A/N Thanks to the usual team, especially Nat who did the prebeta on this and is Twenty today the 11th. Happy birthday Nat *hugs*
Ginny looked at Harry in amazement, as if unsure about whether she had heard him correctly. For what seemed like an age, she continued to stare as if robbed of the power to speak. Then finally, falteringly she spoke.
"Sorry, Harry," she said quietly, her voice wavering. In her shock she was finding it hard to form the words coherently. "What did you say?"
This was not quite the response that Harry had expected, let alone desired. Despite this initial setback, he remained calm and focused.
"I said, 'will you marry me, Ginny'?"
His voice was strong and clear. Ginny smiled inwardly. He's changed so muchover the years, she thought. Where was the hesitant, gangly teenager that had asked her to Hogsmeade in his sixth year?
She allowed herself a few moments to observe the confident, muscular young man who now wanted her to be his wife. She could feel the intensity of his gaze as he waited for her reply. He cast an imposing figure and she was reminded why she'd always felt safe from Tom Riddle in his company.
She cleared her throat to cover her nervousness. "That's what I thought you said, Harry."
Heavens, she thought, Harry Potter had just asked her to marry him. She'd been wrong and her mum had been right. He hadn't taken her to lunch to let her down gently. He'd done it to propose. And she felt what? Overjoyed? Elated? Loved? No, she felt annoyed and scared. Damn, she thought, my stupid mother was right. Why didn't I see this coming?
What bothered her most, she reflected, was not that her mother had been right, but that the careful equilibrium in their relationship that had sustained them at Hogwarts and through Harry's recovery had been shattered by six simple words. Harry had caught her unawares with this and she did not like it. She thought herself a good judge of people, but this wasn't the Harry she knew.
After her experiences in her first year, she had vowed that she would never give up control of her life to anyone. She had chosen to be with Harry for the last three years, but only on her terms. She had always held something back, as did he. The part that they had given to each other, they had given without reservation. But today, Harry was asking her to give the other part and she wasn't sure she could do that. However, she wasn't going to tell him that, not today. She would find some other excuse, and hope he bought it.
"Ginny, are you still with us?" His voice was still strong and clear, but now it betrayed a sense of uneasiness.
"Why?" she asked, refusing to meet his gaze.
"What do you mean 'why'?" It was Harry's turn to be stunned.
She turned and allowed her gaze to touch his, and despite herself felt a thrill at its intensity. "Why do you want to marry me, Harry?" she said, suddenly very serious. God, she thought, if I am going to pull this off, I have to remain focused.
"Because … because I do … because I think you're wonderful … you make me laugh, you know the real me, but you still stick around … and I …"
"… No, Harry," she said softly, tears threatening to betray her lack of control. "I can't marry you … I can't." She braced herself and waited to be overwhelmed by the verbal assault from Harry that must surely follow. Whatever Harry said to her now, however unkind he was, she told herself she deserved it.
"You mean you won't?" His calm tone surprised her.
Score one for the new Harry, she reflected. Or was it that she had stunned him with her refusal?
"No, I can't … you don't want to marry me. No, shush a minute, Harry." She raised her hand to forestall him interrupting her. She had to finish this quickly. The longer it went on, the more likely it was that she'd tell him the truth, or even say 'yes' to him. And part of her really did want to say 'yes' to him.
"You don't want to marry me, believe me. I'm stubborn … I steal socks … I swear … I … This is coming out all wrong …" She buried her head in her hands for a moment, struggling to find the right words. She tried again.
"What I mean is … you don't really know me, Harry, do you? You can't marry someone you don't know."
She hated to mislead him, but at least this statement was partly true. It was a flimsy reason; she knew that.
He would surely point out that they could always spend their engagement working that one out. She hoped he wouldn't, she hoped he would be satisfied with what she had said. And yet … and yet, something within her kept telling her to say 'yes'. It whispered seductively to her of the night of her birthday. It reminded her of the pain she felt at the thought of losing him. It rekindled the desire that had risen within her, as his strong arms had drawn her close to his warm body. Her lips tingled again as the desire to kiss him and make him hers, rose again unbidden.
