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We Shine Like Stars

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~* James Sirius, enter stage left *~
Time is like a bullet from behind: I run for cover just like you

 

"Where's…" Ginny paused to sip as the water cup bumped her lip again, but then pushed it away with a shaking hand. "Where's Harry?"

Two voices sparred outside the door, one jagged and shouting red, the other black, cold, and smooth. They were still at it, then. Next door down, in Ron's room, if they weren't right outside her bedroom door. She huffed a helpless laugh.

"He hasn't come round yet, love," Molly answered, and twitched her wand at the wall to silence the raging voices. "Ronnie and your father will get him sorted out soon though. You have another sip of this-"

Ginny pushed it away again and grimaced. "I want..." she gasped, and bore down through a brief ripple of cramp. "Tell Snape to-"

"You don't need potions, Ginevra," her mother scolded setting the glass on the old, chipped night table Ginny'd had since she got her own bedroom at the age of five. "I know it's your first, dear, but I've delivered plenty of babies in my time, not counting the ones I bore myself, and I promise you-"

"Mum-"

"Are doing perfectly well on your own, dear!" As usual, Molly just rolled over. "Besides, we can't have potions in your system when you go to nurse the baby, can we? Heaven knows what that would do to-"

"MUM!" Ginny pushed herself up on her hands, wincing as her lower back spasmed and her hips threatened epic revolt.

"Good heavens, lay back down, child! What do you think you're-" Ginny grabbed her mother's hand in both of her own, and squeezed for all she was worth. It was enough to get Molly's attention, at least.

"I don't want potions," Ginny hissed through her teeth, "I want Snape and Luna to come in here and-"

"You don't need any silly snarfle repelling charms either, Ginevra!" Molly gritted, prizing at Ginny's fingers. "I know it's alarming, but the birthing room is no place for spectators!"

"I don't care!" She tried to sound demanding, insistent, not like a whinging, petulant child, damn it! "I want them in-"

Molly's face reddened, while her lips pressed white. "For Merlin's sake, Ginevra Weasley, the birth of your child warrants a bit more dignity than a common carnival side-show!"

"HOW IS THIS DIGNIFIED, MOTHER?!" Pushing back so hard her weighty flop jostled the entire bed, Ginny spread her arms wide, encompassing her swollen, taut belly; her knees pushed up high and lewdly wide; the damp, stinking rags piled on the floor beside the bed, where she could smell that they were stained with more than just blood; the greasy, rank sweat that plastered her copper hair, and clammy nightgown to every inch of skin. "FUCK DIGNITY, AND FUCK POTIONS, AND FUCK NARGLE REPELLING CHARMS TOO!"

"GINEVRA!"

"SHUT UP, MOTHER!" And oh, didn't that feel good! The shock of those words alone was enough to stop the lecture in its tracks, and Ginny didn't hesitate to capitalize on her mother's shock. "It's my first baby, yeah," she panted, pressing down on a rising ache across her belly, "but it's still my baby, and I'll have whoever I want to have in here beside me for this, and I want Luna and Snape-"

"But Harry's the-"

"And if Harry is still busy with his fainting fit," Ginny continued, concentrating fiercely while she mauled the quilt with her other hand, "then Snape can just prop him up in the corner until I'm...bloody... well... DONE! AAAAARRRRRRHHHH!!!!"

The contraction drew her back like a bow -- shoulders and hips pressed hard to the bedding, head craned, fingers clawing.

"Breathe and push, dear, breathe and push." Hands, cool and dry on her belly, pressing down from above. "Fast and shallow, like I told you... that's right..."

The door opened, and stealing a glance past her mother's scowl, Ginny saw Luna on the threshold, bramble leaves poking out of her hair, a smudge of blackberry juice across her nose, and more beautiful than the sun, the moon, and every star in the sky. "Oh good, I made it back in time," Luna said, fidgeting an armful of long, glossy canes through the doorway.

"Miss Love-"

"Mum..." Ginny growled, and planted a foot firmly on her mother's hand when she made to turn from the bed. "I said Luna can come in."

"Oh, I heard you," Luna soothed, and set her strange bundle aside to come and smooth Ginny's hair off her brow. "I think you broke down the muffliato spell."

Ginny huffed a laugh, and caught Luna's fingers in her own. "Gonna break a lot more in a... ah... hah.... a minute if Ha....ahhh! Harry doesn't get his ars-"

"Ginevra! Stop talking, and focus on your breathing!" Molly barked at her, and Ginny had to fight the urge to squirm as she felt an invading finger search about inside. "You've a little while to go yet," Molly announced, withdrawing her hand after a moment, "so you can't go wearing yourself out already."

"I've brought something that will help with that," Luna murmured, slipping her fingers free of Ginny's sweaty grasp and turning back toward the bundle of twigs, wire and crystals. She gave the contraption a shake, and it snapped out into a rickety, but surprisingly symmetrical pyramid. "Just let me put this over the bed, and-"

"Out of the question!" Molly roared, and Ginny couldn't actually blame her. Some of those canes still had really sharp thorns on.

"Oh, but it will balance her earth energies with the solar focus, see?" Luna insisted, poking her wand at a big rock crystal that hung at the apex. "The arithmantic principles of Laetitia amalgamating with Puella in the ascendant position will-"

Fists on her hips, Molly cut her off. "The arithmantic principles don't have to reach past those great, dirty thorns, young lady, so I'll thank you to-"

"HEY!" Ginny called, not so loud as she'd wanted to, thanks to another cramp wringing her diaphragm into a knot, but it did the trick. "Lu-" Oh, but she was going to slap that baby once he came out, she thought, squirming to try and dislodge his head pressing through her bladder, she was going to slap him so hard! "Luna, can you... ah! Can you use that thing on Harry please?" Ginny panted. "I don't think Sna- AH!"

"Oh, Harry's still out cold," Luna answered, a little perplexed. "And anyway, the Professor's taking care of him, and this is configured for-"

"Please, Luna," she pleaded, "Please help him get Harry in here."

Molly huffed. "There really isn't room for-"

Ginny ignored her, gaze locked with Luna's. "Because I really, really, really need..." She gasped, clutched at the sheets, and got ready for another onslaught. "Need to.... oooooh... to kick Harry Potter's ARSE RIGHT NOWWWWWW!!!"

 

~* Brambles, Beginnings, and Nargles *~

 

Ginny was lost.

She had followed the twins through a gap in the fence, because she didn't deserve to have to chase gnomes when it had been stupid Ronnie who put the toad down her dress first, only Mummy hadn't seen him, so it was her who got in trouble. Anyway, she knew Fred and George always had the very best adventures when they slipped off together, and maybe if Ronnie didn't follow this time, and Percy didn't scold, they would let her have an adventure with them too.

Only they hadn't. They had disappeared instead. One moment they had been up ahead on a deer track that wound along the willow stream, and the next… nowhere. Not even up in the trees, which she took care to check, remembering how George always said 'Muggles never think to look up.' Her brothers had disappeared on her. And what was worse, in her search for them she had lost the deer track, the stream, and all notion of which way led to home.

She didn't cry – at least, she didn't cry because she was scared, or anything stupid like that. If she did leak a little bit at the eyes, it was just because she was so angry! Stupid boys, playing stupid tricks like that, when all she wanted was to go along with them! It was mean, was what it was. Mean, and unfair! Why should she always have to get left behind where Mummy could attack with cleaning charms and wet flannels if she so much as got a smudge on her knee? She was as quick as they were, and she could climb way better than any of them, and she was clever and strong too, and all they ever did was treat her like a baby!

Well, she wouldn't cry like one, she decided, and sniffed mightily. She wiped her face with her sleeve, and tried out one of the words that had got George's mouth washed out with soap when Mummy overheard him. It felt good on her tongue, and it eased a little of the tight, hot feeling in her chest, so she picked up a stone, heaved it up the hill into a blackberry copse, and shouted it again.

"BUGGER!"

"Oof!" cried the blackberry copse.

Ginny sat down hard. A moment later, a head of yellow hair appeared through the brambles, one grubby hand clapped to her cheek, where a trickle of blood welled up. Ginny held her breath, but in vain – the girl spotted her at once.

"Did you throw that rock?" the girl's voice was tight, but it sounded more alarmed than angry

"No," Ginny shook her head at once. The girl tilted her head, blue eyes narrowly considering, and Ginny scrambled for a defense. "It was a nargle," she said, and hoped the girl didn't have brothers who blamed their wind on imaginary creatures too. "Didn't you hear it cuss?"

The blue eyes widened, suddenly enthralled. "It was? You saw it?" When Ginny nodded, the girl pushed her way through the tall grass and plunked herself down beside. "Where did it go? What did it look like?"

Ginny sniffed. "Oh, you know. Nargley. It ran off that way when I came up the hill." She pointed in a random direction, and changed the subject. "My name's Ginny Weasley," she said, offering her hand.

The girl took it eagerly and turned it over, examining the lines she found there. Suddenly conscious of the dirt grubbed into the whorls of skin, Ginny thought about pulling away, but a moment later, the girl looked up with a smile so bright and beautiful that it stole Ginny's breath quite away.

"Why so you are," the girl breathed, and threw her arms around Ginny's shoulders in a hug, "Oh, I'm so happy to see you!"

And that was how they began.

That evening, Ginny followed the stream behind the Lovegood's wonderful chesspiece house all the way to the swimming pond behind the Burrow. Her mum had her brothers out calling her name, and searching all of Ginny's old favorite hiding places in the lengthening twilight, but Ginny snuck by them all. She even managed to slither through the fence without tearing her mended shirt, and was the only Weasley there to meet Father as he came home from work.

Even all the tears and tellings-off that followed weren't enough to scrape the shine off that triumph. Once all the shouting and hugging was done and they all sat down to dinner, it was Father who asked her, just as if she was a proper grown up, what had she got up to that day.

Ginny saw the glance the twins gave each other, and she knew they'd given her the slip on purpose. She also saw Mummy glance at the pair and press her lips, and knew that one word from her would have the twins up to their ears in gnomes for the rest of the summer. So she looked to her father, smiled proudly and said, "I went to visit my best friend at the Nargle Patch."

And that was how they began too.

 

~* Playing at Dark Lords *~

 

"ARRGH!" Luna cried, leaping from the lea of the bramble patch with hook-claw fingers bared on either side of her snarling face. "I am the lord of dark and spooky things! I have come to murder your little baby, so you just put him down and back away, Lily Potter!"

Ginny stifled a giggle, but managed to clutch Rags tighter to her breast and back away. "Never!" she cried, trying to shake loose her twig-wand from her sleeve. It was thornier than she'd counted on though, and clung fiercely to the fabric. "I'll die first!"

"Oh, now you're just being silly," Luna countered, and the claws became regular hands as they fell to her hips. "What good would your dying do? I'd only go on to kill the baby afterward anyhow." She tsked and shook her head. "I thought you were meant to be the cleverest witch of your age!"

"I'll..." Ginny hadn't thought of that, and it annoyed her. "Well, I'll just-" she shook her arm fiercely, and in vain, her temper rising as the game went farther and farther awry. "... oh, dash it all, my wand won't come free! You'll be sorry for this, you monster!" she cried, although Luna was looking less and less like a proper monster as each second went by.

"I don't see why," Luna tilted her head and pondered. "Especially since I surely don't know that your little Harry's blanket was made out of Atlantean, hex-proof linen. I don't suppose I'd have cast a curse on him at all if I knew about that."

"Atlantean what?" Ginny blinked, thrown for a moment. "It was?"

"Well, how else could a little baby make a whole Dark Lord disappear? He didn't even have a wand, did he?" When Luna said it that way, it made the whole thing sound a bit rum

"Oh, bother it then," she replied, dropping Rags so she could yank the twig loose with her good hand. It tore a long rent in the thin fabric, and several bloody lines in the skin of her wrist as it came free. Ginny gave up all pretense of the game, and shouted a phrase that Charlie had made her promise faithfully to forget all about, last time he came home from Romania.

"I don't think that's possible, actually," Luna observed, catching Ginny's hand, and pushing back her torn sleeve to lick at the blood-welling cuts.

Hissing at the brief sting, Ginny had to give it up and snicker. "You're mental," she assured her friend as the pink, warm tongue eased the angry red of her scratches. "And you make a rotten Dark Lord, too."

Luna glanced up, unruffled by the judgment. "Well, it was you who said I didn't get to play Lily Potter anymore."

"Because Lily Potter never had a pet Crumble-horned Snordwhack, you big sillyhead!"

"Well of course not! The Snorkack herd would have driven it off straight away. They're very territorial, you know."

And that was how they decided that Beatrice Beauxbatons and Rowena Ravenclaw made a better game than Lily Potter and The Dark Lord. Working out the thee's and thou's and thences went much smoother, and as that summer wore on to autumn, the game evolved to include dragons, broom jousting, witchnapping, blithering humdingers, Quidditch, magic duels with positively wicked new spells, and even one rather dodgy episode of burning at the stake.

It was fun, and it took Ginny's mind off being the only Weasley kid left at home to keep Mum company, but privately she often thought the Lily Potter game would have been even more exciting, if only Luna could have got the details right.

 

~* Gravity Plays Tricks *~

Time is like a liquid in my hands: I swim for dry land just like you

"I am the Evil Lady of Darkness," Luna said, deadly serious and armed with a spoon. "No, you're not to laugh, I'm terribly spooky and dangerous, and I've come to make you eat your brekkie, so let's have no more silliness, and-"

A bang and squeal of laughter followed, then a clatter, and Luna flinched back from an eerily well-aimed wodge of food. Lurking halfway up the stairs, Ginny bit her lip to stifle a giggle of her own.

"What was that, now?" Luna protested, sweeping in with the spoon and ignoring the pinkish stuff crumbling down the side of her face. "Is that any way to treat perfectly good custard, young Mr. Potter?"

Ginny blinked. Custard?

She came down the last few steps. Jamie squealed a cheerful welcome, waving his jam and cake and buttercream-streaked arms in the air and strewing crumbs far and wide. His high chair squeaked on the floorboards with every excited kick. Luna met Ginny's open-mouthed stare with her usual aplomb. "Oh, good morning. We didn't mean to wake you. Do you want tea first, or would you like some breakfast too?"

"It's trifle!" Ginny managed.

Luna eyed the wreckage doubtfully. "Not so much, anymore. Raspberry-cakey-custardish-mush-with-jam, more like. But it's still pretty tasty."

"But it's trifle! Trifle is for pudding, not breakfast!"

Luna set aside the baby spoon and fetched her wand from behind her ear to get the kettle going. "I don't see why it shouldn't be," she observed, kicking a chair back from the table for Ginny. "After all, it's got milk, and eggs, and flour in-"

"And sugar, and loads of butter, and about a gallon of cream, and more sugar, and jam-"

"Jam has fruit in, you know."

"And you can't expect a six month old baby, who only has four teeth anyhow, to eat such things for breakfast, Luna!" Ginny accepted the chair, but reached across to remove the bowl of pudding carnage from Jamie's reach.

"Oh, I wouldn't call it eating, really," Luna grinned as the kettle began to whistle. "More like performance art, with a bit of sculpture thrown in." She peeled a handful of cake out of her hair with a grimace. "Emphasis on 'thrown'." Another swish of her wand had the tea things hopping down from their cupboards and heading for the table in a conga line.

"What's wrong with his usual oat toasties then?" Ginny asked, summoning a flannel from the sink and charming it wet. Jamie babbled a challenge at the approaching cloth, his grubby brow furrowing in worry.

"They were judged unfit," Luna shrugged. Ginny's slippers crunched as she leaned in to scrub at the baby's face, and a glance showed half a box of cereal strewn under the table. With a sigh, Ginny let that go, and prepared to do battle with her son's coating of food.

By the time that skirmish was done, she was more than ready for the tea Luna had fixed her. Jamie, red-faced and still bellowing his protests through a muffling spell, suffered himself to be rescued from his high chair and cuddled close in Luna's lap. The ungrateful little beast seemed to glare at Ginny in reproach as he snuffled against the elegant curve of Luna's collarbone.

"Where's Harry got to this morning?" Ginny asked with a sigh. "He never has trouble getting Jamie to eat his breakfast."

"He looked so awfully tired when we looked in his room; we didn't want to wake him," Luna's lips brushed the baby's ruddy gold fluff as she spoke. "He doesn't seem to be sleeping very well lately."

Ginny sent the rag back to the sink and sighed. "Thanks to Little Bit here, nobody in this house IS sleeping well." Ginny looked up in surprise as Luna's cool fingers wrapped over her own. The blue eyes were wide and quite serious.

"I think it's more than that," she said. "I could hear him pacing up there on the third floor most of the night. Just going back and forth, and forth and back."

"I didn't hear anything…" Luna's thumb stroked over her knuckles, and a shadow of the smile reappeared, an indulgent lip curl that made Ginny blush to remember just what had made her sleep so well. "Anyway, Harry's probably just a bit stressed. He said that work has been-"

"Have you noticed how he hides behind the baby?" Luna asked, and her thumb made another swipe.

"Now that's ridiculous!" Ginny tugged her hand away. "Harry loves his son, Luna, and he's a terrific father! Anyway, you're happy enough to let him take Jamie when we go out, or when you're off to the paper, and I've got an article to write, or a game to go to…" The way Luna was nodding along to each of her points was rather making Ginny suspect that she wasn't exactly carrying the argument.

"He always takes the baby. Always." Luna took a sip of her own tea, gracefully evading a grabbing hand. "When was the last time he went anywhere that wasn't work, or an errand, do you remember?"

"Well, Monday he went to Diagon Al-"

Luna shook her head. "Jamie was out of nappy rash potion," she said. "He just got hung up there by the Shopping Mommies, is all."

"Well, he…"

"No, that night he had to bail George out of gaol doesn't count, because he came straight back afterward."

As if Ginny could forget how Ron had sulked over that! She thought harder, and tried again. "There was the seventh, when…"

"That was the baby's check up at St. Mungo's," Luna countered.

Vexed, Ginny shook her head. "Oh! I remember! Quidditch Trivia Saturday, Mum took Jamie, and we all met up at the Three Broomsticks; Harry came along with us!"

But Luna was shaking her head. "Harry left early, remember?"

Ginny did remember. A headache, Harry'd said, but he'd refused the potion Hermione had offered, and had cried off halfway through the first round -- well before the game was done. "All right, he's been distracted lately by the baby. We all have."

Luna's glance turned reproachful. "You still find time to see your family and friends, though."

Ginny smiled. "Well, aside from the best friends I see every day, I do." She reached across the table and freed Luna's hair from Jamie's grasp, nibbling his chubby knuckles before returning to her point. "But Luna, I can write my articles anywhere, so it isn't hard to meet up with you, or Mum, or Hermione or Hannah and Neville. It's not as if Harry can do his work from a café, or from home. He's stuck over at the Ministry offices all day, and-"

"And when he isn't there?" It wasn't exactly a challenge – for what, from Luna, ever really was? – but Ginny had to resist the urge to bristle at it.

"Harry has his own life, and what he does with it is his affair," she replied. "That's one of the reasons why I said I wouldn't-"

Luna cut her off again, and this time her eyes were stern. "Do you remember that weekend when you were covering the Ireland – Calais game in Cork?" Ginny nodded, and Luna went on. "Your mum and dad took Jamie to the Burrow, and Father and I had a double issue posting that Monday."

"And your press broke down halfway through the run, and you had to dig an old one out of the basement and scavenge it for parts," Ginny replied. "I remember."

"I don't think Harry got out of bed that whole weekend."

Ginny blinked. Luna turned her teacup around and around in its saucer. "Only, I came round looking for Doxycide, and he was wearing the same pajamas as he had on Friday morning, when you left, you see? He hadn't shaved, or washed, and all the hair on one side of his head was rumpled straight up."

"Harry does have some pretty spectacular pillow-head," Ginny chuckled, but Luna's steady, significant look quelled it.

"I came by at six that Sunday evening," she amended. "And from the state Kreacher was in when I arrived, I don't think Harry had eaten anything either."

And to that, Ginny couldn't help but nod. The old House Elf had been in a fouler-than-usual mood after that trip, and had insisted on cooking five courses for every meal for another fortnight thereafter. He'd also taken to banging Harry's plate down on the table whenever he served the young Master of Grimmauld Place.

Ginny's tea was going cold, as was her belly. They'd laughed at Kreacher's attitudes, then, Harry along with them. He hadn't said a thing… but he'd taken care to have Jamie there to make a mess of his own plate after that, hadn't he? How much was he actually eating under cover of letting the baby play with his food?

She chewed a fingernail, remembering the lecture Molly had given her about mending charms after Percy had mentioned that Harry was looking threadbare, mismatched, and scruffy at the office lately. "I'd thought it was just baby-shock," she murmured at last.

Luna nuzzled Jamie's hair again, and now that he was giggling instead of howling, lifted the muffling spell. "I think that made a good cover story," she said, cutting a glance at the cellar door, and the long-disused basement brewery behind it, "for the fact that his heart's been broken-"

But whatever else she had meant to say was cut off in the descending thunder of Harry's feet on the stairs.

"Bugger, bugger, bugger it all, I'm going to be late!" he cried, pausing long enough at the kitchen door to cast a reproachful glare over them both. "Why didn't somebody wake me?"

Ginny opened her mouth to defend herself, but wound up utterly distracted by the bitter chromatic struggle going on between Harry's olive trousers, teal socks, and pine green robe.

"You didn't look very well," Luna put in calmly. "We thought you ought to skive off today and get rested up."

Harry shook his head and swiped his glasses off his face. Smearing the lenses with his robe sleeve, he strode for the front parlour floo. "Can't. I've got a nine o'clock with the Minister and the Import Control Inspector. Shrunken heads coming in with the sugar shipments from the Caribbean, and half of them are cursed with fever hexes, and the other half are stuffed full of…"

Tuning his fading grumble out, Ginny fired off a spell at Harry's retreating back, turning the olive green trousers to a neutral grey. She aimed another after his socks, but couldn't tell if the charm struck its mark before he disappeared through the floo.

It would have to do for now, she supposed.

"Fancy a trip to Hogwarts today?" Luna distracted her from the descending gloom and gathered up her hand for a kiss. "Madam Pomfrey wanted to collect a lock of Jamie's hair for the archives, and I thought we might as well visit the library while we were there."

