- Astronomy Tower
- Ginny Weasley Harry Potter
- Angst Romance
- Multiple Eras
- Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Order of the Phoenix
Published: 07/19/2005Updated: 07/19/2005Words: 8,939Chapters: 1Hits: 828
- Story Summary:
- It's Harry's sixteenth birthday, and he is surprised himself to be offering one of his friends a gift... that she may or may not want.
- Author's Note:
- Thanks to Aberforths_Rug, BeccaFran and Velvethope for their early and invaluable help with this fic--without them, the last section in particular would be... icky.
A hot, brilliant day in Ottery St. Catchpole, enjoying pleasant company, blue skies and two birthdays--if it hadn't been for the distant figures of Aurors patrolling the perimeter of the Weasleys' property, Harry would have felt comfortable labeling his sixteenth birthday perfect. As it was, it set him in mind of a comment Anthony Goldstein had made once after a DA meeting about playing football on the kibbutz where he grew up while the older kids stood guard with Uzis.
They were all walking down to the pond in their bathing suits: Harry and Neville, the birthday boys, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Luna, who had just returned from hunting Snorkacks in Sweden and was disconcertingly tan.
Harry was behind Ginny, who was wearing a simple green one-piece that exposed most of her back. She had her hair tied back in a ponytail, and her neck showed the usual dusting of freckles; in the bright sunlight, they seemed to stand out in sharp relief. Looks like cinnamon sugar, he thought. I'd love to lick it off...
With a shudder, Harry closed his eyes.
"Something wrong, mate?" Ron asked from beside him.
Harry shook his head, but he knew he was lying. Something was terribly wrong. Had been ever since he had come to the Burrow the previous week. Since before, though he had been so drowned in grief for the past two months that he hadn't even noticed it.
He couldn't stop thinking about Ginny. About what he wanted to do to her. About what he desperately wanted her to do to him. They weren't nice thoughts. They were the sorts of thoughts he was used to indulging when he was alone, in his bed. Preferably with the curtains drawn and a Silencing Charm cast. But there wasn't anywhere to be alone here. Harry shared a room with Ron--and for tonight, Neville--and every other space in the house seemed to be perpetually bustling, even the WC--with only the one, and the entire family plus the patrolling Aurors sharing it, Harry didn't exactly feel comfortable relieving his frustrations there.
And, of course, every time Harry looked up, there Ginny was--smiling, laughing, running, curling catlike on the couch. Every fine line of her, every laugh, every grin made him want to reach out and touch her. It was the sweetest torture imaginable.
One morning the previous week, when she, Ron and Hermione had already gone down to breakfast, he had stopped on the way back from taking a shower and looked into her room. Her bed was unmade--Mrs. Weasley was giving them clean sheets later that day--and he had found himself climbing out of his towel and into her bed, luxuriating in the feel of her sheets against his naked skin, wrapping himself in the barely perceptible scent of her. Then panicking and sprinting upstairs before someone inevitably walked in.
Why couldn't he have felt this way a year ago? Well, she'd been going with Michael Corner then, though she hadn't told anyone. But she was going out with Dean now, and Dean was actually a friend, someone Harry had always liked, who had always backed Harry, even when Seamus had turned on him the previous year. No, she didn't have any feelings for Harry any more, and he wished her the best.
But that didn't stop him from wanting to paint her body with his tongue.
Harry shuddered and tried as subtly as he could to rearrange himself inside his suit. Fortunately, Ron was staring distractedly at Hermione's surprisingly small, surprisingly well-filled bikini, so he didn't notice Harry. Thank the Lord for small favors.
"Truth is beauty, beauty truth," murmured a breathy voice behind Harry's ear and he jumped.
"Oh!" he said. "Hey, Luna. Sorry, I was thinking."
"Me too," she answered. And then, rather than elaborating, she skipped past Harry, sped in front of Hermione, Ginny and Neville, dropped her bag, towel and sandals on the tiny dock, and leapt, arms and legs flailing, hair streaming behind her, into the water.
When Mrs. Weasley had asked Harry how he would like to spend his birthday, he had answered without thinking that he'd love to spend it his closest friends: Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville, and--he was shocked to find himself saying--Luna.
When he had said that, she had merely smiled and reached down to where the post was sorted on the kitchen table. She handed him a letter from Neville, who had suggested exactly the same celebration.
Born as the seventh month dies... How could he have forgotten that?
He needed to tell Neville about the prophecy. He needed to tell them all. After dinner.
Standing there on the dock, the sun so bright and hot that there didn't seem to be any shadows anywhere, he felt a dark chill settling on him. Unbidden, images of Cedric dying, of Sirius falling through the Veil, of Voldemort's snakelike face swam up in his mind, and he was blind with despair.
"Oh, no you don't!" said Ginny brightly, and Harry found himself being lifted, spluttering, by both Weasleys, Neville and Hermione, and tossed, still clothed, into the pond.
By the time he came up, he was grinning.
For the next hour and a half, the six of them swam and laughed, and Harry felt better than he had since... Well, if he thought about it, it was the best he could ever remember feeling. The cool of the pond even meant that he could enjoy Ginny's company without becoming humiliatingly overheated.
After swimming and splashing around--and listening to Luna's musings on the likelihood that the pond depths were inhabited by freshwater Selkies--the six of them found themselves caught up in a round of something Ron and Ginny called tickle tag. It had started in a more or less orderly fashion, with Ron as It, trying to get someone to laugh--mostly he concentrated on Hermione, which amused everyone except Hermione herself.
