A/N: Thanks to my beta-readers, sunsethill and Sherylyn!
"Ginny, I thought you wanted help on your Vanishing Spells!"
Ginny withdrew her gaze from where the giant squid splashed in the lake.
"I do, Hermione, but we've been at it for three hours – don't you think we deserve a break?"
"I don't know if I deserve a break, but I certainly need one," Luna said, dropping her head down onto her book. "I feel as though I'd been shipwrecked."
The three of them were lying on a blanket in the sun near the lake. It was two weeks before Ginny and Luna's O.W.L.s, and while they hadn't left their revising as late as some of their classmates, there were still specific things they wanted to review. Harry and Ron had declared that they'd already sat the O.W.L.s once, so they didn't need to do it again, and Neville was helping Professor Sprout repot this year's crop of mandrakes, but Hermione had been more than willing to help.
"Well, I suppose we could stop for awhile; we have done a lot of work," Hermione said, laying down her wand on the blanket with precision. "You two are much easier to tutor than Harry and Ron."
Ginny giggled. "And you're surprised?"
Hermione sighed. "No," she said. She turned her head towards the Quidditch pitch, where the three girls could see Harry and Ron swooping and diving through the air. "It's wonderful that they're happy, of course…after what happened last year, I never thought I'd see Harry enjoying flying on his Firebolt again. But I do wish they'd take things more seriously."
"They do, Hermione," Luna said. "They just know that sometimes you need to relax – something you might want to learn from them."
Hermione sighed again, and Ginny knew it didn't have anything to do with having problems relaxing. Ron had made it his mission for the year to cheer Harry up, and while it had worked (with a little help from his friends), it had meant that Hermione took a back seat in his life. Ginny wished she knew why their relationship had to be so complicated – none of hers had been – but she supposed that was just Ron and Hermione. It was hard on Hermione, though.
"Why do you wait for him, Hermione?" she asked before thinking about it. She'd never asked that before, and hadn't meant to now. Luna raised her head and fixed Hermione with her clear gaze, waiting for her to answer.
"I'm not waiting for him," Hermione said, her eyes still on the Quidditch pitch. "I just…don't want anyone else. He's my knight."
Ginny and Luna looked at each other in confusion.
"Your knight?" Ginny asked. "Your knight in shining armor? Ron?"
Hermione smiled, but she reached up and pulled her fluffy braid over her shoulder and fiddled with the end.
"No, not my knight in shining armor," she said, keeping her eyes on her hands and she spoke. "My knight…he's always there to support me and protect me, whether I want it or not, and not because he doesn't think I can take care of myself, just because it's the right thing to do. There could never be anyone else for me."
"Never?" Ginny asked. "You mean, you think you're going to marry Ron?"
Hermione turned bright red, and the knuckles on the hand that gripped the braid turned white. She didn't seem able to speak.
"Don't you want Hermione for a sister, Ginny?" Luna asked, her head tilted to one side as she studied Hermione.
"Well," Ginny said, then stopped and thought about it. "I mean, that would be great, but not yet! You're only sixteen, Hermione – how can you know who you want to marry?"
"I don't know," Hermione said, letting go of her braid finger by finger. She still didn't look at either Ginny or Luna. "Maybe I don't…I wish there were some way of knowing. I hate not knowing."
"There is," Luna said. "The Mirror of Erised."
Ginny burst out laughing. "Luna! I didn't know you read romance novels!"
Luna smiled at her. "Of course I do. You can learn a lot from romance novels."
"Like what?" Ginny asked, but Hermione spoke right on top of her.
"What does the Mirror of Erised have to do with romance novels?"
"What's this? Hermione Granger hasn't read every book under the sun?" Ginny said, grinning at her.
"If you consider romance novels books, then no, I haven't," Hermione said. She took a quick breath, then let it out slowly, and finally looked up at Ginny. "So, what do they have to do with each other?" "Oh, it's just that in a lot of them, the heroine is trying to decide between two men, and somehow she comes across the Mirror of Erised. Of course, she sees her heart's desire – one of the men – in it, and that decides for her."
"Except in Unquenchable Love," Luna said. "In that one, the heroine decides she wants both of the men."
"Yes, well, it was trying to be progressive, and not succeeding very well," Ginny said. "Honestly, some of the writing…anyway, the point is that if you could find the Mirror of Erised, Hermione, you'd know for certain if Ron was your heart's desire."
Hermione blushed again, but she also looked thoughtful. "It's here, you know," she said.
"The Mirror of Erised. At least, it was during my first year."
"Really?" Luna said, sitting up quickly. "It's really here? Why?"
"Dumbledore was using it to protect the Philosopher's Stone," Hermione said. She tossed her braid over her shoulder again and leaned forward, her expression much more natural. "Only someone who wanted to find the stone but not use it – whose deepest desire was to save the world, not destroy it – could find it."
"Like Harry," Ginny said, turning to look at the Quidditch pitch. Harry suddenly dove towards the ground, pulling himself up at the last possible second.
"Like Harry," Hermione agreed.
"Well," Ginny said, pulling her thoughts back to the conversation. "I wouldn't mind seeing what my deepest desire is."
"You mean you need to decide between Dean and Harry?" Luna asked, and Ginny smacked her on the shoulder.
"Of course not!" she said. "Harry's a boy. He's still twelve emotionally sometimes, I swear. That's not what I meant…it's just, y'know those career counseling sessions? I had no idea what to say to McGonagall. I don't know what I want to do with my life."
"Well, but Ginny, you're only sixteen, too. There's no need for you to know exactly what you're going to do forever and ever," Hermione said.
"All of my brothers did. And McGonagall really seemed disappointed that I didn't."
"She just doesn't want you to waste your potential, Ginny. You're so bright and personable – everyone knows you and likes you. Think about it – even Malfoy letting slip that it had been you who opened the Chamber of Secrets didn't lose you any friends."
"Except ones you didn't really want in the first place," Luna said.
Ginny blinked and looked down at her hands, feeling her eyes burn a little. She reached for the fringe on the edge of the blanket and started to plait it. Luna was closer to right than Hermione; she had lost some friends to Malfoy's viciousness, but the whole thing had taught her a valuable lesson. It had been the same problem as her first year, actually – trusting people who shouldn't have been trusted, just because she wanted to be liked and accepted. This time, she'd been trusting and befriending real people, instead of an evil diary, but some of those people hadn't been worth the effort she'd been putting into them. Luckily, it had been quite easy to tell which of her many ‘friends' really were friends, after Malfoy had asked her, in a loud, carrying voice in the Great Hall, if she'd heard from the Dark Lord lately, and what it was really like, being possessed by him. Harry and Ron had launched themselves at him, of course, quickly followed by Dean and Neville, but Ginny had barely noticed the ensuing fight and didn't know they'd all received a month's worth of detentions from McGonagall until the next day. Instead, she'd stood there in shock until the commotion died away, and then turned to face the eyes of the rest of the school. She'd seen scorn, pity, and fear mingled there, but nothing could have prepared her for the next few weeks…walking through the halls hearing conversations stop when she drew near and start up again after she'd passed, first- and second-years shrinking away from her in fear, when before they'd all looked up to her, and people she'd thought were her friends bending over backwards to pretend that they'd never even talked to her.
She'd expected all of it, of course, and she could pride herself on carrying it off well – many people had told her that she'd done better than they could ever have imagined doing – but it had hurt.
After a few moments of silence, during which Hermione and Luna watched the Quidditch pitch, Luna spoke.
"I didn't really know what to tell Professor Flitwick, either," she said.
"Really?" Hermione said. "I thought you'd take over The Quibbler from your father."
Ginny, who hadn't lifted her eyes from her collection of fringe-plaits, felt herself grinning at that. No matter how hard Hermione tried, she couldn't keep a shudder out of her voice whenever she mentioned The Quibbler. It was rather like hearing Ron say ‘Voldemort'; he could do it, but his voice shook every time.
"Well, that is important," Luna said, and Ginny looked up to see her gazing dreamily at Greenhouse Three. "But there are lots of other important things, as well."
