"Where is she?" Ron snapped for at least the fifth time. It was past dinner, just the second day of the holiday. Ginny had left the house earlier and hadn't yet returned.
"I'm sure she'll be home soon," Hermione said soothingly, but her eyes held worry. Despite the early hour, after what happened last year, they all tended to be a little paranoid, even without any evidence of evil-doing.
Harry paced, then sat down, and then paced some more, "Okay, that's it. I'm going to go and look for her," he said, drawing his wand. With determination, Ron stood up as well.
"I'm sure she's fine, and besides Charlie and Bill have already gone to try and find her," Mrs. Weasley said, not sounding too worried at all; if you didn't count the way her eyes swung constantly to the clock above the mantle. The little hand that represented Ginny stood on, "Missing."
Harry and Ron both stopped at the door with Mrs. Weasley's words. They both looked frustrated, as did Hermione. Just then the twins walked in, carrying some boxes in their hands. Following them were two men dressed in wizards robes.
"Guess who we found?" they said in unison, with identical grins of excitement.
"Ginny!" Harry, Ron and Hermione cried together, looking eagerly behind them. Their faces fell slightly when no red hair was visible, although they lifted again when they recognized the wizards.
"Ginny?" George frowned. He looked enquiringly at his parents, and at the same time Fred said, "No, just our favourite Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, and the one and only Sirius Black."
Before he finished the words, Harry had already rushed forward to hug Sirius and Remus. Ron and Hermione followed suit.
"Where's Ginny?" George demanded, looking rather anxious. They all tended to be a little overprotective over their only sister. Fred picking up on the undercurrents in the room also looked serious.
"She's late," Ron told him, and immediately faces sobered, despite the joy of the reunion.
"Late?" Fred asked. "By how long?"
"Just half an hour," Mr. Weasley replied, "You boys are all over-reacting."
"Where did she go?" Sirius asked. He looked at his god-son who was frowning again.
"Nowhere in particular. She takes walks, goes to the lake, draws," Mrs. Weasley replied, "We've sent Bill and Charlie to get her."
Bill and Charlie came in at that moment and everyone looked up anxiously.
"Well?" Harry demanded, surprising the others with the panic in his voice.
"Didn't see her anywhere," Charlie said ruefully, "We checked all her favourite places too."
"Did you check the…" Fred began, but Bill cut him off, "We checked all of them." He sounded irritated at the doubt in Fred's voice.
Harry started to pace again, and Ron repeated, "Where is she?" causing Hermione to take his hand reassuringly.
"Where's who?" a sleepy voice asked from behind them.
"Ginny!" the cry came from all of them.
Harry rushed towards her, and pulled the surprised girl into a tight hug. Holding her close for a second, he buried his face in her hair, before stepping back. "Where the hell have you been?" he yelled suddenly, shocking the whole room. Harry rarely yelled; that was more of a Ron thing to do. Ginny was still recovering from the hug. Her confused expression immediately changed.
"Uh oh," George said, taking a step back. They all knew Ginny hated to be yelled at.
"Duck!!" Ron said, and he also moved away, despite being about to hug his sister.
"I haven't been anywhere. Why are you yelling at me?" Ginny demanded, her cheeks rosy, although more from anger than anything else.
"You disappear for hours on end, and when all of us are worried sick, you stroll back in here like there's nothing wrong!" Harry did not sound happy.
"Me?" Ginny spluttered, "I'm not that late, firstly and I didn't disappear. I was in the glen, where I always am. And everyone knows that," Ginny's voice started to rise as well.
"No, you weren't. We looked in the glen," Percy put in, and Bill and Charlie both sent him admiring looks for daring to interrupt.
"I fell off to sleep, okay. In my tree. That isn't a crime. What's the matter with all of you?" Ginny glared at Percy, and then back at Harry, who suddenly looked defeated.
"Harry?" she called, when he looked down, avoiding her gaze, "What's going on? I was only late by 30 minutes. It happens," she said, her voice getting softer. She took a step towards him, "Hey, its okay. I'm fine, see," she told him, forcing to look at her.
"Don't do that again, Ginny," Harry said, and they could barely hear him, "You scared me to death. I was so afraid something had happened to you."
Ginny, to the total shock of her entire family, wrapped her arms around him, "I'm fine. Not a scratch on me," she said to him, leaning back, "Oh, wait that's not true," but continued hurriedly when the panicked expression returned to his face. "I did get one, look, when I climbed down," Ginny displayed her arm, and they all could see a thin red line stretching down from her elbow to her wrist. "I was in a bit of a hurry, you see. Seems I was a little late," she teased slightly, her eyes invited him to laugh with her.
