Friday was a surprisingly sunny day. The late September air was bright, clear, and just cool enough to be comfortable. It was the perfect day for a date. Ginny, having already told Hermione and cleared her entire evening, collected her things and marched to the lake the moment the bell rang. She didn't slow down until she was about a dozen yards away from the tree, and chucked her rucksack under the tree before sitting down and leaning against the trunk, like they always did a year and a half ago.
Everything from the refreshing summer's breeze to the serene waves gently splashing the shore reminded Ginny about those sweet afternoons. For one dreamlike second, she was sure she had travelled back to a time where the the world, although unstable, was still unperturbed by war. Yet the moment escaped, leaving Ginny with a curious sense of nostalgia.
Surely she wasn't treasuring "the old times"?
It took her a few moments, but eventually, as the gentle tightness between her gut and chest subdued and she was again smelling the fresh, late summer grass instead of the wild flowers of May, she was able to decipher this new feeling. It was mourning, mourning over the lost innocence more than lost lives. There was also a trace of appreciation and hope. Intrigued, Ginny closed her eyes, and fully immersed herself into her feelings. She was back in the Battle, witnessing the final face-off between Harry and Riddle. Oddly, unlike her dreams, she felt neither fear nor loss, and instead saw the will and determination between Harry's furrowed brows. It was as if all the parts of her that kept screaming "GET OUT" was cut off from her ears, exposing the long-buried recognition of strength, courage, perseverance, and grace. For one glorious second, the scene changed and Ginny saw her and Harry, in giant, comfortable chesterfields in a foreign living room; both of them wrinkly…
Then the future was gone. Ginny looked down and realised why she had opened her eyes. The warm liquid on her hands and cheeks was cooling rapidly, while new tears kept streaming down her face. Ginny took a deep breath and bit her lips hard. The physical pain was nearing its limit, yet she didn't seem to be regaining control. As she watched her chest rise and fall while her failed to halt her tears, disgust once again torn her apart. She was convinced that she wouldn't have broken down like a five-year-old unable to find mummy merely months ago. And the idea that the long cherished peace had, indeed, weakened her brought more tears. Eventually, she gave up, and reduced to sobbing senselessly under the tree, curling up like a kitten and wiping her face with the sleeves of her robe.
"You're not - mad at me for being late, are you?" asked a voice.
It was Harry, appearing a few steps away, looking genuinely worried. Ginny only needed to take in the silvery material he was holding to understand that her boyfriend had been here longer than she would like to know.
"Sod off, Potter," she snapped, helpless wiping away the tears that had rushed out because of her speaking, "You weren't supposed to see that!"
"Sorry," mumbled Harry, sitting down a few inches from her. It was just a little bit farther away from what they were used to, and Ginny registered her boyfriend's intense gesture almost immediately.
"You shouldn't have come," she tried to divert the topic, only to realise immediately that it was a mistake. She didn't need more than Harry's slumper shoulder to see his face fallen in her mind.
"It's not you," said Ginny, finally taking pity on him and sliding an inch towards her boyfriend, who in turn took her hand and squeezed it firmly. To her relief, she didn't break into more tears.
It took a long time for her to regain her composure and ease her breathing. Harry, being her usual stupid, awkward, terrified-to-hurt-her boyfriend, sat in silence and kept his gaze steady across the lake. Finally, when the two of them were breathing with the same rhythm, Harry spoke, looking up, "So… We're all right?"
"We're all right," assured Ginny, staring firmly into the blazing, green eyes.
"Okay," was all Harry said. Ginny had half expected him to ask that question, but it never came. All Harry did was to avert his gaze. Sometimes, Harry's extreme politeness could drive Ginny up the wall.
"It was that Underwood woman," said Ginny petulantly, "Her gibberish about understanding ourselves have been addling my mind."
"You don't seem addled," observed Harry, "But after the last Office Incident, I'm starting to believe that mad woman may have a point… At least Kopp said so."
Ginny let out a chuckle at the image of her boyfriend being scolded by his mentor, "Any idea why you agreed to have her here?"
"Are you mad?" said Harry, feigning shock, "Because good ol Minerva said so, and Kingsley and the entire PWRC* backed her up!"
"Good answer," said Ginny, "Just an insider's tip: you'd never be like that idiotic brother of mine, no matter what you try."
Now it felt more like a proper date, one with more banter than tears. When Ginny mentioned her unwillingness to go back for dinner, Harry reached into his Auror-issued briefcase.
"I've got it covered," he said, pulling out a whole warm Shepherd's pie and two bottles of cool pumpkin juice, "Didn't think I'd make it home by dinner tonight, so I told Kreacher to pack a meal for two."
"Work?" asked Ginny, amazed by the amount of food (and cutleries) Harry hid in his briefcase, "How can you fit all these in your case?"
"Hermione," winked Harry, as if it explained everything, "And yes, I was here on business. I'm off now, though. Pie?"
"Thanks," said Ginny, "You were here for business? Hogwarts?"
"Mmm-hmm," swallowed Harry, "We're starting trials, and I needed to talk to the Cattermole girl about Yaxley, and Umbridge."
The bitter tone in his voice was enough.
"Still no word of her?"
"No," Harry shook his head, "It's the same old story, except now Susan suspects that they might be hiding in the Muggle world, which makes the search even more impossible."
