In Its Own Time
"Well, that certainly went off without a hitch, didn't it?" Hermione murmured, more to herself than to anyone in particular, as we wearily climbed the Borrow staircase. The sight of our destination, an old and slightly rickety door behind which lied a brief respite from a certain nasally and swooping part-veela, encouraged the two of us to speed up our pace considerably. We jumped a squeaky stair and I tossed a guilty look over my shoulder; so far no one had noticed our absence, and I was keen to keep it that way.
"Without a hitch?" I asked incredulously, kicking open my bedroom door, letting Hermione follow me into the room, and then slamming it shut, knowing that that racket couldn't be heard past the din in the garden. I ripped at the golden bow tied in my hair. "Wouldn't you call Bill saying 'I do' to Phlegm a hitch?"
Hermione looked as though she couldn't decide whether to laugh or not, and settled on rolling her eyes as she collapsed on my bed. Arnold, my very curious pygmy puff, poked his head out of the clean robes he had been snoozing in, and purred. I pat him on the head briefly before tugging my bridesmaid robes over my head. Hermione paused, and I knew without being able to see her that Hermione was biting her lip, trying to decide whether or not to say what she really meant.
"At—at least there was no Dark involvement," Hermione said tentatively.
I snorted. "Hopefully crashing weddings ranks a bit low on the To-Do list for Tom—Voldemort," I correctly quickly, glad that my robes blocked the creeping scarlet blush from Hermione's view.
Hermione ignored the slip, and pressed on. "Yes I know, but Harry's here—"
"Wouldn't mind helping me with this, would you?" I asked, not wanting to get onto the topic of Harry, or more specifically, of Voldemort trying to kill Harry. Hermione obligingly shut it, pulled the golden dress robes over my head, and pressed a more comfortable set of cream-colored robes into my hands.
"Here, slip into these quick. Your mum'll be wondering where we got t—"
"GINEVRA MOLLY WEASLEY AND HERMIONE JANE GRANGER! GET DOWN HERE NOW AND WISH BILL AND FLUER A HAPPY HONEYMOON!"
We both cracked a grin.
"She sounds furious," giggled Hermione as she crossed my room.
"I can't for the life of me think why," I said sarcastically as I straightened out my robes. We both knew that though my mother had softened toward Fleur ever since Bill's attack, she still would had preferred that their engagement had been a little longer. I took a deep breath, muttered "Here we go again," and threw open the door.
The sounds of a festive party grew progressively louder as we neared the garden. The loud pop of a champagne bottle opening, laughter, music, the swish of dress robes whirling in dance...
I hardly noticed when Hermione left to find Ron, so intent was I upon trying to enjoy myself and forget the dark cloud that was hanging over everyone's head; I would do the best I could to keep the Dark tide from oppressing me, no matter how much it had caused me to flounder in the past. I pushed the thought of the on-going war out of my head, and surrendered my senses to the night.
Summer nights like these were one of my favorite things about being home at the Burrow. The breeze was warm, perfumed with honeysuckle and the smell of dusk. The newly risen stars complemented the reception decorations (which included an ivy-covered arbor swarming with live fairies) nicely, and the ever-present fog in the air slightly blurred everything as if it were out of a dream.
Or a memory.
I suddenly shivered, feeling as though a dementor was nearby and for a wild second I looked about, heart beating madly, for the spectral haunt that could have been allured to the Burrow by everyone's high-running emotions. But no dementor was nearby; it was only my anxieties and fears playing tricks with me tonight. I sighed wearily, something I had been prone to doing lately, and found a familiar niche in the hedges in which to watch, sitting and unobserved with my arms encircling my knees, the ongoing reception.
I caught sight of Harry once or twice talking quietly to Ron and Hermione, but tried not to think about him too much. There hadn't been much physical contact between the two of us since we parted at Dumbledore's funeral—a knowing smile, an accidental brushing of hands, quick jabs at conversation. But in the world of memory...
