A/N: This picks up right after Harry and Ginny are quite forcibly evicted from the library by Madam Pince during OoTP. That scene was the first real bit of genuine interaction Jo ever gave us between Harry and Ginny, but I like to think there was plenty more that we didn't get to see even still. Hope you enjoy, and thanks Chi for the work on this one, even though the universe seemed to be conspiring against us for a bit :- )
Harry’s things continued to chase them the entire length of the fourth floor corridor, while Madam Pince yelled after them on the library threshold, waving her wand rabidly. It was only after they hastily rounded the corner that his vengeful belongings became lifeless once again, and fell finally to the floor with a resolute thud.
Harry stopped running, taking his arms down from around his head cautiously, and leaned against the castle wall. Ginny followed suit. They were both quite out of breath, and more than a bit worse for wear. Their robes were splattered over with drops of his scarlet ink, giving the funny impression they’d been the victims of some odd casualty, he thought. Ginny’s hair was entirely mussed, his no more than usual. He noticed a reddening welt rising across her temple, in striking contrast with her fair skin, undoubtedly from where one of his books had pelted her along the way.
‘Are you all right?’ he asked her, his breath still coming in shallow gasps, and reached out to touch the mark with his fingertips.
For a second she looked at him slightly puzzled, but then brought her hand up to touch the spot on her forehead where his fingers still lingered lightly.
‘Oh, that’s nothing,’ she said, flashing him a rather brilliant smile. ‘Fred and George would be proud, in fact -- glorious battle scars after a thrilling chase, narrowly escaping with our lives and all that.’
Harry smiled at her. That sounded like exactly the sort of thing Fred and George would say. Of all the Weasleys, or at least those he knew well, Ginny undoubtedly shared the twins’ love of mischief and mayhem more than anyone. Her eyes were positively glowing, wild with barely contained delight, and though she still hadn’t quite caught her breath, that brilliant smile remained firmly on her lips.
He chuckled softly despite himself. He could vividly imagine Hermione’s horrified reaction at hearing that, of all places, they’d been run out of the library, or Ron’s prompt conclusion that Madam Pince was definitely mental. Only Ginny would find being chased down a corridor at wand-point and beaten near senseless utterly amusing, of all things.
‘That was cutting it close, wasn’t it? I’ve never seen Madam Pince so angry,’ he said, crouching down to retrieve his scattered quills and parchment from the hallway floor. Ginny, for her part, began gathering up his wayward spell books.
‘You’d think we were burning books right under her nose or something,’ she said wickedly, passing him his copy of Defensive Magical Theory.
Harry grinned broadly. ‘Sirius told me that he and my dad once accidentally caught the charms section on fire playing Exploding Snap, and Madam Pince just about skinned them alive. She wouldn’t let them back into the library for three months, OWLS or not.’
Rich laughter escaped from her throat, an almost musical sound. ‘I don’t know about your dad, but that sounds exactly like Sirius somehow,’ she answered, tossing her bag over her shoulder. ‘He must have driven Dumbledore completely mad. I bet it was brilliant.’
Inexplicably, Harry felt a hard lump press against his throat. He swallowed hard, willing it to go away.
‘Yeah,’ he said softly, looking down, not wanting to meet her eye. He was immediately. painfully aware that she was still looking at him, her face kind and unassuming. The silence between them was not entirely uncomfortable, somehow.
‘You really miss him, don’t you?’ she said quietly.
He looked up suddenly, taken aback. ‘What? Who?’
‘Sirius,’ she said simply.
‘Oh. Right. I…’
He found himself struggling to answer her. Of course he missed Sirius -- missed him terribly, if he was going to be entirely honest. Admitting that to himself was no problem, but confessing it to her, actually speaking the truth aloud…that was different.
Speaking it out loud would make it absolute, and impossible to take back. The thought of voicing his deepest, most desperate feelings aloud for anyone to hear made his insides squirm violently on the spot. Being vulnerable in such a way was not something he really fancied doing, he thought.
And yet, talking to Ginny wasn’t really hard at all, he realized. It was surprisingly easy, in fact, for lately his thoughts seemed to pour from him unwittingly in her presence, as if knowing somehow that he needn’t fear reprimand or disbelief. Ginny would never goggle at him as though he had two heads, no matter what he told her. She knew better than anyone what it meant to simply need someone to listen to you.
