Bill and Fleur's wedding lasted far into the night. It had been a beautiful ceremony and an even more beautiful reception. Even Hermione had to admit that, and she wasn't in the practice of admitting that anything having to do with Fleur Delacour was beautiful. Actually, she supposed she must be called Fleur Weasley now, which was nearly laughable, as the names just didn't even remotely flow well together. But still, they both seemed happy, and Hermione supposed that was all that mattered. It was important, she reasoned, for everyone to be as happy as they could possibly be these days. It was also important to celebrate the happy events to the fullest extent, as there wasn't much cause for celebration these days.
She'd returned to the Burrow after they wedding reception, along with her best friends, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley; Ron's sister, Ginny; and his parents. Everyone else had disappeared to their own individual homes, leaving the rather small party to return to the Burrow alone. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had gone straight to bed when they'd arrived, both of them looking completely drained, both physically and mentally, after having married the first of their seven children off. The four teenagers stayed awake, though, and convened in the sitting room.
Ginny's long red hair had been tied into several elegant knots for the wedding, and Hermione was currently trying to work them out for her. She was using her wand, but the effort seemed almost fruitless, as she rarely accomplished more than making the knots worse. In the end, she gave up the use of her wand and went to work trying to remove them without magic.
"This is the most uncomfortable dress ever," Ginny sighed as she wriggled around a little at Hermione's feet. "I feel like I can't breathe."
The dress Fleur had chosen for her bridesmaids was made of gold satiny material and twisted round and round the body to form a flowing train. It was actually quite beautiful, but Hermione could see how it might be a bit uncomfortable. She actually wasn't that big of a fan of the gold, but she supposed it worked well on Ginny, whose hair had caused pink to be "zeemply out of ze question."
"Well, then go take it off," Hermione said, laying down comb she was currently holding. "This is going to take a long time."
Ginny disappeared upstairs, seeming most grateful to have the opportunity to rid herself of the garment. Hermione turned to the boys and saw that they had their heads bent close to each other and were whispering in quiet voices.
"What are you talking about?" she asked, not caring one bit if she came off as nosy. They shouldn't be whispering anyway; it was rude.
Harry and Ron both looked up at her and gave her odd glances as though they'd forgotten she was there.
"We're trying to work out how I'm supposed to tell Mum and Dad that I'm not going back to Hogwarts," Ron said finally. The school had sent them letters just the day before announcing the start of term for September 1st as always. Apparently the governors had decided that it was more profitable for the school to stay open and accept any students who wished to attend rather than shying away and abandoning the education of a great majority of Europe's young magical students. Hermione, Ron, and Harry were not going back, however; they were going to attempt something far more dangerous. They were going to track down Voldemort and destroy him. Or Harry was anyway; Ron and Hermione were just going to help and support in any way that they could. It was ultimately up to Harry to finish Voldemort off, though, and they all knew it.
"You haven't told them?" she asked, shocked. "I thought you told them ages ago."
"We haven't even been back but for a month, Hermione," Ron said, exasperated. "That's hardly ages."
"Well, I thought you'd told them a month ago then," she shot back sharply.
"I was waiting," he said with a shrug. "You know, in case they closed Hogwarts. Then I wouldn't have to tell them at all."
"They can't stop you, Ron," she said pointedly. "You're an adult."
"So were Fred and George, but that didn't stop Mum trying to murder them when they ditched their final year."
"That was to open a joke shop. This is for something important."
Ron and Harry both looked at her as though she should know that a joke shop was important, but neither of them said anything. Harry looked toward the fire, and Ron sighed.
"I just know what my mum'll say. She'll try to stop me. She'll try to stop all of us. She'll try to forbid it."
"Well, let her try," Hermione said, shrugging. "Harry'll be seventeen in two days. What is she really going to do?"
"She'll be terrified." Harry spoke up for the first time. "I don't know what to tell her."
"We'll just tell her the truth," Hermione said simply.
"We can't tell her the truth," Harry cut in. "To tell her the truth, we'd have to tell her about the horcruxes, and I swore to Dumbledore that I wouldn't tell anyone but you two."