Oh God, Harry, she thought, why do our lives have to be so damn complicated?
"I do know you Ginny …" he offered, the emotion of the moment colouring his voice. "No, please … it's your turn to listen. I do know you. I know that I want to spend the rest of my life with you; I'm complete when I'm with you, Ginny. When we got together, I was a mess; I was hurting from Sirius, Voldemort was after me and you pulled me together. You loved me, comforted me, bullied me; heavens, one time you even punched me, but you got me to the point where I could do it. Yes, Ron was there, so were Hermione, Dumbledore and the rest. But Ginny, if it hadn't been for you, Voldemort would still be alive. I would have collapsed under the pressure in the summer after Sirius died and I'd be dead. So, Ginny, please marry me, please be my wife."
He looked at her part excited and part fearful. He was pleased that he'd finally woken up enough to know that he wanted to be with her forever. He was also afraid of what would happen if she did turn him down. He knew that he was risking a friendship that had cost a lot to build, but he knew that he couldn't spend the rest of his life being just her friend. There had to be more! Please God, he thought, there must be more.
"I'm sorry, Harry, but the answer's still no. Yes, you know what I can do for you, and I don't mean that in a bad way. And yes, Harry, I do know you well, but you don't know the real me. You may think you do, but you don't. I mean can you even tell me what my favourite colour is?" She paused, but no answer was forthcoming. "See, you can't. How can you marry someone if you don't even know their favourite colour? You wouldn't know what colour flowers to buy me."
She meant the last comment as a joke, but nobody was laughing, least of all her.
They stared at each other across the table, both of them fighting back the tears. In the background, there was a soft 'pop' like a champagne cork. Well, at least someone has something to celebrate, thought Harry.
Tentatively, Harry slid his hands across the table and gently entwined his fingers in hers. He half-expected her to flinch, but her response told him that she welcomed his touch. This was familiar territory for them; a form of physical, nonsexual touching that was all about friendship. Here they were back in the Common Room or in the Great Hall and not adults talking about marriage.
For a long time they were silent. Each meeting the other's gaze, each afraid to be the one who spoke first and therefore acknowledged that everything had changed between them. Harry's thumbs gently stroked her hand as if this very act would be enough to show her that he was right for her.
This was it, he thought. He'd taken a gamble and he'd lost. How many the times had Hermione told him to take a chance and tell Ginny how he really felt? Now he'd finally done it, it had all gone and blown up in his face.
However, the more he thought about it, the more he realised that she was right. Was their relationship as one-sided as she had made it seem? Was it really all take and no give on his part? Well done, Potter, he thought, you spend three years with the most beautiful witch on the planet and you mess it up.
All those nights lying together in his bed at Hogwarts; was Ginny just there to give him comfort? Was it just her way of paying him back for the Chamber? Had she willingly given him her warmth and allowed him to take comfort in the softness of her touch because of … an obligation?
He blushed as he realised how well he knew her curves, her smell, her lush red hair that thrilled him every time he saw it, the soft touch of her lips … He knew how many freckles she had on her face, how she bit her bottom lip when she was thinking, how she liked to stroke his hair when they kissed. Just like at her party, he thought. That had been real; she wasn't acting out of obligation there but out of … desire?
Nevertheless, she was right, he conceded. He didn't know the real Ginny Weasley, but he was going to change that. As he came to this conclusion, Harry allowed a small smile to play across his face. Get your act together, Potter, you haven't messed this up, yet! he thought. You can do this. If you love her, you have to go for it.
Ginny sat looking down at the table unable to meet his gaze, trying to hide the tears that were threatening to tumble from her glistening eyes.
Ginny knew that she had broken his heart. She knew that she had gone and ruined their friendship. Why, she asked herself, couldn't she just say yes? She could be happy with Harry. Her mother would be over the moon and even her brothers would approve. Why? Why had she done it? She knew why, and she hated herself for it.
