(A/N): A missing moment from HBP, for anyone else who thinks a year at Hogwarts isn't complete without a trip to Platform Nine and Three Quarters.
Disclaimer: JKR owns the characters, the whole magic thing, the Hogwarts Express, the situations, Platform Nine and Three Quarters, and my soul. I own the spaces inbetween.
It's only been two hours, she thinks, since the funeral.
It feels like forever. It feels like the end of the world. But it's only the beginning. The beginning of the end of the world. She laughs to herself, indulging in a moment of self-pity that she hasn't allowed herself to feel for the last hundred and sixteen minutes.
Not that she's been keeping count.
Even as the castle of Hogwarts grows smaller and smaller in the distance, disappearing into a tiny speck on the horizon, she's still ticking away the seconds in her mind. She knows it's slightly pathetic, that some part of her resents the fact that he can still turn her into a pining eleven-year old, but right now, she doesn't care. There's a war going on. Death is looming over them. And all she can think about is how much she resents this, this whole twisted fairy tale. She's the damsel, he's the noble hero, but where is their castle? She can't even see it anymore, it's been blocked by a few mossy-green hills. Green. Gods, is she going to plagued by him the entire ride home?
It would have been a nice story, she thinks to herself. She, the princess, who finally won over the heroic prince after all those years. She remembers thinking, in her second year, that she deserved him, more than anyone, because she'd been waiting for him for so long. She doesn't think that anymore. But it had happened. And it would have been a nice story. They could have fallen in love, in the end.
But he had to go off and be a hero, with her brother and her friend. She resents being left behind. She hadn't let him last time; she had forced him to take her with them, that last time… part of her wonders why she doesn't do that now. She knows the answer, though. They exist in a world of heroes; they all had to leave her behind. They were all extraordinary. All her brothers had left… Bill, Charlie, Percy, Fred, George, and now, even, Ron. Who else would be there for their mum?
She knows they don't think of these things, not because they're selfish, only because they're not her. She's the little girl, she'll always be the little girl. They won't be there when their mother is weeping at the bottom of the stairs in the middle of the night, clutching that godforsaken clock of hers. Ginny hates that clock, she hates it for what it says, for what it prophesizes, for the way it tells them they're all doomed. She knows her mother thinks so… Molly Weasley's worst fears are confirmed by that clock. Her fear that they're all just walking corpses, waiting for Riddle to do them in, time ticking away while they're all in mortal peril.
Sometimes, she wants to crush it to little pieces, and tell her mother it's all going to end well. It's what they all told her when she had the nightmares, when she had played the damsel in distress. That it was all going to end okay, that no one would hurt them.
They can't tell her that anymore.
She's not the damsel in distress anymore, though. She's not weak anymore. She doesn't need him to come rushing in to save the day. She doesn't need him.
Ginny frowns at an invisible speck of dirt on her scuffed shoe, shaking her head. She hadn't been thinking about Molly and her clock… what had she been thinking about? Come to think of it, she doesn't want to remember. That'll just drag up a couple dozen memories she wishes she didn't have, yet clings to because they're all she'll ever have.
She's not even in the same compartment as the rest of them.
Harry's doing, she supposes. He wants as much physical distance between them as possible, to stop… whatever it is that he wants to stop from happening. She thinks he might be a little bit afraid of her, of what she'll do to him. She laughs a little. She's not going to stop him. She knows what he has to do. She understands.
She wonders if he does, though.
He wonders if she understands.
It had all been so clear, so final. She had looked up at him with that cold, blazing, stare, and she had understood him. But he's not quite so sure he understands himself, why it has to be over.
"It's for some stupid, noble reason, isn't it?" she had asked him.
He's beginning to wonder if a stupid, noble reason is still… well, stupid. He wonders if she'd stop him if he tried to change this. He wonders if she'd let him. He wonders why he's even entertaining the thought.