Hermione hadn't thought of that. When she'd told her own parents that she wasn't returning to school, they'd put up their own fair parental fight. "You're only seventeen years old. You most certainly are finishing school!" She had been quick to inform them that in the wizarding world, she was an adult and fully qualified to do whatever magic necessary. She told them that she had responsibilities and that she had to take care of them. She'd also told them point-blank that they could not stop her. And she had won. Telling the Weasleys, though, was going to be a bit more difficult. They would demand to know what was going on and where they were going and what they were doing. It was a lot easier to sidestep her own parents' questions with vague answers than it would be to get anything over on Ron's.
"Then we'll lie."
Ron and Harry stared at her for the second time. It wasn't a usual occurrence, she knew, for them to hear her suggest lying. Truthfully, she hated lying, and she tried to avoid it whenever possible. When she was a child, she had always done everything in her power to avoid telling a lie, absolutely refusing to even if she knew the truth would get in her into trouble. But after spending the last six years in the company of Ron Weasley and Harry Potter, lying was starting to come second nature to her. There had been countless times when she'd been forced into lying in order to save them from something or other. It wasn't that big of a deal to her anymore.
"You want to lie to my parents?"
"We don't have any choice." She tucked a lose strand of hair behind her ears. "Actually we don't have to lie to them yet. We'll just tell them that we're going to Godric's Hollow. You know, because Harry wants to see where his parents are buried." She glanced quickly at Harry to see if she had caused a reaction in him, but he seemed unfazed. "And then after that, well... we'll think of something," she finished lamely.
"Sounds like a brilliant plan." Ron closed his eyes, obviously quite unenthused.
"Well, we don't really have any other options." She refused to pick a fight with him, even if he was being absolutely annoying. She wasn't going to fight with him anymore over stupid stuff. She was done with all of that.
"Don't have any option other than what?" Ginny waltzed back into the room in her pajamas. She looked infinitely more comfortable than she had in her bridesmaid's dress, though her hair was still done up tightly in all its little knots.
Hermione glanced over at the boys again, unsure of how to answer that, since technically they weren't supposed to let Ginny in on the secret of the horcruxes, either. She was surprised when Ron answered bluntly.
"About how to tell Mum and Dad I'm not going back to Hogwarts."
Ginny stared at him. "You're not going back?" When he shook his head, she then turned her gaze to Hermione and finally to Harry, who quickly avoided her eyes and looked back into the fire. "What do you mean you're not going back? You have to go back."
"I'm going with Harry."
Ginny stared at her brother, obviously unable to comprehend what he'd just said. She shook her head quickly. "No. You have to go back. You all have to go back." She looked once again at Harry, but he still didn't meet her eyes.
"Ginny, look," Hermione said slowly but firmly, "there's things we have to do."
"They can wait," she said insistently. She was still staring at Harry. "When you said, you had to do things... I thought you meant when school was over. You can't go now."
"They can't wait," Ron interrupted. "You know that there are things much more important than school right now."
Ginny looked defeated. She knew he was telling the truth, but it was clear that she didn't want to give up that easily. Instead, she pulled herself up to her full height and firmly said, "Then I'm not going back, either."
"You have to," Ron said, apparently not giving much weight to her insistence. "Mum and Dad'll make you."
"They can't make me," she said, still firmly. "Where are you going? I'm going, too."
"No, you're not!" Harry and Ron spoke at the same time. They were the first words Harry had said since Ginny reentered the room. He was staring at her, and she fixed a hard sort of glare on him for several seconds before turning it to Ron and speaking to them both.
"You can't stop me."
"Yes, we can," Ron said flatly. "You're not going."
"How do you plan on stopping me?" she asked smartly.
"We won't tell you where we're going or when we're leaving." It was Harry who said it, and the room silenced for several moments. Ginny looked taken aback, almost hurt. She and Harry were sharing a very intense look, and Hermione was afraid Ginny might burst into tears. She didn't, though. Instead, she took a deep breath and turned her back on them, walking out of the room silently.
Hermione watched her go and then snapped her head around towards her friends. "Why do you have to be like that to her!" she demanded sharply.
"She's not going," Ron said, looking as though he couldn't have cared less that his sister had just been on the verge of tears.
"And why not?" Hermione stared at him, and then she did the same to Harry.
Ron answered her. "She's too young."
