Ginny held the wash bin in her arms, instead of levitating it, and walked into the scullery. She heard shuffling feet, which she knew was her mum rushing in behind her from the kitchen. She hadn't been trying to evade her mum, but she didn't really feel like talking right now.
"Err...Hi, Mum. I'm going to do my school wash now. Quidditch robes and all. Don't want to put you out, and besides I've nothing better to do today."
"Let me take that. You've been working so hard at school and try outs, it's the least I can do for you, sweetie." Her mum levitated the clothing and they followed behind the laundry bin. "So, did you have a nice time yesterday?"
Ginny knew her mum was referring to the visit at Harry's flat. "It was alright." Ginny shrugged her shoulders and then reached up and opened the cabinet door to retrieve the laundry soap. "You?"
"Yes, lovely, dear. It was nice to spend time with Harry. I'm sure he was happy to be spending time with you. Here, let me do that, dear," her mum implored.
"Okay," Ginny picked at her fingernails as her mother added soap to the giant wash tub and said the spell for agitating the wash. The water began churning, and steam rose off the surface of the water from the heat. Her mum was silent as they loaded her school robes and uniforms into the bubbling water. She helped unload the rest of her personals into the wash basin. The wash boards were already busy at work scrubbing her knickers. Ginny cleaned her hands in the hot soapy water, which turned them red from the heat.
"You know, Harry looked different to me yesterday," her mum began.
Ginny's head popped up. "How so?"
"To be honest, he looked much more presentable than I had seen him look since last summer. He's been cutting his hair on a regular basis and shaving. And his clothes were neat and tidy. Perhaps he's trying to impress a certain someone?" her mum said with a small smile. Ginny had nothing to say, and she watched her mum flick her wand at the iron, making it begin ironing the dry clothes. To busy herself she began levitating the clothes that were coming off the washboard to the mangle. "I saw how he was watching you at tea and I just wish I could do something about how lonely Harry seemed," her mum continued. "I think he is doing better with his healer visits, don't you? Your father also said he was very serious about his re-entrance into the Auror academy…"
Ginny knew what her mum was trying to imply, and gave in to talking. "I suppose he seems to be doing quite well. I'm glad for that, but…Mum, can I ask you a question?"
"Yes, of course."
Ginny focused on the swirling water in the tub. "If you were me, and Dad was Harry… would you go out with him again this soon? Harry seems to have changed for the better, and he's changed toward me too, but… remember you were the one who told me to break things off with him for how he was treating me? I just can't see myself going back to worrying and wondering how he feels about me between meetings, or waiting for his letters. Just because he's changed on the outside, would you trust that he's changed on the inside?"
"Oh, dear. I'm not sure. I suppose that depends on how genuine I thought his feelings were. In what way has he changed towards you, sweetheart?"
Ginny pushed her hair off her shoulder. "I don't know. He's different, I suppose. He wants to talk to me and tell me things he never would have imagined saying to me before. He sent me…flowers before my trials and a silver potions knife because mine was stolen. And I want to say that I'm happy about it all, but… how can I be? Why should I open my heart to him now when he hung mine out to dry just like my stupid soggy jumpers?" She poked her wand at the tub and her grey school jumper floated towards the clothes mangle, wrung itself, and then flew towards the clothes line where it hung itself to dry.
"In life there are many choices, sweetie, and sometimes there are big choices that aren't easy. You have the choice to open your heart or close it, Ginny." Her mum sighed. "You asked if it were me… I suppose I should tell you what happened when I was going out with your father." She carefully folded the trousers she had finished ironing as she talked, and Ginny hoisted herself onto the wooden counter above the lower cabinets, wondering what her mum would say. "You remember that my brothers and I were the last in a long line of Prewetts, an old wizarding family. My parents were modern ahead of their time and did not betroth me at a young age. Instead, they allowed me to choose a wizard who made me happy. I met Arthur at Hogwarts and I knew he was the one from my first day of fifth year. When Dad and I were going out, but not yet engaged, he had it in his head after the first Christmas we spent together at my parents home, that because he wasn't from a wizarding family that came from old wealth, I wouldn't want to marry him because he couldn't give me the life I deserved. So instead of talking to me about it, he decided to 'spare me' from a life with him and didn't answer my owls or visit me at school. He then chose to sulk because he thought I deserved better."
Ginny sat there slightly surprised. "Dad did that?" Her mum nodded. "How long did he behave like a prat?"
"Two long-suffering months of my seventh year."
"Well, one day he decided that he couldn't take it and had to see me so he showed up in the common room before classes one morning. I was so angry at him, I made him leave the school and I didn't speak to him for two more weeks. In those fourteen days he tried so hard to tell me he had made a mistake, I eventually had to listen. When we finally talked, I made it clear that I didn't care who he was or how much gold he had or didn't have because I loved him and couldn't imagine spending the rest of my life with anyone else. And when he took me in his arms, there was nothing I could do to not forgive him. My heart belonged to him, Ginny."
