The gleaming scarlet steam engine that would soon spirit Ginny off to Hogwarts stood on the rails behind the brick wall that separated Platform 9 ¾ from the rest of King's Cross Station. Although he had not seen the Hogwarts Express in a very long time, Harry could see it in his mind's eye. He thought of how the great steam engine contrasted sharply with the sleek, streamlined modern commuter trains arriving and departing around him every few minutes.
They had chosen to meet to say goodbye under the time schedules as Harry did not want to enter, or go anywhere near, the Wizarding platform. He did not want the crowd reaction, the flash photography, or the feeling of knowing that he could not go back to where the great scarlet steam engine was going. That train held too many memories for him and it was about to carry his girlfriend away from him, which was pretty frustrating, to say the least.
Harry checked the time.
This goodbye was tricky, more tricky than the others had been. Of course, they were forever saying goodbye. Last night behind the broomshed… and then in her room in the middle of the night… and this morning after breakfast. It seemed like three days now they were saying goodbye. They were obviously making up for all the times they never had the chance to say goodbye and they both knew it. In any case, it was just prolonging the inevitable. Now. He had left her behind an hour earlier at The Burrow and they had secretly planned to meet here at 10:30. In fact, he had told Mrs. Weasley that he was going back to bed.
Harry had been here promptly five minutes early, hoping she had been running early as well, but knowing that, in all likelihood, she and Mrs. Weasley would be late… as usual. He strained his eyes to the crowd, to the people walking by, watching for the colour of her hair.
The prior week had been brilliant. Really brilliant. It had been full of late night walks, and quiet hours in the orchard and beautiful and rare private moments between them. Thinking of one of those lucky hours in particular caused his heart rate to jump slightly. Combined with the events of the rest of the summer, Harry thought it had been the best week of his life, even if it was his last full week with Ginny until Christmas.
The station at this hour was as busy as at any other hour, for King's Cross never slept. Harry gazed up at the high ceilings and thought about how he had chosen this place to go when he died and how curious that was, but it made sense. Trains were always moving in and out, taking people away. He could have boarded a train too, but he hadn't because he wanted to live, hadn't he?
After a few moments, Harry spotted Ginny. She was looking for him and she looked worried. Maybe she was afraid she wouldn't find him?
He walked towards her and the sight of her stopped him. His heart thudded in his chest as she smiled at him. A horrible thought swelled over him again, crashed over him, and he suddenly worried.
How would they survive all the hours apart they were about to face? How would they do it again?
What had the summer been all about?
Ginny was definitely dressed for travelling. She even wore a knit hat, which was curious, because he hadn't seen her wear a hat all summer. The ends of two crimson plaits fell, one over her shoulder, one over her chest.
"Hi." He surveyed her. Harry knew that summer was gone now. Summer Ginny, the girl with flowing hair falling down her back, the barefoot girl in torn jeans and soft summer t-shirts that clung to her in places he noticed; that was Ginny to him. This Ginny, this well-dressed traveller, seemed suddenly foreign. Then again, familiar as well. They had gone to school together in a different life. "Great hat," he commented.
The noise from the station was suddenly twice as loud in his ears. "Thanks." She kissed his cheek. "I know I'm late. I've got Mum waiting with my trunk. She about killed me when I told her I had to go use the toilet before I left."
"Well, we don't have much time. I don't want your mother finding out I lied to her or you missing the train." Harry felt a disagreeable nudge in his stomach at her impending departure.
He did not like this. It felt wrong.
"Fresh out of flying cars, are you?" she teased, reaching out to lightly tickle his stomach.
"Well," he remarked, catching her hand, "you still don't have your license to Apparate. I suggest you take the train, much less chance of having to vomit."
She giggled. "I think I'll take the train, then."
She let out a sigh. He looked down and she looked up. They just stared at each other, holding hands in the space between their bodies, not sure of what to say because so much had not been said; so much was on the line and they both knew that without even speaking.
