Ginny sighed as she returned her attention to the board in front of her and tried to work out a way that didn't mean she'd lose. After dinner, they'd come back to the common room and Ron had challenged her to a game of Wizards chess. Not having anything else better to do, she'd agreed, but her mind hadn't been one hundred percent focused on the game. Sprawled on the floor by the fire, her mind was in a numb haze.
She was thinking about Harry and what had happened last night. She had to admit that she felt better than she had yesterday; although the hurt was still there, it wasn't as overpowering and she knew now that there'd eventually be an end to the all-consuming nature of it. People would grieve, but they would adjust, just like Harry said. Those that had died had sacrificed their lives for those that were still living to go on; she couldn't cheapen that.
Even though she'd had quite a late night, she'd woken up early. She'd felt the need to visit the one place she'd avoided since the funeral: Fred's grave. She had stood there for nearly an hour, remembering everything he'd ever done to make her laugh, everything that had made her cry, everything he'd done to protect her from the evils of the world. Him and George had helped to keep the fear spread by the Death Eaters at bay by keeping everyone's spirits uplifted. She smiled sadly now at the two words she'd added to his gravestone: mischief managed.
She'd gone to breakfast after that. She'd sat down at the table filled with her other family members and felt really grateful that she was still here. She'd caught the hug and support her father gave her mother when he left for work. She'd noticed the motherly attentions her mother was smothering over every one of her children. She'd also seen the way that Ron and Hermione had looked at each other when they reached out for the same piece of toast. This was what life was about, it was the people around you that helped you to survive these times and it was those people you loved that helped you to reach happier times.
And then she'd seen Harry and the shame had set in.
Looking at him then, he had been physically present at the table, but his mind was miles away. She'd been so absorbed in her own grief that she'd completely ignored how he must be feeling. She'd been so selfish last night, making everything out to be about her. Even when the post came and Ron managed to pick out a very lacy pair of pants, he only managed a small smile. She'd seen the looks between Ron and Hermione that said 'he's brooding again'. He'd caught her eyes a couple of times during breakfast, but none of them more than a couple of seconds. In them, she'd not seen happiness.
"King to F3," she ordered, and her piece moved out from harm's way.
She'd sat by the lake for most of the afternoon, contemplating her thoughts. She'd watched as Harry, Ron and a dozen other male helpers cleared rocks from the bottom of the lake. Apparently, the Giant Squid had narrowly escaped death by flying rocks when the Death Eaters destroyed part of the castle. It had taken them the best part of a day, but at least now the Giant Squid had enough room to play about in and would pester walkers by no longer. She had skipped lunch and Harry seemed to have skipped dinner, not having come back to the common room. She hoped that there would be an opportunity to talk to him, but he hadn't appeared.
They turned at the sound of someone coming in through the portrait. Hermione entered carrying what looked to be a dozen old books under her arms.
"Hermione, I know you like reading, but you don't have to take the whole of the library with you; it's not going to go anywhere," Ron commented, earning himself a glare. Hermione relieved herself of her burden and plonked herself on the sofa behind Ron with a sigh.
"I'm just doing some last minute research on memory charm reversals," she replied, reaching out her hand to rest in Ron's hair. When he turned around and smiled at her, Ginny felt a twang of envy.
"When are you leaving for Australia?" Ginny asked.
"Oh, soon, I hope. I managed to get the house sorted out today, so as soon as the Portkey application is accepted really." Ron reached up and squeezed Hermione's hand before returning to the game. Hermione sighed, picked up one of the books and began to read, her hand still absently stroking Ron's hair.
Ginny looked at the older girl sitting across from her. They'd shared some of their life stories in the holidays spent together, but there was still so much she didn't know about Hermione. She had to admit that she was, at times, insanely jealous of Hermione's relationship with Harry. Not to mention that she was the one that had spent the last year with him. She wasn't jealous in the sense that she thought Hermione loved Harry in a boyfriend/girlfriend kind of way, she was devoted to Ron, but just that she was the strongest female influence in his life. She'd given up her family so that she could go and help Harry out.
"Checkmate! It took long enough, but I finally showed you who the Weasley champion is at Wizard's Chess."
"Yeah, Weasley is our King!" she snorted, scooping her pieces into a bag and watching as Ron coloured. Turning to Hermione, she asked, "Did you see Harry on the way up?"
Hermione looked up from her reading. "No I didn't. He skipped dinner."
"Kingsley caught up with us as we were going to the hall, said he wanted to talk to Harry about some 'important issue'," Ron snorted. "Probably wants to make him the next Minister of Magic."
"Ron, don't say that. You know how annoying he finds it," Hermione replied.
"What, he'd make a better Minister than all of the previous ones. He actually cares about the people, not his image," Ron retorted.
