Disclaimer: The song Don’t You (Forget About Me) is definitely not mine—it belongs to a wonderful group called Simple Minds, and I’m only using the lyrics to impact the story arc, which makes this a song fic. On that note, I don’t own Harry Potter either, since J.K. Rowling and the good old boys at Warner Brothers and Bloomsbury have the market cornered on that. This fanfic is not for commercial profit or use.
Won't you come see about me? I'll be alone, dancing you know it baby
The train pulled into the station; he’d stopped paying attention to the time hours before, but he figured it had to be somewhere between two and four a.m. It didn’t necessarily matter. There would be a room waiting at a Muggle hotel somewhere, some place with space and anonymity. After a long journey with yet another empty ending, that was all he needed now.
No, he corrected as he stood up to pull his single rucksack down from the luggage rack, he didn’t need the space or the solitude. He longed for it.
It felt strange to be coming back to London. Maybe it was supposed to feel like a homecoming, but staggering into an empty station to meet nobody had never seemed much like coming home. It felt more…like another stop on this strange path his life had taken, one filled with as many doubts and uncertainties as all of the others had been. He nodded to the single attendant, squeezing past him in the tiny hallway. At twenty-four, he had only a few places that could possibly feel like home, but he’d made certain years before that none of them ever would.
Green eyes swept the train station cursorily, running over exits and any suspicious characters in the usual paranoid dance. They darted to the rafter, and Harry Potter breathed a grateful sigh of relief to see that they were devoid of owls. When the Ministry learned he was back in England, they would undoubtedly start pestering him, but he would take as much time as possible before notifying them to his presence in any way.
Something red jiggled in the corner of his eye, and Harry turned abruptly. His first thought was that his mind was playing tricks on him, his second was that he had stopped breathing.
Ginny Weasley didn’t seem to notice. She dislodged herself from a pillar and came forward. The smile she offered was in no way hesitant, but the hug surprised him nonetheless. “Hey, Harry,” she greeted him simply. He got a whiff of intoxication and fruit before she pulled back. “Shame on you for trying to sneak back into England.”
Harry grinned sheepishly before he could stop himself. “I didn’t want to trouble anybody,” he admitted. “I didn’t even know what time I was coming in, today or tomorrow. So I thought I’d sneak in and make things easier on everybody.”
“Nice try.” Ginny wrinkled her nose. “When’s the last time you showered?”
Now even more sheepish, he brushed a hand over his chin and winced at the length of the stubble there. He probably looked worse than he felt, and Ginny’s reaction proved that he probably didn’t smell any better. “Rome? Maybe Florence? I can’t remember.”
“Well, can’t have that. Mum would absolutely blow her cork. Best get you rested and clean before she notices.” With that, Ginny turned and led the way from the train station. There was a finality in the clicking of her heels against the tiles, so Harry had no choice but to trail behind her, clutching his single rucksack and wondering what exactly was going to happen to him.
Tell me your troubles and doubts Giving me everything inside and out and Love's strange so real in the dark Think of the tender things that we were working on
Ginny drove a Jaguar. Of all of the things he knew about her, that surprised him. Maybe it was the fact that he’d gone over to America, where Jaguars were a mark of power and wealth and even prestige. Maybe it was just the fact that he had forgotten how quickly she had been able to blend into any world, Muggle or wizard.
“I figured you’d be too tired to Apparate,” she offered by way of an explanation as she unlocked the boot so that Harry could throw his rucksack inside. He tried (and failed) not to stare at her out of the corner of his eye as he shut the door. The Jaguar was sable-grey, sleek lines and sophistication in its every curve. It fit the new Ginny that had been presented to him, one that wore a grey-green Muggle shirt with a great deal more appeal than any supermodel. It surprised him that she wore jeans, although it shouldn’t have. She liked comfortable things, but she also liked elegance.
He’d always liked that about her.
“Why not just use the Floo Network?” he asked as he slid into the passenger seat. “It can’t really be safe to be driving these streets this late.”
“Would you relax?” There was a touch of laughter in her voice. “I’ve got pull with the Ministry, and I pity the fool that tries to attack me. And we can’t use the Floo Network because that’ll wake Mum, who’ll promptly start fussing all over you, and Ron’s flat isn’t hooked up to the Floo Network. So Ron and I agreed that I’d come fetch you and take you to his flat. He couldn’t be here tonight because he’s got so much to do, but you still have your key, right?”
“Right,” Harry affirmed, vaguely recalling that it was stuck somewhere in the jumble of dirty clothes in the rucksack.
