She was lost. She shouldn’t have been. She’d promised herself not to do this. But his eyes simply swallowed her whole. They were the most amazing green and they played the part of windows, framing all the nobility and courage which moved so painfully within him. And then he turned away and she was robbed of being lost.
“I know you all need time… and I need a few moments to myself as well.” He turned and left, his footsteps echoing softly for a time on the cold stone floors.
Ginny stole a glance at the rest of the small group gathered in first floor classroom and saw haunting looks of mortification on each and every face. They did need time. But she didn’t – and with that thought in mind she turned and followed Harry out.
She caught up with him as he approached the lake. Students were all around laughing and shouting and enjoying themselves. It was one of the last truly warm days of the year with the threat of autumn readily apparent. The afternoon sun was beginning to consider its descent, and the shadows were slowly lengthening. Harry must have heard her coming and turned to face her.
“Ginny…” he began. There was affection in his eyes and yet she knew full well that he would murmur words of comfort and then usher her away. But Ginny Weasley was not going to allow that to happen.
“For telling me the truth. For sharing the prophecy with me. For trusting us.” Her words were forceful but she paired them with an earnest smile.
“I do trust you,” replied Harry. “You all earned the right to know what you fought for. I won’t protect you from the truth like Professor Dumbledore tried to protect me. And… well… I know I was a bit of a prat, not wanting you to come to the Ministry with me and I’m sorry. You were… you all were… brilliant.”
She couldn’t keep herself from smiling. It meant a lot to hear those words from him.
“Would you like to walk with me Harry?”
She could have sworn she saw his face brighten ever so slightly as he nodded agreement.
“Well, Harry, you were a prat, but you were a noble prat.”
Again she saw him smile. He must be well used to Weasley bluntness by now.
“Does that mean you forgive me?”
She grinned at him as they began to make their way beside the lake. “Of course Harry. Although I might not be so forgiving the next time you try to leave me behind.”
As they made their way along the waterfront, the sounds of students’ laughter began to fade. Finally they hopped over a number of moss covered boulders and found themselves in a small cove where the beginnings of the forest met the lapping end of the lake. Ginny sat down on a patch of grass just under one of the taller trees. The sun was still just high enough to reach them and flood the cove with comfortable warmth. Harry just stood silent for a long time. Ginny pulled her knees up to her chin and waited.
“I like it here,” he said finally and moved to sit beside her.
Ginny nodded. “I come here when I need to think.”
“What do you think about?”
She looked at him. He seemed honestly interested, as if the answer was important to him.
“Oh I don’t know. I think about my family. I wonder what they are doing. I miss them you know… Mum, Dad, the twins… even Percy. I worry about this damned war. But I think about silly things, like Snape’s latest essay or whether Sarah Thornton is still telling lies about me in the Slytherin common room. It sounds pathetic I know…”
“It’s not pathetic,” interrupted Harry firmly. “I… I’ve been wrestling with the same thing all summer. How can we justify what’s important to us when so many bigger things are happening?”
Ginny smiled at him encouragingly before answering. It felt good to be talking about this kind of thing with Harry – even if she couldn’t help but note a worrying edge to his voice.
“I guess we justify it by admitting that we’re not perfect – that we are just human.”
Harry was silent for several seconds and when he began to speak there was a tremor in his voice.
“I have to face down the most evil wizard of our time and either kill him or be killed by him with thousands of lives dependent on the outcome. And yet all I can care about is that my godfather is dead… and it seems so damn selfish.”
Ginny was shocked to see that the strongest, bravest person she knew was shaking horribly. He was trying to hide it from her and had turned away. She reached out a hand to his shoulder.
“And I know I should be brave and stand strong and do all those things that are expected of me but… I can’t do it. I’m so tired of doing the difficult things. Like just now, seeing the looks on your faces as I told you the truth. All I want to do is give up and find somewhere safe to curl up and hide away and…”
Tears were streaming down Harry’s face and Ginny was struck by the contrast with the young man who had stood so confidently in front of his friends only minutes ago. He had been holding it all inside. She knew her heart would break for him if she didn’t do something. Ginny pulled him to her.
“Sirius Black was a brave and brilliant man. He loved you in a way you never thought you’d be loved – as if by a father. And now you’ve lost him… and I don’t care if you’re prophesised as a bloody deity, you still have the right to grieve your godfather.” Ginny’s tone was powerful and filled with compassion.
Harry was incredibly simply clinging to her with trembling hands. Ginny had her arms wrapped protectively around Harry. She glared across the lake and at the world at large as if daring anything more to try and hurt him.
“But Harry, you haven’t let it break you, no matter what you might think. What you did just now was proof – you reached out to your friends and… we love you too. And you can’t lose that love and neither can you lose Sirius’ love. Because it’s a part of you now.”
