Dawn broke on the burrow, bringing with it the slight chill that lingered overnight indicating that summer, at last, was nearly over. Warm orange tones climbed over the horizon, sending tendrils of light edging along fields of verdant grass. As these fingers of light danced their way merrily towards the house, creatures of all sizes crept out of their holes and looked up at the clear morning sky, searching for anything from food to a sense of purpose.
One area of the burrow not yet touched by the morning light still dwelt in that mystifying twilight realm that borders the night and the day. Nestled deep in the shadows of looming trees, the lake awoke to find two more inhabitants than normal. Entwined in each other’s unsuspecting arms, Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley slept the sleep of the just, unaware and uncaring of the world around them.
Ginny woke slowly from a vivid dream she had about unicorns flying on broomsticks. A shaft of sunlight broke through the canopy of trees bordering the lake and fell gently on her sleepy face. Blinking the sleep from her eyes, she smiled and stretched her long, sinewy limbs out.
Or at least she tried to.
Her left arm moved quite easily, stretching with a satisfying set of creaks and pops. But her right arm was trapped under something warm and heavy and warm and soft and warm…
She was curled up around something, pressed tight against…
Her eyes widened.
She raised her head and stared at the still sleeping face of Harry Potter; at his glasses lying carelessly askew; at the swollen purple bruise just now beginning to fade; at the slight smirk that always lived just there, at the corner of his lips. His eyes were closed, still shielding his thoughts and his soul from a world that demanded so much from him. Here, under her hand, beat his heart… slowly, gently, kindly…
Ginny smiled. This felt so right to her, utterly, and completely right. When she had come down to the lake the night before, she thought the night would go as it always had; with her spending just a couple of hours alone, allowing herself to dream and to hope, and to imagine a life beyond Hogwarts… beyond the expectations that life saddled her with.
She gently leaned her head on Harry’s chest. In his sleep, he drew her closer.
But she could forget about her troubles for now. Harry was here. In him, she found strength, and although she didn’t know whether she could ever face him without blushing, even internally, she felt safe. Here, on the green dewy grass, she could forget about Ron and Percy and mum. She could forget about Voldemort and Snape and Yolanda Dareth the backstabbing git. She could forget about the fact that, every night, as sleep crept up on her, she could hear Tom Riddle’s voice calling her… cutting her… killing her… taking her.
Harry was here.
He shifted quietly under her and she once again silently thanked Ron for deciding to sit with him in his first year. Without Ron, she would never have found him.
She hugged him tighter. She felt herself drift towards the blessed lands of sleep once again and turned her thoughts to the coming year. She would go to Hogsmeade with him. She would shyly hold his hand as they strolled the grounds counting the owls flying overhead. She would touch his cheek and kiss him when they won the quidditch cup. She would sit with him in the Hogwarts Express, laughing and teasing and hoping and yearning…
Her eyes flew open.
Dean. She was with Dean.
With a jerk, she pulled away from Harry and gave a frightened yelp. What was she doing? One night by the lake didn’t mean anything… no, Harry and she were friends! Just friends!
Harry slept on under her intense gaze. She felt a strange warmth crawl up her neck and knew that she was blushing again. But what did last night mean? Why did he come down to her? Was he looking for her? And why did he stare at her funny when she asked about kissing?
God… why did she ask about kissing?
Dean. How could she forget?
And what did Harry mean by ‘wet?’
And… Dean! But…
But what did Harry mean by ‘did she like Dean?’ Of course she did! She was going out with him, right? But… why was it that whenever she was with Dean, she always looked over her shoulder to see if Harry was watching. But…
Ginny squeezed her eyes shut and gritted her teeth. “Stop it,” she told herself softly. “You’ve given up on him, right?”
A shadow fell over her and a condescending “ahem!” sounded in her ear. Looking up, Ginny saw the bushy-haired silhouette of the girl who would be her best friend: Hermione Granger. Ginny wasn’t all that sure she liked the expression Hermione wore; one eye arched sharply on Hermione’s face, and the left corner of her mouth twitched. Mischief that usually belonged to Ginny danced in Hermione’s eyes.
“Ahem,” she said again. “And just what is going on here?”
Ginny opened her mouth to speak.
Apparently, Harry just woke up.
Ginny looked down at Harry just as he shot up. The crack of their heads colliding resounded clear across the lake. The impact of his rather hard head knocked her back, and as she fell, she thought of two things: Hermione’s feet made for remarkably soft cushions, and oh-my-god she hoped her mum wouldn’t see them.
And people really did see stars when they hit their heads.
At once both Hermione and Harry peered down at her; a look of pained concern on Harry’s face and concerned amusement on Hermione’s.
