Author's Note: If any of you have been wondering where I've gone since the release of the 6th book (yes, it pains me that none of my stories are up-to-date and canon!), I've been right here the whole time, just very dry on story ideas. Trust me, I've begun many H/G fics after the wonderful happenings in HBP, but since none of them were any good until this one I didn't want to bother you with them. Sorry it's so late in coming, but here it is, my first fic that I've written after HBP, the first one that actually fits canon (gasp!).
This is the first chapter in a two-chapter story. Hope you like it!
Disclaimer: Of course I'm not JK Rowling. She's too busy writing the seventh book to bother with fanfic!
Vows and Goodbyes
Harry Potter was skilled at avoiding people. He had perfected it to something of an art form with the Dursleys, after all. The day he, Ron, and Hermione had chosen to return to the Burrow for Bill and Fleur's long-anticipated wedding, he had made a decision. He would have to avoid her. There was nothing else for it. How hard could it be, after all? It had always been fairly simple with the Dursleys, and their house was far smaller than the Burrow. With all the space, with all the chaos surrounding wedding preparations, and with all the people tromping around, surely it would be rare that he would find himself alone with the youngest Weasley.
The reason for this avoidance was quite simple. He was terrified that if they had so much as two minutes together without chaperones, he would find himself either snogging her senseless or begging her to take him back. And this, of course, could not happen. He would not let it happen. He refused.
"All right, Harry? You look a bit peaky."
Ron's rather perturbed voice brought Harry crashing out of his thoughts. He started back to the present; he, Ron, and Hermione were standing before the Dursleys' neat brick fireplace, Hermione's hand extended and clenched around a fistful of Floo powder. Two sets of eyes, Hermione's brown and Ron's blue, were fastened on him with expressions of concern.
"I'm fine, Ron," Harry lied. In truth he was far from it; his insides were writhing like he'd eaten a bowl of worms that morning rather than cornflakes. Far from his plan to avoid her, just the thought of seeing Ginny again was making his heart do funny things. It had been difficult enough just to keep from thinking of her these past two weeks, but now . . . seeing her again, in the flesh . . .
But Ron was persistent. "Are you sure? What're you so nervous about? We're going home! I mean, I know Fleur'll be absolutely insane what with the fact that the wedding's seven days from now, and Mum'll be having kittens about having everything ready in time, and Ginny will probably be breathing fire because Fleur's been—"
"Ron," said Hermione repressively, and Ron's voice wisped out. He looked awkward and contrite.
Harry rolled his eyes. Both friends had made little secret of how much they disapproved of Harry's breakup with Ginny. When Harry had told them on the train ride home from Hogwarts, Hermione had made an outraged squawking sound and Ron had started choking violently on the licorice wand he was gnawing. They had at once laid into Harry about what a foolish and detrimental decision this was. Well, that had been Hermione's wording—Ron's had more been along the lines that Harry was a selfish prat who was about to be cursed into next February for hurting his sister. It was only after they realized how serious Harry was about his determination that Ginny must not be harmed that they subsided, though he had been enduring subtle hints from the two all through their stay at the Durlseys'.
A growling, petulant voice expelled from behind them.
"Get on with it, then!"
"Ah. Right." Harry turned back toward his purple-faced uncle, who was skulking at the very back of the room in a fit of impatience. Uncle Vernon's emotions were perched at two extremes just then, Harry knew—extreme joy that Harry was leaving his house for good (taking his "pestilential freak friends" with him), and utter fury that they had to use his fireplace to do it. He had already had one bad experience with magic gone awry in the fireplace when Mr. Weasley had destroyed it, and he wasn't keen for a similar display. After swearing on his family's name that he would sue every last one of them if so much as a brick fell out of place, Uncle Vernon had grudgingly allowed them to use it.
Harry looked his uncle up and down, conscious of the fact that it might well be the last time he would see the man. He could feel Ron and Hermione on either side of him, both of them no doubt glaring daggers at Uncle Vernon, and that gave him strength.
