When Harry finally found his body, mouth and mind no longer otherwise occupied, he and Ginny were lying on the kitchen table side by side, staring up at the ceiling, which was, he realized for the first time, decorated with the flitting figures of bas-relief griffons. “Mistress finds Master very agreeable,” she said, voice low and breathy.
“Master agrees,” panted Harry, which made her chuckle. Harry turned toward her and kissed the corner of her jaw. An image of her family standing white-faced around the Burrow’s kitchen table flashed through his mind. “Maybe we should have everyone over here for the party.”
Instead of laughing, as he expected, Ginny sat up. All of the exposed bits of her turned pink. He could only see the side of one cheek. “Harry?”
“Are you sorry we did this so soon?”
“What?” asked Harry, sitting up; her face was still turned away from him. “On the table?”
“No,” she answered, finally looking at him again, the corners of her eyes and mouth turned down. She pressed her chest, still largely bare, against his naked arm. “This.”
“Oh.” A storm of thoughts and feelings exploded within his own chest — not a single monster, now, but a whole stampede of them — and he wondered again at girls’, at Ginny’s ability to observe and discuss this roiling pack of invisible things as if they were real and concrete. “I — dunno. Are you? Sorry?”
“I don’t know.” She rested her head on his shoulder. “I love being so close to you. And I love how you make me feel. But sometimes it feels like —” He felt her arms tighten around his waist. “When Ron and I were little, we found where Mum hid the Christmas presents. George and Fred had been trying for years, but Ron and I were the ones who found the hiding spot, behind the chimney in the attic. And it was really thrilling, knowing they were there, and we’d sit and look at them and try not to open them, but then we’d get all excited, and sneak peeks and that was wonderful — like this, you know? Wonderful but naughty, and that sort of added to the thrill. But then Christmas would come, and it would be kind of… disappointing. And we’d feel guilty, both of us, but we couldn’t say anything.”
Staring at the kitchen, Harry pulled Ginny closer. “I never had any presents to sneak peeks at.”
“Oh, Merlin,” Ginny gasped, her back arching against the inside of his elbow. “Oh, Harry, I’m so sorry.”
He looked down into her raised face — into the wide whites of her bright eyes — and smiled, trying to let her know that he’d only been trying to lighten the mood.
Her eyes immediately narrowed to crescent slits. “Prat,” she said, though her lips flared up slightly at the corners.
“Ginny,” he said, before she could start yelling at him, “I guess I get what you’re saying, but… Should we not be doing this?”
She huffed, sending a strand of her hair that had worked its way free from her schoolgirl plaits floating upward. “Mum certainly talked about women’s virtue and all that often enough. I heard her drilling that rot into every one of my brothers’ heads: Don’t treat nice girls like scarlet women. What am I, then?” Her pupils darted left and right, as if she were searching out some answer to her question in the kitchen floor.
“Come on, Ginny. You’re not a…” He leaned down, but still she did not look at him. “Come on!”
“Are you so sure?”
He blinked, and sat up, then reached out and lifted her chin so that she was looking at him. “The only scarlet women my aunt ever talked about were the film stars she’d read about in the Sunday papers, and you’re definitely nothing like any of them, Ginny, please.” She started to turn away again, but he held her face fast. “Please. If this didn’t mean anything, what we’re doing, I guess I could think that we were being, I don’t know, bad or unvirtuous or whatever, but don’t you feel like it does mean something? Doesn’t it feel right to you?”
“Yeah,” she answered, but she didn’t seem to be at all cheered by the thought.
“Bloody hell,” Harry grunted. “Here you were in such a good mood. I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault, Harry, this is just… It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while, that’s all, I don’t know why it’s suddenly come up. And I’m still pleased about the decision I made, I just…” She shrugged.
She shrugged again.
Harry couldn’t help but think about his own plans for the evening, and the thought that perhaps Ginny had changed some of his assumptions made his tongue go dry. “Was it… about me? The decision?”
Ginny’s eyebrows arched. “No. Not really, no.” She reached up and put her hand over his. “No, Harry. I just… I’ll tell you later, okay?”
“Okay.” Now he felt himself teetering on a narrow precipice between two pits of dread. “Ginny?”
“Would it help?” he asked. “Would it help if you knew for certain that this, you know, meant something?”
“What? I guess.” She was looking at him closely now, her face as still as he could ever remember seeing it. “Harry…?”
He stood, pulling up his trousers and rummaging through the pockets, finding what he was looking for. As Ginny continued to stare, he knelt to one knee on the floor, his heart pounding in his throat. “Ginny...”
“I...” Harry seemed to have lost the power of speech. It was as if the question that he wanted to ask were too large to pass through his mouth. Verbal constipation... He lifted up the small box in his hand, but noticed that it was closed. He raised his other hand to open it — surely she would understand when she saw the ring — but his clumsy finger knocked the box bouncing to the floor. Now flaming panic warred with leaden dread; he scrambled to pick up the box again, aware that he not only couldn’t talk, but that sweat was oozing from every pore in his body.
Words. He knew that there were words.
Ginny stared. Her eyes were wide. Her skin was so white that the freckles looked as if they’d been picked out in pen.
He reached up to open the box again, but his fingers were slick with sweat, and he once again dropped it.
He started to reach down for it again, but Ginny slid from the table to kneel before him — she on both knees, he on one. “Harry...”
“Your shoelace is untied.”
They blinked at each other, and then both bent down, their foreheads colliding. Both of them fell to the floor.
Once again they lay on their backs, staring up; this time it was at the underside of the kitchen table, which Dean seemed to have decorated with Snorkacks. They seemed to be engaged in some sort of mating behavior. “I guess that’s why he and Luna took so long to refinish this table,” Ginny mumbled.
Harry looked over at her. She had a small bump just below her hairline. Her eyes caught his.
They both began to laugh. Uproariously. Breathlessly. Unceasingly.
Some long time later, the laughter had subsided to giggles, and they began to kiss, to caress, to intermingle. They made love again, and it was slow and quiet and quite, quite lovely.
Eventually, they were still again at last. Neither looked up. Their gazes were locked, and Harry was uncertain what he saw, but he couldn’t have looked away for all the world. “Ginny,” he said, at last, “will…?”
Smiling, she placed her fingers over his lips. “Shhh. I want you to ask, Harry. But I want it to be because you want to, not because you’re feeling guilty or sad or embarrassed.”
She pulled him close. “Harry. You needn’t worry about the answer, I promise.”
Moving slowly, not wanting to lose the feeling, not wanting to lose the moment — not wanting to bump their heads on the underside of the table — they slid apart and dressed again.
Wordlessly, they gathered up their baggage and shuffled to the Floo. Harry picked up his Firebolt, and then peered over at Ginny, whose trunk floated behind her once again. “Ginny?” he asked. “Where’s your broom? We have to get you ready for the try-outs.”
“Oh,” she said, looking down for a moment before raising her gaze to his once more. “That was the decision I was talking about, Harry.”
“Decision?” He couldn’t think what she meant, but given the tumult of the last few hours, perhaps that wasn’t so very surprising.
“Yes,” she said, smiling — though the smile looked far from her usual bright grin. “I’ve decided not to try out for the Harpies after all.”
And with that, she tossed the Floo Powder into the hearth, called out, “The Burrow!” and stepped through, leaving Harry shocked and — once again — speechless.