Ginny and Ron entered the Burrow through the Floo. It seemed abrupt to Ginny that her parents had hurried off to an Order meeting rather than spending more time with their two youngest children on their first day home from school. But she understood the importance of everything Dumbledore was trying to do, and she and Ron were certainly old enough to take care of themselves for the duration.
"Good to be back," Ron said, gazing around the living room as he lifted his broom from his trunk. "Do you want me to take your broom—" He stopped when he saw the look on her face. "Sorry, Ginny. I wasn't thinking."
Ginny smiled sadly, "That's all right. I know you meant well. I need to get my trunk upstairs." She drew her wand, pointed it at her trunk and started for the stairs.
Ron shut his trunk. "Ginny, wait," he called after her. "Let me do it. My broom can wait." With a huge grin, he began levitating the trunk up the stairs, leaving her in the empty kitchen. Ginny giggled as he commented, "I love being seventeen!"
Unpacking took very little time, and Ginny soon found herself sitting on her bed with nothing to occupy her. Mentally, she ticked off the items on her to-do list: Floo home, unpack, start laundry, wait for Hedwig. The first three had been accomplished easily enough; the hard part was waiting for Harry's owl. She was worried that the Dursleys would not pay attention to Madam Pomfrey's letter and require Harry to do chores that would harm him.
A flurry of wings caught her attention, and Ginny looked up as Pig zoomed in through her open window. He circled overhead once, then flew in tight circles in front of her door as if trying to tell her he wanted out. He had a small blue envelope she recognized as Hermione's favourite stationery attached to his leg. Smiling, Ginny rose and walked to the door. "Was my window the only way in, Pigwidgeon?" she asked the little owl as she let him out. "Go on, then. Ron will be waiting for Hermione's letter."
On a whim, Ginny followed Pig up the stairs to Ron's room. The lid to Ron's trunk was open and the floor was littered with a year's worth of belongings waiting to be stored away. Ron sat on his bed reading Hermione's letter, completely oblivious to Pig choking on an owl treat. He looked up as Ginny strode over to Pig's cage and unstuck his beak.
"Hermione get home all right?"
"Yeah. She's going with her parents to Ireland for a week's holiday starting tomorrow. She says they are going to try to get tickets to a Balleycastle Bats match while they're there. She thinks her dad will like our sport. She's found a spell she can cast on her parents that will cancel the effects of the Muggle-Repelling spells on the stadium. I hope it works for her sake."
"Me, too. I'd love to see another match," Ginny mused wistfully, brushing Ron's dirty laundry off his desk chair and sitting down. "Maybe some day..."
"Hedwig hasn't come yet."
"She will. It might take a little longer for them to drive home than it did us to Floo."
"I'll wait until dark before I start worrying," Ginny decided aloud.
Ron stood up. "Let's go for a walk," he suggested, folding his letter and stashing it in his bedside cabinet. "I could use one after sitting so long on the train."
"Let me grab my walking stick," she replied.
They set out through the back garden and headed toward the pond. As they neared the water, Ginny commented, "You and Hermione are getting along quite well these days."
Ron grinned. "I know we're not bickering as much as we were, if that's what you mean."
Ginny giggled. "True. She also seems to have glued herself to you, at least while we were on the train."
"It was really hard to say good bye. I didn't want her to leave," Ron admitted sheepishly. "I wish I'd had the courage to tell her sooner. We could have had loads of time together!"
"Yeah, but you're so chicken-hearted about sharing your feelings, you wouldn't have told Hermione if we hadn't had that little talk yesterday morning. You two would still be dancing around each other, avoiding your mutual attraction and annoying the rest of us with your stubbornness," she said. A smile graced her lips as she added, "At least this way everyone went home with the knowledge that next term will be a bit more peaceful in the common room!"
"Ginny! We were never that bad!" Ron protested. He stopped walking, looking worried.
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Keep telling yourself that," she teased. "But I think some other couple will now have the chance to take your place as the most annoying couple in the common room." She didn't wait for his response, but took off at a slow jog, glorying in the thought that she could run away from Ron even if he'd catch her in two or three strides.
Ron grabbed her round the middle and swung her in a circle like he used to do when they were little.
