Disclaimer – About the characters … none of them are mine // JK Rowling owns them all // nice of her to share
About the money … no profit made here // JK Rowling has it, she's // richer than the Queen
Author's note – I wrote this story chiefly for my own amusement, as a break in the midst of a very different writing project. My intention was to produce an unobjectionable – and inconsequential – bit of fluff, and to use it as an exercise in writing physical descriptions. That said, Myth & Legend, my incomparable beta for whom no amount praise can possibly be sufficient, assures me that I have done no such thing, but have instead given birth to a scandalous tale sure to reap a whirlwind of controversy. Now, up to a point, controversy is all to the good, but perhaps a few words of explanation are in order even so.
Most obviously, this story is very much second-generation fan fiction, owing at least as much to the classics of that genre as it does to JK Rowling. Like every aspiring deck hand in the H/G Navy, I owe an enormous debt to After the End, a passing tribute to which has found its way into my little story. Can you find it? It's not hard. Two more specific acknowledgements: I wouldn't have thought of dragons as a metaphor if I hadn't been reading Kokopelli's Letters of Summer (finally finished – hooray!). The physical setting of the willow tree by the brook, finally, is borrowed from a sprightly tale (although one altogether unsuitable for the refined audience of PS.net) entitled Weak at the Knees about which I will say no more other than to point out that I have provided Harry and Ginny with a bit more room under the tree in question – and have kept their ardor – barely – within age-appropriate bounds.
… Which brings us to the point of this note. Some readers may be surprised and/or furious at the way in which I have portrayed Ginny Weasley. I see her, in this her fifteenth summer, as a person very different from the shy star-struck little girl we first saw in Chamber of Secrets. She has grown up, and if she is once more focused on Harry it is in an altogether more mature way – in the best sense of that much-abused word. She has what Harry needs, on a number of different levels, and she knows it. She's done with waiting and ready to seize the moment when it comes. But is she in character, canonically speaking? I think that what I have portrayed is one possible extrapolation from the Ginny we met in Order of the Phoenix. I do not, however, have any illusion that the scene I have written, or anything like it, is likely to show up in any of the subsequent books. In part, that's why I wrote it. It is indeed the old, old story, but only to those of us who shipped out, as it were, at an impressionable age. JKR will never give it to us; we have to do as best we can on our own. To all those before me who have gone down to the sea of stories in this particular ship, thus, this account of the afternoon in which Our Girl stood up and did what had to be done is humbly dedicated.
Round about the fourth week of July in the summer following his fifth year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, it began to dawn on Harry Potter that he wasn't minding exile with his revolting relatives nearly as much as usual. He was – dare he say it – enjoying his stay at Number 4 Privet Drive because his awful Aunt and unspeakable Uncle were, as usual, only too happy to pretend that he didn't exist. Even his loathsome cousin Dudley largely left him alone. A rich and varied schedule filled with underage drinking, petty vandalism, and acts of unprovoked violence against children as much as half his own size left the Pride of the Smeltings Boxing Club much too busy for all but the most token harassment of a silent and unresponsive Harry.
All of this suited Harry just fine. No one talked to him, which was good. No one looked at him searchingly with sad concerned eyes, which was even better. The Dursleys, bless their empty little Muggle minds, didn't even realize that anything unusual was amiss, and that was best of all. It left Harry free to pursue his own activities of choice. These included brooding, sulking, inventing complicated plots for wreaking painful and humiliating vengeance on a certain Severus Snape, or simply sitting perfectly still and staring at the wall of his bedroom. This last was his favorite. He could do it for hours on end.
Even Harry could tell that this was not a good sign.
He could not, however, bring himself to care. Every three days, he sent Hedwig the owl off to find Ron Weasley. I'm fine, the note she carried would say. The Muggles are treating me all right. Don't worry about me. Sometimes, for variety, he substituted OK for fine. On one particularly gloomy day he wrote I'm doing really well, but he later regretted it and went back to his usual form. The purpose of the notes was simple. As long as his friends received regular news of him they would leave him alone, and being left alone, just then, was what Harry Potter wanted most in the world. Inside the carapace of ice he was constructing for himself, he was safe, all emotions frozen numb.
