Yet in his eyesall the sadnessof the world . . .Those pleading eyes,that both threatenand adore . .
(Phantom of the Opera)
"Are you sure?" Fred's voice sounded sceptical. "Do you think it's wise to rely on the words of Luna Lovegood? What if it was just one of her usual delusions? Perhaps she saw a Crumple-Horned Snorkack and mistook it for Harry?"
"Oh, come on, Luna's weird, but not a lunatic," Ron's voice replied irritably.
"Lunatic Luna," sniggered George. "Okay, let's presume that our friend Harry is really back. Then there's only one question left…"
"Where has he been?" Ron guessed.
"No, when to arrange a huge Welcome-Back-Harry-Party for him," George replied eagerly.
"I don't think he'd appreciate it," Ron said seriously. "Luna said he looked quite sullen when she saw him… sad and reticent. Apparently he barely returned her greeting, just nodded and left with some Doxycide."
Ginny, who had been listening to the conversation on the staircase, had to slap her hands over her mouth not to shout, ‘I know where he is right now, then!'
Of course she knew it; where else would Harry need Doxycide than at number 12 Grimmauld Place? Sirius had left the house to his godson in his will, but Ginny suspected that Harry hadn't even entered that house since Sirius' death…
Her heart was throbbing so loudly that she wondered how her brothers hadn't noticed her eavesdropping yet. Suddenly she felt a hand on her arm, turned around and saw her mother.
"Come, dear," Molly whispered, "let's go back to your room, shall we?"
Ginny nodded, not knowing how much her mother had heard of the boys' conversation, but having quite a good idea what she'd want to talk to her about.
"I know what you feel now," Molly said quietly, closing Ginny's door behind them.
"No, you don't." Her daughter shook her head.
"Ginny." Molly guided her to the bed and sat down next to her, putting an arm around her. "Don't lie to me. I see it in your eyes."
"What do you see there?" she asked, trying to smile, but not really managing to.
"Pain. Confusion. Exhilaration. And most clearly of all: love."
"Love?" Ginny pursed her lips. "I don't think so. I'm… I'm not in love with him, Mum. Not anymore… I… I love my husband. Really."
Molly tutted disapprovingly. "This is something that none of you – not you, not any of your brothers – have managed to learn yet; you can never lie to your mother. I know you better than anyone else, and I see what I see. You still love Harry Potter, just as much as you loved him back at school."
Ginny looked at her mother and heaved a deep sigh.
"It's scary Mum that you know me better than I know myself… because you seem to know what I feel, when I don't know what I feel. My feelings are so confused, I don't understand them… I don't know what to think, what to believe… I no longer know anything, Mum… but there's one single thing that I do know… I've got to talk to him."
"Do so," Molly said gently and Ginny gave her a surprised stare. She had expected her mother to try and dissuade her… but she rather encouraged her. "I expect you have an idea where to look for him."
"Oh, yes, I do, Mum." Ginny smiled. "But I think the boys might have a good idea about it, too… and I wouldn't be too happy if they turned up there and…"
"…disturbed you." Molly nodded knowingly. "Don't worry, dear, I'll keep them from going there, even if I have to cast Petrificus Totalus on all of them."
"I love you, Mum." Ginny sneaked her arms around Molly's neck with a grateful smile. "You're wonderful."
"What else are mothers good for?" Molly winked at her daughter.
* * * * *
An hour later Ginny reached numbers 11 and 13 of Grimmauld Place. As she approached them, a third building appeared between the two others and some worn stone steps leading up to a shabby black door appeared.
She opened the door and stepped inside. The hall of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black was dark and gloomy, cobwebs hanging everywhere. It was in a worse condition than years earlier when the Order of the Phoenix had moved in. At those times Kreacher had at least removed some of the cobwebs, but now the elf had been dead for a while (Ginny couldn't help but feel relieved about it) and the Order of the Phoenix no longer used this building as its headquarters.
As she walked down the corridors, dirt rose from the floor in small puffs. In the all-covering dirt a pair of footsteps were easily noticeable in the light of Ginny's wand.
