Continue to give Arnel a nice round of applause for making this presentable! Her comments were invaluable, and she was really instrumental in taking the emotional content of this chapter, and as Emeril would say, “Kickin’ it up a notch…BAM!”
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The Next Day
Harry arrived at the Ministry the next day and waded his way though the crowd of reporters waiting for the results from Draco’s sentencing, ignoring their shouted questions. Ron and Ginny were already waiting on the other side of the gate.
“Morning,” Harry said, greeting them both. “How’s everybody this morning?”
“Tired,” Ron admitted. “Hermione couldn’t sleep last night. Her back has been bothering her.”
Harry nodded sympathetically, “Maybe I’ll come by later and see her. How about you, Gin?”
“Doing all right,” Ginny replied, “How are you doing?”
“Slept like a stone,” Harry said. “Felt good to be back in my own bed.”
“I know what you mean about that,” Ron agreed. Then he changed the subject. “Are you going to say anything, Harry?”
Harry tilted his head back and forth as if physically weighing his options. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “It depends on what else is said. There’s a part of me that almost wants to ask the Court not to sentence him to the Kiss, so the Dementors slowly drain him instead. There’s always been a part of me that thinks the Kiss is the easy way out.”
Ron shrugged. “I suppose you’re right about that,” he conceded. “But I’m probably just going to keep my mouth shut.”
Harry nodded, “You’ve probably got the right idea, Ron. I guess I’ll just stay out of it. This has been enough of a circus as it is. My adding my voice to it would only make things worse.”
By this time, the three had made their way to the new courtroom that had replaced Courtroom Ten. After the death of Voldemort, the Ministry had been convinced to make some changes in the way it adjudicated court cases, due in no small part to pressure from Harry and others in the Order of the Phoenix who wanted to make sure that no one would have to suffer as Sirius had. It was one of the few times that Harry had actually used the immense respect and awe he had earned by defeating Voldemort.
The old courtroom was gone, replaced with a brighter facility that was considerable larger to accommodate a visitors gallery. New procedures were designed to reinforce the need for careful and rational consideration of each case. So far, everyone agreed that the new system was superior in most regards to the old way of doing things.
Harry, Ron and Ginny were ushered to seats near the front of the visitor’s section by a Auror serving as court officer. Anthony Goldstein was bustling about near the front of the court, preparing parchments. The Wizengamot was whispering amongst itself from their seats, their semi-circular arrangement the only remaining feature of the old courtroom.
“So where do you want to go for lunch afterwards?” Harry asked, turning to Ginny. On the other side of him, Ron gave a little start, glanced at him, and then quickly became interested in the folder of paperwork he’d brought with him.
“Well, I guess the Leaky Cauldron,” Ginny replied, shrugging. “The food’s always good there. What are you doing for lunch Ron? Do you want to come with us?”
“Me?” Ron looked up surprise. “Um…I’ve got…work to do. I’m going to get a late lunch later,” he stammered, quickly turning back to his file.
Smooth, Ron…Harry rolled his eyes as Ginny looked at her brother curiously. Just then, the Chief Warlock began pounding his gavel to call the Wizengamot to order, saving Ron from having to provide a better excuse.
Opening formalities were dispensed with in short order and then the Chief Warlock called for the prisoner. Draco was led in, his hands bound and his feet shackled. He had a blank empty stare in his eyes, almost resigned to his fate. He listened impassively to the charges he’d been found guilty of, and showed no emotion as several members of the visitors gallery came forward to ask the Court for the maximum penalty. His face showed nothing, betraying none of his thoughts. That was, until he spotted Harry in the audience.
Harry felt his blood run cold at the change that came over Draco. Never before in Harry’s entire life had he ever seen such pure, unadulterated hate in someone’s eyes. Even Voldemort had looked him with more contempt than hate. Harry held Draco’s eyes, determined not to show weakness by looking away. Unconsciously, his wand hand tightened on his armrest, and Harry could see Draco’s wand hand flexing despite the shackles. Time seemed to elongate as they sat, locked in a disturbing, hateful staring contest. In that moment, Harry knew that he’d been wrong. The war wasn’t over. As long as Draco lived, anywhere, even Azkaban, he, and the people he cared about would be in danger. Escape from Azkaban was difficult and problematic, but not impossible. Sirius had proven that.
The spell was broken by the rap of the Chief Warlock’s gavel. “Mr. Malfoy?” The Warlock demanded testily, calling him for the second time. Draco rose. “Do you have anything to say on your own behalf?”
Silently, Draco shook his head.
