Harry sat in the Weasley kitchen with a sense of fullness he hadn't experienced in ages. That was not the feeling he generally left the table with after meals at the Dursleys'. He felt like he had eaten to make up for all the skimpy meals over the summer.
"I think I'll head up and start unpacking," he said to Ron, who was finishing up a previously heaping plate of food. For all Harry had eaten, it appeared Ron was determined to easily win that battle. He appeared to be debating whether to add another helping.
"Okay, mate. Maybe some chess later?"
"Great," Harry replied. He got up from the table and headed up the stairs, feeling peaceful and sated. The good feelings lasted until he entered the hallway. A sense of uneasiness came over him, growing as he walked down the hall toward his door. He paused at the door, considering. Fear and dread filled him as he realized where he would be sleeping at night.
He would be sleeping in Fred and George's room.
He recalled the strange sounds and outright explosions that had often emanated from the room on his previous visits. It would be highly out of character for them not to leave a little reminder of the previous occupants.
Harry stood against the wall to the side of the door and slowly pushed it open. The door gave a slow creak as it opened. He waited a few seconds, then he thrust a hand through the threshold and quickly pulled it back.
Well, Ron put my trunk in here, so it must be safe as far as that goes, he thought. He slowly peeked around the corner into the room. It was noticeably larger than Ron's room, which would make sense since it slept two people. The room held two beds, two dressers and a large desk built for two. Most of the personal items had been removed, but he noticed a few Zonko's stickers stuck to the walls.
The room looked innocent enough. Too innocent, Harry thought, as paranoia began to set in. He tiptoed into the room, looking for any signs of triggers or traps. He pulled out his wand and waved it saying "Finite Incantatem!" Slightly more confident, he walked around the room, casting the magic canceling spell at all the objects in the room.
Harry started to sit on one of the beds, but inches before he settled on it, he suddenly flew up and whirled around. Looking at the bed suspiciously, he poked it with his wand. Nothing happened. He pressed on it with his hand a little more firmly, and still all was quiet. He sighed. Maybe they really did just leave the room in peace, he thought, unconvinced. Harry sat down on the bed and then noticed the closet.
He could have sworn the closet was closed when he came in, but now it was open a crack. He briefly considered going down to get Ron to help him deal with whatever mischief was up, but he wasn't absolutely certain the closet had been closed before. Ron will probably just think I'm jumping at shadows because of last month's battle, he thought.
Getting irritated with the whole process, Harry firmly walked over to the closet and reached out, intending to open it. Still, he paused, his hand inches away, a sense of dread filling him. He had a gut instinct that this would not end well.
Backing away, he grabbed a pillow off the bed. He swung the pillow at the door and quickly pushed it open, diving to the floor at the same time. The door banged against the wall and swung back to its original, partially opened position.
Harry waited on the floor. Nothing. He slowly got up and crept up to the door. He eased it open and peered inside. The closet was mostly empty, except for a couple of garishly colored shirts that the twins apparently felt were too bright, even for them. Then he saw it.
There was something in the shadows of the closet – a note, pinned to the back wall. Harry cautiously lifted the note and brought it out into the light.
We figured mum would give you our old room, since it's the larger one. Nothing is too good for the Boy-Who-Lived, Speaker to Serpents, and Defeater of Dark Lords!
Not to worry; the closet is safe. And you weren't imagining things; we charmed the door to open a crack when you came in. Just a harmless little joke.
We won't vouch for other parts of the room, however.
Fred and George
Harry sighed. He wondered if he could sleep in the closet, since that was assured to be safe. He walked back over to the bed and slowly sat down. It had seemed safe before, but nothing was certain when it came to Fred and George. Just what I needed, a nice, relaxing summer vacation, he thought.
He started to slowly recline on the bed, his muscles tensed, his Quidditch reflexes humming. His head finally met the pillow, his body still stiff as a board. He slowly relaxed his muscles and realized he had stopped breathing. He let out a breath and looked up at the ceiling.
Just then, he noticed a bucket appearing directly above the bed.