"Maybe we should give them some space," Mrs. Weasley said staring at her almost-son, and her daughter, who were still in each other's arms. She practically pushed them all out the room.
"I think we should get to yell at her too, and hug her," Ron protested as his mother shoved him out the room, and Hermione dragged him with one hand.
"Me, too," George said.
"We did kind of overreact," Bill said, looking a little chagrined.
"And obviously, you didn't look hard enough," Fred said pointedly.
"How were we supposed to know she fell off to sleep in some tree?" Charlie said defensively.
"Boys," Mrs. Weasley cut in, preventing an argument, "She's obviously fine, judging by her behaviour in the kitchen, and Harry's already yelled at her, so why don't we just forget about it,"
"Exactly. What the hell was that about?" Fred asked, referring to the uncharacteristic behaviour exhibited in the kitchen, from both Harry and Ginny.
"Fred!" the admonishment about his language came from both Hermione and Mrs. Weasley. The boy looked at them unrepentantly.
"I should have expected something like this to happen," Hermione said, looking worriedly at the door leading to the room that her friends were in.
"You're right," George put in, rather surprisingly.
"What are you talking about?" Ron stared at his best friend/girlfriend. He didn't look happy.
"Oh, come on, Ron. We all knew," Fred said, giving him an impatient look.
"Wait, a second. All knew what? I don't know anything," Bill cut in.
"Exactly. You don't know anything," Fred and George said together, grinning at Bill. Everyone else smiled, despite themselves.
"Hey," Bill declared indignantly.
"One of you talk," Charlie glared at his younger siblings.
"He's been a little…They've been a little…" Hermione began, and then paused again.
"A little what?" Percy asked, "I thought he was better."
"He is," Ron sighed heavily, "But he is a little bit attached to having Ginny around."
"He's what?" Bill and Charlie said together.
"He prefers that she is in his line of sight at all times," George said plainly, "And she…" he trailed off.
"I don't know," Fred answered Mrs. Weasley's question, "She's just there. They aren't more than a few metres apart, except for classes, although they still don't really talk."
"They do," Hermione muttered quietly, under her breath. No one heard her except for Remus.
"What did you say, Hermione?" he asked, drawing all the attention to her.
Hermione immediately looked guilty. "What?" Ron looked at her suspiciously, "What do you know?"
"Nightmares," Hermione answered softly, looking as if was dragged out of her. Remus and Sirius were the only ones that didn't look surprised.
"He's been having nightmares?" Ron asked, struggling. He couldn't decide whether he was more worried about his friend, or upset that he hadn't been told.
"Ginny too, I think," Hermione answered. This time she didn't question whether or not to share the information.
Now all the Weasleys, together with Sirius and Remus, were looking decidedly unhappy.
"Why…" Mrs. Weasley began, looking even more worried than before. She didn't finish her question. It wasn't necessary. Everyone knew why. For both of them.
"Did they tell you this?" Sirius asked.
"Not exactly," Hermione hedged.
Ron eyebrow shot up, and he stared intently at his girlfriend, waiting for her to spill.
"A couple of weeks ago - you know after the Potions exam," she started looking at Ron, "I couldn't sleep, so I thought I would go to the common room for a bit," she paused. She had the whole room's attention.
"I heard a noise like a whimper, when I was walking…so I stopped to go and see what it was," Hermione said. "Ginny was shaking and moaning in her sleep. I was worried so I went to wake her up, but before I could get to her bed, she woke up herself. I was going to ask her if she was okay, but she practically ran out of the room before I could."
"So you followed her," prompted Ron, knowing his girlfriend.
"Yeah, she went down to the common room. And she sat down by the fire, just staring at it, you know. I was trying to decide whether or not I should say something; she didn't exactly look like she wanted company," Hermione said, looking slightly apologetic at Ron.
Fred and George looked impatiently at her, waiting for her to finish. She gave them a small worried smile, before continuing.
"That's when I heard a sound from the boy's dorm. Harry came down. He looked terrible. There were these dark circles under his eyes and he looked…" she stopped, and stared intently on the floor.
"Like what?" Bill Weasley asked softly.
"Haunted," Hermione whispered. She looked back up and spoke again, in a louder voice, "Like last summer. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to go up to them and hug him or something, but I just waited. To see," she looked at Ron, asked silently for reassurance. Hermione rarely looked unsure of herself. It was one of the things he loved about her. He took her hand, and squeezed it gently.
