This story is for David, Dave, Brad and Ros, for reasons each of them can figure out.
She was holding his hand under the table, occasionally squeezing it and occasionally letting it go. When she had to use both hands to cut her chop, or when she was passing something to someone, her hand left his, maybe for a moment, maybe for several minutes. But sooner or later he'd find her reaching for him again. It made eating a little awkward, but he didn't mind, and apparently she didn't either; if anybody else noticed, they didn't say anything.
It had been like this for days. Whenever the two of them were together, whenever they'd been walking, or sitting nearby, one of them would take the other's hand. He didn't know whether it was she or he who did it most often, nor who started it. No, he did remember who started it; she took hold of him the second day after the victory, when they were walking to lunch. But after that it might have been either one. It wasn't secretive and it wasn't showy; she wasn't announcing anything to the world; he wasn't offering to fight off all rivals. They liked holding hands.
Nothing much else happened between them. Oh, he'd kissed her goodnight practically every night, felt her press against him warmly, familiarly, comfortably, as if she'd been holding him all her life and was just getting back into the habit. But nothing more than that. They didn't exchange many words, either; so much was going on.
They'd attended more funerals than he wanted to think about, some of them so awful that they could do nothing but cling together, their tears staining one another's shirts. At Fred's funeral Harry had practically held Ginny upright, though there were seven other Weasleys for whom he might easily have provided the same service. He'd looked into George's face and wondered what anyone could ever do for him. At Remus and Tonks's funeral they'd both sat, appalled, as Andromeda Tonks stared into a pit of loss they could only imagine – husband, daughter, son-in-law. Overcome by his own grief and not thinking very clearly, Harry'd walked up to her and offered to take care of little Teddy, as godfather. Andromeda had looked shattered and cried, "He's all I have left!"
There were too many moments like that.
Funerals aside, there were endless other meetings, conversations, plans. The world needed rebuilding, and Kingsley was asking for help from all quarters. Hogwarts would need months, if not years, of repair; McGonagall had contacted Harry, Ron and Hermione about finally taking their seventh year, and helping with the reconstruction. And there were well-wishers, people offering condolences, witches and wizards wanting advice on things about which Harry had no clue, dozens who just wanted to touch the hand of the savior. Harry'd been much more in demand than Ginny, so many people wanting to ask him things, tell him things. But always the two of them managed to find each other again, and it seemed understood between them – never yet spoken, but assumed – that they belonged together whenever possible, her hand in his. Just existing in sight of each other.
And he'd been wondering – not worrying, not yet – where was the urgent hunger for her he'd felt a year ago? Where was her hunger for him? Had he imagined it all? Why weren't they all over each other, as Ron and Hermione now seemed constantly to be?
Tonight, though, after the pudding, as they were getting up to help her mother with the dishes, Ginny whispered in his ear, "Let's walk a bit afterward."
It was still midsummer, and the twilight was just coming on. They walked for a long time silently, hand-in-hand as ever. The smell of the grass was a bit dusty, and the western sky held every color Harry could think of. He didn't know the names of all the birds they could hear. He felt that he could do this, stroll with Ginny at his side and nowhere to go, no appointment to meet, exactly in step with her, feeling her pulse in his fingers, all night. All year. Longer.
Finally Ginny spoke, not breaking stride, not releasing his hand. "I was a bit jealous of Cho, the other day."
It took him a moment to remember what she was talking about. "What – oh, you mean that business with the Ravenclaw Common Room?" She nodded, looking straight ahead as they walked. He answered, "Yeah, I could tell."
"I'm sorry," she said, still looking ahead. "It wasn't the time or the place."
"No," Harry agreed.
"I hadn't seen you in so long, hadn't heard from you. And I'd been in the Room of Requirement for maybe ten minutes, and there she was, so damned pretty, so friendly, and – " Ginny chewed her lip and looked over at him, her eyes pleading that he understand. "Well, I'm sorry."
"You know," he assured her, "you had nothing to worry about." That sounded a lot less convincing than he wanted it to, and he could hear Ginny humph! in response.
"Ginny. I thought about you every day. Not Cho. Not anyone else. You."
"Oh." Her voice was small.
"And when – when I thought I was about to die –" He stopped and inhaled. She looked at him with a distressed expression. He finished, "The one thing I wanted to see was your face."
"Oh." Her voice was smaller yet.
They walked on for several more seconds. Then he added, "But I'm kind of glad you were jealous."
He could see the corner of her mouth twitch. "You are?"
"Yeah, sort of like you were telling everybody I was yours."
That got a full grin from Ginny. Looking at her feet, she teased, "Should I pin a notice to your back, This Is Ginny's, Hands Off?"
"I wouldn't mind." He stopped walking before she did, and their arms extended, her fingers almost tugging away from his, but then she must have felt him stop; she turned to face him before their hands could part. He looked her in the eyes. "I really wouldn't," he repeated.
