Disclaimer: This is the first book of a trilogy Everything but the plot and a few characters are J. K. Rowling's, and this story never was, is not, and never will be intended to infringe on any copyrights, trademarks, or other legal declarations of ownership held by anyone anywhere. This and the following novels ares being written merely for the amusement of those who just know that Harry and Ginny are going to wind up together! This is the prequel to Harry Potter and the Philtre of Promise andHarry Potter and the Legacy of EvilThe author wishes to thank Ms. Rowling for creating Harry Potter’s wonderful world, and not objecting when fan fiction writers like himself play in it.
Harry stared at the longer blades of grass that grew under the hedgerow that marked the border of number four, Privet Drive, and took a vicious pleasure in imagining that each one was Bellatrix Lestrange as he cut them to an even height. The loss of his godfather still weighed heavily on his heart, and the imagined revenge against his killer made the boy who lived feel marginally better. Even in the oppressive July heat, he found that hard work—basically mindless physical labour--was the best way to keep his grief at bay. Too much time to think about it and he would find tears streaming down his face and the feeling of a large lump of lead in his chest.
He slashed at another clump of blades, and the cousin of his godfather fell headless to the ground, never to bother good folk again. It had been Voldemort who had saved her from returning to Azkaban Prison with the other captured Death Eaters, though from some of the things she screamed before he took her, it seemed that she would suffer at least a bit at the Dark Lord’s hand. Harry’s smile was more of a grimace as he hoped that her suffering was quite painful.
“You really should not dwell on something like that, Harry. Revenge, though temporarily sweet, can leave a very bad taste in your mouth.” Harry looked up to find Mrs Figg standing on the sidewalk, a net bag filled with tins of cat food in one hand. “That was what you were thinking just then, was it not?”
“Hello, Mrs Figg,” mumbled Harry, his heart not really wanting company at the moment. “I take it the Order is still keeping an eye on me?”
“Even the Ministry of Magic has had to admit that You-Know-Who has returned.” The elderly Squib gave a small shudder and looked around quickly. “You are a target, after all, and we don’t want anything happening to you.”
“I know, I know… Better safe than sorry, keep a watchful eye, all that rubbish. If it is that important, why won’t Dumbledore let me go to The Burrow, so I can at least be with friends? Even with Professor Lupin, Tonks, Moody and Shacklebolt dropping in every few days, the Dursleys are a miserable lot to put up with,” Harry complained.
“I know, dear. That is why I am here--I have a message from Albus for you.” Mrs Figg gave a brief smile as she reached into her net bag and extracted a folded sheet of parchment.
Harry took the message and unfolded it. There, in the usual green ink that heralded a letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was the ornate script of Professor Dumbledore.
Your stay with the Dursleys is at an end as of 15 July, when Kingsley Shacklebolt will arrive to escort you to The Burrow for the rest of the summer holidays. Please be packed and ready to depart at eight o’clock of that morning. I shall be visiting you several times thereafter to continue your lessons on Occlumency, and to begin Legilimency as an additional subject of study before term commences at Hogwarts.
“I take it that Albus’ letter contains good news?” asked Mrs Figg, noting the slight smile on Harry’s face.
“Yes, Mrs Figg. I will be leaving to spend the rest of the summer with the Weasleys in two days,” replied Harry.
“That’s nice, though I will miss having to keep an eye on you--keeping busy with that is much more exciting than herding cats.”
Harry grinned as Mrs Figg winked at him. “I wouldn’t worry too much--I’ll be back here at least a short while next year, and for at least a day every year after that, if I understood Professor Dumbledore’s explanation.”
“I would say that is nice, but I know the Dursleys all too well. Makes me wish I was not a squib so I could give them the what for they deserve!” Mrs Figg cast a baleful eye at the house. “Especially that overgrown, vicious bully of a son of theirs. I would cast a spell that would make him so clumsy that if he tried to hit another child, he would hit himself instead!”
Harry laughed at the mental image. “I think I will keep that in mind for when I am able to use magic freely. Merlin knows, he deserves it.”