Within a few minutes, it had devolved into a free-for-all, with water flying everywhere, and sputtering and laughter, and Ginny kept getting Harry, her every pinch and touch causing him to snort and howl. He tried tickling her under the arms, but she didn't seem to care. He couldn't reach her feet under the water. Whirling to try to avoid being reduced to a giggling, floating mass once again, he reached out to try to tickle her over her hip--that was his most ticklish spot, as they had both quickly learned to his enormous frustration. Dodging left, he had reached out--
Ginny's eyes bulged open, and they were both immediately still.
That wasn't her hip.
He yanked back his hand, but not before the texture of her, of her suit, of her thighs on either side of his fingers had etched itself into his memory. "Sorry."
For the first time all summer--for the first time since well before his fourth year--Harry was treated to the sight of a full, speechless blush from Ginny Weasley, and as much as he knew that he himself was bright red, seeing her color like that again made him feel oddly good.
Ginny muttered something about helping her mum with dinner and started to move toward the edge of the pond. Harry followed her, since there was nowhere in the world he would rather be in that moment. "I am really sorry about that," he said.
She looked back at him inscrutably for a moment, then smiled at him slantwise in way that was pure mischief and pure Ginny. "Serves me right, I suppose. But who knew Harry Potter, Savior of the Wizarding World, was so ticklish?"
Harry shrugged and looked down, his hand tracing an arc on the surface of the water. "Not me, anyway. No one ever tried much." Closed fists from Dudley and his father. Open-handed slaps from Aunt Petunia.
Ginny's face dropped and her hand rose of its own accord out of the water.
Harry closed his eyes, trying not to will her to touch him again.
She did touch him. She tickled him, and he fell, laughing and gasping, into the water, then chased her up on to the bank. As he closed in, hands extended, she stood her full five-feet-and-a-spit, her expression imperious. "Once might have been a mistake, Mr. Potter. Twice would be..." Her eyes narrowed. "Presumptuous."
"Pre-?..." He gaped at her, his hands retreating as if singed. "I... Ginny, I'd never... I didn't..."
Her teasing glower softened and she laughed. "I know, Harry. It's not like you're the kind of boy to play grab-arse with any girl, certainly not me."
Again, he found himself spluttering, trying to make it very clear--without actually saying it--that, no, he wasn't in the habit of taking hold of girls' bits, but that if there was any girl he wanted to grab, it was in fact Ginny. He looked around desperately hoping they weren't being watched.
Ron and Hermione were still in the pond, snogging madly. It was a sight that Harry had been exposed to several times since coming to the Borrow, and he was very happy for his best friends, but it still took some getting used to. The fact that Hermione was eye-to-eye with Ron--or rather mouth-to-mouth--made it clear that she was holding herself off of the bottom, and an image of her legs wrapped around Ron's long waist made looking at them even more difficult.
Neville was lying on his back; Luna seemed to have pounced on him, pinning him to the dock, her mass of wet, dirty blonde hair obscuring just what they were up to. Based on their body language, however, Neville was kissing her with great verve--he seemed to be giving as good as he got, his green-stained fingers tracing the loose edges of her oversized bathing suit.
"Since when are those two an item?" Harry mused.
"No idea," Ginny said, clearly as surprised as Harry. "Since two minutes ago, I would imagine. I've written to them both a lot since the end of school, and neither of them said a thing. I always got the impression that he was scared of Luna."
Harry's heart began to thrill; what if he simply stepped forward and kissed her? What's the worst that could happen? He looked up.
Ginny had already begun to stroll back towards the house.
He ran to catch up with her. Breathless, he muttered, "Who knew either one of them could kiss like that?"
"Erm," said Ginny, and he stopped and stared at her. "Well, it's not like my experience with Luna is first hand. Don't look at me like that. But there's a reason the older Ravenclaw girls are so mean to her, and it's only partly because she's... unique. Part of it is also that she, um, has some fairly non-traditional ideas about love and, um, you know." Ginny's ears were pinkening. "I have her to thank for the fact that Michael was such a good kisser."
"Oh. And Neville?"
Ginny bit her lower lip and glanced at Harry before starting back towards the house. "Well... After Easter... After Michael and I broke up, Neville was helping me with an Herbology project. And, for a few weeks, we were kind of... snogging in Greenhouse Four. On a semi-regular basis. It was very nice. But we both sort of, um.... Agreed to stop." She halted very suddenly and looked up at Harry. "That was before I started seeing Dean. Just, so, you know, you don't get the idea that I was...."
Harry wanted not to say anything, but this wasn't his day for it. "Lucky them," he muttered, and all things considered, he knew he could have said much worse. She smiled at him shyly. "So," he continued, "what you're trying to tell me is that, now that my two best friends are joined at the lip, and Seamus and Parvati are an item, or so Hermione tells me... even Neville's love life has left mine in the dust?"
She punched his shoulder. "Oh, go on, Harry. Stop it. Everyone knew about you and Cho."
For a second he had no idea what she was talking about. "One not-very-satisfying ten minute snogging session at Christmas and the world's worst Valentine's Day date--during both of which she was crying most of the time? What was there to know?"
Ginny stared at him, mouth open for a moment. "Uh, wow. That was really it? The rumor was, um, that you were going at it like a pair of Kneazles at every opportunity this winter."
Harry found his vision darkening again. "Yeah? Well, the rumor was also that I was mad as a hatter, making up stories to show off, and trying to overthrow the government. Did you fall for that one too?" Her face fell, and his anger miraculously evaporated. Harry rubbed his temples. "Sorry, Ginny. I know you didn't."
