Ginny Weasley shifted on the couch and idly flipped the page of the book she was reading. She glanced around the barely lit living room, noticing the dying fire cast various shadows against the wall of the Burrow. She also noticed the quiet. Rather than the hustle and bustle that had permeated the house since the start of the summer during the preparation for Bill and Fleur's wedding, there was only the faint crackling of the logs in the fireplace to pierce the thick silence. Everyone had already fallen asleep.
Ginny sighed. It seemed like sleep had escaped her again as it had so many times since she came back home for the summer. She was in for another sleepless night with nothing but Jane Eyre, the Muggle book she was reading, to keep her company. Ginny let out another sigh and continued to read.
Her eyes moved through the first few sentences on the page and she tried to lose herself in the story, but an image of Harry Potter somehow became inserted in it. She shook her mind off it and continued reading. After a few phrases, Harry's face invaded her thoughts again. Ginny closed her eyes, willing him to disappear, and continued reading.
While Ginny successfully shut the image of Harry out of her mind, she soon found she couldn't understand anything she was reading. She went over the same paragraph again and again but the words seemed to float around in space, making no sense whatsoever. She went back to the top of the page but the same effect took place, coupled with another invasion of Harry's face. A defeated groan escaped Ginny's lips as she resigned herself to the fact that she couldn't shut Harry out of her mind anymore. Reading the Muggle literature Hermione had given her last Christmas had been Ginny's way to divert her attention from him. It had been effective up until now.
Ginny closed the book and let it fall onto her lap, instead staring at the dying embers of the fire. It had been nearly a week since Harry had arrived at the Burrow on the morning of his seventeenth birthday, and he said he would be staying there until the wedding. A month ago, she would have been thrilled, but now she wasn't sure if she could handle having Harry around for a few more days. It had been bad enough that he wouldn't leave her mind during the time they had spent apart, but with him staying just in the other room, she wasn't sure she could hold her composure and continue pretending that Harry was just another brother. Because he wasn't just a brother—he never had been.
Ginny had been in a terrible mood on the morning of the 31st of July after being woken up by a very thrilled Fleur Delacour telling her that the bridesmaids' gowns had already arrived. Although Ginny swore she would accept Phlegm as her sister-in-law, she still couldn't stand the other girl's overly zealous attitude toward the wedding. Yes, it was Phle—Fleur's own wedding and, of course, she had every right to act that way, but Ginny had more important matters to worry about than whether the dress would make her look like an overstuffed candy. With her dressing gown haphazardly tied around her small frame, her hair messily pulled out of her face, she had stormed down to the kitchen but she had stopped near the foot of the stairs in shock at the scene that greeted her.
There, sitting at the dining table, eating breakfast and laughing with her brothers, had been Harry Potter.
Ginny had felt that her feet had turned into stone; she had stood there, her eyes round with surprise. She hadn't been expecting him to arrive before the wedding. She'd known Harry would try his best to keep away from her because he had been doing that ever since he had broken it off with her during Dumbledore's funeral. But there he'd been, within arm's reach.
"Oh, good, you're already awake. Help me with the dishes after you eat your breakfast," her mother had said, shaking Ginny out of her momentary stupor.
Three heads had turned in Ginny's direction, and she had felt a pair of green eyes boring into her, burning her skin. But she hadn't dared to meet them. Regaining her composure, Ginny had put on a bright smile and sauntered into the kitchen as if everything was all right.
"Morning, all. Hey, Harry."
"Hello, Ginny," Harry had greeted back just as casually.
Ginny had sat down at the table beside Bill, ignoring the wild thumping of her heart.
"How were the Muggles, Harry?" Ginny had heard Bill say as she reached for the plate of eggs and toast.
"They were all right," Harry had said. "They knew I was only staying until my birthday."
Ginny had glanced up from her plate. She had been so irritable that morning because of Fleur that she had forgotten what day it was. She had put on her most casual voice again and turned to Harry. "Oh, bugger, how could I forget? Happy birthday."
Harry had turned to her and smiled. "Thanks."
His eyes had met hers for a second before he had looked down at his food and took a deep breath. Then he had continued eating without another word.
Ginny had wanted to kick herself hard for sounding utterly stupid. She knew Bill had been looking at her funny because Ron was the only one of her brothers who knew what had happened between her and Harry. The animated chattering they had shared the previous year had been reduced to single utterances from them both.
