This is the extended version of a piece originally written for the LJ hpgw_otp numbers challenge. My number was 16.
That's how old I was the first time I kissed Ginny Weasley.
Sweet sixteen they call it, but God alone knows why, and He wouldn't tell – even if I got down on my knees and begged.
I didn't feel 'sweet' but, as corny as it sounds, as though I'd found part of me I didn't even know was missing. Something clicked into place even as that beast was purring in my chest like Crookshanks on catnip.
'Course, at the time, I only noted it in passing, shall we say, and didn't think about what it might mean for my future until I had cut myself off from the love and trustthat Ginny wrapped me in so selflessly.
I knew she understood all the things I couldn't put into words the day we watched the greatest wizard that I had ever known being buried. I knew that staying beside her another second would break my resolve but I also knew that she'd let me go and do what I have to because that's the way Ginny is.
Three o'clock. I can see the faint glow of Hermione's wristwatch from where she's lying, in this cave in the middle of nowhere.
It's okay, although it does stink rather heavily of something large, hairy and drying out; what, we didn't stop to discover, all being too damned tired to care much either way.
We follow the same routine each night; have our usual argument about who's going to take the middle watch and get broken sleep but I always put my foot down and insist. I'm used to it by now and I cope better with it. Ron and Hermione give in, as usual, which is why I'm sitting here huddled up in my travelling cloak and thinking about my lifeline.
Ron stays awake first, although by the time he wakes me up, his hands are shaking so badly with fatigue that he's already put the miniaturised chess pieces away.
I watch him roll into his long, black cloak – as close to Hermione as his sense of decency permits – whilst letting the need to be alert waken me up fully. I won’t let anything pass me to get to them and every time I watch him, I recall Bill giving Ron that cloak out of sight of Mrs Weasley before we left. We can’t find the Charms on it, though Hermione’s doing her best.
Fuzzy-headed, I get up, prowl around, stretch my legs, that sort of thing and then consider where I'll make myself uncomfortable while they sleep. I like a spot where I can cover any approaches to our hidey-hole should we be unlucky enough to be discovered. That's my own idea, but Ron makes it easier for me. He’s getting damned good at picking inconspicuous spots so we can crash out for the night. Well, come on, it's not as though we can saunter into the nearest pub or hotel and ask for two rooms, is it?
The Death Eaters and Voldemort aren't the only ones looking for us. We have it on reasonable authority that Scrimgeour and his Aurors would like 'a few words' with us too. Tuh! I've told the bloke 'no' every time I've spoken to him, you'd think he would have got it through his head by now.
That worried Hermione when she first heard it. She has this idea that Scrimgeour and his Aurors want to arrest us. Take us into ‘protective custody’, more likely, or whatever the Aurors call it. Well, we have a few tricks up our sleeves if they try.
It’s dark in here. The kind of darkness that presses on your eyes. It smells damp and there’s a vague air current. It’s like…
This place reminds me of – oh damn! Here we go – every time we find a cave for the night, it’s the same damned thing…! It brings it all back and I start thinking about him. Sirius. The time he holed up in Hogsmeade and lived on rats just so he could be near me…That great mausoleum of a house he endured… If I had tried harder with Occlumency, then I wouldn’t have been lured, and he wouldn’t have left, and if Ginny could hear me now, I’d get a cuddle and a kiss. Then she’d take my glasses off, stare in my eyes and give me an earful.
“You did your best,” she’d say, eyes blazing. “We’re all wise when we look back and see the whole picture.”
She’s right, I know she is but it just… It still catches me when I least expect it. At least he didn’t chuck everything out during the days we waged war on that house. Gryffindor! When I think of the search we could have had!
It was Ron who remembered where he’d seen something similar when I showed him the fake Horcrux.
The locket and 'something of Ravenclaw's' proved to be the easiest things to track down in the end.
We’d all seen and handled the locket before, although we didn’t know it. One of the few things that Dung didn’t make off with from Grimmauld Place.
I hope Regulus Antares Black was waiting for his brother when he fell through the Veil… I rather like the idea that my Godfather's rebellious streak did rub off on his brother, after all.
I would like to know who went with him to steal the real locket from where the Headm... the Professor and I took the fake one. That potion was slow death and I’m convinced he knew it. ‘I am not worried, Harry,’ he said to me, ‘I am with you.’
Only later – a hell of a lot later – did it occur to me that the Professor chose to sacrifice himself for me, on the top of the Astronomy Tower, the way mum did. I still see his eyes... Okay, Potter, that's enough.
Or maybe not.
Face the pain, and let it make you stronger. 'What did not kill me just made me tougher'. That’s what he told me while I smashed up his office. Something like that, anyway. If Hermione had been there, she’d be able to recall it verbatim. I wish I knew how she does that.
