Harry sat on the end of his bed surveying the mess around him. His release from the hospital wing had prompted a full-blown party in Gryffindor Tower, his recovery enabling his fellow Gryffindors to release the conflicting emotions that had filled them in the days between Voldemort’s defeat two weeks ago and his return to consciousness and then full health. The empty Butterbeer bottles and discarded streamers that lay all over the floor gave testament to the emotion that had been released as he’d entered the common room. His roommates had long since packed and were all outside stealing a few more memories by the lake before they had to drag themselves back to the castle for their ride to Hogsmeade and their last journey on the Hogwarts Express.
He threw a few more socks and T-shirts into his open trunk, which sat marooned amidst the detritus. He knew he was stalling; as long as he was in here the term wasn’t over and he wasn’t going to have to leave the only place he’d truly called home.
Letting out a long sigh, he turned his attention to the small wooden box that sat on the bedside table. The sunlight streaming in through the dormitory window caught on the engraved silver plaque flashing brightly reflected light around the room that danced off the walls and ceiling.
He picked the box up and brushed off the few pieces of streamer that had collected on the top. It had been a most unexpected gift, one that had caused a lot of heart searching. It contained another link to his father, but also a telling reminder that no one could ever foresee the true consequences of their actions. He undid the latch and slowly opened the lid. It was almost too fast for him, but seven years on a broomstick had taught him well, and it soon lay trapped in his palm, its tiny wings a blur of motion as it struggled to escape from him.
It’s not important where we begin, or where we are on the journey, it’s where we finish. Finish well.
Harry opened his hand slowly and the Snitch’s wings slowed down to a flutter. He watched and waited, his body tense with anticipation. Then its wings were a blur as it zipped from his hand, but before it could escape, it was back in his clutches. He repeated the exercise a few more times before finally holding the Snitch in both of his hands and letting his chin rest on them as he drew them to his chest.
He knew that King’s Cross would be crowded with parents waiting to greet the returning students, and he was filled with melancholy knowing that James and Lily Potter would not be among them. Yes, the Weasleys would be there, and Molly would do the best she could to crush the life out of him with one of her trademark hugs; but he longed to lose himself in the softness of a mother’s embrace. He sighed; he had long ago conceded that he would never know what it was like to be loved unconditionally, knowing that whatever happened there was someone who believed in you, who was there for you, who would never leave you or forsake you.
Harry looked once more at the tiny gold ball with its languidly fluttering wings. He didn’t know if Snape had intended it to be a peace offering or a show of appreciation to Harry for having defeated the Dark Lord that had haunted the professor’s life for so many years. The token hadn’t been presented in person nor had Harry seen Snape since receiving it. In the end, the greasy-haired Potions master was as much an enigma to Harry as he had been the day he’d first arrived at Hogwarts. Perhaps it was an indication of how much he had grown during the intervening years and for all that he had endured, but he was much more content to lay his curiosity to rest.
Placing the Snitch back into its box, he packed it and his remaining clothes into his trunk. As he fastened the lock on the front he heard footsteps on the stairs and a female voice calling for Ron.
Looking up, he watched as Ginny arrived at the doorway to the boys’ dormitory. Pausing for a moment, she looked quickly about the room before her gaze met his own, and she graced him with a warm smile.
“Hi, Harry,” she said as she entered the room, carefully stepping around and over the debris strewn over the floor. “Have you seen Ron?”
“I imagine he’s either in Dumbledore’s or McGonagall’s office right now,” Harry replied as she made her way to him. When she reached his side, he stood slowly, once more amazed at how much he now towered over her. Feeling slightly sheepish that she had to look up to maintain eye contact with him, he continued, “At breakfast this morning, he mentioned some last minute Head Boy duties that he needed to take care of.” As an odd thought crossed his mind, he broke into a wide smile.
“Harry Potter,” chided Ginny with a laugh, “you have a truly mischievous grin on your face. What are you thinking?”
“I just remembered that Hermione had a rather perplexed look on her face at Ron’s announcement. As Head Girl, I would think she would be equally aware of any last minute duties.”
Harry watched Ginny’s eyes twinkle in amusement as she caught on to his allusion.
“I suppose they wouldn’t be the first Head Boy and Girl to take advantage of their position to... manage private rendezvous,” she finished with a grin. Carefully tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear, she glanced off as if looking into the past. “I seem to recall running into Percy and Penelope on more than one occasion during my first year. And, they were only Prefects then.”
At her words, Harry’s mind was drawn back in time to the beginning of his journey into manhood, and he recalled the young girl Ginny had been when she started Hogwarts. It seemed like a lifetime ago, and he could hardly believe that the confident young woman standing before him had once been the quiet little girl who had blushed in his presence.
With unexpected force, Harry felt a wave of sadness wash over him. In less than two hours, he would be aboard the Hogwarts Express for the very last time, never to return to Hogwarts. Whilst he had been gradually realising over the last few weeks that that would mean no more Welcoming Feasts, no living in Gryffindor Tower, an end to classes, and Peeves, and the Great Hall, and trips to Hogsmeade... and everything that had been a part of his life for the last seven years, it finally struck him that it would also mean no more Ginny.
As an adult wizard, he would have no excuse to join the Weasleys at The Burrow towards the end of the summer. There would be no more opportunities for watching out of Ron’s bedroom window as a young red-haired witch taunted the gnomes in the back garden. There would be no more revision sessions in Hogwarts’ library where he could steal looks at Ginny with her head bent over a large pile of books. No more glances of her in the hallways, laughing with her friends as they made their way in between classes. And no more quiet talks with her in the common room, in front of the fireplace, when everyone else had long retired to their rooms.
Harry felt as if something very precious to him was slipping between his fingers, and he had no idea how to stop it. Somewhere along the line, time had become his enemy.
Whilst he had felt a strong attraction to Ginny during the last few years, there had never been any need to change their relationship. There had been far too many other things that had needed his attention, and he had thought that he would always have time to explore his feelings. Suddenly, his time was up.
Harry struggled to hear what Ginny was saying over the pounding of his heart. She had turned back to him with a wistful smile.
“...well, I suppose I will just have to wait for Ron to re-emerge. He has to show up sometime before we leave for Hogsmeade.”