"Are you kidding me!" Hermione actually laughed and shook her head. "You just don't want her to go because she's a girl."
"That's not true. I'm letting you go, aren't I?"
"Letting me?" Hermione asked incredulously. She couldn't believe her ears, and she turned her eyes to Harry to see if he found Ron's claim as appalling as she had. To her surprise, though, he was looking at her much the same way Ron was. As though he, too, were letting her accompany them. "You two are so full of..." she cut herself off before she allowed herself to finish the sentence. She wasn't going to resort to obscenities. "You know what?" she asked instead. "Don't do me any favors. Thank you both oh so very much for allowing me the opportunity to go with you, but I'm sure I don't want to trouble either of you men anymore than necessary. So, please, be my guest and go on without me. I don't want to intrude where I'm not wanted."
And with that, she, too, got up and marched wordlessly from the room.
She was fuming as she climbed the stairs to Ginny's room. She was so angry, and not only that, but she wanted to cry as well. She hated when she felt like this. It made her feel weak and not in control, and she hated both of them for making her feel this way. Who the hell did they think they were anyway? Letting her go...
When she got upstairs, she found Ginny at her vanity, tugging frantically at her hair, trying everything to get it out of the knots. She still looked close to tears, but Hermione wasn't sure whether this had more to do with the fact that the boys were treating her that way or whether it was mostly due to the fact that she was practically yanking her hair out.
"Do not defend them, Hermione," Ginny snapped fiercely. "They're both prats."
"I wasn't going to defend them. They are prats."
Ginny stared at her, opened her mouth, and then shut it. "Oh." After a second, she said, "What happened?"
Hermione shrugged, her lips set in a thin line. She was angry, and even more than that, she was hurt. But she didn't want to let it show. "Oh, you know, the usual. I told them that the only reason they didn't want you to go was because you were a girl, and of course they denied that and informed me that they were letting me go, weren't they?"
"They were letting you go?" Ginny asked, her mouth dropping slightly.
"Yes, letting me. I should be ever so thankful."
"Oh, yes," Ginny said sarcastically. "Definitely."
"After all," Hermione went on casually, "it's not as if I've ever helped them in any way whatsoever."
"Nor have I," Ginny said, rolling her eyes. "Stupid prats."
"Come here and let me have another go at your hair." Hermione sat down on the extra bed and waited for Ginny to join her. She was still so angry she could barely concentrate. "They probably wouldn't have passed even first year if it weren't for me."
Breakfast the next morning was an irritable affair.
Hermione and Ginny sat together, talking amongst themselves and pointedly ignoring Ron and Harry. Mr. Weasley had left for work before any of them had awaken, but Mrs. Weasley noticed the tension and called it out almost immediately.
"Okay, what is the matter?"
She looked from the girls to the boys and back again. Hermione and Ginny said nothing, choosing instead to simply glare at their male counterparts. Ron thought that they were being extremely dramatic and said so.
"They're making a big deal out of nothing and are currently pouting over it." He took a bite of his toast and pretended not to see the Look of Death that Ginny shot him or the way that Hermione's eyes narrowed with such concentration that he was nearly positive she was trying to hex him without the use of a wand. He pretended not to see, but that didn't mean he wasn't scared all the same. He was quite sure that if someone could send a wandless hex on him that it would be Hermione.
"Actually," Ginny cut in, "we aren't pouting over anything. Ron and Harry, you see, have very important business to attend to, and we simply don't want to intrude. You know, stick our noses into the matters that are better left to the men."
"Yes, we certainly wouldn't want to do that," Hermione finished with a significantly Hermione-ish look of superiority.
"What business?" his mother asked suspiciously. Ron glanced at Harry and saw that he was suddenly quite interested in his eggs. He looked back to his mother and shook his head.
"Nothing. They're just being sensitive."
"Well, we are just silly little girls, you know?" Hermione sat up a little straighter. "We can't control our emotions."
"What is going on?" Ron instantly recognized his mother's end-of-rope voice. It held a sense of finality that he was sure Harry and Hermione couldn't quite understand. It was the "This is the last time I'm asking" voice, the voice that demanded attention and reaction.
However, though Harry and Hermione might not have understood it, Ginny certainly did.
