It was unseasonably warm in Devon—much warmer than London—but a cool shard in Harry’s chest kept him from appreciating it. As he walked towards the Burrow, the splinter twisted. What would she be wearing? Would she be—? Would the Weasleys really leave them alone in the house?
The rest of your birthday present...
What did she mean?
Harry knew what he thought Ginny meant when she’d told Charlie to let him know that she wanted to give Harry the rest of his birthday present. Hadn’t he spent months daydreaming about what might have happened if Ron hadn’t interrupted last summer?
He’d done more than daydream.
But she couldn’t really mean that, could she?
What did she mean?
It was clear that Ginny’s brothers had the same expectation that his own desires kept forcing on his imagination—and Harry was quite certain that the fact that they were thinking along the same less than exactly honorable lines as he was only increased his discomfort.
The closest thing to a real home that Harry had ever known loomed ahead, even more ramshackle than he remembered. Boards covered several of the windows, the upper floors seemed to list at an even more improbable angle, and someone looked to have tried unsuccessfully to Scourgify off the remains of a graffiti war: Blod Traitors and a crude drawing that suggested that the Weasleys were an even closer family than they appeared overlapped POTTER LIVES! and Save a cockroach, kick a Death Eater.
In one of the upper, unboarded windows, there was a glint of copper. Looking up, Harry saw Ginny flash a nervous smile and gesture for him to come in.
With a deep breath, Harry entered.
Inside, the Burrow seemed to have been returned to something like normal. Clean and cluttered, the kitchen exuded contentment and the scent of lavender soap. The hands of the family clock, which for the past two years had all pointed resolutely at Mortal Peril, were now scattered around the dial: Traveling, Work, Visiting… All except one, which simply pointed to Gone.
And of course Ginny’s, which rested firmly at Home.
“Up here!” Ginny’s voice echoed down from the third floor, and, with a deep breath, Harry turned and climbed the long, uneven staircase.
The climb had never felt longer.
The house had never been so quiet.
She was waiting for him in her doorway off the third landing. He remembered glimpsing her bright eyes through that door the day he had first visited the house. She did not snap the door shut this time, but stood there, eyes every bit as bright, hair around her shoulders, wearing…
She was wearing jeans and a green top with a pattern of what Harry knew to be tiny flowers. They were the clothes that she had been wearing the last time they had been alone.
“Hi,” he said, a little shakily.
“Hi,” she answered, and Harry was relieved that her voice sounded as strained as his. She gave him an off-center smile. “Happy birthday, ten months later.”
He stepped towards her; she did not retreat. “Hey, we can decide you’re early for my eighteenth.”
“Okay,” she snorted; her eyes crinkled into little half-moons. “So, you ever meet up with any of those Veela?”
Her eyes rounded open again; her mouth too opened wide, and she flushed, apparently triumphant. He stared down at her, at the blazing look that had kept him company even through their long, dark separation.
“Good,” she answered, her hand finding his shoulder.
It felt as if Harry were falling into her, though neither of them had moved. “Your hair. Was in a ponytail. Last time.”
“Not by the time Ron stomped in.” Her other hand touched his cheek; his own hands slid around her, one at her waist, the other past her shoulder and into her hair; and they were kissing again.
It felt… It was as natural as breathing—as if nothing had ever interrupted this kiss, that everything that had happened in the last ten months had been nothing more than a troubling dream. This was real.
Harry knew that there were things that he needed to say to her: Missed you, and sorry, and even, Merlin, love you. But he didn’t think that he was capable of saying those things out loud yet, and so those feelings poured into the kiss for now.
She seemed to hear him—seemed to be sending back the same message.
He had forgot how small she was. Had forgot, too, how warm her lips could be, and how the light could somehow be even brighter when it was filtered through her hair.
Thinking back, later, he didn’t remember their feet moving, nor his own hands. Her hands he was exquisitely aware of—of the way her fingers twisted the fabric of his shirt against his back and his hair against his scalp—but until they stumbled against her bed and fell onto it, he had been totally unconscious of the fact that his right hand had found its way under her top and up the smooth skin of her back so that his thumb was tucked under the clasp of her bra.
