CT: Chapter Eleven: At Ron & Hermione’s

It was the first truly nice day all year, so nice that they didn’t even need to bring jackets with them. Harry and Ginny wanted to Apparate but Dudley was having no part of it.

“Can’t we just do that fireplace thing?” he asked, trying to sound casual.

“Apparition is faster,” Harry said. “It only takes a few seconds to get there, and then you’re fine, and not all covered in soot.”

They continued back and forth while Ginny strolled over to the window and stroked the sleeping Hedwig. She didn’t care which way they got to Ron and Hermione’s. Hedwig lifted her head and looked in the direction of Harry and Dudley’s conversation, and hooted softly.

“I know. Men can be so indecisive,” Ginny stated just loud enough for them to hear. She smiled sweetly at them and then turned to look out the window. Down on the street was gathered a crowd several dozen strong. What they were doing down there she couldn’t guess, but it didn’t look like they were going to move anytime soon making Disapparition harder to achieve without notice.

“I think the decision has been made for us,” Ginny said. When Harry asked her what she meant she beckoned him over and showed him the crowd. He swore out of frustration.

“Looks like he’s won this one, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Harry replied in a defeated voice. “You’re lucky there’s a huge crowd of people down there, Dudley. We’re going to have to Floo over after all.”

They sent Dudley first, that way they’d have a better chance of finding him if he got stuck somewhere. Before they followed him Ginny leaned up and gave Harry a kiss.

“What was that for?” he asked.

“Are you complaining?”

“No, I . . . just . . . “ he stated defensively. Ginny couldn’t help but smile.

“Relax. I just wanted to tell you how nice it is to see you and Dudley getting along. I’m so proud of the effort that you’re putting in with him.” She grimaced. It had sounded much better in her head.

“Yeah?” Harry smiled one of his crooked grins, an impish idea beginning to form. He didn’t seem troubled by how corny her words were. “Do I get a prize?”

“You just might,” she replied, deciding to play along. “Bu it’ll have to be later. Ron and Hermione are expecting us and we’ve already send Dudley over.”

“They can wait a half-hour.”

“You’re completely hopeless, Harry,” she replied, laughing. “OK, they can wait a half hour, but you’ll have to explain to Hermione and my brother why we were so late.”

Harry paled.

“All right, we’ll talk about this later then,” he said reaching for a pinch of Floo powder. “You can go first.”

Their arrival at Ron and Hermione’s was without incident. When Harry finally stepped out, his Firebolt in hand, Dudley was sitting at the table, a cup of tea in hand, watching as Hermione show Ginny wedding samples, Ginny was starting to regret agreeing to be Hermione’s maid of honor because she had to pay attention to all this. She really envied Harry, who was here to go flying with Ron and Dudley again. His duties as best man were far fewer than hers. Hermione kept up a stream of dialogue about the decisions that had and had not yet been made, until Harry and Dudley started stifling yawns.

“I’m sorry. You two came here to go flying, didn’t you?” she asked. “You surely don’t want to hear about all of this. Ron?”

Ron, who had been standing back against the counter, said, “we’ll go in a little while. They just got here, Hermione. Give them a chance to get their bearings.”

“They Flooed, they didn’t fly. I think they’re fine. Go, we have some girl stuff to discuss.

To Ginny’s amazement, Ron left, but he did so slowly, and with many looks back at Hermione. Ginny couldn’t believe what she was seeing. He would usually run as fast as he could in the opposite direction when he heard that ‘girl things’ were being discussed.

“What did you do to him?” she asked, impressed that Ron had gained a level of maturity about certain matters.

“Nothing.” Hermione sighed. “He’s been like that for the last few weeks, ever since Justin disappeared.”

“He’s worried?”

“That’s only part of it,” Hermione said, fussing with a sample of different china patterns. “He is worried — don’t tell Harry I said this — he’s scared that this might have some connection to Harry, and if it does and they took Justin because he was Muggle-born —“

“ — That you’ll be in more danger than anyone else,” Ginny finished. It seemed highly improbable that Harry was connected to this case as more than one of the Aurors investigating it. If there was anyone who might be targeted though, it was Harry. Of course, not everything involving dark magic was linked to Harry. Ron should realize that before he started aching like he had.

