Harry lay on the bed for hours, listening to the muted sounds of the continuing party below. He'd tried to clear his mind, get rest, but his busy thoughts made a liar out of him. It was funny, really, how his mind could wander far and wide when he needed to do schoolwork or learn a way past a trial, but could now focus with pinpoint precision on the one thing he felt he had no business pondering.
I really oughtn't be surprised, he thought bitterly. She was almost as much on my thoughts as Malfoy was last year, even when she was off limits. He turned over and tried to get his pillow into a more comfortable shape, sighing. It was an unfair comparison, really. Comparing Draco and Ginny was like comparing Snape and Sirius. Wrong, ridiculous, and slightly painful.
He rolled over, facing the wall, inches from his face. He didn't want to think of Ginny right now, let alone Draco. He wanted to sleep. One night of sleep before the wedding, one more after, and then he was leaving alone. If he could manage it. He'd been planning that for weeks now, how to slip away without the eagle-eyed Hermione and the dogged Ron knowing. He hadn't managed anything more plausible than Apparating away as soon as the vows were made, and that seemed, somehow, impolite.
He sighed, instead pulling his mind to focus on the problem at hand. It would be over, one way or another, soon. He would find the Horcruxes, he would destroy them, and he would end Voldemort once and for all. Or he would die trying. It was a little disconcerting that a minor point of relief came with that thought. If he died trying, he would, at least, be able to rest, wouldn't he?
The thought left him feeling cold and alone again, and he mentally kicked himself. He was here for a wedding, a happy memory to help him through the dark times he was rushing into. Dwelling on negative thoughts like that would only lead to ruin. He could almost hear Hermione bossing him in his head to think of something happier, and had to smile.
She had been bossing him, he mused quietly, for almost seven years now. Ron had been helping him to keep her in check for almost as long. He couldn't imagine a time when it hadn't been the three of them, barring the odd argument here or there. Odd how it seemed, when the bad times were on them, that everything was crashing around them. Now they were, ready to head off together and face the most evil--
He cut himself off, and emptied his mind, sighing and allowing himself to fall off into a rapid sleep, knowing the whole time that, somewhere, somehow, their trio had turned into a quartet, despite his efforts to return it to what it once was.
* * * * *
He was holding her hand, somehow the burning triumph that had swelled in his heart only moments ago not quenched by the rising ice of doubt in his chest. Had he done the right thing in kissing her? Was he doing the right thing now? Was that red tinting her ears from excitement? Embarrassment? Anger? His stomach started to churn.
He was brought out of his reverie by this question and looked to the side and down at the petite girl holding his hand. "Huh," he asked intelligently, "how long?"
Ginny simply nodded, her lips pressed in a line that looked as if it were trying to fight off a smile, and he chewed his own lower lip. "Ah. Well... It couldn't have been more than a few moments, could it? Even if it felt like..." He trailed off, seeing the look of confusion slowly overcoming her face.
Suddenly she laughed a bright, joyful laugh that he wouldn't have minded causing quite often. "No! I meant how long you had felt... ah... have you wanted to..." She, too, trailed off, and Harry, finally understanding what she'd meant, found his face heating to match her blush.
"Oh. Ah." He chuckled, sighing. She wasn't angry, and she was embarrassed but not mortified. "Well... If I must be honest--"
"You must, you must!"
"Do you remember when Ron and I walked in on you and Dean kissing?"
Ginny nodded, and then her mouth dropped open. "That long, Harry?" He nodded, looking down at his shoes instead of at her until she laughed again. "You undeniable, utter prat!" Harry looked up at her, eyes as wide as Hedwig's "You didn't say anything?" He shook his head. "You just went on pining away?"
"Well, I didn't pine, really, it was more of--"
"I knew it," she crowed gleefully as they reached the outer doors. "I simply knew something was going on!" She turned, grinning at him while walking backwards. Not once, he noticed with a happy lurch in his stomach, did she let go of his hand.
She raised her free hand and ticked off on her fingers. "You kept getting hit with Bludgers-"
"The Beaters were improving a lot, you know-"
"-and you were laughing at my jokes a lot-"
"What? You're funny!"