People careened around them where they stood. Suddenly, Ginny flung her arms around his neck and caused him to lose his footing. She held onto him incredibly tightly. He grasped her to him. Although he was not crying, and he didn't think she was either, he understood and appreciated how difficult this was. Ginny had been by his side since the end. Through the pain of horrible funerals, the uplifting joy of holding his tiny godson on his lap for the first time, his difficult and painstaking trip back to Privet Drive, it was Ginny who had been right there, helping him to see the good in so much horror. She had given him something to look forward to when he opened his eyes every day. He gulped. His breath caught in his throat as the finality of these next few months dawned on him. She had been there to support him, to talk to him, to care if he ate or slept, to make him feel happy. The moment she stepped through the barrier, she would be gone.
He held her to him. He didn't want to let her go.
His voice was low. He kissed her hair. "Hey."
"I've got to go."
"I know. Ginny?" He searched her face.
"Yeah," she breathed out.
He waited a moment, unsure of how to say what he wanted to.
"Is everything going to be okay?" he managed. They had so little time. It was all he could think to say.
Ginny didn't say anything. She just stared at him. After what felt like forever, she kissed him quickly on the lips and gave him just a hint of that blazing look that he loved on her. "If you want it to be."
Then suddenly she was gone, walking backwards quickly. She help up her hand in a small wave and turned to run.
Ginny ran against the crowd and he watched her weave through it until she disappeared. He raised his hand to wave back anyway, even though she was already lost in the steady stream of people going to and from their daily lives.
"If I want it to be," he whispered.
What did that mean? Was it all up to him?
He turned to go, thinking of the answer she had given him. That meant she wanted things to be okay, to turn out okay. Ginny wanted everything to be perfect, didn't she? She wanted him to be perfect and he was as far from perfect as it came. His heart sank. He didn't deserve her. He was a git. He was supposed to want her back, too, back in that way. He was supposed to love her and everything was supposed to be…well. And why shouldn't it be, he asked himself. What was stopping him and why?
He saw her disappear from sight around a coffee kiosk, the last flicker of her flaming red plaits, gone. The urge to follow her was unbearable. He imagined himself running for her, grabbing her by the elbow and snogging her senseless until next week, but he did not. All he wanted to do was be alone, go to sleep, and somehow forget that autumn had come.
Ginny settled into in the window seat of the train compartment, the one that would ride backwards. The ride to Hogwarts was long and she always thought it more interesting to see where she'd been rather than where she was going.
She tucked her legs underneath her, took her hat off and mindlessly played with the end of one of her plaits.
Harry hadn't commented on her plaits. He had only made a cheeky reference to her hat, which lay on the seat beside her. Did he like them? Or did he think she looked childish? She proceeded to undo the plaits, the hair sliding between her fingers. She even combed it out with her fingers for awhile, focused on split ends, anything to forget what had just happened. She closed her eyes.
At least she had been able to thwart seeing anyone else before settling into the compartment. She wanted to be alone, but she wouldn't be for long. Hermione would soon join her. And Luna. Ginny had bumped into Luna when she boarded the train. The other girl was off to hand out copies of The Quibbler with the headline, Next Phase of Ministry Reconstruction, and a big photo of Kingsley Shacklebolt on the cover. Ginny had taken a copy, which now sat on the seat beside her, the new Minister for Magic staring up at her. She flipped the cover over.
She remembered when Kingsley Shacklebolt had come to The Burrow to talk to Harry on his birthday. Afterwards, Harry had come to her with eyes shining and told her that he was to become an Auror.
Ginny took a deep breath the engine rumbled the seat under her and the train pulled out of the station
Will everything be okay?
He was having doubts, wasn't he? Isn't that what he was implying?
Ginny hoped not, but she wondered.
Had she given too much of herself away? Ginny felt emotionally exposed. She had been used to acting cool when it came to her true feelings for Harry, at least in front of him. Saying what she had, if you want it to be, was about as good as if she had said, well, yes, of course it will be, dear, I'm actually hoping we can be together forever, you unapologetically stupid prat.
What did he mean? This year? In the long term? Either way, her answer was pure nonsense.
Ginny picked at her skirt, trying to ignore the prickling in the corners of her eyes.
Harry, how do you not know by now how I feel about you? That, if things didn't turn out okay, I'd probably want to die.
Bugger him. Ginny wiped her eyes.
Harry, you are such an idiot. But I love you so much. Maybe you could have used that final goodbye to tell me you feel the same way?
She thought he was going to tell her at that moment. She thought that was why he wanted to meet her this morning instead of leaving their final goodbye to the quick and awkward hug they had shared at home in front of everyone.