“Very well, Draco Malfoy, the Wizengamot Court of Justice sentences you to death by the Dementor’s Kiss, sentence to be carried out at dawn, on a date no more than two weeks from today.”
“Your Lordship,” Draco’s advocate spoke up, rising from his chair. “We request an immediate stay of execution for the completion of the appeal.”
“Granted. This court is adjourned.” The Chief Warlock banged his gavel.
The Aurors led Draco out, but not before he shot Harry one last, long, malicious gaze. Chilled, Harry rose, staring out after him.
“Oy, mate, you coming?” Ron was calling him.
“What? Oh yeah, coming,” Harry said distractedly.
“Where did you go there, Harry? You looked a million miles away,” Ron asked.
“Just thinking,” Harry replied. I hope that they get it done quickly, he thought. I’m sick of running, and I’m not sure I’ll feel safe until he’s gone.
“Doesn’t it feel good to see him get it?” Ginny asked. “After all the time you spent chasing him, I would think you would both feel like going out for a drink. Come on with us, Ron. Celebrate,” Ginny suggested.
“No, that’s all right Gin,” Ron stammered. “I’ve got things to do.”
“Well, I’m going to go ahead and get a table, I imagine it will be crowded after the verdict. Come along when you can, Harry.”
“Okay, Ginny.” Ginny made her way through the crowds, disappearing up the stairs.
“Ron, you could have come to lunch with us,” Harry said, after she was out of earshot. “I mean, it’s not a date.”
“Well, not yet,” Ron protested. “But I’m sure you wouldn’t want me around if you were to ask her out on a date. I don’t want to get in the way.” Ron grinned. “I mean, as her older brother, I’m supposed to be discouraging this sort of thing. Although, if she’s got to date anyone, it may as well be someone who I like.”
“Hello, boys,” a voice said from behind them.
“Hey, Remus,” Harry said, turning and smiling.
“How are you, Ron?” Remus asked. “How’s Hermione doing?”
“Hanging in there,” Ron said. “Hermione’s hoping to burst any day now.”
“So, Harry tells me you talked him into his latest career decision,” Remus said quietly.
“Yeah, I might have had something to do with that,” Ron admitted. “I was tired of watching this bloke drain himself away.”
“You’re a good friend, Ron,” Remus told him.
“Ron!” Kingsley called from across the corridor. “I need to talk to you.”
Ron smiled apologetically. “Duty calls,” he said. “I’ll see you later, Remus.” Ron wandered off with Kingsley.
Remus looked at his watch. “Just about lunchtime, Harry. Care to join me for lunch?”
Harry smiled sheepishly. “Well, actually, Remus, I’m meeting Ginny for lunch at the Leaky Cauldron.”
“Oh…I see. Well, run along then, no sense in dragging an old man along. Cramps the style. Interferes with one’s ‘game’” Remus chuckled.
“It’s not like that,” Harry stammered, turning red.
“Of course not, Harry, of course not. Run along now. Don’t keep her waiting. They don’t like to be kept waiting.” Remus was grinning at him.
“I’ll be around this evening, and we’ll play chess,” Harry promised.
“Harry, just go! You’re going to be late,” Remus chuckled.
Harry hurried up to the atrium where he could Apparate, ignoring the reporters. He closed his eyes and a moment later he found himself in the back alleyway to Diagon Alley behind the Leaky Cauldron. He stepped inside and Ginny was waving at him from a table near the back. The place was mobbed.
“Great, Gin,” Harry said, sitting down.
“Yeah, I got the last table.”
The server came to take their order, and then they were alone.
“So, Harry,” Ginny began, grinning mischievously. Harry had learned to fear that grin. “How’s the love life? Who’s the latest woman in the life of the Boy Who Lived?”
“Don’t you read Witch Weakly? My love life is newsworthy, you can watch it as it goes by.”
“Even if I did read it, I wouldn’t believe it,” she said. “There’s no way you could be involved with that many women.” She smirked. “Come on, Harry,” she persisted. “There must be some truth to the rumors. Tell me about your women.”
Harry snorted, and took a swig of his butterbeer. “What women? Like I’ve had the time.” He paused.
Harry watched Ginny’s reaction closely, there seemed to be a moment of extra hesitation before she asked. “You mean there’s no woman throwing herself at you?”
“Oh, there are plenty of those,” Harry assured her. “I’m just ignoring them.”
“Nobody I like, they’re all…I don’t know. Not good enough.” They’re not you. “What about you? Any men in your life?”
Ginny shrugged. “A date, here and there. Nothing very serious. They hardly qualify as dates. It’s more like company for dinner.”
“No one? No one at all?”
“No one good enough,” Ginny said. No one better than you, she thought.