“Oh, good.” Ginny pulled into traffic, at ease with her car. Harry took the opportunity to study her in the light of passing street lamps. Of all of them, it seemed like she’d aged the least after the final few months of fighting Voldemort. If he didn’t know her, he’d place her somewhere around eighteen or nineteen, not the twenty-three he knew she truly was. “So,” she said, seeming to know that he was watching her. “Where have you been, Harry?”
Harry leaned his head back against the headrest. “Places,” he said at last. “Lots of aesthetically beautiful places that had no meaning to me at all. I picked up some postcards with pictures for you and Hermione to coo over, but after awhile, they all just started to blend into one massive place in my mind. I can’t pick apart the details.”
“That must be a depressing way to travel.”
Alone is always a depressing way to travel. It was on the tip of his tongue, but he didn’t speak it aloud.
“So,” he said instead, “how did you figure out that I would be back in England tonight, Miss Weasley?”
For a brief second, he was hit with the warm punch of Ginny’s amused glance. “Hermione’s the mastermind here. I just follow orders.”
“Hermione found out?” He didn’t recall sending any owls or letters notifying any of them where he was; it would have defeated the point. He had wanted to be alone, and so he had cut himself off of those he had trusted most with his life and his friendship. It stung both them and him, but it had been better off for everyone.
“We’ve been subscribing to every gossip rag our society has to offer. Hermione’s tracked photographs of you on a map in her office. She’s got pretty good at predicting where you’ll be next.” Ginny leaned across him to get to the glove box, and hauled something small and boxy out. “That’s her contribution for the evening.”
Without being told, Harry pried the lid off of the simple box and nearly smiled at the contents. Business cards. All of them belonging to Hermione, Ron, Fred, George, Neville, even Ginny. There was even one from Luna Lovegood, a junior editor at the Quibbler. He gave a wry chuckle. “I suppose this is a subtle way of telling me to keep in better touch next time?”
Since they were stopped at a light, Ginny took the time to gaze at him directly. He suddenly felt very, very small. “You had better.”
Slow change may pull us apart When the light gets into your heart, baby
Ginny filled him in the latest news of the group as she maneuvered her automobile through London with all of the ease of practice. “Here we are,” she announced, pulling up in front of the building that contained Ron’s flat. “I’ll see you in the morning?”
“I’m not going to run away again tonight, Ginny. Honestly, I’m tired.” Harry tried to crack a smile at this, but his face had stopped cooperating. He was tired enough to be numb to all emotion. It didn’t help that seeing Ginny again was like fighting a battle uphill. She could see through his every motive, so he kept on his guard, knowing it was useless. Still, he leaned forward in his seat and just looked at her. “I’m here for…longer…this time. I don’t know how much longer. But I’d like to see you again. Soon.”
Ginny’s smile told him that this was the right thing to say. “Come to the Burrow tomorrow,” she offered. “Let Mum fuss a bit. We can talk then.”
Nodding, Harry let himself out of the car. “We’ll talk then,” he echoed. After bidding her goodnight, he headed up the steps to Ron’s third-story flat.
Don't You Forget About Me Don't Don't Don't Don't Don't You Forget About Me
Ron’s flat was physically empty of his best friend, but Ron’s personality was so crowded into the place that Harry could just blend in without causing too much trouble. And it had a lot of space. So he’d been granted solitude, anonymity, and space. In the end, he’d got his wish. Why did that bother him? He frowned as he plunked his rucksack down on the bed and began to pull items from it at random. He had just made the promise that he was going to stay, so he might as well cool his heels a bit.
His collection of items had taken on a personality of its own. He’d never become accustomed to being wealthy, so he still tended to spend his money as frugally as possible. The result was an interesting mix of culture and cheap touristy items. Most of them had both a practical function and some sort of display value. There was a wooden box picked up in Budapest, where pieces of it twisted to one side to show a secret compartment. Empty and fascinating bottles that had once held exotic alcohols now toted foreign currency and other odds and ends. All of the books he’d picked up had important papers slipped between the pages.
It didn’t take him long to unpack. He dumped the clothing into the sink, shot a stream of hot water at it, and left the bundle to soak while he wandered Ron’s apartment.
Ron had established as much of a home as possible here, he saw quickly. Maybe it was the fact that his space at the Burrow had been small and out of the way, so he had practically forced the flat to serve as a homey space. Maybe he just missed the Burrow. Ambling through the two bedrooms and the short hallway and seeing all of the random artwork his friend had collected, Harry felt a brief pull in his throat. Ron wasn’t the only one who missed the Burrow.