Ginny felt the same way. Her heart really did belong to the green-eyed wizard she was trying so hard to resist. "So that was it? You just got over it and moved on?" She admired her mum's strength, but still wasn't sure that she could be as strong or as trusting.
"It took a while to truly forgive him for being such an insecure git, Ginny, but I did."
Ginny giggled. "So you stayed in love with that 'insecure git' and lived happily ever after?"
"It took awhile, but things did go back to normal. Thirty-three years later, the only trial is keeping the flame alive, dear."
"And how do you do that?"
Mrs. Weasley smiled. "In the little things your father and I do for one another. He oils the gate when it squeaks, rubs my feet when they hurt, and keeps the chickens fed now that you children are all grown. Dad is also there for me through everything, and he's strong where I'm not. Our marriage has been through many phases and ups and downs, good times and bad. We've worked hard to keep the flame going and at times it's no piece of pie, but even though our love is constantly changing it's always good, and steady and right."
"I can't imagine being married to Harry for so long. But I know with a certainly that I want to be, and I want it to be him…" Ginny's cheeks heated up. "Fine. I admit it, Mum: I love him so much… and I want to be with him again, but what do I do? I'm still so confused…"
"Ginny, dear, you don't need to rush back to him, not right away! Not if you don't feel quite ready. I can understand why you have reservations. Here's a start. When he does something nice for you, tell him how appreciative you are. Then, as you feel more comfortable with that, you can tell him how special he is to you. You don't need to use the word 'love', not until you want to."
Ginny sighed. "There's more, though. To be honest, I haven't been very receptive to his efforts. I'm…afraid to even tell you that the flowers he sent me before my tryouts…I ignored them."
Mum gave her a scrutinizing glance. "How do you think that made him feel?"
Ginny took a deep breath, but didn't respond.
"Ginny, dear, Harry is obviously trying hard to win back your affections and I think his actions should at least be acknowledged. Tonight you should thank him for the flowers. It's the right thing to do. Tell him how he made you feel. Now can I ask you to do something else?"
Ginny nodded, and her mum continued. " Sweetheart, stop and ask yourself why he's here sending you flowers and improving his life, and not somewhere out in the world. Harry came home, my love. He's improving and is obviously committed to changing himself and improving himself for you. No need to jump in all at once, but my advice is to open your heart to him, a little at a time and see what happens."
Ginny hugged her mum, and left the scullery. She knew she had a lot of thinking to do before tonight.
Harry opened his eyes from his afternoon nap and sleepily looked at his clock. Half-four. He closed them again, intending to go back to sleep. Then he remembered that he was supposed to be at the Burrow for Sunday dinner in less than half an hour and suddenly he was wide awake.
He quickly showered, dressed and shrunk a change of clothes and his toothbrush and stuffed them into his jacket pocket just in case he was asked to spend the night. Instead of Apparating on an empty stomach, he took his newly connected Floo to the Burrow. As the fireplace spit him into the Weasley's sitting room and he brushed the soot off himself, he thought that maybe -- just maybe -- if he could corner Ginny on her own tonight, hopefully he could talk to her more. Yesterday in his study their conversation had gone well and all he wanted more than anything was to just…talk to her. He hoped that every one of their encounters would be as productive as yesterday. The progress he had made with her in just a short hour at his flat still made him smile. She had walked into the flat barely wanting to speak to him, and they had ended up in a nice conversation which actually felt comfortable and familiar by the end. It felt like progress, however slow.
"Harry, dear, welcome home!" Mrs. Weasley stood, came towards him with arms open, and hugged him as soon as he entered the kitchen. "Good to see you."
"'Arry, so lovely to see you!" Fleur sat at the kitchen table, helping to prepare the meal. She stood up to kiss both his cheeks and he couldn't help but notice that her stomach was huge and round. It startled Harry momentarily. He hadn't seen her since his visit to Shell Cottage in December and he remarked in his head how much she had grown, but didn't say it.
"You look great, Fleur."
"Please, do not flatter me, Harry. I know I look like I swallowed a hippogriff!"
Suddenly the kitchen door opened, and all heads turned towards it to see who was entering. Ginny stood in the doorway as the door shut behind her. There was a very awkward moment where everyone stood still and nobody said a thing.
"Hiya Harry," she said as she headed towards the stairs.
"H…Hi," he said as he followed her with his eyes. Even though she walked rather quickly, for some reason it seemed as if she moved across the room in slow motion. Ginny didn't turn back to look at him once, but he watched her every step. Sooner than he could blink twice, she had leapt up the stairs and out of sight. His heart pounded as he realized that Fleur and Mrs. Weasley were still there.
He tried to act nonchalant in front of the other occupants of the kitchen who went about their business with pursed lips, giving one another odd glances, probably about the fact that he couldn't tear his eyes from Ginny once she had entered the room. Neither of them would dare mention it, he knew, but Harry felt extremely warm and embarrassed and excused himself from the kitchen.
