All of the windows of the house were lit as Harry and Arthur Apparated to the garden of the Burrow. Arthur glanced quickly at the kitchen window and turned to Harry.
“It looks like a full house. Well, almost full. Percy is, well, you know, and Charlie won't be here for a few days yet. Do you still want to go through with this, Harry?”
Harry just shrugged and said, “I'll have to face them sometime.”
The kitchen was indeed full. Hermione had already arrived to help with the wedding, and she and Ron were sitting closer than Harry had ever seen them. Sitting even closer together were Bill and Fleur, while Fred and George were regaling their mother with the latest news of their joke shop. Only Ginny was not present.
Almost as one, they all turned towards the kitchen door as Harry and Mr. Weasley walked in. Mrs. Weasley hugged her husband, but when she turned to Harry there was the slightest of pauses before she gave him the briefest hug he had ever received from her. All he could think to do was give a little wave and say, “Hi.” He suddenly felt a little embarrassed to be there. Fred and George each muttered a curt “Hello” and turned immediately to their plates, easily his coolest greeting from the twins.
For a moment it seemed that Hermione needed to pull Ron out of his chair, and when he shook Harry's hand and said “Good to see you, mate” it seemed as if he was saying it only because he was expected to say it.
Only Fleur and Bill really seemed happy to see him, as she seemed to float out of her chair to kiss him on both cheeks.
Mrs. Weasley turned to Harry and asked, “Hungry, dear?”
Harry muttered a “Yes, please,” and, though the last thing he wanted was food, he felt he needed something to do. Taking a seat next to Hermione, he started to ask, “Where's —?”
“She's upstairs,” Hermione whispered. “She spends a lot of time upstairs.”
“But Mr. Weasley said she —”
“Nobody's that strong all the time. Harry, tell me, where have you spent most of the past few weeks?”
He looked down at the table, avoiding her gaze. “Alone,” he paused, “up in my room.”
Harry managed only a few bites of the food, as it had no flavor for him, and he could feel everyone looking at him. Pushing away his plate and sliding his chair back, he looked at everyone and said, “No sense avoiding the elephant in the room. Let me have it!”
“Have what, mate?” Fred asked, his voice dripping in sarcasm.
“Fred, behave!” Mrs. Weasley said.
“Fred, you seem to have a problem with Ginny and me, so tell me what it is.”
“Funny, reports say there is no `Ginny and you' anymore,” George answered for his twin.
“So you think I was just looking for a little fun, and then discarded her?”
Fred and George just looked at each other and burst out laughing.
“Do you really think that's the problem?” Fred started.
“Yeah, snogging our sister for a couple of weeks,” George continued,
“Having a good old time,” Fred piped in,
“And then calling it off when things got a little rough?” George concluded sweetly.
“No, we're angry because,” Fred started again,
“We think you're a being just a little —” George snorted,
“— DENSE,” the twins ended together.
“Dense? How do you work that out?” asked an agitated Harry.
“'Arry, why deed you broke up with Ginny?” Fleur asked.
“Mr. Weasley said Ginny told you why,” Harry stated defensively.
“Yes, Harry, she did,” he hadn't realized Mrs. Weasley had moved to the chair next to him, “but we need to hear it from you, dear.”
“B-because I don't want Voldemort to be able get to me through the people I care about,” Harry explained again.
“The people you care about, hey? And yet, here you are, with your two best friends, with the family that's all but adopted you as one of their own. People who have been used to get to you before and will probably be used to get to you again,” Mrs. Weasley said softly. “I don't see you pushing us away.
“If recent events have taught us anything, it's that there's a very good chance that most of us are going to be hurt and some may die,” she added.
Harry mumbled something, unwilling to look any of them in the eye.
“What was that, dear?” Mrs. Weasley asked.
He mumbled again, but a little louder this time, and Mrs. Weasley’s smile seemed to indicate that she had heard and understood.
“What was that mate?” George asked.
Harry glared at George and said firmly, his teeth clinched, “Not Ginny!”
“Ho, ho, ho,” Fred chuckled, “I think we're getting somewhere.”
“So, you think she’s better than the rest of us?”
“Ho, ho, ho,” Fred repeated.
“Okay, maybe not better, but as much as a care about all of you, I care more about her than the lot of you put together.” Harry sat back in his chair. “I love her,’ he added softly.
“We know that, you stupid git,” George started. “You love Ginny.”
“You love Mum,” added Fred.