"-and your eyes kept wandering to my lips when we spoke," she finished with a smug look.
Harry opened his mouth to protest, but found that he couldn't. "Was I really that much of a git?"
Ginny smiled up at him, turning to continue their walk. "I wouldn't say git. Prat works much better." She peered up at him, her voice softening. "Besides, I think you'll find I didn't mind much." She giggled, squeezing his hand. "Now that I think about it, it was kind of a nice change of pace." Her eyes sparkled and she turned to lead Harry toward the lake, interrupting his question as to exactly what she meant. Finally, they were at the lake when Harry put his foot down, literally, stopping them both. Ginny gave a little squeak as their arms reached their limit and she snapped back into Harry's chest. Harry's arm wrapped around her, and he had to smile at the results, accident or no.
"You did that on purpose," Ginny's muffled voice said from beneath his chin.
"No," he replied honestly, "but I think you'll find I don't mind much."
Ginny laughed, looking up at him, and for a moment they were silent. Then she leaned up, kissing his lips and driving any and all other thoughts from his mind.
When they finally parted, he pulled her to his chest, breathing in deeply. He smiled at the scent of her hair, flowery, but not overpowering. "How is it that you smell so..." he tried to think of a poetic way to put it, but nothing came to mind, "...good," he finished, lamely.
"It's a potion Mum makes. It smells different for anyone who uses it."
Harry's eyes widened slightly. "Is that so? That's... interesting."
"How so?" Ginny asked, blinking up at him quizzically.
"I'll tell you later," he said, giving her another, shorter kiss. He felt dazed. Light headed. Happy.
"Do you want to hear about the Quidditch match?" The look in her eyes seemed to match his feelings.
Harry smiled lazily. "What Quidditch match?"
* * * * *
Harry felt a gentle rocking sensation as the smile crept over his features. It was... It was annoying, actually. He opened his eyes and scowled, looking over his shoulder at his best friend's face. Before Ron could speak, Harry noted the tale-tell redness of his friend's ears.
"Look, Harry, I don't want to know what the murmuring and moaning was about." Harry opened his mouth, but Ron held up a hand to stop him, "especially not the moaning. But Mum's going batty and I think it'd be best you woke up before she woke you up." Ron stood swiftly, pointedly not looking at him. "I'll give you a bit to... finish."
Harry sat up quickly, then, protesting the entire time, but his friend had already left. Harry suspected that Ron's hands were over his ears. He flushed.
It had been a nice dream, though, too nice. His fingers went up to his scar on reflex. No prickling. No tingling. He sighed and put his head on his knees. He had to watch that. He still hadn't got the hang of Occlumency. If Voldemort learned anything from his dreams, if Ginny, or anyone, was killed because of that, he wouldn't be able to live with himself. He would have to find someone to learn Occlumency from, preferably as quickly as possible.
He turned, putting his feet on the floor, and pulled clothing out of his trunk. Despite not wanting to let his friend believe that he'd had anything more than a pleasant dream, he took his time dressing. He could not face the family he'd come to regard as his own. He'd noticed it the night before, but even this morning, the sick feeling that he was an oddity in an otherwise normal household choked him. It was odd to feel that way in this house, which had been a sanctuary for him when he'd needed it most.
That fact that the dream was a happy one was also unusual, for in the past weeks since Dumbledore's death, the little sleep Harry had managed to get was often plagued with nightmare images of his goals. Of finding the Horcruxes only to realize there were more than he'd expected, or of destroying them only to find Voldemort here killing his friends before he could stop them.
He shook his head to clear it. No sense in dwelling on the past. The future would have problems of its own.
Finally dressed, he stood and faced the door, steeling himself to face the very thing he'd longed for since the train ride home. The last bit of normalcy he could dare to hope for, possibly for the rest of his life. An affirmation of just what he was going to go out and fight Voldemort for.
One more chance to see Ginny--
No. No, he could not let that thought enter his mind. He had to purge it from his mind. It was the only way to keep her safe.
Trodding down the stairs, he heard whispering and stopped a landing above, eyes narrowed. Hermione's back was to him on the landing below, and Ron's face must have been buried in her thick hair, because he would have seen Harry and stopped otherwise. They were one landing above the ground floor, whispering softly to each other.
