Ginny awoke suddenly and her eyes went straight to the bedside clock. Twenty-five to five.
“Yes!” She scrambled from the warm bed and went straight to her school trunk. Harry’s present needed some dexterous unearthing since Ginny had placed it right at the bottom and heaped her textbooks and dog-eared copies of The Quibbler over the top. As an afterthought, she’d put her knickers on top of that.
Her brothers were nosy and so used to swapping things that they had no real concept of ‘mine/ yours’ or asking before they ‘borrowed’ anything of hers that caught their eye, but not if they had to move her undies to get it.
She might have placed the present out of sight but it had been on her mind ever since Harry had given it to her, in spite of the chaos in the wizarding world.
Panting from her exertion, as much as the effort of doing it all quietly so as not to alert her Mum, Ginny sat back on her feet with the precious box clutched to her chest.
Happy birthday, Ginny, Harry had said.
He’d even kissed her, sort of.
Ginny stood and settled on the edge of her bed, drawing out her anticipation, and smoothed the paper one last time before shredding it to get to the box beneath. The box lid was a glossy red; the same colour as the lipstick Parvati favoured, Ginny thought irrelevantly.
The lid was also close-fitting and came up by degrees to reveal a black tissue inner whose edges were held together with a shiny heart-shaped sticker-seal. An inquisitive sunbeam reflected a patch of gold off it to dance across her face.
Excitement filling her — this was from Harry — Ginny tore the sticker reluctantly, lifted up the tissue flaps and, in the first light, saw a sparkle of embroidery on a deep red fabric.
Puzzled, she reached inside and when she felt the slinky texture, she gasped.
What was this? She opened out the carefully folded presentation — there was no way Harry had done it this neatly! — which was interspersed with more tissue, and lifted his present out.
With her heart emulating a captured Snitch in her chest, Ginny stared.
If it was a swimsuit, then it definitely wasn’t suitable for wearing in public; it was practically see-through. Mum would turn puce and go on for hours if she caught sight of this!
It was gorgeous though, with narrow velvet straps and a small golden heart charm fixed between those odd curved wires. She couldn’t stop stroking the material; it was so smooth and touchable. Fine metallic thread had been embroidered all over the fabric in complimentary shades; orange, gold, a reddish-purple, turquoise and deep red. The small pattern of squiggles twinkled as she turned it and the embroidery caught the light.
What had Harry been thinking? And where had he got it from?
Finally, she let the silky stuff slip through her fingers back into the box, watching the threads sparkle to the shivering of her knees.
How would it feel against her skin? Goosebumps peaked down her arms and legs.
She was still staring and running tentative hands over the gift when a double knock announced fresh arrivals. When she made no reply, the door opened a few inches.
“Is it safe, Ginny?”
Ginny said ‘yes’ before she’d really thought about it. Her twin brothers bounced in, their exuberance undiminished despite the hour and, jerked out of her reverie, she had no opportunity to hide Harry’s surprise.
George raised his eyebrows and flicked a finger against the debris. “Who was the early bird?”
“Harry,” Ginny murmured and regretted it at once. Fred sent once of those puckish glances at his twin and settled on her left even as George perched at her right.
“Bugger,” Fred said. “He’s broken our tradition.”
Ginny had to smile at his mock-glum tone. The twins had always liked to get in first with their present for her, a custom they had instituted after her appalling first year at Hogwarts. Last year they had intended to wake her up a minute after midnight to ensure they beat Hermione to it, only the plan was redundant. Hermione had already left The Burrow with Ron and Harry.
“Never mind. We don’t mind being beaten into second place by your chosen one. Happy birthday, Ginevra,” Fred said tipping her a wink that made Ginny grin and shake her head. He stretched out his arms, twitching his jumper sleeves. “Play close attention! Nothing up my sleeve –watch very closely now!”
“Wait for it –wait for it—Ta da!” With a grin, George playfully circled his wand, causing their present to pop into sight and hover over her lap.
“Let’s just move this, shall we?” Fred said and Ginny cursed her herself for falling into their distraction as he expertly whisked Harry’s wrappers and present away.
“George –no!” Ginny coloured up furiously and snatched out as her brother snagged a fold of Harry’s gift and raised it on the tip of his wand.