Hermione sighed. "That's the trouble, isn't it?" she said. "There's just so much…"
"Don't be silly, Hermione," Ginny said, sitting up and shaking her hair out of her eyes. "You're obviously going to be Minister of Magic, but only after you've freed all the house elves – sorry, elves – and redefined the meaning of magical being versus beast!"
Luna laughed, and Hermione blushed and shook her head.
"Those are important things, all right," she said. "I would like to do something that would be remembered even after I'm gone…something worthwhile. What about you, Ginny?"
"That's just it," Ginny said, leaning back on her hands and looking up into the blue, blue sky. "I don't think I even want to be remembered after I'm gone. It's certainly nothing I feel I need. And I don't think I need to do something the world considers ‘worthwhile'. Does that make me a horrible person?"
"Of course not," Hermione said quickly. A bit too quickly, actually; Ginny suspected that she really did think it wasn't a good thing. It was how she felt, though, and she wasn't going to force herself to be something she wasn't. "Well," she added, "there's one thing I know I don't want to be remembered for: The Chamber of Secrets."
"You won't be," Hermione said, again a bit too quickly.
"Only if Voldemort wins, anyway," Luna added.
"Luna!" Hermione said, but Ginny burst out laughing. She flopped back down onto her back on the blanket, listening to Hermione lecture Luna on being more considerate, and glad, once again, that she had found true friends, in spite of the masses of people who'd given up on her.
Later that evening, Ginny sat in the common room trying to study History of Magic, but not succeeding very well. She had been lounging on the dull gold sofa nearest the fireplace, her feet propped up on an ottoman in front of her, her book on her lap and Crookshanks curled up beside her, and when Dean came in from the library, he declared that he simply had to paint that combination of light and color. He'd sped up the boys' dormitory stairs before she could even say anything, and came back just as quickly with an easel and his paintbox. The rest of the Gryffindors were too used to him by now to do more than glance up for a moment before returning to their own work or play, and Ginny knew she should be, too, but it was different when you were the subject of the painting. Dean loved to paint her, and to draw her, and once he even tried to make a model of her head in clay, though that hadn't worked at all well. And though Ginny enjoyed knowing that her boyfriend liked the way she looked enough to want to paint her, she had never quite got used to the way he stared at her when he painted. It was impersonal, almost cold, and nothing like the look in his eyes when he looked at just Ginny, not Ginny-the-subject. She supposed it was worth it, because the things that came out of his pencil and brush looked amazing (even the drawing of her in the bikini Hermione had given to her, which she knew she could never show to Ron, because she liked Dean alive, after all), but it still sometimes took her aback when she realized that he wasn't even seeing her when he looked at her.
Ginny sighed and gazed into the fire, giving up on studying for the moment. Her mind drifted back to the conversation with Hermione and Luna earlier that day…she didn't think she would ever have that single-minded drive to be that good at something. Dean certainly knew what he wanted to do with his life; in his career counseling session, he'd told McGonagall that the only O.W.L.s he really needed to get were Charms, Potions, and Ancient Runes, and they weren't even that important. Ginny had asked him what McGonagall had said to that, but all he would say was that he'd talked her around to his point of view, and she didn't doubt it. He could be quite ruthless when his art was in question, though quite practical, too; he knew he'd probably have to get a job illustrating textbooks or something for awhile straight out of school, since, as he put it, starving in a garret wasn't really for him. But there was no doubt in his mind as to his career…and most of the people she knew were like that. Harry and Ron wanted to be Aurors, Colin planned to be a journalist, Parvati wanted to design clothes…true, neither Hermione nor Luna had seemed certain what they would do, but with Hermione, it was more deciding which of many interests to pursue, and while Ginny liked Luna, she didn't want to base her decisions on Luna's worldview.
Ginny had never had something like that, something she'd loved to do over all other things. Even her first year, when she spent so much time writing in the diary, she'd still snuck off to watch Gryffindor Quidditch practices, joined the Charms club, and helped her dormmates start a betting pool on how many times Lockhart would say how wonderful he was in one class. She'd been quite good at that, but she didn't think her mother would appreciate it if her only daughter became a bookie. If only there were some way to find the Mirror of Erised, so it could tell her what she wanted to do…
"All right, Ginny," Dean said suddenly, making her twitch hard enough to disturb Crookshanks, who raised his head to glare at her. "You can move now…I think that's the fastest I've ever worked."
He sounded amazed at himself, and Ginny had to smile. She did love how involved he was in his art, and how consistently surprised he was when it went well. It was cute.
"Can I see?" she asked, standing up and stretching, earning another glare from Crookshanks. Sometimes Dean let her look right away, and sometimes he needed to brood over the drawing or painting for awhile first, but she always asked. This time, Dean nodded and turned the easel around to face her.
Ginny tried to look at the painting objectively. He had captured the colors beautifully – every red and gold was distinct, yet flowed together into harmony. He'd caught her in three-quarter view, which wasn't her favorite angle, since she thought it made her face look even rounder than it already was. For a moment, she almost thought that she shouldn't have the book on her lap, it should be a baby, but she shook that thought off quickly. It was difficult to be objective, though, because something about the painting just reached out and grabbed her. She knew it was just her and Crookshanks, sitting in front of a fire – she'd been there, after all – but somehow it was more than that. It was home, and warmth, and happiness. She took a deep breath, suddenly realizing that she'd been holding it for several moments.
"It's beautiful, Dean," she said, her eyes flicking to hold his gaze for a moment before returning to the painting. "It's not me, somehow."
"Oh, it's you," he said, moving to stand behind her, putting both arms around her and resting his chin on the top of her head. She always loved it when he did that. "That's who I see when I look at you."
Suddenly, Ginny couldn't see the painting anymore. She blinked several times to try to clear her eyes, but it didn't work, and after a few moments of ragged breathing, she turned and buried her face in Dean's chest.
"Ginny?" he said, and she could feel the concern rumbling through his jumper. "What's wrong? It can't just be the painting – you said you liked it."
Ginny sniffed and gave a watery giggle. She knew he really cared about her, but his mind did always leap to his art first.
"It's not the painting," she said into his chest, then raised her head to meet his eyes. "When did you know you wanted to be an artist?"
Dean's brow creased slightly. "I don't know," he said, his eyes fixed on hers, but his gaze far away. "I always did, I suppose. I can't remember a time I wasn't drawing everything in sight, and once I found out about magic, the first thing I thought of was how it could enhance what I could draw." He looked back over her head at the painting. "That just needs a few charms, and then it'll live. You'll live, Ginny, just the way you did at that moment for me, and that's so amazing, y'know?"
Ginny nodded. She did know, though she hadn't before they'd started going together. Then, she'd taken most of her world for granted, especially things like moving and talking paintings and the everyday beauty of the magical world. Dean had taught her so much, and she would forever be grateful to him for that. She watched him take out his wand and mutter the charms that would make the Ginny and Crookshanks in the painting move – not talk, since he wouldn't learn how to do that until he'd served an apprenticeship with an accredited portrait artist, if he chose to do so. Usually, when he did that, the Ginny-in-the-painting would stand and stretch before going back to whatever she'd been doing originally, but in this case she just ran her fingers through her hair and settled down deeper into the sofa. Crookshanks-in-the-painting didn't even lift his head, though Ginny thought she could almost feel him purring under her hand, just the way he had been. They both looked so contented, and Ginny knew she hadn't been while Dean was painting her, since she'd been studying History of Magic, after all, besides being on edge the way she always was when modeling.
"Why do I look like that?" she asked.
"Like what?" Dean asked. "Ginny, we've talked about this before, you know I think you're beautiful."
Ginny shook her head; they certainly had talked about that before. It had been the one true fight they'd ever had, with her insisting at the top of her voice that she wasn't even pretty, let alone as gorgeous as he consistently made her look, and him insisting, more quietly but no less sincerely, that since that was the way he saw her, that was the only way he could put her down on paper. She still didn't agree with him, but by now she was used to seeing a face in his paintings that was still her, but somehow looked good.
"No, I mean, why do I look happy?" she asked. "I know I wasn't – the only happy thing about studying for my History of Magic O.W.L. is the thought that after this year, I won't have to listen to Binns ever again."