Suddenly Harry jerked himself out of her grasp. From somewhere deep within him she saw him dredge up the anger to resist – and she saw him cling to that anger. He was still seated eerily close to her but his eyes were blazing cold.
“People who love me get killed.” Harry hammered out each syllable as if from icy steel. “And I’m not worth their love. I can’t stand against him. When he tried to kill me this summer I stood limply by and watched – helpless! I had to be saved. Sirius helped save me, my parents saved me – all out of love. Well I’m not worth that kind of love.”
Ginny watched his outburst with the most intense look of pain written across her face but she did not allow herself to be cowed. She jutted her chin forward and met his gaze fiercely.
“Harry, you are more worthy of being loved than anyone I know.”
He looked desperate to deny it – she could see something close to panic beneath his eyes – but even he could not deny the belief in Ginny’s words. Instead his anger faded and he looked tired. And now there was more in his eyes than just exhaustion. Harry was staring at her with gratitude and something else… something that made Ginny’s heart miss a beat…
And then it was gone.
“What… what must you think of me?” stammered Harry in a forcibly jovial tone. “Crying all over you like a five-year-old. Come on we’d better get back before it gets dark.”
“Harry, I don’t mind.” Ginny said sympathetically.
He smiled at her but there was something missing from his smile.
They walked back to the castle in silence.
It was a week later and Harry was still kicking himself. What had he been thinking? Sobbing all over her like that. The poor girl must have been terrified. The Boy Who Lived, the supposed hero, literally falling apart in front of her. Harry didn’t like to think how he would have coped if he’d been in the same situation.
She coped quite well, a voice answered in his head. And with that Harry was caught up in the words she had said – and the way she had said them. He thought about other things like the amazing look in her eye and the exact place she had held his head against. And just how pretty she had looked staring down his despair…
She was being nice, replied the rational voice. She was comforting the poor little charity case that suddenly materialised in front of her. She couldn’t possibly still think of you as the hero who saved her from Riddle after that pathetic display.
That thought bothered Harry for more reasons than one. He had known about Ginny Weasley’s crush on him but he had never given it too much thought. He hadn’t minded in the least when she was ‘over him’. In some ways it meant that he had gained a friend. But now it was different. He guiltily realised that he wouldn’t have minded one bit if she thought of him as remotely crush-worthy once more.
He was seeing her more and more often in and around Hogwarts. Well, perhaps he was simply noticing her more. He’d see her laughing at some fifth-year antics at the Gryffindor table or bustling through the corridors chatting animatedly to anyone in ear shot. He’d see her talking to Ron and Hermione, and Harry would quietly slink away. Each time he saw her he felt the most inexplicable jolt of nervous fear and was constantly fighting (or more often, not fighting) the compulsion to run away.
It was strange really because everything else in his life was better. Telling his friend’s had helped. They now knew what had been bothering him and they were making one thing clear to him over and over again. Ginny had been right, they did care about him. And somehow her talk with him had helped ease the dull ache in his chest that he knew had been there since Sirius’ death. Sirius was still with him. He heard his barking laugh and his mischievous advice with every situation he found himself in.
He couldn’t help smiling at what Sirius’ advice would have been with regard to the Ginny situation.
“Mr Potter, do you find something amusing about infusing essence of mortbark into an asphodel root suspension?”
Harry snapped awake. Professor Snape was towering over him and the rest of Advanced Potions Class was staring at him.
“In that case I must presume that our local celebrity here was considering comical matters not pertaining to the infusing of essence of mortbark into an asphodel root suspension.”
Harry would have apologised to any other teacher. However Severus Snape was a different matter. He glared coldly back at him.
“Perhaps he was fondly remembering the recent press releases hailing his heroics in the Ministry of Magic.” Snape’s eyes glinted malevolently.
Harry felt rage boil up inside him and was about to say something he’d regret when he felt a sharp kick to the leg.
“Professor, won’t the mortbark’s repulsory properties cause the asphodel suspension to separate?” Hermione sounded like she’d just looked up from her notes in front of her and had missed the altercation right beside her.
Of course nobody was fooled but Snape’s anger was now directed towards her.
“Ten points from Gryffindor for interrupting me Miss Granger. It appears that once again your impertinence has managed to override you’re parrot like intelligence. A single drop of vanilla essence binds the repulsory properties of the mortbark in order to stop the asphodel root suspension from separating. I’m sure that information was in one of the textbooks you pathetically memorised.” Snape was practically snarling at her.
Hermione affected an air of polite bemusement.
“My mistake Professor,” she replied calmly before returning to her notes.
Harry fought the urge to laugh and was sure he saw the corners of Hermione’s mouth tweak upwards as he whispered his thanks.