Her eyes burned.
Ginny's head shot up as Hermione slid the door to the compartment open. She came in quickly and sat directly in front of her in the seat that went forward.
Hermione had been crying too, maybe even sobbing, but obviously she had started to cry outside of the compartment, not in. Her face was tear-stained, red and blotchy.
Ginny made an effort to sympathize, but she felt a bit of jealousy sting her. She always felt she had to be so guarded in front of Harry because she was afraid of how he would see her. She imagined herself falling into his arms and sobbing like Hermione had probably done with Ron. It was the strangest scene in her mind, and what stuck out most of all was the way she imagined the uncomfortable, unreadable look on Harry's face.
"Are you all right?" Ginny asked hesitantly.
"I'm fine." Hermione wiped her puffy eyes. "I'll be fine. I was waving Ron off, outside on the platform." She took a deep breath. "I'm going to miss him so much."
"This is the right thing to do, though." She looked like she didn't believe it, like she was only telling herself that to make herself feel better. "It's only one school year, isn't it?" Still, Hermione had that tone of optimism even through her red and tear-stained face; that brave look that Ginny admired so much. "It was a good summer, wasn't it, Ginny?"
"Yeah. It was a good summer," Ginny agreed. She looked down into her lap and began mindlessly playing with her fingernails.
"You all right?"
"Yes, well… sort of. Not really."
"Did you meet Harry in the end?"
"Yeah. It was silly, really. We didn't have that much time."
"How was it?" Hermione pulled a book and her journal out of her bag as she spoke.
"It was… odd. He didn't say much." She breathed in. "He asked me if everything would be okay."
"Between the two of you?"
"I don't know. He didn't specify. I think that's what he meant, between the two of us in the short term, while I'm at school."
"What did you say?"
"I think it was stupid, my answer. I'm feeling horrible about it. I said…" She paused, "'…'if you want it to be.'"
The corners of Hermione's mouth turned upward. "Well, that sort of puts the Quaffle in his court now, doesn't it?"
"Sort of? It wasn't the right thing to say to Harry. I shouldn't have said it."
Hermione seemed to be thinking for a few moments as she stared out the window. "You were only saying the truth. If he wants things to be all right, they will be."
"Well, I don't want to pressure him. He's bound to be busy this autumn! I can't put everything on him."
Hermione half laughed. "You're so forgiving, Ginny. Harry even mentioned the other day that he's lucky you're so patient with him."
Ginny sighed. "He said that?"
Hermione clutched her books. "He needs that. He's glad for it."
"I don't know. I think what he asked means he's having doubts, Hermione. About me. About the distance." Ginny went back to picking her skirt.
"Ginny, doubts… are… normal!" Hermione said, stopping between words for emphasis. "Knowing Harry, he's nervous about the distance and he was fishing to hear you say something positive."
"And all he got was…"
"Maybe," Hermione cut her off, "he didn't mean to come off that way, Ginny. And maybe your reaction was your subconscious way of letting him know that he has to make an effort to make things work. I mean, now you have him thinking about how he's going to handle the relationship and the distance. Harry told me that you guys hadn't even talked about things before you left, about visits or letters or anything. When we spoke about it, it basically sounded like you had arranged to meet for Hogsmeade weekends, but that's not enough to make a relationship work, Ginny. It's going to mean a ton of work and communication and finding ways to make the other feel special…"
Ginny put up her hand for Hermione to stop talking.
Hadn't it been stupid of her to not push him to talk about things, about their relationship before she left? Why hadn't they? Had he not wanted to? Or, was it her being overly patient and forgiving of him? She suddenly felt as horrible as she had hoped not to feel on September first. Ginny tried to change the subject, trying to ignore the knot of regret twisting inside her stomach. She tucked her legs underneath herself even further, to make herself even smaller, and then quickly changed the subject.
"Can I ask what Ron said to you when you left him?"
Hermione grinned, turning pink from her ears down. "You don't really want to know."
"I do, actually. I'm somewhat enjoying the romantic sap that my brother has become."
"Fine. The last thing he said was… that he's going to love me more and more every day while I'm gone." Hermione sat there pink-faced and looking like she'd swallowed one of George's Love Potions.
Ginny made a face, like she had tasted something bad and began laughing. "My brother really said that?"