Numb was good. Numb was not remembering that Sirius Black was dead as a direct result of Harry's headstrong stupidity. Numb was not dealing with the fact that a certified prophecy guaranteed that his fate was to be either murderer or murdered. Numb was not acknowledging that he was being a complete and utter prat, and that all of the people who cared for him were most likely going off their heads with worry. Every time she returned from a delivery, Hedwig brought him letters from one or another of these, which he threw away unread. I'm fine, he would answer. The Muggles are OK. Don't worry.
All things considered, Harry later reflected, the biggest surprise was probably that his friends waited nearly a month before mounting a mission to rescue him from himself. It began with a telephone call from Hermione Granger on the evening of 30th of July. His reaction when it came was largely resignation. It was too much to hope that they would just let him be. He took the phone from his aunt.
"Harry, you haven't been reading your mail, have you?"
Her voice was brisk, with Head-Girl-in-Training written all over it in large stern letters.
"How do you know?"
"Because if you had been, you would know that Ron and his Dad are coming to get you tomorrow. You'll be at the Burrow for your birthday, Harry, and you haven't so much as acknowledged the invitation."
"Yeah, I knew that."
"Oh Harry, don't bother to lie to me. Just be ready tomorrow at ten o'clock. OK?"
However dimly, Harry understood that he really ought to be saying something else, something more, but he couldn't for the life of him think what.
"Uh … Hermione?"
"I'm not doing this very well, am I?"
What came over the wire sounded suspiciously like a repressed chuckle, and when Hermione spoke again the Head Girl voice was gone, replaced by one Harry remembered well, a voice equal parts exasperation and affection, one that brought a very strange and painful feeling to the base of his throat.
"No, Harry, you're not. Don't worry, though, we'll get you straightened out. I can't come with them to get you, but I'll be at the Burrow tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime the Weasleys will set you to rights. I'll see you soon, Harry, I promise."
"Right. Bye then."
Harry wasn't sure whether to be grudgingly sorry or extremely grateful that the conversation was over. It was some minutes before he regained the proper state of numbness required for conversation with his aunt.
A few trifling idiosyncrasies aside, Arthur Weasley was a bright man. He had learned the last time he had attempted to extract Harry from the clutches of the Dursleys that arriving by way of the Floo network was an invitation to needless complication. He remembered this now. It also helped that his standing at the Ministry of Magic had improved sufficiently to permit him once again the occasional use of an official car. The vehicle that pulled up in front of Number four at 9:58 on the 31st of July was of a length, sleekness, and blackness sufficient to impress even Uncle Vernon.
It didn't impress Harry. He just lugged his possessions into the car and settled in for the ride. He was pleased to find not only Ron but also his twin brothers. Having three Weasley boys along meant that nothing beyond the occasional grunt was required to keep the conversation moving along. Had Harry been paying attention to Fred, George, and Ron, he would, by the end of the trip, have been quite knowledgeable about the finer points of the magical novelty trade, the prospects of the Chudley Cannons over then next several years, and the recent elopement of their sister in the company of one Dean Thomas. Fred slipped in that last after the first half hour just to confirm that Harry was not, in fact, listening to a word they said. He wasn't.
What Harry was actually doing, although he didn't realize it at the time, was putting to good use the skills that he would not admit to having acquired as a result of his lessons from Professor Snape in the art of Occlumency. Higher and stronger he built his defenses, more intent on keeping out his friends than he had ever been on eluding his enemy. By the time they reached the Burrow, the automaton with the frozen heart was ready to walk and talk, almost like a real boy.
Molly Weasleys's engulfing hug of welcome was a trying moment, bringing an uncomfortable tightness to his chest, but Ron inadvertently came to his rescue.
"Mum! You're smothering him!"
"Hush Ron. Welcome home, Harry Dear."
"Um, thanks, Mrs. Weasley."