Dean laughed, but then looked thoughtful. "I don't know," he said. "You're right, when I started working, I knew you weren't enjoying yourself, but somehow…it's like you're meant to be…"
"Sitting by a fire?" Ginny asked after a few moments of them both staring at the painting.
"No…just comfortable, I suppose. You look so natural."
Ginny studied herself in the painting. She did look comfortable and natural, as though she were meant to sit by a fire reading with a cat. But what did that say about her?
"So, I suppose my career should be perpetual student," she muttered.
"Career? What career – oh, that's right. You had your session with McGonagall today. How did that go?"
Ginny snorted softly, and then sank back down onto the sofa. Dean sat beside her, and as she turned to face him, she noticed Harry looking over from where he, Ron, and Hermione were working on their Potions essays at a table in the corner. He looked back down again before she could wave at him, though, so he must have just been trying to think of the best way to word a sentence.
"Not well," she said to Dean, who instantly looked concerned. "I just didn't know what to say to her. I don't know what I want to do with my life, so I couldn't tell her what N.E.W.T. classes I wanted to take. I could tell that she was disappointed, and it made me feel so stupid."
"I don't think you're stupid," Dean said. "I think you're lucky." "Lucky?"
"Well, in a way. I mean, you're not tied down to anything…the whole future is stretching out before you, and you don't have to make any decisions right now."
"I suppose," Ginny said, looking down at her fingers twisting in her lap.
"You can do anything you want," Dean said, reaching out to lift her chin with one finger. "Anything, Ginny. Don't forget that."
Ginny tried to smile at him. "But how does that help me decide which N.E.W.T. classes to take?"
Dean chuckled and kissed her lightly on her nose. "Always practical, aren't you?" he said, warmth filling his voice. "You take what you want to take, that's all. I know you, you'll work hard for all your O.W.L.s, and then once you get your results, just think about what you like best to do." He stopped and looked at her, his dark eyes serious. "I know you, Ginny – once you know what you want to do, you'll throw yourself into it with all of your heart. I'm not certain you should be in such a hurry to find out." He stood up and touched the tip of her nose with the tip of his finger. "I'd better get that painting upstairs," he said. "Don't worry so much, Ginny."
Ginny watched him pack up his painting supplies and head upstairs. She supposed he was right, but she did wish she knew how to find the Mirror of Erised, just to give her a clue...suddenly, she sat up straight on the sofa. There was a way to find the Mirror of Erised, provided it was still at Hogwarts – the Room of Requirement. All she had to do would be to walk past the door to the Room of Requirement with her need fixed in her mind. Why hadn't she thought about it before? Why hadn't Hermione? Ginny looked over to where Harry, Ron, and Hermione were working on their essays...she couldn't help but wonder if Hermione actually had thought of it, and had done it, but that wasn't really important right now. She stood up and walked over to where they were working, then plopped down next to Harry.
"Harry, can I borrow your Invisibility Cloak for a little while?" she asked quietly. It wasn't curfew yet, but by the time she made it to the Room of Requirement and back it would be, and she wanted to do this tonight, now that she'd thought of it.
"Why?" Ron asked, his head snapping up from his essay.
"None of your business, Ron," Ginny said, not even looking at him.
Harry looked up and smiled at her. "Of course you can," he said, then seemed to reconsider. "At least, as long as you're not going to use it to sneak into Dean's bed," he added, with a wink at her that Ron couldn't see.
Ginny grinned back. "Nope, not tonight."
"Ergh," Ron said, dropping his quill on his essay and covering his ears with his hands. "Don't say things like that!"
"Why do you want the cloak, Ginny?" Hermione asked. Her voice sounded casual, but Ginny wasn't fooled. If she didn't like Ginny's reason, she would intervene.
"I just need to run down to the Room of Requirement for minute," Ginny said. She wouldn't have minded telling Hermione what she was doing, but not in front of Harry and Ron. "I won't be out much past curfew, but I don't want to run into Filch or Snape."
Harry nodded and stood, stretching for a moment before heading off towards the boys' dormitory steps.
"That's good," Ron said, turning back to his essay as Harry left. "We'll be waiting right here for you until you get back."
"You don't have to do that," Ginny said. "I'm quite capable of taking care of myself."
"I know you are," Ron said, not looking at her. "All the same, we'll be here."
Ginny and Hermione exchanged amused looks, and Ginny couldn't help teasing both of them at bit.
"I would have thought prefects would object to someone sneaking out past curfew," she said.
"Well, I don't approve," Hermione said. "But I suppose you know what you're doing...and I know you wouldn't let one of us come with you, so...as long as we know you'll be safe."
"As long as we know you're not sneaking up into my dorm to snog Dean," Ron said, making both Ginny and Hermione laugh. He didn't say anything else, though, and Hermione returned to her essay, too, leaving Ginny with nothing to do but wait for Harry.
After far longer than it should have taken to fetch a cloak, Harry reappeared, looking thoughtful.
"Here," he said, handing Ginny a silky bundle. "D'you want the map, too?"
"You probably should take it," Hermione said.
Ginny stared at her. "I thought you didn't approve of this."
"I don't," Hermione said, tucking a curl behind one ear, but not looking up at Ginny, "but if you're going to run risks, you should try to minimize them as much as you can. That's common sense."
Ginny turned her head to grin at Harry, something she did so automatically when Hermione waxed philosophical that she hadn't even realized she had done it until she noticed that he wasn't grinning back like usual. Instead, he seemed to be studying her, a puzzled look on his face.
"What's wrong, Harry?" she asked. "I promise I'll take good care of your cloak."
Harry shook his head, and finally looked away from her. "Dean showed me the picture he painted of you," he said to his Potions essay.
Ginny waited for him to continue, and when he didn't, she finally said, "And you were so shocked that I actually study History of Magic that you wanted to make certain I hadn't turned into Hermione when you weren't looking?"
He grinned, but shook his head again, still not looking at her.
"What picture?" Ron asked, his head snapping up from his essay so quickly he winced. "It's not like that drawing of you in your bathing suit, is it?"
Ginny stared at him. "How do you know about that?"
Ron just shuddered elaborately and glared at her. He was obviously not going to tell her, so Ginny turned to the other two. Hermione just shrugged, but Harry's cheeks turned a bit pink.
"Dean has it pinned up by his bed," he said, this time to the floor.
Ginny felt like the room was suddenly twenty degrees warmer. Dean certainly hadn't told her that! But when she stole a glance at Hermione and saw the look of outraged shock on her face, she chuckled. It had taken gall for Dean to do that, what with her brother living in the same room. Besides, there really wasn't anything wrong with the drawing.
"No, Ron, it's not like that," she said, after a few more moments of enjoying her brother's stewing. "He just painted it; we were sitting right over there by the fire, and you were here the whole time."
"Oh," Ron said. "Then what's wrong, mate?" he asked Harry.
Ginny turned to look at Harry, too, but he just shook his head again.
"Nothing," he said. "So, when do you want to make your getaway, Ginny?"
She eyed him for a few moments, but then shrugged. If Harry really didn't want to tell you something, nothing you could say would change his mind. She'd have to ask Dean what had happened later.
"Go on, Ginny," Ron said. "We obviously won't get any work done until you leave."
"Ron!" Hermione said, and Ginny and Harry both laughed at the tone of her voice. She obviously couldn't decide on being horrified by his rudeness or impressed by his work ethic. She'd made a huge impact on him, as Ginny constantly told her, but neither she nor Ron would admit it.
"Besides," Ron went on, fixing Ginny with a stern look, "if you leave now, we can easily wait up until you come back."
Ginny still wasn't sure she liked the sound of that. What if her deepest desire was to be a Potions master? Not that that was likely, but she knew she didn't want to face Ron right after she'd seen that in the Mirror. However, she knew that look on his face; there was no way she could get out of it now. She'd just have to rely on her acting skills, if she saw something embarrassing.
"All right," she said, standing up while clutching the cloak and map. She wouldn't need them until the return trip, since there were still ten minutes until curfew. "But you don't have to wait up for me – who knows how long I'll be gone?"