“You see why I asked you not to say anything to Harry. I don’t think that he would react well if he knew what Ron was thinking. You’re not going to say anything to him, are you?”

Ginny thought about her answer for a minute. Again it wasn’t as simple as she’d like it to be. Harry definitely would not take Ron’s worries well, especially after dealing with Tougas’s accusations. On the other hand, if he knew that it wasn’t just his idiotic supervisor who doubted him, maybe Harry would take these fears seriously and look into it. If he uncovered something that was responsible for saving Hermione’s life he’d forgive Ron. There was always the chance that he’d pull away from everyone again though.

“No, I won’t tell him now, but if it looks like Ron’s right I’m telling him straightaway. Are we agreed on that?”

“Fine,” Hermione said unwillingly.

“Thank you.” Ginny looked at the table covered in samples. They’d better get down to business, she thought. The sooner they delved into these things, the sooner they’d be done. “Should we get started?”

“If I have to look at another one of these things I think I’ll hex someone.” Hermione took the handful of samples from Ginny and threw them back on the table. “Between my mother and yours I’ve spent precious hours arguing over china patterns and flower arrangements. It’s got so I hate coming home already. I’ve told the mothers just to fight amongst themselves and come to me with their final choices, but they insist I need to be there. Honestly, Ginny, I think Ron and I picked the worst time to plan a wedding.”

These were the last sentiments Ginny expected to hear from Hermione, especially given how excited she had been when talking about everything at Christmas. She’d been insufferable during Bill and Fleur’s wedding too.

“You could always elope,” Ginny suggested. She was only half kidding. It had been something she had considered in the past. Her mother was already revolting when she got into full steam about Harry and Ginny getting married. When Ginny was a young girl engaged in her little fantasies about ‘the boy who lived,’ her mother was more than happy to supply her own thoughts about her only daughter’s wedding. Now reality had overtaken fantasy, Ginny knew her mother would be insufferable if she and Harry ever did decide to get married. It would probably be easier on everyone if they eloped. Hermione and Ron didn’t have the same pressure though. Elopement was surely off the table. Except —

“I’ve thought of that but our mothers would murder me, and I think Ron wouldn’t agree. He’s been a little more involved in wedding plans than I thought.”

Ginny had been taking a sip of tea as Hermione talked. At this last statement she choked, spraying tea over several pictures of wedding dresses.

“Sorry,” she said, “but you’re talking about Ron Weasley, right? My brother?”

Hermione nodded. “I was as shocked as you to see he was even staying here. When your mother and mine became frequent visitors I thought he would camp out at Harry’s. He hasn’t openly embraced his interest completely. He tries to act like he doesn’t care, but more than once I’ve seen him flipping through these samples.

Ginny knew she was grinning evilly. She owed Ron for years of joining the twins in their relentless teasing. This seemed just the opportunity to pay him back.

“Don’t be too hard on him.” At least Hermione had the good sense not to ask Ginny to leave Ron totally alone.

“We’ll have to see how he reacts. More tea?”

Ginny got up to prepare more tea. Looking out the window she saw Harry, Ron and Dudley standing out in the backyard. None of them had brooms with them, but they all had their wands out. Seeing this, Ginny leaned closer to the window, looking to see if there was any danger approaching. As she watched she saw Dudley’s wand fly out of his hand and Harry caught it.

“Are they doing stupid aerodynamics on their brooms again?” Hermione asked, coming over and watching as well. They both saw Dudley disarm Ron. “Wow. I never thought I’d see the day.”

“Yeah. Harry told me Dudley can use ‘reparo’ as well. He’s actually been more decent than usual,” Ginny said as an afterthought. She watched as they gave up disarming each other and grabbed their brooms. Harry brushed back his fringe before taking off ahead of the other two.

“Has his scar been doing anything funny over the last few weeks?” Hermione questioned.

“No. Its back to the way its looked for the last few years,” Ginny said, not taking her eyes off Harry and the others as they flew further and further away from the house. When they were out of sight she turned to Hermione. “Have you found out anything else?”

“No. I’ve been looking, but nothing explains why it started to bleed again. When I get some time off I’m going to look harder — maybe ask McGonagall if she’ll let me use the Hogwarts library. I’m sure I’ve read something about the spell that Voldemort used to create the Dark Mark . . . “

“Harry hasn’t got a Dark Mark, Hermione.”

