Please note the world of Harry Potter belongs to JKR. I'm only playing with her creation. Also the story image was a free download I found. Thank you to whomever it belongs. I will remove it immediately if asked.
Chapter 21: Reflection Revealed
Harry stopped on the last step into the sitting area. The pose wasn't the same. To be honest, it wasn't really even close. But as Natalya stood in front of the windows looking out over Hyde Park he finally knew what it was he saw of himself in the painting, that now hung in the library, and had first seen so many months ago on that first motorbike ride to Southport. The woman in the painting was waiting for someone. Specifically, Harry felt she was waiting for her lover. Even, perhaps, one more important than a lover… her husband. And Natalya, from the first instant Harry had looked on it he had replaced the model with Natalya. And as he looked on her now, standing by the window in his flat, he finally knew what reflection he saw of himself in the painting.
He wanted to be the one she waited for.
Finally figured it out, did you? Remus asked quietly.
Yeah, Harry answered, I think I have.
About bloody time, Sirius muttered. Now tell me my Godson has the stones to do something about it?
She has enough to think about right now, Harry answered.
But after she gets back? Sirius pressed.
Harry watched her for another second. I'm not sure I have a choice anymore.
Thank Merlin, Sirius said. Next time it's your turn to distract him while I work the shadows.
Let's hope there isn't a need for a next time, Remus answered.
There could never be anyone else like her, Harry said. He stepped into the sitting area and crossed to her. She settled into his arms as they slipped around her waist. "All packed?" he asked.
She nodded. "Yes."
"What time is the train?"
Harry nodded. "Alright." He held her in silence for a short time.
"It's only four days, right?" she asked quietly.
"Four days and we can have our Christmas."
She tipped her head back on his shoulder. "I like the sound of that."
Harry let his cheek rest against her head. "Yeah," he agreed. "So do I."
A little over an hour later Harry and Natalya were on the platform next to her train. "This is me," she said outside the last carriage. She turned to face him.
An old man in a station manager's uniform passed them. "Five Minutes!" he called loudly.
"You should get on, find a seat," Harry said.
Natalya reached up and played with the collar of his coat. "I've a reserved seat." Harry arched an eye. "The train's always full at Christmas. I didn't want to have to move every stop because someone else reserved the seat I was sitting in."
"Next thing I know you'll be purchasing a seat in first class," he teased.
She smiled. "I doubt it."
"You never know, your Christmas present might be a couple million quid."
She stared up at him for a second. "You better not."
He chuckled. "Would you mind telling me how much would be acceptable?"
She studied him. "Anything is too much, James. Don't ever think I want anything from you but your friendship."
Harry grinned to cover the sinking feeling in his stomach. And he was saved from having to say anything by the station manger passing again. "Two minutes, kids," he said.
Natalya stepped close and hugged him tight. "I'm not going home," she whispered. "Not really." She let him go and was on the train before he could respond. She paused to look back for just a second before moving into the carriage. Harry moved with her as she made her way to her seat and was opposite her when she looked for him. She pressed her hand to the window. "Miss you already," she mouthed.
Harry mirrored her, pressing his palm against the glass. "You too," he said.
She smiled. "Four days." The whistle blew and the train lurched. Harry moved with it.
"Our Christmas," he said.
"Four days," she mouthed again.
The train picked up speed and Harry fell back, watching it till she and the train were out of sight. He stared after it for a minute before shoving his hands in his pockets and making his way back up the platform. "Gone from your sight for less than a minute and you feel like you've lost the whole world," he muttered.
The old station manager chuckled as he fell in next to him. "Son, I've gone home to the same girl every night for the last fifty years and I feel just like that every time I walk out the door the next day to go to work."
"She's not even my girlfriend," Harry complained. The old man gave him a look. "I mean I want her to be, but I'm not sure what she wants. And she just bloody told me she doesn't want anything from me but my friendship."
The old man smiled. "I remember those days, trying to figure each other out." He put his arm around Harry, clapping him on the shoulder. "Son, have you ever heard the expression home is where the heart is?"
Harry slowed for a step. No idea who the old codger is, Sirius said.
But you should listen to him, Remus said.
"Ya gotta really listen to women, son," the old man said. "They're smart that way; and subtle. Least ways the one you got your eye on is." He clapped Harry on the shoulder again and turned around. "Have a nice Christmas, son," he said and walked off.
