Bill, Fleur, and Baby Laurent arrived by Portkey at three. Ginny had checked her Muggle watch, a sixteenth birthday gift from Hermione, every few minutes that afternoon. Though she knew it would only make the wait seem longer, Ginny couldn't help looking at it. Even Fred and George had repeatedly asked her for the time. Bill and Fleur had been in Paris since late March, and none of the family had seen Laurent yet.
Mr. Weasley had been called in to work, a circumstance that had brought him to use some uncharacteristically colorful language, but the rest of the family crowded around upon the young family's arrival. Mrs. Weasley claimed the baby almost immediately, sniffling a little when he was put in her arms but handling him with all the ease one would expect of a mother of seven. "Oh, he's beautiful, you two," she said, smoothing a bit of his wispy strawberry blonde hair. "I can hardly believe it, our first grandbaby."
He still had a somewhat unfinished look, not so unusual for a baby just two weeks old, but Ginny couldn't stop looking at his perfect little mouth and delicate lashes that framed eyes just the same blue as his father's. Laurent was, quite simply, the cutest thing she'd seen in years.
"He's wrinkled, Mum..." said George.
"And titchy. Reminds me of Ginny." Fred grinned at his twin.
"Oh hush, you two," their mother scolded, without her usual edge.
"Well, I think he's adorable," Ginny said, letting the baby grab at her finger. "I'm just glad I got to see him before I'm stuck back at school." Given that term started in only a week, there had been a good chance of that.
"Me too, Gin," Bill said, putting an arm around his wife's waist. "Charlie's over the moon about your being named Quidditch captain, by the way." He grinned.
She laughed. "Oh, yes, I caught that. Really though, it's just because I'm the only seventh year."
"No it isn't..." Ron objected.
"Oi, Harry! Have you even got a good look at the little one yet?" George called.
"Er, no, not really," he mumbled from the corner.
When Ginny looked behind her, she saw that Harry had drifted to the outside of their circle and looked as though he didn't quite know what to do with himself. She shifted closer to Fred to make room, and Harry edged in between her and Ron. "I wonder if his hair's going to turn redder or blonder when he gets older," said Harry.
"We have argued about zis." Fleur chuckled. "Bill hopes blonde, while I would like another redhead."
"He'll be a handsome one either way," Ginny said, defending her nephew. I'm an aunt! Her heart gave a happy little leap in her chest at the realization. She had so much to teach him, everything from how to not get caught when breaking rules to the wisdom of not eating anything from Uncles Fred and George.
* * *
"I thought we had plenty of books for Hogwarts, you realize," Ron said, sitting cross-legged on his room's floor. He was sorting through a small tower of books with titles like Magiphysiology and Physical Therapy: A Comparison of Wizarding and Muggle Modalities in preparation for his first day of lessons at St. Mungo's Institute of Healing, setting the ones he'd need the next day aside. Despite the grumbling, Harry could tell Ron was looking forward to his new studies; he'd never fussed over his schoolbooks before term unless there was homework out of them.
"What time is your first lesson?"
"Eight thirty." Ron made a face. "I'll have to Apparate over a bit earlier even than usual tomorrow. Can't imagine what they'd say if I got lost and was late."
"Nothing good," Harry agreed. "I'll be sure I'm up to see you off."
"Still dressed in your pajamas, no doubt," Ron said good-naturedly. "Would you get my book bag down? It should be in the wardrobe, on the top shelf."
"All right." Harry took the few necessary steps over and opened the wardrobe's doors. Even after moving the jumpers stored on the top shelf aside and then pawing through them, there was no sign of Ron's bag. "Are you sure? I don't see it here."
"Really?" Ron stood, then rolled his eyes at himself. "I forgot...there was a bit of a rip, so I gave it to Mum to mend. It's done, but it's still down with the rest of the sewing."
"I'll just be a minute then," Harry said, heading through the door and starting down the stairs. He made his way in semidarkness, relying mostly on his memory of the step placement to keep from stumbling.
He entered the living room, which was somewhat better lit than the stairwell, and had made it halfway across the room before he stopped short. Ginny was curled up asleep on the couch, an equally unconscious Laurent cradled in her arms. Perhaps it was simply the shared flame tones in their hair, or how at ease they looked with each other, but aside from being a bit young Ginny looked as though she could be the baby's mother.