“I know that! But . . . I still have a feeling that there’s some relation there. Some common element in the spell.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Ginny replied. She could have given her sarcastic reply that the commonality was their creator. Somehow she didn’t think that was what Hermione was looking for though. The three brooms were still out of her view so she finished preparing the tea and returned to her seat, as Hermione had already done. “So what are we doing with these samples?”

They spent the next several hours looking over samples for the wedding. Hermione was rejecting each one with an increasing air of impatience and hysteria.

“Relax. We don’t have to decide on everything, let alone anything, today,” Ginny said calmly as Hermione ran her fingers through her bushy hair, looking from one picture to another, a crazed expression in her eyes.

“When then? If not today, when is all this going to be worked out?” She snatched two samples from the table at random. “I don’t know what sort of flower will be in season in August that will match the table settings or the china pattern.”

Ginny felt a sudden urge to laugh. Hermione was never known for her calm manner, but she usually kept it together better than this. The two mothers, Ron, researching reasons for the odd behaviour of Harry’s scar, and her own work had finally caught up with her proving she, too, had a breaking point. Suppressing her laughter, Ginny took matters into her own hands. She vanished the whole lot of samples, including the two that Hermione had been clinging to. Then she refilled the empty cup of tea and poured a small measure of Firewhiskey into it.

“Drink this. You’ll feel better.” Hermione took the cup without question and gulped down half of it straightaway.

“Thank you,” she said a minute later, visibly calmer.

“You’re welcome. I guess that’s going to be my service to you as your maid of honor, keeping you sane.”

Hermione laughed, but agreed that she was probably going to need Ginny’s services again before she and Ron walked down the aisle.

“And I’ll be more than happy to do the same when you and Harry make things official, which should be any day now, right?”

Ginny smiled noncommittally at the inquiring look on Hermione’s face. It was certainly not the first time Hermione had talked to her about it, but Ginny would have sworn this particular inquiry had her mother’s fingerprints all over it.

“I don’t mean to pry — and you can tell me to nose out if you want — but everyone thought you two were going to run off and get married right after you left Hogwarts. Have you two even talked about it yet?”

“Sort of . . . well . . . no. We did talk about moving in — he asked me to — but — “

“Stop.” Hermione’s eyes were wide as she held up her hand. “Harry asked you to move in with him? When did this happen?”

“The night you and Ron told us you were engaged. But —“ she tried to explain and was again interrupted.

“That was almost five months ago and you’re just now telling me? How could you —“

“He only asked me then because he thought it was expected since Ron was leaving,” Ginny replied impatiently, recalling Harry’s botched offer. “He said all the reasons for us not living together had been nullified.”

To Ginny’s annoyance, Hermione smiled.

“I can’t really say I’m surprised. He’s never been known for saying all the right things. You know that. His heart’s in the right place though.”

“Is that supposed to make it better? By that logic he could get away with almost anything because ‘his heart’s in the right place.” Ginny worked very hard to keep her voice in check. She’d come here to help Hermione, not to be interrogated on her relationship with Harry.

“Not at all. I’m just saying maybe you should cut him some slack. He tends to act before he thinks. Kind of like you, don’t you agree?”

“I might be a little hasty,” Ginny conceded, but there are some things that warrant thinking about before you go blurting them out. D’you believe Harry thought anything at all about how it would change things if I was living there full time?”

“Probably not that night, but I know for sure he thought about it before.” Hermione had fully regained her sense of control and was using it to good effect here. Ginny was thoroughly annoyed at her for that. “He’d been thinking about it even before Ron moved into his flat.”

“What?”

“Yes. Before you finished school he spent a lot of time talking to Ron and I about it. He asked us not to say anything to you,” she added before Ginny could ask. “We thought that he was building up his nerve to do it. When we didn’t hear anything we figured he chickened out.”

“So you’re telling me he had over a year to think about this, and he couldn’t come up with anything better?”

Hermione sighed exasperatedly.

“I think he wanted to bring it up many times but he . . . tripped over himself when he finally brought it up.”

“I think he just assumed I’d say yes is more like,” Ginny replied stubbornly.

“I don’t understand why you’re so hesitant to move in with him. You’re staying there ninety-nine percent of the time anyway. Living there full-time wouldn’t be that much different than what you’re doing now. If he did assume that you would say yes, I’d say it’s a fair assumption.