Her heart started to beat quicker as she neared the door under which a thin streak of light could be seen.
Before she reached the door, she heard some strange noise coming from one of the paintings on the wall to the left. She raised her wand and almost dropped it when a fit of silent laughter came over her; what she saw in the painting was Sirius Black's charming mother whose lips were mysteriously stuck together, preventing her from cursing as usual. All she could produce was a ‘Mmmmppphhh!' Had Harry silenced her when no one had managed to do so before? – Ginny wondered and stepped to the door.
She was just about the grab the handle when it flung open, as though operated by remote control.
"Why am I not surprised to see you here, Mrs Malfoy?" A cold voice spoke up from an armchair facing away from the door.
"Perhaps because you can't even see me," Ginny replied, wondering how Harry could know that she had arrived.
"I can see you, Mrs Malfoy," said the man in the armchair.
He doesn't sound too happy to have me here, she thought, then braced herself and walked up to the fireplace by which two armchairs were standing, one of them occupied by Harry.
She flopped down into the vacant one and looked at him. The first thing that struck her was that he had a very nice tan, and that he was scowling at her. Trying to ignore his scowl, she spoke up, "You don't seem to have a magical eye like Moody. How can you see through the door and the back of your chair, then?"
"There are other ways. But I'm sure you haven't come to discuss my special vision," he replied coolly, which gave Ginny an even stronger feeling of being unwelcome at Harry's house.
"Right." She nodded, gazing into the fire. "I've come here for something else."
"I'm all ears." He slipped down a bit in his armchair, as if readying himself for an amusing tale.
"I've come to talk to you," Ginny replied in a determined tone.
"Talk, then. I'm listening." He shrugged.
She shook her head. "I've come here for a conversation and that requires at least two people."
"Does it?" He sat up properly, giving her a challenging stare. "Let's have a conversation, then, Mrs Malfoy."
"Please, Harry, don't call me that."
"Why not? Isn't it your name?" He cocked his head innocently, but his eyes radiated defiance.
"Yeah, but…" her voice faltered. The defiant expression on his face riled her, as though he were deliberately teasing her… "Can't you be a bit nicer to me after meeting me after five whole years?"
"Nicer?" He raised an eyebrow. "Certainly, madam. Do you wish to drink a cup of tea?"
"You know this wasn't what I meant." She furrowed her brow.
"Of course I know." He leant slightly forward to look directly into her eyes. "I just felt like taunting you, like I've done with all the Malfoys. Malfoy-irritating is a great pastime."
However, when Ginny looked into his emerald eyes, she saw no trace of fun in them. All she saw there was pain.
"What happened to you, Harry?" she whispered. "You've changed."
"How perceptive." He slumped back into the armchair, clearly annoyed. "You've always been this perceptive, Ginny…"
"Because you've always been this bad at hiding your emotions," she countered.
"And what do you think I'm trying to hide now?" he asked nonchalantly.
"Grief," she said quietly.
"Well spotted. And now, if you don't mind, I'd like to remain alone with my grief. That's why I've come back, after all…"
"Why have you come back?"
"I've just said it, haven't I? To be far from everyone who wants to annoy me."
"And what could be a more perfect place for wallowing in your grief than this house, eh?" she replied sharply, irritated by his cocky answers.
"You know nothing of what has happened to me," he hissed. "If you only knew, you wouldn't say I'm wallowing in grief."
"Then tell me so that I know." She folded her arms.
However, he remained silent, his lips pressed tightly together. Now it struck Ginny how much he had aged; although there were no wrinkles on his face or grey hairs among his raven-black locks, he still seemed much older… as though not only five years had passed since they had last met, but at least fifteen… he was a grown man now, and a serious and strict-looking one at that. She wondered what he had gone through to change this radically… she wondered whether her marriage to Draco had also contributed to Harry's change…
"Tell me," she whispered.
"I'd rather you told me why you married Malfoy," he countered.
"If you had been so terribly in love with him, you could have told me, I would have understood. But the way I got to know… it made it unforgivable."
"If you only knew how it really happened, you'd forgive me."
