Concentrating with all his might, Harry kept his eyes glued
to the willowy back and silver-blonde hair of Fleur Delacour. I must be mad, he
thought ruefully. There can’t be more than a handful of men in the entire world
who would have to force themselves to look at Fleur – to keep from looking at
Of course, it didn’t help that Ginny’s luxuriant red mane
kept intruding into his field of vision, blazing like an insistent beacon, just
beyond the paler flames that were Fleur and her little sister, Gabrielle.
Wrenching his eyes back to the happy bride and groom, Harry
tried to concentrate on the words that the odd, wizened little wizard in the
midnight blue robes was intoning. But that proved no better. Words that only a
few short months ago would have washed over Harry like so much meaningless
babble, words about love and commitment and constancy, suddenly raised a lump
in his throat and cinched his chest with an iron band. Unbidden rose an image
of himself and Ginny, standing as Bill and Fleur were standing now, hands
linked, gazing rapturously into each other’s eyes …
Stop! He commanded himself harshly. You can’t do this. You
can’t go there. You can’t ask her to go there. Besides, the internal scold
continued – perhaps taking its cue from Hermione, who stood by his side,
shooting him covert looks of concern – neither of you is even of age yet.
You’re too young to know what true love means. You’re too young to think about
a lifetime commitment. Hell, you may not have much of a lifetime left to offer
Yeah, argued back a stubborn voice that seemed to emanate
from his gut rather than his brain, but I’m old enough to be the Chosen One,
old enough to have faced Voldemort, old enough to go hunting for him. And it’s
not like she’s just some schoolgirl. She fought with us at the ministry. And if
there’s one thing I know in all the world, other than that I hate Voldemort,
it’s that I …
“Harry?” Hermione’s voice shook him out of his reverie. He
realized with a jolt that the ceremony was over. Bill and Fleur were just
emerging from a rousing kiss, turning to bestow brilliant smiles on the
clapping throng as Mr. Weasley nodded his pleasure and Mrs. Weasley dabbed at
her streaming eyes.
“Harry,” Hermione repeated. “Are you alright?”
“Huh? Oh, sure,” he lied, wrenching his eyes from Ginny’s
face. She was smiling at Bill and Fleur in a way that made her look both
unbelievably beautiful and terribly, terribly sad.
“It’s not too late, Harry,” Hermione ventured in a small
voice, trying to catch his eye.
Angrily, he rounded on her, the words spilling out before he
could stop them.
“No! I can’t drag her where I’m going. I won’t.” He dug
viciously at the grass with his toe. “I thought you, of all people, would
understand. You know what he’s like. You know what we’re up against.”
She regarded him for a moment, her brow furrowed and her lip
trembling. “Yes,” she said. “But, oh Harry, it’s so unfair.”
His laugh was rough, bitter in a way he didn’t like. “Since
when has life -- when it comes to Voldemort -- ever been fair?”
Hermione, looking stung, was, for once, without an answer.
Feeling guilty for his outburst, Harry stared at the ground. The silence
stretched awkwardly until Ron broke away from the family hug-fest that had
enveloped Bill and Fleur and came to slip an arm around Hermione’s waist.
“Well, that was something, wasn’t it,” he said with a grin.
For the merest instant, Hermione looked as though she might
make some tart retort about Ron’s continuing enthusiasm for anything involving
Fleur, but she softened and merely said, “Yes, Ron, it was lovely. I hope
they’ll be very, very happy.” Slipping her arm around him in return, she laid
her cheek lightly against his shoulder.
Another pang went through Harry, causing him to berate
himself afresh. Nothing, nothing could make him happier than the happiness of
his two best friends, he told himself sternly, trying to shake off his envy.
Nothing but …
Against his will, he glanced again at the spot where Ginny
had been. She had vanished, to his mingled relief and disappointment. Crossing
his arms and hugging them to his chest, he wondered how long he needed to hang
around before he could decently sneak off to the solitude of his room. His next
thought was to wonder where the tubs of butterbeer might be.
An hour and a half later, the party was in full swing. Night
had fallen, and the yard was alight with the glow of colored lanterns encircled
by swarms of live fairies. Aware that the butterbeer was in danger of making
him morose, in spite of Fred and George’s non-stop comedy routine, Harry faked
a yawn and murmured something indistinct about turning in. It wasn’t hard to
steal away, really, everybody was having much too good a time to care.