He had said he couldn't be involved with me anymore, and as much as it pained me to hear it, and as much as I knew it painted him to say it, I knew he was right. Well... maybe I didn't exactly agree that it was his place to tell me what danger I should or should not put myself into (in fact the idea irked me greatly still), but I couldn't see him thinking anything else. The time for fighting was at hand... no matter how much I tried to hold it back it was still there, almost tangible in the air. This was a war, and not everyone would come home... some were already gone...
It wasn't long before I was reluctantly pulled away from my refuge: Bill and Fleur were about to leave and I had to see them off. Wiping tears with my sleeve and trying to compose myself, I forced my way through the heavy throng of people surrounding the newly wed couple until I met my brother. He was heavily scarred, and his wide grin seemed to twist his figures so much into someone unrecognizable that I shivered. Still, I let him wrap me into a bone-crushing hug and twirl me once.
"Love you Bill," I whispered into his ear. "Have fun but be safe."
"You sound just like our mother," he chided gently, holding me by my shoulders at an arms length away from his body so that he could get a good look at me. "But I love you anyway," he muttered thickly before wrapping me in another hug and releasing me just as quickly to make way for someone else.
I turned to Fleur just as Ron, Hermione, and Harry did. She grinned at us and immediately swooped down upon Harry with the cry of "Oh, 'Arry!"
As she gave him two kisses on each cheek, I caught his eye; Harry looked half alarmed and half amused, and I forced away my initial jealousy at Fleur's commonplace action (it was hard but I reminded myself that she had just gotten married) with a knowing roll of my eyes when I noticed the pained look that crossed his face as his eyes held mine. Then our contact was torn apart as Fleur rounded on a slightly eager Ron. Hermione tutted under her breath before being smothered in a hug, and then it was my turn. Thankfully, Fleur was forced away rather quickly so she could fawn over someone else, and I bid Bill another good-bye.
I turned my back on the reception then, and led the others back inside, careful not to catch Harry's eyes again for fear of bursting out laughing at Hermione's stony silence towards Ron in the wake of Phlegm. I couldn't suppress a small smile, though, when we brushed past each other on the stairs later that night. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't regain my breath easily or force away the butterflies it left behind.
Finally, all the guests had gone. It was half-past twelve, and I sat pensively at the kitchen table, dressed for bed and perplexedly swirling a mug of hot tea with a spoon. It was no joke to say that the charm of the evening had worn off; tomorrow there would be nothing to look forward to, and it was only a matter of days before Harry would leave, and then Ron and Hermione a few days later would follow.
I really had no interest in my drink at the moment for I was only lolling about, waiting for the trio of friends to head down to the kitchen after another of their talks, as they inevitably always did. I was hoping to play Harry at a match of chess and get into a conversation with him away from my family and Hermione, maybe even challenge him to a game of Quiddich the next day, to somehow convince him to hang around for a while longer. It's wasn't as though I didn't support his need to do something, I just couldn't bear it... as long as he stayed I had hope. It was selfish, yes, but then I had waited long enough.
My blood chilled, though, at Harry's answer to a question Ron had just asked him as he plodded down the stairs and entered the kitchen. He seemed determined not to look at me.
"Er, yeah. Yeah, I'm setting off tomorrow. Godric's Hollow first and then—"
"So that's it then?" I demanded of the three of them, surprising myself by butting quickly in and out of their conversation before stomping between them and marching up the stairs, my bathrobe whipping behind me.
I felt completely miserable and retreated tersely to my bedroom, grateful for once that Hermione was staying in Percy's old room and wouldn't create that inescapable awkwardness of trying to justify Harry's actions. I could picture her large brown eyes and hear the waver in her voice as she covered her mouth slightly with her hand: "Just go talk to him, Ginny!"
"I don't care about Harry's motives, I care about Harry," I muttered to myself, picking up and cuddling Arnold for comfort. I couldn't bottle up my emotions any longer, it was beginning to make me physically sick. Everything that I was feeling--my guilty jealousy that Harry could be so unselfish and I couldn't and my admiration of him for it, the pain caused by our breakup, my fears for the safety of loved ones, hurt from the war—everything I let escape me as tears in that moment. It was one of the lowest most desperate moments of my life, and I wanted to feel the choking thickness in my throat, the hot tears sliding down my cheeks, I needed the outlet. And then... gradually the purge ended. My ragged breathing slowed, the tightness in my throat and prickling of my eyes eased, and I was left feeling empty and exhausted.
