Summary: The war is finally over and Harry is ready to get on with his life. Most importantly, he wants to pick up where he left off with Ginny. First, though, he'll have to come to terms with the possibility that Ginny might not have put her life on hold and waited by the fire for him to come back to her.
Notes: This fic was begun prior to the release of Deathly Hallows and is thus AU, diverging from canon at that point. In particular, the characterization of Viktor Krum is noticeably different from what we saw of him in DH; in fact, my inability to reconcile my characterization of him here with that of Krum in DH is what led to my abandoning this for a couple of years.
Many thanks to katieay for reading over this and suggesting changes to improve it, and for general hand-holding and reassurance-providing. *loves*
Because it's been so long since I last updated this, I strongly recommend you (re-)read at least the preceding chapter (linked below the disclaimer) and preferably skim through all 5 previously posted chapters to (re-)acquaint yourself with the storyline.
DISCLAIMER: J.K. Rowling owns the Harry Potter universe and everything it encompasses. This is a work of fan fiction, and thus derives no profit or material benefit therefrom.
The sound of Harry's curses, muffled though they might have been by the giant winged globs of mucus she'd set on him, seemed to follow Ginny as she hurried downstairs in an effort to get as far away from him as possible. Don't like that, do you, Potter? she thought with malicious satisfaction. Well, I don't like being treated like a sodding Snitch.
Her steps slowed as she reached the bottom of the stairs. Her anger, fueled by fear and confusion, had flared so hotly it was short-lived, dissipating to reveal more deeply-rooted feelings of shame and horror as she recalled what he'd said. "Off for a snog with Krum?" he'd practically spat. It could only mean one thing: Harry must have seen her and Viktor kissing in the courtyard that morning. Had it really only been a few hours ago? So much had happened since then it felt to Ginny as if years had passed.
Her initial reaction upon realizing what Harry had witnessed was one of profound guilt. She could not begin to imagine the hurt and betrayal he must have felt at seeing her--well, it wasn't that she'd thrown herself at Viktor, but she could imagine that was how it had looked to Harry. No wonder he'd jumped to the first conclusion that came to mind.
He thinks I'm in love with Viktor.
That realization, though it explained Harry's strange behavior earlier, made Ginny want to cry. It also made her want to storm back upstairs and hurl every hex and jinx she knew at him until he admitted how stupidly, utterly wrong he was for thinking she could ever love anyone but him. How could you, Harry? she wailed mentally. How could you think I'd throw myself at Viktor the moment your back was turned? His lack of faith in her felt like pouring vinegar into an open wound, the same wound he'd inflicted when he'd brought her here in the first place.
Six months. Six months she'd been in this prison, exiled here by Harry because... why? Because he didn't trust her not to try to follow him when he went after Voldemort? Because of some misplaced, overbearing sense of protectiveness? Whatever his reasons and how he justified them to himself, they didn't change the fact that he had done this to her, had abandoned her here with no available, tangible means of comfort. What right had he, then, to blame her for seeking comfort any way she could find it?
It wasn't as if she'd shagged Viktor, after all; it had been nothing but a kiss. A rather deep, thorough, breathtaking kiss that made her knees turn to jelly and her insides tingle like they hadn't since the last time she'd kissed someone like that (Harry, in fact), but, all the same, only a kiss. And, really: if Harry hadn't left her here in the first place, she could have gone to her grave without ever having felt the compulsion to kiss Viktor in a rare moment of spontaneous happiness.
This insight re-ignited the flame of her anger, but this time it burned slow and pure, not tainted by other feelings. Harry was blaming her for the consequences of his actions? "You hypocrite!" she ground out through clenched teeth. "You self-righteous, judgmental arsehole!"
"What was that?" floated Ron's voice from the room to Ginny's left. He emerged through the doorway to look at her through narrowed eyes. "Who's a judgmental arsehole?"
Ginny hesitated. She couldn't hear any more of Harry's bellowing, which meant he'd either managed to free himself or drowned in bat snot. She shot a glare back upstairs over her shoulder, sort of a "So there!" look, then joined her brother. Hermione sat at a desk, writing, while a bored-looking barn owl perched nearby, waiting for her to finish.
"Who's put a twist in your knickers, then?" Ron asked after Ginny had flopped back in a nearby chair. "Not Vicky, I hope?" Hermione looked up from her writing to frown at him. He shrugged, stuffed his hands in his pockets, and leaned against the wall.
"It was Harry," Ginny said, daring him with the set of her chin to challenge her. "But it's okay, I hit him with a Bat-Bogey Hex," she said.
"You did what?" Ron yelped, his long-legged stride halving the distance between them. "What the bloody hell did you do that for?"