"Sorry, couldn't have expected you to be mature about it," Hermione snipped, "I'm not falling for your games again, Ginny."
"Fine, sorry!" Ginny apologized, but the reaction was all she could think to do. Her brother was so positively disgustingly in love these days that it was often hard to watch.
'Course, she and Harry had turned it into a secret joke between them. They were actually measuring like house points as to whether Ron or Hermione was more pathetic. Ron usually won, although Hermione was rapidly accruing points as well. It wasn't that they weren't happy for Ron and Hermione. It was just that Hermione was taking care of Ron like a baby. She was cleaning his side of the room, doing his wash (as she had been doing for a year now) yet, she was also doing other stranger and revolting things, like buttering his bread. It was sweet, but completely beyond Harry and her. Both of them had spent many a lunch watching these details unfold, and then having a laugh behind their backs.
The other night, they had been sitting on the rug in her room trading observations of their two friends when Harry had made her laugh so much that she had threatened to pee herself. He leaned over to shush her in her ear from the cackles that might wake her parents, and then he had kissed her once and then again on her ear and then on her cheek, and then…
Warmth ran through her, remembering what had happened after that. Needless to say she was glad that, unlike the mirrors in her house, the rug on the floor of her room could not talk.
Of course, Ginny tried to ignore the fact that, again, perhaps she was a bit jealous of Hermione. She and Ron were set, they were worked out. Who knew what she and Harry were, or where he intended on leading them?
Count your blessings, Ginny.
He was alive. He had chosen her again as his girlfriend. If he had doubts, she would settle them by being exactly that; Harry's cheerful, pleasant and loving girlfriend. It was normal and natural to have a doubt. Hermione was right and she knew mostly everything.
Besides, she had learned long ago that there was no loving Harry without patience and loads of it. Her boyfriend was Harry Potter, not Justin Finch-Fletchley or Jimmy Peakes. Those were boys with relatively little to have worried for in their lives. Yeah, everyone had it rough during Voldemort's reign of terror. Yet, there was nobody else she could think of that had as difficult a life as Harry. Ginny knew, of course she knew, that he wasn't having such an easy time coping these days. He needed her to be a constant source of comfort and happiness for him, not a whinging and desperate, needy, clingy girlfriend. She knew that, one day, he would appreciate how she handled him after the war, with no bothers, no strings attached, just attention and understanding, and… making him happy, which was the point.
The train was picking up speed now. Ginny's thoughts turned again to their last goodbye. She squirmed a bit, her mind wrought with fresh seedlings of doubt that her boyfriend had planted there.
She resolved to write to him that night. She would feel better when he wrote back to her. She would tell him about what Ron said to Hermione to give him a laugh, and she would tell him she missed him. He would need to hear that. He would write her back soon, as soon as he could. Hopefully, he would tell her the same. She would feel better and laugh at herself for ever having worried. In fact, she sort of looked forward to an owl romance with Harry this year, and hoped that it would give him the courage to talk more about things like the war. He never wanted to talk about that, either, but he would, when he was ready. Perhaps the letters would help him open up to her more.
Hermione began writing, most likely to Ronald 'Romance' Weasley, and Ginny rested her head against the window as she stared at the rolling English landscape. It had been a good summer. At least, since June. She closed her eyes.
Ginny thought again of their quick conversation by the train platform and cursed herself for her answer. She wanted to not worry about what he said or why. She should have just touched his cheek and said, yes, Harry everything is going to be just fine. Because it just would be. Sod it, stupid love. She didn't need anything else, really.
Just him. Whole, and alive, and with her.
Ginny's chest hurt. Now he would no longer be with her, at least physically. She was stuck at Hogwarts for an entire school year and Harry was going be an unencumbered bachelor this fall. He was going to live in the city. He was going to work at the Ministry, training as an Auror. Ginny knew she had to suck it up and prepare herself for girls to be throwing themselves at her boyfriend left and right. Good-looking ones, most likely. Harry would have to endure loads of invitations to parties and balls, offers for dates, girls accosting him after late nights at work. And why not? Every week that went by from last May, every week that he spent in the sun and was fed healthy things in large amounts, the more bloody gorgeous he became. He didn't know it—or care—which Ginny knew would make him even more desirable to witches. Besides, he was Harry Potter and that had its own quirks, which she sort of despised; to her, that was unimportant or, at the very least, not important to the way she felt for him. Ginny tried to remember if they had ever talked about not seeing other people, but the resounding answer was no. She would have remembered that. Should she be worried? No. She trusted him. And he cared for her. Harry would never hurt her. She knew that. They were moving on from last year, slowly. Everything was going fine. She had nothing to worry for. Of course, she felt like she was just telling herself this to make herself feel better as well, without really believing it all.