"They say they're not going back to Hogwarts."
It was simple and straight to the point. Ginny always had a way with that. Ron wanted to kill her.
His mother didn't react straight away. She was silent for what seemed like an eternity, and then she finally took a deep breath before turning straight to Ron. "You most certainly are going back to Hogwarts." Picking up a bit of volume in her voice, she turned then to Harry. "And so are you." When she got to the girls, she was clearly struggling not to yell. "And so are the both of you. This is not up for discussion. I don't care how old any of you are or how much any of you think you know. You are going back to school, and that's final."
"But Mum, we're ad-"
"You are not adults!" she snapped, rounding on Ron. "You're simply children who have reached legal age. That has nothing to do with being an adult! You are going back to Hogwarts, all of you, and I don't want to hear another word about it. Anyone who does differently," she drew in another breath, "will no longer be welcome in this house. I'll throw every last one of you out on the streets!"
There was silence again, as she had just stormed from the room angrily, leaving the teenagers to stare at each other in shock. Ron had seen his mother serious about things before, but this was different. She'd never threatened to kick anyone out before. Well, she'd threatened the twins a couple of times, but no one had ever taken her even remotely seriously. But this was serious. She'd been speaking to all of them equally, showing absolute indifference to the fact that half of them were her children and half of them were not. She'd given them all the same orders and laid out all the same consequences for disobeying.
"Thanks a lot, Ginny," Ron hissed bitterly as he glared across the table at his only sister.
Ginny, though, looked just as shocked as he felt. "I figured she'd be a bit miffed... I didn't expect her to start threatening to chuck us out."
"Well, you can thank yourself for that one."
Ginny glared back. "Oh, come off it. I'm not the one who decided not to go back to school. That was you lot."
"Yeah, and it was none of your business." Once again, the whole table seemed surprised that Harry had actually spoken, much less been that frank. Ron's initial instinct was to tell Harry off for being rude to his sister, but he figured that after the past year, Ginny was as much Harry's business as she was his own. Maybe even more.
Ginny didn't say anything for a long moment, but she was very careful not to break eye contact with Harry for even a moment. She was looking at him with the strangest sort of look, as though she didn't know whether to hex him or burst into tears. After what seemed like an eternity, she took to glaring at him.
"I don't know who the hell you think you are, Harry," she said in a voice that was way too calm, "but you can just get off your high horse right now because I'm not dealing with this."
And with that, she was gone. Ron heard the stairs creak as she obviously sprinted into a run up them. Harry looked properly ashamed and once again took to studying his eggs. Hermione, though, clearly wasn't letting him off that easily.
"That was lovely, Harry." The sarcasm couldn't have been any clearer. "I hope you know she's upstairs probably crying her eyes out right now. Is that what you wanted?"
Harry said nothing.
"Was it even remotely necessary to be that awful to her?"
Again, there was no reply.
"That must make you feel like a big man, huh? Making a girl cry and being too much of a jerk to even acknowledge it?"
Ron was about to cut in and tell Hermione to lay off, but Harry finally looked up and spoke.
"I didn't want to make her cry."
"Well, seeing as how you've accomplished quite the opposite, perhaps you ought to work on your aim a bit."
"I didn't want to make her cry," he said again, a little more pointedly, "but I don't want her involved, either."
"And why not? What is the big deal? She's more than competent enough, and you know it."
Harry looked uncomfortable and squirmed a little in his chair before mumbling, "You don't understand."
But Hermione, it seemed, understood perfectly fine. "You're trying to be all noble, trying to protect her. I get it, Harry. You think she's in danger, and you don't want that. Yes, that's clear. But do you have to be such a prat about it?"
"I don't want her to get hurt." Harry was barely being audible. "If she knows too much, she'll get hurt."
"She could get hurt for any reason," Hermione said, clearly exasperated. "We all could. Don't you see that? You could wake up, and she could be dead tomorrow morning. Her knowing, her helping, it's not going to make the threat any worse or any better. Everyone we know is already in danger."
Ron didn't particularly like to think of the possibility that he could wake up in the morning and find his sister dead. Obviously Harry didn't, either, because he'd gone from looking properly shamed to looking dead angry in a flat second.