Toting his trunk, Hedwig's cage, his broomstick, and other sundry items up to the attic room Harry shared with Ron filled the next few minutes. Helping Mrs. Weasley set the kitchen table for lunch occupied several more. The meal itself was bearable, as his mother's presence prevented Ron from talking with his mouth full. Unfortunately for Harry, Molly Weasley, unlike her son, was able to stop eating long enough to carry on a conversation at the luncheon table. The words Harry had been dreading were soon heading his way: birthday dinner … presents … a few friends …
Severus Snape, had he been capable of such a feeling, would have been proud; the walking, talking ice statue was up to the challenge. Looking forward to it …thanks so much … that'll be great …
It was a measure of Harry's retreat into the frozen wasteland of himself that not until the meal was over did he notice that his welcoming committee had been one Weasley short. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a nagging memory prodded at his consciousness. Hadn't Fred said something? No, surely not. In any case it didn't matter. She would either turn up or she wouldn't and, in the meantime, it was far too much trouble actually to ask anyone
Far more disturbing was the prospect of Hermione's imminent arrival. One look at him and she would know. The hammer and ice pick would be out, and there would be no rest until the walls were breached. Just thinking about it made him tired.
It was all too much. Harry could remember in past years finding the disheveled chaos of the Burrow a veritable paradise, but those memories now seemed to belong to another lifetime – or more likely to someone else altogether. After a month of isolation, the bustle and warmth was more than he could bear. Desperately, he cast about for an excuse to go out for a bit. Alone. The broom and dustpan industriously sweeping up around the edges of the room gave him the idea he needed.
"Is it all right if I go out to the paddock for awhile? I need to practice flying if I'm going to play again next year."
Ron looked up from the chessboard on which he was playing himself to a hard-fought draw.
"Brilliant! I'll come with you. You'll see, I've put up a goal ring at one end. I'll bet you don't get so many past me this time!"
Ron's face was alight with enthusiasm, with honest excitement and simple joy – all of the things Harry wanted so desperately to escape.
"No, that's all right. Finish your game. I just want to practice some moves."
The reply was too quick, too final. Harry knew that as soon he said it, as he saw the hurt in Ron's features, but it couldn't be helped. He took up the Firebolt and fled.
It was the shadows on the ground as he executed a series of quick turns that first alerted Harry to the fact that he was not alone. Glancing back, he saw a flash of red hair, and an icy wave of anger surged over him. Couldn't Ron take a hint? Couldn't he understand that Harry just wanted to be left alone? Harry put on a burst of speed, followed by a savage, reckless turn, but found to his surprise that the shadow was still with him. A second, longer, backward look brought more surprises. His pursuer was a Weasley, all right, but it wasn't Ron. This Weasley had long hair, streaming out behind her like a blazing battle flag.
Somehow, he found that he didn't mind this shadow quite so much. At the very least, it was easier to ignore. He went back to his exercises: climb to treetop height, a fast turn around the improvised pitch, then feint, dive, a quick sprint inches above the grass, a tight turn around the goal hoop and begin again. Through two complete cycles Ginny stayed with him, always at the same precise distance, and slowly it became a challenge.
This time, instead of regaining altitude, Harry stayed low. Sprinting for the edge of the paddock, he wove in and out of the line of elm trees on the east side and then burst into the clearing. Once more around the goal hoop and then he stood the Firebolt on its tail and aimed for the sky, only to break off the climb and fall backwards, fluttering down like a leaf. He actually touched the ground this time, but only with the tip of his toes before springing off again, accelerating to a speed clearly excessive in such a confined space. That was when he heard her laugh, and decided to go even faster.
In open air, the pure speed of which the Firebolt was capable would have allowed him to pull away. As it was, maneuverability and sheer nerve counted for more, and Ginny and her broom were more than up to the challenge. Finally Harry landed, acknowledging defeat. Unexpectedly, he found himself prepared to be gracious about it.
"You're really good. I hadn't realized …"
"I've been practicing. You haven't. Thank you, Dolores Umbridge."
Even Harry had to laugh at that. It was little more than a brief rush of breath and an awkward hitch of the shoulders, but it was a beginning, the first emotion he had acknowledged openly in over a month. Ginny showed no sign of having noticed. Instead she looked him up and down critically, as if inspecting a dubious lot of goods.
"So, how have you been?"
