For Alexis Cartwheel
The last two weeks of August were like a benediction. The sky was high, an impossible blue, and small apples ripened in the orchard, turning gold and red. Ginny felt like one of those apples, almost ripe but not quite, on the brink of something amazing. Grief for Fred, for Lupin, for Tonks, was still there, but no longer lying on her chest every morning. It swept over her like a tidal wave and withdrew just as quickly, leaving her shaking. Every Sunday morning, she climbed the hill to stand before Fred's tombstone. Do you see what's happening, Fred? she asked. Does it make you happy? Fred, cold in the earth, with the grass growing over him, so wrong that she didn't want to accept it, and yet she could feel it happening. The hole in her heart closed over slowly, every day shrinking a little more.
Late one afternoon, picking the first three windfalls from the grass, she heard someone say her name. She turned around and there he was, leaning against a tree trunk, eyes lit up with his smile.
Ginny dropped the apples and flew into his arms. He'd been at the Ministry for days on end, helping Kingsley and Percy reform the system during the post-war chaos. Ginny knew that this was important work but it didn't stop her missing him. They kissed over and over, until she felt like she was on fire for him, her whole body yearning, yearning for something that she knew and did not know.
"Ginny," he said breathlessly, burying his face in her hair as she rested her forehead against his collarbone. "I missed you."
"I'd never have guessed," she joked, propping her chin on his chest as she looked up at him. "You're always so cold when we meet."
"Yeah, that's me... totally frigid," he agreed, while his eyes said something completely different and Ginny longed to forget that someone from her family could turn up at any moment and spoil this stolen moment.
"Kingsley let you have a day off?" she asked, stepping away before she did something rash and picking up the apples again.
"He more or less ordered me to take one," Harry admitted as they began to walk back to the Burrow. He pulled down a branch, inspecting the small yellow pippins. "He said that if he found me asleep at my desk one more time, he'd fire me. I said it would be the first time someone was sacked for overworking and he said, 'This is a new world, Potter, everything's a first.'"
Ginny laughed and looked up at him, admiring the way the sunlight brindled his hair into black and almost gold, even though she could see what Kingsley meant. Harry had faint circles under his eyes and he was a little too pale for her liking.
"You know Mum will stuff you full as soon as she sees you," she remarked. "You're a bit thin."
"I'm always thin, Ginny," he said with a smile. "But I can cook for myself."
She poked him in the side. "When you're not asleep at your desk, you mean."
He ducked his head in that old shy movement that she remembered from the days when they'd first met. It was a reminder that despite everything he'd been through, at his core, Harry was still that sweet boy who'd made her heart quiver. She felt her heart quivering now, and slipped her free hand into his. "I missed you," she said softly.
Harry looked at her, almost surprised, and his cheeks turned red. He didn't say anything in reply, but he squeezed her hand tight. Then they were almost at the Burrow and there was no time or space to be intimate. Mum took one look at Harry and made about ten chicken sandwiches, with liberal helpings of mayonnaise and added salad.
"Ron not with you, dear?" she asked, glancing over his shoulder anxiously.
"No," Harry said, hesitating ever so slightly. "He said he'd stay behind... finish up for me. He said to tell you he'll be here for Friday evening, as normal." His cheeks had reddened again. He obviously felt guilty about leaving Ron to do his work, even though Ron had probably insisted on doing it and shoved Harry out of the door. It was all tied up with Fred, and how Harry felt that Fred's death was partly his fault. He hadn't said this, but Ginny knew. She knew him. She hadn't talked to Harry about it yet because she also knew that his guilt was deep-seated and she wanted to be calm when she talked about it. She couldn't be calm about Fred, not yet.
"Of course," Mum said brightly, too brightly, her eyes flicking to the clock, where Ron's hand was pointing to 'Work'. Fred's hand wasn't there any more. When they'd come back to the Burrow, they'd found it had fallen off the clock and was lying on the kitchen floor. George had picked the hand up silently and put it in his pocket. Nobody knew what he'd done with it. Nobody had asked. George's hand was currently pointing to 'Work' as well, though whether that meant he was actually in the shop or in the flat above it was anyone's guess.
"Percy sends you his love," Harry said, taking the first sandwich. "He said that he'd be home this Friday as well."
Mum blinked and her eyes brightened slightly. "Well, that's nice. If it was anyone but Percy, I'd say he was bringing his washing home but he's always been such a neat boy..." She checked that Harry was eating his sandwiches properly and then took up her sorting basket. The war had left so many babies and toddlers orphaned, Mum had decided to look through the attic and see if any of the boys' old clothes could be useful. Strangely, she'd seemed more reluctant to get rid of Ginny's baby clothes.