He wondered vaguely where Ron and Hermione had got to. He
hadn’t seen either one of them in ages. Wherever they were, he thought with the
ghost of a smile, he hoped they were enjoying themselves thoroughly.
He was nearly back to the house when Ginny materialized
right in front of him, seemingly out of nowhere. She had changed out of her
filmy gold bridesmaid dress into a pair of jeans and a well worn t-shirt. But a
delicate wreath of fragrant white blossoms still perched in her glorious hair.
She had never looked more beautiful, and every fiber in Harry’s body ached for
“Hi, Harry,” she said seriously.
“Hi, Ginny,” he murmured, wanting to look away but utterly
She bit her lip. “Harry, I want to ask you some things,” she
said, “some things I think I have a right to know. Not just because …” for the
first time, her voice faltered, “ … I … am … was … your girlfriend, but because
I was with you at the ministry. Because we’re on the same side, and I want the
same thing you want – maybe even as much as you want it.”
Torn, unsure what to do, Harry stood in stubborn silence.
She was right, he reflected: He owed her this much at least. But he didn’t know
how long he could look at her, be near her, and keep his resolve.
“Ginny, I …” he muttered.
“Don’t worry,” she said with a twisted little smile. “I
won’t try to seduce you. … Not that I don’t want to,” she continued with a hint
of her old, impish grin. “But, really. I’ll be good.
“I respect you, Harry. I respect what you’ve got to do. I
just want to understand more about what that involves, exactly. I want to know
if there’s any way I can be a part of it. Not necessarily by your side,” she
added hastily, seeing the objection rise in his throat. “But in my own way.”
She paused, frowning at the ground. When she raised her
eyes, he saw a flash of her old, blazing determination, and a hint of defiance,
too. “This is my fight, too, Harry,” she said firmly. “Even if I didn’t have my
own reasons to hate him, it would be my fight now – because of you.” She
squared her shoulders. “Let’s not forget, though, that I have a little score of
my own to settle with Tom Marvolo Riddle. Right?”
Desperately, Harry’s mind searched for an excuse, any
reasonable excuse, to deny her request and flee to his room. He could find
none. “Okay,” he said reluctantly. “I don’t know how well I can explain it, but
Silently, she turned and strode into the deserted house with
him on her heels. Making her way to a remote corner of the darkened living
room, she settled herself on the edge of a faded armchair. He sat facing her on
a battered ottoman, wrapping his arms across his chest once more.
He took a deep breath. “What do you want to know?”
“Well, everything,” she said, “but start with the prophecy.
There actually was a prophecy, wasn’t there?”
And so he told her – about the prophecy, about Snape’s
betrayal of Lily and James, about the horcruxes and his final, disastrous
journey with Dumbledore. About the tasks that lay ahead.
When he got to the part about the fake horcrux and the note
inside it, he looked up to see her frowning slightly, chewing again on her lip.
“What?” he asked.
“That locket – the real one, the one you saw in the memory
about that old lady Voldemort stole it from – what did you say the markings on
it looked like?” As he described again the serpentine “S” that was Salazar
Slytherin’s mark, she shook her head impatiently, as though trying to clear it.
“I’ve seen that somewhere,” she said.
“You can’t have,” Harry said dully. “Voldemort made the
horcrux and hid it in the cave before either you or I were born.”
“I know,” she said, “but it still seems familiar somehow …”
Then, suddenly, she brought her fist down on the arm of her
chair with a vehemence that set her hair dancing. “I hate this,” she said
angrily. “I hate Voldemort. I hate that anyone has to face him, and I
especially hate that it’s you.” Tears spilled from her eyes, but she paid no
“I hate it and …” she laughed ruefully, “Harry, I’m so glad
it’s you. I know you can do it, and I’m so pleased that you’ll get the chance.
I’m proud of you.
“Oh, listen to me,” she said, laughing again. “I’m a
certifiable basket case.”
“Ginny,” he choked, “I … I … I …”
She looked at him straight on, and he knew he didn’t have to
say it. But he drew a great shuddering breath, steadied himself and said very
slowly, very clearly and very deliberately, “Ginny, I love you.”
“And I love you, Harry,” she said with equal seriousness.
“Now, explain to me why I can’t come fight with you, even though Ron and
“I’m not going to be a pain about this,” she assured him,
seeing the recoil in his eyes. “But I want to understand.”