The rest of breakfast had gone by with no other interaction between Harry and Ginny except for "Can you pass the butter dish, Harry?" And as Harry passed the butter dish, his hand had brushed hers and she had felt the all-too-familiar sensation of her cheeks heating up.
Just great. You're blushing because of a butter dish, Ginny thought. Then she snorted inwardly as she remembered a certain memory from years ago. When she was eleven, she had turned scarlet and put her elbow in the butter dish all because Harry had talked to her, and now, five years later, she was still blushing because of the same bleeding butter dish—in front of Harry Potter. And, just like five years ago, he was still beyond her reach.
Ginny sighed as she stared at the fireplace. Maybe that was how it was supposed to be. He might always be beyond her reach even if he were standing right there.
Like what had happened earlier that day.
Ginny had been on her way down the stairs, carrying dirty laundry and muttering a series of profanities about her lazy brothers' refusal to take care of their own clothes. She had reached the third-floor landing and was in the middle of a string of colorful adjectives describing Ron when she had bumped into something solid. The impact was so strong that Ginny had been nearly knocked over, making the pile of clothes she had been carrying fly in every direction.
"Can't you bloody see where you're going?" Ginny had snapped.
"I—I'm sorry," Harry had stammered. "I wasn't looking."
Ginny had raised her eyebrows and bent down to pick up the clothes, but Harry had held her by the elbows.
"Here, let me." Harry had taken his wand from his pocket and summoned the clothes. They were back in a neat pile when he had handed them to Ginny. "I'm sorry," he had said as she took the clothes from him.
Ginny had nodded, saying nothing. She had been about to steal herself away from him when she had realized that his hand was still on her elbow. She had looked up to tell him that, but she had stopped when she saw his eyes. They were alight with that pained expression she had seen during Dumbledore's funeral.
Her eyes had met his; both were searching, both were longing. Ginny had felt the frantic beating of her heart against her chest, the slight shaking of her hands as Harry continued to gaze at her, never tearing his eyes away. His other hand had very slowly, as if in hesitation, reached out to her face. Ginny had stood still, afraid to move; she had known this was one of those forbidden moments they could never have again.
She had felt Harry's grip tighten on her elbow as his other hand reached out to her in that painfully slow manner. Then she had felt the light touch of his fingertips on her cheek. It was familiar, soothing, and pained. Her eyes had fluttered closed as she recognized the touch of his palms against her skin.
"Harry! Why are you taking so much time getting that bloody book?"
They had jumped apart in surprise, almost pushing each other away. She saw Harry look down and take a deep breath before turning to Ron on the second-floor landing.
"I'll be right there," Harry had called out. The next second, a book had come zooming into his hands, and with an apologetic smile, he had turned around and headed back down the stairs, leaving Ginny alone on the landing with the pile of dirty laundry held tightly to her chest.
Ginny sighed at the recollection and hugged her knees against her chest. She propped her chin on them and let her hair fall beside her face like a thick, silk curtain. She kept on staring at the flames until, to her eyes, they seemed to dance in the fireplace. No matter how dull they seemed to appear, Ginny felt like they were beckoning her, calling her. But the flames, like Harry, were unreachable even though they were there in front of her—she couldn't touch them because she'd only hurt herself if she did.
But it was hurting her more as she kept pretending. She knew Harry was feeling the same way; his actions that day confirmed it. Though she knew it was against everything they had agreed on, that it might hurt them even more in the end, she realized that she didn't care.
She knew what she needed to do.
* * *
Harry lay awake on his bed, staring at the ceiling of Fred and George's room for what seemed like the millionth time since he had arrived at the Burrow. He had known staying here would test his resolve, but he didn't have any choice. He had only been able to stay at Privet Drive until he turned seventeen and now he needed to stay with the people he considered family. And they were the Weasleys.
He could do this, Harry had thought. He would just keep his distance; but after nearly a week, it had proved to be difficult.
Ginny was everywhere. Wherever he was he could see the familiar flash of her red hair; he could smell her flowery scent; he could hear her laughter; he could feel her presence, which always evoked contrasting emotions. It was as though every part of the house reminded him of her. Every time he passed by the third-floor landing, he secretly wished to see a pair of bright brown eyes looking at him from behind the door like they had on that day five years ago during his first visit to the Burrow.