He instantly dove off the bed, scrambling to the farthest corner of the room as a bucket of a sparkly material came pouring down onto the bed and some sort of mocking music filled the room. He noticed the sparkly material seemed to adhere to the bed, and he was relieved that it wasn't stuck to him. He felt his heart thumping in his chest.
"That was a close call." Ginny stood in the door, her hand over her mouth, giggling.
"Too right. Your brothers are a menace," Harry said, as he tried to bring his pulse down to normal levels.
"They're not completely rotten. They told me before they left that the bed joke was the only one they put up. Since you're their business backer, they felt it was only fair that you shouldn't have to tiptoe around your own room the whole summer. They will be disappointed that it missed you, though. I would watch your back on that account. They'll be here for your birthday party on Sunday."
"You mean you knew what they had done?" Harry said. He tried to put a look of outrage on his face, but couldn't help smiling.
Ginny smirked. "Well, they swore me to secrecy. They said that if I told, they would do double pranks on both you and me. You should have seen yourself sneaking around the room, poking at everything. It was hilarious."
Harry raised his eyebrows and crossed his arms. "You were spying on me?" he asked in mock anger.
Ginny crossed her arms back at him and said haughtily, "I wasn't spying on you. I was just… observing. Making certain you didn't need any help. Besides, my room is just next door. You were on the way."
Suddenly their faces broke and both laughed. Harry couldn't remember the last time that he had such an honest, hard laugh.
Ron walked in and stopped abruptly. His jaw dropped, taking in the scene of Harry on the floor, Ginny laughing with him and a sparkling mess on Harry's bed. "What happened here?"
"Oh, just a little early birthday gift from your thoughtful brothers," Harry said.
"At least we know your Quidditch reflexes are ready for next season," Ron replied. "And speaking of Quidditch, you'll never guess who's been traded to the Cannons! Come up to my room; I want to show you the article in the Daily Prophet," he said excitedly.
Harry followed him out of the room, but not before he gave Ginny a laughing smile.
* * *
Ginny continued on to her room, still chuckling at the scene in Harry's bedroom. It was so nice to be able to talk to him as a normal person. She felt that she had done a credible job last year, but so far today she had done even better. Harry appeared to be more comfortable with her as well, perhaps even considering her a friend. Granted, she wasn't and probably would never be as close to him as Ron and Hermione, but what she had was much better than being the annoying little sister with the silly crush who blushed like mad whenever he was around.
Not that Harry had ever acted annoyed; he was never anything but tolerant. Well, oblivious would probably be more accurate, she thought. Still, all the attention had to be embarrassing to him, and she was grateful that he was never mean to her, even at her worst.
The old Ginny would have been floating for weeks from the conversation they had just had, convinced that Harry was finally lavishing attention on her and their marriage was right around the corner. The new Ginny knew that it was just Harry being Harry, and it meant nothing.
She sat down on her bed, reflecting on how far she had come. Going out with Michael had helped her grow up. With her attention distracted from Harry, she finally started to see him as a real person, rather than the idealized image she had held of him. He had flaws which she had always overlooked. What were endearing traits at the height of her crush she now actually found to be annoying.
He was a brooder, for one thing. He certainly had a lot to brood about, but his tendency to pull in and distance himself from people was a trait that she suspected would prevent him from ever being truly happy. She hoped that he would eventually find someone who could pull him out of his moods.
But even as she realized what a flawed hero he was, she continued to see that he was still a hero. There was no denying his bravery, loyalty and strength of character. She thought back to her experience with Tom Riddle. How had Harry done it? How did a 12-year-old boy defeat such evil magic and kill a basilisk to boot? And save the fair maiden, she snickered to herself. Now, now, none of those thoughts.
That had been a horrible time for her, and she had felt awful shame. The diary had been insidiously seductive, listening to her innermost thoughts and telling her what she wanted to hear. She had never even thanked Harry for saving her, not that he would be looking for thanks. The nightmares had been horrible, and it had been months before they had finally ebbed away. Ginny shuddered as some of the nightmare memories came back to her.