He thought hard for several moments. She watched him,
“Well,” he said at last. “It’s not to protect you – or not
just to protect you. I’ve thought a lot about that.
“I can’t lie; I’d give anything to know that you’re safe.
But the truth is, I don’t have the power to keep you safe, no matter where you
are. And I know I owe it to you to take you seriously as a … what? … a warrior,
I guess, just like Ron and Hermione. And I do. You’ve got more fight in you and
more magic and more guts that either one of them, truth be told.
“So it’s not you I’m trying to protect. It’s me.” He paused
and looked at her to see if any of this was making sense. Her eyes were
narrowed in concentration, and she was nodding ever so slightly.
“If the worst happens, if we’re face-to-face with Voldemort,
and he grabs one of them, and I have to choose between seeing them killed and …
and … failing,” he shuddered involuntarily, “I know I can make the right
choice. It will tear me apart; it will almost kill me; but I can do it. And if
our positions are reversed, I believe they’ll do the same.
“But you,” his voice cracked. “Ginny, much as I would want
to, much as I would know that the future of the whole wizarding world was at
stake, much as I would know that it’s what you would want me to do …” (she
nodded vehemently) “Ginny, I couldn’t. There is no way on this earth I could
sacrifice you. There is no way I could knowingly be responsible for your death.
“Do you understand?”
She didn’t answer immediately. Instead, she pursed her lips,
and he saw her gaze turn inward. He could almost visualize her playing out for
herself the scenario he had traced – her, faced with the decision to sacrifice
Hermione (her face paled) … to sacrifice Ron (she began to tremble) … to
sacrifice him (her eyes closed and she shook her head with a tiny sob).
At that moment, he wanted her with a ferocity that left him
breathless, more than he had ever wanted anything, more than he had imagined it
was possible to want anything.
He wanted her luscious body, wanted to bury himself inside
her, wanted to merge into one ecstatic flesh. But more than that, he wanted to
honor her, give her all of him, heart, mind and soul, wanted to love her down a
long, long parade of years, to have the life with her that his parents should
Somehow, all of that must have showed in his face, because
when she opened her eyes she gasped and raised a hand to her mouth. “Oh,
Harry,” she cried. And suddenly, he was on his knees in front of her, holding
her trembling body to him and stroking her hair.
“Ginny,” he murmured. “Ginny, Ginny …”
They had been that way a long time when a tiny thump and a
suppressed giggle caused him to look up and see Ron and Hermione, sneaking
hand-in-hand down the stairs. They stopped when they saw him, but he didn’t
move. He felt no embarrassment, and neither, apparently, did they, for they
merely gazed for a moment and then moved on, Ron with a faint smirk and
Hermione with a tender smile.
He didn’t want to loose his hold on Ginny, but his knees
were beginning to ache. So at length he stood, pulling her up with him. Then,
in one fluid motion, he swung her into his arms and sat the armchair, settling
her across his lap, where she nestled with her head on his chest. He kissed the
top of her head, but that was all. His desire was keen, but this was not the
time or the place, and he found himself deeply content merely to hold her.
After a while, they began to talk of inconsequential things,
of the wedding and how sweet it was to watch Ron and Hermione acknowledge their
love for one another.
“She deserves a gold medal for patience, that girl,” Ginny
said with a snort. “If I didn’t know Ron was crazy about her, I would advise her
to find someone a bit more in touch with his feelings.”
“Well, you don’t have that much room to talk,” Harry teased.
“I didn’t exactly rush to declare my love, did I?”
“No, and in one way, Hermione’s got it much better than me,”
Ginny said darkly. “She can be with Ron, whatever happens. She doesn’t have to
wait behind …” She broke off contritely, seeing the stricken look on his face.
“It’s okay,” she assured him. “Really. I do understand. I
couldn’t stand by and watch you tortured or killed, either. If it came to you
or the world, I would choose you.”
They started at each other for a long moment.
“And I’m not going to make a big, weepy production of vowing
to wait for you, either,” she said, “because you don’t need that weighing on
your mind. The point is, we understand each other, and even if we can’t be
together physically, we’re about the same business. We’re joined in that way.”
“Right,” croaked Harry, more grateful than he could say.
“Now, about that locket,” she said thoughtfully, “what were
the initials on the note?”
He repeated them to her.
“R.A.B,” she said, twirling a lock of her hair
absentmindedly around her finger and starting to chew on the end. “R.A.B….”