“It seems odd, doesn’t it?” Hermione said wistfully. She leaned back against Ron’s shoulder and picked at a bit of paint that was sticking to her hair. “Not to be on the Hogwarts Express today?”
We weren’t on it last year either, thought Harry, but he knew what she was getting at.
Dean laughed; Ron shook his head, pulling her closer, and chuckled, “Come on, Hermione, we’re a five-minute walk from the front gates. Once our slave-driver here”—he thrust a thumb towards his sister—“tells us we’re done for the day, we’ll be up at the school hours before the rest of the students arrive. Since when have you ever complained about getting to school early?”
“Ginny’s not the slave-driver,” Luna pointed out. “This is Harry’s house. Ginny’s merely the foreman.”
Wiping multi-colored paint splatters from her wand, Ginny laughed, “Thanks, Loony!”
“You’re welcome,” said Luna with a smile. “Are we done, by the way?”
“Yup!” Ginny said, patting a freshly painted wall. “This Shack Shrieks no more!”
They all laughed, and Harry grinned at them. Ron, leaning back against a drop-cloth-covered bed, his arms around Hermione as if they had always belonged there; Hermione finally looking as if she weren’t surprised to be so close to him. Luna, her eyes closed–had Harry ever seen her with her eyes shut?—her white smock decorated with splattered paint and doodles of fanciful creatures that Dean, his head in her lap, was continuing to draw; Dean, finally looking as if he had filled some of the emptiness in his soul, painting .
Ginny, looking at him.
“Thanks guys. I really appreciate all of the work.”
“Well,” chuckled Dean, putting a last crumpled horn on a Snorkack, “it’s not as if we weren’t already up here most of the summer rebuilding and cleaning and painting the castle. And you feed us better than McGonagall did!”
“Hear, hear!” chortled Ron as Hermione swatted him, muttering, “It’s not Professor McGonagall’s fault that they only got the kitchens up and running again last week!”
“Oy, Kreacher,” Harry shouted down the stairs, “did you hear what Dean just said?”
“Yes, Master!” called the house-elf, who had catered lunches to Harry’s work crew throughout August. “Kreacher is most gratified to have his service please Master’s guests. Is Master’s party ready for luncheon?”
“Don’t have to ask twice!” hooted Ron, leaping to his feet, pulling an astonished Hermione with him.
“Come along, Dean,” Luna said, standing and peering down with apparent wonder at her smock. “Perhaps Kreacher has made us Plimpy soup.”
“Uh, don’t think you find Gulping Plimpies this far north,” Harry suggested.
Luna’s face fell, but not too far. “Perhaps it will be French onion, then,” she sighed. “I love French onion soup.”
As he followed Luna out the door, Dean smiled, winked, and was gone.
He was about to follow them down to the kitchen, but a small, familiar hand found his. He turned to Ginny; the whole of what would be his bedroom was white, excepting the pale green trim on the window sills and door frames, and her hair flamed all the brighter, even with a fleck or two of white still scattered here or there among the copper strands. “Coming down to lunch?” he asked, finding his voice.
“In a minute,” she said, stepping closer. She smiled. “Haven’t had you alone in a bedroom in a while.”
He met her halfway. “Last time, I seem to remember a lot of crying and yelling.”
“Quite a lot of snogging, as well.”
“True.” They kissed, and as always it left Harry breathless—no longer like something from someone else’s life, but miraculous nonetheless.
After a moment, Harry stepped back. “So. Are you still, you know…?”
Harry shrugged. “Yeah.”
Ginny started to say something, but then closed her mouth. Eyebrows pursed, she started to speak again when a bellow wafted up the stairs: “Oi! Potter! Kreacher won’t serve out till you’re down here!”
Harry reached out and squeezed Ginny’s hand. “Come on. We should have known not to keep your brother waiting for food.”
Smirking, she led him towards the door. “Meet you back up here after lunch?”
“I’ll have to ask the owner of the house.”
“You do that, Harry.” Hand in hand, giggling like school children, they went down for lunch.
By the end of lunch—which had in fact featured French onion soup—they were all happily arrayed around the table that they had discovered to be still intact in the cellar and that Dean and Luna had returned to gleaming condition. Dean and Hermione were discussing the legislation that Kingsley Shacklebolt had proposed to guarantee Muggle-borns’ rights in the future; Dean actually seemed to be even more adamant than Hermione that it could have gone farther. Luna was regaling Harry and Ginny with a story about Hagrid’s shock when she had shown him a Humdinger living in one of the oaks of the Forbidden Forest—a Common Humdinger, not a Blibbering one, but a Humdinger nonetheless. Ron surprised everyone by getting up from the table first.
