"I'VE SAID MY PIECE, AND I'VE TOLD YOU EXACTLY WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF I CATCH THE TWO OF YOU IN ANY KIND OF COMPROMISING SITUATION, RONALD BILIUS WEASLEY! YOU WILL BEHAVE AS A GENTLEMAN WITH HERMIONE, NOT SOME--SOME RAKEHELL WOMANISER!" Mrs Weasley was in top form, intimidating her youngest son into complying with her wishes.
"Mum! I keep telling you all we did was some kissing and -and--"
"AND PLAYING FAST AND LOOSE WITH YOUR HANDS! I AM QUITE SURE HERMIONE DOES NOT APPRECIATE BEING PAWED ALL OVER, AND IT ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT HAPPEN IN THIS HOUSE. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?"
Ron sighed and nodded miserably. "Yes, Mum, I understand."
"Good--and you had best make Hermione understand as well before you bring her back here. Now get going, you three, I'll be right behind you!"
Ron took a pinch of the Floo Powder and, tossing it into the fireplace, said, "The Leaky Cauldron," and was whirled away by a flash of green flames.
Harry followed, the spinning sensation making his stomach queasy before he stepped out of the fireplace in the Leaky Cauldron. Ron was already sitting dejectedly at one of the tables, a spot of soot being brushed from his shirt by Hermione, who had been waiting for their arrival. A moment later, the fireplace flared up with green flame and Ginny stepped through, followed seconds later by Mrs Weasley.
"Hello, Hermione, dear," said Mrs Weasley. "How was your summer?"
Hermione paused in her fussing over Ron's appearance to smile at the Weasley matriarch. "Quite nice, though I was a bit disappointed when Ron had to cancel half my stay at The Burrow."
"I'm sorry about that, dear, but I thought it was for the best. Things were a bit--strained at the time," she replied, giving Ron a meaningful glance and causing his ears to redden.
Hermione nodded her acceptance of the explanation, though she looked a bit puzzled over the lack of details.
"I'll explain it later," mumbled Ron, his ears still glowing.
"Now then, does everyone have their list of needs?" Mrs Weasley asked of Ron, Ginny and Harry. Receiving positive responses, she led them out the back entrance of the inn to the brick-walled courtyard, tapped the correct brick with her wand and waited for the entrance to Diagon Alley to form. Once it had, she led the young people to Flourish and Blotts Bookstore, where they split up, Ron, Mrs Weasley and Ginny to the used book bin, Harry and Hermione to wander the aisles and select the books from their lists.
Harry's list was quite short this year, the only two books he needed being The Standard Book of Spells, Level Six, and New Developments in Magic, 1985 to 1994. After finding the two volumes, he located Ginny, who was leafing through the pages of a book of potion formulas, a rather determined look on her face.
"Looking for love potions?" he asked.
"Why? Do you feel I need one?" she replied in return, continuing to peruse the pages of the book.
"Not at all," Harry smiled.
Ginny closed the volume and replaced it on the shelf.
"Then why ask?" she questioned softly, taking Harry's hand and looking into his eyes.
Harry was a bit discomfited by the solemnity of her question, particularly since he had asked in a joking manner.
"I--I thought it was funny," he answered.
Ginny shook her head. "No, Harry, it wasn't. I-I'm still a bit insecure about our relationship, and a question like that--it bothers me."
"Oh… Ginny, I'm sorry--I didn't mean to upset you," he answered.
"All right." She gave his hand a small squeeze.
Hermione turned down the aisle at that moment and asked, "Harry, Ginny, have you seen the display of Arithmancy books? I can't seem to find it, and Professor Vector has two different volumes on my list for this year."
"Sorry, no, Hermione," answered Harry.
"I saw some on the back wall--maybe they're there?" Ginny added.
"I'll check--Thanks!" With that, she turned on her heel and strode to the rear of the shop.
"I don't think Ron has had a chance to talk to her yet," said Ginny, picking up another volume of potion recipes. "How do you think she'll react when he explains why she had to wait to come to The Burrow?"
"Hermione? I'm not sure--but I'm glad that it's Ron who has to explain rather than me," Harry muttered. "So why are you checking out the potion books, Ginny?"
"It's my OWLyear, Harry, and in spite of Professor Snape, I rather enjoy the practice. Besides, there are many things you can do with potions that cannot be achieved by magic alone. I know that if I can gain any extra knowledge about them, I'll have a higher score and be able to work in the research department at the Ministry of Magic when I leave school."