“Aren’t we a pair then,” Harry said, signaling for another round of butterbeers. “We must have pretty high standards.”
“Makes you wonder if we aren’t holding out for something that will never happen,” Ginny suggested, pealing the label off her bottle with her fingernail.
“Don’t say that, Gin,” Harry said, giving a little smile. “I mean, nothing’s impossible. After all, I did finally beat the Dark Lord and Draco Malfoy finally got what was coming to him. We all thought that was impossible at one time.”
Ginny nodded, “Well, I’ll drink to that.”
“Indeed,” Harry agreed, raising his bottle. “To things that become possible.” Like finally getting up the courage to find out how you feel about me.
“To things that become possible.” Ginny tapped her bottle on his. Like you finally seeing the light.
Their food came then, and they ate, catching each other up on their careers and the anecdotes that they had picked up over the last few months.
“…and Lavender said that the baby threw up all over Seamus, and it served him right.” Ginny was telling him a story about Seamus and Lavender’s new baby. The one family he knew that looked as if it would have more children than Arthur and Molly Weasley.
Harry found himself studying her face, watching the way her hair fell down across her cheeks, the way her freckles traced across her nose. Harry took another swig on his butterbeer, and screwed up his courage. Come on Potter, you’re supposed to be a Gryffindor. “Ginny, I wanted to ask you something…”
“Mr. Potter,” Tom, the old barkeep appeared at their table.
“Yes, Tom?” Harry asked.
“Mr. Potter, there’s a couple of reporters out front, asking for you. I told them that they could take a hike and stay out of my establishment, but I’m not sure how long that will keep them out. They seemed most insistent, Mr. Potter.”
“Your resignation, Harry,” Ginny pointed out. “Somebody whispered something to wrong ear in the Ministry, I bet.”
Harry groaned. “Bloody…okay, Tom, thanks. I guess I’ll have to put together a statement. We’d better get out of here,” Harry suggested. “Ginny, the Burrow? I don’t want to go to my flat right now; it’s probably surrounded.” Ginny nodded, pulling her wand. Harry handed Tom a handful of Galleons to cover lunch and Disapparated.
-- -- -- --
Harry stumbled a little when he arrived at the Burrow, tripping over the living room table.
“Harry! Ginny! You’re home early! Is something wrong?” Mrs. Weasley asked.
“Some reporters were looking for me,” Harry told her. “My guess is someone leaked the news of my resignation.”
“Oh dear,” Molly said, clicking her tongue. “These reporters are terrible.”
Harry grinned. Mrs. Weasley had been death on reporters ever since fourth year and the whole nasty misunderstanding with Hermione. “There are one or two that aren’t so bad, Mrs. Weasley. I need to owl Eloise some quotes. Gin, do you have some parchment and a quill?”
Ginny rummaged around and handed Harry the items in question and watched him write. What had he been about to ask she wondered. Would he remember?
Harry scribbled down some notes. Eloise Midgen had gone to work at the Daily Prophet and was one of the few reporters that Harry actually trusted. The few times he dealt with the press, he dealt only through Eloise.
Tom at the Leaky Cauldron tipped me off that the press was looking for me. There’s going to be a story I’d imagine, so here are some quotes.
"I’ve decided that I simply need some time off. Since I was a baby, I’ve been fighting the Dark Arts in one form or another. Now that all the Death Eaters are gone, and Voldemort is a bad memory, it’s time I found a new life for myself, one that doesn’t involve being The-Boy-Who-Lived. I need time to find out who Harry Potter really is, beyond the heroics and the hype. And I’d appreciate it if you all left me alone.”
Naturally, the last part doesn’t really apply to you, as I’m more than happy to help you out when I can. Don’t be a stranger, you should really drop by my flat sometime, and we can chat about how much fun we did or didn’t have at Hogwarts.
“May I use Edwina to send this, Mrs. Weasley?” Harry asked.
Harry tied the letter to the Weasley’s post owl, admonishing her to take it straight to the Daily Prophet office.
“Thanks for the parchment, Gin. Here’s your quill back,” he said, handing it back to her.
“Oh, that’s Mum’s.” Ginny reached to take it from him, and for a moment their hands brushed. They both jerked in surprise and the quill fell to the floor. Harry waved her off and picked it up.
“Care to go for a walk?” Harry asked, not quite meeting her eyes. “We never finished our conversation from earlier.”
“Sure,” Ginny said hesitantly. Well, I guess that answers that question.. “Down by the river?”
“Yeah, that sounds good.”