Ginny couldn't remember that last time she'd ever seen her brother quite so angry, nor could she recall having ever before been afraid of his fury. If he found out the real reason why she'd cast that hex, he'd likely turn Harry into a bloody pulp; if he found out what Harry had as good as accused her of--even if it was true--he'd probably do the same to Viktor. As upset as she was at Harry, she didn't want that to happen. "He got shirty with me," she dissembled smoothly.
"Shirty?" His face creased into a puzzled frown. "You hexed him with bat bogeys because he got shirty with you?"
A glance at Hermione told Ginny that she wasn't having any of it, but she was keeping quiet. For now. "Yeah. What's so wrong with that?"
"Do you - Have you--" Unable to find the right words to express whatever was going through his head, Ron threw up his arms in disgust and turned on his heel to march across the room and stare out the window. Curious to hear if he found a way to express himself, Ginny sat back, drumming her fingers on the chair.
She wasn't disappointed. After a long moment of silence he slapped his hands on the sill and turned back to face her. She was impressed by the strength of will it must have taken to rein in his anger: he was as calm as she'd ever seen him. "Do you have any idea what Harry's been through, of what he's had to live with for the past seven years?" he asked quietly.
"Of course I do, Ron. I've experienced some of that firsthand, in case you forgot. So don't act like you've got some special insider knowledge just because you spent the past year traipsing around after him like a puppy."
"Ginny!" Hermione exclaimed. Disturbed from its near-snooze, the owl clacked its beak and began shifting from foot to foot.
Ginny ignored her to stare down her brother. "Are you telling me that, in all the years you've known Harry, he never once got shirty with you?"
His stance softened slightly. "Naw, he gets that way with me all the time. But… But I'm not, well, you." He spread his hands out. "He practically worships the ground you walk on."
"That-- He--" Ginny found she was the one at a loss for words now. "What?"
"He's as likely to be rude to McGonagall as he is to you."
"Color me flattered."
"Ron's right, Ginny," Hermione said. "I can't think of two people--two women--whose good opinion he values more highly."
"Bollocks. There's yours, for starters."
She shook her head. "He values my cleverness, but it's your opinion of him that he truly cares about. He desperately wants you to think well of him."
Ginny stared at Ron and Hermione in disbelief. "Have both of you been Confunded or something?"
"If anyone's been Confunded, Ginny, it's you," Ron said. "Don't you get it?"
Hermione gave her a look that could only be described as pitying. "He did this for you, Ginny."
"Did what? Defeat Voldemort?" She snorted.
"Well, in a manner of speaking... yes."
Ginny blinked. This wasn't something she could simply absorb; it weighed down on her with all the bone-jarring impact of hitting the ground after falling from a broom at fifty feet. Speaking very carefully in an effort to hide the quaver in her voice, she asked Hermione, "Are you telling me that Harry going after Voldemort was ultimately just a scheme to get into my knickers?"
She'd have enjoyed the way Ron went scarlet if she weren't screaming inside. "I suppose now that he's done his bit, I'm supposed to, what? Lie back, spread my legs and think of England? Is that why I was sent away, to make sure he wasn't shortchanged of his prize at the end?
"I don't seem to remember there having been any sort of negotiations about this swap. 'Here you go, Harry, that's a good lad, you defeat the most powerful Dark wizard in history, and if you get through it alive, we'll give you Ginny Weasley as a reward.' I can tell you, if there had been and I'd known about it, I'd have held out for a lot more!"
"Don't tell me how I should feel, Hermione!" she spat, rising to her feet. "I get it, coming from him." She jabbed a finger in her brother's direction. "He's always had his head up his arse, especially where I'm concerned. You, though.... You're smart enough to know better, and the fact that you probably do, yet you're still spouting that garbage at me, means you ought to be ashamed of yourself."
She leaned her hands on the edge of the writing desk, lowering her voice to a harsh whisper. "I am not, nor have I ever aspired to be, Harry's payment for defeating Voldemort. I am not his finishing line or his trophy or his maiden on a pedestal. I will not stand for anyone, least of all you, telling me that I have no business getting pissed off at Harry when he's being a right git, that I'm only allowed to be grateful and forgiving and - and compliant." Her voice cracked on the last word. "How dare you."
The door made a satisfying crash when she slammed it behind her on her way out. Not wanting to risk another encounter with Harry, Ginny rejected her first impulse to run upstairs to her room and fling herself facedown on the bed for a good long cry and instead went in the opposite direction of the staircase, towards the rooms where Viktor spent most of his time when he wasn't at the training center or at matches.
Were she in a better mood, Ginny might have appreciated the irony of turning to Viktor, the one genuine stranger to her, for comfort now that she'd been reunited with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. When the three people she thought she'd known so well had turned on her, however, revealing by their words and actions that they saw her as nothing more than a material asset, barter in exchange for the safety of the wizarding world, where else could she turn? At least she knew she'd find a sympathetic ear in Viktor.