It was a chilly early spring evening and dusk was beginning to settle. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and walked out to the garden where he realized that George, Ron and Bill were taking turns flinging garden gnomes over the gate and into the forest beyond. Off to the right and down a short path, Hermione sat on the garden wall, reading. He zipped his cardigan and then watched George fling a gnome into the sky higher than the Burrow was tall. Just as the gnome was descending towards the earth, his ears perked up when he heard Ginny's voice and his heart began racing. How come he had frozen up like that in the kitchen, and why was he so damn nervous? After yesterday, he hadn't expected that seeing her tonight would do that to him.
His thoughts were interrupted when a gnome nearly bit him on the ankle. He picked up the wretched thing by his leg and flung it as hard as he could.
Harry grimaced. Why didn't being in the same vicinity as him seem to be affecting her the way it was affecting him? He found another gnome and flung it so hard that it he thought it went soaring over where George's had. Harry felt like taking his frustrations out on something at the moment and it was better the gnome than himself.
After flinging a few more gnomes, and feeling slightly better after having released some pent-up frustrations, he went into the house with Ron to wash up before dinner. When he came back downstairs from the bathroom, Hermione and Ginny were in the kitchen helping Mrs. Weasley. Ron walked over and put his arms around Hermione. Harry stayed at the base of the stairs, feeling uncomfortable. He had never felt uncomfortable at the Burrow, but for some reason, he didn't feel like he belonged right now.
Everything smelled wonderful and he tried to focus less on Ginny and more on the delicious dinner he was going to eat in a few minutes' time – a much needed home-cooked meal after weeks of sandwiches, take-away, and fish and chips. He felt very grateful to the Weasleys for including him this evening, and asked if he could help.
"Of course not, but aren't you a dear for offering. Dinner's in the garden. Go on and sit down," Mrs. Weasley insisted as she wiped her hands on her apron.
"Harry." Ginny said his name and the monster in his chest perked up its ears and listened intently. They shared a momentary glance, which she looked away quickly. "Harry," she repeated, "Can you move please, I'm trying to come through."
"Err… sorry." He had not understood why she was saying his name. He jumped out of the way just as a dish of green beans soared past him. Ginny seemed amused. "Ahem, can you please open the door for me?" She was guiding three more wonderful-smelling dishes out the back door.
"The door?" Harry finally listened and jumped to open the door for her. After the three dishes were successfully out the door, she brushed past him, her flowery scent lingering as she went.
He followed her a few steps. "Smells great."
She turned to him. "Oh, Thanks. I mean, I can't take the credit for it, Harry. Mum made the roast and Fleur made mostly everything else."
She walked off, holding her wand out and guiding the dishes before her.
Of course, the comment he had made was more referring to how great she smelled, although the smell of Mrs. Weasley's roast was enticing right now as well.
As he followed, he noticed how she was wearing jeans too long for her, with worn bottoms and an oversized long-sleeved black shirt with what looked like flames on each sleeve. Her hair was down and it fell down her back in waves. He liked how her hair reached the flames on her sleeves, where everything just seemed to blend into vivid reds and oranges.
He walked out to the garden a few paces behind her, hearing the gravel path crunch under his feet and listening to the muted, far-away sound of croaking frogs coming from the pond. Harry tried to look at anything but the shiny, bright hair falling down Ginny's back. He noticed how the stars were beginning to come out against the darkened sky. Soon they would be illuminating the sky with what looked like dust in the universe. After last year, he could never forget how much of the heavens he could see away from the bright lights of the city. The countryside, he decided, was even more lovely when you had all the comforts of home and weren't living in a tent. He thought he should visit the Burrow more often than he did, because he really did love it here.
Although it was spring already, the air was fresh and crisp and still quite cold. Thankfully, there were Warming Charms set around the perimeter of the table to make everyone more comfortable. The darkness was lit by enchanted flames that Hermione had set above every third place setting, which also emanated warmth on the chilly spring evening.
Harry sat down and watched as the meal was placed on the table. Everyone who wasn't already seated found a place. By luck or some happy accident, Ginny sat directly across from him. He tucked in and spent the meal listening to Ron and George tell every story he had already heard about the most recent wave of customers at the shop. In front of him and to his right, Hermione and Ginny gossiped about how Luna had walked in on Lavender Brown in a broom cupboard with a fifth year. On the other end of the table, Molly regaled Fleur with tales about Bill when he was a baby.
"Could you believe that bloke, Harry?" Ron asked as he had seemingly been interested in the conversation.
"Err…no. Really…incredible nerve," he tried. Harry had no idea what Ron was talking about because he hadn't really been listening.
He tried to focus on the conversation, but he couldn't help but think about this long, hard road ahead of him regarding Ginny. He would respect her desires, and wait as long as it took until she was ready to proceed with their relationship, except the more he thought about it, the more he wished he could tell her how he felt about the fact that he hadn't been receiving much in the way of comfort or caring from her in her letters. However, he didn't want to put her on the defensive either. The fact was that he had also messed up, and he had hurt her. And now, he knew the only thing he could do was apologize to her for everything he had done. He wanted to, and for the first time felt that the time was right.
Harry buttered another slice of bread, and tried to listen to the conversation between Ron and George until Bill interrupted.