She walked beside him, staring at the ground a few feet ahead. "No, I didn't. But I should have know better than to believe... Sorry."
"Don't, Ginny. You're one of the only people I know who doesn't treat me either like a nutter or a glass figurine. I couldn't stand it if you felt like you had to apologize around me all of the time. So who was spreading that rubbish?"
She rolled her eyes. "Lots of people. And it wasn't as if your girlfriend was exactly denying the rumors. The way the two of you were constantly looking at each other soulfully at DA meetings... It was hard not to notice. For me, anyway."
Harry shrugged, and then glanced at her. "What do you mean, for you?"
She laughed brightly. "Force of habit. I spent most of my second and third years wanting to kill Cho every time she looked at you." Now it was her turn to shrug. "I mean, I could see it, Harry--what the attraction was. She's really pretty, great at Quidditch, smart, she seems like a lot of fun... I'm sorry it didn't work out."
Harry hadn't thought about Cho since the train ride back to London. "I'm not. She is great. Except around me. And she, erm, doesn't hold a candle to you." Harry stared hard at the footpath.
He felt her hand pat his shoulder. "That's sweet, Harry. You're getting better. 'Course, your timing's still a bit off..." And she proceeded to tickle him again until he was writhing, weeping on the ground.
And just as she was about to pounce for the kill, he reached up and grabbed the inside of her thigh, just above the knee. "First time was a mistake," he wheezed, "more's the pity. But the second time wouldn't be..."
She gawked at him, eyes and mouth wide, and then started to laugh. She held her hands up. "Truce?"
"Truce." They shook hands and she pulled him back to his feet. "So," he asked as they approached the Burrow, "how come you're not ticklish?"
"Youngest of seven, Harry? Taught myself. Pure survival."
"Oh. And how do Kneazles go at it?"
She stopped, her hand on the doorknob, and smirked. "Very, very loudly."
Chapter Two--Too Much
Mrs. Weasley had asked both boys what they wanted for dinner. Harry, who had loved every meal that she had ever cooked, said he didn't care. Neville had timidly and incongruously asked for curry, and so curry it was: a wonderful, savory Lamb Masala and a searing, literally heart-warming Chicken Vindaloo.
Out in the garden, under the still-bright evening sky, the dinner was loud and boisterous, the perfect conclusion to a warm, companionable day. Pumpkin juice and cider--hard and soft--cooled their mouths as they ate and talked. Luna and Neville were sitting very close together, but neither seemed to know what to do with the other now that they were in public. Hermione and Ron, of course, gave evidence to no such confusion. The twins regaled everyone with tales of joke-shop triumphs and disasters. Bill dropped some hints that he might be their next Defense teacher, which excited Harry--if it was true, Harry wanted to ask whether they could continue the DA, and whether Bill would help teach them some counter-hexes. Charlie had taken leave from the Dragon Preserve to help guard his home while Harry was in residence. Tonks had just come off duty outside. They had apparently gone to school together and kept flinging jokes back and forth that nobody understood but them; seated as they were at the opposite end of the table, Harry nonetheless got the sense that they were even busier beneath the table. Mr. Weasley and Remus Lupin were having a very heated discussion about adapting Muggle Veletisions for magical use. And Mrs. Weasley herself sat beaming between Harry and Neville, red-faced with the heat and pleasure at the full, happy table.
Ginny. Ginny sat between Luna and George, well down the table from Harry, but he found himself glancing at her constantly throughout the meal. She was radiant, partly from the hot food, partly from the conversation, and Harry kept asking himself how he could have taken so long to notice the brightness of her eyes, the way her hands moved as she talked even while her body was incredibly still. The memory of inadvertently groping her in the water kept flashing through his mind, and he found himself losing track of whatever it was that Hermione was saying to him about their OWL results, because all he could think of was that he wanted to kiss Ginny, right there at the table. On the table. For a very long time.
As they were about to begin clearing the table for the cake, Harry took a deep, nervous breath and asked everybody to sit for a minute, because he had something that he needed to tell them. He thanked them all, telling them that he was pleased to have finally gotten to celebrate a birthday properly, with the people that he loved most. That he was honored to share the day with Neville. That, with a couple of regrettable exceptions, the people that he most trusted and cared for were around that table, and had all been affected, in one way or another, by Voldemort's attempts to get the prophecy over the previous year. That, in spite of the recording having been destroyed, Harry had come to hear the prophecy, and that they all deserved to know its contents--they had earned that from him.
And so he told them.
Most of the Weasleys looked horror-struck. Mrs. Weasley's face suddenly got very white indeed. Hermione was clutching at Harry's hand, and he didn't need to look at her to know that she was crying. Luna barely seemed to be listening, though Harry suspected she heard every word, and Neville's eyes were round with shock when Harry pointed out that--Dumbledore's assertions notwithstanding--he, Harry, wasn't sure that Neville wasn't the one referred to in the prophecy.
"But he didn't mark Neville," Luna sighed. "He marked you." And she pointed to his scar with one long, thin finger.
Throughout, Ginny sat there, and the only word that Harry could think of to describe her expression was fierce. She looked at him with almost predatory intensity and after all of the others had finished their questions and agitated comments she said, in a very still voice that managed even so to fill the evening air, "You'll get him, Harry. And we'll all be there to make sure nobody hurts you. Right?"