Fred loosed a low, appreciative whistle and smirked. “Gryffindor colours. Something wrong, Ginnykins?”
George turned his wand, rotating the article, so as to make a complete assessment. “Didn’t get a lot for his gold, did he?”
Fred’s smirk had morphed into a devilish grin. Ginny knew she was a boiling scarlet. “I think that’s the idea, bro.”
George continued to hold the article aloft, now regarding it with confusion. “Which way round does it go?”
“That’s what the label’s for!” Ginny snapped, snatching ineffectually. “Give it back and bog off! And not a word to Mum about – wait a minute. What did you mean ‘he didn’t get a lot for his gold’?” She glared between her brothers. “What d’you know about this?” She snatched with her left hand and Summoned with her right, securing the prize which she scrunched up in her hand. It made a surprisingly small bundle.
She felt another flush of heat course down from her forehead. Her tee-shirt nightdress was sticking to her. What on earth had Harry been thinking?
Maybe she ought to ponder that one by herself.
From the corner of her eye she saw Fred glance at George and nod. She was going to be treated to the truth.
They adopted identical postures; hands clasped around one knee. “The young man in question did approach us—”
“—with certain enquiries of a sensitive nature—”
“Bloody hell, Fred,” Ginny snorted, “you’re not making a statement to an Auror!”
George unclasped his knee to hold up a finger. “No, but you might hold it against us at a later date.”
Ginny conceded that one.
She had a long memory, especially where her siblings were concerned, and an uncanny knack for recalling their exact words. “You mean Harry asked you what he should get me for my birthday and you suggested this?” she demanded, waving her scrunched fist. “Does he even know what’s in this box?”
Surely he didn’t, but what if he did…?
The twins’ matched grins hinted at the bombshell they were about to unveil.
“ ‘Course he does!” Fred said at the same moment George said, “He knew what he wanted.”
“Just not were to get it.”
“So he turned to us—”
“With our contacts in the mail order business,” George interrupted and Ginny gaped afresh.
Harry had wanted to give her this, this… She had no idea what to call it, this barely-there scrap of fabric.
“Did you promise him a private fashion show, Ginny?” Fred inched closer, his tone and manner confidential.
Ginny tried for a severe glare, knowing her glowing cheeks spoiled the effect.
“He should at least know whether it fits,” George said, wriggling closer. Ginny had to pull in her elbows.
“I’m warning you, bog off!” This had to be a wind-up. She had to keep her temper and get to the bottom of it.
“Aw, but he went to a lot of trouble—” George squeezed closer.
“—To get this especially for you!” Fred moved in again, effectively trapping her smaller frame between them.
“Rubbish!” Ginny said robustly. “You just told me he came to you! I bet you said, ‘oh we’ll see to that, old chum. Leave it with us,’ and then you picked out the most embarrassing item you—”
Ginny switched her attention between them; Fred and George were shaking their heads, regarding her almost pityingly.
“You underestimate him, Ginny.”
George covered her hand with one of his own. “As I said before, Harry knew exactly what he wanted. The only help we gave him was in procuring the catalogue and in taking delivery of said item for him.”
Ginny was finding this harder and harder to take in. She stared.
“Yes,” Fred said with a cheerful nod. “Think it would have stayed quiet if ‘Racy Lacy’ had found an owl order from Harry Potter waiting?”
“But…” Ginny said weakly. “When did he—”
“He had a quiet word while Mum was doing Sunday lunch the weekend before the wedding.”
Ginny remembered that; Harry’s dark head sequestered between the twins brighter ones, their faces intent. She’d imagined Harry was asking for their help with something and so he had been — just not what she’d imagined!
“He looked flustered when we saw him later, after we’d given him the catalogue. Remember, Fred?”
Fred smiled knowingly. “At least it brought some colour to his cheeks. Mum even commented on it!”
Both boys laughed quietly. “Yeah!” George snorted, “she said whatever he was doing must be agreeing with him and he should keep it up!” They laughed heartily, Fred resting a hand on his sibling’s shoulder for support.
“His face! He blushed like a proper Weasley! Mum had no idea what she’d said!”