"Harry, I heard you'll be back at the Ministry next week." Harry swallowed, feeling put on the spot and more conversation ensued about him taking back his job. He hated being the center of attention.
When the plates were emptied and the dishes from afters were cleared and sent inside, Ginny enthusiastically suggested a two-a-side Quidditch match. Harry said he was up for it, but he was the only one who was interested. Everyone complained that it was too windy, or they felt too full and lazy. Then everyone seemed to disperse. George went home, saying he had some unfinished business at the shop. Ron said that ever since his and Fred's birthday George hadn't been so cheerful, and that he was probably going to meet Angelina at the Leaky Cauldron. The Warming Charms had worn off so Bill and Fleur and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley went into the house to sit by the fireplace. That left Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny at the table.
The four of them shared barely three sentences before Hermione and Ron stood quickly announced that they had decided to take a walk. That left Harry sitting alone at the table with Ginny. He was sure that she would also stand up and politely excuse herself or ask him to follow her into the house, but she didn't do that. He and Ginny just sat in silence and watched Ron and Hermione walk away.
Harry realized that for the first time Ron wasn't worried about leaving him with Ginny, or at least he hadn't said he was. Perhaps Harry would receive an earful later, but right now it seemed his best mate was too wrapped up in Hermione to care. He glanced over the table at Ginny.
"Well, this is interesting," Ginny said, interrupting his thoughts.
"Unexpected," Harry supplied.
"Odd. For once, Mum and Dad leave us be and Ron is leaving us alone without making some kind of comment, and it doesn't even matter anymore."
He managed a glance at her and offered, "I can leave, if you would rather…err, be alone."
"No, don't do that," she said quickly. "We're friends, aren't we? We can spend time together."
"I'd like that. Err… I owe you an apology, Ginny," Harry replied, looking at her directly.
"For what?" Her voice was so soft he could barely hear her.
"I wasn't being considerate to you yesterday since I never asked you if it was alright that I came tonight. I'm sorry if you didn't want me here. I would have completely understood."
"Harry, that's a very silly thing to apologize for. I'm actually…glad you came. To be honest, the fact that you're here pleases me." She smiled briefly at him, and then looked towards the ground, her hair falling down on both sides.
"It does? Why?" He leaned forward.
"I don't know," she said in a tiny voice. "I always feel like something's missing when you're not here with the family…I don't know. You are one of us, aren't you? I know that's probably the last thing you want to hear from me right now." She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.
"No. I… it's not. I love being a part of your family. Your parents are two of the nicest people in the entire world, and the fact is, I'm lucky to be cared for by them so much…especially after what's happened with me lately…and with us," he added.
"That's what parents do, isn't it? Accept and love you no matter what you do," she said and then took the last sip of her butterbeer.
"I wouldn't know."
"Well, that's exactly what parents do. Mum and Dad love us all, despite what we've done or what we may do in the future. They love you, too, Harry, regardless of what happened and how it affected us all. And if they were alive, your parents would love you too, no matter what. I know they still do, wherever they are."
Ginny rose and stretched her arms above her head and arched her back. A bit of her stomach showed under her t-shirt and Harry swallowed, unable to tear his eyes from that bit of exposed skin until she put her arms down. "Are you in a hurry to leave?" she asked.
He shook his head, wanting to say that he would never again be in a hurry to leave her, but he was not able to form that into a coherent sentence.
"Come on, let's get brooms. We're going for a fly. You need it." She began marching away from the table and down the small hill towards the broom shed.
How did she know what he needed? Intrigued, he stood from the table and followed her to the broom shed which was down by the chicken coop. He watched Ginny reverse the Locking Spell on the rickety wooden door and it creaked open loudly. Besides a few stints in training exercises, Harry hadn't been on a broom since last summer. Having the chance to do that now—and spend time with Ginny—made Harry suddenly excited beyond words.
Ginny handed him an old broom and before he could even mount it, she was sitting on hers and hovering six or so feet above the ground. She quickly swept her hair into a haphazard plait and then leaned forward to accelerate, taking off towards the clearing in the orchard. Throwing a leg over his broom, he kicked off and ascended steadily on the old Cleansweep, following her a few feet behind, but well above.
She didn't stop over the orchard as usual. Instead, she shouted the way, and soon she was by his side and they were flying high above the forest surrounding Ottery St. Catchpole. The lights from the pub, the church and the few restaurants twinkled below them, and the sky stretched before them heavy with stars. The cool air blew through his hair, and for the first time in forever, he felt almost content with the way things were. The only thing missing was Ginny's hand in his… and knowing that the incredible girl flying beside was back in his life.
Ginny flew next to him for a moment, and he noticed her hair had fallen out of its plait and was now flying behind her; it looked really beautiful in the wind. He hoped she didn't mind his catching glances at her every few moments because he couldn't tear his eyes away from the brilliance of her hair, or the slim outline of her shape, or her small, soft hands gripping the broom.
"Relax! How do you feel?" she shouted over the wind.