“You feeling ill, Ron?” Ginny asked.
“No, no, just, you know, wanted to help get Hermione moved in.”
Hermione stood, very demurely, looking at a spot on the floor six feet ahead of her—looking, in fact, anywhere but at the four remaining at the table or at Ron.
Ginny started to speak again, but Harry beat her to it. “Ron? You do know that the house-elves will already have moved everything up?”
“I simply wanted to show him a few things in the Head Girl’s quarters,” Hermione said, and immediately started to blush, before Dean had even managed to snort, “I bet you did!”
Harry leaned forward and said, “So, Ron, your room'll be ready for you after the feast.”
“Oh, right.” Ron's ears reddened. Clearly, he'd forgot that, unlike Hermione, he was a cadet Auror now, not a Hogwarts student; the other three cadets had chosen to Apparate in every day, but Ron and Harry had good reasons to want to stay as close to school as possible. Glowering at his sister, Ron muttered. “And you'll be staying up at the school.”
“Perhaps.” Ginny grinned cheekily at Harry and then up at Ron. “In any case, if you and Hermione would like an hour or two... to yourselves, now would be the time.”
Ron looked about to say something he'd regret when Hermione took his hand. “Come on, Ron,” she said primly. “Good bye, Dean. Good luck at the Ministry tomorrow. See you up at the school, Harry, Ginny. Luna.” Ron's mouth snapped shut, and he and Hermione left with as much dignity as they could manage, but the others didn’t even wait for the front door to close before they all started to laugh. “Going to be hard for them, not having all those dark, empty corners to sneak off to in the castle!” chuckled Dean.
“Yes,” mused Luna, “that will rather diminish the extent and frequency of their sexual activities.”
“Sexual…?” asked Harry, caught a bit off guard; he’d supposed that his friends had simply been sneaking off at every opportunity just as he and Ginny had to kiss and to talk. “You mean they…?”
Dean blinked, Luna stared and Ginny gawked. “Merlin, Harry,” she said, “don’t you and Ron talk about anything?”
“Well,” he spluttered, looking down into his empty bowl, “not about that. I mean, think about it…” He looked at her pleadingly.
“Oh. I suppose. But that didn’t stop Hermione from telling me everything, even if it was about my brother.”
“I should hope not,” Luna added, in what was for her a very firm tone. “Speaking of which, Dean, now would be a good time for us to go back to your room at the Three Broomsticks. It is a shame that you have decided not to come back to school, but that being the case, it seems as if we should take advantage of this opportunity to have as much sex as we can before I have to be back up at the castle.”
Dean was not as dark-skinned as Lee or Angelina—or even the Patils—and so it was always rather entertaining to watch him flush. It certainly couldn’t be called a blush, but it was close enough, in Harry’s mind. As he stood, mouth open, he seemed to be looking at the same spot on the floor that had so fascinated Hermione.
Luna linked her arm in his. “Thank you for the lovely lunch, Harry,” she said. “I’m glad we could help get your house ready. I’ll see you both up at the school.”
Harry and Ginny waved goodbye as they left, and then looked at each other. Ginny looked as if she were about to ask something when Kreacher appeared between them with a loud crack. “Is Master finished? May Kreacher clear away?”
“Of course,” Harry said.
“Great lunch, Kreacher,” Ginny said.
“Mistress is too kind.”
Harry stared down at the elf, who was giving them a particularly disturbing smile. “Er, thanks, Kreacher. Listen, you’re done for the afternoon, okay?”
The toothy, ragged smile grew. “Of course, Master. Once Kreacher has finished cleaning up, Kreacher shall return to Grimmauld Place.”
“Great, Kreacher.” Harry had realized, with some regret, that though Kreacher belonged to him, he was bound to the House of Black; sending him to work at Hogwarts for a year had been expedient, but had been very difficult on the elf. They had come to an agreement that Kreacher might come and assist Harry at his new home, which Kreacher saw as purely a temporary abode, but that the elf would remain at the home to which he was bound. “Thanks.”
“Kreacher lives to serve.” As he began to Levitate the dirty dishes, the elf added, with what looked distinctly like a smirk, “Kreacher took the opportunity to prepare Master’s bed. For the night.” He bowed low, hands raised to keep the china in the air. “Master. Mistress.” With another crack, he and the dishes disappeared.
Harry looked at Ginny, who was blushing and frowning. “Does… Does he call lots of witches… that?”
“No,” Harry said. Hermione had always been ‘Master’s friend’—at least, once she had ceased to be ‘the Mudblood’—while Luna was usually ‘Master’s unusual friend.’ Harry had heard Kreacher call Ginny ‘Master’s lady friend,’ and, long ago, ‘Blood Traitor spawn,’ but never— “No.”