"I hate hiding things from him," Ron hissed, sounding as if he'd like to be more forceful but was having difficulty working out how to do so and not start an argument.
Hermione's head tilted back. "I know, Ron, I do, but he has so much to deal with. He'll only worry if he knows, you know how he is."
"I know." The words sounded grim, resigned. "It's just... this is big." He tilted his head down, and Harry could barely hear the next sentence. "Any other time he'd have been thrilled, you know."
Hermione didn't say anything, but from the way Ron's arms wrapped around the small of her back, she needn't have. Harry once again was struck with the same feeling he'd felt so long ago in the greenhouse. Despite his previous thoughts, he grinned.
"Finally worked it out, have you?" The level speaking voice startled the whispering couple, and they jerked apart, eyes wide, looking up the stairs.
"Harry," Hermione yelped, her voice slightly higher than normal. "Er, g-good morning!"
Harry smirked as he came down the remaining stairs to where they stood, Hermione busy trying to hide her face behind her hair (she didn't have to work hard) and Ron's ears fairly glowing. "So?"
"Hmm," Ron grunted, swallowing. "So?"
"So, how long?" Harry asked while grinning at them.
Hermione, her voice shaking, pushed her hair away from her eyes, though they still couldn't seem to meet Harry's. "Since..." She swallowed, "since the train ride."
Harry digested the information. A part of him was disappointed that they hadn't trusted him with such news, but it was quickly squashed by reason; he had hardly been accessible when this must have happened, after all.
"So, what's the problem then," he asked, because they both still looked as if they'd been caught stealing from his trunk.
"Mate, we didn't want to make you uncomfortable. I mean..."
"Knowing you, I'd have found out sooner or later, I think," Harry chanced a smile at that, and was rewarded with stunned looks from the pair. It was becoming quite amusing.
"Yes, but... with the war," Hermione floundered, which was also quite amusing. "I mean, Voldemort is just getting stronger," she squeaked, reflexively patting Ron's arm as he shuddered, "don't you think it's... wrong... to get involved like this at... at this time?"
Harry's eyes were widening, and he smiled, incredulously amused at his best friends' trains of thought. "So you're saying that because Voldemort is out there, because he wants people to stop feeling anything but his way, you shouldn't?" Hermione opened her mouth, but couldn't get the words out before Harry was speaking again. "Because that's what he wants, and more. He wants pure-bloods to stop caring about Muggle-borns, and he wants Muggle-borns to lie down and die." Harry arched a brow, his eyes traveling between Hermione's and Ron's. "He doesn't want you to care about each other, or date, or even be friends."
Harry's friends sat, stunned, gaping, and Harry leaned in. "Well, it didn't stop Remus and Tonks. It didn't stop your mum and dad, Ron, let alone mine. So it really shouldn't stop you, right?"
"That's very good advice, Harry," came a quiet voice behind him. His back stiffened uncontrollably, cold shivers running up and down it. He couldn't move, but didn't have to. Ginny pushed past them, stopping two or three steps down and looking back over her shoulder. Harry's eyes were once again captured by hers, and she swallowed thickly. "That's advice that really ought to be taken."
Before he could respond, she had gone, almost as if she had Disapparated. Harry, Ron, and Hermione stared at each other, awkwardly, until Ron broke the silence.
"Well... it's... it's obvious she just doesn't get i- OOF!"
Hermione tromped down the stairs, rubbing her elbow which had just seconds ago been embedded in Ron's side. She didn't spare them a backwards glance.
"What was that for?" Ron ground out, rubbing his chest.
It occurred to Harry that the last time Ron had uttered that phrase, it had been completely incorrect. Once again he found himself thinking that, perhaps, it was Ron who didn't understand things.
A/N: Wow, this one was a long time. Sometimes the words just flow, but usually I have to wait for them to speak to me, and I think my Muse was kinda ticked off at me this month. Once again, thank you for all the encouraging comments, and thanks to my beta, Tanaxanth, for encouragement and the proper tools for catching my poor punctuation (he has a special net to get those rampaging commas, don't you know?)
The next chapter is giving me difficulty. Just F-Y-I.