Ginny felt as torn between Harry and Hogwarts as she had all summer. Going back hadn't been a decision for her like it was for Hermione. It was a given that, if they reopened the school, she would go. Harry knew that from the beginning, but he was fine with it. What else would she do? Work at a shop? Stay home with Mum? Besides, it was her turn to Captain Gryffindor to the Quidditch Cup! She imagined the shiny Captain's badge on her robes, gleaming in the sun. She imagined herself making the winning goal for the Quidditch Cup. This made her forget Harry for a moment. Being Quidditch Captain was such an important opportunity to her. It meant that Quidditch was back at Hogwarts, and life was going to go on. She wanted to be at school. She did. She wanted to have one more year to grow up, to play Quidditch, to learn Defence Against the Dark Arts level seven and kick incredible arse at it, even if it made her sad that she and Harry were going to be apart so much.
She would miss him, though. Her stomach hurt slightly, and she felt the depression, that had momentarily been lifted that summer, jab at her in a familiar way. Time stretched out before her as it had the last time he had left her.
Except, it was different this time. Harry's life wasn't in danger. He could speak to her and write owls and see her now but still, it seemed like a long time until next June. Imagine what could happen in all that time.
Ginny sighed and opened her eyes. Perhaps an hour had passed already. Hopefully, two.
"Wake up, sleepyhead. Are you hungry? I have the sandwiches your mum made, and I purchased a Cauldron Cake for you."
"Thanks." Ginny groaned and sat up sleepily, wondering why she hadn't heard anything. She didn't even remember falling asleep. She had just been thinking, hadn't she? "No, thanks. Stomach. How long was I sleeping?"
"About an hour."
"Are you still upset about your goodbye?"
"No. Well, yeah, sort of." Her voice felt weird.
"Write to him," Hermione urged. "Tell him what you meant."
Ginny stretched, still feeling tired. "No. I think he'll just have to use his brain this time. We'll see what he says when he writes. Can I ask you something?"
Ginny looked out the window, at the late summer sky. "Nothing… nevermind."
"What is it?" she implored.
"I just… how do you think he feels about me now, after the summer?"
It helped to ask. As hard as she tried deciphering Harry's true feelings for her, she would usually end up throwing her hands up in defeat. Ginny trusted Hermione on Harry, especially when it came to his nuances.
"I'm honestly not sure. I suppose I think he feels… happy that you had time together. And I'm sure he's also… nervous over the distance, as well. I just think you should keep up with what works. What you're doing is good for Harry. He needs you, but he needs time. Just focus on being a good girlfriend, Ginny."
Ginny sighed again, wishing Hermione would explain herself better, but not wanting to push her to say anything that might breach Harry's trust because Harry needed her, too. "I know."
"Now, smile. He called you his better half the other day."
"Well, that's reassuring. What does that mean?"
"It just means that he holds you in high regard."
"Oh, brilliant. I'm held in high regard, and my brother Ron is about two steps from proposing. And what were you two going on about in the attic last night? I swore it wasn't the ghoul."
Hermione turned red as the compartment door slid open.
"Is there really a ghoul in your attic?" Luna finally wandered in. "I heard it had Spattergroit. Is that true?"
Ginny tried to cover up a sly smile while Hermione glared at her. Then they both began to laugh.
A year with Hermione and Luna and the rest of her friends sounded nice after last year. An owl romance with Harry didn't sound so bad either. His long-awaited visits to Hogsmeade and maybe even more romantic visits between—all sounded quite sweet to her. Even Mum said that absence sometimes made the heart grow fonder. In fact, returning to this year at Hogwarts sounded better than it had all summer.
A/N: September first is only the beginning… sadly, there's something about the special feeling of summer that falls out of reach when the school year inevitably comes around. Thanks again to all who have left me feedback and comments!