The road parallel to the high street in Ottery St. Catchpole was patchy with last week’s snow fall. Mrs. Weasley mentioned it had come early this year. Half the ground was covered in intermittent chunky hills of snow that were now beginning to melt, turning the dirt roads leading from The Burrow into a mixture of mud and ice. He and Ginny had just walked the few kilometres towards the village, holding hands and not really talking. The walk had been pleasant, albeit harrowing at times. Once, when they came to a large puddle, Harry had held her around the waist and lifted her over it, which he liked a lot since it was about the closest he had been to her since she’d arrived home.
Harry and Ginny now stood outside the Otter and Lion, the nearest and only Molly Weasley-approved pub to The Burrow in Ottery St. Catchpole. Harry could see people-shaped forms through the frosted, stained glass windows of the small public house and from the movement inside, he could tell the pub was crowded… and Harry hated crowds. He avoided them every chance he could.
He wished he was back at The Burrow, lounging by the fire and thinking about going back to bed; even after his long nap, he was tired and the feeling had been exacerbated by a very satisfying home-cooked meal of onion soup, fresh-baked bread and toad-in-the-hole, courtesy of Mrs. Weasley. However, Harry remembered Ginny’s letter and her pleadings that they go out her first night home. He wanted to do something nice for her, so he asked her to go out with him… and this pub was the only available, acceptable establishment in the village.
Harry looked in the window of the pub again, and then glanced at his ever-patient girlfriend whose arms were now crossed over her chest with her toe tapping impatiently at his hesitation. He felt tired and annoyed. Not because she had dragged him to the village — he wanted to be here with her —but because he just hadn’t remembered until now that crowds bothered him. Even though he had spent loads of time in Muggle pubs these past few months, his favourite type of spots were dark, dank city pubs. The village establishment in Ottery St. Catchpole reminded him too much of somewhere like the Three Broomsticks with its warm hearth and thatched roof.
He also wondered if there were any other wizards out and about. The village had a small wizarding population but no shops or wizarding establishments of its own, so surely the wizarding society would intermingle. Harry imagined that the second he was seen cosied up with Ginny in public, they would probably end up in one of the gossip magazines or on the lifestyles page of the Prophet within a matter of seconds.
“Are you very sure you want to go in there?” he asked again.
“Well, where else do you want to go?” She looked at the back door to the pub. “Yes, I want to go in. It’s warm in there… and we can talk. Isn’t that the point?”
“We could have talked at your house.” He kicked at a rock in the cobblestone street. “In your room? Or how about we go to that park, the one with the stone benches that you like?”
“I do love that park, but it’s cold outside, Harry. Why don’t you want to go in there again?” She motioned towards the door.
Harry looked away. “I… just think it’s a bit crowded.”
When he looked back, he realized that Ginny looked a bit hurt. “If you didn’t want to go with me, why did you ask me to go?” she asked softly. “I would have been fine with an evening at home with you.”
He sorely realized that an evening at home with her would have suited him just fine. Yet, hadn’t she wanted to go out, and didn’t he want to start doing nice things for her? Harry shuffled his feet a bit and, hands in his pockets, began to try and explain himself.
“I wanted to do something nice for you. And you asked me to take you out in your letter; remember?”
Ginny touched his arm gently. He looked down at her hand on his shirt. “So you did want to take me out. Now it seems like you’ve changed your mind. Be honest. Tell me why. Are you afraid to be seen with me in public?” She gave him a sly grin as if she were joking and he found it hard not to grin back.
“No. Well, maybe that’s a part of it.”
”Why?” She began raking her fingernails up and down his bicep as she had earlier that evening in the kitchen. It caused him to lose his train of thought momentarily.
It wasn’t until she stopped touching him like that and moved her hand away that he regained his thought process. He scratched the back of his hair. “Err. I dunno. I think some of the girls in your potions class began rumours that we’re going out again. You know, from the last time I was at Hogwarts.”
”What would make you think that?”
”Hermione jokes around in her letters that they’re constantly asking you questions about me… and someone came up to me in the post office the other day and asked if it was true that we were going out. To be honest, that wasn’t good news to me. Everyone knows your family lives in these parts and if, for some reason, someone were to say anything to the wrong person, we could end up tomorrow’s front-page news…”
“Wait, Harry. You think people are going to follow you or come hunt you down just to see if you’re out for a pint of ale with your girlfriend?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t want to be recognized. I’d feel better if I had my Cloak.”
“Harry, listen. I realize it’s not exactly ideal to have the entire wizarding world watching our relationship, but you’re Harry Potter. You should be used to it by now.”
He realized that as well, but he wasn’t used to it and never would be. If he saw himself on another front page daily he was bound to scream.
“I have an idea. If you’re afraid of people knowing we’re together, let’s try going in there as friends. We can share a drink and be friends in public, can’t we do that? And please agree before I freeze on the spot. I’d really like to go inside,” Ginny said, hugging herself and rubbing her arms. She seemed to be freezing and he knew he had to take her somewhere and soon.