This, he reminds himself, was his doing. And this was the reason he had purposely chosen a full compartment, so that they could avoid each other with an excuse. He's quite sure she knows, and he thinks she's annoyed with him at that, the way her eyes had narrowed when she'd realized there were no more seats in his compartment. Still, the distance doesn't stop him from thinking….
…He can't stop himself from thinking about her. On some level, it's a conscious decision. If he stops thinking about her, he'll have to think about other things. Things like Horcruxes, Dumbledore, Sirius, Cedric, his parents, Wormtail, Snape, death, the prophecy- everything. He's quite sure if he thinks any more about any of those subjects, he'll combust. Ron and Hermione worry about him, he knows. They think he's playing the part of the brooding hero, when he thinks about things like that, and they play the part of the faithful sidekicks who support him and worry about him.
He doesn't want to brood. It's getting rather pathetic, he admits to himself. But then, he thinks, this really isn't that much less pathetic. He's sitting on a train, about twenty feet away from Ginny Weasley, and he's still brooding… only now, it's about her.
"Alright there, mate?" Ron peers at him concernedly.
Harry laughs to himself. Ron, being uncharacteristically sensitive… just when he needs it the least. He'd really rather have Ron tell him off for being a prat, for ignoring his two best friends in the world, for being a bad friend, for hurting his best friend's sister. He doesn't say it, though.
"Yeah," he gives Ron a mild smile. "I'm fine."
They don't speak for another ten minutes, and he looks away. He knows Ron and Hermione are exchanging worried looks behind his back. Or maybe they're just snogging really quietly. He hopes it's the latter.
The trolley lady stops by, but she's not smiling. He remembers now- she was at the funeral. How did she know Dumbledore, he wonders. Then he remembers Mrs. Figg's words, just two summers ago. "Of course I know Dumbledore, who doesn't know Dumbledore?"
He remembers when he didn't know Dumbledore. The first time he'd seen Dumbledore, it had been on a Chocolate Frog card. It was that first time, when everything had still been new, that he remembers the most. He had turned to read the back, and then when he'd looked again, Dumbledore had gone. How very symbolic, he thinks dryly. It's not very funny, he knows, but somehow, he laughs at the memory of it. When he and Ron had opened all those packs of Chocolate Frogs, their first trip on the Hogwarts Express, collecting the cards as they went. Ron had been searching for one in particular, he remembers, but he can't think of which one it was.
He wonders if Ron still collects the cards.
He remembers Bill, saying just last summer, "But Dumbledore says he doesn't care what they do as long as they don't take him off the Chocolate Frog cards."
He remembers so many things, so many tiny, insignificant moments, that he wonders how he can fit it all into his skull. He remembers Dumbledore saying to him once, in his fourth year, "I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind." He hadn't been able to say that he had, at the time. Now, though, Harry thinks he knows the exact feeling.
There is too much in his brain, too much in his head, and he wants, just for a second, to take it all out. What he wouldn't give for one blissful moment of insanity… But then he remembers Neville, and he feels guilty for even thinking of it.
Neville, sitting across from him, absentmindedly eating a box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans next to Luna Lovegood.
Neville, the also-ran, the might-have-been, the almost-boy-who-lived.
Neville, who had taken Ginny to the Yule Ball.
Neville, whose parents were insane.
God, fate had a sick sense of humor.
The compartment door slides open and closes with a thud.
She looks up, and sees Ron. Her big brother. She remembers when they were little, they'd run around the yard chasing the gnomes, and their father would laugh at them. Or maybe he'd been laughing at the gnomes. She could never quite tell. She remembers thinking Ron was so cool, going to Hogwarts, befriending the Boy-Who-Lived, helping defeat the Dark Lord. He could fight anything. He had been her hero. Not like Harry, who had always been a bit unreachable, but just the same… she had held him up on a pedestal, seen him as her big brother who could win any battle for her.
"It's my big brother," she says with a sad sort of smile. "Come to cheer me up?"
"It's my big brotherly duty," he says, and they pretend it's just like old times, like they're eight and nine years old again, when they had been the only ones left, the only ones who hadn't gone off to that big castle to learn magic from a wise old wizard. How very much it sounded like a fairy tale, she thinks. "Who else is going to rant and tease you about your boyfriends?"