She'd added that last sentence just to get a rise out of Ron, but he didn't even flinch, just returned his attention to his essay and said, "We'll be here." Hermione watched him as though she thought he would sprout wings at any moment, but Harry just shrugged and waved as Ginny left the table, crossed the common room, and climbed out of the portrait hole. At the last moment, she looked back to find him still watching her, his eyes boring into her even from across the room.
The trip to the seventh-floor passed uneventfully. She did see Peeves, near the foot of one of the staircases, but ever since Fred and George's exit last year, Peeves had treated both Ginny and Ron very well, as long as they promised to keep the twins informed of his pranks and tricks. Ron hadn't liked to pass on the Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes Fred and George kept sending him to give to Peeves, but Ginny had no problem with that. Now, she waved merrily at him as she passed and received a salute and face-splitting grin in return.
When she reached the corridor which housed the Room of Requirement, though, she sobered. She did like to joke about things, but her career was something she took very seriously, even if she didn't know what she wanted to do. Even Fred and George did, after all; they'd turned a simple joke shop idea into so profitable a business even Mum had come around, at least to acceptance if not to whole-hearted support. So, she fixed her mind on her need to know what she truly wanted to do with her life as she walked up and down the corridor three times. On the third pass, she saw the door and put a hand on the doorknob, but then paused. Last chance, Weasley, she told herself. You can go back now, and drift along until you figure it out. Once you know, you'll have to concentrate on whatever it is. Dean was right about that. Think of Ron, and how much he's changed since he decided to become an Auror. But there really wasn't a choice, not for her. Now that she knew it was possible to find out what she wanted most out of life, she couldn't stop herself.
Taking a deep breath, she turned the knob and opened the door. The room looked completely different from when Dumbledore's Army met there; it was dark, empty and a bit dusty, with a single shaft of moonlight illuminating the large, full-length mirror standing in the middle of the floor. Ginny entered the room quickly, and shut the door behind her, leaning on it for a few moments. Then, she made her way across the room, leaving slightly scuffed footprints in the dust behind her. She stopped a little to one side of the mirror, glancing up to read the writing on the upper part of the frame. Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi.Not your face, she thought. Well, that was fine. No matter what Dean thought, she certainly didn't want to see her own face. Taking another deep breath, she took the small step to place her directly in front of the mirror.
At first she thought she'd got it wrong, that this wasn't the Mirror of Erised after all. What she saw was a red-haired woman serving a meal to a man sitting at the head of a table full of children. Why am I seeing Mum, Dad, and all of us? She thought. Then she realized that the man didn't have raying hair that used to be red, after all. Instead, it was black and untidy, and the light from the candles floating in mid-air above the table glinted off of his glasses, through which she could feel his clear emerald gaze lock onto hers. He raised his hand to wave at her, making the red-haired woman put down the dish she held and turn her head to look at Ginny. All of the children sitting at the table followed suit, and the mass of black and red hair, brown and green eyes staring at her made Ginny sit down on the floor with a thump. All of the people in the mirror gasped – Ginny could see them do it, though she couldn't hear them – and everyone except the woman stood up and approached the frame of the mirror, looking down at her in concern. The woman stepped up next to the black-haired man, who put his arm around her and kissed the side of her head before turning back to smile at Ginny again.
Ginny rubbed her eyes, certain that once she cleared them, the vision in the mirror would change to something more reasonable. Her deepest desire could not possibly be marriage to Harry Potter and – she had counted – twelve children. She did not want to be her mother, and she did not fancy Harry Potter. She wanted a career, she wanted to do something with her life, she wanted…happiness. She removed her fingers from her eyes and looked back up at the mirror.
Some of the kids had dropped down to kneel on the floor, so her first sight was many pairs of brown and green eyes, watching her worriedly. Even though her mind screamed at her that this couldn't be real, couldn't be right, she found herself studying each face avidly. Black hair paired with brown eyes and green, and red hair with both colors as well, but the black hair was always untidy, whether on a girl or a boy, and the red hair ranged from Ginny's own coppery waves on the youngest girl to a darker, almost auburn color on the oldest boy. There was even a pair of twins, their black hair and green eyes completely Harry, but the expressions on their faces as they grinned at her pure Fred and George. None of the kids seemed to mind Ginny's scrutiny, so it took her quite a long time to realize that she was studying them so intently at least partially to avoid looking up at herself and Harry.
Stop it, she told herself. This isn't what you expected, and you might not like it, but you have to face it. Refusing to look at things doesn't make them go away, and you know it. She let her gaze linger on the youngest girl for another moment, savoring the sight of Harry's green eyes looking out of a shock of Weasley-red hair, and then forced herself to raise her eyes to the couple still standing. As soon as they realized her eyes were on them, they smiled and waved at her. They – we – look so happy, Ginny thought. She'd never seen that kind of happiness on Harry's face, not even when Gryffindor had won the Quidditch Cup back in her second year. And her own face looked...complete. As though it had never really been her face until it was next to Harry's. It should have looked surreal. She should have been horrified. And she was, in her mind, but somewhere, something deep inside of her was singing. Something inside of her was reaching out to that image in the Mirror – that image of a happy, loving family – and realizing that yes, that was her deepest desire.
Suddenly, Ginny could take it no more. She leapt to her feet, making all of the people in the Mirror take a step back and stare at her. She stood there for a moment, fists clenched at her sides, fixing the image in her memory, and then whirled around and practically ran out of the room. She didn't even bother putting on Harry's cloak – she wasn't certain she could have made herself, even if she'd been thinking clearly – but luckily, she didn't run into anyone on her way back to Gryffindor tower. The Fat Lady did give her a look as she blurted out the password, but she ignored it as she climbed through the portrait hole.
As soon as she did so, her eyes were drawn inexorably to the corner where Harry, Ron, and Hermione were. All three of them raised their heads as she entered, and the combination of their gazes almost made Ginny's knees give way. She couldn't face them right now, she just couldn't...but she had the cloak and the map...she took a deep breath and headed over towards them, trying to ignore the trembling in her legs.
"That was quick," Ron said as she drew near.
"Yeah, it took less time than I thought," Ginny said, looking at him so she could avoid Harry's gaze. "Thanks, Harry," she said without looking at him, putting the cloak and the map down on the table.
"You all right, Ginny?" Hermione asked, but Ginny couldn't look at her, either. She felt certain that Hermione would be able to see what she was feeling if she did.
"Oh, yes," she said, "just tired. I think I'll turn in – too much studying today. Good night, all."
She turned away from them as she spoke, and walked towards the girls' dormitory steps, willing them to accept her explanation so she could get away. None of them called her back, so she thankfully escaped up the stairs, making herself walk slowly until she'd reached the top and then pelting down the corridor to her room and throwing herself down on her bed.
The next day in History of Magic, Ginny paid even less attention to Professor Binns than she usually did, which was saying a lot. She hadn't slept well; every time she'd start to drift off, her mind had gone back to what she'd seen in the Mirror, and she'd jerked awake again. She'd finally fallen asleep around dawn, and when her alarm went off at its usual time, she'd thrown it across the room to make it stop. As a result, she hadn't even had time for breakfast before rushing downstairs for class, which was, on reflection, a good thing. She wasn't sure how she would have faced Harry in the Great Hall at breakfast. Or Dean. She wasn't sure how she would face them at lunch, either, but she figured she had a little more time before she had to worry about that.
She just didn't know what to do about the whole thing. In fact, her first instinct was to do nothing; after all, she couldn't exactly run off and bear Harry's children right then, so no matter what her deepest desire was, it wouldn't make any material difference to her life at school. On the other hand, was it really fair to stay with Dean when she knew she didn't have a future with him? But then, she had never really thought she and Dean would be together forever – they were only sixteen and seventeen, after all – and it wasn't as though they ever talked like they were anything other than just a schooldays romance. Besides, she liked being with Dean! They had lots of fun together, he made her feel really good, and she knew he liked her as much as she liked him. Why should she break it off, just because some mirror told her he wasn't what she really wanted?
