Thanks to Pooca for putting up with my semi-colon addiction, and to Faelaern for putting up with my forays into franglais.
Dinner at the Burrow was just wrapping up when an official looking owl swept through the window and out another, dropping a letter in the middle of the table.
All conversation halted; eight pairs of eyes stared nervously at the parchment, with breathless anticipation for what news it might hold.
After what seemed like an eternity, Mr. Weasley plucked the letter from the empty bowl of mashed potatoes, examining the seal and reading the address. "It's for you, Ron," he said, handing it across the table to his youngest son.
Harry exchanged a curious glance with Ginny, who was seated next to him, as Ron tore his letter open. Mrs. Weasley was muttering something about it to be too early for Hogwarts letters, but she was interrupted when Ron let out a loud yelp.
"I've been made Quidditch captain!"
It was as if the room exploded all at once with excited exclamations, and Harry felt several emotions running through him at the same time: relief, that the letter hadn't held bad news, a genuine happiness for Ron, and something else, that wasn't quite so pleasant. By the time Harry maneuvered through to Ron to clap him on the shoulder and say, "Good job, mate," he found he meant the words significantly less than he had when he'd first had the idea to say them.
The crowd of people suddenly made him feel claustrophobic, the mélange of voices and other noises much too loud, the air in the kitchen stifling. Harry retreated to the corner, wondering what was wrong with him—I just want a breath of air—and then, why he was bothering to lie to himself.
"Harry." He heard his name clearly through the jumble of voices that had been jabbering excitedly ever since Ron's letter had arrived. He lifted his gaze to find Ginny looking at him—he tried to place the expression on her face. It wasn't pity, thank Merlin, or even concern. It wasn't curiosity, either. It was just—
"Harry, I need your help with something in my room." She turned around, obviously expecting him to follow, and he did—if for no other reason than it seemed natural to do, and required no thinking.
Later it might have occurred to him to have the normal reaction of a teenaged boy to such a pronouncement. But, on that day, the emptiness that had dominated his existence all summer—slightly assuaged since his arrival at the Burrow—had returned full force.
Ginny sat down on her bed, and Harry sat down next to her when she invited him to. He waited for her to speak, expecting her to, but for a while she didn't, and for some reason this made Harry feel a little better.
She kicked off her shoes, the leaned until her back was against the wall, then she looked at Harry.
"Does that bother you?" she asked. He didn't pretend to not know what she was talking about.
"I…" Did it bother him? Obviously, it did, or he wouldn't be feeling so... bothered. But why? Ok, yes, so maybe he had more natural talent in flying than Ron did. But he was banned, and Ron—with his strategies, with his… with his... lack of a Dark wizard out to get him. Obviously, Ron was the choice for a captain.
So what did that leave Harry with? A first rate broomstick he couldn't use and… a Dark wizard after him.
Rather abruptly he said, "I'm not surprised at all. Of course, Ron will make a great captain, and I never expected it for myself. Obviously I can't be captain; I'm banned from Quidditch."
Ginny gave him an incredulous look. "You don't actually think that Dumbledore's going to go with what that cow did, do you? He's probably already lifted the ban."
"Yes, but that doesn't matter," persisted Harry. "The team has a new Seeker." He looked at her pointedly.
Ginny rolled he eyes. "I told you, didn't I, that I'd rather Chase? Anyhow, I don't hold a candle to you when it comes to Seeking."
"You caught the Snitch."
"Yes, but you do it with so much more style," she answered, nudging him playfully, and he couldn't help but smile back a little bit. "So, it doesn't bother you that Ron's captain?"
"No, not really. I'm happy for him. It's just…" Just what? What was bothering him? Besides, well, everything?
"It seems like Ron's getting all the glory nowadays. Prefect, Keeper, now this." Harry looked at her. Though that was true, he didn't really think he cared; he just wanted to be normal.
She looked at him, directly in the eye, suddenly seeming very serious. "Don't worry, Harry. You'll always be my hero."
It was as if four years had disappeared in a flash, and he was there, and Ginny—she looked even smaller now, much paler, and Riddle—
"I don't want to be a hero!" he said forcefully, trying to shake the image from his mind. Not that he didn't want to save her—he'd do it again in a heartbeat—he only wished she hadn't needed saving, saving from him in the first place. Ginny continued to look at him, into his eyes, and he wondered how she managed to do it—she seemed to be reading his very soul.
