Ginny Weasely was late to class. But it wasn't her fault, not really. She couldn't help the fact that her mum had chosen that morning to send her a very detailed owl on what the family expected of her. Now since she was Head Girl and now since her gift of being a Seer had been realized. Of course, since Voldemort had been vanquished and the world was returning to semi-normalcy, Mrs Weasley was moving forward with her life the best way she knew how: mothering her youngest child.
Because Ginny was the last Weasley at Hogwarts and because her mum couldn't bother her other siblings quite as much as she wanted to (Fleur and Bill spending a year in France, Charlie back to work in Romania, Fred and George were their own men in their own flat in London and Ron living with Hermione) it all fell on Ginny's rather petite shoulders. So this morning, instead of getting ready for her first day of classes, she had been hastily scribbling a reply to her mother's many questions. Their new owl, Benson, would not leave Ginny alone until she had sat down to do so.
"Miss Weasley, I know the rest of the class awaits your arrival with bated breath, but for my pleasure could you please try to make it on time for at least the first week or so?"
Snape's melodious voice drifted into her consciousness and Ginny realized she had been standing at the entrance to seventh year Potions in a daze.
Ginny blushed slightly, but entered the class with her head held up high. After all that everyone had been through last year, you would think Snape would have discovered a nice bone in his body somewhere, but he was still his grumpy self. At least to Ginny, he was.
His dark eyes followed her and then he rolled his expression upwards, as though to say he was at his limit of dealing with tardiness and dunderheaded students. Ginny ignored the display and opened her book and took out her parchment and quill. As soon as Snape began his lesson, all thoughts of her mother's morning letter left her head.
It was lunchtime before she could think to herself again and by then, she was surrounded by her friends. Everyone was chattering and laughing to each other. The Great Hall seemed to be alive with hope and promise. Ginny allowed her eyes to stray to the staff table in the front of the Hall, but they didn't find what they had been searching for. McGonagall sat in the middle chair, her position of Headmistress now official and Snape sat to her right. The chairs usually filled by Flitwick and Hagrid were gone, in memory of their passing, as well as the chairs for Professors' Sprout and Vector. New faces popped up here and there at the staff table, but there was no shock of green eyes among them. Ginny felt her heart sink just a tiny bit as she realized that he had decided against the teaching position after all. Seventh year was going to be very boring, indeed.
After lunch was Herbology, and then the rest of the afternoon was Divination. Since Ginny had a proven talent in this area, McGonagall had arranged for her to have a dedicated amount of time for its study. Which unfortunately for Ginny, meant unblocked amounts of time spent with Trelawney. Normally Ginny would have thought she could ignore the woman (she had done it for the last 6 years after all), but ever since Ginny's talent had emerged, Trelawney seemed determined to prove it had all been a fluke and that Ginny wasn't gifted in the slightest.
There were times when Ginny wished the woman was right.
Ever since she'd had the vision that eventually led to the downfall of Voldemort and to the rescue of Harry, she had noticed that the gift was growing stronger, not weaker. Dumbledore had supposed it was because it had been sleeping within her for so long untouched that its potency was just now beginning to be realized. Despite all of Trelawney's assertions to the contrary- it looked as though little Ginny Weasley was indeed, the real thing.
But it was such an imprecise branch of magic. Why couldn't she be more adept at Transfiguration or Charms? Why couldn't she be a brilliant Potions expert? At the thought of spending more time with Snape, Ginny countered the last thought with a grimace. She'd even be happy with an affinity for plants, if it meant that she could go through life not having trances and not thinking things before they happened. Speaking of which....
Ginny ran ahead of her classmates to get to Herbology before them. She wanted to have a moment with the new teacher to wish him well. She knew he was probably feeling nervous and wanted to calm him with a few words of kindness.
She looked around the empty greenhouse, expecting to see her friend's cherubic smile beaming at her from behind a mound of plotting soil. The place appeared empty.