"That being so, we shouldn't leave him to brood too long by himself." Hermione looked at her then, a question in her eyes.
Ginny got up and stretched, nodding imperceptibly. "Well, I'm going to see if I can persuade Kreacher to give me some leftover treacle tart."
Walking towards the portrait, she half expected Hermione to say something to her, but it was Ron who surprised her.
"Ginny?" She turned back to her brother's piercing gaze. "Just be careful, okay? I don't just mean Harry, I mean you as well. This past few months have left some wounds that may take a while to heal."
She reappraised her brother there and then. Sometimes he really did surprise her with just how sensitive to other people he was. She gave a small smile and nod, leaving them and climbed out the portrait.
After securing a whole treacle tart that was now wrapped up in cling film, she wandered outside to the spot where she'd left Harry last night. He'd told her last year that this was his favourite thinking spot, so she guessed he would be out here somewhere, contemplating the world. However, when she arrived by the lake, she could see no one. Deciding that it was a nice night and not wanting to lose three quarters of the tart to Ron by going back, she sat on the bank and tucked into the deliciously sticky pudding.
"Three courses are never enough for any Weasley, I see."
Ginny jumped, somehow managing to pull her wand, turn around and save the pie from falling on the floor at the same time.
"Harry!" she cried as he materialised out of thin air. "Stop with the scaring me like that."
Harry gave her a small smile and sat down next to her. "Sorry, but it's fun seeing you react like that. I'm impressed that you didn't drop the tart, but then again I shouldn't be surprised with the Weasley food-loving genes."
"Hey, you make us out to sound like fat pigs that all we ever do is think about our stomachs or eat," she retorted, poking her tongue out at him. She held out her bounty. "Want some?"
"Wow, did a Weasley just offer me some of their food?"
Harry ducked aside as her fist darted towards his arm. "Oi, be nice else I am fully capable of finishing this myself."
They resorted to silence as they ate, both managing to finish the tart between them in no time. She noticed that Harry was staring off over the lake, his eyes dark in the dusky light.
"What are you thinking?" she asked quietly.
He didn't answer her and she was about to repeat the question when he sighed and looked over to her. His eyes were dark, but penetrating.
"The future," he replied. "Kingsley asked me if I wanted to join the Aurors earlier today, said he'd accept me even without NEWTs."
"That's great, Harry!" She frowned at his lack of excitement. "Isn't that what you want?"
He tilted his head to the side and hooked one arm around his knee. "To be honest, I don't really know what I want. This vengeance quest with Voldemort has filled my thoughts, but now he's gone, it's like I can do anything."
She nodded, licking the last traces of sugar from her fingers. "So what else have you thought about doing?"
"Well, it's been a dream of mine since I saw my first broomstick that I'd like to play professional Quidditch. But Quidditch has always been more of a hobby, something I can pick up or put down, something I can escape to."
"I'm sure many fan girls will faint in disappointment to hear you say that," Ginny smirked. I certainly would, she thought.
"Hmmph. Quidditch is good, it's just..." Harry faltered, not knowing how to complete it.
"Even though you'll get the chance to kick some arse, there won't be many opportunities to save people," she finished.
He raised an eyebrow. "I wouldn't put it so bluntly, but being an Auror seems a more... worthwhile career than Quidditch."
She understood where he was coming from; that was the essence of Harry's nature. He only felt good if he was doing something for the greater good.
"So are you going to take it?" she asked.
"Probably, although not straight away." He looked at her before looking away over the lake again. "I just need some time to take a break, travel maybe."
She watched him. He had been through so much in just a short space of time. And throughout it all, he had managed to keep his morals and keep grounded by the things that made him who he was. Yet now, as she watched him, he seemed lonely, distant, as if he was trying to keep everything in check. She felt the overwhelming urge to hug him, to comfort him. So much had happened and so much time had been wasted apart; did it really matter about the past? Acting on the urge, she rose up on her knees and threw her arms around him.
She felt his arms tighten around her. She resisted the urge to cry again, not for herself, but for the way the world had treated this person that had given so much of himself to its cause in such an unfair way. She was also proud of him of the way he had stood up for everyone, risen to the challenge and conquered over evil. The Boy Who Lived Again seemed like a strong and noble person, but the person in front of her now was just Harry Potter, the boy who was lost. She hugged him closer, pulling him into her, trying to give him all the comfort she could. She felt him respond in kind and felt his glasses pull on her hair as pressed his face into her neck.
They stayed like that, silently listening to the lapping waters of the lake in front of them until she started to lose circulation in her legs. She pulled back, grimacing slightly as she lost a few strands of hair to Harry's glasses. His eyes were shining as he looked at her.