And it wasn't as though Harry was a viable option, anyway. She'd meant what she'd told Luna; he really was young for his age emotionally. It was only to be expected, after the upbringing he'd had, but she knew she wasn't ready for the emotional Quidditch game any relationship with him would be right now. He couldn't be blamed for Cho, of course, but he hadn't treated his other girlfriends very well, either; Susan Bones still followed him sadly with her eyes every time she saw him, and Lisa Turpin couldn't stand the sight of him anymore. And Harry had told her that it was all his fault about both of them. "I just don't know how to treat a girlfriend, Ginny," he'd said. "I just can't think the things they think are important really are." She'd understood what he meant, of course. He had the fate of the world resting on his shoulders; he managed to forget it sometimes, but it was always there. How on earth would he think that love notes and Valentine's Day were really important? Why should he be expected to be mature enough to realize that he needed love to sustain him in his fight, as well as determination? And what girl could stand by him through all of that, with no hope at the end of it?
Except that Ginny, Hermione, and Luna were doing just that. Just as his friends, though, which made a huge difference. They knew that he liked them, they even knew, though of course they'd never talked about it, that he loved them, but that was different from being in love with him. Lisa hadn't been, not even close, but Susan had, and still was, and there was nothing anyone could do about it, not even Harry. He couldn't be the boy she needed him to be, and so he was right to break it off, before she was hurt even more.
Which was all the more reason for Ginny to ignore what she'd seen in the Mirror. She should just go about her life, just as she had before last night, and forget all about the vision of herself happily married to Harry, with twelve children. She groaned and put her head down on her desk, which in any other class would have earned her concerned looks from her classmates, at the very least, but in History of Magic didn't even garner sympathetic ones, since most of them were doing the exact same thing.
When the bell rang, Ginny stuffed her blank parchment and quill back into her bag and left the room with the rest of her class. They'd made it most of the way outside in a teeming, groggy mass before where they were going hit home to her. It was morning break on a beautiful morning, which meant everyone was going outside into the courtyard, which meant she'd be seeing Harry and Dean.
Ginny stopped suddenly, hardly noticing when Colin bumped into her from behind, muttered, "Sorry, Ginny," and bounced off of her before continuing towards the courtyard. He never quite woke up after History of Magic until he got outside. She tried to tell herself that after all of that soul-searching earlier, after making the decision to forget what she'd seen and go on with her life, she should be able to face both Harry and Dean easily. It didn't work. She just stood there, almost afraid to keep walking until Luna came up behind her.
"Why are you standing here all by yourself, Ginny?" she asked, coming around and standing in front of Ginny. Her wand was tucked behind her ear like normal, but she sounded less dreamy than usual, which told Ginny she'd just come from Arithmancy.
"Luna," Ginny said, grabbing her friend's arm and dragging her along the corridor, "I need you to do something for me."
"Of course, Ginny," Luna said, not resisting at all. "What is it?"
"As soon as we get to the courtyard, I need you to go over to Hermione and tell her I need to talk to both of you."
"All right," Luna said, "but why don't you tell her yourself?"
"Because I don't want to talk to Harry or Ron, and you know they'd insist on being included if I went over there myself."
Luna nodded. "What about Neville?" she asked.
"Neville wouldn't insist, he's too much of a gentlem-oh, you mean, do I want to talk to him?" Ginny thought about that. It might be a good idea to get a boy's perspective, but on the other hand, Neville shared a dormitory with both Harry and Dean, and it really wouldn't be fair to put him in a situation like that. "No...well, I wouldn't mind, exactly, but I don't think you could get him away without Harry and Ron following. I think you have a chance with Hermione."
Luna nodded again, and as soon as they reached the courtyard, she headed straight for their group's usual bench, while Ginny headed in the opposite direction. She pretty quickly found an empty bench and sat down, hoping that Luna would be fast enough that no one else would join her while she waited. She couldn't hear what Luna said, of course, but she could see the results easily enough. Ron immediately started looking around for her, while Harry looked like he was making himself not imitate him. Neville, of course, only had eyes for Luna. Hermione huffed at the lot of them – Ginny could see it all easily, even from across the courtyard – grabbed Luna's hand, and started pulling her away from the group of boys.
As soon as she reached Ginny's bench, Hermione sat down and said, "Honestly. Boys."
Luna stopped walking in front of Ginny, but didn't seem inclined to sit down. Ginny grabbed her arm and dragged her down on the other side of her from Hermione. She didn't want to have to tell them her problem in any voice above a whisper, and besides, if Luna stayed standing, she'd tune Ginny out several times during the conversation. She couldn't help it, Ginny knew, but it was still irksome sometimes.
"Thanks, Luna," she said as she forced her to sit down next to her. "I don't want to look at them – are they looking over here?"
"No," Hermione said. "Neville's distracting them. Now, Ginny, what's so important that you have to disturb Ron's equilibrium so much for the second time in two days?"
"You disturbed Ronald's equilibrium yesterday, too?" Luna asked, fixing her eyes on Ginny's, which was always disconcerting. Ginny had asked her, several times, why she was always so focused on Ron, since it was quite obvious to everyone that she was in love with Neville. Everyone except Neville, of course. Luna had replied that she was waiting for ‘Ronald' to find himself. She didn't want to miss it when it happened, she said. It was the same answer she gave to why she always called him Ronald, not Ron, and it didn't make any more sense in answer to that question, in Ginny's opinion.
Hermione had long since learned not to be jealous of Luna's interest in Ron. Now, she just rolled her eyes at Luna, then fixed her gaze pointedly on Ginny. Ginny sighed. Being on the receiving end of two such gazes wasn't exactly comfortable.
"It's the same issue," she said. "Last night, I left our common room just before curfew, which worried Ron."
"Yes, where did you go?" Hermione asked. "I understand not wanting to tell your brother, but I do hope you mean to tell us."
Ginny closed her eyes. "I went to the Room of Requirement, just like I said."
"Well, what's so disturbing in that?" Hermione asked.
"What did you require, Ginny?" Luna asked.
Ginny opened her eyes and smiled at her friend. "Remember how we were talking about the Mirror of Erised yesterday? And how you could see what you really desired to do in it? Well...I tried it."
"Did you really?" Hermione said. "That's absolutely fascinating, Ginny! I never even thought of using the Room of Requirement to find the Mirror, but it certainly makes sense that one could...as long as Professor Dumbledore doesn't have protective charms on it, of course. I'm rather surprised that he doesn't, actually," she added, her brows creased in a slight frown.
"Well, apparently he doesn't," Ginny said, trying not to feel annoyed at her friend for getting distracted with such mundane details.
"What did you see, Ginny?" Luna asked. "Were you Minister of Magic?"
Ginny snorted, earning her a glare from Hermione. "Hardly." Suddenly, she thought of something. "What do you two think I saw?" she asked.
Hermione looked thoughtful. "Well, you're obviously not happy with it, so I'm assuming it didn't show you what career you truly desire. Did you really think it would? That's not what Harry and Ron told me they saw in the Mirror."
As soon as she said that, Hermione clapped both hands over her mouth; she clearly didn't need Ginny's "What!?" and Luna's "What did Ronald see?" to tell her she'd made a mistake.
"Harry and Ron looked in the Mirror?" Ginny added. "I mean, besides when Harry did to find the Philosopher's Stone."
"Oh, look at the time, we need to get to class," Hermione said, standing up and beginning to walk away from the bench.
Ginny jumped up, too.
"Hermione, we will talk about this later!" she practically shrieked, not even caring that several people turned to look at her as she did. "I haven't even told you what I saw in the Mirror yet."
Hermione turned back to face her.
"All right, Ginny," she said. "After classes this afternoon." She seemed to notice that people were staring at them and listening to their conversation, so she walked back over to the bench. "What should we tell the boys? They'll want to know why you still need to talk to us alone, you know."
"We'll just tell them you're helping us with O.W.L. revision again," Ginny said. "They won't want to be around for that."
Hermione nodded and turned around again, heading off towards where Harry, Ron, and Neville still stood. Ginny turned away, to find Luna's eyes fixed firmly on hers. That made twice in ten minutes.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"Nothing is wrong," Luna said. "Happiness."
"You asked what I thought you saw in the Mirror. I think you saw happiness."