There were photographs everywhere, most of them of Ron and Hermione, arms thrown around each other in various poses. The late hour meant most of them were sleeping—one very amusingly with Hermione using a book for a pillow and Ron drooling on a piece of homework. Harry was startled to see himself in the photograph, asleep near them at the common room table. A slim hand poked into the edge of the frame; peering closer, he saw that it was Ginny’s, for she was dozing just outside of the frame.
The photograph alone brought him to a cache of memories that he had played over time and again in his head. His time with Ginny had been brief, but it had been worth it. The memories were now something of a security blanket, to be pulled around the dark times in the middle of the night. He would never admit it to her, but it still mattered to him.
He couldn’t read her expressions anymore, though. And the ride to Ron’s flat, or the fact that she’d met him at the train station in the middle of the morning, weren’t enough to tell him if he still mattered to her like that.
Will you stand above me? Look my way, never love me Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling Down, down, down
Will you recognise me? Call my name or walk on by Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling Down, down, down, down
“Oi, mate.” Ron pushed open the door to the guest bedroom in his house—and ducked just in time to avoid a face-to-tip confrontation with Harry’s wand-point. “Watch where you stick that thing!”
Harry took a deep breath to tamp down the fact that Ron had genuinely startled him. He hadn’t expected to get very much sleep the night before, but somehow he had ended up crashing in the guest bedroom shortly before five o’clock. He’d dropped off like a stone for about four hours, only to be awoken abruptly by the sound of Ron pushing the door open. Only years of false alarms had kept him from outright hexing his best friend.
“Sorry,” Harry said apologetically, obediently sticking the wand into the waistline of his trousers.
“Good to see you made it back,” Ron observed, leaning against the frame of the door.
Harry crossed his arms and sized his best friend up, very much the way he himself was being sized. Ron had never looked so old, he finally decided, but he looked a lot better than he had the last time Harry had seen him.
“Your sister dragged me here,” he admitted.
“Good. Place needs somebody to keep it company. I’m not around much.” A smile cracked Ron’s tired exterior. “You look like hell.”
Harry eyed the tired lines beneath his best friend’s eyes, the exhausted downward tilt of his smile, the disheveled state of his robes. He looked as though he would have cheerfully dunked his entire head in a vat of coffee. “You, too.”
“Thanks. Listen, I’d love to sit and catch up and everything, but there’s some sort of get-together at the Burrow later, and I need at least a tiny bit of sleep if I’m going to function at all. I swear, I need a new job. I think Hermione’s starting to forget what I look like.” He gave a sheepish smile, ran a hand through his hair. It was shorter than Harry remembered, and the strange way it stuck up meant that it had probably been styled at some point. “Do me a favor and wake me up at four?”
Harry watched his best friend stagger off in the direction of the other bedroom. When Ron disappeared out of sight, Harry turned back into the guest bedroom and dropped back onto the bed. Just as the clock clicked over to nine o’clock, he fell back into a heavy sleep.
Obligingly, Harry woke Ron just after four o’clock. He had woken up a couple of hours before and had used the time to take a shower and shave all of the stubble off of his chin. His hair would forever sit untidily on his head, but he could do something about the state of his clothes. They were a bit patched after his years of travel. Still, he pulled on his best slacks, a drab pair, and a flannel shirt that buttoned up. It hung off of him, reminding him of the promise he’d made to eat more in a little villa outside of Rome. He didn’t think Mrs. Weasley would have any trouble helping him fulfill it with at least third helpings of every dish.
It took a pot of coffee for Ron to feel awake enough to Apparate, so they sat around the kitchen of Ron’s flat for awhile before heading out to the Burrow. The day was a typical stone-grey color, cold with a depressing touch of damp. Harry had borrowed a jumper from Ron, and the bright orange garment made him feel like he was a walking target. It didn’t help that his hands were full of various things he’d picked up on his travels. But he appreciated the gesture, nonetheless.
“How’s it feel to be home?” Ron asked as they trekked beyond the anti-Apparation boundaries set around his flat.
“I don’t know,” Harry replied. “Home? I don’t know if I have one.”
“Don’t let Mum hear you say that. And you’re welcome to stay at my place, though it’s usually a mess with all of Hermione’s books—and she doesn’t even live there.”
With that cheerful warning in pace, they Apparated to the Burrow. Harry landed unsteadily and had to catch his balance on the front windowsill. Ron landed beside him on the front porch, waggled his eyebrows, and pushed open the front door. “Mum! We’re here!”