“Ginny!” Harry said urgently. “I’m so sorry! Are you okay?”
“Arnold,” Ginny croaked.
Both Harry and Hermione glanced at each other.
“What?” Harry said.
“Arnold… Hermione… Harry was helping me look for… Arnold…”
Hermione hid her smile. Harry’s cheeks blushed red.
“Uh, yeah Hermione. Um… Last night… uh, Ginny came up to our room and said… uh… that Arnold’s missing.”
Hermione affected a concerned look and crouched down beside Ginny. She slipped a hand under Ginny’s head and peered into her eyes. “Oh, really? Escaped out our window, did he Ginny?”
She shot a glance at Harry, slightly annoyed. “Honestly, Harry, you could lend a hand you know.”
“Oh… oh yeah.” He bent down to her and gently grasped Ginny’s forearms. Together, the two helped Ginny up to her feet. The world tilted for a moment before righting itself once again.
“Uh, no! He wouldn’t wake up. Ginny… uh… Ginny said that Arnold probably went down here… to… uh…”
“He loves the water!” Ginny piped in. She gingerly touched the small bump on her forehead. Waves of pain throbbed through her head. She clicked her tongue and thought of the bruise that was going to form…
“I see,” Hermione repeated in that maddeningly knowing tone. “So, you went to Harry last night to ask him for help looking for Arnold, who somehow broke free from his cage and bounded down the long dark path to the lake?”
“And when you did not find him, you both decided to fall asleep in each other arms… for warmth I suppose… and wait for him to come to you?”
“And when Arnold finished his ‘midnight swim’, he of course left you here, bounded back up to our room, slipped back into his cage, pooped on his newspaper, and purred at me to wake me up this morning, right? Because he is there now, you know…”
“Uh… yes?” Ginny said. She and Harry exchanged nervous glances.
Hermione smiled at them smugly. “Well… that sounds just about right then.”
Harry and Ginny glanced at each other. Hermione clucked her tongue and beckoned them towards the house.
“Come on you two,” she insisted. “You are both just lucky that I wake up earlier than everyone else. Honestly, if you two are going to start sneaking of with each other…”
“Hey!” Harry and Ginny interjected.
“Come on, come on. Your mum should be waking up any minute now…”
“GINEVERA MOLLY WEASLEY!”
Even though they were all the way down by the lake, Mrs. Weasley’s scream was loud enough and strong enough to make each of them wince from the pain in their ears. Ginny had to scrunch up her eyes for a second, and when she opened them she saw that Hermione had gone deathly pale and that Harry had gone completely scarlet.
And from the warmth on her neck, she knew that she had too.
“Oh no!” Hermione slapped a hand to her mouth. “I knew we were down here too long! I knew it!”
“Let’s go… let’s run,” Harry said as he began to pick up speed.
“I don’t know what you two are so worried about anyway,” she sniffed irritably. “We all know she’s only gonna scold one of us…”
But she began to run too.
As they rounded the corner that would bring them to the front door, another shout blasted at them.
“GINEVRA MOLLY WEASLEY! GET YOURSELF HERE NOW!”
Ginny saw a tall man with a shock of unkempt hair bent over in front of the door. He seemed to have both hands clapped over his ears and a deeply pained expression.
“It’s Lupin,” Harry said. “Professor!” He called.
Professor Remus Lupin jerked his head up and gave a small grin when the three teens ran up to him.
“Harry,” he said softly as he rubbed his ears. “I’m not going to scold you and I’m not going to ask you where you’ve been, but surely…”
“GINEVRA MOLLY WEASLEY!”
“I better go in there…” she muttered.
Lupin stepped aside and patted her gamely on the shoulder.
“Good luck,” he whispered.
As Harry, Hermione, and Ginny entered the house, they were greeted by the sight of the entire Weasley family, sans Percy and plus Fleur Delacouer, gathered around the breakfast table. Each of them wore inscrutable expressions on their faces and cotton wads stuck in their ears.
A furiously red faced Mrs. Weasley stood up slowly from the table.
“Ginevra Molly Weasley,” she said in a thankfully softer voice. “Where have you been?”
Ginny bit her lower lip and felt a familiar surge of annoyance.
“Nowhere! Just down to the lake…”
“Nowhere!” Mrs. Weasley scowled at her. “I wake up this morning, make a delicious breakfast, knock on your door, and what do I find?”
Beside Ginny, Harry and Hermione began to shift nervously.
“TWO EMPTY BEDS!” Mrs. Weasley hollered. “What were you thinking girl? And Harry’s bed! Empty! Imagine, my daughter taking poor Hermione and dear Harry with her on whatever foolishness she planned…”
Harry raised his head and began to speak.