“You love Dad,” chanted George,
“You love Hermione,”
“You love Ron,”
“You love George and me,”
“Which, frankly, when I actually hear it out loud, sounds a little weird,” said George, wincing.
“I know what you mean!” replied Fred.
“Boys!” shouted Mrs. Weasley
“Sorry, Mum,” they said in unison.
“Fine, I don't just love her as I love this family. I'm in love with her! Is that what you want to hear?” Harry yelled.
“YES!” they all yelled back at him.
“Harry,” Mrs. Weasley began more quietly.
“Yes, Mrs. Weasley?”
“Harry, do you really think not being with Ginny will keep her safe? She's a Weasley. As far as the Death Eaters are concerned we're blood traitors. If that isn’t enough, you're practically a part of this family, spending most of your summers and holidays here. No matter what you do, Harry, this entire family is marked.”
“Besides, Harry,” Ron said, “The gossip about you and Ginny went all around the school. Everyone could see how happy you were. Do you really think He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named didn't hear about it?”
“Voldemort,” Mr. Weasley started, but Ron gasped. “Oh please, this family has had so many run-ins with him and his Death Eaters that we're practically on first-name terms. If he's coming after me, then he's coming after me, regardless of what I do from now on! Where was I? Oh, yes, Voldemort. Voldemort is not stupid, Harry, and he'll guess why you broke up with her. If anything, it will make her more of a target because clearly you care so much for her that you’d rather be apart from her then see her hurt.”
“Harry,” Bill had been so silent that Harry had almost forgotten he was there. “What if I thought the way you did, what if I thought that the world was too dangerous for love?” as he turned towards Fleur.
“'Arry, I know some people theenk eet would 'ave been so easy for me to walk away and I theenk some people are surprised I deedn’t” – Fred examined his nails while George looked around the room –“but I love Bill, and I will not be apart from 'eem no matter what.”
“I know what is at stake, and what we all might lose, and I've lost so much already, but Ginny is the one thing I couldn’t bear to lose. I don't care what happens to me, as long as she's safe,” Harry tried to explain again.
“But Harry, she won't be safe,” Bill said. “Look at the Weasley family clock.” The hand for each of the Weasleys was pointed to ‘Mortal Peril’. “Ginny’s hand hasn’t moved since you broke up with her. She was in mortal peril with you, and she’s in mortal peril without you. Nothing’s changed.”
Arthur had been holding his head against his clenched hands. He looked up at Harry. “I love my daughter and I would give anything to keep her, to keep each and every one of my children safe, but I don't think that you can succeed without her. And I don't think she's the type of person to just sit back and let you go on alone, Harry.”
“Do you have any idea what I have to do, or where I’ll be going? If we’re to be together, then it means she’s coming with me. I can’t believe you want that!”
“We know, Harry,” Mr. Weasley said quietly.
“What?” Harry asked, stunned.
“We know about the Horcruxes,” Mrs. Weasley explained.
“It wasn’t us, mate,” Ron said loudly.
“It’s true, Harry. Remus and Tonks heard you at Dumbledore’s ceremony,” Hermione added quickly.
“Fine, then you realize what you’re asking me to do, and the danger she’ll be in.” Harry couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“We know, and ordinarily we’d agree with you, but we’re not living in ordinary times,” explained Mr. Weasley.
Harry sat, thinking for a few moments, and then asked, “Mr. Weasley, what do you mean when you say I won't succeed without Ginny?”
“Love is the only real weapon we have against Voldemort. Tell me, how have you felt since you broke up with Ginny?” Arthur held a finger to his lips. “Let me rephrase that,” as he pointed to Harry, “How did you feel before you were with her, while you were with her, and since you've been apart from her?”
Harry sat for a few moments, lost in thought. “Well, I was fine before we started going out. I mean I knew I liked her, and I thought about her, well, a lot, but I was, you know, okay. But being with Ginny made me happy, really happy. She makes me laugh, helps me forget about things for a while. Since I, erm, well now that I don’t see her every day, I feel worse than before we got together. I miss her, well, all the time, really,” Harry finished with difficulty.
“Yes, dear,” Mrs. Weasley said as she held his hands in hers.
“I've felt pretty awful, but I kept thinking that it was the right thing to do,” continued Harry.
“You said you didn't want to hurt her, but you have,” Mrs. Weasley said.
“What? How have I hurt her? She understood, she told me she understood!”
“Harry, Ginny has put up a good front, I think partially because she thinks it's what you want her to do, but I can see it in her eyes,” Mr. Weasley added. “You were with her for how long?”
