Note: This story has five chapters; I'm posting chapters 1 and 2 at the same time (to leave you, dear reader, with a little dramatic tension!) and after that I'll post every couple days. (The story is written, I just find it terribly fun to post serially on the rare occasions that I write a multi-chapter story.)
Also: I generally stick punctiliously to canon (even the canon JKR talked about after the books were finished, which isn't even technically canon) but here I've made one small deliberate change, and given the wizarding world a new newspaper to replace the Daily Prophet.
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Every heart is much the same
We tell ourselves down here
The same chambers fed by veins
The same maze of love and fear
–Josh Ritter, In the Dark
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It was nearly six months after Harry defeated Voldemort for good that Ginny started having dreams about Tom Riddle.
Not Voldemort as he was in the end, snake-eyed and scary and inhuman, but handsome young Tom Riddle, the way he had appeared when he stepped out of the diary.
The first time she had the dream, Ginny just turned and ran as fast as she could, out of the Chamber of Secrets and down a stone corridor that seemed to stretch on forever. But no matter how she ran, Tom Riddle was always right beside her with his dangerous, handsome smile. Ginny woke up with her throat dry.
The next time she dreamt about him, Ginny stood her ground. "What are you doing here?" she demanded. "Harry killed you. You're dead."
"But am I?" he purred. "Haven't you thought that once before? I am nothing if not a master at cheating death."
"You're dead," Ginny insisted.
"Oh, now, don't be rude," he whispered, and reached out to stroke her cheek with one cold finger. Ginny shuddered, but forced herself not to recoil. "Do I look dead to you?" he pressed.
"No," she said, "but this is an old you, the one that was just a memory. There was another you – I mean, it was you, but later – and Harry killed you – in the Great Hall at the end of the Battle of Hogwarts." Ginny felt she should have been able to explain this better, but it was all getting muddled.
"Ah," murmured the young Tom Riddle. "Killed me? In battle? Now, if killing were that simple, don't you think I would have wiped out everyone you love just like this?" He snapped his fingers, and Ginny woke up.
She tried to ask Hermione casually, later that day when she managed to catch her alone in the dormitory.
They were in the same room now, since Hermione was the only Gryffindor girl of her year who'd come back to Hogwarts. Neville was back too, intent on achieving his N.E.W.T.s, since last time around he'd been rather more concerned with battling evil than revising.
Everyone else from Gryffindor had moved on. Like Harry and Ron.
"How do we know Voldemort is really dead?" Ginny asked Hermione now.
Hermione glanced up sharply from something she was reading, sitting cross-legged on her bed. "What do you mean?"
"Well… they thought that last time too, didn't they?"
"Yes, but last time – well, last time was different, wasn't it? They never found his body. No one witnessed what happened except Harry, and he was just a baby. And no one but Dumbledore understood even a bit about Horcruxes."
"I'm still not sure I understand about Horcruxes," Ginny muttered.
"Oh." Hermione looked anxious, the same way she did when facing a tough question in class. "I'm not sure I'm the right person to try to go through all the details. Wouldn't you rather ask Harry to really explain it properly, next Hogsmeade weekend?"
Ginny sighed. "No, I mean, I know what they are. I just don't know how to be sure they worked."
"I can promise you that," Hermione said, her voice suddenly so fierce it got Ginny's full attention. "I was there for most of them and watched them die. And for the ones I didn't see myself, I have it on the authority of people I trust with more than my life." Hermione, not usually one for physical affection, reached out and touched Ginny's shoulder. "I know it's a lot to take in, even now. It's okay to still be scared."
"I know," Ginny said. "At least, theoretically I know. But thanks, Hermione."
"If you want," Hermione offered, "I've got a book –"
That finally got Ginny to laugh, because only Hermione would have a book about what to do when you're worried a deceased Dark Lord is still plotting to take over the world.
"What?" Hermione asked, then smiled ruefully. "…Oh."
That night there were no bad dreams, and Ginny thought she had won. But a week later, Tom Riddle starting turning up again.
It always started in the Chamber of Secrets.
"Why are you here?" Ginny demanded, trying not to let him see how scared of him she was. "Why don't you go bother someone else?"
He smiled, that smile that made her want to crawl out of her skin, and asked, "Haven't you always been my special confidante, Ginny?"
Some nights, he explained to her in excruciating detail his plans for Britain. He made her fly with him over the countryside, where he pointed out the villages he would raze for their defiance of him, the monuments he would erect to himself.