Snape called an end to the Theory of Advanced Potion’s class shortly thereafter. Hermione and he headed out of the classroom with the rest of the Gryffindors and Slytherins. Malfoy shot him a look of pure loathing as they passed but couldn’t do anything with so many witnesses.
Harry was unsurprised to see Ron waiting for them as they exited the dungeons. He never seemed to like to be separated from Hermione for too long these days. But he was more surprised when Ron manhandled him rather roughly and pushed him into a nearby disused classroom. Hermione followed on behind.
“What’s going on guys?” asked Harry.
“We’re cornering you,” replied Ron cheerfully and Harry was suddenly strongly reminded of the twins when they were set on a harebrained scheme. “We know you won’t want to talk about what we’re going to talk about so we’ve decided not to give you any choice.”
“What are we talking about?” Harry looked vaguely amused.
Hermione stepped forward and took over. “Firstly, we are sorry we took what the prophecy said badly at first. I guess we always knew you’d be the one to face him Harry but having it confirmed… that there’s no other choice…” She trailed off.
“You needed a minute or two to process it, I understood,” said Harry kindly. “You all did better than me. On the night Dumbledore told me I trashed his office.”
Ron laughed and Hermione looked like she didn’t know whether to be amused or mortified.
“Although that was more to do with other things…”
“Sirius?” asked Hermione.
“We miss him too,” said Ron in a rare moment of sensitivity. There was silence for a long while. “Anyway, to the point of this cornering. What is happening between you and my sister?”
Before Harry could stammer his innocence, Hermione broke in.
“We know she followed you out that day, Harry. We know that you’ve been avoiding her ever since. We aren’t blind. We also know that you’ve been more like the old you since you talked to her…”
“And we know that you’re hurting her. She’s walking around like someone’s ripped her heart out and it’s because you’re avoiding her.” Ron looked almost angry.
“No she’s not. She’s been laughing and chatting and cheerful,” responded Harry looking annoyed.
“She’s my sister, I think I can tell,” Ron retorted.
Hermione intervened. “You aren’t the only person who can hide things Harry.”
For some reason the comment shocked Harry. Of course other people could hide things. Harry knew that. Didn’t he? Suddenly he was reminded of something Hermione had said a year ago when she listed all the feelings that would be plaguing Cho Chang at any given time. Was this what Ginny was going through?
“It’s because of me?” asked Harry feeling guilty.
“Well there’s no use moping about it, Harry. You are just going to have to fix things with my sister, aren’t you.” Harry could see that Ron was torn between protecting his sister and defending his best friend. This was confirmed when a wry grin appeared on his face. “Besides between you and me, the girls expect us to screw up from time to time. They know we have the emotional range of teaspoons.”
Hermione looked impressed by Ron’s grasp of the matter. “All the same, it is nice to see you acting like a teenager Harry, even if fate has sadly ordained it be the male variety. You can’t get so swept up in prophecies that you forget to live. Sirius would have had a conniption fit if you ended up doing that.”
Ron laughed and then began roughly pushing Harry towards the door.
“Right well we‘d best get off to Quidditch practice. I hope our captain here will be able to keep his mind on the game.”
Ginny saw the opening and dove – and sure enough Colin Creevey had seen it too and she found the Quaffle soaring towards her. She snaked out a hand, and in one blisteringly fast move had it tucked under her right arm as she twisted her broom away from an oncoming Bludger and towards goal.
She grinned malevolently as she sped at Ron. She feinted and then drove the ball straight down the middle. Ron who had flown right in response to her feint to shoot left managed incredibly to almost block the ball with his left foot. It was an extremely dangerous move that only managed to knock the ball through the leftmost hoop.
Ron looked bemused and sadly shook his head. Ginny shrugged at him in mock sympathy.
“Ok Gang! That’s enough for now!” Harry’s booming voice – aided by a sonorous charm – ordered.
They all flew down to the ground. Harry followed them from where he had been watching the training session. He looked as enthusiastic as he always did when it came to Quidditch.
“Colin, Ginny, that was a perfectly executed Beatson’s reversal. Absolutely perfect.” Quidditch was the only time these days that he met her eye. She knew he took his captaincy very seriously and that apparently meant that he put aside whatever repulsion he was feeling towards her right now. However this time his eyes seemed to linger and she thought he looked… guilty? She watched him turn away and force a grin at Ron. “Magical keeping, mate. But I’ll take our Chaser’s luck if it holds for the Slytherin match. Dean, Andrew, we need to work some more on tightening up the intercepting Bludger work but apart from that pretty darn good everyone. Now get out of here and get some food, we’ve earned it!”