"Don't talk to me about threats, Hermione," he snapped. "Don't talk to me about people being in danger. How would you like it if you'd seen three people snuff it in three years? Trust me, I know all about the damn dangers."
A year ago, Hermione would have immediately backed down. She would have let Harry have his little rant, and she would probably have even apologized. But it seemed, though, that the time for all of that had passed. "Don't you dare act like you're the only one affected by all of that. Yes, Harry, we all know everything you've been through, and no one is making light of any of it. But don't you dare sit there and act like you're the only one who has been impacted."
"Okay, stop," Ron said quickly, finding himself in the rare position of referee between Harry and Hermione. They rarely fought at all, and on the few occasions that they had, Ron had almost immediately sided with Harry, almost out of instinct. Now, though, he couldn't find enough reason to side with either of them. They both looked at him when he spoke up, and he shook his head slowly. "Just stop, okay?"
Hermione had tears in her eyes. They'd sprung up out of nowhere, and Ron wondered momentarily if this was the first time Harry had ever caused her to cry. Harry was clearly still angry, glaring at Hermione like he wanted to say something really horrible. Ron figured that no good would come out of any of this and rightly reasoned that the only thing to do would be to break up the fight before it really got started.
"Hermione, let's go for a walk." He said it without thinking. He wanted to separate the two of them before they both said things they didn't really mean. He knew how easy it was to get sucked into that trap, especially where Hermione was concerned. She was clearly upset, and she obviously had a greater need at the moment than Harry did, as he had purposely averted his eyes back to the table. Ron figured this was the best solution. Get Hermione out of there and let Harry cool off for a bit. He just hoped Harry wouldn't think he was choosing sides.
Because he wasn't. At least he didn't think he was...
He expected Hermione to argue with him for at least a few seconds before agreeing to his walk, but to his surprise, she got up quickly and walked ahead of him. He glanced at Harry and raised his eyebrows slightly, hoping to convey some sort of secret message with him. Harry seemed to get it and shrugged uninterestedly as Ron hurried to catch up with Hermione, who was already out the door and in the backyard.
"I'm mad at you, too," she said flatly when he caught her a few seconds later. She didn't look at him, just kept walking and speaking pointedly. "You need to ease up on Ginny, and I haven't forgiven you for what you said to me last night, either."
There had been times when Ron had wished that Hermione would just tell him what she was really thinking, what she was really feeling. Guessing with her hadn't turned out to be an easy task for him, as he'd learned several times over in the past few years. However, now that she was adhering to his wishes and being very straightforward with him, he almost wished she'd keep him guessing.
"I'm sorry." It was quick and pointed. He figured that was the best option- counter straightforwardness with straightforwardness. It didn't even bother him to apologize, which was surprising all in itself. If anything, it made him feel actually mature.
Hermione's resolve seemed to soften slightly with his apology, but she didn't seem ready to completely give it up. Still without looking, she asked, "What are you sorry for?"
Ron hated that question. His mother used to use it on him all the time when he was younger and apologized simply to get himself out of trouble. "For even giving you the idea that I think you're not capable. Because that's not true. And that's not what I meant, either."
She turned her head. "You don't have the right to allow me to do anything. You know that, right?"
He nodded, thankful that she'd stopped walking so fast. "I know. And that's not what I meant. It just... came out wrong."
"You should be nicer to Ginny. She's not stupid."
"I know she's not. It's just... she's my little sister." He didn't know how to explain his way out of that one. He had basically flat-out forbid Ginny to go with them, despite the fact that he knew it wasn't even the slightest bit his place to do so.
"She's not little anymore." Hermione kept right on walking, heading straight for the woods at the end of the yard. Ron followed her.
"I know. But she's still too young."
"You treat her exactly the way Fred and George treat you, you know that?" She'd stopped and turned to face him expectantly. The accusation stopped Ron dead in his tracks. That thought had never crossed his mind, and frankly, he refused to believe it.
"I do not."
"Yes, you do. You treat her like she's a baby. Like she's not capable of doing anything. Like she's stupid or something."
Ron had never considered this. He hoped it wasn't true. "I... I don't mean to do that," he said quietly, glancing away from her deadlocked eye-contact. "It's just... she's my sister. You know?"
