Title: The Ritual
Rating:
M
Pairing:
H/G
Summary:
Pre-DH. The Trio has returned to the Burrow after Harry's seventeenth birthday and he is completely ignoring Ginny. Unknown by the boys, Hermione has discovered a blood protection ritual that Ginny might find interesting, if she could get Harry to look at her again.


She didn't know what to think when she first discovered the note. The folded piece of paper lay under her brush on the dresser the second morning of their return from Surrey. The missive was very much like Hermione herself. Detailed, but to the point.

We need to talk. Trip and fall this morning so that when the boys want to play Quidditch this afternoon, you can beg off with a sprained wrist. We can talk without being overheard while we sit in the grass and watch them fly.

~HJG

Ginny was baffled as to what Hermione would need to talk to her about that necessitated such measures to avoid being heard. Her mind whirled with possibilities. It could be about the war. Something Harry and Ron didn't want her to know. It could be about the epic quest the three of them were planning – the quest they thought no one knew about. It could be about Harry and his baffling behavior…

Ginny shook her head to stop that particular line of thinking. I shouldn't worry about it. I'll find out soon enough. She crumpled the note and stuck it in her trunk.

Ginny remembered to miss the second to last step coming down to breakfast. This of course resulted in a very public fall – for which she was mercilessly teased – a sore bum and a perfect excuse to skiv off flying later. She glared at Hermione as her idiot brothers continued to tease her. The other girl managed to look contrite, but minutes after Ginny had sat down, Harry got up to drag Ron and Hermione outside – no doubt to continue planning the secret quest that wasn't so secret.

Planning was all he ever did, outside of avoiding Ginny with every bone in his body. If it weren't for the fact that she knew Harry was being noble and trying to keep her safe by staying away from her, Ginny might have felt a trifle bit rejected. As it was, she was starting to get annoyed that he was completely ignoring her. Didn't he know she understood? She wouldn't jeopardize his epic quest. She just wanted to be his friend again. It was absolutely unacceptable that he wouldn't even look at her, and it frustrated her to no end.

Hermione sent Ginny another apologetic look over her shoulder as she was herded out the back door.

The moment the door shut, Ginny sent a Look Of Messy Death at the twins, who were still prattling on about her fall. She was sick and tired of being ignored, coddled, and left out of everything. George noticed her demeanor and nudged Fred. Fred stopped, but frowned at George before turning to Ginny. Fred just managed to school the look of shock that by all rights should have been on his and his twin's face. Neither twin knew how it got there, but Ginny's wand had suddenly showed up. It was floating mere inches away from her and trembled with ever twitch of her wand hand. She was too busy glaring at them to notice she had summoned it either. Even without the jaw-dropping display of unintentional magic, her glare was enough to convince the twins to take vows of silence. When she finally broke eye-contact (they would later ponder and discuss how it was possible for her to stare both of them down at the same time), they scrambled out of the kitchen as fast as their legs could take them.


The two had been sitting there for nearly a half hour watching Harry and Ron zoom about above them. Ginny was beginning to wonder if Hermione would ever bring up the subject she had been so adamant about discussing in her note. Just when Ginny couldn't take it any longer, Hermione finally spoke up.

"Okay. Now I'm going to ask you something and I don't want you to yell at me. You can get mad all you want, but if you yell the boys will know and come down and we won't be able to talk anymore." Hermione was talking very fast and seemed genuinely afraid Ginny would get upset. She was twisting grass in her hands and had her gaze fixed resolutely on the boys.

"Okay…" Ginny was unsure about this next question. Hermione seemed serious.

"Umm… So I need to know if… if you…" Hermione stuttered and – Ginny noticed – blushed. She rolled her eyes.

"Just spit it out Hermione," Ginny said. "I promise not to get mad." Hermione shot her a wry look. "Okay, I promise not to yell," the redhead amended with a smirk. Hermione laughed.

"You're right. I'm being ridiculous." Hermione looked Ginny full on the face. Ginny could see she was serious again. "I need to know for certain if you're still a virgin," she said solemnly despite the pink tint still on her cheeks. Ginny gawked a moment, not sure of what to think. She thought back to the frank, if a bit embarrassing, conversation the two had about sex. Hermione's information had all been very clinical, but it had been good to talk about all of that stuff with a girl. It was nice to get a feminine perspective once she finally understood what her brothers joked about all the time. This conversation, however, seemed a bit more important than that blushing discussion about boys and their parts.

"Well, if you're talking about that thing… the hymen?" Hermione nodded at the younger girl's question. "I'm not sure my hymen is still intact what with Quidditch and riding a broom and everything…" Hermione nodded again as if she had expected that much. "But I haven't had sex," she concluded. "And I would have told you if I had," Ginny added as an afterthought.

Hermione smiled at her. "I thought you would have told me, but I needed to make sure." She contemplated Ginny a moment. Ginny had once found Hermione's assessing stare unnerving, but she had come to accept it as something Hermione would always do. After seeing whatever it was she had wanted to see, the corner of Hermione's lips turned up in a slight smile. The older girl nodded to herself before she turned to watch the boys in the air.

Ginny frowned. Was that it? Hermione glanced significantly at her before turning back to the boys. Sighing, the younger girl turned to watch them as well, her eyes immediately focusing on Harry. He was laughing at something Ron had done. She sighed again and settled into a more comfortable position.

Harry looked gorgeous in the sky, as always. He seemed completely comfortable up there, like a fish in water. Ginny's breath hitched when he suddenly turned into a sharp dive – a wide smile on his flushed face. He looks happiest when he's on a broom, Ginny decided.

Ginny had almost forgotten Hermione was sitting there with her, but she didn't start or look away from Harry when Hermione squeezed her shoulder.

Hermione's voice was softer than Ginny had ever heard it. "Do you love him?"

