Harry was dreaming of flowers. Or at least, that was what he assumed they were. He could feel the softness of their petals under his fingers and breathe in the deep, heady scent, but his dream moved too fast for him to actually see them - their colours twirled around him, making him dizzy. Bits of lavender, honeyed brown and grand flares of red burned his eyes until he gave up trying to understand what he was seeing.
He let himself enjoy the flowery scent - so familiar, and yet still so unknown to him. He missed that scent. It was everything to him and the only place he could still enjoy it was here, in his dreams. The world spun around him again, and he felt himself let go into it, not caring where he was falling….
With a jolt, Harry moaned and opened his eyes, realising that his head had slipped from the corner of the wall he’d been resting it in, waking him up. His hand reached down into his pocket, to pull out his glasses, and he noted it was still early morning. The ramshackle dwelling he, Ron and Hermione had been holed up in for the last few days was still bathed in that eerie sort of light that was neither day nor night. He heard Ron’s half-snores from the other side of him and his eyes strayed to Hermione’s form that was in between them, although it was closer to Ron’s side than his. He could just make out her arm stretched out towards their friend, as though she’d been holding his hand during the night. Harry sighed and repositioned himself against the wall, willing sleep to come back to him; but he knew it was pointless.
Climbing to his feet, he moved as quietly as possible and stepped out of the room, heading towards the kitchen area. The small building had two rooms, the one they slept in and a narrow room that had a working sink and a small table. Hermione had tried her best to transfigure something into a stove for them so that they could heat themselves and perhaps cook a meal or two, but nothing had worked so far. Harry reckoned it was probably because stoves, magical or not, had a bit more going on than what a single spell would take care of. Hermione had been most displeased she hadn’t been able to make it work, and he grinned as he remembered that he and Ron had spent a cheerful hour good-naturedly goading her about it. It had been the first time they’d felt normal in days, Harry recalled, and his mood sobered again as he thought of their previous week.
Death Eaters had tracked them, and would have caught them if not for Hermione’s fancy spell work. The three of them had been searching for a Horcrux - a tip from Remus Lupin had them trying to find the last known residence of the final Ravenclaw descendant. So far they had not been able to locate either the house or anything else. Even before the Death Eaters had attacked, their frustrations had been heightened at their lack of results and Harry knew that now, after yet another setback, none of them had much motivation to retrace their steps and try to find the house again. Not to mention the fact that none of them even knew for certain what they were looking for to begin with. But he did know that they would have to keep looking until they found it, no matter how hopeless it seemed.
Sounds that Ron and Hermione were awake reached his ears, and he sighed as he tapped his wand on an old kettle Hermione had found and then poured himself a cup of lukewarm tea. He took a few sips and then put the cup back down, feeling as though disappointment was breathing down his neck. He grabbed his jacket and slipped it on, heading outside, feeling as though he wanted to run somewhere - anywhere to get away from the thick, useless sensation inside him. He didn’t walk very far, knowing that Hermione would be doubly cross with him for leaving without telling them, but he hadn’t fancied walking in on his best mates saying good morning to each other. Oh, he wished them no ill will - some part of him was pleased at the fact that they had finally sorted themselves out. They weren’t really bad about it, either, respecting his feelings at being the third party, and he was fairly sure they didn’t do much more than snog, but still…it was yet another reminder of what he himself had given up to finish this fight once and for all.
He stopped and sat down under a small tree, resting his head on his knees, feeling lost, uncertain, and full of frustration. The bitter winter air whipped around him and he shivered, but it wasn’t from cold. He knew he couldn’t let it get to him like this; he needed to keep himself together. But it had been too long and they’d been too far from home, and he’d never expected it to hit him like this. But he should have known.
Harry knew then that he hadn’t really been dreaming of flowers. He’d been dreaming of Ginny.
“Harry! Duck!” Hermione shouted at the last moment, and he reacted instinctively. He could feel a breeze rifle through his hair as the red flash of a spell missed him. He rolled sideways and pushed forward, not really aiming his wand and not caring; he shouted out a curse and jumped to the right, landing somewhere to the left of where his friends were barricaded.
“Bow bin bloody bell bid they bind us?” Ron said, his hand clamped over his nose, which was bleeding rather freely. Hermione pushed her hair out her eyes and aimed her wand over the top part of the rock that was covering them.
“I don’t know, but there’s only three of them. Why haven’t they alerted the others?” she asked as a green flash of light bounced off the stone in front of them. Harry was glad he’d manage to properly cast the Shield Charm around them in time.
“Ron, how’s your nose?” he asked as he moved over Hermione to look at his friend.
“Bleeding, that’s bow bit is.”
“Hold still,” Harry warned, and Ron barely had time to register the fact that his friend was about to cast an unpractised Healing Spell at him. Ron pulled his blood-soaked hand away from his face a moment later and tentatively touched his face. He grinned at Harry.
