Ginny lay on a grassy, green hilltop, her slight weight cradled by softness. A few trees stood against the azure sky, worthless sentinels in this place wholly untouched by evil. It was a good, happy place filling her until she felt as if she were floating, careless, blown gently about by the cool zephyr that caressed her cheeks. Ah, relief from the heat. Ginny sighed deeply. The summer had been a tense, hot one. How long had it been since she felt so free?
She closed her eyes, drifting in thought, allowing the fading sun's rays to send their last subtle warmth to her. The sky was turning molten at the edges, and the moon was up, poised to begin its reign. When the last warmth began to slide away, Ginny frowned and sat up. The sun was sinking slowly and heavily now, glowering spitefully, spreading its finest gold over the line of clouds just above the horizon.
Ginny pulled her eyes downward, toward the land and the valley which cradled the Burrow. She shaded her eyes and peered down at her home. There it was, looking the same as ever, giving her that pinched feeling in her throat. But it wasn't bad--not like she felt during the year at Hogwarts.
As her vision sharpened, she saw something stirring in the garden out back. Tiny garden gnomes ran madly about, looking like potatoes that had dug themselves up and were trying to escape. Ginny scowled, searching for any sign that Ron might be on the job. He should be. The garden had been set for an outside dinner, as if the whole family were expected. Surprising, since Percy hadn't spoken to anyone in so long, and Charlie couldn't come home from Romania this summer at all . . . but all the family chairs were there, plus one.
Oh. This is a dream, Ginny suddenly realized. That must be why the ruddy gnomes look they're planning something.
And they did look suspicious now, egging each other on, pointing toward the table which was suddenly laden with hot, steaming food. Meat pasties, bowls of hot, buttered potatoes, fresh green beans . . . it actually looked like the dinner they fixed whenever Harry came to stay-all his favorites, including the chocolate pudding.
That thought drew her to her feet, sinking her toes deep into the grass beneath her. If Harry was to be at the Burrow, then she had to be there when he arrived. Breathless, miserable empathy burned in her stomach, as it always did when she thought of Harry, and all the good feelings of the moment disappeared. Harry was having the worst summer of his life; everyone knew it, and no one could do anything about it. Ginny straightened her shoulders and started off down the hill.
Harry had been at Privet Drive the entire summer, refusing even to attend the memorial for Sirius. "Why would I want to celebrate the memory of the worst day of my life," he'd written in a broken letter to Hermione, trying to explain. That had been the last real letter Harry had written. Their letters to Harry were mostly ignored, but vocal thanks had been sent through the Order occasionally.
Only a few feet down, Ginny found that the hill changed disconcertingly from deep grass into dirt and shelves of rock that descended down the slope. Gravel and small rocks tumbled as she placed each step, still trying to move quickly, still thinking of Harry.
It had taken her a good bit of time to think through what had happened at the Ministry at the end of last year, and a few nightmares to work through the terror of it, but Ginny knew that no matter what Harry did-or didn't do-she was going to be by his side. She'd actually proved herself that night, facing down her worst fear by returning to a place she knew Tom might be, and where he might be able to control her again.
Ginny wrenched her thoughts away from that subject, well aware of how dreams easily turn to nightmares. With the setting sun directly in her face, it was difficult to see the ground below, so she slowed even farther.
Despite this, Ginny's foot caught on something near the bottom and she pitched forward before she could regain her balance, tumbling sideways over and over down the last of the hill. She skidded over a brambly patch with a light thump and landed, cradling her right wrist where she had tried to break her fall. For the first time, she noticed that she had her wand in it. That was funny. But then, in dreams, things popped in and out of place with regularity.
Ginny stood painfully, staring at the unfamiliar forest now blocking her way. The sky was darkening by the moment. Ginny was cold now, and faint things clouded the edges of her vision. But she had to move on, didn't she? To see Harry. That little voice inside her head agreed, and she strode purposefully into the wood.
Her thoughts, as she crept over the pine straw-strewn ground, went back to the last time she'd seen Harry, on the Hogwarts Express. He'd been withdrawn, stricken almost mute by grief. It had been painful to look at him, and Ginny hadn't been able to talk to him, not since she'd seen him in action.
Ginny shivered. Harry hadn't hesitated to stand in front of her when Bellatrix had singled her out for torture. He would have done that for anybody, she hastily pointed out to herself and tripped over a root roping out of the ground. Another painful jolt to her wrist, and this time she dropped her wand. Ginny scrambled to pick it up and stood breathlessly, scanning the forest around her.
It was stiflingly silent as the last remnants of sunlight faded. Only the moonlight filtering through the thick branches overhead broke the pitch black. And it wasn't a pleasant sort of black, but an oppressive, sinister darkness, the kind that covered the sounds of unknown things moving and amplified the beating of your own heart.
Why hadn't she reached the Burrow yet? Why couldn't she see its lights ahead? As Ginny stood there, shivering, feet refusing to move any further, a warmth blossomed inside, rolling her fear away like a wave turned back from the shore. Ginny felt lighter, buoyant, and a small smile tipped the corners of her lips. There, the voice said, you are brave.
Ginny continued on the trail, half-listening to the voice that fed her constant, soothing thoughts. She was safe; the walk was to be rewarded with the sight of Harry at the end. Ginny's heart fluttered pleasantly. Though the forest remained dark and the birds were conspicuously silent in the treetops, she felt hopeful. And well-vacant. That was a bit disturbing, but then again . . . it wasn't. Ginny halted, disturbed somehow, though she felt too numb to actually be concerned. Wasn't that bad? Shouldn't she be concerned?