Harry pulled out of the steep dive, his feet brushing the tall grass. Ginny's heart skipped a beat.

"I don't know."

Harry had made it back to Ron's altitude, and the two were hovering together talking.

The two girls sat in silence a moment, still watching the boys. Their boys.

Hermione began to speak. In that brisk professional manner she sometimes had, the older girl launched into the story of what the three had been up to for the first part of the summer. The uncomfortable three days at the Dursley's. Godric's Hollow. Number twelve Grimmauld Place. Other sections of London Ginny had never heard of. She talked about researching in various libraries, both wizard and Muggle, but on what, she wasn't specific. Hermione stopped suddenly and turned to Ginny. Tearing her eyes away from Harry, she faced the older girl.

"Harry and Ron don't know that I found…" she trailed off and chewed on her bottom lip. "I found this book on ancient magic… elemental magic," Hermione paused again. She shifted so she was on her knees in front of Ginny, her back to the boys. "It has this spell…" She was chewing on her lip again and twisting her fingers together. Ginny thought she looked almost scared of what she was about to say.

"What kind of spell?" Ginny prompted.

"A spell that could protect against the killing curse," she intoned, "through a life sacrifice given out of love." Hermione's eyes were wide as if she could hardly believe what she was saying.

"You mean…" Ginny whispered, her eyes seeking out Harry in the sky. You mean what Harry's mum did? The question hung in the air between them.

Hermione nodded in answer to the unasked question. "There's more," she added quietly.

Ginny's eyes jumped back to the girl in front of her. "What else?"

"There are other protection spells…" She was chewing her lip again.

"Hermione!" Ginny commanded and sat forward.

The other girl jumped and smiled a bit at Ginny's show of the characteristic Weasley impatience. "There's a spell that I think you…" she began quickly.

"OI!" a loud voice from directly above them interrupted Hermione. "What are you two up to?" Ron asked, looking down at them from his broom. Harry was still flying up higher.

Something clicked in Ginny's mind. Hermione's question about her virginity. The book of elemental magic. The spell that stopped Avada Kedavra. The love that had protected Harry. Hermione's question, Do you love him? It all came together. "Oh," Ginny breathed and sat back, feeling dazed.

Hermione was about to yell at Ron that it was none of his business what she and Ginny were 'up to' and that he could just bugger off. But then she noticed Ginny's expression. The poor girl seemed to be in shock. "Go away Ron," Hermione shot up at the hovering figure.

"Not until you tell me what you two are gabbing about," he shot back.

Hermione ignored him and leaned closer to Ginny. "Ginny? Are you okay?" she asked quietly. Ginny nodded slowly, but didn't look at her. A pink flush worked its way to her cheeks.

Ron frowned down at the two of them. Something was off. "Hey! What's wrong with Ginny?" he yelled. Is she blushing?

Somewhere above them, a flying figure stopped abruptly and spun in midair to face them.

"Nothing, Ron!" Hermione responded. "Go away!" Hermione stood and pulled Ginny to her feet.

"Nothing my arse!" Ron flew closer. Her face is definitely red.

Hermione thought frantically. Where can we go? The pond? No, too open. The house? No, someone will overhear us.

"Ginny?" Ron asked.

"Go away Ron," Hermione reiterated. I can make the room imperturbable! Hermione wanted to smack her head. House it is. She started pulling Ginny back toward the Burrow.

"Ginny and I are going inside now," Hermione announced brightly as if Ron wasn't hovering a few feet away. "Don't stay out too long," she perfunctorily admonished before dragging Ginny to the house. Ron and Harry watched their hasty retreat.


Hermione shut and Imperturbed Ginny's door and window. She turned to the younger girl and sat her on the small twin bed.

"Ginny?" she asked gently, sitting beside the redhead.

Brown eyes immediately snapped to hers. "This spell, requires that I… that I have sex with Harry?"

Hermione nodded. The younger girl copied the motion, her thoughts swirling.

"A willing sacrifice. Out of," Ginny hesitated. The pause was pronounced, but Hermione let her think uninterrupted. "Out of love." The last word was barely audible, but the moment she uttered it, Ginny was filled with a sense of rightness. I'm in love with him.After years of denying that very fact, she was a bit surprised by her acceptance of it.

And a fact it was. Immutable. Unchangeable. Cold, hard fact.

She loved Harry.

She loved Harry.

And he was about to throw himself in harms way to save the world. If there was some way she could protect him and ensure he came back to her, she would do it. She felt strangely comforted that her desire to protect him was strictly selfish. She wanted him to survive this ordeal so he would come back to her.

"Will this spell protect him?" There was a determined fire in her eyes as she turned to face Hermione.

"Yes," Hermione responded solemnly. "But, Ginny…"

"How does it protect him?" the redhead interrupted. "Could it stop a killing curse?"

"The author was never specific as to what the person would be protected against, but I'm not sure that it could stop a killing curse." Hermione was hasty to continue at the redhead's scowl. "I assume it takes the sacrifice of a life to save a life." Ginny's frown was still firmly in place. "But there's no guarantee that if one does sacrifice a life the other will be saved so don't get any ideas," Hermione added severely. Ginny balked.

"I wouldn't…" the younger girl began to protest, but Hermione put a hand up to stop her.

"I just want to make sure you're not planning anything too foolish," she explained. "Harry would kill me if you ever did," she muttered to herself.

"Well what is this stupid spell good for then?" Ginny demanded.

"It binds your magic, so that wherever you are will be home to him," Hermione explained. Essentially it's a marriage rite that gives added protection to the male, she thought to herself, but chose not to divulge that interpretation. "And when he comes home, nothing can touch him when he is with you."

There was a pause as Ginny digested this. Hermione waited apprehensively for the next question.

"What if I were to go with him?"

