A/N: This fic was originally two separate
fics (“Rows” and “168”) written for different challenges at the
HPGW_OTP LJ community. I realized that they dovetailed well and
presented them as companion pieces elsewhere. However, when I submitted
it here, my wonderful beta, Sherry, made the brilliant suggestion of
folding the two chapters into one. I want to thank her and my amazing
pre-beta, aberforths_rug, for their invaluable assistance.
So many Muggles.
forehead pressed against the glass of the train as she gazed at the
suburban sprawl spinning past. Row after row of houses flashed
by—brick, most of them, and indistinguishable. She remembered her first
trip on the Hogwarts’ Express, laughing with Luna at the way that the
lines of trees in an orchard that they passed seemed to rotate like
spokes on a wheel.
All the while, trying not to think that she
had done something to keep Harry and Ron from coming to the train.
Trying not to worry about them.
This didn’t have
any of that magic. For all that it was bustling, there was something
empty about this landscape, its row houses and pocket parks and
schoolyards with rusting swings, and it made Ginny sad.
Not that she needed the help.
Hermione, of course, had told her to go. He needs to see you, she’d said. You need to talk to each other and the wedding won’t work.
And she’d arranged for Ginny to visit her at the Grangers’ Bayswater
flat – supposedly doing some last-minute shopping before the big event
– the day before the Weasley family headed over to Lyons. Mum had been
happy enough to have her gone, mad as she was with preparations for the
trip to France, so Ginny had Floo’d down the night before. And they’d
both cried a lot over takeaway curry and Italian wine and denounced all
boys as gits and blackguards. Well, Hermione had said blackguards.
Ginny had used a much shorter, older word.
Then, in the
morning, Hermione had waited until her parents were busy in their
surgery—having told them they’d be seeing the sights that day—had
dragged Ginny down to Victoria Station, a timetable in her hand, and
had gently but emphatically shoved Ginny onto the appropriate South
West Line train.
And here Ginny was, watching London turn into
Surrey, and wondering why anyone would want to live here when they
could live in Ottery St. Catchpole. Or London, for that matter.
The train slowed, pulling into a station. Ginny checked against the map on the bulkhead. Two more stops.
boy was sitting just below the railway map, dark-haired and pale. Well,
a man really—a little older than the twins, perhaps. He smiled
“Great Whinging,” Ginny answered, having no reason not to.
you sound perfectly happy to me.” When Ginny gave him her best
‘stupid-boy’ scowl, he just smiled. “Sorry. Old joke. It’s right after
Virginia Water. Just another twenty minutes or so.”
Ginny nodded. A woman struggled by, a baby on one hip and a fold-up pram on the other.
“Going to see a boyfriend?” the dark-haired boy-man asked.
held in a groan. There’d been a reason not to answer him after all.
Boys. Gits and blackguards. “Yes, I am. We haven’t been able to see
each other since the summer hols started.”
Nodding, the boy said, “I thought. You’ve been staring out that window, looking as full of excitement and dread as I feel.”
In spite of herself, Ginny arched an eyebrow.
The boy laughed, a short, sad bark. “Yeah, I thought so.”
you going to visit your girlfriend?” Ginny asked, figuring it was both
the logical question, and one that would give him one more reason not
to flirt with her.
He shrugged. “Going to see if I still have one.” His dark brown eyes flicked down to the battered book in his lap.
Ginny murmured. She really didn’t want to know, didn’t want to hear his
tale of woe, and yet something about this boy, this man, seemed like he
might hold a key. To something. When he looked back up, she held his
gaze. “What did you do?”
Again, the sad, barking laugh.
“Nothing romantic. No big rows. No affairs with other girls. I just...”
He grunted and looked up the aisle. “Look, if I... If a boy broke it
off with you, and then came crawling back, would you take him?”
A frisson of nausea fluttered through Ginny’s middle. Here she was the one... “That depends. Why did you break it off?”
nodded. “Yeah. Well...” He looked down into his lap again. “She
deserves better than me. That’s why. I’m...” Squeezing his eyes closed,
he muttered, “I’m sick, see? I’m dying.” He glanced up and took in her
shock. “Nothing catching, I promise! It’s cancer. And I might have ten
years, or I might have ten months.”
“Oh,” Ginny said.
“After I found out, I just...” He shrugged. “I just thought she deserved better than me.”