As she walked back across the room to the door, her foot hit an empty Butterbeer bottle and it went skittering across the floor with an empty sound. She stopped and looked down at the floor and shook her head. “You know that Hermione will have a fit if you leave this mess for the house-elves to clean up.” Looking up and back over her shoulder at Harry, she asked, “Will you let Ron know that I am looking for him?”
Lost in his thoughts and the strange emotions surrounding him, Harry nodded mutely. The panic that he felt, as she walked out the door, frightened him.
As she rounded the corner from the boys’ dorm, Ginny clutched her hand to her chest. It felt to her as if a heavy weight was pressing down upon her, and she couldn’t seem to take the deep breath she needed. She slumped against the wall for a moment trying to compose herself before descending the spiral staircase to the common room.
When she had walked into the boys’ room, she had been greeted with the sight of Harry crouched in front of his trunk. All his personal belongings had been packed away, and it had struck Ginny in just that moment that he was leaving Hogwarts for the very last time.
Her mother’s admonition that youth was wasted on the young was correct. “You think that you have forever to do things, Ginny. But before you realise it, you’re all grown up and the things that you thought would never change, the things you thought would be there forever have gone, and there’s no getting them back.”
She slowly descended the worn stone steps back to the common room, feeling a growing reluctance to leave him as she did so. Harry had become such a big part of her life over the last two years, and she knew that when he walked through the barrier at King’s Cross he would disappear off onto the Northern Line and out of her life. Unless... She would miss the furtive glances he shot her whilst he was supposed to be revising in the library and the teasing from her friends as they giggled at his less than subtle staring as she passed him in the corridor. As she reached the bottom step she let out a long sigh before deciding to sit on the last step whilst she worked out what to do.
He’s up there on his own. You don’t have to go and snog him, you just need to ask him what his plans are. Where he’s going to live, what he’s going to do. Just let him know you want to keep in touch, does he mind if you write to him? Come on Ginny, if you can deal with Voldemort, you can deal with a seventeen- year-old boy.
Harry listened to the soft pad of Ginny’s leather soled shoes on the ancient staircase. Each step sounded like the ticking of a clock; reminding him that his time was running out. He sat on his bed, counting the seventeen steps that led down to the common room.... Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen.... She had stopped before reaching the last step. There wasn’t the telltale thump that would have indicated that she’d missed it out and had jumped the last few feet. No, she was still there, and Harry felt like the celestial clockmaker had reached down and stopped the clock just before it was about to chime midnight.
This is your chance, Potter, he chided himself. All you have to do is breeze down there and ask her casually if you can sit with her on the train and then you have the whole journey to....
What did he want to do? Ask her out? Find out if she minded if he owled her next year? He found himself letting out a small chuckle at his predicament. All the planning he’d put into the downfall of Voldemort and here he was, flummoxed by the prospect of talking to a girl. A girl who’d willingly spent many hours with him by the fireside talking about nothing in particular when everyone else had gone to bed.
Steeling himself for failure, he began his slow descent, each step echoing loudly announcing his arrival to her. He strained his ears listening for movement, for some indication that she’d run away, that she didn’t want to talk to him. He stopped half way down, his heart pounding in his ears. What if she’d already arranged to sit with someone else on the train? He knew that she was a popular girl; he couldn’t be the only boy who had lost himself in her soft brown eyes.
Ginny listened to Harry’s purposeful footfall echo down the staircase with a mixture of relief and fear. Despite her heart’s promptings, she’d been unable to drag herself off the stair where she sat to go and talk to him.
And now you won’t have to; he’s coming to you and he’s bound to speak to you. Perhaps you could slip it subtly into the conversation. ‘Harry please sit next to me on the train so all those other girls know you fancy me.’
But Harry wouldn’t act like that would he? Even if you were in a carriage alone with him, and you’d persuaded Colin, and Neville, and that annoying Ravenclaw fourth year that won’t leave you alone to stay away, he would smile politely as Susan Bones popped her head into the compartment and invited herself in.
To her horror, she realised that he’d stopped halfway down and panic overtook her. Perhaps he’d only just realised that she was still there and he didn’t actually want to talk to her. Perhaps he’d decided that a life of anonymity in Muggle London was the best response to all the post war adulation he’d received. Time hung frozen in the eight steps of no man’s land that separated them, and suddenly Ginny’s wish for all the time in the world seemed like a burden rather than a blessing. And then, to her relief, the footsteps began again.
Harry didn’t know what he was going to say when he reached the last step, but he’d decided that he wasn’t going to let his courage fail him now. As he drew close to her she turned and gave him what he hoped was an encouraging smile.
“Hi, Ginny. Still there?” he managed to say as she rose to her feet. Before she could answer, and before his nerve failed, he continued, “Is it okay if we share a carriage? I mean you’ve probably got a hundred and one people you want to talk to on the journey, but would you mind, for old time’s sake?”
She was surprised by his boldness and impressed by his ability to be so matter of fact about asking a girl to sit with him.
“Sure, Harry,” she replied as calmly as she could manage. “I’ve just got a few things of my own to pack, so I’ll meet you in the entrance hall in half an hour?” She had nothing left to pack, but she wanted a few moments to compose herself before meeting up with him.
“Okay, see you downstairs in a bit.”
Feeling relieved that he had at least managed to arrange for him and Ginny to share a carriage to the train station, Harry watched as Ginny opened the door and began to climb the spiral staircase to the girls’ dormitories. When she had disappeared from sight, he let out a sigh and turned to survey the common room.
As his gaze wandered over the cosy round room full of squashy armchairs and lopsided tables, memories of the past seven years flashed before him. His first look at this room through sleepy eyes when Percy led him and the other first years through the portrait hole; sharing the remnants of the Halloween feast that year with his fellow Gryffindors and his new friend, Hermione; sitting by the fire with Ron and toasting bits of food to eat whilst they plotted against Malfoy; countless nights sitting by the window whilst Hermione checked his and Ron’s homework; Quidditch celebrations, gatherings for announcements, evenings filled with joy and others with sorrow.