"The library?" Eyes narrowing, Ginny felt a smile tug at the corner of her mouth. "You have an idea, don't you?"

Luna shrugged and nibbled at a bit of cake that had missed the devastation of Jamie. "I might do…"

 

~* Hallows, Haunts, and Moments of Perspective~

 

Ginny was lost.

Utterly, and completely turned around in the depths of the Forbidden Forest, stumbling, fumbling, and picking her way through tripping roots and snagging branches and shadows so thick no lumos could pierce them. Completely, arse-to-front, turned around, befuddled, lost-the-track-and-ran-out-of-breadcrumbs lost. So lost, that but for her wand and a 'point me' spell, she doubted she'd make it back to Hogwarts in a solid year of wandering. She was also happier than she had been in months.

"It's somewhere over here," Luna's whisper -- near, and low, and beautifully alive, -- summoned Ginny, and as she rounded a vast bole, a gleam of golden hair drew her onward like a will-o-the-wisp. But there was no drowning bog there, no treacherous fall waiting a few steps on, where wandlight couldn't pierce the creeping ground mist. All that waited there was Luna -- real, and whole, unbroken by her captors, and fantastically ridiculous in her owlish goggles and plimpy earrings.

Despite all the night of fire and death had stolen from Ginny, the undreamt-of gift of this friend's return was enough to make her aching heart swell with warmth every time she looked at Luna, and found her still really there. Wholly, beautifully there.

I thought I had lost you too! she did not say as she drew near Luna's side, and, Never, ever frighten me like that again!

Instead, she snickered, and reached to entwine their fingers. "You look like an owl," she said. There were calluses she didn't remember on Luna's hand, scabs and scratches around the knuckles, snags on the low-bitten fingernails. Later. She would ask later. "I can't believe you can see anything at all through those silly things, dark as it is," she said. "You said before that they didn't work."

"They did work, actually," Luna replied, thumb rubbing over Ginny's, "I just wasn't clear on what they precisely did, is all."

"And now, after fighting the battle of the century, you're in the mood to experiment? You do realize this forest is probably still crawling with giants, werewolves, Dementors, great, hairy spiders, centaurs, and probably Death Eaters, don't you?" But Ginny couldn't find any real sarcasm in the words. Luna could have had her hunting Nargles, stealing Quintaped eggs, or braving the depths of Azkaban itself that night, with no more than one dreamy smile and a beckoning hand.

The only things waiting for Ginny at Hogwarts were her family, gripped tight and worn to sleep in their grieving; an infirmary full of the injured and dead who needed help and comfort she didn't have the skills or heart to give; a man she hadn't seen in a year, and who didn't seem much at all like the boy she'd loved before he left; and a bed that had been lonely, comfortless and grim all year long. When, trudging up the stairs to that bed, she had glimpsed Luna, slipping like a wraith across the meadow in the dark of the morning, Ginny had followed without a second thought. Luna held more for her in the pre-dawn chill than anything she could imagine in the castle's half-shattered embrace.

"Thank you for keeping the perspectacles safe for me," Luna said by way of an answer as she led Ginny out from under the looming trees and into a wide clearing. "I was very glad to have them tonight with all the fighting going on."

I was very glad to have you tonight with all the fighting going on, Ginny thought, but hadn't quite the nerve to say aloud. Because if she started saying a thing like that, there would follow a thousand things behind it, all crowded so close and urgent Ginny hardly knew where they would begin, or end. Some scrap of self-knowledge warned against opening that particular door. So soon on the heels of so many deaths, so much fear, confusion and elation; if she should begin to speak, to cry, to put words to the storm behind her ribs, she might shatter entirely -- run mad, and never stop.

So instead, she held her wand aloft, looking around the clearing to which Luna's silly goggles had led them.

The long weeds were trampled, the sod gouged and churned muddy in places. Huge gashes marred the trees on the far side, and some were snapped in two, their shattered stumps up-thrust, pale and shocked in the darkness. A great firepit lay in the center, its smoke a scent-memory as embers cooled to ashes in the pre-dawn damp.

The tingle of fell magic crept up Ginny's spine as Luna drew her nearer to the ashen pit, and she couldn't repress a shudder at the horridly familiar feeling. "He was here, wasn't he?" she whispered, releasing Luna's hand, the better to be on her guard against whatever of the Dark Lord might still lurk nearby. "This must have been where he tried to kill-"

"There it is!" Luna cried, dropping to her knees and digging with both hands in the trampled grass.

"What?" Ginny whispered, dread winding tight in her breast. Oh, they shouldn't be out here… what on earth had made her think this was a good idea?

"Oh, I've found it! Father will be so pleased!" Luna's awed whisper drew Ginny close, but all she could see in the pale palm were a few blades of grass, and a black pebble, cracked across the middle. Behind her goggles though, Luna's eyes were shining with delight.

"Point me Hogwarts…" Ginny ordered her wand, and sighed in relief when it did so. Then she shook her head. "He'll be pleased with a rock?" Ginny caught Luna's wrist, and drew her upright so they could leave. "We didn't have to come all the way out here for a rock when there's hundreds of them out by the lake…"

Luna tsked, but let Ginny lead her out of the eerie glade, and into the shelter of the trees. "It's not just any old rock, silly," she said as she pulled the goggles off, "It's one of the Hallows."

"Hallows?" Ginny glanced back again and shook her head. "You don't mean like the ones from that kids' story, do you?"

"All the best stories have their feet in truth," Luna insisted, pushing the goggles into Ginny's hand. "Like Merlin and the Dragons, you see, or the Wizard Kings and the Magic Child. Just have a look."

Relieved to be putting distance between them and the clearing, Ginny did take the goggles, did slip them on, and did have a look.

Then she stopped walking, and stared.

No wonder Luna hadn't had trouble finding their way! The forest trees were limned in a delicate glow, as though dusted by starlight – dim and faint, but clearer than what wandlight had revealed. Each slope and bulge of the forest floor was similarly sketched-in, game tracks revealed, brambles and blockages and low-snaring branches likewise. Turning, Ginny caught her breath; Luna herself seemed to gently glow against the surrounding gloom, as if she were somehow bathed in a sunbeam that did not touch the forest around her. The stone in her fist glowed more brilliantly still -- beaming streaks of light between Luna's fingers, fierce and white as a captive star.

"I could see it twinkling in the forest from Ravenclaw tower," Luna explained, opening her palm to poke at the stone cradled there. Ginny's eyes watered at the glare, and she turned to the trees' gentle glow while she waited for the spots to fade. "But as we got closer," Luna mused, "it began flickering in and out, fading, sometimes I couldn't see it at all. I suppose all that dark magic back in the clearing was working against its-"

"Shh! What's over there?" Ginny gasped, pointing through the trees, where another light moved, fluid and silvery, but somehow more solid than a ghost.

"I can't see anything," Luna murmured, stepping close and squinting along Ginny's arm.

"Ouch, I can't either, now," Ginny grumbled, pushing back Luna's glowing hand. "Could you put that in your pocket please? I'm sure I saw something moving over there…" But the distant, misty shape swirled and teased, and refused to come clearly into view, however hard Ginny stared. "Come on," she said, and caught Luna's hand again, strangely compelled to follow where the glimmer led.

Thankfully, Luna didn't ask for her goggles back -- Ginny wasn't sure she could have made herself stop staring after that beckoning light long enough to hand them over. Instead, the Ravenclaw followed behind, casting detection charms as Ginny drew her along through the trees. "Not a faerie… not a unicorn… not a glaistig, the moon's already set... not a ghost either, or I'd see it as well…Oh!" Luna stopped abruptly. "Maybe it's Harry!"

"Harry?" Jolted out of her pursuit, Ginny stopped as well. "He's asleep, I'm sure. He went up to Gryffindor tower, ages ago. And anyhow, why on earth would Harry look like that stone of yours does?"

"Because he has one of the Hallows, of course," Luna replied, giving an excited bounce. "The Elder Wand. Didn't you hear him and Voldemort talking about it when they were fighting?"

"I was a bit distracted watching Bellatrix-bloody-Lestrange trying to kill my mother right about then," Ginny grumbled, but started them off after the glow again all the same, because it did look vaguely Harry-sized, and it did move about as fast as a weary but restless hero might do in the bleak, dark hour before dawn. "But if it is Harry, where could he be going?" she wondered as the trees began to give way to forest-edge scrub. "What's out here, except the forest?"

"Maybe something in Hogsmeade," Luna replied, scenting the air. "I think we're nearby. Hogsmeade always smells a bit like coal smoke. And mud. And caramel, sometimes, when Honeydukes opens early, don't you think?"

"The Shrieking Shack!" Ginny blinked with sudden realization as she added up years of Ronnie's 'me and Harry' stories and a scrap of half-noted memory from the earlier battle. "Harry was going on about Snape, wasn't he?" she asked, hurrying after the evasive glow.

"He said Professor Snape was Dumbledore's man all along," Luna answered. "That even when he seemed to be following Voldemort's orders, he never really had been. Not even when he killed the Headmaster. But Hermione said they saw Snape killed-"

"In the Shrieking Shack. I know," Ginny said, pushing the goggles up to her forehead and turning to catch Luna's arm around hers. "That's where Harry's going, I just know it! Come on, let's Apparate!"

"Wait!" Luna jerked back, but only to switch their arms around and curl hers about Ginny's waist. She was warm as she leaned close, and her hair smelled of dust, sweat, and the ghost of lavender soap. Ginny's breath caught guiltily in her throat, even as her heart gave a lurch, and heat coiled between her thighs. Then Luna smiled up at her and said, "Let me do it. So he won't see us."

Ginny could only nod.

And then they were turning in place and pressing breathlessly through nothing. One everlasting moment, while eyes ached, lungs begged, and blood drummed in her ears, and then Ginny gasped in relief as the darkness spat them out.

She landed hands and knees deep in the mildewed remains of a bed. Luna's weight, a second behind hers, punched even more fluff and dust into the air, and it was only disgust that stopped Ginny collapsing entirely into the shredded mattress as a coughing fit overcame her.

"Oh dear," Luna said, catching her arm to pull her out of the tangle, "I forgot the Macrocroskies got to that. Here…" she sketched a spell, and the clinging feathers disappeared from their clothes and skin. Another spell cleared the billowing clouds from the air, so they both could breathe.

Stepping around the collapsed bed, Ginny examined the room with a dark-adapted eye. It was small and stark; plaster crumbled from the walls, paper in long, moldy shreds from the ceiling. Its only window was broken and boarded over, the glass long-since vanished. It was a hopeless little room, and if not for the bed in it, Ginny would not have believed anyone had ever set foot there before that night.

"We're inside, aren't we?" she asked, watching Luna dig her goggles out of the welter of shredded bedding. "We're inside the Shack. How did you-"

"Father and I came here one summer," she answered. "He'd been trying to research the place to write a story about it, but he couldn't find any records of what happened here, or who owned the place, or even the names of anyone who had lived here." She banished the dust from the goggles and looped the strap around her wrist. "So we were going to interview the spectre, you see? Get the story from the source, and all that, but we couldn't ever find it."

"Oh…" Ginny said, reminded abruptly that the Shack's true history was still a secret to some. It seemed rather pointless to keep up the pretense, what with Professor Lupin lying among the fallen in the Great Hall, but it still somehow didn't seem her secret to tell, really.

"I didn't ever mention we came, because it was meant to be a secret until the story came out," Luna explained, her eyes dark and anxious in the gloom. "Father wanted the scoop so badly, and he was so disappointed that the spectre didn't appear. I promised I'd come back and look for it again when I could. There's a chestnut tree just outside this window, the boards are easy to pull out of the way, and it's not a very difficult climb-"

"But easier to Apparate, now you're licensed," Ginny replied, bumping her shoulder as she passed. "Is it safe to walk down from here," she asked, heading for the stairs, "or should we Apparate in…stead?"

Severus Snape lay like a great, dark stain at the bottom of the stairs. Only his face and the hand beside it shone white against the welter of sprawling robes, fanning black hair, and…. Ginny caught a scent, hanging raw, thick and horrible in the still air, and she grimaced as she realized the surface on which Snape lay was probably not some oddly shaped, shiny sort of carpet.

"Oh," Luna said softly as she came abreast and looked over the banister. "He looks so small."

Ginny nodded, glad she hadn't eaten anything since dinner the night before. All the times she'd wished Horrid Old Snape gone, all the just rewards she'd contemplated from the darkest, most hurt places in her heart, she had never… Dementor kissed, the clean end of avada kedavra, even a ragged, hard-fought duel to the bitter end seemed more fitting than what she saw here.

Sometimes, when she'd slip away from Ottery St. Catchpole and wander down near the Muggle houses, Ginny would see animals, killed on the blacktop. Hares, foxes, crows sometimes, and once a hedgehog – all, though, had the same look of blind surprise she could just make out on Snape's craggy features. Wizards didn't die like that. Not as though something huge and merciless had crushed him uncaring – had hardly noticed as it sped on its way.

A wizard like Snape didn't die like that.

Luna's hand touched her elbow, startling her out of her stunned reverie. "Shh," Luna breathed as Ginny turned to speak, "I think I hear something."

Ginny listened, caught the distant scratching noise, and shivered. "Rats?" she wondered and hoped not. Then she remembered the tunnel and grabbed for her wand, casting wordless Silencio and Obfuscatus charms on them both. "It's Harry," she answered the curious look Luna shot her, then aimed a stabilizing spell on the rickety staircase, and tugged her a few steps down to crouch where they could better see the room.

"What's wrong?" Luna asked, confused, as she settled a step above. "If it's just Harry, why are we hiding?"

She didn't know, really, only that there was a certainty in her belly that Harry wouldn't be as relieved to see them as she would be to see him. He wouldn't want her spying on him either, but she hadn't thought of that until it was too late to get away unnoticed. So all she could do was shake her head and tap the goggles questioningly with her wand. Behind the wall downstairs, the sounds were clearer – crawling shuffle giving way to a scraping creak, as though something very heavy was shoving across the floorboards.

Luna passed the goggles over, and Ginny struggled into them, poking herself in the ear before she remembered to put up her wand. The shack looked much like the Forest had, only its outlines and topography were less distinct, less alive than the trees and shrubs had been. Aside from Luna and herself, and the anchor points of her concealment spells, the brightest thing to be seen was the body on the floor, and the pool of blood. Both were limned in ghost-bright silver, as though some measure of power or magic still clung to the lifeless flesh and the blood that it had shed. The glow was fitful though, coruscating over the form like stormlight instead of radiating steadily the way living things seemed to do.

Another wooden screech, and a crate against the far wall was shoved aside to admit a dazzling, misty silver blur. Ginny squinted, resisting the urge to put up her hands and block the glare as it oozed in through a deep crack in the wall. Luna shifted nervously, her knee a warm prod against Ginny's shoulder as she fetched her wand out.

Pulling off the goggles, Ginny slid up next to her, and pulled the girl close, leaning their heads together at the temples so that each could peer through the goggles with one eye. It took a bit of shifting, and the warm, soft press of Luna against her side was hard to ignore in favour of that indistinct shape coiling and swirling across the floor below.

Then there was a rustle and Harry appeared at the bottom of the stairs. Ginny stared at him, the goggles forgotten as she took in his lean, pale face, the lines of bone and muscle plain through his shabby clothes, the long, tangled hair that curled about his collar and jaw. The past year haunted him -- had remade him in ways that Ginny knew she would never fully understand, and for a moment, she was grateful for his having broken her heart before he left that summer. How much more terrible to have to mourn that scarred, sweet boy now, along with all the other noble, beloved dead?

She draped her arm around Luna's shoulder as the girl shivered. Harry's wand hand was clenched at his side, just as dazzling through the goggles as Luna's silly stone had been. When Ginny squinted with only her own eyes, she could make out that he seemed to be holding two wands, one light, and one dark. But he did nothing with them -- he just stood there and stared at the dead man on the floor, wreathed in such a terrible gravity that Ginny had to struggle for breath.

The scrap of sky she could make out between the boarded-over windows had gone pewter. The wind began to rustle in the chestnut tree, and birds awakened to greet the coming day. It might as well have been another world.

Then Harry broke the tableau, giving his head a bracing shake. He took a deep and ragged breath, nudged his glasses aside, and scrubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. Then he knelt down at Snape's side, the bloody mess around his knees unnoticed or unheeded as he conjured a bowl, flannel, and water. He dug an arm under Snape's shoulder and heaved the stiffened body over into his lap, to wash the blood off that ice-pale skin. He smoothed the damp cloth like a caress over Snape's face, gently closing the staring eyes, working down the buttons at his throat and over his chest, to reach the stained flesh beneath.

How much of his blood had Snape's great, heavy robes wicked up? Ginny shuddered, and Luna, still squinting through the goggles, snuggled closer.

"That's the Elder Wand, I'm sure of it," she whispered. Then she flinched and gasped as Harry murmured a spell.

Ginny hurried to look but saw nothing but that the blood had gone. "What?"

"It went back in," Luna replied. "It didn't just fade away, it went back into him! I wonder if he meant to do that?" Then Harry cast another spell, and this time Ginny did see the magic at work. Something clear, and viscous slithered out of the gaping wound at Snape's throat, something that coiled and thrashed in the air, as if it were alive and furious. Then with a twitch of his wands, Harry sent it splashing into the fireplace, and set it alight.

The startling firelight filled the room with colour and shadow; warming Harry's skin to amber and rose, even as it glinted bright and gold in the tear-streaks over his cheeks. Ginny bit her lip, watching Harry's slow, reverent devotions, and wondered if he even realized he was crying. She never had seen it of him before, and though the sight now wrung her heart, there was still an unconscious beauty to the tableau -- Harry's rag wiped, rinsed, wiped again, gently, gracefully mapping Snape's torn throat and still chest, his crooked fingers, his knotted hair, the bony ridges of his face.

"I'll bet you always expected to die here, didn't you?" Harry's voice was low, but clear as he set the rag and pretence aside, and just traced his fingers along Snape's forehead. "This is just the kind of stupid, stupid, unfair thing you always used to smirk at me about, that you should have survived one monster here, only to..." He clenched a fist, and scrubbed fiercely at his face. "Damn it!" Ginny flinched as anger and sorrow seemed to explode from Harry. He shook Snape's shoulder, as if to force him to listen, to answer. "Why couldn't you have told me earlier? At Dean, or... or at Shell Cottage, or... Damn it, you could have sent her to me! After the sword, I would have listened! I would have believed you, and then maybe you wouldn't have had to..."

He paused, sniffed wetly, and laughed. And just like that, the flare of temper was gone, settled into an ironic edge in his voice as he wiped his own hands on the rag and tossed it into the bowl. "I know it was all crap now," he said, his voice contrivedly light. "All that stuff you used to say about me being just like my dad. If it was true... I could have saved you too, like he did. But I wasn't that good, I guess." He shook his head, and his hand came to rest over the blue hollow of Snape's breastbone, almost as if he were hoping to feel a shiver inside. "That's no surprise to either of us, I guess; I never was good enough for you."

Ginny bit her lip, and blinked hard to stop her eyes welling up. It wasn't right, those words from him. When Harry had done so much, fought so long, and sacrificed so much of himself to ransom them all back from-

Luna clutched suddenly at her knee, and shoved the goggles before Ginny's eyes before she could even ask why. "Look!" she whispered, winding her fingers over Ginny's where she held the goggles, and directing her head downward, to where Snape lay in Harry's lap and tenderly stroked the boy's hand.

Wait.

Ginny's breath locked in her throat as she peered over the goggles to be sure the body had not, in fact, moved at all, and then looked through again. Snape was sitting up, turning to face Harry, to trace his silvery, translucent hands over Harry's face, his hair, his bowed shoulders, and corded throat -- never quite touching, but reverently, almost longingly sketching Harry's shape in the air.

"He must be here for Harry," Luna murmured, trembling with excitement. "Otherwise he would have appeared to us when we arrived! Oh, I've never seen a soul-bond haunting before!"

"What?" Ginny almost forgot to keep her voice down.

"Well, you don't think it was Harry that killed him, do you?" Luna answered, distractedly peering through her half of the goggles, and leaning into Ginny. "But his ghost didn't materialize until Harry started to touch him. What else could it be?"

Ginny wasn't sure she wanted to know. But she couldn't stop herself looking back through the goggles; someone had to keep an eye on the slippery bastard if he wasn't even going to die properly!

Harry was turning a small glass bottle in his hand, over and over, so the fire's glow caught like sparks in the chilly silver glow contained within. Snape's ghost glanced once at the bottle, traced a pale hand over it -- or possibly the hand that held it, then seemed to forget all but Harry's face. "Anyway. I brought you these back," Harry said. "Much as I'd like to... well, to use them to try and get to know her a little better, they're your memories, and it... it just doesn't seem right to keep them. Not when they obviously kept you going on all these years since she died." Harry thumbed the cork out of the bottle, and tipping the bright wand in, lifted out a sinuous, glimmering thread. " They're yours. You should have them back"

At that, the ghost finally seemed to waken. The room crackled with a sudden cold, the fire dove low, and Harry yelped as Snape lunged across his own body to catch and Harry's wrist and hold it and the memory thread away from the corpse.

"No, you fool, you'll waste them!"

Harry shocked still, eyes wide, wands gripped in his bloodless fist. Ginny didn't dare breathe in the aching silence that followed. Unheeded, the memory thread slithered back into the bottle with its fellows, then Harry's surprise bloomed into suspicion. "I don't believe it's you," he said, shaking loose. "You wouldn't stay. Why would you stay, once you were free?"

The ghost bared its teeth in a sneer. "To be certain you did not bungle the job, of course!" And it was Snape's voice, though distant, and thin, the wakening wind outside easier to hear. Ginny didn't know why, but her heart was thundering in her chest as Snape's ghost poked Harry in the chest with a translucent finger. "And if you attempt to pour my confidences into an inert pile of rotting meat, I shall be forced to conclude that you truly are the idiot I always accused you of being, despite your decent accounting of yourself last night!"

"You... for me?" Harry stammered, rubbing his chest. He was shaking; Ginny could tell from where she sat. "You watched me?"