Hermione had been afraid of that particular question. "I'm not sure," she stated hesitantly. The fire in Ginny's eyes turned angry. "I mean… what I meant to say," Hermione stammered. "It's unlikely the spell will be as effective. Such a scenario was unheard of in the time period this spell was first created." Hermione hoped Ginny was hearing this. "Women didn't go on quests with the hero," she added.

"Well I'm not the damsel in distress in this story," Ginny retorted hotly.

Ginny turned from the other girl and crossed her arms in huff. "I know that," Hermione consoled quietly. After a long minute of silence, Hermione was fairly certain that it was safe. If Ginny wanted to hex her, she would have done it already. Hermione put a hand on the younger girl's shoulder. "Ginny, I know you don't need rescuing even if other people don't," she stated gently.

There was another beat of silence before Ginny's defiant chin dropped a fraction. "Yeah, I know you understand," she whispered, her shoulders relaxing. "Sorry for yelling," she apologized after turning around. The other girl only smiled at her.

"At least you waited until we were in an imperturbable room." Ginny laughed and nudged Hermione's shoulder with her own. The two sat in contemplative silence.

"If you were to do this," Hermione began, "We could go and do what we need to. And when we come back, he could rest, relax," Hermione's voice was whisper soft, "heal… if need be." Ginny nodded, staring at the opposite wall. "More than that…" Hermione hesitated. "I think he needs you. I'm afraid he doesn't think he's going to survive this ordeal. He needs a more personal reason for this fight, something… someone to come home to." There was another moment of silence.

"And you think I can be all that… for him?" Hermione could see the insecure little girl who had the largest hero crush on her best friend beneath the strong woman, a force of nature herself, that Ginny had become.

"I think you are already all of that for him," she confirmed. "This would just make him realize that fact." Ginny nodded wordlessly.

Hermione placed her hand over Ginny's. Determined brown eyes locked with hers again. "What do I have to do?"

"Are you sure?" Hermione asked.

Ginny nodded. "I'll do anything I can to help," she swore. "Anything."

Hermione gave the other girl's hand a squeeze. "Alright then," she stated, once again taking on her brisk business manner. She went over to the camp bed set up in Ginny's room for her use and began pawing through her bag. Her search was rewarded with a thick and well used notebook. She returned to sit next to Ginny and opened the book to a specific page. "Here is what you have to do…"


The next evening, Ginny was in the kitchen washing the dishes the Muggle way. She had offered to do so to give her mum a break. The poor woman was at her wits end with all the worrying and wedding planning she was doing.

Ginny's thoughts, however, were not on the glasses, plates, and silverware she was methodically washing, rinsing, and placing on the rack to dry. Her mind was replaying the conversation she had had with Hermione the previous night. Not only had they talked about the logistics of the protection spell, but they had also talked about Harry and why he had been completely ignoring her since he arrived at the Burrow. Ginny knew and understood his intentions for breaking up with her, but she hadn't understood why they couldn't be friends. Hermione said that he liked her too much to just be friends. That statement had made no sense to Ginny whatsoever. At that point in the conversation, Hermione had shaken her head with a wry smile on her face. She swore that just being in the same room with Ginny made him want to forget his noble intentions. In Hermione's words, he probably had to fight the instinct to "repeat that spectacle the two of you put on after the last Quidditch match." She had tried to sound reproving, but the fond smile on her face had ruined the effect.

Ginny didn't want to get her hopes up, but the more she thought about what Hermione had said, the more it sounded exactly like something Harry would do. Her hand paused halfway to putting down a glass, and she smiled as she imagined various reconciliations and reenactments of their first kiss. She would storm up to him in a rage one evening after dinner to demand he at least talk to her, and he would respond by snogging her senseless in front of her entire family. Heat flooded her cheeks as she remembered his kisses.

Her daydreaming was interrupted as someone entered the kitchen. The back door swung open, and the creaking hinges startled her. She spun toward the sound and dropped the glass in her hand. She swore as the glass hit the ground and shattered everywhere.

After taking a second to catch her breath, Ginny glanced up and saw Harry standing in the doorway looking at her with that guarded expression she hated. She quickly looked down and began surveying the broken glass pieces on the floor.

"Harry, you startled me," she stated when she felt her voice wouldn't fail her.

"Sorry," he grunted. He still hadn't moved from the open doorway.

In their discussion the day before, Hermione had been adamant about Ginny talking to Harry. Ginny had originally just wanted to hex him – or jump him – first and talk later, but had eventually come around to Hermione's line of thinking. But now that the moment was here and she and Harry were alone, she had no idea where to start.

"You shouldn't linger over a threshold like that, Harry. It's bad luck." Ginny didn't know why she was spouting an old wives' tale at him. She brushed it off as nerves and bent down to pick up the broken pieces of glass. She didn't move her bare feet for fear of cutting them. She had a handful of broken glass before Harry realized what she was doing.

"Wait. You'll cut yourself," he protested, fully entering the house. The backdoor swung shut behind him. "Let me," he requested as he pulled out his wand. She looked up at him from her crouched position. With a simple twist of his wrist, all of the broken pieces – including those in her hand – flew together and perfectly reformed the glass.

She stood, attempting not to look like a love sick puppy, and wiped her suddenly sweaty palms on her jeans. "Thanks," she whispered when he wordlessly handed her the glass. Unable to look at him again, she turned back to the sink and began washing, internally berating herself for not talking to him.

Harry was still standing there, leaning against the counter. Ginny had expected him to leave again without saying anything to her, but he just stood there. She didn't know if he was watching her or thinking or asleep on his feet. His lack of movement or any sort of action was beginning to unnerve her. After an interminable five minutes, her patience snapped.

"If you're going to stand there, Harry, the least you could do is help me with the dishes," she retorted, shooting him a wry glance.

His green eyes blinked confusedly a few times before he seemed to come to his senses. Out of the corner of her eye, Ginny could see him flush.