Tears began to well in his eyes as he remembered kneeling in front of the fire to speak with Sirius. So much had happened in this one room, and the time he had spent here counted for a good portion of his life. The last two years held similar memories, but the ones that came to mind most often were ones of him and Ginny sitting by the fire late at night, talking and laughing quietly.
Today he would leave this place for the last time, and leave behind so much of what made up his life. But, if there was anything of this place he had called home that he wanted to hang on to more than the memories, it was the time he had spent with Ginny. And that, at least, was the one thing over which he had some control.
With a determined stride, Harry returned to his room one last time to check that his trunk was ready for the house-elves to send to the train station. Satisfied, he spent a brief moment taking a look around before returning to the common room and slipping out the portrait hole for the very last time. With a nod and smile, he bade the Fat Lady a fond farewell and made his way to the entrance hall to meet Ginny and await the carriages that would take him away from the only real home he had ever known.
Ginny’s hand trailed along the railing as she descended the stone steps into the entrance hall. Her knees felt weak and her legs shaky as she scanned the crowd of students who were waiting for the carriages. She mentally reprimanded herself for being so silly. She had known Harry for over six years now; had spent countless hours with him during that time. There was no logical reason for her to be the least bit nervous about riding with him to the train station.
No reason except for the fact that she knew that if she didn’t say something... didn’t make some effort, that when they arrived at King’s Cross, he would most likely be out of her life forever. What she needed to do was no mystery to her. It was how she was going to do it that caused her anxiety. That the clock was ticking and she was fast running out of time only made matters worse.
Spying a mop of unruly black hair standing next to a suit of armour, Ginny took a deep breath in an attempt to quell the butterflies in her stomach. Nudging her way through the crowd, she reached the armour where she had seen Harry standing and felt a wave of dismay that he was no longer there. Turning on tiptoe to once more scan the room for him, she suddenly found herself nose-to-chest with the young wizard.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, as she dropped back down onto her heels. The sudden movement caused her to lose balance, and before she could shift a foot to keep herself from falling, she felt a hand at the small of her back holding her steady.
“I’m sorry... I didn’t mean to startle you,” Harry said as he smiled down at her. “Are you okay now?”
Having regained her balance, Ginny gave him a sheepish smile and nodded her head.
“Thank you,” she uttered a bit breathlessly.
Though respectfully placed, Harry’s hand on the back of her waist was strong, and its warmth seemed to radiate throughout her body. When he removed it and stepped back away from her, she felt a sense of loss.
Gathering her wits about her, she composed herself and continued, “I thought I had seen you here, but by the time I made my way over, you had left.” She gave him a bright smile. “I guess you hadn’t.”
“Just checking to see if the carriages were here yet,” he answered with a grin. Placing one hand just behind her shoulder, he gestured towards the doorway with the other. “They were coming up the drive just now.”
As Ginny took a step to move towards the great oak doors, a cheerful voice cut through the din around them, “Harry! Ginny!”
Turning to see who was calling, she watched as Neville elbowed his way past a group of fourth year Ravenclaws to join her and Harry. His face was slightly red and he appeared to be winded as he stepped up between them.
“I was afraid I’d miss the carriages,” he said, heaving a large sigh. “I was busy talking with Professor Sprout and lost track of time. Have they got here yet?” he asked looking towards the doorway.
“Only just,” Harry responded reassuringly. He gave Ginny a quick apologetic look.
She felt a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach as she realised that there was no way that their ride to Hogsmeade would be alone. How am I going to talk to him with others around? she thought with dismay. With a silent sigh of resignation, Ginny gave the young men with her a small smile. “Let’s go get a carriage.”
Harry scanned each compartment they passed with increasing dismay. Their plans to get straight on the train and get a compartment to themselves had been thwarted by a throng of well wishers from the village who’d gathered to see him off. After a full fifteen minutes of handshakes and requests that he not forget them, they’d been rescued by the Guard’s insistent whistle demanding they board or remain in Hogsmeade for the summer.
As Harry had charmed his and Ginny’s trunks to follow them, the red-faced Guard had muttered under his breath about war heroes being all well and good, but he had a timetable to keep. They fought their way through the train in search of the elusive empty carriage, turning down a succession of invites to share any number of partially filled compartments in the hope that they would find what they wanted.
Finally, in the last coach before the Guard’s Van they found what they wanted. Harry levitated the trunks onto the luggage racks above the seats as Ginny pulled the compartment door shut behind her. He hesitated for a moment, wondering whether he should lock it to ensure their privacy, but he decided that he didn’t want to give the wrong impression as to his intentions to anyone, least of all Ginny.
He sat down next to the window and smiled at Ginny as she settled onto the bench seat opposite him. In the half hour between their meeting in Gryffindor Tower and the arrival of the Thestrals, he had rehearsed his next move over and over again in his mind.
Just talk to her, he chided himself, like you’ve done night after night in the common room. It’s simple; you’re only asking if you can write to her, not trying to get into her knickers.
But once again his courage failed him, and he stared out of the window, embarrassed by his cowardice. He watched the patchwork countryside slide past in a blur of green and brown as he tried to gather himself, all the time studiously avoiding eye contact with Ginny.
Ginny sat uncomfortably, staring at her hands. She was very aware of Harry sitting quietly across from her, his gaze glued to the scenery outside their compartment window. Whether he was bored or nervous, she couldn’t tell. He did surprise her with his actions earlier. She had expected that once they arrived at the train, she and Harry would have parted ways, Harry having fulfilled any self-imposed obligation to spend a few last minutes with her before saying goodbye.
Instead, when the carriage had come to a stop at the station, Harry had bid a hasty and awkward farewell to Neville and, taking Ginny by the hand, had practically dragged her out onto the platform and towards the nearest car of the train. Their journey had been delayed by a crowd gathered to see off “The Boy Who Lived”. A quarter of an hour later, and after intervention by the Guard, Harry had once more grabbed her hand and pulled her onto the train.
He didn’t say a word to her as he led her down the corridor in a somewhat mad dash to find a compartment. The only words he did utter were distracted declinations to invitations for sharing a compartment, and an occasional apology for bumping into someone in the crowded corridor.
Once a suitable compartment had been claimed, Harry had fallen completely silent. After stowing away their trunks, he had seated himself by the window and had become lost to the view outside.
