Author's Note: Here's some angst/fluff to tide you over until Book 7 comes out. There's probably more fluff than angst, however. Your thoughts and reviews will be greatly appreciated!
Disclaimer: I'm not JK Rowling or even close.
He wasn't coming.
Ginny had half-known it all along, that he would not really be able to make it. But that hadn't stopped her heart from racing at the mere thought, hadn't stopped her from being in a radiantly happy mood all day as she anticipated seeing him that night. She'd been a fool. She should have realized that nothing was certain with him; that his life was now so chaotic and spontaneous that there was little chance of him being able to keep plans he had probably made on a whim.
Ginny had known all that, but it didn't stop the tears from falling.
There she sat in the dead of night, on a rock protruding over the still, tar-colored surface of the lake. It was almost totally dark; only a fingernail of moon shone above, shedding a feeble light. The castle rearing up behind her was likewise unlit, without a solitary window gleaming radiance. This was due to two factors: one, that all students had to be in bed (or at least in their dormitory) by eight o'clock now, for security measures; and two, it was, after all, three in the morning.
Three forty-eight, to be exact, Ginny corrected herself, glancing down at her wristwatch for the thousandth time that evening. Shaking uncontrollably, Ginny drew her threadbare cloak tighter around herself; not only was it preposterously late, but it was early November, which meant that the ground was hardened with a bristly layer of frost and that her breath uncoiled from her mouth in mist. For the first hour and a half Ginny had placed recurrent heating charms on herself to keep the numbness at bay, but after that point she had only vaguely noticed the iciness creeping up her body: the pain in her heart was greater.
Where is he? she had thought at first, over and over. But gradually, hatefully she had accepted the cruel fact that he was not going to come. Either he'd been forced to drastically change his schedule, or he had forgotten it entirely in light of some momentous discovery or vital incident.
Even then, even when she had sorrowfully admitted to herself that she was waiting out here for nothing, Ginny had refused to move. Call it a Weasley stubborn streak, but at the moment nothing could compel her to stand up from her hunched sitting position, nothing could induce her to trudge in heartbreaking defeat back to Hogwarts, negotiate the twisting corridors and dodge the many patrols, and return to bed. As much grief as she was feeling now, it would be a hundred times worse when she lay in bed with the full knowledge that all that joy, all that excitement and expectancy she had been experiencing for the past twenty-four hours had been a complete and utter waste.
Her teeth audibly chattered, but her face was otherwise motionless, save for the tears streaming relentlessly from her eyes. Each drop was comfortingly warm until it reached her cheeks, where the frigid night air took its effect and all but froze the liquid in place.
Ginny's mind could not help but wander back to the previous twilight, when she had received the letter that had made her so glowingly happy—until now, anyway.
Letters from Harry were few and far between; she was lucky to receive two a month. He had to take care to send them at irregular intervals, and from obscure places where he knew he wasn't being watched. Each note was short and vague—not even a hint as to his, Ron's, and Hermione's whereabouts, not a signature, and not a word of endearment—not even so much as a "Dear Ginny." Though he could not out-and-out show affection, however, in case the message should be intercepted, Harry found subtle ways to reveal his emotions; there were numerous questions on how she was feeling, what she was doing . . . questions that might have seemed merely courteous and distant to outsiders, but Ginny knew Harry; the only reason he would ask things like that was out of sheer concern and caring. And the fact that he did write her at every available opportunity spoke volumes of his feelings.
Each note was always delivered by some miscellaneous, nondescript owl, never Hedwig, who was at Hogwarts with Ginny—on the day before he had left last summer, Harry had insisted Ginny take the snowy owl, since she would be too distinctive to use during Harry's travels. Ginny spent many evenings staring into the fireplace, absently stroking Hedwig's glossy feathers, imagining Harry was here with her. It was all too clear that Hedwig missed her master as well—she was more doleful than usual, with a palpable restlessness. She always threw a tantrum when Ginny used one of the school owls to deliver Harry's replies, nipping and screeching before finally wheeling away in a huff. Ginny didn't blame the owl; she wished she could see Harry, too.
She had not anticipated hearing from Harry last evening; his last letter had been a week ago, and so it was likely she wouldn't hear from him again until around Christmastime. When a barn owl had alighted outside the Gryffindor common room window, tapping at it impatiently until Ginny came to answer, she had naturally assumed the parchment tied to its leg was from her parents or the twins, her only habitual correspondents nowadays. When she had unraveled the small, dog-eared scroll to find Harry's scrawl, her stomach had leapt with surprise and pleasure. It had leapt even more as she took in what he had written.