“From the day we won the Quidditch Cup until Dumbledore’s funeral.”
“So, only a few weeks, then. But how long had you realized you felt that way about her?” Mr. Weasley continued.
“It was growing since last summer, when we spent so much time here at the Burrow together, but it really hit me when Ron and I found her and Dean, well...” Harry stopped, embarrassed.
“I, uh, can guess,” Mr. Weasley said, slyly.
“I suddenly wanted to rip Dean from limb to limb. I tried telling myself it was just because I thought of her like, well, a sister, but I knew it wasn’t that. Every time she passed by me, every time she touched me, I could feel my heart beat faster. I’ve known since then, but she was going out with Dean, and I wasn’t sure how Ron would react, so I kept it to myself. I-I couldn't stop looking at her. ”
“No kidding!” Hermione interjected.
“I could see it, Harry. If we were in the common room and Ginny was there too, I would see you stealing a glance from time to time. If you were reading a book, your eyes would often be focused above the book. If we were at meals in the Great Hall and Ginny would walk past, you'd keep talking but your eyes would follow her.”
“W-why didn't you say anything?” Harry asked Hermione, almost accusatorially.
“I wasn't exactly being honest with my feelings at the time either, was I? You, me, and Ron, well, I suppose we each had to realize what we felt on our own.”
“I suppose so.”
“So you had several months of realizing what you felt for her, feeling it alone, in secret – well, secret except for Hermione – and a few weeks together,” Mr. Weasley continued. “Ginny's been in love with you for years. I know we all dismissed it, at least at the beginning, as a crush. Maybe she had a crush on you then because you were the great Harry Potter. Maybe, as sometimes happens, a crush can be the start of the real thing. However it happened, I think that for a long while now she's seen you not as Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, but as Harry, the boy she loves. You waited for a few months; she’s waited for a few years. Can you imagine what it must have felt like for her to have her dream come true, only to have to slip away? She may not be hurting physically, but she's still hurting.”
“Harry, you said you've missed her since you broke up with her. How did you feel when you were together?” Mrs. Weasley asked.
“I was happier than I had ever been.” Harry stopped, and leaned forward in his chair. He rested his arms on the table, and rested his chin on his clasped hands, almost as if in prayer. He sat silent for a few moments until Mrs. Weasley touched his shoulder and asked, “Harry?”
Harry lifted his head slightly, and started, “It’s…oh Merlin, it’s been so hard. I- I’ve seen Voldemort come back, and challenge me to a duel. I …” He closed his eyes for just a moment, but then opened them and titled his head towards the ceiling as he continued. “I saw … S-Sirius die in front of me.” He lowered his head, and a small smile appeared on his face. “And yet, when I was with her…” his eyes arched and the smile got bigger, “…I felt the world was a beautiful, wonderful place. When I was with her, I felt I could take on the world with her by my side.”
“Love is like that, Harry. When you find it, when you really find the one you were meant to be with, like I did with Arthur, you realize you've been only half what you could and should be,” she said as she smiled at her husband.
Harry looked around the table. Fleur had her head on Bill's shoulder as he rubbed her arm. Ron and Hermione were both a shade of pink but were smiling at each other. Fred and George sat there with blank looks on their faces.
“By my side,” he whispered.
“What's that, Harry?” Ron asked.
“By my side,” He said again as he looked around the kitchen. The place that, to him, had become the warmest, most comfortable place of all seemed even warmer and more comfortable. Everyone was smiling. “By my side,” he repeated, slowly, deliberately saying each word. “That's what you're trying to tell me, isn't it?”
“Yes, dear. Ginny won't be safe until V-Voldemort is defeated,” Mrs. Weasley replied.
“And I can't defeat Voldemort without Ginny by my side.”
“W-what? Hermione and I are coming —”
“Yes, Ron, I'll need as much help as I can get, but, if what you’re saying is true - and I'm beginning to think it is - I need Ginny. Even if Voldemort wasn’t around, even if everything was fine, I'd still need Ginny. I love Ginny. I need Ginny by my side”
“Did you ever tell her how you feel?” Mrs. Weasley asked.
“Erm, no, not in so many words,” Said Harry regretfully.
“I was afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
Harry titled his head towards the ceiling again and released a sigh. “I- I knew about her crush.” He turned towards Mrs. Weasley. “What if...what if it was still just a crush?” He slumped back in the chair, his arms hanging at his sides. “What if she got to know the real Harry, and she decided to give up on me?” He let go a sotto voce laugh. “Wouldn’t it be funny if, after all this time she saw me as her bother’s best friend, and I was the one with the crush?” he said, his voice filled with irony. “I was so happy with her, I don’t know, I didn’t want to risk finding out. Stupid, isn’t it?”
