When Ginny Weasley opened her eyes to nothing but stark white, she groaned. Hospital Wing. Again. She hated being in here, nearly as much as a certain emerald-eyed dishy young wizard did. She looked off to the side, and was startled by what she saw there. Drawn up to the side of her bed was an armchair, occupied by the one person she'd least expected to see in this part of the castle, at least without him being confined to a bed himself. Harry Potter. The subject of nearly every non-violent fantasy she could ever remember having. At least since September first, nineteen-ninety-two. The day she'd first seen him on Platform 9 ¾, at Kings Cross in London. The more violent ones of course, had generally involved either Draco Malfoy or her twin brothers.
Over the past few months, since Ron and Hermione had finally admitted their feelings for each other, she and Harry had spent a lot more time together. At first, she'd thought that she was more of a port of last resort, so to speak. With his best friends busy with 'prefect duties' a suspicious amount of the time, he'd been at loose ends. He had a few friends around the castle, but not many that weren't due to the DA, or something similar. It had started one night back in October, when she'd been having trouble with an essay for Hagrid, on Nifflers. The students in his year had studied them last year, while her year was covering crups. After the debacle with Umbridge, the little creatures weren't allowed on school grounds anymore, even though there were circumstances that weren't likely to be repeated in the foreseeable future. Strangely enough, the one concerning Nifflers was the only Educational Decree from last year was the only one that had stuck, the rest having been abolished within a week of the students boarding the Hogwarts Express last June.
Harry had helped her finish her essay in short order that night. The two of them had spent the rest of the evening sitting in front of the fire, talking. Before they'd gone up to their dorms that night, he'd told her that any time she needed help on something, to just ask and he'd give her a hand if he could. Since then, they'd become fast friends, going to the other houses quidditch matches together, pranking Ron every now and again, as well as the Slytherins, visiting Hogsmeade. There had been more homework help as well, but not as much as the other activities. In short order, both of them had cause to wonder, with everything they had in common, how it had come about that it had taken so long for them to become friends.
Ginny knew that the emerald-eyed wizard stilled trained with his friends on a regular basis, and in fact knew that, no matter how close she had gotten with him recently, there were some things that were still closed off to her. She'd resented this at first, until Hermione had pointed out that a very small portion of the population of the school were even aware that he was doing anything that wasn't really on the standard curriculum. None of the Trio would tell her what they were studying, but she was nowhere near as dense as some of their classmates seemed to be. At a guess, she was fairly sure they'd been studying advanced dueling techniques, along with quite a lot of practical work thrown in from the way Ron moved some mornings. Related to that, she suspected that Hermione was studying some fairly advanced healing spells, as Ron always seemed to be doing much better after the first period of the day. The two of them, along with Harry, had that time as a 'free' period, though none of the other students were ever able to find them during this time. As Ginny was fairly sure that Ron and Mione wouldn't bring Harry along for snog sessions (would they? no...that was just...urgh...no way could she see that happening), that had to be when they were studying individually. She felt a bit sorry for Ron and Harry, being used for practice dummies for healing charms. At least that was better than being used for hexing practice.
The only other aspect of their special training that she was fairly sure of was animagus transformation. That was due to something a couple of weeks ago. She'd gone up to the sixth year boys dorm to prank Ron. Apparently, he'd been the one to jinx poor Colin Creevey, because he'd asked her to the upcoming Yule Ball. It hadn't mattered a whit to her 'loving' brother that she'd turned Colin down, just that he'd asked. Ron had hit him with a very localized shrinking hex. As the poor boy wasn't particularly gifted in that area (according to Susan Bones at least), it wasn't something she was willing to let slide. The fiery young witch had just placed an itching jinx on the underwear drawer in her brother's wardrobe, and was feeling very satisfied with herself. She'd looked down as she passed by Harry's four-poster, to see his homework planner lying there. She'd looked around a moment to make sure that nobody was around, opened it, and sneaked a peek. The only notation that seemed unusual was from a week earlier. It said 'Final(?) session. Anim Trng'. This had been circled and underlined, as if it was something fairly important. She actually remembered the evening indicated fairly well. The Trio had been sitting in their usual corner of the common room, sipping butterbeers, very happy expressions on all three faces. It was memorable as one of the few times over the past few months that she'd seen a genuine smile on his face. Really, she could only think of one other thing that might inspire that kind of grin on Harry's face. As he didn't have a girlfriend, those kind of extra-curricular activities were ruled out.