"Better!" he answered, but the truth was he felt incredible being up here with her. Better than he had in many months. With the wind in his hair, high above it all with the girl he loved.
Harry tried to take her advice and relax. They flew at a leisurely pace, taking turns accelerating to pass the other, weaving through the cool, crisp early April night. When she decided to turn around and return to the orchard, they did a few laps around the clearing before descending.
"You needed that."
Harry nodded with a grin, and admitted to himself that he felt amazing. "I did. You were right. Thank you."
"You're welcome, my pleasure. See how well I know you? I knew a fly would make you feel great," she said, leaning against her broomstick.
"I know you, too."
Ginny raised an eyebrow at him. "Is that right?"
"Err… I think so."
"If you know me so well, then what do I need?"
He didn't know how to answer that. He wanted to say that she needed to be snogged like she had never been snogged before. By him. Right now. Except he knew that wasn't the right answer.
Harry shook his head. He knew Ginny well, didn't he? "I suppose you need…rest and quiet. After your long week of try outs and school…"
"You do know me I suppose, at least somewhat," she smiled. "Although… if you know me so well, then tell me…" She thought for a moment. "Hmm…here's one. A Knut if you can guess my Corporeal Patronus."
"Oh, that." He had no idea. How did he have no idea? Was he about to look absolutely terrible in front of her? "Can I have a guess?"
"You don't remember!" She sounded shocked.
How was he supposed to remember? When had he ever seen her Patronus? Err…right. In the DA. Perhaps, he thought sourly, perhaps back then I was too distracted by Cho Chang to pay attention to Ron's little sister.
"No, I suppose I don't," he admitted.
"While you think about it, let me get my wand. I left it in the broom shed."
Harry shrugged, following her. "Sure."
They put the broomsticks away in the shed and Ginny begged Harry off for a few minutes, saying that she needed to nip inside to find her jacket as the night air was a bit chilly. The thought that Harry was waiting for her outside was enough to send her into a slight panic.
Ginny went straight to the bathroom. She checked her face and hair in the mirror. She washed her face and hands and combed her hair with her fingers. Then she had to sit on the edge of the bath for a moment and try to relax, but knowing that Harry was waiting for her sent her knickers into a twist. What was that stupid bleeding idea for the Patronus? She had conjured that off the top of her head as just something to say and now she was stuck and would probably look like a fool. That was a spell that she had only mastered a few times over two years ago, and had not performed since the Battle of Hogwarts. Ginny hid her face in her hands. Would she be able to pull it off now under pressure?
The flying had gone spectacularly well. She had to thank her father for the idea. He had put it into her head yesterday. In fact, there were times when they were out there flying side by side that she wanted desperately to reach for his hand and pull his broomstick closer to hers to make it easier for him to lean over and kiss her. She could tell just by how he didn't stop looking her way during their flight that he wanted to kiss her too. And by the look on his face when they talked briefly at the table, she knew how happy he was that they were spending time together right now. She was too. She was happy beyond words to have him so close to her this evening, but it was a bittersweet happiness.
Her mum was right though. Ginny couldn't deny his efforts. The fact of the matter was, her heart really did belong to him and he seemed committed to truly changing himself. Although she still had her reservations, that didn't mean she couldn't follow her mum's advice and try to open up to him a little at a time.
They met up and trudged back up the hill towards the clearing in the orchard. As they walked, their hands, which would usually be grasped tightly on a night like tonight, were occupied. His were in his cardigan pockets, and hers were fidgeting with her hair or tucked into her sleeves. She retold a joke that George had told her this afternoon about a Lethifold and a Leprechaun. Harry had heard it already, and came in with the punch line, leaving her feeling out of things to talk about, which she had never felt before with Harry.
They stopped in the middle of the clearing. It was dark, and a half moon hung in the sky. The tree line of the orchard stood there, a black boundary against the horizon.
"Now, back to the Patrons thing, I have two guesses," he said as he glanced at her sideways. "Can I have a go?"
"Sure." She bit her bottom lip and nodded her head.
"First guess is…I suppose a bat- since that's your signature hex..."
Ginny cut him off with a laugh, "A bat? Eww…no! You probably would have remembered it if it were a bat. That's horrible! Just for that, I may hex you. My Knut please?"
"Please don't hex me." Harry dug in his pockets and handed her a Knut, which she instantly pocketed, knowing she would give it back to him later. "Err… Can I have another go?"
"Sure. Can we bet another Knut? I'm saving for my racing broom."
"Fine. A unicorn, then? I imagine your Patronus is as…never mind. It suits you, I think."
"Wrong, and wrong. Pay up, Potter. Except this time…wait. I don't want your Knut. I want your expertise. Now before I go ahead and show you what my corporeal form is, I need a proper lesson with the spell and you owe me."
He looked at her with one eyebrow raised.
"I mean, I want you to teach me. I need to do the spell for NEWTs, but we haven't studied it yet, and I haven't done the spell since the battle. Besides, I want to practice so I can one-up my friends in class."
Harry blanched. "You want me to teach you?"