She gave Ginny one of her misty smiles, patted her on the shoulder, and headed off to her next class. Ginny gaped after her for a few moments, until she realized that she was one of the few students left out in the courtyard, and hurried off herself. Professor Shacklebolt wouldn't take any points off Gryffindor if she was late, but she didn't want to miss any part of her favorite class.
Because Ginny loved DADA so much, she didn't have any problem putting her troubles out of her mind and paying attention during class. Professor Shacklebolt was teaching them how to counter some high-level jinxes and curses, and he often used Ginny as part of his demonstrations. That day, he even gave her the high compliment of allowing her to be the one countering the Furious Curse, instead of the one casting it. Usually, he did the countering when he demonstrated a new curse or jinx, because he was so powerful that he could easily hurt one of them if he wasn't careful. Of course, they all knew he would always be careful, but they appreciated what he was doing for them anyway. He'd quickly become all of the fifth-year Gryffindors' favorite DADA teacher, after Professor Lupin, whom they'd all loved, and they felt pretty confident about passing this O.W.L., at least.
Ginny thought Professor Shacklebolt was impressed with how easily she threw off the Furious Curse, and she supposed that, knowing her family, he had a right to be surprised. But she'd long ago learned that losing her temper led to nothing good, and so she'd set about mastering it. Now, the only people who could make her so angry she didn't know what she was doing were her mother, Ron, and Harry. And since none of them were likely to try to cast the Furious Curse on her, she figured she was pretty safe from it.
The rest of her class wasn't so fortunate, and Ginny stored up some embarrassing moments for future teasing, even as she took notes on the various ways to overcome the curse. All in all, it was an enjoyable lesson, and she barely thought about what she'd seen in the Mirror until she started packing up her bag to head down to the Great Hall for lunch. At that point, though, she couldn't avoid the subject any longer, since she knew she'd be seeing both Harry and Dean, not to mention Hermione and Luna, during lunch. She walked as slowly as she could, even asking Professor Shacklebolt a few questions to which she already knew the answers, but she couldn't put it off forever. When she finally reached the Great Hall, her eyes flew to the spot in which she normally sat, knowing it would be empty. Sure enough, there it was, right in between Harry and Dean.
She'd never really thought about it before, how they'd all settled into such a routine of who sat where at the Gryffindor table. Even Luna was there; once Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, and Ginny had made it clear that they liked her, the rest of the fifth- and sixth-year Gryffindors had let themselves see past her strangeness and got to know her, which had led to them almost adopting her. They tended to look down on the Ravenclaws after that, which amused Luna, but she had confessed to Ginny that it did feel good to have friends for the first time in her life. At any rate, the seating arrangements at the Gryffindor table had solidified relatively early on in the year, and they hadn't changed since then. At every meal, Ron and Hermione sat next to each other, with Neville on Ron's other side. Luna sat across from Neville, Harry next to her, and Ginny next to him. Dean always sat next to Ginny, with Seamus and Lavender next to him, and Parvati across the table, near Hermione. When Ginny entered the Great Hall, they were all already there, and Ginny knew she could take no other place than her usual one.
She tried to slide in without disturbing anyone, but it didn't work. Everyone, it seemed, turned to look at her and say hi.
"Tough DADA class, Ginny?" Harry asked as she was sitting down.
She hadn't realized he knew when her classes were. Almost against her will, her eyes flew to his, and his clear, direct gaze almost made her confess everything to the entire table, right then and there. Somehow, she stopped herself and took a deep, calming breath. That often worked when she was faced with his eyes.
"Not for me," she said, flashing him one of her patented I'm-in-control smiles, "but some of my classmates didn't fare so well."
"Hey!" Colin shouted from where he was sitting next to Parvati. "No telling tales out of school, Weasley."
Ginny laughed, but now everyone really wanted to hear what had happened, so she told them about the lesson. As she did so, she noticed that most of the sixth-years were trying to smother grins and snickers, though she felt a distinct lack of amusement from Harry.
"That sounds about right," Dean said as soon as she was done. She still hadn't looked at him yet, except out of the corner of her eye. "At least compared to what happened when we studied the Furious Curse. Isn't that right, Harry?"
The snickers were getting louder now, and Harry said, "Shut up, Dean," which made Ginny look at him, then finally look at Dean. Harry was bright red, and Dean's eyes were alight with glee.
"All right," she said, "what happened, anyway?"
She felt Harry stiffen even more beside her, and Dean seemed unable to speak for laughing, so she was glad that Hermione took pity on her.
"Well, none of us had much success with the curse at first," she said. Ron and Neville made indignant squeaks, but she plowed ahead anyway. "It's true. But Harry..." She trailed off and met Harry's eyes briefly, then took a breath and continued, "Harry somehow managed to throw Professor Shacklebolt across the room."
"Really?" Ginny said, turning to look at Harry. She couldn't imagine why everyone was laughing; that kind of power could never be funny to her. When he nodded to his plate, she said, "That's amazing, Harry. What did Professor Shacklebolt say?"
Harry lifted his eyes to hers, but she couldn't interpret what was in them.
"That I'd better learn some control if I didn't want to put my friends in danger in addition to my enemies," he said, in a voice so low she could barely hear it over the rest of the group's quieting laughter. They'd apparently tired of teasing Harry, and had moved on to some other subject.
"Oh," Ginny said. "Well, I suppose that's one way of looking at it."
"You have another?" he asked.
"That you're a very powerful wizard, Harry," she said, then grinned and added, "and that I wouldn't want to make you angry."
Harry snorted and went back to his lunch. "That's ironic, considering you're the only one who can calm me down when I do lose control."
Ginny sat there, open-mouthed, but Harry continued to eat as though he hadn't said anything out of the ordinary. She probably would have continued to sit there, trying to figure out what he had meant, and if it had any bearing on her own problems, if Dean hadn't nudged her with an elbow and asked her if she meant to skip lunch today, after all. She turned towards him so quickly her neck hurt a bit, to find him smiling at her.
"You do need to eat," he said. "Keep your strength up for those O.W.L.s."
Ginny smiled back, unable to do anything else. Dean was always so cute when he mothered her, and she had to admit that she'd miss it if he stopped. After a few moments, Ginny realized what she'd just thought. She'd been assuming that he would stop, but the only reason for that would be if they broke up, and the only reason for that would be... Stop it, Ginny, she told herself. Now is definitely not the time to be thinking about that.
She managed to get through the rest of the meal without acting too strange, or at least without attracting strange looks from anyone. She also managed to catch Dean before he went off to Ancient Runes to ask him about Harry's reaction to the painting from the night before. Dean hadn't noticed anything odd; he said that Harry had admired the painting quite a bit, especially the way Dean had captured the red of her hair against the Gryffindor gold of the sofa, but, of course, Dean didn't think that unusual. So Ginny was no further along than she had been before. She still thought something odd was happening with Harry, but she didn't know what, so she put it out of her mind. After all, she had her own problems right at the moment.
She had a free period after lunch, so she took a blanket and her books to where she, Hermione, and Luna had studied the day before, determined to do some more revising. However, her sleepless night caught up to her, and the next thing she knew was Hermione's voice.
"All right, Ginny, we're here, and we managed to shake the boys, so spill. What exactly did you see in the Mirror of Erised last night?"
Ginny sat up, pushing her hair out of her face and rubbing her eyes. She must have been asleep for three hours, but at least she felt much better than she had before. Good enough to evade Hermione's trap, anyway.
"Oh, no," she said. "First, you tell us what Harry and Ron saw."
"I've been thinking about that, and I don't think I should," Hermione said. She met Ginny's eyes, and she looked very serious. "It would be violating their privacy. If they want to tell you what they saw, they can."
Ginny thought about that. It was certainly true that she wouldn't want Hermione or Luna to tell anyone else what she was about to tell them, so she could understand why it would be an invasion of privacy.
"Besides," Hermione added after a few moments, "it was way back in our first year. They'd probably see something different if they looked in the Mirror now."
"Oh, like Ron would see you," Ginny said. She smiled at her friend to show that there were no hard feelings, and Hermione gave her a grateful smile back.
"I'm sure he'd see much more important things," she said, "but that's not why we're here, is it, Ginny? What did you see, and why does it have you so worked up? You bounced around almost as much as Pig at lunch."
