Author's Notes: I started this months ago and finally got around to finishing it. It's un-beta'd, so let me know if there are any glaring mistakes (apart from the fragments and interesting wording, I swear those are intentional). Also, if anyone is interested in beta reading a nextgen piece for me please let me know!
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. Not even a little. If I did, you'd probably have to pay somehow to read this.
It's three weeks before he approaches her, three weeks before he can look at her without quickly glancing away or falling silent or leaving the room to make a cup of tea. Everyone at the Burrow is quieter than usual, so quiet that it unnerves him more than he'd like to admit, so he makes a point of keeping out of the way while his surrogate family mourns the loss of a true son.
Harry, who has never felt more included by any other family than he has by the Weasleys, suddenly feels suffocated underneath his own guilt, and the thought of Ginny just adds to the thickening pressure around his skull.
He does not initiate their first contact, to say the least.
"You're avoiding me," she states, freckled forearms crossed over her chest.
Ginny puts on a tough front, but he knows her well. He meets her gaze, doesn't flinch away when she presses her full lips together into a pouty cupid's bow. If he can close his mind from Voldemort at his most furious then he can handle Ginny Weasley and her amber-eyed stare.
"What would you like me to do?" Harry asks, green eyes flashing like hardened stones. They're in the kitchen and he's drinking coffee, she notes. The Harry she remembers never liked coffee.
"Would you have me steal you away in the middle of the night while you're family's sleeping? Or while your mother's crying over her knitting?"
"You don't get to blame yourself for this," she interrupts. "You don't get to do that, Harry. I'm the one that gets to feel guilty. Me and Ron and George and Percy and Charlie and Bill," she urges, a fiery element behind her eyes that he interprets as anger.
The ghost of Fred smiles down on her for her boldness; she stands a little straighter, still a head shorter than Harry.
He feels the familiar surge of adrenaline that precedes a fight, that massive chemical release that he's become so familiar with in the past year. "Then how should I feel?"
He should feel angry, fuming at her about how she Doesn't Know and how This is Unbearable, everyone congratulating him for a murder and insisting that he should be happy when half of his friends are dead, but he's being himself and keeping it from her.
His closed-off expression says enough.
"You should feel like you can talk to me," she offers, calmer now, more vulnerable. "You should realize that we're all feeling the way you're feeling."
The way he's feeling? Hadn't she just said that he doesn't deserve to feel the way he does? If anything he feels confused.
"I knew Tom Riddle too," she finishes, and it's then that Harry understands.
"Just because I'm feeling guilty about Fred—that, that has nothing to do with Voldemort getting the better of me or any of that rubbish. That's the difference between me and him, Ginny. He had no concept of guilt."
"But that doesn't mean you have to go and deny yourself of everything out of guilt, or because you're trying to prove that you're not like him. Feeling something other than misery, even when that's all that anyone else is feeling, isn't going to make you like Voldemort."
It all comes out in a rush and for the first time since the end of the war she feels like she's gotten the better of him. For weeks now he's been watching her with that cool expression that drives her mad, that aloofness that she can't stand. She wants to shake him, to rile him up like she used to be able to back when Sirius was still alive and his temper ran just beneath the surface. But, at nearly eighteen, Harry is much more guarded than her memories of him, and she feels like she's lost something.
Looking at her, at her yellow-brown eyes and her chiseled collarbones and her constellations of freckles, something in him fractures. His resolve, maybe. Or his endurance. The air between them suddenly feels impossibly distant, like the planks of wood that separate them are as wide as an ocean floor, so wide that one step will drown him. He breathes and the heady scent of her is stronger than ever.
"I need to go," he says, quickly setting his cup down. Coffee sloshes over the rim but he ignores it and, in two strides, is out the back door, streaking through the lavender evening like the sharp glide of an eagle.
A dark look of determination crosses her face, the silence of the kitchen heavy and oppressive against her shoulders. After a few hesitating moments she follows him, races after him across the garden.
Ginny gains on him, her red hair flying out behind her like the arch of a spell. Her small hand grabs his upper arm and he whips around, almost colliding with her.
They're within inches of one another, their heavy breathing floating across each other's faces. "I feel guilty when I look at you," he half-whispers, his warm hand brushing against her hip and moving upward.
"I keep telling myself that I don't deserve you. I did terrible things while I was away—I broke enough laws to land me in Azkaban for the rest of my life—and your brother is dead because of a ridiculous war that is solely my fault—and every time I see you those are the farthest things from my mind."
"Harry," she says, a strange excitement building in her chest. "Come here."
She sucks in a breath of warm summer air, makes a shallow inhale while Harry draws her slowly closer. I can't believe this is happening, she thinks, her face hot. All those months alone at school without even a whisper of where he was, nothing but endless wondering and her own desperate hope that they'd both live to see each other again, and now he is here and his eyes are gleaming like they haven't in a long, long time and her head is suddenly full of secret, inappropriate thoughts.
His hands on her waist, he leans down and does the impossible. He tilts her face upwards and forcefully catches her lips with his own. A deep current of desire spikes through her abdomen and she feels herself opening like a flower, a slow coaxing toward delicious sunlight after months of miserable deprivation.
An overwhelming weakness spreads through her legs and his insistent mouth against hers is the only thing she's certain of, a rush of emotional energy pouring out of her that she hasn't experienced since she wrote her last diary entry to Tom so many years ago. But this time it is Harry who is opening her, opening her insides and filling her with something else, something warmer and much more blinding than the memories of a teenaged murderer. He pulls her hair through his fingers, hot palms sliding over the bare skin of her back, his tongue dipping between her parted lips.