Throughout the morning, and into the early afternoon, various friends had dropped by their compartment. Harry would become animated and the conversation would be cheerful, if only brief. When the food trolley came by around lunchtime, Seamus and Dean joined them in a feast of Pumpkin Pasties, Caldron Cakes, Chocolate Frogs, and umpteen other sweets. Laughter had filled the compartment as the group had discovered some new flavours that had been added to Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.
She’d been hopeful that Harry’s buoyant mood would last, but when Seamus and Dean departed, their conversation dwindled to the point where he once more fell silent and returned to gazing out the window.
Ginny risked looking up from her lap to watch him. Had she really thought about what she was doing, she might have been ashamed for so unabashedly staring at him. But, she could see now that it was in fact nerves that plagued Harry.
She watched as he idly fingered the pocket watch dangling on a chain from his trousers. His trainer clad foot knocked impatiently against the wall under the window. Absentmindedly, he would lick his lips and occasionally heave a sigh.
He definitely has something on his mind, she thought, her anxiety level rising once more. And, based on how nervous he appears, it can’t be good.
Thoughts raced through her mind as she contemplated why Harry would seem so uneasy. There seemed to be a myriad of possibilities, and many of them were not good. The only consideration that gave her any comfort at all was that he had seemed anxious for her to be with him on the train. Either whatever he was nervous about directly involved her, or he somehow found her presence consoling.
She was leaning toward the idea that Harry was looking for her to be a source of either advice or comfort. They had spent many hours together talking over any number of things, and Ginny had come to know things about him that she suspected not even Ron or Hermione knew. If he was deeply troubled, she knew that he would come to her before anyone else. At least she thought so.
What if he really only does see me as just a friend? The pang of disappointment she felt at that thought disturbed her. I should be pleased to be his friend, to be someone he can talk to and share with. With firm conviction, she told herself, I am happy to be his friend. She could feel the truth in those thoughts, yet she could feel tears wanting to form as a small voice in the back of her mind insisted on adding, but I want to be so much more.
Perhaps fate had decided to take pity on her in that moment. Just when she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to hold back her tears, the door to their compartment slid open.
“...can’t you see what a bad example that sets?” Hermione was saying as she backed into the compartment. “Honestly, Ron... it’s our job to keep order, not undermine it.”
“It was just a small dung bomb, Hermione,” Ron responded as he stepped in after her. “And you know as well as I do that it was the least that Malfoy deserved.”
As Ron turned to close the compartment door, Hermione continued to lecture, “It doesn’t matter what he deserved, and you know it. What’s that group of second and third years going to think seeing the Head Boy pulling pranks on the train?”
As the arguing escalated in volume, Ginny turned to find Harry watching his friends with a broad grin. For a brief moment his gaze shifted to meet hers, and he winked before pointedly turning his attention back to the quarrelling couple.
“Woman, are you going to harp on me like this for the rest of my life?” Ron blurted out in exasperation.
“If you continue t...” Hermione had stopped and was now staring at Ron with her mouth still open and a look of confusion on her face. “What did you say?”
“I said,” Ron answered slowly, the twitching at the corners of his mouth betraying his amusement, “are you going to harp on me like this for the rest of my life?”
Hermione continued to gape at him in astonishment. She opened her mouth to speak, only to quickly close it again.
Ginny had never seen her brother look so... well, like the cat that’d eaten the canary. He was standing perfectly still, returning Hermione’s stare without blinking, an air of utter composure had settled around him.
Excitement began to build as Ginny realised what Ron was doing. A glance at Harry, sitting on the edge of the seat as he sat in rapt attention to the events unfolding before them and the huge smile on his face, indicated to her that he was well aware of what was going on, too. She suspected that he even knew what was going to happen beforehand.
She had to stifle a laugh at the thought of her brother staging this whole argument for the sake of catching Hermione off guard. Ginny thought for being such a smart witch, Hermione seemed to be taking quite a bit of time to work things out, though.
“What... what are you saying, Ron?” Hermione finally squeaked out.
At last, she’s catching on, thought Ginny as she found herself grinning widely at the scene playing out before her.
With a softened voice and a loving smile, Ron asked, “What do you think I’m saying?”
It took only a moment for Hermione to step close to Ron, a smile gracing her lips and a tear rolling down her cheek. “Oh, Ron ... yes.”
Only the sound of the train rolling over the tracks echoed in the compartment as Ginny and Harry both sat watching Ron and Hermione slip into each other arms. The tears that now escaped Ginny’s eyes were ones of joy for her brother and her friend. They seemed so happy together and right now in a world of their own.
Harry must have realised this as well for just moments before Ron and Hermione’s lips would meet, he cleared his throat and announced, “Congratulations!”
Ginny couldn’t help laughing at the blushes on both Ron and Hermione’s faces as they quickly stepped away from each other and stammered out hasty excuses to leave, obviously anxious to be alone together.
The buoyant mood over Ron and Hermione didn’t last as long as Harry would have expected. He was truly happy for his friends and overjoyed at having been privy to Ron’s plan to propose. But watching the development of their relationship brought home to him even more that he was now going to be out in the world, an adult wizard and on his own. Alone.
He and Ginny had an excited conversation once Ron and Hermione left. Harry explained to her how Ron had made plans, and they shared their amusement over Hermione’s reaction. The hour that followed, as they talked and laughed, took Harry back to those long evenings that they had spent together in the common room of Gryffindor Tower.
It was a strange phenomenon; the more enjoyable their conversation became, the stronger the feeling of loss Harry felt knowing that it would soon all come to an end. Silence finally settled between the two of them and Ginny excused herself to go share the news of her brother and Hermione with some of her friends.
Harry wanted to kick himself. It didn’t have to be like this. If only he could find the words to let Ginny know what was in his heart.
What seemed like ages later, he pulled out his pocket watch, flipped open the case and checked the time. There was still some time to go until they reached London, but the second hand seemed to rush round with unseemly haste, mocking his indecision.
“Still using it then?”
He snapped the watch shut before looking up. Ginny was standing in the open carriage door nodding encouragingly at the silver timepiece in his hands.