She got up from the bed and sat down at her desk. Why am I even thinking about this? I haven't dwelled on Riddle this much in a long time, she thought. She looked at her picture board, which held many photographs of her friends. She contemplated a picture of Harry and Ron taken at Hogwarts.
She had always felt tied to Harry's destiny. She didn't know what that destiny was, but she knew that Harry was going to play a big part in the final showdown with You-Know-Who. And she knew that when his destiny came to pass, she would be one of those standing with him, as she had at the Ministry battle. He would always have a special place in her heart. And it was okay that she would never have a special place in his.
Well, that's a lie, Ginny thought. It was inevitable that she would never have a special place in his heart, but it wasn't okay. In her secret heart of hearts, she knew she still held a kernel of hope. It would probably always be there, growing more dormant as they both married other people, but she hoped that they would always remain friends.
* * *
Harry sat in the living room of the Burrow, flipping through one of Ron's Quidditch magazines. Ron and Ginny were playing chess across the room. There was an interesting article about some new brooms going into production, but Harry found it difficult to concentrate.
He had spent the day with Ron and Ginny, just playing chess and exploding snap, talking Quidditch, and generally being lazy. But as the excitement of leaving the Dursleys' began to subside, the same pain he had been feeling all summer remained.
After dinner, Ron noticed him growing more distant and kept shooting him worried looks. They irritated Harry, but he said nothing. At least Ginny appeared to be oblivious to Harry's mood, as she treated him as if nothing was wrong. Either that, or she was just more perceptive than Ron. That's not difficult, he thought.
Although he wasn't feeling all that sleepy, he decided he couldn't take the looks anymore. "Well, I think I'll head up to bed. Feeling a little tired."
Ron looked up from the game and nodded at him. "'Night, mate."
"Sleep well, Harry," said Ginny, smiling.
Harry headed up the stairs. He still felt a bit nervous about sleeping in the twins' old room. He'd considered whether they had told Ginny that a single prank existed to throw him off the scent, but finally decided that he couldn't tiptoe around the room forever. Anything that happened probably wouldn't be lethal.
He sat at the large desk and gazed out at the Burrow's moonlit back yard. He began thinking about Sirius, once again. How could I have been so stupid, he thought for what seemed like the millionth time. He knew he needed to be less impulsive, but somehow the exact method by which he should make his decisions differently eluded him.
He sighed. He just wasn't tired. Might as well get some work in, he thought. He pulled out his copy of Secrets of the Dark Arts and How to Beat Them and began to read.
Several hours later, Harry thought he heard his name being called. The Burrow was quiet, as everyone had long since gone to bed. He listened carefully, but heard nothing. He went back to his reading.
"No, please, not Harry…" a small voice called.
He definitely heard it that time. He walked around the room, listening carefully.
"No! Tom, I won't do it!"
The sound was coming from through his wall, behind the bed. He put his ear to the wall and listened carefully.
"Tom! Why are …NO! I thought…Please don't hurt Harry." It was Ginny, and she sounded like she was having a nightmare.
Harry froze, wondering what he should do. Finally, he entered the hallway, crept over to her door and put his ear against it.
"No, no, Tom, WHAT ARE YOU DOING!" She sounded terrified.
Not thinking any further, he opened her door and ran over to her bed. Harry put his hand on her shoulder and gently shook her. "Ginny, Ginny, wake up. It's me, Harry."
Her eyes snapped open and focused on him. She immediately rose up and threw her arms around him, clutching at him desperately. She was bathed in a cold sweat. Harry put his arms around her awkwardly and patted her back.
"Ginny, it's all right. It was just a nightmare," he said soothingly.
Abruptly Ginny let go of him. "Great Merlin, what am I doing? I'm so sorry, Harry. I thought I was still dreaming." She looked abashed. "Er, I didn't mean that the way it sounded."
Harry smiled reassuringly at her, but looked concerned. "Are you all right? I'm sorry to come into your room, but I heard you calling out. Um, you were calling out my name," he finished lamely.
