A/N: I am surprisingly emotional about finishing this, so we're going to do everything up top. Thank you so, so much to everyone who has come on this journey with me. I can't elaborate without tearing up, so please know my appreciation is sincere and heartfelt.
Chapter note: You can read all about Ginny's nightdress and her efforts to attract Harry's attention last summer in my fic Don't Forget.
Writing notes: As mentioned previously, I'm starting to write for BBC's Sherlock fandom. For any of you who are Sherlock fans (or anyone I can convert!), look for two new fics coming soon, one co-written with my friend kankusan. I think we're going to post under my username here and create a joint account over on Archive of Our Own (Keeptheothersan). I use "keeptheotherone" on both sites, so you can check either of my profiles for news. PM me if you need an invite to join AO3.
I also posted a one-shot spinoff of JKR's recent Quidditch World Cup article that's a follow-up of sorts to MandyinKC's spinoff; More Than a Passing Fancy? and What Happens in Patagonia, respectively.
Beta notes: I can't get anywhere close to thanking vancabreuniter properly. I love you.
The Weasleys celebrated the last day of summer with another family dinner. Even George had come, and as far as Harry could tell, he was sober. George had chosen a seat beside Ginny and kept trying to slip her various sweets from the shop. He was being very obvious about it, and his antics kept her in giggles throughout the meal. Harry was grateful for the distraction; if he had to think about this being their last dinner together until Christmas break, he wouldn't have eaten at all. Mrs. Weasley called for help to clear the table, and Harry leaned close to Hermione.
"Come inside for a minute," he said. "I have something I want to show you."
She looked surprised but didn't hesitate. "All right."
Harry led her inside the Burrow and all the way up the stairs to Ron's attic bedroom. It was completely bare except for a bed, a camp bed, a chest of drawers, an empty wardrobe, and two rucksacks. Harry and Ron had moved their things into their new flat several days ago but were spending tonight at the Burrow to see the girls to King's Cross in the morning.
"Wow," Hermione said. "This is the cleanest I've ever seen this room."
Harry grinned. "That's because Ron's not living in it anymore."
"Feels strange, doesn't it?"
"A bit," he admitted. "But it's a good kind of strange."
Hermione smiled back. "Yes, it is. Is this what you wanted to show me? Ron's room, finally clean?"
"No." Harry cleared his throat, then moved his rucksack from his camp bed to the floor. "Here, sit down."
Hermione sat and looked up at him expectantly.
"I, er—I won't be able to celebrate your birthday with you this year, but I wanted to give you your gift in person, so I thought I'd give it to you early." He began walking back and forth in front of her.
"Oh, Harry, you don't have to—"
"Don't interrupt me, please." He paused to look at her, then continued pacing when she nodded. "I've spent a lot of time this summer thinking about what I could get you because you're special and you mean a lot to me."
He frowned at her and she smiled sheepishly. "Sorry."
"So I—I did this." He bent over, pulled an envelope out of his rucksack, and handed it to her.
Hermione looked at him with wide eyes, then opened the unsealed flap and pulled out two sheets of parchment. Harry had braved Diagon Alley to visit the stationery shop and bought some really nice blue-gray parchment and a bright blue ink, Hermione's favorite color. He had written out what he wanted to say on regular parchment and then copied it several times to get it flawless. He watched her face as she read and saw her smile, then nod.… Her expression stilled as her eyes flew back and forth over the words. She covered her mouth with one hand and turned the page, blinking back tears to keep on reading. There wasn't much of the letter left, and Harry was pretty sure what her reaction would be when she finished it, so he stood still and braced himself.
He wasn't disappointed.
Hermione set down the letter and threw herself into his arms, crying in earnest now. Harry wrapped his arms around her back and rested his chin on her shoulder, thinking of the first time she had hugged him. The first time he could remember anyone hugging him.
"I love you too," she said. "Thank you, Harry." She stepped back and he released her.
"It was okay?" That might be the first thing he'd ever written for which Hermione didn't have a suggestion for improvement.
