Author's Notes: Yes, I know it's been five months - but I just had to finish this before HBP comes out, you know:-) Many thanks, as usual, to Alcarcalime and ReaderRavenclaw for the beta. :-)
Despite its uninviting ambiance, number twelve, Grimmauld Place was usually in a flurry of activity. Witches and wizards bustled in and out of rooms, banging doors and arguing heatedly.
However, it had become apparent to Ginny that whenever the Order members passed by her, they would immediately hush up, give her a smile, and dash off to someplace
else to continue their argument.
Ginny would try to eavesdrop on their conversations to get an idea of what was going on outside the depressing house, but the Order of the Phoenix seemed to have cast Imperturbable Charms everywhere since the Weasleys had moved in.
Ginny hated it. She hated their concern over giving her family a comfortable place to stay in for the Christmas holidays. She hated the fact that the Order was trying to make everything seem normal for the Weasleys, when they obviously knew that everything was amiss.
The morning before Christmas did not do much to brighten up Ginny's mood.
As she went downstairs for breakfast, she noticed that the only sound—a lively chorus of "Deck the Halls"—came from the drawing room. The singing turned out to be from the fifteen-foot Christmas tree. The Order had set it up the day the Weasleys had moved in. It was more glorious than the one they had at the Burrow. This Christmas tree had baubles that slowly swiveled, changing colors with every rotation; Snitches that flew from the tree when they were touched; and angels that sang carols in unison. The angels held miniature songbooks, and they swayed their heads in synchrony.
Ginny realized, however, that as she stared longer at the Christmas tree, she felt more and more detached from it. She knew it was there just because the Order pitied her family or having to leave the Burrow; it was there to brighten up the their mood. For Ginny, it had the opposite effect. It reminded her of their demise, of the Christmas presents that she had lost in Diagon Alley, of the Christmas she would not enjoy at home.
Ginny felt her stomach rumble. She looked around, hoping for a plate of biscuits somewhere, but found none. Sighing, she went to the basement kitchen, hoping that bacon and eggs were already laid down on the table for her. But when she got there, she was unable to open the door. She pressed her ears against it. She could hear nothing at all.
"Imperturbable Charm," Ginny muttered to herself. Miserable and hungry, she left the basement and thought of lying down on her bed until somebody remembered to feed her. The day was already shaping up to be as tiresome as the past few days; she had nothing to do and no one to talk to….
Not that no one ever tried. She knew Hermione had wanted to talk, but what could she say? That she and Harry had kissed the night they arrived from Hogwarts, and then realized that it had been a mistake the next day? It sounded silly. Ginny had skirted all of Hermione's gentle questions, thinking the older girl, who had only been trying to help, was prying. Ron was no help, either; he kept on shooting her and Harry odd glances whenever the three of them were in the same room. Fred and George were the same, though they were not always around.
And meanwhile, she had caught herself one too many times glancing at Harry. Secretly, she wished they had a moment to talk and clear things up. And even more secretly, she wished that Harry would say something that would let her know that he still…loved her.
Ginny could not talk to her mum. Mrs. Weasley was always preoccupied with something or another. It drove Ginny mad, seeing that her mother was more engaged in things other than opening the kitchen for her and preparing breakfast….
A grim laugh escaped Ginny—then she immediately stopped and looked around. She was on the second landing, alone—thankfully, or whoever was on the landing would probably think she had gone bonkers, laughing to herself. Coughing, as though someone had indeed heard her, she started turning left, to the bedroom she and Hermione shared, when she heard the door to her right creak open.
Ginny cursed in her head and hastily crossed the shadowy landing. Of course she had to laugh to herself right in front of the room Harry shared with Ron. She did not need to hear Harry speak to know that it was he who was now on the landing with her.
Ginny was about to continue on her way upstairs when Harry mumbled, "Er—you hungry?"
Ginny glanced over her shoulder quickly. Harry was standing in the doorway of his room, wearing one of the green jumpers her mum had knitted for him over the years. She noticed the breadcrumbs on the jumper.
Her stomach suddenly answered for her—a long, loud answer that probably echoed across the landing.
And for the first time in days, Harry grinned at her, and she felt a familiar pinching in her heart.
"I guess you are," he said.
Ginny fixed her face to look exasperated—though she was unable to tame down the blood that had rushed to her cheeks—and turned to him, a hand on her hip. "If you aren't able to do something about it, I might as well be on my way."
"As a matter of fact, your mum brought sandwiches and milk to our room," Harry said, sounding oddly formal. He gave a slight shrug. "She said we can't go to the kitchen yet."
Ginny sniffed. "I can see that."
She took a surreptitious glance at Harry's room. She noticed that Ron and Hermione were sitting on the bed, eating. She felt her stomach complaining again, quietly this time.