"Sorry," he mumbled and turned toward the dishes in the drying rack. Picking up a towel, he began to dry the first dish, but then was at a loss as to where to put it. He looked askance at Ginny.

"Plates go in the cabinet over there," she directed with a nod of her head.

"Here?"

"No, the far one…"

"Here?"

Ginny nodded. He opened the cabinet door.

"Not that shelf, higher."

"Higher?"

"Yes." Ginny was beginning to get exasperated.

"Here?"

"No."

"Gin-ny," Harry whined and mock pouted.

Ginny was hard-pressed not to laugh or smile at the ridiculous face he was pulling.

"Why don't we switch," he suggested. "You know where everything goes."

That ridiculous pout was still on his face, the one that she had previously found impossible to say 'No' to. To think of it, she couldn't fathom a situation in which she could say 'No' to him. She flushed at the turn her line of thinking had taken. Looking away from him, she nodded her ascent.

She didn't see the quizzical look he sent her as they traded places. She was – however – keenly aware of him and the way his hand brushed hers as he handed her the towel. The casual touch burned her skin, and her heart kicked in to overdrive.

The silence between them was still tense even if less oppressive as they continued to work. As Harry finished washing, Ginny settled into her usual routine. She began with the tableware before moving to the glasses. Most times, by the time she got to the plates, someone else would have come around and offered to put them up. They belonged in the cabinet that was just out of her reach and her mother would certainly not let her break the ban on underage magic just for a few dishes.

Seeing as Harry didn't know this little routine, he had not offered to put away the plates. And as Ginny was too stubborn to ask, she stood on her toes and pushed each dish into place with her finger tips. The task became more difficult as each plate increased the height of the stack.

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry watched her gracefully move through the kitchen and put away the clean and dry dishes. He was grateful for the washing because it kept his hands busy. Watching her only made the itch to rediscover the feel of her skin more pronounced. It was why he generally avoided being in the same room with her.

By the time she got to putting away the plates, he found that the washing was done and that the bare bit of skin between her jeans and shirt was fascinating. After watching that smooth strip appear and disappear several times, he realized she was painstakingly putting away each plate in the highest cabinet. He felt warmed by something he couldn't quite place but what could have been fond exasperation at her stubbornness. She obviously couldn't reach, but would not acknowledge this fact by asking for help.

"Here, let me get that," he offered, taking the plate out of her up-stretched hand and easily placing it in the cabinet. What Harry hadn't counted on when he came up with the simple idea of helping her was the amount of space that wouldn't be between them. He was so close to her back that he could smell the intoxicating scent that had wrapped her around his heart before he had even realized it. Gods he missed that smell. His nose was directly above her hair, and he was overwhelmed. He couldn't bring himself to move away, and he closed his eyes, just enjoying the scent. When he opened them again, he found himself staring into her rich brown eyes.

"Harry…" Gods, her eyes were so brown and filled with hope. She was so close. Too close. The monster in his chest roared for him to close the miniscule distance between them while his head yelled for him to run. He was supposed to be keeping his distance. That was the right thing.

"I h… have to go, Gin," he stammered and began to back away. Ginny's heart skipped at the nickname he had only used when they were alone together. He tore his gaze from her and his eyes skirted over everything in the room, but where he longed to look again.

"Harry, wait," she asked and reached for his arm. He kept backing away and refused to look at her.

"No, Ginny. I have to go." His voice was strained.

"Just listen for a moment, Harry," she demanded, clutching his arm tighter. He wouldn't even glance her way.

"No. I can't. I have to leave." He seemed to be arguing with himself. Ginny hated the pain in his eyes and the fact that he wouldn't even look at her. She was starting to get angry. If he would just listen.

"Harry!"

"No, Ginny." He had pulled out of her grasp and was practically racing for the door.

"HARRY JAMES POTTER! STOP RUNNING AWAY AND JUST LISTEN TO ME, YOU DAMNABLE PRAT!" she yelled.

The entire house froze. The soft mummers of the rest of the occupants of the house that had drifted from the sitting room were immediately cut off. Even the ghoul in the attic stilled at her command. Harry's back was to her, one of his hands on the door that led to the sitting room, but he wasn't moving.

Ginny was breathing hard, and desperately trying to keep her temper in check. "I know you have to go on your quest and get rid of Voldemort. I understand that's why you broke things off," she declared in a quieter voice. Then she took a deep breath, trying to calm herself and steel her nerve. "But I thought I was your friend at least." The reproof hung in the air, but Harry still didn't move or acknowledge her.

His continued silence chipped away at her resolve, and she was flooded with all of those old insecurities. He didn't like her. He found her repulsive. She was nothing more than Ron's little sister.

Ginny swallowed down a mass of pain in her throat.

She was nothing at all to him.

"Friends generally acknowledge each other's existence, but you… You won't deign to even look at me." She tried to sound righteously indignant, but her voice trembled in fear. "I guess…," she paused, fighting tears. I will NOT cry! "I guess I was wrong," she reprimanded herself. She was backing away from his still form, instinctively seeking shelter from the pain of his silent rejection.

"I was never more than a passing fancy then," she whispered her darkest fear, which he confirmed with his silence.

"I'll leave you alone now," she promised and turned to bolt for the backdoor, unwilling to let him see her cry.

Before she could reach for the handle on the door, she was enveloped in warm arms that wouldn't let her get away despite her struggling.

"Gods Ginny. Gin. I'm such an idiot. I'm sorry. Forgive me. Of course you're my friend. You're more than my friend. You're everything to me. I'm sorry. Ginny. Forgive me. Gin."

Words washed over her as she struggled, but the arms around her only tightened. "Gin, I'm sorry. Don't leave." Once the choked words registered in her brain, she stopped struggling but held herself stiff against the comfort of his arms.

"Ginny. Gin," he whispered over and over and threaded his fingers into her hair. The way he said her name, with such reverence, melted the pain of what had clearly not been rejection. She relaxed into his arms and circled her own around his waist.