I've got to stop seeing her as a little girl, Harry thought. She's fought in a war...survived it...the year's difference in our ages doesn't mean now what it did at eleven and twelve.
He gave himself a mental shake, knowing Ron would come down if he took much longer and now aware of the muffled voices of Bill, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, and Fleur coming from the kitchen. It suddenly seemed like a very bad idea to be caught here, so Harry quickly retrieved the book bag from where it lay beside Mrs. Weasley's chair then retreated back to Ron's room.
"You all right, mate?" Ron gave him a mildly concerned look.
Harry nodded, and handed over the book bag. "Just needed to move," he lied.
* * *
It was difficult for Deborah to get the house to herself, but Rashid had offered to take the kids into the city for a few hours, an activity all three seemed to enjoy. She didn't claim to understand the fascination, but it would give her a chance to talk with Harry without being interrupted.
She tossed a handful of Floo powder into the fireplace, knelt in front of it with her head in the now green fire, and called out, "Wildwood Cottage." Within just a few moments, she could see a living room that was showing its age and Harry Potter himself.
He bore such a resemblance to his father at first glance it was almost like seeing James alive again. Yet, those were unmistakably Lily's eyes behind the glasses and her way of holding her head just so. Deborah found the overall effect eerie. "There's no mistaking who you are, is there?"
The boy glanced down briefly, as nervous about this whole thing, it seemed, as she was. "I suppose not." It was the first pure English accent she'd heard in years.
What am I supposed to say now? "Settling in?"
"Yeah." Harry pulled a shabby looking chair closer to the fireplace, and sat. "I spent two days cleaning, but unpacking went quickly."
Neither of them spoke for a long moment.
"Remus told me you were a mediwitch...do you still work as one?"
"I'm actually a full Healer," she clarified. "I work at Pacific Cross, the regional wizarding hospital, in the emergency medicine department." She paused. "How is Remus, anyway?" She'd always liked him best of James' friends.
Harry's mouth tightened and he let out a sharp breath. "I'm not entirely sure, really. He was stabbed about three months ago with a silver knife. They're still keeping him at St. Mungo's."
The effect of silver in the bloodstream on werewolves, her mind recited, was that of a poison specific to the transformed cells and also interfered with the body's natural healing processes. Secondary infections were common, and only ten percent of patients survived their first transformation so wounded. Her own figure was better, not because she had any special gift but because she was willing to treat werewolves as aggressively as any other patients. But this wasn't statistics, it was Remus. "I'm sorry...that he's made it this long is a very good sign."
Harry nodded. "So we've been told. He seems to be feeling better...he jokes now." He looked off to one side. "I need to ask...why did you stay away so long?"
Her voice was thick when she finally got it to work. "I had my reasons, I told you that."
"Yes, but not what those reasons were," he said stubbornly.
"Please." It seemed Harry had inherited Lily's determination too.
Well, if the boy was so interested in her story, he would have it. "My parents were killed by Death Eaters when I was nineteen, and right around your first Christmas my younger sister disappeared during a Hogsmeade visit. I was supposed to be her guardian, since our parents' death. I'd never known I could hurt so much...but, I still had my best friend." Her eyes were stinging with tears. "Until that Halloween. No one but Lily and James' friends seemed to care much at all that they were dead, people were so happy You-Know-Who was gone too." She'd felt like hexing every witch or wizard who dared smile over it.
"I'm sorry," Harry said quietly.
"I moved to America, and I've built myself a life here...a good one. I have a family that means everything to me, the respect of the other Healers. That old life..." she trailed off.
"It was just too painful to come back," Harry said.
It was a swift moment of shared understanding. Afterward, the conversation went much more smoothly, and in the end she found herself quite impressed with Lily's son.
* * *
Harry set out kibble for the Crup puppy, then grinned as she trotted over. Macrina had the heart of a dog twice her size, but her legs, which didn't even bring her up to his knees, could only move so fast.
He heard the flapping of wings, and looked over to see a small Scops owl carrying a letter land near Hedwig's perch. He retrieved the letter and found a single sheet with Ginny's handwriting on it.
I've only been back at Hogwarts a week, and I'm beginning to understand why the seventh years always looked so distracted. O.W.L. year was easy.