“You do that, Harry, you do that,” chuckled Mrs Figg. “Stop by to say good-bye before you leave—I will have a plate of chocolate biscuits waiting.” With that, the elderly woman continued down the street.
Harry took his time in packing, folding everything neatly so it would all fit in his trunk. He had gathered the frame and shards of mirror –- the result of his breaking the small looking-glass his godfather had given him -- into an old cigar box he had taken from his uncle, wondering if he could repair it when he was able to do magic freely again. Is the other mirror was still at 12 Grimmauld Place, and if so, can I find it? With Bellatrix Lestrange still at large, is Sirius’ old home still a secure place for the Order? He still had many questions for Professor Dumbledore, and this time, he would persist until he got some answers.
When he had told the Dursleys he was leaving for the rest of the summer, his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had exchanged a look that plainly revealed they would be happy to see him go. That was to be expected, particularly since the members of the Order of the Phoenix had taken to popping in unexpectedly, trying to catch the Dursleys mistreating Harry. Since the first time they found Dudley trying to use Harry for a punching bag, they had made it impossible for the overgrown, overweight boy to even threaten to do Harry--or anyone else--any harm without transforming into a pig for several hours. Because of that, they never found anything amiss other than a severely disturbed family unit given to locking themselves in the loo whenever they appeared. Harry had even had a bit of his own revenge by asking his aunt and uncle when they’d be having pork chops or ham again while within Dudley’s range of hearing.
As he placed the last of his neatly folded robes in the trunk, there was the loud crack that heralded someone having Apparated into the room. Looking up, he saw Tonks’ reflection in the mirror, this time with dark purple hair to match the shirt and long skirt she was wearing beneath her robes.
“Wotcher, ‘arry--gettin' packed for th’ move, are you?”
“That is correct, Tonks--and it is about time, too,” he grinned as the sound of rushing feet and the slamming of a door told him that the Dursleys were once more huddled in the bathroom. “I know I have to return here at least once a year, but a single day is more than enough. I cannot wait to see the Weasleys again.”
“Uh-huh,” grunted Tonks as she sat down on his bed. “Now, that wouldn’t be because o’ a certain friend’s younger sister, now would it?”
Harry’s face pinked a bit. “I will admit that seeing her again will be nice—we have been exchanging posts ever since we got back from Hogwarts. But seeing all of the Weasleys will be nice, too.”
Tonks nodded. “Thought so. She ’as always been a bit taken wi’ you, 'asn’t she?”
Harry blushed a bit deeper red. “She had a crush on me when she was younger. I think she thinks me more of a friend than a romantic figure now, though she upset Ron a bit by telling him who she had been seeing during the school year, and who she intended to pursue when we return to Hogwarts.”
“So why th’ sudden int’rest on your part?” asked the purple-haired witch.
“I--I don’t really know,” admitted Harry. “She has always been Ron’s little sister as far as I was concerned, and I always liked her well enough. It’s just that something Ron said got me to thinking about her. That, and I just felt so bad about all my friends being hurt in the Department of Mysteries, I decided to try to write, so I sent her a post, and she answered back, and--well, that is pretty much where things stand after a half dozen exchanges.”
Tonks smiled. “Maybe that be for th’ best, ‘arry. If you had found someone ‘oo was int’rest’d in you just for your fame, well, things like that usually turn out badly.”
“What, the fame of being crazy? Or of seeking attention? The Daily Prophet may have changed what they’re writing since Fudge was forced to admit Voldemort’s back, but that still doesn’t change what they wrote for the better part of a year,” Harry complained.
“Maybe that was for the best, too, ‘arry. Think ‘bout it--wouldja really want someone that superficial ta be chasin' you if they ‘adn‘t written what they did?”
Harry paused, trying to decipher what Tonks had just said, and, deciding that as twisted as the thought had been expressed, it still made sense, answered, “I guess not.”
“Good,” replied Tonks. “Better you‘ be prepared to face those possibilities.”
“Possibilities?” queried Harry.