It was Harry's full intention to reply as always, fine … don't worry … What actually crossed his lips came as a complete surprise to him.
"Not so well."
Ginny nodded, apparently satisfied at this answer.
"We'll set you to rights soon enough."
"That's what Hermione said."
"Well there you have it, then. Clearly it's our duty to believe her. She is the brightest witch of our generation, after all."
The sparkle of her eyes belied her solemn expression. And with that she shouldered her broom – Ron's broom, actually, Harry noted – and began to walk slowly toward the end of the paddock, the end away from the house. Without really thinking about it Harry saw that she, like him, was wearing Muggle clothing: old trainers without socks, jeans that would have been a better fit the summer before, and a loose black jumper that was almost certainly an inheritance from one or more brothers. All of this plainness, it seemed, had but one purpose, to set off in its full splendor the brilliant cascade of red gold hair plunging to her waist. With no more thought than a moth drawn to a candle flame, Harry followed.
Slowly, she led him to the edge of the paddock and beyond. Down a steep bank they scrambled to where a small brook ran over a stony bed. The banks were shaded by overhanging trees and thick with undergrowth. Ginny led on until they came to a great willow tree. Its sprawling roots created a cradle of grass just large enough for two people to sit comfortably together, assuming that neither was very large and that each enjoyed the other's company.
"I used to come here to get away from my brothers. Still do, sometimes …"
Harry nodded. No further response seemed to be expected. Instead he and Ginny set the brooms to one side and settled in comfortable silence, gazing out over the swiftly flowing water. Once again, Harry Potter sat perfectly still, looking out in front of him. It was what he had been doing all summer: it was like nothing he had ever done before in his life.
It had never occurred to Harry that it was possible to be with someone in friendly silence. With Ron or Hermione, not talking had always meant that there was a problem. Lately – even Harry had to admit this – the problem had usually been with him. Silences were awkward, accusing, shameful moments. Solitude was far better.
This silence was different. Ginny sat a fraction of an inch away, not touching him, actually, but somehow altogether with him, and seemed perfectly content to keep him company quietly, looking with him over the scene before them. Together, they watched the water and admired the flowers on the stream bank; together they followed the flight of electric blue dragonflies and listened to the hopeful croaking of a tiny green frog. When, in shifting round to find a more comfortable position, he ended up with his right arm draped over her shoulders, she seemed not to notice, although she did move slightly to settle herself snugly against his side.
It was somewhere around then that Harry became aware of the warmth of her. Instinctively, he was drawn to it, a snowbound traveler reaching out to the life giving fire. He had no clear idea of just how Ginny's head had come to be resting on his shoulder, but felt that it was very important to keep it there, to keep her hair soft against his cheek and her breath gentle against his neck. Ginny herself seemed to have fallen asleep, and Harry kept even more still than before so as not to wake her.
Imperceptibly, this sensation of the physical comfort of human companionship, this feeling so new to Harry and yet somehow familiar, merged into the quiet beauty of his surrounding, the play of light and shadow among the tree branches and the music of running water. Slowly, slowly, the tension that he no longer even noticed, so natural had it become, began to seep away, retreating before the soothing medley of tranquility. Slowly, the icy ramparts began to melt. Slowly the frozen heart began to thaw.
It was inevitable, of course … heat, thaw, melting, frozen palisades turned to a rushing stream, but Harry didn't know that. He didn't know why his throat hurt again, or why his chest was tight. Why was it that his eyes burned and that it was suddenly difficult to draw breath? He didn't know until suddenly it was too late, and to his horror and dismay tears began spilling silently from his eyes. Desperately, he tried to stop them, but he couldn't bring himself to move, and the tears kept coming.
The tears of grief came first, swiftly and quietly. There was grief for Sirius, but for the others too. Harry wept for those who died and for the ones who mourned them, for Cedric Diggory and for his parents left bereft, for Cho Chang who at last he understood. There was more, of course, and deeper. There were tears for his own parents, but that was almost a comfort because this grief at least was so familiar, so much a part of him. There were tears for victims unknown and for those yet to die.