He thought of what she had just said for a moment. He was excited to talk to her, but even more so to kiss her again, especially since it had been so long since they had kissed for longer than a few seconds at a time. He missed being close to her and the two attempts he had made today to kiss her had failed miserably. In her room, she had turned her face, and on their walk over, he had made a feeble attempt to try again but ended up with only another turned cheek. He was beginning to think she didn’t want to kiss him, that he had bad breath or something, even though he had brushed his teeth when he woke up from his nap and again after dinner. He wanted very much to snog Ginny — good and proper — and for a reasonable length of time other than two minutes. It had been over two months since her Quidditch tryouts, which was the last time he’d had her all to himself for any length of time. He still remembered the way her body had felt pressed against his, the way he had pulled her small t-shirt above her waist and…
Ginny dropped his hand. The thought of letting go of her warm hand and not being able to hold it again for the entire evening made the monster in his chest quite grouchy, although he didn’t want to compromise their privacy lest someone see them out and about together. Besides, a warm place to sit, some good conversation and a pint of ale sounded nice.
“We used to be friends, right?” She poked him in the chest. “We can do this again.”
Harry wanted to agree, yet he also wanted to point out that for a good amount of the time after they had been friends, he had wanted to be more than friends. Although he hadn’t known at the time that she had any interest in him at all, he was sure Ginny had wanted to be more than friends, too.
They made their way up the alley and to the door. Ginny had decided it best if they walk in a few minutes a part, so no one would suspect they were together. He didn’t know if she did this to placate him, or to poke at him. She went in first, swinging her long red hair behind her. She turned and grinned back at him playfully before disappearing behind the door to the pub.
He opened the door a few moments later. Harry noticed that there was a Muggle football match on. Everyone was so absorbed in their own drink and conversation that hardly anyone noticed them enter.
She had sat in a booth in the very back corner. When he came in, he sat across from her, gave her a small smile and a slight wave, yet they didn’t speak to one another yet.
He stood up and ordered them two pints at the bar, as well as an order of chips, before he settled back into their booth.
They talked about her potions project for a few moments, and just as the ale arrived, he had a bit of a surprise. Ron and Hermione were standing in the entrance, looking around for them.
“Look who just showed up.” He motioned to the entrance. “You’re kidding! Oy!”
Harry waved over a red-faced Ron and a smiling Hermione. Ron sauntered over, holding Hermione’s hand. Harry and Hermione shared a huge hug while Ron messed up Ginny’s hair with a tinge of affection.
“We arrived about five minutes after you left,” Hermione began excitedly, her bushy hair springing outward as she pulled off her knit cap “Mum and Dad told me that they’re busy over the next few days and I should just go on to The Burrow. Ron was there in less than five minutes to help me settle my things in. Molly and Arthur told us you’d be here.”
Hermione settled into the booth next to Ginny, and Ron pushed Harry up against the wall.
After a moment, Ron got up to get drinks. Harry watched Ginny’s thin bottom lip as she spoke, the way she bit it between the back and forth she was having with Hermione. It made him want to nip at it, too. Her wavy, shiny hair glinted in the dim light. He wanted to bury his face in her neck, the way he had last summer, in the dark of her room, and kiss her endlessly. He began fiddling with a salt shaker.
Bugger all. He didn’t want to be friends with Ginny! This was going to be a difficult evening, especially now that Ron and Hermione were around.
“Harry?” Hermione kicked him under the table. “All right?”
He looked up. “Sure. Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Then tell me, how’s the storage process going? How much have you done?”
“Oh yeah, that.” He ran a hand through his hair, thinking of it. He had only dug out the Pensieve twice, and stored about ten or so memories. “Well, I think.”
“What process?” Ginny chimed in, looking curious.
“Oh.” Hermione looked from Harry to Ginny, and then turned a bit red in the face. “I’m so sorry, Harry. I didn’t know that she… that you hadn’t…”
”It’s fine,” Harry cut in quickly, knowing he had to explain to Ginny before he acted like it was a big deal. “Hermione suggested that I start storing my memories. So, I have.”
“While they’re fresh. This way, he doesn’t need to keep the details fresh in his mind. He can relax a bit this way.”
“Storing what? How?” Ron was back from the bar with a pint for himself and a half of cider for Hermione and Ginny.
”In a Pensieve.”
“You have a Pensieve?” Ginny asked.
“I do. But I’ve only had it a month or so. Dumbledore used to say that it made his head feel a bit lighter to store his memories.” Harry added, “I told Hermione that I was thinking about it, and she urged me to get one. That’s all.”
“I see.” Ginny nodded. “So, is it working? Do you feel better?”
He stared into his pint for a few moments. “I do, but only after I use it. It’s helpful since this way I can let go of having to remember all the details. For now.”