"Well, I suppose it's time for me to say goodbye," Harry said, in a mock-cheerful voice. "I won't miss you at all, and I don't guess you'll be missing me, either. Have a nice life, and I'll have one too, if only because of the fact that you won't be in it. Goodbye."
"Toodles," said Ron, flicking his fingers girlishly at a tight-lipped Uncle Vernon.
In a savage gesture Hermione threw the Floo powder into the empty grate; at once a heatless green fire burst into life. One after the other they stepped in, Hermione first and Harry last. With one final wave of farewell, Harry steeled himself and stepped backward into the fire. Tingly warmth enveloped his body; there was a whooshing in his ears; he closed his eyes against the swirls of ash; and the next thing he knew, he was stumbling out into the sunlit sitting room of the Burrow.
Before he could get his bearings, two plump arms swooped down on him and he was encased in Mrs. Weasley's embrace.
"Oh, Harry dear! It's so good to see you're all right. Come along, you look like you could do with some good food after all that time with the Muggles."
"'Arry! 'Ow good to see you!" Fleur floated toward him, arms outstretched. Her silvery-blond hair was tied back in a loose ponytail and she wore casual working robes, but as always she looked magnificent. Bill was right behind. There was only a mild improvement to the scars on his face, but his grin was cheery as he slapped Ron on the back and shook Harry's hand.
"They're back!" chorused two voices, as Fred and George swept forward to welcome the trio.
While Fred made a show of kissing Hermione's fingers (Ron pushed him away gruffly before his lips made contact), George wrung Harry's hand and said, "'Lo, mate."
"Hey, George. Are you staying here until the wedding?"
George threw back his head and laughed. "What's French for 'hell no'? Nah, Fleur and Mum are a bit too crazy at the mo. Don't envy Dad and Ginny for being stuck here. Fred and I have just dropped by to say hi to you lot."
"And to drop off your dirty laundry," Mrs. Weasley said, putting her hands on her hips. "As if I haven't got enough to do, I also have to wash my grown boys' dirty socks!"
"We didn't just come for that, Mum!" Fred protested, as though offended. He kissed her cheek. "We also came to sample your excellent cooking, since I set the stove on fire yesterday and George's soup tastes like hippogriff urine."
"That was hippogriff urine," George corrected. "It was just sent over from our supplier, we needed it for a new batch of Puking Pastilles. That wasn't soup, it needed to simmer on the stove for ten minutes!"
Everybody laughed at Fred's stricken expression, but Harry's eyes were scanning the room for Ginny.
He didn't have long to look. She was in a far corner, hugging Hermione in greeting. Harry took the split-second to examine her. What was he looking for? he wondered. Reddened eyes, trails of tears, some microscopic piece of evidence to suggest she had been experiencing as much torment as he had these past weeks? If so he was disappointed. Ginny looked as bright as ever, dressed much the same as Fleur in a loose ponytail and working robes.
As though his eyes had drawn her attention, Ginny glanced his way. She did then what he had been most unprepared for: she smiled. Harry gulped and looked away, pretending not to notice. Avoiding her was key. Then he wouldn't have to think about her chocolate-brown eyes, her soft pale skin, her flaming hair that contained at least seven different shades of red, depending on the light it was in. . . .
"Aren't you coming into the kitchen, Harry?" Bill asked, cocking an eyebrow at him. It occurred to Harry that everyone else had followed Mrs. Weasley into the kitchen for lunch.
"Enjoying the view?" Fred suggested wickedly.
"Oh—right—sorry." Harry coughed and hurried into the kitchen. Bill and the twins trailed behind, their expressions a little too knowing.
Once the sandwiches Mrs. Weasley had whipped up were reduced to crusts and the eating wound down, Ron jumped up with an exhilarated expression.
"Who's up for a little after-lunch Quidditch?"
Hermione, Fleur, and Mrs. Weasley rolled their eyes, and Bill declined, as he had to return to work; but Ginny and the twins agreed enthusiastically.
"Good, Ginny, Fred, and George can be on a team," Ron established, as Mrs. Weasley began to clear up dishes, "and Harry and Hermione and me can be on the other!"