Hermione sniffed and gave him a watery smile, running a finger under each eye. "It was perfect. I'll keep it for always. Thank you."
"I've wanted to say that for a long time, but I didn't know how."
"I know. I knew you couldn't say it, and I understood, so this—" She took a deep breath, wiped her damp hands on her jeans, and picked up the letter, tucking it carefully into its envelope. "This was perfect." She looked down at the envelope, then back up at him. "I, um—I wanted to ask…"
"Anything," Harry said, wondering why she was turning pink.
"May I—may I borrow your Invisibility Cloak?"
"To take to Hogwarts?" Harry said slowly, not keen on the idea.
"No! No, I don't need to keep it, just…" She bit her lip, turning pinker still. "Just … for tonight."
"Oh! Well…." He'd had plans for the Cloak, himself. Plans Hermione seemed to anticipate.
"I thought if I had it before bedtime, then I could wear it up here, and we could trade, and you could bring it back to me in the morning, and that way neither of us would be seen."
Harry leaned against Ron's wardrobe and grinned at her. "Have I told you lately that you're brilliant?"
Ginny fidgeted in the center of her bedroom. Hermione had left under Harry's Invisibility Cloak only a couple of minutes ago, and already Ginny had moved from the bed to her desk to here and was contemplating the bed again when the doorknob turned. The door opened, stilled, and closed again without making a sound. Then Harry appeared from nowhere as a puddle of silvery gray materialized on the floor.
He stared at her, from the hair unbound and loose around her shoulders, to her breasts spilling over the nightdress's scooped neckline, to the yellow knickers visible through the faded floral fabric and the tattered lace hem at the top of her thighs. She shifted, resting one foot on top of the other, still not used to being stared at so intently, with so much … deliberation.
"Is that—" He cleared his throat. "Isn't that the nightdress—"
"I should have worn something else. Something newer." Something nicer than a childhood rag, even if it was what she wore last summer when she was deliberately trying to attract his attention.
But Harry shook his head before she even finished speaking. "No," he said, his voice still husky as he moved towards her. "No, this is perfect. Do you have any idea how many nights I spent dreaming about this exact moment?"
Ginny's breath hitched. Harry had never spoken about dreaming about her before. She picked up her wand and pointed it at the door.
He gave her a questioning look and she nodded. "We're safe." She had already done the contraception charm.
He took her in his arms, pushing her hair back from her face. "I don't want to talk about tomorrow, okay?"
In the soft light from her lamp, his eyes were a dark forest green. Ginny reached up, removed his glasses, and set them on her desk. Harry cupped her face in his hands (he was much better now at judging how far away she was without his glasses) and kissed her. She returned the kiss, breathing in the smell of his skin, relishing the warmth of his mouth and the softness of his lips against hers. He slid his fingers under the strap of her nightdress, but it was too tight to slide over her shoulder. She pressed her mouth more firmly against his before breaking the kiss, grabbing the skirt and pulling it over her head, where it promptly got stuck. Ginny wiggled and struggled for a minute, then stopped, trapped with both arms over her head and the fabric over her face.
Harry laughed even as he tried to help.
"Why can't this ever go right?" she said. "How hard is it to get undressed?"
"It goes all right most of the time," he said. "Hold still, would you? You're making it worse."
"Just rip it."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm not wearing this thing again, and I want out of it."
She felt his hands move to her right side near her elbow, and with one sharp pull, the nightdress fell away. She took a full breath. "That's better. Thanks."
"Much better," Harry said, sliding his hands down her exposed sides.
"You're overdressed." She tugged on the hem of his shirt (which cleared his head much easier than hers had done), took his hand, and led him to her bed. She crawled under the covers, and he removed his trousers before joining her. It was a snug fit in her single bed. "Do you want to make the bed wider?"
He rolled on top of her, grinning. "We don't need more room than this."
Ginny laughed, wrapping her legs around his, enjoying his weight pressing her into the mattress. His face was close enough that she knew he could see her clearly. "Not at the moment, but I don't particularly fancy sleeping with you on top of me."