I'm probably just a bit tired at the moment. Quidditch tryouts were yesterday, and then I was up in the middle of the night with a homesick first year. The fifth year girl prefect, Sundari, couldn't get her settled down no wonder, really, when Sundari kept asking about her home and family and since the Head Girl this year is a Ravenclaw she sent a friend for me. I got the girl talking about her new friends and which classes she liked best, and that seemed to help.
I must also mention she's rather taken with you. Do you happen to like blondes?
I've got to run Charms revision group but I thought I'd let you know the first Quidditch match is 12th September, and the first Hogsmeade weekend is 10th October.
The owl had shown a professionalism Hedwig approved of by the way she'd nudged some food its way. It had taken a polite nibble, then taken off while Harry read Ginny's letter.
Harry got a piece of parchment, quill, and ink and sat down at the kitchen table to write his reply.
You'll make it through N.E.W.T. year, don't worry. You were a prefect and part of the DA last year in addition to playing Quidditch, not to mention a friend to the Boy Who Lived'. I'm glad we're all done with that bloody prophecy.
I'm not surprised you were able to help that girl. You've got a real knack with people.
You may tell my young admirer that I have no particular preference with regard to hair color, but alas- I'm too old for her.
I'll definitely make the Quidditch game, and I'm sure Ron will want to be there as well. He's been over once so far, and is really happy with his lessons. They're mostly hands on, it seems. Hermione hasn't visited yet, but I've had a letter or two from her. I'll bet Ron can talk her into coming.
As to the Hogsmeade weekend, it'd be great if you could come for tea. If you have to stick to the main road, we could meet at the Three Broomsticks.
There was a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach at the thought of meeting Ginny, but he did his best to ignore it. He, Ron, and Hermione had all been a bit concerned Ginny would find her last year a lonely one, and since he was both unemployed and nearby it was only natural he'd be the one to keep an eye on her, right?
* * *
He, Ron, and Hermione were seated in the stands reserved for professors and guests, which gave an excellent view of the Quidditch match taking place. The weather was fine, with just enough clouds present to reduce the sun's glare, and the pitch itself had been freshly mowed and painted for the first match of the school year. Stewart Ackerley of Ravenclaw had taken over as commentator for Lee Jordan, and was doing a competent if not as interesting job of it.
The one thing to dim Harry's enjoyment was Dumbledore's absence. There had been several times when, for just half a second, he'd thought he'd seen the elderly wizard's white hair or the top of one of his eccentrically decorated hats out of the corner of his eye.
Harry found himself watching Ginny in particular. She was an excellent Chaser, but being somewhat smaller and lighter than average she actually flew more like a Seeker fast, precise, and outsmarting her opponents rather than trying to shove them aside.
Not, it seemed, that she was opposed to such tactics. Gryffindor had played aggressively from the moment the balls were released, stopping just short of anything that could actually be called a foul. Slytherin had been caught off guard from the beginning, and never quite recovered.
"Oh, and you were worried for her, Ron!" Hermione said excitedly as Ginny, red ponytail trailing behind her like a banner, got the Quaffle past Slytherin's Keeper, expanding Gryffindor's lead to forty. The score was now 150 to 110. "I told you Ginny had plenty of experience taking on Slytherins."
Ron was too busy cheering to respond.
The Slytherin Keeper tossed the Quaffle to a teammate, and the match continued. A few furious minutes of play later, both Seekers raced toward the north end of the field, the Slytherin in the lead. Gryffindor's seeker was faster however, and they were soon flying side by side. They bumped into one another, and while Harry couldn't quite see what happened next, it ended with the Gryffindor Seeker a small, second-year boy hanging half off his broom but clutching the Snitch.
"Yeats has the Snitch GRYFFINDOR WINS!"
The players made their way to the ground, the Gryffindors triumphant. It was impossible for him to hear anything given the distance and noise of the crowd, but they were laughing and clapping each other on the back, clearly pleased with how they'd done, and rightly so. Ginny even went so far as to give Yeats a hug that lifted him off his feet then set him back down. Harry could see the young Seeker blushing furiously afterward.
By the time they made their way down to the field most of the Gryffindors had left (more than likely back to Gryffindor Tower to celebrate) but Ginny still had a wide grin on her face. Her hair had tumbled half out of its ponytail, and the exertion of the match had given a pretty flush to her cheeks and an added shine to her eyes. "Oh, it's good to see you three!"