"For seven years, now." Harry blushed fiercely, and clenched his eyes tight, making Ginny think incongruously of a little boy, refusing to admit he saw monsters in the dark shadows. "Look at me," Snape urged. This time he caught Harry's wrist gently, as though it were a bird he feared to crush. Had he ever been so gentle with a living thing though? Ginny couldn't imagine it, but couldn't deny what now she saw, either. Snape gave Harry's arm a tug. "Potter. Harry... Look at me."

Slowly, as though compelled to it, Harry did. But once he had, he did not seem able to look away again.

Luna stirred beside her, set the goggles down in her lap, and leaned her head on Ginny's shoulder. "He doesn't seem as unhappy now," she murmured. "Professor Snape was always so frightened before he died. I'm glad he can smile now."

Unable to speak, Ginny only nodded, remembering Snape's careful, taut fury during the past year, and that flash of unfathomable emotion that lit his eyes when he had caught her, Luna, and Neville breaking into his office to try and steal the sword. Death had changed him. But then again, how could it not do?

Harry curled his left hand over Snape's, on his wrist. "You're not a..." his voice shook with emotion. "You're not cold. I can feel you." He took a deep, shuddering breath, and Ginny saw his knuckles pale with a frantic grip. "God! You're not cold!"

"Never cold. Not toward you, no matter how I tried." Snape smirked. "That was most inconvenient at times, in fact."

"Or maybe he's not angry now because he doesn't have the glands for it anymore..." Luna mused. Ginny shushed her with a poke.

"I don't…" Harry shook his head, and the motion carried through him like a sudden, fierce storm. "This shouldn't be all," he said, releasing his grip to gesture at the empty shell that was slipping from his lap. "For you. An end like this… I mean, a hero, sure, but that's hardly fair."

Snape only nodded, and released Harry with a wry smile. "Life is not fair. I see no reason why death ought to be."

"That's no excuse!" Harry cried, "What's the point of all this if not to try and balance the scales? This whole war was meant to be about making things better. Righting the wrongs! Making things fair!" He scraped both hands into his hair, hardly noticing as the wands caught up in a snarl that made Ginny wince to see. "I want to make it fair for you too," Harry said at last, and looked beseechingly into the ghost's silvery face. "Don't you want that too?"

Snape rose -- not particularly standing, for his feet faded into the twilight shadows of the floor, but when he replied, it was from the height he had always commanded. "Perhaps I feel things ended fairly already."

Ginny frowned; even she could tell that was a bollocks answer!

Harry was no more fooled "You're lying," he said. "If you felt that, you'd have got on the train at King's Cross and left for the next great adventure instead of sitting here, talking to someone you've hated for-"

"Feared," Snape said.

"What?"

"Not hated," he said again, his silvery hair drifting weightlessly around his head as he shook it. "Feared. Feared the power your eyes could have had over me, feared you learning of it, using that power against me. In revenge, in cruelty..." his laugh was mirthless, and sent icy shivers down Ginny's back to hear. "Oh, I had a thousand nightmares in your name, Harry Potter, but they were never about hatred."

"Then what are you afraid of now?" Harry's face was intense with challenge, and Ginny knew, just knew she was missing something. Snape didn't answer, merely turned his face into the growing daylight that was creeping like a dream through the ruined shack. The focus of that gaze might have been eternity, but Ginny suspected it was actually Hogwarts.

"I called you a coward once," Harry said, and reached into the corpse's sleeve, to retrieve Snape's wand, which he added to the two already in his right hand. "I was wrong to do that – because I didn't know what courage meant when I said it. I've learned since then." Harry twitched the wands at the body, and levitated it back across his lap, catching the weight gently, steadily, never looking away from the spirit standing outside it.

"Courage isn't not being afraid," he said, "it's going on in spite of that fear. And you've never been a coward. Sir. Won't you let me do this for you?"

Ginny nearly yelped as Luna lurched suddenly to the side, dropping the goggles, and digging frantically in her robe pocket. "What?" she hissed, steadying her friend as the banister shivered under her weight. "Luna, what is it?"

"The stone!" Luna gasped, as she finally wrestled it free. "It's hot!" Her palm was red as she uncurled her fingers, and a second, violent flinch dislodged it entirely. The little black stone dropped to the step, and bounced. One, two, each step seemed to add momentum to its fall. Ginny held her breath and her wand tight, and waited for discovery.

But neither Harry, nor the ghost of Severus Snape seemed to notice the movement, or the sharp toc of stone on old wood, so intent was their regard of each other. The pebble's last bounce landed it in a fold of the corpse's robes, where it might just as well have disappeared. Ginny closed her eyes and prayed it wouldn't set anything on fire.

Then she gathered Luna close and tight, pressed her lips to that sore, reddened palm, as though to block up the enormous, baffling emotion that was welling up inside her. Luna's lips moved, soundless against her brow, and she smoothed her hair again and again, as though Ginny were the one in pain.

"Do what you will," Snape was saying. "I cannot keep you from it now."

Harry tsked, and rolled his eyes. "Look, would you just-" then he stopped himself with a laugh. "You know what? It's okay. You don't have to say it. I want you – I need for you to be alive, and since you aren't calling me every insulting name in the book, I'm going to assume you don't mind the idea of another chance at life all that much." He took a deep breath, and, just like that, said, "So I'm going to bring you back."

Luna's hand halted, pressing against Ginny's skull as if startled.

The ghost broke the tension with a laugh that, oddly, was at once clearer and more genuine than any Ginny had ever imagined Snape giving. "Think you're that good, do you?"

"I think I've still got the Elder Wand," Harry replied, and for a moment, he was again the brilliant, cheeky, cocky boy who had kissed her behind the Quidditch stands. "And I also think that with a wand oriented to you, and another one that's got a phoenix feather core, I could probably cast Ennervate on your body with your spirit energy standing right there. I don't know exactly what will happen, but I rather think the odds favour you waking up with your heart beating." Then that rakish smile faded into a nervous glance through his fringe. "But I'd still like your blessing before I do it."

 

"Idiot boy. With all that at your command, you hardly require my blessing for-"

Harry shrugged. "I still want it. And I want to try again, you and me. Without all... this," his vague arm-wave took in the shack around them, then he jerked a thumb at the tunnel through which he'd come. "-and all that standing in the way and messing things up. I want to try again. But not if you don't."

There was a long moment of silence, in which nothing in the world seemed to breathe. Then the ghost of Severus Snape drew himself up, proud and erect. "I am not a coward," he said, "But I will not allow you to return me to life."

Luna trembled under Ginny's ear, and Ginny herself had to smother a sob against Luna's fingers. In the room below, Harry looked up, stricken. "You won't?" Then he flushed and looked down again. "Of course. You've earned your rest, I guess. Who am I to try and-"

"And still you do not listen," the ghost sneered, sinking to Harry's level, and catching his chin. "You may not return my spirit to that body without first casting suturus on it -- not unless you with to watch me die by exsanguination again!"

Harry's answering laugh was a ragged, shrill thing, with nervy, half-terrified elation lurking beneath it -- Ginny knew, because she would have made just exactly that sound, had Luna not caught her shoulders and tugged her up to look in her eyes. "It's going to be all right," Luna whispered, her eyes aglow in the swelling dawnlight. "It really, really is..."

And then they were kissing, neither of them having moved that Ginny could tell. But the press of lips was a desperate comfort, the clutch of hands settling their curves together like a puzzle, knee between thighs, breasts between breasts, lungs swelling and easing in syncopation, yielding the space between their hearts in perfect balance as their tongues slid and soothed each to each.

There was a sound, something like a groan, something like a wordless plea. There was a glass-sharp crack, and a blast of force roared like a cyclone up the stairs. The whole shack rocked on its foundations. Ginny did not let go, not even when the second crack rang out, and the roaring magic reversed its direction. A dragging force batted them down the stairs, a rolling bundle of elbows, knees, and desperation as the spell-storm blasted into Snape's body, drawing all light, all air, and the whole of the world along with it.

The last thing Ginny knew for certain as the darkness closed over her head, was that Luna hadn't let go -- and neither would she.

 

~* Angels of the Silences *~

 

Sunlight woke her, stroking warm and golden along her cheek, so that she dream-smiled, and took a deep breath, expecting to smell sleep-warmed linen and the ghost of Molly's laundry soap. Instead, her dreams filled with damp leaves, dust, and the soft, woolen rot of timbers long neglected. That, and the parchment-pachouli-and-ginger scent of Luna's skin.

Dreaming shattered, Ginny opened her eyes, and dazzled for a moment at the brilliant gold of the sun. Luna mumbled as Ginny flinched, but cuddled close into the curve of Ginny's body without waking. Her hair tickled Ginny's nose, lit brilliant gold in the same sunlight that heated Ginny's cheek…

Sunlight?

Ginny turned to look behind her and gasped. One whole wall of the shack had collapsed outward, taking a goodly bit of the roof along with it. The staircase on which they had lurked the night before was a twisted ruin, the upper hallway hanging like a lopsided grin out over the remains. Luna's goggles dangled from a spar of wood, both lenses cracked and milky with dust.

Shivering and fully awake now, Ginny sat up, careful not to pull Luna's hair as she took stock. Someone had conjured a mattress beneath them – a new one, not the dusty mess from upstairs, and while there were no sheets or pillows, they had both been covered with a black robe while they slept.

Ginny closed her eyes, took a deep breath to still the nervy trembling in her belly. None of it had been a dream. All of it had been real.

A drift of voices from behind the standing half of the cottage distracted her before she could descend any farther into hysterics. The words were muffled and indistinct, the tones low and intense, but it was clear from the tenor pitch and baritone replies who was out there in the late morning sun.

I won't listen, Ginny told herself sternly as she slipped from the makeshift bed. It isn't my business what they say to each other… Only there was such tension in those voices, and though they weren't actively shouting, how could she possibly forget how horrible Snape had always been to Harry before? And what if Snape had only said what he had when he'd been a ghost in order to get what he wanted? He was a Slytherin, and who knew how far he would go to get his way – it could all have been a lie, and if it was, then Harry would need someone to watch his back now…

And then she found herself at the window, peering through the shattered slats for a glimpse she still was not certain she ought to be stealing. There was Harry, in the dappled shade of the chestnut tree, rubbing the back of his neck, as though he could calm the blush staining his skin. She squinted as his collar shifted. Were those finger-bruises on his neck?

Oh.

Now she was blushing too. And oddly, uncomfortably aroused as the glimpse of Harry's marked throat stirred half-forgotten dreams of two figures moving together in the darkness as though all the parts fit perfectly, of whispers more passionate than screams, of strange scents that tainted the gloom with fear and desperation and raw, animal lust.

Shaking it off, she resolutely turned her attention to Snape, who as usual, had sought the deeper shade, beside the old tree's trunk. "Oh!" she gasped, then clapped a hand over her mouth. His hair! Gone were the ink-black locks, stringy with oil and neglect – Snape's hair had gone shock-white, though it still hung lank and greasy about his face. Even his eyes seemed to have bleached away their intense blackness, though, as he cut a sharp glance at Ginny's lookout, it was clear their power hadn't faded at all.

She eased back from the window, and sternly commanded her knees to behave. She wasn't trying to sneak into Potions class late, she was just looking out for Harry. That was all. She took a deep breath, and looked through again.

"I … I don't really want to. Go, I mean," Harry was saying. "It's going to be a circus, most likely, and I'm… not really used to people much anymore."

Snape's smirk had also survived his brief uncarnation, it seemed. "Then do what needs doing, and leave when you've done. Celebrities may pitch tantrums and storm away when they grow weary of their worshippers, after all."

"I doubt it'll be all that easy though. Especially the Aurors. I doubt there's anybody in the Ministry that's still got any real authority over them. Who they'll listen to, or who can be trusted." Harry grimaced. "I think I'm going to have to talk to the press."

Snape nodded, and brushed irritably at a wispy tickle of hair on his cheek. "I shall be tried in the press no matter what the Auror corp or any provisional government attempts," he said, his strange, pale eyes intent on Harry's fidgeting. "And you ought to remember what the press is like when it goes unfed – if you hope to avoid murdering some reporter or other in the coming weeks, you had better cultivate their good opinion from the start. After you've spoken to the Order, tell Minerva you wish to set up a press meeting, and give her the date. The old busybody will cheerfully hash out the rest."

"It'll still take time…" Harry sighed, and peered away through the trees, to where Hogwarts' Astronomy Tower was only just visible. "I'm af…" He chewed off the words, then glanced at Snape again. "Will you wait? Please? I mean, after everything I can understand why you wouldn't want to, with everything that's happened, and… all that'll probably still happen, but I just… I don't know what to…" a vague wave of his hand took in the shack, and suddenly the blush was back. "do…" he finished lamely.

At that, Snape smiled – a real smile, not twisted with bitterness, or irony-stained. It was a gentle thing, quiet and quick, and so completely new on that face that Ginny could not be certain it had really happened. Then he left the shadows to take hold of Harry's arm.

"Just… whatever else happens, or… doesn't happen… Please be here when I come back?" Harry asked, staring at the white fingers as they curled around his sleeve.

"Look at me," Snape said, and caught his chin. "What you said about courage is true. Whatever else is to come, you will never be able to say that I am a coward." And with that, Snape kissed him.

"Oh dear…" said Luna's mournful voice behind her.

Ginny turned, heart in her mouth, tripping over excuses for her spying, but Luna was on her knees at the edge of the mattress, pieces of broken wood in one hand, and shards of black stone in the other. "They're ruined," she sighed, spreading what was left of the wand and stone on her skirt. "I suppose that spell was just too much…"

Ginny smiled, blinked away the haunting wetness at her eyes, and decided not to mention the ruin of Luna's goggles just yet. "It doesn't matter," she said and knelt to take Luna into her arms and kiss her as soundly as she had been longing to do since the moment she'd caught sight of that curling, golden hair in the Room of Requirement.

Luna made a soft, surprised noise but curled at once into her arms and answered the wordless declaration with equal fervor. When at length they slowed, and finally broke apart enough to sip the air through damp, heated lips, gravity had carried them down to sprawl once more. Ginny half-covered Luna's slighter form, legs entwined, one arm braced to lessen her weight, but still enough to pin her firmly, possessively down.

Luna's hand stroked the small of her back, just where her blouse had pulled loose from her trousers, the contact as reassuring as it was maddeningly erotic. Then Luna smiled, and the sun caught fire in her blue eyes. "You don't have to, you know," she breathed as Ginny leaned down to kiss and lick the hollow of her throat.

"Want to," Ginny mumbled, unwilling to give up the salty skin. "God, I want to…" She pushed Luna's jumper up over her belly, and reached beneath.

"Mmmm, that's nice…" Luna encouraged her with a roll of her hips. "Choose though, I meant -- you don't have to choose. Not right now, at least."

Ginny pulled back, alarmed to feel the blood burn in her cheeks. "I… what?"

Luna gave a smile, knowing, sad, and sweet, and stroked her hair from her brow. "I've shared you with Harry for years now, Ginny. I don't mind it."

Somehow, that didn't help the blush at all. Ginny pushed up to her knees, straightening her clothes with frustrated tugs while she scrambled for the words to explain. "Luna, when I thought I'd lost you..." her voice broke. She swallowed hard and tried again. "When I thought..." Oh, blast it all, why couldn't she get this right?

She wound a fist in her hair, bracing herself with the slight pain. "I love you, all right?" she finally managed. "I didn't realize it because I'm a bit of an idiot about seeing what's been right in front of me all along, but I have!" The words were a revelation to her, even as they spilled from her lips, but her breast rang with the truth of them, and Ginny didn't once think of damming them up, now they'd finally begun to flow. "I don't know when I began to – maybe when you blew up Pluto to keep that Death Eater off me in the Department of Mysteries, or maybe back when we used to play together in the bramble patch, but..." she heaved a great, bracing sigh, and reached for Luna's hand. "I loved you before I knew I did, but I thought I wanted…" Embarassed, she dropped her gaze, watched their entwined fingers while she searched for the words.

"Harry was so…" Brave, lonely, handsome, tragic, noble, all I thought I wanted, But no, none of that was right. She took a deep breath and tried again. "I thought I'd have to be so… perfect to make him… Oh, damn it!" That wasn't right either. It wasn't about Harry! She leaned down close again, and sought Luna's eyes beseechingly. "I always loved you though, and when I thought I'd lost you, it nearly destroyed me. Harry, I think I can do without. You, though…" Again the words failed her, and when Luna gathered her head down to lay on her smooth breast, Ginny yielded to the comfort with gratitude.

"And anyway," she sniffed after a moment, "I'm not sure Harry loves me. Not after all that's happened."

"Hush," Luna commanded and stroked Ginny's hair. "Of course he does. Anyone could see that."

"Unless they saw how he kissed Snape just now." Ginny muttered grudgingly and was immediately ashamed of herself.

"What does that have to do with anything?" protested Luna, releasing Ginny as she pulled back. "They've always cared so much about each other, it's no surprise that there should be love behind it, but why should that change what Harry feels for you? All Harry and Professor Snape really know how to do with each other yet, is to fight, and that's hardly sustainable, is it? Harry will need to love you right now just as much as he'll need to love Snape."

"But that's…" protested Ginny, thinking of her parents's single-minded devotion to each other. "That's not how it's meant to work!"

"It could, though," Luna insisted, sitting up. "Arithmantically, Love is one of the unquantifiables, you know. It has no measure, and no sum, and can only be tracked by its effects on the figures around it. So why should it work any differently when it's people instead of equations? Why should a person's capacity for love be finite at all?" She gestured grandly, warming to her argument in a way Ginny had never seen in the easy-going girl before. "And why should Harry have to choose only one person to love? Why should you? Why should anyone have to shut off love just because it doesn't come from the direction they expect?"

Having no answer to that, Ginny just shook her head.

Luna beamed. "Exactly! You know, I don't think the Professor's all that good at being in love, so I expect he'll probably need some time to get comfortable with it. Harry's going to have so much to set straight now, and there's your family, and my father, and who knows what state the Quibbler will be in now-"

Ginny laughed, and nodded. "Utter chaos. You're right."

"So who says anybody has to decide anything right away?" Luna agreed, as though it were all no more complicated than that. "It's impulsive, jumping to conclusions so quickly; it makes for sloppy research. I think we all need more time to collect and analyze the data before we could possibly make an informed choice on how to proceed."

"You are SUCH a Ravenclaw!" Ginny laughed, uncertain whether she was alarmed by the idea or enthralled by it. Whatever the sudden ferocity in her breast meant, though, Ginny firmly decided it could just wait for her to get around to sorting it out.

"And what does that have to do with anything either?" Luna challenged, locating her wand and tucking it behind her ear.

Ginny kissed her, and murmured, "Everything."

But it was plain the moment had to pass. The day was marching onward, as the sun's angle through the shattered roof proved, and they both knew there would be people worried when they were not where they were expected to be. Luna went first, Apparating to the post owlery in Hogsmeade, so she could let her father know that she was safe. He had, understandably, been more than usually protective of her since Christmas.

Ginny, not yet ready to face down the clamour of her family, lingered behind. For all Luna's optimism, there was one thing, at least, that Ginny knew very well could not be put off – not without growing into something dark, angry, and suspicious. The day was just too bright and beautiful for such a grim neglect as that.

Snape was back under the tree when she made her way out of the Shrieking shack, apparently at ease in a chair that had clearly been transfigured from stray wreckage and fallen branches. His face was turned steadily toward Hogwarts.

Ginny watched him for a long, silent moment, until it occurred to her that he must realize she was there, and most likely, he was waiting to see what she was going to do. Strangely, it was almost kind of charming.

When she did leave the shelter of the eaves and made her way across the rubble, he glanced at her, offered a sober nod, and then went back to his silent reverie.

Not fooled, Ginny conjured a seat for herself beside him. "How are you feeling, Sir?" she asked and sat.

That won another glance, all eyebrow, but after a moment, he answered, "Better than I had any reason to hope. Thank you. Did you..." he gestured vaguely with the hand that had rested on his knee, "sleep well?"

Ginny blushed, and couldn't help giggling. "Yeah. And...thanks. For the bed, I mean. That floor was pretty grotty."

"Potter's idea." He waved the thanks away, and while she didn't believe his demurral, she decided not to call him on it and risk ruining the strange parity between them now.

"You tried to tell me, didn't you?" she ventured after a long moment of watching the birds flit about the chestnut tree's branches. "At New Year's, when you came to the Burrow for me."

His pale eyes cut briefly to her face, then away. "Don't be absurd."

"You did, though. You tried to warn me that he might…" She checked herself, and forced the truth out. "That he was going to die. And you tried to make me pull myself together so when it happened, it wouldn't…" kill me too. The words were too close, still, the shadow of that horrid despair not long-enough banished for her to quite dare speaking of it yet. "You were trying to teach me how to carry on without hope."

He didn't reply for a long time, but Ginny was pretty sure his silence was not a rebuttal. At length, Snape sighed and steepled his fingers under his nose. "Hope is a luxury to which not all of us can afford to become accustomed."

The shame of it, really, was that he was probably right.

"I think I might be able to loan you some," she found herself murmuring, thinking of Luna's calm, blue gaze, and the way she always seemed to see the best way things could possibly work out. After a moment, Snape turned to meet her regard, and though his colourless eyes and hair were still a shock, there was something more open, more honest about his regard, something more frank and level that gave her courage to hold his gaze as she never had done before. "At least," she added, "Until you get used to having your own."

His brow clouded, a gathering of storm as he searched her eyes. But after a moment, he snorted, and the threatening scowl eased into a smirk. "I am glad your eyes are brown, Miss Weasley."

"Oh?" She blinked, and touched her cheek self-consciously. "Er…why?"

"Because if you were to look at me so, with your red hair, and green eyes," he said, still staring as though he meant to look straight through her head, "and say such a thing to me, I believe I should most likely hate you very deeply indeed."

"Oh," she said, pretending those words hadn't sent a chill down her spine. "Are you sure you don't hate me anyway?" she ventured, not because she expected a denial, but because she rather thought she had better know it if she had a true enemy in the man.

 

He snorted and turned back to watch the school's towers again. "No, I do not."

 

"Good," she said. "Because I don't hate you either. Bit of a surprise, really."