"Then tell me so that I know," he replied.
"Draco made me," Ginny said simply. "I didn't want to… I was forced."
"Forced?" He arched an eyebrow at her. "How, if I may ask?"
"No, you may not." She pursed her lips, knowing that she had already told more than she should have.
"Right, then I don't believe you." He shrugged and wiped his forehead – it was pretty hot next to the fireplace.
"Oh, that." He waved.
"Isn't, just concealed."
"Why?" She frowned.
"Why not?" he asked back.
"You had a reason for it, I'm sure… but you don't want to tell me."
"You're exceptionally perceptive today," he grunted.
"Okay, then, if you don't want to tell me, at least tell me where you have been all these years and what you have been doing, why you haven't answered any of our owls…"
"Where have I been? Almost everywhere. What have I been doing? Almost everything. Why haven't I answered your letters? Because I didn't read them. I wasn't interested in what any of you had to say… I felt betrayed, Ginny and I didn't want to hear your pathetic apologies." He squinted at Ginny, and seeing a miffed expression spread on her face, he allowed himself a smirk. "A vague answer as a payment for the vague answer you gave me."
"Are you playing payback time with me, Harry?" She scowled at him.
"I am. And I always pay back everything in the same manner I got them. An eye for an eye, you know the saying?"
"You scare me, Harry."
"Don't worry, you're not alone with this feeling. Lots of people have found me scary." He stood up and started pacing the room. "And to tell you the truth, sometimes I scare myself, too."
"The truth…" she sighed. "Do you remember those times when we always told each other the truth about everything?"
"Barely," he said in a gruff voice. "It happened way too long ago."
"I haven't forgotten it yet," she emphasised.
"Good for you. That means you haven't had as much on your mind as I have." He stopped in his stride and turned to face her. "Not much to do as a Mrs Malfoy, I presume? What has your life consisted of, Ginny? Parties? Charity events? Buying robes after the latest Parisian fashion? Bringing up fair-haired feisty little brats?"
At this moment Ginny's eyes flared up with anger.
"Have I touched a delicate point or what?" He gave her an amused look.
Slowly she rose to her feet, her hands balled into fists.
"I can't have any children, Harry," she growled through gritted teeth.
"Good for you," he replied.
"Good?" she snapped. "It's the worst thing imaginable!"
"There are worse things," he responded, looking very serious. "There are worse things than not being able to bear children, believe me."
"How could you know it?" she hissed, tears brimming her eyes. "You're a male, for heaven's sake! You'll never know what it feels like to want a child so badly you're almost going mad…"
"It's you who doesn't know anything, Ginny." He shook his head sullenly. "But if your greatest desire is to raise a child, you can adopt one. The orphanages are full of kids thirsting for love, love that their own parents would never have given them… or are you insisting on having little Pureblood Malfoys?"
"I wouldn't insist, but Draco…" She looked away, wiping tears off her face. "He wants a child of his own… and if I can't give it to him, he'll get it elsewhere."
"Oh…" Harry dropped himself into one of the armchairs. "Why am I not surprised by this? Malfoy used to sleep around already at Hogwarts."
"Really? I never knew." She shook her head.
"But you don't seem too broken by the news," he perceived, a bit surprised.
"Why would I be? I don't care whom he's touching as long as it's not me."
"Then may I ask how you intended to have his children?" asked Harry sarcastically.
She rolled her eyes and flopped down into the other armchair, facing him again. "I never loved him, Harry. I was forced into marrying him and I felt disgusted by his touch… but my life was so empty that I was hoping to conceive… I was longing for a child to fill my empty life. With a child to love, it would have been easier to endure life with Draco. I supposed Narcissa felt the same when she had Draco… her son made her life less terrible with Lucius."
"How do you know this? Has she told you?"
"No, how could she have? She died before I married Draco… but that's what I think of her relationship to her son… that's what I feel."
"Interesting." Harry chewed his lower lip. "To me Narcissa looked like an upper class lady totally satisfied with her position."