Ginny wrinkled her nose. All right, so maybe someone had noticed how uncomfortable she'd felt at lunch. She could just hope it was only Hermione.
"You were right, Luna," she blurted out before she could stop herself. "I saw happiness in the Mirror. It's...just not what I'd imagined would make me happy, that's all."
Luna nodded, her silvery eyes thoughtful. "I wonder if that's always so," she said. "If what we think will make us happy really doesn't, and what will make us happy just bursts upon us."
"That's very interesting, Luna," Hermione said, "but Ginny still hasn't told us exactly what she saw, now has she?"
Ginny sighed. "Harry," she said. "I saw Harry, and me, and lots of kids, and a happy, joyful life. And now what do I do?"
Both Hermione and Luna just sat and stared at her. Hermione's mouth opened and closed several times before she managed to speak.
"You saw Harry? Specifically Harry, not some generic husband and children?"
"Oh, it was Harry, all right. And the kids...they were definitely mine and Harry's, no doubt about it." Remembering the riot of red and black hair, brown and green eyes, Ginny closed her eyes and smiled. It had felt so perfect, no matter how much she tried to deny it. She heard Hermione make a gagged sound beside her and opened her eyes to look at her friend.
"Well," Hermione said, "maybe it's not that simple. Maybe your deepest desire isn't Harry at all, maybe it's just a family of your own, and Harry's the most convenient person for that right now, so that's who the Mirror showed."
"Wouldn't Dean be the most convenient person right now?" Luna said. She just blinked when Hermione glared at her, as usually happened when she used better logic than Hermione.
"But Ginny knows that Dean is just a...just a school relationship," Hermione said. "Don't you?" she added, turning to Ginny. "Do you really think you'll marry Dean when you grow up?"
"No," Ginny said, "but then, I never really thought I'd marry Harry when I grow up, either."
"Really?" Hermione said, drawing out the syllables.
Ginny rolled her eyes. "I mean, not recently. You can't hold my daydreams from when I was eleven against me."
"But maybe the Mirror is," Hermione said.
"Why would it?"
"I don't know, exactly," Hermione said. "I mean, look..."
Ginny looked, but Hermione didn't say anything else for several long moments, just kept her eyes fixed on the Quidditch pitch, which was empty this afternoon.
"All right, I'm going to tell you what Harry saw," she finally went on. "I'm certain he won't mind - not you two - and it would explain..."
She trailed off again, and Ginny felt herself getting annoyed.
"Do you plan on finishing that sentence, Hermione?" she asked. "Only, if you're not, I'd like to have an intelligent conversation about this, if you don't mind."
Hermione stared at her for a moment, and then blurted out, "Harry saw his family in the Mirror."
"Oh," Ginny said, thinking about that. "You mean..."
"I mean his mum and his dad, and his grandparents, and his great-grandparents...and so on. And they really were, you know, at least his parents, because when Hagrid gave him that photo album at the end of the year, they looked just like they had in the Mirror. And he'd never seen pictures of them before in his life."
"That's amazing," Ginny said. "However did the Mirror know what his parents looked like?"
"It's magic," Luna said, then gave Ginny a small smile when she stuck her tongue out at her.
"That's true, of course, but you can't have it both ways," Ginny said. "If the Mirror could show Harry's real family, when he didn't even know what they looked like, why would it show me Harry, if he wasn't my..." She trailed off, not wanting to admit that Harry might be her most heart-felt desire.
"It wouldn't," Luna said, and Hermione made another snorting sound, though she didn't say anything. Luna gazed at Ginny, her eyes wide and serious. "I think you'll have to accept that for right now, anyway, having a family with Harry is your deepest desire."
"Very deep, apparently, since she didn't even know it," Hermione said.
"True," Luna said. "And if you hadn't looked in the Mirror, you might not have known for a long time, and you might have been perfectly happy with Dean for some time to come. The question is, can you still be happy with him, and if not, what are you going to do about it?"
Ginny flopped over onto her stomach and buried her head in her arms.
"This is so ridiculous," she said into the blanket. "I was so over Harry - I was, I really was. Dean and I...I mean, it's not the deepest of relationships, but we both enjoy it, and we have fun...why should I give that up for something so far in the future? Harry's not ready for something like this now, and I'm not, either. We're both just sixteen - it's just not possible that we would know the person we're going to marry!"
"You know Hermione doesn't agree with you on that last statement, Ginny," Luna said, and Ginny raised her head to see Hermione looking thoughtfully at her.
"I didn't say that," Hermione said, "but I do know that everyone is different, Ginny. If you and Harry were to fall in love now and stay in love until you're older, I don't see any reason why you shouldn't get married then, do you?"
Ginny sat up, shaking her head.
"But we're not in love," she said. "Just because this stupid Mirror showed us in love, doesn't mean we are. We're friends, and I'm happy we're friends, but that's it. I mean, I do love him, but that doesn't mean..."
"I think you've answered your question, then," Hermione said. "Put what you saw in the Mirror out of your mind, and enjoy what you have - a relationship with Dean and Harry's friendship. You can deal with whatever comes later, later."
"I suppose," Ginny said. She looked down at her hands, which had started to plait the fringe on the edge of the blanket again.
Hermione sighed. "What's wrong with that?"
Ginny looked up and met her concerned eyes. "It just doesn't feel right," she said.
"Well, no, it wouldn't," Luna said. "Going against Fate usually doesn't."
"Fate?" Hermione said, her voice rising through the word. "Do you really believe that Harry and Ginny are fated for each other?"
"It certainly seems so," Luna said, staying calm in the face of Hermione's disbelief. As usual.
Ginny jumped up, desperate to avoid one of their arguments. They were so one-sided, with Hermione doing all the arguing and Luna never changing her mind, that she always came out of them exhausted, even if she didn't say a word.
"If we're fated for each other, then it doesn't matter what I do, does it?" she said.
The other two girls looked up at her without really seeing her, and then turned back to each other, but before Hermione could open her mouth again, Ginny said, "See you two later," and left them to enjoy their discussion in peace. They didn't seem to notice her leaving, and she headed towards the castle at a slow pace, still trying to assimilate everything they'd said. She headed back towards Gryffindor tower, though she wasn't certain she really wanted to go back there yet. It wasn't that she expected to solve all of her problems in one afternoon, but she didn't feel comfortable facing Harry and Dean until she had made some decisions. Talking with Hermione and Luna hadn't helped as much as she'd hoped it would. Luna seemed to think that it didn't matter what she did, but then, Luna believed in Fate. Ginny wasn't sure she did. She knew she didn't want to, and she hadn't used to, but when Harry had finally told them all about the prophecy, it had shaken her conviction somewhat. Her first reaction had been to deny it, to point out how many other ways the prophecy could come true besides Harry killing Voldemort. It could even have referred to a completely different Dark Lord, though Ginny didn't like what that might say about their world and Harry in the future. But Harry took it seriously, and even she had to admit that if he did, it made it more likely to come true. And then she and Hermione had got into an argument about free will that hadn't solved anything.
She didn't quite know what Hermione thought about what she'd seen in the Mirror. She'd made some odd noises, and Ginny didn't know what they'd meant. She had long ago accepted, though, that Hermione would always be one of Harry's best friends, and that she would keep his secrets, even from Ginny and Luna. Not that she knew there was a secret to keep here, exactly, but Hermione had acted just like she always did when there was something she wanted to tell Ginny and Luna about one of the boys, but couldn't, because she wouldn't betray a confidence. And that was okay; Ginny certainly didn't want Hermione to tell her secrets to Harry, so she was glad she wouldn't tell his, even to her. Besides, maybe Hermione's odd tsks and snorts hadn't been about Harry at all. Maybe she'd just been disgusted that one of her friends was still carrying a torch for someone who had never shown the slightest bit of interest in her.
None of this was getting her any closer to knowing what to do. Ginny stopped walking and shook herself, trying to clear the roiling thoughts out of her mind. She realized that she'd walked through the entrance hall and up several flights of stairs in her abstraction, and now she stood in the central hall of the seventh floor. She took a deep breath and then turned and walked down the corridor towards the Room of Requirement. She had to see it again. What she'd seen in the Mirror might have thrown her life into chaos, but she'd told Luna the truth; it had been happiness, pure and simple. No matter how she tried, she couldn't deny that in her heart.
