He had blown it. There were visible reminders everywhere Harry looked. From the way Ginny casually looked down and brushed a lock of hair behind her ear every time he glanced at her across the garden, to the awkward manner with which Hermione had greeted him when he arrived that afternoon at the Burrow. Ron, bless him, appeared to be trying as hard as possible to act naturally, but there was the added discomfort of being the ex-boyfriend of your best mate’s younger sister.
He stared down at his pile of crisp orange and yellow leaves and sighed. He had vowed to himself that today was not going to be uncomfortable. It was the first time he had been at the Burrow since Bill and Fleur’s wedding and he had to put on a good face for the lot of them, even if he felt terrible inside. The wedding had been bearable. Granted, it was the first time he had seen Ginny since breaking up with her at the funeral, and they were careful around one another, but that was just the problem. Every time he saw her he wished he could hold her. And nothing had happened. They had not even danced with one another at the wedding, and then it was over and he had to go back to twelve Grimmauld Place.
It’s your own fault that you chose not spend more time with her over the summer, you prat, said a voice in his head that reminded him of Ginny’s matter-of-fact-advice tone, and as much as he wanted to argue back, he knew that it was true. If he had merely kept in touch with Ginny through written correspondence, then raking leaves with Ron, Hermione, and Ginny on Halloween afternoon would not be so tense. It would not have hurt him to have met up with her for ice cream or to have spent time with Ron at the Burrow instead of at his house. Then he might be able to look at her and smile before she turned her head away.
Harry shivered as a chill wind blew through the yard and suddenly realized that the girls were nowhere to be seen. He looked over at Ron who nodded toward the kitchen window through which he saw Ginny and Hermione helping Mrs. Weasley prepare dinner. They had decided to chance raking up the leaves in the garden just for a little while to get some fresh air, but they all knew that as soon as the sun started to set, it would be time to go back indoors.
“I suppose you think I’ve made a right mess of things,” he muttered as Ron started raking his pile of leaves toward Harry’s.
Ron paused and studied him for a moment, “Well, it would have helped for you to have talked to her over the summer, at least once.”
“I know,” Harry replied. “It was stupid of me not to.”
“Especially since we aren’t back at Hogwarts, at least not until you defeat…him,” Ron added carefully.
“I know what I have to do, Ron,” Harry retorted as he bent over to pick up some stray leaves. “You don’t have to be afraid of reminding me. It’s what I’ve been working on, anyway.”
Ron stood up and leaned on his rake. “Oh yeah? Why didn’t you ask Hermione and me for help?”
Harry looked up at him and shrugged, lowering his voice when he saw out of the corner of his eye that Hermione had come back out to gather some of the gardening tools. “I – I honestly don’t have a good answer for that. I wanted to, I did, but I kept hitting dead ends, and I’ve had to go to places that I needed to face alone.”
Both boys remained silent as they finished joining their leaf piles and began placing them in garbage bags.
“Why aren’t we doing this by magic, anyway?” Harry asked.
“My parents did one year when we were all little,” Ron replied. “The garbage men came to the door and started asking questions about what happened to all of our leaves. After that we decided that it would make a good family activity, but well, with Bill married, Charlie in Romania, the twins at the shop, and Percy who knows where, we didn’t have as many helpers as usual.”
Ron muttered, “Engorgio” and their bags swelled to accommodate all the leaves in the pile. When the bags were full, they each hefted on and set out for back door of the house.
“We all understand that you need some time,” Ron said softly. “But that doesn’t mean that you get to ignore us, and especially not Ginny. We can help you; you know you can’t figure this out on your own. And Ginny can, too. She’s quite capable, as she constantly pounds into my thick head.”
Harry laughed for the first time, “Good to see that you’ve finally realized it.” They swung the bags toward the ground and stood up to stretch their backs. “I know I’ve been coming to you lot for help for years now, and I know I can’t do it by myself, but I want to keep you as safe as possible. Voldemort isn’t after you, he’s after me.”