"They didn't seem surprised to see each other. Almost like it had happened before. Many times even. He sat down next to her, really close, and then not one word. It was weird. Total silence. Like they didn't need to say anything at all, you know how they are" Hermione said, looking surprised still, "I was going nuts. I wanted to go down there and just make them talk."
Ron smiled despite himself at her expression. So did Fred and George. All of them nodded. They had witnessed the non-verbal communication between Harry and Ginny before.
"And then these house elves showed up. Dobby I think, and Winky. I couldn't see properly from the girls staircase. They gave them some hot chocolate and biscuits, I think," she looked up, "It was so weird. Almost like it happened all the time," Hermione flashed back to the conversation she had overheard.
"Don't worry, Winky. Harry Potter won't let anything happen to his Weazy," Dobby reassured the other elf.
"I know. And she'll will take good care of her Harry," Winky replied.
Hermione hadn't heard the rest of the conversation, as the two of them had disappeared through some hole that only the elves used. Anyway her attention had been diverted by the fact that her friends had finally began talking.
"I felt like they knew more that we did. And we were supposed to be their best friends," Hermione told them, referring to the house elves." She then started to recant the conversation she had overheard.
Harry turned his head slightly and took in her form, legs curled under her. "Another one," he asked softly in the night air.
Ginny nodded, "Hmmm," she answered, the hot chocolate warming her up, "You." It wasn't a question.
"Yeah," he replied shortly.
"Do you think they will ever go away?" Ginny asked him, looking young and vulnerable for a minute, before the pain in her eyes added years.
Harry was silent as he pondered her question, "I hope," he replied finally. He didn't look convinced.
"You don't think so though, do you?" Ginny said.
"No, I still have nightmares from back then. The first attack." He didn't clarify. He didn't need to.
"It wasn't your fault, Harry."
He was silent considering her words.
"How come you're always so sure, Gin?" he asked, sounding like a little boy for once.
"Because you're you, Harry," she told him.
"What? The ‘Boy-who-lived'?" his words were tinged with bitterness.
"No, Harry. The boy who survived. The one whose parents loved, and would do anything for. The boy who's good at charms, and sucks at potions. The one who makes up his Divination homework. The boy who saved me. That's who, Harry."
He smiled slightly, and picked up her hand playing with fingers before, "Do you think Cedric is in heaven, Ginny? And my mum and dad?" Harry asked her.
"Yeah, I do." She smiled back at him. He looked reassured at her answer.
"I'm glad I have you Ginny. I don't think they understand," Harry said, looking back at fire.
"Me too, Harry. Me too."
Hermione stopped for a breath.
"What happened next?" Mrs. Weasley asked, silent tears running down her face.
Hermione leaned over and took Mrs. Weasley's hand in hers, for comfort. For both of them. "They started describing their nightmares. I…felt guilty after that, eavesdropping on them, so I left," Hermione said silently, leaning back against Ron's chest , "I waited, stayed awake for hours waiting to hear Ginny come back up, but she didn't, and I fell asleep. When I woke up and went down, they were both gone."
Ron stared at her, "You didn't tell me," he said to her.
"I know. I wanted to. But I felt almost as if I was interfering with something private. He didn't tell us he was having nightmares, Ron. She didn't tell us she was having them," Hermione said burying her face in his chest. He couldn't stay mad at her after that.
"I tried to talk to them, to bring it up, or with you," her voice was muffled by his robes, "But…" she trailed off, and sat back up.
"They didn't come to us," Ron finished for her, understanding.
"Yeah," she said.
"So they do talk," Fred said, leaning back with some satisfaction.
"I always wondered," George agreed.
"What are we going to do?" Sirius asked, looking his age, the years at Azkaban showing for the first time in months.
"I don't know," Charlie said, staring at the door.
"Its going to be hard. We love her, and we were worried about her, but that's nothing compared to his reaction," Bill said quietly.
"It certainly was extreme," Mr. Weasley said.
"He's terrified of losing her," Hermione said, "That's his worst nightmare. That You-know-who will take away those he loves. Me. Ron. All of you. Ginny," she finished solemnly.
"What are you saying, ‘Mione?" Ron asked, "That Harry and Ginny are…" he couldn't finish the sentence, "That he loves her." He tried again.
"Yes," Hermione didn't mince words. Ron looked shocked.
"But…" he spluttered, "She's Ginny. And he's Harry…"
"You saw him, Ron. I have never seen him that scared. He didn't even bother to hide it, like he normally does. You know him. You tell me - it was only half an hour. Plus you've seen them in the past few months, " she said to him, looking him directly in the eyes.