It was a point well made and though she wanted to continue arguing, Ginny couldn’t find a point to counter. In fact, she rather thought that Hermione had made Harry’s argument better than he could have hoped to. Before she and Ron moved to Hogsmeade, Hermione had spent almost all of her time at Harry’s flat despite still officially living with her parents. If anyone knew what they were talking about, it would be her.

Hermione got up and started pulling pots and pans from the cupboards.

“So, can you even tell me why you are so upset at Harry for asking, apart from the manner of his request. Do you not see a future together?”

The clanking of the pots and pans served as a distraction while Ginny thought of what Hermione had asked. The quick answer would be yes. She couldn’t recall a single time in her life when she hadn’t seen a future with Harry. The trouble was that what she saw was quite different from what she had. What they had wasn’t better or worse than what she had spent a lifetime praying for, it was just different.

“You know, now I think about it, there was this time back in our fifth year at Hogwarts. D’you remember that interview Harry gave the Quibbler?”

“Yeah.” Ginny wondered where Hermione was going with this story as she supervised the chopping of the celery.

“We had to meet in the Three Broomsticks because of that horrible Umbridge woman, so Luna and I were waiting with Rita Skeeter for Harry and Cho —“

“I don’t want to hear this,” Ginny grumbled. Hermione shushed her and explained about Harry’s horrible handling of that situation.

“What’s your point, Hermione? I hope its not to illicit sympathy. If Harry hadn’t messed up so royally with Cho, she might be standing here instead of me.”

For some reason this comment amused Hermione. At first Ginny was most displeased with her reaction. However something occurred to her.

“That just proves that things don’t always have to be good to turn out right. Am I hearing you right?” The continued smile on Hermione’s face was all Ginny needed to convince her she had interpreted her amusement correctly.

She’d been set up. Ginny only now realized that she’d walked right into the trap Hermione had set for her. Yet, knowing now that Harry was just naturally tongue-tied made her feel a lot better. Maybe, just maybe, it was time to reconsider Harry’s offer. She would have to think about it a while longer to make sure it was really what she wanted but even in the short time since her conversation with Hermione she liked the idea more.

“I’ll get the guys in,” she offered, seeing someone fly over the house. Getting them down might mean going up after them and Hermione hated to fly.

“Thanks,” Hermione said. “I’ll go see to Dawlish.”

When she stepped outside and looked around Ginny couldn’t see anyone in the sky, even as tiny dots. She shrugged, mounted the broom she had brought out with her and set off in search of her brother, boyfriend and Dudley. It was still relatively light out so it would be easier to spot them.

Ginny found Harry first; he was flying towards her from the direction of the mountains where he had once gone to visit Sirius. He was laughing and spending most of his time looking back at Ron and Dudley who were far behind; one of the many benefits of the Firebolt. Ginny missed the one that she used with the Harpies.

“Whoa,” she called when he was twenty feet from her and showed no signs of slowing down. She surveyed in case he didn’t see her in time. Unfortunately he turned his head just in time and also swerved — in the same direction as Ginny. With an almighty thump they crashed into each other.

“Oomph,” Ginny said, grabbing Harry’s shoulder to steady herself.

“Are you all right?” he asked, putting his arm around her to steady them both.

“Yeah. You need to watch where you’re going though,” she replied, not making any effort to extricate herself.

“Sorry.”

“Its OK. You’re just lucky I don’t have my broom with me. I’d have shown you what that broom can really do.”

“Really?” He was smiling impishly for the second time that day. “I might have to take you up on that challenge.”

“Sure, if you want to embarrass yourself,” she teased.

Ginny thought that Harry was going to challenge her then and there, but Ron and Dudley had caught up.

“Can you ever keep your hands off my sister?” Ron sounded annoyed. “Blimey, we’re a hundred feet in the air.”

“Really?” Ginny asked sarcastically. Then, not quite ready to take the mickey out of Ron over the wedding, she did something of equal measure. She leaned over and kissed Harry.

“Oi,” Ron shouted indignantly.

“You’re the one who reminded me that we hadn’t done that up here yet,” Ginny replied. “Thanks for the suggestion.”

Ron scowled for a minute and then the corners of his lips started to turn upwards, but he fought it.

“You just think you can get away with everything, don’t you?”