"Erm… my other five big brothers?"
He smiles slightly, and sobers. She remembers when he smiled more. She wonders why he doesn't smile as often.
"I was thinking of dating Draco Malfoy next," she says next, just baiting for a reaction. He's so sad lately, she wonders what would make him smile again. "He's a bit pale for my tastes, but he has got that redeemed bad boy thing going for him. I hear lots of girls find it real se-"
His eyes narrow. "Don't you dare, Ginevra Molly Weasley," he says. "And don't think I don't know what you're trying to do."
"Tell me what I'm trying to do."
"You're trying to make me laugh," he says, with the same sad sort of smile she'd given him when he walked in. "It's the same thing Hermione was trying to do before. And she's worse at it than you are."
Ginny laughs. She knows he's not as clueless as they all think he is, and she knows Hermione doesn't think so either. She also knows he might never make a move just because he thinks he isn't worthy, or that he's not special like the rest of them, or for some other ridiculous reason she wishes he would realize was wrong. He's her big brother, though, and she doesn't tell him that he's special, that he's brave, and that he's a million other things that make him Ron. She's going to let her tell him that, because she knows that's when he'll listen.
"Gods, this is depressing, isn't it?" he says, and bends forward on his knees a bit, a little awkwardly because of how tall he is these days. "Not at all how I pictured our last trip on the train to be."
"Your last trip, you mean," she says, her light tone not at all hiding her resentment. "This is your last trip. I'll be back in September."
"You don't know that," he says, and she remembers that the school might not even open again. She can't blame them- imagine, a Hogwarts without Dumbledore. She can't. Imagine it, that is. "But, you know, if it was up to me…"
"If it were up to you, I'd be tucked in my bed and kept away from all boys until I was thirty," she replies with a ghost of a smile.
"Well… yeah," he says, a little seriously. "I'm sorry, about that whole thing with…"
Her lips twitch at this. He's trying to be sensitive, she knows, no doubt because Hermione told him to be, but he's just… really bad at it, so she can't help but let a smile form on her lips, the first real one in a long time.
"Hey, I'm serious," he says, and she nods solemnly, her eyes twinkling a little bit. "I know he's my best mate, and all, but you've been my little sister way longer than that. You say the word, and I'll kill him dead."
"But then who'll kill Voldemort?"
She says Riddle's new name now, even though she knows Ron hates it. And she knows Ron doesn't say his name because he can't, and she knows he hates it, hates that it's another thing that keeps him from their world, their world of heroes and courage and bravery.
He pauses, and says, "Alright, I'll wait for him to kill You-Know-Who first. Then he's dead."
Ginny laughs, and then they're quiet for a while. This is about as close to being brother and sister as they've been in years. She remembers what it used to be like, how close they used to be… then he went off to school for a year, just a year, and everything changed. He wasn't just her brother anymore, things were different. She had been shunted aside to be the annoying kid sister, while he went off and had adventures with his friends. She had been so confused, when he'd come home and hadn't wanted to play in the garden with the gnomes with her. But still… he was her big brother.
"I'll be fine, you great prat," she says, and gives him a light shove on the shoulder. "Worry about yourself; Merlin knows you'll need to once Mum finds out your plan."
He makes a face at her, and sobers. They both know that their mother will let him go, albeit reluctantly, a little bit unwillingly, but in the end, she'll let them. That doesn't change the fact that she'll worry about them every second of every minute of every hour of every day, though. And they both know that she'll be the one to comfort her when it happens, to make sure things won't get too bad, to reassure their parents that everything'll turn out fine. It's a stupid, optimistic notion, but it's all they have.
Ron stares at the compartment door now, and she knows it's because he's thinking about it now… their future, his future, the days, weeks, months to come. She wonders what he sees when he thinks about it; she can't see anything at all. She wonders if that's a bad thing. But then she remembers he failed his Divination O.W.L., and it's a bit of a comforting thought, really.
