A/N: The first section of this ends with M content. If that's not your thing, you can skip it. I have it on good authority that the chapter reads just fine without it.
In other news, I started a new job, which means updates may be a bit sporadic. The next chapter is started, but not yet complete. The story has been fully outlined, however.
Thanks for reading!
Ginny woke the next morning later than usual. She noted with relief that it was half-past nine in the morning - late enough that her mother was already downstairs, but early enough that no one else in residence should bother her. She still felt exhausted, but much better emotionally than she had been the previous night, for which she was grateful.
She should have expected the nightmare. It was what she deserved for refusing to perform proper Occlumency before bed. She simply hadn't wanted to truly examine the memories and sort them, instead attempting to shove them back into their previous prison. Upon reflection, she should have known that once the door had been breached, it was never going to hold them back again.
The nightmare had forced her to acknowledge it, however, so at near half past three in the morning, she relied on Harry to ground her while she shifted through the memories one by one and actually evaluated them. It had been difficult, but her sleep had been much better for it.
She had learned a lot of things the previous night - some that would require further inspection - but the biggest thing she had learned was just how far Harry was willing to go for her. Her chest swelled with emotion thinking about it, and she turned in his grip to look at his sleeping face.
He looked so much younger and more carefree when he slept. The usual tense lines she was so accustomed to seeing around his eyes relaxed and softened him. Of course, she'd seen him looking relaxed and carefree awake too, particularly when it was just the two of them, but he hadn't once relaxed the night before. The worry he held for her had been so apparent in every move he made.
He had done far more than she would have ever dreamed of asking for, and he had done it without a word of complaint. It made her feel… loved. Cherished even. In a way that she'd only ever seen between older, more established couples.
It should have scared her, how easily they had fallen together once they took that step, but it had been almost effortless. While the beginning of the summer had made her feel like she was climbing a cliffside by hand, being with Harry felt like she had finally reached the ledge and walking on solid ground again.
She knew now that allowing her feelings had been the right call. He was a part of her now. More than once he had been the only thing real in the world, the only thing that kept her from being lost to magic that wasn't her own. Imagining not having done so - some alternative reality in which their kiss hadn't happened - hurt to think about even.
Part of it was the magic of their betrothal, but she had seen that it went deeper than that, both magically and emotionally. She had loved some version of him nearly all her life. Even as they'd gotten older and she'd seen his faults with glaring clarity, she'd only grown to love him more. Where it once had been a liability, something that could tear her apart, now it felt like loving him was what had molded her together.
Despite being barely separated from him by a thin sheet, she felt the need to touch him. Her fingers brushed his unruly hair to the side. She never tired of touching it, the texture both softer and stronger than she would have guessed. Sort of like him himself.
Her heart swelled with it the longer she thought about him. She leaned in to brush a kiss against his forehead. "I love you," she whispered in spite of herself as she pulled back, unable to contain the growing feeling.
Harry twitched as his hair rippled beneath the breeze of her words. She tried to pull back gently, but shifting back into position jostled to bed and Harry stirred, his eyes blinking open and catching sight of her.
"Morning," he said tiredly, the sleepless night clear by his struggle to open his eyes fully. She reached over him to grab his glasses off the end table and placed them on his face. "Thanks," he said through a yawn. Glasses in place, his gaze became sharper. "How are you this morning?" he asked genuinely, his fingers almost immediately finding their way into her tangled locks.
"I'm alright," she answered honestly. It took effort, but she resisted the urge to close her eyes at the feeling he was brewing in her. "Thank you, for taking care of me." She truly was grateful - more than she could put into words - but she couldn't resist adding dryly, "Again."
"You don't have to thank me. Didn't we go through this yesterday morning?" he said with humor, pulling her hair forward over her shoulder again, completing the recreation. The crooked smile he wore whenever teasing her made her heart race.
"Still, I - Oh," she breathed, eyes slipping closed at the unexpected feeling of Harry's hand grazing her breast through her thin shirt. Her back automatically arched forward in an attempt to prolong the contact, but his hand pulled back as unexpectedly as it had come. Pleasure jolted through her, traveling directly from her hardened nipple to between her thighs, lingering and leaving an anticipatory thrumming behind that was both pleasant and maddening.
The loss of contact and the need now coursing through her forced her to open her eyes once more. Harry lay there watching her with darkened eyes, his hand still hovering just out of range as if just barely holding back from letting it fall forward again. Neither one of them blinked as he apologized.
"Sorry," he said, the single word sounding more like croak forced out through a dry mouth than an actual apology.
Nothing about him appeared even remotely sorry, in fact, but Ginny couldn't bring herself to regret it either. When his eyes slipped down down to her chest, she couldn't hold back and slipped her body closer to his until she felt his erection throbbing against her hip in time with her own pulsing desire. "Do it again," she entreated.
His hand pressed forward and caressed her breast without hesitation. She might have been embarrassed by the moan that slipped through her parted lips if not for the matching one Harry released as he pushed himself harder against her. Her own desire flared as she felt it pulsing in a rhythm that matched her rapid heartbeat.
Beyond desire, it was also stirring an idea. Curiosity was now building as rapidly as her excitement had been and she forced herself to stop his movements and pull back. She wanted to know what he felt like.
Harry let out a disappointed sound when she stilled his hand before becoming aware of what he'd just done. "Oh shit," he breathed, pulling back and looking at her with horrified eyes, "Gin, I didn't mean - "
She was too wound up to even deal with the apology and leaned in to silence him with a heated kiss. The fire burned, clouding her thoughts and making it difficult to form the question she wanted to ask. She settled for trailing her hand down his torso until she reached the hem of his sleeping pants. "Are there limits?" she asked on a breath. Her voice didn't sound like her own, the tone far more sultry than anything she'd uttered before.
Harry looked dazed. "What?"
She slipped her forefinger under the band and tugged just enough to emphasize her intent. His gaze intensified at the movement. Words were more difficult now, the bravado spurred on by her desire fading into nervousness as she tried to vocalize her intentions. "Limits?"
He swallowed thickly, eyes never wavering from hers, but shook his head. His breathing paused as she slipped her hand inside.
There was bare skin immediately underneath. How had she not known Harry slept without under things? The inane thought was quickly replaced as her fingers brushed over his bare shaft for the first time. A tremor ran through Harry's entire frame, but his erection twitched independently of the movement, extending toward her.
There was no give as she cupped it fully, not that she had expected there to be after how clearly solid it felt nestled up against her all these mornings, but the heated flesh that encased the hardness was shockingly soft and smooth from base to tip. against her palm and the pads of her fingers.
She trailed her fingers up experimentally, just feeling the way the soft skin moved beneath her touch. The pulsing was more obvious now and she hoped it was because of the attention she was giving him. Her heart was racing even faster than before at the very least. She was fairly confident it was, because Harry's breathing had suddenly picked up.
Wonder had her absorbed momentarily as she looked down at the bulge of her hand through his sleep pants, but then she looked up to his face. His eyes were closed tightly, and now that she had seen the tight look there, she realized he was unnaturally still.
She knew enough to know her light explorations were not what boys did. The crude hand gestures and jokes she'd witnessed countless times were more than enough proof of that, but Harry looked downright uncomfortable. Nerves replaced her eagerness.