They didn’t stop kissing as they fell, though Ginny gave a quick grunt of surprise when his weight pressed down on her.
They had done some things during the amazing twenty-seven days between their first kiss and Dumbledore’s funeral. All of them had been accomplished while fully clothed. Harry hadn’t felt ready to go any further than that, and Ginny had seemed comfortable too—in retrospect, they had probably both known that that month was just an interlude, the calm before the proverbial storm.
But now, pressed together on her bed, her heavy breathing matching his own, the war over, her family having explicitly given what amounted to their blessing, nothing seemed to be in the way, and so for the first time Harry felt beyond ready; he felt all of the need and hunger that had built up over the long year and all of the years before roaring within him, as if the monster that he had come to know so well during sixth year had at last burst free of its shell, its cage, and left hand joined right beneath her top, and his body howled at the smooth heat of her, and she…
Ginny was rigid against him. Around him—her legs clenched around his waist, her fingers clenched in hair, in shirt. Lips tight around his tongue.
Rigid, but vibrating.
Harry blinked. Pulled his tongue from her mouth. “Ginny?”
“C’mon,” she panted. Her eyes were squeezed tight, her cheeks were pale, and she looked more as if she were steeling herself to have a tooth pulled than aflame with passion. “G’wan.”
“G’wan!” she said through clenched teeth. She pressed up against him, and he realized that his right hand had slid around so that it was cupping her breast. Shivering again, he began to withdraw his fingers. “NO!” she cried, her eyes flying open.
“Don’t you want to?” she growled, pushing up so that his fingers were trapped between them.
He blinked down at her. It wasn’t that the creature inside of him had gone away; it was more as if, looking at her face, feeling her tensing beneath him, it had transformed into something... Something larger. Larger and calmer—though no less insistent. “Yeah,” he murmured. “Yeah, more than anything, only...”
“What?” she said, eyes and nostrils contracting in a manner that Harry knew well enough to be a sign of real danger.
Harry did what came naturally with Ginny. He spoke the truth. “You’re upset.”
Her eyes flew wide again, though her nostrils remained slitted.
“Angry?” Her belly hardened against his own and her eyes narrowed once again. “Angry?” The word erupted from between her teeth. “Yeah, I’m bloody angry! I’m angry with my bloody Troll-brained brothers for taking something bloody personal and bloody important and turning it into some sort of stupid bloody joke. I’m angry that after everything, my bloody parents still somehow think I’m too young and you’re too bloody nice actually to get up to anything inappropriate even though Mum was pregnant with Bill before she was too much bloody older than you, and I can feel just how bloody nice you are, Potter... MERLIN!” Tears were beginning to dribble down along either of Ginny’s temples; she blinked furiously. “I’m bloody upset because I’ve wanted to be alone with you for a bloody year, and I know you’ve wanted to, I’ve wanted to, and now here we are, and all I can bloody think about is how bloody angry I bloody well am because I want to, but I don’t think I bloody can, but you’re a boy and you’re not supposed to notice things like that only, of course, you’re noble—”
“It’s okay,” muttered Harry, not at all sure that it was.
Ginny punched Harry’s shoulder. Evidently, she was just as ambivalent. “And you! I’m bloody furious with you! A bloody YEAR. And I knew it, I know why, but I’m still just... Not even a note, not even once we were both stuck after Easter. And then I finally see you again, and the first bloody thing you ask me to do is stay in the Room of BLOODY Requirement! And I knowWHY, Harry, and I understand, but it still made me want to bloody scream, and then you go off into the bloody night, without even bloody saying GOODBYE, and then the next BLOODY time I see you, you’re bloody DEAD and I wanted to die too, oh, Merlin, Harry!” She was weeping without restraint, face blotchy and wet and beautiful, and Harry tried to wipe away her tears, but she swatted his hand away, and so he rolled them over instead, so that she was resting on him. His hands were on her back once again. He held her as she heaved.
