Harry Potter hesitantly knocked on the girls' door, his feet shuffling shyly as he waited. Ever since that 'intervention' the day before, he'd been trying to act normally again. He'd arrived downstairs for dinner to a crushing hug from a teary-eyed Mrs. Weasley. Earlier this morning he'd even helped with the Christmas decorating. Yet he couldn't get Ginny's words out of his mind.
He'd been both reassured and put off by her recounting the events of his second year. It was hard to reconcile the image of first year Ginny lying on that stone floor with the vivacious fourth year who could easily hex anyone in school to the hospital wing. It was truly easy for him to forget that she was just as much a victim of Voldemort as any of them. He didn't quite know why, but he needed to talk to her about it. Maybe she could help him feel better, because as much as he was trying, the events of his dream and Mr. Weasley's attack weighed heavily on him still.
Harry had kept shooting her looks all through the decorating of Grimmauld Place but if Ginny'd noticed she was very adept at hiding it. He'd even managed to corner her in the hall and had started to speak before Mrs. Weasley bustled through and pulled her away to help with lunch, leaving him with his mouth hanging open like an idiot. After they'd eaten she'd gone immediately up to her room, alone. He knew because she asked Hermione not to be disturbed and that was why she was trying vainly to beat Ron at chess down in the study.
He hoped she'd let him in. It'd be right embarrassing (and a tad poetic) if she turned him away now when he desperately wanted to speak to her.
A sigh sounded from the room and Ginny's voice called to him, "Come in, Harry." Surprised, Harry poked his face through the opening, pulling the rest of himself through, and shutting the door firmly behind him. The thump woke Walburga's portrait and he jumped as she began her usual screaming rant. Sheepishly, he turned around, taking stock of the unfamiliar territory.
It was slightly larger than the one he and Ron shared, and definitely tidier. The walls were a deep royal blue, a pleasant change from the Slytherin green that pervaded the rest of the house. The bed farthest from the window, from which bright sunlight streamed in cheerfully, was neatly and meticulously made and obviously Hermione's. Ginny sat on hers gazing out at the sky, for all appearances unconcerned with Harry's discomfort.
"Yes," She spoke to the window, "Was there something you wanted?" Harry took a cautious step closer.
"Er…" He said, silently berating himself for his lousy way with words. Since when was being around Ginny this difficult? Blearily, he shook his head as if to clear it. "I was actually hoping we could talk." Her head snapped around, her warm brown eyes piercing him. It felt like he was being scrutinized, like she could see into his soul, and he squirmed.
"Yeah?" She asked, and he nodded quickly. "Alright then, have a seat." Walking forward, Harry surprised them both by sitting on her bed rather than across from her on Hermione's. He could see Ginny bite her lip from the corner of his eye and hastened to relieve the tension.
"What you said before, about Voldemort," She tried to conceal her wince, "possessing you… I just sort of realized, I never… I mean, you're right, you're the only one who could… understand." He finished with a gulp. She was staring at him, so he started fiddling with a loose string on his sleeve. "I stopped hiding, and I'm relieved from what you said yesterday, but… I have to be sure, you know?" There was a pregnant pause as she considered his request.
"I suppose you want me to tell you more then." She said flatly. Feeling guilty for dredging up what were obviously painful memories, Harry stayed silent but finally looked up. She was staring through the bedpost and there were these lines around her mouth he'd never seen before. That distinctive fiery Weasley hair was pulled over one shoulder, partially obscuring her face. His eyes traced the curve of her cheek, smooth under the smattering of freckles, and he found himself wondering, when did she grow up? This was not the girl with her elbow in the butter dish. This… she was beautiful.
"Well…" He was startled out of his reverie as she spoke slowly, as if still deliberating on what to say. "At first it was just disorienting. I would be writing to him one minute, and the next thing I knew half an hour would be gone. I… I think he was still trying to figure it out. And he was very careful to return me to exactly how I'd been. I just thought I'd drifted off from the work load or something. But then…" She drew her knees to her chest, hugging them tightly. "I started losing more time, hours and hours. I'd be sitting in the library, writing, and find myself on the grounds with chicken feathers all down my front. Poof! Just like that. Sometimes… there'd be blood on my hands and I'd have no idea what or… whose it was. I'd run to the bathroom to rinse it off, over and over, but I could still feel it, so slick between my fingers. And I'd look up into the mirror… I was so pale. I looked near death. It was as if with each page a little more of my life drained away."