"Is this okay?" she asked, stilling her movements. Her face burned, but she needed to know. "You look a little… uncomfortable?"
His eyes popped open. "No!" he nearly barked. She immediately began to withdraw, but he caught her wrist. Just as quickly, he released it as if he hadn't meant to do it. He rushed to explain, "I'm - yes it's okay. No it's not… Merlin, Gin. It's bloody fantastic. I just -". He cut himself off, his own cheeks glowing with color.
His nerves settled hers. She always felt better when she remembered that he was just as out of depth as she was with all this. It helped that he clearly wanted her to continue. His wanting, emphasized by the throb his erection gave her touch in greeting, fanned her own enthusiasm once more and increased her confidence.
This time she wrapped her hand fully around him, no longer seeking to pet, but to grasp. Harry moaned and twisted a hand into her hair. He didn't pull, but she felt the pressure there, a sense of urgency rising from the sensation. She tightened her grip on his shaft and began moving up and down slowly at first. He dropped his head to her neck, his lips brushing the skin of her pulse point as he breathed out the words, "Feels so good."
A thrill ran through her at his clear enthusiasm for what she was doing. It was something of a surprise, given she'd never done anything like this before, but even more surprising was how much she liked pleasing him.
She tried to increase the pace, but the angle was all wrong. Her arm was basically extended straight down between them, her torso preventing her from bending at the elbow to get the proper leverage. It was frustrating - she wanted to see him finish.
When she paused to try to adjust, Harry immediately let go of her hair and pulled back.
She preempted the apology she knew was coming. "Lay back."
He complied immediately, rolling over so he was flat. She kept her grip as she shifted with him, pressing into his side fully. From this angle, she would be able to see his face as she adjusted the pace and tried to work out what he liked.
Her movements resumed with more fluidity than before. His arm tightened around her back. She cast a glance to his face and was caught by the way pure pleasure had morphed his expression into something awe inspiring.
Her body responded, desire making her own sensitive areas ache with wanting. She wanted him to touch her again. His partially raised hand fueled the hope that maybe he did too.
She couldn't bring herself to ask, but leaned forward and kissed him hard. The movement brought her closer, her breasts pressed firmly against his chest now. His free hand threaded through her hair as he held her head and returned the pressure in equal measure, immediately allowing her tongue access to his. She had barely begun snogging him when she felt his penis swell and then spasm beneath her hand. He groaned into her mouth as his orgasm hit, slick fluid erupting and coating her hand and his pants alike.
It was a mess.
Ginny didn't care, honestly.
The expression of utter satisfaction and peace that he wore when she pulled back made her feel content to let the moment linger. She had made him look that way. It felt powerful.
His peaceful fog lasted until she released her grip on him. He came back to himself looking startled and hastily reached for his wand before casting a cleaning charm on her hand. "Sorry," he muttered, looking sheepish. His tone filled with wonder as he explained, "That was just…"
She wanted to tease him in the way he had done to her after their first kiss, but she was too relieved. Instead she asked, "Yeah?"
"Yes," he said emphatically. She beamed. Uncertainty marred his features, "Can I…" he swallowed, "Did you want… I can…"
"Oh, um, no?" she answered unsurely. "I mean, not yet?" As excited as her body felt, she still wasn't sure she was ready to let him touch her that way. It made her feel a bit guilty. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked you to do something that I wouldn't do myself."
"Do not apologize for that." He turned to his side to face her completely and rested his head against hers. "You asked. I agreed. That doesn't mean you have to do it too. It's always your choice, Gin."
She pressed her lips to his chastely, simply in gratitude. He stopped her when she tried to shift closer into his embrace the way she normally would, however.
"Might not want to do that just yet," he cautioned. It was then that she realized he had cleaned her up, but not himself.
"Do you want to go wash up first this morning?" she asked. She hadn't been thinking about the after when she'd instigated their activities and wasn't exactly sure how this was supposed to go. The newfound intimacy would take some getting used to.
"The charms work fine for a bit," he said awkwardly, cheeks pink. "If you wanted to go first."
"No. You go ahead," she insisted. "Between the two of us, I'd say you need it more," she added teasingly, avoiding the real reason she wanted to stay in bed. What she intended to do once he left would likely be easier lying down, here, where the memory was freshest and his scent still lingered.
Her light ribbing seemed to put him at ease. He cracked a smile and said dryly, "I'd say so. I'm going to need the cloak if I'm going to make it down to the loo without embarrassing myself."
"Best be off then."
He chuckled but slid from bed, shifting his pants in what looked like a rather uncomfortable way, before grabbing the cloak. She gave a start when just his head reappeared directly in front of hers and kissed her softly. He withdrew and disappeared under the cloak, hiding his face from view as his words ghosted over. "That was brilliant. Thank you."
He was gone before she could respond, the door clicking shut quietly behind him. She released a breath and closed her eyes again, reliving the softness of his parting. It was no less arousing than their earlier exchange had been.
She slid her hand into her panties as she relived it.
Her fingers found her slick folds with practiced ease, but this time was different. This wasn't the first time she'd touched herself intimately, but it was the first time she may actually succeed in finding her climax. She'd never been this aroused before.
Allowing Harry to touch her was something she wasn't quite ready for, but fantasizing about it was marvelous. As she swirled her fingers just so, it occurred to her that had she allowed herself to think about him the other times she'd tried this, perhaps she would have climaxed then too. It felt new. It felt bloody fantastic.
The fantasy came to her easily. Harry's scent swirled around her head from his pillow, his warmth still lingered in the sheets, and his sounds of pleasure still echoed in her ears - it was all too easy to imagine what it would be like if he were the one slipping a finger into her at that moment. She had to bite her lip to contain the groan that almost slipped out as she added a second. Why hadn't she cast any privacy charms before starting? It was far too late now - she was too close and too afraid of losing her rapidly building orgasm.
Eyes firmly shut and head tilted back, she cupped her breast with her free hand. The pressure of her hand as she massaged herself relieved the ache only slightly, but intensified the pleasure she felt as she worked herself with increasing efficiency - the palm of her hand rubbing her clit with each pump of her fingers. The image of Harry's eyes darkened with lust as they fixed on her when he explored her chest flashed in her mind.
And then she came.
Her peak hit her with breathtaking force. Her voice caught in her throat, the gibberish and moans she wanted to release unable to escape coherently as her walls fluttered tightly around her still moving hand as wave over wave of indescribable pleasure radiated through her body - a storm of sensation with the focus at her center. When it finally abated, she gasped for air, taking in deep breaths as she stilled under a fog of satisfaction. Her limbs felt heavy, her desire sated. It was glorious.
It was several long moments that she basked in the bliss of it before she forced herself to rise and face the day.
Like all good things, the blissful feeling came to an end. Much sooner than she would have liked. Even Harry, lovely as he was, couldn't keep the darkness at bay indefinitely.
As she stepped down to the second floor landing and heard the unfamiliar voices floating out the open doors, she remembered that the previous day had been terrible for more people than just her. The darkness threatened to rush to the front of her mind once more, but a groan of pain caught her attention instead. A desire to help - to do something good to combat the terrible that still poisoned her thoughts - drew her inside.