“Bloody ‘ell, ’arry, you‘re a celebrity! There will always be those ‘oo want the notoriety of associating with th’ famous--even if it‘s a famous murderer or mental nutcase. They don‘t care for the person, just th’ associative fame!” Tonks grimaced at the thought.
“Erm… You don’t think I am a mental nutcase, do you?” Harry went a bit pink as he asked the question.
“No, ‘arry, I don’t, and neither does anyone ’oo really matters. Understand?”
“I--I think so…”
“Good,” Tonks smiled. “Try ta remember that in th’ years ta come--It’ll keep you in good stead.”
“I will try do that, Tonks.”
“I guess that means it’s probably safe for me ta give you this.” She extracted an envelope from the inner pocket of her robe and held it out, smiling as she did so. “I think our young Miss Weasley just might be a good choice for you, ‘arry. She‘s not one ta look at things superficially.”
Harry took the envelope, a slight frown on his face as he pondered Tonks’ words. Recognising the handwriting and distinctive purple ink she used, his frown became a grin as he opened Ginny’s missive hurriedly.
I hope this finds you well, and that the Dursleys are not mistreating you. I just learned that Professor Dumbledore has arranged for you to spend the rest of the summer holidays here at The Burrow, and wanted to let you know that I am looking forward to seeing you again.
I am almost ashamed to admit it, but your letters have somewhat rekindled my interest in you. Of course, I realise that the likelihood of any romantic attachment is not a realistic outlook; I am just happy to have you as a friend and hope you will enjoy your stay with us.
I am sending this to you with Tonks since I do not think Errol is up to a fast trip and I want you to get this before you leave for here. If I might ask a small favour, I would be most appreciative if I could have a few moments of your time while you’re here, just to be able to talk with you in private; there are a few misunderstandings from the past that I would like to be able to clear up. I believe face-to-face is the best way for me to deal with this.
That being said, I have not much more to add to this letter that cannot wait to be said in person, so I will just wish you the best and close now.
“Good news, ‘arry?” asked Tonks.
“I-I am not sure. She says she wants to talk to me to clear up some misunderstandings, but I do not know what she means by that.”
“I see…” Tonks grinned broadly. “I wouldn’t worry too much, ‘arry. When a woman asks ta talk ta clear somethin' up, it’s usually somethin' she did rather than somethin' you did. Unless, o’ course, you did do somethin'…?”
“Nothing that I can think of,” replied Harry, just a trace of doubt in his voice.
“Well, I’m sure that if it was somethin' you ‘ad done, you would ‘ave realised it from th’ tone o’ ‘er letter,” Tonks smiled.
"If you say so," Harry answered, not completely convinced. Had he written or done something to upset Ginny?
"Th’ Dursleys ‘aven't been giving you any more grief, ‘ave they?" asked Tonks.
"No, they haven't," replied Harry. "They've been almost civil since Mad-Eye cast that spell on Dudley."
"Oh, yeah, that," grinned Tonks. "You know we'll ‘ave to remove it once you've gone, don't you, ‘arry? Can't ‘ave a Muggle turnin' into a pig without warnin', y’know."
"I know--but do we have to tell him? It's been a bit safer for the younger children around the neighbourhood since he found out that his actions no longer go unpunished."
"Int'restin' point, ‘arry. Can't see where anyone would object ta refrainin' from informin' th’ overstuffed porker or ‘is parents, I can't. Might do ‘im a world o' good if ‘e doesn't know," Tonks grinned mischievously.
"How about you, Tonks? You've only been out of St Mungo's for a few days--you're not overdoing it, are you?" Harry was concerned about his friend.
"Me? Fit as a fiddle, ‘arry--it's goin' ta take more than a stunning spell and a fall on me noggin ta do for me. A few days rest in St Mungo's and I was fine," Tonks assured him. "But ‘ow ‘bout you? Are you feelin' all right? ‘bout Sirius, I mean..."