She looked up at him, ready to deal with his anger and rage and was shocked to see a gentle smile looking back at her. She smiled weakly at him, unsure what was going on.
"I can learn," he said in a low whisper. "Let me learn, Ginny, I'll take as long as you want."
Well, Harry, she thought, you are full of surprises today, aren't you.
This was not the reaction she expected, but then this Harry was a very different person to the one she had got to know at Hogwarts. Once again, Harry Potter was going to fight for her and part of her, a large part of her, was glad he'd not been put off. Where they went from here she didn't know, but they had spent the last three years making it up as they went along, so perhaps they could do so again.
"I don't know," she said, still endeavouring to fight back the tears, "I just don't know." As the last words struggled out of her mouth, her tears started to fall. "I just don't know, Harry …" She sat with her head bowed as she sobbed gently.
It broke Harry's heart to see her like this, but he wasn't going to give up now. He reached out and slowly, but firmly, lifted her head. Gently wiping her tears with the tips of his fingers, he gave her a reassuring smile.
"I don't care if I have to wait a hundred years, Ginny, I'll wait."
He saw the briefest of smiles touch the corners of her mouth.
"That's better," he said, his cheeks dimpled by a smile. "I'll do anything, Ginny, anything. I mean that."
"I know, Harry," she said, returning his smile.
He allowed himself a grin in response.
"I ... I'll test products for the twins every one of those 36,525 days … I'll run naked through Diagon Alley every Sunday … I'll … I'll even kiss Mundungus!" He heard her stifle a laugh.
She smiled at him, a stronger smile than before.
"It's okay, Harry, I've stopped crying."
Harry looked at her and saw that a grin now claimed her face. He reached over and wiped another tear from her cheek with his thumb and returned her smile.
"Thanks, Gin. I'd do the rest, but I admit - I did get carried away on the last one."
"Mmm, so you'll do the first two, will you?" she said, raising an eyebrow and giving him a knowing smile.
"Well … you wouldn't … would you?" He peered at her trying to discern her true intentions.
"Well, let's just say, Harry, that I reserve the right to apply special conditions in the event of any … misbehaviour on your part." A wicked grin made its way across her face.
"So, how long are you going to make me wait, Ginny? I meant what I said; I will wait for as long as I have to, but believe me, a day will seem like a thousand years."
"Twelve months, Harry, I'll marry you in twelve months."
"So are we engaged, then?" He asked hopefully.
"No, Harry, ask me in twelve months and I'll give you my answer then."
"Ok, Gin, it's a deal; shake on it?" He offered her his hand.
She laughed at the formality of it, but somehow it seemed right.
"Yes, Harry, it's a deal!"
"Magically binding contract?"
"Better than that, you have my word."
"I want your heart," he said, suddenly very serious.
"You have my heart; you just need to get to know the rest of me."
Harry was surprised at how good he felt. Yes, Ginny had turned him down, but it hadn't been a 'no', it had been a 'later'. She had given her word and she'd told him he already had her heart. He would get to know her or die trying.
Ginny was also surprised at how good she felt. She knew she was right; he didn't know her. But then, was she certain that she wanted him to know every bit of her? Would she let him into those dark places still scarred by the evil that had inveigled her into opening the Chamber? Perhaps after twelve months of Harry's wooing her, his love would cleanse her. Perhaps he would make her feel worthy of his love. Perhaps.
"So, Ginny, whilst I'm getting to know you, are we still friends?"
"Of course we're still friends, Harry, and if this doesn't work out then I want you to promise me that we will still be friends … promise me, Harry."
"Ginny, we will always be friends, nothing can ever change that, but I want us to be friends with benefits."
"Just friends, Harry? I'd rather we were lovers …"
"… Lovers and … parents?"
"Harry, you must have misheard me, I said twelve months, not nine."
"I know, Gin, but it doesn't hurt to think ahead."
"I know, Harry, but one thing at a time."
He smiled at her.
"You know, Gin, there are still some things that I need to do today."
"Well, I need to go to Gringotts to sort some bits and pieces out, do you want to come with me?"