Her mum was already there, attempting to change the bandages on a particularly nasty leg wound. The sliced skin still gaped, showing cleanly to the bone. Despite herself, Ginny knew what that meant - it was the result of dark magic. As she approached the bed, she saw the edges looked blackened, and she cringed as she realized that they had probably needed to burn it before transporting him in order to stem the bleeding.
"Oh, thank goodness," her mum said, noticing her. "Can you hold the leg steady? I need to clean it, but the curse keeps wearing down my spells. I can't lock it into place."
"Of course," she replied quickly, eager to do something - anything - to help this poor wizard get better after the trauma he'd clearly been through. He was rather young and altogether rather unremarkable - she thought recognized him as a Ravenclaw from Percy's year, but couldn't recall his name. The least she could do was help him.
When she took hold of his foot, his groaned in pain again. She thought he was unconscious until that point and quickly released him at the sound and looked at her mum.
Her mother's mouth was twisted into a grimace. "He's unconscious, but he can still feel the leg. The numbing charms aren't holding either. You're going to have to hold him through it."
Ginny blanched. She knew how important keeping a wound clean was, but it sounded like torture.
Her mother caught the expression. Her own softened as she explained, "This should be the last time we need to do this. Once I remove the damage and clean the wound itself, I'll apply a potion Severus sent this morning."
"I didn't think anything could heal a cursed wound," she said, taking hold of the foot once more and ignoring the pained sound the wizard released. I wish I could remember his name, she thought guiltily.
"It won't heal it, exactly. The damaged area will never fill in, but it will close the opening at least."
An image of Mad-Eye Moody came to mind, the numerous scarred divots that marred his body, and she understood. It saddened her to think that this young man would have to live with this damage for the rest of his life. The split muscle on the side of his calf would never heal back together completely, and it would undoubtedly affect his ability to walk and move.
The sadness turned into anger as she thought about why it had happened. She used it to fuel her determination as she did her job, refusing to flinch or allow any leeway, even when the leg tried to jerk in protest at her mother's attention. It hurt him now, but it needed to be done to make him feel better in the long run. She knew a thing or two about that.
When they were finished, he slumped back down. He hadn't actually woken and was no more awake or sleep than when she'd entered, but he still looked more peaceful than before. He didn't stir, the only sound emanating from him now was soft breathing. It gave her a sense of accomplishment and peace, and she moved on to help the next patient with more confidence.
It helped. Focusing on taking care of others made her feel cleaner again, like she was purging some of the evil from her system. It was only when she paused in the lulls between tasks that the disturbing thoughts would begin to creep in again and she would once more throw herself into serving the recovering patients. Keeping meaningfully busy was the key.
Harry found them as Ginny was on her third patient. His expression reflected everything she felt - the sadness, anger, and frustration all rolled into one - as he took in the injured still present. He didn't ask what she was doing or if she was alright. All he said was, "What can I do to help?"
She was grateful he was there, doing this with her. His presence helped as it always did. As nice as it had been to hide away with him in bed this morning, this was what they needed to be doing at that moment. More than that, this was something she needed to do to fix herself. Harry couldn't be the thing that held her together forever.
They kept at it for hours. Her mother giving endless directions that she and Harry followed without question. The worst of the injured had been transferred to Hogwarts, so there were few cases that required intense medical care the way the first wizard Ginny helped had, but it was still emotionally draining.
As the day progressed, however, even that came to an end as the injured either went home or were transferred to Hogwarts for more sophisticated care by Madam Pomfrey. After her mother escorted the last patient out of the room, she and Harry restored it to its normal state, levitating the cots back to the attic and putting the bedding to be washed.
She stared at the clean room, wondering how it was possible that there was no evidence to be seen of what had happened in the last twenty-four hours.
"You need to eat," Harry said, interrupting her reverie. "We need to eat," he corrected, taking her hand and pulling her from the room.
He seemed nervous as they took turns washing up in the loo, but she couldn't tell if it was the work they had just finished or if she had pushed him too far that morning. She fervently hoped it wasn't the latter, but was having trouble working up the nerve to ask. Why is talking so hard? she thought in frustration.
She still hadn't made any progress when they ran into her mum coming back up the stairs.
"Oh! There's nothing prepared. I've forgotten all about lunch," her mother said. "I don't even know what we have left! I need to…" she continued to ramble, but Ginny was distracted by her swift change in demeanor. The contrast between the calm, collected manner in which her mother had tended to the wounded all morning and her sudden anxious state was startling.
"Mum," she interrupted. "It's fine, we're not helpless. We can feed ourselves."
"I can cook," Harry offered. "And we already cleaned up, so all you need to do is let Hermione know and move your own things."
"That's…" her mother struggled, looking flustered. "Thank you," she said, the emotion in her voice rattling Ginny. She sounded far too grateful for such a simple thing. It was a sign of just how stressful the previous day had been for her mother as well, as were the tears she had to wipe away after hugging them both. "I'm sorry, dears. Don't worry about me. I always feel better once everything is settled again."
The phrasing struck her as odd. The words spoke of long experience with such things, but this was the first time Voldemort had launched this kind of attack as far as she knew. He'd been keeping quiet since his return, hiding behind the shield Fudge had created with his denial.
She realized her error almost immediately.
It was his first attack since he returned, but her parents had lived through one war already. Although they had too many young children to be active participants in the Order last time, her uncles had been. For the first time, she wondered how many times they came to her mother injured before they ultimately lost their lives. It gave her a new perspective on her mother's emotional outbursts over the years.
"Gin?" Harry asked, rubbing her back slightly and pulling her from her thoughts. Her mother was gone, she realized, having departed during her distraction.
"I'm okay," she assured him. "Just thinking…"
He stepped back. She felt colder for it. "About?"
There was caution in the question that gave her the courage to step forward and wrap her arms around him. She breathed a sigh of relief when he returned the gesture without hesitation.
"About Mum," she replied with her head still resting against his chest. "She used to try and convince Dad to add on to the house. She wanted the master bedroom on the first floor, but he insisted she was being paranoid, that she didn't need to be between us and the doors. I'd never understood the response until now." She felt his confusion and looked up at him to explain. "I always thought she was worried about us sneaking out, but now I think it was a holdover from the last war. She wanted to be between us and the entrances. It's silly really - even with anti-apparition wards, there are still brooms and such - but I think I get it. She never really got over that fear."
He looked off, staring at nothing as he considered it, and nodded. "I can understand that." He tightened his grip on her and he looked back down, his gaze searching hers. "Do you think we ever will?"
"I don't know," she answered honestly. "I hope so."
By the time Hermione and her mother joined them in the kitchen, they had prepared lunch.
Well, breakfast for lunch. It turned out there wasn't much left in the kitchen aside from eggs, milk, and the usual staples like flour. Luckily, they both knew how to cook. Breakfast was the logical choice, especially given that they hadn't eaten yet.
The awkwardness from earlier had disappeared after their conversation on the stairs. Their relationship had entered new territory, but hadn't damaged their foundations in any way. Just as becoming a couple had done, the shift didn't change who they were or what they meant to each other, aside from making them something more than they had been.
It was a comfort, knowing how well they came together on so many different levels.
She wasn't sure she would ever stop being surprised by just how easily being with Harry came to her. Not that she'd ever really failed to get along with him - with one glaring exception - but it was more than that. It was in the way they understood one another, the way they tried and succeeded together. They still disagreed - still found their priorities misaligned sometimes - but they found a way to compromise and support each other. That, in Ginny's mind, was an incredibly rare gift.