“Well, not ever —“

Before Ginny could finish what she was saying, Ron shot at her like a javelin. Had she not still been holding onto Harry she might have been done for. He, thanks to the Firebolt, sped away in a second, dragging Ginny with him. It was an odd sensation, riding a broom but not controlling its movements. Ginny wasn’t sure she liked it. Thankfully they were slowly making their way to the ground.

“We’re not doing that again,” she said when they both dismounted and were firmly planted in Ron and Hermione’s back garden and were waiting for Ron and Dudley to join them.

“What?” Crashing into each other? Because I rather enjoyed that part.” Harry had his arm around her waist and used it to pull her closer. Ginny didn’t mind either. In fact, she thought she could get used to this. She could deal with all that other rubbish by focusing on today and the others like it. Maybe . . .

“What did you and Hermione talk about — do I even want to know?”

“Nothing much. We talked about the wedding. She’s a little stressed out because of it. I think she’s taking a line out of my mother’s book though because she was asking me when we were going to follow suit.”

“Oh?” Harry asked. Ginny felt him tense beside her. It had been a contentious topic between them for months so his reaction was hardly surprising. She decided to change it.

“She also told me that Ron has a certain fondness for wedding plans.” She had to go easy on Ron, not to keep the matter a secret. If she’d wanted Ron to get a proper ribbing for this she’d tell the twins.

“What are you talking about?” Ron asked, coming within earshot. Ginny looked at Harry, who had visibly relaxed and was beginning to smirk. She was sure that he would follow her lead.

“Oh nothing,” she said casually and turned to head back to the house, Harry walking beside her. They walked for a few steps and then she turned back. “I was just telling him what Hermione told me about your interest in wedding plans.”

Ron’s face turned a brilliant shade of pink. She knew that he wasn’t going to let her comment go unpunished so she pulled her wand out. It was lucky she did because she immediately had to block a jelly-legs jinx.

“You’ll have to be a little faster if you want to get her,” Harry said.

Ginny gave Ron her best evil grin. He looked like he was going to try again but after a second he dropped his wand. Ginny knew better than to think that he was quite ready to give up. He’d just put it off until she was least expecting it. She would have to remain on her guard.

When they returned to the house Ron sped up to pass Ginny. He fixed her with the same evil smile she had just given him. Yes, she realized that she couldn’t relax for the tiniest amount of time tonight. Before the night was out he was going to do something that one of them would regret. If it was within her power she was going to make sure that it was something Ron regretted.

Dudley sniffed interestedly at the smell of roast and potatoes that had filled the house since Ginny had left. It seemed everything was nearly ready.

“Dawlish decided to take his dinner in the office,” Hermione said, shaking her head. Then she turned to look at Dudley. “Are you staying for dinner?”

The prospect attracted a bit of interest from Dudley. Before he gave his answer he checked his watch. He gave a comical yelp of surprise before looking up once more and shaking his head. Again she couldn’t be absolutely sure, given how uncertain she’d been about his behaviour lately, but Ginny could have sworn Dudley looked a little paler than he had before. Harry obviously saw it too.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing’s wrong. I just didn’t realize how late it is. I’ve got to meet — “ Dudley pulled his cuff over his watch and shot Harry a significant look. Ginny rather hoped he was going to finish his sentence, but there didn’t seem to be the need.

“Ah,” Harry replied. “Will you be OK to get back by the Floo Network?”

“I think I will.” Dudley was already halfway to the fireplace in the living room as he said these words. With a crackling and then the familiar whoosh he vanished.

“Where’d he have to rush off to so suddenly?” Ron asked as soon as Dudley was out of sight.

“He has some other business tonight,” Harry said evasively.

Apparently Harry hadn’t been any more forthcoming with Ron and Hermione about his newfound understanding with Dudley than he had with Ginny. She could only shrug when they looked at her for answers. All she could say for certain was that he had come home late one Friday evening in a relatively good mood. When Ginny had asked him if there had been a break in the case Harry had said no. He’d just learned that hell might have actually frozen over because Dudley had developed the potential to be a normal human being. When she asked what he meant by that, Harry had told her the most amazing story about his visit to Privet Drive and the conversation he’d had with Dudley. Incredible as that was, it couldn’t really explain what had passed between the two cousins now. Before Ginny could ask Harry to explain further Hermione changed the subject by announcing that dinner was ready.