Ginny was starting to believe them. She recalled the way Harry had coloured and the nervy way he’d behaved when he’d presented her with it; how he’d suggested she might want to open it alone…
He damned-well knew what was in the box, and her likely reaction.
That left two options; he was worried that she’d be embarrassed and things would turn heated as they argued and he hadn’t wanted to argue with her before he went away, or…
He was worried she’d be delighted and during the thank-you’s things would become heated and get out of hand and oh my…
Ginny threw a blanket over the images her brain was colouring in and leaned over her knees, pressing her palms to her cheeks; it was debatable which was hotter. She cast her mind back looking for reasons why Harry would chose to give her something like this. The last thing he’d said to her after Bill’s wedding had been a quiet ‘see you later’, not goodbye.
Why did your ex-boyfriend give you such a very personal present for your sixteenth birthday?
It had come from ‘Racy Lacy’ the twins had said. Ginny had seen Parvati cooing over last year’s catalogue and wishing they had a shop in Hogsmeade. Hermione had returned to the common room a few days after this in a tight-lipped fury with a tatty copy of the current catalogue, tersely admitting she’d confiscated it from some ‘very juvenile fourth year boys’.
Ginny had enough experience of the antics of juvenile males that she could fill in the blanks for herself. ‘Studying anatomy’ they called it; to the girls it was known as ‘ogling’ or ‘leering’.
But that didn’t explain why Harry would give her underwear. More information was needed, as Hermione was fond of saying.
“George, did Harry say anything—quiet Fred!—about why he wanted the catalogue?” Ginny fixed the more susceptible twin with her ‘I-know-things-Mum-doesn’t’ stare and played Bill’s favourite game; Double Bluff. “Mum still wonders about that pillow…”
George flinched. “How d’you know about—” He glared at Fred.
Ginny gave him Percy’s superior smile. Works every time! “So?”
“Not a word, bro!” Fred muttered, eyeing Ginny intently.
Ginny continued the unblinking stare.
George wiped his top lip. “He said he wanted to get you something s-special.”
There was a note in the mutter that didn’t quite convince.
“Special?” Ginny repeated firmly. “Special how?”
Fred huffed. “Sexy, Ginny. He thinks you’re sexy and wanted you to know, just in case. He asked for the catalogue by name. Said he knew it was popular with the girls.”
Fred’s mouth carried on moving but Ginny didn’t take a word in. Her insides tried to soar and plummet simultaneously. ‘Just in case’; just in case he got killed. No—she wouldn’t go there. She clenched her fists; he was going to live and come back to her because when Harry set his mind to do something, he bloody-well did it, no matter what was thrown in his way.
Ginny knew him. He’d done it at twelve, for her, someone he barely knew.
He’d do it again.
This time, for good.
Harry thought she was sexy.
She didn’t feel very sexy, with an old and too-big-for-her tee-shirt of Bill’s for a nightie and her hair in plaits so it didn’t snarl for a pastime while she slept.
Maybe she looked different to Harry in the same way she saw him differently than he saw himself.
A hand squeezed hers; George. She glanced at him. “He’s mad for you, Ginny,” he said quietly, “the way you’re mad for him. We know, ‘k?”
Ginny bumped her head gently against his. George had always been the more sensitive of the two. “Yeah,” she whispered and started wondering again.
Maybe leaving this present had been Harry’s way of hinting he hoped to have something to come back to. He was somewhere out there now so how could she tell him…? What did she want him to know?
That she’d have let him go without having to break up with him anyway. That she wanted him back, in any condition, just to have him there beside her.
“Do you have any way of getting a message to him?” She swore the twins started.
“We might,” Fred replied cautiously from the door.
Ginny beckoned to them to come back and close the bedroom door while she put their present on the bed. She then moved across to her school trunk and rooted inside. “Which d’you think would be better? If I say I can’t wait to show him how it looks on or if I suggest that if he wants to know how I look wearing it, he’ll have to make it home in one piece?”
She heard two gulps behind her and the decision was unanimous.
Ginny had an offcut of parchment in her hand, quill poised, when one of the twins pushed something under her elbow.
“Use this,” he muttered hoarsely. “Mirror parchment. What you write on here will appear on the piece Harry’s got.”