"You can sleep on top of me then."
"I thought so."
Their voices faded as the little kisses flowed into deeper ones, and Harry shifted to cup her left breast in his hand, moving slowly around the curve before brushing his fingers over the tip. Ginny arched into his touch.
"Yes," she hissed, digging her fingers into the firm flesh of his backside. "Do it—again…."
Harry complied before trailing soft, open-mouthed kisses down her neck and onto her chest. She could hear her heart racing in her ears, feel the heat low in her belly magnified by the feel of him pressing into her, and waited. They had only done this a handful of times; there was never enough time, always the pressure of getting back to the house before it became too late, but tonight they had all night. All night until the early morning hours, all night when everything wasn't happening for the first time and— She gasped.
He had stopped teasing, stopped connecting freckles with his tongue, and kissed her breast. She slid her hand into his hair and pulled him closer.
It took a moment for him to figure out a comfortable position where he wouldn't squash her or fall out of the bed, but then he was doing it again, kissing one breast and stroking the other. Her eyelids fluttered shut with a moan. He lavished attention on her breasts, stroking and sucking for long minutes until she slid her hands under the waistband of his pants and pushed.
Harry got the message, sitting up and pulling them off, then removing her own knickers. He moved his hand between her legs, and Ginny scrabbled for his free hand, for something to hold on to as the slow build-up began to catch up with her. It was easier to relax into his touch now after nearly three weeks of practice, easier to let the sensations overwhelm her. She closed her eyes and let the tension build, winding tight before breaking over her in a delicious rush … but without the usual relief.
"Now, Harry," she gasped, reaching for him. "I want you now."
He moved over her but paused with one hand high on the inside of her thigh. "You're sure?"
"Yes! For Merlin's sake, you don't have to ask every bloody time!" She was nearly crying with frustration, drunk on adrenaline, buzzing in every part of her body, until…. She sighed, running her hands over his back and sides. It didn't hurt at all now to have him inside her, to feel the stretch and delicious fullness.
His forehead dropped to hers. "You feel so good," he managed.
Ginny hummed her agreement and tried to hold still, to give him time to gain control, but her nerves were raw and sensitive, and she wanted— She turned Harry's face towards her and kissed him fiercely, pouring out all the emotion and anxiety she felt about leaving into one intense, passionate moment. He returned the kiss, then began to move. She moaned at the friction and crossed her legs behind his back, pulling them even closer.
"Yes, that," he gasped, thrusting hard.
She matched his rhythm, trying to focus beyond the pleasure to remember everything, because this night would have to last her for months. The exact feel of him, in and over her. The way he bit his lip when she moved just so, his hair still standing on end on one side where she had held him at her breast. The absolute heat of his gaze when their eyes met. The expression that washed over his face just before he shuddered and collapsed in her arms.
Ginny lowered her legs to rest beside his, squirming as the tingling began to fade.
"Move'n a m'nute," he mumbled into the pillow by her ear.
"No," she said breathlessly.
"'m too h'vy."
She smoothed his hair, relaxing as the warmth and contentment spread up her body. "You're perfect. I love you."
"I love you." Harry kissed her shoulder, then rolled, bringing her with him until she lay draped over his chest, her face buried in his neck, his still-heavy breathing stirring her hair when he spoke.
Ginny muttered something that would have got her mouth washed out with soap, but she didn't care. It made Harry laugh, and tonight—this last night—that was all that mattered.
Ginny's alarm clock rang, and Harry shut it off quickly. She was still asleep, curled on her side facing him with one arm bent under her pillow and the other above the sheet, most of her breasts exposed, her bright hair draped across the bed behind her except for a few strands falling over her face. She was so beautiful it made his heart ache, and he missed her already.
They hadn't talked about it, a mutual unspoken decision not to mar their last days together with discussion of the future. It was hard for him to be excited about finally starting as an Auror when he knew it meant leaving Ginny. But she would be going back to Hogwarts no matter what he did, and Harry knew deep down he wouldn't be happy without a goal, some purpose to throw his energy behind. It would be good to have something to do, something to keep him busy and occupied between Hogsmeade weekends.