Their meal was simple: beef roast, potatoes and steamed vegetables, all of which tasted adequate. What was more enjoyable was the conversation. Neither Harry nor Hermione wanted to talk about work and, given how grim things had been at the Ministry, Ginny and Ron could hardly fault them. Two weeks after his disappearance they were still no closer to finding Justin. Naturally their lack of news hadn’t endowed the Aurors or Hermione’s department with good humor.

As a combatant to all the bad news, and stressful things they were enduring at the moment, they tried to make dinner festive. They laughed a great deal. Ginny was a little more restrained than she otherwise might have been. She couldn’t lose control completely because she had to keep her eye on Ron. He, however, was behaving like his usual self. He didn’t appear to have anything up his sleeve. She almost allowed herself to relax and ask why Dawlish had chosen not to eat with them when Ron threw a curve ball at her that made her glad Dawlish wasn’t there after all.

Ron had insisted on discussing Quidditch. Since they were inching ever closer to the finals he was starting to become a man obsessed. The fact that Harry and Hermione weren’t interjecting with anecdotes from work gave him free reign.

“ . . . But if the Tornadoes beat the Wasps that’ll put Portree out of the running. Then you’ll clinch a playoff spot for sure.” He was waving his glass of mead around in the air, spilling it everywhere. Hermione was trying to grab it from him but each time she reached for it Ron would move his hand away. Ginny was finding this scene rather amusing.

“Portree still has to play Puddlemere though. If they lose to Puddlemere, which they’re likely to do —“ Harry started to say, but Hermione’s temper had got the better of her.

“For heaven’s sake, give me that.” She snatched the glass from Ron’s hand and slammed it down on the table. “Look at what you did, Ron.”

“Sorry,” he replied sheepishly, using his wand to clean up the mess.

“You need to be more careful,” she said sternly.

Hermione’s tone of voice and the reaction it elicited from Ron reminded Ginny of her parents. She chanced a glance at Harry, wondering if this is what came of living together. He was watching her, too. The tension that she had felt earlier when she had mentioned Hermione’s comments about marriage had returned. From the tense and confused expression on his face, Ginny knew that Harry was as uncertain about how to react to Ron and Hermione’s spat as she was.

“You were saying, Harry?” Hermione asked, shattering the silence.

“Er . . . “ He looked down at his plate. The jubilant atmosphere they had tried to create had evaporated. Ginny decided to help him out and to try and ease the awkwardness.

“He was just saying that the Cannons will never be in the World Cup no matter how much you try to rearrange wins and losses. If you want to have a team to support, Ron, you should stick with one that has a realistic chance of getting to the finals. One of them happens to employ your only sister.” She paused and assessed the expression on Ron’s face. He didn’t look unduly stressed, so she decided to continue with her plan. “I can’t promise we’ll rearrange the match for your wedding though. It is around the same time, right?”

She’d made a mistake with this last comment. Before she finished speaking a Fred and George-like twinkle came into Ron’s eye.

“No, I don’t think they would change it. But they probably would for you two. So come on, tell us, when’s the big day?” He turned to Harry. “When are you going to make an honest woman out of my sister?”

Ginny ordinarily would have found humor in Ron’s question, but things had been touchy on the future of their relationship for a while now and given how Harry had reacted earlier she wasn’t sure what he would say. Would he get angry? Or sullen? Or would he say nothing at all? She wasn’t sure which would be worse.

Ron’s question was followed by a thick silence, much worse than the one that had accompanied Hermione’s outburst. Harry kept his head down, staring at his plate. Ginny could see that he was feeling extremely uncomfortable. She thought that Ron was going to say something else but he kept quiet, whether on Hermione’s request or not wasn’t entirely certain. In the end all he did was clear his throat.

“I . . . “ Ginny started to say, but she couldn’t think of anything that would restore the lightheartedness again. There wasn’t anything that she could say to Harry in present company. Hermione now knew that Harry had finally followed through on asking her to move in with him, but Ron didn’t. She’d kept that very quiet indeed. With the already strained atmosphere, she wasn’t sure she wanted to push it to breaking point. The fact that Harry, Ron and Hermione had all turned to look at her when she started to speak did nothing to ease her apprehension.