Harry pulled back just enough to cup her face in his hands and look into her eyes. "Gods, I'm sorry Ginny," he apologized. "I was such an idiot. You mean so much to me." His eyes were intense and sincere.

Ginny let out a breath she did not know she had been holding, and a single traitorous tear slipped onto her cheek. Harry's thumb gently rubbed it away almost as soon as it fell.

"Forgive me? Take me back?" he pleaded and his voice cracked with uncertainty.

Unable to form words, Ginny simply nodded and tightened her grip on his waist.

"Yes?"

"Yes, Harry," she managed to whisper.

And then she was lost in the oblivion of his deep kisses.


They were in the garden, enjoying themselves on a bench worn smooth with years of use that was nestled between rows of wild arching hedge. It was the middle of the night and everyone else was either asleep or knew better than to take a midnight stroll in the garden. Like all of their snogging sessions since he came to his senses, Harry clung to her tightly. He seemed desperate to make sure she was real and to feel and taste every part of her his sense of nobility allowed him to touch.

Ginny could do nothing but hold on and try and match his fervor. She knew instinctively that despite the fact that he wanted her – that much was exceedingly obvious – he would not let things progress that far. It was up to her to broach the subject. She had spent countless hours thinking up ways to bring it up, scenarios in which they would discuss – and more often than not, act out – the ritual. But all of those imagined conversations and daydreams, in fact all thought whatsoever, would leave her head the moment he walked into a room.

But Ginny knew she was running out of time. Her brother was being exceptionally nice to their mum and voluntarily doing chores – most notably his own laundry. Hermione was running around with more manic energy than usual. The poor girl was almost as tense as she had been the week leading up to her O.W.L. examinations. But Ginny didn't need those clues to know. The increasingly insistent way Harry touched her told her everything. The three of them were leaving soon. Without her, as she had expected.

She clutched his shoulders and pulled away from his frantic kiss. Undeterred, Harry shifted his attention to her exposed neck. Ginny shivered as stubbled cheek, teeth and tongue caressed the column of her throat. He nipped at her collarbone, and she realized his hands were busy unfastening each button on her nightgown one by one. He took his time, lavishing attention on each bit of newly exposed skin before moving to undo another one. The slow pace was probably intended to give her enough time to stop him if she wanted. Ginny had no desire to stop him, but if he did make it down to where she thought he was headed, she would forget her mind completely. Quickly coming to a decision, she tugged on his dark hair in an effort to haul his face back up to hers, but he persisted, humming against her sensitive skin, though the hand on her nightdress did pause. "Harry, stop," she pleaded and pushed on his shoulder even as she arched closer to him.

Harry pulled back an inch but kept his hand where it was, poised on the next button. "Stop?" His warm breath brushed her exposed skin, and she shivered. She cupped his cheek with one hand and directed his attention away from the buttons on her top and what lay beneath them, until she was once again faced with his impossibly green eyes.

"We need to talk," she stated, trying to slow the rapidness of her breath and heart.

"Talk?" His gaze flitted away from hers to her lips and her heaving chest.

The hand on his face pulled again until he got the message and his gaze lifted to hers. "Yes, Harry, talk." Ginny was beginning to get annoyed with him.

He must have seen her annoyance as a challenge. "Alright," he acquiesced with a smirk. The hand still between them popped the next button through its hole, but made no move toward the others. Instead, Harry stroked the valley between her breasts with his fingertips. "Let's talk, then," he said smugly as his hand began to wander sideways.

Ginny's eyes had fluttered closed when his callused hands began to caress her, and her head tilted back. Harry took this as an invitation and returned to her neck, quickly making his way south. Ginny whimpered at the new assault.

Ginny wanted to let go and give herself to the warm sensations Harry was so adeptly evoking, but some annoying warning kept going off in the back of her head. She just wanted it to shut up so she could enjoy this. She couldn't remember a time when Harry had been so forward, and she was thoroughly enjoying his dominance.

Harry had managed to maneuver her to straddle his lap with the hem of her long night dress pushed up somewhere around her thighs. With the insistent pressure of him against her and the sly creep of his hand up her inner thigh, Ginny wondered where he intended to stop. This led to the thought that maybe her instincts had been wrong. Maybe he didn't intend to stop.

A thrill of excitement and horrified realization zinged through her body. The Ritual! She gasped as she pulled back and shoved Harry away from her. She stumbled off of his lap and the bench, managing to stay on her feet, but Harry was not so lucky. Completely caught unawares, Harry had no time to try and catch himself before he lay sprawled on the other side of the garden bench.

If it weren't for her own warring feelings, Ginny might have found Harry's conflicted expression humorous. He looked a trifle put out at being thrown across the garden bench, but also slightly apologetic for how far he had let his hands wander.

There was a moment of awkward silence in which Harry tried to put words together for an apology but kept getting distracted by the fetching picture Ginny made with her hair and clothing in disarray. She, not noticing his dilemma, snapped out of her daze and rushed around the bench to kneel at his side. "I'm sorry, Harry. I didn't mean to…" Ginny tried to apologize, but gave up half way through. "Oh bugger," she swore and grabbed his hand. "Come on now," she commanded and dragged a bemused Harry out of the garden, her free hand clutching at the open neck of her nightgown.

Tugging on his arm whenever he lagged too far behind, Ginny led Harry in a complicated path toward the tree that was nearest the house. The complex pattern traced a rune that granted Ginny, and none of her brothers, access to the tree house her dad had built ages ago. The tree stood just inside the line of trees that marked the edge of their property. Once they reached it, a rope ladder appeared out of nowhere. Ginny dropped his hand, and Harry had no choice but to follow her up the ladder into the little house he had never noticed before.