Harry was looking at her expectantly. "Er—we still have some. Sandwiches, I mean. And milk," he finished awkwardly.
Ginny stared at him for a while. So this was his way of apologizing—a couple of sandwiches and a glass of milk. From her mum, at that. But nonetheless, she walked towards Harry.
Harry opened the door wider to let her it. The slight movement caused him to wince; it was his ribs, she knew. She felt a rush of pity for him. As she passed him, she felt a desire to put a hand on his side; she envisioned herself capable of healing him with just one caress.
But, of course, she chased away that fleeting fancy and passed by Harry nonchalantly as she entered the room.
"Hi, Ginny," said Hermione, smiling and sidling closer to Ron to give Ginny some space on the bed. Ginny sat on the corner and Hermione handed her a platter of ham sandwiches.
"Oh wow, thanks," Ginny said in relief. She took a sandwich and bit into it, nodding at Hermione gratefully.
Harry slowly sat on the chair in the middle of the room, wincing a little as he touched his side. He looked at the three of them, sitting side by side on the large bed. Then his gaze lingered on Ginny. There was a hint of sadness in his eyes, a kind of longing, but what jumped at Ginny was the look of disquiet on his face, as though he had been arguing in his head about something.
Ginny frowned at him, chewing. "What?" she said, her mouth still filled with sandwich.
Ron and Hermione were likewise staring at Harry.
"You were going to tell us something, mate?" Ron asked finally.
Ginny blinked. She had unconsciously stopped chewing. Tell us something? Since their conversation in the Hogwarts Express a few days ago, she had expected Harry to confess something—but she did not expect it to be today, one day before Christmas. It was hardly the time for it. Because whatever it was he wanted to say, Ginny knew that it was not going to be pleasant at all.
Harry straightened up on the chair. "Er—yeah. Yeah," he mumbled. His hands went to his face to push his glasses up the bridge of his nose, then they went further upwards to rake his fingers through his messy hair. Ginny had to look away when she saw that his hair was still sticking up at the back; she definitely felt her heart skip a beat at that grave moment.
Meanwhile, Ron and Hermione were staring straight at Harry, as though willing him to speak.
"It's about the prophecy," said Harry. "Remember…the Department of Mysteries?"
Ron, Hermione, and Ginny glanced at each other. "Well…yes…," said Ron slowly, as though to say instead, "who doesn't remember it?"
Harry bit the insides of his mouth. Then he went on quietly, "Dumbledore was there when Trelawney made that prophecy about me. Yes, it was Trelawney," he said to the surprised gasps of the three. "Dumbledore heard it. And he told me what it was, that morning…."
Whatever Ginny had in mind, this was definitely not it. Several moments had passed before she realized that her sandwich had dropped onto the platter on her lap and that she was staring at him with a half-opened mouth—just as Ron and Hermione were.
Hermione was the first to snap out of her trance. "Wh-what did she say?"
Ginny looked at Harry closely. She saw that he had gone pale and was clutching his side more tightly than ever. His Adam's apple bobbed up and down in his throat. She felt dread pool somewhere in the region of her stomach. Why couldn't she just stand up and hold his hand while he spoke?
Harry took a deep breath. "It…it was made some time before I was born. Dumbledore was interviewing Trelawney for the position of Divination professor. He didn't think she could really see, you know…but then, she made the prophecy."
"What did she say?" Hermione pressed on.
Ron flashed her an annoyed frown; Hermione did not seem to notice.
"She said…at the end of July someone would be born to those who defied Voldemort three times. This someone would have the power to defeat him."
The three of them stared back at Harry, all blinking in surprise. They began to smile in relief, until Harry spoke again.
"Turned out that there was a Death Eater who was eavesdropping, but he was quickly thrown out of the building. He heard only this part of the prophecy, though."
Hermione's jaw dropped. The color drained from her face. "There's more?" she breathed.
Harry nodded, swallowing once again. His breathing was becoming more erratic; beads of sweat had formed on his forehead. "She also said…Voldemort will mark him as his equal, but he will have powers Voldemort doesn't know. And…."
Harry swallowed for the last time. Ginny couldn't quite understand why it was costing him so much effort to speak. What else was he going to say? Was it that bad? Part of Ginny wanted to clamp her hands on her ears—she did not think she could stand the tension in Harry's voice…
"And…neither Voldemort nor this…this someone…could live while the other survives."
A heavy blanket of silence fell upon them. Ginny felt as though her blood had turned to ice.
It couldn't mean—
No. Not Harry.
Ginny stared at Harry. She could not breathe. She could not respond. She just sat there, stiff and unmoving, only barely aware of her own heartbeat thundering in her ears.
Harry went on quietly, "When the time comes, either I'll have to kill Voldemort, or he'll kill me."