"I was back in the Chamber," she said quietly. "With Tom."
Harry thought as much. "Do you still have these nightmares very often?"
"No! In fact, this is the first one in probably a year," she said, beginning to get her normal voice back.
Harry's face closed down, and he said nothing.
Ginny looked suspiciously at him. She spoke gently, "Harry, it's not your fault."
Harry flinched in surprise. He debated with himself about how much he wanted to say. Finally he said, "Why now? Why would you have the nightmare the first night I stay at The Burrow?"
"Well, it's not because you are channeling You-Know-Who into me," she said, a bit more sharply than she intended.
"How do you know, Ginny? We know that I have a connection with him. Maybe I should stay somewhere else. Maybe I should go back to the Dursleys', or maybe Grimmauld Place, or… anywhere."
"Don't you dare even think that, Harry! I'll tell you why I dreamed of Tom tonight, and it's not for any of these reasons that you seem to feel the need to heap upon yourself." Her voice was starting to rise.
Harry looked around nervously, wondering if she would wake anyone up.
Ginny noticed and lowered her voice. "Look, Harry, I suppose I could say it was your fault, from a certain point of view. After we talked earlier today, I just found myself thinking back to the Chamber of Secrets and the nightmares I used to have. I thought about it because I realized I had never thanked you for saving my life. It was just the thinking back on it that caused me to have the nightmare."
Harry let the words sink into him, and he slowly relaxed. It made some sense. "Sorry, Ginny. I know I shouldn't jump to conclusions, especially after last month." He suddenly stopped, realizing that he had inadvertently voiced one of his fears.
Ginny seemed to notice that he had said something unintended. "It's all right, Harry," she said soothingly. "I know how you feel. I second-guessed everything I did after Riddle's diary. I felt like such an idiot."
Harry looked at her, shocked. "You're not an idiot! You were manipulated by incredibly powerful dark magic. And you fought back! You even managed to throw away the diary. Not many people could have done that, Ginny."
Ginny looked embarrassed by the praise. "Well, maybe. Perhaps you could try and remember the same thing about last year. You were manipulated by ‘incredibly powerful dark magic.' But you lived, again."
Harry looked down and barely whispered, "Not everyone lived."
Ginny put her hand on his shoulder, and Harry looked up. She looked him in the eye. "Harry, it wasn't your fault. You went to the Department of Mysteries to save Sirius. Your reasons were noble. You can't expect to always make perfect decisions. You made the best decision you could with the information you had. For Merlin's sake, you saved my father using a vision. How could you know the same process wasn't at work with Sirius? You tried to find out if it was true."
"But Hermione was the one…"
"Yes, Hermione had the idea to check out the information. So what? Even if you hadn't tried to check, you still acted from a pure heart. Harry, I don't like to think about this, no one does. But you know that more people are going to die before this is all over, don't you?"
Harry looked stricken. She had voiced his worst fear.
"Harry," she said gently, "how do you think I feel with eight other members in my family, so close to the action? The odds on my family coming through this unscathed aren't very good." Her voice shook a bit at the end of this.
Harry looked at her in shock. Her mother had made a similar observation the year before. It never occurred to him that Ginny would be thinking the same thing. Of course she is, and probably Ron is, too, he thought. "Ginny, I'm so sorry. It must be hard for you."
Her voice grew grim. "And Harry, if someone in my family dies, it won't be your fault, or Dumbledore's fault or anyone's fault except You-Know-Who's. He is the one killing people." Her voice took on a pleading tone. "Please try and remember that, Harry. It's –" she took a deep breath and whispered, "Voldemort's fault."
It was the first time Harry had ever heard Ginny use Voldemort's name, and it moved him somehow. He spoke in the same quiet voice. "Okay, Ginny, I'll try and remember." There was a long silence, as they both let the gloomy thoughts sink in. He looked up at her and said sincerely. "Thanks."
She smiled at him. "Anytime, Harry." She paused, and then suddenly chuckled, releasing some of the tension in the room. "Thanks for saving me from Tom again tonight."