"What! Ron, I never said I was playing—" Hermione objected.
Ron looked at her pleadingly. "You've got to, Hermione, without you we couldn't have even teams! Please?"
Hermione tossed her bushy hair. "Ron, I've got a book I want to finish, you can't expect me to—"
"Ron, I said I won't—"
"Please?" Unthinkingly Ron had taken one of her hands in his own, a beseeching look on his face.
Hermione started to say something, then stopped, her eyes drifting down to alight on her and Ron's interlocked hands. "Um . . ." The lightest of blushes rose up her cheeks.
After that Hermione couldn't refuse. Harry, Ginny, and the twins carefully avoided looking at each other as they left the table.
Running upstairs with Ron to fetch their broomsticks, Harry found his momentary enthusiasm for Quidditch dribbling down to dread. He had sworn he was going to avoid Ginny! There was definitely no way to avoid her when he was going to be playing against her. Not only that, but in the same position—it had already been decided that Hermione and George would be playing Keeper, Ron and Fred would be Chasers, and Harry and Ginny would be Seekers. Momentarily Harry considered backing out of the game, but after witnessing Ron's insistence on even teams he didn't want to start an argument. He would just have to grit his teeth and do it. Besides, Seeker was the most solitary position in the game. He and Ginny probably wouldn't have to have much contact. Hopefully.
His worry receded slightly as he kicked up on his Firebolt and rose into the air several minutes later. Flying always had a calming effect on him.
The game started off in favor of the opposing team, with a point scored in Hermione's goal almost right away. Harry and Ron refrained from criticizing her, since they knew one comment could have her wheeling back toward the ground with a huffy scowl on her face. However, things evened out when Ron managed to get the Quaffle around George's defenses a few minutes later.
Harry soared slightly above the actual game, surveying the paddock for any sign of the Snitch—or, rather, the Snitch's stand-in, as they didn't own an actual Snitch. Fred had enchanted an acorn to randomly zoom around the clearing at high speeds. It was the next best thing, though Harry had to remind himself to stop looking for the flicker of gold.
Ginny flew on the opposite side of the paddock, her eyes raking the air. It was hard to focus on anything else, really. Her hair always glimmered in the corner of his eye, like a flashing red beacon. It was just like all those Quidditch practices he had endured, where he'd been more prone to goggle at her than look for the Snitch.
The game continued for the better part of an hour. Harry had glimpsed the Snitch once, but when he'd glanced at Ginny to see if she'd noticed it too, he had let his gaze linger a little too long and the acorn had vanished once he looked back.
The opposing team was in a very narrow lead when Harry saw it a second time—the acorn, zipping toward the ground. Unfortunately, Ginny spotted it at exactly the same time. They exchanged one look, then tilted their brooms down and sped earthward.
Since Ginny had been a little below Harry, she was in the lead. With his Firebolt Harry put on a burst of speed so that he was right beside her, their shoulders bumping together. It occurred to him that this was far, far more contact than he had ever bargained on—his left side was practically ground against her right, he could hear her quickened breathing, could even smell a trace of that flowery scent—
Then all thought of anything but the Snitch washed away from Harry's mind; his competitive streak was firmly in control. They pelted toward the earth, faster, faster, eyes locked on that little fluttering acorn, hands outstretched—dimly he could hear the shouts of the two teams, but he couldn't make out their words—
The Snitch, hovering near a blade of grass, suddenly darted off to their right, skimming along the ground. They both pulled harshly out of the dive and streaked after it, neck-and-neck, their fingers inches from the Snitch, neither gaining an advantage until—
As though propelled by the same thought, Harry and Ginny simultaneously pushed off their brooms with their knees and launched themselves toward the acorn. Ginny's fingers snapped around it, and Harry's enclosed hers half a second later. Having lost momentum, they careened toward the ground, both their hands still tightly locked around the makeshift Snitch. With a skidding thud, they landed on the grass half on top of each other.