"I suppose," said Ginny, "The good news is, if they are hiding in the Muggle world, they are bound to stand out one day. Maybe Hermione's idea of surveilling the Muggle crime report lines isn't as barmy as it sounds. - I'm curious, though, why would you come to talk to a first year? You aren't going to make the poor girl testify, are you?"
"No, I was here to simply confirm her statement, and to let her know what's happening. She's the oldest, and she deserves to be informed," said Harry. He took a gulp of pumpkin juice before continuing, sounding more somber, "Took me a while to calm her down, though, and Professor McGonagall had to call Professor Sprout to escort her back to her Common Room. And then Underwood came in with another first year, demanding I needed to hear her."
"And it just gets better," said Ginny, "No secrets, remember? Unless, of course, you're protecting the identity of a victim."
"I should've taken you to my ethics class, the one about gossips," sighed Harry, shaking his head, "This girl, Kathy, had a very interesting opinion on how prisons should be run. She even had evidence, telling me to look up something called the Stanford Prison experiment and some teacher's Blue-Eye Brown-Eye exercise. It wasn't nonsense, though. I'll caution the Reform Committee* about Azkaban and I think Kopp would love to hear about this."
"Sounds like someone else has won your heart - again!" yelped Ginny, "How can you do this to me, Potter?"
"One, she's eleven. And two, she's not you, and will never become you," said Harry seriously, busting the bubble, "But enough about me. What trouble have you got into this past week?"
"Me? Never! I don't make trouble, trouble comes to me!" Harry chuckled at her incredulous expression, "And I believe you. Tu me manque, after all."
Brown eyes met green, and Ginny was slightly taken aback at the surprise - now turning into alarm - in Harry's eyes. It was then she realised that she had said the line in French.
"Er - I asked Underwood about it - You know - She speaks French and all -" said Ginny, trying her best not to stutter, "And she told me about what it means and all that, in the most Romantic way ever that you'd never think a nosy, annoying person would. I didn't ask her on purpose, though. She basically forced it out of me, fussing over a bit of reading assignment… I'm rambling, aren't I?"
"Not in any sense that would make me fancy you less," said Harry, a gleam of amusement in his eyes.
"You still fancy me, then?" Ginny raised her eyebrow. She had been patient, and she even appreciated Harry's pace, and now… It seemed that the three words she had been yearning to hear yet afraid to think about was just around the corner, and she was not sure if she was ready…
Harry's face changed. It wasn't the type of change that spelled "MISERABLE" in capital letters for there was a deep frown creasing upon his forehead. It looked more like concentration than bemusement, too, which left Ginny bewildered.
"I adore you," hissed Harry, at long last. To her surprise, he then sat straight so suddenly that the empty plate on his laps slid down into the grass.
"Sorry?" asked Ginny weakly, unsure of what was happening.
Harry, however, seemed immersed into his own world, and was now looking ecstatic. Ginny watched as he stared at his own hands in concentration, and whispered other random words like "open", "there", and "stop".
"What is going on?" breathed Ginny again, this time a little louder. It was enough to bring her boyfriend back.
"I'm speaking English," said Harry.
"Funny. I don't know you speak Finnish, French, Elvish, Mermish, or..." she looked at Harry's silly grin, and suddenly pieced it together, "or… Parseltongue."
They both fell silent. The sun was setting now, dying the sky with a spectacular show of colourful clouds hovering above the horizon. And the lake, like an enormous fish swimming in a peculiar bowl, shined with alternating black, white, and golden patches. Ginny reverted her eyes to the field, and the faraway castle.
"I'd never thought I'd be this happy, knowing that he's gone from my head..." whispered Harry, at last.
"From the world, too," said Ginny softly, "You should be merry… And look at them, I think we all feel the joy now."
She pointed to two small figures - possibly first years - running freely on the field, kicking an oddly shaped ball.
"Blimey, I'd never thought a Muggleborn would bring a rugby ball here," said Harry, clearly enjoying the scene even more, "Rugby's a muggle sport, a bit like Chasing on the ground."
"That's nice," said Ginny, "This for sure wouldn't have happened with him here, then."
She felt a firm hand on her shoulder as Harry leaned towards her, "Thank you, Ginny."
The sun was now less than half an inch from sinking completely under the ground, and darkness had crept on as they watched the two children playing, kicking around the olive-shaped ball.
"It's getting dark, and chilly," said Harry as he stood up, waved his wand and put everything back into his briefcase, "You should be going back before Hermione starts to worry."
Ginny wanted to protest, but the serious expression Harry wore told her that he needed to know that she would be safe tonight. "And you?" she asked.
"I'm escorting you," said Harry, letting out a sly smile and waved his Invisibility Cloak again, "Pleased to join me, melady?"
"Gladly," said Ginny, taking Harry's hand as they both disappeared under the Cloak.
*PWRC/Reform Committee stands for Post-War Reform Committee. I have a back story for this one, but have trouble writing it out. It will make its way out here, eventually, just be patient.
A/N: That's Part II done, then, and I'm glad it turned out okay. I had to change a bit of what I had planned but it all worked out in the end.
Again, I may appear to be writing really weird, marginalized stories, but they all piece together. Kathy, for example, plays a big role in Entrance Class of 1998. And again, Entrance Class is there for a reason. Even Back From a New Millennium... I swear I'll be splashing my HPverse all over you eventually, but at the rate I'm writing, it may take years.
PS. If anyone knows what the Cornish slang for "old people/person/couple" is, please let me know. I would love to use it here! I know "gadgie" but I'm convinced that neither Ginny nor Harry speak Geordie...