This time, he assured Ginny, he wouldn't bother with a registration commission, he'd just get rid of the Mudbloods straight away.
Tom Riddle's way of flying wasn't like flying on a broomstick. There was none of the swooping, the turns, the exhilaration. Just his cold hand holding her up by the scruff of her school robes as he flew on, always in a straight line.
Ginny knew she couldn't escape him by running, but she fought him every step of the way with words. "There won't be any monuments to you," she shouted over the rush of wind. "You lost. No one will remember you."
"Oh?" he replied. "Really, have you forgotten me? I was under the impression you kept me right here." He placed one icy finger over Ginny's heart, and she dropped out of the sky and woke up in her bed, shivering.
In her waking hours, Ginny threw herself into Quidditch. It seemed to be the only way to exhaust herself enough that she didn't dream of Riddle, or at least if she did, she didn't remember afterward.
Ginny hadn't understood at first why she'd been made team captain. She was a good player, above average certainly, but nothing exceptional. But now, as autumn gave way to winter, turning the air crisp and painful to breathe, Ginny discovered she had a talent for organising people, for grouping them together and bringing out their strengths.
The new Seeker, a third-year named Matthias, was obviously no Harry, but he was improving fast. Most of the rest of the team already had experience, and had flown well together from the start.
At the end of practice on a particularly frigid Friday in early November, Ginny landed, detached her frozen hands from her broomstick, and called the team to her.
"You're doing great," she said. "To look at you, you wouldn't know this team had a couple rough years behind it. You fly like pros, your plays are flawless, and I say we're going to flatten Slytherin next weekend. What do you say?"
A cheer rose up around her, and Ginny found herself smiling.
She left her broom in the shed and headed back toward the castle, but turned when she heard footsteps on the frosty grass. Ritchie Coote, the sixth-year Beater, was loping up behind her.
"Hey, Ginny," he called, as he caught up to her. "Good practice, huh?"
Ginny nodded. She liked all of her team as a group, but now that she was supposed to be the one in charge, she never knew quite what to say to them individually. To be on the safe side, she tried to keep it general. "Everybody's come a long way since the beginning of the year," she said this time.
"You're doing a good job," he replied. "You're a really good captain."
"Thanks," Ginny said, though most days she felt like she was barely scraping by.
"Just thought you should know." He shrugged and gave her a goofy grin. "Anyway. See you later!" They'd reached the Entrance Hall, where Ritchie went up the stairs, while Ginny headed straight into the Great Hall for dinner.
What was that about? she wondered.
Ginny shovelled some food down, then stumbled upstairs to the shower and then the dormitory, nothing on her mind beyond falling into bed.
The other girls were still down in the common room, but Hermione was in the dormitory, sitting on her own bed and clutching her knees to her chest in a way that meant she was lost in thought somewhere.
She looked up when Ginny came in and said, "Hey. Looking forward to Hogsmeade?"
Ginny had honestly forgotten. Not that she wasn't looking forward to it, just that between battling her nightmares and wrangling her team, on top of N.E.W.T.-level coursework, most days she was left just about able to remember her own name.
Hermione seemed to take Ginny's silence as agreement. "I've just had an owl from Ron," she said, hugging her knees tighter. "They can get here around noon, and we'll meet them in the village. Does that sound okay?"
"Of course," Ginny agreed, dropping onto her own bed and flinging her wet towel over the foot of it. She didn't know why she was nervous. It was just Harry.
The next day dawned clear but cold, and without any bad dreams. Ginny walked over to Hogsmeade with Hermione and a couple other seventh-years, wrapped up tightly in a scarf her mum had knitted a few years before. The sky behind the bare trees was so pale it looked white, and Ginny wondered if it might snow.
She and Hermione split off from the others outside the Three Broomsticks, and Hermione pushed open the door.
Ginny saw them right away, Harry and Ron, saving them a table at the back. Ron went a ridiculous shade of pink when he saw Hermione, and nudged Harry.
Harry looked up, straight at Ginny, and grinned. Some knot she hadn't even known was tied up in her stomach loosened.
She and Hermione picked their way through the crowded pub to the boys. Hermione looked at Ron and Ron looked at Hermione with a daft grin on his face. "Hey," both of them said, then Ron added, "Hey, Ginny."
