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Hand Me Downs

by Viola

Hand Me Downs

Somebody ought to take you in
Try to make you love again
Try to make you like the way they feel
When they're under your skin
Never once did you think they'd lie when they're holding you Gonna make you like the way they lie better than the truth

Sometime between his sixteenth birthday and the end of the world, Ginny began to set her hair in old-fashioned pins. She painted her face white and her mouth crimson, and floated through the castle looking like the lost ghost of Harry's own grandmother. He wasn't sure quite when he'd begun to notice, but he did know that the first thing he had noticed was the hair. It was the same tucked and pin-curled style he'd seen in black-and-white pictures of Grandmother Evans, trapped in heavy, gilt frames above Aunt Petunia's cabinets and curios.

There had been no pictures of his mother, but his grandmother's face he'd known since childhood. She looked nothing like his aunt, so he'd assumed as a very little boy that she must look like his mother. Hers was the face that looked out at him from behind mirrors, in the same way that his father's face was his own.

That fall, all it took was a change in hairstyle and suddenly, Ginny was a mystery. Harry had never met a mystery he didn't like -- though perhaps by then he ought to have known better.

November brought the season of mists, days grew short and ghosts grew restless. Harry himself grew restless. It was an itch, a compulsion; like a nagging something he'd forgotten to do or an enchantment gone wrong. He wandered the castle waiting to remember, or forget. He wasn't sure which he wanted. He haunted the library on cold afternoons, unable to sit still, unable to concentrate. He strolled through the shelves of books by himself, unwilling to sit through another of Ron and Hermione's minor scuffles.

"Well, that's just it," he heard Ginny say on one of those afternoons. Her voice bounced off the old books and stirred the dust and cobwebs around him.

"Most of them," he overheard her explaining seriously to another girl in her year, "are completely useless. They're just silly traditions that even Muggle girls still know how to do. My mother even made one once when she was our age. They don't work at all; they're just for fun. There is other magic, though -- but the trick is, you can't cast it for yourself. Someone else has to do it for you."

Harry let his book drop, unread, to his side and wandered to the end of the row where he had a better view of the pair of them.

"Really? And does it work?" The other girl, a plump, blonde little dumpling, was looking at Ginny wide-eyed.

"They say it works very well. But I doubt we'll ever learn how." She smiled. "It's not dark magic exactly, but the spell is considered cruel."

"Why is that?"

"Because the person who casts it for you has to be in love with you himself." A pause, then, "Oh, don't look like that, Jane. It's probably just a story, anyway. And besides, I don't even believe you can make someone fall in love with you that way. I think some people just need an excuse."

When Jane left, Harry drifted out of the stacks, the unread book still in his hand. At the table, Ginny wrote in a lazy, casual sprawl, red ink on white paper like blood and bone. He craned his neck to see, thinking maybe he could read what she was writing. She looked up from her scribbles and smiled at him like she knew something he didn't. "Do you want to sit down?"

He took the chair beside her, knowing he ought to feel embarrassed. He didn't.

"Studying, Harry?"

He tossed the book on the table and took off his glasses. "Not really."

She closed her own book. It was bound in mahogany-red and looked as though it had cost more than she should have been able to afford. Harry wanted to ask if it was a diary, but didn't dare.

He reached for his glasses, only to find them gone. Ginny had them by one wire end, twirling them between thumb and forefinger.

"I like you better without them, you know," she said, her brown eyes going dark and wide as she handed them back.

When she got up to leave, Harry followed.

Christmas came and there were only a handful of students left, children locked in a tower that couldn't quite keep the shadows away. And for the first time ever Harry thought about Christmas, and realized he didn't feel like celebrating the birth of another boy-baby who'd been born only to die. For the first time he noticed that Professor McGonagall went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and that Ginny, among others, went with her. Ron snorted and said he'd had enough of all that standing and kneeling as a kid, and Hermione turned up her nose and declared religion the opiate of the masses in a voice that would have made Karl Marx extremely proud. Harry didn't go either, but he waited by the fire until the others came back. He noticed that Ginny smelled like incense, holly and snow when she returned, noticed that her color was high and she wore a St. Christopher medal half-hidden by the neck of her heavy sweater.