When she heard the full version of what happened up there, Hermione thought the Professor’s choice might protect me, the way mum’s choice did. I don’t think so. Voldemort sent his Death Eaters in to kill the Professor, ‘the only one he ever feared’. He was meant to die, unlike Mum.
I still don’t get that.
I mean, Mum was Muggle-born, everything he despised and yet, according to the professor, she didn’t have to die. I keep turning it over and wondering why. I can’t shake the idea I’m missing something there.
If we could have had a few more hours in Godric’s Hollow, I’m sure I would have got an insight to it but we were attracting too much attention from the Muggles as it was. “Insensitive kids,” they called us. “No respect, crawling over the place where people had been tragically killed in that gas explosion.”
I knew Hermione was right when she said they’d call the police but their attitude really hacked me off. I wanted to yell that my parents had died there too and that, if they didn’t mind, I was visiting their graves but I knew that word would get back to the wrong people. I think the glares from Ron and Hermione were enough to shut them up.
I never thought I’d feel so… I dunno, lost, as I did looking at their graves, seeing their names and the quotations on the headstones.
“Love shall be our token; love be yours and love be mine.” was what it said on Mum’s. That sounds so like everything I’ve heard about her that I wondered if it’s quote from something.
Dad’s was longer. “Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.”
I thought it sounded like the kind of thing Professor Dumbledore would have said but Hermione said it was from a famous book. At least, that’s what she assured us she’d said later, when she wasn’t hiding her face in Ron’s shoulder.
It reminded us all of the professor’s death, standing at another graveside. When Hermione had finally fallen asleep that night, Ron confided Dad’s quotation reminded him of Luna –of the way she says what everyone is thinking but won’t dare say.
I knew what he meant. She said exactly what she meant, no more and no less.
I still wish Luna had let me deal with that Quill… and if I ever, ever get so much as a line of sight on Umbitch again…
To think, I had the bloody thing in my hands and never knew what it was. I should have seen the similarity to that bloody diary but I was too busy losing my temper all over the place to stop for two seconds and think straight.
I try and kid myself from time to time that my surliness that year was partly down to Voldemort invading my mind, and it could have been, but I was also pissed off.
Very, very annoyed, if you prefer, although 'pissed off' is closer.
Luna never took offence at my moodiness, she simply took it as an indication of my state of mind at the time. I doubt I’ll meet anyone like her again.
I'm dreading having to tell Ginny that her friend died. I know the second thing she'll ask is 'how did it happen', and her eyes will be blazing again and I won't be able to stop myself telling her the truth. All I'll be able to do will be to hold her while she cries. I hope. She's not keen on being seen crying. I might even join in.
Sweet, nutty Luna... She knew what was happening as she overcame the curse with every drop of her blood. Told me it was only fitting that a Ravenclaw deal with a cursed quill that had belonged to the Founder of her house.
"Hello mummy," she said, with that mad smile of hers and died.
I nearly broke Ron's arms fighting to get away from him and stop Luna, insisting it was meant to be me that took the blows, the hurt. Hermione told me that much later. Ron shrugged it off when I tried to talk to him about it.
He didn’t look at me as he spoke, frowning as he struggled to make his bag into a decent pillow, but his gruff tone told me just as much as his words.
"That's what family is about, mate. You may not be my blood but I know you better than some of my brothers. Respect you a bloody sight more than some of 'em too, so, yeah. You're stuck with me."
I bit right through my lip as he dozed off so I wouldn't start crying and let on how much that meant to me. I think he knew anyway. One of them worked a small healing charm on me when I snatched a couple of hours after Hermione woke up.
Horcruxes. What's left?
Nagini and Hufflepuff's Cup.
Then the last fragment in Tom Marvolo Riddle.
I wonder if he's made another Horcrux to replace the diary I destroyed saving Ginny down in the Chamber? I considered the possibility, but I don't think he will have. After all, he's arrogant enough to believe that only he knows about the Horcruxes. He's probably saving that pleasure for when he finally kills me.
Dream on, snake-head!
Ron said, “The fatal flaw in any plan is the conviction that you can see more of the game than your opponent.” Or so his grandfather told him when he taught ‘little Ronnie’ to play chess.
Hermione says that 'two heads are better than one'. I reckon that three of us can only be better. I hope.
I'm betting that Voldemort is so busy congratulating himself on his brilliance and invulnerability that he won't notice us sneaking up behind him until it's too late.
We reckon the cup he stole is in the orphanage and Hermione thinks she's worked out where that is but if she’s right, we've got another problem, one we didn't expect. Her research shows that the building has been converted into luxury apartments so nothing of the original floor plan is likely to remain.
Yet, I have to believe that we'll find where he hid the Horcrux, break the protections he's put in place and release another bit of his torn soul.
I have to keep hold of that because I want to be free of him hanging round my neck, like the rotting albatross in the poem Hermione was reading the other morning. I want it more than I wanted to kiss Ginny back when I was sixteen, not because of the prophecy but for the reasons Dumbledore showed me.