At first there were no cheers from their teammates, only a stunned silence. Then George said, "Blimey," and Ron said, "Who caught the Snitch first? I can't even tell who won!"
"It was Ginny," garbled Harry, releasing her hand as though it were poisonous and scuffling to his feet. "Ginny won, she got there first—"
Ginny stood up, oblivious of the grass stains striping the front of her robe, and gave Harry a hard look. "It was a draw, Harry."
"No, it's fine, you won—"
But Ginny was insistent. "It was a draw, Harry. There was barely a moment's difference between when I grabbed it and when you grabbed it—"
"Harry, if the woman says it was a draw, it was a draw," said Ron hastily, landing beside them and clearly not wanting to admit defeat.
Hermione landed shakily, looking thoughtful. "I think something like this has only happened a few times before, I read about it in Quidditch Through the Ages. A Snitch draw happened once in the World Cup of 1782, and another during the Swedish contests of—"
"Either way we won," George announced. "We had sixty points, you lot only had fifty. Add one hundred and fifty to each and we're still ahead."
Ginny was still watching Harry closely, almost angrily, and Harry was looking anywhere but at her. Going back inside to clean up and change, Harry vowed to himself not to play Quidditch for the rest of the week. The memory of Ginny's hand in his was still making his palms tingle. If anything could ruin his plans to avoid her, it was that.
Over the course of the next few days, Harry learned why Fred and George had dubbed Fleur "The Mad Bride." Fleur insisted on everyone waking up at the crack of dawn and beginning preparations right away. As Ron put it, if Fleur had her way they wouldn't eat meals or sleep at all, they would be chained in a line helping her decide on floral arrangements. Harry had never fully appreciated the amount of thought and effort that went into marriage. One whole day was spent on fittings for dress robes, another on cleaning the house and making it hospitable to guests, another on de-gnoming the lawns, weeding the flowers, and trimming the grasses. But it wasn't always a constant mad rush. In the evenings, after Fleur had been given some hot cocoa and sent to bed by a sympathetic Mrs. Weasley, Hermione, Ron, Ginny, and he were left alone by the sitting room fire. Mostly he and Ron played chess while Hermione read and Ginny watched. Harry found Ginny's eyes on him very distracting, so that he usually ended up getting checkmated within the first fifteen minutes. Once Ginny had challenged him to a game of Exploding Snap; not meeting her eyes, he had sullenly declined. For the most part he was the first to go to bed. Every time he announced his intentions to leave, he could feel Ginny watching him, and every time he could sense the disappointment in her expression.
So far his plan was working well, save for that little Quidditch snag. Fleur and Bill's wedding was looming closer all the time, and after that they could be gone . . .
Strangely, when Harry thought of it like that it did not make him feel any better. Quite the contrary, actually. Did he really want to leave her without saying anything? There were a million things he wanted to tell her, but where to start? And how could he do that without losing all of his resolve completely? He couldn't afford professions of love now—it would only make her all the juicier a target for Voldemort. And if there was one thing in this world he refused to let happen, it was that.
The day before the wedding dawned. Harry awoke with a tight feeling in his chest. Two more days left at the Burrow . . .
He probably could've stuck with his plan of avoiding her—if he hadn't met her alone on the stairs. They were on that landing beside her bedroom door, Harry heading down for breakfast and Ginny heading back to her room. But she wasn't wearing jeans and a shirt, as he was . . . He couldn't help staring at her clothes. Ginny was wearing long, flowing robes of purest gold, which glowed even in the dim lighting. The elegant robes clashed with her asunder bun and the muddy trainers poking out from beneath the hem, but Harry was still struck dumb. She always looked beautiful, but this . . .
Ginny seemed flustered that he had caught her wearing them, but she quickly tried to shrug it off. "Oh, these," she said dismissively. "Our dress robes just came in from Madam Malkin's, and of course Fleur's forcing us to try them on to make sure they fit all right. But, honestly, with all the hours of fittings we've suffered through, it would be a miracle if they didn't."
"They, er, they fit you—very well," Harry stammered—and regretted saying it almost as soon as he'd opened his mouth.