"Is that what you're planning on doing? Potion research?" queried Harry.
"Well, I'm definitely not as good a Quidditch player as you are, so that as a career isn't too likely," laughed Ginny, "and I would like to work for the Ministry in some capacity. Daddy says the researchers in the Department of Mysteries work on all sorts of interesting stuff, so that is what I am thinking about if my OWL Scores are high enough. What are you planning to do when you leave school?"
"Auror training for me. Professor McGonagall told Umbridge she'd help me achieve that goal no matter what last year, and I think Aurors are going to be very necessary in the next few years to come."
"Because of him, right?" asked Ginny, a slight shudder in her voice.
"For one--there are still a lot of Death Eaters out there as well. But yeah, Voldemort is the biggest worry." Harry's face clouded at the thought. "He's the worst problem this world is facing right now."
"Maybe he'll be caught before you finish Hogwarts," Ginny suggested.
"Maybe, but I --I'm not counting on it." Harry's memories of the things Dumbledore had told and shown him rushed to the forefront of his mind. He still had not shared that knowledge with anyone else, but perhaps… "Ginny, I need to talk with you and Ron and Hermione when we get back to The Burrow. There are some--some things that you all should know."
"Oh? What kind of things?" asked Ginny.
"I'll tell you later, when we're all together. I don't want to have to repeat things any more than necessary," Harry sighed. "I think I should also tell your parents, Remus and Tonks, too."
Concern creased Ginny's countenance at Harry's pronouncement, but she kept silent, going back to leafing through the text in her hands. Harry stood looking at the various potions books, catching Ginny giving him surreptitious glances every few minutes.
"So, would any of these books be helpful?" he finally asked to break the silence between them.
"Well, yes--but we can't afford them. I'll just get copies from Madam Pince in the library," answered Ginny, a note of longing and disappointment in her voice.
"How about if I buy them for you?" asked Harry. "Call them a late birthday present."
"Harry, you don't have to spend your money on me like that--they're too expensive, anyways," she sighed.
"What if I want to buy them for you?" Harry continued to push the subject. "It isn't like I can't afford them."
"No, Harry. It--it would not be fair. I couldn't afford to get you anything like that for your birthday."
"Ginny, you'll be giving me something I'd like to have if you let me do this," Harry said, quite seriously.
Ginny looked up at Harry, a frown on her face.
"Oh, really? Just what is it you expect from me? Something that would make Mum really mad? I am not that kind of girl, Harry Potter!"
"No, Ginny, not-- not that!" Harry blushed. "I -I was thinking more of getting to see you smile and be happy."
"Smile…? Oh, Harry," Ginny's freckles were suddenly highlighted by the deep flush of red that covered her face, her hand clasped to her mouth in embarrassment. "I thought--but you--I'm so sorry, Harry. I didn't mean to imply --"
"So you'll accept them as a gift? No complaints about them being too costly?" Harry interrupted, taking the book in Ginny's hand and the other she had looked at from the shelf.
"Well--all right. Just this once," Ginny smiled shyly as her blush slowly faded. Her hand sought his and gave his fingers a gentle squeeze of affection. Together, they made their way to the till counter, where Harry paid for the four books they had gathered, then exited the bookshop to sit on a bench outside the store while they waited for the others to finish their shopping.
Hermione was livid. "Are you telling me you implied to your mother that you and I had-had-?"
"Kissed, Hermione. And that I had tickled you to get you to laugh." Ron was blushing a very deep red as he tried to explain. "She's the one who, er, jumped to conclusions."
"And you didn't try to tell her what really happened? Ronald Weasley, you are, without a doubt, the most aggravating, exasperating, pig-headedly thick boy on the face of the planet! What were you thinking? Did you even try to explain, to defend my honour? How could you even suggest that I--you--we--Arrrrgh!" She threw up her hands in disgust and rushed up the stairs to the room she was sharing with Ginny, slamming the door loudly in her wake.
Ron winced, burying his face in his hands.
Harry peeked out of the kitchen to where Ron was sitting in the parlour.
"Things didn't go too well, did they?"
"No, they didn't," sighed the youngest Weasley male, slumping back into the chair he was sitting in. "I did try to explain to Mum what had happened, didn't I, Harry? It was her who took it the wrong way?"
"Erm, well, yes, it was, but--"
"So why can't Hermione understand that?" he groaned.