"And she's not a baby," Hermione reiterated, though this time her tone was much softer. "You really need to realize that. She's sixteen years old."
It was hard to believe that Ginny was sixteen. It was even harder for him to believe that he was seventeen. It suddenly hit him that were they to return to school in the fall, they'd be in their last year. Of course, he'd known this before, but he hadn't really allowed it to register. Everything was so different. Nothing was the same as it used to be, and he realized all of this fully for the first time.
Hermione snapped him out of his reverie with a question that puzzled him just slightly. "Why is Harry being so horrible to Ginny?"
Ron didn't know honestly. He really didn't even know the full reasoning behind their breakup, though he'd gathered enough to know that it wasn't on bad terms or anything like that. But from the way things were looking... it could very well turn that way.
"Harry's just..." Ron didn't really know what he wanted to say, "... he's just moody."
"That's no excuse. Ginny doesn't deserve that." She hesitated for a second before pulling herself to her full height. "And neither do I."
She started walking again, and he hurried to catch up. Before long, they were entering the woods that he'd spent a good portion of his childhood exploring and playing in. It had actually been awhile, though, since he'd ventured into them. They didn't hold as much excitement as they once had.
It was a little dark, and the thick of trees around them made it very difficult to navigate their way. Still, though, he knew this area like the back of his hand, and he was quite sure that he could find his way around in his sleep. Hermione was in the lead, and he followed her, positive that she had no idea where she was going.
"Ron, be honest with me."
Her words startled him slightly. He couldn't fathom what she was going to force him into truthfulness over, and honestly, he was a bit frightened by the possibilities. "Um, okay?"
She stopped between two large oak trees and sat down on upraised root. She squinted up at him in the odd light that was entering the woods between treetops. "Are you actually sorry for saying you were letting me go with you, or do you honestly think that way? Tell the truth."
"Hermione, are you crazy?" He rolled his eyes and dropped down to the ground in front of her. The root she was occupying was only large enough for one person, so he settled into the dirt. "You know I don't think that. And neither does Harry."
"Well, sometimes it seems like you do," she defended quickly, her voice heightening slightly. "Sometimes it seems like you think I can't take care of myself or something."
"Like every time somebody calls me a Mudblood. You act like you have to take care of it, like I'm not capable or something."
She puzzled him greatly. He wasn't quite sure he'd ever understand girls well enough to be able to have legitimate conversations with them. "That's not because I think you're not capable." He tugged at a cluster of stray weeds.
"Then what it is?"
He wanted very much to take a nap. Actually, he wanted very much to be doing anything other than having this conversation. "I just... I don't like people to pick on my friends." He figured it was the safest explanation. Just for measure, though, he added, "D'you know how many times I've had to threaten to hex the Slytherins for Neville?"
The look on Hermione's face told him that he somehow still hadn't managed to say the right thing. She frowned and sighed a little. "Well, on behalf of Neville and myself, thanks plenty," she muttered.
She looked at him and raised her eyebrows just slightly.
He didn't finish his statement right away. He took a second and looked down at the ground where her hand was busy plucking away at the same cluster of weeds he'd just discovered. Without thinking, he took that hand in his own. She didn't pull it away. "Things are different now," he finished softly, never lifting his eyes.
He heard another little sigh, and then she quietly agreed with him. "Yeah. They are."
Harry climbed the stairs slowly. He felt bad enough about being such a jerk to Ginny, but after a few minutes of private reflection, he'd also felt bad about snapping at Hermione. She was right. He wasn't the only one affected by those deaths, and he certainly wasn't the only one being affected now. He was going to apologize to her, but when he'd looked into the backyard, he hadn't seen either Ron or Hermione; he figured instead that he would wait until they came back to the house and speak to her then. However, there was nothing to stop him from talking to Ginny, and he figured he might as well get that over with. The last thing he needed was the fact that he'd made her cry grating on his conscience.
Ginny's room was on the third floor, and it seemed to take him forever to reach it. The door was closed, and he stopped to listen for a second, waiting to see if he could hear anything from the other side of the door. There was nothing, though, so he raised his fist to the wood and gently rapped.
"Who is it?" Her voice was muffled, and he hesitated.
The answer came swiftly. "Go away."