Just last night, the two of them had gone to Hogsmeade to take care of the last bit of Christmas Shopping each needed to do, when the village was attacked by dementors.
There hadn't been very many, relatively speaking. Just twenty or so had glided down the high street, but that had been enough. Quite a few members of the DA had been there, along with aurors permanently stationed in the wizarding village.
Everybody had been casting the patronus charm for all they were worth, sending silvery shields and animal shapes all about, keeping the foul creatures at bay. Somehow, Ginny had gotten separated from Harry, and become surrounded by dementors. She'd done her best to keep them away, but her own patronus apparently wasn't up to the job. Just like on the Express at the beginning of her second year, she'd heard Tom Riddle's voice, telling her to give in, that Harry could never love a silly, plain, little, girl like her. She'd seen herself strangling the roosters, painting the messages on the wall, speaking the parseltongue commands to open the entrance to the Chamber. She felt the deadly cold as she lay on the stone floor, her life slowly draining from her, the equally cold knowledge that she'd die soon, and Harry with her. She also felt again, the humiliation she felt at knowing that the naivete of her eleven year old self had allowed it all to happen.
These impressions came in a single instant, that seemed to last an eternity.
Just that quick, despite how strong of a witch she was, it overwhelmed her, completely and utterly. Truthfully, she had no earthly idea how she'd escaped them, how she'd survived. The only thing she was sure of was that it had to be down to the raven-haired dishy young wizard currently sleeping in the chair next to her hospital bed.
Sleeping very cutely, come to that.
Bad Ginny! Down girl! You gave up on him, remember?
That doesn't mean I can't look, now does it?
She wasn't quite sure what to think at this point, so she contented herself with watching him through half-lidded eyes, just in case he awoke suddenly. Harry had acquired the nasty habit of going straight from a sound sleep to wide awake in a nonce. If he did that, she could just drop her lids the rest of the way closed, pretending to be asleep.
She was experienced at all types of Harry-watching, having done as much of it as she could over the past five years or so. She'd watched him studying in the common room, teaching in the DA, teasing Ron and Hermione, or mediating between them. She'd watched him flying, either in a game or just for the sheer joy of it, dueling Malferret in the corridors, and dueling at the Ministry. She'd seen how he grieved, how he brooded, as well as the way he reveled in the family he now had with the Weasleys, and how he bristled even more than she and Ron, when somebody put them down, how he rose to their defense.
By now, she knew almost every expression it was possible for his face to assume. She knew his scowls, frowns, the deliberate way he'd assume an air of nonchalance when faced with Snape's never-ending insults. She knew the smile he got when somebody said something that made him laugh, whether a chuckle or a full-out belly laugh. She remembered the lost look he'd had at the beginning of the past summer, after Sirius was lost. The look of rage he'd had when Bellatrix LeStrange had threatened her with the Cruciatus, the determined look on his face when he'd stepped in front of her to block it, and the relieved look on his face, when he'd rescued her from the Chamber. All of these were familiar expressions to her, and she could remember the first time she'd seen each of them.
What she now, though, was something she doubted that many had ever seen. As Harry sat slumped in his chair next to Ginny's hospital bed, he wore a look she never thought she'd ever see on that expressive, mobile, lovely, face.
When he looked like that, he actually looked his age of sixteen years old. Usually, awake, he looked much older than most adults. Even at his happiest, there was almost always a seriousness far beyond anything a teenager should even be aware of, much less show. With everything he'd been through already in those sixteen years, it was no surprise. The point had been made, many times upon many, that he'd done and faced things that most grown wizards never would, if they were lucky. He'd faced down Voldemort five times and lived, driven off an attack by over a hundred dementors at once, and slain a great bloody snake, all while attending to his lessons and playing quidditch. Youngest seeker in a century and all that.