Ginny had never loved the twins more than she did at that moment. Writing as neatly as her shaky hand would allow, she left the offer the twins assured her would successfully rouse a dead man. She regarded it critically, and grinned.
Time’s broad river flowed on…
Wakeful early for no reason she could determine, and enjoying the ever-lightening haze revealing the landscape, it was Ginny, hanging placidly out of her bedroom window, who spotted the movement. Her hand went instinctively to her wand.
Two figures appeared out of the pre-dawn light, moving wearily along the lane, at times staggering with the weight of the third between them.
At first, she didn’t believe it, sure her mind was playing tricks on her. She had imagined this moment so many times before.
She shaded her eyes and strained to see better; it didn’t help. With a huff she leaned out of the window at a more dangerous angle.
The tall red-headed figure could only be Ron. He alone had that particular shambling gait that wore his jean hems into tatters and gave Mum fits. The slight stooped figure on the other side had to be Hermione.
Ron hefted the limp figure between them once more and the back of Ginny’s neck prickled. Harry.
She darted from the window, round the door left ajar for air and took the many stairs in a fevered daze of desperate impatience.
It had to mean those ‘things he had to do alone’ were accomplished.
The kitchen door resisted her until she recalled it opened inwards and not out, and then her feet were carrying her across the yard, past sleepy hens and onto the lane.
Dressed despite the hour, the cool air stung her bare arms as she dashed to meet them.
“Ron?” she gasped, skidding to a halt, her trainers kicking up pale dust. It hadn’t rained in a month. “I saw, I saw—”
Ron and Hermione met her warily, wands raised. Predictably, Hermione got in first. “Tell me something only Ginny would know!” she demanded shrilly. Her hair had been cursorily cut to her chin at some point and she had a fading black eye.
“Humour us,” Ron said, evidently interpreting her frown and his voice was rough, wary.
“I will if you will,” Ginny replied coolly, watching the figure drooping between them.
Ron and Hermione exchanged a glance.
“When I was eight, I cut myself helping you pick up a smashed glass,” Ron muttered, eyes on her hands.
Ginny nodded. “You’d nicked Charlie’s wand and were trying to prove you could make it float.” She turned to Hermione, who had a slight smile. “And?”
Hermione coloured. “You told me I talk in my sleep.”
Ron looked sharply at Hermione while Hermione’s gaze begged Ginny not to make her elaborate further.
“You do what?” he said. “How come we never heard you?”
“Your turn,” Hermione said briskly, lowering her wand and wincing as their shared burden slumped suddenly and moaned. The filthy and haphazard bandage shifted around his head, revealing not shaggy black but matted red.
“It’s not Harry! Who’s that?” Ginny demanded, the racing of her heart now painful. Ron snorted but he was smiling.
“Percy,” Hermione said quietly and wincing.
Ginny took a step closer. “Percy? But—”
“He turned up late one night with information for us—”
“Behind us,” Ron muttered, jerking his head over his shoulder. “Said he had a stone in his shoe. He wanted — Ginny, you have to know…”
Ginny didn’t wait to hear the rest, she set off down the lane with Ron’s voice fading away, half-jogging and then breaking into a flat run. Rounding the bend, she saw him far ahead of her.
Her heart leaped, went out to him, stumbling awkwardly along, and she put on a burst of speed.
He must have heard her because he looked up and hardly had the shock of recognition crossed his face than Ginny closed in enough to read his dazed expression. He took two more steps and fell to his knees, his arms wide to catch her. Ginny cannoned into him, nearly sending him sprawling, but he bent back so that her feet left the ground, all the while holding on to her fiercely. She enveloped his head and shoulders tightly with her arms, pressing his face into her chest in a mirror action of the way he squeezed back.
She held onto him fiercely, her toes scraping the ground as Harry held on. Now she had him back, he wasn’t going anywhere without her. He carried the coppery scent of old blood, musty earth, and too many days without soap and hot water. She was gasping; from exertion, fright, relief and other things she couldn’t name.
“I got your message,” he muttered. His voice was hoarse, raw, as though he had been shouting spells for hours, or screaming in agony, his hot breath making a damp patch on her tee-shirt.