"Right!" called everyone around the table, and Harry sat, feeling himself beginning to overflow with emotion. "Thank you," he whispered.
The mood through the rest of the dinner had been more somber, though--the Weasleys being the Weasleys--it didn't lose its celebratory tone altogether. Fred and George plopped enchanted crowns on Harry and Neville's heads that sang "Happy Birthday to You" in drunken harmony any time anyone said either of their names, which caused more than a few smiles. Luna began randomly saying "Harry" or "Neville" whenever things got too quiet.
They all helped clear away the dinner, and it was with a sense of shared purpose that made Harry smile, even as it frightened him.
The cleaning up was done soon enough; eventually there was only the putting away of the dishes, which was traditionally Ginny's job. Harry volunteered to help her.
As they sorted and stacked the dishes, bowls and silverware, Harry found himself vibrating every time their fingers touched, found himself straining to find her distinctive, mown-grass scent in the scent-rich kitchen. Found himself watching her face as it rippled silently from one emotion to another. She was so beautiful it hurt.
When Harry had placed the last tureen on a high shelf, he turned back to her. She was standing at the sink, her eyes locked on him. He stepped closer, trying to think of something to say, some way of opening his mouth without vomiting out every desire that was pressing up from inside him. Her eyes. Merlin, brown was totally insufficient to describe their color--mahogany, yes, rich and deep, but flecked with gold and green and even violet.
She pushed a wisp of penny-bright hair off of her forehead and peered up at him. Perhaps if he just stepped forward and kissed her?
Suddenly, Ginny closed the distance between them and threw her arms around his chest, burrowing her head into the space beneath his chin.
Harry felt every muscle in his body stiffen. Every muscle. He couldn't breathe. He held his arms straight out until, of their own volition, they wrapped themselves around her narrow, tightly muscled back. He could feel the buckle of her brassiere beneath her top. Could feel her shoulder blades expanding with each breath.
"Harry?" Ginny said moistly. Was she crying?
"You will get him, Harry. You'll be okay." She leaned back and he saw that a lone tear was indeed working its way down one side of her nose, though her expression was, once again, fierce. "Tom's a right bastard. But he doesn't hold a candle to you."
He stared down into her bright, bright eyes. What he intended to say was, "Thanks, Ginny." What he wanted to say was, "I love you so much I think I'm going to die, Ginny."
The words that his mouth actually formed, however, were, "I want to fuck you, Ginny."
Suddenly she was standing at arms' length, the embrace melted away like an October frost. She blinked. "What?" she squeaked.
Unaccountably, Harry began to shiver. Even more unaccountably, he continued. "W-w-will you sleep with me, Ginny?"
She seemed to be trying to look somewhere that was neither his face nor his pelvis and had settled on staring at the middle of his chest. Her eyes wide, her face drained of color, she stammered, "I, um, no, thank you, I don't..." Now she looked him in the eye for a second before glancing down again. "Excuse me, I think I need to..." And with that she stutter-stepped out of the room.
Oh, bloody hell, Harry thought as the cold panic overwhelmed him and he too ran out of the kitchen into the newly dark night.
Stumbling and shaking and trying desperately not to cry--an exercise for which the Dursleys had trained him all too well--Harry fell in a heap at the foot of an enormous, ancient oak tree well behind the Burrow, near the paddock.
There are moments in your life when everything you thought you knew about yourself crumbles like the dry crust on the surface of a mud puddle, only to reveal the unsuspected muck below. It would never have occurred to Harry that he would say anything like that to any girl, least of all to Ginny Weasley, who was Ron's sister, Hermione's best friend... One of his own best friends, someone who had shown him nothing but kindness and loyalty--and true loyalty was something so few people had shown Harry that he valued it extremely highly.
His first idea was to go and confront Voldemort that very night. Get it over with. Kill or--more probably--be killed. So that the agony of anticipation and the agony of humiliation would cancel each other out.
The only problem was that his wand was in Ron's room, and he couldn't imagine walking by Ginny's room to get it.
As he knelt there on the leaf-strewn ground, pressing his thumbs into his eyes beneath his glasses, he realized that there were other problems with his plan. In the first place, he knew he was in no shape to face Tom Riddle. It didn't help that he still didn't have a broom, had no idea how to Apparate nor any idea where Death Eater Central was located. It wasn't as if he could ask directions.
In his mind's eye, Harry could see Ginny's shocked face, could see her freckles standing out in stark relief against the pallor of her skin. What he wouldn't give for one of the Time Turners they'd seen at the Department of Mysteries the previous month; he'd go back and whack himself on the head with a skillet if only to erase that look from that face.
A fierce growl seemed to be building inside Harry, but he realized that it wasn't in fact inside of him when a low-flying body slammed against his shoulder, knocking him flat to the ground.
Ginny stood over him, face furious, chest heaving. It was an act of will to keep looking at her face. "What the bloody hell was that, Potter?"
He rolled onto his back, staring up at her in miserable confusion.
"I didn't scream at you when you goosed me, so I'm open game, is that it? Figure because I kissed a couple of your mates, I must be a slag, I'd put out for anyone?"
If he had thought he couldn't feel worse, he had been wrong. "NO!"
"Figure because I had a bloody crush on you a while back, all the great bloody Harry Potter had to do was bloody ask and I'd flop on my back and spread my bloody legs?"
"NOOOOOOO!" Harry howled, rolling on his stomach and clenching his eyes shut, desperate not to cry.
She plopped down onto the bare earth next to him with a thud. "Then why?" Her voice caught. "I thought I could trust you, Harry," she hissed.
