A/N: If you haven’t read “Ages,” this fic will make no sense whatsoever. Even if you have read “Ages,” you might benefit from reading it again before tackling this one.
“What’s your favourite subject?”
The sound of scrubbing from the other side of the room did not stop as Ginny answered. “Defence, while Lupin was teaching it. Or Crouch, I suppose. Otherwise Transfiguration.”
Harry wiped down another shelf and nodded. “Someone should like Transfiguration. I can never seem to keep up.”
She snorted. “No one can. It’s McGonagall.”
“Yeah, I suppose.” They were quiet for a few seconds, and then Harry tried to restart the conversation. “I liked Lupin, too.”
“What?” Harry turned around and watched her back flex as she scrubbed the wooden floor. “Why?”
Ginny tossed a few loose strands of hair over her shoulder without looking at him. “Well, besides being one of your dad’s best friends, he taught you the Patronus Charm, didn’t he?”
“How d’you know that?”
“We all know that.”
Harry frowned. He could not help thinking that he and Ginny were not getting along as well as they should. They had now shared a total of one hour of direct conversation in their lifetimes, and he was rapidly running out of small talk. She had asked a few questions of her own and had replied to all of his inquiries, but she never responded in quite the way he expected her to. It was unsettling, but in a strangely exciting sort of way.
He put the books back on the shelf and began clearing the next row down. Knowing they needed to talk about something, he asked a question that was not quite as safe as the others had been. Still, he was curious. “Why don’t you fly?”
The scrubbing stopped. “What?”
“All of your brothers play Quidditch, even Percy sometimes, and you were as excited as anyone at the World Cup. But I’ve never seen you play or even get on a broom.” He paused. It occurred to him that she might be frightened of flying, as Hermione was, and that she might not want to admit it. “I just wondered. You don’t have to tell me.”
He heard her stand up, and he turned to face her. She stared at him intently, her expression defiant. When he finally met her eyes, she spoke in a clear, firm voice. “I do fly. And I play Quidditch.”
“Oh.” Harry knew that he had insulted her, however unknowingly, and he felt like a complete idiot for being so thoughtless.
She turned around, kneeled on the floor, and continued scrubbing. “None of the boys know.”
“Oh,” Harry said again. “Err… why not?”
“They never let me fly with them. Said I was too young, or too small, or just because I’m a girl.” Each word was punctuated with a particularly harsh rasp of her brush against the floor.
The bitterness in her voice took Harry aback. Once again, she was not responding in any way he might have predicted or even imagined possible. “That’s just stupid. Half the Gryffindor team are girls,” he said.
Ginny turned to look at him over her shoulder. After a moment, she snorted. “Yeah, it is stupid.” She swiped one of her wrists across her brow, leaving a smear of dirt and loosening a few more strands of her long hair. “So I taught myself, and I fly by myself.”
Harry nodded. Suddenly, he could picture her racing through the air with the same defiant expression she had just levelled at him. “How d’you play Quidditch?”
“I Chase or Seek,” she said, returning to her task. “I can’t possibly be a Beater or a Keeper by myself, but the others I can do a bit. I hung a barrel hoop from a bit of rope, and if I set it swinging around then it’s a lot harder to get the Quaffle through.”
“And the Snitch just flies on its own,” Harry said, nodding again. “Are you any good?”
She twisted to look at him quite sharply, and he was afraid that he had been rude to her. Then she shrugged. “I don’t know. I can do most of the stuff I see the school Chasers do, and I can catch our old Snitch. Not as well as you can, though.”
Harry fought down the warm surge of pleasure he felt at her compliment. “If you can do what Gryffindor’s Chasers do, I bet you’re pretty good.”
“Thanks.” A very faint tinge of pink blossomed in her cheeks.
He realised that he had not been cleaning at all, so he turned back to the shelves. “We should play sometime. You can have a go on my Firebolt, if you’d like.”
“Really?” For the first time, he heard something like excitement in her voice. “That’d be brilliant.”
“Any time,” he said. “Well, any time after we get back to Hogwarts, I suppose. Can’t fly here.”
They worked for a while in silence, and Harry felt a bit less tense than he had for the first hour. Then, out of nowhere, Ginny shattered his newfound comfort.
“What do you think of Hermione’s theory?”
Harry froze facing the bookcase, and then he ran a hand through his hair. Ginny deserved as much honesty as he could muster. “She’s really smart.”
Ginny’s voice was barely audible. “So you’ve said, apparently.”
“Reckon she’s right.” Harry swallowed. “It fits, and it makes as much sense as anything.”
“I think she’s right, too.” Ginny took a deep, shuddering breath. “It… it scares the hell out of me, Harry.”
He turned and found her watching him, fright and determination warring in her gaze as she met his eyes. He took his own deep breath. “Me, too.”
She bit her lip and looked away from him. “Does it change anything if she’s right? For… for us, I mean.”
Harry flushed, glad that she was not watching him as intently as she had been. “Err… no, I don’t think so. I mean, unless… unless you think it should?”
Ginny did not react at all that he could see. “Why shouldn’t it?” she asked quietly.