Alright, so his grades weren't always the greatest, and he had probably the worst temper of any wizard on the side of the light who wasn't actually a Weasley. Let's not forget that he's also a bit thick when it comes to girls. A bit of a berk sometimes, really. She didn't really care about any of that, besides the fact that it provided for a bit of a challenge. All else being equal, she thought it'd be quite worth it. She saw in him quite a lot of the same qualities she knew her father possessed.
Though an easy-going man most of the time, anyone who thought Arthur Weasley was a pushover would get quite a surprise if they threatened his family. He also had quite a wicked sense of humor when you got him going. He was quite fascinated by muggle things and customs, but no one was better at finding ways of removing malicious spells from those items. He was also generous, sometimes to a fault. Not many people knew that he was actually in the top ten percent at the Ministry, when it came to both tenure and pay. The reason the Weasley family usually had to scrape by on less money than most was down to his generosity. Ginny had found out a few years ago that a large portion of what Arthur made went to various foundations and charities. This wasn't something that their children were supposed to know, especially with as sensitive Ron could be about the money issue. Arthur had even helped to start a couple of them. The Lycan House was the most recent. It was a farm outside of Bristol, where werewolves who couldn't afford the Wolfsbane potion, or who didn't have anywhere else to go, could spend the full moon. They wouldn't have to worry about possibly hurting someone or being alone, when the monthly curse they suffered from struck. The House also had researchers on staff, who had as their sole pursuit the search for a cure for Lycanthropy. The Healers and Potions Masters employed there were some of the few people anybody knew of who actually worked at eliminating the need for their own jobs.
Harry and Ginny had overheard Remus thanking Arthur for starting the foundation that ran the House one night last summer. When the two of them heard this, the young witch had seen the first tears on Harry's face she'd ever known him to have that weren't from losing someone close to him, or from rage. They'd actually been tears of happiness. In all the times she'd indulged in her pastime of Harry-Watching, that was something she'd not seen before. A few days later, there had been an article in the Daily Prophet about a huge donation made in the name of the Marauders to the Lycan House, enough to keep them going in perpetuity. When Remus had asked Harry about it a couple of weeks later, he'd shrugged, claimed not to know anything about it, and taken his Firebolt out to the paddock for a quick fly before dinner. Ginny, as well as she knew the young wizard, knew instantly that he was lying, but didn't say anything. If the former professor and Marauder had any further suspicions, he never mentioned them again, though he did give Harry some strange looks over the rest of the hols.
Ginny had spent nearly an hour watching him like this, lost in thought, when she saw him stir. Until this moment, she hadn't quite understood what Hermione had meant by something she'd said the last time Harry was in the infirmary. Apparently, it had to do with the way muggle computers worked. They were either off, in a zero state, or on, in a one state. She'd said that watching Harry wake up was like nobody else she'd ever known.
"Most of us take a few minutes to wake up, registering where we are, what's going on around us, what that awful taste in your mouth is, listening for the shower, thinking about what we have to do today, all the things that go through your mind when the alarm goes off in the morning. It takes a few minutes to process everything, all the thoughts, sensations, all the input if you will. Harry on the other hand, goes straight from asleep to awake and aware in a fraction of a second. It's probably something to do with his Defense skills. Probably, it has something to do with being determined to never be caught off his guard ever again." She'd shaken her head, shuddering a bit. "I have to admit, the first time I saw him do it, it was eerie, like watching an android. But once he was awake, he just looked at me and asked if Madame Pomfrey had said anything about when he could go back to the dorm."
At this moment, she knew exactly what her friend had been talking about. As she watched from half-closed eyes, he went from asleep to completely awake, taking only a split-second to take in his surroundings, assessing everything around him. What stunned the petite witch was the expression he wore as he looked at her. For just a fleeting moment, he had a look of such tenderness and love that it shocked her to her toes. It was a look she knew well, as it was the same one she she saw on her father's face when he looked at her mother, the same one she knew herself to wear, every time she thought of him. Unless he was being a prat, of course. Alright, even then. It wasn't fair, really.
It was there just long enough for her to register it, then his face was back to the mask he usually wore. Not the impassive, detached, face he showed to most of the world, as he knew better than to try that with her. A few well-placed bat-bogey hexes had broken him of that, at least around her. Rather, his face was now schooled into the expression of a concerned friend, as it normally was. He was also worried about her, as was made obvious by the fact that he'd apparently stayed by her bedside all through the night.