Her own need had once been so great she’d poured out her heart to a stranger inside a book -- and almost been killed because of it. He grimaced at the memory.
Perhaps she understood better than he did himself, he thought. She was the very last person he would have imagined having such a conversation with, yet he’d already told her his most desperate desire without even thinking on it. And she hadn’t tried to dissuade him, however impossible a task it really was, but offered to help him instead.
‘Harry? Are you all right?’
Her voice came floating through his silent musings suddenly from what seemed a great distance, as though she were miles away and speaking through a thick fog, instead of standing before him waving her hand gently. He gave a small start, his eyes focusing back sharply on the delicate outline of her face, the gleaming red of her hair against the cold stone, and to the slightly worried expression now looking out at him from her brown eyes.
‘Oh -- sorry. Yeah, I’m fine.’
‘All right,’ she said softly, though she looked as though she wasn’t quite convinced. She laid her hand gently on his arm. ‘I thought I’d lost you there for a minute.’
He smiled sadly, a small, hastening shadow on his lips. He looked into her face. Almost unwittingly, it held the same lingering sorrow just below the surface, the same frustration at the obvious crimes being perpetrated against them, and their near utter inability to do anything to change it. He felt suddenly humbled, as he realized that all of those things were there for him as well, and not just for herself.
Taking a step away from her, he leaned heavily against the nearby windowsill, casting his view over the grounds outside with a quiet sigh. As he’d expected, or perhaps hoped, Ginny stepped silently beside him, crossing her arms in front of her as she too leaned against the ancient castle walls.
For what seemed a long moment they simply stood quietly, shoulder to shoulder, content enough in the quiet comfort of each other’s presence.
A deepening twilight trimmed with flecks of scattered light lay just outside the cool glass, suggesting an air of calm that betrayed the growing turmoil inside the castle. This was not the Hogwarts he knew and loved, he thought bitterly. It hadn’t been since the very first night back, in fact. Umbridge had seen to that.
‘I just…’ He paused. ‘I just wish everything would go back to the way it’s supposed to be, you know?’ he said finally in a quiet voice.
‘What do you mean, Harry?’ she asked.
The absolute patience in her voice, and the understanding that she would push him no further than he was willing to go somehow made him want to tell her everything, to explain every horrible feeling he’d been hiding since Christmas in candid detail. If only for the small hope that by telling her, maybe, she could make him feel better, as she’d unknowingly done only a little while ago.
‘Everything,’ he said, the words suddenly spilling from him. ‘Nothing’s right. Dumbledore’s gone, and Umbridge is lording it over the school meanwhile, and Fudge has convinced practically the entire wizard population that I’m a raving lunatic. Hagrid’s on probation and we can’t even visit him, he’s being hurt by someone and he won’t say why, there’s no Quidditch or Hogsmeade anymore thanks to that evil hag, and Death Eaters are running around loose and no one seems to care to do anything about it, and --’
He stopped. His shoulders sagged heavily on his lean frame, burdened by much more than simply the force of gravity. Ginny, for her part, remained quiet, listening intently. He felt her eyes watching him, waiting patiently for him to finish what he’d obviously wanted to say for some time.
‘It’s-it’s just…I don’t know. Nothing’s as it should be,’ he finished dejectedly, staring back out the window at the blackening sky, bright now with the light of a nearly full moon.
To his slight surprise, she said nothing. Instead, she simply continued to look out over the grounds as though thinking on something, her shoulder still brushing lightly against his own. The thought that he’d made a terrible mistake ran hurriedly through his mind. Surely, she had enough problems of her own without listening to him go on, and he’d been far too rash thinking that she --
‘I know,’ she said suddenly, her voice quiet and thoughtful. ‘They’ve taken everything about this place that’s grand and wonderful, everything that makes it feel like home, and stolen it away.’
Harry stared at her. His mouth was slightly open, at a loss for words, as he found himself unable to hide his surprise. That, and the gratitude he felt suddenly at her understanding. She had voiced his thoughts perfectly.
‘Yeah. That’s exactly it. Ginny, how --’
But she stopped him. ‘Except they can’t take everything away, Harry. You need to remember that.’
Her dark eyes were suddenly searing, in a way that he had witnessed only once before after they had learned of Mr. Weasley’s attack at Christmas. He felt his brain straining to understand what it meant.
He looked at her wonderingly, his face furrowed softly in confusion. ‘What do you mean?’