 

A sardonic glance; "No doubt." Then he sighed, and stretched out his long legs, propping them on a twist of tree root. "I am inclined, I suspect, to jealousy," he told her. "Whatever else may befall us all now, I doubt my temperament will deviate from its accustomed course. Death does not seem to have changed me all that much." Ginny wasn't sure she agreed with him, but thought she might as well hold her tongue. If he noticed her smile, he didn't comment. "However... it seems I have rather more optimism than usual," he finished. "It is somewhat unsettling."

 

At that, Ginny had to laugh. "Yeah," she agreed and rocked her chair back against the tree. "Harry has that effect on people. He makes them believe in miracles."

 

Snape gave that tiny flash of smile again and said, "I had noticed that, yes." Then his face was serious once again, grim and weary, as though such unaccustomed faith exhausted him.

 

Through the trees, a flicker of red appeared, another, darker flash of movement just by him. Harry, Ginny thought, and her heart gave a lurch of hope.

"He is not alone," Snape's voice was wary, and he gathered his feet under him, as though he meant to leap up and Apparate away at once.

Ginny caught his arm. "It's Ron," she told him and tried to make her smile reassuring. "Look how close behind he's flying. "Ronnie never lets Harry get too far away, if he can help it." She cut a sly look at Snape and released his sleeve as he settled once more. "I should warn you, that's not always easy to deal with."

His snort was eloquent reply, and she supposed, snickering herself, that she ought to be glad he hadn't told her to go teach her gran to suck eggs.

They watched the young men approach in silence for a few moments, then Snape gave a sigh, and turned a level stare on Ginny once again. "Do you believe," he asked her, standing and offering his hand to help her up as well, "-that you can share him with the rest of the world... with me, and not hate me for it? Do you honestly believe this... arrangement your Miss Lovegood has dreamt up can succeed?"

Well… it was pretty clearly something Luna would have thought of, she had to admit. She took his hand and got to her feet, considering. Though they'd not yet spoken of what had happened, what had not, and what it might have meant, Ginny supposed Snape was sharp enough to have gleaned the heart of the matter aright. But how to answer him? Did she know enough to guess? Was hope enough to be going on with? And how deeply could fear undermine it if she didn't watch out? The boys were nearly there, though. They were calling directions to one another over the treetops, and so there was no time to wind the question up into knots. It was nothing that could be discussed in front of Harry, and absolutely not in front of Ron!

Daring and determined, Ginny looped her arm through Snape's, and offered up a weary, but cheeky grin. "It'll take a miracle."

 

~* Harpies, Headlines, and Getting Airborn *~
Time is like a blanket on my face: I try to be here just like you.

 

"Hey Gin," Ron said over the squeal of the workshed door. "I brought you some pudding. It's plum tarts, and I know they're your-"

"Thanks." Ginny snarled, scrubbing at her mud-caked shin pads. "Now go away please."

He didn't, of course. Ginny bit back a curse as he nudged her boots off the end of the bench, and sat down beside her. Then she rubbed the saddle soap in harder, and commenced to ignore him for all she was worth. She was not going to talk about it! She just was not!

"You'll want to eat them before they get cold," he said after a moment.

Ginny flung the rag at the wall and whirled. Ron's gaze didn't flinch as she grabbed the nearest tart from the plate and shoved half of it into her mouth in one go. She nearly choked, eyes watering as the filling scalded her tongue, but she fiercely willed the urge down and chewed it to bits.

"Vere," she mumbled savagely, then shoved the other half into her mouth as well. "Haffy?"

Ron rolled his eyes and set the plate on his knee so he could search his pockets. "Oh, for pity's sake… Here," he said and pushed a handkerchief at her. "There's jam on your nose." Worse yet, he sat there and watched in silence while Ginny scrubbed it, and the aggravating wetness at her eyes, away. She took a long, shuddering breath, trying to cool her singed tongue. She could hear the clank of dishes through the open kitchen window, but the wireless hum nearly drowned it out. Mum was probably still in there, crying under cover of her housekeeping.

Damn it! Ginny sat upright, flipped her hair over her shoulder, and reached for her shinguard again. "You don't have to hover." She tried her best not to sound grudging. "I'm not going to fall apart or anything."

"I know," he said, edging Dad's box of phone and wireless pieces to the edge of the upper bench so he could set the plate aside. "I didn't come to check up on you." At Ginny's disbelieving snort, he spread his hands in emphatic innocence. "I didn't! I know you can take care of yourself. I just came out to tell you; about that contract-"

"Oh, for fuck's sake!" Ginny rounded on him. "Can't you people give it a rest?! It was a stupid idea! It's selfish, and it's childish, and I should grow up and stop playing silly games, and I should have known better than to even bring the stupid bloody contract home with me! I KNOW THAT, ALL RIGHT?!"

"I think you should sign it."

"I KNOW! I BLOODY WELL-" Ginny flung her shinguard at the bench, then stopped, blinking. "Wait. I should? What?"

He grinned at her in just that aggravating way he always used to do whenever he got to go off with Harry and Hermione and leave her behind because she was too little and couldn't keep up, and MERLIN, but she hated that grin. Only there was something different about it this time. Something that stopped her going for her wand and hexing every freckle on his face into flames.

"You ought to sign it," he said again, slower this time. "It's only a reserve position, and the pay's no great shakes, but it's a ground level position on a pro team, Gin! How many seventh year students get an offer like that one?" Wordless and stunned, Ginny nodded and let herself sink down to the bench again. "Sure, it'll be a lot of work," he went on, "and with training camp and away games you'll be gone a lot, but it's no worse than now, with you being away at Hogwarts, is it?"

She shook her head. "Not… not really, I guess. But mum's really-"

He shook his head and caught her hand from its vague wave toward the kitchen. "Gin, don't you remember what she was like the summer after my sixth year? When she did everything except lock me, Harry and Hermione into different trunks to try and keep us under wraps?" She nodded, and by degrees, relaxed her fingers so they curled around his broad, strong Keeper's hand. "You know she gets like this whenever one of us steps outside of her game plan. You're too young to remember the bloody row over Charlie going off to Romania, but I know you recall how she was when Fr-" he swallowed, looked down. "When the twins left Hogwarts early."

Ginny gave his fingers a squeeze but let the slip pass. He was right, after all – the telling off they'd gotten after they'd tried to raid the Prophecy Room at the Ministry of Magic had been epic. "It's not the same though," she ventured after a moment. "She's always let you boys be boys, and she nags you, but she doesn't strangle you the way she-"

"Gin, she had six boys because she wanted you!" Ron said, giving her hand an exasperated shake. "You're her favorite, and you have been since the day the Midwitch told her you were going to be a girl! That kind of thing comes with its downside, yeah, but don't pretend you haven't milked it for all you could get, when it suited you, because I bloody well have watched you do it!" Like when Mum had given Ron ten times worse a twisting over the Ministry thing on account of his having let Ginny come along into harm's way… He didn't need to say it; they both knew what he meant.

"But you just said I should go against all her…" Ginny shook her hand loose and sketched a vague, labyrinthine tangle in the air. "And now you're telling me to suck it up because getting smothered comes with the territory?"

"Pretty much, yeah," he agreed. And damn it all, she couldn't even go off on him, because she knew what he meant by it, and he was sort of right.

She gave her muddy boot a kick and sighed. "And what about Harry?" she asked. Because if they were going to rip the mess open and poke at its guts, then she supposed they'd better do it properly. "Mum's not the only one who expects me to marry him, have babies, a crup, two kneazles, and a white picket fence."

Ron made an extremely rude noise.

"What?" she protested. "Not a week goes by that there isn't some rot or other in the papers, or on the wireless, or pasted in the bloody shop windows, for Merlin's sake! Even Hermione's on me constantly about 'have we set a date yet,' and 'what kind of ring do I want,' and all that rot! And you should see what a circus it turns into whenever Harry and I try to find a moment to ourselves! You'd think we were-"

He stopped her with a hand upraised and a rather dainty wince. "I'd rather not think what you were, if it's all the same," he told her.

She snickered, a little more helplessly than she'd meant to, but it felt good to finally get it out. "Anyway," she went on, "it's not that I don't want to be with Harry. You know that, don't you?"

To her consternation, Ron did not at once agree. "Ginny, you don't know what you want." He forestalled her protest with a hand on her shoulder and a grave look. "Listen to me, okay? Just listen for a moment, because I'm not just in here because you're my sister. Harry's my best mate, and even when he makes me completely mental, I have never, ever wanted to see him get hurt…" he waited for her nod, and once Ginny grudgingly gave it, went on.

"You don't know what you want, because you can't know what you want, because Mum's still trying to yank you into line whenever you try and figure it out. And Harry doesn't know what he wants either, because ever since he came to school, he's had to be, and do, whatever the rest of the world wanted him to, see?"

"Well yes, but we waited for each other all last year!"

"And now both of you want something to show for all the waiting," he agreed. "I can understand that, but here's the thing, Gin: it isn't just you two, is it?"

And there, of course, Ginny had to look away.

"Luna fits into it somehow, and no, I don't want you to tell me just exactly how, because that isn't my business, and I am absolutely not going to imagine my baby sister getting up to mischief with a skinny blonde- OW!"

"Enough of that, if you please," Ginny said as he rubbed his shin. "Luna has plenty of curves, she just doesn't much like tight clothing." It really was kind of fun to watch him turn colours when she said such things.

"As I was saying before you so rudely tried to break my leg," Ron soldiered on, "Luna's a factor, and to be honest, even if Snape had really died in the shack, I still don't think Harry would have… well… you see… Harry's not quite as as…" he looked down, and rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, let's just say you learn a lot about a bloke when you share a dorm room and showers with him for six years, if you follow?"

Ginny thought about the hectic flush of skin revealed in the glittering twilight; hair like pouring ink, like hoarfrost knotted tight around white knuckles, fiercely gripping; gasping, half-worded pleas, in a gloom that smelled of time inexorable; the desperate, beatific look Harry had turned to sky after Snape's lips had drifted away from his. The memory came with a pang of longing, envy, and strangely, pride as well, that a boy who loved her – really loved her, -- could still be free to find such joy in her sight. Could still want to reach for her when morning came, and sunlight replaced the silver beams across his face.

Well… what could she do, but nod?

"Sorry, Gin," Misreading her expression, Ron tried to be comforting. "It's really nothing against you, but it was pretty obvious to me from as far back as fourth year. I think if Diggory or Oliver Wood had crooked a finger at Harry back then, you might not have got your chance at all."

She huffed a laugh. "That just proves he fancies Quidditch players!" But then, in the spirit of honesty, she had to add, "And greasy, sarcastic bastards."

Beside her, Ron sighed and shook his head. "I know. It's bizarre, but… well, that's why I think you and Harry need to have some time, and some space, before you let the whole world turn your lives into some kind of a public franchise, you know?"

Ginny gave him a sidelong look. "Your girlfriend doesn't seem to hold to that line of reasoning," she observed. "What am I meant to tell her when she starts nifflering after me?"

He shrugged. "Get her talking about arithmancy. That always works for me. By the time she winds down it'll be either dinner time, or bedtime, and either way, she'll have forgot what she got wound up over in the first place."

"Or I could get her complaining about you," Ginny answered with a laugh. "She can go on just as long with that yarn, after all."

Ron's answering grin was not the least bit ashamed. "She'll come around eventually, just like Mum will. Hermione doesn't much like to be wrong, but it's got to happen sometime or other. Kind of like me being right, huh?" He reached out, and pulled Ginny sidelong into a bony, awkward, brotherly smotherly hug that bobbled her head from side to side on her shoulders. It was hard, dizzying, perfect, and over as soon as it had begun.

"It's your life, Gin," Ron told her, standing before she'd recovered herself enough to elbow him a good one in the ribs. "It's not Mum's or Dad's, it's not Snape's or Lovegood's, it's not Hermione's, it's not some reporter's, and it's not even Harry's. It's yours. You should live it for a while before you go tie it down to somebody else's idea of what ought to be done."

"Even if it's Harry's?"

"Especially if it's Harry's. He gets the stupidest ideas sometimes!" Then Ron stole one of her tarts, tipped her a wink, and left Ginny to get on with cleaning her gear.

And for once, Ginny felt no urge, as he walked away, to add any final words. For once Stinky Ronnie had her dead to rights.

 

~* Gargoyles, Goggles, and Dancing Shoes *~

"Who do you think he'll ask to the ball?" Ginny mused, chin in hand, elbow resting on the gargoyle's broken horn.

"Hmm?" Luna, who had been examining the clouds through a pair of goggles she had transfigured from a rose quartz sphere, (Ginny suspected Professor Trelawney would be wondering where it had got to, but she wasn't about to accuse) rolled over, peering to follow the line of Ginny's gaze. Harry was in the fountain court, tense and handsome as he faced down the Hufflepuff champion and a crowd of his housemates.

"Oh, probably Chang," Luna shrugged, then turned to peer at a scrap of lichen just by her fingers. "They are dating, you know."

Ice water in her face couldn't have shocked Ginny more. Harry, dating that skinny, snotty little know-it-all, Chang? Impossible! She was on the point of saying so, when the brunette herself appeared in the courtyard, all smiles, and why should she not be if she was dating Harry Potter! Feeling a little sick, and a lot as though she might cry, Ginny pushed off the gargoyle and reached for her broom.

"Oh, you meant Harry Potter, didn't you?" Luna's calm, unaccusing voice pulled her tantrum up short. She hadn't moved from her sprawl along the rainspout's wings, but her attention seemed to have wandered away from the lichen and fixed on the courtyard at last.

Ginny grit her teeth. "Of course I meant-" She blinked, then blushed as Chang stood up on tiptoe next to Diggory, kissing his cheek while Harry turned away. Oh. Oops. She settled back down again and tried not to be unnerved by how the pink, bulging goggles made Luna's eyes seem like runny eggs with lavender and black yolks. "So who do you think Harry Potter will ask to the Yule Ball?" she clarified.

Luna shrugged but didn't look down. Her wide, strange eyes were fixed on Ginny's hair with an intensity that was even more alarming than Luna's usual mild strangeness. Slowly, carefully, Luna put out a hand toward Ginny's shoulder, as though she meant to catch a butterfly unawares, though a furtive glance showed Ginny only her own hair, spun out over her jumper in a great, ginger drift. Then Luna's fingertip skated the air just above the strands, so close, so careful that Ginny was hard pressed to quell the urge to shiver. It almost tickled.

"What are you doing?" she managed to ask.

"You're…" those fingers, pale with the cold and height, made another pass, this time just grazing Ginny's brow, catching and smoothing a few strands. "It's so beautiful," Luna murmured, "The colour in this light. I don't know what to call it-"

Blushing, but pleased, Ginny flipped the mess back and grinned. "Red, Lovegood, it's called 'Red'. You must've breathed in too much of Trelawney's 'special' incense when you nicked that scrying ball!

"Her balls never work," Luna replied, still distracted, even when Ginny snorted at the joke. "I made these perspectacles from an orb Papa sent me. It's from Atlantis… or maybe Mexico, I forget which. He says he thinks the mineral might have the ability to reveal magical anotheryms and paradoxical metaforms."

"Metaforms, huh?" Ginny smirked, and chewed a calloused thumb as she watched Diggory call after Harry then jog away from his girlfriend to stop him just shy of the corridor. "They easier to spot than Nargles, then?"

"Course not, silly," Luna replied, moving the goggles to her hairline, like a headband made of leather and pink glass. "You can't see Nargles at all. That's the point of them." She smiled so broadly at Ginny's answering giggle, that it was hard to tell whether the retort had been serious at all – but then again, it was often hard to tell that with Luna.

"But they might reveal Hallows with the right enchantment, and anyway, I doubt Harry's thought about it much," she went on.

"What, Nargles?"

"No, silly. The Yule Ball." A pale, graceful hand waved at the courtyard below, where Harry was turning away from his conversation with Diggory. "He doesn't seem much like the dancing sort to me."

Now she gave it some thought, Ginny had to admit that Harry didn't. She'd been acting just like a silly girly girl again, thinking it. Harry Potter had much more important things to think about. Things like the Triwizard tests, and Death Eaters, and beastly old Snape's beastly old temper. Why would he care a bit for the grotty old dance, or a girl who wasn't even in his same year, and who he probably never thought of except when he tripped over her books in the common room…

She dropped her chin back into her hand, utterly bored with the Hufflepuffs and lone Ravenclaw that remained in the courtyard. "Neville Longbottom asked me to go," she said. "He's in Harry's year, you know."

"Oh yes! I was admiring his puffapods in Herbology," Luna replied, her voice catching a little as she rolled back over and pulled her rose coloured goggles down over her eyes. "What did you tell him?"

"Told him I didn't know." Ginny admitted, squirming a little at the memory of how he'd tried not to look disappointed. "But I suppose I should tell him yes. I mean, it's not like any other boy is likely to ask me…"

She heard Luna's hair rustle and decided not to look over. Guilt and disappointment were bad enough without the disturbing, wobbly egg eyes on top of it. After a long moment though, she felt Luna's fingers brush her forehead again, and she smiled, relaxing into the touch that was so freely offered by her strange, fey friend.

"Nobody's asked me, either," Luna said eventually, "but that's all right. I'm sure there'll be other balls for us both."

 

 

~* Apples, Pears, and Girls Worth Watching *~

 

"B…C…D…" Stem pinched tight in two fingers, Ginny twisted the apple slowly, carefully with the other hand. (Last until H,) she commanded the stem, (don't you break early too!) "E…F…" Excited now, she shifted her grip farther around, straining to make this twist a really, really big one. "H!" she declared triumphantly, though she had to give the tight-bound stem a yank to get it to pop free. "I'll marry a man whose name begins with H!"

But Luna didn't answer, nor did she look round when Ginny jostled her arm. "Hey," she complained, giving another nudge, "you spot a Nargle then?"

"I don't think so," Luna mused, leaning back to peer down over the top stair perch as it swiveled through the empty air from the East gallery to the South. Alarmed, Ginny let go her apple stem and caught the back of her friend's robe, along with a handful of curling yellow hair -- hopefully enough to forestall a tumble to the hallway five floors below. But Luna noticed neither the grip nor the block of granite that would soon be where her head was and kept leaning farther and farther to keep her target in view. Ginny was bracing herself to yank when Luna sat upright, flushed, rumpled and pink, grabbed Ginny's elbow, and whispered, "Come on!"

Ginny let herself be swept along with the mysterious vision, stemless apple forgotten in her hand as they ran headlong toward the trophy room. Luna ducked behind the door as they drew near and pressed warm fingers to Ginny's lips when she caught up and opened them to ask why.

"They're back again," she leaned close, her whisper soft as a sugar quill. "They went into the fountain courtyard!"

"Who did?" Ginny laughed and let her friend lead her into the stuffy close between the heavy drapes and the wall.

 

"Them…" Luna replied, leaning into the window alcove and peering down. So of course, Ginny had to look too. Then she squinted her eyes and looked harder. Two of the Beauxbatons girls were perched side by side on the fountain's ledge, leaning close, and smiling as though they shared a secret. One was tall, with grey eyes, creamy skin, and faun brown hair swept up in a clip with an elegance that made Ginny want to grind her teeth. The other was petite and blonde, her eyes wide and blue, her face sweetly perfect as any china doll's, but with a curvy figure that Ginny just knew she herself would never have.

Petals from the pear tree drifted around them in the lazy breeze, and the blonde said something that made the brunette blush and laugh.

"So what?" Ginny cut a glance at Luna, who was staring raptly down at the pair. "They got grunyips infesting their pointy hats or something?"

Luna didn't so much as glance away. "I don't think so. Grunyips rarely appear in temperatures above freezing and never in the sunlight." She stretched over the casement to flip the catch over and push the window open. Suddenly the sound of laughter and the scent of pear blossoms was all around them. "Anyway, they don't seem the grunyip type."

Ginny sighed and chewed a hangnail. The blonde was plucking something off the other girl's collar. "Well, then why are we…" the question went dry and stuck to her tongue as the brunette's blouse fell suddenly open, revealing delicate lace over modest, but well-shaped breasts. She grasped her classmate's face in both hands and pulled the blonde up to her for what looked like a ravaging kiss.

There was something in Ginny that knew she shouldn't be watching this. It was private, the way the cool, pale thigh peeked out from under that skirt as a hand searched beneath it; the way long fingers clasped in sleek hair, and pulled the arrangement awry; the way rouged lips caught and smeared against each other, and varnished nails dragged lacy underthings out of the way. But there was another part of her that, just like Luna, was leaning over as far as she could – much farther than was either prudent or safe, most likely, -- to keep the pair in sight.

The brunette slipped from the wall, pressing her friend's knees apart to kneel between them. Both hands disappeared into the shadowed space beneath the blonde's skirt, and then the china-doll girl threw back her head and made a sound that was halfway between a sob and a yelp. Ginny felt Luna's startled twitch beside her. For a moment, they shared a startled glance, trying not to giggle aloud, then the blonde girl made that noise again – urgent, desperate, almost like she was hurt, but not as though she wanted the other to stop, -- and they had to look.

The brunette, hair fallen down in ringlets over her smooth shoulders, had burrowed her face between the blonde's thighs and was… doing something there. Something that made the fair girl's pale skin flush hectic and pink from her slender throat, to her rosy, peaked nipples. Ginny couldn't remember seeing any girl's nipples except her own. Her knees were pink as well, curling tightly around the brunette's chest, one shoe adrift in the grass, one stocking slipped free of its garter, to sag in shimmering disarray around the girl's ankle.

Ginny felt Luna's fingers entwine with hers on the windowsill and remembered to breathe. The blonde, gasping and shaking, was leaning so far back, her hair trailed in the fountain – perhaps the other girl's grip on her waist was the only thing keeping her from tumbling right in. Luna's breath stirred fast against Ginny's cheek, the smell of pear blossoms mingling madly with the warm, musky smell of soap, skin, and apples… and another scent as well, spicy, salty, strangely buttery and smooth… perhaps Luna's plimpy earrings were going off…

She leaned closer to sniff, and Luna turned with a gasp, her chin just grazing Ginny's lips as she jerked back out of the way. Not too far though, for their fingers were still tangled sweatily on the window, legs pressed knee to thigh, skirts bunched in between, so she could feel the other girl trembling just the tiniest bit. Or maybe it was her, because Luna was smiling, blinking her summery eyes as though sleepy, not frightened, and so perhaps it was only Ginny's heart that was hammering louder than thunder in her breast.