The Mirror was waiting for her, the Room looking the same as it had the evening before, except that it was sunlight picking out the Mirror, instead of moonlight. Ginny followed the shaft of sunlight until she stood just to one side of the Mirror, then took a quick step to her left and stood directly in front of it.
There they were again, Harry and their children, sitting around a table piled with food. This time, Ginny herself was seated and eating, too, but again, as soon as Harry looked up and caught sixteen-year-old Ginny's eyes, the whole family stood and crowded around their side of the Mirror. Ginny sat down and feasted her eyes on the happiness she saw.
"Good afternoon, Miss Weasley."
Ginny turned her head around so quickly she felt a twinge in her neck. Professor Dumbledore stood behind her, close enough that she was shocked she hadn't heard him before he spoke. She hadn't realized she was so engrossed in the Mirror.
"I see that you, like so many before you, have discovered the delights and the dangers of the Mirror of Erised," Dumbledore said.
"Oh, yes," Ginny said, turning back around to the happy family in the Mirror. "I see the dangers, all right. It's thrown my life into complete chaos."
"Not precisely what I meant," Dumbledore said, sounding surprised, "but why don't you tell me about it?"
"Can you see what I'm seeing?" Ginny asked, not taking her eyes off of the scene in the Mirror.
"No," Dumbledore said. "Only you can see your deepest desire."
"Funny that it took the Mirror of Erised for me to see it," Ginny said.
"It came as a surprise to you?"
His voice came from lower down this time, and Ginny turned her head around again to see him sitting on the floor behind her. She couldn't go on talking to him like that, so she turned all the way around to face him. It felt odd to be sitting on the floor with her headmaster, but she'd always known he was slightly mad, so it wasn't a surprising as, say, Professor McGonagall sitting on the floor would have been.
"It's a huge surprise," she said.
"I take it what you saw has something to do with Mr. Potter."
Ginny stared at him. She'd often suspected Dumbledore to be omniscient, but this was taking things a bit far.
"How did you know that?" she asked.
"Perhaps we should say that I hoped for it," he said.
"Okay," she said. "But why?"
Dumbledore shifted his gaze so he was looking over her shoulder; if he hadn't told her that he couldn't see what she saw in the Mirror, she would have thought he was looking at her happy family.
"Harry needs people he can count on, people he can trust implicitly," he said. "People he knows won't go away. So many have failed him, me included. He needs people who love him."
"He's always had my love," Ginny said, looking down at her hands, which she'd folded in her lap. She'd always been a bit ashamed of that love, both because of where it had led - the Chamber of Secrets - and because of how unsolicited it was. She'd loved him ever since she'd first seen him, when he'd approached her mother for help through the barrier to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. The nature of her feelings had changed over the years, but the love itself had been a constant.
"I'm very glad to hear it," Dumbledore said. "Perhaps it will be enough..." He trailed off, pinning Ginny with his cool blue gaze. "If you've always loved Harry, and he is what you see in the Mirror, why has it thrown your life into complete chaos?"
"Because!" Ginny said. She held Dumbledore's impersonal gaze for a few moments, then jumped up and started pacing back and forth between him and the Mirror. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught glimpses of her family each time she passed in front of it. "I've always loved Harry, but I haven't always been in love with him - I haven't been for years. I've had relationships; I'm in one right now, and I'm happy in it. And now I see this." She stopped directly in front of the Mirror and pointed at the happy scene. Dumbledore just gazed up at her, his eyebrows raised over his spectacles. "Now I see this," she repeated, "me and Harry, and a family! Not only do I find out that I'm in love with Harry Potter without knowing it, but my deepest, darkest desire is to be a wife and mother. To be my mum! I wanted to find out what to do with my life, and now I know all I have to do is forget my Contraceptive Charms!"
She stopped, horrified at what she'd said, but Dumbledore just twinkled up at her.
"I rather think there is more to it than that," he said.
"Yeah," she said, looking at her feet and feeling her cheeks burn.
"So, what has thrown your life into complete chaos is learning that what you want most out of life is a home and a family?" Dumbledore asked.
"With Harry," Ginny said, still not looking at him. "Don't forget that."
"Of course," Dumbledore said, and Ginny thought that he had described it perfectly. Of course it was with Harry.
"It's not that I didn't want a family," she said. "I like kids, and I know I want them someday...but I thought I wanted more than that. I thought I was more than that."
"You are more than that, Ginny," Dumbledore said. "Just because family is important to you doesn't mean it is the only thing important to you." He peered up at her, and, suddenly realizing that she was making him crane his neck to talk to her, Ginny dropped back down on the floor in front of him. "And," he continued, "I understand from your professors that you work is exemplary in all of your classes - except, perhaps, History of Magic. I think I am safe in saying that, if you continue on your present course, you will have your choice of careers when you leave Hogwarts. You will not have to concentrate on having a family unless you wish to."
Ginny stared at him. She hadn't known that he paid attention to individual students' classwork. Was it only because she was a Weasley, or did he really know everything?
"Do you know what Harry saw in the Mirror?' Dumbledore asked.
Ginny nodded. "Hermione told me."
"So you know that his deepest desire is family, as well."
Ginny opened her mouth, but Dumbledore held up a hand, and she shut it again.
"Yes, he saw his original family," he said, "but remember, Ginny, he was eleven when he saw that. Who knows what he would see if he looked in the Mirror now." His eyes twinkled at her over his spectacles. "My point is that Harry's deepest desire was for family, and no one could say that is all that he is."
Ginny nodded, feeling dazed. Why hadn't she thought of that, when Hermione told her what Harry had seen? Why hadn't Hermione thought of that? Because you didn't tell Hermione you were worried about this, she told herself. All you whinged about was how it all affected your relationships. There's a bigger picture here.
"So," she said, standing up and started to pace again, "I can live my life however I want - do whatever I want, become whatever I want - and if this really is what I want most out of life, it'll happen." She stopped in front of the Mirror and gazed at her happy scene. "It might be all I want, or it might just be...the most important thing, but my life can be more than that."
"Your life has limitless possibilities, Ginny," Dumbledore said. "You've been granted a glimpse at one of them, but only you can decide whether or not you will make it come true."
"Well, I'm not the only one," Ginny said, staring at the Harry in the Mirror. He was resting his hand on one of his sons' shoulders, and it looked so natural, Ginny felt a catch in her throat.
"Perhaps not," Dumbledore said, "but the first choice rests with you."
"Right," Ginny said, her eyes still locked with Harry's. She thought back to what Dean had said when she'd told him about her career counselling session with McGonagall - what had started this whole mess. He'd said he thought she was lucky, because she didn't know what to do with her life. What he'd meant was that she had choices, and he didn't. She didn't think he would have it any other way, but still, his life was mapped out for him, and hers wasn't, not even close. Now she knew a little more about herself than she had before; she could feel how powerful her desire was for a family in the future, now that she'd stopped fighting it. But how she got there was up to her. If getting there entailed falling back in love with Harry Potter and marrying him, so be it. If it didn't, she could have just as fulfilling a life just as his friend. He'd always have her strongest support; she'd always watch his back, and she'd always be there for him. That had all been true before she'd ever looked in the Mirror, and it was no less true now.
Ginny gazed into the Mirror, determined to fix the scene pictured there deep into her mind. She knew she'd want to revisit it in her memory when she felt lost and lonely, but she also knew she'd never come back to the Mirror itself. She'd learned everything she needed to here. She had a life to live.
"Thank you, Professor Dumbledore," she said, turning towards him, but still able to see her happy family in her mind's eye. "You've been very helpful."
Dumbledore smiled up at her, making no move to stand up.
"You're quite welcome, Ginny," he said. "You seem to have made a decision."
"Yes," Ginny said, unable to keep the smile from her face. "I have."
She came close to skipping over to the door, opened it, and left the room without looking back. She had a life to live, and she couldn't wait to get started.