"Thanks," Harry said. "You too."
"I will son. I will."
Harry had gone about ten steps when he glanced back. The old man was nowhere in sight. He stopped and searched the platform but the old man really was gone. Don't tell me, on top of you two yapping in my head, I'm imagining old station managers now too.
Alright, I won't, Sirius chortled.
Seemed real enough to me, Remus said.
Ginny settled on the couch at The Burrow and stretched out. She didn't know where her brothers had got to, but the chance to catch a bit of a rest before their Christmas Eve celebrations was one she wasn't going to question. Certainly not after spending the last four hours in the kitchen helping her mother prepare dinner. No doubt she'd be expected to help with the cleanup afterwards. And that said nothing about breakfast and dinner tomorrow. She sighed, resigned to her fate. At least it got her out of the traditional Christmas day family quidditch match.
Later, when her mother gently shook her, she bolted up. "NO!" she cried looking around wildly.
Her mother put her hand on her leg. "It's alright, Natalya," she said. "You were having a bad dream."
Ginny swallowed and took a deep breath. She took another look around and found that sometime during her nap most of the family had joined her in the parlor. They all looked on with concern. Her bad dreams were not known for being simple imaginings. Their roots were firmly entrenched in the dark horrors of her past. She frowned, trying to both remember and forget at the same time.
The dream had been blindingly vivid. She'd been at a wedding; James' wedding. That much she knew. And her heart had raced at the image of his bride. She was tall, with long red hair to match her own, spilling over her white gown. But her back was turned. And no matter where Ginny moved in the dream she could never catch a glimpse of her face. James though, his face was radiant. His smile consumed him. And his eyes, those soul shadowing eyes, burned with love for the woman opposite him.
The dream had gone on. She had watched his whole life unfold; been present for the birth of his three daughters. Watched as he raised them; sent them off to Hogwarts. She had seen those children grow; attended quidditch matches and recitals and eventually watched James walk each of them down the aisle. And in each of those three daughters she felt she saw herself reflected.
Grandchildren had come and James had grown old. His black hair had turned salt and pepper and then eventually gray. His face wrinkled and his shoulders stooped slightly. But his eyes never dimmed. They only grew more intense. Every time he looked on his wife his love for her flamed higher. He adored her and, though she never once saw his wife's face, Ginny dared to believe it was for her those flames raged.
Old age crept on them. Grandchildren became great grandchildren. Gray hair had turned white. His strong body weakened. His wife had grown frail. Ginny had hovered on the edge of a room filled with light. Flowers adorned every surface. A lifetime of pictures covered the walls. A life well lived was evidenced by the number of family who came and went and forever crowded around the bed, preventing her from seeing.
Finally, the end had come. She had shed tears, wept oceans with this family that had become hers. Her heart had ached as one by one they had spoken a last word, given a tender hug and left the man who now sat alone and broken at the bedside. And at long last, with everyone else gone and only him blocking her view she might finally see if it was her, James wept for. Cautiously, afraid her very movement would betray her and the dream would fade, she had shifted to the side.
Even now, fully awake, Ginny struggled to breathe as she recalled finally looking upon the face of James' wife. New tears slipped down her cheeks. Had it been a dream? Or was it something else; a vision. Had it been the future or only a possible future? She didn't know.
She shook herself, trying to rid her mind of that last searing image. The dream, the vision alone, perhaps she could have banished it, but the words. The only thing she remembered hearing. As Ginny had looked upon James' wife the woman had opened her eyes and turned towards her. "To think, it could have been yours," she had said.
"Talya," Bill said, "are you alright?"
Ginny focused on him. He raised a brow. "I need to go," she whispered.
Ginny swallowed. "Yes."
Bill nodded. "Then go." He pulled her up. "Just use the bloody damn apparition point. I don't want to spend the next week resetting the wards again."
"What are you talking about?" Mrs. Weasley protested. "Where is she going?"
Bill pushed Ginny towards the door. "Go. I'll take care of it." Ginny stumbled out the door.
"She can't go!" Mrs. Weasley cried.
"Mum!" Bill shouted. Ginny broke into a run.
"I didn't do anything. You were all there. All I did was wake her up."
"MUM! She'll be back."
Ginny disappeared with a crack. A moment later she popped into the emergency safe point Bill had set up in the park just across the street from her building.