Ginny looked at him and started to smile. "Don't get too attached to them," she advised. "These robes're tight, horribly itchy things; they make me look like I've been gilded. Make no mistake, I plan to set them on fire the moment Fleur says 'I do.'"
Harry smiled and for the first time made eye contact with her. His smile faded slowly, until he was just blatantly staring at her. She looked back at him, a slight crease appearing in her brow. His only thought was that he wanted to smooth it away. He didn't remember telling himself to lean forward, to kiss her; all he knew was, one second he was standing there staring, and the next his mouth was firmly pressed on hers and one of his hands was behind her neck and one of her hands was tangled in his hair.
He couldn't be sure if it lasted only a few seconds or a full minute—as always, time seemed to cease when he was kissing Ginny. But he was certain of one thing: it was the best however-long-in-the-world he had spent in a very, very long time.
Then a shrieking alarm bell went off in his head, and he found himself gently pulling away. For several seconds they just blinked at each other, red-faced. Then Harry said, "I'm sorry," and turned away.
"Sorry?" Ginny's voice was shaking. "Sorry? You ignore me for a week and then out of the blue kiss me, and that's all you can say, sorry?"
"Well I am." Harry whirled back to face her, guilt written all over his expression. "I didn't—I didn't mean—I didn't plan—it's just—"
Ginny glowered at him. "Don't kiss me unless you plan to follow up on it, Harry," she said acidly. Her dress robes swirled as she threw open her bedroom door and stormed inside, slamming it behind her with finality.
And it occurred to Harry, as he stood frowning at the grainy wood of her door, that he had really mucked things up now.
"What does Harry think he's playing at?" That night Ginny paced around her room, seething.
With a sigh Hermione fluffed her pillow and placed it back on the cot allotted to her. "I know, he is being a bit—"
"Idiotic?" Ginny suggested. "Hermione, I agreed to break up with him, I didn't agree to be ignored by him for the rest of my life! He won't even make eye contact with me, except right before he kisses me, which is right before he runs away!"
Hermione shook her head. "I can't believe you took the breakup itself so well. I would've cursed his toenails off."
Ginny closed her eyes. "I understand why he did it, even if I hate it. And I'm not going to say anything, I'm not going to beg to go along with you three, because I'm not making it any more difficult for him than it already is . . ."
Hermione gasped. "You know the three of us are going—?"
Ginny looked mournful. "Of course, it's obvious. And one doesn't have to be a genius to overhear you lot talking about 'research' and 'when we go.'"
"Oh." Hermione looked sheepish.
Ginny tossed her nightgown onto her bed irritably. "I wish he knew he didn't have to avoid me like the plague. Just because he doesn't want to be with me anymore . . ."
"Don't think that," Hermione said firmly. "Don't ever think that. There's nothing about 'wanting' anything, Harry hates himself for doing this. It's just that—"
"He's a noble prat who thinks he's saving my life by making the both of us miserable."
"Well . . . yes," agreed Hermione. "That's the gist of it, really. Ginny, you should talk to him."
"I don't think Harry wants to talk. He either wants to kiss me or ignore me."
"Ginny . . ."
"Well, that's what it amounts to, doesn't it?"
"No, it doesn't. Ginny, Harry's very confused right now. He wants to be with you, but he wants to keep you safe. He's divided. You really ought to—"
"Zere is talking in 'ere!" The door opened; Fleur's perfect head poked in. "Ah, zis will not do! It eez late, and young ladies need zair beauty rest! Tomorrow is ze wedding, and I will not have bridesmaids or guests with great 'orrible bags under zair eyes!"
"What about you, you're up," Ginny couldn't resist pointing out.
Fleur arched a blond brow and was about to respond when Mrs. Weasley's voice rang out further down the hall.
"Oh, come along, Fleur dear, we'll have some tea, you and I—or perhaps some Firewhisky—and put you to bed, come along. . . ."
With a last dire warning about the disasters of staying up late, Fleur's head retracted. Ginny and Hermione grudgingly went to bed, their argument unfinished.