For Astrid – to whom I hope my stories provide some small amusement – and for her very own White Knight, Steven, and their son, who are her eyes. -- CQ

Watching

Following her with his eyes had become an addiction. The way her long, graceful hands moved when she spoke, the way her eyes sparkled when she was amused, the way those same eyes snapped with fire when she was angry... or annoyed.

The way she hid behind the curtain of fiery red hair when she knew that her reaction would cause hurt... or anger, the latter most often when in the presence of Molly, and generally in a situation orchestrated by the twins.

The way her eyes softened when she looked at Pascal, Bill and Fleur's brand new son.

As much as he watched her, the first time he'd seen that, he had been unable to look away. Her face had become more beautiful than he'd ever seen it, and he'd watched her, tenderly holding the newborn in her arms for the first time, completely in awe. When tears had sparkled in her lovely brown eyes, tears of happiness and joy at meeting this new addition to the Weasley family, his heart had flipped over in his chest, and he'd realized, on some level, that Ginny Weasley with a child in her arms was somehow exactly right, and an image that he'd carry with him always.

She had looked up at him then, caught him watching her, his heart in his eyes, and still he'd been unable to look away.

Now, days later, he watched her furtively, ready to slide his eyes away to rest anywhere in the room but on her at a moment's notice. To pretend he was, in fact, talking to Ron about Quidditch, to Hermione about a book... to Mr Weasley about muggles... anything rather than admit, even silently, that he couldn't not watch her when she was there. He knew that their time was short. Soon, he needed to be gone again, Ron and Hermione with him. Ginny would have to stay where it was safe, where she wasn't a distraction for him, and he wouldn't be able to watch her any longer. Perhaps he never would, ever again. The pictures he carried away in his mind of these days would have to carry him through.

But the prophecy said that until he'd faced Voldemort, until he'd defeated him, until he'd won, he would never really live. He'd been trying, desperately, to fulfill that prophecy for over a year now... a year that he, Ron, and Hermione had been gone. This month they'd given themselves; the month of Ginny's seventeenth birthday. Harry had been unable to stay away. He'd been unable to keep himself away while she made the transition from child to woman. It was the small parts of her life he stored away to keep the nightmares at bay while they were away, and he'd sensed that seeing her now, a woman, would be a powerful source of comfort on those dark nights.

But the prophecy... it had yet to be fulfilled. It seemed that every time they felt they were making progress, they ended up finding themselves two steps behind. Harry was getting frustrated, and it was beginning to show. Until it was done, fulfilled, he would be forced to watch from the outside: never really living, never really being part of Ginny's smile.

When he came back, if he came back, would she smile at him? He, a murderer? Or would the very act of freeing himself to love her, openly, destroy what she felt for him? Did she, even now, feel anything more than familial friendship? It had been over a year since Dumbledore's funeral. He'd been gone most of it. There was no way to tell. Ginny never gave any indication of how she felt about what he'd said to her that day, by the tomb.

Sighing, he touched one callused finger to the condensation on the side of his glass of cold pumpkin juice. Tracing a pattern, he watched as the droplets collected, creating a stream down the side of the glass, coming to pool on the well-scrubbed tabletop. He knew he had no choice. He had to do this, to ensure safety for her, for her family, for the others. No one was safe, no one could live, until Voldemort was gone. And he was the one who had to do that. If the prophecy, and Dumbledore's interpretation of it, was to be believed, he was the only one who could.

He had to do it. A world with Ginny safe was worth the pain of a hundred lifetimes without her loving him. If his feelings were never returned, well... at least she'd have her life... she'd be happy, she'd be able to go on.

At the thought of her, he looked up, quickly, instinctively needing to see her smile, her hair, her freckles, and was startled when he caught brown eyes skimming over him, coming to rest as they met his. Ginny Weasley was watching him, and she wasn't looking away.

FINIS