"Oh, man. And you know what he will do, don't you?" Ron said, suddenly accepting it, like he was known to do.
"Yes," Hermione answered, looking unhappily at the door.
"What? What will he do?" Charlie asked, looking from one to the other.
"He'll stay away from her," Sirius answered for them, "To protect her. Because he thinks that You-know-who will go after the person he loves most in the world. He'll stay away…" he finished sadly.
"Because he's right, and we all know it," Remus added. "That's what You-know-who will do. Go after Ginny. If he ever finds out," Remus looked tired.
"This isn't fair," Molly Weasley cried out suddenly, "They're only babies. They are supposed to be worrying about kissing and homework, and teenage things. Not if You-know-who is going to come and kill them."
Everyone in the room nodded.
"What are we going to do?" Mr. Weasley asked. He looked around hopefully for an answer. They didn't know what to say.
"I love Ginny. I love Harry," Ron said finally when their was silence, "And I won't let them be unhappy and apart. No matter what," he said. Hermione smiled brightly at his answer, and his heart swelled.
"Me too," she said, in support. "We wouldn't let Harry push us away, and we won't let him push her away."
"Do you think she knows. Do you think she feels the same?" Sirius asked.
"I think she's always known," Bill replied, "She's known from the time she was a baby."
The other Weasleys looked surprised at his answer. "Like it was fate," Mrs. Weasley sniffed, nodding in agreement.
"And lets face it," Fred added bluntly, "She's always been a target. And not just because of Harry."
His twin nodded, both of them looking uncommonly solemn for a change, "She's a target because of all of us. Because out of all us, she's the one we all love the most," George stated. Guilt covered the faces of Mr. Weasley, Bill and Charlie. Even Percy looked guilty for a minute. Working against the dark forces had always been the best way to gain enemies.
"She's also strong," Remus said, "Stronger than more than anyone I know." He said it, with an objective outside the family's point of view. "I know that certain things are sacred, like professor-student relationships, but I know that she's strong. You need to trust her, trust her strength," he told them, trying to reassure them all.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley both nodded to him.
"Shall we head back in there, then?" Percy asked.
"Yes," Sirius answered, before squaring his shoulders and pushing open the door.
Harry was sitting on the floor of the kitchen, leaning against the cupboards, Ginny next to him, her head on his shoulder. He was holding her hand their fingers curled up, both of them talking softly.
For a minute they all stared, taking in the sight.
Fred broke the silence, "So did we miss something?" he asked teasingly.
Harry and Ginny both jumped, breaking apart and standing up.
"What are you going on about, Fred?" Ginny demanded.
"Oh, nothing. Interesting position you two were in," George said, smiling widely at the two of them. Ron and Hermione swallowed a laugh.
"I don't what you are talking about," Ginny said haughtily to him, deciding ignoring him was the best method to go.
"Harry, Harry, Harry…" Fred began, and he wrapped one arm around Harry's shoulders, while George did the same to Ginny, "Are you sure you know what you are getting into? You know Ginny does have the worst temper out of the lot of us."
Harry blushed, "Don't be ridiculous," he said, shrugging of Fred's arm. He glanced at Ginny for a second, before stating quite clearly, "There's nothing going on between us."
Ginny turned her face for a minute, hiding the hurt, but when she turned back to face them, her expression was resolute, even if her eyes were a bit bright, "He's right, so just leave it alone. We're friends."
Bill decided to take over then, "So…friends hold hands, do they?" he questioned, hiding a grin when both of them blushed this time.
"We were just…" Harry struggled.
"You know, Harry," Ron cut in when it appeared that Harry couldn't come up with a sufficient reason to explain their behaviour, "I remember quite clearly someone calling me an idiot who couldn't figure out his feelings if they hit him on the head," he started, smiling mischievously, and exchanging a grin with Hermione, "May I return the favour," he continued companionably, giving his sister a look. She was watching open mouthed at the antics of her brothers.
"What is the matter with the lot of you?" she demanded. "Mum, Dad?" she turned to look at the adults standing in the doorway looking at the antics of the children.
"What, honey?" Mrs. Weasley asked, unperturbed.
"Make them leave Harry alone," Ginny said, looking embarrassed.
"Oh, but my dear sister. We can't do that," Charlie said to her, "Its our job as your big brothers to make sure Harry knows exactly what he's getting into." Ginny looked at Percy, relying on him at least to be reasonable, but he just shook his head at her.