"Ginny...I..." He stumbled on his words and looked away. She grabbed his chin, pulling his gaze back to hers.
"Harry, just say it. We've been step-toeing around each other for too long and it's really ridiculous if you think about it."
"I missed you." She saw him close his eyes and take a deep breath. He squeezed her waist as he held her in front of him. "So much. Everyday."
"Me too, Harry," she replied, smiling lightly at him. He didn't return the smile, but brought his hand up to her face, brushing away the hair there.
"I know I hurt you by leaving you here. I know that you're angry with me for wandering off without you, but honestly, I don't regret it." He frowned slightly as he realised what he had said. "I don't mean I regret spending the time away from you, just that I don't regret leaving you here. I am sorry for hurting you, Ginny."
Ginny felt the anger inside of her, felt the jealousy, the anguish of the past rise up. But she realised just how meaningless it was in the now.
"Harry, I forgive you. After all, I was nothing more to you than a girl in the year below you that you had a few laughs with a few nights a week." She saw him begin to argue, but shook her head. "Please, Harry, listen. We both knew that it was just a fling, something that would end as soon as Tom came between us, no matter what feelings we began to develop. Back then, we were just a boy and a girl, taking advantage of being teenagers without responsibility."
She took a deep breath and looked into his eyes. "Harry, I...I want to be here with you again. Being apart made me realise that, well, I more than like you and I want something more than a fling that only lasts until the next crisis comes along. I can't go through that again, Harry. Not knowing how you were, if you were lying in a ditch somewhere, not even able to do a single thing about it if you were. I know it had to happen, but I want to move on from there."
His eyes were so dark that she couldn't really tell what he was thinking. And then he sighed. He looked like he was struggling with something and she was slightly disappointed when he gently pushed her away from him and stood up. He took a small, round stone from his pocket and brushed it over with his thumb as he spoke, his gaze concentrated on the stone. When he spoke, his voice was low.
"I hate to say it, but I agree with you that what we had a year ago, even though it was the happiest time of my life, was not so fulfilling as it seemed back then. I was not really in the state of mind for a proper relationship, and this sounds like I was just using you, but I wasn't. I just didn't know any better. Deep down, I knew eventually that it was going to be me against Voldemort. Even through that small amount of time we had together, I knew enough to know that I didn't want you to get caught in the cross-fire again."
"But the first time, it wasn't about you," she said, frowning.
He looked over at her, his eyes sad. "It was, Ginny. It's always been about me. The diary was a Horcrux – a piece of Voldemort's soul. It had always been his plan to be immortal, but I came along and upset that. Ever since Trelawney had a prophecy about me being the one that would eventually have the power to defeat him, he did all he can to get rid of me, no matter who stood in the way."
She could see what he was thinking; he was blaming himself for all those deaths. "Harry, like you had a choice! Did you make Trelawney have that prophecy? Did you make Tom believe those words? Whether you believe in prophecy or not, it was his belief that it was the truth that made him do what he did!"
"I know, I know," he pleaded with her. "What I was trying to say was that Tom would always be there between us until one of us died trying to kill the other. I know what it felt like to have him in your head and I didn't want that for anyone, especially you again. My mind was so focussed on him and I feared him finding out how I felt about you that I was just too immature at that stage to think about a proper relationship."
He looked out over the lake again. "There wasn't a day this past year where I didn't think about you at least once. There were times when it was just so...lonely and it all seemed so hopeless, like it would have been easier to give up than to figure out the stupid riddles people kept sending us. Sometimes, when I was carrying the locket, I forgot what I was fighting for. However, all I had to do was think of you and what would happen if he ever got his hands on you, and it would give me the strength to get up the next day and carry on."
She frowned slightly at the mention of the locket, not understanding, but she didn't want to interrupt him.
"Ginny, when I..." he broke off again. She was silent, waiting for him to find the right words and the courage to tell her what he was thinking. He'd not often shared his thoughts like this with anyone, she was the same, and it wasn't exactly the easiest thing in the world to do.
He took a deep breath and grimaced at her. "Sorry. I keep trying to explain things, but it's hard when I realise how much you don't know. I'm so sorry, Ginny."
"Don't be sorry, Harry. Just say it, if I don't understand, I'll ask."
"When Voldemort killed my parents, his almost-death left part of his soul within my body, turning me into a Horcrux. It was because of this Horcrux that I could speak Parseltongue and we had that horrible connection. The only way that he could ever truly be defeated was if all of the Horcruxes he had made were destroyed, else he'd just go back into a state of nearly-dead as he did after he attacked my parents."
"How many Horcrux things did he make?" Ginny asked. She realised now that that was what their 'mission' had been about this last year, even though she didn't quite understand exactly what a Horcrux was.