Harry trailed one finger along the smooth skin of her cheek, lifting a section of hair before tucking it behind her ear. Still Ginny slept, her even breaths the only sound in the creeping gray-blue light of dawn. He had thought about it in those quiet moments before sleep. Helping rebuild the Ministry, tracking down the remaining Death Eaters, finishing the defeat of Voldemort. Harry was looking forward to expanding his skills, receiving some proper training, living in London with Ron. Ginny had N.E.W.T.s and Quidditch tryouts, and then there would be jobs and family, new friends and relationships, obligations and commitments.
For everything that had gone wrong in their relationship, for his failure to see her as anything more than Ron's little sister, for Dumbledore's death that speeded up the time he had to leave her, for all the worry and fear and struggle and grief of this last year, they'd had a perfect summer. One perfect summer of seeing each other every day, of eating together and playing together and simply living together. Ginny had been right, that night in the orchard months ago, when she had said they would never have an opportunity to spend this much time together again. Even if—even if, someday ... maybe they were married, had their own place and their own family, there would be other responsibilities keeping them apart.
But they would always have this one, perfect, summer, and Harry wasn't ready to leave it behind. Not quite yet.
"Ginny," he whispered. "Ginny, wake up."
She didn't stir. He placed his hand behind her neck and kissed her softly. Even in sleep, she hummed and nuzzled closer to him, and Harry had to swallow hard to clear the sudden lump from his throat.
"Wake up, Ginny."
"Mmm?" Sleepy brown eyes blinked unseeingly at him.
"It's almost time," he said, and he saw her eyes clear as she remembered what day it was.
They didn't talk after that; there was no need. One last "I love you" and Harry dressed, swung the Invisibility Cloak over himself, and left her room.
"Here are your lunches," Mum said, handing a brown paper bag to Ginny and another to Hermione. "Just two this year." She smiled, but Ginny could tell Mum was more upset about her last child's last train ride to Hogwarts than she was letting on.
Platform Nine and Three Quarters was crowded and busy as usual, and people, pets, and parcels swirled around them.
"We'll write after the feast," Ginny promised. "It's going to be fine, Mum." She held on a little longer than usual, until she felt her mother's grip relax, before stepping back.
Ron and Hermione had stepped behind a signpost, but Harry waited beside the door that led to the compartment where she and Hermione had already stored their trunks, Arnold, and Crookshanks. Ginny took his hand and looked over her shoulder for a semi-private place, but Harry didn't move.
"Don't forget about me," he said.
She laughed. "That's my line. You're the one with a fan club." They were here, too; not just people pointing and repeating his name too loudly, but the press with their sharp eyes and flashing cameras.
"You're drawing a lot of attention," he said with a slight frown over her head. "You always have."
"Yes, because everyone wants to know who's the ginger runt with Harry Potter," she said dryly.
"Let's show them, shall we?"
And before she had time to blink, he bent and kissed her. Not an ordinary "there are people around" kiss, either. More of a "this is the witch I love" kiss. Ginny's head spun, she floated above the crowd … the train whistle sounded far, far away….
"Ginny! You've got to board the train! Hermione, it's time to go!"
Harry broke the kiss and smiled down at her. "I love you."
Ginny kissed him one more time, quickly, her answering words muffled against his mouth. Then again.
"Ginny!" Both Mum and Hermione were yelling now.
"Go," Harry said. "I'll see you in Hogsmeade."
She swung onto the train as it started to move. Harry closed the door, and she stuck her head out the open window.
"Bye, Ron!" she yelled, waving at him with both hands. "Bye, Mum! I love you!" The platform shrank as the train pulled away from the station, disappearing in a mist of steam. This was it.
Ginny was headed to Hogwarts, and this year, no evil waited there for her.
a/n 4/20/16: The sequel to this fic, "In Love and War," is now posted. It runs concurrently to this story and focuses on Ron and Hermione's relationship and Percy as our Weasley POV character.