Harry pursed his lips and looked out at where the three Death Eaters were waiting for them. It was rather odd how no one else had shown up to press the advantage. He looked at Hermione.
“Should we make a break for it?”
She bit her lip in concentration. “We can try. I think I hurt one of them before you put the shield up. Maybe they don’t realise who we are?”
“Fat chance of that,” Harry muttered, and he looked at Ron. “You okay to run?”
“I’m brilliant. And I‘ve got this.” He held up the bag of what Harry hoped contained what they had come for.
“All right, I’ll cast my Patronus like we did last time. Hermione you do that Trace Blocking Spell you did as well. Ron, lead the way.”
They stood up together, and Harry saw the shield he’d cast waver as the Death Eaters all fired at once. He cast his Patronus, the brilliance of the white stag blocking them from view for the briefest of moments as Hermione did a spell around them that would make the people following them think they had gone the other way. Ron took off in front and Harry waited to make sure Hermione was in between them as they made their way through the rocks and forest.
They didn’t speak as they hurriedly made their way, Ron keeping a fast pace. Harry couldn’t hear anything behind them, but knew that didn’t mean anything. He kept turning around and double checking, barely believing that they’d managed to escape the same way twice. Hermione stumbled up ahead of him and Ron caught her, pulling her ahead. They finally came to a place they recognized and Ron stopped, breathing heavily, half-carrying Hermione, who looked as though she’d permanently lost her breath. Harry wiped his hand over his face as he glanced back behind them, fear and adrenalin coursing through him. But he knew it would soon be replaced by exhaustion; they’d been running themselves too thin.
The three of them looked at each other and agreed without speaking. Ron nodded and tightened his hold on Hermione’s arm.
“Home,” Ron said, taking the bag off his shoulders and handing it to Harry.
“Home,” Harry agreed.
He watched them Disapparate and then prepared himself for what was awaiting him, knowing it would be harder to deal with than what he’d just faced.
There were soft things covering him - his face, his body…it had been so long since he’d felt anything soothing that at first he didn’t know what to do. So he held on to sleep, needing its protection. The flowery scent was back and he welcomed it, holding it closer to him. It was only when it moved and murmured his name that it astonished him enough to open his eyes.
His mind quickly told him he was in his room at the Burrow. He felt a bit of the tension drift away from him; they were okay for now. It was a respite in the storm. It’d been months since they’d been back, and now they finally had something to show for their work.
But he was alone in his room, and he’d been so sure…Harry reached out for his glasses and slipped them on, glancing around. It was the same as when he’d collapsed into the bed the night before; he was still dressed in his dirty clothes. There was no sign that she had come to check on him and yet….
He knew she had. He could smell her scent lingering in the air and it felt nice to be able to do that while conscious. He should probably be angry with her - she’d promised. Hell, he’d made them both promise. To stay away from each other because that was how it had to be. He’d almost caved at Fleur and Bill’s wedding, and he had seen the hurt and pain in her eyes as he’d left, and some small part of him had died to be the one to put that look on her face.
He knew Ron and Hermione wanted to stay through Christmas at the Burrow; they hadn’t said as much, but he knew. He knew they all deserved it too. But Harry didn’t know if he could take being in the same house as Ginny for too long. Not when there were still two more Horcruxes to be found; not when he was still a marked man and could offer her nothing but his leaving yet again.
He sighed and sat up, groaning a bit as his body protested. Maybe after a hot shower and some of Mrs Weasley’s fine cooking he’d feel up to facing her. Or at least, he’d be in a better position to appear as though every time he looked at her his heart wasn’t breaking.
“Oh, I am so glad the three of you made it home, I’ve been so worried…Harry dear, please eat up. You’re growing far too skinny again.”
Mrs Weasley bustled around her kitchen, making sure the three returnees were over flowing with tea and food.
It was Harry’s second helping, and he finally felt able to move his head and take in his surroundings. The Burrow looked as it always did and yet it felt different to Harry - it was odd to him that life should continue on, while a war raged outside the door. He realised he’d been spending far too much time sleeping on dirty floors in abandoned houses; he’d forgotten what a home felt like.
As if hearing his thoughts, the one person that always made him feel as though he were home, no matter where he was, appeared on the bottom step of the stairs. She paused and it was only a moment, but it was long enough for their eyes to meet and he knew it had been her in his room earlier - the guilt flashed in her eyes before she moved away to welcome Hermione and Ron home.
It was as though everything went red in his mind and he stared down at his plate, suddenly losing his appetite. It was madness - this reaction he had at seeing her. It was half pain and half pleasure as though he enjoyed the fact that he couldn’t touch her or show her his heart. He heard the noises of the people around him but Harry swore he could only truly understand the sound of her - so close and yet miles away.
The sound of Hermione’s voice brought him back and he glanced up to see that Ginny had moved into the kitchen to help her mother.
“Are you all right?” his friend asked, concern in her eyes, and he nodded.