Harry felt a sudden lurch in his equilibrium as the crushing sorrow of losing his godfather reiterated itself into his consciousness, and he took a moment to answer. "It still hurts," he replied, "and it makes me angry and sad and upset and frustrated all at the same time. There are times when I find myself mad at Sirius for dying, and other times when chopping Bellatrix Lestrange into tiny bits would suit me just fine. Then there is Voldemort and everything he is planning to do. I just don't feel like myself much anymore--there's too much that has happened."
"That's understandable. For what it's worth, ‘arry, I miss ‘im too. We all do."
"Thanks, Tonks. That's… nice to know."
Both stayed silent for a time, reflecting on all that had happened in the past month. Tonks broke the uncomfortable silence. "Th’ Order's been given official status now, ‘arry--the Minister finally saw th’ light, and asked Dumbledore ta lead the group as a secret counterespionage unit.”
Harry nodded. "About time. Any word as to whether or not Fudge is going to be forced to resign as Minister?"
"Nothing official, but Dumbledore ‘as asked the Wizengamot ta continue ta support Fudge as Minister. Said somethin' about `th’ fool we know bein' better than th’ one we don't.’ Probably because th’ next one in line for th’ position would ‘ave been that Umbridge woman."
"Umbridge?" The name rolled off Harry's tongue as if it left a bad taste in his mouth. "I thought she had been forced to retire from her position?"
"Almost--she's been stripped o’ most of ‘er Ministry duties, and is under almost constant surveillance ta keep ‘er from doing anything else ta upset things. The enmity she's created wi’ th’ Centaurs is goin’ ta take a lot o’ effort ta smooth over."
"Well, that much is comforting to know," Harry said with a grimace.
"Yes--she's little more than a secretary now, though Fudge's choice for a replacement isn't much better."
"Oh? Who did he choose?"
Tonks made a face. "Snooty little know-it-all by the name of… Weasell? Westley? Worstey? Somethin’ like that--Percy something. Ever ‘ear of him? Tall, skinny red-haired wanker? Reminds me sorta of your friend Ron.”
Harry awoke in the middle of the night, his scar throbbing painfully. Is Voldemort trying to influence my thoughts again? I did not dream anything--or at least I do not remember it if I did. I cannot quite tell if he is angry or elated, but something is happening.
Sitting up, he looked around the darkened room. Hedwig sat atop her cage, regarding him curiously, the light from the streetlamp making her eyes glow yellow in the darkness. The sound of Dudley snoring, harmonizing with the snores of Uncle Vernon made the walls of his room seem to vibrate. Getting to his feet, he peered out his window at the silent street below. Nothing was moving and what few sounds there were outside consisted of the humming of crickets and the clash of gears of a lorry several streets over.
His scar gave a final throb and the pain ceased. Wondering what had happened, Harry remained awake the rest of the night.
Kingsley Shacklebolt arrived right on time, Apparating into Harry's bedroom with the usual loud crack. Almost immediately, there was the sound of stampeding feet and the slamming of a door, followed by the rattle of a key in a lock. Harry grinned at the frantic reaction, causing the elder wizard to smile with him.
"Ready, Harry?" asked Kingsley.
"Of course I am," said Harry, closing his window where he had just sent Hedwig off to The Burrow on her own. He had his trunk pulled away from the foot of his bed, with Hedwig's cage atop it. "We'll be using a Portkey, I take it?" he asked as he sat down on the trunk.
"Nothing gets by you, does it, Harry?" grinned the Auror as he unfolded a newspaper from his pocket. It was an old copy of the Manchester Guardian, one corner lacking an article that someone had clipped. "Whenever you're ready, take hold."
Harry grasped the handle of his trunk with one hand and the paper with the other. The Auror took Hedwig's cage by the handle, wrapped a corner of the newspaper into the same hand, and tapped it with his wand. Harry felt the intangible hook behind his stomach and he was flying swiftly away, coming to a shuddering stop just outside The Burrow.
"There you are, Harry--all safe and sound," the elder wizard smiled broadly as The Burrow's kitchen door opened and Mrs Weasley hurried out, followed by Ron and Ginny.