"Anytime." He smiled back. He got up and started to walk toward the door.
"Oh, and Harry?" Harry turned and looked at her. Her voice became serious. "Thank you for saving me from Tom the first time."
Harry nodded, embarrassed. He silently walked through the door and gently closed it behind him.
* * *
Harry looked over the chessboard and made his move. He was certain this would be the game where he finally defeated Ron. Harry sat back, a satisfied look on his face.
Ron considered his next move with an expression of intense concentration. Suddenly his face took on a malevolent look and he made his move with a flourish. "Ha!" he shouted. "Take that!"
Harry was stunned at his sudden change in fortune. He tried to find a way out, but it was obvious the game was lost. He sighed.
"Didn't see that one. Excellent move. I concede," Harry said.
"Thought you had me that time, eh? Another game?"
"Nah. I think I might do a bit of studying," Harry replied.
"Studying?" Ron said suspiciously. "Since when do you study so much during the summer? Is Hermione blackmailing you or something?"
Harry felt embarrassed. "Well, Dumbledore sent me a few books to read during the summer. I didn't have much to do at the Dursleys', so… I've been sort of studying them. No big deal."
Ron looked like he wanted to ask more questions, but then appeared to think better of it. "Er, okay, mate."
Harry felt a flash of irritation. Did Ron need to tiptoe around him? Was he a volcano about to explode or something?
"Look, Ron, they're just some Defense Against the Dark Arts books," he said defensively, his voice rising a bit.
Ron seemed taken aback by his reaction. "I'm not saying anything, mate! Reading is fine. Good." He paused. "Look, Harry, I guess I'm just not certain where your head's at. We haven't really talked about – last month."
Harry's irritation reached another level. "I don't want to talk about that," he said harshly.
"I'm not trying to force it out of you! We're all just concerned," Ron said, trying to defuse the situation.
Harry saw that Ron was not trying to pry, and he forced himself to push down his irritation. He pasted a smile on his face and thought he should give Ron something to make up for his attitude. "Um, Ron, I appreciate all the concern. It's just hard right now. There are some things we need to discuss. Some – things you don't know. When Hermione gets here, we'll sit down and talk. That sound okay?"
Ron breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that Harry wasn't going to blow up at him. "All right, mate. Whenever you feel the time is right."
Harry headed up the stairs, his stomach turning. Part of him felt he had just made a big mistake in promising to tell Ron and Hermione about the prophecy. But the other part felt some relief knowing that he had started the process in motion. Keeping it all internalized was eating him up.
He went into his room, picked up his copy of The Auror's Bible, and headed back out. Defense study always helped him calm down, and his conversation with Ron was already fading from his mind. He headed out the back door of the Burrow into a beautiful sunny day. He reckoned he would find a nice shady tree, a perfect place to relax.
He had not gone far when he spied Ginny already sitting cross-legged beneath a tree with a book in her lap. Her red hair hung loosely and was tucked behind one ear. Somehow she looked different than usual, with the bright outdoor sunlight casting a fiery glint to her hair. A memory sparked in his head of when he had embraced her the other night. Her hair had been very soft. He continued to look at her for several long seconds.
Suddenly she looked up, sensing he was there. Their eyes locked for a split second, and before Harry could stop himself, he quickly darted his eyes away. What am I doing? he thought. It's only Ginny. He felt inexplicably nervous. With difficulty, he brought himself back under control. He forced a smile and looked back at her.
"Er, hi, Ginny," he finally said.
She looked a bit puzzled and said, "Hi, Harry." She saw the book in his hands and said a bit too quickly, "Oh! Did you want to read? That looks like a textbook. I suppose you would prefer to study alone. I can go somewhere else if you like."
"Yes. I mean, no!" Harry forced himself to slow down. "I mean, yes, I have been studying alone when I was at the Dursleys', but I don't mind if you're here."
Ginny smiled at him and patted the ground nearby her. "Have a seat, then."