"I did too," he moaned. "I'm so sorry, Ginny, I'm so, so, so sorry..."
"Then I'll ask you again, Harry, what the bloody hell was that about? You've never even blinked at me twice. Why are you suddenly asking me to jump into bed with you?"
Harry's head and stomach were pounding at different beats. "Not blink?... Um." He turned toward her and leaned up on one elbow. "I've... blinked at you lots." Staring back down at the ground, at a dead oak leaf, he said what he had consciously wanted to say a half-hour earlier. "I... I fancy you, Ginny. I fancy you a lot."
She stared at him round-eyed for a moment, and then smirked. "Good one, Potter. Pull the other leg."
"No!" he said, willing her with all his might to believe him. "I... It's true, Ginny. I swear."
Her chin set in determination, her arms crossed before her knees, Ginny squinted at Harry. "Since. When?"
Harry groaned; it was a reasonable question, but the answer was one he had been pondering at for some time. Before he could respond, however, they both turned at the approaching sound of running footsteps. Hestia Jones and Kingsley Shacklebolt stumbled out of the darkness, both looking alarmed.
"Everything all right?" Kingsley growled. "We heard voices. Raised."
"We're fine," sputtered Harry.
"We're having a row about Quidditch, that's all," Ginny lied fluidly. "This prat is trying to convince me that adding Oliver Wood as Keeper is going to lift Chudley to the top of the league table this year."
"Oh," said Hestia, looking bemused. Both adults lowered their wands. "All right, then."
"We'll leave you to it," Kingsley chuckled deeply. As they were about to leave, he turned and said, "Still, Ginny, I'm on your side. It'd take a dozen Curse Breakers and an epidemic of Dragon Pox in the rest of the league to lift the Cannons into the top ten. 'Night!"
"'Night!" wished Ginny and Harry, as the two adults faded into the darkness once again.
Ginny sighed, "No bloody privacy around here."
"Tell me about it," moaned Harry. Then he stammered, "I love your family and this house, Ginny, I really do. But this last week has been really... um... difficult."
She glowered at him for a second before her mouth began to turn up into a small smile--the Ginny that Harry loved best and feared most. "Uh-huh. I really don't want to know what you meant by that."
Harry found himself blushing deeply yet again, which triggered a snort of laughter from Ginny. "Sorry," she said.
Harry looked up into her face, and saw her mouth twitch at the corners. Now he felt terrible for an entirely new and equally humiliating reason. Great.
"Harry," she said, and her face turned serious again, "I do trust you, you know. Even if you are an utter prat."
"I've just turned sixteen. What the hell else am I supposed to be?" he muttered miserably.
She sighed. "It's funny. Sometimes you seem older than Dumbledore. Other times--last summer--you act two years old. It's just... odd to deal with you actually acting your age."
He hung his head in his hands and considered how his body had betrayed him.
"Harry," she said, and when he ventured to peer at her, she was solemn-faced. His heart constricted at the thought that she was about to start yelling at him again. "I do trust you. If I show you something, do you promise not to tell anyone?"
He wasn't sure where this was going, wasn't sure he wanted to find out. But he nodded anyway. "Of course."
"Come on," she said, and began to climb the enormous oak under which they had been sitting.
As they climbed--as Harry did his best not to stare at her legs or her bum--he suddenly remembered something. "Ginny," he said, "I told your mum..."
She grinned down at him over her shoulder. "It's an Aversion Charm. Ignore it."
"Oh," responded Harry, and tried to push back the overpowering urge to fulfill immediately his promise to help degnome the garden. He moved up one more limb, and the impulse passed as quickly as it had come, dropping off of him like water after a bath.
On the massive branch above Ginny, something indistinct rippled in the dappled darkness of the tree's interior. Shifting to get a better look, Harry recognized the effects of a Disillusionment Charm. "What?..."
"It's my sanctuary," she said, climbing into the blur and disappearing from sight.
Harry blinked, then followed her up, discovering as he reached the spot where Ginny disappeared that a blank space in the rippling shadows indicated a trap door. Reaching up, he was surprised even so to feel his hand pass through and grasp hold of the opening's frame. Not wanting to pause to allow his too-fertile imagination time to consider what was waiting on the other side, he pulled himself through.
Ginny was facing away from him on her knees as he crawled up into a small cubic space entirely painted a rich blue. He realized as she turned that she had been lighting a candle.
"Wow," he said, speechless for the moment at the sight of her face lit from below.
"Yeah," Ginny said, smiling shyly. "It's pretty amazing, isn't it? Bill helped me build it when he was back on holiday, my last year before I left for Hogwarts. He did the charms to keep everyone out. Other than him, no one but you knows about it."
Harry looked around the small room, mostly to avert his gaze from Ginny, whose bonfire of hair and pale skin stood out against the cool walls of the tree house. "Yeah," he murmured. "Amazing."
Against one wall was a small kneeling desk, with quills and parchment and cubbyholes for sorting. In one of the cubbies, Harry noticed a pile of letters, including several he recognized as his own. The cubby next to that had fewer letters. They were all in Muggle envelopes, and the top one had no written address, just a beautifully executed pencil sketch of Ginny.
He felt her move next to him. "Dean," she said, almost too softly.
He nodded. "It's a beautiful drawing."
She too bobbed her head. "Not much of a subject, but it is lovely." After a moment of silence, she spoke again with an edge of impatience. "Harry, you knew I was going out with him. You were there on the train when I told Ron."
