"GINNY! STOP, PLEASE!"
He rushed over the roots of a tree, coming close to tripping, and his seeker's reflexes caught him against the top bit of a branch, righting his center.
"LET ME EXPLAIN!"
He stumbled forward, running, winded even though just a month before he'd sprinted for hours in battle without a second to gasp in a breath. Ginny's lithe form was scrambling madly away from him, her shoulders tense and shaking, and her hair whipped wildly like fire following her steps. She pivoted between the close-knit grove of trees, stepping under a willow and disappearing behind its cascade of boughs. He reached the hidden sanctuary two seconds later, and stopped short- she was gone.
Gone. His eyes swept over the area, looking for telltale movement, but there was nothing. Birds called in the distance, the only sound filling the sudden silence of the empty world about him. Gone.
But maybe not too far gone.
His breathing slowed as he paced around the inner circle of the long, bright green shoots that swept down, arching around him. They swayed lightly, not by human hands but by the barest breath of wind that could reach this far into the forest behind the Burrow. Harry's hands fell to his sides, and he felt tears, unbidden, forming in his eyes.
"I'm not asking for you to forgive me for leaving you. I'm not asking you to stop hurting. I just want to tell you why I'm doing this, what it really means," he began, and laughter- painful, wet, coughing laughter, filled his ears. Harry tensed. She was up in the tree, looking down on him.
"Why should I listen, Harry? Why did I listen to you at Dumbledore's funeral? All that 'being with you is like living a dream?' tosh you fed me? If you were never really coming back, you should have TOLD me, Harry," she spat.
"I didn't say anything I didn't mean," he pleaded, but Ginny was venomous.
"But that's just it, Harry! You never mean to hurt anybody! Ron was always second best behind you, but it wasn't your fault! Hermione was too afraid that starting a relationship with him would stop her from helping YOU! Neville and Luna were so worried, wondering where you'd gone, if you were alive-" her voice cracked, and Harry's eyes searched the trees, hoping to see signs of a disillusionment charm shimmering in the half-light that filtered down.
"You don't mean to hurt people, Harry, we all know! But you DO!" she cried, and Harry felt tears slipping down his cheeks.
"You're right," he sighed. "I hurt you, Ginny. I know it."
Silence fell, and he could hear her sniffles in the background, light- almost as if they were dreamt, not real- and immense pain filled him, as always- the regret that he could not keep her safe, that despite every moment he'd denied himself with her that last year, she had been through hell, alone and scared for him, at Hogwarts. Surrounded by enemies- his enemies- who knew what it was doing to her.
"Harry-" her voice cracked again, and he felt a rip of pain run through him. "I can't keep doing it, I can't- I can't keep not knowing what you want," she sobbed, and Harry sat down against the knarled, ancient trunk, feeling the bark scrape into his back.
Overwhelming fear tangled with hope and shame in his stomach, pooled in his mind, forcing his mouth open and closed again. She needed him. He needed her. Why had this always been so difficult? Why could he never tell anyone he loved them until they were gone?
A limb cracked above and his head shot up, concern filling him. Branches rustled, but if she had moved, she was too quick to be followed.
Harry hung his head. She was gone. He buried his head in his hands. A surge of grief washed over him, and he gripped his head in his hands, rocking against the tree. Images of kissing her, that blazing look over her face, of sitting under their tree, of snuggling up in the common room and studying with her feet kicking his in the library and the way she looked that horrible night when George's ear was lost rushed through- seeing her kissing Dean- watching her fly, with that exhilarated joy that made him want to soar up to meet her- her dirty trouser knees, always worn through from Quidditch falls and grass stains- the way she chewed her quill when she didn't want to concentrate- everything he ever wanted to show her he loved about her came sweeping over him, claiming him, and he felt release surge up to meet his lips. They parted and he felt his mind think aloud for the thousandth time, "I love you, Ginny," but somehow, this time, he was saying it- whispering it like it was the most fervent of prayers, the most secret of admonitions- and something taunt inside him seemed to melt away, the feel of the words leaving his lips like a gentle caress.