Outside, a girl wailed something in French. Inside, Ginny held her breath, and tried not to think too hard about not bumping her nose into Luna's. Maybe if she just leaned her head a bit to the side…

The trophy room door slammed open, rattling glass in all the casements. Ginny couldn't choke back a panicked yelp as she tore loose and scrambled for distance.

"-bloody detention for it!" Ron's voice, unmistakable in full rant, echoed off the stones. The window, unsupported, bounced closed as Ginny whirled to put the wall to her back. "And on a Saturday, as well, the greasy bas-"

"Ronald!" Hermione scolded, bustling in behind him, hair a riot and arms full of books. "You just can't talk that way to a professor, and not be – Ginny!"

"What?" Ron said it at the same time she did, but he sounded more confused, and less like he'd been kicked in the knee. "What does Ginny have to do with – Ginny!" he glared as he suddenly spotted her. "Hey, what are you doing spying on me, runt?"

There. Perfect. A flush of anger was just the thing to get her feet square on the ground. Ginny flipped her hair over her shoulder and crossed her arms. "Spy on you? You're not that interesting, Ronnie. Anyhow, I was here first, so why don't you just shove off?"

"Oi!" Ron whirled on her, and in a moment, it would have been on – wands rather than fists, not because Ginny couldn't dish it, but because Mum had had a closed-door telling off with Ron the last time they'd got caught grappling in the field behind the Burrow, and he hadn't been able to look Ginny in the face for a week after. But then Miss Hermione Busybody put herself square between, and tsked at them both.

"Ron, you don't have time for this," she said, shifting her books to one hip, to point him back the way they'd come. "If you want to get your lunch before detention, you'd best get to the Great Hall now, don't you think?"

He sneered, and Ginny seriously thought of telling him how much he looked like Snape when he made that face, but a sharp glance from Hermione made her think better of it. She didn't want a telling-off either. Then Ron stormed off, muttering, and Hermione's face went all motherly-patient as she turned back from watching him go. Ginny just knew what was coming next – could practically recite it all along with her, from the dozens of times she'd heard it from Mum. Just try harder to get along, why don't you? You needn't goad him, you know, you know, you know how hard it is for your brothers, your father works so hard, expect more from our young lady, blah de blah de blah.

So she did what always worked with Mum: distraction.

She put on her best guileless smile and tried not to glance at Luna's curious stare from around the draperies. "Say, Hermione, d'you think you could help me with my History of Magic essay? It's not due for another week, but old Binns really didn't go into the Duel of Nimue and Morgause too well…"

"Oh, of course I will," she replied, still mothering, but not quite so bent on a lecture. "You know you mustn't refer to the 11th century literature for any of that, don't you? I mean it's all ripping good as far as stories go, but the Muggles who wrote it all down got such an awful lot of it mixed up; you just can't rely on them…"

Ginny, who hadn't any idea what Hermione was on about, let herself be chivvied out of the trophy room, managing to share a glance of apology with Luna, who was still mostly concealed in the draperies as they passed. Golden haired and smiling, Luna merely waved, an apple stem pinched between finger and thumb, the red-gold fruit sitting round and snug in the palm of her other hand.

Ginny made a note to ask her later what letter she had got to before it had broken.

 

~*Tea, and the Alchemy of Envy *~
Time is just a fiction of our minds: I will survive and so will you

Snape watched her with narrowed, ice-pale eyes as he listened, inscrutable as a gargoyle behind the cup of tea he'd not tasted but twice. Ginny knew the glower was a scare tactic, and that he wouldn't be using it on her unless he was frightened himself. Well… maybe more angry than frightened, given that she had practically blackmailed him into meeting her. But if Severus Snape had felt he had nothing to fear, he would not have been so very reluctant to let her have her say. He would not, in fact, have disappeared in the first place.

"So that's my offer," she finished her pitch, and covered her nerves with a sip of her own tea. She'd put too much sugar into it, her hand had shaken so, but it would serve to wash her nerves from her throat all the same. "The important bit, anyhow. Obviously there are still details to be worked out, but-"

He put down the cup with an impatient clink, and Ginny bit the next word off. She was babbling, damn it. A deep breath, and then she fetched out a smile, and made herself wait.

Of course he made her squirm for a bit, just staring her down from under brows that were no less forbidding for being, like his eyes and hair, leached of all colour. Snowy hair made his skin seem more olive than yellow, but it rendered the man no less forbidding or eerie. Like the ghost he had, for the space of a night, actually been.

Oddly, though, the longer Snape sat there and stared, the more confident Ginny became. He was thinking about it -- really considering it. Otherwise, he'd have shouted, hexed, or just got up and left instead of trying to turn her into a quivering mass of sweat and nerves with that infamous classroom glower.

"Luna thought of it," she said into the silence. It was either that, or give in to the urge to giggle, and that, she expected, would lose her all hope and get her hexed in the bargain.

"Imagine my surprise," he said at last, a cold sneer doing service for the almost-friendly smirk he might have given, had they had this discussion a year ago. "I was merely wondering what possible profit the two of you expect from such a ridiculous gesture."

There. The olive branch she'd hoped for, her chance to really make things right again. Ginny grabbed for it harder than she'd done any snitch. "It's not a gesture, Severus, it's a genuine offer. The spell is on record in a dozen different places, so we know it works. The results are all well documented. I wouldn't have bothered to pry you out of that Yorkish pit of yours if I weren't serious. It will work; there's no question on that score." She set her own cup down and held his gaze, willing him to understand, willing him to accept.

"I do not recall asking for your references, Miss Weasley," he snarled. "I asked what you and your lovers are planning to get out of it! If you want another squalling brat, you need only bed Potter again and neglect your contraception charm, so why should you make such a ludicrous… insulting offer to-"

"Because we want Harry back!" All Ginny's willpower was not enough to scrape the fury out of those words, and when Snape flinched, the heat in her belly was glad to see it. "He's been a wreck since December! Hardly better than a ghost, going through the motions of living, and it's down to you, Severus! Merlin, what kind of coward cuts his lover free by owl post?"

"Don't call me-"

"I will! By God, I will if you don't prove me wrong!" Ginny slapped the table and inwardly thrilled as the china clattered, and all the other customers in the teashoppe tried to pretend they weren't longing for the silencing spell to fail so they could eavesdrop. "You faced down Death Eaters, Dark Lords, great filthy snakes trying to bite your head off, and even Neville in your potions classes, but you couldn't look Harry in the eye when you told him you were through?" She shook her head, and gave him back his own sneer.

"My method in severing my relations with your husband-"

"We aren't married."

Snape waved a hand. "Immaterial-"

"No, it's NOT immaterial! Not to me. If I wanted to be Mrs. Potter, then I bloody well would be. I didn't, and I don't, and I don't expect I ever will want to be, so stop trying to hide behind it!"

"Very well," he ground out. "None of that changes the fact that the... dalliance had gone on long enough. I ended the matter for a reason-"

"A stupid reason," Ginny couldn't help muttering. His expression turned positively savage, so she knew she'd scored a hit. "Oh, you think I didn't see your face when Harry put Jamie into your arms that day at the Burrow, then? You think I didn't see how you looked at him?" Severus' eyes flinched, then shuttered blank. Ginny dug in harder, knowing she'd scored a hit. "I was tired, yeah, but I saw how your hands were shaking as you held him. But you never tried to give him back to Harry, did you? Not even when he fussed, and Mum came in to get him -- you almost didn't let her take him away." The memory of cold, lofty, sarcastic Snape so reduced by the helpless bit of innocence that was her and Harry's son, softened Ginny's anger from a blaze, to a glow. "You think I haven't put it together that you sent Harry that letter the day Jamie and I came to stay at Grimmauld Place? Luna said you had a potion to tend, but you never came. You didn't come to check on me, or Jamie, or Harry... you sent an owl instead. And Harry hasn't been the same since."

Snape said nothing, no denial, no protests. He just curled his long, stained fingers tighter around his cup. Enduring. That, Ginny decided, wouldn't do -- Harry had told her, after the war, just how patient Snape could be in his suffering. No, he wanted a shock for this. She was still angry enough at him to dish it without a single compunction. Folding her arms across her breasts, Ginny gave him pitiless smirk. "I grew up with six older brothers, and only a Ministry drone's income to feed the lot of us. We had to share everything, make everything over from kid to kid. None of us except Bill ever had anything really new, or just to ourselves, among the whole family, Severus. I know envy when I see it."

And now he really did look like a cauldron about to explode, icy brow knotted, teeth bared, hands fisted on either side of his teacup. She flicked a glance at those whitened knuckles and schooled back her urge to go for blood. "You must have known we wouldn't have shut you away from him, Severus," she said, and laid her hand over one of his. "You cast the diagnosis spell when I first hit the morning sickness, you brewed me nutrient and anti-nausea potions, and salves for my ankles and my gas, and you never showed a hint of wanting out. Merlin knows I gave you plenty of reasons when I got all bloated and hormonal, but you didn't go, because you didn't want to." The hand under hers flexed, and she tightened her hold before he could tug away. "You tried not to show it, but you were excited about the baby, just like Luna, Harry and me. Right up until he was born. Right up until you held him, and realized how badly you wanted to keep him -- how badly you wanted your own son. Only Harry couldn't ever give you one, could he?"

Snape's gaze, which had gone stunned and blank, cut suddenly to the left, and Ginny had to fight not to smile when he mumbled something absurd not quite under his breath.

"My idea's easier," she said, and released his hand. "Safer too, since we all know I can carry a child to term without much but a hormone surge or two to worry about." He coughed, frowned, and shielded his eyes behind his white, lank hair, too distracted to take offense at being teased. Ginny began to hope.

"What does Potter think of this idea of yours then?" He asked it as though he didn't particularly care, which was a telling thing in itself.

"He doesn't know I'm here with you," Ginny replied. "As far as he knows, I'm just meeting my family counselor while he watches Jamie today." Snape looked up, not quite masking shock and concern before he met her gaze. Ginny nodded grimly. "Harry's appointment is on Thursdays, and we all go together on Monday nights. I told you we wanted him back. Did you think we hadn't tried anything else to reach him?"

"You," he swallowed, "You surely will not just leave-"

"Not just like that, no," she agreed, "We're working on it, and we'll keep working on it whether you're with us, or not. But Severus, Harry needs you. He brought you back from the half-death he found you in that night because he needs you, I don't understand why, or what it means, but I know it. I've seen it in his face these past six months. Whenever he thought I was too busy with the baby, or too tired to notice, whenever he thought nobody would see just how much he was hurting for want of you. He needs you, Snape; he loves you, and it's not fair that you should take that away from him over something that's so very easy to fix… so long as you have the guts to try."

Snape looked down, a muscle in his jaw bunching. He's thinking what kind of a father he might be, Ginny thought, trying to scry his guarded stillness. He's counting up all the reasons he should never be allowed to further his line or care for a child. He's thinking Harry would be a fool to take him back after what he's done, and he's right; Harry would be a fool... he always has been, for Severus Snape.

Ginny went for blood. "Harry's quite different to his mother, you know, in much more than just looks," she said, and signaled for the cheque. "For one thing, Harry knows how to forgive."

 

~* Cunning plans and kisses *~

"So I told him to stop trying to help me everywhere," Ginny slashed at the lakeside weeds with her broom, scowling as the seed pods burst into the still air. "And he says he didn't, which he absolutely did, because he's always bloody well trying to help me with everything. He treats me like I'm a completely helpless idiot made out of glass! 'Let me get your chair, Ginny,' and 'are you chilly, let's move by the fire, Ginny,' and 'you should be more careful in bloody potions, Ginny!"

Luna charmed several of the wispy, floating seedpods to dance in a swirl around Ginny's head. "Well," she said with only a little smile as Ginny blasted the fluffy halo to cinders, "you were standing just next to Harper when his cauldron-"

Ginny interrupted her with a glower. "That healed just fine, and it wasn't my fault anyway, which I told Dean when it happened! But from the way he went on, you'd have thought he was my mum! He told me he thought I should drop Care of Magical Creatures, did you know? Said Hagrid was a menace, and the classes were too dangerous!"

"But it's required for our year," Luna protested, missing the point entirely as she pulled her great, lumpy goggles down from her forehead and settled them over her eyes.

"I know! He acts like I'm still a helpless firstie that wants rescuing, and I just can't take him any more, you know?" Ginny paced another circuit, kicking at the late season grasses, and pointedly not watching as her friend cast charm after charm at her own face. "I told him if he couldn't start treating me like an equal instead of a baby, then we were through!"

"But after you dumped Michael Corner, didn't you say you wanted a boyfriend who would pay attention to you?" Luna asked, then flinched, and tugged the goggles off. "I remember you said you felt like –" she knuckled both eyes fiercely, "-- like a fashion accessory when you were with him…ooh, that stings!"

Ginny dropped beside her in the grass, and dug out her handkerchief. "Well, yes, but that doesn't mean I want to be treated like the holiday dishes," she said, casting aguamenti on the cloth, and pressing it into Luna's hands. "He always acted like he was doing me some kind of favour by being with me, but Dean's worse than my mum, dad, and all my brothers combined. Ooer. Your eyes have gone all pinkish. What have you done to yourself now?"

"Fine tuning the perspectacles," she answered, wiping at her streaming eyes with the cloth. "They keep getting off track whenever the Headmaster or Harry walk past, but it's not consistent. I can't figure out what it is about powerful wizards that's getting them so distracted."

"They're not the only distracted ones, either," Ginny groused. "Come on then, let's get you to Madame-"

"I was listening," Luna's hand, damp and hot on her elbow, stopped Ginny clambering to her feet. "I was. I just didn't know what all this had to do with Harry Potter yet, is all."

Ginny looked down at the patched knees of her jeans and tried not to blush as the memory of Dean's voice, heated and bitter, flashed through her mind. "You know what your problem is, Ginny? You haven't ever got over Potter's having to rescue you back in your first year! But you don't take it out on him, do you? Oh no, you have to punish everyone else who cares two knuts about you instead!"

"Who says it does?" she equivocated.

Luna only smiled squintingly and handed back her handkerchief. "You only whack things with your broom when you're angry about him."

Ginny shot her broom a glare, then gave up with a sigh. "Well, it would make things a lot easier if Harry would just wake up and see me for once," she said, and crossed her arms over her knees to mope. "Maybe you should make a pair of perspectacles for him, because some days I don't think he'd notice me if I dressed up like a snitch and kicked him in the bum!"

"Only there's quite a lot of people who seem to be trying to kick Harry in the bum lately," Luna replied, fiddling with the straps on her goggles. "I don't think he likes that very much."

Ginny snickered and rolled her eyes. "I didn't mean literally!"

"Oh, neither did I, of course," said Luna over a grin. "But maybe there's something to the snitch idea if you were to do it a bit differently." At Ginny's narrow look, she shrugged and plucked a bit of wayward grass out of her yellow curls. "Well, I suppose you could kick him if you wanted to, but I think you'd do better to just kiss him instead."

Ginny stared, speechless and startled by the sudden clamour her heart was making.

"I suppose though, it would be more polite to ask him first," Luna said, tearing the grass to bits. "You're staring."

"You sure you haven't done some permanent damage with those goggles?" Ginny countered. "Because you usually make more sense than-"

"But you do want to kiss him, don't you?"

Ginny looked away, blushing under that earnest blue gaze. "Course I do…"

"Then just ask. You're his friend, so I don't see why it should be all that difficult." At Ginny's snort, tossed the glass and leather aside, and got to her feet. "Here, I'll show you how easy it is. You be Harry."

Ginny let herself be drawn up as well. "All right..."

Luna nodded, took two long steps away through the grass, then turned and waved brightly. "Hullo Harry," she called, "have you got a moment?"

"Erm," Ginny fought a grin and made her voice deeper. "Bit busy just now. Dark Lord to fight, world to save and all that, you know."

"Oh, this won't take a minute." She hadn't thought it possible, but Luna's smile became even more brilliant as she came near and caught Ginny's hand in hers. "I'd really like to kiss you now," she said, and her eyes were deeply serious as she leaned in close. "You don't mind, do you?"

"Um... n... no," Ginny breathed, somehow unable to look away from that empyrean gaze. "I mean, I don't. Mind."

She had just time enough to spot the sly little dimple beside Luna's mouth before their lips met. Gently at first, lingering like a favorite taste across the tongue, a lovely perfume haunting the memory. Then more surely, hungrily lush in the hot gust of breath into breath, the drag and pull of flesh sliding along damp, soft flesh. She let her eyes drift closed, let herself lean into the soft, pliant heat of that kiss -- a kiss that went from her toes to her hair and back again without any trace of clothes-fumbling, grunting, groping, or rushing through it to reach for something beyond.

It was just a kiss, glowing and perfect in its isolation, and deep inside her, Ginny felt a groan melt into voiceless, heated longing. Merlin, yes. This was what she wanted. Just like this… Oh, Harry…

Luna pulled back with a tiny gasp, and without thinking, Ginny caught her shoulders to keep the sweet warmth close.

"What was that you were doing with your tongue?" Luna asked, a little breathless.

Face suddenly blazing, Ginny looked away. She should let go, should back up, get her broom, and head off to Quidditch practice. Instead, she lied. "It's something I… read about, is all. A kind of kissing."

Luna's eyes were grave and serious, and Ginny felt her own cross a bit trying to hold that gaze as she leaned back in. "Show me again?"

Ginny decided not to think about what that sound in her throat had meant, as their lips met, slithered together, and yielded to the hunger of tongues. She wouldn't think about how Luna's small, perfect breasts rubbed against her own, or about how her neck beneath her ponytail was prickling with sweat, or about how her heart was going like thunder, and she felt as though she had flown too high to breathe, but didn't want to pull away, didn't want to let go. Who cared about breathing anyway?

Then Luna made a desperate little sound in her throat, and the nubby mauve jumper rubbed like torture through Ginny's practice uniform as her arms came up round her neck, and she tilted her head just so far to the side. Perfect. Her ribs swelled and eased against the circle of Ginny's arms, her hair falling sun-warm and soft across her hands at Luna's waist. Her eyes closed in concentration as she met, matched, and improved upon all that Ginny supposed she'd ever known about kissing.

It stopped, as perfectly, as naturally, as a storm passing west to east along the summer sky. It left them gasping, stunned and leaning into each other in the sun-baked meadow. Ginny closed her eyes, pressed her chin against Luna's shoulder, and wondered just what Luna used on her hair that made it smell so very good. She did not wonder what the skin beneath Luna's ear might have tasted like, were she to nuzzle beneath those yellow curls to find out.

"Oh, look," Luna's voice buzzed through her reverie, "The Gryffindor team is warming up over the Quidditch pitch."

Ginny resisted the urge to squeeze harder. Instead, she carefully disentangled Luna's hair from her practice pads and took a step back. "I'd better go then," she said, and scrubbed a hand across her still-damp mouth. "I'll… well. See you."

But Luna was scrambling after her goggles, which, lying neglected in the sun, had begun to set the dry grass smouldering. Ginny kicked off the ground just as Luna was summoning lakewater to douse the lot.

Mind on the bludgers, girl, she told herself sternly as she flew toward her teammates, the team is counting on you! But it was bloody hard not to dwell on how good it felt, having that broomstick between her thighs. She blushed and tried to shake it off as she crested the stands, looped around the end-field goal, and came into her position behind Harry in the practice formation.

Watching him fly wasn't going to help her concentration either, damn it.

Ron would go simply mental if he knew.

 

~* Heartbreak, the Hero, and Hell to Pay *~

 

Ginny was lost.

But so was everybody else, so it was hardly worth making a scene, really. Everyone was reeling; Death Eaters in Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore dead, cut down by a trusted hand, the ghosts of unforgivable curses crackling in the air along with the old phoenix's final immolation. It was easy, with an aching head and a shattered heart, to breathe that spicy, acrid smoke, and to imagine all the world was burning to ashes.

Ginny watched Harry leave, watched Ron and Hermione go after him, tracked their passage across the meadow until the smoke and her watering eyes stole them from view. None of them looked back. Not even once. In a way, they hadn't been there at all -- like the light of suns that had burned out ages past, but which still twinkled, bright and hollow in a midnight sky. It seemed silly to cry for a loss when the sound of their... of his voice, the warm touch of his breath against her neck, the sweet pressure of his lip against hers was still such a brilliant ghost in her memory.

Silly to cry. Stupid to make a scene, pitch a wobbly like a spoiled, greedy baby, but oh, Ginny wanted to scream. She didn't, though. Instead, she turned around properly in her seat and watched the world burn down. The hiss of flames and fading phoenix song was nearly enough to drown out the whispers.

She stayed there, silent as in ones and twos, the Headmaster's mourners got up and drifted away. The murmurs, the whispers, all these she ignored. Some spoke to her, and though she did not actually register the words, Ginny took care to smile, nod, and display eyes that were dry, sober, and clear. Not the eyes of a girl who needed a cheering charm at all.

She always turned her eyes back to the monument as soon as they'd said their piece though, and for once she was allowed the luxury of silence. Even her mother left her to her solitude with little more than a distracted hug and a pat on the head. Ginny waited it out, numb. Numb was good. Numb was better than many alternatives she could think of.

Numb allowed her to realize that it was far more than just a wise and merry old man she'd buried in the ground today. She'd buried her dreams as well. All the silly wedding plans, all the foolish baby names, all the apple stems, longing glances, and kisses stolen from curfew and Snape's beastly detentions. They had all come to this: dust and a shadow. A dream of light horses, galloping with the tide, and slipping away before she could even stretch out a hand.

Whatever the future would be… it could never be as that simple, silly girl had imagined it. Not now.

When the sun began to set, the chairs began to disappear, each one leaping from the grass, snapping closed, and pinging into nothingness in the exact tone of house elf magic. Ginny stirred at last and slung her nerveless leg over the chair to her right. "Leave it," she croaked, as the chair gave a shiver beneath her.

It gave another restless tug, and then was still.

When the sky had turned sore and red, Luna came, announced by the smell of cold, smuggled supper and the mundane whisper of her feet through the long grass. Ginny moved her leg back to her own chair and didn't look over as her friend sat beside her. A few moments later, Ginny caught a flicker of wandlight from the corner of her eye, but it was only a warming spell, and it settled like a hug around her shoulders before she could even gasp at it.