"I'm glad Kingsley's let you go for a while, Harry," she said, laying a pair of socks to her left (still wearable) and a bobble hat to her right (ready to be a tea cosy). "If he keeps up like this, you won't have any time to buy your schoolbooks and supplies. It's just as well he gets used to doing without you."
Ginny saw Harry's face change. His eyes flicked to hers for a moment, then he put down his sandwich and cleared his throat. "I'm not going to be buying any schoolbooks, Mrs Weasley," he said quietly. "I'm not going back to Hogwarts."
There was a silence, during which the ticking of the clock seemed unnaturally loud. Ginny felt as if she were frozen to her seat. She couldn't look at Harry, she couldn't look at Mum. She didn't know what to do. But just at that moment, she felt Arnold hop into her lap and snuggle under one of her palms. She picked him up and put him on her shoulder, mechanically stroking the soft fur. Never had she been so grateful for his presence. Her throat was tight with shock and anger.
"Not... going... back?" Mum repeated in a faint voice.
"No," Harry said and Ginny heard the quiet steel in his voice. It was familiar. She remembered it from Dumbledore's funeral. And so she knew that Harry meant what he said and that nothing she or Mum said would change his mind. But that wouldn't stop Mum, of course.
"Harry, you're still only seventeen. You may be of age, but you've missed out on a whole year of schooling!" Mum leaned forward, her eyes large and anxious. "Your N.E.W.Ts are very important for your future career, especially for an Auror! Why..."
"Kingsley said I don't need any N.E.W.Ts," Harry said, looking at her. "Mrs Weasley, I understand what you're saying, I really do. But... I couldn't go back to school after last year. I couldn't go back to a Hogwarts without Dumbledore. I couldn't stand to walk through those doors and see the damage that Voldemort caused." Mum flinched at the name. Ginny could see Harry notice but he carried on, of course. "Hogwarts... was my home. For six years. I want to remember it the way it was. If I go back to school now, I'll just remember... the war." His voice had grown hoarse. He swallowed and ate another sandwich.
"But they're rebuilding," Mum said desperately, her fingers picking apart the hem of a small maroon jumper that must have belonged to Ron. "They're rebuilding all the time, Harry, it'll be fine, you'll see."
"Maybe. But not for me," Harry said quietly, taking a sip of his Butterbeer. "Mrs Weasley, I'd love to go back, if I could. But I can't. I can't go back." There was a sadness in his voice that stopped Mum's arguments for a moment and helped Ginny to breathe again and look at him.
"And Kingsley's agreed to this?" Mum asked sharply.
Harry nodded. "He said that he thought it was pointless for me to go back to school when I'd killed Voldemort. He said he didn't think there was any better qualification for being an Auror."
Mum's nostrils flared. "We'll see about that," she said, finally putting the jumper down on her right and picking up a romper suit. Ginny wondered if Kingsley had known how Mum would react to this news. Probably, she admitted. Kingsley had known Mum for nearly four years now and he'd witnessed her temper a few times. And if he was going to be Minister for Magic, he'd need to get used to people yelling at him.
"And what about Ron?" she demanded. Arnold nuzzled a little closer at the tone of her voice and Harry blinked, almost as if he'd forgotten she was sitting opposite him.
"Does this apply to Ron as well? Skipping N.E.W.Ts and working at the Ministry? What's he going to do?"
Harry looked down at his food quickly. "I don't know what Ron's plans are," he said. "You'll have to ask him."
Ginny felt her eyes grow hot. Liar, she thought. You know exactly what his plans are, you always have done, you know it and I know it! She looked away, still stroking Arnold, her throat closing up, barely hearing Mum as she began to rant that if Ron thought he could get away with leaving school just before the most important exams of his life, he had another thing coming...
Her eyes landed on the clock and she saw that her hand had moved and was now pointing to 'Time to Feed the Chickens'. "I'm going outside Mum, chickens need feeding," she said, pushing back from the table and putting Arnold down on her chair, amazed at how calm she sounded and how easily she moved when she wanted to scream and throw his Butterbeer against the wall and smash the plates on the ground.