“Mrs. Weasley, I…”
A look of pure gentleness came over Mrs. Weasley’s face. “Oh, you don’t have to cover for her Harry dear. Lord knows what trouble she could have gotten you into.”
Ginny scowled and folded her arms crossly.
“Mum,” she said petulantly. “That’s not fair! You ALWAYS pick on me! I never…”
“Enough Ginny! Don’t ever do that again. Poor Harry, with all that trouble going on…”
“It was me,” Harry said forcefully.
Everyone turned to look at him.
“Um, I was going for a walk early this morning and, um, I got into trouble.”
He looked sideways at Ginny and Hermione. Ginny felt her scowl slipping.
“I tripped on some rocks and hit my head… er… again… and I guess I blacked out.”
Mrs. Weasley looked horrified.
“And,” he continued, his voice gaining strength. “And I think Crookshanks…”
Hermione leapt forward. “And Crookshanks found him, Mrs. Weasley! He did! And he ran up to me and Ginny and we knew that something bad had happened. Honestly, Mrs. Weasley! And then… and then… and then he led us to Harry and we found him and we helped him and we had to wait for him to recover and that is why we stayed so long and that is why our beds were empty so it’s not really Ginny’s fault after all but Harry’s fault but it’s not really Harry’s fault because he tripped but he should have known better anyway than to go walking alone but he really didn’t mean to cause any trouble Mrs. Weasley and neither did I and neither did Ginny and neither did Crookshanks and we should have woken you up but we were too worried to and Ron stop looking at me like that you’re going to swallow something and we are so sorry Mrs. Weasley…”
She seemed then to run out of breath.
Everyone gaped at her as she struggled to catch her breath. She opened her mouth again. “And then…”
Ginny grasped her arm. “It’s okay, Hermione,” she said.
She turned to look at her mum, her expression carefully neutral.
“I’m so sorry, mum,” she said. “I should have left a note, but when Crookshanks came in and was panicking…”
Mrs. Weasley’s expression softened. “Oh, Ginny, it’s okay. You did a very good thing going after Harry and making sure he was ok. I’m sorry I yelled at you too.”
Harry smiled at Ginny before turning once again to Mrs. Weasley.
“And I’m sorry too,” he said. “I should have been more careful…”
“It’s okay Harry dear. You go and get cleaned up now.”
Harry squeezed Ginny’s arm for a moment… just a moment… and bounded up the stairs followed closely by Ron. Ginny felt her arm burn for a moment… just a moment.
Hermione and Ginny glanced at each other. Mrs. Weasley looked at them.
“You girls go on too. And wash your feet Ginny! They’re filthy!”
“Yes mum!” Ginny said, relieved.
Careful to avoid the gaze of the rest of the Weasleys, the two girls ran up the stairs taking them two at a time. When they reached their bedroom, Ginny slammed the door shut and finally let her scowl come out again.
“I swear, Hermione,” she said angrily as she flopped on her bed. “I love my mum to bits, but why is she always on my case?”
Hermione, her face white as a ghost’s, staggered against her cabinet.
“I… I lied to your mum! I can’t believe it! I…”
Ginny smiled slyly at her. “Yeah, you did! And you were good! She utterly fell for it!”
Hermione, her color coming back, giggled a little.
And then she turned to Ginny, a shrewd expression on her face.
“So,” she said. “What WAS that all about anyway? I do know for a fact that Arnold absolutely did not escape last night.”
“Nothing… I … Harry just… and I…”
“How was it?” Hermione’s voice was light.
“How was what?”
“Hugging Harry like that.”
“We weren’t Hugging!”
“Yes you were!”
“You were hugging Ginny! Honestly…”
“I was cold! I think.” Ginny’s ears burned. “And nothing happened! I really was just taking a walk last night and Harry just dropped by. I didn’t ask him to join me! He just… did. And we talked and talked… and I guess we just… fell asleep.”
“Just fell asleep. Right.”
Ginny sighed and picked at the trace amount of mud on her feet. “I really have to go wash this…” she muttered.
“Ginny,” Hermione’s voice was quite serious now. “Did something… happen?”
Ginny sniffed. What a question.
“I don’t know,” she sighed. “I don’t think so. I think I wanted something to happen… but I don’t think he did.”
Hermione stayed silent for a long moment. She stared at Ginny with those intensely penetrating brown eyes. Ginny felt more than a little self conscious under her scrutiny and busied herself by checking her nails. They were ok, not too long… maybe a little ragged from all the biting…
“What did you want to happen?”
Ginny leapt up of the bed.
