A/N: I had not intended to write a second chapter to "Monster." It was originally written four days after Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out as an attempt to try to work out some of my thoughts and feelings about the book. Of course, the last part JKR's Leaky Cauldron/MuggleNet interview came out about thirty-six hours later and rendered two of my plot-points instantly AU. Oops. :-)
This chapter is in part an attempt to rectify that, but also sprang out of some unresolved questions that I felt that "Monster" had raised.
And thanks to aberforths_rug, PomengraniteQueen and jenorama for the beta assistance!
Harry reached over and brushed a lock of penny-bright hair out of Ginny's face. Her eyes were locked on him, shining and steady. He could not speak.
Nothing had prepared him for what he was feeling just now. Not his encounters with Voldemort. Not the dragon during his fourth year. Not the Department of Mysteries. Not even that awful cave.
In the fading, tree-filtered light, Ginny's pale skin seemed to glow. So much of it. There was nothing but flesh between them now. No hiding. No clothing. Harry couldn't take his eyes off of her face, which had never looked so soft. Or so hard. What is she thinking? he wondered, desperately hoping that she would break the silence that had settled under the willow’s magically warded boughs, threatening to stifle him.
But she did not speak. Her eyes were as black and brilliant as the flakes of obsidian that they'd had to use in Slughorn's class this past year.
Slughorn. Snape. Dumbledore. He shuddered, and felt her legs pull him closer. Her hands were still pressed, hot, against his chest. "M-maybe we could play Quidditch tomorrow?" he said, not at all sure why he said it.
Her pale brows scrunched together, and he felt her shoulders begin to shake, and for a moment Harry thought — hoped — that Ginny was going to laugh. But she didn't. She began to cry. "Bugger!" she sniffed. "Bollocks!"
Blinking, Harry suddenly wished he hadn't let her put his glasses with their clothes. Was she angry? Was she disappointed? "It's all right. We don't have to p-play..."
And then she began to sob: wet, hot gouts of breath against his bare neck, tears — and snot too, he reckoned. He thought for a moment about getting his wand so that he could conjure a hankie, or just grabbing his shirt so that she could blow her nose. Or you could run screaming into the night, a little voice whispered inside his head. But his instinct — which was so often wrong with girls — told him that if he let go of her now, he might never get her back. She might… explode or something.
In all of the years that they'd known each other, Harry had only seen Ginny Weasley cry twice: once when she had awoken, desperate with her own guilt, after he had destroyed the Horcrux diary; and again at Dumbledore's funeral. Other than those moments, she'd never shown so much as a moist eye, not even when he'd told her she needed to stay away from him. What he'd done now to cause her to weep so catastrophically, he couldn't even begin to imagine. He'd do anything to make it right. Even… talk to her. Holding her tight to him, he was aware that his hands were over their ghost images on her heaving shoulder blades. "Ginny?" he whispered into her bobbing forehead. "What's wrong?"
She pushed back hard and gaped at him, her nose and cheeks glistening in the twilight shade. "Wrong? What the b-b-bloody hell do you THINK is wrong?"
Harry was suddenly aware that the monster that had been so much his companion for the past year whenever Ginny was near was suddenly entirely absent. He felt empty, hollow. "Sorry it was disappointing," he said in a voice that sounded tinny to his ear.
She barked out a wet, distinctly unamused laugh and buried her face back in his shoulder. "Yeah. Right," she spat. "I'm such a slag; of course I'm comparing you to the other ten boys I've done this with this week. I'm such a slut..." She began to wail again. Harry had no idea what to say or do, and so he held her close. "Threw myself at you... threw myself at you and I know, I know, I've heard Charlie and Bill and even P-Percy t-t-talking about girls, I know what you m-must think and I'm so bloody scared... You think I'm a bloody hosepipe and a s-sc-scarlet — "
Harry found himself gripping her so hard that she gasped. "No one says that about the girl I love, do you hear me? Not even you."
Ginny's mouth closed so quickly he heard her teeth click.
Suddenly that empty space that had opened inside of Harry was full, boiling — not anything scaly, this time, but fiery and feathered, and he felt himself expand, knowing that whatever else was between him and Ginny, there was truth. And this was the time for that truth. "The only thing scarlet about you is your hair, Ginny, and do you know what I want more than anything in the world? I want to watch it turn grey. Very, very slowly, over many, many years. And I'm so bloody scared that I'm not going to..." He whispered fiercely into her ear, "Did Hermione tell you about the prophecy, too?" When she gave an almost imperceptible nod, he went on. "I know it's no surprise that I have to vanquish the bastard, though even that seems so impossible... But 'neither can live while the other survives'? One of us – or maybe both of us – are going to die. And I can't promise you that it isn't going to be me." He took a deep, unsteady breath and finished. "You said you might be a Horcrux, Ginny, but I know that isn't true. I killed the piece of him that was trying to control us both. I watched it die. He wasn't pouring his soul in to you; he was sucking yours out.
"But what about me? Why am I a Parselmouth? Why do I get pains in my scar and visions of the awful things he's doing? What if he didn't come to Godric's Hollow to kill me that Halloween? What if the curse that rebounded on him wasn't Avada Kedavra, but the curse that places a piece of the soul in a Horcrux? He'd just killed my father. I bet that was the murder that was the trigger to... to put part of himself into me like one of those spiders that lays its eggs in some poor live bug. What if, in order to vanquish him, I have to die?" This was his most secret, greatest fear. It was the one theory that he had never had the courage to run by Hermione.
"No," Ginny said, her voice small but steady against his cheek. She wasn't sobbing anymore.