Groaning in frustration, Harry rolled over and punched the pillows. His resolve had almost broken earlier that day when he had caressed her cheeks. He didn't know what had made him do that; all he knew was that she had been standing so close to him. His hands had seemed to possess a mind of their own when they had reached out to her.
The touch of her skin against his had felt wonderful, yet bittersweet. He had closed his eyes after she had closed hers, savoring everything. He had given in to the strong force that was pulling him to her and slowly closed the distance between them.
But the spell had been broken as quickly as it had been cast. Reality had come zooming in again: he needed to let Ginny go. Reluctantly, he had left her and gone back to Ron and Hermione, who had been waiting for him downstairs.
She hadn't really left his mind, though. Harry had seen her in front of him all afternoon while he, Ron, and Hermione were planning what they'd do once they left to hunt for the remaining Horcruxes. Harry had hardly understood what his best friends were saying; all he had heard was Ginny's faint breathing as she stood in front of him. He had hardly seen the plan Hermione had come up with because all he could see was the intense look Ginny had worn as she searched his eyes. He could hardly think of any comprehensible thought except how much he longed to hold her once again. He sometimes thought that his decision to break up with her might not be for the best at all, that it wasn't doing anything good for him—for them—and that he needed her more than anything.
Harry buried his head under the pillows as he tried to push the image of Ginny away. He knew it would be very difficult because that look she had worn that morning seemed to be etched in his memory. The anger in her eyes had been instantly replaced with pain—pain that matched that in his own eyes. It was a marvel that he could still keep the beast in his chest from leaping toward her every time he saw her.
Take her back. This is killing you both, a voice from his head said. She wants you, too.
No, he should not. He knew it would put her in more danger.
You're all in danger. At least you'll know—you will be able to see—that she's safe.
No. She would be safer without him.
His internal debate went on for what seemed like the rest of the night. He tossed and turned on the bed, slamming the pillow over his head in an attempt to block those thoughts—but to no avail. They kept on haunting him, testing his resolve.
Harry, grunting in defeat, threw his sheets off. He needed some air to clear his head. He was about to jump off the bed when he heard footsteps climbing up the stairs. He lay on the bed, listening. He hadn't expected that anyone would still be up at that hour. The footsteps stopped and he heard the door softly creak open. Harry sat up just as a small figure stepped inside the room.
"Who's there?" he asked as he felt for his glasses on the bedside table. He caught a waft of the flowery scent he knew too well.
"Ginny? Why are you here? Is something wrong?"
Harry put on his glasses, squinted his eyes, and tried to make out Ginny's features in the faint light that was seeping through the windows.
"No, nothing's wrong." She sat down on his bed; her eyes were on him, her expression serious. "I just need to see you."
He caught her eyes; their intensity scared him. "Ginny, you know we can't be together."
"I know," Ginny said, never breaking his gaze. "I'm not asking you to take me back."
Harry looked down. He didn't know what made him feel ashamed—the fact that he had assumed the wrong thing or the fact that he felt like a nervous wreck now that she was right here in the room with him.
He glanced up back at her. "Ginny, I—"
"You don't have to explain anything, Harry. I know—I understand. I just—" her voice trailed off and she looked down. She took a deep breath before continuing, "I just want to know something, Harry. I know you're leaving—"
"Did Ron and Hermione—?"
"No, they didn't tell me anything. I know they wouldn't tell me even if I wring their necks. I just somehow…know."
"I can't let you—you can't—"
"I'm not asking you to take me with you either," Ginny said, her voice firm.
"I'm sorry. I'm—that's not what I meant."
To Harry's surprise, Ginny smiled. "I know, Harry. And please, let me finish what I have to say and quit cutting me off."
In spite of himself, Harry returned her grin. "Sorry."
"You will shut your mouth until I'm finished then?"
Harry nodded, chuckling. "Yes."
"Very well," Ginny said, tucking her hair behind her ears. She looked down and closed her eyes. Harry felt the urge to reach out and hold her hand, to tell her that, whatever it was, it was all right, that she could tell him whatever she wanted to say. But before he could do anything, she looked up. Even in the faint light, Harry could see how intense her eyes were. "What happened this morning," she began.
"I'm sorry about that. I wasn't paying attention to where I was going."
"I thought you were going to shut up and let me finish?" Ginny snapped.
"Right. I'm sorry," he said, bowing his head. His eyes were fixed on the bed so he wasn't able to prepare himself for the playful shove Ginny gave him.