"What?" came an answering whisper, too close to be above, but too far to be beside. His eyes snapped open.
He still couldn't see her, but he was sure he felt her, as surely as if she were sending off an electric current. Harry looked into the emptiness in the air surrounding him, focused as hard as he ever had to find the snitch, and then he saw it. A slight shimmer, ever so delicate, lost in the gleam of the sunlight on leaves- but still, he could see her, the famous Weasley blush melting into her cheeks even with the disillusionment hiding her.
He stood, eyeing her spot, seeing the outline of the curve of her cheek, the stillness of her shoulder and the barest trace of arm as she shifted from sitting to stand. He could feel her tension; she was getting ready to run for it.
"I don't want to leave you. I'm not doing this to go on another hunt or to get some excitement or because I think you're weak and you won't leave me. I'm doing it because I know you're leaving- you're going back, Ginny- and I want to be done with training when you're home from school. I want to be ready for you," he paused, turning the words over in his mouth- "ready for when you're ready for me," he stopped, waiting until they cooled in the air. Electricity seemed to buzz around him, humming in the air, and he could see her shimmer, still, across the ground on the other side of the tree. She wasn't moving, at least.
"Why can't you come back with me?" came her tiny voice, and Harry felt a spark of hope erupt within him before he quickly tampered it down.
"Gin, I- It's not that I don't want to spend the year with you- I don't really want anything so much as I've always wanted this- but I can't- I can't go back there again."
She was quiet, and Harry watched her, knowing that she had realized he could see her outline.
"Is it Fred?" she asked, but he shook his head.
"You're done," she said, more an answer than a question, and he nodded.
"I wanted to talk to you before you found out. I wanted to ask you what you thought. I haven't actually taken the position yet," he admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. Somehow he was worried about what she would think when she learned that he had held off the Minister of Magic for three weeks with the fact that he needed his "girlfriend's input" on something this big. It felt intrinsically intimate to admit he wanted her happiness before his, that he put her opinion before his own.
"How long?" she asked, her voice taking on a sliver of normalcy, and Harry relaxed his shoulders.
"Bout half a month, maybe a bit more," he admitted, and he heard a soft sigh.
"Why didn't you ask me?"
Harry squirmed, feeling her invisible gaze leveling him. "I felt like you had enough to be dealing with,"
"Harry, I could tell. You do this thing with your smile when you're keeping things- it's just a little bit off, is all. But I knew something was wrong," Ginny argued. "I'd rather know."
"I know," he admitted. He shrugged, wishing he didn't sound so pathetic.
It was quiet again, but not with the same pounding panic it had been before. It was calm- charged, like a fire about to blow- but as the birds flitted outside of sight, their chattering was no longer harsh on his ears. The shadowed dome of leaves seemed their own private cottage.
A slight pant of breath hit his face, and he snapped up from examining his trainers to see her shimmer had moved close- very close. Her face was inches from his.
"Gin?" he whispered hoarsely.
"Yeah?" she answered quietly, and he could see individual hairs glinting as she angled her head down, probably staring at where her hands should be. She always did that during DA lessons.
The wind was knocked out of him violently as she threw herself, and Harry locked his arms around his invisible siren, tears slipping and spilling down his cheeks and into her hair.
She was sobbing for the second time he could remember, and he felt guilt wash fresh over him as he realized she didn't cry like this over other things- over Dobby and Tonks and even Fred- those were silent tears, not an eruption like this was.
"I w-was s-s-s-o scared, Harry!" she cried, and he grabbed his wand, frustration at not being able to see his Ginny blurring his vision, and she melted into view before him, her eyes red and wet, her cheeks streaked, her clothes rumpled and muddy. Godric she was beautiful, he reveled, and he pulled her face towards him without even bothering to ask if it was ok.