"Put me down!" she demanded, laughing.
"Only if you take that back!"
"Never!" she squealed.
He spun them again, slipped on the grass and they tumbled towards the pond in a happy, tangled heap. Ginny was the first to stand and offered her hand. "That was fun!" she exclaimed, pulling Ron to his feet.
He grinned at her. "Yeah. Are you all right?"
Ginny picked up her walking stick and set off around the pond. "I'm fine, Ron. Really." She paused and glanced up shyly at her brother. "You haven't done that since before we went to Hogwarts. You make a good cushion."
"And a good pillow, according to Hermione," Ron replied, a faraway look flitting across his face.
Ginny giggled at the thought. "Harry thinks my lap makes a pretty good pillow, too," she said.
Ron made a gagging noise. "Spare me the gory details, please," he groaned.
They walked in silence for a while, Ron sometimes stooping to pick up stones, which he skipped across the pond. Ginny walked out onto the dock when they reached it and sat down to dangle her feet in the water. Ron sat next to her. His shadow caused the minnows in the pond to flee to deeper water. Ginny was sad to see them go; her good mood slipped away, too.
Finally, she asked pensively, "Is it just me or is Harry trying to distance himself from me?"
Ron raised an eyebrow. "What gave you that idea?"
"A lot of things, actually," she said, gazing out over the water, "but mostly how he's been acting lately. You know, sort of cagey about his meetings with Professor Dumbledore. Just this morning he told me he wasn't going to wear his phoenix very often this summer." She looked at Ron expectantly. "I know something is up, Ron, and I don't like being kept in the dark."
Ron glanced away, looking uncomfortable. "Harry's just found out the extent of his responsibilities in this war, Ginny," he said gravely. "They're dangerous to him and anyone who knows what they are. The fewer people who know the better. He only told Hermione and me because Dumbledore insisted he have someone to discuss things with."
Ginny twisted around to look at him. "Why can't I be privy to everything you can?" she demanded stubbornly, hating the way her eyes were beginning to tear up. This conversation was making her feel as if she was eleven years old again; left out because she was the youngest and not considered old enough to participate in everything her brothers could.
Ron closed his eyes and exhaled heavily. "I really wish we could tell you everything!" he exclaimed. "It would make things so much easier!"
"Then why don't you just up and tell me?" she demanded, getting up.
"I can't..." Ron said with a frustrated growl. "Because Dumbledore and Harry made us promise... No, that's not right. Harry has this notion that you need to be protected! That's what!"
"I don't need protecting, Ron! I'm perfectly capable of defending myself! No matter what Harry thinks!" she spat.
Ron scrambled to his feet. "Listen to me," he demanded as she turned her back to him. "Harry loves you! So much more than he's ever let on! He's afraid that if you knew his secrets the Death Eaters and V-Voldemort would use you as a pawn to get to him." He grabbed her by the elbows and spun her round, forcing her to look at him. "Ginny, Harry told me the other night that if anything ever happened to you again he would go crazy. He's terrified that the Death Eaters will capture you... he wants you to be safe... he wants you to be there when he comes home!"
Ginny's eyebrows shot up. "Comes home?" she gasped.
Ron swore. "Damn, I've said too much already!" he exclaimed, dropping is hands and striding away angrily.
Ginny followed him up the bank towards the orchard. "Does any of this have anything to do with the fact that last night Harry asked me to wait for him? What about the fact that he might be too scared to speak? Is he really facing death?" she asked, blocking his way.
Ron's face registered six emotions at once as he nearly yelled, "Yes, Ginny! It has everything to do with all that! You heard what he said that day in the Room of Requirement. It's either one or the other! Why else has he trained so hard and gone through hell to make sure you and I and everyone else has a chance at a better life? Harry doesn't want to sacrifice himself, but he will if he has to!"
Ron crumpled to the grass as hot tears coursed down Ginny's cheeks. He sat there, breathing hard as she knelt next to him, also fighting to control her emotions. Finally, she murmured, "I want to be with him, Ron."
"I know, Ginny, but if you're with him he'll do nothing but worry about keeping you safe," Ron said softly. "If he's distracted by anything he won't focus completely on getting rid of Voldemort. He has to be focused. Can you understand that?"