"Are you mad? Really? Are you mad? What made you think that something going on? Harry has been coming here for years, what's got into all of you? You all having been acting weird since I got home,"
"Us? Now Ginny maybe you should be asking Harry that question, isn't that right Harry?" Fred said, giving Harry a significant look.
Harry blushed again. He glared in return at Fred, "Nothing is going on," he told him, defensively, "And you very well know it."
"See!" Ginny said, a I-told-you-so expression on her face.
"Harry, maybe…" Sirius started, but was interrupted by a loud scream, as Ginny noticed his and Remus's presence.
"Sirius, Professor," Ginny shouted excitedly, and then ran towards Sirius, hugging him tightly, before wrapping her arms around Remus, "You came for Christmas. When did you get here?" she demanded, stepping back.
Everyone had to laugh, at her excitement. They all began speaking at once, Fred and George explaining in proud tones how they had discovered the two, while Sirius and Remus tried to tell everyone how Molly and Arthur had invited them for the holidays, and Dumbledore had made it possible for them to leave for a few days to spend their first ever Christmas with Harry. Of course the account was regularly interrupted by Ron and Hermione adding their view. Ginny looked in confusion from one to the other, trying to listen to all of them at the same time, while Harry used the distraction to recover.
He took deep breaths to calm down, and gave the only red-haired girl in the room surreptitious glances out of the corner of his eyes, just to make sure she was there. He knew that Ron, Hermione and the twins were suspicious of his feelings towards Ginny, and a little confused as to whether or not he was aware of them, but they were wrong. He knew exactly how he felt. Other people's subconscious would have taken a little longer for them to figure out what they actually felt, but his didn't give him the luxury of time for typical teen confusion.
When he loved someone, they materialized quite plainly in his nightmares, and Ginny had made feature appearances in those for quite some time now. Without realizing it at first, Harry had found himself needing to know where she was at all times. He took the long routes to class so he could catch sight of her before she entered her next one. Ron and Hermione could have hardly missed the detours they took so often but neither had said anything, till now. And neither had Harry.
He didn't even know when it had begun, but he suspected it was during the summer. He remembered little of it, except that she was there. And she made him want to live. Made him feel like it wasn't his fault. Made him feel like a teenage boy, when it had been so long since he felt like that. Her presence calmed him down, made the fear disappear, and the nightmares less. In the beginning he was too out of it, too deep inside himself to even notice his own behaviour, or his reactions to her. She didn't push him. And she understood what Voldemort was like. One day he had woken up and realized that in some ways she was exactly like him, a survivor. And that was when it all changed.
After he returned to Hogwarts, silencing charms safely around his four-poster bed, he had slipped into a pattern of waking up in a cold sweat after watching Voldemort torturing or killing someone. Sometimes they were real, and his scar hurt, and others - they were plain nightmares. Those were the worst. Those were the ones that had Ron, Hermione, Sirius, Remus and the other Weasleys. Those were the ones with Ginny. Without realizing it, he had found his feet leading him downstairs to the common room, the vague idea of needing to see if she was alright in his mind. And as if she had somehow known, there she was sitting in the common room, in front of the fire, her thin arms covering her trembling form. And that was the day he found out he wasn't the only one with nightmares.
Ginny didn't have them everyday, but hers were just as bad. They featured Tom, the Basilisk, Harry dying, her family, Hermione. And that's when the night conversations began. Every night they would meet, sometimes because of a nightmare, other times just to talk. And it was what kept Harry sane. It was made him live. He knew he was a little obsessive about having her within sight, but in some ways he couldn't help it. He also knew that he loved her. And he knew that nothing would ever happen because of that love. He wouldn't let it. He wouldn't let his nightmare come true. He couldn't survive if that ever happened. Ginny wasn't going to be hurt because of him.
‘And as long as no one knew how he really felt, it never would,' he thought fiercely to himself, as he stood slightly apart from everyone, watching the girl in question laugh at everyone's attempt to gain her attention. Suddenly she paused, and as if she knew, like she always did, she looked directly at him, smiling into his eyes. And without meaning to, Harry smiled back. And for a second it was just the two of them, the world disappeared. They didn't have to say anything. They never did. She understood. She was there. She was safe. Everything was alright.
It was going to be a good Christmas. Sirius was here, and for the first time ever, they would have a family holiday. Harry was happy. Purely and utterly happy. He laughed, banishing all the intense thoughts and fears away. He was with his family. And nothing was going to go wrong.