"Look, Ginny's up there with her right now--she'll explain what happened, Hermione will get over being mad and things will go back to normal." Harry added "I hope" under his breath and hoped Ron didn't notice. "Just wait it out--but better remember to apologise to her before anything else."
"Apologise? But I didn't do anything!" Ron moaned.
"You know that, I know that and Ginny knows that--but Hermione is upset and angry right now, and she's the one you have to pacify; in her mind, you screwed up, so you have to be the one who apologises." Harry shook his head. "I know it doesn't make sense, but just do it. It will make things much easier."
"So when did you get to understand girls so well?" asked Ron.
"I don't understand them--but Ginny and I talked about this, and she says that's the best way to handle a situation like this,"
"Oh…" Ron turned to look up the stairs. "Well, if Ginny says so… How much time do you think I should give her to explain it to Hermione?"
"I don't think barging in on them would be the best way to handle it, if that's what you mean. Give Hermione time to calm down and think logically. Wait for her to come out of Ginny's room, at least."
"Women! They're downright mental!" Ron sighed and slumped deeper into the chair.
"Perhaps--but they make up for it in other ways, don't they?" grinned Harry.
Ron sat up and looked at his friend, the expression on his face making Harry break out laughing.
Hermione had indeed calmed down by the time she and Ginny came downstairs, though she remained rather cool towards Ron until he worked up the nerve to face her and apologise. Thereafter, the couple remained rather circumspect--at least when Mrs Weasley was around.
It was later that evening when Harry asked Mr Weasley to contact Remus and Tonks and have them meet at The Burrow so he could finally tell everyone what Dumbledore had explained to him. The parlour was somewhat crowded with six Weasleys, two Aurors from the Order, Hermione and Harry. The lack of personal space somehow made Harry feel even more nervous about making this revelation to his friends.
"I wish there was some easier way to do this," Harry started, "but I have to tell you all something important. After the battle in the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry, when Sirius--when my godfather w-was--was killed… Professor Dumbledore tried to explain why Voldemort has been so keen to try to kill me. He told me that there had been a prophecy made shortly before I was born that revealed that one of us would--would cause the death of the other. That was what the Death Eaters were after at the Department of Mysteries-- the complete prophecy. Voldemort had only learned part of the prophecy, and tried to make that portion work out in his favour the night he --" Harry felt himself choking up, and paused to collect his thoughts. "-- The night he k-killed my parents, and tried to kill me. It was only the intervention of a very powerful spell cast by my mother to protect me that allowed his killing curse to be reflected back on himself, weakening him almost to the point of death. It was his damaged essence and will that spent ten years in hiding, possessing animals as he tried to recover. When he finally did return, he needed a host for his spirit, and used Professor Quirrell to try to get the Philosopher's Stone. When that didn't work, he arranged for Lucius Malfoy to place a Dark Magic journal with Ginny, who was taken over by the memories he had placed there." He looked at Ginny, who was biting her lip as she listened. "He used her to open the Chamber of Secrets and release the Basilisk, and almost cost her her life."
"But you didn't let him," she chimed in. "You saved me, killed the Basilisk and destroyed the journal."
"I had help," demurred Harry before he continued. "He went back into hiding for almost two years, with Wormtail--Peter Pettigrew--aiding him. That's when he began this current reign of terror. He was still weakened, but with the help of his Death Eaters, he got me entered in the Triwizard Tournament, and I was aided in winning the Cup. The Cup was used as a Portkey to take me captive, but he also got Cedric Diggory because I told him we would take the Cup together and cause a tie. He killed Cedric and used my blood as part of a spell to return himself to full life and power. Minister Fudge didn't want to believe what happened, so he used the power of the Ministry to suppress the truth--until he saw Voldemort with his own eyes in the Ministry. You know everything else that has happened since then, but it boils down to this--there's going to be a final meeting of Voldemort and myself, and one of us will die. Either I'll kill him… or I'll die by his hand."
This pronouncement caused a flurry of oaths, gasps and general commiseration among the onlookers, several discussions breaking out at once as everyone tried to cast their two Knuts worth of opinion as to how to prevent the prophecy from being fulfilled. Only Ginny remained out of the discussion, her eyes shining with unshed tears as she stood up and rushed to embrace Harry.
"He can't kill you, Harry," she sobbed. "I won't let him. None of us will."