Once inside the hidden house, Ginny plopped down on a soft rug and waited for him to climb up. "I'm sorry," Ginny apologized again, once he was sitting across from her on the rug. "I didn't mean to hurt you or push you away, but we do need to talk, and I can't think when you're kissing me like that," she admitted with a slight flush.

Harry couldn't help the smug smirk that spread across his face, but he didn't press the point. "Well we're here, let's talk," he prompted when Ginny didn't begin.

Ginny let out a breath and opened her mouth, but shut it again when she looked into his politely inquisitive face. Biting her lip, she began to fidget where she sat on the floor before finally standing and pacing in the small space.

"Ginny, you're starting to scare me. What is it?"

She let out a frustrated sigh and turned to face him. It was a good thing she had prepared a speech beforehand or she would have never known where to start. "I know the three of you are going to leave soon to go start your noble quest or whatever," she began, gesturing widely as she spoke with only a slightly bitter tone.

"And before you deny it, I know you, Harry, all three of you. And all signs point to the three of you preparing for a hasty exit," she shot him a quelling glare before resuming pacing. "And I don't expect you to tell me where you're going. In fact, I don't want to know where you three are going. But I hate feeling helpless, and I hate that I'm not going with you. And I know I can't go with you. I'm not of age. I can't Apparate. Blah blah blah. But it's frustrating to be left behind. I want to help! I want to fight! And most importantly, I want you to come back to me in one piece when this war is over! And if you don't come back to me, by Merlin, Voldemort will look like a wet dream compared to what I will do!"

Sometime during this rant, Harry had gotten up from where he sat watching her and stood as close to her as her flailing arms and pacing allowed. She was a magnificent sight to behold as she yelled at him, and he was drawn, like a moth, to the fire in her eyes. At the end of that particular pronouncement, however, he swept her up into his arms and kissed her hard, thanking every deity he had ever heard of that this fiery witch had refused to be pushed out of his life.

When he pulled back, he tried to memorize her flushed cheeks, blazing expression, and bee-stung lips. This was before she walloped him over the head. "Ouch!"

"I wasn't done yet!"

Harry rubbed his hand over the back of his head, pouting at her. "Sorry," he apologized petulantly, trying to get her to smile. Her lips didn't so much as twitch, but she couldn't be too angry. She hadn't hexed him, and she was still allowing him to keep her pressed close with one arm around her waist. He took a chance. "I couldn't help myself," he said, trying to sound sheepish. "But you look bloody sexy when you're ranting like that," he added. His smile was decidedly smug when she blushed down to her neck and hit his chest for his cheek.

"You're incorrigible," she muttered.

He bent down to kiss her flushed neck. "But you love me anyway," he retorted against her skin, not really paying attention to what he said.

Ginny put her hands on either side of his face and pulled it up so that he was looking straight into her eyes. Merlin, he loved her eyes. Harry was beginning to suspect that he loved her, but he wasn't sure.

"You're right, I do," she whispered, holding his gaze.

It took a moment for him to work out what she just said. Harry could only stare at her as he tried to swallow. "Yeah?" he asked, not noticing as his voice cracked. Ginny's eyes still blazed at him as she nodded solemnly.

While Harry tried to absorb this, there was a long moment of silence. A soft smile spread on Ginny's face as Harry continued just to gawk at her. "I…" He managed to swallow past the large mass in his throat. "Me too," he finally responded, and pulled her into a hug, his arms tight around her shoulders and his cheek resting on her head. She relaxed into his warm embrace.

Holding her in his arms was like nothing else. Harry was beginning to accept that he did love Ginny, and that maybe she loved him back. Warmed by these thoughts and relishing her closeness, it took him a minute to remember she had something to say to him.

He pulled back just enough to focus on her face. "So what is it that we need to talk about?"

Ginny bit her tongue against the irrational urge to laugh at the ridiculousness of the entire situation. She took a deep breath to calm her nerves and launched back into her speech.

"You know before when I said I hated not going with you and fighting," she began. "Well, I think I know what I can do to contribute to the war effort. Something only I can do…" Harry watched her bite her lip as she trailed off. He looked at her warily.

"What is it that you want to do?"

"Well there's this ritual…" She had glanced away and blushed when she caught his eyes again.

"What kind of ritual?" he asked. "Just tell me," he added gently. She was really worrying him.

"It's a blood ritual to protect you," she let out in a rush. "Sort of like what your mother did for you except instead of being safe in your aunt's house, you'd be safe when you come home to me."

"Like what my mum…?" he mumbled and stepped back a little. His mind was numb. She couldn't mean what he thought she meant.

Ginny, sensing what he was thinking, hastened to clarify. "I wouldn't be giving up my life," she assured him and took hold of his hand, stopping his retreat. "I'd be sacrificing something else." She blushed again.

Trying to comprehend, but at least glad that she wasn't planning some mad ritual suicide for his benefit, Harry asked, "What would you be giving up?"

She locked eyes with him again. "My virginity."

Harry's mouth dropped. Again, he couldn't believe what he was hearing. She couldn't possibly… Not that he hadn't ever thought about… Harry fought to keep his eyes from wandering toward the temptingly open neck of her nightshirt. He must had heard wrong. "What?" he squeaked.

But seeing Harry lose his composure seemed to renew Ginny's confidence. There was a glint in her eye that told him that his hearing was perfect. She pulled on his hand until he took a step toward her again.

"You heard me," she whispered and held his gaze. "If we do this ritual," she grabbed hold of his other hand. "Then you'll always be safe when you come home to me." She began reeling him in toward her, her eyes blazing into his.

"I'll stay as far away from the war as I can manage. I'll stay safe so that when you need a break, when you need to rest, you can come home to me." Ginny placed his hands on her back, resting at her waist. "And no one can touch you when you're with me." She slipped her own arms around his neck. "I know you want me to be safe, but I want you to be safe as well.