She closed her eyes and let the words slip out, almost as if by accident. "He's gone."

"I heard," Luna said and, reaching over, caught Ginny's hand. "How are you?"

The touch, somehow different to all those she had ignored earlier, undid Ginny's restraint completely. "I'm..." she took a breath, and the truth that escaped was a surprise even to her. "I'm bloody furious!" she hissed. "God damn Snape! And God damn Voldemort, and that cowardly shite Malfoy, and Greyback, and-" her voice snagged on a sob. "And damn Dumbledore too!"

Heat welled in her eyes again, but now, in the soft glow of Luna's warming charm, Ginny could let the angry tears fall. "How could he die now? Why now, when we needed him? How could he leave Ha..." but that name lodged tight in her throat and hurt too much to be prized loose.

"I don't know that he had much choice," Luna murmured, but Ginny was in no mood for logic or mercy.

"It isn't fair!" Her fingernails were too short to score her palm, so she drove her fist into the meat of her thigh. "We're not ready for him to just… to just be…"

Gone. But he was. Dumbledore, Harry, Snape, sense, order, and everything right with the world. All gone but Luna, who settled a hand over Ginny's fist and twined their fingers as it came slowly unfurled.

"Damn him," Ginny gulped, not meaning Dumbledore at all. "Damn him for trying to protect me, and damn him for shutting me out, and damn him for going, and damn him for..."

For maybe never coming back again.

"I don't know that he has much choice either," Luna smoothed her thumb across Ginny's knuckles. "Not with all he's got to do now."

"Bollocks!" Ginny whirled on her friend savagely. "That's utter bollocks! Why should he have to do anything? Why's it got to be him who stands up to Voldemort?"

Luna covered Ginny's hands with her own again, where they knotted in her jumper. "Maybe because he can," she mused. "I can't think of anybody else who could manage it even once, but Harry's done it over and over again for years."

Which was utter bollocks, completely, wholly, and awfully wrong-headed, and Ginny wanted to shake the girl until she realized it. But she couldn't get the breath into her lungs to shout, and the struggle bowed her back, like the weight of her impotent fury curled her shoulders and shook her to the core. It was all Ginny could manage to press her forehead into Luna's breastbone and sob.

"He isn't ever going to not be the Boy Who Lived," Luna murmured in her silk-soft voice, and she wrapped her arms around Ginny's shoulders as though the fierce, shuddering grief could be warded off like chill. "You know that, don't you?"

"But I don't want him because of any of that!" Ginny wailed, "I don't want the Boy Who Bloody Lived! I don't want the Hero of the Wizarding World! I just want Harry! Here! With me!" Words fell apart then. Too many of them backed up and screamed in her mind, while her traitorous tongue could manage nothing more than broken, animal sounds of sorrow and rage.

Luna held her close, smoothing Ginny's hair over and over as she surrendered to the wrenching sobs. "He's got to be both, you know," she murmured, rocking to and fro. "Harry already belongs to History – he always has, from the first time anybody printed his name, all the way to this morning, at the funeral. Everybody who loves him has to share him with the whole world because there's only one way that History ever lets go of anybody." She tipped Ginny's face up with a cool finger, and offered up a tiny, wistful smile. "And you wouldn't want to go about being in love with the Boy Who Died, would you?"

In the face of that terrible logic, Ginny could say nothing – not that any words could have fit past the pain snarled tight in her throat, anyway. Maybe someday it would be a comfort that she could never really lose Harry, because she could never really have him in the first place.

But tonight, in the stark and scarlet light of the sun's death throes, it only made Ginny feel all the more a fool.

 

~* Trial by Ordeal *~
We are the only ones right now that are celebrating: And we are joining hands right now
We are the only ones right now that are suffocating: We are the dying ones right now

 

"Busy," Harry called through the door.

The same word, written in fiery letters over the lintel to the Head Auror's office, flashed, irritably red. Ginny ignored the warning, but Snape caught her wrist as she moved to knock again.

"Are you mad, girl?" he hissed. "He says he is busy! Interrupting him now could be dangerou-"

"He's an Auror, not a Potions researcher," Ginny replied with a grin. "And he's shut up in his office with his secretary already gone for the day. The busiest he could legitimately be, is if he's fiddling about with paperwork. My galleons are on him revising the duty roster for the fifth time this week, where he thinks nobody will notice that he's trying not to mope over you."

Snape's brow clouded at that, but Ginny saw the pale, sharp eyes flick toward the door, saw the muscle in the ill-shaven jaw twitch, and had no pity. "He's not too busy for you, Severus, nor for me." And with that she rapped sharply with her free hand.

Behind the door came a muffled curse, then Harry shouted, "I said I'm busy! Go away please!" Snape let go her wrist as though she'd burned him, but Ginny was a better Seeker than that. She caught his arm before the slippery Slytherin could back out of range.

"Harry, how much does a standard Ministry-issue office door cost these days?" Ginny called back. "Is there enough in the quarterly budget to replace this one?"

The sigh Harry gave was barely audible through the wood, but it broke her heart a little. Ginny slid her grip down from Severus' elbow to his hand, twining their fingers to stop either of them balling into fists as Harry's lock-ward clicked free, and the door swung open.

Harry was at his desk as Ginny pushed the door back and tugged Snape – who was more stunned than reluctant, -- into the Head Auror's office. Of course, Snape hadn't had the last six months to become used to the weight Harry had lost; the sleepless purple smudges that his glasses couldn't hide; how his hair, once irrepressible and wild, now lay limp and flat with neglect.

When Jamie had been in his first, constantly needy months, Ginny, Luna, and Harry'd hardly had time to eat regularly, let alone bathe or do laundry. With Harry, though, it had been far more than baby-shock, and it still made Ginny wince inside to think how long it had taken them... well...her to spot the depression for what it was.

These days, she sent Harry to work in clean, pressed robes, and she had elves from the commissary deliver food to him at regular intervals, but shy of nagging, she couldn't make him eat it. And Ginny had taken an oath to herself the day she'd moved out of the Burrow and into her own flat; she was not going to mother, smother, or nag anybody – she wasn't ever going to be mistaken for the other red-headed firestorm of a Weasley woman.

Which made meddling like this a bit of a tricky thing, her conscience whispered. Still, something had to change, and from the lax chill of Snape's fingers, Ginny could reasonably hope that he would take up the point of the charge for her, now he could see how bad things had gotten.

"Everything all right with Jamie?" Harry asked, head down to his paperwork and scribbling away. Even from here, Ginny could see his nails were bitten down to the quick.

"He's at Luna's place," she replied, flip as she did not feel, "so it's anybody's guess, really, but I'm hoping for the best."

"Your session okay" Still, he didn't look up. Snape's fingers started to curl against hers, then shocked straight, and twisted free. Ginny let him go, feeling his warmth as he stepped close behind her shoulder. His white fingers curled over the chairback at her side, as though he was leaning on it for support... or for restraint.

"I skipped it today," she said, and at last, Harry looked up. When he spotted Snape at her side, he went so still it seemed he'd stopped breathing.

He'll never look at me like that, she whispered to herself in the ringing silence that followed. He loves me. He does. But I do not have the power to do that to him… the quill made a tick-fwump as it slipped from Harry's fingers. Thank Merlin!

Snape swallowed. It probably wouldn't have seemed like a rifle-shot in any other room, but it was enough to make them all jump. And that was enough to shake Harry out of whatever spell of anguish had fallen over him.

"What are you-" his lips shaped the words of dry air, then he licked his lips and tried again. "What are you doing here?"

Ginny could almost feel the air around Snape drawing in, hardening into armour. Oh, no you don't, she growled in her heart. But aloud, she kept her voice bright, and forcibly friendly. "I asked Severus to come," she said, stepping aside, removing herself entirely from the conduit of air between them, so saturated with emotion that it practically wavered in the light. "He has an important proposition to offer you."

Oh, she hadn't seen a glare like that since Potions classes in sixth year! "I have an-?" Snape's fingernail scored the chairback as he clenched his fists. "You mean you have not asked his opinion about this insane idea of yours?!"

"Why would I do that?" Ginny grinned maliciously at Snape in return. "It'll be between the two of you, really, won't it? I'll just be a tertiary part of the process. And anyway, I figure you have more than just that to discuss, so it's not like you won't have time to get round to it."

"Gin," This time it was Harry's voice that rang with warning. "What are you trying to pull here?"

"Your head out of your arse," she replied, fixing him with a cheerful glare, "and my family back together. Jamie needs you, Harry. No," she halted his protest with an upraised palm, "not this hollow pretense you try and hold up while you look for a reason to do more than go through the motions. He needs YOU. His father. For real."

His green eyes flickered, first at Snape, then down at his desk, where the quill bled black all over the blotter. At least he had the grace not to deny it. "And you, need him." She jerked a thumb at the looming column of frost-rimed black that was Severus Snape, and kept the 'Merlin knows why,' to herself. "And so I've brought the mountain to the miner, and I figure the rest is best left up to you two." She cast a glance back at Snape, pleased to see that his brows had knit even harder, and fierce colour had risen into his cheeks.

"Yes," he growled, eyes fierce and fixed on his prey as he stepped around the chair. "And now, Miss Weasley, I'd suggest you leave it so. Mr. Potter and I have much to discuss alone."

"No," Harry snapped in return, face bright and eyes glittering with the most fire he'd shown in months, "Whatever you have to say to me, you can say it in front of-"

"Sorry, Harry," Ginny cut him off with a cheery wave as she turned to the door, "much as I'd love to sit back and watch this with some popcorn, I'm late fetching Jamie from Luna's." She turned back at the threshold, and grinned to see Harry's attempt to maintain an angry, unintimidated stance while backing away from a stalking Severus Snape.

"Dinner will be at half seven," Ginny added as she reached for the doorknob. "We can discuss the spell, and Luna's and my terms then. If you two don't show up, I'll send Kreacher here with your meals and orders to watch you both eat it, so try not to lose track of time, okay?"

Harry sent her only one glance – a wildly pleading thing, too full of conflicting emotions for a simple girl like her to puzzle out. So Ginny only smiled and wiggled her fingers at him. Then she shut the door.

"They won't kill each other," she told herself, fingers trailing over the grooves that spelled out Harry's name in the wood. "They survived school, the basilisk, Death Eaters, Voldemort, and the Ministry. They can survive this."

The door was pretty thick, actually. Either that, or it had muffling charms worked into the wood, because through it, Harry's taut, angry babble was barely intelligible. Then it cut abruptly off.

Ginny cast a few lock wardings of her own on the door, and changed the flashing 'busy' sign to 'Knock, and you'll draw back a stump!' Then after a moment's consideration, made the fiery letters turn AK green, the harder to ignore.

Another sound drifted through from the office; this one wordless, and thick with desperation. Ginny bit her lip and quelled it under a silencing spell. Then layered a joy-buzzer charm over that, lest anybody try to take it down from the outside.

All the pictures on the wall rattled, two of them shaking loose and crashing to the carpet. Ginny decided it was most likely time to go. Luckily, Harry's office rated a private floo at the secretary's station, so she wouldn't have to brave the gauntlet of the gossip-hungry Ministry in order to get out.

Finding the powder took a moment, during which three more pictures fell off the wall, but once Ginny managed to pry the silver badger's head off and toss some powder in, the flames roared up gladly green.

"Office of the Quibbler," Luna's voice floated through the blaze, pierced through with giggling squeals. "How may I help you?"

Ginny sighed to feel the careful tension melt from around her heart at the sound. Her eyes prickled, and her hands ached to hold that laughing baby, even as her mind wondered what in the world Luna could be doing to get Jamie to giggle so. "Stop molesting that child, Chief Editor Lovegood," she barked as she stepped through the flames. "He's clearly in distress – Oh my God!"

Ginny dropped her handbag at the sight of the gigantic cauldron where Luna's desk used to be – and at Luna stirring her baby about it with an oversized wooden spoon. James Sirius Potter was bobbing like a fishing float in the steaming water, his fuzzy head swathed in a bubble-head charm, and his skin dappled with black that inched and flowed like clouds unraveling in the wind.

"We had an adventure with the printing ink today," Luna said calmly, giving the bubble charm on Jamie's head a wide berth with the spoon. "I'd thought that shelf was higher than he could reach, but apparently he was very motivated. Unless the Nargles helped him. Where's Severus?"

"Ink…" Ginny breathed a sigh, and reached down to scrub a bit of headline off her son's shoulder. Perhaps it wasn't such a good idea to leave Jamie at Luna's when the paper's deadline was close. At least until Luna managed to hire some more staff to man the presses. Jamie cackled madly, rolled over in the bath, and tried to shove his blackened toe into his mouth.

"Severus?" Luna prodded.

Ginny took the spoon away, and leaned in to kiss Luna. "I left him in Harry's office," she said, giving Jamie a nudge to turn him face up again – not that it mattered to him, but it was easier on her nerves. "They might be talking it out, but my money's on them shagging. Or possibly beating the tar out of each other."

"Hmm. I can't always tell the one from the other with those two," Luna mused, still smiling from their kiss. She had a smudge of ink across her nose, and another just above her shirt collar, the size and shape of Jamie's little hand.

"I think that's the idea," Ginny replied, undoing Luna's buttons while the baby swatted at the steaming water and chortled to see it splash. "Boys and their silly war games." She huffed, and leaned in to kiss the perfect swell of breast as Luna's the work shirt slipped away under her fingers. The deep fold of Luna's cleavage smelled of patchouli, sweat, and ink, and Ginny couldn't resist putting out her tongue to taste. "Our games were always better."

Luna shivered, and Ginny smiled to feel one small hand wind its way into her hair, as much a caress as a plea for more. "Except when you made me play the Dark Lord."

"Mmmaybe," she let go her grip on Luna's hardening nipple to reply, but kept close, so the small, wrinkled bud brushed her lips with every word. "but you always liked 'Inquisition'. Want to play now, Goodwife Lovegood? Shall I accuse you of Witchcraft and sentence you to the ducking stool?"

Luna giggled, her nipple bouncing wetly against Ginny's cheek until she recaptured and nibbled it. "Oh, but I'll have to counter-accuse, Goodwife Weasley," Luna answered, tugging Ginny's shirt over her head, "Because I think that lake there is big enough for the both of us to have a proper Trial By Ordeal…"

"Trial By Ordeal?" Ginny grinned, reaching for her flies. "Is that what we're calling it now?"

Luna just chuckled, and shimmied out of her knickers, giving Ginny just the briefest glimpse of her pale, dimpled arse before hiking a knee up over the cauldron's lip. Throat dry, Ginny pressed close, and used both hands to boost Luna up into the makeshift bath – and if her fingers trespassed more boldly than usual, the positively lambent smile Luna flashed over her shoulder held not a scrap of reprimand for it.

"Bet I can hold my breath the longest," she offered, her eyes blue and hot as flames.

Ginny couldn't suppress a shiver as she slid her own knee over the warmed iron lip. "Just, let's try not to drown the baby, all right?"

 

~*Out of Sorts *~

 

They rode across the lake in tiny, fretful boats, walked with shadows linked up the steep, countless stairs, and through the older students to face the Sorting Hat.

When the ragged old thing perched on Luna's broom-yellow hair and crowed, "Ravenclaw!" Ginny had to bite her lip to stop it quivering. But Luna's robes changed colour, the neutral grey going such a deep, strong blue that it made her wide eyes take fire in the enchanted candlelight, and she didn't look the least bit upset as she drifted over to take her place at the table.

A pretty Asian girl leaned over to finger Luna's plimpy earrings, and Ginny had to look away, clutching the unexpected and secret gift her father had bought for her in Diagon Alley. The diary was smooth and warm in her hand, each page of clean, white paper rather than much-scraped parchment, so she knew for certain it was new. That made her treasure it all that much more, for not often in her life did Ginny get to own things that hadn't belonged to someone else first.

She took a moment to be profoundly grateful that her father knew her so well, and then it was her turn to go up. Her brothers whooped as the Hat shouted "Gryffindor!" and Ginny walked to their table without looking back. The House of the Lion was where she belonged, apparently, just like all her brothers, just like Mum and Dad when they'd gone to Hogwarts. Weasleys were Gryffindors, Mummy had always said, and she was no different. It had been silly to expect anything else.

 

~* The Agony of Cheer *~

 

Ginevra wasn't lost, but she rather wished she could have been.

It would have been less humiliating than where she found herself now; smothered under blankets, family, and cheering charms in the Hogwarts Infirmary, pretending to sleep while Mum scolded Ronnie and Percy and the Twins for not keeping closer watch on her. Pretending to sleep because the floor kept stubbornly refusing to open up and swallow her whole. Pretending to sleep so Madam Pomfrey might possibly order the ruddy awful lot of them to go away and leave her alone.

Alone. She stifled a giggle in her pillow. Only she could manage to feel alone for a year, and still never have a moment's privacy! There was never a moment when there weren't other people around; students, teachers, ghosts, Filch and Hagrid, all of whom only noticed an invisible firstie like her when she was in their way, or where she wasn't meant to be. Like lurking around Ravenclaw Tower, or trying to find a bramble patch near the Forbidden Forest, where someone might look for Nargles, away from the frowning, silent crowds of Ravenclaws that always seemed to stick so close together. But Ginny never did find one, and her classes and homework hadn't given her much time to search. And it had just seemed easier to turn to the diary when she felt lonely…

Tears stung her eyes, but the stupid charm whisked them away with a tingle. She should never have used the thing. She ought to have burned it, taken it to the Headmaster, ripped it to tiny bits, not trusted it… not imagined it was a closer, more constant friend than she'd ever had. She turned her face to the wall, fist clenched against her mouth so the others wouldn't see her grin. She was the biggest, awfullest, stupidest fool in the world, and she couldn't even wish she was dead, because then You-Know-Who would have won, and Harry Potter would be dead too.

Oh, that stupid charm!

Ginny was still fighting off the urge to giggle, when she felt a brush, light as a moth's wing, along the back of her hand, and opened her eyes with a gasp. There sat Luna in her pajamas and dressing robe, her fair brow knit with concern as she leaned close – it had been a curl of her yellow hair that had slithered down across Ginny's bunched knuckles.

"It's awful, isn't it?" she whispered earnestly.

Ginny cut a hasty glance at the hallway, and heaved a great sigh to see the privacy curtain was drawn to, and apparently someone had cast a silencing spell – either that, or her family had gone somewhere else to argue. The charm turned her relief into a snicker, but small enough that she could hide it behind her hand. A few threads of golden hair came along, twisted in Ginny's fingers, but aside from a little tilt of her head when they pulled loose, Luna didn't seem to notice.

"They did it to me too, after my mum died," she went on, slipping down from the chair to kneel beside the bed. "I found something that helps though. Here…" and reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a bundle of parchment wrapped around a great, purple onion.

Ginny leaned back, a frown fighting its way through the charm only by way of startlement. "Ick," she whispered as Luna fetched out a penknife and cut deeply into the thing, "Luna, I can't eat tha-"

"It's not for eating, silly," her smile was warm and knowing, and not even a little bit pitying, and Ginny had to bite her lip against a laugh, because apparently, not even tears of relief were allowed. "Here; hold it by your nose, and breathe in," Ginny flinched back again, but Luna just held the onion still on her pillow, its wound bleeding milky, pungent tears. "Then just let it all come out," she whispered, "it's not quite the same, but it's close…"

Trembling, Ginny sat up a little, and eased back to let Luna slip onto the bed alongside her, legs brushing hallway-cool and duvet-hot between them. Ginny struggled to breathe, to keep quiet, to think of which of the million things she longed to blurt out should come first. Then Luna pressed the onion into her hand, leaned close, and wrapped Ginny in a hug that was neither bony-guilty-cold, nor bosomy-clutchy-smothering, but exactly, precisely the right size.

She couldn't suppress the yelp of laughter then. A moment later, when her first gasp made her eyes swim with the harsh scent of onion, Ginny stopped trying to suppress anything. She just leaned into Luna's perfect embrace, and held on tight while she shook with helpless, desperate laughter -- stinging eyes clenched, onion tears streaming.

 

~* Jaffa Cakes, and the Symmetry of Opposition *~
Beating like a Bass Drum, time goes by: I want the last dance, just like you.

 

Milicent was at the apartment when Ginny flooed back for some dry clothes before dinner. She looked up from polishing her broom with a glower that was a match for any from their school days.

"Your mum's firecalled," she growled. "Again. Twice."

Ginny winced. "You didn't tell her-"

"That you were too busy with the Potter-Weasley-Lovegood family freakshow to take her calls?" Milicent snorted, and tossed her oily rag onto the table. "Hardly. I thought about it, but I get enough tellings-off from Peakes at practices now you're not around to take your share of the abuse anymore. If your mum gets mad enough to send a howler, though, I swear I will do."

"Old Peakey really getting on your arse then?" Ginny ignored the slight, and went for blood.

Never one to disappoint, her surly ex-teammate rose to the challenge. "You've no fecking idea! He's the one who tapped Attercop in, despite her being useless as tits on a bloke and half blind in the bargain. And then he's the nerve to call me on the carpet over Bludgers getting through!"

A flawless diversion, if she did say so herself. Ginny grinned, and tuned Milicent out while she dug out a change of clothes. Her laundry was still folded neatly in the baskets that Kreacher had left when he'd last cleared up her overnighters from Grimmauld Place. He wasn't the best at folding nicely, but the old House Elf was positively brilliant at getting spit-up stains out. She was halfway out of her blouse when a bit of Milicent's grumbling caught her attention.

"Wait," she asked, "Peakes said what about me?"

"Wanted to know when you're coming off maternity and getting back to work," Milicent repeated slowly. "And from the look of those wobbly stretch marks, I'd say you could do with a bit of exercise, too."

"Jamie's not even weaned yet!" Ginny replied to the first point, while flashing two fingers to the second. "Why would Peakes think I'd want to leave my six-month-old baby, to sign on for a bloody Quidditch tour?"