"Why not?" Harry could hear his voice rising in volume and pitch. "Did you know he didn't want to kill my mum? Why not? That sort of thing never bothered him before. Maybe he was looking for a nurse to keep his little bit of himself safe." Harry had never allowed himself even to consider that part of the idea. Hearing it pop out of his mouth, Harry had to fight the urge to vomit.
"Harry," Ginny said, and the sound of her voice anchored him. "That can't be it."
"Why not?" he asked again, though without as much certainty.
"If you were his sixth Horcrux, why has he been trying to kill you over and over? Seems like a rather stupid thing to do."
"Oh." Considering this, turning it over in his mind, Harry had never felt so relieved to feel like an idiot.
"Besides," Ginny sighed, "I've seen Tom Riddle's soul, and I've had a pretty good view of yours, and trust me, Harry, you may talk to snakes and get weird flashes from the old bugger, he may have given you some powers, but you're not carrying any bits of that evil bastard's mind inside of you." She leaned back from him. "Harry? No one gets to say that about the boy that I love. Not even you."
Suddenly, the winged creature within Harry seemed to explode from his chest, and he was kissing her — they were kissing — all over.
When they broke apart again some time later, it was truly dark. Harry released the charms and wards that he'd set around the tree, and starlight and the sound of crickets seeped in.
Ginny was casting cleansing charms on herself and on the blanket that she'd conjured. The two handprints on her back seemed to glow. Harry was about to compliment her on the conjuration when it suddenly struck him. "Wait a tick. You're still underage."
She shot a wry look at him.
Blushing, he stammered, "Not to, you know, do what we've been doing, but magic." He pointed at her wand.
She laughed. "Going to turn me in?"
"Of course not! But... I mean, I got dive-bombed with owls from the Ministry about fifteen minutes after I got rid of those Dementors in Little Whinging." He grabbed his wand and began cleaning himself up as well.
"You think Mafalda Hopkirk doesn't have enough to do without scanning wizarding households for magic use? She'd go spare."
Harry tried to wrap his mind around this thought; he remembered Morfin Gaunt, and nodded, then stopped. "Wait. All these years: why hasn't Ron...?"
Again Ginny laughed, and it was a full, rich laugh that made Harry’s skin prickle up in goose flesh. "Because the poor bastard gets caught. Every time! Mum actually turned him in — twice. And don't you think Hermione would have done the same?"
Grinning, Harry said, "Well, she's softened a bit."
"A bit." With a smirk, Ginny began to pull on Harry's shirt. When he began to object, she smiled at him pertly. "I am, after all, the girl you love."
Something in the vicinity of Harry's stomach fluttered. "I said that, didn't I?"
"Yes, you did."
He crawled over and kissed her. "This is going to take some getting used to."
"I think I'm willing to try." She peered up at him. "You?"
He nodded and began to kiss her throat, but she pushed him back.
"You realize," she said, "that this tosses the whole 'my darling, stay away for your own good' thing right out the window. You're not getting rid of me, now."
"I don't know that I could stand to try that again," Harry admitted.
"Good," she said, pulling him in to an embrace, her hands moving over his still-naked back.
Some time later, when they came up for air again, Harry asked, "Gin? About those handprints on your back? Why do they still match mine? I've grown a bit since second year, after all."
She shrugged and said, "Well, so have I. And after all, Harry: it's magic."
So it is, thought Harry, and began pulling on his trousers.
"And Harry?" Ginny asked, and for the first time since the crying had stopped, she sounded tentative. "Would you mind...? My brothers have always called me Gin. And Gin-gin. And Ginnikins, and Gingersnap, and any number of other silly nicknames. I'd rather... I mean, Ginny's a nickname, when it comes to that."
"It is?" he mused.
Nodding, she said, "My name's Ginevra." Her face suddenly looked very small indeed.
"Wow," Harry said. "That's beautiful. Can I call you that?"
Ginny's eyes softened. "Only... only in private. Ron and the boys would give me no end of hell if they heard you. They think it's too prissy."
Thinking that Ginny was the least prissy girl he had ever known, Harry agreed. "Okay. Ginevra."
With a grin, she stood, and they began to walk back towards the Burrow. "Um. I don't think I'll be playing Quidditch tomorrow." When he looked at her, he realized she was blushing. "Too sore."
"Oh. I could heal..." he began to offer, but she stopped his wand.
"I think I'm rather proud of this," she said. Holding his hand in hers, she said, very quietly. "And I wasn't disappointed, Harry."
"Oh," he said. "I'm glad." They walked for a few more moments in silence. "I wish it'd... I wish I'd lasted a bit longer."
The smile she turned on him was bright and wicked and utterly Ginny. "Next time," she said, and they walked wordlessly back into her home.
Standing at her bedroom window, brush in hand, Molly Weasley sighed, watching the young couple stroll, hand in hand, her daughter in a shirt that Molly knew for Harry's, even from this distance.
From the bed, Arthur muttered sleepily, "They come in yet?"
"Yes," Mrs Weasley said. "Just now."
"Ah," her husband said. "Shall I have a word with young Harry?"
"No, Arthur, not tonight. I don't think that's necessary." To herself, however, Molly thought, It looks as if they've done all of the talking that's going to be done. Ron was already flying the nest, and now Ginny... You had better take care of my babies, Harry Potter. You had better let them take good care of you. Pushing the beginnings of a tear aside, her mind filling with the image of an underfed boy with bright green eyes standing lost at King's Cross, she climbed in to bed beside her husband, and kissed him good night.