Hermione stepped forward first, and gave Ginny a tight hug. "You were brilliant. And what did you do to your hair? It's long again."
"I couldn't get it back properly for Quidditch, so I found a hair growth charm." She gave a laugh. "When did you and Ron get to Hogsmeade?"
"At about noon. It was perfect timing really; we had lunch and then Harry showed me the cottage before we had to leave. Will you get to see it on your first Hogsmeade weekend?" Hermione looked back and forth between Ginny and Harry.
Ginny gave him an apologetic look. "No...I'm sorry, Harry, but I asked Professor McGonagall about it yesterday and she wants to keep everyone together until we've had another two or three quiet months."
Harry couldn't help but feel disappointed that Ginny, who'd been the one to spot the cottage in the first place, wouldn't be allowed to see it for a while yet. "That's all right. We can still meet in the village."
"I didn't know you two were planning to meet up," Ron said, with poorly concealed interest.
"Around ten at the Three Broomsticks then, Harry?" Ginny said easily, pretending not to have heard Ron.
"Ginny, are you coming?" Kirke called from near the exits to the locker rooms, which were some twenty yards away.
"In a minute!" she called back, then addressed Ron at a normal volume. "How did that essay you were working on go, the one in magiphysiology?"
"I got a ninety-five percent," Ron said, allowing himself a half grin.
"That's great! I knew you could do it," Ginny said proudly.
Hermione, looking equally proud, laced arms with Ron to draw him a bit closer. "He just needed to find his field, I think."
"I guess so." Ginny let out a breath. "I really ought to go." She hugged Ron, Hermione, then Harry in turn, and when she pulled away Harry saw a spot of moisture on his robes where her eyes had been even though she was smiling now. "'Bye."
She jogged off toward the locker rooms, leaving them to exit the pitch the way they'd entered and start walking back toward Hogsmeade.
"That was nice," Hermione said as they reached the path back towards the village. "It wasn't nearly a long enough visit, but Ginny seems to be doing well."
Well' wasn't the word Harry would have chosen. Aside from the tears when she'd said goodbye (which Harry admitted to himself he was a bit concerned about) Ginny had been in her glory today. She looked healthier than she had since before the war and as pretty as ever. That wasn't the only reason she shone today though. He'd come to know her as a gutsy, caring girl and a good friend, but that no longer seemed enough.
He wanted to know exactly what made her smile and be the one she trusted her secrets to. Most of all, he wanted her to look at him the way he'd seen Hermione look at Ron in unguarded moments as though he was the most precious thing in her life, and trusting she was the same to him.
Wonderful as that all sounded, there was a very large problem Ginny had, by all accounts, gotten over her feelings for him years ago.
Harry Potter, You. Are. An. Idiot.
* * *
Ginny gave an inward sigh, realizing she'd been staring out her dormitory's window, and tried to get her focus back on her Potions essay. She'd even left the victory celebration early to complete it, as she also had homework for Charms and Defence to do before Monday, but couldn't seem to concentrate. The excitement of the day had given her too much energy.
She'd done her best not to show it, but Ginny had been worried about Gryffindor's chances this year. Her new players had potential, but had never played Quidditch before. They'd performed admirably though, despite their inexperience, and she was quite proud.
On top of that she'd gotten to see Harry, Hermione, and Ron for the first time in two weeks. It didn't sound like long, she knew, but it was the longest the four of them had been separated in two years.
Hermione was her best friend, and Ron was her brother, but her relationship with Harry had always been more complex. She'd been just Ron's little sister to him from her first to fourth years, someone to protect when needed but otherwise treated with a kind of benign neglect. That neglect had stung, but it had also pushed her to give up her crush on him, which allowed them to then develop a real friendship - one of the most important in her life.
At the very foundation, there would always be a difference between her friendship with Harry and the ones she had with everyone else. No matter who came into her life afterwards, he would always be the first boy she'd fancied.
Ginny decided she liked that thought, and that she'd allowed herself to daydream too long already and her potions essay wasn't getting any closer to being finished. She reread her last paragraph, and continued writing about the finer points of brewing restoratives, all the while trying to keep Harry out of her mind.
Author's Notes: Thank yous go to Mr. Intel for prebetaing, and LadyChi for her betaing work.