Harry followed him inside, listening to the familiar creaks in the floorboards below his feet. It felt a bit like trying on old shoes: the place around him still fit, but it was him that had changed, not the house. There was that clock on the wall, stating where all of the Weasleys were; there was that oddly hideous painting that he and Ron had smashed on accident between their fifth and sixth years; knickknacks and other oddments he had studied time and again over the years, trying to guess their origins. Muscles he hadn’t realized were tensed unknotted. Even the smell was familiar enough to put him at ease.
Seconds later, Bill Weasley poked his head out into the hallway from the kitchen. “Oh, good, you’ve made it,” he said unnecessarily, and shook their heads. “Good to see you both. Mum had to run down to the market for something. Ron, would you do me a favor? I can’t find Ginny, and I think she’s run off to the back field. Could you go fetch her?”
“I’ll fetch her,” Harry offered. “I still know where it is and all.”
“Sure, that’d be great.” Offering him one last strange look, Ron followed his brother to the kitchen, leaving Harry to retrace his steps out the front door and head off to look for Ginny.
Don't you try to pretend It's my feeling we'll win in the end I won't harm you or touch your defenses Vanity and security
Ginny wasn’t up in the air, as he had suspected she might be. Instead, she was seated on an aging stump at the mouth of the field where they’d played Quidditch as children. There was a book open on her knee, and she had one leg crooked all the way around the other in a strange meditation pose. She didn’t look up as he approached, but he figured she knew he was there.
“Mum’s been in a cleaning frenzy all day,” she offered, finally looking up and shielding her eyes in the sunlight. “I decided to just get out of the way. Here seemed like a pretty safe spot.”
“She’s gone down to the market, so you should be fine.” Harry deposited the travel oddities on the ground and sat down beside the trunk. He wasn’t quite ready to deal with the full brunt of the Weasley family yet. It was a cowardly thing to admit, but it was the only thing he had.
“Good. Maybe she’ll forget my absence later. Have you seen everybody yet?”
“Just Ron and Bill. Is anybody else here?”
“Hermione’s going to drop by when she gets off of work, I think, and Fleur’s coming over for dinner.” It was nice to see that Ginny’s days of referring to her sister-in-law as Phlegm were long gone. “If the twins feel like it, they’ll of course be by, I imagine. Charlie’s stuck in Romania again, though he was supposed to come home for a month last week. I doubt he’ll make it.”
The absence of Percy’s name in her speech was notable, but not one he wanted to pursue. So Harry just nodded quietly. “Should be quite the feast,” he observed simply.
He could feel an intense gaze on his face, but he didn’t lift his eyes to meet it. “Yes, it should be. Everybody was extremely excited to have you back, so don’t be surprised if it turns into a marathon of eating and bad stories. They’re going to want to hear stories from everywhere you went.”
“I don’t think I can remember any of them,” Harry said ruefully. “I told you—it’s all one big blur.”
Ginny paused for a long moment and finally slid the book on her knee closed. “Well,” she began softly, “why don’t you tell me about Rome? You mentioned it last night. I’ve always wanted to go to Rome.” She changed from inquisitive to wistful so abruptly that Harry looked over at her.
“Yeah?” he asked. “Why Rome?”
“‘All roads lead to Rome,’” Ginny quoted. “It just sounds so interesting. Tell me, what was it like at night?”
Harry actually closed his eyes to drum up the memory from the slush pit that had become his thoughts on his travels. It took him a moment to locate what night in Rome had looked like. He nearly winced; he’d collapsed sometime around sunset and had woken up early in the morning in a very unsavory part of the city.
“It’s even more beautiful than you can imagine,” he lied, leaning back on his hands and not meeting her eye. “I wandered by the Trevi Fountain at night, and it’s…well, it’s spectacular.” That was at least partially true, but he’d wandered by the Trevi Fountain in the middle of the day and found it overcrowded with tourists.
Once again, Ginny fell silent. “You’re lying to me,” she decided. “Tell me, Harry, if you weren’t in Rome to enjoy the sights and everything the city had to offer, why were you even there?”
Harry’s only answer was a shrug.
“I can understand why you wanted to get away at first.” Ginny drew her knees up to her chest, tightened her arms around them. “I mean, we all wanted to, and we all did in our own separate ways. It wasn’t the best thing we all ever did—Ron’s still a workaholic, Hermione still has all of those campaigns of hers, I lost touch with a lot of my family for awhile when I was pretending to be a Muggle. But we’re all fighting our way back.”
“I’m back here, aren’t I? I came back to England.”
“If Hermione hadn’t been tracking your movements, you would have sneaked off to some nameless hotel and hidden,” Ginny said bluntly. “And then who knows how long you would even stay?”