Again, Ginny forced down her rising gorge. “Did you ask her what she thought?”
boy shook his head and gave a sad grin. “’Course not. Didn’t give her
the chance, did I? Told her on the phone and just hung up. And now she
won’t answer my calls.”
“So you’re going to tell her you were wrong?”
“Yeah.” He peered at her, clearing trying to gauge Ginny’s reaction.
Poor bugger. “Well, I don’t know. How badly do you want to be with her?”
His eyes shone bright. He didn’t answer.
“If it was me, I’d understand, but I’d still want to kill you.”
looked away from her and out of the window to where greenery was now
flashing by. Ginny hadn’t even noticed that they’d started again.
reached across the aisle and touched his forearm, evoking a shiver. “So
if you want her, let her know she can kill you if she wants, but you
don’t care, you know? That you still love her.”
Nodding, he wiped his nose. “Thanks.”
They rode in silence. Too soon, they were pulling into another station. “You’re the next stop after,” he said.
nodded again. Leaning back, she watched as their train slowed to a
halt. In a carriage on the opposite track, a young girl was crying
disconsolately in her mother’s arms.
“You sound like you’re speaking from experience,” said the boy.
She locked eyes with him. She couldn’t say it.
Nodding, he stood. “My stop. Wish me luck.”
With a wave, he smiled and walked down the aisle. “You, too.”
occurred to Ginny, as she watched him shuffling off of the train and
onto the platform, that she would likely never see this man again, even
if he got his ten years. She was surprised by how much she hoped that
he did get them.
Too many Muggles.
hundred and sixty eight hours. Seven days. One week exactly since Harry
had left his friends at King's Cross, and already he was starting to
The ride back had been hard enough: Luna reading, Ron
and Hermione patrolling the corridors to make sure that there wasn't
any trouble, and — Hermione admitted — consoling the younger children,
who were crying each other sick.
Neville tried to talk, to
start a game of chess, but Harry couldn't do it. His whole being was
focused on holding himself back from apologizing to Ginny.
who sat opposite him, staring out the window like some red-haired
marble. Her face was free of emotion — of anger, in any case. But she
would not speak with him, and he had thought he would go mad.
But she understood, Harry told himself for the six hundred and seventy-second time. She had expected me to back away for her safety's sake. I don't need to apologize.
He was certain it was the right thing to do, giving up his best source of comfort. And she had agreed.
why was it so bloody hard? He had meant to use these last days at
Privet Drive to come to some kind of understanding with the Dursleys.
He didn't want to hate them any more. He had also meant to read up on
Curse-Breaking and dealing with magical objects.
Harry had spent every waking moment (and, he suspected, many of his
sleeping moments as well) fighting the urge to send Hedwig to her with
a long letter retracting the whole bloody thing and begging her to take
him back, to come with him. To look at him again with that look that
made him feel that he could and would do anything, so long as she was
But in order for her to be happy, she needed to be
alive, she needed to be safe. And sending her owls, kissing her,
flinging himself at her feet — these things definitely would not keep
From her cage by his desk, Hedwig hooted. Her
expression carried the message perfectly: "Send her a mouse, idiot
fledgling, and get it over with."
He threw himself down in a
miserable heap on his bed. Another one hundred and sixty eight hours
and the wedding would be over. He would be of age, and ready to go
Horcrux hunting. He had thought that the worst part would be having to
protect her feelings while he was at the wedding, but he'd realized
days ago that the feelings that were going to be in turmoil would be
He wasn't even sure if he could make it another week. Seven days. One hundred and sixty eight hours.
face, blazing. Her small, smooth lips against his own dry ones. Against
his throat. With a groan, he picked up one of the tomes that Hermione
had 'borrowed' for him from the Restricted Section and buried his head
Ron had owled once—asking what had happened
with Ginny, and did Harry think maybe it would be okay if Ron asked
Hermione out on a date? A date. What was interesting was that the twit
hadn’t bothered to ask whether Harry thought Hermione would mind. Which
Harry was sure she wouldn’t.
Hermione had called three times,
once to ask how Harry was, and twice to tell him, very firmly, that he
needed to send Ginny an owl and Talk Some Things Out. Oh, and would
Harry mind much if perhaps she and Ron possibly began to see a little
more of each other, if that wasn’t a problem? Which it wasn’t.
flung the book off of his head. He could see how this search for the
Horcruxes was going to go: Harry miserably thinking about Ginny, and
Ron and Hermione madly trying to find dark corners to snog in.