"Hello, Harry," said Mrs Weasley as she gave him a hug of welcome. "Is everything all right, dear?" The note of concern in her voice alerted Harry that something out of the ordinary had occurred.
"I'm fine, but--something happened last night, didn‘t it?" he asked.
"You-Know-Who and his Death Eaters; they struck in Ireland early this morning. Several wizarding families' homes were destroyed and they were killed. We were just reading about it in the Daily Prophet." Mrs Weasley held Harry at arm's length and took a good look at him. "Haven't the Dursleys been feeding you? You look so thin and pale..."
"I haven't had much of an appetite," explained Harry. Truth be told, he had eaten very little since the day Sirius had been killed.
"Well, we'll take care of that soon enough. Come along, inside now--we will have a bite to eat before we get you settled in. You too, Kingsley--you look like you could do with some food as well."
Ron and Harry carried Harry's trunk into the parlour while Ginny took Hedwig's cage, then they all gathered in the kitchen. The aroma of fresh baked bread set everyone's mouths to watering as Mrs Weasley set out jam and butter and spelled the kettle to boil for tea.
"They actually saw Vol--him in Ireland?" asked Harry, spreading butter and jam on the still-warm bread.
"That's what the Daily Prophet says," answered Ginny. She stood up and reached over to the countertop where the wizarding newspaper was lying. Picking it up, she unfolded it and gave it to Harry. "Just a few facts and a lot of speculation--front page material for the Prophet."
Harry nodded at Ginny's assessment, and started to read the story under the headline.
You-Know-Who and his Death Eaters struck during the early morning hours, simultaneously attacking three residences in the village of Ballyhalbert, east of BelfaSt The Dark Mark was visible above each of the homes of the British Ministry of Magic employees and their families. Aurors who Apparated to the scene engaged several of the Death Eaters in battle, killing one and capturing three others, but with several suffering injury themselves.
Among the confirmed dead are Sean O'Hara, 54, his wife Shannon (McGillicuddy) O'Hara, 52, and grandson Michael O'Hara, 9; Michael Flaerherty, 77, and his wife Colleen (MacCauley) Flaerherty, 73; Hallopin O'Connor, 27, his wife, Andrea (Murphy) O'Connor, 27, and infant daughter Catherine Marie O‘Connor, age 4 months.
Harry stopped reading, anger welling up inside him so strongly that he began to tremble. Looking up from the paper, his eyes sought out Kingsley Shacklebolt. "He's killing infants, children, and others who did nothing more than work for those who oppose him. Why can't the Ministry find him?"
"Harry, he was the most powerful wizard of his age, and his evil both had and have people scared. Fear is a far greater ally than all his Death Eaters combined. Those who do speak out are marking themselves for revenge from him and his followers. Those who might speak out but don't are either scared, not wanting the Dark Lord's attentions cast in their direction or are in accord with his actions." The Auror shook his head slowly. "A lust for power--that's all that drives You-Know-Who, and having no real conscience, he cares not for who he harms.”
“Sounds like a sick reason to start a war,” Harry commented.
“Any reason to start a war is sick, Harry,” replied Shacklebolt, “and it’s always the innocent who are the losers.”
“Yes, I know,” answered Harry, thinking strongly of how much he, personally, had lost or almost lost to Voldemort and his followers; his parents, his godfather, some of his friends, almost everything that would have made his childhood happy and his life complete. A frown furrowed his brow as Professor Trelawney’s prophecy came to mind, the confrontation with Voldemort at some unspecified time in the future and the resulting death of Voldemort--or himself.
As he placed Hedwig’s cage next to that of Pigwidgeon, the tiny owl fluttered its wings and hooted merrily, seeming to welcome the anticipated arrival of Hedwig. Ron shoved an owl treat between the bars of Pig’s cage and continued his discourse on the woes of the Chudley Cannons Quidditch Team.
“Drove his broom into the earth right to the footrests when he couldn’t pull out of the dive in time, but he missed the Snitch anyway. Then, to add insult to injury, the bloody Snitch flew right into the hands of the Wasp’s Seeker just as they scored again with the Quaffle, giving them the win 210 to nought. It’s like the Cannons can’t do anything right this year.”