“Yeah,” he said shrugging his shoulders and smiling weakly. “I’ve become rather attached to it.” He caressed the well-worn case with his thumb enjoying the cool smooth surface on the warm July day. More than once he’d wondered about the generations that had used it before him. “It gives me a feeling of,” he looked out of the window for inspiration, “belonging.” He offered her an embarrassed smile, as if to apologise for his indulgence. As she sat down opposite him, she met his smile with one of her own, offering him encouragement.
“Don’t apologise, Harry,” she replied with a slight shake of her head. It pained her to see one so young with so many painful memories, and she leaned forward placing her hand softly on his arm as she sought to reassure him. She felt her breathing falter slightly and her mouth dry as she realised that he was now regarding her with a look of curiosity. Regaining some of her composure, she carried on. “It was your father’s; it’s only right you should use it.”
She let her hand slide off his arm, her heart pounding in her ears as she felt the tension rise between them. His gaze held hers momentarily and then fell back to the timepiece. She watched him flip open the lid again with practised ease and stare at the writing that was inside. Sliding forward to the very edge of her seat, she leaned in close to him and turned so that she could read the two inscriptions.
The first, faded by time and use, spoke of an unknown couple, presumably antecedents of his mothers, as they began their journey together.
To my beloved Eli on the occasion of our marriage
Your loving wife, Daisy
15th August 1853
The second was more distinct, but appeared damaged by deep scoring as if someone had tried to erase it. She felt a pang of sympathy knowing that this one brought more painful emotions to the surface.
To James: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
All my love, Lily
October 21st 1981
They had found it amongst Wormtail’s belongings, a trophy of his betrayal of his friends. Harry had admitted that he’d been in two minds as to what to do with it. It had been sullied by the traitor’s touch, but as Remus had pointed out, one life of betrayal couldn’t overcome a lifetime of commitment.
Ginny watched carefully as he studied the inscription wondering what thoughts were going through his head. She felt anger flare briefly against her brother and his fiancée; their best friend was still struggling with loss whilst they were practising for their honeymoon. But she remembered the joy that had been in Harry’s eyes as he had watched Hermione accept Ron’s proposal, and she realised how silly she was being.
How she longed to take hold of him, to wrap him in her arms and help him through the long process of healing. Almost without thinking she reached out and wrapped her hand around his.
He felt Ginny’s soft fingers close around his hand and gently close the case. He looked at her quizzically trying to discern her motives. She smiled warmly at him and let her fingers gently caress the back of his hand. For the second time that day, time stood still for Harry. Her fingers were long and delicate, and her skin felt so soft against his. She trailed one finger up his index finger until the fingertips were touching causing him to shudder involuntarily. He looked into Ginny’s eyes losing himself in their warmth, wondering where he went from here. They’d suddenly gone from not even speaking to something very intimate. He was filled with an overwhelming desire to kiss her and moved his face slowly towards hers. He tilted his head slightly and she mirrored his action, her breathing as ragged as his. As he closed his eyes in anticipation of the kiss, the door to the compartment banged opened and Neville Longbottom appeared, his flushed face displaying a silly grin.
“Hi Harry,” he said cheerily, seemingly oblivious to what he’d interrupted. He sat down next to Harry with a plop. “I’m glad I found you. Its bedlam out there, I think there’s more than end of term spirit involved. I reckon Seamus and Dean have smuggled a few bottles of Firewhisky on board.”
Harry reluctantly pulled his face away from Ginny’s and groaned. Not only had he been thwarted in his attempt to kiss Ginny, but from the smell of his breath, Neville had sampled some of the contraband Firewhisky.
Ginny wanted to cry. She’d been so close to kissing Harry before Neville had arrived and she now wondered if she would ever get the chance to do so. Settling back into her seat, she thought of their pending arrival in London. Somehow she knew that she would lose Harry in the scrum that would surround him at King’s Cross, and that made it all the more important to let him know how she felt. The countryside outside the window was becoming more and more urbanised suggesting that time was running out.
Neville was speaking, slurring his words as his did so. He wasn’t too drunk, just happily so, but it meant that this naturally reticent boy became garrulous, chattering away nineteen to the dozen, making little sense as he did so.
Ginny retained a soft spot for Neville; if pushed, would confess that whereas she was glad to see the back of the boy who trod on her feet at the Yule Ball, the young man who had stood with them against Voldemort was not unattractive. He couldn’t hold a candle to Harry of course, but she knew of more than a few girls who fancied him.
She watched Harry looking for some sign of irritation at Neville, but he retained an amused smile throughout Neville’s jabbering. Ginny couldn’t decide whether she was pleased at Harry’s reaction or annoyed. If he cared about her, she reasoned, then surely he’d be angry with Neville for interrupting their kiss. Did his amusement mean that he didn’t care?
Neville’s attention switched from Harry to Ginny and she found herself struggling to answer the question he’d asked her.
“I’m sorry Neville, what did you say?” Ginny blushed at her inattention, hoping that she hadn’t missed anything important.
“I said,” slurred Neville, a silly grin plastered on his face, “what are you going to do next year?” Ginny let out gentle laugh.
“I’m going back to Hogwarts, silly.”
“Oh yes,” he replied, his face covered in confusion. “Silly me.” He let out a little laugh finding amusement in his own foolishness.
“And who are you going to be writing to whilst you’re away, eh?” He turned to Harry swaying slightly as he did so. “That’s what all the boys want to know, don’t they?” He hiccupped loudly before turning back to Ginny. Looking at her very intently, it appeared as if he was trying to focus as he spoke.
“I’ve got a new owl you know,” he said in a conspiratorial whisper. “Very fast, delivers letters quicker than you can say ‘Jack Robinson’.”
Ginny heard Harry snigger, and she looked up to see him trying hard not to laugh out loud. She shot him a look that left him in no doubt as to how unamusing she found the whole situation.