"Yes. Please. Like we're back in the DA, alright? Treat me like a student. It'll be fun. Play along, will you?"
"Fine. Err, whatever you want."
He stood there for a moment, and when he realized she was serious about taking on her role as student, he circled her in the dark, and surveyed her, taking on the role as teacher. They both stood with their feet slightly apart in the damp earth. When Harry spoke, he was all business. Ginny was already having fun, and she forgot about being nervous. Of course she could do the spell if Harry was her professor.
"As you already know, Expecto Patronum is a spell to defend yourself against Dementors," he said flatly as they stood in the centre of the pitch. "Your Corporeal Patronus also has another purpose. It can be conjured to send a message which is helpful for purposes of basic communication. It is faster than owls for shorter messages. To use the spell, you need a combination of the power of your incantation and the happiest memory you have."
Ginny closed her eyes. "Correct enunciation, Professor?"
She liked to listen to him choke on a laugh about being called Professor. "Ex-pec-to."
"Pacto?" she teased, purposely saying it wrong, and couldn't help the giggling that followed.
"No giggling in class. Five points from Gryffindor," Harry said sternly. Ginny laughed even harder. "Settle down, now. Once again, the correct enunciation is Pecto."
"Ex-pecto Patro-num," she enunciated in clear, practiced Latin.
"Yes. Perfect. Now… say it slowly, a few times."
Ginny did as she was told. She opened her eyes again and raised her hand. "Yes, Ms. Weasley."
"Can I watch you do yours, Professor?"
"Fine, I… Alright." He hesitated momentarily and stood staring at the dark tree line beyond the clearing. Ginny could tell how he was trying to focus on a happy memory and she wondered what he had chosen. She didn't dare ask.
He used the spell nonverbally, and his stag emerged and began cantering towards the tree line, brilliant silver and regal-looking in the dark field. The stag looked towards them as if waiting patiently, unsure of what to do.
"Your turn." He looked to her. She was looking at him, with a slightly amused look on her face, and then she turned towards the tree line with a powerful thought in her mind.
"Expecto Patronum!"Ginny yelled. She wielded her wand with unbelievable force and produced a brilliant light. Her Patronus emerged from the tip of her wand as if it were used to doing so every day of her life.
Harry felt his knees buckling under him and wished he had something to lean on. A broomstick, a conjured light post, anything. He hadn't remembered Ginny's Patronus from the DA because he had been too busy looking at Cho's swan, hadn't he? To see Ginny's brilliance in the darkness of night only added to its presence.
She was beyond beautiful. A horse, about sixteen hands high, her mane thick with fiery silver light, whinnied and galloped towards his stag. For such a petite girl—who he could lift with nearly no effort and who barely came up to his shoulders—Ginny's form was so powerful and strong, unbelievably so, and the magic she had produced to wield it nearly bowled him over.
The instant he saw the horse, he realized that what he felt for Ginny was certainly love, but it went beyond that, didn't it? They were well-matched. They were made for one another and at that moment, he knew it. How had he completely overlooked that for this long? How had he not seen it?
He swallowed and gazed at the horse. Their Patronuses circled each other slowly and then his did something strange. His stag nuzzled its face against the horse's mane, just before they faded into nothingness.
"I think he likes her," he managed to croak.
Ginny half smiled. "Think so?"
Harry smiled back and it was like seeing her clearly for the very first time. They stood there, and forgetting time and apologies, all Harry wanted to do was kiss her properly. Ginny's cheeks pinked up in the moonlight, probably from the intensity of his stare, and she looked away towards where the silver lights had been. He swallowed, unable to deny it, disbelieving how much awe and admiration he felt standing next to her. He couldn't help thinking about how he loved her more than he ever thought it was possible for him to love anyone. He looked away and then back towards her and opened his mouth to say so.
"Ginny, I… I need to…"
"I did well, then?" she interrupted softly. "I haven't done that since last May, but it's NEWT level. I think I'll pass."
"You will," he managed to say, although speaking wasn't easy. The bubble had burst, the moment had passed and everything he had meant to say fell into a jumbled heap on the grass. He dug his trainer into the soft earth, and buried his hands in his cardigan pocket. He was a mess, a complete head case, and helpless as to what to do about it and he felt that at the moment it would be best if he crawled under a rock.
"Harry? Can I tell you something?"
"'Course." He stared down at his trainers.
"Thank you…for the flowers…the ones you sent to me before my try outs. I'm sorry I never mentioned that I had received them. You know, they were my favourite colour and seeing them when I woke up that day made me feel… very special."
You are special. He thought immediately, and he looked up, surprised. "Oh, Err…it was nothing. I just, was thinking of you…" For once, she's finally taking notice! He was so glad that she was acknowledging him in a meaningful way that he didn't know what to say.
"Err… I was thinking of you too. I'm glad you were also thinking of me."
He nodded, knowing he had so much to say to her, but his throat felt unbelievably parched and he was unable to speak. "Thanks for the lesson." She patted his back gently. "You were always my favourite professor, you know." She gazed back once at where their Patronesses had been. "I'm actually a little tired to be honest. I think we should go in now. Walk me home?" she asked. They walked back to the Burrow in silence.