Looking up, Harry saw Ginny standing in the doorway to Ron’s bedroom, and smiled. “Hello, Ginny.”
“Finished unpacking? If you are, I thought we might--might take a walk. So we can talk. To each other. Uninterrupted. That is, if you want to…” Ginny bit at her lip.
“Is this the conversation you mentioned wanting in your letter?” Harry continued to smile.
“Erm… Yes, Harry. That is, if you --”
“Yes,” Harry interrupted, “I’d like that, very much. I have to admit, your letter made me a bit curious.”
“Letter?” asked Ron. “Ginny’s been writing to you?”
Harry looked at his friend, noting the slight grin he was now wearing. “Erm, yes.”
“And you’ve been writing to Ginny?”
“Yes, he has, Ron,” answered Ginny for him. “He writes to me, I answer--I would have thought you’d figured that part out by now, seeing how you and Hermione have been running Pig ragged so far this summer.”
“Oh?” Harry eyed Ron, watching his ears turn red. “Continuing what you started on the train home?” he grinned.
“Oh yes, definitely,” said Ginny, trying to keep from laughing at Ron’s discomposure. “He’s used up two bottles of ink already, and I don‘t know how many rolls of parchment.”
“I had a lot to say,” Ron said defensively.
“And so did Hermione--Pig came back with one letter so thick he almost couldn’t carry it.”
Harry grinned at his friend, whose ears were practically glowing by now. “Well, I won’t keep you from your correspondence. I‘ll see you in a bit, Ron.” He turned to face Ginny. “Ready if you are.”
Ginny blushed, lowering her eyes as she did so. The scattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks stood out against the warm flush that coloured her face, making her somehow even more appealing to look at. “All right,” she managed to say, her voice husky as she glanced upward for a moment. Their eyes made contact, and her blush deepened.
Harry took a few steps toward the red-haired girl, whose deep brown eyes widened at his approach. He noted that her breathing had quickened, and a small flutter on the right side of her neck marked an increased pulse rate. Then he noted that his own heart had picked up speed as he drew closer, and he could feel the start of a warm flush creeping up his neck. When had Ginny grown up so much? he thought to himself, shocked that he hadn‘t noticed before. She has turned rather pretty. No, not just pretty--beautiful!
Almost without realising it, he followed her as she turned and led the way. Watching her walk before him, a euphoric feeling raced throughout his body, and before he knew it, they were walking through the garden outside the kitchen door.
“Harry, I…” Ginny started, and then paused. “I wanted to--to apologise. I had that silly schoolgirl crush on you, and it made me do some things I am sure you found embarrassing. Like that Valentine during my first year at Hogwarts, or the Harry Potter Fan Club…”
“I remember,” Harry replied, a slight smile on his lips. “It was a bit embarrassing, but I have to admit, I kind of liked the attention… Not so much then as I do now, of course.”
“You liked it?” Ginny was flushing red again.
“Let’s just say that the memory of the flattery is better than the occurrence,” grinned Harry.
Ginny returned a smile, and they continued to walk along, out the garden gate and across the property, through and beyond the apple orchard. Both teenagers remained silent for some time as they walked, until Harry broke the quiet by coming to a sudden stop and whispering, “Look there!” as he pointed.
Just by the trees ahead were a doe and her fawn, grazing quietly. The doe’s head lifted and she stared at the two teens for several moments before returning to her interrupted meal. The fawn skittered around its mother and looked at them from between her legs, unsure if they posed a threat or not.
“They’re beautiful,” breathed Ginny, transfixed by the peace of the scene and the animals. Slowly, she took several steps toward them, only to have the doe come to the alert and bound off, the fawn following, into the woods and out of sight. Disappointed, Ginny turned back to Harry.
“That’s beautiful, too,” Harry said aloud as he looked at Ginny.
Ginny turned away and looked back at the forest “Where?” she asked as she continued to scan the glade ahead.
Harry began to blush as he gathered his courage to say what was running through his mind. “Right in front of me.”
