Two at a Window

by S. Risen

It was well past two in the morning at the Burrow and Hermione and Ginny could just barely hear the chatter of the last of the wedding guests as Mrs. Weasley saw them through the fireplace downstairs. From the sound of it, they were a bit too tipsy for Apparition. With the whoosh of the flames, the house fell silent for the first time in hours.

The party had long since worn down, and most of the household were asleep or nearly so. But the girls were still awake in Ginny's room, helping each other to undress. Ginny waited patiently while Hermione picked out the numerous bobby pins lost in her red hair, then turned to help Hermione with the long row of buttons down her back. Then they did another about-face so that Hermione could unclasp the hooks on Ginny's fitted gold satin robes. And so it went for a few silent minutes until they both shook out their hair and slipped into pajamas. But they did not go to sleep.

Instead they settled themselves on Ginny's window seat, knees pulled up and hugged close, looking out on the backyard, which was still lit by hundreds of floating candles. On a conjured dance floor in the middle of the garden, Bill and Fleur were pressed close to one another, dancing slowly to the chirp of nightbugs.

"We should go to bed," Hermione said absently.

"Mmm-hmm," Ginny replied.

They were both dead tired, but neither could really think of sleep while the Burrow was so contentedly dreamlike. There was something sacred, something not to be missed, in the way the curtains fluttered and the stars shone and the newlyweds danced several floors below them. Now was a time for secrets, perhaps.

"I saw you dance with him," Hermione said cautiously.

Ginny nodded and sighed, leaning her head back against the wall. For a moment it seemed she was going to leave that subject strictly alone as usual, but instead she said: "I wish he hadn' t asked." She let out a slow, measured sigh. "I'm glad he did."

Pause. If Ginny was in a sharing mood, Hermione did not want to ruin it. "I'm not sure I know what you mean."

But that did it. Ginny shook her head and said dismissively: "'S three in the morning."

"Right."

There was another long silence while Ginny stared out of the window into the purple sky and Hermione stared at Ginny's luminous profile with a kind of fixed curiosity. They might have dozed, or been momentarily distracted, or simply gotten so lost in staring they forgot what they were looking at, but the next thing they knew the candles had been extinguished below them, the couple was gone, and the Burrow was holding its breath.

Hermione cracked the silence with a tentative little whisper. "Do you miss it?"

Surprised, Ginny blinked her into focus and simply stared for a moment. She could have very easily played dumb, but she didn't. "Very much. Does it show?"

"You seem fine," Hermione said, a little enviously. "Since the train ride home, it's seemed like it hasn't bothered you at all."

"I've been all right," said Ginny, turning her attention out the window again.

Hermione bit her lip, then blurted out the first and truest thing she could think of. "He misses you, too, you know."

Ginny looked at her knees, twitching her lips into a tight little smile. "I know. Doesn't make it any better." She sucked in a breath, then plunged into her next sentence as though the last one was a cliff. "I want to dance with him again."

"Is he that good a dancer?" Hermione said with careful levity, sitting up straighter.

Ginny blew air through her teeth. "Of course not. But... it was nice."

Hermione allowed herself a smile. Yes, it was nice, she thought, remembering one hand on her waist, one behind her shoulderblade, and a pair of grey-blue eyes looking down at her. Champagne bubbled in her veins and his collarbone was conveniently eye level when her cheeks grew too pink. Awkward and fitting and glorious. Nice. "I'm sorry, Ginny."

There was a soft little hum of laughter. "Not your fault. Or his, even. Though I've tried to be angry with him."

A sympathetic nod.

"I didn't mean to tell you all this. I thought it would seem too much like... fishing. I think I've had too much to drink to really care anymore."

"I can tell you... he's said some... and Ron's told me..." It was only fair, Hermione thought, to offer up all possible sources. Especially when tomorrow morning she would be leaving with Harry and Ginny would not.

"No, don't," Ginny said, though she looked tempted. "If he'd wanted me to know... he would have told me himself, I think." She quirked an eyebrow contemplatively. "I think."

"He did say to tell you, if you ever asked me anything... well, he was only joking, you know, and I'm sure--"

"Spit it out," Ginny said, smiling.

"He said not to run off with ferret-arse while he's away."

Slowly, as if she hardly dared, Ginny cracked a smile. A laugh tried to fight its way out of her throat and, that failing, came out as a snort. Suddenly she was doubled over, her whole body shaking with suppressed laughter. Somehow she ended up tangled in the curtains and in serious danger of falling out of the open window.

Bewildered, Hermione guided her gently away from the windowsill with a hand on her shoulder. "Er, are you all right?"

Slowly, Ginny unfolded herself and sat upright again, hugging her knees to her chest and letting her head fall back against the wall. She let out a long, rasping breath and smiled again. Her face was wet.

Hermione froze, her hand still suspended in midair between them. "Ginny?"

"Ferret-arse," Ginny repeated quietly, lowering Hermione's hand for her.