It was weird double-dating with your brother. But it had quickly become clear that Ron wanted to watch her snog his friend just as little as she wanted to watch him snog her friend, so by the year's second Hogsmeade weekend, they'd worked out an unspoken agreement: all meet up for lunch, then split off for the afternoon. Ginny wondered if Harry missed having more time with Ron and Hermione, just the three of them like it used to be, but she wasn't sure how to go about asking.
Hermione and Ron crammed in on one side of the small table and Ginny joined Harry on the other. He squeezed her hand under the table and she squeezed back.
"So, what's new in the real world?" Hermione asked.
It was a silly question, since Hermione still read the newspaper front to back every morning – the new one, the Magical Mirror, which had replaced the Daily Prophet after the mess it made of itself during the Voldemort years – but Ginny knew Hermione really meant something more like, What's it like being in the grown-up world?
"No one's died," said Ron, who seemed to find this a funny joke. Maybe it was the kind of gallows humour you had to learn when you spent a year hunting Horcruxes with Harry, but Ginny didn't share it.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "That I would know from the Mirror. I mean, how are things with you two? How's training?"
"Brilliant!" Ron enthused. "Still don't know why you didn't join us, Hermione. Just think, you could be one-sixth of the way to becoming an Auror, right now."
"Oh, right, because clearly that should be everyone's life goal…"
And they were off, bickering happily right through until the food arrived.
Ginny turned to Harry. "You're enjoying it too?"
"Yeah," he said, and Ginny could see it was true. She hadn't seen Harry look so calm in a long time. "It's great because it's all practical, hardly any theory, and we all know I'm rubbish at theory."
"What!" Ginny spluttered, but then she saw he was smiling. And she thought of Hermione hunched all night over books, revising, and Harry always just diving into the fray and seeing how it turned out. "Okay," she admitted. "I'm not saying you're rubbish at theory or anything, but I guess you could say you're a little more of a hands-on kind of person."
"Exactly," Harry said. His hand found hers again under the table, brushing her knee on the way, and she shivered.
After lunch, they ended up all standing in front of the Three Broomsticks. "Well," said Hermione. "See you later, Ginny. And Harry, say goodbye before you go, okay?"
"We'll meet back up here before you two have to go back," he agreed.
"Have a nice afternoon," Hermione said, looking a little pink herself. Ron's arm was already snaking around her waist and pulling her away.
Ginny watched them set off up the High Street, leaning together and laughing over something. She wondered again why it was so easy for them, but of course she knew the answer: They hadn't spent that year apart.
Harry shoved his hands in his pockets, then seemed to think better of it and drew them out again. "Where do you want to go?" he asked.
"How about just walking around for a while, until it gets too cold?" Ginny suggested. "Maybe even out of the village a bit? I feel like I haven't been properly outdoors in ages, except for Quidditch."
Harry's face lit up at the mention of Quidditch, and Ginny knew they'd found the conversation topic that would carry them through until they'd fully warmed up to each other again. "How's the team?" he asked.
"Good. Really good. I feel like I'm finally getting the hang of it, you know, actually managing to be there for them as a captain."
"Of course you are," Harry said. "And I'm sure you're better than I was."
"No way! Harry, you were the best –"
He was smiling again. "Come on, let's argue about it while we walk." He paused, then reached decisively for her hand. He wasn't wearing gloves, so Ginny wriggled her hand free, slipped off her own glove, and slid her hand back into his. It was nice.
They wandered toward the other end of the village. Harry wanted to hear about all the drills she was running and the plays the team was learning, and Ginny was happy to oblige. It was satisfying talking about her ideas with someone who understood so well.
They'd started down a winding country lane outside Hogsmeade before Ginny remembered, "Oh! Angelina came by and watched one of our practices last week. She said to tell you hi."
Harry looked at her in surprise. "Angelina came up to Hogwarts? Just to watch Quidditch?"
Ginny didn't dare just yet to tell Harry – or anyone – what Angelina had really said, which was that she thought if Ginny practiced hard all year, she'd stand a pretty good chance if she wanted to try out for some of the pro teams after Hogwarts. And that the Holyhead Harpies, where Angelina was a reserve player, were definitely looking for new talent.
But it was too soon to talk about it. Ginny didn't even know if she wanted to play professional Quidditch. Though she did think Angelina probably knew pretty well about throwing yourself into the sport hard enough to shake off some of your demons.
Without sharing everything, Ginny still didn't want to lie to Harry. "I think she might have been up at Hogwarts for other reasons too," she said. "But yeah, she said she wanted to see me play."