“Right in front…?” Ginny paused, then blushed herself as she turned back to face him. “Oh… erm, thank you,” she replied as she dropped her gaze shyly, suddenly unable to look at Harry.
“It’s true, you know,” he continued.
Ginny flushed a brighter red, still avoiding Harry’s gaze. Harry watched her a few moments more, then reached out to take her hand. Ginny briefly lifted her eyes to meet his, a faint smile on her lips, and curled her fingers around his hand in return.
As they continued on, Ginny started to make small talk. “I’m glad Professor Dumbledore let you come to The Burrow early this year. It’s nice to have you here.”
“Thank you,” he replied. “It’s always nice to come here. Is Ron still upset about you wanting to go out with Dean Thomas?“
“Oh, we came to an agreement about that--he doesn’t ask any questions, and I don’t hex him into tomorrow. He tried to get me to change my mind about it, but a weekend with Bat Bogeys chasing him around pretty much cured him of that.“ She stepped over a fallen tree, allowing Harry to help her maintain her balance as they held hands. They were now well into the grove of trees, the leaves giving them a green canopy overhead. “You never mentioned much about what you were doing during the summer holidays in your letters. Were things a little better with the members of the Order stopping by?”
“It was an improvement. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon tended to just ignore me, but Dudley came down with a case of the hysterical jitters--especially after Mad-Eye cursed him into turning into a pig whenever he tried to hurt anyone. It wasn’t long after that they all started to hide in the loo whenever they heard anyone Apparate in.”
Ginny gave out with a short musical laugh. “A pig? Tonks never said anything about that.”
“Well, they had to take it off him when I left, but she said it would probably do him good if they didn’t tell him about that. I imagine he still thinks twice before trying anything. What about you? What have you been up to?”
“Reading, mostly, getting ready for term to start at Hogwarts . Some swimming, when the days are hot, and learning how to cook and bake and use the other household charms and spells from Mum. Chores, that sort of thing.”
“Swimming? Is there a pool nearby?”
“Sort of,” smiled Ginny. “Come on, I’ll show you.” She led him through the grove of trees for a short distance until they came to a hedge grown wild. “Through here,” she explained, ducking down to wiggle through a gap.
Harry followed, barely scraping through, his clothes and hair being caught several times. When he reached the other side, he found that Ginny had led him to a secluded bend in the river. Several large trees cast shadows across the water, and someone had brought a wooden bench to the riverbank to sit on.
“The water gets fairly deep right here,” explained Ginny. “You can even dive in. Bill and Charlie began excavating the river bottom here when they were younger, and we’ve all helped enlarge it as we used it while we were growing up.”
Harry nodded as he stepped to her side. Noticing a bit of green tangled in her hair, he reached out and plucked a leafy twig from the red locks. “This must have gotten caught when you went through the hedge,” he explained.
Ginny looked at him and giggled. “You’ve got one caught in your hair too.”
The two teens drew closer together, their gazes locked. Ginny’s smile grew wider, and she reached up with her free hand to pull the leaf from its entanglement and smooth down a lock of Harry’s messy hair. Harry returned the smile and leaned forward slightly. That was all it took--Ginny’s hand slid to the back of his head as she stood on tiptoe, pulling him into a brief but heartfelt kiss. When she pulled away seconds later, her eyes were sparkling.
Harry could feel his heart pounding in his chest, the warmth of her kiss still on his lips tasting slightly of strawberries, and found himself wanting more than anything to kiss her again. It was as if she could read his mind, because she once more rose up on her toes, freeing her other hand to also wrap around the back of his neck and pull him closer. Harry took advantage of the opportunity to wrap his own hands about her waist to hold her in the kiss, even if it were for only a few seconds longer.
It was -- Ginny prolonged the kiss, three, four, five seconds before she pulled back, suddenly shaking as though with a tremor. “What are we doing, Harry?” she asked. “Does this mean --?”
“It means I like you enough to want to kiss you--again--if you‘ll let me,” Harry interrupted, amazed at his own boldness. He could feel the blood rushing to his face as he spoke.