“Whatever works,” Ginny piped up again, making Harry feel more and more uncomfortable, “I mean, if Dumbledore used it and Hermione suggested it, it must have been a good idea.”
Hermione looked between the two of them with a bit of a confused expression.
“Can I ask a strange question?” Hermione began.
“Sure.” Harry answered. He was feeling quite awful and nervous about what Hermione was about to ask.
Hermione looked between him and Ginny for a few moments. “Do you two ever speak to one another?”
Ginny breathed in once. “Stop being nosy, Hermione,” she said sharply. “Do you and Ron ever do anything besides run to the bedroom?”
Harry tried to stop the grin that threatened to stretch across his face and finally managed to do so when Ginny glared at him. His chest sank. With Hermione’s comments, he was definitely in for it now. This was not the way he’d imagined his first special night back with Ginny. He wished suddenly that Ron and Hermione hadn’t shown up.
“We do, in fact!” Hermione was obviously defensive. “Don’t we, Ron? We write letters almost every day. I know what’s going on in his life, and we tell each other everything. Isn’t that right, Ron?”
“Sure, Hermione, whatever you say.”
“I believe you, Hermione.” Ginny cut in. “As daft as Ron is, you two must come up for air to talk about important things every once in awhile. Otherwise, you wouldn’t get along so well.”
Harry leaned his elbows on the table and pressed the palms of his hands to his forehead. Why did he suddenly feel like he wanted to have his Cloak with him but for an altogether different reason? He seriously wished he could disappear.
Ginny fumed on the inside. Despite how endearing she found Harry’s extensive Muggle football knowledge to be, as he explained it to Ron, she had such an urge to kick him as hard as she could.
It was impossible to keep up some semblance of normalcy while she spoke to Hermione about gossip, and robes, and Hermione’s last Ancient Runes parchment. In truth, Ginny’s mind was elsewhere, trying very hard to stop herself from just hitting Harry hard with a Bat-Bogey Hex.
How she felt had nothing to do with Hermione, who was only trying to check up on her best friend, who probably hadn’t written to her in ages, either. It had to do with the fact that Harry was a right git! To not discuss with her, or tell her, these important things?
Why was he being like this? Hadn’t he wanted to keep honesty between them? Ginny tried not to let it bother her as the night progressed.
Then again, she had been guilty herself. She kept things from him, too, all the things about school, the Quidditch tryout form and other, smaller and less important things. Why had she done that? Oh, right… not to bother him with them. Although, what he had kept from her was much worse! She hadn’t known he was feeling so horrible that he needed something to help lighten his head!
How horrible was he feeling? Was it that bad? Ginny felt so helpless once again, and so torn between wanting to help Harry, and wanting to make their relationship work out, that she couldn’t sort out exactly what to do.
After an hour or so, Ron and Hermione left to go back to London. Their plans called for Hermione staying at Grimmauld Place with Ron and, of course, Ginny knew the two of them would spend Hermione’s first night back cuddled together in Ron’s bedroom. Shaking the images this thought conjured from her mind's eye, Ginny turned her attention back to her surroundings.
The pub had become even busier since they’d arrived. Ginny looked down in her lap as soon as her brother and Hermione walked off.
“Want to go? Tired?” Harry asked.
“No, can we stay a while longer?” she said softly, staring into her lap.
Ginny shook her head no, not looking at him. Then, feeling suddenly too frustrated to not tell him what she was thinking, she blurted out, “Fine. Yes, something is wrong. Why didn’t you tell me that you’re really feeling so badly, Harry? I didn’t know you needed to start storing your memories like that.”
“What?” He gave her a strange look. “It’s not that I’m feeling that badly… loads of wizards and witches do it. It’s actually a very common thing to do.”
“No. It’s not. If loads of witches and wizards do it, that’s one thing. Nobody I know has had to do that. Plus, Hermione said that she suggested that you do it because you were feeling so low. You say we should be honest about our feelings and then you’re not honest…”
“It’s not that I haven’t been honest!” he said, quite defensively.
“You just haven’t told me! I know. Hermione is right. It’s just… I have to ask… why? What is it about me that makes you not want to trust me or tell me things?” She stopped, hoping to let that sink in. “What is it? Are you afraid that, that… what I see or hear or feel when you open up to me will scare me away? If that’s the case, you’re a prat and you don’t know me at all.”
“I do trust you, Ginny,” he said evenly.
“You must not.” She took a deep breath, trying to get her voice even. “It hurts me, that’s all. I know Hermione is your best friend, but I’m your girlfriend. Doesn’t that mean anything to you? I love that she gives you advice and I’m glad you’re following it, but you could at least tell me about it or tell me why. Instead, you want to completely keep me in the dark, and away from fully understanding… you. If you can’t trust me or share with me, that’s a very large problem we’re going to have moving forward. If you want to move forward that is… otherwise, I’m just… being a complete and total fool. Nevermind. Maybe you should take me home before I embarrass myself any further…”
Harry had that stupid look on his face that she hated, the one that told her he was dumbfounded she had put him in his place, but didn’t want to admit she had. She wanted to wipe it off for him and then get out of the pub as quickly as possible.