"Wait," Harry said, "I want to see you play. Can I come watch you practise?"
"You can do one better, if you want," Ginny told him. "Come next weekend and watch our first match, against Slytherin. Who we're going to beat."
"Am I allowed to do that?" Harry wondered. "Just show up for the match and watch?"
Ginny had to stifle a laugh. "Harry, I think you're allowed to do pretty much anything you want at this point. Just tell McGonagall you'd like to come that day."
Harry rubbed absentmindedly at his forehead, although Ginny knew very well his scar never pained him anymore. But he hated being reminded that he would always be given this special status.
Ginny, though, wasn't going to sugarcoat it for him. For better or worse, he was truly a celebrity now. But also, she didn't care, as long as he was Harry, too.
The road entered a patch of woods and they walked on in silence, but now the silence with Harry felt easy.
"How is everyone?" she asked after a bit. "How's Teddy?"
"The cleverest seven-month-old in the world, obviously," Harry said, and Ginny saw how he swelled with pride when he talked about his godson. "You remember how he was already getting kind of fascinated by grown-up food even before you left? How he'd watch us eat? Well, now Andromeda's started giving him baby food, you know, mashed up things, and it's so funny watching him try to figure out how to work his mouth around it. And he's got two teeth!" He paused. "Am I boring you?"
"No!" Ginny said, because Harry swooning over Teddy's little developmental steps was possibly the most adorable thing she'd ever seen.
"You'll come visit him with me when you're back for the Christmas holidays, won't you?" he asked.
"Of course," Ginny said. "I miss him too."
"What are your plans for the holidays, anyway?" Harry asked, a little too casual.
"Nothing much. Just being at home."
"Because your mum invited me for Christmas…"
"…but I don't think I'll come stay the whole time you're on break – I'll come for Christmas, of course, but the rest of the time I'll still live at home."
"Oh." Ginny always managed to block out the fact that Harry was living in Sirius' old house at 12 Grimmauld Place, a choice she couldn't understand at all. Okay, yes, she could understand, it gave him a place of his own, and he felt a responsibility to Sirius to finally make the house liveable. But it was a choice she didn't much like.
Just as she thought that, Harry was saying, "You'll like it now, I've been doing a lot to fix the house up. Ron helps a lot. You'd hardly recognise it."
He was speaking in nervous little bursts, and Ginny didn't understand why.
Harry stopped in the middle of the path and turned to face her. There were a few light snowflakes starting to swirl down, and he had those stunning green eyes fixed on her. "I was hoping – maybe you'd want to come spend some time at Grimmauld Place. During the break. You know, if you want to. It's the only place we can really be alone."
Ginny sucked in a breath. She imagined kissing Harry during the few moments they might manage to steal together amid the bustle of her family's house at Christmas, and then she imagined kissing Harry in the emptiness of 12 Grimmauld Place. Entire new worlds opened up.
"Yeah," she managed. "I'd love to. I can't wait to see what you've done with the house."
Ginny wondered why Harry still looked nervous, even with that cleared up, then she realised. She stepped forward and slipped her hand out of his so she could put both hands, the gloved one and the not-gloved one, on either side of his face. She took another step in and kissed him.
Harry's arms came up around her and pulled her even closer. It was awkward and wonderful in their bulky winter cloaks, as the snow fell faster and faster around them.
"At this rate, we're going to be buried in a snowdrift," Harry murmured after a while, his forehead pressed against hers. Ginny could feel snowflakes landing everywhere, on her hair and her shoulders and the back of her bare hand, soft and cold and pure. "Should we get back to the village?" he asked.
Ginny shook her head. "I don't want to," she murmured back.
Harry laughed softly. "Never? Then, let's see, I guess we'll have to build ourselves a house out here or something. Yeah, we can live in a little cottage here in the woods, but we'll go into Hogsmeade every day to buy bread and things…"
"Yes," Ginny said. "And just stay out here forever." Right at that moment, she had the feeling nothing could find her here in the snow, no grief, no dreams of Fred or of Tom Riddle. Just the whispering sound of falling snow, and Harry's arms around her. Just the good things.
A thought from earlier in the day popped back into her head, and she said, "I'm sorry you don't get to spend more time with Ron and Hermione."
Harry pulled back so he could look at her. "What do you mean?"