Ginny said nothing for several seconds, only watching wide-eyed -- So dark a brown! -- as if unsure of what she wanted. Her hands and arms loosed from around his neck as she took a step backwards, putting some distance between them. Was she afraid?
“I--I don’t know, Harry. This--this seems suddenly strange to me.” She took another step back.
“It’s not that I don’t like you, Harry, I do like you, very much. It’s just--sort of sudden.” She bit at her lower lip worriedly. “It makes me wonder if…”
“If what, Ginny?”
The red-haired girl took a deep breath and blew it out slowly, as if to calm her nerves. “If it’s real.”
“Real?” Harry asked puzzledly.
“It’s the timing, Harry. You have never shown any romantic interest in me before, and it has only been a few weeks since you lost your godfather. It makes me wonder if you like me for me, or only as an available comforting presence.”
“…Oh…” Harry suddenly felt deflated, realising intuitively that he was not sure of the answer. Was he attracted to Ginny for the wrong reasons? “I--I don’t know what to say.”
Ginny’s faint smile faded. Harry could see the pain and confusion in her eyes, where only moments before there had been joy and happiness.
“I’m sorry, Ginny. Perhaps I am looking for comfort--I do not really know. I do like you, and those two kisses were wonderful…” He watched her smile disappear completely as he continued, “…but I don’t want you to feel like our friendship, or what it could grow into, is due to my upset emotional state over - over Sirius.” He watched as she took another step back from him, though he was sure she was unaware of doing so. “I’m… sorry.” He turned away from her and began to walk slowly back to The Burrow.
“H-Harry, please wait,” came her voice after a few seconds. The sound of footsteps rustling against the dry grass came up behind him, and his hand was taken by hers. “I--I don’t know how you feel, but I do know how I feel. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong, us being together,” she spoke softly as he turned to look at her, “but my heart says being with you, even as someone who may eventually turn out to be no more than a friend, is worth any risk. You’re a very special person, Harry…” Her smile was not as wide as before, but her eyes were no longer fearful, and when Harry returned the smile, the pupils of her eyes dilated with pleasure. “I think we might need to slow down a bit, though. Perhaps we should both think through how we feel--how we really feel towards each other, before we decide on… on anything.”
Harry smiled and nodded. “I think you’re right, Ginny. We’ll just take things one day at a time for now.” Hesitantly, he reached out, opening his arms to hug her--and she reciprocated, holding him tightly for a long moment. To Harry, it felt wonderful to hold her in his arms, her face buried against his shoulder for even that short time.
“Mum will have lunch on soon--we should get back,” she said. Harry nodded as she pulled away, but took her hand, holding it gently in his own as they made their way back to The Burrow.
“What are you smiling at?” asked Ron as Harry entered the room.
“Just--thinking,” answered Harry as he sat down on the edge of the bed.
“About what?” Ron insisted.
“About… about Ginny, and something she said,” Harry replied, “while we were walking. She asked me a question I did not quite know how to answer, but I think she answered it for me. At least, she got me to thinking that she’s given me the answer.”
“The answer to what?”
Harry hesitated, remembering how Ron had reacted to the news that Ginny was dating on the way home from Hogwarts. Well, he will just have to learn to live with it. After all, he is the one who seemed to suggest it. “Ron, I like your sister.”
“Yeah, she’s okay.”
“Er, Ron, no--I like your sister. As in going out like… uhm, kissing like. We kissed.” Was Ron really this dense? Harry kept stumbling over his tongue, “We kissed. She kissed me. I kissed her. That kind of like.”
“Okay, I believe you. No problem--better you than Dean.” Ron paused to look at Harry critically. “I only ask one thing, Harry. She’s my little sister, so I don’t want to see her hurt. Neither does anyone else in this family. Just keep that in mind.”
“I wouldn’t hurt Ginny, you know that, Ron,” Harry objected.
“I sure hope so, Harry, for your sake,” Ron said soberly. “You wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of Ginny’s hexes. Believe me, I know.”