"Let me do this," she whispered and threaded her fingers in his hair.

"Let me protect you." She used her grip to pull his face down toward hers. Harry's eyes were brighter than normal.

"Let me love you," she pleaded and rose on her toes to give him a gentle kiss.

What was left of Harry's tension drained away as he held her. He was amazed at how such a simple kiss could fill his entire being with warmth. He let that warmth solidify his determination. They would do this... ritual, he would leave her behind, and he would get this damn quest over with so he could come back to her and start living his life.

"So what do we do?" he asked a long moment after their kiss had ended. Ginny smirked. "Well, besides have… sex." Harry was proud he managed not to stumble over the sentence. He couldn't believe that he and Ginny were talking about… shagging. In none of his wildest dreams had he imagined his first time being like this. "I assume there's some ritual like things we have to do or say before the uh… main event." Ginny giggled. It was a beautiful sound.

"Just follow my lead," she suggested and pulled him toward a low table on the far side of the little room. On it sat a bowl filled with water, a small bunch of flowers, an unlit candle, and a short blade with a worn handle that looked as if it once had gems decorating the crest.

Ginny knelt down in front of the low table and gestured for Harry to follow her. She sat on her knees and pulled a large dark blue candle into the middle of the table. Hesitating a moment, she ran her open hand over the unlit wick. A brief warmth tingled up her extended arm, but the candle didn't light. Ginny bit her lip. She cast her mind back to the instructions Hermione had given her.

The older girl frowned down at her notes and paused in the middle of explaining the ritual. "The author says the strongest protection comes from a ritual begun with a candle lit strictly with the feelings between the two participants," Hermione stated and her frown deepened. "But he doesn't expound on the point. After that, he merely states that if this is not possible, using a traditional means of lighting the wick is still sufficient. Odd. I wonder how you're supposed to light the candle."

Ginny thought a little wandless magic was involved. She didn't think "Lumos" was appropriate, so she focused on her feelings for Harry instead of an incantation. Concentrating on her love for Harry, she attempted to light the candle again. The second time she ran her hand over the candle, the tingling sensation was stronger and the wick seemed to flicker, but still did not light.

Harry shivered next to Ginny and goose bumps prickled down his arm. "What was that?" he asked. The feeling that erupted when Ginny had run her hand over the candle was not unlike the shiver of desire Harry felt when Ginny would kiss his ear.

She turned to look at him. "You felt it too?" He nodded. She hummed in thought a moment.

"… the strongest protection comes from a ritual begun with a candle lit strictly with the feelings between the two participants…"

She thought maybe it would be better if Harry participated in all aspects of the ritual, and not just the obvious. "Let's try something," she said. "Come closer," she commanded. Harry scooted over until they were sitting hip to hip, his legs stretched out under the table and one hand on the floor behind Ginny's feet.

Once he was situated, Ginny reached for his hand and entwined their fingers, smiling at the way his thumb automatically began stroking her skin. She leaned closer, and his hand that had been on the ground behind her automatically came up to cup her cheek. Rubbing her nose with his before leaning in fully, she kissed him. It was slow and gentle and unlike the frantic snogs they had shared early that evening, and Harry felt himself getting lost against her smooth lips. Warmth was flooding into him from every point he touched her, his hands, his hip, his lips. It was moments like these, when Harry could be bothered to form a lucid thought, that he could admit to himself that he wanted to spend his life with Ginny.

Dimly, Harry registered that Ginny was directing their clasped hands into the air and over something. There was a moment when the warmth between them flared to life with an intensity that startled Harry, but he didn't break the kiss. As soon as that heat flared, though, it focused on their clasped hands where it flashed again, almost painfully. Harry broke the kiss and instinctively pulled Ginny's hand to his chest, away from the dancing flame on the lit candle.

"Good Godric, what was that?!" he exclaimed, out of breath from the intensity of the heat that had flowed through him.

Ginny laughed as she tried to catch her breath. "That, my dear Harry," she said still breathless, but smiling brightly, "was the two of us lighting a candle," she stated and nodded to the table. Harry turned and indeed, there was a small flame dancing proudly over the blue candle.

"Wow." Harry squeezed the hand he still held to his chest. "We did that?" he asked.

"Yeah," Ginny answered softly. They stared at the little flame that they had ignited together.

"Now come on now, you need to help me with all of this," Ginny suddenly stated. She sat forward on her knees, meddling with the various things on the table. Harry pulled his legs out from under the low table and mimicked her posture on his knees, his left hand settling on the small of her back of its own accord.

Ginny had pulled forward a deep bowl that looked like it had come from Mrs. Weasley's kitchen and that was half full of clear water. She had also brought out an old knife. The crest on the handle was dull with too many hands passing over it over too many years, but the blade was clean and looked sharp.

Ginny turned back to him. "I need a lock of your hair," she told him, and raised a hand to run through said hair.

"My hair?" he asked. He tried not to shiver as she gently tugged on the shorter hairs at the back.

"Yes, you hair," Ginny smirked, and pulled taut a longer piece. As she picked up the blade, Harry eyed it warily, but trusted her not to scalp him.

"Well, at least you can't do anything to make my hair look worse," he commented as she cut the lock.

"Oh stop it Harry. I happen to love your messy hair," she proclaimed and kissed the corner of his mouth. She turned back to the table and put the black curl down. Ginny pulled at the elastic binding her own hair until it fell down around her shoulders, and ran her fingers through the long mass a few times. She picked a few strands at random, and scrunched up her eyes as she prepared herself to cut it, when Harry's hand stopped her.

"Let me do it," he requested and took the knife. Ginny nodded her assent. Running his own fingers through her thick hair, Harry's touch was gentle and soothing. Ginny was completely relaxed by the time he pulled out a piece from underneath. He cut off several inches but left a good length. The shorter piece would be unnoticeable when she left her hair down or pulled it up.