Of course, the little ways in which they worked well together were convenient as well. Even cooking together had been a seamless process, unlike trying to navigate the kitchen with any of her family members. The physical aspects were new, but so far a wonderful discovery as well. Heat swelled as she remembered that morning. It had been...
"You alright, Ginny?" Hermione asked, cutting into her thoughts. "You look a little flushed."
Unfortunately, her mother heard and rushed over to her. "She's right, dear. Are you feeling alright?" she asked, checking her temperature with the back of her hand, apparently completely forgetting she had a wand and could cast a diagnostic spell. "You feel alright. Maybe you did too much this morning. Here, I'll make you a tray. Go lie down."
The coddling snapped her out of the embarrassment. Though her cheeks were lit up from all the attention brought on by her reaction to thoughts of Harry, she said forced herself to remain calm as she responded, "I'm fine, Mum. Just the heat from the stove."
"Are you sure it wasn't too much?" she asked again, worriedly.
"I'm sure," she said quickly, trying to avoid looking at Harry. That certainly wouldn't help.
It seemed her body didn't want to cooperate, however, and her gaze unerringly found his when she looked away from her mum. He was giving her an odd look. Her gratitude that he had no skill in Legilimency made her blush intensify, though she tried to smile through it. He smiled back and slid to make room for her next to him.
"What happened this morning?" her friend asked before Ginny had even managed to take a seat.
"We were helping Mrs. Weasley take care of everyone who was still here. They've all gone now, though."
"That's good," Hermione replied with a grimace, moving her food about the plate without taking a bite. After a moment, she added, "I was reading."
"Anything interesting?" Harry asked, beginning his breakfast.
"Just about some of the potions we were working on yesterday." Ginny caught the guilty look on Hermione's face.
"I'm glad," Ginny put in kindly. Hermione shouldn't feel any guilt over that. "You saw what a difference it made yesterday having Andromeda here to help. She might not always be. We need good people who can make them."
Her friend perked up. "I would love to do that. Mrs. Tonks is really talented, and she was very sweet actually. She explained a lot. There is so much to these healing potions, and so many adjustments required when dealing with some of the obscure curses that the Death Eaters like to use. The magic of the curses fight off typical healing spells, but the magic of the potion ingredients is absorbed into the person's system and uses their own magic to help fight it."
"Right," Ginny said. She leaned back as she remembered the leg wound again, no longer hungry. It wasn't just him or any of the others, either, but things from a much more distant past. Even before he became Voldemort, Tom Riddle had done some terrible damage to the innocents who crossed his path. None of them had been lucky enough to have someone waiting nearby with a potion to fix them.
The gentle feel of Harry rubbing the small of her back reoriented her. It was subtle enough that only the two of them were aware that she had needed his prodding to pull her out of the disturbing memories, though Hermione was still looking at her worriedly.
She cleared her throat. "Sorry. Got distracted." Harry rubbed his thumb in another small circle on her back, keeping her grounded.
"I should have been helping," Hermione said anxiously.
"Nonsense," her mother dismissed as she arrived with fresh tea and joined them. "The curriculum at Hogwarts won't teach you that kind of advanced potion making, and it never hurts to be prepared. Besides, these two had a lie in this morning this morning. You probably got up before they did..."
Ginny couldn't help casting a glance in Harry's direction as she spoke and was pleased to see the look he wore. It was clear that he was trying to hold it back, but there was heat in the way he returned her gaze.
"... putting themselves at risk even! For the sake of joke supplies? But their father says I should let them be…" It was lucky that her mother was still talking about how much more productive Hermione had been than Ron or the twins, all three of whom had gone in to work at the shop that morning and hadn't noticed.
It was only when she turned to Hermione again that she realized the exchange had not gone entirely unnoticed. There were sure to be questions about it later. She pushed it aside for the time being and took a deliberately large bite off her plate. It successfully distracted her friend, whose nose scrunched in distaste as she looked away.
They all jumped when the fire flared green - the events of the day before clear in the tension that filled the air as they waited with bated breath to see who would step through the flames. They simultaneously sighed in relief when Ron emerged. His reddened ears and cheeks were sure signs that he was in a mood, but Ginny was still thankful that it was just her brother and not another emergency.
Ron had barely stepped foot in the room before Hermione looked up. A bright smile bloomed across her face. "You're early!" she greeted happily, her earlier disappointment in herself completely forgotten. "I didn't think you'd be back from the shop for a few hours yet."
Ron sat heavily at the table with them. His bitter expression softened at Hermione's greeting, but his reply was still succinct. "Got sent home."
Ginny couldn't resist jumping at the chance to discuss something light, hoping to chase out the lingering flood of adrenalin his unexpected arrival had brought. "Oh! This should be good. Pissing off the twins is near impossible, let alone enough to be sent home. Do tell how you managed that one," she said with interest. She caught Harry suppressing a grin beside her and turned to send him a quick wink.
"Shut it, Ginny," he spat.
Her mother tutted at their behavior, unamused. "That is enough children. Ginny, do not taunt your brother. Ron, speak to your sister respectfully. Now, how about some fresh lunch, Ron?"
"Sorry, Mum. That'd be great, thanks." He smiled repentantly at their mum, but scowled at Ginny as soon as she turned her back.
Ginny waited until her mother was out of earshot before whispering, "No need to get shirty with me. I'm not the one who got you booted from the shop. You did that all on your own." She and Ron had always teased one another, for as long as she could remember. Nettling him now felt normal. Besides, it really was unlike the twins to send him home. They were the type of people who viewed every disaster as a learning experience - the worse the mess, the better.
"I didn't do anything." He crossed his arms and glared at the cabinets across the room. She just barely caught his muttered, "Those gits wouldn't let me."
"I'm sure you didn't, Ron," Hermione said while giving Ginny a disapproving look. "What did happen, if you don't mind me asking?"
Ron's face twisted. "There was a reporter sniffing round the shop today. Asking stupid bloody questions about Harry… if I was in on the 'plot' to 'trap' him." His fists clenched and the coloring in his ears spread to his cheeks and neck. "This one did her research, brought up Skeeter's old articles about the two of you. Asked how you felt about having the 'love of your life stolen' or some shite." He crossed his arms. "Woman followed me around the whole bloody store. Going on and on. Some of her questions… she must have talked to some of our classmates to know that stuff."
"It's not surprising," Ginny interjected. "Both Colin and Neville sent letters saying they've been approached." She shrugged. "Makes sense that they wouldn't be the only ones."
"Well whoever talked in a tosser."
A crease formed between Hermione's brows as she looked at Ron. "You didn't do anything rash did you?
"No," he said tartly.
"I'm glad," she said, placing a hand on his arm. "It would be awful if they targeted you too."
Ron blew out a breath at Hermione's touch. Ginny kept all hints of her happiness at their growing closeness off her face, but she saw Harry's raised brows and nudged his foot with hers. She gave him a small smile but shook her head and schooled her features, happy when he took the hint and did so as well.
"Not that I didn't want to," he admitted sheepishly. "Fred and George wouldn't let me."
"Well, it's great Ron's safe. What about Ginny though?" Harry put in sourly.