"I'd love to, Harry, but I promised the twins I would help out in the shop this afternoon."
"That is a pity, Miss Weasley," he said with a glint in his eye, "I was looking forward to showing you how marvellously rich I am."
"Well, you'll have to rub my nose in it another time, milord. This peasant has to go and indulge in some honest to goodness manual labour."
"Seriously, Ginny, that is a pity as I do need to talk to you about it."
"About what? About how rich you are?"
"No. The main reason I wanted to take you to the bank today, is that I wanted to show you everything that was in the vault. There's more money in the vault than I need and there's more than I could possibly spend in my lifetime. In short, I need help in spending it. If I thought you'd accept it, I'd give you as much as you wanted. I mean I've managed a few things, but …"
She reached across and squeezed his hand, smiling knowingly at him.
"Like what, Harry?" she asked with an affected air of innocence.
Harry ignored her jibe.
"Well, you know how the twins started to buy you and Ron stuff after the shop opened?"
"It was you, wasn't it, Harry." It was a statement and not a question.
"You knew? What about Ron?"
"Yes, I knew, but Ron didn't. It wasn't too hard, Harry, after all the shop was doing well, but not that well. I worked out where my new broom came from, same with the dress robes, the repairs at The Burrow and a few other bits as well. I even managed to work out that the 'little trinkets' from Hogsmeade you kept buying me, were, in fact, handmade commissions from very well-known and very expensive jewellers."
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"Because you looked so happy doing it and there were more important things to worry about at the time. Besides, every girl likes to be treated to nice things and they were very nice things. But don't let me distract you, do go on."
"Well, I do need help spending it, Ginny. I want to do something useful with it. One idea is that I could set up a fund, you know for the less well-off students at Hogwarts, so they could get all the things they need without putting their families through a lot of hardship. I mean, wouldn't you have preferred to have had your own robes in the first year rather than a set of Percy's old ones? What do you think? There must be stuff like that I can do with the money. Will you help me, please?"
"So you thought I was a charity case did you, Mr Potter?"
"No, Ginny, far from it. Remember, I spent the first ten years of my life with no money and wearing Dudley's cast-offs. When I met Ron on the train, it was great to be able to spend some money on someone else." Harry's expression turned wistful. "I'd always wished someone would have done that for me."
Ginny could see how much it meant to him, though she still felt some reservation. "So, what would you call the fund then, 'The Ginny Weasley Tattered and Torn Robes Fund'?"
"No, I'd call it 'Ginevra's Glamorous Giveaway'," he replied, fighting back a grin.
"Harry Potter, I do believe you're teasing me."
"Whatever gave you that impression?" he asked, a broad smile betraying his amusement.
"I don't know, the huge grin on your face?" she answered with a wry smile.
"Okay, Ginny, it's a fair cop," he relented. His smile fading slightly, he leaned forward and asked hopefully, "So, will you give it some thought then?"
"I will, Harry, I will," she assured him. Ginny's gaze strayed to the napkin folded in her lap and she sighed. "I'd love to stay and chat all day, but if I don't appear soon the twins will be announcing our wedding."
Harry's mirth completely disappeared as he asked, "What are we going to tell them?"
Her eyes snapped back up to meet Harry's. "Nothing," she replied simply.
"And your mum?" he prompted, a dubious tone having crept into his voice.
"Nothing. No one else need know what's happened today. If we get married next year, we get married. I'm not going to deal with the third degree from my family, and the press, as to why I didn't say 'yes'."
"Is that an extra condition then?" Harry asked with concern. It worried him to have his future with Ginny be contingent upon the unpredictable Daily Prophet.
"No, Harry, it's not." Ginny gave him an assuring smile. "But I am asking you, as a friend, to keep this private."
"I give you my word." Harry knew that he would keep this private, though he was still concerned over things outside of his control. "But things like this do have a habit of leaking out."
"If we don't say anything, there should be nothing to worry about," Ginny replied, projecting an air of confidence that Harry did not feel.
Having paid the bill, Harry led Ginny through the oak doors, out of the restaurant and on to the street below.