Thinking of these brought the hot tears of anger. Anger at the sheer stupidity of it all, that uncounted persons should suffer and die because one wizard had a personal feud with death itself. As he considered this, Harry found himself shaking with rage, and it was perhaps to keep him from flying apart altogether that Ginny Weasley chose that moment to fling her arms tightly around him.
It was a good thing that she did, because the heat of anger slowly gave way to the chill of fear, and now, stripped of his defenses, he needed her warmth more than ever to protect him as he trembled in the frigid blast of imagined death. But death was not the worst. There was the bitter fear of failure and the terrible nameless fear that maybe just maybe he wouldn't even try. There was fear of unworthiness and the shame that it would bring, and then shame at the fear itself. And through it all he clutched the girl with the fiery hair as a drowning man might cling to a spar, knowing that only this stands between him and the fathomless depths of despair.
However powerful the grief, however long repressed, it is humanly possible to cry only for so long. The tears stopped first, then the terrible wracking sobs. Gradually the constriction in Harry's throat gave way and he was ready to attempt speech once more. A single thought was uppermost in his mind, the same as ever: flight. He had to extricate himself from this disaster somehow, make any sort of excuse and then, if at all possible, never show his face within a hundred miles of Ottery St. Catchpole for the rest of his natural life.
In the wizarding world, as elsewhere, the hero doesn't cry.
He never stood a chance. As he sought to disengage himself from Ginny's embrace, Harry found himself effectively trapped. Somehow, his head had ended up on her shoulder, his face pressed into her neck – her extremely wet and salty neck. Her arms were still tight around him and her voice was in his ear, soft but very, very clear.
"Harry, listen carefully to what I'm about to say."
"If you even think of apologizing at this point, I will hurt you. A lot."
A slight movement of her knee in the general direction of an extremely sensitive portion of Harry's anatomy backed up the threat. Somehow that, combined with the fierce gleam he saw in her eye when she finally released him just a bit proved the final blow to the shards of ice remaining round his heart and, without warning, the mood shifted. He stared her down, striving to match her affected aggression, but he couldn't bring it off. First a snort, then a chuckle, then something very like a giggle escaped him. In the end, the absurdity of the whole situation came crashing in around him, overwhelming his innermost defenses, and he gave way to open laughter. Ginny soon joined him and they clung together by the flowing stream, helpless in mirth.
They clung together and they laughed, and then they stopped laughing but kept clinging anyway. Harry found that Ginny's forehead was pressed into his chest and that he was stroking her hair as if he had been doing it all his life.
Ginny lifted up her head and looked at him, her brown eyes still sparkling with merriment.
"Happy Birthday, Harry."
"Thanks, I think it will be now."
And then, after a moment in which it became abundantly clear that the Boy who Lived had no clue what to do next …
She kissed him, and after the first electroshock moment of it, this too seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Harry found himself wondering how anyone got through the day without it. Shortly after that, Ginny began doing something particularly fascinating with her tongue, and Harry thought of nothing at all.
Some considerable time later, Harry lay on his back, with Ginny's head firmly nestled in the crook of his right shoulder. He heard her give a faint sigh of … satisfaction? relief? … surely not regret. Somehow, this silence was not quite so comfortable as the previous one. To fill it, Harry found himself saying the first thing that crossed his mind.
"Ginny, do I even want to know where you learned how to do that?"
Now the sigh turned into a quiet laugh – no, definitely not regret.
"If I told you the advice column in Teen Witch, would you believe me?"
"Right … Well, look at it this way, Harry, you weren't the only one getting extra tutoring from Ravenclaw last year."
"Seems to me you learned a lot more than I did."
"Don't be so sure. I talked to Cho about you. I'll bet you didn't know that, did you?"
"No! And I don't want to either."
"Sure you do. It was after Michael ran back to her, so she could afford to be generous. She said you were very sweet."
"Just what every guy wants to hear …"
A gentle elbow poked his ribs. No doubt about it, she was teasing him. Harry found that he didn't mind.
"I'm sure it is … I have to say it was a very satisfying conversation, though. We agreed that everything was better off this way. She can keep Michael and I get you."