Hermione gazed at Harry desperately, tears brimming in her eyes. "Isn't…isn't there any other way to…?"
"I don't know," said Harry. He was looking at his hands, seemingly unable to bear seeing his friends' faces. "It's a prophecy. It's bound to happen. The first part already did…."
Hermione let out a sob, covering her mouth with a hand.
Harry threw his hands up and let out a sigh. "Look, you're—you're not supposed to—to cry over it or something. I just thought you had to know. Just in case…."
Ginny's head snapped up. "Just in case what?"
Harry, Hermione, and Ron turned to look at Ginny, whose hands were shaking on her lap.
"You're not going to die, Harry, if that's what you're getting at," Ginny went on. She swallowed; her voice was shaking uncontrollably. But she kept her eyes on him, who likewise gazed unblinkingly back at her.
"No," Ron suddenly spoke up. "You're not. I don't know how, Harry, but he can't…you've survived him many times, and…and I just can't see how he's going to defeat you in the end after all this time—"
Hermione's head fell on Ron's shoulder as a tear slid down her cheek. Ron, almost absentmindedly, wrapped an arm around her shoulders and rubbed her upper arm.
Hermione nodded vigorously at Harry. "We'll find a way how. I promise. Even if we have to search the whole library, we'll find it." She smiled. "And…thank you for being so honest with us, Harry."
Ginny could see in Harry's smile that he was not fully convinced. But then again, who would be? She herself had her doubts.
Harry might die. Harry will die. He'll be fighting against Voldemort. He doesn't stand a chance—
Oh God. What am I talking about?
Ginny caught Harry's eye. She saw in his eyes that he was searching hers for reassurance.
I have to be strong for him, Ginny realized in a flash. He told us because he knew he couldn't carry the burden alone anymore. He needs us
Ginny smiled back and gave him a firm nod. "Yes," she whispered. "Thank you."
Harry stared at her for a moment longer. And then, he smiled.
His eyes were full of regret.
Ginny could not sleep.
She looked over to the bed across the room which was occupied by Hermione. The moment she had climbed into bed more than an hour ago, Hermione had buried herself in her sheets and had turned her back on Ginny without a word.
It was exactly three-eleven in the morning. Ginny, meanwhile, was staring at the high ceiling of her room, her hands on the back of her head. Every once in a while her head would turn in Hermione's direction, for the older girl kept on stirring in her sleep, as though constantly disturbed by unsettling dreams. Ginny was sure she had heard a muffled sob from her earlier, too.
It was a wonder that Ginny did not—could not—cry. But then again, neither was she able to sleep that night. And though her systems ached for it, she was afraid that the moment she closed her eyes, she would dream of Tom Riddle again, and this time Tom would not be Tom anymore but Voldemort, Voldemort who would be pointing his wand at Harry, laughing coldly.
And Harry would be helpless. He had been helpless from the very beginning, having been given a fate he probably could not get away from.
A heavy weight settled on Ginny's chest. For perhaps the hundredth time that night, she turned over, tightly hugging a pillow under her, recalling the events that took place during the day.
There had been efforts to make Christmas Eve cheerful at number twelve, Grimmauld Place. Many members of the Order had dropped by, bringing gifts and trying to be festive. Lupin had played old phonograph records, drowning the carols the angels on the Christmas tree sang. Some even danced; a drunken Mundungus Fletcher had twirled a reluctant Tonks around the drawing room.
But Ginny had sensed the solemn air about them as well. Her parents' smiles had been mechanized, cheerless. Neither of them had spoken much. When Ginny had chanced a glance on them, she saw tears peeping out of her mother's eyes even as she feigned cheerfulness for the sake of everyone else.
Ginny, Ron, Hermione, and Harry had been the most subdued among them. Like Mrs. Weasley, Harry had assumed a cheerful countenance himself; the lack of sparkle in his eyes betrayed him, however. Ginny doubted that only she herself had noticed.
Ginny finally gave up—she got up and out of her bed and put on her dressing gown and a pair of soft slippers. She quietly slipped out of her room and padded downstairs.
Ginny heard the soft, ethereal singing of "Silent Night" drifting towards her. Almost in a trance, she followed it to the drawing room, and nearly jumped in surprise when she saw a dark head behind the back of an armchair.
It's a dream, Ginny thought, her heart beating wildly. It's Tom behind that chair.
She must have gasped out loud; the head turned around.
"Ginny," Harry said, sounding surprised.
Weak-kneed with sudden relief, Ginny smiled shakily. "Er, hi," she mumbled. "I didn't know you were here."
Harry smiled back—was it with apology or relief? Or both?
"I can't sleep," Harry said.
Harry looked at her questioningly, but kept quiet.
Ginny hesitated, and then walked over to sit on the rug in front of the hearth.