“Yeah, sorry. What did I miss?”
“Mrs Weasley was saying that there’s to be an Order meeting to deal with what we brought back.”
“Oh. Good. When?”
“Tonight. She wanted to know if we were going to stay…in London or come back here.”
The idea of staying in London was perfect for him, he knew. Ginny, who wasn’t an Order member, wouldn’t be going along and it would solve his problem. But just then she moved into his peripheral vision - a flash of colour as her hair moved behind her back and he felt himself weaken.
“No…” he heard himself say. “I reckon we should come back to the Burrow, that is, if it’s okay with you, Mrs Weasley?” He turned, knowing that she’d been listening. She smiled happily.
“Of course, Harry, dear. I was worried Christmas was going to be bleak this year, what with everyone out on their missions. But having the three of you…I suppose we should get a tree after all. Ginny, bring the decorations down from the attic later, if you don’t mind? Ron, stop chewing with your mouth open.”
Mrs Weasley threw herself into the task immediately, and Harry didn’t have the heart to explain that he didn’t think anyone was in the festive mood; but one look at the small smiles on Hermione’s and Ron’s faces and he realised that maybe he was wrong. Perhaps he was the only one not in the Christmas mood.
If anyone in the Weasley family thought it odd or strange that Harry and Ginny never actually spoke to each other, no one mentioned it. Ron and Hermione, for their part, left him alone about it, having long ago understood that the subject of Ginny and their break up was a taboo subject. But still, Harry was glad there was Order business to keep the three of them busy. An added bonus was that this also meant less time spent at the Burrow. They told the Order what they had found and what they had brought back - and people were immediately put to the task of discovering if any of the artefacts they’d found were actually Horcruxes.
Harry also found out why Mrs Weasley had seemed so happy to have a reason to celebrate - neither Bill nor Charlie had been heard from and their missions were quite dangerous. The twins were off doing something as well, and Harry was reminded again of what Mrs Weasley’s Boggart had been - he knew she was probably going crazy with worry on the inside, while bossing everyone around on the outside. He was glad she had something to distract her.
Ginny had not come to visit him in his room again. For the first couple of nights he had stayed awake as long as possible, although he wasn’t sure why - to catch her? To accuse her of breaking her promise and start a row? Or was it to pretend to be asleep so he could enjoy her presence?
There was a war outside their doors, but as the days went on Harry realised there was a war within himself as well. He found himself lingering near Ginny, pretending to be doing something else - reading, talking with Ron, going over Order business. But in reality a part of his mind was always on her, and he knew it. Being near her and not talking to her or better yet, touching her, was driving him mad and he wasn’t aware of how obvious he was until Ron decided to set him straight.
“Bloody hell, Harry, just talk to her. I can’t stand seeing that look on your face anymore. Especially as it’s about my sister.”
Harry blinked at his friend, not comprehending his meaning. They were in his room, avoiding Hermione who wanted them to do some more reading on defensive spells; Harry had been reading all day and even he had reached his limit.
“What are you talking about?” he asked Ron, turning away from the harsh gaze his friend was giving him.
“Don’t play dumb either. And don’t think I don’t notice you two not looking at each other. I mean, honestly, did you two get together and decide to both be miserable or what? I have to tell you, mate, that’s a pathetic plan.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Harry heard himself say in a stubborn tone. Inside, he urged Ron to let the topic drop.
Ron didn’t say anything for so long that Harry was finally forced to turn around and face him. He felt his skin heat at the expression he saw on his friend’s face. Ron continued to stare at him for another moment and then stood up. He gave Harry a weary look.
“Fine, be that way. But I swear, Harry…don’t hurt her anymore than you have. I’m staying out of it, because Hermione reckons you two will sort yourselves out, but…look, I see her trying not to look at you too and maybe it’s because I know her better than you, but she’s just as miserable as you are. You give us all these big talks about fighting for all that we have and yet you seem to have forgotten that you have some things worth fighting for too. And she’s part of that. It seems to me you’d want to spend as much time as you can with her before you head back out. But what do I know? I’m just your best mate and her brother.”
Harry watched as Ron left, closing the door forcefully behind him. He felt a lot of emotions inside him; emotions he’d tried to keep locked away. Could Ron be right? Could being apart be worse than being together?
No, a voice whispered in his head. It’s better to be separated now. It’ll hurt too much when you leave again. You can’t do that to her again.
But Harry felt his resolve waver; was that really common sense speaking in his head or was it something darker? Something he didn’t want to deal with, perhaps? Was it just simply his fear about how much leaving her would hurt him?
Christmas Eve came quicker than expected and Harry found himself in a house full of couples. Bill, who had finally come back from his mission, arrived at the Burrow with Fleur in tow. The two had eaten dinner and then escaped to the twin’s old room. Harry didn’t think anyone had any false impressions about what the newlyweds were getting up to; Mrs Weasley turned the wireless up louder and encouraged Ron and Mr Weasley to play a rather boisterous game of Gobstones. Remus and Tonks were also in attendance, and Harry was pleased to see the two of them acting so happy. Gone was the gaunt and frail Tonks of the year before; she practically bloomed with cheerfulness and had a fun time teasing Ron and Hermione.