Harry found it hard to be angry with Neville. He had watched his transformation from bumbler to hero during his time at Hogwarts. He’d proved to everyone that he embodied the true spirit of Gryffindor as he’d battled against Voldemort inside and outside of the school. Yes, he was annoyed at the interruption of their kiss, but it was hard to stay angry with Neville for very long, especially as he’d now switched his attention to Ginny. He knew that Neville remained attracted to Ginny, although that hadn’t prevented him from going out with both Susan Bones and Hannah Abbot. Ginny, on the other hand, had long regarded him as just a friend even if he had been the first boy at Hogwarts to kiss her.
“Hey, Neville,” Harry announced, “I’m feeling a bit peckish, do you fancy going to find the food trolley? I’m starving.” Harry got up and grabbing hold of the other boy’s arm, attempting to get him to follow him. Neville was having none of it, though, and shook off the unwanted attention.
“No, Harry, I’m fine, you run off and get some food whilst Ginny and I have a chat.”
Ginny looked imploringly at Harry for help, but Harry wasn’t sure what he could do. He shrugged his shoulders at her, holding his hands out to emphasise the helplessness he felt. Ginny mouthed a sarcastic ‘thank you’ at Harry before turning her attention back to the drunken boy in front of her.
As he closed the door behind himself, Harry was unsure what he should do. If it had been any other boy but Neville, he wouldn’t have left Ginny alone. But he felt he could trust Neville, despite his inebriated state, and set off in search on the food trolley.
Ginny could have literally cursed Harry when he left her alone with Neville. She wasn’t worried that Neville would try anything on with her, but she had always harboured a suspicion that he was still attracted to her. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but she wasn’t going to let that get in the way of resolving things with Harry.
“You know, Ginny,” said Neville, fighting a losing battle against the effects of the alcohol; “It always saddened me that we, that we didn’t get to dance again after the Yule Ball.”
“That’s alright, Neville.” She smiled at him; a fixed smile that failed to reach her eyes.
“I’m sorry I stepped on your toes.”
“Don’t worry about it, it’s all in the past now.”
“I’ve taken lessons you know, I wouldn’t step on your toes this time.”
He stood up and held out his hand to her.
“Come dance with me, Ginny.”
She looked at him as he swayed back and forth, the full effects of the Firewhisky finally kicking in.
“Come on, Gin, don’t worry, your toes are safe with me.”
“It’s not my toes I’m worried about,” she muttered under her breath, reluctantly getting to her feet.
Neville took hold of her hand and placed his other one on her hip. Before they could start, the train lurched causing him to stumble and drag her down onto the bench seats with him. He landed partly on top of her, his face a few inches from hers. As his lips hovered in front of hers, the smell of whiskey on his breath made her recoil.
“Please... Neville... don’t...” He closed the last few inches between them and as she moved her head to avoid the kiss, his head carried on past hers and hit the seat sending up a plume of dust.
She struggled to sit up coughing and spluttering as she did so. Finally she managed to get herself upright but was unable to shift Neville, who was now lying as a dead weight slumped across her lap. Her wand was in her trunk; otherwise she’d have levitated him off and onto the seat opposite. She could shove him off onto the floor, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to be that callous. It’s a good job my wand is inaccessible, Mister Potter, otherwise your return would be greeted with a hail of hexes.
Harry took longer than he’d wanted to, having been waylaid by several classmates along the way, and it was ten minutes later that he returned to the compartment arms full with food and several bottles of Butterbeer.
He spoke the incantation and the compartment door opened to reveal a very angry looking Ginny glaring at him. Seeing Neville slumped across her lap snoring gently brought a smile to his face, which disappeared in the hail of abuse that poured from Ginny’s mouth.
Setting the food and drink on the seat, Harry levitated Neville off her lap and onto the bench seat opposite her. He turned to offer her a bottle of Butterbeer but no sooner had she been able to sit up then she barged past him and out of the door into the corridor.
As the compartment door slammed shut he slumped down on the seat next to Neville. He looked so peaceful; his chest slowly rising and falling as he slept off the alcohol. Harry wondered what sort of life Neville would be able to live now that Voldemort was gone and school had finished. His parents showed no sign of improvement, and his grandmother had been murdered by Death Eaters. Everyone knew the story of the boy who lived and his hardships, but no one ever gave a thought for Neville Longbottom and all he’d been through. You’re more of a hero than I’ll ever be, he thought, patting his fellow Gryffindor on the shoulder. Stuffing his pockets with the food and drink he’d bought from the trolley, he set off in search of Ginny.
As he headed back down the corridor, Harry wondered how long it would take before he found Ginny. All too soon the train would be reaching King’s Cross, and he worried that he would run out of time. He quickened his pace deciding that he could cover more ground if he simply walked quickly past each compartment, peering through each window and concentrating on spotting her mane of Weasley red.
His plan ran amiss as he approached the very next compartment when he discovered Luna standing serenely in the open doorway, her gaze fixed on a point far away.
“Oh... hi, Luna,” he said as he came up short to stop in front of her.
“Hello, Harry,” she replied with a small smile. Her large eyes met his, but her words were delivered in her typically remote fashion.
Harry always had the impression that Luna half-expected no one to listen to what she had to say, so she didn’t bother putting much effort into saying it. Unfortunately, as he was in a bit of a hurry, he didn’t have much time for idle conversation. Nonetheless, not wanting to be rude he searched his mind for some innocuous bit of conversation he could engage in with her whilst trying to get a view into the compartment behind her to look for Ginny.
“Looking forwards to the holidays?”
“Oh yes,” she answered somewhat bemused. “Daddy and I plan to travel north into the Highlands. Rumour has it that the Roane are coming out of hiding now that Voldemort is gone. Daddy hopes to get an interview before The Prophet does.”
Peering around Luna and finding the compartment empty, Harry felt a small wave of disappointment. He turned his attention back to Luna and realised that she had finished and was waiting for his response. Though he had half listened to her plans for the summer, he didn’t know quite how to respond. Thinking that he’d be better off avoiding a long discussion anyway, he decided to try a direct approach.
“Erm... that’s nice, Luna. Have you happened to see Ginny?”
“Ginny?” she repeated as if she’d never heard the name before. “No, Harry... I haven’t seen her.”
“Really? She should have passed here just a moment or two ago.”
“I’ve been waiting here for Neville to come back by for the last twenty minutes.”