“Oh.” She pursed her lips for a moment and then cocked an eyebrow at him. “So, shall we inspect his work upstairs?”
“Uh,” Harry said. “Yes.”
Harry’s room, which they had left covered in drop cloths, was sparkling. Sunlight poured through the window, Harry’s robes were all hanging in the closet, and the bed…
The old four-poster was made up, the silk coverings a deep, lustrous green, turned down…
A red rose in a bud vase stood on the nightstand.
“Wow,” Ginny said. “Kreacher works fast.”
Harry nodded. Not for the first time, Harry felt a pang of regret at reclaiming his great-grandparents’ house. At claiming this room. The bed, at least, was the same one on which he had seen Sirius sit, the night they had met. The night that Harry had learned the truth.
Harry took a deep breath and let it out.
Ginny’s arms lifted, open. “Come here,” she said.
Harry stepped into her arms, and it was sunlight, and timeless. They had kissed dozens of times since the end of the war, and every time seemed like the first, and every time seemed unique, and now seemed perfect. They melted together and there was no tension now, no sense that this was the first or would be the last, and then they found themselves once again on a bed—not falling this time, but there nonetheless—and clothes began to disappear, and flesh presented itself to lips and fingers, and all seemed just as it should be. The only moment when they stopped was just at the point where they were about to cross into truly new territory. They leaned back from each other, each breathless, each looking for an assurance from the other that was evident without any need to search. Ginny nodded, and Harry plucked his wand from the pocket of his discarded jeans, casting for the first time a spell that had never been part of any Hogwarts lesson, but that every male student over second year learned and practiced. Then the wand was gone, and the wait was over.
When he found himself staring up into her face again, sunlight spilling through her hair again, two thoughts managed to occupy his brain at the same time: one was that, really, nothing had changed; the other was that it felt as if a massive Invisibility Cloak had been pulled from the world and everything seemed different....
“Hi,” she said.
“Hi.” He ran his fingers through her hair, which had somehow managed to become tangled all to one side. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” she said, smiling, leaning her cheek into his wrist. “You?”
She lay down against him, and the feeling of her, of all that mysterious flesh that had seemed so frighteningly tantalizing now felt simply natural, and in some way that felt quite marvelous.
She pushed back up and peered down at him as if to check whether he had gone mad. “For what?”
Suddenly, he felt as if he were looking into the sun, but he didn’t feel as if he could tear his eyes from hers. “Sorry… I wanted… You didn’t…”
Her eyebrows bunched, and then she kissed his nose. “We’re not going for perfection or anything. Don’t worry.” Her lips met his cheek. “Next time, okay?”
“Okay.” He raised his mouth to hers.
Some time later, he was catching his breath again, running a finger along one high clavicle. “Ginny?”
“Yeah?” Her eyes were closed, her hair wild on the silk around her face. Sweat brightened the bridge of her nose, and her cheeks, and a sudden rush of some feeling seemed to grip Harry's chest, as if Grawp's hand were squeezing him.
“Are you... Are you still angry with me?” he gasped.
Her mouth became very small and her eyes flashed open, very large; she looked once again like the girl who had awoken in the Chamber of Secrets all those years ago, awaiting his judgment. “Harry.” She looked up at him for a moment, shook her head minutely, then nodded and sighed. “I feel all kinds of things about you, Harry. I love you, and I’m proud. Proud of you. Proud that you love me. You make me happy, and sad, too, sometimes, because of all of the things that have happened to you, to us.” He started to answer her, but she ran a finger across his lips. “Mostly happy. And yeah, I still do feel all of those things I was yelling about the last time we were lying on a bed together, and I probably will be for a while, but honestly, Harry, you’ll know if it’s a problem. It’s not what I’m feeling most of all. Just something that’s there, that we’ve talked about, that I know will get better.”
He sighed and kissed her finger. “Don’t know how you do it. I can only usually figure out one thing that I’m feeling at a time. If that.”
She grinned up at him. “Such a boy sometimes. Not that I’m complaining. So. What one thing are you feeling just now?”
“Happy, believe me. But I guess also…” He looked away from her.
She sat up, so that they were facing each other once again. “Afraid?”
He tried to elaborate, but found that he couldn’t, and so he simply nodded.
She pulled him close, winding herself around him until there was no space between them. “Never known you to be afraid of anything before,” she whispered.
Never had anything I couldn’t stand to lose, he thought. Holding her tight, he whispered back. “First time for everything, I suppose.”
A/N: Thanks to my pre-beta, aberforths_rug, and my beta, Sherylyn. This fic is the fifth in a cycle of stories called The F Words; the first four were Friends, Fame, The F Word, and Family.