He'd figured as much, so without asking, he turned the knob on her door and opened it. She was lying on her bed, face-up, staring at the doorway. She sat up when he walked in. "I said go away," she said sharply. "Now get out."
"Ginny," he said her name and realized he didn't have much of a follow-up. Thinking quickly, he tried to cover. "Ginny, I need to talk to you."
"No, you don't. Whatever reason could you possibly have to talk to me? A simple, incapable, little girl?"
She was so much like her brother sometimes that it was scary. The blazing sarcasm and snide remarks must have been a Weasley trait, so he reasoned that at least she got it honestly.
"That's right, you know my name. Maybe you noticed it on the door," she swung a hand in the direction of said door, which was clearly emblazoned with the words Ginny's Room. "Maybe you also noticed that this is my room. And seeing as how you're not me and also seeing as how you're not here on my invitation, perhaps you'd better go."
"Don't waste my time, Harry," she said snidely, her eyes narrowing instantly.
"Will you please just listen to me?"
"No! I don't want to listen to you, and I don't want to look at you, and I don't even want to be in the same room with you. So kindly leave!"
He ignored her. "I didn't mean to come off as such a bastard. I just want you to understand that. I'm not trying to be mean."
"Oh, well, great job."
He sighed a little, frustrated. "Ginny, I'm sorry I was a prat. I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings. I didn't mean to."
"Again, great job."
"I just don't think you understand."
This was apparently quite the wrong thing to say. Ginny stared at him in what seemed to be total disbelief for several seconds before finally shaking her head in disgust. "You don't think I understand? I was pretty sure we'd come to quite a clear understanding over the past few months, you and I. I was under the impression that we had bonded just slightly, that you, oh, I don't know, trusted me or something. I guess I was wrong, though, wasn't I? Stupid of me really. I should have realized that there was a difference between trust and pure meaningless groping."
He couldn't believe she'd just said that. Surely she wasn't being serious. She couldn't possibly think that.
"You're not serious?"
She stared at him, almost like she was pitying him. "Well, what would you think?"
"Ginny, that was anything but meaningless." He knew that he sounded a bit too defensive, but he couldn't help it. She was being absolutely unreasonable. "And you know it."
"I don't know anything apparently," she countered straight away.
"I wasn't using you."
Ginny rolled her eyes just a little and looked at him again. "Yeah, well, I will admit that it was a little confusing. After all, you could use any girl in the entire school, and you chose me. That was a bit confusing, yeah. But I reckon I was the most convenient, huh? What with Hermione being distracted and all."
He didn't know whether to cringe, laugh, or defend himself at that accusation. In the end, he chose to ignore it. It wasn't like he'd never gotten that before, and besides that, Ginny knew for a fact that there wasn't even an ounce of truth to it.
"I'm not even going to respond to that."
"Then get the hell out of my room!" She shrieked that bit just a little, and both she and Harry glanced towards the hallway to make sure no one, namely her mother, heard this and was going to come running up the stairs to bless them both out. When he was satisfied that she wasn't, he turned back to Ginny and ignored the fact that she'd just ordered him from her room.
"Look. I can't stand this. I can't stand being here. It's driving me mad."
"Well, sorry about that," she replied scathingly. "I know it's not much, certainly not up to par for anything worthy of the Chosen One, but it's all we've got, so we make do. It's enough for us common folk."
He actually had to close his eyes to keep his head on straight at this. She was absolutely maddening in more ways than one. "Could you not be sarcastic for even a minute? Please?"
He opened his eyes to see her with her arms crossed tightly over her chest, but she said nothing. Merely continued to glare.
"Ginny," he went on, not really caring that he was making an absolute prat of himself, "do you have any idea how hard it is to be around you?"
Obviously he'd said the wrong thing because the minute she'd wordlessly agreed to be sarcasm free was over within seconds. "Sorry I'm such a difficult person to be around. I'll work on that, okay? I'm sure I could probably find a book or something on how proper young ladies are supposed to act."