Harry thought he saw an actual blush blossom across Luna’s cheeks. “Neville is staying in the next compartment,” he told her with a small smile. “Feel free to join him there, if you’d like.”
Now there was no mistaking Luna’s blush as she responded, “Thank you, Harry.”
“Don’t mention it,” Harry said as he looked back down the corridor from where he came. If Ginny hadn’t passed by here, she must have gone the other direction. As he turned away from Luna, she gave her a small wave and said, “See you later, Luna. Good luck with the Roane.”
With determined strides, he walked back down the corridor. There was only one place that Ginny could be... the Guard’s Van.
Ginny’s irritation quickly vanished as she looked about the semi-darkened space where she now stood. She knew that she shouldn’t be here. The Guard’s Van was one of the few places on the train that the students weren’t supposed to enter. But as she had left Harry and Neville in the compartment in a tiff, she hadn’t really given any thought to where she was going to go; she had just wanted to put some distance between her and Harry. As she’d started down the corridor, she’d caught sight of Luna’s long blond hair in the doorway to the next compartment. Not having felt like conversing with anyone, least of all Luna, she’d quickly turned the other direction.
At least here she could be alone to think, and she had plenty to think about. She was so confused; she felt such a longing to be near Harry, yet he also frustrated her to the point where she wondered if she wouldn’t be better off simply giving up any hope of being with him. There were times, like earlier today, when he seemed on the verge of giving her something more. His actions and behaviour had indicated that he had an interest in her other than just friend, even if his words remained neutral.
But then, he would abruptly distance himself and dash Ginny’s hopes that his actions had built. It was as if he knew exactly the moment that she let her guard down and allowed herself to consider that perhaps he felt more, then he would pull back. She would be left feeling raw and exposed... old wounds torn open again.
It had been like this for years–a near constant state of her emotions being wrenched from one extreme to the other. To some extent, she’d always wondered if Harry held back because he knew he’d eventually have to face Voldemort. It would be like him to not want anyone to be too attached to him in the event that he didn’t survive. But with Voldemort now defeated, it seemed that that particular theory was now disproved.
She felt the irritation surge within her once more. Why would Harry lead her to think that he wanted to kiss her, then gleefully leave her alone with a drunken Neville? The amusement in his eyes at returning to the compartment and finding Neville lying in her lap had been like a slap to Ginny’s face. He had shown no signs of jealousy at all, no concern for her well being or even curiosity at how they had come to be in that predicament. It appeared that he truly didn’t care for her in the way that she desperately wanted.
With a sigh, she wondered if it wasn’t time to put an end to it all. She had noticed that with each disappointment she’d suffered, her doubts that anything would ever change had increased. When will it be enough hurt? She asked herself. Am I ready to walk away and end this?
As with each time before that she had posed this question to herself, her heart sank as she envisioned her life devoid of Harry. With a sigh, she admitted that she couldn’t do it – she just couldn’t give up completely. She cared too much for him.
Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, letting the rumble and vibration of the train’s movements wash over her. She wanted to clear her mind and let go of the hurt. They would be arriving at King’s Cross before long; her time with Harry was running out and she still needed to find a way to talk to him. She couldn’t do that whilst hiding away in here.
At the sharp sound of the door sliding open, her heart nearly stopped. Her eyes flew open and in the doorway she saw the silhouette of a young man with glasses and messy hair. Rooted to the spot, she felt a flush of excitement at the thought that he had come looking for her. Her joy, however, was short-lived as she realised that he must only be coming to let her know they would be at the station soon.
“Ginny?” his voice echoed in the near empty Guard’s Van as he entered and closed the door behind him.
Leaving the anonymity of the shadows, she stepped into a shaft of murky light filtering through the dirty windows.
“I know...” she said with an air of resignation, “we’ll be getting to King’s Cross soon. I’m coming.”
She strode quickly across the space between them, the heels of her shoes echoing against the bare metal floor. As she made to move past Harry and return to the student’s area of the train, his hand shot out and he took hold of her arm. Stopped in her tracks, she kept her eyes on the floor in front of her, fighting to hold back the tears that threatened to fall.
“Ginny?” he said in a soft voice, filled with concern. “Are you alright?”
He sounded genuinely worried and her emotional pendulum swung once more. Perhaps his care was more than just as a friend, but she would never know if they simply parted ways at King’s Cross. Taking a breath and trying her best to smile, she looked up and met his concerned gaze.
“I’m fine, Harry,” she replied. Despite her best efforts, her voice was still tinged with sadness.
“Why did you run off?” Harry asked, his voice sounding low and somewhat hurt.
“I’m sorry.” She tried to think of a plausible excuse, but even to her now, her actions seemed very childish. In the end, she gave up trying to explain and simply let her apology end in silence, giving him instead a smile she hoped would convey her remorse.
Though not tight to begin with, his grip on her arm loosened and his hand slid down to hold hers. With a gentle squeeze of her hand, he returned her smile in understanding and reassurance. In the stillness of the cavernous metal box they stood looking at each other and holding hands. Before the moment could become awkward, Harry broke their gaze and looked around them.
“A bit bare in here,” he commented casually looking at the few boxes and parcels that were scattered around the floor. “A little stuffy, too.”
“Well, we aren’t supposed to be in here,” Ginny said, a hint of laughter returning to her voice. She’d always had a mischievous streak in her, and Harry was just the kind of person to appreciate it.
“Really?” he said with a grin. “Considered a large broom cupboard, is it?” There was no mistaking the twinkle in his eyes.
This time she laughed aloud. The pleasure it gave him to make her laugh was evident on his face, and at that moment she wanted nothing more than to kiss him and not stop until they were pulled apart by the train staff. And why shouldn’t I? she asked herself. What would be so scandalous about me simply showing him how I feel?
She felt emboldened and almost reckless. The young wizard before her meant the world to her, and she wanted so badly to show him just how much she cared. Her courage, however, failed her at the last minute when Harry looked toward the door with a slight frown on his face.
“I suppose we should leave. We will be at King’s Cross very soon.”
Trying to keep a smile on her face, Ginny nonetheless felt a wave of disappointment in addition to more than a bit of panic. Her last chance to talk to Harry was quickly evaporating. She needed to find a way to talk to him and soon.