"Oh please! Even you should have been able to tell that I was just having a go at Ron. Dean is joined at the hip to some girl back home, has been since his second year, and she's not about to let him go. According to him, she thinks he's simply magical … so that's Dean taken care of."
"Do boys even get a vote in these things?"
"Don't be silly."
The subject exhausted, silence fell between them once more, but the awkwardness was gone, and the quiet was friendly once more. It occurred to Harry that this exchange had been incredibly easy. A few months – probably a few weeks – ago, a mere mention of the whole business with Cho Chang would have been excruciatingly embarrassing, and yet here he was bantering lightly about it. More than anything else so far, this gave him confidence to go on. Suddenly, the need to unburden his mind, to share his thoughts and not just his wordless fears, was as pressing as the need to avoid such talk had been all summer.
Ginny had captured his right hand in both of hers, and was examining it with care, delivering light butterfly kisses to the palm, and then to each fingertip successively. Each feather touch of lips and warm breath was a tiny shock of pleasure running up his arm and deep into the center of him. It would have been easy to close his eyes and let his whole being focus on this newfound bliss, but instead he reached out his free hand and cast about for his glasses. These, he found had been carefully placed a safe distance away, although he couldn't remember having put them there. He carefully opened the glasses and put them on, and it was a measure of the newfound understanding between the two of them that Ginny seemed to know at once that this gesture meant that he was at last ready to talk about serious things and that, far from a dismissal, it was the most precious invitation of all.
Together they sat up, and then scooted themselves back to lean against the sheltering roots of the willow tree. A new fear suddenly crossed Harry's mind.
"You realize that the grass stains are going to give us away…"
Ginny tossed her head.
"What you don't know, my lightly soiled friend, is that ever since I was knee high to the clothes hamper, I've been helping my mother with cleaning spells. With six Quidditch-mad brothers about, what I don't know about vanquishing grass stains isn't worth learning."
"Well, that's a relief."
"Isn't it just? … Now talk to me. What is it that's been tormenting you? It isn't just Sirius; I know that much."
"You're right. After we got back from the ministry, I had a talk with Dumbledore. Well, he talked. I mostly yelled and threw things."
"I wish I could have seen that."
"No, you don't. It wasn't pretty and I'm not proud of it. But you have to know what he told me, and help me figure out what to do."
"Go on …"
"The prophecy we found at the Ministry, the one the Death Eaters wanted; Dumbledore knew what was in it. He told me."
Harry paused, and Ginny knew better than to attempt to prompt him again. She sat very still, holding onto his hand with both of hers, and let him take his own time.
"Voldemort and I … one of us has to kill the other. It's our fate."
Ginny let out the breath she hadn't realized that she was holding.
"Harry, forgive me, but is that it? How is this news? Isn't that what the two of you have been trying to do for the past five years?"
"Don't you understand, Ginny? It means I have to kill; I have to kill Voldemort and who knows how many others to get to him. It's one more thing that makes me just like him. I mean … it makes sense if you think about it. Our wands are brothers. I even look like him, like Tom Riddle when he was my age. Everyone thought he was great then, just like they do me. Who's to say I won't turn out like he did?"
Although he had never said it in so many words this sentiment seemed to Harry almost self-evident. Ginny's reaction caught him altogether by surprise. She sat for a moment stunned by the enormity of his words, as if Harry had somehow uttered a grotesque obscenity, and then suddenly clenched her jaw and let out a sharp breath. Swiftly, she gathered her knees under her and whirled around, settling herself on Harry's outstretched legs, facing him. She looked at him with eyes suddenly ablaze with fury and jabbed him in the chest with her right index finger. Jabbed him repeatedly and hard.
"Don't ever say that!"
"Why not, Ginny? How can you know?"
"How can I know? How can I know?! Listen to me, Harry. Listen like you've never listened to anything before in your life, because if there's one thing I know more about than you do, it's Tom Riddle. I am the world's leading bloody authority on Tom Riddle. I've been Tom Riddle!"
Harry sought unsuccessfully to capture the attacking finger.
"Ginny, I know that. I'm not likely to forget again."