Ginny contained an eye-roll. It was sweet that he worried about her, but she honestly couldn't be bothered to be concerned by it. "It's not a big deal, Harry."
"It is," he insisted, pinning her with a serious look. "You don't know what it's like, how people treat you, when the media is against you."
"It really isn't pleasant, Ginny," Hermione added, casting a wary glance at her mum as she returned with a fresh plate for Ron.
It gave Ginny pause, remembering the way even her mother had believed Rita's terrible articles during her third year and how poorly her mother had treated Hermione as a result and that was from someone who knew her. The people who didn't had been far worse. Ginny had had to help Hermione dress for three days after the bubotuber pus incident. Maybe they had a point.
"What's wrong?" Her mum asked, catching on to the mood around the table. "Did something happen at the shop? I knew you shouldn't have gone in…"
"It's fine, Mum," both she and Ron said in unison. They exchanged exasperated looks knowing the simultaneous denial would give them away. She'd never let them escape without an honest answer now.
The expectant glare she gave them confirmed it, and Ginny signed in resignation. "We were talking about the things they've been reporting about me."
"Oh." Her mother shifted guiltily. "It is rather unfortunate, isn't it? Irresponsible reporting, if you ask me. There isn't much you can do, I expect. Best to ignore it, dear."
Ginny's intuition flared. "What are you hiding?"
"Nothing to worry about Ginny dear. It's all being taken care of by the Ministry," she evaded.
"What is being taken care of by the Ministry, Mum?"
"Mrs. Weasley?" Harry asked, worry in his tone.
It seemed to break her mother's resolve down. "It really is nothing to trouble yourselves over. There has been some rather threatening mail, but it has all been going to the Burrow first and the Ministry is screening it out. You don't have to worry about it here."
"Sure, nothing to worry about until we go back to school," Harry said darkly. Ginny took his hand in comfort. He sighed and said in a softer tone, "Sorry, Mrs. Weasley. I didn't mean to be rude."
"It's alright, Harry." Her mother looked worried as she continued, "I'm concerned too, but we'll work something out."
Harry looked doubtful, but didn't argue. Ginny herself wasn't sure what could be done, but rather thought they had bigger things to worry about anyway. A few rumors and mean-spirited children were nothing compared to a Dark Lord and a prophecy.
Percy was already waiting at the table when they entered the kitchen for supper. It was the first she had seen of him all day. The greeting he offered was polite but perfunctory, his body straight as if he were impervious to the exhaustion everyone else suffered from, but the bags under his eyes betrayed him.
Despite the signs of stress they conveyed, his gaze was alert. For as long as she could remember, Percy had always been that way - he lived his entire life standing tall and thinking through every possible outcome. It was a wonder he wasn't an old man by now.
As if there has been a signal she missed, her various family members arrived one after another just in time for the evening meal. First Percy, then her father, followed by Bill (who thankfully arrived alone), and finally the twins. Each one had the same stressed air about them, but they all put it aside as they settled in to eat. She assumed it was for their mother's sake, who was desperately trying to put forth some cheer as she asked each member of her family about their day as if everything were perfectly normal.
She was both saddened by and grateful for the show as everyone made pretend that everything was fine. Saddened because they shouldn't have to pretend. What was the point in fighting if they couldn't find a way to enjoy being together for an hour? They should consider themselves lucky they were all there at all, really. Grateful for the fact that they still tried, despite how strange it felt.
Bill had the decency to wait until the meal was finished and everyone was disbursing before he approached her. "Can we talk?" His tone wasn't angry, but it wasn't apologetic either. It was resigned, as if he knew the conversation was necessary, but was no more enthused about having it that she was.
"Sure," she answered, squeezing Harry's thigh as she got up to let him know she would handle it. She felt his eyes on her as she followed her eldest brother to the other side of the kitchen, but he allowed her to go without following. She saw Percy take her vacated seat before turning her attention back to Bill.
"I'm not going to apologize for taking Fleur's side, and neither of us is going to apologize for what happened," he said bluntly.
"I'm not going to apologize for being upset about it," she said just as resolutely. "It was completely different from anything we'd done before, and she should have been clear about her intentions."
"Yeah, because that's exactly what Dark Wizards are going to do. Give you a warning."
The sarcasm made her snappish. "I expect violation from evil bastards, but not from someone I trust to help me." She took a calming breath and shook her head. "It doesn't matter. I understand why she did it and I can accept that, but I'm not ready to resume our previous training with her just yet. We've made decent progress so far anyway."
She watched Bill let go of his own frustration. "Where does that leave us?"
"Same as before," she said with a shrug. "Harry still needs to be able to defend himself properly. I'm not about to risk his safety." Her gaze drifted in his direction as she spoke, thinking about how badly she wanted him to be prepared when the time came. He needed every possible tool to defeat Voldemort, and she'd be damned before she let anything get in the way of making sure he won. The thought of him not winning, of him not being there, hurt too much to even consider.
He was still there, though, safe and sound looking intrigued by his discussion with Percy. Ron was still there as well, except he was glaring at their brother with accusation. Hermione looked conflicted beside him. That couldn't be good.
"We can talk tomorrow," she said dismissively to Bill, not waiting for a reply before making her way over to them.
"... should've known you'd go crawling right back at the first opportunity," Ron was just finishing bitterly as Ginny came up behind him.
"I did not," Percy replied coolly. "If you must know, Dumbledore asked me to pass along the information I collected yesterday."
"Who are we talking about?" she asked, announcing her presence.
She carefully directed the question at Percy calmly, wanting him to know that she would withhold judgement. Ron and the twins may have allowed Percy to re-enter their lives, but they had been giving him a rough time of it. She was trying to bridge the gap by being neutral, if not entirely welcoming. It wouldn't do any good to push him away again.
He answered her question unflinchingly. "Minister Scrimgeour." He shot a defensive look at Ron. "At Dumbledore's request." He turned back to her and calmly added, "He thought it best that we keep the lines of communication between the Ministry and the Order of the Phoenix open."
"Did you learn anything?" Hermione asked, curious as ever.
"No," he said, disappointment clear in his tone.
"What good does that do us then?" Ron asked in frustration.
Percy pursed his lips and looked between her and Harry. He seemed conflicted, as if weighing whether his next words were a good idea or not. He must have decided they would do more harm than good, because he finally said, "He did ask me questions, however, and it gave me an idea." The conflicted expression returned and the confidence in his voice wavered for the first time, "I'm not sure you're going to like it. Either of you."
Ron couldn't seem to keep his mouth shut, much to her annoyance. "You had an idea or Scrimgeour had an idea?"
Percy's composure broke, finally, and he scowled openly at Ron. "Enough, Ronald. We have bigger things to worry about than your feelings about me. I messed up and am aware of that, even without your constant reminders. I am here now and I am trying. All you need to do is shut up and let me."
She was relieved to see him sticking to for himself, and honestly surprised it had taken as long as it had for this to come about. His ruddy cheeks, heavy breathing, and stubborn set of chin as he stared Ron down challengingly were pure Weasley, and she couldn't help loving it every time he showed just how like them he was, despite how different he always seemed.
Ron looked ready to argue, but stopped himself at a murmur from Hermione. "You know what? That's fine," he said, standing to leave. "I'll stay out of it. But I haven't forgotten that you told me to abandon my best mate after you abandoned us, and I'm not about to. You don't know the first thing about loyalty."