‘No matter how many decrees Umbridge pushes through, Harry, she can’t change what this place is, or what it means to you.’
He shook his head, her meaning still lost on him. ‘I don’t understand.’
She smiled softly, casting her eyes downward for a brief second. It was as though she knew some secret he obviously wasn’t party to. But just as quickly, she raised her fiery head and looked at him fully, bound with some kind of purpose that he could only guess at. He shivered inexplicably at the sight of it.
‘This is the first place you were happy, Harry,’ she said gently, but firmly, and laid her hand on his arm. ‘And that’s something they can’t take away from you, no matter how hard they try.’
Harry looked at her. Her face was sure with conviction, and he found himself wondering vaguely if he were seeing her, really seeing her for the first time. A Ginny Weasley that he had never really considered before, one who was fierce and loyal, and who knew somehow exactly what he needed to hear, even though he had no idea himself. He didn’t understand how he could have missed it before.
He jumped suddenly, whipping around, and felt Ginny do the same beside him.
At the end of the corridor, a group of unwitting second-years had seemingly fallen prey to one of Fred and George’s more devilish pranks. They were being loudly accosted by a hoard of bewitched, dancing suits of armour, as the small second-years all stood looked extremely embarrassed. They tried fruitlessly to skirt their way around the flailing armour, but to no avail.
He watched Ginny grin slightly at the sight of them. ‘It’s no use,’ she said, not unsympathetically. ‘They’ll have to wait until the charm wears off, poor buggers.’
‘Yeah,’ he agreed offhandedly, his mind far from the group of captive second years. ‘Ginny, listen --’ he began.
But again she stopped him. ‘I know, Harry,’ she said simply.
He smiled. She knew without saying. But he thanked her silently, for again, somehow, she understood even when he himself did not.
‘I guessed we missed dinner,’ she said lightly. Down the corridor it seemed as if Fred and George’s spellwork was beginning to wear thin, for the timid second years were now taking it in turns to dash around the empty armour as it flopped lazily from side to side. The torches on either side of the hallway were now burning cheerfully against the weathered stone, staying the encroaching shadow with their unspoken magic.
‘Yeah,’ he answered, noticing how her hair seemed to come alive in the dim, dancing light, woven as it was with hue after hue of gold and amber in a way that both Ron’s and the twins was not. Something entirely unique to her, it seemed. Like a great many others things he likely didn’t know about, he thought.
‘I’ll speak to Fred and George about Sirius as soon as I see them,’ she said, hoisting her bag over her shoulder again, smiling as she did. ‘I’m sure they’ll be able to think of something.’
She stepped away from him as though to leave, but he stopped her quickly, catching her wrist in his hand. She gave a small start, her brown eyes flashing towards their joined hands before hurriedly fixing on him once again. They seemed strangely guarded, which took him slightly aback.
‘Ginny -- thank you.’ He knew somehow it was all he needed to say.
Her eyes softened instantly, and he felt her slender fingers wrap around his own and squeeze firmly.
‘You’re welcome, Harry,’ she said quietly, and released his hand.
Silently, he watched her turn and walk around the corner, his hands buried thoughtfully in his pockets. The unruly armour had seemingly finally grown weary, and was now lying still and silent on the castle floor as if settling in for a long night’s sleep. He supposed Fred and George would come back and bewitch them again tomorrow.
He smiled softly to himself, grateful at least for the surety of simple routine. Some things, he knew, would stay the same.
Finally, picking up his long-forgotten things, he made his way silently through the well-worn passages back to the common room, completely unmindful of anyone he passed along the way. He thought somehow that sleep might be a long time coming to him tonight, though for once, he mused quietly, that might not be such a bad thing.
When he looked up, it was to the familiar sight of the Fat Lady, resolute as ever in her duty as guardian and gatekeeper. He gave her the password, and the door swung open readily, but he hesitated before stepping inside. He knew Ron and Hermione would be waiting for him, faithful and unwavering as ever, probably worried about where he’d been and why he’d missed dinner. He wondered what he should tell them exactly.
That he’d been with a friend, he thought. One who’d helped him to reconcile just a little bit with circumstance, despite how dark and disheartening it had been lately.
Resolved, he swung the door open wide and stepped over the threshold. He knew there was no way to expect what circumstance would bring, but he knew he would have friends to turn to when it did. And for now, that would do.