“Will you quit being noble?” Ron groused, folding his arms. “I’ve got scars from battling his minions, physical and emotional, just as much as anyone else has. Nothing that you can do is going to keep me, or Hermione and Ginny, safer. You’re not alone, mate. Don’t pretend to be.”
“It’s been four months since I’ve really talked to her,” Harry said glumly, looking down at his shoes. “And the fact is I still feel the same way about her that I did that day.” His voice cracked to his embarrassment, but he still looked up into Ron’s sympathetic face.
“So tell her. I’ve been learning that’s the best way to do these things,” Ron answered sheepishly, blushing to his ears.
Harry cocked an eyebrow, “Is there something you need to tell me?”
“Uh, well, Hermione and I may, in fact, be seeing one another as more than friends,” Ron answered. “As of about a month ago. Trust me, it’s best to just talk about these things, and Ginny wants to talk about it. I promise you that.”
Harry shook his head, “Maybe I will before I go home, I don’t know.”
“Stay the night,” Ron suggested. “It’s better than sleeping in that awful house all by yourself.”
“Well I have done a lot to clean it up and make it liveable,” Harry countered. “But I think I will stay, if that’s all right. It would be nice to not have to worry about Kreacher barging in on me any time he pleases.”
“Good. I’m going to go take a shower and wash up for dinner. I expect that you’ll not still be standing out here when I come back downstairs.” Ron gave Harry a wink and was gone before he could respond.
Brilliant, Harry thought to himself. Now I have no choice.
He stared at the swaying trees for a few minutes and then decided to chance peeking into the den. Luckily, the coast was clear. There were no girls to be seen. He gingerly opened the door just wide enough to slip through and tiptoed through the room, trying to remain as quiet as possible. No one entered the kitchen while he made himself a cup of tea, and there was no one in the den when he returned to drink it. Not for five minutes, at least.
“Harry?” whispered a gentle voice. He whipped around, spilling tea on his trousers, and saw Ginny had stopped partway into the room. Her long red hair hung around her shoulders; it glinted with the light from the setting sun pouring through the window, keeping the room lit just enough to see without having to light a candle.
“Ginny,” he muttered softly. “Please, come in.” She walked over slowly, eyes on the floor, and sat down on the couch. It seemed to him that a whole minute passed before she lifted her head to look him in the eye. He opened his mouth to say something, but she quickly broke in.
“Do you remember what you were thinking three years and two hours ago?” Ginny asked him.
Taken aback, Harry thought for a second before replying, “Well, that was the year that the Triwizard Tournament was kicking off. I suppose I was excited to see who was going to be chosen as the champions. It would have been mid-afternoon, I guess. I was probably getting ready for the feast and speculating with Ron about what was going to happen, maybe complaining about the fact that Quidditch was cancelled or about homework. Well, it was also 31 October, so I may have been thinking about my parents, but whether or not I was, I can’t say.”
She nodded, “Exactly. You were living in blissful ignorance. We all were. Voldemort hadn’t returned, you knew Sirius was innocent even if the rest of us didn’t, Percy was still part of our family, we had just come out of a great year at school where we had the best Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher we’d ever had, and we were starting a new year with other witches and wizards from around the continent. There was nothing to be worried about; there was no reason to suspect that school would be cancelled three years later. We had no idea what was about to happen. But almost exactly three years ago, your name was coming out of that cup, and Harry, at that moment my heart skipped a beat.”
He nodded. “I suppose that was the moment that started it all, really. And there was no way to turn back. I was magically bound to it, and it wasn’t even my choice.”
“I don’t know why, but somehow I knew you hadn’t done it,” Ginny replied. “And I was scared for you. Somehow, I knew you were in danger even if you didn’t know it at the time.”
Harry laughed, “Well, I did learn it soon enough. About twenty minutes later at most.”
She smiled slightly, “Still, I knew, and I felt for you, but there was nothing I could do about it. You weren’t my friend then, you were Ron’s. And I was just learning how to get over you, and I started noticing that there were other boys who might fancy me, and that made me feel wanted, I suppose. Whatever the reasons, I pushed the thought out of my mind and moved on. You had your friends, your worries, your classes, your life, and I had mine. I had every intention of living my life as I wanted to live it, and if I had to live it without you, then I could do that. But I can’t anymore, Harry. I can’t live my life without you in it.”