"I know, Harry. But you are."
In another flash, there was Sirius with the Dementors, coming close—closing in—and Cedric, lying dead—Sirius, falling behind the—
Either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…
Neither can live … one of us has to die.
Ginny remained silent, and the look she gave him told him he had nothing to answer for, not from her. He tore his eyes away from hers.
"Who do you think will be the other Chaser?" he asked, his gaze fixed on a spot above her right shoulder.
"Oh, I don't know," answered Ginny easily. "Of course, that's assuming I get a place…"
And she went with it discussing their housemates and their potential Quidditch abilities, but Harry couldn't concentrate on what she was saying, He could only wonder what he may have done to deserve her, sitting there. Putting up with him unquestioningly and acting perfectly as though he was a normal person. And wondering why it was that the steady, even sound of her voice made his insides feel as though they were slowly returning. Yet at the same time her voice filled him with such guilt, for what he was not saying—
"It has to be one of us," he blurted out.
"W—what?" asked Ginny, stumbling over the word a bit as she stopped in the middle of her Quidditch tirade.
"One of us," repeated Harry. "That's what—what the prophecy said. It's either me or Voldemort—one of us has to die."
Still, she said nothing. She just looked at him, intensely, with the look of nothing—only, it wasn't nothing, because it was… full. Harry didn't understand how anyone could be so accepting, and then she was even more—pulling him close to her, resting his head in the crook of her neck, and hers in his, wrapping her arms around him.
And he allowed his to wrap around her—it was an odd, sinking feeling. Yet Ginny was there, real and solid, and he was holding her, but he felt like she was holding him up.
And still she said nothing. That was something he had never imagined.
His entire summer, whenever the brooding would overtake him—which, he was forced to admit—was often, he would dread and imagine telling Ron and Hermione about the prophesy, and he could just hear their voices: "Bloody hell, Harry…" "But, how?The prophecy was broken, I don't understand…"
And sometimes, when he was in a rare humorous mood, the Hermione in his mind would say, "but, Harry, in Hogwarts, A History, it specifically says that…" Mentally hearing Ron and Hermione's reaction to what he would eventually have to tell them had—along with everything else—slowly driven him mad. But nothing, he had never imagined. Not silence.
He'd never known silence could be so accepting.
He could hear the voices—but no words—and the movement on the creaky floorboards of the people about the house, dishes from the kitchen, the occasion bang from the ghoul, the noises of outside through her window, all far off, seemingly disconnected from the moment in which Harry was living; and close to him, the sound of Ginny's steady breathing was the only noise that seemed real.
Then, everything was coming to him with a perfect clarity: the temperature of the air against his face, the color of her walls in the fading twilight, the not quite itchy feel of her hair against his cheek, her jumper—warm from her skin—beneath his fingers. Each detail seemed to stack upon itself, merging into something—becoming larger and larger, gradually filling the void that had left him feeling hollow since…since…
But all thoughts of that left Harry, and at that moment, it was not such a terrible, tragic thing to be Harry Potter.
Then, the strands of her hair, the weight of her head on his shoulder, were gone. Her finger traced along his jaw, and her voice--"Look at me."
So he did.
Her eyes were bright, and her voice, though slightly wavering, had steel behind it. "It won't be you."
"It won't," she said again, as if sensing his protest, sounding even more determined. She looked at him, as if daring him to contradict.
"You don't know that," he said.
"I do, Harry, I do. He is… he is nothing. He has nothing inside, nothing but hate. And hate is nothing. You…you—" her fingers were soft, her touch light. "You have so much. And I know you'd don't want to be a hero, Harry, but that's what makes you one. You're so good, and you have people who care about you. We love you, Harry. And you have more—much more—than he ever had, or ever will. It won't be you, Harry. I know. I know."
Her voice resounded in his head long after she had fallen silent again; echoing over the sounds of the Burrow, which still seemed very far away.
Eventually the reverberation of her words faded away, leaving him with only a sense of their meaning, which sated him. All he could feel was Ginny's weight against him, her head leaning on his shoulder, her breath as she exhaled, tickling the base of his neck. An incredible peace filled him.
He had much more than he'd ever realized—than he'd ever counted on.
And though he would have to do much more than he'd ever wanted to, it was enough.