Then he pulled her to him by their entwined fingers. He kissed her slowly, searchingly, listening to each breath she took and feeling every tiny movement she made, smelling that scent that made him think of all the good things that had ever happened to him. And he felt his hunger for her return – but not the desperate, urgent need he'd felt on his birthday. This was a calm, warm, pleasant desire that spread through his whole body; it was friendly and full of mirth and delight. He actually started to laugh, and he knew she could feel the vibrations of it on her own mouth.
She broke apart from him, doing her best to look annoyed but failing. "Oh, so kissing me is funny, is it?"
"No," he said, no longer chuckling but still grinning as if he were about to start again. "I'm happy."
Ginny smiled back. "Tell me why."
"I'm happy with you. I'm happy to be alive. And I've got you for –" He stopped, realizing he'd made an assumption. It wasn't a bad assumption, but it was only polite to ask. "I do have you, don't I?"
She put her hands on his chest and put her face close to his, and her voice dropped by half an octave. "All of me, Harry. That's what you have."
She swallowed. So did he.
"Oh," he said weakly.
He took her face in his hands and kissed her again, this time with such joy and gratitude that he began to tremble. When he pulled away from her, he was smiling so hard it hurt.
"Thank you. Ginny, I – thank you." He wrinkled his brow. "What was I saying?"
She dimpled. "You were saying, I've got you for –"
"Oh, right! Thanks. It's the time," he continued, his smile still making his cheeks ache. "It's the time that's different. Before, I always thought I'd die at any moment, that anyone close to me would be hurt, that anyone who loved me would come to grief. And I felt that any happiness I could have, I'd have to grab quickly, before the opportunity slipped away. But now –" His voice trailed off.
"Ages," she finished for him. "We have ages."
"Ages," he agreed. "No hurry, no hurry at all. I could spend days just looking at your eyes, and weeks just asking you nitpicky questions about all your friends and family – "
"Yuck," she grimaced.
"Or," he continued, undeterred, "two or three hours trying to figure out just where you do, and don't, have freckles, or –"
"'Two hundred to adore each breast,'" said Ginny.
"What?" asked Harry, exercising all his will to prevent his gaze from drifting where she seemed to be directing it.
"An old poem," she explained, "about how little time there is for love."
"But not for us," he beamed.
"But not for us," she repeated. There was a pause, and her eyebrows lifted and one corner of her mouth twitched again, although he thought it was the opposite corner from last time. "You know, you can look if you want to."
He swallowed again. Then he thought about it. Then he said, "I do want to. But right now I'm looking at your eyes. There's time."
"Yes," Ginny answered. Then she added thoughtfully, "Time isn't really unlimited, you know. We'll still die eventually. There will be an end."
"I know." I know it better than anyone, he thought.
"It might happen unexpectedly, and sooner than we think." She looked sad, and he knew she was thinking of Fred. And Tonks. Poor Tonks, who only had a year…
"Yes," he confirmed. "Nothing is certain."
"Still, the luxury we've earned is time. That's what we fought for. That's what we won. We don't have to hurry. It can be a nice, long – engagement."
She blinked, and her face colored a bit. "Engagement?"
He nodded. "Engagement." There was a moment or two of silence that felt more awkward than it ought to. He hadn't actually meant to say it out loud – although he surely meant it. He looked around, then he said it again. "Engagement. Betrothal. I can kneel down. Would you like me to kneel down?" He was starting to feel ridiculous.
She stared at him for a moment, then put the tip of her tongue on her upper lip and swung his hand playfully. "Oh, eventually. But tonight we're taking a walk, yeah?"
"Yeah. A long one."
"Then let's go." They both turned, swinging their joined hands back and forth as they went.
They enjoyed every footstep.
Long Author's Note:
This story is my answer to the disappointment expressed by some that there wasn't more interaction between Harry and Ginny at the end of Deathly Hallows. Being myself an incurable romantic, I too would have enjoyed a snog-fest between Harry & Ginny, Ron & Hermione, Arthur & Molly, Bill & Fleur, and any other couples who happened to be around. But I took my cue from Harry's thoughts when he glimpsed Ginny in the Great Hall: "There would be time to talk later, hours and days and maybe years in which to talk." This story expresses what I think he was feeling.
Just so we understand each other, I don'tmean to imply that Harry and Ginny have somehow lost their teenage hormones. Soon enough, I think, they'll be experiencing that headlong, hot, impatient, intoxicated, can't-get-my-hands-off-you, Zeffirelli-style passion that is their birthright and their delight. But this is the moment when patience is delicious, and they're enjoying it.
Nor do I necessarily intend this story as recommendation of pre-marital abstinence. My instincts do tell me that Harry and Ginny are the kind of spiritual people who are likely to want to mark the "last step" ceremonially, be it with wedding or some other way, but I could be wrong – and in any case this story doesn't answer the question one way or the other.
Ginny's quotation comes from Marvell's To His Coy Mistress, which I've loved since I was fifteen, and which girlyswot, of course, has used to great effect in her stories.