"I..." Harry began and then faltered. He looked at her, frowning next to him, and grunted. "I'd sort of hoped that you'd just said that to wind Ron up."
Her face contracted for a moment, then relaxed into a sad smirk. "Yeah," she sighed, "I suppose that sounds like the sort of thing I'd do. But no, Dean and I have been going out since the middle of May."
All Harry could croak out was, "Serious?"
She nodded earnestly. "Yeah. I think so. Harry," she added quickly, "we've talked about you a lot. He thinks the world of you. It'd kill him if he thought being with me made you angry with him."
Harry laughed, though the laughter sounded hollow even to his own ears. "How could I be angry with him for fancying you! Dean's always had great taste. Not his fault he's a lucky bastard." He looked up at her again; her face seemed at war with itself--partly aghast, partly angry, partly amused. At his idiocy, probably. "Ginny, Dean's a good bloke. Other than Ron and Neville, he's the one boy in my year I really like. I don't blame him, and I don't blame you." But that doesn't stop me from wishing he were dead just now, Harry thought.
Relief flooded into Ginny's eyes. Harry hadn't realized how close to tears she had been until they receded. "He's wonderful, Harry. He's sweet and kind and funny. He's an amazing artist. He really cares for me."
Harry nodded, forcing his stomach to settle. "Great taste, like I said." He glanced out the window towards the moon-silhouetted Burrow. "And, of course, he's not likely to die at any moment."
He didn't even sense the slap coming until it caught him full on the cheek. "Cut it out!" Ginny growled. "I've already told you. We're not letting you die! And I'm NOT letting you feel sorry for yourself, do you hear me, Harry Potter? You're a great wizard, and a good friend. You're kind and loyal and brave and I'm making you sound like a bloody dog, but you're not, you're a wonderful, amazing, fabulous boy and any girl would be lucky to have you."
"Just not you."
"Harry," she said, and suddenly she seemed very small indeed. For a moment, she turned away from him, then groaned "Bollocks," and rolled back, facing him on her knees. "Look, Harry, I'm not going to make you disappear into the woodwork just because that's what I did when I was eleven. I'll listen, I promise." With the candle behind her, her eyes seemed black on black. "I do care for you, Harry. A lot. You know that. Even if it's not, you know, romantically."
He nodded glumly.
She groaned and ran her fingers through her hair--the ponytail must have disintegrated at some point since the kitchen. "I'd tell you that whatever it is you think you're feeling isn't such a big deal, that I'm nothing special, that it's just a crush, but, um..." She inhaled slowly and stared at him, her jaw set firmly. "First of all, I know you. You feel deeply. So that would be a mean thing to say, in order to get myself off the hook. More to the point, you never did that to me, not in all of those years of me gawking at you and dropping things every time you came anywhere near me."
Shrugging, he muttered, "Yeah, well, no big deal. I just never knew what to say to you. Not like I was Mr. Sensitive or anything."
"No, Harry," she said emphatically. "You were kinder to me than you can possibly imagine. I know how easy it would have been for you to be cruel without even trying. My brothers do it every day, and I know for a fact they love me. At first I used to think it was because you didn't even notice I was there."
He began to shake his head, but her eyes stopped him.
"But I realized," Ginny continued, "that, yeah, you didn't know what to say, but you were being kind to me--because that's who you are, Harry."
His thoughts weren't running towards the kind end of the spectrum at the moment, not at all. Following her lead, he took in and expelled a long slow breath. "I wish..." He gave up.
Her eyes brightened, but she shook her head. "Don't, Harry. I don't think either of us wants to head down that road. I know what you mean, but here we are."
He nodded. "Yeah. I've spent a major part of the last two months wallowing in 'I wish....' If I'm not going to feel sorry for myself, though," he grunted, "you'd think I'd at least be able to find this all funny. Do you find it funny?"
"Not at the moment, no. But I've never been big on irony."
"Yeah. Another thing we have in common."
He held up his hands. "Ginny... What I asked you earlier... I do feel that way about you." As her face paled, he reached out and touched her knee as lightly as he could manage. "But it isn't everything I feel. Not even most of it. I... " Words. He couldn't even begin to find the words. Looking into her wide eyes, Harry knew that she couldn't do this for him, knew that he needed to tell her what was going on inside of him, but he had now idea at all how to go about doing it. He reached down for his wallet. "Ginny? Can I show you something? I want to show you just exactly how you make me feel." Her face goes white, and Harry blinks at her for a moment before realizing why. "No! Don't! I... Hell, you're going to think the worst of everything I say for a while, aren't you?"
She covered her mouth, but the color flooded back in, and Harry was sure she's covering a relieved smile. "Oh, Harry, I'm so sorry. I'm the one with the dirty mind. So, what was it you wanted to, uh, show me?" Tucking her feet beneath her, she dropped her hands primly on her lap and managed something like a straight face. As he pulled his wallet from his jeans--well, strictly speaking, it was one of Dudley's spares, but Harry was fairly certain he'd never miss it--she peers at it quizzically. "Isn't that one of those things for keeping Muggle money in--pounds and all that?"
Harry nodded. "Yeah, but that's not why I keep it. I never have much money. It's for the pictures." He opened the wallet and showed her the first photo--one of him, Ron and Hermione that Colin had taken after the first task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament--they all looked wind-swept and ecstatic.
"There you go, Harry," Ginny said. "I'm not even..."