"I love you, I love you, I love you, Ginny Weasley," he murmured, listening to her happy giggles escaping between half-sobs, kissing her wet eyelids, her cheeks and her chin and her nose and her lips, and settling into a deep kiss that stifled the last of her sniffling. Ginny hummed against him, her scent filling his nose as her lips slanted over his, parting again and again and filling him up with bliss. Her tongue mingled with his, sweet perfection singing in his gut and shooting heat through him, and he pulled her into his lap.
She pulled away, breaking off their kissing, and he groaned as she giggled in response.
"I love you," she whispered throatily.
Harry looked up into her eyes, dumbfounded, and saw the way her emotions pooled, liquid, warm and unwavering. It was a shock, like icy cold water, only somehow much, much better.
"Gin?" his voice cracked. "D'you think you could get off me? I don't really trust myself right now," he spoke, and she let out a peal of laughter as she scrambled off his lap, letting him take a few deep, calming breaths.
"Too much for you, Potter?" she teased, "I know I affect you, but I didn't think just being in your lap would make things difficult for you . . ." Her voice trailed off at the look on his face.
"Harry?" she questioned, and he looked up, a smile spreading over him as his eyes closed in happiness.
"No one's told me that before."
Silence fell, and she crawled over to him. Harry felt the joy tumbling around inside him. Her arms slid over his, and then she was wrapped around him, curled like a cat around his back.
"If I have it my way, you'll be hearing it every day for quite some time, Mr. Potter," she smiled, kissing his temple and leaning her head on his. Harry chuckled, thoughts of little red-haired girls and boys running up to jump in their bed on lazy Sunday mornings filling his head. He pulled her closer, if it was possible, and sighed happily.
"When do you start?"
"Not until a week after you're gone," he answered, still squeezing her happily. "I made a deal with Kingsley that I'd skip the first year of training- he figures I probably covered most of tracking, stealth and concealment anyway. He's just reviewing it. Most of what I need is potions, charms, protocol, and strategy. He doesn't even want NEWTS," Harry admitted.
"What about Ron?" she asked, seeming to read his mind as usual.
"He's going to offer the same deal to Ron when he gets back, but I think Ron might want to work at the shop with George for a while first. I figure Hermione is a bit more important to him right now too, but I didn't mention it to Kingsley," he grinned, and he opened his eyes to see Ginny's fierce ones blazing back.
"I love you so much, Harry," she whispered, and he tipped her face closer.
"Ditto," he whispered, grinning, and she slapped him jokingly.
"That doesn't count, Potter! You want these lips, you have to work for them!" she taunted, moving off his lap to shy away from his persistent grip.
"Oh, I think I've worked for them alright," Harry whispered, his eyes darkening.
"Harry Potter! You saving the wizarding world does NOT mean you are entitled to snogging rights!" she protested, crossing her arms, and they grinned at each other before Harry snorted and they fell to the ground, Ginny clutching her stomach as she roared with laughter.
"How about becoming second in command of the Auror division? Does that get me anywhere?" he teased, and Ginny's mouth dropped.
"Are you . . . are you serious?"
"No, that was my godfather," Harry chuckled, and she smacked him lightly, her eyes dancing. Harry felt a burst of fondness for his shaggy godfather, and this time, it wasn't tainted by remorse or pain.
"Are you sure you're ready for that?" she asked quietly, and he was silent, contemplating.
"I'm not, but I think they've been stretched too thin by the war, and most leaders . . . most leaders like power. I hate it. Dumbledore once said he wasn't made to be Minister because he was afraid of what he would do once he learned to like the power it gave him. Kingsley wants me to do it once I'm done training and I've had more field experience than most of the Aurors who'll be under me. A lot of the survivors have about the same skills as Tonks did, I guess. They're recent trainees or retirees who came back to help," he explained.