A few moments passed before she decided what to say next.
”Are you ever going to let me in, Harry? And when? You have to realize that I’ve been patiently waiting for you to come around and consider me to be your girlfriend and not — like you called me this afternoon — a little girl, who needs to be kept away from the truth.”
Harry quickly came around the table and sank into the booth next to her, not facing her. He took her hand and squeezed it.
“You’re right. I know I hated being kept away from the truth when I was younger. I honestly didn’t know you felt that way, Ginny, and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. You’re completely right about that and I have no idea why I’m… acting this way or keeping things from you as if it were for your own good.”
Ginny was stunned by his sudden apology and agitated as well. She pulled her hand away.
She turned to him. “Don’t just agree and apologize! What… you think I’ll just drop it? Think about what I’ve said. Think about how I feel, for once. You’re being a git as we speak, but you’ve always been a git about this type of stuff. You want to do everything alone, you want to fight your own battles and you never ask for help. Haven’t you learned by now that it’s only when you have friends on your side — when you let them help you — that you come out much better off in the end? Isn’t that the story of your life and yet you don’t learn, do you?”
Harry took a deep breath, recoiling at her onslaught of words. “I’m sorry. I really am. I don’t know why, when I think of you… I have this strange, solid need to protect you from… everything I’m feeling. I’m afraid you’ll be scared off when you realize…”
“Ah, I knew it. Scared off when I realize what?”
He didn’t say a word.
“What’s wrong? Talk to me. When I realize what?”
Ginny threw him a concerned look. “Harry. Let’s get out of here. I don’t want a row with you, but we need to talk more. There are some things you need to understand.”
Harry swallowed. He had followed Ginny out of the pub, knowing full well that wherever she wanted to go, he would go along with her. He checked his watch. It was about eleven at night.
Of course, the forest at the edge of town was pitch black, and they were heading straight into it. Ginny lit her wand, and soon he was following her. She was holding his hand, which he thought meant something positive, although, he did feel a bit nervous about following Ginny into a forest in the dead of night. What did she want to talk about? He already knew she was angry because he wasn’t revealing everything to her. The truth was, perhaps he was keeping her away for her own good. He wasn’t as neatly adjusted as she’d probably hoped he would be after the war and he didn’t want to go into details. And sure, it scared him that she would be scared off if he told her half of what was going through his head. Didn’t she want someone normal?
“Whenever I would go with the boys into town, before I was Hogwarts,” Ginny began softly, “I would wander off, and in summer I would love to come to the river and watch the otters. Do you see how narrow the river gets at this point? They like to make their burrows here. Sit down, please. Wait, let me… hold on.”
He watched her close her eyes and then conjure a small, fluffy rug. She had been trying for a blanket, probably, but ended up with something much smaller. Not that he would have done any better, although looking at the hard, cold ground, he hoped the spell would last the length of time they were sitting there.
“Lovely, this will do.” She spread it out on the ground and instructed him to sit.
He complied, more out of fear of not doing so.
She sat next to him after a moment, and reached for his hand, which she squeezed gently once. “I… I can’t believe you’re still fighting to protect me from how you’re feeling when it’s the opposite, really. I want to help you through whatever it is you’re going through. Remember how I said that the world would get better with time? I meant that you would, too…”
Harry pulled his hand back and rested his elbows on his knees, feeling stubborn. “I’m fine, really. There’s not much to tell. I realize that I’m not being… that I’m not telling you everything, but I figured you didn’t really want to know everything.”
“Well,” she sat more upright. He watched a small frown begin at the corners of her lips. “I do want to know…” He watched Ginny pick up a bit of snow in her hands, beginning to pack a snowball. “I don’t know how to say that I want to know what’s going on inside of your mind without seeming like a nutter. But I do.”
”Err… Well, I’m sure you don’t tell me everything.”
Ginny thought for awhile. “Fine. I suppose I’m guilty of keeping things from you from time to time.”
He looked at her as if to say, what type of things?
”Sure. Sometimes, when I’m writing to you, I… I don’t say things to you because I think you’ll think they’re entirely stupid, and I don’t want you to have to worry about my problems.”
Harry scratched his arm, wondering what Ginny was going to say she was keeping from him. “Err… like what?”
Ginny sighed. “Like I’m so behind on my schoolwork that McGonagall sat me down at the beginning of the month and threatened to remove me as Quidditch captain.”
He was surprised. At school, Ginny always had good marks and took her studies seriously. When she was revising for owls her fifth year, he always admired how diligent she was when it came to her schoolwork. “You’re joking.”
Ginny simply affirmed her statement with a look.
“She can’t do that!”
“She can and she will if my assignments don’t get completed in time, and my marks don’t go up.”