“Yeah? Good.” She pushed him back to have another quick look at his face before pulling him close as though she intended to splinch them into one new body. A lens in his glasses was cracked.
“I’m mostly in one piece.”
Ginny’s grin was like the sun rising on a new day. He really had got her message then. She clutched him harder, her fingertips digging in and finding less flesh under his clothes than she recalled.
“Were you shocked?”
Ginny froze and leaned her shoulders back the better to see his eyes; one clear, one opalescent. “When? What happened to your eyes?”
He shrugged, pressing his face back into her. “The dark magic in one of the Horcruxes caught me. Thank my quick reflexes. It could have been worse. Never mind that now –were you shocked?”
Harry hadn’t changed much, he was still trying to protect her and whatever a ‘hoarcrucks’ was would have to wait. She had a promise to honour.
“When you opened it?”
“Not shocked, no. More sort of… surprised.”
“Didn’t think I thought about you like that?” He was looking up at her over the tops of his lenses and the gleam in his eye reminded Ginny of a certain before-curfew experience at the Quidditch stadium… “Be glad Ron is no Legilimens.”
Ginny could feel a slow grin starting at the corner of her mouth. “You never told me that! Sounds interesting.”
A loud hoarse cry tore through the restless air but neither of them looked back to the house.
“I guess that means Mum’s seen Percy,” Ginny said and shivered.
Harry pressed closer, turning his head to the side. “It took balls for him to turn up. Ron thumped him, until Hermione got between them. ‘He’s your brother’, she said. She was in tears.”
Ginny set her jaw briefly, imagining the scene with painful clarity even from his sparse words. “I bet. Harry, you’re shaking. Are you all right?” She tried to push him back but he held onto her harder with wiry strength or desperation. “Harry —are you hurt?”
“I said, I’m mostly in one piece.” He looked up into her face again and Ginny understood.
He was reaching out to her, as he had in the past.
They needed some time together before she took him to the house. She could only imagine the tension of the last few months, the isolation and necessary subterfuge. The family’s volatile welcome and interest – her Mum crying and fussing, her brothers’ inquisitive questions — it would be too much for his battered spirit. All this whipped through her mind as she looked back into Harry’s guarded eyes.
The front of her tee-shirt had a wet patch that stuck to her, made by Harry’s living breath, and Ginny suddenly knew exactly what she was going to do.
She slid to the ground, aware that Harry had been taking all her weight so far and that he was likely more battered than he would admit. No matter; he was hers to care for now. Grabbing his wrists, she leaned back, tugging him to his feet. His left leg trembled as he stood and Ginny automatically ducked under his shoulder, putting her other arm around him.
“Don’t look at me that way, either, Harry,” Ginny said firmly, seeing his lips thin. “You’d better get used to me being right beside you from now on.”
Harry caught his breath; his fingers clutched her shoulder as she steadied him. “Have you worn it yet?”
“I’m wearing it now.” His hand clutched her again and she was sure she heard a sharp intake of breath. “I’d strip but this is a public lane,” she said unblushingly, “and I’m not an exhibitionist.”
“Oh Merlin!” Harry mumbled. His head dropped to her shoulder and he was suddenly heavy on her. She glanced hastily at him; he was white-faced and, worryingly, his eyes were closed. Was he about to pass out?
Ginny cursed privately – he had to be badly hurt, somewhere, and passing it off as nothing. She didn’t exactly panic but her anxiety for him encouraged her to break the rules. She grabbed onto him, concentrated with every bit of determination she could produce and turned.
The squeezing, squashing feeling convinced her she was about to lose her eyeballs, or her breakfast at the least, over her already suffering boyfriend and then, with a pop that made her ears sing, the paddock hedgerow appeared on Harry’s other side.
He roused himself sufficiently to glance around, mutter, “what the…?” and then, he either stumbled getting his footing on the uneven tussocks or his leg gave way – Ginny couldn’t tell which — but he went to his knees, taking her with him. As he slumped sideways, Ginny eased him to the rustling grass as best she could.
That hoarcrucks thing had apparently caught more than his eye. He seemed weaker down one side. What else had it done to him?