Hermione watched him worriedly as he turned and stalked out of the kitchen without another word. She offered a small apology before excusing herself and following after him.
Ginny felt a pang of regret for her prior annoyance as she watched him go - his frustration with Percy wasn't without good cause - but she pushed it back. Percy was right about one thing, at least. They really couldn't afford to waste time on hurt feelings. It was why she had set aside her upset with Bill.
When she turned back to her brother, Percy was still watching the door and wearing an expression that said he felt similarly conflicted. She felt for him too. It wasn't easy on anyone.
"So, what were you thinking? And what does it have to do with us?" Harry asked with interest.
Percy cleared his throat. "Before I begin, I would like to preface that I had no idea what to believe of your arrangement before Professor Dumbledore brought me here. I knew that you had been betrothed from Ginny's letter, and that it was the result of an obscure blood ritual that bonded your magic through the will of Sirius Black, but I had no clue as to what the state of your relationship was." His fingers tapped the table and he bit his lip, but he hesitated to explain further.
It made him look guilty.
"Right," Ginny said shortly. Her lips pursed as she eyed her brother. "But you certainly still would have known better than to think so lowly of your own family."
"Of course!" he replied quickly. "I would never believe that about all of you. Certainly not of our parents. They love Harry. They'd do anything for him." A thread of bitterness colored his tone, and Ginny felt Harry tense. She had long suspected that Percy was jealous of the way their family had so thoroughly embraced Harry when he himself had always been on the fringes, but Harry likely hadn't a clue. "Not everyone is aware of that, however, and will accept what is printed as truth. If there's anything I learned working for the Ministry, it's that people will believe a well-written narrative, particularly if it's repeated by enough sources."
"I'm well aware of that, thanks," Harry said bitterly. Ginny slid her hand into his and threaded their fingers together to draw his attention. He blew out a breath as he looked at her, the angry tension in his jaw fading as he attempted to return the smile she gave him.
"That!" Percy said enthusiastically, pulling their attention back to him. "That is exactly my point." Harry and Ginny shared a confused look. "No one watching the two of you could possibly deny your connection. We need to make a statement, put the rumors to rest -."
"No," Harry said quickly. "They'll just twist it around against her."
"And staying silent helped you?"
"Speaking up certainly didn't help."
"Didn't it?" Percy gave him an odd look. "I'd say Skeeter's article in The Quibbler made quite the difference. The Ministry came under a lot of scrutiny once it was published. There had been very little opposition to the narrative before that."
Harry's expression turned contemplative as he thought it over. When their eyes met, she could see how conflicted he was. He seemed half-convinced, but would follow her lead.
Ginny ran her thumb across the back of his hand. "I get what you're saying, Percy. But in our experience, people believe what they want to. Trying to defend our relationship would only give them quotes to use against us," she told her brother.
"Not if you had someone important backing you," he replied. It finally registered what he wanted them to do.
"So you want us to leverage our support for the Minister's? Over rumors?" she asked dubiously. She still wasn't as convinced as Harry. She had some concerns about the press, sure, but not enough to go head to head with the Minister of Magic.
"No. I want you to do what needs to be done to fix this." he asked, pulling a neatly folded copy of The Prophet from his robe pocket and laying it out. He pointed a long finger at the front page, circling the long article they had seen earlier concerning her and Harry before flipping the page and repeating the process with a much smaller article mentioning the attacks the day before. "This is unacceptable. The media is focusing on all the wrong things, and they won't stop until someone forces them to. Unfortunately, Minister Scrimgeour is resistant to influencing the media at all after the last year. He has agreed to send out pamphlets outlining protective measures, but people need real news. You have the leverage to force him to act."
Somehow, the fact that this wasn't really about her was comforting. Percy wasn't just trying to get back into his family's good graces, but was working toward something bigger. It was something she could respect.
She couldn't help assessing her brother with fresh eyes. They'd never been close, and she'd never really admired him the way she had her other older brothers, but now she could see that he was probably the most well-rounded of them all.
He'd always been smart naturally. They all knew it. He had received so much praise for his intelligence as a child that he clung to it, studying hard to be the best so that he could stand out. As much as all the Weasley children had been loved, they all felt the same drive to do something different, something better than their siblings. Percy's became not only his intelligence, but his maturity as well.
Her overwhelmed mother had latched onto it and allowed him to take on extra responsibility. She didn't blame her mum, keeping the twins out of trouble was a full-time job all on it's own, but it had certainly given Percy the sense that he was above them. Apparently he had liked the feeling, because he'd actively sought out positions of power as he continued to grow.
Despite Ron's earlier words, Percy did know about loyalty, too. He had just chosen the wrong people to be loyal too. He had paid for that mistake, however, and she was fairly confident that he truly had learned his lesson.
She had always known that Percy was as brave as the rest of her brothers, but it was only now that she recognized that he may have been the bravest of all of them in his own way. She couldn't imagine the kind of bravery and resolve it had taken to stand fast to his beliefs even though it meant standing alone. If she were to be painfully honest with herself, she wasn't sure she had it in her to act without knowing that her family would support her.
"I know how these things work, Ginny. Trust me on this, if nothing else," he said, his gaze unwavering.
It hadn't served him well, siding with the ministry, but now that he was back with them, he was proving to be a valuable ally. All the Weasleys were sneaky in their own ways, but Percy knew how the Ministry functioned in a way that none of the rest of them did and was now using that knowledge to their advantage.
"I do," she replied, because she did trust him. "It's just…" she let the sentence hang as she considered it, looking around at the calm kitchen as she did so.
Her mother was now washing dishes, but those hands had been bloody just this morning. There was only one cauldron in the corner, simmering faintly and magically being stirred occasionally, but no one one stood over it any longer. The improvised cutting stations and extra cauldrons were gone, with no evidence it had been there at all. Hermione was moving her things back to her room from the study at that very moment. There was no need for her to stay there now that the final patient had left.
Just like that, it was done. Normalcy had returned to Grimmauld Place as quickly as the madness had descended. She couldn't sit idly by and pretend the tides of the war hadn't shifted, however.
The article concerning her and Harry stared up at her mockingly. It seemed not everyone felt the same way.
She wondered if this is how those not directly affected by the war were able to ignore it. They would undoubtedly see the small news article, feel a moment of fear, and then brush it aside as easily as they chucked the paper and went back to their gossip.
It was easy to lose yourself in the comfort of your own life when the war wasn't touching it. Even Ginny had managed to find temporary peace with Harry this morning. She supposed it was good, necessary even, to prevent the war from consuming her, but she didn't allow herself to get lost in pretending it wasn't happening either. Not like the masses that were speculating about her relationship instead of trying to stop Voldemort.
These people knew, but they didn't really know. There were no irreversibly scarred or mangled witches and wizards being treated in the beds they slept in. It wasn't them, couldn't be them, so it didn't really matter as far as they were concerned.
They needed to know.
"What exactly would he want from us?"
Their deliberation was rather short, ending with the determination that they should meet with the minister as soon as possible. It still seemed like a risk to her, getting involved in these political games, but Sirius had offered her his name for this very purpose. She couldn't shake the feeling that things like this were her duty now.