Scratched hastily upon the paper were five simple words:
Tomorrow, by the lake. Midnight.
Remembering this made a hot lump arise in her throat. With trembling fingers she reached inside her cloak to remove the scroll, which was now lying straight from the number of times she had unfurled it to read over the words again, make sure they said what they did.
He wasn't coming.
The wind picked up, tearing at her bare hands and every exposed inch of skin, sucking away her breath before she could even draw it. Slowly, jerkily she ripped the hateful piece of parchment into halves, then quarters . . . she unclenched her fingertips, and let the fragments whip away in the breeze. They flew out over the lake, as tiny and graceful as white birds, and vanished into the blackness beyond.
That was when a hand closed tightly over her shoulder.
Ginny's reaction was instinctive, born from days of practicing quick reactions in the D.A.—she pounced for her wand, never far from her hand these days, and sprang to her feet, whirling around and flicking her wand tip to point squarely at . . .
Despite her certainty that someone—or something—had just grasped her shoulder, the stretch of frost-prickly grass before her was totally empty.
"Who are you?" she rapped out, in a harsh, commanding voice that made her sound braver than she felt. "If you don't show yourself before I count to five, you filthy coward, I'll blast you into pieces too small for the giant squid to eat. One. . . two. . . three . . ." She adjusted her grip on the wand and stiffened her stance menacingly. "Four . . . FI—"
Then something happened. As if a spell had been lifted, a man appeared before her, holding something limp and silvery from one hand. Despite the dimness of the lighting, she didn't need to say Lumos to see who it was.
"Harry," she said wonderingly, too stunned to react properly. Then something kicked in, and she flung herself at him. "Harry!"
He caught her in a rough embrace. "Ginny," he said hoarsely, hugging her so tightly that she was momentarily unable to breathe.
She stepped away from him and merely stared, wide-eyed. He was the same old Harry in some ways—same impossible black hair, same glasses and same vibrantly green eyes . . . but he was different. He seemed taller, older, somehow; his eyes didn't have the same kind of carefree boyishness they'd once possessed. They were tired, more serious now, and very intense as he looked at her. His clothes were somewhat shabby, as though they hadn't been washed or changed in a while, and dark circles around his eyes suggested he hadn't been getting as much sleep as his body required. She couldn't have cared less about any of that, though. He was here. For the first time in months, she was seeing him again.
"You're cold," he said with distress, wrapping his hands around her own icy ones.
"You're late," she returned simply. "You said midnight."
"I know," he replied sadly, "but . . . something happened. Hermione reckoned that that maniac Death Eater, Avery, was following us. She and Ron said I ought to wait to go in case he figured out where I was going and tried something. They wanted me not to come at all, but I—I said I couldn't . . . I said I had to, I had to see you. . . . So we found a cave where we holed up for a couple of hours until we thought we'd lost him. Then I had to Apparate in from Hogsmeade, and you know the walk takes time. . . . Ginny," he said, his voice breaking slightly, "I was so afraid . . . I thought you'd have given up waiting on me ages ago, that you'd have gone back inside already and I wouldn't be able to get in to see you. . . ."
"Harry," she said firmly, "I will never give up on you. Ever."
Harry leaned down toward her automatically, then hesitated, looking tentative. Ginny took the initiative and kissed him instead.
Within a minute he broke away, however. "Ginny . . . please," he said, in a very low voice. "Don't make this harder than it already is. You know I can't . . ."
She sighed impatiently, reaching up to touch his cheek, to force him to make eye contact with her. "Why did you come here, Harry?"
"I . . ." He stopped and looked at her curiously, as though he thought it might be a trick question.
"Isn't it dangerous for you?" she pressed him.
If her hand hadn't been on his cheek, she might not have noticed he was blushing; as it was, she could feel his skin heat up beneath her fingertips.
"Yes," he admitted finally. "But . . . we did take precautions, of course. McGonagall fixed it up so that I wouldn't trigger all the alarm spells around here if I came onto the grounds, and Ron and Hermione are going to—"
"Why didn't you take Ron and Hermione with you?" she interrupted. "I haven't seen them in just as long."
His skin grew hotter.
He drew a breath, bracing himself, then said, "Because . . . I wanted to see you alone."
Ginny looked at him piercingly, wondering if he was acknowledging what she was trying to make him see. After a few seconds, however, she turned and led Harry back to the rock she had been occupying by herself for so long before. They both sat, hand-in-hand, peering out over the lake. Its waters didn't have so much as a ripple to show that it wasn't merely an expanse of black glass.