Because while I could walk away from it and have some kind of life, maybe even with Ginny, I know that Voldemort couldn't.
He sees me as the original 'thorn in his side' and, like a good Keeper blocking Quaffles, I have to be got rid of.
Talking of Quidditch… It's odd how she comes sneaking back into my thoughts at this desperate hour of the morning. Ginny, I mean.
She even found a way to come along as the three of us traipse round tracking down the means of Voldemort's downfall; letters.
Well, scraps of parchment really, each one no bigger than those boxes of matches Dudders hides in his room so that Aunt Petunia won't catch on to the fact that her 'precious boy' is smoking like an industrial chimneystack.
My heart literally stopped when Ron handed me the first one. Then he explained that she'd not owled but dumped them on him before we left, with instructions that he was to pass them on 'at his discretion'. Or, as Ron informed me with a grin, 'when he's getting too intense and being a moody, grumpy git,' which was what she'd really said.
The note burned in my hand – not literally – and my stomach rolled, thinking it was an incredibly stupid thing to have done. If we got caught, or something went wrong then those notes would lead right back to her and I could do nothing about it.
Despite this internal argument, I wanted to know what she'd written so when the others were asleep, I unfolded it – heart racing – and discovered that I had underestimated her. Again.
In a neat anonymous print, the light of a waning moon was enough to show me three words.
'Library; Charms stack.'
I couldn't help but grin as I gave myself up to the memory of that half-hour when we acted like giddy teenagers without anything else on our minds except getting caught…
Studying abandoned… Tickling and whispered breathy remarks that could be taken either way… Trying to muffle our laughter in case Madam Pince came and chuckedus out again… Stolen kisses… The glow in Ginny's eyes and cheeks… My inner beast's hearty approval…
In the darkness behind my sleepless eyes, I see her face as she gives me one of those sideways looks through her hair, the kind of look that used to cause short-circuits in my brain. The strength of the emotion almost makes me forget that it's been sixteen months since we parted. Sometimes, I have to remind myself that it really was me, Harry James Potter, on my back in the grass with a firecracker Ginny in my arms and not one of the twins' daydreams.
And she has the cheek to say I can be a bit of an animal… I still have the bite mark!
I'm sorry to say I laughed when I first saw her in the bridesmaid dress 'Phlegm' had chosen. She didn't take it very well but I stand by what I said; it did look like Aunt Petunia’s lounge curtains and she didn't have to Bat Bogey me. I'd apologised.
That's my Ginny though and I wouldn't have her any other way.
I know I'm supposed to say that Ginny would look good wearing a binbag tied in the middle but I can't imagine how fast I would have to talk to persuade her to do it so that I could make the necessary comparison. Not that I wouldn't mind helping her out of it afterwards…
What? I'm allowed to dream! At the moment, it's the only luxury I have.
She wandered into my head last night and I was glad; it had been a day of disappointments.
We were at the lake again and she was leaning against a tree with my head in her lap, her hand combing through my hair. Neither of us spoke, just delighted in being together as the light faded, leaching the colours to nondescript greys. The crappy day blurred, replaced by simple contentment and peace brought on by her everyday action. As I dozed off, I knew I was smiling.
And she did that; my Ginny.
It's easy to talk to her in my head at this insane hour of the morning before the birds start coughing and the streets aren't even properly aired. I bet even decent house-elves are asleep in their beds, well; whatever house-elves sleep in, or on, or under. You get the picture.
I imagine her curled up in her bed. Somehow, I see her in a small ball, like a dormouse I saw in a TV programme years ago, and pretend I'm sitting on the edge of the mattress telling her how we're doing.
Nearly there. We're halfway there, Ginny. Two down and two to go and then a former Head Boy can have his immortality the Egyptian way; in the history books.
He isn't killing me. You trusted me to know what I was doing, to let me go and do it.
I want to repay that trust; to stand in front of you, look in your eyes and say, 'it's over. He's dead.'
Then I want nothing more than to watch the sun go down on the first day of the rest of our lives, with my head in your lap and your hand in my hair. After that… we'll see.
I found something hidden in Godric's Hollow – Mum was a Charms whizz as well as a dab hand at Potions – that I'm keen to slide on your finger, if you'll have me.
That scares me more than facing Voldemort, actually.
The possibility of having small pleasures and happiness every day for the rest of my life, and sharing it all with Ginny Weasley at my side.
I'll learn to cope somehow.
Duty hero, aren't I? Goes with the job description.
And yes, I am smiling wryly, just so you know.
A/N: *huggles* to my Beta, Katieay, for helping sort out Harry’s internal monologue so that it stopped leaping about like a startled Niffler! Thanks also to the lovely folk at the hpgw_otp who commented favourably on the original version: word limits are hard for me! The soul of brevity is one thing I’m not. Baffy.