“I was just joking,” Ron said uncertainly. “I — I know there wouldn’t be a chance in hell that they would change the date of the World Cup for a wedding.” His joke fell flat.

“Ha,” Harry said, hollowly. It was this reaction more than his silence that convinced Ginny that his behaviour now was more than just the result of awkwardness at the topic of discussion. This time she had a feeling that it wouldn’t blow over as quickly as it usually did. Their fight from several months ago looked like it was about to be rekindled, and would be bigger than ever.

They ate the rest of their dinner in relative silence as they were all nervous about saying anything. Harry was especially sullen. Seeing his continued lack of involvement in their light conversation was making Ginny feel worse by the second. She really had no idea how to fix things. Even if she were to agree to move in with Harry now, she was sure that this had become a case of too little, too late. This was aside from the fact that she wasn’t entirely certain she wanted to take the next step of moving in with Harry. This dilemma took up most of her attention during the remainder of dinner.

It was a relief when the last morsel of food was cleared from the plates. Ginny offered to clean up so she could have some time to think. She was grateful that Hermione followed Ron and Harry into the sitting room and didn’t insist on staying to talk. She stood and stared out of the window into the darkening back garden, replaying what had gone on this evening, and thinking.

A few hours ago she had been standing in the same spot, not exactly ecstatic, but in a much better place than she was now — which was where exactly? Ginny knew the answer to this question was the key to everything.

The clinking of the dishes became background noise as Ginny leaned on the counter and continued to stare outside. The darkness was ever decreasing her range of vision, and she began to wonder if this wasn’t also true of the solution to her problems with Harry.

“Gin?”

It was Ron. He came slowly into the room, looking guilty. She’d lost the urge to take the mickey out of him.

“You OK?” he asked. When she shrugged he came and leaned against the counter next to her. “You know I was just joking, right? I didn’t mean — I didn’t think he’d react like that.”

“Yes.”

“What happened then?”

Everyone seemed to think that she knew all the intricacies of Harry’s troubles. Ron and Hermione probably had a better understanding of Harry than she did, at least in some respects. Perhaps this was one of the reasons that she felt so annoyed at Ron for his question.

“Why don’t you ask him?” Ginny said curtly.

“He left already.”’

“He did?” Given how he had been reacting since she had told him about Hermione’s comments, Ginny realized her shock was unwarranted. Still, the fact he had left without telling her anything was unlike him. Hard as it was to fathom, it made one thing crystal clear: she had completely underestimated how he must be feeling.

“Yeah. He said to tell you he had to go. I’m sorry. I didn’t think —“

“Its OK, Ron. This has been coming for months.” She patted him on the arm. “I’ve got to go.”

Before she threw the powder into the fireplace, Ginny considered returning to the Burrow and dealing with Harry later. These things were always best dealt with right away though, so she called out her destination as Harry’s flat.

All was quiet when Ginny stepped into the flat. She didn’t think that calling out for Harry would do anything. He’d not seen the need to say goodbye before he left. She wasn’t quite sure if he would stoop to the level of hiding from her, but she wasn’t going to give him the opportunity. After ridding herself of the fine coating of ash that accompanied Floo travel, she headed for the bedroom. As she stepped around the corner caught up in what she was going to say to Harry when she found him she walked into someone. Looking up she was standing right in front of Dudley.

“Sorry,” she said, anxious to get around him. Dudley, however, didn’t move and, what was worse, looked like he was trying to conceal a smile. For the second time in a fortnight she felt chills creep up her spine at the attention he was paying her. She was in the unfortunate situation to have attracted a lot of unwanted attention from the lone surviving Dursley, but this time she was more disturbed than disgusted by it.

“Excuse me,” she said with more emphasis.

“Yeah, sorry.” Dudley backed up, but less than he should have done out of common courtesy. As she was anxious to find Harry, Ginny didn’t want to spend time bickering with his cousin about a few inches. She squeezed by, unable to avoid brushing against him. This simple action, one that had probably occurred hundreds of times with who knew how many people, made her skin crawl. There was something very wrong about this. The cocky way Dudley refused to move . . . that wasn’t the same Dudley who’d been with them this morning. She glared at him before turning into the bedroom to see if Harry was there. Like before she thought Dudley was smiling but when she looked a second time, his face was impassive. This, too, disturbed her.