Harry winced only because it was the truth. “I’m tired,” was a feeble excuse, but he used it anyway.
He’d always had a hard time telling the difference between sympathy and pity, but Ginny made it easy. She looked at him, eyes laden with the former. “Yes, you are. And you’re lost.”
“It’s hard to be lost when you don’t have a home.”
“Was that what you were looking for out there? A home?”
“An escape, maybe. I had a lot to think about, and the traveling gave me a chance to do that, at first. Then I couldn’t seem to stop.” He shifted, looked up at the tree line that he’d soared over time and again as an adolescent. “Now I don’t even know what I’m looking for.”
“You think too much.”
The observation made him lift his eyebrows. Nobody had told him that one before. They usually chided him for not thinking things through enough before he acted. “I do?”
“Yes. You get to this point where you’ve over-thought every single thing about every little detail. It’s bad for you, Harry. You’re a man of action. Mulling things over only leaves you running around in these irritating little circles.” Ginny’s voice sounded almost distant, like she was reeling off scientific facts about a subject to a class.
“Ginny…” He wasn’t sure what to say to that. Maybe honesty was the best policy here. He leaned forward sheepishly, looked at her face but avoided her eyes. “I do that for everything.”
Her smile was slow to come. “We all have bad habits.”
“What are yours?”
“Oh, I chew on my fingernails. Gnaw them to stubs, really. Drives Mum batty.”
Harry threw his head back and laughed.
Ginny’s eyes, meanwhile, turned serious once more. “Like I said, you’re a man of action. It’s just what you do. You act when others think it’s not your place, or when there’s nobody else willing to stand up for it. Sure, sometimes you drag your heels, but when it comes down to the quick, you’re the one reacting. Thinking in circles doesn’t help you.”
Frustration finally broke free. “What would you have me do, Ginny? Stop traveling? Stay here? Live with Ron and take a job at the Ministry?”
“Well, you’re not getting any younger.” There was something else there, Harry realized as he stared at her. Something large that she wasn’t saying. He studied her face, trying to figure it out, but its meaning eluded him. “Listen, we’d better get back to the Burrow before Mum comes back from the market. The others should have arrived by now, and they’ll be dying to see you.”
“What aren’t you telling me?”
Ginny just shook her head. “You’d better practice remembering some stories from the road for the others, or they’ll be disappointed. You just got back to England, Harry. We’ll save philosophy for another time.”
Don't you forget about me I'll be alone, dancing you know it baby Going to take you apart I'll put us back together at heart, baby
Don't You Forget About Me Don't Don't Don't Don't Don't You Forget About Me
Ginny’s prediction turned out to be correct: what was supposed to be a simple dinner turned into an ongoing “Remember when” story, accented with a lot of food. Mrs. Weasley had outdone herself to prepare a welcoming feast, and their appreciation for it showed in the number of extra helpings. Fred and George told most of the stories, stumbling over each other to include all of the details, and had everybody’s sides hurting from laughter only a few minutes into the dinner. Everybody greeted Harry with large hugs; Hermione seemed to hold on for eternity, until Ron laughingly pried her off. “She’s a bit of a leech, Harry,” he said apologetically and earned a bat on the arm from Hermione.
Everybody pestered Harry for stories about the various cities he had visited; Ginny had given him enough of a warning so that he did passably well, even garnering a few laughs from the rest when he told about nearly getting run over in New York City.
It was…nice, he realized, looking around at the table of laughing redheads and various add-on family members. He’d allowed himself to forget about this sort of evening, or maybe he had forced the memory away. By now, he couldn’t tell. Either way, he gradually began to relax as the evening passed by, chortling with the others whenever somebody reached for the wrong plate of food and ended up as a canary or something else completely unexpected. Fred and George were in high spirits by the time they all moved to the family room.
“So, Harry,” Fred said once they’d all settled onto various comfortable surfaces, “you plan on sweeping our sister off her feet anytime soon?”
Ron winced on Harry’s behalf. “Why don’t you let Harry get used to being back more than a couple of hours before you start setting him up?” Harry, meanwhile, was grateful that Ginny had opted to help her mother in the kitchen and wasn’t subject to this line of questioning.
“Well, we were just wondering,” George defended his twin, comfortable with a snifter of brandy that Bill had handed him. “We’ve got a lot riding on when it’ll happen.”
“When?” Harry asked, narrowing his eyes. “Not ‘if’?”