Ginny hung back as the rest left. She was going to find out what was going on inside his head. Perhaps he was just being Harry, haplessly uncomfortable as usual, but she was afraid it was something else. She had practically told him that she loved him; had that really disgusted him so much?
She noticed Ron discreetly leaving them with the slightest hint of an encouraging smile at Ginny. When had Ron of all people started noticing things?
Harry turned to her. “Ginny, I’m so sorry. I’ve been being a prat again.”
Ginny’s mouth gaped open. For some reason this was the last thing she expected him to say.
“So, you have been avoiding me?”
Harry looked thoroughly ashamed. He nodded.
She was suddenly angry. “That’s okay, Harry, I’m sure I’m quite the embarrassment to you. A skinny runt with bad hair blurting her feelings all over you.”
“What?” He looked more confused than she had ever seen him. “You’ve got that backwards. In case you hadn’t noticed, I was the one having the emotional breakdown. You were the one who… who…”
Harry seemed incapable of finishing the sentence but he was gazing at her helplessly with the sweetest look of admiration in his eyes.
“Who what, Harry?” She was honestly curious.
He looked away from her and stared at his shoes.
“Who put me back together again.” His voice was so quiet that she almost didn’t hear. Suddenly, he seemed to make a decision and stood up straight again. “Look, forget about that. I need to explain to you why I’ve been being a prat and then I’ll leave you be to be angry at me or hate me or whatever…”
Ginny was too stunned to protest any of the ridiculous things he had just said. How could she forget Harry saying that she, Ginny Weasley, had put him back together again? How could she possibly hate him?
“The reason I’ve been avoiding you is because I’ve realised that I have feelings for you. I… er… like you as more than a friend. And don’t look like that! I know that you are over me and I know that I was an idiot for waiting until it was too late. But I’ve just felt so humiliated after I fell apart in front of you… knowing that you’d seen me so weak and pathetic.” Harry looked miserable, but there was the familiar noble courage as he put his heart on the line just so she’d know why he’d been acting stupid.
Ginny Weasley had always prided herself on her adaptability. Right now her entire world had been wrenched from its roots and then placed back down quite methodically on its head and yet she knew exactly what to say and do.
“Harry, you are such a prat,” she said and then kissed him.
Harry was lost. Absolutely nothing was making sense. Ginny was kissing him and it was, to be perfectly honest, pretty breathtaking. She had her hands on his shoulders and was leaning into him and her lips were doing amazing things against his. Then she pulled back and for a moment her eyes were closed and there was an unmistakeable look of blissful contentment fixed on her features.
She opened her eyes and gazed at him. “Harry, you could never be pathetic to me. I owe you my life for pity’s sake. To me you will always be the most amazing, brave and noble person I will ever know.”
She kissed him again with a tenderness that made his heart want to explode. Then she stopped and looked up at him again.
“What you have to understand Harry is that I am not going to use your weaknesses against you. I’m not going to poke fun at you or make cruel jokes or jab you with them to see how much you bleed. Neither are your friends. I know your life hasn’t been easy and I know that you had to hide how much you were hurting from the Dursleys. And you probably think you have to hide it all the more so now that people are counting on you.” She said all this while looking sadly at him with great affection.
There was wisdom in her words; a truth that he had never really wanted to acknowledge. Harry found himself swept up in a flash-back of a child crying in a dark cupboard, all alone, finally able to let slip the passive mask that was all the defence the child had in the face of those that hated him. And now the child was the single lone hope of all he knew and loved. How could a child show weakness when failure bore so high a price?
Indeed Harry had felt thoroughly ashamed of his breakdown in front of Ginny even though a small voice inside had pointed out how much stronger he felt after talking to her.
“Harry, listen to me. You can tell me anything. Not only don’t I mind, but I want you to open up to me – I’ve wanted it for a very, very long time.” There was the by now familiar ferocity in her eyes. Harry thought of how proudly triumphant he had been on that night three years ago when he had slain her demon. And now here she was gladly facing his. He found himself wondering if he had been half as heroic as she was right now.
“Thank you.” Harry had never meant two words more. And suddenly they were smiling happily at each other.
“Come on, let’s head inside.” Ginny looped an arm around him and leaned her head against his shoulder. They began to walk to the castle.
“You know something,” said Harry. “I feel that there’s been a decisive imbalance of compliment giving between us recently.”
Ginny looked up at him in mock seriousness. “You know, I do believe you’re right.”
“Would it help if I told you that you were beautiful?”
Her smile became decidedly mischievous.
“It would be a start Harry, it would be a start.”
A/N: Thanks to Tari for her brilliant beta assistance. Thanks also to St Margarets, Darker_Rage and prplhez8 who's comments, suggestions and general support gave me the confidence to submit this in the first place.