She nodded, struggling to accept the fact that it was best for Harry that she remain safely at home. "I can, but it isn't easy. I'm going to worry about him, you know," she told Ron in a small voice.
Ron smiled sadly. "I don't think he'd have it any other way."
They stood and resumed their walk, heading towards the family Quidditch pitch. They emerged from the trees just as Ginny thought of her father's promise at King's Cross.
"Do you think there's really a possibility of going to Mrs Figg's to see Harry this week?" she asked tentatively.
Ron shrugged. "I reckon it all depends on how Harry's feeling and whether or not Dumbledore thinks it would be a good idea," he said.
She turned sharply to face Ron. "I know visiting Harry would be a good idea, Ron," she said, almost pleading. "I think I have Dad convinced of that. Harry needs something to look forward to while he's cooped up with those awful relatives of his. Getting to see us might just be the trick to keep him going until Professor Dumbledore picks him up." Ginny looked down at the ground, adding in a soft voice, "I'm just worried that Dudley will mistreat him intentionally and cause him to hurt his shoulder again."
Ron looked worried too but wasn't going to admit that just then. "Harry can look out for himself, Ginny," he replied. "Besides, he has the Order guarding him day and night wherever he goes. Dudley wouldn't dare mistreat him. Nor would his aunt and uncle after they read what was in Madam Pomfrey's letter."
"I hope you're right," Ginny said as Pig fluttered up.
A note was attached to the owl's leg. Ron plucked him out of the air and read it. "Mum and Dad are back, and Mum wants us to come in to help with dinner," he reported. He grinned. "Hedwig's here, too. Mum says she won't give her message to anyone but you."
Ginny gave a little hop of joy. "Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go!" she asked and started back towards the house at a brisk walk.
"Hedwig's on the back of your chair," her mother called from the sink when Ginny and Ron entered the kitchen a few minutes later.
Ginny leaned her walking stick against the door jam. "Thanks, Mum," she called happily, walking over to the elegant white owl. "What do you have for me?"
Hedwig stuck out her leg, regarding Ginny with an imperious look that made her giggle. "I know. I took too long, didn't I?" she asked as she removed Harry's letter. Hedwig twittered impatiently, then fluttered over to Errol's water bowl as Ginny tore open the envelope. She read as quickly as she could with Ron hovering over her shoulder trying to see what his best friend had to say.
"Ron, this is my letter. It's personal! I'll read you the parts you can hear when I'm done!" she exclaimed in exasperation as Ron tried to take the letter for the third time.
"What does he say, Ginny? Did he get home safely?" her mother queried. "Ron, stop pestering your sister and come peel sprouts for dinner."
Ron groaned and picked up a knife. When his mother turned back to the stove, Ron slipped out his wand and pointed it at the colander of sprouts, murmuring a spell. The next instant, the sprouts grew stumpy little legs and began running all over the counter screaming, "Watch out for the knife!"
"Ronald Weasley! Cancel that charm immediately!" Mrs. Weasley yelled, grabbing for a nearby pot lid which she slammed down on top of the colander at the same time as she tried to commandeer Ron's wand to do it herself.
"Finite Incantatem!" Ron hollered, just in time to scoop up half a dozen of the offending vegetables as their legs disappeared and they rolled off the counter.
Ginny stood where she was, clutching her letter to her stomach and laughing more than she had all week, as Ron corralled the last of the sprouts and grudgingly picked up the knife again. Ginny resumed her reading.
Harry's letter was short, just a note really. She was happy to see that he'd gotten home relatively unscathed, but was surprised by what he said about Dudley. We'll see how helpful that bloke is when Harry gets here, she thought, tucking the note into her pocket. To Ron and her mother she said, "Harry's home safe now, and so far he hasn't had to do much more than set the table for dinner."
"That's good to hear," Mrs. Weasley said absently as a sprout that had escaped Ron's cancellation spell scampered across the back of the stove. She aimed her wand at it and sent it into Ron's colander for peeling. "Call your father. Dinner is almost ready."