“Harry?” she murmured, stroking his limp hair back. He lay still; too still. Quickly, she pulled her wand and satisfied herself that he wasn’t quietly bleeding to death internally, as was Madam Pomfrey’s habit when presented with an injured Quidditch player.
Relieved, she was removing his glasses when his fingers on her wrist gave her pause.
“M’okay. Knackered, but okay. It’s just… You said that… and I got this mental image, and it, I just… Bugger!” He raised his face to hers and she knew what he’d been thinking.
What she looked like in his present.
“Sexy, Ginny. He thinks you’re sexy.”
The tips of his fingers skated up her forearm and although the morning was not cold, Ginny shivered. She knew by the trails of honeysuckle perfuming the air that she had Apparated them right beside her secret hidey-hole, as she had intended. She raised the thick floral curtain with one hand, shoving at his hip with her other and smiled in reassurance at the uncertainty on Harry’s face.
“Rolypoly,” she said.
Without even a sideways glance, Harry did as she asked. Ginny crawled in after him, warmed by his trust in her, and knelt at his side allowing the greenery to drop. Even now, the scrambled branches of honeysuckle, wild rose and hawthorn knotted above them archlike over the remnant of the top fence bar didn’t touch her head.
The luxuriant growth cut them off from the paddock, and the rest of the world, in a cool green and fragrantly shady twilight; a small, special space. Now on his back, Harry was looking up at her as though she was the mysterious woodland sprite who bewitched mortal men as depicted on the old style divination pack Hermione had tossed in the bin after walking out of Trelawney’s class.
Now it came to it, she was surprisingly calm. “So, now we’re safe from prying eyes…Want to see?”
Harry swallowed hard and she knew he understood. His mouth said, “Er…” but his eyes showed his mind was alternating between ‘yes’ and ‘shouldn’t-I-say-no’?
She waited patiently, surveying him as he lay, knees up to accommodate his taller body in the dusty earthen space. The way his belt pleated the waist of his jeans in said he hadn’t been eating enough and, unlike Ron, who ought to have shown him how to take care of it, the lower part of his face was shadowed with stubble. Ginny was reminded of her first meeting with Sirius and shivered.
Harry must have taken it for nerves. He snatched a breath and said, “don’t get me wrong, Ginny, I do want to and yet—” His face became troubled.
“You don’t?” she suggested quietly.
“Ginny, I’m—” He frowned, as though searching for the right word and hitched his shoulder. “I’ve done things…”
Even before his sickened voice trailed away, Ginny knew what he was trying to explain; that the darkness he’d fought had clung to him, contaminated him and left him feeling as though he’d never be clean and whole again.
She knew exactly what he meant.
Sixteen-year-old Tom Riddle had poisoned her, made her wish she could pull her brain out and scrub it clean of his taint.
Good came from the experience now; she knew how to reach Harry.
She squirmed onto her side and pillowed his head and shoulders on her chest. “Bill came home for the summer after I was possessed.” Harry flinched but Ginny stroked her fingers back over his forehead, in the soothing way her Mum had when she’d been small. “I was scared to sleep because he came in the dreams – oh, not every night —” she said, hearing him swear under his breath.
He groped for her fingers and held them loosely.
“—but enough. Bill would sit in Dad’s big chair by the fire, with me in his lap, bundled up in one of Mum’s knitted blankets and he’d tell me about Egypt, and the tombs, and all the stuff he didn’t let on to Mum about, like the girls.” She gave a snorting chuckle, recalling the hypnotic way the fang would swing from his ear piercing with the animation of his voice. It had always been a surprise to open her eyes and find it was morning again, and she was in her own bed.
She stroked across the frown lines on Harry’s forehead; he was clammy.
“The last night of August, before Bill was leaving to go back to Luxor, he sat down with me again and said, ‘there’s shed-loads of things out there, Ginny, that’ll hurt you, and worse. These dark wizards like to think they’re powerful, but they’re not. Your fear makes them powerful. So stop being frightened, live with spirit and remember there’s only one thing stronger than any spell, charm, or curse.”
The memory of Bill’s earnest —and whole, youthful— face was as clear as though she was viewing it in a Pensieve. She became aware that Harry was shaking, his head angled back so he could stare at her.