As the evening wound down, everyone appeared to pair off, which left a rather empty sitting room. Harry didn’t know where Ginny had gone to - she was sharing her room with Hermione - which Harry suspected was being used for something other than sleeping at the moment as he had seen his two friends glance surreptitiously around before heading up the stairs together.
Mr and Mrs Weasley, for their part, were sitting outside talking. Mr Weasley had been gone for a few days prior and Harry wondered if they were ‘catching’ up. Mrs Weasley seemed pleased that at least for this night, half her family was safe. News had come that the twins were okay, but stuck in Devonshire. No word still on Charlie, but Remus had said they had no reason to think he was in danger; his mission was supposed to last for awhile.
A noise behind him startled him and he turned his head sharply, hand already going to his wand. She chuckled as she entered the sitting room and he found himself staring full on at Ginny for the first time since he’d come back. He felt himself swallow roughly.
“Don’t worry, I’m not the enemy,” she said lightly as she moved closer to where he was sitting.
“Automatic reaction,” Harry said. He realised they were the first words he’d said to her since they’d left Hogwarts.
“May I?” she asked, stopping just out of reach, looking down at him, her face passive.
He paused for a moment, unsure of what she wanted, but then nodded his head. She sat down gracefully next to him, sitting cross-legged, her knee a hair’s length away from his. For some reason, this fascinated Harry, and he found himself willing her to idly brush against him in some form or another; it’d been so long since he’d been touched, it seemed.
She didn’t say anything and they both sat in silence, staring at the tree. Harry felt his mouth dry up and cursed himself in his head. This was Ginny. It wasn’t some strange girl he didn’t know how to talk to. She’d been his girlfriend only months before, and he had known the happiest days of his life with her, but now, now he felt as though he had nothing to say. And what was he supposed to say? “Sorry I broke your heart; hey, want to snog, it’s Christmas?” He shook his head, angry with himself.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she said softly. He glanced at her and realised she was nodding at the tree. Harry didn’t bother looking; he was suddenly fascinated with the colour of her lips. He’d never noticed how red and full they were. When she glanced at him, a puzzled look on her face, he quickly glanced away and nodded.
“Yeah. You and your Mum did a good job.”
“I wasn’t used to doing it without Fred and George bothering me. They love to tease me about how awful I decorate and I used to hate it. Funny how I miss that now, isn’t it?”
Harry glanced at her again, but she was looking at the tree, as though knowing that he wasn’t quite able to meet her eyes yet. He enjoyed the view again, wondering once more how he could have ever forgotten how pretty she was. But it was more than that to Harry; he loved what she was inside too. He felt sad suddenly that he’d never managed to tell her that while they’d been together. He took a deep breath.
They both spoke at the same time and Ginny smiled gently, her cheeks heating. He’d missed that small blush - that soft flare of colour on her face every time they’d been snogging for a long time or doing things they shouldn’t have been doing. He regretted now that he’d only been allowed to see it a few times. She waited, letting him get his mind into some sort of working order. She’d always understood him better than most.
“I just wanted to say, Happy Christmas. I’m…I didn’t want to come back to the Burrow, but I’m glad that we did. I…I’ve missed…things.” Harry paused, feeling like a poor excuse for a Gryffindor. She looked away, but not before he could see the expression on her face, and he felt like a git. Swallowing hard, he reached out and put his hand on her knee, feeling bold. She turned to face him again, and he knew he only had this one chance.
“I’ve missed you, especially,” he said softly. “I know I don’t have the right to expect anything, since I broke up with you, but….” he shrugged and felt his own cheeks heat. The intensity of her gaze was too much and he looked away, feeling like an idiot. He had no idea what he was even trying to say.
He felt her hand close around his and he looked down at their joined fingers, feeling as though the world had stopped. He met her eyes, suddenly thrilled and scared at the same time. She squeezed his hand.
“I’ve missed you too, Harry. I hope you know…I mean…there hasn’t been…anyone else. If that’s what you’re asking me. I can’t seem to stop worrying about you long enough to even give another boy any other thought. This makes me a rather bad date, apparently,” she said, her mouth twitching slightly.
He hadn’t been asking about anyone else, but he was glad for the information. In fact, he was extremely glad for the information, and he smiled.
“I wasn’t asking, actually,” he said, pausing as he squeezed her hand back. “But thank you. Suddenly I don’t think I’ll have trouble sleeping on the road when we head back out.”