"Is this good?" he asked, handing her the strip of ginger hair.

"Yes," she nodded and kissed the corner of his mouth again in thanks.

She wasn't sure what it was, but she couldn't stop touching him. Since the moment the candle was lit, she needed to be physically connected to him. The feeling wasn't entirely sexual either. Oh there was certainly sexual tension and excitement between them, but the need to touch him was different. The contact with Harry was anchoring her. If she didn't constantly have that connection, she felt like she might explode with a million feelings and sensations and worries. And apparently Harry felt the same compulsion. Even now, his hand was alternately running through her hair and rubbing between her shoulder blades. To Ginny, the quiet and gentle caresses felt more intimate than all of their previous snog sessions combined.

She took the piece of her hair and wrapped it around the lock of his several times before tying it in a knot. She dropped the entwined hair into the bowl of water.

"We have to add a few drops of blood to the water now," she stated, curling her hand around one of his biceps.

"Okay."

Harry handed her the blade and offered her one of his hands. She kissed the tips of two of his fingers before pricking them and squeezing a few drops of his blood into the bowl of water, right over the multicolored lock of hair. She ran her thumb over the abused flesh a few times, and neither noticed the tiny cuts heal at her soft touch. The knife changed hands, and Harry repeated all of her actions. He kissed her fingertips, pricked her flesh, squeezed blood into the bowl, and healed the cuts with a soft touch.

Harry intertwined their fingers. He pulled their clasped hands to him and kissed her knuckles. Ginny smiled at him and squeezed his fingers before pulling her hand away and turning toward the table again. She pulled out the last item on the table that had yet to be used.

Ginny held the bunch of flowers she had picked earlier that afternoon by the stems and looked over her shoulder at Harry. "Alright, I need you to place your hand over mine holding the flowers," she instructed nodding to her bunch of flowers in her right hand. "And reach around me so you can reach the petals with your other hand." Harry had to shift so that one of his knees was between the two of hers in order to be able to reach all the way around her. He was enjoying being wrapped around her, his torso covering her back and his arms following hers. She leaned back against his chest a moment, and he kissed the side of her head.

Harry squeezed his right hand around hers, and she seemed to focus again once she felt the flower stems in her fist. "Umm, right. So, there's this incantation I have to say. And then when I start peeling off petals and putting them in the water, you do the same. Okay?" she asked.

Harry brushed the small bit of skin behind her ear with his nose. "Okay," he responded, and laced the fingers of their free hands together.

Ginny began to mumble under her breath in what had to be a different language. Harry had no idea what she was saying, but the sound washed over him in warm waves. The rise and fall of her voice was somehow familiar, and he found himself humming along with the cadence of her speech. It might have been a familiar melody, but it was one he couldn't place. He forgot about the song in his head, in her words, when Ginny brought their hands toward the flower petals. With each new rise of her voice, they would pluck petals from the bunch and drop them in the water with each fall.

When there were no more petals, Harry dropped her hands and wrapped his arms around her slim waist and pulled her flush against him. "Is that it?" he whispered lowly in her ear before gently nipping at it. Ginny shivered and shook her head.

"Just the potions left."

"Good." Excitement rushed through Ginny at the dark timbre of Harry's voice.

She bent over the table to reach for two small vials, deliberately wiggling her bum against the growing bulge behind her as she did so. Harry groaned, and his hands flew to her hips. Ginny's answering chuckle was low and sultry.

"Problems, Harry?" she purred, rubbing her bum against him again despite the steadying influence of his hands on her hips.

Harry laughed breathlessly, as he tried to keep her from wiggling against him. "You're evil," he gasped, but Ginny could hear his lips turning up. She renewed her assault.

Harry's grip on her hips tightened, almost to the point of pain. "Gin," he bit out. "The potions." He pulled away from her, but slipped his hand into her free one as he stood.

Turning on her knees to face him, she looked up and saw his face was flushed and his eyes were a dark shade of green she had never seen. Goosebumps erupted over her skin wherever his penetrating gaze landed. She stood when he tugged on her hand. Once she was off the floor, Harry pulled her toward him. He turned her hand and kissed the palm before placing it on his shoulder and using his own hands to pull her forward by her hips.

He took the vials out of her other hand. "What are these?" he asked, not taking his eyes from hers.

"That vial has two doses of a unisex contraceptive and the other is specifically for the ritual."

"Did you make a double dose of the clear potion?" She nodded. "And there are no side effects if we take them together?" She shook her head.

Still keeping eye contact, he opened one vial with one hand and carefully drank half of the liquid before handing the rest to her and opening the second. Once they had both drunk half of the second potion, Ginny carelessly tossed vials in the direction of the table. He pulled her close again and leaned to kiss her, but stopped a breath from her lips. "Is that it?" he asked again. Ginny nodded and stood on her toes to close the distance between them.

Their kiss was dark and deep, and Ginny felt as if her chest had been ripped open so that her heart and every disgusting and awesome thing inside her was laid bare for him to see. She let him see beneath the strength and fire, to the black place of her nightmares and secrets, the place where she hid her tears and pain.

Harry held nothing back from her either. Underneath the selfless nobility were his pain, his guilt, his anger, his desperate desire to be worthy of love. It was all there swirling in him, pulling at her, and she loved him for it.

They were both cognizant of what they were about to do and neither held any reservations. Those who might have cautioned them against this decision, her family and what passed as his, were pushed to the background. They were taking the first step in creating their own family and there were no reasons to stop and every reason to continue. They loved each other.

Neither paid any attention to the hard floor or the slightly scratchy rug or took note of the amount of noise they did or didn't make. They were lost in each other. Lost in the discovery of each other.

It wasn't perfect. There were bumblings and awkward moments as often happen during first times, but it was theirs.

Imperfect… but Right.

And as the sun crept into the open window, the new lovers greeted the day… together.