With a frown she moved further into the back room of the greenhouse, leaving her books on the entry table. Now that was odd, she thought to herself, you'd think he'd be waiting and ready for his seventh years....
"Oh! Merlin!" A panicked voice called out, and Ginny moved fast through the tall plants that filled the back room.
"Neville...I think you over-filled the pot a bit." Another voice answered the first, muffled and strained.
Whatever scene Ginny expected to find as she came running into the cleared area was nothing to what actually met her eyes. She stared in disbelief, looking from one to the other, her mouth agape.
It appeared that Neville had been trying to fill a large planting pot for his next class and that he had over estimated the capacity. A large mountain of Quick! Expanding Soil lay next to the over-flowing pot, and it was moving in a very strange manner. She watched as the mound of moving dirt stood up and tried to clean itself off- Neville immediately tried to assist it.
"No...no, I'm fine. Let me...no...."
Ginny bit her lip back and watched as Neville tried to aim his wand at the human dirt mound and got a handful of soil in his face for his trouble.
"Here, let me," Ginny said, a smile on her face. She moved forward and used her wand to halt the spread of the soil. "Scourgify!" she muttered and the soil flew off of the both of them.
She smiled at Neville and then looked at the other one, her heart stopping in her chest.
Harry Potter had decided to come back to Hogwarts, after all.
Not even Trelawney's ‘There, there, child, don't push yourself for something that isn't going to happen' could damper Ginny's spirits. True, she had just spent the last three hours listening to the woman go on and on about what a true Seer would see in the crystal orbs in front of her, and true, she had seen absolutely nothing at all but gray mists. But Ginny only had one thing in her mind and one thing only: Harry Potter.
He had seemed very pleased to see her and promised to stop by the Gryffindor common room so that they could talk after dinner. She felt her insides buzzing as though she had just captured the Snitch in a close game of Quidditch. She knew it was silly; she knew that her and Harry were just friends and that was all they were going to be, but she couldn't help it...he did something to her.
Ginny had thought she was over Harry. And for a while, she actually had been. But they had fought side by side in the war against Voldemort and sometimes, even when he would talk with no one else about what was happening, he would talk to her. Oh true, it was never for very long and during her sixth year, she had barely seen him in school, but he was always there - in the back part of her consciousness, just waiting.
But it had been the Summer After Everything, when she realized she was still as in love with him as she had been before. No amount of boyfriends or studies or even life-threatening situations could distract her from the growing feelings inside of her. And sometimes, just sometimes, she could have sworn she felt his attention turn to her as well - an unguarded look, a slight lingering of his hand when they reached for the same plate at dinner time...the tenderness in his voice when he called her name.
But then, he had left the Burrow to start Auror training, and she had lost contact with him. She had heard through Ron that McGonagall had practically begged Harry to take over the Defense Against the Dark Arts position at Hogwarts. Ron seemed to think that Harry would never accept it.
But, here he was. Teaching a class that no one probably needed, not with Voldemort gone, but doing it just the same. She was dying to ask him why he had decided to put his training on hold.
She grabbed a bit of bread and meat at the table and then rushed back to her room. Being Head Girl did have an advantage, even if it came with responsibilities she'd rather not bother with right now. But Ginny did love having her own room and she smiled happily as she entered it. Throwing her books onto the bed, she bounced to the cabinet that held her clothes and grabbed the prettiest shirt she owned. She knew it was folly - wearing the school robes was mandatory for a Head Girl and would hide any bit of color she might try to show, but she couldn't resist. Just knowing she was wearing it would make her feel more confident. She just knew it.
She glanced in the mirror and pulled out the too girlish clip she had used that morning to hold her hair back. It fell down in soft waves around her face. Running her hands through it, she muttered a soft incantation and watched as it lifted and settled into place. Having a witch for a mother did come in handy, after all.
She quickly stuffed her half sandwich into her mouth and used her wand to put some color into her cheeks. Catching a last glance at herself before she sped back out of the room, she smiled at her mirror.
