Harry watched in frustration as Ginny crawled out of the portrait hole. Over the last few weeks, he had tried to find a way to approach her and apologize for what had happened between them.
Ever since Sirius' death, he had spiraled even more into despair and anger. Both Ron and Hermione had tried to talk to him, but he either changed the subject or completely exploded in rage and stalked away from them. It had the same undertones of his fifth year, when he discovered that the wizarding world was divided over his claim that Voldemort had returned. He didn't know how to explain how he was feeling, even to his best friends. To his knowledge, they had never lost anyone close to them; had never felt the pain and loneliness he still experienced when he remembered Sirius, the closest thing he'd had to a father wasn't coming back. Ever. And it was all his fault, because he couldn't tell the difference between a real vision and one that Voldemort had planted in his mind showing Sirius being tortured at the Ministry of Magic.
"Hey mate... are you okay?" Ron asked tentatively.
Harry turned and looked at Ron. Really looked. Ron had dark circles beneath his eyes and his face was drawn with worry. Worry for him. Harry felt the guilt eat at his heart. Through his indifference to his friend’s feelings, he had missed the obvious changes happening in front of his eyes.
"I'm fine." Harry mentally cursed himself for falling back on his automatic response.
Ron didn't look convinced. "Harry, look, you've been shutting me and Hermione out since... well, since last June. I know you're hurting; hell, we all miss Sirius, but we're worried about you. Can't you talk to us?" Harry heard the pleading note in Ron's voice.
Harry felt ashamed that the first immediate reaction to his friend's plea was anger. Had he changed so much that he didn't feel anything but anger anymore? At least before… before what happened last summer, he had felt some degrees of happiness. Like playing Quidditch and catching the snitch, winning the House Cup, spending time with Ron and Hermione and the way firelight would play over the rich, red color of Ginny's hair. 'Where did that come from?' He thought with surprise.
Harry looked around the common room. He saw Ginny's dorm mates sitting at a table in the corner and a few first and second years playing Exploding Snap by the fireplace.
"Not here," Harry said quietly to Ron. "Let's go to the Quidditch Pitch, I need to fly."
Ron nodded. "I'll go get our brooms. We should be able to get at least an hour or two on the pitch."
Having said that, he raced out of the common room and up to the boys’ dormitory. Harry knew he needed to talk to someone after the events of last term. He couldn't talk to Hermione; she would get too emotional, and he didn't want to burden Remus with his problems either. It was too close to the full moon and his former professor was dealing with his own demons. A fleeting picture of Dumbledore crossed through Harry's thoughts. A firm shake of the head dispelled that image. He couldn't talk to Dumbledore. Ron was his best friend, if he couldn't talk to him, he wouldn't be able to talk to anyone.
“C'mon mate," Ron said eagerly. "I've got our brooms. Let's go fly!"
Harry felt the wind rush through his hair. With a whoop, he shot straight in the air and then allowed himself to fall back towards the earth before yanking his Firebolt up at the last possible moment to avoid impacting with the ground. His toes skimmed the top of the grass as he wheeled about and flew towards the southern goal where Ron had charmed a Quaffle to fly at him from different directions, forcing him to defend all three hoops. Harry floated quietly while watching his friend zip around the goal performing save after spectacular save. They had been out on the pitch for over an hour, and Harry could see the glint of water from the lake in the last rays of the setting sun from his high perch above the pitch.
When was the last time he had taken the time to appreciate a sunset? Harry furrowed his brow in concentration. He couldn't remember sitting and watching the crimson and golden rays stretch across the grounds for a long while. He had seen plenty of sunrises, but that was because he usually had nightmares that kept him up at night.
He pointed his broom towards the ground and hopped off at the entrance to the changing rooms. It was an unusually warm October day and he could feel the sweat trickling down his back. Grimacing slightly, he plucked his t-shirt away from his body and wished for a cold shower. That thought was put on hold when Ron alighted from his broom next to him.
"It's cooler inside, plus we can talk. No one comes in here, at least not until Quidditch season starts," stated Ron.
They both entered the small building. Torches lined the walls, lighting up as soon as the boys came through the door and headed to the area where the lockers were located. Small benches were set up in front of each row of lockers. To their right was a gray curtain that separated the girl's area from the boys. Ron leaned his broom against the closest bench and looked expectantly at Harry.
"I don't know where to start," Harry murmured.
"The beginning is always best, isn't it?" Ron replied.