Harry had been so pleased to hear Ginny’s laugh at his attempt to lighten the mood. But when she’d not said anything right away to his remark, he worried that she might get the impression that he was interested only in a snogging session. Thinking that they’d be better off in the comfort of their compartment, he’d suggested they return.
“We should go back to our compartment then,” she agreed reluctantly.
Quickly trying to formulate how he would manoeuvre their return so they would sit next to each other rather than across from each other, he remembered what awaited them. At his recollection, he let out a small groan.
“Neville and Luna are in our compartment,” he said with sigh.
“Oh,” he quickly added, “I met up with her in the corridor, but it’s a long story. Look, I think Luna’s compartment is empty. We could go there.”
He really wanted to be alone with her. His time was nearly up and he knew that he needed to say something soon.
“Okay,” she answered sounding slightly bewildered.
Still holding hands, they began to move towards the door. They hadn’t taken more than a couple of steps before Harry tightened his grip on Ginny’s hand and stopped them short.
From the other side of the door he could hear the muffled voice of the returning guard, the accent thick as he grumbled loudly. “Dung bombs and stink sap... water bleedin’ everywhere... empty Firewhisky bottles... these kids are a right royal pain in the aris.”.”
Harry looked around quickly, but the near empty car held no convenient hiding place. He wasn’t concerned about his being caught out of bounds; he had finished school after all. But Ginny still had to return next year and he didn’t want to see her suffer any repercussions.
Glancing behind them, he spotted the only apparent escape for them: the rear door leading to a platform on the back of the train. Looking to Ginny, he mouthed a silent, “shhh” and nodded toward the back door. Turning around, he let go of her hand, placed his arm around her waist and quickly led them to the rear of the train.
With one glance back to make sure the Guard had not yet entered, he quickly opened the door and ushered Ginny out onto the platform.
Harry closed the door behind him and turning round he found himself squashed up against Ginny. For a moment he said and did nothing except enjoy the guilty pleasure that circumstance or fate had given him. Despite his early shyness and general shilly-shallying, he now found himself pressed up against Ginny in the most intimate way possible.
“Er... do you want to move back a bit there, only I haven’t got much room to manoeuvre?” He flashed her a nervous smile and shuffled a bit trying to emphasise his lack of room. However, instead of improving the situation it only succeeded in adding to his embarrassment as his body responded to the friction in the only way it knew how.
He pointedly looked away from her as if hoping to find a solution to his problem in the yellow brick Victorian terraces of Islington. Dumbledore had once told him that it did not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, and yet here he was, with the girl who had filled both his dreams and his fantasies over the last few years squashed up against him, and all he could do was squirm with embarrassment. He closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath to calm his nerves and as he slowly released it he turned back to her.
She had watched as Harry emerged out of the Guard’s Van with a mixture of frustration and relief. Once again they had come close to kissing, and once again they had been frustrated. But now there was nowhere else to go; they had quite literally run out of places as he squeezed onto the narrow platform that had been stuck on the rear of the train, seemingly as an afterthought.
Her relief was founded on the idea that, now that they had nowhere else to go and no one else was likely to come out here, she would get the kiss that she was sure that Harry wanted to give her. As he turned to face her she discovered that he was pressed very close to her. So close in fact that when he asked her to move and he tried to shuffle away from her, he only succeeded in making his real feelings for her abundantly clear. But instead of accepting the inevitable, he turned away from her seeking inspiration from the streets of North London. She wondered if the time had come to stop this pussyfooting around and take matters into her own hands.
As he opened his eyes he caught a glimpse of white Art Deco façade of Highbury Stadium in the distance, and he knew he had run out of time and excuses. He turned his face back towards her, smiling as he did so. He was pleased to see that she smiled back at him and his breathing quickened slightly. He felt strangely calm; it was one of those moments that happened in slow motion, like the final act of the last battle when time had stood still and he could see and hear everything so clearly. Time that had raced away from him on this last day and had stood on the sidelines mocking his indecision, now gave him the precious few moments that he desired as his lips closed in on hers. He turned his head parted his lips slightly and closed his eyes in anticipation of the kiss.
When he turned towards her, all the frustrations of the day vanished as he smiled at her. She had to stop herself from giggling as he subconsciously licked his lips in anticipation of the kiss. She wondered if his body was still betraying his true feelings and if she could pull him close enough to find out. Closing her eyes, she felt his breath caress her face as his lips closed on hers. It was everything she had dreamed it would be, from the days when he was her prince rescuing her in her girlish games to the long nights she’d spent longing for his touch. Her body sagged against his as she gave herself over to the moment. Unashamed of the effect she was having on his body, she revelled in her ability to make him feel that way about her.
It was as if everything he’d done over the last seven years had all been for this. Every struggle he’d borne, every fight he’d fought, were all to bring him to this point; this moment with this girl in his arms. Events before this moment were just so much sand that had run through an hourglass, and now lay discarded and meaningless at the bottom. His hands were bold in their movements around her body, but she just pulled him closer, slipping one hand under his belt and letting the other have free reign in his hair.
Eventually the need for oxygen, and a more private place to continue, overcame their desire and they separated. They held each other’s hands as they did so, silly grins on their faces. Neither of them spoke, no words were needed to express what they felt. Their epiphany was interrupted by the sound of the Guard arguing with a familiar female voice.
“Well they must be in here; we’ve searched the rest of the train. Are you sure you’ve looked properly?”
“Don’t go taking that tone of voice wiv me darlin’. I may not ‘ave your ‘ogwarts qualifications but there’s no need to look dahn your snoo’y ‘ooter at me.”
“Time for a quick exit I think,” said Harry grabbing Ginny’s hand.
“What about our trunks?” she asked as he stepped down onto platform nine and three quarters.
“Oh I’m sure someone will take care of them for us,” he replied as he lifted her down.
He slipped his hand in hers and they walked up the platform towards the waiting family and press. As the cameras flashed, he leant down and whispered in her ear. “Smile like you mean it, they’ll never know the difference.”
“Oh, but I do mean it, Harry,” she replied pulling him closer so he could hear above the shouting of the press. “And now that you have a place of your own, I’m going to show you just how big that smile can be.”