She grabbed the bag of dried corn from the shelf beside the back door and slipped on her wellington boots before she walked outside. The chickens could get very enthusiastic and she'd more than once come away with scratched feed and legs as they fought for their food (anyone would think they were fed once a week instead of twice a day). They all hurried towards her, their anxious clucking crescendoing as she began to scatter the corn. She flung the granules in wide arcs, unseeing, the action giving a little relief to the anger that was churning in her stomach.
Footsteps behind her, his gaze a physical pressure in her back. "Ginny..." he said, his voice low and pleading. She hated how it tugged on her, how it made something deep down in her belly melt, even now. She didn't want to melt, she wanted to be hard as iron. She turned, brushed past him and put the corn back, then walked past him again, still not sparing him a glance, heading towards the orchard. Let him follow her, if he dared.
"Come on then," she muttered, stomping her feet down on the grass. "Try and explain, just try it." Her fingers were itching for her wand, itching to slap him, itching to grab his collar and shake him as she yelled in his face, but she wouldn't, not yet.
Then his arm thrust in front of her, the arm of a Seeker, narrow and swift, and his fingers gripped her arm. "Ginny, stop!"
"WHAT?" she snapped, whirling round and trying to snatch her arm back.
His eyes were narrow, frustrated. "Look, I'm sorry!"
"Sorry? You're sorry." She tried to pull away again, but he wouldn't let go, and her rage increased. "You turn up here and announce that you're not coming back to Hogwarts - without telling me - and all you can say is 'I'm sorry'?! Well, that's not good enough."
"What? But I did tell you!" he protested, his eyes widening in surprise now. "I just said -"
"You told me in front of my mother. Like we're the same. Like I don't even merit being told separately!" She could feel the tears coming now and she fought them with everything she had. Harry hated tears, he would stop listening if she started crying. "Harry, I'm supposed to be your girlfriend."
"Ginny, you are! You're..." He caught himself and his fingers slipped away. "You're mine," he said softly.
Ginny felt her cheeks burn at that statement. Part of her was angry, she wasn't a thing to be possessed; but another part of her liked it a little too much. "If I'm yours, you have to tell me things, Harry. This is one of the most important decisions of your life and you didn't talk to me about it. You didn't even tell me before you told Mum. You made me look like an idiot, just sitting there with my mouth open. I couldn't even back you up!"
"Back me up?" He stared at her, his expression blank with surprise.
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Yes, back you up! You saw how Mum reacted, you knew that would happen. Why didn't you say something when you arrived? I could have told her that you had my support, that I agreed with what you were doing, but instead I had to sit there like a prat. Mum's already been on my case about having a relationship while I do my N.E.W.Ts, I need you to help me show her that this is serious."
"She doesn't want you going out with me?" Harry asked, his eyes darkening.
"No, Harry, it's not about you, she thinks you're wonderful." He blushed, looking down, and Ginny almost smiled before remembering that she was still angry with him. "It's about the fact that I'm her little girl and she wants the best for me. Never mind that she and Dad eloped straight after leaving Hogwarts," she added dryly. "And now that Ron's not going back, she'll be even worse. Cause he's not going back, is he? Go on, admit it."
"No," he admitted, leaning against a tree trunk and staring at the grass. "He's not. I tried to... we had a fight about it, actually. I said that your mum would be really upset but he said that he was sticking by me and that was that. I couldn't really... do anything."
"Of course you couldn't," Ginny said in exasperation. "There's no way Ron would go back to Hogwarts if you're working at the Ministry, what were you thinking?"
"I had to try!" he snapped, glaring at her for a moment. "I didn't want... I knew your mum would be..." He faltered, and stared off into the distance, his gaze hot and hard.
"Mum isn't going to blame you for Ron, Harry."
"Well, maybe she should!" he flared, looking at her now, giving her the full force of his anger. "God knows she has a right to blame me... for a lot of things."
"Like what? Fred? Is that what you mean, Harry?" She pushed her hair back, feeling weird and shaky. She didn't want to have this conversation, not now. She was too emotional, he was angry, this was not the right time.
"You know what I mean," he muttered.
"No, you can't use that as an excuse, not any more!"
"YES, FRED, ALL RIGHT, FRED!" He lunged forward, and she thought he was going to grab her, but he veered off, pulling out his wand. "He's dead because of me, Ginny."
"No," she whispered.
"Yes!" he insisted, shifting his grip on the wand. "You know it, I know it. Everybody knows it."
"That's not true."
"Of course it is," he shouted, and something red shot out of his wand, leaving a smoking patch of bare earth on the ground. He looked at her, his face drawn and anguished. "Do you think I don't know that? If I'd given myself up to Voldemort in the first place, Fred might still be alive!"