“Well, you’re a great student! You always were. What’s wrong with your marks?”
Ginny shook her head. “I don’t know. I’m just not interested in school. I try to keep up, but my head isn’t at Hogwarts. It’s up in the air, flying with the Quaffle, dodging Bludgers.” She held up her hand to an imaginary Bludger, flying her way. “The only thing I still like is Defence, since it’s so important to me. Must have been that barmy teacher I used to have. That or because that same barmy teacher is my boyfriend, the Auror.” She knocked into him with her shoulder.
Harry chuckled a bit. Ginny couldn’t help but smile.
“She doesn’t understand, the witch!! I’m trying to win Gryffindor the cup here, and she’s worried that my eleven-inch parchment wasn’t the entire fifteen inches, and she can’t cut me any slack.”
“Why don’t you tell me this stuff?”
“Because you don’t tell me your stuff.”
Harry sat, still contemplating her words. If Ginny wasn’t sharing things with him either, it meant they were hardly communicating. He couldn’t believe how much trouble she was going through at school. It made him feel terrible, especially since he realized that he hadn’t really asked her since September how school was going. And perhaps, at that moment, he was a large part of her distraction from schoolwork? Especially when he didn’t write to her for weeks at a time… He realized, with a sinking feeling, that above and beyond not telling her much of what was on his mind, he hadn’t really been a great boyfriend to her at all. He was so wrapped up in training and his own problems that he wasn’t even aware that his girlfriend might have needed him. He felt like the most horrible person in the world, and even more so since Ginny, out of everyone he knew, probably cared about him the most. Suddenly, her voice broke him out of his thoughts.
“Even though you don’t tell me things, I know you. I know something is going on and I know that you’re busy with your own problems. I don’t want my small, stupid stuff on your head, bothering you. I want to be entirely cheerful when we’re together, or in my letters, simply to make you feel better. Obviously, it’s not working, since it makes me feel worse and it makes you feel no better than before.”
”It does work. I like being around you because you’re so… cheerful and it does make me feel better. It always did.”
“Well, I’m sorry I can’t be so cheerful tonight. I’m a bit nervous, actually, with what I’m about to say.”
Harry didn’t like the sound of this. What did she mean to say? Whatever it was, it definitely had something to do with the way he had been behaving lately towards her and he probably deserved it. He sat stone still.
“Don’t get upset but… Harry, I’m… I’m not sure we can go on being this one-sided in our relationship. And I don’t want to think of what will happen if we continue on this way.”
Harry couldn’t move. What did she mean? What was going to happen? She wasn’t going to break up with him because he didn’t tell her about his deepest, darkest worries or the little things going on in his life, such as his storing memories in a Pensieve. Was she? Although this was a bit of a wake-up call, wasn’t it? If she didn’t break up with him for these reasons, she was going to break up with him if he didn’t start treating her like a girlfriend, his girlfriend, should be treated. That was for certain.
One thing he was adamantly against was breaking up. Despite how she felt about his lack of vision for their future, and despite how confused he was regarding whether or not he did love her, how was he supposed to figure it out if she wasn’t there? He was seriously committed to making an effort to figure it out, but in the meantime, he wasn’t about to completely lose her.
“Listen, I just want everyone to be happy this Christmas. I’m worried about Mum and how everyone is going to deal this year. It’s the first Christmas without Fred.”
Harry felt a huge wave of grief roll over him when he thought of Fred and this coming Christmas holiday. The image of the Weasleys missing Fred, or Ginny, George and Ron missing their brother, made him feel miserable.
“I want to enjoy the time I have with you during the hols — without having to worry about our problems. Okay? We’re together now for two whole weeks. That’s brilliant. And I don’t need to ask again that you treat me as someone that you trust and confide in. You’ve said before that you want to stay together. So just say you’ll open up to me more, Harry, and try and make an effort to. That’s all I ask.”
She wasn’t giving him a choice now, was she, but he couldn’t complain. He was lucky that Ginny had put up with him for the last few months and she deserved what she was asking for. “Okay. I’ll try.”
”I know you’ll try.” She leaned forward and kissed him once on the cheek. As she slowly pulled back he met her eyes for a moment and kept them there. “Thank you.”
Harry wasn’t sure what to say. He watched her look down, and began to play with the shag carpet/blanket, as he allowed her words to sink in. He couldn’t move from where he sat. He didn’t want to lose Ginny. Perhaps it was best to be more open with her, despite the risks involved. Despite what she said about wanting to know, he still felt like it was a real risk to show her how hurt and muddled up he felt on the inside. Ginny was so happy and good. Maybe she would want someone more normal who would treat her well and not be such a damn git. Harry wondered how he could ever make her as happy as she deserved to be. It seemed like such an impossible task.
Ginny always made him feel better and now was no different. She reached for his hand, and the look on her face assured him that, despite everything, she still wanted to be there next to him. “Perhaps we’ll begin to understand one another one day. For two people who seem to want to be together, it’s quite laughable how dysfunctional we’ve become.” She grinned, squeezing his hand. “I want to change that. I just don’t know how to without your help.”