Milicent gave a one-shouldered shrug. "Why would you keep half your stuff here, list this flat as your home address, and take all your owls, papers, and parental firecalls here when you only sleep in that bed once or twice a month?" She examined her nails as Ginny shimmied out of her trousers and grabbed a new pair. "If you're not at Potter's place, you're at Lovegood's place, and you've not even brought your sprog to the flat – and don't think I'm not grateful for that, by the way. So yeah, maybe a few people are starting to think that the baby's a business deal between you and Potter. Heir-for-hire, you know?"

"Mph!" Ginny spat hair out of her mouth, pulled her top over her head, and tried again. "Jamie a business deal? You're actually serious?"

"He wouldn't be the first queer paterfamilias to do it." Again, that shrug, but Ginny didn't miss the gleam of curiousity in those sharp brown eyes. "Usually they marry their heir's mother though, and have concubines on the side. Like old Malfoy, you know? Potter's Muggle-raised though, so who knows what he thinks is proper."

"Oh, for-" Ginny snatched up a new robe, and shook it out with a crack of frustration. "So wanting to be my own person instead of just another byline to Harry's publicity makes me some kind of… of…" she threw up her arms in frustration, "heartless, selfish iconoclast?"

"Well, that, and carrying on with Lovegood like you do. Most people have you figured for one of those painfully liberated bachelorette types." Milicent fired back as she pushed off the door frame and wandered into the kitchenette. "Anyway, I told Peakes I'd pass the message on, and I told your mum I'd say she firecalled, and I have done. So now you can bloody well deal with it, while I eat all the Jaffa Cakes."

"Right. Fine. Great," Ginny took a deep breath, combed a hand through her hair, and charmed a couple spare changes of clothing into her overnight bag. "It's just I can't actually handle any of that tonight." Following Milicent into the kitchen, she thought about trying to steal a cake, but at the glower she received, thought better of it. "I just stopped by for some clothes, and I've got to head straight out."

"Might just as well take the lot, then."

"Milly…"

"Oh, get off it. You hardly live here anyway, and you know it." Milicent licked a bit of orange jelly from her fingers. "So what's got you in such a dither tonight that you daren't let your mum get wind of it then?"

Ginny resisted the urge to chew the inside of her lip. "Negotiations."

The brown eyebrow arched. "Oh? You signing on with another team then?"

"Sort of. A bit. More like a…" buggery, how to put this? "A business deal…" Milicent waited, eyes boring holes in Ginny's head while she chewed another cake. Ginny gave in first. "That paterfamilias thing you mentioned," she explained, and pointedly took one of the biscuits out of Milicent's grip, "Only not for the Potter heir."

At that, Milicent's other eyebrow went up, but a broad grin blossomed underneath it, transforming the homely face into something surprisingly sweet. "You wee minx! You're going to bang the White Knight of Slytherin? What does Potter think of that?"

"That's what tonight's about. Seeing what Harry thinks. It'll be both of them, see?" Merlin, even saying it made the blood rush to her face and stay there! "I mean, I'll just be carrying their baby to term, not actually... er... banging them. Him. Oh, you know what I mean, and so help me, this had better NOT show up in any paper, or locker room gossip, Bulstrode, or you'll still be picking bat-bogeys out of your sinuses on your hundredth birthday, are we clear?"

Milicent waved her threat aside with sticky fingers. "Don't you worry about it. Snape's always known how to work Potter. If he wants what you're offering, he'll get his way, and Potter won't know what hit him." Her grin tried to be wicked, but the chocolate smears on her teeth spoiled the effect. "You're offering him a fairytale ending, aren't you? Happily ever after, riding into the sunset, true love and a rose-covered cottage, and everything. The trick will be getting him to believe there's no trick." A moment's glower. "There isn't a trick, is there?"

"Aside from the trick of me managing to convince the walking tribute to Slytherin suspicion to take a Gryffindor's offer at face value?" Ginny scoffed, and tried to steal another cake. Milicent fended her off with the teakettle. "No, there's no trick. But I'm thinking it might just be easier to convince old Malfoy to court a Muggleborn."

"Fairy tale ending?" Milicent reminded her, "Why wouldn't he go for it?"

Ginny sighed. "Because he's Snape, I guess. He's not very good at doing things that might make him happy."

"He's a Slytherin," Milicent replied, as though that explained everything. "You just leave him to Potter. He knows how to work Snape – these past years since the war have proven that. Hell, he even got Snape to stop wearing black all the time, which I thought wasn't even possible." She gestured broadly, and sloshed tea on the floor. Ginny winced, but decided to ignore it.

"Potter'll get what they both want," Milicent went on, gleeful and smug. "Snape will act like he's suffering through the whole thing, Lovegood will act like a loon, and you'll forget how much you hated expelling that first parasite, and nine months later, bob's your uncle – a new heir to the Prince line enters the world."

And to that, Ginny couldn't help but laugh. "Milly, dearest, when you decide to leave the broom and the bat behind, you'll have quite the future writing the Society Gossip columns." She shouldered her bag, finally managed to steal a cake, and headed for the fireplace as Milicent barked a laugh behind her.

"Me, a reporter? Hardly. I'm as silent as the grave." She leaned over the counter, and lit the fireplace with a wave of her wand. "Unless your mum happens to firecall here with another bloody second-hand guilt trip, in which case I just might spill every gory detail into her lap, and the devil take the hindmost!"

"Extortion!" Ginny protested.

"Call yer mum!" Milicent replied, and shoved her into the floo.

 

~* Truancy, Treason, and Things Your Friends Won't Tell You *~

 

Ginny was lost.

She could hear her mum bustling about in the kitchen, whistling along with the wireless just as though the world was still turning, as though the clouds outside were only raining an early winter sleet, instead of frozen, helpless tears.

The warm, homey smells of hot, spiced cider and gingerbread drifted up the stairs. Woodsmoke and spice, just beginning to tint over to the bloody, onionish smell of the roast – big enough to feed an army of Weasleys that weren't there, -- that Molly had put into the oven after lunch. As though cooking food for them would bring them all safely home. As if it could possibly be that easy.

Her belly grumbled, and Ginny turned her face to the wall, ignoring the swell of nausea that the scent of food had been rousing in her all week. Christmas goose to New Year's bubbly wine, to toast and tea in the grey of morning, it all smelt like hopelessness covered over with lies.

Harry was gone, running, hunted, maybe dead. Luna was gone, stolen by the monsters while Ginny had done nothing -- nothing -- to stop it. She clenched her eyes, pressed a fist against her lips to stop up the sound that was gathering along with the gorge in her throat. Should have known. Should have stayed with her. Shouldn't have let that little slag Parkinson distract me. Shouldn't have let Corner and Chang stop me. Should have blocked their freezing hex. Could have got there in time, if only they hadn't tried to bloody well protect me! She punched the pillow, hard as she could, remembering the sudden, dizzying swarm of black robes and white masks that had filled the Hogwarts Express. Corner and Chang had stuffed her in the luggage rack, slung a school robe over her head so the Death Eaters wouldn't spot her.

And they hadn't -- they'd no more than smashed the glass from the door, pointed wands at the Ravenclaws, and scanned the car before shouting "Not in this one!" and moving on. Stupid, stupid! They didn't even try to fight!

And then, almost as quickly as they'd come, the Death Eaters had gone again. Chang and Corner had let her go, tried to explain themselves, but what did it matter why they'd done it? It was done. Ginny could have cursed them both, only she'd had to get back to her car, to check on Luna.

Only when she did, Luna had gone as well, the door of their compartment shattered and hanging askew, the curtains still smouldering as Ginny had ducked inside. But all she had been able to find were Luna's stupid goggles, a few flecks of blood, and some blonde hair, stuck in the open outside window. Luna must have been trying to climb out when they'd snatched her.

Ginny clenched her eyes, pulled the perspectacles from their hiding place beneath her pillow, and cradled them to her breast, strangling a moan behind her teeth.

I could have stopped it! I should have stopped it. Somehow. Somehow.

But she hadn't stopped it. She'd let Parkinson wind her up in the passageway between cars, and she'd let Chang and Corner get the drop on her, and now… now it was too late; Luna was gone. The one thing Ginny'd had to hold onto was gone. Maybe forever. No amount of baking could shore up that awful, aching loss.

The unspoken threat of a cheering charm had been all that kept Ginny from vanishing every bloody plate of food her mum had foisted on her in the past week. She had never felt less like eating in her entire life. Come to that, she couldn't recall ever wanting less to get out of bed either, but thanks to Fred and George's years of mischief, there wasn't a door in the Burrow that could stay locked when Molly turned the handle. And getting chivvied out of bed, getting caught weeping, or even just staring out the window at the grey, grim Cornwall winter – well that led to questions, lectures, platitudes, and lies.

I'm sure she'll be fine, dear. Chin up now! If they really wanted to hurt her, they'd not have taken her with them, I'm certain. All spoken through smiles that never reached their frightened eyes. Don't you worry, love. Harry's a resourceful boy, and he's got Ron and Hermione with him for help, as well! It'll be just fine, you'll see. And try not to share a knowing, worried glance when you say it, of course. Here, let's have that dull old newspaper, and I'll serve us all up some lovely pudding! Who's for a game of Exploding Snap then?

It was nearly enough to make her relieved that she'd be going back to Hogwarts in the morning.

Nearly.

She closed her eyes, and struggled to take a deep breath. Then another. Then another. There was time for a nap before dinner. Time to lie very very still and pretend she was sleeping. Time to close her eyes and pretend that Luna would be waiting for her on platform 9 ¾ in the morning, that it would all turn out to have been a horrid dream, Fred and George pulling a prank that was more tasteless than usual, a misunderstanding, a mistake, SOMEthing. Something other than a grim and awful truth that now Hogwarts would hold no Harry, no Hermione or Ron or Fred or George, and now there would be no Luna either. What was left?

Damn it... she wasn't going to cry again! She just wasn't!

Suddenly, Mum's singing belowstairs cut off in a short, startled scream. Breath catching in her throat for another reason entirely now, Ginny bolted upright in her bed, and scrambled after her wand. Another attack? Why? What was left at the Burrow worth having?

"Get out!" Molly's voice cracked the sudden silence like a shot. "You get out of my house at once! You're not welcome here, you murdering traitor!"

"Of that, I have no doubt, madam." Ginny couldn't quell the shiver of hatred/horror/alarm that wrung itself up her spine as she recognized Headmaster Snape's snide voice. "However, I am here on-"

"I don't care why you're here! You get out right this instant, or so help me, I'll-"

"You'll give me a plausible excuse for having defended myself with whatever force I deem necessary in order to carry out my duties as Headmaster of Hogwarts." No mistaking the warning there -- it drew Ginny up short, hand on the doorknob, and wand dripping sparks across her threadbare carpet. Not her mum. Not her too!

"Ginny..." Molly's voice went dry and pale when she said it. Ginny could imagine the blood draining from her face, her wand drooping toward the carpet. "But start of term isn't until-"

"The charter of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry allows for the Headmaster to enact certain... preventative measures when, in his opinion, certain students show a high risk of truancy," Snape went on, now sounding oily and smug.

Ginny backed away from the door.

"My Ginevra has never-"

"She has been caught out of bounds several times this year already, Mrs. Weasley, and has been implicated in several acts of theft and vandalism." The floorboards click-groaned under his bootheels as Snape paced from the kitchen... through the hallway..."She already has two brothers who failed both to complete their final year of school, and to appear for their NEWTs." Across the lounge. Clickcreak. Clickcreak. Clickcreak. Where was Bill? Wasn't he supposed to have half an eye on the wards whenever Dad was away? "And young Ginevra has another brother who seems likely to follow their example this term."

"Ronald is ill." The lie rang hollow even to Ginny's ears. "The healers have already-"

She had to go. She had to go now, before he dragged her back to that prison of a school, where she would be little better than a hostage! Ginny tore open her trunk, and began digging out books, parchments, and school uniforms to make room for important things.

"Two years ago," Snape carried on as though Molly hadn't spoken at all. "Ginevra and young Ronald both ran away to London in the company of several other... hooligans," He was coming up the stairs now. Why didn't she keep any useful potions in her room? She'd never make it to the loo and back without getting caught! Bare feet scuffing the carpet, Ginny turned a frantic circle, and tried to think!

Snape's voice went loud as he topped the landing and stepped under the lower ceiling of the upstairs hallway. "- and given her parents' habit of permissive indulgence, I see no good reason to assume Miss Ginevra Weasley will honour her legal obligation to appear at Hogwarts tomorrow evening with the rest of the students."

"She will!"

I won't! But if she didn't, where else could she go?

Ginny flinched as her door shuddered under a sudden weight -- not a knock, no. This was someone heavy, and not very tall throwing herself against it, blocking it with her body.

Mum would die for me. The awful truth of that statement sank like a stone into Ginny's soul. She'd heard of it before, such terrible love. Like the way Lily Potter had thrown herself in the way of the curse meant for her son… But Ginny had never understood that if her mum did die for her, Snape would still take her away afterward. And whatever happened then, Ginny's life would never include Molly Weasley again.

And I... I would have died for Luna too. She swallowed, and forced her hand to stop shaking. I would have. And what good would that have done?

Ginny opened the door.

"It's all right, Mum," she said, catching Molly's shoulder as she staggered back. "I'll go with the..." she flickered a glance at the looming, stark shadow of a man beyond. "I'll go. I'm nearly packed now anyway."

"No," Molly's hand was bloodless white, and cold on her wrist. "Your father will want-"

"I'll write when we get to school," Kissing her mother's cheek, Ginny prised loose, and aimed the packing spell that Tonks had taught her at her the mess she'd made of her school trunk. "That way you'll know that nothing's happened to me." She thought Snape might have made a noise through that dirty great nose of his, but Ginny resisted the urge to turn and glare at him. She wasn't going to give him the excuse.

"Oh!" and suddenly Ginny was smothered in nubby, pillowy, hand-knit adoration, one curl of greying ginger hair tickling her nose as her mum trembled against her. It was almost alarming to realize that Ginny was just about the same height. When had that happened?

She closed her eyes, turned her face into her mother's hair, and scraped up a smile. "It'll be all right, Mum. You'll see."

A rustle of movement from the hallway made Ginny flinch, but Snape had only shrunk and summoned her trunk. He gave them both a disdainful sneer when Molly whirled to face him again. "Charming. Before either of you feels it necessary to burst into song, however, may I point out that Miss Weasley has neither shoes nor cloak on at present? The walk from Hogsmeade will be quite unpleasant in that state, I daresay. The snow is quite deep just now."

Molly opened her mouth, face blazing again, but Ginny tugged her jumper and pushed past into the hallway. "My boots are by the kitchen door," she summoned up an icy dignity she didn't feel, and summoned a pair of socks from the wardrobe. "You may wait for me there, if you like."

His glittering black eyes narrowed, but he still cut a brisk nod, and retreated as far as the staircase.

Grumbling a word for which she'd have soaped any of her children's mouths, Molly turned and eyed him with patent distrust while Ginny pulled the socks over her bare feet. They were the grey and maroon ones, from Ginny's Christmas box this year, she noticed with a pang. "I'll see you all at Easter," she said once that was done.

"Of course, dear," her mother answered, not shifting her glare from Snape even as she gathered Ginny into a one-armed hug. "Just like every year. You make us proud, and stay out of trouble."

Snape rolled his eyes. "Come, Miss Weasley, let us go before your mother gives you any further contradictory orders."

Ginny ignored him, and stepped around until she could stare intently into her mother's face. "I will make you and Daddy proud," she promised. Then she kissed her mother's stunned, slack lips, and proceeded to march straight past grotty old Snape just as if she didn't give two figs for his authority.

He might have made a rude noise when he turned to follow, but Ginny told herself she didn't care if he did.

In the garden, he offered his arm – a gesture that might have seemed gallant, had a less loathsome man made it, or had his face not been twisted into a moue of distaste. Ginny returned that look coolly. "I don't need your help," she said, pulling on her mittens. "Unless you're intending to Apparate me somewhere other than Hogwarts' gates."

He rolled his eyes. "You are not licensed to Apparate anywhere at all, Miss. Weasley; however if your natural pig-headedness forbids you accepting the guidance of one obliged to provide it, then by all means, do as you will. I'm certain the Aurors stationed at Hogsmeade will find your independence and disregard for the law… charming."

Give them a reason, he seemed to be saying.

Infuriating. And strangely, almost a relief to be filled up with clean, bright anger after a week of grey, muddling grief. Ginny took hold of the man's elbow, and at once they were squeezing through a dizzying, breathless nothingness, emerging from Cornwall's mizzling winter rain, into Scotland's thick, bitter snow.

The winged boars on Hogwarts' gates looked as though a mad pastry chef had been at them with icing sugar, and the snow was so thick and wet, the massive iron gates shuddered, and scraped back great wings of it as they opened. A sledge waited just inside, its traces draped around a pair of conspicuous nothings where Harry or Luna would have surely seen thestrals.

Ginny sighed, and looked away, her indignation flickering out as quickly as it had come. She let Snape hand her up into the sledge without a comment, and ignored the rugs and blankets piled within as he came round and climbed in the other side. She wasn't all that cold anyway.

"I understand Potter was nearly caught at Christmas," Snape observed idly as the sledge jerked into motion.

Ginny weathered the twinge of pain, then took a breath and shrugged. "I wouldn't know about that." Nearly caught. Nearly. Meaning Harry hadn't yet been caught. Oh, how tempting, the hope of that 'nearly!' She closed her eyes, and did not watch the great, empty castle drawing nearer across the snowy fields.

"No, of course not. Why should the princess concern herself with what takes place outside her ivory tower?" Snape sneered. "All you need do, after all, is sit back, ignore the unpleasantness of war, and attend to your needlework until your Ulysses returns to your rescue."

Ginny clenched her fist, and did not open her eyes. He could not make her look at him, he could not make her speak to him. He hadn't the right, whatever sorts of hateful lies he might spew!

"How inconvenient for you, though, that Potter will almost certainly die in pursuit of his quest."

"He won't!" Ginny snarled before she could stop herself.

Snape gave her a smirk. "Oh, but I find it quite likely that he will. He does so fit the martyr's profile, after all; the plucky Jack who bumbles through his adventures by grace of a magical protector, and his own, blind stupid luck. And once he has squandered his protections, and stubbornly tripped all the traps he has been warned against, his guardian can help him no more. Oh yes, that is Our Potter, to a tee. "

"The Jack always wins," Ginny pushed the words through her teeth, willing herself to believe them. "Even against giants and ogres, the Jack wins!"

"And so we return to my original observation," Snape said, and his leer was positively thick with disdain. "I wonder, though, that you can be content with the role of door prize, mewed up and waiting for a hero's claim. Not very Gryffindorish, such passivity seems."

"You know nothing about Gryffindors!" Ginny meant to mutter it under her breath, but the icy air, and her tight-wound throat carried the words far and clear. She gulped, then bellied stubbornly up to them. "You think you do, but you're-"

"Wrong?" He pounced on the word. "Unfair? Biased, perhaps, because I notice that the whole, rosy lot of you seem to believe you're living a fairy tale, where heroes save the day, villains are always ugly, and only Slytherins ever die?"

The sledge was slowing as they pulled up the hill, and into the castle's shadow. Ginny steadied herself with a deep breath, and boosted her chin. "Saving the day makes you a hero, whoever you are; ugly is as ugly does, and an ugly heart makes a pretty face disgusting," and she couldn't hold back a sneer at the last, "And when Slytherins push the rest of us to fight in order to stop them, then yes, they'll die. And if Gryffindors lead the rest in the fight, it's because we're not afraid to do what we have to do."

The sledge pulled to a stop at the main doors, but before Ginny could climb out of the sledge, Snape caught her hand in a grip of iron, pulled her face in close to his own, and hissed, "Prove it!"

Two words; two glittering black eyes boring into her own as though the traitor could search her mind for the truth she wasn't hiding; two loves, both stolen away. What was left, when all she cared about was taken from reach? Hogwarts, as much her home as was the Burrow, was what. The Muggleborns of the Wizarding World, who needed more than just Harry Potter to count on, was what. The Fight for a world she could live in with pride, was what.

Filled up with a sudden, steely calm, Ginny gave the man one brisk nod, and said, "All right, I will!" Then she twisted her wrist free, slithered out of the sledge, and marched up the stairs, into the castle.

And if he followed behind her or not, she did not bother to turn around and see.

 

~* Wine, and the Architecture of Reciprocity *~
Kisses on the dance floor in my past: I need some comfort just like you

They nearly lost Snape at the ceremonial robes. Apparently, he found the semiotic link to the magical lineage of the lost priesthood of Ys less than compelling in the face of looking rather silly for a few hours.

Luckily though, he'd already submitted (albeit with poor grace,) to taking the ayahuasca-laced potion, so between Harry working on him, and Ginny persuading Luna to cut a corner or two, the four of them had quickly reached a compromise of nudity all round. Harry stripped down first -- by way of enticement, Ginny felt certain as she watched his clothes peel free of his summer-damp skin, and fall, soundless as moth's wings in darkened corners. He was glorious; still slight from childhood's hunger, and still too thin, for appetite hadn't yet replaced the tone his grieving had stolen, but oh, he was as sleek and fine as a panther in that peach-golden skin of his.

Severus watched him no less hungrily, a flush rising on his sallow cheeks that had nothing to do with outrage. By the time Harry was bare and stretching luxuriously to the sultry night, Severus wasn't the only one thoroughly bewitched. Ginny's fingers itched to stroke along the velvet of Harry's shoulder, to taste the back of his neck, and count the moans to be found between the bones of his spine... to climb into his skin and roll herself around in all of him. It was not the potion's amplification of her peaking hormones, either; there had always been a pure, breathtaking light in Harry, the more astounding for the fact that he just never seemed to see it for himself. His beauty was like his sweetness: unconscious, unpracticed, and as purely natural as his irreverent hair and quick, delicate hands.

And then there was Severus, revealed slowly as his robes dropped away, tall, pale, and spare -- a crescent moon slipping free of bleak woolen clouds. His scars were faint texture in the low, quiet light, blending with his pale, curling hair to somehow soften Severus from his normal, tight-buttoned and brittle rigidity to a softer, more pliant sort of intensity that Ginny supposed she must always have sensed was underneath it. He was not handsome, but somehow he made the word laughable, as though notions of aesthetic loveliness were cheap, and hollow next to a gravity like his. It was awesome. It was intimidating.