"I didn't think it was that funny," Hermione said, a bit baffled. She peered at her friend closely. "You all right?"

"I'm fine," came the terse reply. Hermione was irresistably reminded of Harry. And she wasn't buying it.

"Are you..." Fierce Ginny Weasley was not going to like this question. "Are you crying?"

"Of course not."

"Then what's this?" Hermione said, taking a swipe at Ginny's cheek with her finger. It came away wet.

"Moon droppings," Ginny said dispassionately. "Worse than sparrows that way."

Hermione couldn't help laughing, but she was not so easily deterred. "Really, Ginny. What's the matter?"

Ginny's face hardened and she finally looked up from her knees. She opened her mouth and Hermione was sure she was about to be told that it was none of her business and stop prying and no, those sure as hell were not tears. But instead she heard: "Well, you could all die, you see."

Hermione's breath caught in her throat with the shock of hearing someone say it out loud.

It had been understood between the three of them from the beginning, of course. She and Ron and Harry--Harry especially--had seen what Horcrux-hunting had done to the greatest wizard of the age, and they did not flatter themselves any less vulnerable than he. Far more, really. And in the month since they had agreed to set out together, they had discussed almost obsessively the dangers they might face and the traps Voldemort might have set for them. They did not imagine for a moment that this was going to be safe.

But no one had raised the question of one or more of them--oh, God forbid--dying until now. Chilled to the bone, Hermione hugged herself and sank back against the wall.

"I'm sorry," Ginny said, instantly contrite. "I'm sorry, I know it's hard enough without me going and saying things like that and I know that you don't want this any more than--"

"No," Hermione said quietly. Ginny trailed off. "No, it's true. We could."

"I'm sorry," Ginny repeated helplessly.

"By all rights, we shouldn't have made it this far. You, either," Hermione pointed out perversely. "When I think of the number of times one of us should've snuffed it and didn't--and damn you people's obsession with Quidditch, it's not helping!--it's a minor miracle we're all still alive."

"Sorry about the Quidditch," Ginny tried weakly. "Not our fault we're adrenaline junkies."

"But, Ginny--" And Hermione leaned across the space between them and clutched at Ginny's hands where they were laced atop her knees. She didn't know why. Maybe it was to make her understand through osmosis, or just brute force. She could shake her into seeing if she needed to. "Things always more or less work out in the end. The Stone was destroyed. The Basilisk is dead and you're not. Harry got out of that graveyard alive. God knows how we survived the Department of Mysteries with no lasting damage, but it did happen. And Ron... Ron was poisoned, and lived through that, too. And I've sort of gotten used to thinking nothing can really hurt us, you know? But what if... what if we're due?"

"I don't think you three will let anything happen to each other," Ginny said, all joking aside.

"No, we won't. But that doesn't mean nothing will," Hermione hissed, giving Ginny's knees a shake. "This is so much bigger than us, Ginny. And we don't know what we're doing. We don't. And I can't tell the boys so, because--" it cost her something to say it, "--because they're both braver than I am and that sort of thing doesn't stop them like it does me."

"There's a fine line between bravery and being a colossal idiot," Ginny said gently. She shrugged. "Though I admit that I don't know enough about what you're doing to offer an opinion." There was no accusation, no bitterness, and no invitation in the words. It was a simple statement of fact. But it suddenly struck Hermione that she and the two boys had told Ginny just enough to scare the life out of her but not enough to give her a clear idea of what she should be worried about. They had left her a hazy, looming sense of danger and a thousand possibilities for her to imagine, each worse than the last. Hermione shuddered.

"But I don't think you're due for anything," Ginny continued, apparently far more at her ease than Hermione thought she had any right to be. "It's more arbitrary than that. And even though the odds against you seem to be stacked as high as the Astronomy Tower--"

"Thanks, Gin," Hermione said in a small voice.

"Well, they are. You've just told me so yourself. But I don't believe in odds anymore. And neither does Harry. If he did, he'd be dead. So would I, for that matter," she added thoughtfully.

"That's..." Ridiculous? Infuriating? Nonsensical? "...true."

The breath went out of Hermione in one great rush and she slumped against the wall again. Hadn't this started with her asking whether Ginny was all right?

Enough worrying in circles. Tomorrow morning she and Ron and Harry would leave for Godric's Hollow. After that all of her fear would be caught up in action and reaction and she would do all of her thinking on her feet instead of a moonlit window seat. They would take it step by step and try not to get swallowed up by the vastness of what they were trying to do. And in the end, maybe they would come back here to the Burrow and have another party, complete with an excellent band, Fred and George's fireworks, and champagne that tickled her nose.

"I hope you get to dance with him again." The sentiment was seamlessly directionless--she didn't know whether she meant it for herself or Ginny.

But once it was out and wandering homeless, somewhere in the slow burn of hope and terror and inexplicable loneliness that followed, she heard Ginny whisper: "Yeah. Me, too."