“I don’t know, okay?” she shouted, suddenly both cross and desperate. “I just don’t know!”
“Ginny,” Hermione’s voice was low and soft. “You’re with Dean. I thought you gave up on Harry…”
“I did too! It’s just…”
She ran her hand through her long fiery hair.
“Dean and I… it just doesn’t feel right. Do you know what I mean? I don’t feel… happy enough. Excited enough. Loving enough. I don’t… know.”
She looked at Hermione desperately.
“Do you know what I mean?”
Hermione sat on her bed and beckoned Ginny to her. Reluctantly, Ginny sat on the proffered space. Hermione smiled. It was not a typical smile of hers. This one was sad. Lonely.
“Ginny,” she said softly. “Did I ever tell you why Victor and I never… you know, got together?”
Ginny glanced at her. “No… not really. I just assumed he had bad breath.”
Hermione looked shocked. “Ginny!”
Ginny shrugged. “Well, I did!”
“No, it wasn’t his breath. It was…” she shrugged. “We kissed. But… all the while we were together… it just wasn’t right.”
She gazed at Ginny. Ginny shifted uncomfortably. “Hermione, I don’t…”
“It wasn’t right Ginny. And I knew that I was just wasting time. I knew there was…”
Ginny pursed her lips. “I… like Dean? I think?”
“You don’t sound very sure.”
“No, of course I’m sure! I mean, he has to be right for me, right? Much better than Michael anyway. I mean, he’s in Gryffindor…”
“Like Harry,” Hermione said quietly.
“Oh stop it Hermione!” Ginny jumped up off the bed. She was chagrined to feel tears burning in her eyes. “He’s DEAN THOMAS, ok? He’s smart and kind and brave and good and…”
Hermione stood up and crossed the room to where Ginny now gazed out the window.
“No,” Ginny whispered. “He’s not.” Curiously, annoyingly, she began to cry. Hermione wrapped her into a tight embrace and stroked her hair.
“Shush, it’s ok Ginny,” she said tenderly.
“No it’s not,” Ginny sniffled noisily. “I should be happy! I should be over him!”
“He doesn’t SEE me, Hermione! He just thinks I’m Ron with long hair.”
Hermione made a sound very much like a snicker. Ginny slapped her shoulder playfully. “You know what I mean.”
“Yes. Quite.” Hermione sighed and pulled away. “You’ll work things out Ginny. You always do. You’re smarter than you think.”
Ginny smiled and peered at her through wet lashes. “Thanks. I guess I should just be happy Harry’s my friend at all. I guess… I’ll try to be happy with Dean.”
Hermione pulled her close again. “You’ll work things out…”
Suddenly, the door to the bedroom swung open with a loud bang.
The two girls jumped back. “Wha…?”
Harry stuck his head in. “Um… am I interrupt…”
“Harry!” Hermione shrieked. “Don’t you ever knock?”
Harry grinned sheepishly. “Uh… sorry. Ginny, can I talk to you for a moment?”
Ginny tripped over her bed as she dashed for the door. “Thanks again Hermione!” she called over her shoulder. Harry opened the door wide for her and smiled. Ginny skidded to a halt in the cramped hallway.
The sounds of the Weasley family drifted up the stairs. Spoons clanked against plates, glasses thudded against tables, and laughter rang in the hall. At the end of the corridor, a small window opened up facing the garden. Warm sunlight shone through and birds sang their good morning to the world.
“Hi.” She said.
“Hi.” He said.
The door to the girls’ bedroom clicked quietly shut, accompanied by a suppressed giggle. Slowly, the sounds of the house faded from Ginny’s hearing, leaving her only with the unbearable racket of her own breathing.
“So.” He said.
“So.” She said.
She gazed up at Harry who was looking at her with an odd expression on his face. She couldn’t tell if it was amusement or shyness or confidence or… nervousness? A long moment passed between them there, in that narrow hall, and Ginny’s throat dried up. She arched her eyebrow expectantly.
“Um,” he said shortly. “Your mum’s calling you.”
“Oh…” Was that all?
“And… uh… about last night?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Ginny said as the walls seemed to press in around her. “It was an accident. Just… nothing. It meant nothing, right?”
Harry’s eyes opened wide and he stepped back a bit. “Um, yeah. Nothing. I, uh, haha, I actually thought you were Fleur…”
“Oh.” Ginny felt that burn in her eyes again. “Sorry I wasn’t…”
“No, Ginny, it’s not…”
“What Harry?” She was angry now. Her chest tightened. “Or rather, should I say ‘Aree? Huh? Is that what you want Potter? Oh ‘Aree! I weel leeeeaave Beel for yooouuu!” She felt her jaw lock. She looked down sharply at the floor, staring at the way her toes clenched on the wood. She wasn’t going to cry… she wasn’t…
Harry stared at her bewildered.