"Appearances might be deceptive," Ginny pointed out. "Just like my wedding…" She glanced at Harry to see that he had stiffened. "I seemed to be a happy bride from the outside, but inside I was screaming with pain… especially when I spotted you in the Burrow's garden, looking at me with such a haunted expression… I felt my heart break into little pieces, even heard its crack… I wanted to tear myself out of Draco's arms and run to you, to explain you everything… but I couldn't."
"Why?" he whispered.
"I… I can't tell you…" she sniffed.
He felt like reaching out and take her hand to give it a reassuring squeeze, but held himself back. This was Draco Malfoy's wife, after all… she had been touched by a Malfoy, and that was enough to make Harry feel sick of the thought of touching her… But when he thought back, to his sixth year at Hogwarts, he realised that she hadn't felt revolted to touch him, not even when he had told her… no… better not even think of it, he chastised himself. Anyway, if she knew the whole truth, she wouldn't feel like touching him, either. Sometimes even he felt disgusted by himself when he just thought of it… Ginny must never know. No one must ever know…
And come to think of it, why should he try and console her at all? She had left him five years earlier, she had broken his heart, and she was reluctant to tell him why… this cover-up of the forced marriage seemed simply fishy to him… why should he believe it? Just because her beautiful eyes were full of tears when she said it? What if she had merely learnt how to play? Being a Malfoy, pretence must have been a natural thing for her, probably Draco had been giving her lessons in it… Harry wrinkled his nose at the thought of what else Draco could have given her lessons in…
"Ginny," he spoke up finally, forcing himself to ignore the lump that had risen in his throat when seeing her cry. "You said you came here to talk, but when I try to talk about certain things, you say you can't speak about them…"
"You don't seem too willing to talk about certain things either," she pointed out.
He nodded, looking a bit sad. "I miss those times when we were so open with each other, Ginny."
"So." A small smile appeared on her lips. "This means you still remember those times…"
"I do. I wish I could remember only those happy times… but no… life's never so easy, never so fair."
"Especially to Harry Potter, right?" she asked with a wistful little smile.
"To me, and to those I love."
Ginny wondered whether she belonged to those whom Harry loved, but his face was as expressionless as ever, so she couldn't read from it. She was starting to think that it had been pointless to come here, she hadn't got to know anything she had wanted, and he seemed to be so distant and cynical that she feared she'd never be able to get close to him again. He had been accusing her of hiding things, while she was sure that he was hiding much more than she was. She wished things could again be like they had been in her fifth Hogwarts year when Harry and she had got together…
But their happiness had been short-lived. At the beginning of his final school year, Harry had already been hiding something from her, and she had never managed to get it out of him. He had looked concerned about something, perhaps even ashamed… but now, he looked different. Not concerned, but hopelessly broken, not ashamed but full of self-accusation… what could he have done that turned him like that?
I think I'd better go and never come back, she told herself and was just about to stand up when the door of the room creaked. Since now Ginny was sitting in the armchair whose back was turned away from the door, she didn't see at once who had entered.
Harry, however, didn't seem surprised by the visitor.
"Took you long enough to find me," he said nonchalantly.
"The Tracking Charm hasn't been working perfectly since you left the Circle," a female voice replied impatiently, and Ginny leaned out of her armchair to look at the owner of the voice.
In the doorframe there was a tall, black-haired, dark-skinned woman, with huge dark-brown eyes. Ginny would have said that she was pretty, had she not had a rather haggard look to her. Her wavy black hair was dishevelled and her face revealed exhaustion and suffering. Strangely she seemed to wear an expression reminiscent of Harry's.
The woman seemed to have noticed Ginny peering out of the armchair, because she said: "Miss Weasley, I presume? Or… Mrs Malfoy?"
"Do we know each other?" Ginny stood up, frowning.
"No, you surely don't know me, but I know a lot about you," the woman replied and walked up to them. "Harry told me everything about you."
"Harry?" Ginny gave the young wizard a questioning stare. "Would you introduce us to each other?"
Harry looked from her to the other woman, then back at her, looking slightly uneasy.
"So, Phaedra, this is Virginia Malfoy. Ginny, this is Phaedra Potter."