"And then you'd be dead," Ginny yelled back. "And he would have won and life wouldn't be worth living! We'd all be imprisoned or Imperiused or dead any way!" She swallowed hard and pressed her fingers against her eyes. She could hear his breathing, harsh and laboured as he fought against his own tears. She had to stop this. She knew that yelling at him didn't do any good, she'd always known that.
"It's horrible that Fred's dead, Harry," she said eventually, hearing the wobble in her voice. "I miss him every day. We all miss him. But... it's better for him to be dead in the fight for victory than alive and living under Voldemort. You know that's what he'd say. As hard as it is to live without him... he knew the risk he was taking. He knew that he might die. And it was a risk that he was prepared to take... that we were all prepared to take. We would have fought Voldemort with or without you." She looked at him steadily. "But knowing that we were fighting with you... that you were alive... that was the most important thing. As long as you were alive, we had hope. I'm glad Fred didn't live to see Hagrid carrying your body. That was... the hardest thing." Her voice broke and she turned away, not wanting him to see her cry. "That was when I lost hope, Harry. Not when Fred died, because I knew we might still win, even though it was terrible that he wouldn't be there to see it. But when I saw you... dead... that was when I thought 'It's all been for nothing.'" She put her hands over her face, back in that terrible moment, when she'd seen him lying limp and pale in Hagrid's arms. The despair turning her limbs to ice and the feeling of her heart shrivelling inside her chest as she realised that Tom had won, that her brilliant brother had died in vain, that it had all been in vain, that she would never hear Harry's voice again...
Arms wrapped round her, holding her close as she sobbed, trying to gulp down the tears. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I shouldn't..."
"Of course you should," he said roughly. "You should cry for him, he was your brother. I'm the one who should be sorry, Ginny... I didn't think."
"But you shouldn't be sorry, not for Fred," she said fiercely, looking up at him. "The only person who blames you for his death is you, Harry. We don't blame you. Not Mum, not George... none of us. Miss him. Go right ahead and miss him. But try to stop blaming yourself. He would hate to see you down in the dumps because of him."
"He would, wouldn't he?" Harry agreed. He started to tentatively rub her back and she let out an involuntary sigh. That seemed to encourage him, because his hand became a bit surer, making slow circular movements that were more soothing than she'd have thought. Ginny leaned against him and wiped the last of her tears away.
"You should have told me that you weren't going back to Hogwarts," she said softly.
"I know... I didn't think. I'm not... I'm not good at this sort of thing, Ginny." His voice was helpless. "That's why Cho and I broke up, because I couldn't explain..."
"Cho and you broke up because she thought you fancied Hermione," Ginny said with a bit of a snort. "Now she might not have been able to see that Hermione fancied Ron - God knows that I had my doubts about that over the years - but if she actually thought that there was something between you two, she really had no business going out with you."
"Ginny, it wasn't just about that," he protested, though she could tell he was trying not to laugh. "I said some things... I could have been more sensitive..."
Ginny gave him a look. "Harry, don't ask me to be nice about Cho Chang, okay? I know she was on our side and she fought with us, but I just can't be fair when it comes to her. End of story."
"Sorry," he said, biting his lip. "She was going out with Michael Corner, wasn't she?"
Ginny gaped at him. "It's nothing to do with Michael Corner, you silly sod! Michael Corner's history! His water is so far under the bridge that he's disappeared around the bend!"
"Oh..." He stared at her. "So..."
"Do you want me to spell it out for you?" she demanded. "Do you actually need me to tell you why I don't want to talk about Cho Chang?"
He frowned. "Because... of me?" he said tentatively, as if she were McGonagall, asking him a particularly difficult Transfiguration question. His face cleared when she didn't answer. "Ginny, Cho and I only had one proper date!"
"Yeah, and I went out with Michael Corner three years ago, but you seem to think that I might be upset over him." She folded her arms, looking at him coolly.
"Ginny, it's only you," he said. "You must know... it's been you for a long time now."
"Which is why you need to at least let me know if you're going to be making a big decision," she replied, trying to smile.
"I'll try," he promised, looking sheepish. "I'll really try."
"Okay, then." She saw an apple dangling just above them, reached up and twisted the stem. It came off easily and she smiled, glancing at him. "Have you told Hermione, yet?"
"Are you kidding?"
They both laughed and he reached up, pulling the branch down so she could test the other apples. "Ginny, I should have told you before telling your mum, but there was no way I was going to tell Hermione without telling you first."