She wasn’t going to cry… she wasn’t…
“No Ginny,” he said uncertainly. “I was actually… no, I AM glad it was you.”
The tightness in her chest and the burning in her eyes stopped. She looked up at him. “What?”
He had a smile on his face. “My dream… well, it was bad. I got… I got scared.”
He stepped closer. His eyes glinted in the light. Or was it his glasses?
“I’m glad it was you. Somehow I felt… better.”
Hope welled up inside her.
“Better?” she stepped closer. She grew uncomfortably aware that he was only inches away from her. She could see the vein in his neck pulse… she could see his chest rise and fall with each breath he took.
“Yeah. You’re a great friend.”
She stepped back. A friend. Yeah. She was a great friend. Sure. “Um, yeah Harry. You too. I felt… I felt better too.” No, she said to herself. This time she would hide it better. She wouldn’t show him her pain. She steeled herself and willed a smile to form on her face.
“That was a great Fleur, by the way.” He smiled.
“No don’t be.”
Don’t cry. Don’t cry.
“So, Harry,” she said affecting lightness. “Is that all?”
To her surprise, he bit his lower lip and shifted nervously. “Uh,” he said. She suddenly felt a rush of panic. There was more? No… no, she had to go. She couldn’t handle any more.
“C’mon Harry,” she said trying to keep the desperation from her voice. Suddenly the corridor felt all too small. “I have a letter to write.”
“Yeah.” She darted a look at the door.
“Oh. Dean. Ok. Here.” He quickly extended his hand. A small package rested on his palm. It was wrapped, messily, in bright purple paper. “Happy birthday.”
A gift. He gave her a gift. So he didn’t forget after all.
“Sorry I couldn’t give it on your actual birthday,” he said quickly. “I had to wait for Diagon Ally…”
A gift. She grabbed it from him. “Um, thanks Harry!” She said brightly.
He looked at her. “Are you going to open it?”
Could she? She didn’t know.
“Maybe… maybe later Harry.”
“Oh. Ok, then.” He stuck his hands in his pockets and backed up down the hall. “Well, uh, I’m glad we could talk. I’ll see you downstairs, yeah? Okay, bye!” And with that he ran down the stairs.
Ginny felt a hot tear run down her face. “Yeah. Later.” With a sob, she turned and pushed the door to her room. Hermione fell to the floor with a muffled gasp. Ginny sighed. “Please Hermione… I need to be alone.”
After picking herself up, Hermione patted her gently on the cheek, then turned and walked out the door. Ginny waited until she could hear her footsteps fade then threw herself onto her bed.
Why was she being so stupid! For a few minutes, she let herself go. All her pain, all her insecurities, all her fear… for a few minutes… just a few minutes.
After her shoulders stopped shaking and her tears stopped flowing, she angrily wiped her eyes. “Stop it, Ginny,” she said angrily. “Just… just stop it.” She gazed at the package she held tightly in her hand.
“GINEVRA! COME DOWN NOW! AND I MEAN NOW!”
Ginny sighed and blew her nose on the sleeve of her robe. Okay. Okay. Just friends then. Okay.
“Coming mum!” She called lightly. “Coming!” And with that, she swept the hair out of her eyes and ran to the door… ran to the family and the friends waiting below.
Prior to dashing out of her door, Ginevra Molly Weasley had slapped the gift onto the edge of her dresser and wiped her eyes. The gift remained on her dresser for the next two days, as she had found herself both unable and at times unwilling to open it. There were moments, long moments, when she felt she would give in, but the pain she was hiding was just too fresh… too open.
And so there it stayed, a reminder and a testament to fear and conflict. And when the day to return to Hogwarts arrived, Ginevra Molly Weasley had forgotten about it… maybe intentionally, maybe not. But Hermione Granger, she of the bushy hair and sharply arched eyebrows, did not. Sneakier than credited, Hermione had surreptitiously placed the gift in the pocket of Ginny’s Hogwarts robe and said, quietly, “Oh, Honestly.”
And later, within the great gleaming body of the Hogwarts Express, Ginny had found herself sitting next to her would be boyfriend, he of the goodness and the kindness that was not like Harry’s. And as he shyly held her hand, her other hand slipped into the pocket of her robe. There it found, quite easily, the small purple box. And, as Dean Thomas made some silly joke, Ginny smiled as she imagined, quite against her wishes, that the box still held… still kept… some of the warmth from Harry’s gentle, gentle hands.