Harry sighed again. "Seven. His ring, the diary, the cup, the locket, the Diadem, the snake and the part of him inside me."
Only three of those things made sense to her.
"In order to destroy that part of him inside of me, I had to face death without fear, without worry and it had to be by my choosing. It was the hardest thing I've ever done, choosing to sacrifice everything I had so that those I'd leave behind would stand a chance for freedom." His voice was gravelly and he looked down at the ground. "I'm not entirely sure exactly how it happened, but somehow because he had used my blood to resurrect himself two years ago, it was his part of soul that was destroyed with that killing curse, not mine."
With a sudden lurch, Harry swept out his arm and threw the stone across the lake where it skimmed, five, six, seven times before dropping under the surface. He stood there, his back to her, his voice quiet.
"It was because of you that I was able to face death without fear. At the moment he cast his Avada Kadvra, I was thinking of you, remembering your fire, your smile, what it felt like when you kissed me, the safety I felt when I just lay beside you in the sunshine, the sight of you on a broomstick..."
He now turned and knelt by her, taking her hands in his. His eyes were bright and watery, and his gaze intense.
"Do you see, Ginny, how much you mean to me? What started out with maybe a teenage crush grew up with such force that you gave me the power to defeat Voldemort." He looked away towards the castle. "For years Dumbledore has been telling me that love is the strongest power on this earth, and I never really believed him until now."
Ginny was speechless. She felt something bubbling up from inside of her, something she'd never felt before. It was warm, no hot, and she felt difficulty in drawing a breath.
"Ginny, I don't want to hide it or control it anymore. I want you to be more than just a meaningless teenage crush. I know it probably sounds foolish that an eighteen year old wizard is saying such things, considering I am a teenage wizard." He shrugged, his eyes seeking hers again. "I just wanted to you to know what I felt before you made up your mind. You don't have to decide now, you can-oomph!"
He didn't get a chance to finish the sentence and Ginny had thrown herself at him, planting her lips on his and kissing him for all he was worth. She felt the roughness of his chapped lips and tasted the sweetness of the treacle tart. All her frustration, her anger, her sorrow, her hope, she put it into that kiss and hoped for the world that he was able to feel every last bit of it. She didn't care that his glasses were nudging her nose, nor did she care if he could taste her tears. All she cared about was that he knew she was there and intended to be there from this point onwards.
He was the first to pull back, gasping for breath. She saw wetness on his cheeks to match her own. He pulled her head forward and kissed her cheeks where the tears had fallen, promptly causing more to fall in their place. He chuckled.
"Those had better be tears of happiness, otherwise I've definitely got something wrong with my technique."
She laughed, her smile fighting through the tears. "There's nothing wrong... with your technique... I'm just...oh Harry."
She hugged him again. This time, he lay back on the bank, pulling her on top of his chest. She snuggled closer as he stroked her hair. She felt his chest vibrate as he spoke.
"After Voldemort fired that killing curse at me I guess you could say that I was stuck in limbo, somewhere in-between worlds. In that world, for just half an hour ... it didn't hurt there. I wasn't in pain, I had no responsibility pressing down upon me, people didn't hate me, people didn't die, people weren't relying on me. I got an explanation for everything I asked, something I've never really received much of in this world and I got to see Dumbledore again, one last time."
She felt him take a deep breath. "I can't say that I haven't sometimes wished I was back there, especially with all that has happened this week, but that would have been the easy way out. I could have made the simple choice to go on, to not come back and face this world. If only I had taken that train, I could have left all the pain behind."
"But you're not that person."
He lifted his head and looked down to see her eyes bright with understanding. He sighed deeply, letting his head fall back.
"Nope, I'm not. Besides, I would have been stupid to miss feeling what I'm feeling now. This is incomparable to that nothingness. I'm not going to leave you again, Ginny, I promise."
"You'd better not else you'll have more than a few Bogeys to worry about," she replied teasingly.
He squeezed her arms and she sighed again. There was so much that she didn't understand, but at least she knew that he was going to be here to explain it in the future.
"I love you, Ginny Weasley."
She laughed, she couldn't help it. How long had she been dreaming, how many different scenarios had she imagined him saying those words to her? And yet, this was as perfect and as unexpected as any of them. She pushed herself up so she was leaning on her elbows either side of his head. His eyes were dark and green and full of life and love. Reaching out and brushing a finger over the lightning bolt scar, she only hoped that hers reflected the same.
"I love you too, Harry Potter," she replied, leaning down to meet her lips with his.
A/N: Thank you all to those who've got this far. Please let me know what you think of my writing, any constructive comments can only help me to improve.
Thanks again for reading. Tallie :)