Ginny smiled, her lips pursing together, the amusement clear in her eyes. He’d missed that look too. That look that said he’d pleased her somehow without realising it. A stray hair had fallen across her cheek, and without thinking about it, Harry reached out and lifted it away, tucking it behind her ear for her. The amusement in her eyes changed to something else as his finger brushed against her cheek and he felt his own reaction to what had just a moment before been such a small gesture. He felt that same wonderful exhilaration that he always felt when he was next to her and for the first time in a long time, he felt a tightening in his chest and could have sworn he heard the distant roar of something deep within him.
He didn’t know which of them moved first, but suddenly they were kissing and it was just that easy; far easier than he would have ever thought and far easier than he even deserved. He felt as though everything around him had stopped again and as Ginny moved herself closer to him, that was exactly how Harry wanted it.
It was amazing, Harry thought, as he settled into bed, how snogging one’s girlfriend for the first time in six months could suddenly make one very tranquil. He’d told Ginny he’d go to bed with a smile on his face and he hadn’t been lying. Even now, in the dark, as he slipped his glasses off and lay down, he knew he was grinning like an idiot.
But as the thought crossed his mind, he paused, suddenly uncertain again. Was it wrong of him to do this? To enjoy being with her when he couldn’t promise her a future? To know that in a few days he would leave her again, perhaps never to see her? Was he, in fact, being selfish by giving in to his apparent need to feel like a normal young man just once more before facing what he knew was waiting for him? The idea of hurting Ginny made Harry ache in a way he’d never felt before - he’d tried so hard to put her out of his mind, but clearly that hadn’t happened. Tonight they’d fallen back into whatever it was they’d had before, if only for a moment or two. The ache inside him turned into a fierce sort of determination to never allow her to get hurt - not by Voldemort and not by himself, either. He had just made up his mind to tell her the next morning that their brief interlude by the tree had been a huge mistake when he heard his door creak open.
He sat upright immediately, his hand already on his wand and aiming it towards whoever had entered. But the scent of flowers hit him at the same time her own wand flared briefly into light and he lowered his hand in confusion.
“Did you forget where you sleep?” he asked, saying the first thing that popped into his head.
“Very funny,” she said softly, and she turned, casting a spell on his door. Without his glasses, he couldn’t see what she’d done and he reached for them now, bringing her into focus. For the third time that evening, Harry’s world stopped and this time proved to be the scariest of all. She turned back around to face him and a grin spread across her face as she moved closer to the bed.
“Uh, Ginny….” Harry stopped, willing her to both continue what she was doing and yelling at her in his head to stop. He shook himself of his thoughts and narrowed his eyes at her. “What in bloody hell are you doing?”
“Coming to say goodnight,” she said matter-of-factly. She sat down on the edge of his bed and tossed her hair over her shoulder as though she entered boys rooms all the time half-clad in…well, whatever it was she did have on, Harry didn’t know. But it looked soft. It looked soft and white and very transparent and he suddenly wondered if her mum knew she owned such a thing.
“It was Fleur’s,” she said, glancing at him, the amusement evident in her voice. Harry used his wand to cast a soft glow around the room and gave her what he hoped was a stern look.
“And you normally walk around in Fleur’s old…things?”
“No,” she said, sighing. “I save it for special occasions, like when the boy I fancy is sleeping in my brother’s old room and we’ve just spent the evening getting to know each other again.”
Harry chuckled before he could stop himself and Ginny’s smirk grew wider. She adjusted herself on the bed so that she was facing him, and Harry realised that while the gown or whatever it was may technically fit her…it didn’t really…fit…her. After he realised he was staring, he looked away, embarrassed.
“Well, I can see you haven’t lost that touch of prudishness,” Ginny said sardonically.
He turned back and glared at her. “You’re half naked, or hadn’t you noticed?”
“I have clothes on, Harry. Honestly.”
He shook his head. “That is not clothes. If your mum saw you in that -”
“My mum’s seen it.”
Harry narrowed his eyes. “Liar. She would never let you walk around in that and you know it.”
Ginny started twirling a piece of her hair around her finger and gave him a cool look. “Do you really want to argue about what I’m wearing or do you want to know why I’ve slogged in here barely contained within the confines of silk and lace?”
The question caught him off guard and he closed his mouth. He’d been expecting an argument about to begin, in actuality. She had that stubborn air about her that let him know she really didn’t care what he thought; she was going to do what she wanted anyway.
“Oh, good, you’ve decided to be clever tonight,” she said lightly and gave him an innocent look. She leaned forward and rested her head on her hand. She then gave him such a penetrating look that he felt a bit uncomfortable at the scrutiny.
“What were you thinking of right before I came in here?” she suddenly asked, her voice empty of her earlier teasing.
“Nothing,” Harry said automatically, and, he realised a bit too late, a bit defensively as well. She raised her eyebrow at him.
“Really. You were just lying here, in the dark, thinking absolutely nothing?”
“Yeah, I was. I was about to go to sleep,” he pointed out, hearing the stubbornness in his voice and wanting to cringe.