Harry flipped to the next snapshot, one that had been taken the previous summer in the kitchen of number 12, Grimmauld Place. It was the entire Weasley clan--excepting Percy, of course. Ginny was in the middle, a wide, sly grin on her face; all of her brothers kept wagging their heads in her direction, pointing and laughing, diverting the viewer's attention to her.
"Bollocks," the real Ginny muttered, and the photo Ginny winked. "I look like four kinds of hell."
"You look amazing," Harry said. "But what I wanted to show you... Have you ever seen pictures of my parents?"
She looked up at the ceiling for a moment and then shook her head. "I didn't even know if there were any. Ron said you had an old photo album, but I didn't know... And it seemed like a rude thing to ask."
"Just ask," Harry sighed, and flipped to the next photo. It was a copy of the one from his parents' wedding, a young, grinning Sirius between their beaming faces.
Ginny gasped. "Harry! Oh, my... They... They look like us."
He nodded emphatically. "Switch the eyes and it would be hard to tell the two of us from them. But it's not because you look a lot like my mum, that's not why I wanted to show you this."
Again, she took on a guarded expression, but she nodded for him to continue.
Now it was Harry's turn to look at the ceiling. "Or maybe not. I mean, I suppose that is part of what I wanted to show you... You see, I'd never seen any pictures of my parents when I came to Hogwarts. My aunt never showed me any--if she ever had them. But my first year, I came across this mirror..."
"The Mirror of Erised," Ginny interjected quietly. "Ron told me about it."
"Did he tell you about what he saw?" She nodded and Harry found himself grinning in spite of himself. "Well, he's got the Quidditch Cup. I'll be damned if he doesn't make Quidditch Captain and Head Boy as well."
Again, that evinced a smile from Ginny, but her eyes stayed level on him, undistracted.
"Right," he sighed. "So down on the ground, before Kingsley and Hestia ran up, you were asking when I realized I... I, uh, loved you." He paused to see if that statement was as terrifying to her as it felt to him. She had pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around her shins; he could only see her eyes, and they were guarded and steady. Harry took a breath. "So you know that I saw my folks in that mirror, don't you? Well, the thing is, that first time I saw my mum's face, before I'd even realized who she was, all I could think was that she was the prettiest woman I'd ever seen. And that's how I've always felt about her--I mean, look at her. But this summer, the thing that just sort of made everything go snap... I couldn't look at her any more. Because it was too uncomfortable. And it took me a while to realize that it wasn't because you look like her. It's that she looks like you, and that's... weird, you know?"
Relief seeped in--it had been such an odd realization that he had felt like even more of a freak than usual; it was good to know she didn't think him any weirder than she already had. "I don't know that I'd see the same thing in that mirror any more." Seeing that she was startled by that statement, he looked back down at the wedding picture. "The main thing, though, isn't that. It's.... Look at them. All three of them. I've always loved this picture because they all look so happy, so alive. Most of what I know about my parents has to do with their deaths, you see. And Sirius.... Looking at this picture at the Dursleys' kept me from going round the bend, and I thought, I need to be alive too. I need to laugh and have fun and love or the fact that they died--that I might die--won't mean a damned thing. And I'm sorry I'm so rotten with the whole girl thing, because I really, really fancy you, love you, and I can't write fancy poems or draw beautiful pictures, but I can tell you that your eyes make me want to die, I feel so good when I look into them. And they make me want to live, if only so I can go on looking into them."
Ginny sat there, blinking at him. "You're getting better, Harry," she said, her voice high-pitched and strained.
"Not good enough," he muttered, and she reached out and touched him on the cheek; he melted into her touch. Then, as he should have expected, she began to tickle him under the chin. Giggling and twitching, he reached out with both hands, grabbed her beneath the shoulders, pulled her towards him, and kissed her.
That stopped the tickling.
His second kiss was on an entirely different plane from his first. Though her lips were stiff with shock at first, they softened quickly, and the velvet heat of them, the flutter of her breath beneath his hands, made him realize that kissing Cho hadn't been kissing at all.
After a minute or ten, he released her, and was aware of her fingers unlacing themselves from his tangled hair.
Flushed, her hair spraying around her head like a fountain of fire, she looked at him with dark, uncertain eyes. "Harry..."
"I'm not going to apologize, Ginny. That was the most brilliant thing I've ever experienced. But I promise I won't ever do it again." He reached out with his other hand, cupping her face gently. "Unless you ask me to."
She reached up and took his hands in hers--Harry wasn't sure if it was her fingers that were trembling or his own--and brought them down to her lap. "Yes, that was brilliant, Harry. You definitely need to do more of that. But not with me." Harry felt as if a shipment of Uncle Vernon's drills had lodged themselves in his gut. Ginny smiled sadly. "Mind, we both know I'm not one to point the finger for not playing fair. So I won't give you a red card this time. But Harry, that's the third time you've pushed your luck with me today, and if you do it again--if you break that promise--I'm going to be really angry with you again. And I don't think you want that. I know I don't."
Harry wondered if she was even aware that she'd used a Muggle football term.
Ginny's face twisted with discomfort. "Merlin, Harry. I can't believe I'm going to say this--me, the queen of adolescent crushes. But don't decide your feelings for me, whatever they are, are forever. We're young, Harry. Things change. I bet by this time next year, you're happily in love with another girl, and we'll both be laughing about all of this."
"I'll take that bet," Harry smirked.