Ginny was quiet, and he found himself wondering what was going through her head. He could see her mind working over what he'd said, looking for any problems with his plans, and finding none, she smiled at him.
"I guess I knew you were going to do this awhile ago."
Harry said nothing, just gazing back at her, watching the way the sunlight flitted over her skin.
"At least this time I'll have some warning of when you're leaving, and probably how long you'll be gone," she joked, a tired look of acceptance on her face. Harry felt anxiety well up within him.
"Well, I've been working on that, actually- it's more Hermione, I guess- but I had the idea. Well, no, Sirius had the idea," he fumbled, and Ginny grinned. "Harry, what is it?"
"Do you remember those two-way mirrors that Sirius gave me?" he asked, and Ginny's eyes went wide.
"That's brilliant!!! If you can make those again, we can talk every night!"
"Yeah, it will be good, especially since I reckon we can't send many owls. Any we send out will have tracking charms able to find us, so Aurors usually aren't allowed," Harry explained. "Enough of this though- I can tell you about it later. What do you want to do today?"
Ginny lay back in the grass at the base of the tree, and beckoned with one finger. Harry crawled across the ground, grinning, and she stopped him with her hand.
A devilish smile was her only reply.
"Really, Gin, What is it?"
"It's kind of sexy watching you do that," she smirked, and Harry shook his head and lay down beside her, spooning her. They each sighed.
"I'll admit I had plans to go swimming, but I feel like something else might be in the way," she admitted, and Harry felt his shoulders droop even while lying down. Had he really hurt her so much she couldn't go swimming with him?
"If you need time-" he began, but she rolled over and snuggled into his chest, effectively silencing him.
"Silly. I just realize there are things I don't know. Things I should know. And you need to tell me," she said softly, and Harry gave a start, looking down at her.
"You're right," he whispered. "No more secrets," he recalled aloud, and she kissed the corner of his mouth.
"Harry, you can have some secrets from me- you know I love surprises-" here he smirked, and she chuckled a bit. Both were thinking of the time he'd "surprised" her by grabbing her as she came out of the library sixth year and pulling her back into a broom closet for some "serious alone time," as she'd later dubbed it. "-But I don't want to have these gaps between what you know about me and what I know about you. Sometimes I get the feeling that with all the fighting and chasing we've done, actually dating each other got left behind a bit," and Harry nodded.
"We can fix that, you know," he reminded, kissing her neck and smiling when her eyes closed and her body shuddered just once.
"Fix what?" she asked, curling her arms around him and tugging him down on her.
"You're sure I'm not crushing you?"
"Harry, we've been over this! It's-"
"-Fine, I know-"
"But don't change the subject, what are we fixing?"
"Yes, fixing- well, I just meant, I figure we could go on dates, if you want. I can apparate you to my school and I can see yours," Harry offered, and Ginny stared at him.
"Harry, you do know I had to be homeschooled, right?" she asked, and he stared back.
"No, all of us- we're too prone to accidental magic. And in the twins' case, I think Mum was afraid they might blow something up for kicks, even when they were in preschool. I learned everything at home," she clarified, and Harry rolled over, looking up at the tree top. How could he have missed that? Surely Ron had mentioned it before!
"So I'm thinking you might have a point about missing dates," he chuckled, and Ginny crawled on top of him.
"Oomph!" he complained when she dropped down on his stomach, and she swatted him jokingly.
"I know I don't weigh that much, get used to it Potter!"
"Oh, I'm getting used to it," he teased, and she reddened and swiped at him again.
"Kidding! Just kidding!" he assured, and Ginny lay flat, gazing into his eyes.
"Where do you want to start first?" she murmured, kissing his cheek.