“Weren’t you meeting someone?” she asked irritably, not looking at him again as she stepped into the bedroom. She waited for the click of the front door to sound before she turned her full attention to the figure lying on the bed — Harry.

“What was that about?” he asked flatly. His tone of indifference irked her.

“I think Dudley might be relapsing,” she replied.

“What d’you mean?” he asked, not as toneless as before, sitting up. “He’s done something?”

“No. . . Not exactly, but . . . its just,” Ginny tried to explain what had been her last couple of experiences with Dudley. She couldn’t quite convey it satisfactorily, or at least Harry didn’t seem to think there was anything to worry about because he lay back down on the bed.

“I think you’re misinterpreting him. He’s not like that anymore. You were right about him trying to change.”

“You weren’t there,” Ginny stated adamantly. “I grant that he has changed in a lot of ways, but no one changes overnight. I get that you’ve embraced his changes, and that’s great, but . . . I think you’ve just gone from one extreme to another, Harry. At first you didn’t want him to stay here because you couldn’t stand the sight of him, and now he can do no wrong?”

“I’m not the one who can’t make up my mind, Ginny,” he said crossly. He stood up and walked past her, leaving the bedroom.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked, following him.

“Have you even made up your mind about why you don’t want to live here?” He folded his arms and waited for Ginny to answer. She, taken aback at the directness of his question, took a minute to answer.

“It just wasn’t the right time. I’ve already told you that. Why are you bringing it up now?”

“Everyone except you seems to think that we’ve moved well beyond the right time. You’ve been staying here for almost three months already. You’re basically living here now. Why —“

“I don’t know, all right,” she cried in frustration. She turned away for a minute, facing the room that Ron had once stayed in. “If we’re asking questions, I have one. Why did Ron’s question upset you so much? It was just a joke.”

Harry didn’t answer this question, instead pacing around the room, running a hand through his hair. She waited for him to speak first, another difficult silence in a night filled with them. Eventually he sat down on the sofa and asked her to join him. She did, watching his face carefully for any sign of what he was going to say next. It had to be something weighty if it necessitated sitting down.

“Where do you see yourself in another five years? Where do you see us?”

“Five years?” This was not what she thought would come out of his mouth. “I don’t know, why?”

“You haven’t thought about it at all?” he asked, disappointedly.

“After everything that happened you know that I like to take things one day at a time,” Ginny said. She’d decided after the situation with Voldemort, when she could see no way out, that she wouldn’t spend time dwelling on what might be, but take full advantage of what the present offered. Harry had agreed with her at one time, but . . .

“There comes a time when you have to stop thinking that way, Gin. I’ve been thinking about us a lot lately and I don’t like that we’re stuck in a rut. Are you really happy not going anywhere?

Ginny had a strange sense that it really should have been she who was asking these questions. Before everything with Voldemort she might have been the one who was asking them, but things had changed. She gave Harry a truthful answer she felt he would not like at all.

“I’m happy with the way things have been for the last few months. We’re still young enough that we don’t need to rush into anything.”

“Five years is hardly rushing things. Things could change tomorrow and I don’t want to regret what we didn’t do. We can’t stay in one place forever.”

Ginny started to feel queasy. She knew that Harry was going to give her some sort of ultimatum. She also knew that she both wanted to hear it and didn’t want to. She’d be forced to make a decision and either start something she wasn’t sure she was ready for, or . . . After everything they’d been through the thought of walking away from everything made it hard to breathe.

“Are you saying that either I tell you what you want to hear — that I’ll move in, or — or its over?” she asked with some difficulty. Harry, too, seemed a bit taken aback by her question, but he didn’t take as long to answer as she did to ask it.

“I’m saying that after all the stuff with Voldemort I wanted to stop putting everything on hold. I can’t keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. You know that you’re a big part of my life, Ginny. It’s not going to work if we want two different things.”

“We want the same things,” she said quickly.

“I’m not so sure.”

“Just because I don’t want to run off and get married tomorrow —“ Ginny started to say, frustrated and upset at this whole conversation.

“I don’t want to do that either. I just want to make sure we’re going somewhere, and in the same direction.” He paused for a minute and stared at her. Ginny wanted to look away but found she couldn’t. She was paralyzed by shock. “Can you at least promise me that you’ll think about what I said?”

She nodded, knowing that she’d have a hard time doing anything else now.

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