They walked in relative silence down to the river, Ginny occasionally looking over at him. Hermione always said that Harry was a closed book to her, that she could tell what he was thinking from his face. It was true, Harry betrayed very little emotion physically, but Ginny prided herself on being able to read the few signs he gave. It was obvious to her that he was thinking hard about something. When they reached the river, Harry sat down on a hillock overlooking a bend, and Ginny joined him.
“Ginny, I’ve been doing some thinking.”
“It’s your brother’s fault, really. He got me thinking about all this stuff. About having a future, and having a life beyond chasing down Dark Wizards, and all that. About finding the real Harry Potter.”
“And what have you decided?” she asked.
“Well, the real Harry has been here all along, really. He’s the one with the really quiet voice that tells me things I’d like to do when the rest of me says it’s really selfish or I don’t have time right now.”
“Really,” she said, smirking at the thought of a tiny Harry floating above his ear, whispering things to him.
“Yeah. I’ve pretty much been ignoring him the last few years. But there were a few times when he would make an appearance.”
“Like when I was sneaking food at Hogwarts, or playing Quidditch at school, or here with Ron and you and your other brothers. The rest of the time? All business: Must kill Voldemort! Must hunt down Malfoys!” Harry spoke in a deep, commanding voice. Ginny laughed. “But now all that’s gone. The real Harry is struggling to get out, and I don’t seem to have reasons to keep him locked away anymore.”
“What’s he been telling you lately?”
“Well,” Harry took a deep breath. “He’s been telling me things that he’s been trying to tell me for a couple years now.”
“Like what?” Ginny’s heart was racing. Is this going where I think its going?
“Like how I really shouldn’t be an Auror, because I hate the job. Like how I should go flying more often, or visit people more.” Harry paused, swallowing. “Like how nice you’ve been to me. And what a prat I was.” Ginny felt her heart give a small flutter. “And how pretty your hair is with your freckles, and your eyes.” Ginny felt herself blush. “Mainly though, its been telling me that I should have asked you out on a date years ago and that I shouldn’t wait any longer.”
“Oh, Harry.” Ginny sighed. “Why didn’t you?”
“Because I didn’t think I’d be around. Until Voldemort was dead, I didn’t want to bring anyone else into my life. I was afraid you would get hurt.” Harry plucked at a weed in the grass, pulling apart its leaves. “I was afraid I’d end up dead, and you’d only end up spending your life mourning me. It didn’t seem fair to you. Especially considering I figured I was as good as dead.” He refused to meet her eyes.
“Harry, I…” Ginny tried to put a finger to his lips. He turned away, and stared off at the river.
“No, Gin, I need to get this out. I didn’t want anyone to become too attached to me. No one. I couldn’t do anything about Ron and Hermione except make sure they were far away from me when the end came, and I tried very hard at that. But I didn’t want you to get attached to me.” He threw the shreds of leaf towards the river, watching them flutter in the breeze. He realized it was a metaphor for his life. Everything had been so neat, orderly and stable. Now it was like leaves in the wind, with no direction. He turned back toward Ginny, but started at her feet, still unable to meet her eyes.
“But that didn’t mean I wasn’t attracted to you. I suppose that was my real weakness. I wanted to push you away, I wanted to. But I couldn’t bring myself to do that, because it would mean hurting you. And I couldn’t hurt you. I just didn’t want to let you any closer.” Restless, he leaned back again, staring up at the clouds.
“After Voldemort died, I felt like I had an obligation to finish the job, hunt down the Death Eaters. And yes, part of it was a revenge thing with the Malfoys. And I was afraid,” he admitted, rolling onto his side and propping his head on his hand. He plucked at patch of clover with his free hand.
“Afraid of what?” Ginny asked, so shocked at Harry’s discourse that she was barely breathing.
“Afraid I didn’t know how to love anyone. I was afraid that I couldn’t be happy, and I didn’t think I could offer you anything more than a broken shell of a man.” He hung his head miserably.
“Oh, Harry!” Ginny gasped, bringing a hand to her mouth. She wanted to hug him, to reach out and touch him, but was terrified that doing so would break the spell, would stop the torrent of information that she needed to hear and he desperately needed to tell. She saw him finally look up to her.
“It’s true. I didn’t think I could be anything but the way I was. I didn’t think I deserved it, after all that had happened.” Ginny opened her mouth to protest, and Harry held up a hand to forestall her. “I know it was stupid. Your brother told me that in no uncertain terms. I don’t need to hear it again.
“But now that I want to try and make a life for myself, I’ve been thinking about you, and how much I’ve missed seeing you around all the time, and well, I realized that I wanted you back in my life.” He searched her eyes for a moment, and then dropped his gaze to the ground. He ripped out a patch of grass, balling it up in his hand.