George, Fred, and Bill all laughed heartily at that. Harry looked despairingly over at Ron and Hermione, but they were avoiding his gaze. “Harry, do be a nice lad and give us a little more credit than that,” Fred told him. “She practically fought us tooth and nail to be able to pick you up from the train station. And you keep looking at her whenever you think nobody is watching you. It’s rather adorable.” He drawled this, and did such a clever imitation of Harry with moon eyes that everybody roared with laughter. Harry shook his head at this, unable to stop the smile it provoked.
“I—” Harry broke off as Ginny herself entered, wiping her hands on a dishrag.
She needed only a quick sweep around the room to know that something was amiss. “What’s going on in here?” she asked, accepting a glass of wine from Bill. “What are you all talking about?”
“We were thinking of setting Harry up with one of the women that runs a shop in Diagon Alley,” George said innocently. “You remember her—Althea? Althea Dresner?”
“Owns the cauldron shop, right?” Bill asked keenly.
Ginny let out a very un-ladylike snort. “Althea? Harry? That would be an absolutely horrible match. She wouldn’t have nearly the temperament to put with Harry in a snit. You know who might, though? That witch you work with, Ron, what’s-her-face?”
Ron coughed and frowned as he tried to figure out exactly whom Ginny meant. When he figured it out, he laughed. “Hera White? I think she’s taken, actually. She’s always got some bloke hanging about her cubicle.”
“Well, that’s too bad for you, then, Harry,” Ginny said mildly, and toasted him with her wineglass. “Guess you’ll just have to keep looking.”
As you walk on by Will you call my name? As you walk on by Will you call my name? When you walk away
Because they’d spent most of the night drinking the foreign liquors that Harry had brought with him from his trip, Ginny was too inebriated to drive home, Hermione didn’t trust herself with the Floo Network, and Harry and Ron couldn’t Apparate three feet, much less all the way to London. Stumbling and laughing, they made quite a farcical attempt to get to their old rooms in the house. In the end, Ron collapsed on the landing outside of Ginny’s room.
“Poor dear,” Hermione fretted, red in the face from all of the drink. She grabbed the wall to keep herself steady. “He’s been working too hard lately—the liquor—”
“Yeah, he never could hold it,” Harry interrupted, and broke off in a fit of very manly giggles. Laughing, Ginny pushed her hand into his jaw, no doubt trying to cover his mouth and missing. Caught off balance, he stumbled back into the wall and accidentally dragged Ginny into him. They narrowly avoided tumbling down the stairs together—which, of course, was deemed unanimously funny by all of those who were not Ron.
“Here—” Harry could not seem to stop laughing for the life of him, something that had never happened. “I’ll get him up to the room—”
But Ginny waved her hands. “No, it’s too far—we’re all too drunk. Just get him in there before Mum finds out—she’ll yell for sure—”
In the end, they dragged Ron into Ginny’s room and dumped him, shoes and all, into the bed. “We could set up the cot for Harry in here,” Ginny suggested, heading for the closet.
Harry shook his head. “I’m not sleeping in a girl’s room. I have some dignity.” Of course, he ruined whatever dignity he had by staggering into Ginny’s bureau and knocking a framed picture to the carpet. When he stooped to retrieve it, his head collided with the corner of the bureau and he landed flat on his rump, howling with laughter and pain.
He could practically hear Hermione’s teeth grinding. “Honestly, Harry…oh, never mind. You’re no use to anybody as drunk as you are. Go sleep down on the couch, and Ginny and I will take Ron’s old room.” Muttering about stupid men and stupid boyfriends, she headed up the stairs and left Harry and Ginny standing on the landing.
“I’m going that way,” Harry said wisely, pointing in the very vague direction of downstairs.
“Well, I’m headed the other way.” Ginny’s smile, soaked in the liquor she’d imbibed, came freely. “Guess this is where we bid our adieus until morning, when we’ll no doubt regret every bit of that poison you brought back, even if it is French.”
“French,” Harry echoed, and headed downstairs.
“Good night,” Ginny called after him.
He mumbled something back at her that sounded like “French” and maybe “fries.” He certainly wouldn’t remember it, just like he didn’t remember collapsing facedown on the sagging and comfortable couch that had sat downstairs for as long as he could remember and much longer. He must have made it down there somehow; that was where he found himself several hours later, as sunlight slanted over his shoulders. He lifted his head and stared blearily around, wishing heartily that the tympani quartet that had taken up residence in his skull would kindly shut up.
“Rough night?” asked a sympathetic voice from somewhere behind him.
Harry put space between himself and what he suspected was a patch of his own drool as he turned to face his visitor. “You know the answer to that just as well as I do,” he muttered, sitting up. He rubbed his face with both hands. “What time is it?”