The first thought that entered his mind was the Dursleys- really, it was the beginning he could remember, even if it was full of pain and disappointment. He shoved it aside, thinking about Godric's Hollow- even if the last time, he'd almost been killed by Nagini at Bathilda's. But as he looked at her face, contemplating his with deep, chocolate eyes and quiet acceptance, Harry felt his emotions twist. Didn't she say she wanted to know everything? He'd never told anyone about his cupboard before, or the measly dinners, or the beating he got when he scored higher than Dudley- was now the time? Looking into her eyes, he felt his resolve to separate his life into pre-and-post-magic begin to waver.
It seemed, as always, she was one step ahead of him.
"I want to meet them, Harry," she whispered, and that blazing look he loved so much was searing him, pressing him into the ground.
"Gin, are you sure? I mean, I don't fancy much pulling you off Vernon just because he said I was a freak or something-"
"Oh, he'll be lucky if I just attack him physically," she seethed, thinking back to what Ron had said about second year. "Bars on his windows! They were starving him, Mum!" echoed in her head. The famous Weasley blush was spreading over her.
"Gin, calm down- look, we can go, but I don't want you pulling anything on them," Harry warned, taking in her reddening cheeks. "They can't hurt me anymore. I just don't care," he offered, and Ginny bristled at his hand on her shoulder. He felt like he was trying to keep her in place.
"I get it, Harry. But someone should do it," she growled, and Harry chuckled.
"I'll have to find out where they're living now, come to think of it. I'm pretty sure their house was destroyed after we all left," Harry admitted, and Ginny let out a feral sound like an angry cat.
"I suppose you think they deserved it," he sighed, and she said nothing, just looking at him. "So do you want to do Godric's Hollow, then? I know where that one is. I'd like to visit my parents today too-" he started, and Ginny shifted immediately, covering him with kisses.
"I'll get some flowers from Mum's garden, I think she has summer roses right now."
"'Kay. And Ginny?"
"I love you."
They had just settled back into a particularly pleasant snog when what could only be the sound of Ron smashing his way through the forest hit their ears.
"OI! DID SHE FINISH YOU OFF YET? COZ I'M ABOUT TO DO IT FOR HER IF YOU MADE HER CRY AGAIN, POTTER!"
"He has the worst timing in the world," Harry muttered, and Ginny rolled her eyes.
"At least you have the invisibility cloak," she reminded, and Harry's eyes lit up.
"No, Harry, we will not be ignoring my brother under cover of your cloak to snog! He's going to find us eventually, even if it means he trips over our writhing bodies!" she admonished, and Harry chuckled.
"'Writhing?' And what exactly would we be doing that we'd be writhing?" he smirked, and Ginny stood up, kicking him lightly, and pulled him up off the ground.
"C'mon, he'll start blasting the bushes next, looking for your body," she muttered, and Harry took her hand, grinning.
"You don't think he'll really try to take my bullocks off, do you? He was threatening earlier, but I think we might need those."
They both looked down at his crotch, and then Ginny flamed red again.
"Not funny," she muttered, and Harry put up a shield in case Ron was feeling trigger-happy and pulled them out into the sun. The weeping willow branches swayed back into place behind them, and Harry sent his wand back at the tree, marking a burnt "x" into the ground beside it. He wanted to be able to find it later.
"Getting sentimental on me, Mr. Potter?" Ginny smiled at him.
"Not a chance, Mrs. Potter," he snapped back, and Ginny got a dreamy look on her face.
"Er, Gin? Remember Ron? Blasting bushes? Bullocks in trouble?" he reminded, and she shook her head.
"You know that distracts me," she complained, and then screeched happily as he hefted her up over his shoulders and tugged her into place on his back.
"Maybe he won't fire if he thinks he'll hit you," Harry joked, and they walked off into the forest.
"And maybe I won't hex you for calling me Mrs. Potter when you haven't asked me to be Mrs. Potter yet!" she teased back.
Harry was quiet. "I will," he assured, and Ginny seemed to lose her breath on his back. "I just want to wait a bit." She snuggled closer, her legs locked around his waist.
"Ron, then Godric's Hollow?"
"Godric's Hollow," he nodded.