Just as they approached the house, two dark forms were approaching from the opposite direction. Harry knew it was Ron and Hermione walking back hand in hand.
"Oi!" Ron called just as they came into view. After a moment, Hermione kissed Ron good night, while he and Ginny shared a small, knowing grin. Her grin made the monster in his chest pace and then proceed to place its two furry hands on his ribs and bang its head against his chest. It was little glances and the way they understood one another so well, without having to talk, that he missed so much.
"Hey, what are you doing the rest of this week?" he whispered boldly, as they watched Ron and Hermione snog, hoping he would have the nerve to ask her to go out with him.
"Oh, I have a tea with Fleur on Tuesday, and otherwise I have my Apparition test on Thursday which I'll be practicing for the rest of the week. And I'm resting like you said I need to… oh, and catching up with school work."
Harry nodded, not sure if he should ask or not, but Ginny cut in. "If you'd like, I'll ask Mum if you can come over for dinner on Friday night. I'd love to go flying with you again, I had fun."
"I had fun too. Err… great, I would love to come for dinner. Just send me an owl and let me know."
"I will. Goodnight, Harry. Sweet dreams."
"Sweet dreams," he managed to whisper. He watched Hermione link her arm with Ginny's and with a small wave, she said goodnight to him. The two girls excused themselves to bed.
Harry needed to sit. He looked around and finding only the grassy, muddy ground, he quickly conjured two lawn chairs and sank into one with a grin the size of Hogwarts. Ginny wanted him over for dinner. She had mentioned the flowers he had sent had made her feel special! Harry wanted to stand up and cheer, and the monster in his chest was doing the Rumba. Perhaps he was breaking through to her! Now if only he could have opened his sorry mouth and told her more of what he was thinking out in the orchard…
"Are you sleeping here?" Ron asked. "Mum promised to cook us all breakfast in the morning and besides, I'm not tired, are you?"
"No, I'm not tired at all," Harry answered. "I can stay over if you want." Especially if it meant he could see Ginny again in the morning. Hopefully she wouldn't mind the pleasant surprise of seeing him again at breakfast, but judging by her last little grin and wave towards him, he hoped she wouldn't…
"Sure. Err…Hermione and I are going to spend the day in London tomorrow. Maybe you should…err, invite Ginny and the four of us can spend time together."
"No. I can't," Harry remembered. "At least not until the evening. I have a meeting with Dr. B at one o'clock in Chesterfield. I'll stay tonight, I suppose, and I should be able to stay for breakfast." He hoped once again that his staying over was alright with Ginny, even though he hadn't asked.
Ron went inside and brought out two drinks, ale for himself and butterbeer for Harry. He hadn't drunk anything stronger than the frosty butterbeer since February.
"I told Mum you were staying and she practically had kittens. She's setting up the camp bed for you in my room. It will be like old times."
"Where did you and Hermione walk to?" Harry asked, after he took a long pull of his butterbeer.
"We were by the pond the whole time. Nice night, eh?"
"Thanks for leaving Ginny and me alone." Harry said as he picked at a loose thread on his cardigan.
"I told you I am no longer interested in becoming involved…Why? Did, did anything happen?" Ron leaned forward and raised an eyebrow, seemingly eager for news.
"No." Harry shook his head. "Nothing at all."
"Then what's the big grin on your face for?"
"Oh." Harry swallowed. "Erm… nothing. I mean, she asked me to come for dinner on Friday. I take that as a good sign, a better sign than I've had in two months."
"In two months? Why's that? What's been going on with you two lately?"
Harry took a deep breath, realizing that he hadn't been open with Ron about Ginny's recent behaviour. "It all started when I came home from Spain…"
He went on to explain his attempts at contacting Ginny, and Ginny's return letters and lack of affection towards him as of late. They talked through another round of drinks. He hadn't shared any of this with Ron lately because he hadn't been sure Ron had wanted to hear it, but Ron was interested and did want to hear it and it felt good to talk about this all with a friend and not a doctor.
"So, tonight, for the first time I felt that she was…she seemed ready to talk to me out in the orchard. It felt right, and I wanted to start apologizing to her, and I meant to tell her how I feel for her, but, she cut me off before I could begin. I can't think of where to begin so that she'll actually listen. Except, on the other hand, after tonight I know she's noticing that I've changed. I think if I keep writing to her and talking to her—and our interactions stay positive and fun—I'll get through to her soon. I know it was slow progress, but I'm happy with the progress I've made with Ginny in the last two days..."
Ron picked up a nearby stone and tossed it out into the grass. "I think you should just forget the apologies for right now, and tell her how you feel."
Harry peeled the label off his butterbeer and let out a short laugh. "Tonight was amazing, but the more I think about it, the more I don't want to push it. She's only just agreed to see me again once over the hols. I'm afraid to be pressing my luck by coming out and telling her I'm in love with her."