Still hiccupping slightly but at least non-frantic, I extinguished all the candles in my room but one, slipped under my coverlet, and stared. Mostly I vacantly watched the flickering candlelight, but periodically my eyes strayed to the fog outside my window or, alerted by a creaking stair, to the crack between the floor and my door. I could then only see a dark smudge, the shadow of someone retiring to their own room; and then the creaking stairs would be still, the whispering voices passing by would sink below my threshold of hearing, the house settled down dark and silent... and I was undeniably alone. After a time the candle burned down to its wick and Arnold lay sleeping, curled into a ball at the nape of my neck and snoring softly, but I remained awake. I seemed to be waiting, but I didn't know what for.
And then there it was: the unnatural stillness beyond the doorway, the nervous hitch of breath, and the quiet tap on my door. I knew who it was, the only person it could possibly be, before they even knocked.
"Harry," I whispered as the door creaked open, torn between both anxiety and joy. He cleared his throat nervously and I scooped Arnold gently off of my neck, set him on my pillow, slipped out of bed, and padded to the doorway.
"Can I...?" he asked vaguely through the widening crack in the doorway, his voice low but still deep enough that it traveled easily to my ears.
"Harry, are you all right?" I asked, taking one of his hands in mine and urging him gently into the room. He tossed a quick look over his shoulder and then allowed me to pull him into the room and shut the door.
"I'm fine Ginny. I just... need to talk to you," he said, taking a seat at the end of my bed and rubbing the bridge of his nose with his free hand. Through the darkness of night he was only a silhouette, just a tall lanky man with hair sticking out in all directions and the fog-scattered moonlight glinting off of his glasses. But I didn't need light to see him anymore than I needed it to hear what he was going to say. I took a seat next to him without releasing his hand, and he didn't draw it away.
"Well, is this something you could have mentioned to me earlier, or something you reserved especially for, oh, two o'clock in the morning after everyone else has gone to bed?" I asked airily, forgetting my earlier anger and trying to be jovial despite the fact that my heart was hammering my ribcage into dust.
He smiled faintly, and flopped back abruptly so that he was lying on my bed with his legs sticking off of the end and bent at the knees. I didn't follow suit but turned toward him, and reached with my free hand to brush a stray lock of hair out of his eyes. This felt natural; what did it matter that the war was trying to pry us apart, that we were both targets of an insane and clever Dark Lord, that he was flopped out on my bed at two o'clock in the bloody morning? This was Harry.
But he was being oddly closed. He stared off at the ceiling, his atom's apple bobbing ever so slightly, and I guessed at what was coming: he was going to tell me why. I echoed his smile as Arnold scurried from my pillow wide-awake, snuffled Harry's hair and purred with pleasure. Though I was bubbling over with a thousand questions, I remained silent. And finally, with a quiet wet sound, he opened his mouth to speak.
"Ginny," he said quietly, his eyes still locked on something that only he could see. I felt a rush of warmth and anticipation. "You and I... we're not like most people."
"No," I said simply in agreement, biting the inside of my bottom lip and wondering where this was going.
"We're connected in a way that most people don't—can't—understand. And I'm not just talking about through, er, mutual affections—"
I snorted accidentally at his choice of words and cut him off before clapping a hand to my mouth. His lips quivered as he tried to keep a straight face, failed, and after a moment, regained control back over himself. "Sorry," I muttered through my fingers as I noticed the blush darkening the shadows on his face.
He waved away my concerns. "Well, you know what I mean. That, and—and through our pasts."
A chill spread through my body as it all clicked.
"I mean, we've fought together, saved each other's lives, we've been more intimate with each other than with anyone else about nearly every aspect of our lives, but we've also been—"
"Don't," I said quietly, squeezing my eyes shut and blocking out the memories. But he pressed on, trying to get to his point.