He wanted to make it all a joke, a game: bet you a galleon or a bottle of butterbeer or a new set of dress robes or a new broom or a kiss or a fuck or whatever that I'll still be able to say I love you in a year. But Ginny's eyes, which were always playful, were deadly serious, and Harry didn't know what to say. What he really wanted to do is just what she'd asked him not to do, but he wanted to kiss her again so badly his whole body ached. "Did you hear me? Before? When I said, erm, about how I feel?" I love you.
She looked down at where her hands were folded in her lap, but she nodded.
Suddenly, she was crying, that warm, brave face bowed down. "Oh, Harry, I'm so horrible, I'm so sorry."
"Why?" He wanted to go and hold her and make her feel better, but didn't need to see her hands held up in front of her to know that that wouldn't help. "Ginny, you're not horrible."
"I am, Harry. There's a whole part of me that's happy that you feel things for me, that you get to suffer the way that I did last year, and the year before that, and the year before that... " She swiped at her wet nose with a finger. "Sometimes I feel as if Tom is still in my head and I want all these horrible things to happen, as if I'm just as sick and twisted--"
Harry stops her by grabbing her wrist. She stares at him, wide-eyed. Afraid because he's touching her again? Shocked at what she's said? Harry doesn't know and it doesn't matter. "Do you want to laugh while I scream at your feet in misery? Do you want to crush every good thing out of me like a bug's guts?"
Still staring, she shook her head.
"Then it's not Tom." A voice in his head suddenly began murmuring that the fact that she wanted revenge at all meant that Ginny's feelings for him weren't altogether gone. The voice sounded suspiciously like Hermione's and for once he welcomed it. "I wanted horrible things to happen to Cedric when he was going with Cho. It's just normal for you to want--"
"But Harry!" She tried to pull her arm away.
He grasped it hard in both of his hands. "It's not Voldemort, Ginny." Silently, miserably, she pleaded with him, but he wouldn't let go. "Tom Riddle doesn't want to play tit for tat. He doesn't care about heartache and longing. He wants to destroy people, to make them scream in pain, and then to grind them into the dust. He wouldn't have the vaguest understanding of the feeling you're describing, Ginny. And I think it's pretty silly of you to argue with me, because who else do you know who knows what the inside of Voldemort's head looks like?"
Astonished and crying as she was, she still managed to laugh. "I forgot." Even her tears are nothing like Cho's.
"Lucky you," he said, and began to let her arm go, but she grasped his hands in hers.
"Thank you, Harry." She shook her hair so that he could see her face, blotchy and beautiful. "And I don't really want you to suffer."
"Not much, anyway," she said with a small smile that melts before Harry could even acknowledge it. She looked down again. "Maybe we shouldn't spend too much time--"
"No. Please." Harry was surprised at the force of his own entreaty. "You're one of my best friends, Ginny. I couldn't stand it if I didn't get to see you. And maybe we'll even be on the Quidditch team together this year. Please don't make me go away from you."
She peered at him as if to say, You never do things the easy way, do you, Potter? Finally however, she nodded and said, "Okay."
He had her here, now. He might not ever again. "I do love you, Ginny."
She opened her mouth and closed it again several times. Harry felt as if he should be proud: he had rendered Ginny Weasley speechless. Finally she sets her chin, smirks and said, "Wait till I tell Ron! He'll be so pleased."
Now it was Harry's turn to sit with his mouth flapping open. He let loose her hands to ward himself. "God, Ginny, please. No. I..."
She laughed, and everything was right with the world. "Keep saying things like that, Harry, and I won't be able to be responsible for my actions. Goes to a girl's head, after all! No knowing who I might tell! Ron, or Hermione, or the twins--"
She delivered the last name in a deadpan, with a wolfen grin. "Draco Malfoy."
Astonished, he gazed at her. He almost asked her to marry him right there, but thinks perhaps that now is not the time. "Okay," he said. "But I'll still think it. Okay?"
They regarded each other for a long time, and Harry realized that somehow, one way or another, everything had changed today. He reached out his hand to her, and she took it. "Okay," they said in unison.
"We should head back," Ginny said.
Harry grunted in affirmation. Before she could crawl towards the trapdoor, however, Harry stopped her. "Ginny... Why did you bring me up here?"
"Oh." Suddenly, she looked shy again. "Um, what you said down on the ground, about not having any privacy here? I know that time to yourself is more precious than Galleons. For lots of reasons. I thought maybe if I showed you a place where you could be guaranteed of some, it would make things a bit easier for you."
"Oh," Harry said, before he quite figured out what she was talking about. Then the Sickle dropped. "Oh. Wow. Uh. Thanks." Harry found himself blushing furiously, which seemed ridiculous after everything they had been through that evening.
"You're welcome," she laughed. She was blushing too, but her face was amused. "Youngest of seven," she repeated. "It has its advantages. But Harry?..."
"I won't look at anything, I promise."
"Of course you won't. I trust you. It's just, whatever you get up to, you know, thinking or ranting or, um, whatever, I'd rather not know."
"Oh." Harry hadn't known he could turn any redder or any hotter. "Got it."
She laughed and touched him tentatively on the arm. It was going to be awkward between them for a while, Harry could tell. How much affection crossed the line. "Thank you, Harry."
"Thank you, Ginny."
She smiled, and began to climb through the trapdoor, but stopped. "Oh, and Harry?"
She smiled, her face jewel bright, full of warmth. "Happy birthday, Harry."
Author notes: This is something like the path I see a Harry/Ginny ship taking--very indirect, with some real rough patches for Harry. Whether this ends up that way, or whether JKR will see it that way... Well, we'll find out soon enough!