“Well…” That was almost precisely the question Harry did not want to answer, but he knew he had to try. “It… it doesn’t really change anything if she’s right, does it? I mean… it’s horrible either way, and I really can’t say which is worse, but… but it doesn’t matter. Their message was the same, and so… we… you know, it just means the same thing. Err… for us.”
At last, she nodded, and Harry let out the breath he had been holding. “Yeah,” she said. “I… I agree.”
“It can be different if you want it to be,” Harry said, feeling obligated to offer.
She shook her head instantly this time. “No. Either way, it’s the same, and I…” Looking into his eyes again, she nodded. “It’s the same.”
Ginny dropped her scrubbing brush and pulled the elastic out of her hair. Harry watched, transfixed, as she combed her hair out with her fingers and then gathered it back into a ponytail. “Do you want to take a break?” she asked as she re-wrapped the elastic. “I need to write a letter.”
Everyone Harry could imagine writing to either currently lived in Grimmauld Place or visited regularly, but he shrugged. “Sure. Who to?”
She looked at the floor again and toyed with the end of her new ponytail. “Umm…” She sighed. “Do you know Michael Corner?”
Harry paused, nonplussed. “Err. Ravenclaw, right? In my year?” She nodded but did not clarify further. “Why?” he prompted.
“He…” She tugged the elastic out of her hair and began tying it again, focusing on the floor as she did so. “We’re going out.”
“You… he…” He had never considered that she might be involved with someone else, and he felt a strange surge of heat in his chest at the thought.
“He’s my boyfriend, yeah,” she said dully. Her eyes flicked to his for the barest moment. “So I need to write him a letter.”
Harry nodded mechanically. “You… you don’t have to if you don’t want to,” he said, his words tumbling over each other. “I mean, I don’t want to stop you if you want to keep on.”
“Harry,” she said, sighing, “it’s just not the same anymore. Everything is completely different.” She looked directly into his eyes for a long moment, pleading with him to understand.
Harry forced himself to consider what she was saying. Almost automatically, his thoughts went to Cho Chang, yet his stomach did not lurch at the thought of her. He still thought Cho was quite pretty, but… His mind froze, and he glanced at Ginny. She stood a few feet away with her hair in a long, tangled ponytail, tugging the end of it. Her weight rested on one leg, and the exposed skin of her arms, shoulders, and legs was dusted with dirt and grime.
She was quite pretty, too. As pretty as Cho, perhaps.
Even aside from the horror of Cedric’s death, Harry knew that he would never think about Cho in the same way. Everything had changed.
“I understand,” he said.
Ginny spoke in a very quiet voice. “Cho?”
He shrugged. “Not anymore.”
She nodded. Harry expected her to leave to write her letter, but she stood in the middle of the room, staring into nothingness. Over the course of a few seconds, Harry saw her eyes moisten, and she sniffled softly.
“Ginny?” He took a half-step towards her.
“I’m fourteen,” she said suddenly, her voice higher than usual. “A very recent fourteen, and you’re only fifteen. We’re practically engaged. How… how weird is that?”
Harry flushed again and looked away from her. “We’re not engaged. We’re just… talking, and going to Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. We can do that for a while — a few months, maybe, or whatever feels right — and then… then whatever’s next.” He scratched the back of his head and turned further away from her. “It can all be… you know… normal. That’s… that’s probably how it was, or… or might have been. Now, we just know how it can end. Sort of.”
She nodded jerkily and wiped her eyes. “Yeah. Thanks, Harry.”
On a sudden impulse, Harry took a few steps towards her and picked up her hand in his own. “I want you to know… I wish this could be easier.”
Looking down at their hands, she said, “Me, too. Reckon I’ll take it, though.”
Harry smiled hopefully and squeezed her hand. “I want to get you a birthday present when we go to Diagon Alley. Something you really like.”
“You don’t have to do that,” she said softly.
“Yes, I do. Friends get each other birthday presents, and you’re my friend. I’m sorry I didn’t get you one in time for your birthday.”
“It’s okay.” She met his eyes with a small smile. Harry realised that she had not smiled much in the last twenty-four hours, and he was glad to see that smile again.
She looked towards the door. “I need to write my letter. I’ll feel better when it’s done.”
“Okay. I’ll probably stay here a bit longer.”
Nodding, she released his hand and started to leave the room.
“Ginny?” he called after her, suddenly both excited and hesitant.
“Should I… would you like me to call you… err… Baby?” The word did not feel as natural as it had the previous day.
She closed her eyes and smiled a bit more. “Yes, I would.” Her eyes flew open, and her brown gaze was intense. “But not until you feel the way he did for … for her.”
“Okay.” Harry realised that he felt the same way, and he almost wished he had not asked. “I’ll be here if your letter doesn’t take too long.”
She nodded as she stepped away from him. “I doubt it will.”
When she reached the door, Ginny looked back at him and smiled warmly. With a slight wave of her hand, she turned and left the room, her hair swinging gently behind her. Harry moved to the doorway to watch as she climbed down the stairs and out of sight.