"No, Harry, you don't know. You don't know everything because I never told anyone, so please just shut up and listen. It's my turn for guilty secrets now, and you of all people should know that this isn't easy."
Ginny's hand had dropped into her lap; Harry picked it up and brought it up to his chest, holding it there, letting her feel his steady heartbeat, giving her strength to go on as she had done for him. She drew a shuddering breath.
"Last year, I told you that I didn't remember the times when I was possessed. That's true as far as it goes, but near the end, Tom was so sure of winning that he got careless. He shared more than he meant to; he left bits of himself behind. I didn't realize it until afterwards – or maybe I just didn't want to think about it. I've always known though. I have memories that aren't my own. I have his memories, Harry."
"When he made that diary, he was exactly as old as you are now. I know what kind of person he was then and, if I thought there was any chance, any chance at all, you were like that, then I wouldn't be here. I know what he would do if it was him sitting here with me. I know what he did do with … others. Trust me, Harry, you don't want all the details, but you absolutely have to believe me when I tell you that you are nothing like him at all."
This time, it was Ginny who buried her face in Harry's neck. She felt, rather than saw, him nod and when she finally looked up she saw a new look in his eyes and realized that the dynamic between them had shifted once again. Before her now was not the distraught boy or the timid lover, but a warrior and an ally. Harry sat unmoving, no longer in the frozen stillness of despair, but now with the calm focus of the hunter on sighting his prey. She could almost see the mind at work behind those bright green eyes, now alight with hope and life, the ideas forming, the strategies clicking into place. When Harry finally spoke, his voice was very soft, as if not to startle the quarry that the two of them would now stalk together.
"Ginny, just how much do you think you can remember?"
"I don't know. I never really tried – more the opposite, actually. I think it's a lot, though. I think with the right help, I could remember a lot."
"You realize what this means, don't you?"
On Ginny's features, relief gave way to a predatory smile.
"Yes, Harry, I do. It means we know things about that bastard that he can't possibly guess we know."
"Yes! All right, this is what we need to do. We have to tell Dumbledore all about this right now. He can help you get at those memories and transfer them into a Pensieve. That way you'll be rid of them, and we can all study them. Even after all of this time, there's bound to be useful stuff in there. He had a lot of things planned out when he was still in school, he told me that."
They sat in silence for a moment longer. Harry still held Ginny's hand, absentmindedly stroking it with his thumb, until suddenly it wasn't absentminded any more and the atmosphere between them was electric once more. Looking up, Harry realized that Ginny was still sitting more or less in his lap and wondered how he could have forgotten that, however briefly. He also saw that her lips were slightly parted and her cheeks a bit flushed. Her breath, like his, seemed to be coming short. She reached up to him with her free hand and very carefully removed his glasses, setting them once again safely out of harm's way. That task done, she set the hand on his shoulder and looked him straight in the eye, caramel brown into emerald green.
"Harry, when you say we need to talk to Dumbledore right now, does that mean this very minute?"
Harry managed a small smile, an act of independence of which he was absurdly proud.
"You're sure about the grass stains?"
With that, Ginny gave an exquisitely painful bounce. Her face was so close to his that he could feel her warm breath, could smell the sweetness of it. At that distance, her features blurred into a swirl of reds and browns out of which came a voice so soft that it seemed quite remarkable that it drowned out all other sounds, a voice that had taken on the qualities of her molten sugar eyes: just as sweet, and just as scorching.
"Yes, Harry, I'm sure about the damned grass stains and I'm also sure that if you don't kiss me right now this instant, I'm going to scream, and when I'm done screaming, I'll ... "
But Harry never found out what it was that she would have done next, because they moved together that last fraction of an inch and Ginny's lips were put to a far better use than uttering empty threats. Already it was different. It was better. Harry didn't stop thinking this time. He thought and he noticed. He noticed that Ginny kissed with her eyes open. He noticed how soft her lips were, and how perfectly his hand fit into the small of her back. He noticed that her hair smelled of apples and glinted a burnished copper in the dappled sunlight. He felt her hands behind his neck and running through his hair. He heard small low moans and realized that he couldn't tell if they were coming from her or from him. Slowly, they toppled over until Harry was lying on his right side with her legs around his. He could feel her move against him, and instinctively surged to meet her. But suddenly, his hands went slack and he tried to pull away. Ginny felt it at once.