"Yeah, it is." Harry took a deep breath. "Losing Sirius... it's been really hard for me. The Dursleys were never nice to me. I spent almost ten years of my life stuck in that cupboard under the stairs. I never celebrated a birthday or Christmas. I thought that was how normal families were." Harry paused. He could feel the anger coursing through his body, but a small part of him, the part that was still that same little boy, felt the sadness. All he wanted was to be loved. His aunt and uncle had treated him as a slave and an afterthought.
"When the first Hogwarts letter arrived, I was so happy. I made the mistake of letting Dudley see the letter, and he gave it to my Uncle Vernon. He ripped it up, right in front of my eyes. I had no idea what that letter was, but it was important. It was important because someone other than my horrid relatives knew about me." Harry was panting, trying desperately to contain the pain and anger within him. He couldn't let it control him. If he did, he was afraid his magic would burst out of control and hurt Ron or himself. Harry started breathing deeper and more slowly, a trick Remus had taught him at Grimmauld Place over the summer. Gradually, he could feel the rage draining from him. After a few more moments, he felt the anger dissipating.
"Hagrid told me that I was a wizard. Coming to Hogwarts, learning that magic was actually real, it was so overwhelming. I had no idea this world even existed, and I was famous." Harry snorted in derision. "Famous for my parents being killed and sending Voldemort from his body when I was a baby. I sometimes wish I wasn't a wizard. That I was normal. Maybe then my parents and Sirius would still be alive."
Harry felt his breath hitch in his chest. The mere mention of them made him want to fall to his knees and weep. Raw pain ripped through him for the parents he had no clear memory of, and for the stepfather that had so briefly been a part of his life. He struggled to maintain his composure again, this time he was filled with despair. Everyone he touched suffered. Tears threatened to fall and Harry wiped viciously at his burning eyes.
Ron stood and put his hand on Harry's shoulder giving silent comfort, not condemning him for his weakness. Ron let his worry for his best friend lead him. "If you weren't here, I would never have met you on the train our first year. Remember when I tried to turn Scab...er, Wormtail yellow? How about our first look at Hogwarts from the lake?"
Ron stared intently at Harry trying to convey the deep meaning of his words. There was the barest flicker of emotion in Harry’s eyes. "When you, Hermione and I became friends? Defeating the troll and finding the Philosopher's Stone in first year? How about second year when you saved Ginny in the Chamber of Secrets? Would you change that? If you hadn't been here, she would have died. Malfoy would have still given her that bloody diary whether you were here or not. Can you honestly tell me you would change that? Or when my dad was bitten by that snake last Christmas? Without your vision, he would have died too."
Ron started pacing. "Would you change the fact that you met Sirius in our third year? Even though he wasn't here long, you still knew him. He wanted what was best for you, and he loved you."
Emotion was clogging Harry's throat. He couldn't speak. The thought of Sirius was too much for him. He had never fully grieved for his godfather. The Dursleys made sure of that. His Aunt and Uncle had taken the Order’s threats seriously. They constantly hounded him, making sure that he wrote every third day to his watchers and friends, telling them all that everything was fine. Because of this, Harry was never really alone to process the fact that Sirius was gone.
"Hermione and I are your best friends, the only place we want to be is with you, by your side, no matter what happens. We won't leave you." Determination laced Ron's voice.
That was the last thing that Harry wanted. Didn’t Ron understand that to be with Harry meant death? He angrily tossed aside Ron's words. "If you stay with me, you'll get killed. I killed Sirius! I don't want anyone else to die!”
Ron's face flamed with outrage. "We're in danger even if we weren't your friends! Hermione's Muggle born, she and her parents are always going to be targets! My entire family, except for that git Percy, is involved with the Order. At any time they could be killed, and that doesn't have anything to do with you. My mum and dad fought in the first war against You Know... dammit... Voldemort before you were even born. Your parents, Remus and Sirius were all involved because it was the right thing to do. You won't get rid of any us that easily!"
"You don't understand! It's not just about that, it's much more than that! There's going to be a war, a big one. Voldemort will stop at nothing until everyone who stands in his way is dead! I don't want anything happening..." Harry's voice broke. He couldn't lose his composure. Not now, but the horrifying images of death whirled through his head. It all came down to that damn prophecy that Trelawney made so long ago. Kill or be killed.
"I'm trying to understand Harry!" Ron yelled in frustration. "You keep pushing me away when all I've wanted to do is help you. You don't explain what is going on and then you get mad when Hermione and I don't know what to do." Ron crossed his arms and glared at Harry. "We're not mind readers; sometimes we need a little more information."