Harry shuddered at her phrasing. It was uncannily similar to Riddle's words as he'd clutched Ginny's limp hand, feeling frantically for each weak beat of her heart. Still alive, but only just.
And even now, sitting with her, he recalled, in perfect detail, the feel of her dad's blood gushing underneath his fangs. It was a coppery vile taste he'd never forget. If he let his mind wander, it was there, he could sense it in his mouth. They were both contemplating their own thoughts when she spoke again, so softly he had to strain to hear her.
"I woke up early every morning to do a head count of my dorm mates. You know, to make sure I hadn't butchered them in my sleep. Not that I was sleeping much, mind." She sighed, sending the strands of her fringe flying, and straightened up. She looked him in the eye, and he was almost surprised to see her so composed. "So, as we've established that you don't have unaccounted for lapses in time, I don't think you have anything to worry about. Well," She corrected herself with a grin, "That's not quite true, is it? You always manage to find new and exciting things to worry over." Harry smiled, and for the first time that day it felt genuine. Then a thought occurred to him and it faded.
"Gin, have you… told this to anyone else?" She shook her head.
"Not really, not since the day you rescued me." Ginny blushed a little, the first time he'd seen in a while, though she got over it quicker than he remembered. "My last confidant turned out to be a mass-murdering shit-head so I was a bit leery of opening up again."
"Right." He said, because it made perfect sense. At the same time he couldn't help thinking, she trusts me, she's confiding in me about all this, me! He wondered why she was disclosing so much. Was it that she really did want to fix him, or had she simply kept all this bottled up for so long that once she'd started she couldn't stop? Opting to press his luck, he asked, "Did you… Have you ever had nightmares?" Gin shot him a look that looked half peeved and half amused.
"Not like yours, I imagine." It was Harry's turn to blush. How was she being so cavalier about what nearly killed her father? But she grimaced and continued, "I was bound to, but they were only the normal sorts of nightmares. I never remembered any of it of course, but I saw that giant snake in the Chamber and my mind… I'd have dreams where I rode the thing through the corridors, laughing when people crumpled in our path. There were dreams when I told the Basilisk to kill Collins or Hermione or you and I'd sit back and watch very satisfied as… Oh, I wouldn't be able to face any of you for days! I even had ones where all it was was me looking at my reflection in the puddles on that ancient stone floor and instead I saw Tom with those horrible glowing red eyes." She sighed again, running a hand through her hair. "Really it was the guilt that plagued me most, not the actions." Ginny finished with an air of finality.
He watched her for a few minutes as the memories faded from her face. She turned and met his eyes unflinchingly. Shifting closer, she licked her lips nervously, and he couldn't stop staring. They were pink and she smelled like flowers and the sunlight ignited in her hair and he wanted to kiss her. Then Harry blinked and realized she was talking.
"I asked if any of this was helping." She repeated patiently, apparently unaware of what he'd just been thinking.
"Oh…" It was odd, he hadn't really expected it to, but there was no doubt he felt better. More than that, for the first time since the summer, he felt connected. "…Yeah," Harry answered finally, "It has." A relieved smile broke out over her face which he couldn't help returning. They sat like that sharing a companionable silence for a very long time. Ginny took to gazing out the window, though this time she didn't look so melancholy. Harry had plucked that bothersome thread and was absentmindedly rolling it in his fingers.
Inwardly he was marveling at her resiliency. After everything she'd described, half of which he hadn't imagined or given even a moment's thought about, here she was, one of the strongest people he knew. She was talented, confident, and (he could no longer deny) beautiful. Strangely enough, it gave Harry hope.
"So… how about we move on to a less depressing topic?" Ginny asked with false cheer. Her shoulder nudged his playfully as her expression turned devious. "Hermione tells me you made out with Cho Chang." Harry blushed bright red and scratched the back of his head awkwardly. He hadn't thought much about his crush/maybe-girlfriend since arriving at Grimmauld Place.
"I-I wouldn't say that… exactly…" Ginny laughed good-naturedly at him. He liked her laugh.
"How is she anyway?" She asked once she'd settled down. She sounded genuinely concerned, and Harry realized with an unexpected pang that she wasn't jealous. Ginny had really gotten over him.