The last few weeks of summer holiday dwindled away, with Harry's lessons irregularly occurring in Occlumency and Legilimency whenever Professor Dumbledore would arrive unannounced, trying to surprise Harry and catch him off guard. Harry, however, had practiced well and was ready each time the Headmaster attempted to enter his mind . Harry's own progress in Legilimency, on the other hand, was not going well. Though he tried repeatedly, he could never quite manage to catch any thoughts from his instructor unless Dumbledore allowed him to do so.
"It's useless, Professor. I just can't do it," Harry sighed as the last lesson of the summer holiday drew to a close.
"So it would appear. There may well be an explanation for your failure, though. You continue to fail against myself, but perhaps another subject would be better suited for your practice."
"I'll volunteer, Harry," Ginny piped up.
"Would you be willing to try?" asked Dumbledore.
Harry thought carefully, but finally shook his head in the negative. "I can't do that to someone, Professor, especially not Ginny. It just seems wrong."
"I thought as much. Harry, I believe that it is your own moral fibre keeping you from achieving success with Legilimency. You are too good a person to invade another's thoughts, and you have been blocking yourself each time you try. I still believe you have it in you to use the spell successfully, but will perhaps only be successful if there is a true need for you to use it." Professor Dumbledore pushed his half-moon glasses up on his nose. "For now, just be satisfied that Occlumency is possible. Legilimency, though it could be useful, is not really necessary. We shall continue your lessons at Hogwarts, Harry--keep practicing." With those final words, Dumbledore Disapparated.
Harry sighed and slumped back in his chair as Ginny stood up from hers.
"Harry, I know you could use Legilimency if you would just try. Why won't you practice on me?" she asked as she moved around behind him and began to massage some of the tenseness out of his shoulders.
"I've told you, Ginny; I don't want to know your thoughts and secrets unless you want to tell me. I am not going to invade your mind and take them from you. That's what Legilimency is, an invasion of your very being."
"It's not an invasion if I ask, Harry."
"All right, then it would be like - like a guest in your home rooting through your drawers and closets. You wouldn't like that, would you?" Harry asked.
"No, I guess not…" sighed Ginny, concentrating her efforts on a particularly tight muscle in Harry's left shoulder. As the knot of tissue slowly relaxed, she paused for a moment, then let her hands wander up Harry's neck and to his temples, caressing him gently all the time.
"Harry? I…" Ginny started to say, only to pause for a very long moment. "Have you ever tried to use Legilimency on--on him?"
Harry started in surprise at Ginny's question.
"No, I haven't. I have not even felt any of his emotional outbursts recently. I doubt it would work, anyway--if I can't even do it face to face with someone who's helping me, how could I possibly be able to over a long distance with Voldemort, who hates me?"
"But if you could, wouldn't that help the Order and the Ministry?"
"Well, yes, if I could find anything useful in his thoughts; but that would also make it possible for him to do the same to me, and that's what we're trying to prevent with Occlumency. Why are you asking these questions?" Harry pulled away from her touches to turn and look at her.
"Because they need to be asked, Harry," replied Ginny. "If we are to prevent this war from continuing for years to come, we have to use every method we can find to try to defeat V-- him and his Death Eaters. And anything that aids us improves your chances of--of s-surviving."
Harry stood up, moving around his chair and reaching out to take both of Ginny's hands in his own. "There's no way of guaranteeing that it will be me who wins that final battle, Ginny. I promise you this--when it happens, I will be ready. I will not lie down and let whatever happens happen. I'll do everything in my power to survive."
The morning rush on September 1st seemed almost comical in its frenzy. Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny were hurried through their breakfast in order to Floo themselves and their trunks to the Leaky Cauldron, run out into Muggle London and rush to King's Cross Station by eleven that morning.
It was at the barrier to Platform 9 ¾ that the unexpected happened. Ron and Hermione had already slipped through and Ginny was about to when the Muggle broke through the crowd of patrons who had just arrived at Platform 10, pulling a knife and rushing toward Harry, intent on murder. At the same moment, Harry's scar gave a twinge of pain while-- maniacal laughter and a feeling of pleasurable anticipation --invaded his mind.