“So do we need to make another rule?” Harry offered. Their system of rules had worked so far, somewhat. At the very least, it was something they both usually took seriously.
”Sure. I like that idea. Except you broke a rule by not writing to me a few weeks in a row, which I will say was rather mean. It felt like my first few weeks back at Hogwarts in September all over again. I just thought we were past that is all.”
“I did. I’m sorry…things were so busy in training. I promise it won’t happen again, Ginny.”
”Were you not thinking of me at all?”
“I was. I was thinking of you a lot. I’m sorry. I promise to keep that rule from now on — all the rules. Especially this new one.”
“Okay. I believe you, but you’re lucky, once again, that I like you so much. So, who should make the new rule, you or I?”
“You made one, and then I made one so… how about we make this one together?” he suggested.
”Okay. Let’s think about it for a moment. We want to make sure it’s worded correctly.”
A few moments passed. Harry, feeling strangely agitated and under pressure, tied his boot lace, which had come undone, then re-tied it again before he spoke.
“We can’t be afraid to share things with one another?” he offered.
“Good start. It’s more than that, though. Goodness, I can talk forever about this, really. I’m just not sure where to start.”
Harry grinned at her enthusiasm for relationship rule-making. “Come on, then… add what you wish.”
“Fine. It’s a whole mess of things,” she began, holding up a hand and ticking her points off on her fingers. “Not being afraid to share what’s happening in our lives, for one. And talking to one another, and telling the other if something, anything, is bothering us. And listening to one another! And if you’re worried or upset or just plain angry, I want to know! I want you to tell me.” She dropped her hands in her lap.
“So basically, it’s what I said. Not being afraid to share with each other, and tell whatever is bothering us. And when this is all over, if everything works out, we’ll write a book together and be famous.” He stretched his arms over his head, and then lay back, no longer caring that half of his body was in a cold, damp snowdrift.
Ginny looked down at him and made a face. “You’re already famous, Harry. I doubt you want to be even more famous.”
He thought for a moment. “You’re right. Not really. I’m just saying, we’ve got about three rules so far. How about we make it to ten? Then we’ll have ten failsafe ways to… to… Maintain a distance relationship?” He finished, “If we’re successful in maintaining it, that is.” He added, “I mean, if I’m successful at maintaining it.”
She paused for a few moments and surveyed him sceptically.
Harry was amused. “What’s that look? Are you going to curse me or something?”
“No. You’ve edged away with your bogies intact this time. Although, one more rule to add if we’re making it to ten.”
”I’m making this rule. No more letters to beautiful pop stars, Harry.”
He swallowed hard. Perhaps writing to Verona was something he shouldn’t have done, because he had a girlfriend. He just hadn’t thought of Ginny or even considered her at all. He realized more and more, while he thought about it, that he hadn’t been considering her thoughts and feelings very much at all, not just on this, but on everything.
”That bothered you, didn’t it? Fine, I’ll stay away from all witches from now on, but no more flirting with Jack the Keeper.”
“Me?” Ginny looked surprised. “I never flirted!”
”Yes, you were. That day in your potions class,” he accused, grinning since he wanted to make sure she knew he wasn’t that upset or anything, even though it had bothered him. “You were smiling at him, and laughing, and giving that tosser Jack those eyes you give me when I can never say no to you.”
Ginny laughed. ”Was not! Harry, you’re jealous. I swear, there is no way I would ever look at Jack the same way I would look at you. You were imagining things.”
“Alright. It wasn’t the very same way, but I didn’t like it,” he grumbled.
”So, Mr. Jealous. Rule number four is that we’re not allowed to flirt with the opposite gender or write letters to complete strangers who want to fawn over us. I’m glad we’ve finally got this rule down, actually.”
He looked up at her, sitting there watching him. What he wouldn’t give to pull her down next to him and roll himself on top of her and pin her there and just forget time. Yet, although Ginny’s attitude had softened, it was not to the point where he thought he could get away with another kiss just yet, so he wasn’t about to try.
”I never knew this relationship thing would be so hard,” he admitted, “especially with you. Remember when we were both at school? How easy things were when it came to us? Why was it so easy?” he wondered aloud. “Did we feel differently for each other or something? What’s changed?”
Ginny took a deep breath. “I don’t think it’s that. It’s still easy when we’re together, I think. We’re just older now, and we’ve been through a lot. On top of that, we have to keep it together with plenty of distance between us. I know it’s hard at times, but I think it’s worth it, especially at times like this, when we can be together. I hope you do, too,” she added.
She was blushing. He couldn’t help but notice and appreciate that it had taken a lot of guts for her to say that to him. He thought of how pretty she looked in the moonlight and of how much he had missed her last year, how he would have given anything a year ago tonight to be sitting here with her. He sat up and reached for her hand.