"Ginny!" he half-yelled/half-hissed. She jumped slightly, and he took advantage of the momentary shock he'd given her and spoke very quickly. "Every single day, all I do is... I just think about you, okay? And I can't stop it, and it's driving me crazy. And every time I see you, I don't know whether to ignore you or try to pretend like nothing's going on. Then if I do try to pretend to like there's nothing there, I end up turning into a complete arse. Obviously you know that. But Ginny, I'm sorry. Okay? I am, and I want you to know that. And if you want to hate me and never speak to me again, well, then that's probably the best help my sanity could get right now."
He said all of this in one breath, and when he was finished he looked away fast, not willing to see her face when she processed everything he'd just said. Several moments of silence went by, and Harry was just about to give up and do what she'd wanted since he first came upstairs and leave. Just as he turned to leave, though, she stopped him.
"Oh, you are so indefinitely annoying."
He turned his head and saw that she was standing with one foot on the floor and her knee still on the bed. She was looking at him with an almost amused sort of expression. He honestly thought she was the most beautiful girl he would ever see, and, not for the first time, he wondered why he'd had to take so long to realize this.
"You don't have to be so mean to me, you know that?"
He really did feel horrible for acting the way he had. His mouth felt all dry, so he just nodded and mumbled a quiet, "I'm sorry."
"Harry," she was quieter now, "come here." He did as she said and took the few steps to where she was standing, still with one foot on the floor and one knee on her bed. Without speaking, she reached up with one hand and brushed a bit of hair from his forehead, and then, still silently, she kissed him.
Several weeks had passed since the last time they'd kissed, and he wondered if it possibly felt even better now than it had then. He'd been running on memories for so long that it was hard to tell. All he knew was that he'd been right in remembering that there was nothing else like this in the world. He would have given anything if they could have just stayed in that moment forever, but he knew it wasn't possible. And so he forced himself to break the kiss.
"Sorry," she mumbled, studying the floor intently.
Harry sat down on her bed. His head was spinning, and he wasn't sure that he would be able to stand a second longer without literally falling over. He was just so tired. After a few seconds, Ginny sat down, too, and they sat side by side for awhile until she spoke again.
"Are you really not coming back to school?"
He shrugged, still not trusting himself to look at her fully. He could see that she, too, was watching the air in front of them rather than addressing him with her eyes as well as her words. "I don't know what to do."
"Can't you wait just one more year to save the world?"
He smiled a little and looked at her from the corner of his eye. She was doing the same, and she flashed a small grin. He finally looked at her properly. "I don't think that's really an option."
The smiles faded again, and the air around them turned serious. "So that's a no, you're not coming back?"
"It has to end." He didn't need to expand on that because he knew she understood. He watched her acceptance of this.
"I want to help."
"Ginny, no. I don't... I don't want you to."
She frowned, almost glowered at him. "I'm not stupid," she said firmly.
"I know you're not!" He didn't know how to make her see that it wasn't about that. "But I don't want you to get hurt. And you will. I know you will."
"Right, because I'm not capable of taking care of myself."
"That's not it. I just... You'll get hurt." He swallowed the knot in his throat. "And I can't take that chance."
"But you're perfectly fine with Ron and Hermione going with you, huh?"
She gave a little sniff. "Why? I guess because they're, oh, so much older than me, right?"
"That's not it." He didn't even really know how to explain it. "It's different. I mean..." he bit down hard on his lower lip for a second. "It started with the three of us, and I just know that's how it has to end. With the three of us."
Ginny looked like she wanted to cry, but she didn't. She didn't argue this, either, and it seemed like she accepted it as a plausible enough explanation. Her eyes softened, and she looked at him sadly.
"That is," he went on, not allowing himself to get distracted by the brand new knot that had launched itself into his throat, "if Hermione's still speaking to me."
"I'm sure you don't have to worry about that," Ginny replied lazily. "If she's gone six years and still speaks to my brother, I'm pretty sure you have nothing to worry about."
Harry wasn't quite as confident in Hermione's forgiveness skills, as he knew all too well that regardless of the fact that she was still speaking to Ron, she'd spent just as much time during those six years not speaking to him. He didn't say any of this, though, just nodded a little and looked back to the floor.
And he wondered if things were ever going to get any easier.
A/N: So, that was long. I'm sort of new to this thing, so please let me know if it was too long or if it totally sucked or whatever. Criticism. I can take it. Please let me know what you thought, and thanks for reading. More soon!