"I'll miss you when we're not here, you know," he says suddenly, after what seems like an endless amount of silence.
"I know," she answers softly, smiling at him. "But you'll have Hermione, and you'll have Harry, and I'll have… well, I'll have mum and dad."
"And real food," he jokes, a little too seriously. "Who knows what slop we'll be eating."
"Yeah, food," she answers weakly, and they stare at their feet for a while, just thinking. It occurs to her that this might be the last time she sees him for a very, very, very long time, and the thought makes her sad. "You'll write to me, won't you? When you can, I mean."
He shrugs. "Hermione's more of a letter writer than I am," he says. "But I'll try."
She smiles, and remembers. He sent her a total of, what, two letters his first year? But she understands, like she always does, that they have to go off and be heroes, and heroes don't have much time for letter writing. The conversation is about over, they know, and the train is already nearing the station. And still, she's clinging on to the moments between now and when he leaves, because she knows it's the end of something, and they won't be able to go back.
"I'll miss you too, Ron," she says as he stands, ready to leave the compartment. Ready to leave her. He looks at her awkwardly, then stoops down to give her a hug as she reaches up. And she is, she realizes. She's going to miss her big brother, with his stupid smiles and his stupid jokes, and his stupid ways of cheering her up when she doesn't want to be cheered. She's going to miss it all, but she knows he'll be back, like the rest of them, because she can't let herself think about what would happen if he didn't come back.
"Hey," he says, rubbing her back lightly. "This isn't goodbye yet. We still have a wedding to go to. And you know, Fleur's not going to take kindly to you tearing up at the ceremony. You'll be splotchy and gross."
She laughs, and can feel the tears pressing at her.
"A bit of phlegm for Phlegm?" she says, trying to sound like this is a normal conversation, like it's not the end of… of something. She'd forgotten about Fleur and Bill, just for a little while, and now she wishes she still did. Bill… Gods. She closes her eyes and swallows at the thought of her eldest brother, the one who'd always been so nice to her, even when Fred and George had teased her all the time. There are so many memories, swilling and mixing, that she can't stand it. She hates the way her voice goes hoarse and the way her eyes are all puffy when she cries; it makes things so obvious. "Maybe I will, just to spite her."
Ron steps back and looks at her, his brows furrowed.
"What?" she says, hastily wiping away a tear. She hates that she has to cry now, when she didn't cry in the beginning, at the hospital wing, or when Harry… She just doesn't understand why she has to cry now; it's stupid and untimely and weak, and she knows Ron hates it when she cries. He's absolutely horrible with feelings, she remembers. He had tried to comfort her awkwardly the summer after her first year, but he had been so awful at it, it had made her laugh. "What is it?"
"You should talk to Harry," he says, a hand resting lightly on her shoulder. "Now. Before the wedding. Because it won't be the same after… after."
She laughs. She knows it won't be the same. It hasn't been the same ever since they stepped on the train. But she knows what he means… Knows he feels the same feeling, the feeling that this is the end of something, and that it'll be over soon, but none of them are ready yet. She doesn't even know what it is that's ending… Their innocence? No, that ended a long time ago, for all of them, when they weren't looking. She can't quite grasp what it is, but she knows it's ending, and she knows she doesn't want it to, because she's not ready, he's not ready, they're not ready, but it won't stop, and they have to do something, or it'll be over.
"I'm all splotchy," she says, shrugging. "Harry doesn't like splotchy girls. He's worse at it than you are."
Ron doesn't smile. "Gin," he says, sighing, "This is important. You know it is. This… whatever this is… it's ending. And you need to talk to him, before it's over, otherwise it won't ever be over, and I don't want to watch my little sister just… waste away over… over something."
Ginny frowns up at him, and forgets to cry in a moment of indignation. "I'm not going to… 'waste away', Ronald," she says, annoyed. "I'm not that girl, I'm not that… I'm not that weak. I know there are more important things."