"Oh dearie, you look lovely. Knock him dead," it wheezed at her.
She had every intention of doing just that.
Harry Potter was trying to look as inconspicuous as possible, standing out in front of the Gryffindor common room, but he was finding it quite tricky to do so. Not so much because of the students, most of them were still at dinner, but because all of the portraits in the castle seemed to want to ‘get a look at him'.
The Fat Lady's friend, Violet, was talking in loud whispers above his head and he pretended not to listen. A monk and an old hag were whispering together directly across from him and others were trying to get into the frame as well.
"What's he doing?"
"Why's he standing there?"
"Oh, well I suspect he's waiting for that Weasley girl, you know, that pretty redheaded thing. She went blazing past here just a few minutes ago-"
"Isn't he a teacher now? Shouldn't he be mindful of his position?"
At this last bit, Harry had heard enough. He cleared his throat. The whisperings stopped.
He looked up and saw that they were all staring at him.
"Er...well, if you don't mind, not that it is any of your business, but Ginny and I are only friends. I'm just paying her a visit. That's all." His tone of voice was definite on this last thought, and the portraits looked disappointed at any lack of impropriety.
Before any of them could go back to their regular haunts, the painting entrance opened and out stepped Ginny.
Harry, who was always taken aback by how much Ginny had grown in the last year, stood there for a full minute, his mouth slightly open. His eyes swept over her hair and the color in her cheeks, as though she had been outside in the cool fall air and it had chilled her. Her brown eyes sparkled at his and when she reached out and pulled him into a hug, he almost forgot where he was. Almost.
"Er...hi," he said as he smiled weakly at her.
"Harry!" Ginny practically squealed his name in his ear, and Harry felt his skin turn slightly warmer. He rolled his eyes upwards and looked at the faces of the portraits that stared down at them. He was suddenly overcome with a need to be far away from prying eyes.
"Let's go for a walk. Get some air or something," he mumbled so that the listening ears wouldn't hear him.
Ginny beamed at him and looped her arm around his. They headed out towards the Entrance Hall and Harry tried to ignore the sniggering sounds he heard behind them as they left.
Once outside though, Harry realized that it was much too cold to walk very far, so they turned around and headed inside again. They stood at the front door, trying to look nonchalant, but eyes from the queuing dinner crowd were upon them. Ginny, Harry noticed, had pasted a smile on her face and was looking the other way, towards the approaching figure of Neville Longbottom.
Neville had a huge smile on his face, and he seemed very happy to see them. Harry, on the other hand, suddenly realized he didn't want to share his reunion with Ginny with anyone, even Neville. As a crowd of noisy fifth years passed in-between them and Neville, Harry tugged on Ginny's hand and pulled her into a space behind the large statue of Olaf the Aloof. He put his finger to his lips, to indicate quiet. Her eyes burning bright at him, she giggled softly and nodded her head. They waited until Neville reached the space where they had just been standing and watched as he looked around, his face crestfallen. Harry felt a pang of guilt but it quickly disappeared as Ginny moved in closer to him. Her face was inches from his and he could count the freckles on her nose...she had exactly seven across the bridge.
"I know where we can go!" she whispered, breaking his reverie. With a turn and a tug, Ginny kept hold of his hand and led them around the back of the stairs. After a few moments he caught on and wondered why he hadn't thought of it himself: the Room of Requirement.
When they reached the hallway that housed the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy, Harry felt his face break out in a grin. He had a lot of good memories of this hallway...he refused to think of the bad.
With a wicked glint in her eye, Ginny walked back and forth in front of the spot where the door should be. Harry watched as momentarily, the door appeared. With a triumphant glance from Ginny, they both reached for the doorknob at the same time, their hands running into the other.
"Oh...sorry," Ginny said.
"Yeah...." Harry said, awkwardly, realizing their hands were still linked over the knob.
This is Ron's little sister I'm standing here with! he thought to himself and it sobered him.