When her breathing finally steadied, she laid her head on his chest and whispered, “Angry with Fred for dying. And George for living. Angry with Percy for taking so bloody long. Angry with Charlie for not being here more. With Bill for not taking me to you.” She sniffed, wiped her nose on the shoulder of his shirt and nuzzled under his ear. “Angry with Ron for getting to see you every day. Angry with myself, mostly myself. Because I knew why, Harry, I really did, and I agreed with you—I knew if I gave in and talked Bill into sharing the Secret, if I went to Shell Cottage, I’d have never been able to leave, and I couldn’t do that to you, it was such a small sacrifice if it meant that you could kill the bastard. But then, seeing you dead, and I wanted to die too, I did, because the last thing I’d ever done was run away from you—I was so happy that I’d finally been let out of the Room, but all through that awful night, I kept looking for you, I kept feeling you, but you weren’t there, and I was such a bloody pillock, all caught up in my family and my b-boyfriend and it was all so bloody petty.”
“It wasn’t petty,” Harry whispered back, and she blinked at him. “And you did feel me.”
She pushed up slightly and stared down at him. “When I was with Regina.”
“Regina Stoops. Colin’s girlfriend. We were both there when he died. And I was just trying to get her inside, and then I suddenly felt...” Her nostrils flared in memory. “It was like I could smell you there. You were under the bloody Invisibility Cloak!”
He nodded. “I... I wanted to stay with you. I wanted to stay so badly, but I didn’t know...” He shook his head. “I did know. I knew if I stopped and talked to you I’d never be able to leave, and then you’d die too, and then—”
“Stop, Harry, stop,” spluttered Ginny. “Don’t—”
“I had to, I know... I’m so sorry, I know, but I swear—”
Her fingers stilled his mouth. “No, Harry, I know.” Her eyes were round and full and dark; her hair hung down on either side of his face. She bit her lip and frowned. “I know.”
“Harry,” she whispered, “at the award ceremony, you said... What did you mean?” She leaned closer until her nose was almost touching his. “That you were never alone...”
“When he was about to kill me, when I knew he was going to cast the Killing Curse on me, and I knew it would make him mortal, I wasn’t thinking about him. I wasn’t...” All that Harry was aware of in that moment, laying there on Ginny’s bed, was the wide circle of her eyes and the uneven splash of her breath across his own lips. Their world was bounded by the curtain of her hair. And yet the image that had filled his mind in that awful moment was just as clear as her eyes, her breath, her hair. It was as if the image of her face as she ran across the common room, the first touch of her lips on his, were superimposed across her very immediate presence. “All I was thinking about was you. About the look you give me sometimes that’s like the sun coming up and then everything’s good. You were everything that mattered, and remembering that look made it all okay.”
For a moment, the blazing look in his memory and the blazing look above him merged, and Harry truly felt as if he were staring into the sun, so that his eyes ran, but he did not care.
Then she began to frown again, and the looks diverged. “No, Harry, it didn’t make anything okay; I mean, I’m glad you were able to do what needed to be done, though I don’t understand exactly why it had to be done, why you had to bloody... but—shut up, it’s my turn to talk—I know you’re going to bloody well tell me, because I want to know, and you bloody well owe me that much, do you hear me? I want to know what in Merlin’s name made it necessary for you to bloody die, okay? I mean, we all knew we might, it’s the only thing about Fred that makes it bearable, knowing that he knew like we all did what might happen, but none of us had to bloody walk into it with our bloody arms open, so I want to know what the hell you were thinking, okay? Shut up, it’s my turn. Because, yeah, I want to know, but I swear, Harry, I’ve seen you dead once now, and I don’t ever, ever want to see that again, do you hear me? So don’t you ever even begin to think about running off and sacrificing your bony arse without me, Harry Potter, because watching it once nearly killed me, when that Lestrange woman attacked Luna, I thought, I’m going to go with Harry, so next time, no more going on your own, you hear? Do you...?” She sat back, scowling, and the sunlight from the window caught her face, so that even though she was clearly still upset, she was beautiful, and Harry couldn’t help but grin. “WHAT? What’s so bloody funny, Potter, I’m absolutely serious, do you hear me?”
“Yes!” he said, but he was giggling.