It turned out that the Minister wanted to see them immediately. Her mother had put up her typical token resistance, but when it came down to it, even Molly Weasley had to admit that there were few places outside of Grimmauld Place more well-protected than the Minister's office. They still couldn't use the floo system to gain access to the Ministry directly from Grimmauld Place - it would raise too many questions to arrive from an unknown location - so she had agreed with the conditions that they be accompanied by Percy and use the Burrow as a stopping point.
Less than an hour later she and Harry sat side by side across from Minister Scrimgeour in his office. Percy had been ordered to wait outside, but the Minister agreed to see them immediately. She took it as a sign that he had been more desperate for this meeting than she realized.
He didn't look pleased to see them, exactly. He did appear to be intrigued, however, and spent a long moment appraising them upon their arrival. His eyes were blue, but not the clear open kind that her father had. They were the cold, calculating type - hard like ice. She didn't hold it against him. His ability to measure people at a glance had probably served him well as Head Auror.
She was surprised that he spent just as much time analyzing her as he did Harry, though.
It was a bit unnerving, if she were being honest. She was accustomed to people being interested in Harry in general, given who he was, but she was not used to being important herself. There was a hungry look in his gaze as they lingered on both the Black ring and the one Harry had given her that forced her to accept what these things meant - they gave her power, and that made her important to people like him.
She kept her back straight and face clear of the discomfort she felt at the new awareness. Her right hand tightened around Harry's, the only concession she allowed her nerves. There was a tense air about him that only she would notice, but he looked strong and confident otherwise. His strength gave her more comfort than she cared to admit.
Finally, the man's expression cleared and he smiled. It wasn't natural looking, nor did it do anything to make him seem less predatory, but she could tell he had settled on trying to be friendly.
"Thank you for joining me, Mr. Potter, Miss Black," he said casually, further confirming her belief. "I'm glad Mr. Weasley was able to facilitate this meeting on such short notice."
"Certainly, Minister." Harry gave the expected reply, "It's a pleasure to meet you," he lied.
If Scrimgeour noted his lack of sincerity, he gave no outward sign of it. Then again, who was he to judge when his own pleasantries were so false.
"We're happy to be here," Ginny added, giving her best innocent smile. "After all, it's not every day we get to meet someone as influential as yourself." It was a test, really, to better gauge how he intended to present himself. She'd seen more of him in action than he knew
His gaze was piercing, but he sidestepped the statement. "I've been meaning to speak with you for some time, but things have been rather chaotic here." Whether the statement was a question or an accusation, she couldn't tell, but he carried on too quickly for her to question him in turn. "I'm sure you understand. If the papers are to be believed, you've been rather busy yourselves, have you not?"
"I'd hardly consider the papers an accurate source of news," Harry said coldly. She squeezed his hand in caution. They didn't need Scrimgeour on the defense just yet. He altered his tone, but there was still an accusatory note as he continued, "After all, very little was reported on yesterday's events, but we dealt with the aftermath firsthand, and, yes, it did keep us busy."
"Did you now? That's interesting." The words were said lightly, but there was obvious interest in the man's inspection of them. "How is it that the two of you managed to find yourselves in such a situation?"
"I really don't think that's the issue here, sir. I'm more concerned about why Ginny and I were on the front page when the dozens injured or killed in Death Eater attacks were hardly mentioned."
"The press is based on profits, and gossip is more likely to sell papers than scaring people into isolation." He gave them what she guessed was supposed to be a sympathetic look. "Unfortunately, it is out of our hands."
Ginny decided enough was enough. None of them were interested in games like this. "You're the Minister of Magic. Surely, you must have some control."
He gave her a withering gaze, but she kept her expression firm. "I am not yet truly the Minister of Magic, Miss Black. My powers are limited until the Wizengamot approves my appointment at their next meeting." He looked back at Harry. "That's not to say that there aren't other things I would be able to assist you with in the meantime. I understand you wish to become an Auror? I would be able to offer you a recommendation and connect you with a mentor. You could do some shadowing here at the Ministry if you wanted."
"What I want is fair and proper reporting. The people aren't afraid enough, because they don't know how big the threat really is. You and I do," he said firmly.
It was all Ginny could do to keep the smug look off her face. As it was, she was sure the pride she felt in him was showing. If the Minister had expected Harry to roll over and buy his load of dung, he had underestimated Harry by a great deal.
The Minister's lips thinned, though he otherwise maintained his composure. "As I have already told you, the Ministry does not control the press, Mr. Potter."
"We both know that's not entirely true," Harry shot back, irritation in his tone.
"I am not Cornelius Fudge, young man," Scrimgeour said indignantly, finally abandoning his veneer of friendliness. "I do not make backdoor deals and pay the press to print what I see fit."
"Maybe not," Ginny interjected, "but surely you, even as just the acting Minister, have some sway in the information made available to the public. Give them the information they need to print articles of actual value."
His face twitched in irritation, but he responded to her calmly, if not condescendingly. "I do not expect you to understand the risk involved in announcing to Voldemort all that we know about his activities. It has been decided by those with more experience than you that providing detailed accounts of Voldemort's activities will only encourage him to change tactics, leaving us all unprepared for his next attack."
"That's ridiculous," Harry said quickly. "You're risking countless lives for what? He did this last time, yet you weren't prepared anyway."
"People deserve to know what they're facing. Those that lived through the last war need to know that it's started again," Ginny added forcefully before Scrimgeour could begin his rebuttal. She was quickly growing tired of his attempts to play the politician. "They don't need more crap articles about how Harry is working with the Aurors."
Scrimgeour's hand came down hard on the desk, the bang echoing around the room as he leaned forward and pinned her with a hard glare. "Yes they do, girl. That is exactly what they need." He directed his attention at Harry. "Like it or not, you are an important public figure. The public is hailing you as 'the Chosen One'," he leaned back and waved his hand in a frustrated, but dismissive gesture. "The truth of it matters not, simply because they believe it. It is your duty to them to help us win this war. The best way to do that is to support the Ministry publicly."
"Support the Ministry or support you?" she shot back in disgust. He really was no different from any of his predecessors.
There was a moment of silence where he bit back whatever his initial response was. The most petty part of her wanted to cheer at watching him struggle. She and Harry may be just children to him, but they also had something he wanted. That made them important and demanded respect. She was begrudgingly impressed with how quickly he controlled himself.
"Let's set aside all illusions. Winning this war is what matters, by any means necessary. Neither of you will be eligible to vote at the next meeting, but your opinions will sway other members of the Wizengamot. Whether or not you choose to support me is of little consequence, so long as you choose wisely."
She found herself surprised by the honesty she heard in his words. Despite his clear desire to use Harry, she truly believed that his primary concern was winning the war, not his position.
"You expect me to believe that you don't care about becoming Minister?" Harry asked skeptically.
Scrimgeour blew out a breath. "No one with any sense would want to be Minister in this climate. The Ministry will just barely be able to stem the tide of evil that Voldemort has unleashed on this country and the people know it. There are things that will be easier for me to accomplish from gaining the position, however. Not to mention that if I am here, at least I know with certainty that the Ministry is not being run by a sympathizer."
She and Harry exchanged a meaningful look. He really wasn't as bad as she had thought. Harry clearly felt similarly, but they couldn't be certain until the lines were clearly drawn.
"If we're being honest, I'm not comfortable agreeing to support the Ministry, or you, unless you can prove that things have changed, that you're worth supporting," Harry said frankly.
