Chapter 15 : Year 2: New beginnings
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Thankfully, Gwyn Stayner, her boss, had not been upset when she had finally returned to the Ministry around lunchtime. However, Hermione had worked harder than ever to make up for lost time, and she had been ready to head straight to bed once she arrived at her parents house that evening. Any other day, that was exactly what she would have done. But this wasn’t just any day – this was the day that she and Ron would get the keys to their new flat. Hence, as soon as she got home, they began moving her stuff. And here they were now, in the middle of their new, chaotic living room, ready to begin their life together.
“Honey, have you seen another one of these anywhere?” Mr Granger, who was in the middle of assembling the first one of the five bookshelves she had insisted on squeezing into the small living room, held up a long, thin screw to show her. “We seem to be missing one…”
“Sorry, Dad,” Hermione answered. “You know, I would have done all this with magic to save you the trouble, but I don’t know any spells for it…”
“And if she doesn’t know it, it doesn’t exist,” said Ron, who was just entering the room, carrying the last one of her moving boxes in his arms. He winked at her, and Mr Granger laughed.
“Well, you sure know how to charm my daughter!” he said. “Complimenting her intelligence, that is the way to go…”
Ron laughed as well, before continuing into the bedroom. Hermione followed him with her eyes until he disappeared, and then she sighed happily. Even though she would normally be annoyed over the mess around her and the knowledge of how much more they would have to do before they could go to bed, she couldn’t have been happier in that moment. What would her sixteen-year-old self, who had been drowning in unrequited love for the boy whose adorable girlfriend seemed to be attached at his hip at all times, say if she had known where they would be only three years later – together, in love, getting a flat together? She shook her head. She couldn’t even have dreamed it. She could never have dreamed that the sullen, redheaded boy on the Hogwarts Express would end up being the love of her life – because she was pretty sure that he was.
“There you are, you little bastard!” Mr Granger said triumphantly, picked up a screw from the floor and turned to the bookshelf again. “There you go, Hermione,” he added a few minutes later, “it’s finished!”
Hermione got up on her feet. “It looks great, Dad.”
Mr Granger cast a glance on his watch. “Well, it’s getting quite late,” he said. “Would it be alright if I came back tomorrow to take care of the others? Your mum probably has dinner prepared by now… will you be joining us?”
In that same moment, Ron came back into the room. Hermione walked over to him and placed an arm around his waist. “I think we’ll stay here,” she said. “But you and Mum are coming to the housewarming on Saturday, right?”
“Yes, of course we are!” Tears gleamed in Mr Granger’s eyes when he stepped closer to them and hugged his daughter. “You’d think that I would be used to it by now, you being away. After all, you’ve spent most of your time since you were eleven at Hogwarts. But I guess I got used to having you around again this year… I’ll miss you.”
“And I’ll miss you,” Hermione said. “But I won’t be so far away this time. We’ll see a lot more of each other than we did when I was at Hogwarts.”
Her father let go of her and nodded. Then he reached out his arms towards Ron and pulled him into a fatherly embrace. “Take good care of her, son,” he mumbled. “She’s the best thing we’ve got.”
Harry was on his way home from work. For safety reasons, the Ministry hadn’t wanted him to connect his fireplace to the Floo Network, and thus, he apparated between the Ministry and a park a few blocks away from his flat. Now, he was leaving that park (after just barely managing to avoid being seen by two Muggle boys who would have caught him appearing out of thin air if they had only turned their heads a few inches to the right) to walk the short way home, with his hands in his pockets to keep them from the cold. It was late; had it not been for the streetlamps and the flickering light that spread from some windows and onto the sidewalk, it would have been completely dark. Harry shivered in his coat and increased his pace – it seemed like winter was arriving early.
A woman’s voice made him turn his head. Instinctively, he groped for his wand, just to be on the safe side. Only a week earlier, Ron had been attacked in the middle of the street and was forced to duel and arrest a previously unknown follower of Voldemort, before modifying the memory of three Muggles who had happened to walk by.
As the woman stepped into the light of the nearest streetlamp, Harry realized that she wasn’t that kind of threat. It was her – the girl who could have made him lose Ginny because of the false rumours she had started with the help of the Daily Prophet.