"What is that?" Ginny asked, changing the subject of a sudden. She was pointing at the silvery, fluid object Harry still held.
"Oh. Invisibility Cloak. It was my dad's. Sorry I scared you."
She shook her head wryly. "I nearly Bat-Bogeyed you into next Tuesday."
"Thank goodness I was spared that."
Silence fell between them for a few more short moments.
"How are they?" she said unexpectedly. "Ron and Hermione?" She'd received intermittent letters from them, too, but they hadn't contained much more information than Harry's.
"They're all right. As well as can be expected, I suppose. Given the state of things. Hermione doesn't like camping very much."
"I wouldn't think she'd be an outdoorsy sort, no," said Ginny, smiling a little.
Harry gave a short laugh. "That's an understatement. Ron doesn't like it all that much either, but the amazing thing is, neither of them ever complains."
"They understand how important it all is," Ginny remarked, proud of her brother and friend for enduring so much for Harry.
"Yeah. 'Course . . . well . . . sometimes they're a bit, erm, hard to be around for other reasons."
"Ah," said Ginny knowingly. "So that's finally happened, has it?"
"Good Lord, it's only taken them seven years. What was plain as day to the rest of us always seemed to escape them, and Hermione's supposed to be the brightest witch of her age . . ." She trailed off, chuckling.
"Yeah," said Harry, in a rather flat tone. "I'm happy for them."
"Happy . . . but jealous?" Ginny suggested shrewdly.
He threw her a quick look, then sighed and raked his fingers through his hair. "Yes . . . jealous because they can just parade it for everyone to see, they don't have to worry about making targets of each other or endangering anyone they're around just by being them; they don't have to pretend like they don't feel anything for the other person, when really they—"
It was at this point that he cut himself off, hunching sheepishly. Ginny didn't ask him what he had been going to say.
"Is it hard?" she asked, after another brief pause. "Doing—doing whatever it is you're doing?"
Harry had to ponder that. "I don't know if actually doing that itself is hard; it's challenging, of course, and sometimes I want to beat my head against a tree for hours until I can figure something out. But I have Hermione and Ron to do research with me, to practice spells with me and to stick by me. So yes, it's hard, but I can deal with it. What's really the hard part is—is being away from everything, everyone. I haven't tasted Mrs. Weasley's cooking since last summer, I haven't heard a joke from Fred and George, I haven't stayed up half the night studying for that Transfiguration exam the next day; I haven't copied Hermione's notes, or sent out a letter with Hedwig, or slept in my four-poster, or ate in the Great Hall under the enchanted ceiling, or—or—"
He couldn't go on. Ginny gripped his arm consolingly.
"Or," she finished, "done anything you usually do, any of the things you love. Don't worry, Harry . . . Someday, things'll be back to normal. You can do all those things and more."
"Will things be back to normal?" said Harry hopelessly. "Sometimes I'm not so sure. For me, anyway."
"They will!" Ginny cried, outraged that he could think otherwise. "This is something you have to get through, Harry, a stage in your life, and when you overcome it—and I know you will—then you can do what you've always wanted to do, you can live your life. Maybe things won't ever be the same way as before the war—they usually never are—but, Harry, you can be happy again. You can live."
"I hope so," said Harry quietly, and Ginny knew that would be the best she would get out of him.
"What about you?" he said at last. "How have you been? What've you been doing?"
Ginny shrugged noncommittally. "Classes, mostly. It all seems so pointless knowing what's really going on. Professor McGonagall came to me at the beginning of term, though, and—and she asked me to restart the D.A."
"What'd you say?" said Harry, shocked but very pleased by this.
"I said yes, of course! There are a lot of the same people in it from before, of course . . . Neville, Luna, Ernie Macmillan, the Creeveys, the Patil sisters, even Cho . . . But there's loads of other people, too, since it's a legal group and everything. It's gotten so huge that I have Neville and Luna teach with me most of the time. McGonagall's thinking of making it a mandatory class."
"Wow." Harry sat back, deeply impressed, more than part of him wishing he could be there to teach alongside Ginny. "Con—congratulations."
Ginny waved it away. "You're the one that started it all that time ago. I just hope it helps."
"It will," said Harry. "People need to be prepared."
"I suppose so," said Ginny, her tone subdued.
Harry looked down at his lap and sighed again, misery in every line of his face. "I've probably stayed too long. I promised Ron and Hermione I wouldn't be more than an hour . . . I'd—I'd better go." Every movement appearing to pain him, he extricated his fingers from Ginny's and levered himself to his feet.