“Now I know I’ve gone and botched it all up, because I don’t even know if you’re even seeing someone right now, and you probably don’t feel the same way about me anymore, but your brother says he’s going to rip my arms off if I don’t at least ask. Would you at least consider going out on a date with me, sometime? Soon?” At this last, he returned his eyes to hers, hope written all over his face, his features uncharacteristically open. It was disconcerting for Ginny, who was used to him betraying nothing of his emotions.
Ginny closed her eyes. This was what she had been waiting for, for so long. But she wasn’t about to let him off the hook easy. Oh, no…“Just who do you think you are, Harry James Potter?” she said, sitting up straight and dropping her hands to her hips.
“What?” Harry likewise sat up, startled.
“You think you can just waltz back into my life after all this time?” Ginny rose, and walked a few paces. Harry followed after her. “After I tried and tried to get close to you, and help you with what you were going through? I cared about you Harry.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I saw the hurt you carried around. All those things you kept bottled up inside that stupid thick head of yours. I wanted to help!” She turned to face him. “And you with that bloody stupid noble streak kept yourself away from anyone who could help you.” She punctuated her words by stabbing him in the chest with her finger. “I swear you would have thrown away Ron and Hermione if you thought you could get away with it. Did you think you had to face that all alone?”
“Well…I…” Harry stammered.
“No, you didn’t think. Bloody stupid nobility complex. You never let anyone in. Not even me, who wanted so badly to get in.” She turned away, and crossed her arms over her chest again, sniffing a little.
“I didn’t want you hurt, Ginny.” His voice was barely above a whisper, and she could feel him closing the proximity between them.
“Did you ever consider you were hurting me by not letting me in?” she growled at him.
Ginny sniffed. It felt good to get it all out in the open, but she was afraid she’d gone to far. “I’m sorry I yelled, Harry. I just had to get all that off my chest.” She turned and shrugged a little, setting back down to the grass. She picked a small flower, smoothing the petals.
Harry flopped down onto his back next to her and stared at the clouds. “I suppose I deserve it. I was a prat. In between my nobility, I guess I was being selfish in not considering the feelings of those around. I was so concerned about you all not getting physically hurt; I never considered what I might be doing to you mentally.”
Ginny sighed, and leaned back next to him, still holding the flower. “Yes, well. You were very frustrating.”
“I’m sorry, Ginny.” He sighed. “I guess I should probably go then. Can we still be friends, even though I’m a git?”
“What are you talking about?”
Harry was confused. “You said…I thought…you turned me down, right?”
Ginny felt like laughing, but she controlled her self. “I never said ‘no’, Harry.”
“You didn’t?” He brightened considerably.
“No, I didn’t.” Harry inched his hand towards hers in the grass. “I didn’t say ‘yes’, either.”
“Oh.” He withdrew his hand.
“But I’ll strongly consider it.” She giggled and grabbed his hand twining her fingers in his. “What did you have in mind?” she asked.
“Whatever you like,” he offered eagerly, sitting up. “Dinner and dancing? Maybe a movie?” While he spoke, he took the flower she’s been holding, and tucked it gently behind her ear.
Ginny wasn’t exactly innocent, even if she’d hadn’t gone all the way before. However, the way Harry had just touched her, ever so slightly, as he’d put the flower behind her ear, was more intimate and tender than anything she’d ever felt previously. Ginny laughed to cover up the shiver that shot through her body. “You’d take me to see a Muggle movie? My father would be so jealous.”
Harry frowned. “Did you have to bring your dad into this?”
“Get over it, Harry. He’s got four grandchildren now with one due almost any time now, he’s a little beyond scaring boys who come to date his daughter.” Not that there’ve been any…
“Still…would you like to do that? I get the Muggle newspapers at my flat. There are some good ones out there.”
“No, I don’t think so,” she said. “I do like the idea of dinner and dancing. Do you know how long it’s been since I went dancing?”
Harry did some mental calculations. “Must have been that Yule Ball, my seventh year, when you came with me. And you probably read more into it that I had intended.”
“Right in one.”
Harry sighed. “I’m sorry about that, too. But dinner and dancing sounds great…Friday night?” he offered. Ginny thought about her schedule.
“Friday night sounds fine, Har….”
“Harry, Ginny! Come quickly!” Molly Weasley’s voice echoed across the meadow.
“Mum?” Ginny looked up in surprise, back towards the house.
“She’s using the Sonorous charm,” Harry said, jumping up. “She’s all the way back at the Burrow.”
Harry turned to Ginny, their eyes wide, and they drew their wands. A moment later they were standing in the living room of the Burrow.