Since seeing Natalya off two days ago, Harry had spent his time alternately dwelling on one of two things. "Don't ever think I want anything from you but your friendship." And, "I'm not going home. Not really." Unfortunately, the longer she was gone, the more he slipped into focusing on the former as opposed to the latter. So when the alarm system unexpectedly announced that the object of his depression had entered the building he was to be found sitting on the couch, morosely staring at the Christmas tree while nursing his third glass of Ogden's Finest.
He tipped his head, frowning, wondering if he had heard correctly. A little less than a minute later the alarm system announced that she had reached their floor. "Shit," he said as a multitude of things that might have gone wrong on her visit home flitted across his imagination. It wasn't till the alarm said she was at the door that he sprang up from the couch.
Don't Even! Sirius shouted.
"Right," Harry said. He stopped his dash to the kitchen, downed the last of the whiskey banished the glass to the dishwasher and sat down again. She called for him even before coming through the mudroom door.
Harry bolted up from the couch. "Natalya? What are you doing here? What happened?" he demanded. She stopped dead upon seeing him. He was certain a small tremor coursed through her and as she stared at him her hands began to shake. "Natalya?" he asked. He took a tentative step towards her. The look on her face, in her eyes, he didn't think he'd ever seen such fear in his life. "What happened?" She closed her eyes. "Talya, please, talk to me. I can't help if you don't talk to me." He took another step towards her.
"I know who you are, James," she whispered. Harry stopped. "And I'm a witch… Please don't hate me," she pleaded. Harry closed the distance between them and pulled her into his arms. She clung to him and he tucked her head against his cheek. "Don't leave me, James," she begged. "Please don't leave me."
"Shush," he soothed. "I know, Talya. I know everything and I'm not going anywhere."
She sniffled and hiccupped. "I don't ever want to be without you."
"Easy, girl," Harry said. He scooped her up and carried her to the couch where he sat with her curled in his lap. "I'm right here; not going anywhere. I promise." She nodded against him. And he just held her; stroking her arm gently. "Alright now?" he eventually asked.
She nodded. "Yes."
Harry tipped her chin up. "I just want to make sure of one thing," he said.
"This means you're my girlfriend, right?"
A tear slipped down her cheek. "I'd like that, James. I'd like that very much."
Harry bowed his head, letting his brow touch hers. "I don't have to hide from you anymore."
She reached up and palmed his cheek. "Nor I you."
"I have so many things I need to tell you." He pulled back to see her.
She bit her lip. "Me too."
"I promise. If I can trust you to hear mine, you have nothing to fear in trusting me to hear yours."
"I'll tell you everything, James. I swear. But right now I just need you to hold me."
Harry shifted her from his lap to the couch and stretched out, pulling her down in front of him. "Good?" he asked.
She rolled to face him; tucking her head under his chin and her hands up between their chests. "The safest place I've ever been is your arms. And now even the fear I felt here is gone."
Harry rested his hand on her head, cradling it gently. "I love you, Natalya," he whispered.
Natalya sniffed and tucked in tighter to him. "I've loved you from the first moment I saw you, James."
Ginny hadn't planned on bringing James back to The Burrow for Christmas eve dinner when she had ran, terrified, into his arms earlier that day. But she had. And now, after dinner and the multitude of other rituals her family went through that night, they were here; in the back garden. While he straddled over the stone bench, she faced him; cross legged, sitting close enough that her legs rested on his upper thighs. She picked at the cuff of her jeans nervously. They had already talked for hours; going over their pasts and what they had hidden from each other. There was one thing she desperately wanted to know yet. But she just couldn't seem to bring herself to ask. Of course, in that situation, only one thing could happen. He read her mind.
"What is it?"
She stilled but went back to playing with the cuff of her jeans. "Nothing." She cringed as she said it. He knew her far too well to let her get away with that.
He raised her chin. "Tell me," he said when their eyes met.
"I just," she paused, "I just wondered if you remembered the first time we saw each other."
Foul, best described Harry's mood as he stood on the stage. With dead eyes he looked out on the crowd. He was certain the vast majority had not raised even a finger in opposition to Voldemort's forces during the war. Certainly they had not fought in that last battle. They were far too old.