“A little stupid, yes,” Mrs. Weasley interjected.
“I said just a little. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is tell the one person who matters the most to you what you really feel.”
Harry sat back in his chair for a few moments, and, with a slight smile, said, “You can come down now, Ginny, I know you've been listening from the landing.”
All eyes turned towards the stairs as Ginny slowly walked down, a single line of tears streaking each side of her face.
“How long have you known I was there?” she asked Harry.
“Just before I said I was in love with you. I could smell you.”
“Are you familiar with Amortentia?” She was the only one to shake her head no.
“It's a love potion. It smells different to each of us, based on what attracts us,” Hermione interjected. Harry looked at her. She slouched down in her chair, trying to make herself very small, and muttered, “Sorry. Reflexes.”
Harry turned back towards Ginny. “The, uh, the first time I smelled it, it reminded me of treacle tart, a wooden broom handle, and …” he suddenly turned red, dropped his gaze from Ginny, and said, “…something…flowery I thought smelled here at the Burrow.”
He stood up and slowly walked to her, saying, “I, erm, I-I would smell that from time to time at Hogwarts until I…” His head dropped, as if he wanted to look at anything but at Ginny. “I, erm, I finally realized something.”
He looked up at her. “It was you. I - this is going to sound silly - I could tell when you were around. W-when I-I smelled it, I was happy. When I smelled it, I could feel my heart race.” He stopped, the red gone from his face, replaced by a forceful, determined look. “It was you, Ginny, and I think I realized it was always you. It’s always been you. I was just too stupid to realize it.”
She was still standing on the last steps of the stairs so that they were eye to eye.
“Is…is it true, what you said, Harry?”
He wiped away her tears and looked into her eyes. “Every, every word.” He continued softly, as if he didn’t want the rest to hear, “I'm in love with you. I-I need you. I feel empty without you.”
He didn't get anymore words out as she leaned into his arms and kissed him. After what seemed to him to be a few happy, incredible weeks later, they parted, only to find it was the same night, maybe even the same minute. Then she slapped him.
“Ow! What was that for?” he asked, confused again.
“A crush? A crush? I may love you with all my heart, Harry Potter, but my brothers are right. Sometimes you can be a little dense.”
“Sorry. Any way I can make it up to you?” He smiled at her.
She put her arms around his neck and smiled back. “Never leave me out again. Whatever happens, we do it together. You may not make it, and I may not make it, but I would rather have this time with you, no matter what, than face a lifetime without you and without the memory of these moments together.”
He looked at her with a perplexed expression on his face and asked, “When did you get so old and wise?”
“Six older brothers, remember? So, deal?”
“Deal, as long the same goes for you.” In response, she pulled his face towards hers and kissed him.
Mrs. Weasley walked to the stairs and hugged the two of them. Everyone was smiling, except for Mr. Weasley.
Mrs. Weasley looked at her husband and asked, “What's the matter, Arthur?”
Arthur furrowed his brow and rubbed his chin. “I just realized something.”
“We just talked Harry into taking our only daughter, our fifteen-year-old daughter at that, with him to help to destroy Voldemort.”
“Oh well, we'll deal with that tomorrow, Arthur. Now then, Ginny, hungry?” asked Mrs. Weasley briskly.
“Yes, famished.” Ginny's face was aglow. She didn't look at her mother, keeping her gaze set on Harry, who had a smile almost as big as hers as he said, “I’ve suddenly got my appetite back, too,” he said as he pulled her towards the kitchen table.
As they sat down, everyone but Mr. Weasley stood up. Fred yawned and muttered, “Well, enough of this. I’m off to bed,” as the twins climbed the stairs.
“Hermione and I, uh, I think we'll go for a little walk outside,” Ron stammered as Hermione blushed.
“That sounds like a good idea. I think Fleur and I’ll join you,” said Bill, cheerfully. As the two couples reached the door they stopped, each looking a little embarrassed.
Bill pointed to the left and said, “Why don't you two go that way, and we'll go this way,” pointing now to the right.
“Right,” Ron and Hermione declared together.
Harry held Ginny's left hand in his right, but leaned over to Mr. Weasley and said, “If our conversation was an Appetizer, and this little ambush was the Main Course, I'd hate to see what's for Dessert!”
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