"Oh, will you please lighten up? I'm not here to tell you off!"
Harry glanced up and saw Ginny smiling; it wasn't as bright as the smiles he'd always known, but it still gave him the same comforting feeling. He smiled back. "I'm scared of you, you know."
Her eyebrows knotted in confusion, Ginny shifted on the bed so that she was sitting in front of him. "Scared of me?"
"But why would you be scared of me? I won't Bat-Bogey Hex you just because you nearly knocked me down the stairs," Ginny said, her knees nudging his playfully.
"It's not that, Ginny," Harry said, looking into her eyes. "I'm scared because you're here and I don't—"
"You don't know how long you can hold everything back while I'm here?" Ginny finished off for him, her eyes never leaving his.
Harry nodded. "I've tried to avoid you, you know."
"I expected that you'd do just that."
"But you made sure it wasn't that easy," he said. Harry noticed how her eyebrows arched up at that, and without thinking about it, reached out for her hands. "It seems like you're haunting me because you're everywhere."
"You didn't make it easy for me either."
Their eyes met, and Harry felt Ginny's fingers entwining with his own. The voice telling him that this was not right, that he should let go of her, was easily silenced as he reached out and caressed her face just like what he had that morning. He let his hand feel every curve of her face—her cheeks, her nose, her forehead, her jaw, her lips—memorizing every inch of her face, remembering how soft they felt against his palms. He saw Ginny close her eyes, but this time he didn't close his; he let them follow the movement of his fingers as they traveled from her jaw back up to her lips. He traced the pinkish outline painfully and slowly, remembering the times he did had done the same thing—in those blissful times so long ago.
And purely out of instinct, Harry cupped her face and leaned over, his lips meeting hers in a gentle kiss. He felt Ginny tense up for a moment; he thought of pulling away, but the sensation of her kissing him back overtook him. He cupped her face with both of his hands as his kisses became ardent, burning, feral. He felt Ginny's arms weave around his neck, her body pressing against his. He brought his hands around her body, pulling her even closer, her flowery scent intoxicating him more.
All coherent thoughts left his mind as they let their guard down and released their pent-up emotions. Harry was so lost in her kisses, in her scent, in her touch, in everything that was Ginny, that he momentarily wondered how they had ended up in bed with Ginny lying beneath him. Then they pulled apart to catch their breath. Harry propped himself up on his elbows and brushed the strands of her hair off her forehead, letting his fingers caress her face once again. He felt her fingers drawing random patterns along the nape of his neck the way she always did whenever they spent some time alone.
It was only then that the realization of what he had done dawned on Harry. He wanted to curse himself for not keeping his emotions in check, for letting this happen. He couldn't afford this—he just couldn't, especially now that he was leaving in a few days.
Harry let his forehead drop on top of Ginny's. "I'm sorry," he whispered, "I shouldn't have—damn, I'm really sorry."
Ginny cupped his face and forced him to look at her. "Don't be."
"But I can't—I can't let them know."
"Stop being a noble git, Harry," Ginny said, "at least just for now. They won't know." She gently caressed his face as she whispered, "Let this night be ours; let's forget everything for a moment before we face everything waiting for us out there."
Harry gazed down at her. She had that look—that blazing look—he knew too well.
"Will you give it to me, Harry? Will you give this night to me, to us?"
He looked at her; she had the same longing expression he knew he had. And, without hesitation or thinking any further, Harry nodded.
What happened next barely registered in Harry's mind, and the only thing that he remembered in the following weeks, months, and years was their lips meeting in a fierce kiss and the feeling of everything that was good and wonderful that had washed over him amidst the dark, turbulent times. He would always remember how that night gave him the strength to go on, to keep fighting. How that one night helped him accomplish the one task that had been laid down before him, the task that had seemed impossible at first, and how everything became clearer somehow. How her last words, "I'll be right here…for you," before they had parted that night gave him renewed hope when everything seemed to be hopeless, when everything seemed doomed to failure. And when Harry held Ginny in his arms every night in the years to come, he would always remember that night in his youth, that one wonderful night that changed his life.
A/N: Finally after seven months, Harry and Ginny became cooperative so that I was able to finish this story. I know this has been played around greatly, but it wouldn't hurt to add one more fic to the list. Much love and thanks to JennaMae and DailyProphetReporting for the beta.