"You need to talk to him," he repeats, ignoring her. When did he get so serious, she wonders. "Not just for you, it's for him, too. He's my best mate, and you're my little sister… I can't… I can't." His voice trails off pathetically, but he's still pleading with her to understand.
She doesn't ask what he 'can't', because she knows it doesn't matter, because she knows he's right. They have to resolve this, whatever it is. Before either of them can move on, before they can do anything else…
She smiles at Ron and gives him a quick hug. He's still her big brother.
Her stupid big brother, and she doesn't know what she'll do without him.
"Hey, Hermione… Harry," she gives them all a slight smile. "Neville, Luna."
Harry looks up, and something's wrong. She's there.
"My prat of a brother wanted to borrow my compartment," she says, the door thudding shut behind her. "Apparently, you lot are depressing him too much."
He laughs, and it sounds low and gravelly to his own ears, as though he's just woken up. He shakes his head, and shifts over a bit, making room for her to sit. Hermione makes a small noise next to him, and glances at Ginny before dashing out of their compartment.
To check on Ron, most likely.
"Well, that was… odd," she mutters, staring after Hermione.
He shrugs and forgets to answer, because her knee is pressing lightly against his. He wonders if she's doing this on purpose.
She's not looking at him, though, but, rather, rifling through a box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, looking for her favorite flavors. Strawberry, he thinks, and remembers a conversation they had had, some lifetime ago. There are so many conversations, filled with meaningless words and wasted seconds, that he can't stand to think of it. So many things he wants to say now, but knows he can't.
Harry shakes his head lightly, and wills himself to forget, because he knows that's the only way he'll be able to cope. Because, really, that's all he'll ever be allowed to do. Cope.
She hands him a treacle tart flavored bean without looking at him, and he knows she remembers it, too.
He could have fallen in love with her, in the end, he thinks, staring at the small bean in his hand.
He knows he hasn't, not yet, but he could have, and that's the part that kills him.
But then, he muses, he's falling just a little bit in love with her right now.
There had been a time, in the beginning, when he had known she shouldn't be tied down to someone like him. It had only been for a moment, but it had occurred to him that she deserved a chance to be happy like a normal person… but then he had shoved the thought aside, because he hadn't wanted to imagine her being happy without him. Selfish, yes, but he couldn't help that. Now, though, he understands… it's not about him. And he wants her to be happy, he really does.
He just has to remind himself it can't be with him.
"Hey, Neville," Ginny says, observing a tiny yellow and white bean between her fingers, "want my popcorn bean?"
Neville reaches across and she drops it into his hand, giving him a small smile.
"I always preferred strawberry, myself," she says, and leans back slightly.
Ginny will be fine, Harry knows, as he watches this exchange. She'll live to have the 'happily ever after', and he knows she won't wait for him. She'll smile and laugh and fall in love and grow old with someone else, someone that's not him.
He knows he's already jealous.
But then the train is pulling to a stop, and he can't dwell on this, because it's ending, everything's ending, and he can't make it stop. He wonders, not for the first time, what would happen if he refused to get off the train.
He's amazed when he looks down and sees her pale hand in his.
"C'mon," she says, tugging lightly.
He lets her lead him out of the compartment, off the train, following her a bit dazedly. Confusion hits him as he stares down at their hands, and he doesn't notice as they walk through the barrier. She can't possibly be… can she?
It's Mrs. Weasley's voice that's calling to him, and he looks around, startled, and sees they have already reached King's Cross. All the Weasleys (minus Percy, plus Fleur) are waiting with members of the Order, looking tired and worn, but smiling as ever. It's a familiar sight, this time, and welcoming, really, to know that they're all there. Something inside him threatens to break. He swallows slightly when he sees Bill, and the sickening feeling of remembering starts to come back.
Ginny makes a strangled sound next to him and steers them in a different direction, until he realizes she's pushed him against the barrier between platforms eight and nine. The stone is gravelly and rough against his back, and he wonders briefly if she's lost her mind.
"Ginny, I…" he starts, then trails off, as he realizes there's nothing left for them to say.