"Harry, I know what you're thinking, and you're wrong. So stop it."
"Stop what? What am I thinking?"
Ginny let out a sigh and sat up. Slowly and deliberately, she picked up Harry's glasses and set them back in place. Then she took his hand and pulled him up until he too was sitting. When he was once again resting against the willow root, she settled herself against him, sitting between his legs, leaning back against his chest. She grasped both of his hands and placed them firmly around her waist.
"You were thinking about him, weren't you? You were worrying that this is what he would have done."
There was no point denying it, but Harry found himself extremely grateful that he didn't have to look her in the eye to admit it. He leaned his forehead on the back of her head, mumbling into the soft warm hair.
"I can't help it."
She turned to face him, then, and in her features, Harry could see faith warring with despair. It was faith that won, and when she spoke her voice was low but strong.
"Yes you can. You have to. You have to understand that there is nothing you can do, nothing you can even imagine that would come close to what Riddle was doing when he was my age, let alone yours.
Ginny drew a shaky breath, and then the words tumbled out, as if to purge a vileness that could no longer be kept in.
It was all about pain for him, Harry, and usually about death. He didn't have partners; he had victims, and I know what he did to them. I know … everything, and right now it's making me sick just thinking about it so will you please hold me? Remind me that it's you that I'm with … that it's you I can trust."
She shuddered as she said that, and swallowed hard. Harry found himself rocking her gently like a child, whispering endless words of comfort into her ear.
"It's all right. I'm here. I have you. It's all right …"
In time, her breathing steadied and became deeper, and he felt her relax against him. She took his hand and squeezed it.
"Thank you. Those sessions with the Pensieve are going to be pure hell. You know that, don't you?"
"I'll be there with you."
"You'd damned well better be."
"Does your mother know you use this kind of language?"
"Afraid so. She blames Ron. As if …"
"We're really going to do this, aren't we?"
"Yes, Harry. You and me and a lot of other people, we're really going to do it. And the two of us … we're really going to do that too. We'll do what we want when we want, and we'll know the right time when it comes."
Just as Harry was working out, rather to his chagrin, that this translated to no more today, he saw Ginny nod to herself, as if she'd reached the end of an internal conversation, had made up her mind about something for good and for ever. And then she startled him yet again by grasping his right hand and pulling it up under her jumper – beneath which, he had good reason to suspect, she was wearing nothing at all. He was right. She wasn't. He felt her heartbeat and the swell of her breast. He felt her nipple harden against his palm.
"This is how it is, Harry. This is the only truth that matters. All of me is for you just like all of you is for me, and no one but us decides how, and where, and when."
The correct translation, Harry realized as soon as he could think again, was actually I'm in charge, you hang on for the ride, and everyone else look out below. On the whole, this sounded to him like a fine plan.
"You'd better mean it when you say that, Harry Potter, because there's something you need to know about Weasleys. We're a lot like dragons, in some ways. We're fierce and loyal and we sometimes breathe fire. When we track down our enemies, we don't stop until they're dead. And we mate for life."
"What I'm about to say … please believe me when I tell you that it has absolutely nothing to do with fact that my hand is … where it is right now, OK?"
"What I want you to know is … I'm really, really glad you're on my side."
She looked up at him, all the while keeping firm hold of a wrist connected to a hand that was working out all on its own that the word 'cup' could also be used as a verb. A bright grin lit up her face.
"Idiot! Where else would I be? Now what you're going to do is keep that hand exactly where it is and kiss me one more time. Then we're going in to face the others. Then we're going to have your birthday dinner, and if we survive all of that, taking down Tom Marvolo Riddle – I am Lord Voldemort should be easy by comparison. He'll never even see us coming."
"The kissing part seems safe enough ... "
"So why are you still talking?"
It was an affirmation this time, a quiet sharing in the confidence of their rightness. There was no hurry. They had, Harry realized, all the time in the world. It was without regret, a moment later, that they stood up of one accord and prepared to go and face their future.