Walking past dozens of
indistinguishable, pastel-colored Little Whinging houses, Ginny found
her inner sense of dread growing. What was she doing here? Why hadn’t
she been able simply to live up to the agreement that they’d made at
Professor Dumbledore’s funeral? She’d have had her chance to see him in
just another day, on the way to Bill and Fleur’s wedding.
But she couldn’t wait. Not any more.
the past week, she’d played the good girl. Brave, Funny Ginny Weasley.
But the fact of the matter was that Brave, Funny Ginny Weasley was a
mask that she couldn’t keep up any more. Those five weeks of being with
Harry this spring had shattered the self-assured pretense that she’d
built up around herself since her first year of school, and she was
back to the blushing, uncertain idiot who had squeaked when the Boy Who
Lived had appeared out of nowhere in her kitchen that August morning.
had been her birthday wish. She had closed her eyes, crossed her
fingers and prayed that her brother’s best friend would come and fall
in love with her.
Well, he had come. He hadn’t fallen in love. Not then, anyway.
And that was the worm that gnawed at her, destroying her trust that things would work out.
did Harry feel for her? It was impossible to guess; he made her
brothers look emotionally literate. Hermione swore up and down that
Harry’s sun rose and set on Ginny, but, though she might be Harry’s
best friend as well as a genius, Hermione’s own understanding of boys
and their feelings wasn’t always exactly brilliant. Look at how she’d
completely misread Ron. Not that Ron had helped.
Ginny herself had helped. When she’d lashed out at her brother, it had
been in part out of humiliation at his accusations, and in part out of
discomfort at the intense, burning stare that Harry was giving her.
Together they had set her off like sparks to dry tinder. What she
hadn’t meant was for Ron to go and snog Lavender. Idiot.
burning look of Harry’s had been her first clue. The burning look and
her own discomfort at being its target. But Harry had never come out
and said, “I love you,” or even, “Let’s have some laughs together,” the
way Dean had. The closest he’d got to telling her what it was he did or
didn’t feel for her was at that awful funeral, and then it had been to
say that their time together had felt like someone else’s life. What
the hell did that mean?
There had been times when he’d lain,
his head in her lap, looking up at her, those green eyes stripping her
naked. Her soul, naked. Not her body. Well, not just her body. And yet
he had seemed so happy, so pleased with whatever it was that he saw.
Bugger. Bloody hell.
She was the same idiot she had been at eleven. Wishing on a bloody candle.
street looked just like every other street in the entire bloody
village. The houses were square, pale and utterly lacking in
personality. Every window was closed, and all of the shades pulled
tight. Manicured lawns and gaudy flowerbeds. Other than a few cats— all
of which oddly seemed to have some Kneazle ancestry— there wasn’t a
living creature sharing the mid-day sidewalk with Ginny.
It was everything the Burrow was not, and Ginny hated it. Hated that Harry Potter—her Harry Potter—had had to grow up in such a sterile hellhole.
Number four was the second house on the left, a mint green that managed even so to look bland.
stood at the bottom of the walk and suffered one last crisis of nerve.
Would he be happy to see her? Would he be angry? Would he yell at her?
Here he’d told her to stay away—he wasn’t likely to be pleased that
she’d invaded his family prison.
Ginny tried to tell herself
to walk away. If Harry yelled at her, she knew herself too well to
think that she’d take it quietly. They’d row, and that would tear her
apart and distract him, just when he needed distraction least. She’d
seen the house. She’d been close to him—she could feel him nearby, as
if he were one of the lodestones that Professor Flitwick liked to play
with, and she were nothing more than a shapeless, directionless pile of
iron shavings following him around.
But that wasn’t true. She
did have a direction. She did have desire, and it was aimed at him, and
she couldn’t take this any more.
Before she had the time to freeze again, Ginny strode up the walk and knocked firmly on the door.
had hoped that Harry would be alone in the house, that he would be the
one to welcome her into his aunt and uncle’s house. Or not welcome her.
when the door pulled open, the face in the crack was that of a bony,
horse-faced woman. Harry’s aunt. “Yes?” the woman said, suspicious.
Dursley?” The woman’s eyes narrowed even further. “My name…” Ginny
didn’t want to mention her last name, knowing that every encounter
Harry’s aunt had had with Ginny’s family had been a disaster. “I’m
Ginny. I’m a friend of Harry’s. May I speak to him?”
woman’s face dropped, making it even longer. She stared at Ginny
open-mouthed for a moment, and then scanned her from head to foot.