Harry smiled in return and sat down next to her on the cool grass. He opened his book and began reading, and Ginny went back to her book as well. They sat and read in companionable silence.
Some time later, Harry looked over at Ginny curiously. "What's that you're reading, by the way?"
Ginny looked up with a hint of embarrassment. "Well, it's just a novel."
"What's it about?"
"Promise not to laugh."
Harry blinked. Laugh? "I promise."
Her eyes flashed. "If you tell my brothers I will personally hex you into oblivion. Ask Draco about my hexes."
Harry laughed. "Okay, okay, I promise. Now I have to know after all that."
"All right." She had started to blush a bit. "Well, it's about this witch who is traveling the world. She meets a wizard and starts to travel with him, but he turns out to be secretly after a powerful magical artifact that's been in her family for generations. Meanwhile, the man who had a secret love for her decides to finally track her down after years of hiding his feelings from her."
Harry leaned over and looked at the cover. It showed a well-muscled wizard with torn robes embracing a well-endowed witch with long silky hair, who was wearing an elaborate, frilly green robe. As he watched the cover, the wind ruffled their hair as the wizard slowly leaned in to kiss the witch. Harry averted his eyes just before their lips touched.
"Is that a romance novel?" he said incredulously.
Ginny laughed nervously. "Yeah. My roommate gave it to me at the end of last year. To be honest, after what happened at the Ministry, a silly novel kind of sounded good."
Harry felt mischievous. This was too good a chance to pass up. "Do you read these… often?" he asked innocently, with a straight face.
She glared at him. "No, I don't. Besides, it's not that bad."
"If I looked under your bed, would I find a secret stash of romance novels? What's next, Miss Weasley? Romantic interludes at Madam Puddifoot's?" Harry couldn't keep his face straight any longer and began laughing.
"Shut it, Potter." She narrowed her eyes. "You promised not to laugh. Find this funny, do you?" Her face suddenly lit up with a grin – an evil grin. "Right, then. So let's talk about Madam Puddifoot's, since you bring it up."
Harry suddenly stopped laughing. Oh no, not that, he thought with a sinking feeling.
"Michael tried to get me to go there once, but I hate that place. But I heard that someone else put in an appearance there."
Harry said nothing, a feeling of dread coming over him. She would be merciless.
"A certain Valentine's Day. With golden cherubs throwing pink confetti. Now, who exactly was it that was in there with his sweetheart?" Ginny's grin seemed to stretch from ear to ear.
Harry closed his eyes, his face burning with embarrassment. He felt as if his hair would erupt in flames at any second.
"Oh, I remember. Wasn't it a certain green-eyed boy who defeated a Dark Lord? Why yes, I believe it was. In fact, I think it was you," Ginny said, obviously enjoying herself immensely.
Harry wondered miserably if he could dig a hole and pull the dirt back over himself.
"So tell me, Harry, which did you like better? The little lace doilies or the frilly bows? They both make for such a romantic atmosphere."
Harry knew when he was defeated. Please don't talk about what happened there between Cho and me, he thought desperately. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry I laughed; please stop."
Ginny gave him a more pleasant smile. "Maybe I'll stop, but I need a more sincere apology than that."
Harry groaned. "What is it with you Weasleys? Okay, how about this." I better do this right, he thought. He turned his whole body toward her and took each of her hands in his. He leaned in, looked straight into her eyes, put a serious look on his face, and said in a low, sincere voice, "Ginny, I am very, very sorry I teased you about your book."
Ginny's smile seemed to falter a bit, and she swallowed.
He let go of her hands and smiled. "Was that good enough, Miss Weasley?"
"Um, yes. That was much better." She seemed a bit nervous.
Probably feels bad for teasing me, Harry thought. He relaxed, hoping his ordeal was over. "Remind me never to tease you ever again. You are deadly. Have you been taking lessons from Fred and George?"
She smirked at him. "What do you think happens when you grow up with six Weasley brothers? Your defenses get rather… honed. But I don't want you to think I can't take it. You can tease me – to a point. I'll let you figure out where that point is."