"Gin? You awake?" This was asked in a quiet tone, as he evidently didn't want to wake her, just check that she was alright. He'd learned a painful lesson the previous summer, regarding how much of a morning person she was not. After the morning he'd felt her heel connect quite effectively with his...soft tissue, he'd remembered to wake her quietly, gently, and from well out of range.
Ginny moaned a bit and stretched. As her eyes were still closed during this, she missed the sight of his eyes nearly popping from his head in appreciation. He barely had time to get his reaction back under control by the time she finished. The inner dialog that went on in his head would have been quite illuminating, had she known of it.
"Godric's gonads! When did she grow those?"
"Cute, aren't they?"
"Hehehe...So...When ya gonna grow a pair and kiss her?"
He nearly missed her reply to the question he'd almost forgotten asking.
"As awake as I'm going to be, without a cup of tea." The answer was delivered with her infamous puppy-dog eyes, making it a virtual certainty that her tea would soon be forthcoming. Very few people, male or female, could resist her anything when she did that. Harry was of the opinion that turning such an expression on anybody was patently unfair, and should be stopped. Until he figured out a way to do that, it was easier to just give in to her. He rolled his expressive green eyes at her and grinned.
"Actually, Dobby covered it for me already. He knew 'the littlest wheezy' would want tea, so he brought that and some biscuits up a little while ago. They've been under warming and freshness charms since, just waiting for you."
He passed her a cup and some lemon biscuits, the tea fixed just the way she liked it. Thanking him, she sipped for a few minutes, sharing a comfortable silence.
Finally, she broke the quiet. She had to know.
"How bad was it? Was anybody kissed?"
He shook his head. "No, thank Merlin. We were able to drive them off, before they could. A couple close calls, though." He shuddered. "You came the closest, actually. I have to admit, you scared me almost to death."
He laid a hand over her smaller one. For just a split second, she saw a flash of the tenderness that had been there earlier.
"Truthfully, I don't know what I'd have done, if we'd lost you."
She didn't know how to react to this at first. All she could do was turn her hand over to squeeze his. Then, she looked at him, raising an eyebrow with a small smile.
"Do you really think I'm that easy to get shut of, Mr Potter?"
He chuckled, giving her hand one more squeeze before letting go.
"Don't reckon so. Good thing we don't have any plans in that direction, yeah?"
"You'd better not, you prat. Like it or not, the three of you are stuck with me."
"Glad to hear it. Someone's got to keep me in line, right?"
"Too right. We can't let that fan club of yours go to your head, now."
"A fan club which you helped start, if memory serves."
She crossed her arms and glared at him. "I was bloody eleven!"
Harry laughed at the petulant look on her face and chuckled. "Fine, you were eleven. I still owe you. For that." His expression softened, going back to being concerned. "So how are you feeling? You were pretty well out of it all night."
"Not bad, I guess. A bit like I was dragged from the station by a thestral without a coach, but I'll live."
He seemed to be hesitant to speak for a moment, then decided to take the plunge. "Erm, don't take this the wrong way, but would you like some help with practicing your patronus charm? It looked like you were having, well, problems with it?"
Ginny's face lit up in a wide smile. When she smiled like that, there was nothing Harry wouldn't do for her.
"Oh, Harry, I'd love that! I've had problems with it, but I know how much you have going right now. Are you sure you have the time?"
He thought about it a moment, then answered. "We could work on it after the DA meeting tomorrow, and see where you need to go from there. What do you think?"
"That sounds brilliant! I want to work on it, but I don't want to disturb anyone else." She looked pensive for a moment. "How can we be sure that it will work with dementors around?"
"Actually, I have a way around that. It's a little tiring, but works out pretty well."
At her quizzical look, he shook his head.
"I'll show you tomorrow night. It'll take a bit of preparation." With this, the subject was apparently closed for now. "Why don't I leave for a bit, so you can take a quick shower? Mione brought you a bag, with some clean clothes, along with some of your toiletries." He looked at his watch. "I should be back here in about a hour or so, so we'll go down to the kitchens for a bite, then up to the tower, okay?"