But then Harry, with an eyeroll and smile, reached into Severus' mist-pale hair, and gently pulled his face out of hiding for a kiss. His response could hardly be called submission; his hands, as they rose to cradle Harry's face, were nothing short of possessive. It was hard not to wonder what it would feel like to stand at the center of such blazing focus, but there was a part of Ginny that was perfectly content to watch as he devoured the mouth of the only man she had ever loved.

Somehow, entwined so closely, they were exquisite.

"Fire and water," Luna murmured beside her, reaching up to slide Ginny's blouse off her shoulders. "They're like a storm at sea, aren't they?"

"Yes," she heard herself breathe as Severus' eyes came open and fixed on hers like a dare.

Second thoughts? that look seemed to say, do you envy me this? Do you hate me for taking what should be yours?

And surprisingly, Ginny found she wasn't actually jealous -- or rather, that the slight jealousy she did feel was nothing compared to the luxuriant voyeurism of watching what they did to each other. She replied with a smile that felt cat-smug and daring, and shimmied her skirt and knickers down over her hips together.

"They are," she said, hollowing her back as Luna's cool fingers pulled at the catch of her brassiere. A click, and the bands went slack and the same, shockingly lush touch tickled them off her shoulders, and away. She gave a shiver, and a gasp loudly desperate in the candlelit gloom, and guided Luna's hands up from her belly, to cup her breasts.

Harry and Severus both stared, rapt, erect, and distracted. Smug, she craned her neck to Luna for a kiss, and murmured. "What next, love? Do we just make a pile?" She glanced at the carpet, and the pile of pillows that surrounded a wide, shallow copper cauldron. Beside it lay a small collection – a bottle of something deeply red, a smaller bottle that looked like oil, a cordial glass, a plate of cakes, all of their wands, arranged in a square. One candle – wide and yellow and smelling of honey, with two wicks, -- took pride of place in the center of the dish, suggestively vertical in Ginny's aroused state.

Luna's smile ghosted along the cords of Ginny's neck as she shook her head. "Not just yet," she smiled, gently kneading Ginny's nipples as Severus and Harry both prowled nearer. Each of them reached for one of Ginny's hands, and Luna pressed her foreward from behind. "Offerings first," she said.

Ah. She knew that. Ginny took a shaky breath, trying to think through the haze of building desire inside her. She'd read the ritual, talked it over with the rest – the risks, which parts they could not afford to get wrong. It was just so hard to keep that in mind when she wanted so very fiercely.

Ginny allowed the three of them to steer her to the copper bowl, then Severus and Harry dropped to kneel on the other side of it – elegant contrast as they reached for the candle, and lifted it together. Luna nudged her forward, and Ginny stepped into the cauldron as she reached out to wrap both hands around the heavy wax pillar. A shock coursed through her as she did so, and she could not bite back a groan at the sudden, brief feeling of connection.

She looked down at the two men, crouched and patient, with hungry eyes and eager cocks. Supplicants, but hardly humble. Awaiting her permission, but by no means submissive to her desire. Beautiful, but in no way hers – then again, perhaps they were. Ginny smiled, lowered her candle, and bent to sample their kiss-softened lips. Harry was shy, and needed her tongue to coax him out, but Severus was bold enough for both of them. And his tongue was anything but sharp.

She grinned wickedly as she released him. Not for her, the meal, but oh, that little taste was fine!

"What do you want?" Luna's voice seemed to float from the darkness all around, tactile as the curling smoke from incense Ginny hadn't noticed her lighting. But there was a strange, double tone to it, as though another, much more vast voice whispered just behind the familiar tone.

"A son of my blood," the wizards answered in concert, and Ginny could almost feel it as they linked their fingers in the hollow between them. "Nurtured within your vessel."

Ginny flexed her fingers around the candle, and rode out the echoing spasm those words aroused in her. Oh, that potion was potent – her knees were watery already, and they'd not hardly begun!

"And what do you offer me in trade?" the Not-Luna voice demanded, louder and closer now. Ginny imagined she could feel a chill breath against the back of her head.

Before her, Harry swallowed, his free hand twitching just the tiniest bit toward their gathered wands, before Severus' finger-clench stopped him. Instead, he caught the wine and goblet, and passed them to Severus, before taking up one of the cakes, and rising to his knees.

"The work of my hands," he said the words to Ginny, eyes intent and nervy upon her face as he offered the cake to her lips.

She bit, tasted honey and comfrey, poppyseed, oats, and sweet almonds. The crumbs tickled down between her breasts, and over her belly, each one a tiny, fizzling star. She licked Harry's finger, suckled and bit on his thumb when she finished the treat, and was smug at the shaky breath he had to take to steady himself.

"What more?" The cold behind her moved closer.

Harry's glance almost flickered aside, but then he set his jaw. "I offer you my eyes."

"Done." The reply came at once, and Harry's green eyes clouded over at once – iris, pupil and sclera gone beneath an ink-stain swirl. Harry gasped, Severus made a tight, hurt noise in his throat, but placed a steadying hand on his lover's hip as he too, rose to his knees.

"And you?" that couldn't be mistaken for Luna anymore. Ginny tried not to think about where her lover had gone while the owner of that vast, cold voice was speaking. "What do you offer me?"

"The work of my hands," he replied in turn, lifting the cordial glass to Ginny's lips. It was fiery and fierce on her tongue, redolent with apple, spice, and something exotic, woody, and bitter. She drank it down, slipped her tongue deep into the cup's throat, to catch the last drops. Snape's eyes were hot on her own when she smirked at him.

But then he returned the smirk, and raised the bottle, to pour the rest of the liquor over her heated, sensitive breasts. She gasped, shuddered under the blaze of sensation, and had she not had the candle to hold, would have had to clutch at his shoulders.

The voice was unimpressed. "What more?"

Harry's hand sought blindly just missing Severus' elbow. Severus glanced at him took his hand, and leveled a look at Ginny that held no more merriment. "I offer you my voice."

"No-" Harry began.

Too late. "Done," the voice answered.

"Shhh," Ginny said over Harry's protest. "It'll be all right, Harry. It will."

"Gin…" he said, but then Severus reached out and gathered him in, and silenced whatever desperate fear he had been about to voice beneath his own soundless lips. Ginny watched as restraint turned to comfort, and comfort to devouring passion between them.

Oh, she wanted Luna just now… Ginny sank to her knees in the puddle of spicy red, gasping as the liquor brushed the folds of her sex with fire. She wanted to spread herself, to stroke the welling heat at her center, to delve deep within as she watched those two lithe bodies straining each into each. She wanted to be touched, and clutched, and held so desperately as that – each curve of her body fitted to the hollow of another, so that only the gentlest rocking could push one in reach of release…

Hands closed over her shoulders; Luna's by the size, but so hard and cold, her mind insisted they had to be bone. "And you, Lady?" the voice rumbled in her ear like a lover as she watched Severus urge Harry down into the nest of pillows. "Will you give to me what most you love?"

Ginny shivered as unbidden sensations flooded her mind. Jamie's milky baby grin. The giggle Harry always gave when she tickled that spot on his back. The pillow of her mother's embrace. Pride in her father's eyes. Severus' grudging welcome. Ronnie's offhand compliments. Milly's hardnosed ribbing. Luna sleeping, golden and sweet in the morning light; Luna reading, ink-smudged and beautiful; Luna kissing her, blue eyes dreamy, soft lips welcoming her home…

She shook her head, and set her shoulders. "No," she told whatever was asking. "That's not mine to give."

The chill descended a bit more, and Ginny had the sense of great, dark wings coiling around her copper bowl. "Then will you give to me what most you fear?"

Red eyes in a pallid, serpentine face. Golden hairs, caught bloody on the window of a train. A boy who walked away from her and never came back. A mother who died for love. A child who grew in darkness, and never understood that sunlight came for free…

"No," she said, relieved when her voice didn't shake. "That fear is dead."

Half-shadowed, Harry made a desperate noise, one leg arching high over Severus' back. His toes were flexed out wide, as though grasping in the dark.

One wick of the candle sprang alight.

"Then will you give me your name?" the voice asked, and Ginny imagined she heard a little, wheedling note come into it now.

But she knew better than that. Names were magic; names were control; names were power. She smiled, and shook her head. "Of course not. My name won't fit you."

The hands on her shoulder clenched. "Then what do you offer, to stop me keeping all I have taken, Lady?"

All he had taken; Harry's eyes. Severus' voice. Luna's body. Could a single child be worth such loss?

Harry groaned again, this one a long, weaving sound. Sweat gleamed along the slope of Severus' shoulder and hip as he surged down, down, down… then shuddered and was still.

The candle's second wick took flame, blazed up bright and warm beneath her chin, and suddenly, Ginny knew. From the hollow of her empty belly, to the weighty crown of her head, she knew what she had to tempt the voice.

"Life," she said, watching Severus collapse into Harry's embrace, the candle light stroking back and forth along his ribs as he gasped soundless for breath. She leaned her head to the side, rubbed her cheek along the cold, bony fingers. "I offer you life. Love, Home, Family -- a place in my heart, and at my hearth, until the end. I offer you birth, if you will have it."

"Done," the voice said, warm and soft as a kiss in her ear.

And in the cradle of her hands, the twin flames blazed like stars.

 

~* Press, Promises, and the Naming of Cats *~
Drowning in the flood of morning light: I'm only human just like you

 

"No?" Harry repeated, and for a moment, his eyes blazed with hurt and confusion. Then he shuttered it away, buried it under a veil of unreadable, unassailable calm, and he nodded, rolling away from her in the bed, and staring at the morning-bright ceiling. "All… all right then."

Ginny had to chew on her lips to hold back the smile. Her heart was hammering like a bird under her ribs, and the rush of adrenaline that followed Harry's unexpected proposal had her just about ready to giggle like a loon anyhow. But it wouldn't do to give in. Not with poor Harry looking so crushed. "I expect you'd like to know why I'm not going to marry you," she prompted.

Harry foiled her there though, and offered only a sidelong glance, and a wry smile. "You don't have to explain yourself, Ginny," he said, and drew the duvet up to cover his chest. "I know I'm not-"

"Wrong," she countered, and rolled onto her side to kick him in the ankle. "You are good husband potential. You're kind, and generous, and honest and loving, and all those things I'd want to see in the father of my children. And that's not even coming near the fact that you're richer than Midas, and extremely easy on the eyes. Now that you've survived the worst grudge-match of our age, you can be pretty much summed up with the words "Bloody Fine Catch," in fact." She poked him in the armpit. "Next guess?"

His brow clouded as he flinched away from her tickle; a ghost of the stormy, volatile Harry from their school years, but he quelled it with a deep breath, and sat up in the bed. The duvet puddled around his hips, revealing a distracting trail of hair below his navel, but as usual, Harry was completely oblivious to his own beauty. And as usual, Ginny had to firmly quash the urge to touch, and help him see what she did in him.

"It wasn't fair of me to ask you to wait," he said, voice low and defeated. "I've… look, Neville told me some of what happened that year I was gone, and –" he turned to face her, reached under the pillows for Ginny's hand. She let him catch it. "We both changed that year. Nobody can deny that, and Luna's the one who stood by you while-"

Ginny cut him off with a sigh, and a roll of her eyes. "Wrong. Luna spent half that year in the Malfoy's basement, Harry." She gave his fingers a squeeze, and used the leverage of his grip to hike herself up a little higher against the pillows. For as grim and tricksy as Grimmauld Place could be, she had to admit that its beds were the very definition of luxury. Once you got the doxies out, that is.

"I do love Luna, yes," Ginny informed Harry with a level stare. "And yes, she is going to be a part of my life, just like Snape's going to be a part of yours, and don't you even start to deny that!" She warned as he opened his mouth.

He shut it with a clack, but at least he was intrigued, goaded into actually listening to her, instead of presuming the worst. Ginny turned her palm to his, and laced their fingers together against the pillows. "Harry, the only person I've ever met who loves as much as you, is Luna. And the only person who loves as fiercely as you is Severus." He blushed, and looked away, but she wouldn't have it. She poked his side again to make him look back. "Harry, there's been a gravity between you and Severus Snape from the first moment you met, and everybody knew it! Yes, you had debts, and fears, and old wounds to work out between you, but you've done that! And now that force has finally taken the shape of love, rather than hatred, how could I be jealous of it? You deserve his love, Harry. I can't begrudge you that. Who else in the world could have done for him what you have?"

Blushing, he ran his free hand through his hair, and turned his pillow-head into an even more shocking mess. "It was no more than he deserved," Harry murmured. "After all he'd had to do, all he sacrificed to try and…"

"That's right," she agreed, and gave his hand a squeeze, "but you and I both know that wouldn't have mattered if it hadn't been for you. You forgave him before anybody else did. You decided that he deserved another chance. If you hadn't stood up for him – Merlin, Harry, you brought him back to life! I'm not so egotistical as to think I have the right to interfere with that!"

"But I love you too, Ginny," he said, and gazed hopelessly through his fringe. "I always wanted to have a life with you."

Which wasn't exactly true, and both of them knew it, but Ginny was feeling generous, so she let the small lie pass. Shaking her hand free of his, she reached up to brush the too-long hair out of his eyes, then trailed her fingers down to cup his cheek. "Then that, is what you should have asked me for, you idiot."

He blinked, was adorable, and did not understand.

Ginny sat up, grabbed his shoulders, and forced him to look at her square on. "Harry Potter, you don't have to ask me to love you," she said, and gave him a little shake. "I already do love you, and the fact that I love Luna doesn't in any way lessen it!" His eyebrow quirked, Snape-like, and she quieted him with another shake. "And you don't need to ask me to make a family with you… someday, because I'm already doing that." She blushed to confess it, but it was truth. She had been imagining what their children might look like for months since the final battle.

She couldn't decide whether she'd sooner see her own red hair above the lovely green eyes she expected their children to have, or the wind-tousle raven silk of Harry's. Even when she was brushing up on her contraceptive spells to be sure there were no accidental endings to her Quidditch career, she knew that she loved the very idea.

"Then I guess I don't understand," Harry admitted at last, dislodging her hand as he shook his head. "If you're not breaking it off with me, then why won't you marry me?"

"Because I don't need to," Ginny replied, and a part of her rang with the truth of it. "Because we don't need a ring to be what we already are. And we don't need a piece of paper, or a change of names to make room for each other in our lives." His startled blink encouraged her, and the ghost of a smile tickled his lips. Ginny met it with one of her own.

"I've just now learned to like being Ginevra Weasley. It's taken me years to learn how to make that name into my own, and not just a platform for what my mum and dad expected of me – I know you know what it's like; people thinking they can put their hopes and dreams on you without so much as offering you a choice, or sometimes even telling you about them."

He nodded, and now his eyes were thoughtful. "This isn't going to make the press leave you alone," he warned. "You realize that, don't you?"

She laughed. "I intend to make the press sit up and take notice of me without the benefit of your last name, thank you, Mr. Potter! Quidditch stars get much better press than National Heroes, after all!"

And by the time they finished laughing at that, it was somehow all right again. Mum would pester and disapprove; Ron would smirk, and wind Hermione up about her matchmaking; and Daddy would watch to make sure she was happy, and give her his blessing when he was sure Mum wouldn't overhear it.

They would go on. Whatever came about, whatever challenge arose, Ginny was certain they could be a match for it – with Luna's insight, Snape's intelligence, and her and Harry's well-matched stubbornness, what in the world could stop them?

"So…" she stretched, inwardly smug to note how his eyes followed the swell of her breast as it slipped from under the covers. "You ready for breakfast, or are we going to keep beating this dead thestral?"

But as it turned out, Harry wasn't interested in tea, or conversation at all just then. Which was actually just fine by Ginny.

 

~* Albus Severus, Enter Stage Right *~
Do you hear the city waking up?: I will survive and so will you

 

"Where... Hah! Where are they?" Ginny gritted through her teeth, gripping Luna's hand fiercely, and trying to breathe through the contraction without sounding like the Hogwarts Express on a steep hill. "If Harry's fainted again, I swear to Merlin, I'll -- Aaaaowwww!!!"

"Breathe, dear." How Molly managed to speak with her lips pursed that tight, Ginny didn't know. She'd promised the second time would be easier. Had promised that it wouldn't be so bad, now she knew what she could expect, and her body had already done the flexing it needed to do when Jamie had been born.

The only thing stopping Ginny calling her mother a bald-faced liar was the empirical evidence of her own existence as seventh-born child, and the rather sensitive place that Mum had her fingers just then.

Luckily, Luna was there to distract her. "I think they're still arguing, actually."

"Arguing," Ginny huffed. "Imagine. What is it this time?"

"The baby's name, I think," Luna's chuckle cooled the sweat-slick hair at Ginny's temple. "The Professor wants to name him after Headmaster Dumbledore, but Harry's pitching for tradition."

Molly snorted loudly, "Funny sort of tradition, if you ask me. Naming a child after-"

"His father," Ginny gritted in reply. "Lots of parents do it that way, Mum. And from the way this kid's shoving about on my bladder right now, he doesn't seem much like a Dumbledore kind of boy, really!" She rolled her head back between Luna's breasts, and stared pleadingly at her lover. "Are you sure you couldn't get them in here? Because if all they're doing is more fighting, I could really enjoy kicking the both of them right now..."

"Breathe, dear..." Ginny huffed some more, but didn't relinquish her stare.

Luna smoothed Ginny's hair back from her brow, and smiled like an unruffled angel. "Well, I can see if the Professor is done throwing up if you like. Harry was holding his hair in the loo when I checked in on them earlier."

"What, still? He hasn't eaten anything since last time!" Ginny arched into a contraction, and groaned through her teeth. "What's he got left to throw up, his bung-"

"GINEVRA!"

"BOOTSOLES!" Ginny yelped, digging her heels into the mattress, and trying in vain to use Luna's arm to leverage her escape. "Bootsoles, Mum! And ow, that hurts!"

"Well, you're not nearly dilated enough yet, is why," Molly replied, smeared and pitiless as she stood upright and wiped her hands on a towel. "You should be focusing on breathing, and relaxing, not plumbing the depths of your locker room vocabulary at a time like this! And in front of your -- no no, James, leave Mummy be, there's a good boy."

"Jamie?" Ginny levered herself up, scrambling to pull her nightdress down. "What is he doing in here?"

The door hadn't opened, had it? How could he have gotten in without her noticing? And yet there he was, the fluffy-haired scamp, peering up from the foot of the bed as his tiny, sticky hand patted at her foot. "Ma!"

"No no, Jamie love," Molly cooed, disengaging the baby's hand as he tried to haul himself up onto the bed, "Mummy's busy, and there isn't room for you to help."

"Ma! Maaaa!" Jamie protested, flopping his rag baby up onto the bed and reaching for Ginny with his free hand.

"Jamie, baby, stay -- ah! Stay down please..." Ginny gasped, writhed under the cramp, but fixed her mother with a gimlet stare. "I thought Hermione was meant to be... watching him! Where's she got to if he's-"

As if in answer, the door burst open, and a flustered Hermione burst in, Hugo propped on one hip, Victoire toddling after, thumb fixed in her mouth. "Well, there's where you went!" She cried, spotting Jamie. "Sorry Ginny, Molly; seems this little boy's trying on his instinctive magic a bit earlier than most."

"He went!" Victoire said around her thumb.

"That's right, he did," Hermione agreed, straightening her robe, and juggling Hugo to the other hip. "I swear, Ginny, one minute he was right there helping me put a plaster on Harry's nose, and the next, there was no sign of him anywhere!"

"He went!"

Mortified and in pain, Ginny pulled Luna's arms up around her head and groaned. "If you love me, you'll kill me now!" Luna only laughed though, and settled Ginny more firmly against her body.

"That's right, Vicky, he did," Molly said, scooping James up into her arms, and kissing the squirming boy. "Well, Jamie can't be blamed for wanting his mum, can he?" She said, carrying him toward the door, and shooing Hermione and Victoire along before her. "Let's see about a bit of a snack to settle everybody's nerves then, shall we?"

"MUM!" Ginny cried, appalled, "You can't just leave me! You're meant to be the midwife!"

"Oh, you're just fine, girl," Molly tossed back. "This bout of cramping's nearly done, and you're still going better than ten minutes between contractions. You hardly need me hanging about while you've got your friend here with you."

And with that, she was gone, closing the door on Hermione's apologetic smile before a word could be said. Ginny said a few words to the closed door anyway.

"Maybe we should try St. Mungo's for the next one," Luna observed once Ginny stopped swearing. "They have this huge tank all full of the amnioserum of rare, deep sea Poeditzys, and they have mothers swim in it during labour, since the harmonic magnetism of the birthing fluid enhances the- ouch, you're squashing my fingers, Ginny!"

"Next one?" Ginny released the digits with a glare, then sighed, and stretched her legs out as, true to her mum's prediction, the contraction gave way to a watery, shaky buzz of aftershocks through her tired muscles. "What in Merlin's shaggy pants makes you imagine I'll be doing this again? Ever? For the rest of ALL of our lives?"

"You wouldn't want to have a baby with me next?" Luna asked, massaging her hand.

Ginny stared, but couldn't tell if Luna's placid, expectant smile was a put-on, or genuine. "It wouldn't take much," she went on when Ginny didn't answer, "to modify the spell we used for Harry and Severus, and I was thinking a pretty little girl might be nice." Luna gently combed her fingers through Ginny's tangled locks, and her smile went that extra, irresistible shade deeper toward perfect beauty. "I'd rather fancy a pretty, red-haired daughter..."

"Yellow-haired," Ginny replied, reaching up to free a loop of curl from behind Luna's ear. She smiled as it, and many of its fellows came slithering down all around her face in a silken whisper that smelled of mysteries, meadowsweet, and printing ink. "Yellow hair is so much prettier..."

Even upside down, weary, and sticky with sweat, the kiss was just as sweet as the first they'd ever shared. Ginny let her smile linger as Luna sat upright again, and twitched her hair back over her shoulder. "Help me stand up?"

Perplexed, Luna released Ginny's shoulders, and asked, "Do you need me to go get something for you?"

"No," Ginny replied, rolling to drop her feet off the edge of the bed. "I just need your help with the stairs if I'm going to kick some sense into the boys heads before the next contraction starts..."

 

~* Fin *~