"This is stupid," she says, shaking her head. "I just… I can't…"
He stares at her patiently, and waits for her to finish. He ignores the voice in the back of his mind telling him that he should let go of her hand, and he laces his fingers through hers instead.
She's startled, he can tell, but then she seems to make up her mind about something.
And the next second, he can't think at all, because she's tugged him down slightly and captured his lips with hers.
It's a slow, soft kiss, not at all like any they've ever shared, and- oh, gods- he's quite sure he's dying, slowly, bit by bit, but he can't bring himself to care. There's the familiar sensation in his stomach, one that he experienced every time they kissed, but there's something new, too, as she nips at his lower lip slightly. His head is filled with half-formed thoughts, none of which seem to make it all the way through his brain.
This has to be the best way to die, he thinks, kissing her back.
"Ginny," he whispers, leaning forward slightly, one of his fingers drawing slow circles on the back of her hand.
She stills, and then slowly, just as it started, the kiss ends.
"For the memory," she says, looking up at him unblinkingly.
And then he understands.
She's saying goodbye.
Ginny watches the comprehension dawn on his face, and she gives him a slight smile, because she knows he's just awful with tears.
She knows they'll both pretend this never happened, the next time they see each other.
The thought saddens her.
Mrs. Weasley's shrill voice pierces the air and she winces. Of course.
"Well," she says, and smiles at him. He stares back at her, a frown etched in his features. "I suppose, this is…"
She leans up to kiss him on the side of his mouth, knowing this'll be the last time she's this close to him. He groans slightly at the touch, and she shivers.
His eyes open to meet hers, and, in one fleeting second later, it's her back that's against the barrier, and his lips that are crashing down to meet hers. It's not slow, soft, or sweet, like the last kiss had been. It's not several sunlit days, either. It's harsh and seeking, desperate and demanding, and he doesn't stop.
"Ginny," he whispers, the movement of his lips against hers tingling slightly.
And then he moves to kiss her cheek, her nose, her neck, and her lips again, and she knows he's memorizing her.
"Harry, I think-" she can't bring herself to finish, because he's just taken this chance to deepen the kiss, and she can't help but reciprocate in kind, her hand coming to rest at his shirt collar. She can feel his pulse under her fingers, and knows it's the same, quickened beat her own pulse is tapping out. Her other hand is still entangled in his, his thumb still brushing back and forth lightly.
She's running out of air now, but she can't bring herself to care, kissing him back dizzily.
It's Molly Weasley's voice again, sounding panicked now.
Ginny sighs with a reluctant smile, and they break apart.
Their breaths are coming out in harsh, discordant intervals, and one of his hands comes up to trace the line of her cheek. She can't help leaning into his touch slightly, and he stares at her uncertainly.
"For the memory," he echoes her words.
She swallows and nods.
She can't bear the weight of his stare much longer, and looks away. People passing by give them fleeting glances, no doubt forming their own conclusion about the scene. Something about train stations and goodbyes, she thinks wryly.
Harry lets out a short breath of laughter beside her, and calls out, "She's over here, Mrs. Weasley!"
She lets a small smile form as she glances at him, and he looks as though he's keeping from laughing himself. She's not quite sure why it's so funny, but she can't help a bubble of laughter escape her.
"Sorry," she says with an exasperated smile, and he shakes his head.
He reaches down and pulls her into a hug, then, and she closes her eyes and wishes, just for a second, that he wasn't Harry Potter. She imagines what it might be like, if he didn't have a destiny, if he didn't have a duty, if he didn't have a name. She knows it wouldn't be the same, though.
He's still Harry Potter. She's still Ginny Weasley.
"You'll come back," she says.
It's not a question, but he answers anyway.
It's not a promise, but it's enough.
He holds her a little tighter, and she smiles.
(A/N): I'm considering writing a companion Ron/Hermione piece, just because there's a line I scribbled down somewhere that I desperately want to write, but I'll leave it up to you all... what d'you think? Is there enough room for a companion piece in this story?
Reviews shall make me squee.