With a determined air he took his hand a way and then nodded towards the door.
If Ginny missed the feeling of his hand over hers, she didn't show it. She smiled again and turned the knob and they both watched as the door swung open to reveal....
Ginny blushed and looked around. "It was the first place that popped into my head, really. I wanted some place comfortable."
Harry nodded and smiled, the room looked like a perfect replica of the Burrow. He half expected Fred and George to come bounding through the other doorway at any second....
"Oh good...there's hot cocoa," Ginny said as she moved forward and pointed to the table, where indeed there were two steaming blue cups of cocoa.
Taking their places at the table, they both looked around again and marveled at the uncanny likeness.
"Your memory is excellent, Ginny. It looks exactly like it did the day I left," Harry said, nostalgia creeping into his voice. He watched as an unreadable emotion flitted across Ginny's face.
"Yes, well...that makes it all the more appropriate, since you're here now."
Ginny seemed perturbed about something, and Harry didn't know how to ask her what was wrong. But her expression cleared when she looked at him and not for the first time that night did he feel a reaction. Ron's sister...this is Ron's little sister...and she's a student!
"So...Harry," Ginny said after a moment, "Tell me how you ended up at Hogwarts, after swearing you wouldn't teach here in a million years?"
"I'm quite sure I never said ‘in a million years'."
Ginny raised her eyebrow. It was the perfect imitation of Ron. Harry wondered if eyebrow raising was a specific Weasley trait.
"I seem to recall that Ron said that you'd said-"
"Oh, well...Ron. He must be mistaken. I'm fairly sure he's misquoted me, at any rate. I said I wouldn't like to teach in a hundred years. Different statement, you see."
Ginny laughed and the sound of it warmed Harry faster than the hot cocoa. He felt the heat of it touch his skin and travel all the way down to his toes. He shook his head and smiled at her.
"Well, of course, my brother has been known to get things wrong...I reckon I should give you the benefit of the doubt, after all. But really, Harry...what happened with the Auror training?"
"I'm still doing it. I'm just doing it by owl. To a certain extent, that is." Harry shrugged and took another sip of his cocoa. He glanced down and realized the cup was refilling itself.
"But how can that be? Remus said that the training is intensive. How can you do that by owl?"
"Well...given my past and the things I've done, Remus seems to think I can skip the early stuff and just do the reading, here. He also thinks working with the students will give me good experience."
"Not to mention McGonagall really wanted you to do it."
Harry smiled. "Well...yeah, that too. She broke through all sorts of red tape for me to teach, actually. The Ministry wasn't going to let me, at first."
Ginny made a tsk tsk noise and rolled her eyes. "As if they could stop you from doing absolutely anything you wanted to do. You saved the wizarding world from Voldemort! You should bloody well be the Minister!" Ginny's eyes glowed passionately at him and he again felt the heat of her nearness causing a reaction within him.
"Well, the person they have in charge now isn't a bad sort," he said, gently reminding her that the person in charge was her own father.
"Well...yes," Ginny said, embarrassed. "Be that as it may. Dad's great as Minister, actually. But I can't believe he'd give you a hard time about teaching!"
"It wasn't him, but he was sort of powerless to do anything. It was the Wizengamot, actually, that gave me the hardest time. Didn't believe I'd proven myself in a classroom environment, even though I had ‘practical on hands experience that had manifested itself in the thwarting of Voldemort'."
"They actually said that?"
Ginny shook her head again and a strand of hair fell into her eyes. Harry felt a nearly insane compulsion to push it back for her.
They settled into an agreeable silence then and Harry realized how much he had missed her.
"So...I um...got a letter from Mum, today. She seems to think that Ron and Hermione will never get married and they will shame the Weasley name with their loose morals."
Harry laughed. "She's really bored without you around, isn't she?
"Well, she misses everyone. I think if it were possible, she would insist I take my last year at home, just so she could keep an eye on me. Make sure I don't get into trouble."