“You weren’t thinking that tonight the two of us kissing was a really horrible thing to do and you weren’t trying to convince yourself that you were going to wake up tomorrow and tell me it’d been a huge mistake and say ‘oh, thanks for the snog, Gin, but we can’t let it happen ever again’? You weren’t considering any of those things?”
Before he’d gone off to find the missing Horcruxes, he might have folded - the knowing, yet steely look in her eyes and her correct assessment of his thoughts always proved to be better than Veritaserum at getting him to admit to something, but he simply lay back against the wall and folded his arms, giving her his own steely look.
“Nope, not in the slightest. I was simply getting ready for bed.”
It was Ginny’s turn to narrow her eyes and she stared at him for a long time, before looking away. An uncomfortable silence filled the room, but Harry didn’t budge. Maybe because the fact that she did apparently know him well enough to guess what his thoughts had been unnerved him. After all their time apart and she could still read him so well….Or maybe he just felt like being disagreeable, he didn’t know.
She finally looked back at him and she appeared a little less confident than before as she sighed, shaking her head.
“I used to be able to read you, Harry. But now I don’t know if you were really just going to fall asleep or not. I came in here to prove to you that breaking up with me again would be the stupidest thing you could do but I’ve just realised that you technically never said we were together again, so I reckon that makes me the fool and you the boy who wants to go to sleep. I’m sorry.”
She made as though to move off the bed. Later, he would wonder why he did it, but he reached out and stopped her, his hand grasping her arm.
“Do you want to know what I really thought when I climbed into this bed earlier?” he asked softly.
She nodded slowly, her brown eyes wide as she looked at him.
“I thought how wonderfully amazing it is that kissing my girlfriend after six months apart could make me feel so peaceful. I really did have a huge smile on my face and I wasn’t sorry it was there.”
Her expression softened as she looked at him and she gave him a small smile. “But then you regretted it, didn’t you? It’s okay, Harry. It won’t hurt me if you tell me.”
Harry realised he was still touching her arm, but didn’t pull away, his hand suddenly unable to respond. He met her eyes as he shook his head. “I wouldn’t say regret, exactly. I never regret anything having to do with you, Ginny, except leaving you and not being able to be a proper boyfriend. If I had to do it over, I would still kiss you by that tree tonight and I would still enjoy it. The only thing I regret is that I can’t be who you want me to be. Not till it’s over; not till he’s gone.”
“I know, Harry.”
“So why are we having this conversation?”
Ginny finally smiled and she looked away, as though embarrassed. “Because I wanted to tease you and make you think twice about telling me it was a mistake. I thought the gown might break through that rather stubborn noble streak of yours. But mostly because I’m a sixteen year old girl who wants to snog the daylights out of her boyfriend and who also wants to lie in his bed with him while he’s awake for once.”
She looked embarrassed as she realised what she’d just admitted to and looked away from him, bringing her feet up underneath her.
Harry sat back and studied her. Now that he knew for certain that she had risked getting caught in his room just to be with him, he found he wasn’t angry with her, surprisingly. In fact, he found it sort of touching and was amazed at it too. He made his mind up as he watched her hand pluck nervously at a stray thread at the edge of her gown.
“Come here, Gin,” he said softly.
She looked at him, surprise on her face. He removed his glasses and then patted the part of the bed next to him and moved over. After a moment’s hesitation she grinned and moved up the bed towards him, settling in next to him. She turned so that she could see him and raised her small hand up half way and he met it with his own, their fingers linking. It was a move they’d practiced once or twice under the tree near the lake at Hogwarts. A sort of contentment fell over Harry in that moment and he smiled at her as she squeezed his hand. He brought their hands down to rest on his chest as Ginny moved closer to him, resting her head near their hands. She leaned gently to the side and didn’t say anything as Harry reached for his wand, to darken the room once more.
They talked all night, and Harry couldn’t remember when he’d had a better Christmas present. Just listening to the soft cadence of her voice in the dark was, without a doubt, one of the sweetest things he’d ever heard. Her body was soft against his and he found himself playing with her hair more than once, but she never teased him for it, like she used to. She filled him in on everything - school, Quidditch, news from different family members, and he realised he’d been cutting himself off in so many ways that he hadn’t realised how deeply involved the Weasleys were with the fight. He knew she wanted to ask about what he was doing, but she surprised him there as well and didn’t push the matter. A warm sort of feeling seemed to be coursing through him, and the only thing he knew was that he didn’t want it to end.
As the first light of the day made itself known to their tired eyes, they shifted on the bed. Ginny curled around him gently, resting her head on his chest. He sat back and looked down at her, moving his other arm so that he could rub her back. He wasn’t worried about any sort of body part sticking up where it wasn’t needed and embarrassing him; Ginny already had a pretty good idea about that as they’d quickly discovered the effect she had on him one day in a neglected broom cupboard at school. Harry remembered how they’d figured out how to ‘work’ around his body’s apparent need and smiled to himself. She turned her head and looked up at him, yawning.