"Er… weepy?" He replied. Guiltily he realized he'd been comparing Cho's glum demeanor to Gin's vitality. But Ginny nodded solemnly.
"Yeah, I reckon if my boyfriend got killed I'd be weepy too. Although," She added lightly, "If she's up for sucking face with you, how sad can she be, really?" She chuckled at his predictable blush.
Deciding to turn the tables on her, he asked, in that same sly tone of hers, "Speaking of, what about what's-his-name, your secret boyfriend… Michael, was it?" She flamed redder than her hair.
"He's not a secret, I just don't advertise, do I— Oh no!" She cried, hands flying to her mouth. "I was supposed to ride the train with him and Terry! He probably thinks I stood him up or something. I should owl him, how could I forget?" She mumbled mostly to herself. Harry, disappointed that his teasing did not have the desired effect, merely shrugged uncomfortably.
"There's been a lot going on, I'm sure he'll understand." She hummed absently and, feeling increasingly awkward, he stood up. "Right then, I'll leave you to it." He took several steps towards the door before pausing. He had to know. "Sorry, just one…" He faltered. Ginny was watching him, and the way the light fell made her eyes look like honey. He swallowed, feeling as if he'd just ate a Ton-Tongue Toffee. "O-one more question."
"Yes?" She replied, and was that hope in her voice?
"How'd you get over it?" She smiled softly.
"I don't know if I ever will, to be honest. You know that critical voice in your head, the one that points out all your insecurities until you're just a bundle of nerves? It'll always be Tom's voice. Do you remember when the Dementors searched the train about two years ago? I broke down in sobs, I never do that. And, occasionally, I still have those nightmares I told you about. But… I've been learning to push through those things. The summer after first year I devoted myself to my family. I loved visiting Bill, he's always been my favorite. The whole experience really helped me remember who I was. Then when we got back to school I focused on making friends. Obviously I hadn't had many the year before, I was too busy petrifying muggleborns and freaking out about it. I got closer to my dorm mates, and Colin even though I felt so guilty in the beginning whenever I saw him. Hermione and I became friends too, when she wasn't busy with all that homework of course. Especially during that cat/rat spat she and my brother had." They shared a smirk at the memory before she became serious once more.
"I guess… I just tried. I tried so hard to rejoin the land of the living. I fought against those memories for years. I'm still fighting, and I doubt I'll ever stop. You just can't let these things steal who you are. It sounds cliche to say that's letting You-Know… Voldemort win, but that's how I saw it and that's how I healed. I really hope you'll do the same."
There was quiet as her words seemed to fill the air to the brim. Nothing else could be said really. Harry smiled gratefully at her and walked backwards until the doorknob hit him in the back. Taking one last look at Ginny, his stomach flip-flopping, he spun and left the room. Walking (sprinting, more like) down the corridor to his bedroom, he slid down the wall as soon as he closed the door.
Alright, he conceded to himself, Gin's grown up now. She's attractive and I can notice that without it being weird. It's not like I'm the only one who thinks so, is it? She's with Michael Corner or whoever, and I'm sure I heard Dean mention her more than once. Besides, I'm with Cho… sort of. Yeah. Really, I'm being ridiculous. Yes, we both have that connection with Voldemort, and I loved talking to her about it, but that's nothing. She's my friend. Like Hermione. I could talk to Hermione about these things too, couldn't I?
And besides, what would it matter if I ever like her? She's over me now.
Oh Harry. So naive.
Say what you will, I firmly believe Harry started liking her in the fifth book, he only realized it in the sixth. This is when they become friends, especially after the Christmas holidays. And as for Ginny, well, she's proven herself to be an excellent liar ;)
This story is based on one of my favorite scenes from Ootp, the 'intervention'. Harry's been acting sullen because he thinks people are afraid of him since his dream of the attack on Mr. Weasley. Ginny sets him straight. It's on pages 498 to 501. I just go into greater detail here.
I like the idea that Harry is realizing her physical beauty at the same time he realizes her inner strength. Perhaps he'll begin to see Chang in a different light.
Oh Harry, what would you do without us?
UPDATE: A sequel is now up, named Breakdowns in Broom Sheds. If you enjoyed this, I highly recommend you read my new one.
DOUBLE UPDATE: A third installment entitled Starlight and Bright Brown Eyes is up. Expect more coming.