Immediately, he attempted to block out the invasion with Occlumency, and the pain faded slightly. It was at that moment the screaming Muggle bowled into him, knocking him backwards over the trolley and upsetting Harry's trunk and Hedwig's cage. The snowy owl screeched in indignation as the cage rolled over and came to a stop at Mrs Weasley's feet. The Muggle was atop him, trying to stab at Harry's face as Harry grasped the arm wielding the blade, pushing it aside to dig the knifepoint into the concrete of the platform, jamming his knee into the Muggle's stomach at the same time. The strange Muggle's actions and screams had alerted the station guard, who came rushing toward the scuffle blowing his whistle. Harry heard someone shout, "Expelliarmus," and the knife flew out of his attacker's hand to slide across the floor and bounce against one of the barriers.
The station guard pulled the still-screaming Muggle off Harry, aided by several passers-by, as Ginny slipped her wand into her pocket and helped Harry to his feet. Mrs Weasley and several other passers-by pulled the trolley upright, reloading Harry's trunk and Hedwig's cage.
Rage and frustration at the failure of the Muggle flowed into Harry's consciousness as his scar split open and blood began to trickle down his face. Again, Harry tried to use Occlumency, but only partly succeeded. He closed his eyes, feeling dizzy as emotions, weaker now, continued to invade his mind for a few moment's more.
"The damned fool failed, Lucius," he said, angrily throwing the glass ball in his hand down to smash and scatter across the floor of the cell. "Someone interfered, or Potter would be dead now." He gestured to the waiting Dementors to move out of the way as he turned and stalked out of the cell. "Release the others--All of them!" he ordered. The Dementors nodded silently and drifted away down the corridor, opening cell doors as they went…
"Is the boy all right, Ma'am?" the guard was asking Mrs Weasley as she pressed a handkerchief to Harry's forehead. "Was he cut badly?"
"I-I'm fine," said Harry. He was sitting on his trunk atop the trolley as all of Mrs Weasley's maternal instincts kicked into overdrive and she clucked over him like a mother hen.
"You're one very lucky young man," the guard replied. "If you hadn't managed to knock the knife out of that maniac's hand --" he shook his head.
Just then, Harry noticed a familiar face in the crowd surrounding them. Kingsley Shacklebolt, dressed as a Bobby, had the stranger in handcuffs and was leading him away. As he looked around, he saw others of the Order speaking with the members of the crowd, who, one by one, walked away looking slightly confused. By the time his dizziness had completely faded away, only the members of the Order and the station guard were paying any attention to him.
Kingsley Shacklebolt returned and tapped the station guard on the shoulder, saying, "You need to fill out the report on this right away--the stationmaster wants it ASAP. I'll see to the boy."
As the guard walked away, he was stopped by one of the Order who spoke to him briefly. Moments later, the guard had returned to his patrol station and seemed to be busily watching the crowd.
"Are you all right, Harry?" asked Kingsley in a near whisper. "The Muggle's been taken to the Ministry for questioning."
"He didn't hurt me at all, other than knocking the wind out of me," answered Harry lowering his voice as well. "But there are worse problems! Voldemort's at Azkaban and the Dementors are letting the prisoners loose."
"All right, we'll get there right away. You get going, though--the Express is about to leave." With that, he motioned to the others to follow and took off at a run.
As they disappeared around a corner there was a short pause followed a series of loud cracks. The station guard hurried in that direction, muttering, "Bloody teenagers and their firecrackers."
Harry and Ginny hurriedly pushed their trolleys through the barrier between Platform 9 and Platform 10, both of them being urged to go faster by Mrs Weasley. They loaded their belongings onto the train and hopped aboard as the whistle on the steam engine blew and the train lurched into motion.
"What happened to you two?" asked Ron as Harry and Ginny entered the compartment.
"We--we had some trouble at the barrier," answered Ginny as she used the handkerchief she had dampened in the train's loo to wipe the remaining blood from Harry's face. She frowned as his scar continued to seep crimson.
Hermione bit at her lip before she pulled out her wand and cast a healing spell.
"It was Voldemort again, wasn't it?" she asked. "What was he doing?"
"He was --" Harry started, only to be interrupted by Ginny.
"He was trying to kill Harry, that's what he was doing," she uttered, her voice betraying her anger. "He sent a Muggle to attack him."
"I think he was using the Imperious Curse--he was angry because the Muggle failed to kill me. But what's worse is that he's released the prisoners at Azkaban," Harry said worriedly. "All of them."
"Bloody hell, Harry! All the Death Eaters? What happened to the Dementor guards? Why didn't they stop him?" Ron asked, a panicky tone to his voice. "Do you think they'll attack the train?"
"Kingsley Shacklebolt and the rest of the Order went to stop them," answered Harry, "but I don't know if they were able to get there in time. And if they do attack the train, we had best be ready for them."