“Woss’at?” he mumbled.
She stroked his bristly cheek. “Love,” she said simply. “You feel unclean. Your stupid, noble instincts are probably telling you that you shouldn’t even be touching me.”
A tiny, pained flinch of his eyebrows told Ginny she was right.
“It’ll take a while. You do whatever you want to, and we’ll —I’ll— love you strong again.”
His head dropped and Ginny heard the gulp, felt his shoulders shudder briefly. She squeezed him and kissed the top of his head. “I bet you want a massive breakfast and to sleep for a week. Mum’ll take one look at you and beg to cut your hair.”
With a splutter, Harry broke; hard, single sobs that seemed to take all his breath and yet he was trying to laugh at the same time. Ginny held him, relieved that he’d allowed her to loosen his dammed emotions.
She held him, his face hidden in her side, for what seemed like hours before he sniffled mightily.
“I can do anything?” He slipped to the earth and took her hand as easily as he used back at sixteen, resting it over his heart under both his own.
“Anything.” She leaned over his ear. “Up to and including seeing how your gorgeous birthday present looks on your girlfriend.”
“Yeah?” He swiped the grubby sleeve cuff of his jumper over his nose, rearranging the dirty smudges on his cheek.
A rustle of feathers came close at hand and the noisy call of a startled blackbird had Harry on his belly, wand ready and searching for a target.
“It’s the gnomes. I can hear them. They drive the birds mental.” Ginny rubbed his back until he flopped over again.
“Mad, isn’t it?” Harry muttered, gripping his wand and staring up into the dark tangle of old wood. “Me all over.”
“It’s natural, after the time you’ve had lately. It’ll fade. Being home, and normal, will relax you.”
He snorted gently. “You mean I don’t get to run round shouting ‘Constant vigilance’?”
Ginny hid her giggle behind her hand. “That’s my Harry.”
He gave her a shy smile. “I tried, but I couldn’t get you out of my head all the time I was away. One night, I dreamed you—”
She saw his face and neck darken and was intrigued. She curled down, resting her elbows on the earth and cupping her chin in her hands. “You let your imagination run away with you?”
Harry shifted so they had points of contact; her arm to his ribs, her bent leg to his thigh, and gave the smallest of nods. A minute later he added, “I got your message the next day, and bloody hell, Ginny—” He glanced right into her eyes — a piercing glance — and away again. “I’ve never felt like that before. Never.”
Ginny edged closer. “Like what?”
Awkwardly, Harry shifted and mumbled something Ginny didn’t catch. She edged closer again, allowing a hand to rest on his midriff; his body jumped. “Out of control? Overwhelmed?” She dropped her voice to a hoarse whisper. “Randy as hell?"
He met her gaze then, so intently that Ginny shivered anew. “Yes,” he murmured clearly.
Ginny moved her hand up his chest; his heart was pounding. “Good.” Somewhere above their heads, the lazy drone of a bee buzzed past.
Without breaking eye contact, Harry caught her hand and pulled her until she lay half over him, foreheads touching. “Can I kiss you?”
Ginny smiled; his lips were brushing past hers as he asked. “You don’t have to ask, you know.”
He sighed. “I gave you up. I haven’t got the right to kiss you because I feel like it anymore. You could have—”
Ginny decided she’d heard enough and shut him up the way she’d been wanting to since she’d caught sight of him in the lane.
It was no different than kissing him back in school and yet it was. She still felt the same heady delight in their contact and it was clear from the way Harry was relaxing, and the way his arms were enfolding her tightly that his feelings for her hadn’t abated, and yet it wasn’t the same.
Now they both knew what they’d been missing, and waiting for, and needing, and neither wanted to be the first to give up.
Lack of oxygen forced them apart, panting, but grinning like fools.
“Missed you so badly,” Harry puffed, his hands still caressing her back. He kissed the end of her nose and chuckled when she wrinkled it reflexively. His hand found the edge of her tee-shirt and wandered beneath.
His eyes glazed and Ginny knew it was finding the thin fabric barrier instead of her warm skin.
Gauzy dark red fabric, embellished with fine metallic threads that sparkled in the light…
Still breathless, she caught her lower lip between her teeth and waited to see what he would do next.