Scrimgeour narrowed his eyes and leaned forward onto his elbows, steepling his fingers and staring at Harry in consideration before turning to her. "And you, Miss Black? Does Mr. Potter speak for you as well?"
She lifted her chin. "Yes. Harry is very aware of my feelings on these matters." When it came down to it, she was likely the more difficult of the two to convince.
He nodded a little to himself, as if something had just been confirmed, though she had no idea what that could be.
"The both of you would be welcome to spend time here in the Ministry until term begins. You'll be able to see for yourselves what we're doing here and how we're combatting Voldemort's forces," he offered.
Ginny's temper flared. Being seen in the Ministry regularly was tantamount to endorsing the Ministry. Harry shared her irritation, his body tensing as if holding back his temper.
"We've already talked about that, sir. I'm not doing it," he said with finality. She could hear the forced calm in his voice as he continued, "I've never done anything to give you a reason to suspect me of dishonesty, Minister Scrimgeour. I have nothing to prove to you. The Ministry, however... given my history with your predecessors, I'd say it's fair that you do."
Scrimgeour sighed heavily and looked down. He rubbed his temples a moment before speaking without looking up. Tiredly, he asked, "For argument's sake, let's say that I agree to make a show of good faith. What is it that you would have me do?"
After that, the negotiations went smoothly. The Minister agreed to direct the press in the direction of what had been going on with the war, providing transparent details on the attacks provided that they would not tip off any Death Eaters the Aurors were closing in on. In exchange, Harry and Ginny would allow him to say he had met with them, given that he made a statement in support of them somehow. If he managed to succeed in getting more informative articles published, then they would do what they could to support him when his position came to a vote.
It was far later than she would have liked by the time they were done. They parted civilly, but no one bothered trying to lie by saying it had been a pleasure.
"I'll be in touch," was all Scrimgeour said as he walked them out the door to where Percy had been waiting for them.
Her brother had been pacing, it seemed, and spun around, looking nervous but expectant.
"Everything alright?" he asked, eyes on her.
"Just fine, Mr. Weasley," the Minister answered for them. "We're done for tonight, but I'll expect you first thing in the morning."
"Yes, sir," he agreed.
Scrimgeour nodded to them all in farewell before closing the door, leaving them alone.
"Well?" Percy asked quietly.
She shook her head. "I'll tell you when we get home. As soon as possible, please." She gave the floo there an apprehensive gaze, not looking forward to another two dizzying trips through the flames. "I think we should apparate. Can you side-along us both to the road?"
He gave her a confused look. "Why the road?"
She couldn't elaborate here, where the Minister was likely still listening. "Forget it. We'll just floo to the Burrow and go from there. That's fine too."
The confusion cleared, but he still looked at her oddly before shaking his head. He threw a handful of powder into the flames before calling out the name of their childhood home and disappearing into the swirling green flames.
Harry waved her ahead of him. "Maybe you can catch me when I fall through," he said with a weak smile.
She chuckled in spite of herself. Only Harry could make her feel light after tensely negotiating with the Minister of Magic himself. "Is that the only reason?" she teased.
He smiled fully this time. "No, but that's my story if your brother asks. I'm sticking to it, thanks."
"I'm glad to be home," she said, releasing a soft sigh. It hadn't taken that long to fill the rest of her family in on the details of their meeting, but it felt like a long time with how tired she was.
She snuggled into his side, resting her head on his chest. The soft rise and fall of his breathing accompanied by the steady beat of his heart was soothing after such a long day. Filled with content, she admitted aloud, "This is my happy place."
"Our room?" he asked softly, brushing the hair out of her face.
She let her eyes drift closed as his fingers threaded through her hair, but didn't hesitate as she might have in the past. "Our room. Our bed. With you. All of it," she said softly.
After everything, she was confident that Harry wouldn't shy away from her honesty. He didn't disappoint.
"Mine too," he said softly.
"Yeah?" she asked hopefully, meeting his eyes.
His green orbs were as soft and warm as his voice. "Yeah."
After the day they'd had, she was surprised to find herself so supremely relaxed and allowed herself to slip deeper into the comfort. The silence didn't ring or hang uncomfortably heavy - it was just soothing. As was Harry, warm and welcoming as his limbs tangled together with hers. She knew she couldn't sleep yet, not before performing her Occlumency exercises, but it was still nice to just bask in the easy feelings.
Harry broke the companionable silence after a time. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I'm really impressed by how well you did today."
She opened her sleepy eyes to read his face. "Really? What does that mean, exactly?"
Harry's look was thoughtful, but marred by signs of concern. "Dumbledore said you would need time. That he didn't think you'd ever dealt with the trauma of your first year and you would need time and rest to work through it now." His expression morphed into something resembling awe. "But you just powered through today… you're just amazing, that's all."
She didn't think she deserved the admiration in his tone. "He may have been right," she admitted, thinking of how she had buried those memories as deep as she could back then. "It was easier now though, because I had you."
The smile he gave her was knowing.
"What?" she asked. "Don't tell me he said that too."
He shook his head, but the small smile he still wore was proud. "He didn't, but he did suggest that I should stay close and help you rest."
"I see… so is that the only reason you took care of me? Because the Great Albus Dumbledore said so?" she teased.
He tapped her nose. "No, and you know it." The playfulness slipped away. "I was worried something was really wrong when you wouldn't let me touch you." He hesitated slightly before adding, "You've never shied away from me like that. Not ever."
"I'm sorry," she said guiltily. "It wasn't you, I swear, just…"
"You don't have to explain. I'm not hurt, just worried, and not even that anymore."
She smiled in gratitude. "Does that mean you won't be offended if I say I'm proud of you too?"
"For what?" Harry looked so confused by the praise it was comical and a laugh escaped. It would never cease to amaze her that he didn't know how impressive he was.
"Do you honestly not realize how impressive it is that you successfully negotiated with the Minister of Magic?"
He shrugged dismissively. "It's easy to get people to agree with you when you have something they want."
"I mean it, Harry," she said seriously. "You stood your ground. Even if you don't think it was a big deal, I do. And Scrimgeour thought so too, in case you couldn't tell."
Finally her words seemed to sink in and he rubbed his neck self-consciously. Harry being Harry couldn't just say "thank you" of course and deflected instead. "It's nothing. You challenge Dumbledore just about every time we see him."
Ginny scoffed. "Do not." After a moment's reflection she conceded, "Well, sometimes. But it's different. He's Dumbledore. Not scary at all."
"Not at all? Really? That's why he's the only wizard Voldemort ever feared?"
It was meant to be light and teasing, but she still flinched. It wasn't the name, but the memories that their day had kept close to the surface.
He rubbed her shoulder and squeezed a little tighter. "I'm sorry. I'm an idiot. Guess I'm not that good at comforting after all, huh?"
"You're great at comforting," she answered immediately. "I really don't know what I would have done without you last night." She nuzzled his chest. "Perfect really."
Harry scoffed. "Hardly."
"Hm… maybe not, but some things about you are perfect."
"Is that right?" he asked skeptically.
"Yes. The way you do this," she said, pulling his mouth to hers.
Despite his surprise, he met her enthusiastically, all thoughts of exhaustion and sleep pushed aside as she happily lost herself in him.