After a small eternity of silence, Petunia Dursley shook herself and
opened the door. “Of course. Please, come in.”
This wasn’t at all what Ginny had expected. She’d anticipated having to throw rocks at Harry’s window. “Thank you.”
aunt continued to stare at Ginny as she came into the entryway.
Frankly, she looked as if she’d seen a ghost, and not necessarily one
that she was used to having visit.
Struggling for calm, Ginny asked, “Would you like me to wait here? Would you like to let him know that I’m here, or—”
With a blink, the woman snapped to again. “Harry is in his room. You’re Ginny Weasley, are you?”
Oh, dear. “Yes, ma’am.”
Lips pursed, the woman muttered, “I should have known... I think it
best if you went up yourself, Miss Weasley. I think that Harry would
like that best.” She pointed up the stair beside her. Behind her would
be the cupboard...
Curiouser and curiouser. Nodding, Ginny began to ascend the stair when she felt a bony hand on her shoulder.
has spoken about you, Miss Weasley. He has... missed you.” The woman’s
dry face seemed at war with itself, as if speaking to Ginny were the
last thing she wanted to do, and yet she felt compelled to do it any
way. “I am sure that he has told you much about us. Please do not judge
us too harshly. We did not...” For a moment, Mrs. Dursley seemed to win
the fight over control of her tongue, only to lose it again. “Has he
ever shown you a picture of his mother, my sister?”
Not certain that the woman wasn’t barking mad, Ginny shook her head.
Do get him to do that. Miss Weasley. Ginny.” She began to turn away,
her hand trembling as it brushed at non-existent lint on her apron.
“Oh, and do tell my nephew that lunch will be ready at 1:00. I hope you
will join us.” Jerkily, Petunia walked back along the hallway towards
what Ginny supposed was the kitchen.
Ginny discovered as the woman strode away that her heart was racing. What was that? Shaking her head, she walked up the stairs. Now, which door...?
But Ginny didn’t need any help figuring out which room was Harry’s. Locks. Cat flap. Horrible.
Harry. Hey there, Harry. Look, Harry, I know you said we shouldn’t be
involved any more, but sod that. And besides, boys don’t get to break it off with me, so why don’t you just hold still while I punch you in the nose...
She raised a tremulous hand.
was a quiet knock at Harry’s door. With a sigh, he got up. In point of
fact, Aunt Petunia had been a totally different woman since Harry’s
return. She had talked to him about his mother, had shown him the
letter that Dumbledore had left all those years ago, along with the
blanket that he had been swaddled in. She had cried when she found out
that Dumbledore had died. Expecting that she must have come to call him
down to lunch, Harry opened the door.
It wasn't Harry's aunt. It was Ginny.
looked awful. "Hello, Harry," she said, her eyes locked on his chest.
Her face was pale and she was wearing a threadbare jumper that Harry
realized with a start was one of his castoffs. The green made her hair
blaze all the more fiercely.
"G-Ginny," he said, somehow
surprised though he had thought of nothing else but her for a whole
week. One hundred and sixty eight hours. "W-what...?"
flicked up and bore into his, and a creature clawed inside of Harry—
not the cold, scaly one that he had fought down while watching her with
Dean, nor the flaming, roaring one that possessed him when she was in
his arms. This one was desperate, and feathered, and felt like
something that Harry could not control. Ginny swallowed and spoke. "I
couldn't do it, Harry. I couldn't wait."
And like a prisoner
embracing his fate, Harry threw his arms around Ginny, wordlessly
unsaying all that he had said, welcoming the eternity that was theirs.
Not matter how few the hours.
watched as her boy and his mate preened and courted there on his nest.
She was pleased with Ginevra Molly (Ginny) Weasley of the Burrow,
Ottery St Catchpole, Devonshire. The hawk-plumed girl had seen what
needed to be done and had done it. She’d even given Hedwig’s boy the
nips that he so richly deserved for his idiocy.
Hedwig’s boy did not seem to mind.
would be nesting together soon. In fact, Hedwig realized – as she
watched their mutual preening progress rather further than she had ever
seen it do – if they continued, they might be nesting rather too soon.
She gave a warning hoot. The couple broke apart and laughed.
Time for nesting later, when things were more secure. When the serpents had been slain and the nest could be kept safe.
boy and his mate would have pretty nestlings, Hedwig thought. She
fluffed herself contentedly as she watched them return to their