"What?" said Ginny, and she stood up in a rush. "That's it? You—you come all this way, and take all these risks, just so you can chat a bit about my daily doings and leave?"
Harry looked deeply uncomfortable again.
"Harry," she said, once more returning to the question he had failed to answer before, "why did you come here?"
"Ginny, does that really matter now? I came, didn't I?"
"Yes, it does matter! You could've just as easily—and probably more safely—visited Mum and Dad, or Lupin or Tonks, and you could've gotten quite a bit of Order information besides! But you visit me, and I don't know any private Order goings-on, I barely have an idea of what's happening outside this school, and since you haven't told me a single thing about what you're doing I can't help you at all with that! So what exactly is the point of you coming here?"
Harry gazed at her helplessly; she glared doggedly back. Knowing she would not back down, he bowed his head in defeat.
"All right . . . the truth is, I—I needed to see you. I needed to know you're safe. I needed to hear your voice again, hear your laugh. I needed to see for myself how you are. Yeah, maybe I could've gone to Lupin or your parents and gotten some valuable insights on how the war's going, but I'm sick of the war, it's all I ever talk about, but you, Ginny . . . you're all I ever think about. I had to see you. I had to. I would've driven myself insane if I hadn't."
"Why?" she asked softly.
"Because," was all he said.
"Because why?" When he didn't respond, she stepped closer to him. "Harry, you may think you're protecting me by not saying what you feel, but you're only hurting us both. I accepted it when you broke up with me at Dumbledore's funeral; I accepted it when you attempted to avoid me at Bill and Fleur's wedding. But I will not accept this, Harry. I will not accept you refusing to tell me what we both know is true. There's too much danger around us for you to not say this when you have the opportunity. So either say it or say goodbye."
Harry's face was inches from hers. He blinked, his eyes flickering with something like fear, and then brimming with that unnamed emotion; and then they clouded over into something unreadable, something filled with hurt and yet resolve. And that's when she knew she had lost him.
"I can't, Ginny," he said, almost inaudibly. "I have to go."
Ginny wanted to crumple over with loss, but she straightened instead, lifting her chin. "Goodbye," she said levelly, tonelessly. Then she turned, shoulders squared, and headed back toward Hogwarts Castle, each footstep crackling in the frost. Her insides felt as if they had been shredded by werewolf claws; her throat burned with suppressed sobs. But she remained composed-looking and upright as she approached the great oak front doors.
But, before she could reach out to open them, she felt a pressure on her shoulder again.
"What is it, Harry?" she said resignedly, turning back around.
"Ginny," he said, looking ashamed, "I'm sorry for being a coward. I should've told you ages ago, but I thought—I thought it would be better for both of us if it went unsaid. It was stupid, though. I'm sorry."
"What did you want to tell me, Harry?" Ginny inquired, feigning confusion.
He said it as confidently and solidly as though he were speaking his wedding vows.
"I love you, Ginny."
"Oh, is that all?" Ginny said teasingly, grinning. "Well, if that's the case I suppose I ought to say I love you too."
For the first time that night, Harry gave a genuine smile, the exact same delighted smile she'd seen on his face whenever he had won a Quidditch match, the exact same silly grin he'd worn when he had kissed her for the very first time, in front of a cheering and whistling crowd. The boyish twinkle was back in his eyes as he leaned down to kiss her once more.
Reluctantly, they broke away a few minutes later. Ginny knew the temperature could not have drastically risen since she had first sat out here, but at the moment she felt perfectly warm.
"See," she breathed, "that wasn't so hard, was it?"
"We're coming home for Christmas," he informed her solemnly. "I don't care what it takes, we'll be at the Burrow for Christmas. I promise."
Ginny sighed and nodded, content that she had something to look forward to.
Harry leaned his forehead against hers. "I love you," he whispered, as if he could make up for not speaking it until now by repeating it over and over.
"I love you too," Ginny replied, kissing him on the cheek. "Now you'd better go. Ron and Hermione'll be waiting."
"Goodbye." He surveyed her one last time, raised one hand, and then swept the Invisibility Cloak around himself. In an eye-blink he had vanished, and Ginny was once more left staring at nothing. She leaned against the oak front doors, mentally preparing herself for the long, surreptitious flight across darkened rooms, past sleepy teachers on patrol, and through every secret passage and hidden corridor the twins had ever shown her. But her mind soon strayed from the cautious skulking she would soon have to do. She could not have known that, at that precise moment, she and Harry were wondering the exact same thing: how many days were there until Christmas, again?
With a sigh, Ginny eased open one door and slipped into the blackness beyond.