“Shortly before noon. Hermione’s been at work for about six hours already, I’d wager, and Ron’s still snoring up in my room.” Ginny herself looked pristine, her blouse and jeans neatly pressed and her feet bare. There was a copy of the Prophet folded up under her elbow, which meant she’d probably been sitting there for some time. Given the size and ferocity of his headache, Harry was almost inclined to hate her.
“Did I snore?” he felt the need to ask, pushing at his neck as though it would alleviate the cramp that was assaulting his head.
“Only loudly enough to make the twins threaten to stuff a pillow down your throat and charm it pink.” Ginny smiled at his quick alarm. “Don’t worry, I persuaded them that they had other things to do today rather than torture you.”
“I suppose I’m forever in your debt.” Harry rubbed his eyes a final time and finally attempted to stand up. That was a bad move: nausea sprang up from nowhere and pinned him helplessly to the couch. He put his head back in his hands and groaned. If he moved too far, he suspected that they’d need at least a couple of cleaning charms for the floor.
Ginny smiled. “Having trouble?”
He didn’t want to answer that. “Is that coffee I smell?”
“Yes, I just brewed some. Want a cup? I’ve got no plans for the day, so I thought I’d help you shop for new clothing or whatever you need here, since it didn’t look like you had much on you when you got here.”
The thought of clothes shopping only worsened the throbbing in his head. “Ginny, would you kindly let me get a cup of coffee in me before you say things like that? It’s just not fair.”
Her chuckle only exacerbated his headache. He set his teeth.
“All right. Coffee’s in the kitchen. C’mon.”
Somehow, he made it the fifteen feet to the kitchen table, where Ginny took pity on him and made him swallow an entire glass of water before she gave him the hangover potion. “We’re almost out,” she warned him as she handed him a goblet of chalky green liquid. “So you’re lucky we still have some after the twins’ last birthday party. Drink up.”
Though he could think of Horntails he would rather battle with only a rolled up newspaper, Harry downed the brew in one agonized gulp. “That stuff tastes foul,” he gasped, setting the empty goblet on the table. He didn’t mind the taste so much when the nausea began to dissipate a few seconds later and the headache cooled, leaving a mercifully clear head behind. “Thank you.” He all but moaned it, so happy with the fact that his head was pain-free.
“Just don’t build up an addiction to it.” Ginny absently waved her wand to fire up the skillet and sent a plate of sausages dancing onto its surface. “It’s nice that Mum has this place so well trained.”
“Thanks for the coffee.” Harry nearly slurped in his haste to get caffeine into his system. He vaguely recalled days when he could he didn’t need the stuff to motivate him, but they were an extremely distant memory. “So you don’t have to work today?”
“A features columnist at M.W. calls her own schedule, thankfully.” Ginny took a seat at the table, keeping an eye on the frying sausages. Harry studied her over the coffee mug he was still drinking from and wondered when the first questions were coming. He didn’t have to wait long. “So have you given any thought to how long you’re going to stay in England, Harry?”
He’d been mulling over it; Ron and Hermione had both brought up the question at different times the night before. After awhile, he’d been too drunk to think about it, but he’d still given the question some contemplation beforehand.
“I’m not getting any younger,” he echoed Ginny’s words from the night before, staring past his coffee cup. After a minute, he looked over at her through glasses that desperately needed to be cleaned. “I haven’t stayed in the same place for longer than a month in four years. Ginny, I have no idea what England could possibly hold for me anymore.”
“You’re never going to know unless you stick around long enough to find out.”
Harry leaned back in his seat and fiddled with his coffee cup. “So I just stay here, then?” he asked, trying not to let the confusion creep into his voice. “Stay with Ron? Get a job that I’ll probably hate? Put my head down and be normal?”
“Ron’s been looking for somebody to take the flat. And there are jobs out there that you wouldn’t hate.” Ginny leaned forward, her own hands cupping her coffee mug and her brown eyes frank. “Do you know why Ron and Hermione aren’t married yet, Harry?”
He’d been wondering that, honestly, having watched his best friends all evening. He’d predicted that they would be married soon after the fall of Voldemort, but it was six years later and still nothing. “Ron works too much?” he guessed feebly.
“They wanted you to be there. But you haven’t returned a single owl or phone call. That’s why Hermione was tracking you—she was waiting for you to settle long enough so that she could go out there and tell you that she was getting married.”
The squirming sensation he was feeling, Harry realized, was guilt.
“What were you even looking for in all of those places you visit, Harry?”