"What trouble could you possibly get into, here?"
Ginny looked straight at him then and it was such an open, candid look, that Harry felt his face blush in answer to it.
After a moment, he spoke.
"Yes, Harry? What are we?"
Harry swallowed hard and looked down at the purple doily that covered the table.
"We're friends, of course."
Ginny raised her eyebrow again but didn't say anything.
"And we're also student and teacher and-"
"I'm not taking Defense Against the Dark Arts."
Ginny shook her head. "Nope. Lucky me, I get extra hours with Trelawney instead."
"So that makes us friends who do not have classes together in a teacher-student capacity."
Harry shifted uncomfortably in his chair. How had they gotten onto this subject so soon?
"Ginny, truth of the matter is, is that you are my best friend's little sister. I've known you since you were 11 and I was 12. We've watched each other grow up, we've saved each other's lives, we've-"
"I know all of that Harry. But what do you feel about me, really?" Ginny's eyes met his again and he saw her fear in them, but he also saw her strength and he admired her tenacity. He knew he owed her the truth of his feelings.
"I...I'm not sure."
Ginny looked at him a moment longer and then looked away. She seemed...disappointed by his admission, and he wasn't sure what he should say. He couldn't tell her that he was finding it physically hard to be around her, that he wasn't sure what that meant. He couldn't tell her that he found himself loving the way her hair looked or the way her skin flushed when she was excited. He couldn't tell her that the thought of ever hurting her was enough to drive him crazy...he just couldn't.
"I reckon that is an honest enough answer," she said softly, swirling her forgotten cocoa around in her cup.
Harry felt at a loss and instinctively reached out to hold her hand. She pulled away.
"I'm sorry, Harry. I can't really have you touching me in comfort, right now."
Harry frowned and opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He knew she was right.
"I reckon I'm silly in that when you hold my hand I want it to be because you want to and not because you feel the need to make me feel less rejected."
"Ginny, that's not what-"
"It's okay, Harry. Truly it is," Ginny stood up then and took her cup to the sink. Harry looked at her back and he felt a terrible pit in the bottom of his stomach at having hurt her feelings.
Ginny laughed quietly and turned around. "Look at me...washing a cup that will disappear the minute I will it to." Harry watched as the cup vanished into thin air in her hands. "I wish I could will other things to happen that easy." Her voice was so soft that Harry wondered if she had actually said what he thought she had.
"Well, I suppose we should go back now. Maybe catch up with Neville. I feel bad for ditching him."
"Ginny, are you-?"
"I'm fine Harry. Come on, or students will wonder where I've hidden you off to and we‘ll be the talk of the castle."
Many awkward pauses and harsh silences later, they did eventually find Neville, still in the Great Hall talking with Madam Pomfrey. For the rest of the night, the two of them spoke through Neville, Harry realized. Neither one of them spoke directly to the other. Neville chatted away happily with both of them and Harry realized that Neville was very much taken with Ginny. He wondered why he had never noticed it before.
Ginny, for her part, was polite and kind to Neville. Every so often her eyes would glance in his direction and then look away again. Harry wondered what damage the simple line of ‘I'm not sure' had done.
At the end of the evening, after having been taunted by Peeves and warned by Nearly Headless Nick that Filch was on his way, they all parted their separate ways- Harry and Neville off to the Professor's quarters and Ginny back to her dormitory.
Harry noticed there was a touch of melancholy in Ginny's shoulders as she turned, and he wanted to reach out and hug her, but he didn't. He allowed Neville to lead him away, chattering all the while in his ear about how excited he was to be a Professor at Hogwarts, and wasn't it nice that Ginny was around?
Nice wasn't exactly the word that Harry would have used.
Author's Note: A big thank you to those have read this before on Checkmated (although I really doubt you're reading it now. heh) And also a thank you to my lovely beta Susan who is very patient and ellipsis crazy. (heh just kidding, dear!) I'm very excited to be here at Phoenix Song finally!