Ruby Percell was even more stunning in person. Her dark, shimmering hair was thick and wavy, her eyes big and her cheekbones sharp. Her lips were painted red and curled into an infectious smile, showing off a row of straight, white teeth. The smile had no effect Harry, though – he was groping for his wand again, planning to put one of his girlfriend’s infamous hexes to use. But before he had even pulled it out of his pocket, Ruby Percell leaped forward and threw her arms around his neck, enclosing him in a cloud of sweet perfume.
“Oh, Harry!” she said. “I’m so glad to finally run into you! I’ve wanted to for so long – I’ve been waiting here, outside your flat, every night, hoping to get at least a glimpse of you…”
Harry furrowed his eyebrows and wriggled out of her embrace. “I would suggest that you stop doing that right now!” he said firmly. “Do you know what that little trick you pulled in the Prophet could have cost me? I have a girlfriend, and I love her. I struggled to convince everyone, including her, that I have never met you!”
“That Weasley girl?” said Ruby with a flirtatious smile. “You’ll thank me once you’re rid of her. You don’t know what you’re missing.”
“Please, just leave me alone,” Harry said as he fought to control his rage. Deciding that he’d better get away from there before he would do anything stupid, he turned away from Ruby and began marching homewards. Part of him wanted to actually pull out his wand and make her regret ever messing with him, but the other half of him knew that what he really wanted was just for her to disappear out of his life and stop bothering him.
Ginny was one of the first people to arrive in Holyhead for an early training the following morning – only Gwenog Jones had beaten her to it. The sun had only begun its climb to the top of the sky, the air was so cold that Ginny’s exhalations transformed into silver steam, and frost gleamed in the grass beneath her feet. The trees on the other side of the Quidditch pitch were bare; their leaves had fled and left them in that state only a few days after the cold had hit Wales. The temperature had dropped over night in the middle of November, and it had remained as cold ever since.
Gwenog had not waited for the rest of the team to show up. Instead, she had released one of the Bludgers and was busy aiming it at different targets. At the sound of Ginny’s steps on the frozen ground, she lowered her bat and turned around. She waved while Ginny walked over to her.
“Are you always here this early?” she asked. “It’s another half an hour until training starts, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Gwenog replied and swung her bat again to keep the Bludger from hitting them. “I’m a morning person. I’d rather be here early to practice than walk around at home and wait for that half hour to pass.”
Ginny nodded while bending down to tie her shoe. “I’m the same way,” she said. “Although, I really would have liked to stay in bed today,” she admitted while threading her shoelace through the little hole in her boot.
“Yeah, I get that,” Gwenog said. “I reckon you’ve had some trouble sleeping lately, eh? Since this whole thing with Potter?”
“No, not really,” Ginny answered with a shrug. “He explained that. The girl was making it all up. I guess she’s some deranged fan-“
“He explained the photo of the two of them together?” Gwenog asked. “The one on the front page of today’s Prophet?” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I would like to hear that explanation.”
“Of… of the two of them? No,” Ginny said. “No, he’s never met her. He said…”
Her mouth went dry. Why would he have lied about that? If he really had nothing to hide… if it was just a rumour…
“He obviously has met her,” Gwenog said. “It was a photo of them, standing on a street somewhere. He must know her too, since they were hugging each other.”
Ginny lost her balance and fell backwards, so that she landed on her butt. She remained there, sitting on the cold, hard ground, and stared out into the open air in front of her. So he had lied. It was as if someone had stuck a knife straight into her heart and twisted it around, just to make it hurt worse. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to hold back her tears. The last time, after the first article had been published, she hadn’t really believed it was true. On some level, she had known that he would rush over to the Burrow and promise that it was only a stupid rumour. But that wouldn’t happen this time. She loved him, but she had obviously fooled herself when she had thought that he shared those feelings. He wanted Ruby, the sparkling, interesting beauty who turned heads wherever she went, not Ginny Weasley, the dull everyday girl who rarely earned herself even a first glance from those who passed her by.