"--we've also both been possessed by Voldemort," he paused, giving me time to pass through the memory. To shut out that door and bolt it closed. He used his thumb to stroke my hand where our hands were still interlocked and, after a glance to make sure I was okay, decided to continue on. "And I know Ginny, that despite what Dumbledore thinks—thought—you have more right than anyone to know, and the strength to deal with it."
He paused, and after a second I nodded. He took a deep breath and said, "Do you remember the diary?"
My mouth opened in shock. "The diary? This all comes down to the bleeding diary? Of course I remember it—I can't very well forget it, can I, with the prat who wrote it prancing down the streets—"
He cut me off with a sharp squeeze of my hand and rolled on his side to face me. "Yes," he said earnestly. "Yes, it all comes down the that diary... and more."
"What do you mean?" I asked, nonplussed, and he pulled me down so that I was lying as he was, facing him, mere inches apart.
"I am about to tell you what only myself, Ron, and Hermione know, what Dumbledore and I believe is the key to killing Voldemort forever. But promise me Ginny, you can't tell a soul."
I locked eyes with him and it only took me a split second to answer. "I promise."
And he talked.
Sometime during the course of his explanation of the Prophesy, the Horcruxes, and an outline of what he hoped to accomplish that summer I buried my face into his neck and clung to him, content to keep him there so that I could hear his heartbeat and his voice echoing through his chest as he spoke. A trickle of my tears was falling to be mopped up by his shirt, he was stroking my hair and telling me to shush, that I was being silly and the he would be perfectly all right, and for some reason it was the happiest I had been in a while. I was back in Harry's arms, if only for a little while, but best of all, I understood.
After his story had drawn to a close, neither of us moved, we just lay there. It occurred to me that in what he was doing, comforting me, indulging in one last moment of peace, he was actually steeling himself up for what he'd have to face. And I knew only he would be the one to end this war, just as I knew that he couldn't be coddled around the truth: he had to go in alone.
But that didn't stop me from trying.
As I stirred and pulled away from him he caught my wrist. "Where are you going?" he asked quietly. I gave him a look and let a grin slide across my face.
"Funny; you said I wasn't coming with you, and for some reason I didn't believe you," I said wryly, looking around for my trunk so that I could begin to pack.
"No, Ginny," he said, sitting up. But I didn't listen. He gave my arm a slight tug. "No," he repeated, more firmly this time, and I knew he was being serious. I felt my resolve crumble and I let him guide me to sit in his lap.
"I can't just let you go it alone," I said, sniffing. "You'll need support. And... and I'd die if something were to happen to you and I could have prevented it."
"I won't be by myself," he said confidently, and I once again felt a surge of hope that was smashed in the next second. "Ron and Hermione will be with me."
I opened my mouth in protest, but he cut me off. "You're not coming with me, it's too dangerous—"
"We're all in mortal peril anyw-"
"Ginny," he said in a strangled whisper. "We can't take that chance. You've--" his breath caught in his throat. "You've got to take care of yourself. Who will I come home to if you're kidnapped out there, tortured and killed to lure me in?"
And now, tears were sliding down his face. I leaned forward and kissed the tears off his cheeks, off the frowning and trembling crook of his mouth. And then... it was like the first time we kissed in Gryffindor common room: suddenly, before either of us realized that we had moved to do so, his arms were wrapped around me and we were kissing deeply without any inhibitions at all, kissing with all abandon, forgetting that we weren't supposed to be involved anymore, or that any member of my family could barge in at any time. Forgetting everything but the person that we shouldn't have been thinking about at all.
I don't know how long it was that we surrendered ourselves to our emotions, or how long we held each other. All I know is that we didn't speak another word the rest of the night, content to just be. And when he left a few hours later, I didn't go down and wave him off with the others; instead, I watched him from my bedroom window. I knew he saw me there. And it was with a secretive, knowing smile on both our faces that he turned once, in the swirling fog, and disappeared.
We hadn't wasted our time with "good-byes". For with his final statement that night sealed a promise, a hope that would come in its time. And maybe that tomorrow wasn't so far out of reach.