“I can’t believe we talked all night,” she said sleepily.
“I know…you’d think I’d remember how much you like to chatter.”
She poked him in the ribs with her finger and gave him a stern look. “Watch it there, Harry.”
He smiled innocently and she shook her head, closing her eyes again. He watched her for a little while and then sighed, realising she needed to be getting back to her room. “You should go soon, Gin.”
“I’ll go when the light is half way across the floor,” she said, keeping her eyes closed. “We have time until then.”
He didn’t argue with her and felt his own eyes close, content to keep things as they were, at least for a little while longer. He didn’t know if he was half way to sleep or not when her voice brought him back awake.
“Harry…is it hard?”
His eyes snapped open and he looked down at her, suddenly confused. “Er. Well, not currently….”
Ginny’s brow creased and then her mouth hung open as she looked down at him and then back up. “No! Not that,” she said, astonished. She giggled as she looked at him. “But thanks for letting me know.”
Harry felt his skin heat but he chuckled despite himself. After they finished laughing, he shook his head at her. “Is what hard, then?”
Ginny bit her lip and looked as though she were fighting herself about something. She finally released the breath she’d been holding and moved her hand to touch his face. He felt confused as she she smoothed his brow.
“Is it…difficult…what you’re doing…with Ron and Hermione? I only ask…not because I want to know what it is you‘re doing, I know you won‘t tell me that… but it’s just…I worry about Ron and Hermione, of course, but…I really worry about you. You three are so far away from home for such long amounts of time and…Ron and Hermione are with you, I know, but…they have each other, don’t they? And you don’t really have anyone but yourself. So I was just wondering how you…get through it. I go crazy just being stuck at school or here at home.”
Harry brushed her hair out of her face and she leaned her face into the palm of his hand. He wanted to tell her everything but he knew that would be the worst thing he could possibly do; he would never willingly make her a target by giving her knowledge someone else might find useful. They still had many months of searching ahead of them, and he knew anything might happen; in fact, he knew that someday soon Ginny might be required to fight for her life, and he wouldn’t be there to help her or even watch out for her. It was that thought that kept him going - if he was able to find all the remaining Horcruxes and destroy them, therefore weakening Voldemort…then no one he cared about could be hurt and used against him. He didn’t know how to tell her that, but he did need to make her understand something. He owed her that much.
“Do you know what keeps me going when it gets really cold, and Ron’s eaten all the food and Hermione’s bossing us around?” he said as lightly as he could as his hand strayed to her hair and down her back.
She shook her head, watching him intently. He pulled her up closer to him and leaned in to kiss her tenderly. When they broke apart, Harry smiled, rubbing his thumb gently over her lips.
“Moments like this, Gin. I close my eyes and I think of something that makes me happy and most of the time…it’s something I’ve done with you.”
He saw her eyes fill with something that she blinked away and she nodded at him as he let her go. She settled back down against him and he noticed with regret that the light was now almost to the half way point on the floor. Ginny must have noticed too, because she sighed and sat up, looking at the floor. After a moment, she turned to him and he nodded. She stood up and picked up her wand from the table and wrapped her arms around herself, heading towards the door. He slipped his glasses on and watched her, his heart feeling as though it was being wrenched out of his throat. She paused at the door and turned back to him, smiling slightly. But she had a fierce sort of look in her eyes as she studied him.
“It’s okay if you don’t feel this way now or even say it to me, but I just needed you to know….” she paused, swallowing roughly. “I love you, Harry Potter. And you’d better promise to come back to me, because I’m going to be waiting. Is that understood?”
Harry sat up and nodded, his throat suddenly blocked, and his insides suddenly feeling as though they were burning. She stared at him a moment longer and then she was gone, slipping out the door.
He knew they would see each other later and he knew they would pretend as though everything was okay and that nothing had changed between them. But he also knew that he now had another reason to keep going, and it was better than anything he could have ever imagined. Some small part of him finally began to understand what Dumbledore had told him about the power of love.
It happened in late June, the final battle, and lasted for days. Although to Harry it felt as though it had only been mere hours since he and Voldemort had finally squared off against each other. But when he stumbled out of the clearing and made his way back to where he had left his friends, he realised with some difficulty that time had passed without him.
He found Hermione first, buffered up against a small set of rocks. She was busy tending to wounds on Ron that for the moment, wouldn’t stay closed. Hermione had not gone for help because she was frightened of leaving him unattended; she looked battle-worn and weary, but she and Ron were alive and Harry was relieved. As she spoke, her eyes kept twitching over to the pale, limp body of Draco Malfoy that still lay near by and he didn’t have to ask what had happened. After making certain Ron was secure enough to be moved, he made his way inward, trying to ignore seeing the people he knew who hadn’t made it, wanting instead to see only the people who had. He found Tonks, organizing a way for Healers to tend to everyone who couldn’t be moved, and told her where Ron and Hermione were waiting. She hugged him briefly and nodded towards a white tent that had been set up. He was glad to find Remus Lupin resting, his face now a healing mass of scar tissue - his battle with Fenrir Greyback had almost ended in death - and having seen a part of it Harry knew how lucky his friend was to even be alive.