Ron chuckled. "Why's that? You've always had good luck, mate, I'm certain that this time will be no different if you say the right things." Ron turned to him, "I'm just glad that you can readily admit that you love Ginny. We've all known that for a while now."
Harry sighed and toed the dirt with his trainer. "I just can't believe that I never…noticed until now, how I feel about her. There was something wrong with the way my mind connected itself to that emotion. There was something wrong…with me."
Ron seemed to think for a moment. "Don't beat yourself up, Harry. I probably loved Hermione ages before I admitted it to myself. I'm not sure why we blokes have such a hard time admitting our…erm…emotions. Listen. The point is, I know my sister, and she loves you too. And she'll feel that way about you no matter what you do or have done, but she'll need to hear you say exactly how you feel in order to break through to her. That's my advice. So whenever you're ready to do that, you should."
Ron made sense and Harry knew his best mate was right. Except he had to be sure it was the right time. He didn't want to scare her or worry her. He wanted to respect her. He also didn't want to look a fool and he didn't want to hurt what little there was between them any more than it had already been hurt.
Later that night as he tried to fall asleep while listening to Ron snore, Harry's head buzzed. He had known how he felt for Ginny for a while already, but he couldn't believe the sudden and strong feelings he had for her out in the orchard tonight, or even just passing by her door on the way upstairs.
Ron was right. He was never going to break through to Ginny with apologies. Telling her how he truly felt for her would be his best shot. And thankfully his feelings for Ginny suddenly all made sense tonight. All he could think of was watching her cast her Patronus tonight. The fact that he didn't just sink his knees into the soft earth and tell Ginny how he felt right then and there was absolute proof that he was a wizard with unbelievable self-control.
Tonight he had learned some truths that he hadn't ever pondered before. Ginny was his match. How had he never realized it? Everyone had a match and Ginny was his. It was simple to explain. He had seen Ron and Hermione's Patronus forms many times. Ron's was a Jack Russell Terrier, spunky and loyal; Hermione's was an otter, quick and clever. They were both cool, playful animals similar in size and spirit. They matched. His, on the other hand, was a striking twelve point stag. It was quite a form to match up to and yet Ginny's form was even with his, which felt to him like the magic inside somehow matched his own. They met each other there. He realized tonight that she was the only one who ever would.
Stronger and stronger, the love he had for Ginny kept bubbling to the surface. He went through in his mind and listed every reason and thought and feeling he'd had during the war and the months leading up to now. He wanted to go through more of his memories and delve into his Pensive so he could watch himself as he thought of her. Now thinking back on it, the pieces all fell into place. He had probably loved her as far back as sixth year. Watching her with Dean, the monster in his chest had raged. Those three weeks after that searing kiss they'd shared in the common room were the most contented he had ever felt in his whole life. Her kiss on his seventeenth birthday was like a momentary salve on a deep burn; instant relief before plunging his heart back into the dark frame of mind it had become accustomed to.
Suddenly the door to Ron's room creaked open. Harry lifted his head and reached for his wand.
"Hi, Hermione." He sat up in the bed, and whispered Lumos.
"Hey, Harry." She sat on the edge of his bed. "Are you holding up?"
"Couldn't sleep. I was hoping Ron was still awake, but I hear that he's not. I'll go and lie down with him anyhow if that's alright with you. Don't be uncomfortable; it will be like old times. You know, last year, when we all three would sleep together in the same tent."
"I became quite accustomed to it, Hermione. Not a problem."
"I'll probably be staying with Ron over the next few days in London, and then with my parents for one or two more nights. Maybe we could all meet in Sheffield one night this week. My parents were asking about you yesterday evening."
"I'd like that."
"Good. Goodnight, Harry." Hermione yawned, and made her way to Ron's bed, which creaked as she slipped in beside him.
Harry extinguished his wand, and then fell back into his thoughts. Tonight, it was Ginny in her jeans with her hair down and one of her brothers' shirts on that made the monster in his chest bang its head against his ribcage. When she had released her Patronus with such force and passion it had literally blown his mind. He suddenly longed to tell her that for the first time since he realized he had a future stretching out ahead of him, he knew exactly what he wanted to share with her. He wanted to tell her that their future together was so precious to him because after all that had happened, he now appreciated and understood what he had nearly lost.
"Hermione," he whispered. "Is Ginny still awake?"
Hermione had already drifted off too. Bloody hell! Harry threw the duvet off, re-lit his wand, and decided to go tell Ginny once and for all that he was sorry for everything, and that he really did love her. Whatever she had to say about it, good or bad, he would accept.
A/N: Thank you to the readers for the great comments I received from you on my last chapter. I loved reading all of your reactions and ideas. I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and if you did please let me know! I want to thank Arnel for her suggestions and help, especially on the Molly and Ginny conversation. Her suggestions led me to write what I thought was a nice section and I owe it to her. I also want to thank her for waving her wand and putting her finishing touches on the chapter. Thanks to J.T as well for his incredible pre-beta work and for taking the time out of his life to help me pull the story along towards the finish line. Thanks again for reading. Cheers, R