"I figure you'd like to see more of them – well, I mean both of them together, I know you see Ron every day. But there's so little time as it is, and then you spend all of it with me."
Harry looked confused. "Ginny, if Ron and Hermione are being annoyingly sort of…in their own world right now, that's not your fault."
"But you could spend more of the Hogsmeade weekends with them. If you wanted."
"You think they want me tagging along?"
"Oh." Somehow, she hadn't quite thought of it that way. "Probably not."
"Did you know practically all Ron talks about is Hermione? Every day, all day, even at work? I mean, I get it, I really do, but…" He shook his head. "Is Hermione like that too?"
"Actually, yeah, she kind of is." Ginny had long since desensitised herself to hearing her friend go on and on about her brother, to the point that she hardly noticed anymore.
"They certainly deserve it," Harry said, though he sounded a little wistful. "Anyway, took them long enough!"
"Ron not exactly being known for his emotional acuity, and all."
"And Hermione being maybe a little too patient about letting him figure it out on his own," Harry added fairly. Then he looked bashful and said, "Anyway, I do wish there were more Hogsmeade weekends. But that's so I could see you more."
"Oh," Ginny said again, and her smile matched his.
It was easier to say goodbye to Harry this time, knowing he would be back again in a week, even if she'd be busy then with the match. So when they all met up again outside the Three Broomsticks, Ginny said, "I'm heading back to the castle, but Hermione, you've still got half an hour or so. Why don't you stay and catch up with Harry?"
"Ginny, wait –" Hermione said, but Ginny gave Harry a kiss – just a peck on the cheek, in deference to the tacit agreement with Ron – and waved merrily as she walked away.
"It's okay," she heard Harry say to Hermione, and she knew he'd understood her.
Ginny walked the road to the castle alone in the falling snow, her mind comfortably empty. Whenever her thoughts drifted to Harry's lips on hers and Harry's arms around her, she couldn't help smiling.
When Ginny pulled open the door to the Entrance Hall, a gust of snow swirled in after her. She shook her head to get a few errant flakes out of her eyes and stomped her boots against the floor. When she looked up again, she saw Luna by the doorway to the Great Hall, looking almost as if she'd been waiting for Ginny, though Ginny knew it was more likely she'd just drifted through and happened to end up there.
"Hey, Luna," Ginny said, shrugging out of her winter cloak and slinging it over one arm.
"You were missing Harry a lot, weren't you?" Luna asked, as Ginny came up to her.
"Yeah, I guess I was," Ginny said. She hadn't even realised what that emptiness was until seeing Harry filled some of it back up again. "How did you know?"
"You looked like you did," Luna said simply. "And now you don't."
They walked into the Great Hall together, which was already full of tantalising aromas, though the plates were still empty.
"Is Harry all right?" Luna asked as they walked between the tables. "Is he thinking clearly?"
"Uh, yeah, I think so. I know he's really liking Auror training."
"That's good," Luna said. "Sometimes people who've been subjected to a battle or a significant trauma can be easy targets for Wrackspurts. But I wasn't too worried about Harry, really."
Ginny snorted with laughter, then clapped her hand over her mouth guiltily. "I'm sorry, Luna, I'm not laughing at you. I'm just remembering how nice it is to have you around."
"It's nice having you around too," Luna said seriously. "I would have been sad if you'd died in the battle."
There it was again, Luna's knack for saying the things people maybe ought to say to each other, but almost never did. Ginny felt a sudden urge to hug her, but wasn't sure if their friendship was quite at that point, even after everything.
Instead, Ginny remembered her conversation with Harry, and it gave her an idea. As they reached the point where they would each turn off to their own House tables, Ginny said, "I know it's still a while off, but what are you doing for Christmas?"
"For Christmas? Just celebrating with Dad."
"Why don't you come over to our place?" Ginny asked. It seemed so unbearably sad to think of Luna and her father alone in their house, so close to the Burrow, which would be overflowing with family. "I mean, I have to ask my mum first, but I'm sure it would be fine. You could come for Christmas dinner, or you could just come over in the afternoon or something, we'd really like to have you…" Ginny realised she was babbling.
"I'd like that," Luna said. "And it would be very good for Dad to get out a bit. Thank you, Ginny."
"You don't have to thank me," Ginny said, embarrassed. "I'll ask my mum about it and we'll send over an invitation."
"Oh, yes, an invitation would be nice!"
They smiled at each other and parted ways.
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(continue to chapter 2…)