“Of course I do,” he whispered softly in a tone that was so tender and honest he almost did not recognize it came from him. He then leaned over and barely brushed his lips over her warm cheek.
Ginny sat back and looked at the ground. There was something about not allowing herself to snog Harry that made her want to all the more.
She felt shaky as she pushed his shoulder away from her.
It was then that she realized how knackered she felt. She couldn’t believe what a long day it had been.
“Do you still care who sees us? What was that before — about not wanting to be seen with me in public? You asked me today if you were hideous and now I might have to ask the same thing.”
He smiled. “No, you’re very… pretty… to me. I should have said that earlier today, in your bedroom, but the words didn’t come out in time.” Then he added, to her surprise, “I’m glad you came home today.”
”Me, too. Although, why do you still feel like venturing into a crowded pub with me is hard for you? I just thought all of those feelings would have gone away by now, since you’re so used to being in the city…”
”I don’t know. I just think about it way too much. In the city is one thing. Nobody knows me out there, or who I am. Except here, there are wizarding people too, and besides being photographed for the Prophet, some of them, the crazy ones, could be out for revenge, you know? And if they still know about us, and have it out for me, that puts you at risk, doesn’t it…”
Ginny felt wide-awake again. She was stunned by his answer. Was it really about keeping her safe? If it was, what did it mean about how he felt for her? He still felt that being close to him put her at personal risk. “Hold on a moment. Slow down, Harry.” Ginny pulled herself to her knees and knelt squarely in front of him “You’re still having thoughts like that? Is that why you’re pushing me away and trying to keep things from me?”
“Maybe,” he muttered, sitting up to face her. He glanced sideways at her. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s a part of why and I don’t even realize it.”
“Harry.” She reached for his hand. “Nothing’s going to happen to me, okay? Anytime we’re together, I know I’m safe with you. You need to trust that I’ll protect myself when we’re apart. And it’s not just you protecting me, Harry. We’ll always help protect each other, won’t we?”
”Well, my dad couldn’t protect my mum or me.” He breathed into his hands to warm them. “I’m only one person…”
She crawled into his lap, and lay her head against his chest. She could finish that sentence for him, but wouldn’t. Yet, at this moment, she felt as if she knew exactly what was in his mind. Harry put his arms around her. For the first time since she had arrived home that afternoon, she wanted to let him close. She leaned against his chest, curled up in his arms, watching the river for a few moments.
I’m only one person… She imagined him elaborating on that. How can I ever be responsible for your safety and the safety of… a family? So much of Harry’s life had been loss. Ginny felt her body tense up in reaction to his words and the pain she knew lay behind them. Harry’s pain had always been her pain, too.
Tonight, as she had the chance to observe him, she could see how, when he wasn’t talking to someone, he had the blank, empty stare she had seen at Fred’s grave that day last summer.
Feeling sad, she breathed in his smell, so familiar and comforting she thought she could never tire of it. She was up against so much, she realized suddenly. How many of these dark thoughts in his mind were standing in the way of his ability to see himself with a happy future or the belief that he was entitled to one? It made her feel ill, she felt so angry. Not at him, but at the fact that he felt this way, still. It hurt her. It was a thought she’d had so many times since last June: even though he had made it through the war, whole and alive, he wasn’t. Not really. She rested her hand on his cheek and caressed his face gently. Everything inside of her screamed with the want to make him feel good, to make him okay, to just make him better.
“I don’t know what to say to that. All I know is that…” she paused for a while, listening to the hooting of a barn owl echo in the still night. “There is a purpose to everything in this world, I think, whatever happens it’s what was meant to happen. You can’t stop things from happening and you can’t hide yourself from the world for the fear that something will happen. It’s called living life. Look at my parents. Mum’s worst nightmare was to lose one of her children, and she did. Isn’t that awful? She couldn’t stop it from happening though. Harry. Fred was going to run into battle and fight just as we all did, despite what our parents thought or wanted for us. Mum had a choice to either lie down and die with him, or move on, and I assure you that, for the first few weeks, this wasn’t an easy choice for her. Mum is so strong, though. The strongest witch I know. Maybe that’s where all of my optimism comes from. She’s been through so much, and she’s lost a lot, too, but she always finds something positive to focus her attentions on. She’s taught me that there’s always something beautiful to look forward to, isn’t there? Once you get past tragedy, that is. A new baby, for instance, or the first snowfall of winter, or even a kiss after being apart for so long, that makes life worth living.”
Harry nuzzled his nose into her hair, and then, as if he were trying very hard to figure out how to get close to her again, they spent a few moments, taking their time. He breathed in her ear, and held her closer, then pressed his lips against her cheek. She reached up and grazed her fingers lightly over his temple and then slid her hand to the back of his hair where she threaded the dark mess she couldn’t get out of her mind through her fingers. Then she turned her face to meet his kiss. All her senses awoke. Her whole body reacted to his and she no longer felt tired.