Harry just shook his head. “Whatever it is,” and he took a sip of coffee, “I never found it. But I’m not sure it’s in England, either.”
“You’re just going to keep looking and looking,” Ginny predicted, her expression dour as she checked on the sausages, “but you’re not going to find anything. Harry, you look old. Older than you did after that last battle. And that scares me.”
“Ginny, it’s mean to drop all of this in a guy’s lap when he’s still recovering from a hangover,” Harry groused, rubbing his scalp with his hands.
Ginny whirled fast enough to make his head hurt all over again. “Did the potion not work?”
“No, it worked, it worked.” Harry yawned. “I’m just tired—even though I wager I’ve spent most of the last thirty hours asleep.” He stopped in the middle of a second yawn. “I’ve been in England for over thirty hours.”
“See? Progress.” Ginny ladled sausages onto plates and cadged toast onto the plates straight from the toasting fork. She placed a fried egg on top of the toast. “Technically this is lunch, but I guess we’re having breakfast together. Just like we used to at Hogwarts.”
Harry had forgotten that. He stared at his food as he thought about it and how much the thought perturbed him. Just how much had he forgotten about Ginny, about Ron, about Hermione and the Weasleys? And just how much had he missed?
If forgetting about eating breakfast with Ginny perturbed him, the concept of just how much he had missed in his friends’ lives disturbed him greatly. He looked up from his plate and over at Ginny, focused on her own plate. She was a columnist now, but he hadn’t known that. He didn’t know where she lived, her schedule, what her office at work looked like, whom she was dating…
And for the first time in years, he desperately wanted to know.
“Do I have something on my nose?” Ginny asked, breaking his train of thoughts.
Harry jumped back as he realized that he had been staring. “Er, no,” he muttered, and turned his gaze back to his plate. Instead of eating, he poked at the egg and watched the yolk run onto his toast in a yellow river.
“So,” he began in what he hoped was a casual voice, “are you—er—I mean, are you—how are you?”
“I’m fine, Harry.” Ginny wasn’t quite able to hide the confused laughter in her voice as she looked over at him. “Why do you want to know?”
“I just—hadn’t asked how you were this morning, that’s all.”
“Well, that’s sweet of you. How are you? Feeling better after the hangover potion?”
“Oh, much better, thanks.” He felt like kicking himself. Since when had he ever had a hard time talking to Ginny? He might not have always been honest with her, but he’d never had a problem just talking. They’d done it a lot at Hogwarts, especially after she rediscovered her voice around him. So why was he having such a hard time asking her a simple question over toast and eggs? In the end, he decided to just blurt it out and deal with the aftermath as it came. “Are you—seeing anybody?”
Ginny’s fork stopped mid-motion. “Why do you want to know?” she asked slowly.
She honestly didn’t expect him to spell it out, did she? Harry thought about imploring her for a modicum of self-preservation, but decided against it. “I thought…maybe if I stayed,” he began slowly, staring at his toast. When he couldn’t think of anything intelligent to say, he sighed and swore. “If I stayed—I’m not the only one not getting any younger. I—I’ll give England a chance. Move in with Ron, I suppose. Find a job I don’t hate with every fiber of my being.” He finally looked up at her, but he couldn’t read her expression. “But will that—I mean, will you—oh, bugger it. Is there any chance we could—”
He trailed off with a sigh at the stoniness in her look. “Forget I said that, then. Sorry to have bothered you.”
Great. Now he’d made a fool of himself and he still didn’t know if Ginny even considered the option of him remotely appealing anymore. Suddenly, there just wasn’t enough air left in the room anymore. He stood up to vacate, but Ginny grabbed his arm.
“No—say what you were going to say. I want to hear it.”
The all-encompassing panic of admitting that he liked a girl faded to weary resignation as all chances of a somewhat-smooth exit disappeared into the background. He leaned back in his chair and just looked at her, blending the Old Ginny into the newer and sleeker and even sexier New Ginny in his mind.
“If I stayed here,” he said with a sense of impending doom, “is there still a chance for us? To be…us?”
For a minute, the panic was back, but it vanished when Ginny gave him a wry half-smile. “Very eloquent,” she approved, standing and clearing her plate from the table. “And in answer to your question, I’m not seeing anybody. Stick around for a while and maybe we’ll see about us.” She set the plate in the sink and headed for the door.
Abruptly, Harry shot to his feet. “Ginny.”
She paused. “Yes?”
He wasn’t sure if he could say it, what he needed to say to fix this situation. He struggled, gripping the edge of the table like a man holding onto a life raft, and finally resigned himself to it.