“Look, Weasley, I’m really sorry,” Gwenog said. “I thought you had seen it, or I wouldn’t have… do you want to skip training today? You could leave now, before the others show up and start asking questions…”
Suddenly, Ginny was filled with a furious, strong determination, and quickly rose to her feet and blinked away her tears while shaking her head. “No. I won’t let him take away this dream too.”
Gwenog smiled and patted her shoulder awkwardly. “That’s the spirit!” she said briskly. “Want to hit a Bludger while we’re waiting for the others? You can pretend it’s Potter’s head, if it makes you feel better.”
She reached out the bat, and Ginny forced herself to smile when she took it from her hands. The Bludger came flying back at them – it seemed to aim at Gwenog this time – and Ginny swung the bat. It hit the enchanted ball with a bang and sent it back into the chilly morning air. Ginny couldn’t remember the last time anything had felt so good.
Ron threw the Daily Prophet onto Harry’s desk, making his best friend jump and nearly spill his ink all over the report he was working on. “For the love of Godric, Ron, I-“
Seeing the enraged look on Ron’s face, Harry interrupted himself. He slowly turned his eyes from his friend’s flushed, freckled cheeks to the newspaper in front of him. He sighed deeply. Someone had taken a photo of him and Ruby the night before, from just the right angle – or just the wrong one, to be more precise. It looked like they were hugging each other, which had not been the case at all. She had done all the hugging, he had been stiff in her embrace for a few seconds and then he had pushed her away. Of course, that part wasn’t included in the scene in the photograph; it began when she appeared in front of him and ended while her arms were still wrapped around his neck.
“I think you’ve got some explaining to do,” Ron hissed, clenching his teeth together.
“She showed up last night,” Harry said calmly. “When I was on my way home.”
“And you were obviously happy to see her!” Ron said, making a gesture towards the photo.
“You can’t even see my face!” Harry protested. “And you can’t see happens next, which was me pushing her away and telling her to stay out of my life, to stop spreading lies in the newspaper and to stop trying to sabotage my relationship!”
“Do you know what?” Ron said. “For someone who has done nothing wrong, you’ve had a lot of explaining to do lately.”
Harry’s blood had slowly begun to boil in his veins; now, he pushed his chair back and got up on his feet. “Why do you people always take the first chance you get to mistrust me? I have never given any you any reason to!”
Ron grabbed the newspaper and held it up in between them, like a shield – or a wall. “You don’t think that this a reason to mistrust you?”
“Of course it’s not, she’s bloody mental-“
“Save it, Harry.” Ron shook his head, took a few steps backwards and turned around to storm out of their office.
“Where are you going?” Harry called after him. “This is your office too, remember? We’ve got paperwork to do!”
“You’re just going to have to manage without me,” Ron said without turning around. “I’m going to help the trainees with their duelling class. I can’t even be in the same room as you right now.”
He slammed the door closed, and then he was gone. Again, whispered a voice inside Harry’s head. He has left you again.
The minute hand on the clock above Ron’s empty desk might as well have stopped. Time had moved slower than ever all afternoon, and Harry couldn’t concentrate on his report. All he wanted was to get to Ginny to explain what was going on – again. But last time, when he had left without telling anyone before his shift was over, Dawlish had not been happy with him, and Harry didn’t want to upset him again. So instead, he sat on the edge of his chair and waited impatiently for the clock to strike five.
He could practically feel the situation worsen in his absence. Every second that passed was another second that Ginny’s mind could use to twist the whole thing around, enlarge it, exaggerate it. She was most likely brooding over it, and Harry was scared of what she’d come up with since she didn’t know the whole truth.
Ron had stayed clear of the office all afternoon. Harry had looked for him during lunch because he wanted to talk to him, but he hadn’t found him. Throughout the day, he had gone from worrying about their friendship to being angry with him. Why should Ron get away with being so incredibly insular? He actually believed the Daily Prophet – bloody Daily Prophet – over him! Not to mention the billions of times he had questioned Harry’s intentions with Ginny already. He was sick of it – he had been nothing but a perfectly good boyfriend, and all he got in return was this.