Her eyes narrowed; she looked more wary than angry, yet Harry knew that her temper could be provoked again easily; even so, he couldn’t help but snort. “If you tell me I’m beautiful when I’m angry, I’ll kill you, Harry, I swear. I’m absolutely serious about all of this.”
“I KNOW!” he said and let loose a roar of laughter.
“Don’t make me hex you,” she snapped, leaning back down. It was meant as a threat this time—Harry respected the threat—but her hair fell back down and cut off the outside world again, and he couldn’t help but laugh on. Looking by parts bemused, perplexed and annoyed, she tried to wait him out, but he couldn’t seem to stop. “Harry.”
“Sorry,” he said, and his hands, still beneath her top, grasped at her shoulder blades, as if by holding on to her he could take control of himself once again. It didn’t quite work, but the feeling of her skin beneath his hands was wonderful, even if he could feel her shoulders tensing. “Sorry,” he repeated, and tried to take a deep breath once again. His diaphragm continued to flutter, but he was able to calm himself somewhat.
When he was breathing somewhat regularly, Ginny said, her voice very, very even, “So. What was so funny?”
“Um.” Harry tried to gather his thoughts. “Beautiful. Even when you’re not angry.”
“Thank you. And?”
“Um.” Her face was masklike, still, as it so infrequently was. Harry took another breath and went on. “First time I was here, that summer... before your first year. I never heard your voice, really, not till you threatened Malfoy at Flourish and Blotts, and Ron said how weird that was, because... normally you never shut up.”
Her expression softened somewhat, though it seemed more a shy echo of the face she had used to wear around him so often than the warm face he had come to know so well. “Yeah. Funny.”
“I love to hear you talk. I love to see your face. I love holding you and kissing you, and God, even when you’re angry, I love it, I promise, I swear, I never want to be apart from you, not ever, I can’t promise I won’t try to protect you because I always will, but I promise, I won’t ever run away from you to do it, I—”
They were kissing again. Harry continued to promise silently, continued to stitch himself closer to her, cell by cell and thought by thought, and she was making promises back, he knew.
“I think that’s the one thing I’m angriest about, Harry,” Ginny said huskily some time later. She was still above him, poised like a lioness atop her prey. “That you walked away from me over and over and... I know it was what we’d agreed, but... That morning, Luna told me you’d gone off with Ron and Hermione and all I wanted was to cry and to hold you and...”
“I... Sorry,” Harry said again, and he knew he’d be saying that a lot more, though it probably wasn’t truly necessary. “You... Your family. Your mum needed you.”
“She needed Ron too,” Ginny murmured, looking dangerously close to tears again. “She needed you. I needed you.”
“You have me now.”
She smiled, still a bit moistly. “True enough.”
“You always will,” he continued, and he found that, sad as she was, he was giddy again. “Always. Happily ever after. Ginny, we have the whole future ahead of us. It’s ours. I’m yours.”
Again they kissed. It wasn’t frantic, now, and it wasn’t timid either; hands began to move again, and bodies, but just at the point where Harry could feel his old friend beginning to howl once more, Ginny stiffened against him again, and he stopped.
“Sorry,” she said.
“No problem,” he whispered into her ear. “We have all the time in the world. The whole future.”
She smiled at him, a look like wonder blossoming across her face. “You’re using the F Word.”
He blinked at her. “The...?”
“You never...” She blinked back and shook her head, so that her hair tickled his cheeks. “Last summer, before the wedding, I was talking with Hermione, and she was complaining about Ron and how he never talked about feelings and I said you never did that much either, but that was okay, I usually knew what you were feeling, the thing that bothered me most was that you never talked about the future. At all. As if—”
“As if I didn’t plan on living.” Suddenly, he didn’t feel like laughing at all.
“Yeah.” She stroked his chin. “Yeah. And she said that was it. That you had all of these hopes and dreams inside, but you couldn’t let them out, that the Dursleys taught you not to do that, and then always having Tom after you made you never let yourself think too much about after.”
“Smart girl, that Hermione.”
“So you’ve said.” She kissed him gently. “So. Those hopes and dreams. They can come out and play now?”
He pulled her down to him and murmured into her lips, “Oh, yes. Yes. Yes.”