They're underneath the willow tree in the back yard, one of her favorite thinking places at the Burrow. His closeness becomes very physically apparent when he pushes her back against the trunk of the ancient tree, sliding one of his legs between hers. She moans, much louder than she has ever allowed herself during hurried moments while bathing or hushed fumbling in her twin bed before falling asleep. Her head lolls back, eyes closed, mouth a taunt O while he kisses her neck and slides one of his warm, rough hands underneath her shirt, fingers arching around her breasts.
Unlike their previous experiences together, he doesn't shy away when she grinds her hips against his. She can feel him pressing against her, their bodies so close that every breath he takes brings her chest closer to his. Harry's hand finds its way under her frilly summer skirt, something her mum made for her while she was away at school, and the moment his fingers teasingly graze over her knickers, she is gone.
She unbuttons his shirt, hands shaking, her body screaming yes, yes, yes, please, her force of will struggling to stay contained. He guides her to the cool grass at the base of the willow and she takes it as her opportunity to steer the course of their time together.
Ginny's small hand plays with the smooth skin just above the waistband of his jeans, not staying there long before she goes further, sliding past the cotton-and-elastic barrier to their teenaged fumblings. Harry's eyes squeeze shut at the feeling, a rolling pleasure arching through his neck, shoulders, back. He wants to fuck her, to push her floral skirt up and over her hips and slowly part her thighs until he can see the downy triangle of copper hair beneath her knickers. He has earned this, and she seems to agree, softly grasping the length of him.
Exhaling, the whole world drops away. Desire like this has never cut through him so strongly but he can't let himself go, not after the sleeplessness and the agony of wondering and the unfairness that being with him will surely grant her. So he pulls away, strokes her baby-soft cheek, kisses her firmly, but fleetingly, and walks into the darkening edge of the back garden. He disapparates with a soft pop.
The next morning, Hermione does not press her about her sour mood. Most of the Weasleys are too wrapped up in their own grief to make out the subtle difference in Ginny, but she sees it, and it's an act of courtesy that keeps her friend from asking.
But when she walks into the sitting room and sees her holding the little tin of floo power, sees her considering it for a long moment, Hermione crosses her arms and spells the door so no passers by will overhear.
"I don't know where he's gone to," she confesses, and Ginny doesn't need telling as to whom she's speaking of. "Kingsley came last week and offered the three of us positions as aurors, but we all agreed to think about it before making a decision . . . "
A purposefulness is coursing through her, saying—do it, find him—but she holds back and returns the tin to its proper place on the mantelshelf. If Harry really is at the ministry then she should just wait for him, give him this opportunity to set things straight as he sees them.
I'm not giving up, she tells herself, following Hermione out into the back garden for a midmorning stroll to the orchard, her chest tightening when they pass the willow tree on the way. Ginny reminds herself that, as long as she's set a time limit, she is still in control. It's not the same as waiting for Harry, Ron, and Hermione to save her at Hogwarts and being disappointed when the heroes don't show up until the final act, and even then their return amounting to a hunt for an artifact.
I'm a Weasley, Ginny reminds herself, and I'll be buggered if that doesn't give me grounds to care.
When he shows up later that evening it's past dinner, or what her mum has recently been calling dinner, and it doesn't escape her notice that Harry makes the announcement that he's moving out to her parents separately.
Divide and shelter. He has learned far too much in his dealings with Death Eaters and Tom Riddle.
Hermione is sitting next to Ron at the kitchen table, talking, making some sort of plan that only the two of them will be undertaking. This piques Ginny's interest because she has no memory of the three of them separating to perform a task, but she decides against asking them about it because just then, as she's finishing up the washing at the sink and drying her hands on a worn rag, he approaches her, leaning against the counter she's standing at. He crosses his arms and watches her face with all the intensity he's been dampening for the past month.
"I need to talk to you."
Swish. The dirty water begins to drain from the sink in a circular whirlpool. Her mind is frozen or being rapidly devoured by flames. She isn't sure which.
She meets his eyes, holds the connection, and walks away, crossing the kitchen and climbing the stairs. Harry follows.
When he enters her bedroom she shuts the door, turns the lock, fights back memories of his seventeenth birthday, but it's difficult. The arrangement is so similar, even where they're standing—she is overwhelmed with frustration and her emotions are raw from attempts to satisfy it.
"So," Ginny says, and this time it is her turn to receive the gift. She is tired of offering herself and forcing him to accept. She waits.
"So," he echoes. Neither of them laughs. The almost-sex from the night before has taken their yearlong chase from flirtatious to serious and Harry has never been the type to take advantage. He's far too noble, she thinks, even when she doesn't want him to be.
"Have you made up your mind then?" she asks, and Ginny can tell that this isn't the question he was expecting. Not at all. He tries to hide it but it's written all over his posture—in his intent gaze, in the slightly predatory slouch of his hips in her direction. The heady sensation of being alone with him is starting to creep up on her and she tries to steady herself against it, tries to forget the almost satisfying throb of pleasure that spiked between her legs the night before. Her heart speeds up and her cheeks flush and she's sure that he can smell her desire
"Yes. I think we should get out of here."
"If you want to find that out you'll just have to trust me."
He holds his hand out to hers and she knows that this is it, that this is Harry opening up to her for probably the first time since they've known each other. Like two injured pieces, she accepts his hand, knits the link between them a little tighter, and draws close to him while they flash from one location to the next, connected.
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