“Harry?” Seamus appeared in the doorway. “Dawlish says we can leave for the day. Since we’ve worked overtime so much this week.”
Harry practically flew off his chair, grabbed his coat and hurried towards the arrival hall. Seamus trotted to keep up with him. “So, what’s up with you and Ron?” he panted. “He’s been edgy all day – fires up every time someone mentions your name.”
“Didn’t you read the Prophet today?” asked Harry shortly.
“Yes,” Seamus answered. “But you said it wasn’t true, didn’t you? You said you love Ginny. I made the mistake of believing a newspaper over you once, and I was wrong. I’m not going to make that mistake again.”
Harry stopped and turned to his friend. “Thanks, Seamus. It’s nice to hear that not everyone thinks so badly of me.”
“Ron will come around,” Seamus assured him. “He’s just very biased, because he’s her brother. Are you going to Ginny’s now?”
“Yes," Harry said and began walking again. “I have to fix this – again. Merlin, I wish those people would just leave me alone!”
“Good luck, mate,” Seamus said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Ginny’s a clever girl – she knows that this girl is just looking for attention, and that the Daily Prophet are just looking for gossip. Don’t worry.”
He winked at him and disappeared into the closest fireplace to head home. Harry moved on to the next one, stepped into it and made his way to the Burrow.
Ginny was sitting in the couch in the living room with her arms wrapped around her knees and her chin resting on top of them. She wasn’t crying – she lifted her head slowly when she heard him coming.
“I thought you’d show up eventually,” she said.
“I can only repeat what I told you last week,” Harry said. “It’s not true, I love you and I don’t know what she’s after. But she’s lying, you have to believe me!”
Ginny curled her lips, but the smile never reached her eyes. They were blank when they met his and she said: “You told me that you had never met her. And then these photos appear in the newspaper. So how I am supposed to believe you?”
Harry walked over and sat down next to her while reaching out his hand. He wished that she would turn her head and look at him again, but she did neither that nor did she take his hand. He sighed.
“When I said I had never met her, it was true,” he said. “She showed up at my street last night, and I told her to get lost… Gin. You know that you can trust me.”
He reached out and touched her cheek. He had expected her to give in, to lean in towards him and let it all go, but she remained motionless next to him, her eyes fixed on the fireplace on the other side of the coffee table.
“I don’t know what to believe,” she said. “How do I trust you? How do I know that you’re telling the truth?”
Her words burned, worse than a poisonous plant from Herbology class at Hogwarts. Bill and Percy had doubted him. Ron didn’t believe a word he said. But he had thought that it would at least be different with Ginny. He had thought that their bond was on a different level, that they understood each other completely. But she didn’t believe him either. She doubted him, just like everyone else, when he had given her no reason to.
“That’s just the thing with trust, Ginny,” he said. “You don’t know if someone is telling the truth, but you believe them anyway. It hurts me that you think, even for a second, that I would do something like that to you. I thought you would understand, if anyone. But I guess I was wrong.”
Now she turned her head. She met his eyes. Finally.
But it was too late.
Harry rose to his feet.
“I just need some time,” Ginny said. “I need to be alone and think about-“
“That’s all fine,” Harry said. “But do you know what I don’t need? I don’t need to be with someone who thinks as little of me as you do.” He could feel the adrenaline kick in. He cold hear that tiny voice inside his head – it was telling him to stop talking, to leave before he said something he would regret. He ignored it. “I thought you were special, but you’re just like everyone else.” He strode towards the fireplace again, stepped into it and turned around. His eyes fixed on her face one last time. “You’re such a disappointment, Gin.”
He spat out her nickname, the one that he had been the first to call her once, as if it was a curse. In the next moment, green flames flared up where he had stood, and then he was gone.
A/N: So... I hope that you're not too angry with me for doing that to Harry and Ginny. And I hope that you understand Harry's actions - I can't say I know what it's like, but it must be quite frustrating to always be questioned, don't you think?
If you have any comment at all about this chapter and the story so far, please leave a review and let me know! I also want to thank everyone who reads, reviews and adds this story to their favourites - I really can't explain how much it means to me!
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