A few aurors who refused to turn a blind eye, a handful of professors from Hogwarts,.. and school children, bloody school children; that was the force the wizarding world sent into the penultimate battle with Voldemort and his armies on the grounds of Hogwarts. Yet six months after the dark lord's fall, here they were; along with the preening Minister on the stage next to him, celebrating their victory over the defeated lunatic. If he didn't strangle Dumbledore for talking him into this it would be a bloody miracle. The Minister, these people, this whole damn world disgusted him. And the days he didn't wonder if he should have just left them to the maniac far outweighed the days he was glad to have put the bastard six feet under.
Yet, as his dark thoughts grew, his hurt over the death of his godfather and Remus threatened to drown him, something stabbed through the malaise he cloaked himself in; a weight that roused him from his malevolent thoughts towards these people who didn't deserve the sacrifice Sirius and Remus had made. Disturbed, he purposefully scanned the sea of people.
He found her off to the side, at the back of the crowd; perched on someone's shoulders so she could see. She had sought him out, projected her presence outward such that he would see her. Their eyes met and she took her measure of the man who had destroyed the dark lord.
And see him, she did. Her gaze pierced the facade and peered into the true nature of his being. Between tic and tock, Time Immortal stilled; he was laid bare and all existence held nothing but her and him. Universes exploded to life and collapsed into death again before he shook his exposure. It was terrifying, even violating, yet he couldn't back away. Nor, he found, did he wish to.
Not, when he also saw her.
When he focused again, she mouthed, "Thank you."
He gave a small nod.
Her eyes smiled.
His lip twitched upward.
The man whose shoulders she was perched on was jostled. She slipped and the spell was broken. He took a step forward but she caught herself and slid safely to the ground. She looked for him again and their eyes met briefly. His attention was drawn by a hand on his shoulder. The ceremony was over. He turned back but she was lost in the crowd. The hand was insistent; pulling him off the stage. He turned back one last time before he could be led away. The crowd parted and he found her; just as the man who had provided her perch leaned in and kissed her.
Harry shuddered. The sense of loss was as potent today as it had been 10 years ago. "I tried to forget," he said painfully.
Her face twisted. "You saw, didn't you; Neville and I kissing?"
She took his face in her hands and Harry felt that same weight from so many years ago in her gaze. "Nothing," she said intensely, "was ever right between him and I again." She paused. "You have haunted me from the instant I lost you, James, Sirius Black."
Harry gave her a small smile. "I think that sounds promising."
She smiled back. "James?"
"Do you have anything else you think you need to tell me?"
He shook his head. "No."
"Then I have only one thing left to say to you."
Harry tensed. That, didn't sound promising. "What?"
"Are you going to kiss me or not?" She quirked an eye as he stared at her.
Harry leaned in. "I'm not losing you again," he growled just before their lips met.
Well, there it is; my first foray into fanfiction in close to 5 years. As always my stories expand far beyond what I think they will when I start. This story began with nothing more than the idea that Harry didn't go to Hogwarts, he and Ginny were living non-magic and that they met later in life. From there I ended up with this. I know there are dozens of things people probably still want answers to. But this story was always intended to explore only Harry and Ginny's relationship. And it was meant to end the moment they became a couple. Let me repeat that. This story was always going to end with their first kiss. I did everything I could to keep anything that wasn't necessary to that plot line out. That said, there are now dozens of ancillary story lines growing and a sequel will eventually go up. If I don't, I'm pretty sure my wife will hurt me. Potentially badly. However, before you get your hopes up too much, the sequel IS NOT imminent. There is far too much work to be done on it and it is low on my project list. I'm sorry, but that's the way it is for now.
But, for those of you desperate for more, I do have good news. I will begin posting some of my older work within the week. I've a number of stories to keep you occupied for some time to come. And because they are all complete, I will be able to post on a regular basis for you. I hope to do between 2-3 chapters a week. Also, I have another, new, after Hogwarts work that is almost complete. I say almost in that I've been writing it for 5 years and expect to be done is a few months. It is HUGE. So rest assured I have lots of material coming for you.
Last, thank you all so much for reading. The response from reviewers has been overwhelming and I am thankful that so many of you took the time to tell me how much you liked what I was doing. I really can't thank you enough.
Last, if you are an artist and would be interested in doing some drawings for the story images I use on this site please send me a private message.
And with that, I will say,
See you in a few days.