The two of them sat in silence for a long while until she felt, rather than heard, Harry stand up from his armchair. She felt gooseflesh on her arms as she heard his slow, barefooted steps on the rug.
She turned to look at him. One hand was carefully laid on his side where he was hurt; he bit his lip in pain as he sat down less than a foot away from Ginny.
Ginny could not breathe. She had never been this close to Harry since their confrontation back in the Burrow. She could smell his clean pyjamas and hear his slow breathing.
"I shouldn't have told you about it this morning," he said in a low whisper.
Harry did not take his eyes off the firelight. "It's just that…I shouldn't have told you when it's Christmas the day after," he muttered.
Despite the seriousness of the moment, Ginny felt a weak smile tug at her lips. She would never really know Harry. Sometimes he would shout at his friends, self-centeredly telling them how unfair everybody had been to him. Sometimes—and they were times Ginny cherished the most in her heart—Harry would reach out and openly care, probably without realizing it.
Sometimes it was this infinite capacity to care that hurt so much.
"We'd have known sooner or later, anyway," Ginny replied quietly.
The song of the angels on the Christmas tree softened to a hum. A comfortable silence fell upon them; for Ginny, Harry's presence, so close beside her, was enough.
The last time Ginny had seen Harry sitting in front of a fireplace, in deep contemplation, was about a month ago in Hogwarts. They had argued, she remembered. She could not remember what they had argued about, but she was sure it had something to do with…this.
And she was also sure of what she could have told him then. She had heard it from
him, in a different circumstance.
They both needed the reassurance.
"It wasn't your fault," Ginny whispered.
"I know that," Harry said curtly.
"Then stop acting as if you're the guilty party," Ginny said patiently.
Harry chuckled in disbelief. "Do I act that way?"
"Oh, do you ever," Ginny said, rolling her eyes and smiling. "You act as if you can make everything better by making stupid sacrifices that don't have to do with any of this."
Harry sat in silence until he said, "I don't do that."
"Oh yes you do," Ginny said firmly. "It doesn't work that way, and you, of all people, should know that. Harry"—she sidled closer to him, suddenly unable to stop herself—"all that's happening to you, to me and my family…it's all V-Voldemort's doing. That makes both of us victims. That's why we have to stick together against him. You remember what Dumbledore told us a couple of years back? Together we stand, divided we fall—what was it?"
"'We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided'," Harry replied, smiling slightly. "Hermione made sure Ron and I didn't forget."
"Then maybe you should start thinking about what it means. It's just like Quidditch." Ginny grinned as she gazed at the fire. "Even if the Chaser is weak, if you all stick together, you'll still win the game."
Ginny saw Harry's cheeks flush. He looked away again. "I—I'm sorry."
"Harry, it wasn't your fault."
"No," he muttered. "I meant—about all those things I said yesterday."
"Oh." Ginny smiled slightly. "Well, I won't go about pretending that it didn't hurt."
Harry raised his eyebrows, glancing at her.
"I mean, it's kind of true, I'm still scared of him," Ginny rambled, not taking her eyes off the firelight. "I still…think about him."
"At least you've learned to say his name out loud."
"I'm surprised myself," Ginny admitted. "But it doesn't mean I'm less scared, does it?"
There was a moment of silence before Harry spoke, in a voice so faint that Ginny would not have been able to hear him, had she been sitting any farther.
"I'm still scared, too."
Ginny's heart constricted painfully in her chest. Harry had never admitted his weakness before, nor had he shown it. She looked up at Harry, and as she did, he turned to train his eyes on her face.
His eyes. They were wide and bright with tears that he was struggling not to shed. A few hours ago, he had looked at her for reassurance. Now, he was pleading for it. All his defenses were crumbling, exposing himself.
And it suddenly came to her that all his life, he was his own consoler; he had always taken matters into his own hands to assure himself that everything was going to be fine. As a child, he had no one. Had he grown up wishing for someone who would comfort him, tell him that things would work out fine for him?
Yes, of course.
She didn't know how it happened. The next thing she knew, he was in her arms; he was shaking violently as she held him, and him her, and she herself had stained his pyjamas with her own tears.
She heard him curse between gritted teeth. "I don't know what the hell I'm bawling about," he said, his voice filled with bitterness.
"Shh," Ginny said, and she couldn't help but smile a little herself. "It's all right. I understand."
She pressed her cheek on his hair and closed her eyes. For years afterward, she would not forget the way Harry felt in her arms—trembling, vulnerable, and not a little frightened. She would also recall that she had been just as frightened—perhaps even more—but there would be times when she would have to be the strong one. And in that moment when he would have to face the prophecy laid down for him, she would be the one right behind him, to catch him if he fell and help him stand on his feet again.
Just as he had done when she had fallen.