Harry checked on the people he couldn’t find and was told they had already been taken to the temporary St Mungo’s set up within Hogwarts, since it was the nearest magical site. He knew people wanted to talk to him, to find out what had happened with Snape and with Voldemort, but he couldn’t be bothered. There was only one place he really wanted to be in this moment, and there was only one person he needed to talk to. Thanking his stars that the students had been sent home early and that Ginny had missed the worst part of the battle, he walked away from the others until it was safe enough to Apparate. Without a backwards glance, he sent himself to the Burrow, not expecting what he would find.
He Apparated as close as possible, assuming the Burrow had the wards that had been cast to protect it, still around. He walked slowly, his leg starting to bother him and he realised that it was bleeding again. But Harry didn’t have time to tend to himself - he had to make certain she was all right before he did anything else. He couldn’t explain the compulsion to get to the Burrow, but he trusted his instincts, although he didn’t want to examine what the need meant, exactly.
He realised, somewhat detached, that to an outside eye he probably looked like a young man who had been in the losing end of a pub fight, making his way along a country road after having slept in a ditch all night. As he made his way up along the small hill, he paused and closed his eyes, willing the next sight to be the one he needed to see.
It was gone. Or at least, part of it was gone. Harry could only stare at the still smouldering remains of his best friend’s house. With momentum he didn’t know he had, he hurried closer to the house he’d spent some of his happiest times in and felt a sickening sort of dread fill his insides.
The garden where he had first learned what gnome tossing was, was gone - burned to charred and blackened earth. The small shed off to the side - the very same one that Ginny used to sneak down to and steal brooms from was also gone. The sitting room, the upper bedrooms…all were burned away. With a hollow feeling in his stomach that felt like death, Harry realised everything he had counted on to remain the same was gone. He searched the remains of the house, looking for some sign of anyone, but not wanting to find it.
Maybe they got out, a voice whispered in his head. Maybe Mr Weasley got them to safety.
But Harry was now a man who didn’t believe in maybes and as he took in the deep scratches along the far wall of the kitchen he had to force his heart to accept what his mind already knew. The Weasleys had been attacked, not because of him, although he was sure that had given the Death Eaters some small pleasure, but because of who they were and what they had fought for. He was certain there had been attacks like this planned for all the families that had stood on the side of Potter and Dumbledore’s Army. Why had he been so stupid as not to realise it?
Harry was fine, or so he told himself, until he found a small patch of material stuck on what was left of the front door. He told himself he didn’t recognise it, but he knew he did. It was from one of Ginny’s favourite shirts and as he removed it from where it was wedged, he saw the ends of it were coated with blood. Without thinking and without warning, Harry felt his insides heave and he had to move out of the house before he vomited. He ran a short ways away, needing to put it behind him, but still clutching the piece of fabric between his fingers. He felt the bitter sting of tears behind his eyes and then felt his rage grow. It wasn’t supposed to be like this - if anyone was supposed to die it was him, not them. Not her. He had told her he would come back to her and she had promised that she would be waiting. She owed him that, damn it. Harry didn’t want to spend the rest of his days mourning what could have been; he wanted his life back. The unfairness of everything seemed to push in on him then and he fell down to the ground on his knees, losing control of the anger that now felt as though it were breathing within him. He didn’t notice the strange affect his power seemed to have on the things around him; his misery was too great as he whispered her name.
He didn’t know why he looked up when he did, but he stared at what he saw for a long time, not making sense of it. It was only when it finally took shape in his head that he moved, letting the piece of Ginny’s shirt fall to the ground. He moved faster than he would have thought, barely noticing the sharp ache in his leg as he ran.
They met each other half way - both bloody and torn and more than a little battle-shocked. She searched his eyes and he nodded slowly. She moved deliberately, as though with deep pain and as he reached out to help her she put her hand in his. He looked down at their fingers and tightened his hand around hers.
“We have to help Mum. She‘s hurt,” she whispered, her voice rough. “I left her back where we were hiding. I felt something calling to me…I needed to see if….”
“Shh, Gin,” he said softly as he led her to small patch of grass, to set her down. He pulled her close to him, wrapping his arms around her, one hand getting lost in her hair. She sighed against him and Harry felt the tension in her shoulders finally relax. He didn’t realise she was crying until later, when she pulled away, her tears leaving wet trails on her face.
He helped her up, their hands still entwined, and she led him back the way she had come. Harry could smell the sweet scent of the early summer flowers and stopped to take a deep breath, feeling as though he could finally breathe. Ginny paused and looked at him, understanding clear in her eyes. He knew then that it was okay. Whatever happened after this, he knew it would eventually be okay. Because Harry knew he had his home in his hands again.