"That's also a 'no', then." She examined the other apples on the branch and shook her head. Harry let it spring back and they moved onto the next one. "I think you'd better be with him when he does."
"Well, actually, I was wondering... we were wondering..." He looked sheepish.
"You'd like me to be there and add my support?" she asked dryly.
"It would help!" he said defensively. "If she knew that you agreed..."
"Support isn't enough, you'll need logic with Hermione. Ron will need even more than that," she added, twisting off two more apples for her collection.
"I did say that," Harry told her. "He said that he'd handle it."
Ginny considered this. "If he doesn't know how to handle her by now, he never will. How are they, anyway?"
"You don't know?"
"The last thing I want to discuss with Hermione is my brother, Harry, come on!"
"Well, the last thing I want to discuss with Ron is Hermione!" he retorted, shaking the branch and scattering leaves all over her. She danced away, laughing, and he lifted his wand, creating leaves and blowing them around her in a sort of funnel.
"Definitely a skill you'll need as an Auror," she teased.
"You can never tell," he replied with a smile, which died as he saw the look on her face. "Ginny...?"
"I was really looking forward... to being at school with you," she said slowly. "To finally being in the same year and... doing all those things you can do at school" She gave him a cheeky smile and was pleased to see his cheeks turn red.
"We'd both be studying for our N.E.W.Ts," he protested.
"So?" She laughed at the look on his face. "It wouldn't matter... not for my job."
"You've already picked something?" His eyes sharpened with interest. "What?"
"Maybe I'll tell you later."
"Ginny!" He lunged forward but she leaped out of his reach, giggling, and he chased her in and out of the trees before she finally let him catch her. They fell on the grass, the apples flying around them. Harry quickly flicked his wand and they hung suspended in the air like baubles on a Christmas tree.
"Nice trick," she said softly and he looked back at her, surprised.
"See, that... that would come in handy as an Auror," she said, sliding her arms around his neck.
"Are you going to tell me about this job that doesn't need N.E.W.Ts?" he asked, raising his eyebrows even as she brought his head down to kiss him.
"Mm... make a guess... show me those deduction skills..."
"Well..." He kissed her neck and smiled at the sharp intake of breath. "Nothing to do with the Ministry."
"And you're not going to be an apprentice apothecary or seamstress or bookseller or anything to do with Diagon Alley, because they need exams to show that you'll work hard and be punctual and all that... boring stuff."
She smiled at him. "Warmer."
"It might be treasure hunting with Gringotts because Bill does it, so you've already got family there, and he told me they don't really care about paperwork. You're brave enough and you have experience breaking into places."
"Thanks!" she exclaimed, trying to look offended but knowing that her cheeks had gone red from the compliments.
"But... I don't think you'd like being away so much from home and I don't think your mum would be pleased with it, either. Plus, you're upset that we won't be together next year, so I don't think a job that takes you all over the world would make you happy, unless I came with you, and I can't really do that as an Auror."
"Oooh, very good, Mr Potter," she said, smirking up at him. "But I will tell you that this job involves some travelling."
"'Some' travelling." He propped himself up on his elbow and gazed down at her. "And this must be something you really enjoy, or you wouldn't even think about choosing it as a career."
"So... putting all that together with what I know of you... it must be something to do with Quidditch."
Her eyes widened and he laughed. "I knew it! Which team, Ginny? No, wait, don't tell me, I can guess that, too: the Harpies."
"And how do you know that?" she asked, folding her arms across her chest and feeling a bit miffed.
"You had a picture of Gwenog Jones in your room last year," he replied with a smile.
"You remember my room that well?"
"I remember what happened in your room that well."
She felt herself blush even harder from the way he was looking at her, but she smiled. "It was meant to be memorable."
"Sometimes, that was all that kept me going."
"One kiss?" she scoffed.
"One kiss from you," he corrected. "I might need another to help me through this next year."
"Oh really?" she said, raising her eyebrows. "Well, I have to warn you now, Mr Potter, I'm not that easy. You have to earn that kiss."
"Oh," he said, looking a bit worried. "How?"
She almost laughed but she knew that would have hurt his feelings. "You're doing pretty well so far, I have to say."
"I am?" He looked around and down at himself, which made it even harder to hold back her laughter.
"Just being you," she said, putting her arms around his neck and kissing him again. She felt him smile as he responded and she knew that it would be all right. The waiting wouldn't be so bad this time, because she knew what was going to happen at the end of it.