At dinner, her parents wanted to know more about the awards ceremony than there had been time for at King's Cross. Ron and Ginny told the story with many interruptions from the elder Weasleys—and each other as they remembered new things to tell. The conversation progressed to plans for the rest of the summer, along with the startling news that Bill had just asked a French witch named Fleur Delacour – who worked at Gringotts with him – to be his wife. Ron's ears turned bright red when he reminded everyone that Fleur was one of the participants in the Triwizard Tournament.
"Will she be coming here for dinner?" Ginny asked.
"Actually, no," Mr. Weasley answered. "Your mother and I will be meeting Bill and Fleur in London. We've arranged for you to visit your Great Aunt Muriel that weekend."
"I'm not going!" Ron stated flatly, throwing down his napkin and pushing away from the table. "The last time we were at her house, she treated me like I was four instead of fourteen. Isn't there any other place we could go?"
Mrs. Weasley shot a piercing glare at her son, and Ginny could see a head of steam beginning to build. "Ronald Bilius Weasley, don't you take that tone with me," Mrs. Weasley said. "You will do exactly as you're told, young man! We've decided that Auntie Muriel's is the best place for the two of you to stay out of trouble."
"I'm of age," Ron shot back. "I don't have to go to Auntie Muriel's if I don't want to."
"Calm down, Ron," Mr. Weasley said. "Molly, Ron may be right. Perhaps the children should have some say in this." He then turned to his son. "Do you have any suggestions as to where the two of you might stay?"
Ginny and Ron exchanged glances across the table. Ginny inclined her head slightly as Ron said, "I was thinking of asking Professor Dumbledore's permission to stay at Hogwarts with Neville. He's going back sometime next week to finish up his article for the Healer's Journal and do some additional experimentation with the Stink Sap extracts." He looked hopefully at their parents.
Mr and Mrs Weasley gazed intently at each other for a few moments, a means of communicating with each other which they had perfected over the years when it was impossible to hear each other over the clamour of seven noisy children. Ginny and Ron had dubbed this silent communication "The Look." If the stare ended in frowns, they knew they didn't have a prayer of getting what they wanted. However, tonight's silent exchange ended with nods and slight smiles. Mr Weasley said almost casually, "Shall you or I write the headmaster, dear?"
Mrs Weasley looked at Ron and Ginny expectantly. "If you two will clean up the kitchen I'll write to Professor Dumbledore."
Ginny beamed at her mother. "Thank you. It will be nice to see Neville and Harry."
"Harry's going to be at Hogwarts this summer?" inquired Mr Weasley.
"Yes," Ron answered. "Harry told us he won't be staying with the Dursleys very long this summer. He needs to meet with Professor Dumbledore and the best solution was for him to live at Hogwarts before coming here after his birthday."
"I see," Mr Weasley said noncommittally. "Very well. If Professor Dumbledore agrees, then you most likely will have a good time that weekend."
Ginny began gathering the plates and taking them to the sink. As she came back for more she asked casually, "Mum, would you ask Professor Dumbledore if Ron and I could impose on Mrs Figg to have tea with Harry later this week?"
Mr Weasley spoke directly to Ginny. "Thank you for reminding me of that. I don't think it's necessary to bother Professor Dumbledore about it. I'll enquire at Mrs Figg's about an appropriate day and have an answer for you very soon. Would you like to be the one to tell Harry of your plans?"
A huge grin lit up Ginny's face as she said, "Yes, thank you, Dad. I'll write back to him as soon as Ron and I finish the dishes." Looking at Ron, she nodded towards the table and picked up the bowl of left-over sprouts and the empty bread basket. He grinned back and picked up the nearly empty platter of roast chicken and followed her over to the counter. Soon they had everything cleaned up and the extra food put away. Ron went into the living room to challenge their father to a game of chess and Ginny retired to her room to write to Harry.
I'm so glad you got home safely and are being allowed to relax a bit.
You'll never guess what Dad is going to arrange with Mrs Figg...
A/N: Many thanks to my pre-beta GhostWriter who helped me immensely with dialog and keeping the characters from getting too out of character. Thank you also to my beta Aggiebell. She does so much for me in the way of encouragement, grammar control and comma policing that what you've just read is as polished as it is because of her. Finally, thank you to my readers for your wonderful comments. They keep me going and eager to finish the story I started. I really enjoy reading what you have to say.