He groaned at the back of his throat, and it was more of a soft growl. The kind of sound that set her pulse bounding. His eyelids drooped and recovered several times while his hand wandered higher.
Emboldened, she took the hem of her tee-shirt in both hands and pulled it over her head in one quick movement. She straightened and found he was staring; he looked as one newly awakened.
Her heartbeat was like a stampeding herd of wild animals. She’d never done anything so bold and yet she wanted him to see her like this, was willing to show him more, if he was ready.
His hand was still moving over her back, sending tingles out over the rest of her, but Ginny could tell Harry was unaware of it. He was wholly focused on his visual sense.
His eyes travelled slowly down from her shoulder, where the narrow garnet-red velvet strap lay, over the shaped cups holding the fullness of her breasts high, and paused at the golden heart charm dangling between them. It twitched to the beat of her heart. He seemed to be having trouble catching his breath.
Ginny was aware of her nipples puckering, of the subtle ache they sent out into other, secret places, and, longing for him to touch her, kiss her again, she edged closer.
Harry blinked. “Oh, wow…” he breathed and then flushed, glancing about distractedly. “I, just, said that, out loud, didn’t I?”
Ginny gave him her sunniest smile. Leaning over him and resting her elbows either side of his head, she plucked his glasses off and hung them safely on a convenient loop of honeysuckle. “If you think that’s ‘wow’, wait ‘til you see the rest of it.”
Harry wet his lip. “Yeah?”
Ginny sank down, settling her weight over his belly. “Oh yeah,” she murmured, fixated on his chapped mouth. As she leaned over to kiss him, Harry shivered. “Did you really use the word ‘sexy’ about me to the twins?”
Five minutes later, the first rain in a month started to patter on their leafy refuge. When they decided it could no longer be ignored, Ginny helped Harry back to The Burrow and settled him in a kitchen chair beside Ron and Hermione.
If anyone else in the hastily-gathered family noticed Harry’s fixed expression of astonishment, they put it down to simple relief at surviving his long ordeal.
While her Mum bemoaned the state he was in, alternately hugging him until he coughed, distractedly drying him off or telling him off for running away and getting into all sorts of trouble, Ginny brought him a bowl of the hot chicken soup her brother and Hermione had been given.
There were a few indulgently raised eyebrows around the room at the way Ginny sat squarely on Harry’s knees, feeding him bits of bread dipped in the soup, between spoonfuls and other tidbits, while Harry followed her every move and ate whatever she held to his mouth.
The Weasleys were wise enough to see which way the wind was blowing when Ginny started fending off every question put to Harry with the same exasperated answer; “Leave him alone! He’s home — can’t he have five minutes peace?”
The year after Harry and Ginny married, Molly, who had stayed for the night while Mr Weasley completed some overdue renovations on The Burrow’s roof, witnessed a curious incident.
In the early morning summer light, Harry returned to his kitchen bearing a haphazard bunch of wild roses bound up with long strands of honeysuckle.
Mrs Weasley watched, in quiet fascination, as he prepared a breakfast tray by entirely Muggle means, laden with tea, toast and chicken soup. With a quiet, “Morning, Molly,” he ascended the stairs floating the tray before him, the fragrant tribute in his other hand.
Mystified, Molly consulted Ginny’s kitchen calendar and could find no relevant birthday, anniversary or other significant event that would explain the flowers. And, then again, why wild roses and honeysuckle?
And if that was Harry’s idea of breakfast, then those, those Muggles were downright barmpots!
She pondered while she drank her first cup of tea and then appealed to her husband through the Floo, but Arthur confessed himself as baffled as she was.
When applied to directly for an explanation, Harry and Ginny merely smiled; Ginny, mysteriously, as only a woman can, and Harry, secretively. They glanced sideways at each other, smiled and looked away, as though they were teenagers sharing a private joke.
Molly and Arthur put it down to them being newlyweds, wondered whether Ginny might be fancying strange things to eat for a special reason, and said no more on the subject.
And all was well.
A/N: Many thanks to my BBB (Best Beloved Beta) for taking this on at the eleventh hour -literally! She is The Best. Thanks KatieYay!