Harry’s entire body warmed to her words and he wanted nothing more than to wrap his arms around her tense body and calm her nerves. He wished he could tell her how much he cared about her and wanted her in his life, just as much as she wanted him in hers, but would that decision cost Ginny her life?
“I – I don’t know what to say,” he replied, inwardly annoyed that his voice was cracking again. “Gin, you know I care about you, but I don’t want you to be in danger.”
“Bloody hell, Harry,” she said softly. “I know you’re lying, and you have to realize that I’m going to put myself in danger no matter what you say or do. I have as much right as you do to fight for my freedom and my family’s freedom, and I’m not afraid to do it. No matter what my mum says, I’m going to do it. I can’t just sit back and let Voldemort dictate my actions.”
He shuddered. “You have to realize how hard this is for me. You have to understand that I want to hold you, care for you, love you.”
“So do it,” she pleaded and gently took his hand. “You can’t let the past or the possibilities of the future determine your decisions. Please, Harry, I don’t want to lose you as much as you don’t want to lose me, and if we’re not together in battling him, then we’ve already lost.”
She was looking straight into his eyes, but he could feel her shaking. He put his cup of tea down on the table beside the couch and wrapped his free arm around her shoulder.
“You’ve not lost me, I promise you that,” he whispered into her ear. “I’m just worried that what happened to my parents sixteen years ago will happen to me and you if we stay together.”
She twisted to look at him. “If I could be half the woman your mother was, I’d be happy. She sacrificed herself for you, Harry. She loved you. I would gladly do the same, with or without your permission.”
He laughed shortly. “Let’s hope it never comes to that, hmm?”
Ginny smiled and leaned a little closer to him. He kissed her on the forehead and she looked up again.
“So I guess this means we’re back together?” she asked, sliding down to use his leg as a pillow.
“I guess so,” he affirmed. “I just can’t seem to get away from you. We couldn’t even spend four months apart.”
She laughed, “Funny, isn’t it.”
He felt so comfortable at that moment, just looking down at her, her hair strewn about his legs.
“Yeah, I suppose it is,” he agreed. “Merlin, Ginny, how are we going to do this?”
She shook her head and admitted, “I don’t know, Harry, but I know that we’ll figure it out as we go along. Dumbledore believed that you could do it, and so do I. See, Harry, we’re different from your parents, you and me. You’re not your dad, and I’m not your mum. Yeah, we’re battling the same man they did, but your dad wasn’t meant to defeat him, and really, didn’t have the power to. You do, and I believe that if we all work together on this, we’ll figure it out.”
Harry’s voice caught in his throat. He smiled and coughed a little to loosen his tongue. “You’re right, Gin. You’re right. We will.”
“And what is going on in here?” chimed Hermione from the doorway.
Ginny looked at Harry and blushed, then twisted so that she could see the door and answered, “Oh, not much of anything. We just have our Harry back.”
Hermione squealed and rushed over to them, “Oh, thank goodness. Harry, does that mean you’ll be letting us assist you in this anti-Voldemort quest?”
“Only against my better judgment, of course,” Harry teased as Ginny sat up to make room for Hermione on the couch. “But yeah, I can’t do it alone. I know that now. We’re a team, all four of us. You know, Ginny reminded me that today is the anniversary of when my name came out of the Goblet of Fire, the day that all of this really got put into motion.” He looked at each in turn. “I’ve tried to do it on my own, and I can’t.”
“Glad that you’ve realized it, mate,” Ron called into the room. “It’s good to have you back.”
Harry smiled. “Let’s hope that at this time next year, we’ll be celebrating the anniversary of Voldemort’s downfall.”
“We’re behind you all the way,” Ginny replied. “As long as it takes.” He smiled at her and squeezed her hand. As long as it takes. He hoped it wouldn’t be long.