"I'll get to the rest of Dumbledore's Army and let them know," offered Hermione. "I have to get to the front cars, anyway. So do you, Harry."
"You mean you're a prefect again this year?" queried Ron, shaking his head.
Hermione shook her head as well. "No--this year I'm Head Girl."
"You're what?" blurted out Ron in surprise.
"Why didn't you tell us?" asked Ginny.
"Congratulations, Hermione," said Harry, grinning at his friend. "That's quite the honour."
"Thank you, Harry. I didn't tell anyone because I didn't want your Mum to be fussing over me, and to keep Fred and George from teasing me," explained Hermione. "And you're right, it is a great honour. Professor Dumbledore wrote to tell me that I'm the youngest Head Girl since the founding of Hogwarts."
"I wonder what the Seventh year students are going to think about that?" asked Ginny.
"Sod that! What do you think the Slytherins are going to do?" Ron grinned at his girlfriend. "They won't like the fact that you can take points from their house whenever you want. How about starting off by taking fifty points from Malfoy for being an ugly git?"
"Ron, no--I promised Professor Dumbledore that I would be impartial, so I won't do what you suggest… though it would be worth it to take that smirk off of Malfoy's face," she sighed. "Besides, what makes you think that they won't do anything to deserve having points taken away?"
Harry went to change into his robes in the train's loo, allowing Hermione the use of the space first, leaving Ron and Ginny as the sole occupants of the compartment. They spent several minutes watching the countryside roll by outside until Ron cleared his throat. "Um, Ginny? Do you think Hermione really likes me?"
Ginny giggled. "Don't be silly, Ron. Do you think she'd be sitting on your lap and kissing you if she didn't?"
"Well, yeah, but--I still wonder sometimes. I mean, she's so bossy and such a know-it-all… Why would she like me?"
"You know, sometimes I wonder why she likes you too. You're a thick-headed git who won't study and doesn't know anything…" Ginny said laughingly shaking her head, making Ron's ears turn red.
"You're one to talk--I'd say you're mental," Ron responded, "fussing over Harry ever since the first day you saw him, and it took him ages to even notice you were a girl…"
"But he did notice, thanks to you--though I'm sure Dean is going to be very disappointed," she replied, making Ron look at her studiously.
"Disappointed how?" he asked, his voice strangely tight. "You and he didn't--didn't do anything, right? 'Cause if he did anything, I'll have to pound him bloody."
"Ron, stop being such a big brother. Dean and I have not done anything for you to get upset over. We just talked," she said gravely. "And if you try to pound anyone bloody, you'll have me to answer to! In case you haven't noticed, I'll be sixteen on my next birthday, and I'm perfectly capable of making my own choices--not to mention that I'm much better at hexes and jinxes than you are."
"Yeah, well --"
"Well what, Ronald Bilius Weasley? Just remember that I'm not the one who can't tell if the girl you're playing kissy-face with likes you or not." Ginny made a face and leaned back on the seat.
Ron remained silent for several minutes.
"So why do you like Harry so much?"
"I like Harry because--No, I love Harry because he's the one who makes me happiest. It's hard to put into words, but he's… he's special." Ginny paused to look out the window. "He's the one who saved me when Tom Riddle's diary took me over in my first year. He's kind and gentle and funny and generous and brave, he's not materialistic, and he shows he cares about me in so many ways--Just being near him makes me…" She started to blush as she paused in her litany of Harryisms.
"He makes you what?" asked Ron.
"He makes me feel special. Very special. It's like--like my insides just melt, and I tingle all over every time he comes near me," she replied.
Ron stared at his sister for a long moment. "You really do love him, don't you?"
"Yes, I do," Ginny sighed. "And I worry that he's going to have to face You-Know-Who. Sometimes I think he is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, and that makes me want to hold him and comfort him. So much has happened to him, and he seems to take it all in stride, even though I know he is hurting inside. He's lost his parents and godfather, been denied friends most of his life, ridiculed, even been starved and beaten by the very people who should have taken care of him, all that though he's done nothing to deserve any of it. We are the closest thing he has to a real family, but I think he still thinks of himself as an outsider. I swear I'd do anything if I thought it would give him even a few moments of peace and pleasure."
"Anything?" asked Ron, grinning.
Ginny nodded, and then blushed as the possible misinterpretation of her comment struck her. Ron's grin showed he was teasing, but still…