Ginny complied for now. She thought of Fleur’s letters, and her suggestions that she say the truth, and not be shy with how she felt for him. For that, combined with the not-snogging this afternoon and evening, Ginny was very, very proud of herself at the moment. She definitely thought a quick hello was in order.
He kissed her deeper and pulled her into his lap.
She only wanted to help and show him that she was right here for him, and she always would be. She only wanted to make him feel good, to make him feel better.
If things work out. His voice from just before shot into her mind. Perhaps if she shook him a bit, or hit him over the head with something heavy and large, he would open his eyes and truly see who she was, and so wanted to be to him.
Sod it. She felt his arms tighten around her waist. Ginny felt her resolve weaken and then disappear completely. The longer he kissed her, the more the quick hello turned into however many minutes were going by, the more she felt herself not really caring. She pushed Fleur’s advice to the back of her mind. What she was and wasn’t doing wrong to get Harry to look at her the way she wanted him to hardly mattered at that moment. She forgot about keeping her kisses short.
At one point, her rug had disappeared, and they took a short break so Harry could conjure them a warm blanket. It wasn’t long before she fell back into his arms again.
They were forgetting time. Ginny pushed Fleur’s rule to the far back of her mind, the one about spending more time talking and less time kissing. They had already talked that night and it was enough, perhaps for the rest of Christmas Hols. She didn’t need to talk. She needed to kiss and be kissed and held. She needed to bury her hands in his hair, and pull him as close to her as possible, and show him love. She was under him and he was fully embracing her, loving and sweet. Every taste and smell was so familiar and every few seconds, a wave of relaxation and heat poured through her. She played with the ends of his hair. Oh, Godric, how she had missed him. How unfair these weeks and days apart had been.
Ginny felt her body react to his and wished for a moment that instead of a rug he had conjured them a mattress… a very comfortable mattress.
He pulled back for an instant and looked at her as if dazed. She felt dizzy as she rested her cheek against his chest. They were both breathing quickly and she thought it was a good point to stop as well.
Ginny’s thoughts were now a bit clearer than just before. She knew she had been carried away just now, and he would be disappointed by the fact that she didn’t plan on any four-hour long snogging sessions these next few weeks.
“You know, I missed this.” It was that same, tender voice that he used earlier. It was only rarely, when they were together like this, that that voice came through, and before tonight, she had not heard him sound so sincere since summer. She felt him swallow as she played with the curls at the base of his neck, wrapping them in her fingers. “A lot.”
”This or me?”
They kissed for a few more moments, slower than before. Ginny pressed her hand against his cheek, holding his face, caressing his cheek gently with her fingertips. He was quiet. Why did he have to think about that?
”You, Ginny. Of course, you.” He pulled her into an embrace, where she rested her head on his shoulder.
”Are you only just saying that because it’s what you’re supposed to say?”
”No.” He pulled back and looked at her intensely. “I’m not. I’ve been going barmy trying to figure out why you ran away from that damn broom cupboard the last time I saw you.” Ginny wasn’t listening. She thought she could lay there forever, with him looking down at her like this. “I wondered if you didn’t like me anymore.” He kissed her quickly on the cheek, once, then again. “I suppose I was worrying for nothing since, after that kiss, I’d say you do like me…”
”Can you tell?” She smiled, thinking of how, despite winning an impossible war, and overcoming enormous odds, he really was the same shy and insecure Harry he had been when he began following her around fifth year. Ginny did find it nearly ridiculous that Harry was fretting over her affections towards him. when usually she thought it was the other way around.
She rubbed his back, scratching him with her fingernails. and then hugged him close.
He snuggled into her, too. ”You’re so great, Ginny. Thank you for wanting to be my girlfriend, even when I’m a stupid git.”
Ginny smiled. “You’re welcome, stupid git.”
Although. what a weird comment. She didn’t want to be great. What a stupid word. She wanted him to love her. She wanted his heart. Although, this tender-voiced, soft-hearted version of her boyfriend was a diversion from the way he usually was and Ginny thought this was great progress moving ahead.
Harry James ‘stupid git’ Potter, I love you, she thought, making herself comfortable.
She felt like she fitted so well in his arms and, feeling like she could fall asleep if he just held her there, long enough, she felt herself relax. After a few moments, he must have noticed how sleepy they were both feeling, and he made a comment about how he didn’t want them to freeze to death out here if they fell asleep. He made the decision to forgo their walk, and Side-Along Apparated her home.
It was then that she realized how alive she felt, when his strong arms were holding her close, and she was clinging to him and it was just their bodies pressed together and darkness surrounding them both.
Ginny hardly slept all night.
Author's Notes: I hope anyone reading along enjoyed Chapter 12. This piece changed quite a lot through the course of editing, and I'm pleased with the way it eventually turned out! A big giant thank you to Arnel for her incredible beta work on this chapter, and for her continued encouragement. -R