Harry turned and sat on the bench. He wearily leaned his head back to rest against the lockers. Closing his eyes, he released a low groan. "Ginny's right, I am a selfish prat."
"What are you going on about?" Ron asked. He stepped closer to Harry and crouched next to him. "What happened between you two?"
Harry sighed and glanced at Ron. "We had a bit of a row a few weeks ago." He was a bit hesitant to continue. This was Ginny's brother after all, and Harry was too tired to dodge a fist.
"She said something earlier, about asking you what the problem was. If she's still mad, it must have been some row."
Harry lowered his head. "I was in the common room. I had a bad nightma... night.” Harry flinched as he relived the memory of Sirius and Bellatrix dueling and Sirius getting hit in the chest by a purple light and falling through the Veil. It happened over and over in slow motion. "I- I said some horrible things to her, lashing out at her when she was just trying to help."
"Harry.” Ron’s voice was neutral. Harry couldn’t tell what Ron was thinking.
Harry raised his head and slid his eyes towards Ron. The redhead’s lips twitched slightly.
"You know if you don't apologize to Ginny, she's likely to get Fred and George to help her with her revenge on you."
Harry's eyes widened in surprise. He had expected Ron to pummel him into the ground for hurting Ginny's feelings, but his red haired friend looked almost amused.
"I've tried to approach her to apologize, but I haven't been able to find the right words. 'I'm sorry' doesn't seem to be enough," Harry explained.
"Why are you so concerned about having Ginny forgive you? Don't tell me you fancy her? After all this time?" Ron joked.
Harry was silent. There was no help for it; Ron was going to have to know the truth.
Ron chuckled and when Harry still didn't speak, he trailed off uncomfortably. After a few moments, Ron looked at Harry in absolute horror.
"You don't...you're not...tell me that what I'm thinking is impossible! Please tell me you don't fancy her!” Ron cried in surprise. Shock was written all over his face.
"I think I do fancy her," Harry whispered.
"What? When?" cried Ron incredulously.
"I'm not sure, probably always. I didn't realize it until just a while ago. The way she talks, her laugh. I like the way her eyes light up when she's happy and the way she puts people in their place if they ever cross her. She's a brilliant Quidditch player, and I-I just feel better by being around her. She's, well amazing." Harry waited for the blows to fall. He had just admitted to fancying his best friend's little sister. Ron was very protective of Ginny. When she admitted to dating Michael Corner, a Ravenclaw, Ron instantly hated the other boy. Ron rocked back onto his heels and promptly sat on the ground.
"Well, if she was to be with anyone, I'd want it to be you," Ron stated. He absentmindedly started playing with a fray on the cuff of his jeans.
"Are you serious?" Harry questioned. "I thought no one was good enough for her. Who are you and what have you done with Ron Weasley?” Harry could feel a little of the weight lift off his chest.
"Shut it you!" Ron laughed. "You're not just anybody, you're my best mate. Though if you hurt her, I will have to pummel you, not to mention what the rest of my brothers would do to you.” Ron stood and patted Harry on the back a little too forcefully to emphasize his point.
"Deal," said Harry with relief. "But I don't think I'll get a chance to do anything. If somehow Ginny and I do mend our differences, she doesn't like me like that anymore. Hermione said she got over me ages ago." Harry finished glumly.
"She said Ginny gave up on you, not gotten over. I think you still have a chance with her if you play your cards right."
"I would be too afraid of anything happening to her. If Voldemort found out I cared for her, he would do everything he could to get her. If he got her it would destroy me. Maybe I should just let things be. I haven't exactly been my best around her."
Ron scratched his chin while he thought of what Harry said. "Well, I think if you told Ginny the reason you haven't tried to get closer to her was because of You Know... all right Harry! Voldemort, you'd be lucky to just get away with a Bat Bogey Hex. We all need some happiness in our lives. Don't let Voldemort take that away. If you want to be with Ginny, be with her. It won't be easy though, you'll need a plan."
"Oh and I suppose you'll be the one to help me? With all of your worldly experience, of course." Harry said sarcastically.
"Oi! Watch it Potter or you'll be on your own! I'll have you know that you need someone on your side that understands all of the fascinating facets of Ginny.” Ron scowled at Harry, and then flopped on the bench next to him. Mimicking Harry’s pose he leaned back against the lockers.
Harry and Ron looked at each other and started laughing. It felt so good to just sit and laugh like there were no cares. Harry knew that tomorrow would come soon enough to worry over his unsure future, but right now he was going to enjoy the fleeting feeling of peace and being able to sit and just be Harry.