Surprising himself, Harry asked her about the mass. The Dursleys were not at all religious and Harry had never been inside a church. She told him about the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei, the bells, the candles and how cold the stone floor was when they had to kneel. She told how, when she was little, all nine Weasleys had gone to mass together and how, now, she was the only one. And she only ever went at Christmas.

"Why did they stop?" he asked, thinking that this was something Ron had never mentioned.

Instead of answering, she said, "I'm tired. I think I ought to go to bed."

The next morning, amidst sweets and colored paper, Ginny gave him a tie, dove grey silk, that looked as old as her hairpins. But the material was still rich and fine, slick and smooth, the color of rainwater in his hands. He could almost see his reflection in it if he looked hard enough. Harry asked her where she got it, but she only smiled and said that it had been passed down.

After that she was always there. He couldn't stop himself noticing and he could see in her smile that she knew it. He wondered when that had changed between them. He wondered when she'd begun to take up so much space. The Ginny he remembered, the one he'd carried around in his head for years, had been small and unobtrusive -- a bent daisy, a shy violet. What was far more likely was that she had never been any of those things at all but he'd never been bothered to notice. He noticed now, and he was glad that she always seemed to be nearby. Still, he was more surprised than anyone the first time someone called Ginny his girlfriend.

But he didn't correct them.

He asked her, later, whether she wanted to be his girlfriend. She laughed at him and told him that was a game for little girls and boys. What she had in mind for them, apparently, was something quite different.

"But, maybe," she said, still laughing at him with her eyes, "maybe that's what you want after all. Do you want me to be your girl, Harry?"

He didn't like the way she said it, didn't like her in knee socks and plaid and freckles with eyes that old.

Eventually, the sky turned blue and warm. Ginny watched him win another cup and burned her nose pink doing it. Afterward all she said to him was, "You've gotten taller, Harry. It's hard to notice until you're so far away. Sometimes you don't even look like you."

She sat beside him on the train home. He put his free hand on hers and was pleased when she didn't pull away. They rode in silence for most of the trip and Harry had the sudden sense that neither Ron nor Hermione seemed particularly pleased by this turn of events.

At the station, he half-expected Ginny to want to kiss goodbye, but she didn't. So neither, he told himself, did he.

She showed up on the Dursley's doorstep later that summer, pale as a wraith and with a smile like lost moments. Harry opened the door to find her with scraped knees and wild hair, with one sock falling down and a loose hem on her out-of-date skirt. She smiled over his shoulder at someone he couldn't see, and his aunt had gone upstairs and locked herself in her room for two days. The night after she finally came out, Harry found a heavy, ruby ring on his pillow when he went to bed, alongside a note suggesting that perhaps he ought to go visit his friends for the remainder of the summer. He gave the ring to Ginny on his birthday and wasn't surprised when it fit her perfectly.

Ginny gave him a book, bound in black leather and stamped in gold, and the first time he wrote in it he half-expected it to write back.

That same night she wore his mother's ring and came in to see him at midnight. He was lying awake in Bill's old bed when she carefully lay down on top of the blankets.

"Talk to me, Harry," she said. "I like your voice."

He started to sit up, to turn her around so she could see him, but she stopped him. "No, like this. I just want to listen."

"What should I say?"

"Anything. Everything. Tell me your secrets, your worries and woes."

"I don't have any secrets."

Ginny laughed, her shoulders jerking sharply, but he couldn't see her face. "Maybe you don't. You're such an open book."

Harry flushed, but didn't say anything. Ginny rolled over and sat up.

"Don't be mad. It's not a bad thing."

He still didn't answer.

"I like knowing what you think. It makes me feel strong." She leaned in and whispered, "I would write you on my skin if I could." She pressed against him, catching the end of the blankets up in one hand. "Maybe I can. Do you want me to?"

His breath caught. "I think maybe I do."

She reached for him, put her hand on his forehead, covering his scar and then turning to look at him in profile. "You're so- You're exactly what I need," she said, and kissed him.

The quote in the epigraph at the beginning of the fic is from 'Hand Me Down' by Matchbox Twenty. The quote in the summary is from 'Hand Me Down World' by The Guess Who. Hey, have you picked up on the theme yet...?

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Viola

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