She nodded, then as he turned to go, said, "Harry?"
He turned back. "Yeah Gin?"
In a quiet voice she said, "Thanks. Thank you for saving my life again." Giving him a small smile, she said, "That's two life-debts I owe you now, isn't it?"
He shrugged as he came back to her side. "I guess so. Those kind of things don't really mean as much to me as they do to most people." He ran a hand down the side of her face. "As I said, I just don't know what I'd have done if we'd lost you." He gave her the lop-sided grin that always seemed to turn her into mush. "I mean, who else is going to call me a prat when I need it, or have the guts to kick my arse once in a while?" He kissed her lightly on the forehead and stepped back.
"I'll just nip down to the library for a few minutes, as I need to look up something for the meeting tomorrow. I'll be back in a bit."
With that, Harry walked out of the hospital wing, leaving an extremely confused young witch in his wake.
"He kissed me!"
"Not on the lips"
"Shut it, you!"
"Yeah, yeah. I'll get him there."
"Suuuuurre you will. You gave up on him, didn't you?"
"Hush. That was provisional."
"Oooh, big word, there. Very impressive. Provisional on what?"
"On him noticing me, and, well, others things..."
"What other things, hmmm?"
As the war of the voices was raging inside Ginny's head, a very similar one was being waged in the corridor outside.
"I don't believe I kissed her!"
"Just one problem, Romeo."
"You missed her lips, you idiot! Besides, what happened to finally telling her how you felt?"
"Chickened out again, eh you git?"
"I'll tell her. I will."
"That's what I thought. Berk!"
Shortly after returning to Privet Drive the previous summer, Harry had fallen into a very vicious cycle of self-blame over what had happened at the Ministry. Losing his godfather and seeing his friends hurt had made for the worst start to summer holidays he'd had yet. The fact that he'd relived everything, night after night, combined with the small matter of a certain prophecy, didn't help matters in the least. The only saving grace had been the letters he'd received from Ginny. They'd been a surprise at first, as she'd never written him before. She'd sent them along with Ron's, and later Hermione's, letters. They'd set a different tone from the ones sent by his other two friends, right from the first.
Whereas Ron had obviously made an attempt to stick to innocuous topics, like quidditch, the weather, and the like, and Hermione's were blatant attempts to get him to talk about it all, Ginny's were markedly different. She'd given him news of what the Twins were up to, excerpts of Luna's search for strange and impossible creatures, and progress reports of Ron's attempts to talk himself into confessing his feelings for Hermione. Her letters, in fact, were the only ones that actually made him laugh, that started to draw him out of the self-destructive cycle he had trapped himself in. Interspersed with everything else she wrote, were reminders to him that he could not claim all of the blame for everything that had happened a few weeks previously. She'd begged, bullied, threatened, and cajoled, until he'd finally started to see that, while he might share a part of the blame for the debacle that night had become, it wasn't all his.
Dumbledore could claim a bit of it, for not telling him everything he'd needed to know, not ensuring that Harry was prepared and informed.
Snape could sure as hell have a cupful, for stopping the Occlumency lessons, as well as holding that bloody grudge for sixteen years after James Potter was dead and buried.
Even Sirius could claim a part of it, for not taking that last duel with his skank cousin as seriously as he should have.
Last but not least, was the Dark Tosser himself, as well as his band of moronic sycophants. Truthfully, the largest part of the blame would have to be apportioned to them.
Ginny's letters from the first half of the summer had done so much to bring Harry back from the brink of the abyss he'd been teetering over. The young wizard just didn't have the words to tell her how much she'd done for him, what she meant to him, what he owed her. When he'd arrived at the Burrow the day before his birthday, he'd wanted so much to tell her, but words had failed him. The most he'd managed to muster was a weak thanks, the morning after his birthday party. She'd nodded her welcome and flashed him a brilliant smile, before pulling him into a hug and giving him a kiss on the cheek, before disappearing up the stairs to her room. He'd stood there a moment, a stunned bunny look on his face, before his hand went to where her lips had touched him. A moment later, he'd shaken off the daze, looking quickly around to make sure no one had seen. As far as he could tell, no one had.
Unbeknownst to him, that wasn't quite accurate.