where she fit.
"That's all right," she said into his shoulder. "I wanted to."
Everyone else faded away. Harry couldn't tell whether they had all gone home, or if he had simply ceased to see them. He didn't see anything. His body was taken up with feeling. He felt the skin of her arm against one side of his neck. He felt her breath on the other side. He felt her curves press against his body and the texture of her dress beneath his hand holding her waist. He felt her hair between the fingers of the hand which rested on her back. He'd thought her hair would be coarse, like a lion's mane, but tonight it was smooth and cool.
He could smell her. There was the smell of champagne, the smell of her perfume, which was sweet and made him think of apples. But underneath there was the smell of her -- the warm tang of her skin, the clean, fresh scent of her hair. He was surrounded by Ginny.
This was stupid. He'd danced with her before, and had never had so strong an urge to sink to his knees and press his cheek to her stomach. Like he had at the end ... at what he'd thought had been the end of all things, but which was really the beginning. He had sunk, and she had caught him and held him there, her shoulders hunched and shuddering. He'd known then.
He knew now. It had been unfair of him to tease Ron about doing nothing about Hermione. Although everyone had known that Hermione felt the same, whereas Ginny -- he looked at the red hair running through his hand -- Ginny didn't fight with him like Hermione had with Ron. At least, only when he was being an idiot. And Ginny didn't get self-conscious around him, well, not for ages, anyway. Ginny wasn't jealous of his girlfriends, not that he really had any. Ginny didn't sniff and say, "Honestly, Harry," or she did, but not in the way Hermione had with Ron.
Harry wasn't sure what was making everything so confused. It could be the alcohol; he had a decent head for drink, but he'd lost count of the number of glasses he'd emptied. All in an attempt to detach himself from the girl who was now swaying in his arms.
That worked well, didn't it?
When the music finished, and Ginny broke away, Harry wanted to pull her back and keep her there. Instead, he guided her back to where the remaining guests were congregating.
Hermione flung herself on him, but Harry didn't let go of Ginny's hand. He could tell that she was still swaying slightly by his side. Hermione's hair, previously tamed by large amounts of potion, seemed to be trying to make a break for freedom. Some of it tickled his nose as he returned Hermione's hug.
"Harry, thank you so much for the speech. I thought...it was lovely. You know we love you, too, don't you? You know we'll always love you, and that..."
Over Hermione's head, Harry exchanged a grin with Ron. "I'd better get her home," Ron said, in an obvious attempt to sound casual. He looked from Harry to Ginny and grinned again. "See you, mate. And thanks for not mentioning the spiders."
"What spiders?" asked Alicia, yawning widely. "Oh, never mind, I'm t-too tired. Take me home, George." George winked at Harry before propelling his wife out of the group.
Harry wasn't sure what to do. Ginny was still clutching his hand. She was still swaying, for that matter. He didn't want to just leave her.
"Harry?" Harry found Mr Weasley addressing him in a hushed voice. "Harry, I hate to have to ask you this, but could you see that Ginny gets home? Molly's feeling a little..."
Harry saw Mrs Weasley dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. "They've all grown up," she said, sniffing.
"Yes, of course. Ginny? Ginny, are you ready to go?"
Ginny was cold when they walked out of the hall. She shivered, and Harry put his arm around her. She leaned into the heat of his body and heard him sigh.
"Do you think you can Apparate?" he asked.
Did she look like a Muggle or a Squib?
"I most certainly can, Mr Potter." She turned to face him and stumbled sideways. His arm stopped her from falling onto the wet pavement.
He just looked at her.
"Well, I don't want to walk home. Not in these shoes." She raised a foot to glower at the high heels and felt him grip her arm in support.
He laughed. "Perhaps we'd better take the Knight Bus." He wrapped his cloak around her. She tried to protest, but he quelled her with a look. Besides, she was cold. She luxuriated in the thick robe, revelling in the scent of him. Maybe she could pretend his arms were round her and they were dancing again.
"Ginny, are you getting in, or not?"
She looked up to see Harry waiting by the steps of the Knight Bus. She hadn't even heard the bang it made when it appeared. Stan Shunpike was peering over Harry's shoulder.
"She's a looker, Neville," she heard him say. Ginny looked around for Neville. Hannah Abbott was pretty. She thought wistfully of blonde hair and blue eyes.
Harry had her hand again, and she smiled down at their combined fingers. She felt steps beneath her feet and then was conscious of sitting on something soft. She laid down, easing the weight off her feet with satisfaction. Her head rested on something that was squidgy and cool -- so cool against her burning cheeks. Something -- was it inside or outside? -- lurched, and she closed her eyes, feeling warm and cool and happy and sad and sick.
"'Ere you are, Neville."
Harry jerked; he'd been half asleep. Ginny, curled on her side on the bed, was breathing deeply. He hadn't seen her asleep before. Her hair covered most of the pillow, in a sort of halo-fan. She had smudged dark stuff round her eyes, and her dress was creased. But Harry couldn't tear his eyes away.
"Neville? S'your stop."
Ginny stirred, and Harry felt annoyed with Stan for disturbing her sleep. He reached for his wand to levitate her, but stopped. He didn't want her floating through the air, held up only by his magic. Besides, what would any Muggles think? He picked her up. He stopped breathing for a second when she murmured, but all she did was shift into his chest a little more. Placing each foot very carefully, he walked down the length of the bus and down the steps.
Ginny's house had been left to her by a great-great aunt, and, much to her parents' consternation, she had insisted on moving into the tiny place soon after she'd got her job with the Department of Mysteries. Harry smiled at the little place, as the wards recognised and greeted him and their mistress. He was glad she lived here; he wouldn't have liked arriving with her like this at the Burrow. He was also glad it was a bungalow.
Feeling rather intrusive as he went into her bedroom, he put her on the bed. Should he be doing anything else for her? He pulled off her shoes, wincing at the raw red patches on her feet. He tried to think, but his head was hurting, and his eyelids were heavy. He made sure she was covered by his cloak and then stood by the side of the bed, hesitating. It was as though all around was darkness and only she was light. Swallowing, he leaned forward and brushed her lips with his.
Her eyes snapped open.
Instantly, he recoiled. What had he done? How could he have? What would she think? He began to stammer an apology, but then saw that her eyelids were lowering again. Maybe she hadn't really woken up. He looked closely. The eyelids were sinking slowly, slowly, slowly down. Just before they closed completely, she smiled and mumbled something.
"I love you."
She's drunk, she's delirious, she's dreaming , Harry told himself, wishing that his heart would get back down into his chest. Yet as he made his way to the door, knowing that he'd only get as far as Ginny's sofa, he couldn't prevent himself from turning back and whispering to the sleeping figure:
"I love you, too."
Author's Notes: Thanks go to Magnolia Mama for suggesting the title quote for this piece, to Katieay for prebetaing it, and to Mistral for prompting me to post it here and for her awesome beta skills.