Before she could decide, the oddest thing appeared at her feet. It was a chewed and thoroughly used quill, one of Harry's. Her cheeks flushed with the memory, which the numbness fought to overtake. Two years ago, Harry had been sitting in the Gryffindor common room, bright eyes impatiently fixed on his Potions text, hair quirking adorably in every direction, chewing his quill so completely that it was useless by the time he was ready to write. He'd chucked it and begged a quill off Hermione. Hours later, Ginny beat the house elves to the bin and took the quill with reddened cheeks and innocent reverence. How could she resist? Of course, she'd hidden it, nearly going spare at the thought of Ron or the twins finding out.
And now . . . it was lying in the forest at her feet. Strange. The night air swirled around her like mist, and the moonlight focused on the white brightness of the feather; even the trees seemed to lean in with interest. Something inside Ginny protested weakly, but the voice was firm: Pick up the quill.
Ginny reached out tentative fingers, fighting the floating sensation, trying to plan what she would do with the quill once back at the Burrow. But as soon as her fingers grasped it, a queer darkness launched itself at her. There was light and stars and then she landed- sprawled out, gasping for breath, hands stung by hard pavement. The forest was gone.
A black asphalt road scratched through the thin fabric of Ginny's nightgown and the night air was cold. Moonlight wafted through the tops of the sparse trees, an even number of them decorating each front yard. Perfect, manicured lawns and unfamiliar street numbers sent fear dripping past the numbness in her stomach.
Where was she?
If she didn't recognize it, how could she be there in her dream? Or rather, why, if she didn't recognize it, did she have the horrible feeling that she should?
Climbing to her feet, Ginny rubbed at her thoroughly miserable hands. The quill was gone, her wand was gone and the night was quiet around her. Nothing moved, but shadows clung to every house, tree and shrub. The only sound was the beating of her heart, which grew to a resounding thud as her cottony mind registered the number of the house across from her-four. Without a single slip of breath left in her body, Ginny turned to read the street sign on the corner, fifty meters away. Privet Drive.
Horror slid frigid fingers down her spine.
Something told her that she should be happy her dream had brought her here, that she must be controlling her dream, because she had been worried about Harry and wanted desperately to check on him. That's all. And she wished she could believe it. That voice was so nice and made everything warm and wonderful for her.
But this . . . this was no dream. The forest had been a dream. That hill had been a dream. But this--this was real. Ginny stumbled backwards. That meant that Harry was in thathouse, only meters away. And that meant that Ginny had traveled here with no desire to do so, and no means of doing so, with no memory of how she got here. Her breath hitched deeply in her chest. Horrifying possibilities flooded her mind, all related to chicken blood, Parseltongue, cavernous passages at night and Him.
Ginny shuddered, backing further from the house. She couldn't do this to Harry again. No! No!
But even as her panic grew claws and dug in deep, her mind shifted. A yawning chasm opened to swallow the fear, and all that remained was . . . peace. Harry would, after all, be glad to see her.
Go around back. The Aurors are your friends. They won't harm a defenseless girl.
Though Ginny objected to being called "defenseless", even by the voice in her own head, she found it difficult to be disturbed enough to reject the idea. She would fling a pebble at the window. Harry never slept well. Maybe he was awake now.
Ginny mentally thanked the voice, which she knew now not to be her own--it knew too much. She walked forward in a haze that felt more like a dream than ever. The grass, cool and dewy under her bare feet, almost reached the hem of her nightgown. Voices ahead broke the silence, rough with tension, overlapping in their frenzy.
"The wards won't keep her out. He must have--"
"But surely she isn't-"
"Wand up, Lupin! Constant-"
"I know! I know!"
"Stay right where you are, girly!" Ginny ignored the two figures vaguely lit by the streetlight on the corner. She stopped only to look up at the second floor windows. Which one was Harry's?
Ginny felt giddy underneath the numbness that this was all so easy. Why hadn't she ever visited Harry before? She reached down for a pebble and straightened to find a large, gnarled hand wrapped around hers. With surprise that never quite made it into her expression, she looked up into the horrid, mangled face of Mad-Eye Moody. Both of his terrifying eyes were fixed on hers, but despite the hard suspicion she saw there, she felt very little fear.
"What're you up to?" he growled.
"Ginny, what's happened," Professor Lupin asked as he edged closer, his wand alternating between being firmly pointed and wilting. "Why are you here?" He was glancing around. "Does Arthur know you're here?"
Ginny smiled and shook her head. Professor Lupin had been one of her favorite teachers. The two men exchanged sharp glances. Lupin took charge.
"Right then. I'll take her back, Alastor. You stay here and-"
A sudden knocking interrupted. Ginny smiled dreamily up at the sight of a frantic Harry Potter in a second floor window, one hand pressed to the glass, the other clutching his wand. She stared, taking in his appearance just as deeply as she pulled in her next breath. He was pale and tense--bright green eyes sparking with confusion, glasses on crooked, ebony hair spiked crazily. One hand jerked away from the glass to clutch at his forehead. Fetchingly disheveled, she decided, though feelings of unease were starting to slip past the numbness.
"No, Harry," yelled Lupin, disturbing Ginny's reverie. She frowned at the man and stumbled back as Moody released her wrist. "He's going to-no-Harry!" Lupin was looking up at the now empty window.
"What's he doing?" Moody growled.
Ginny knew even before the voice told her. "He's coming to see me," she said simply. She radiated fuzzy happiness until the door cracked open and both men jumped into action.
"Back in the house, Harry!" barked Lupin.
"Yer takin' a risk, Potter!" Moody had turned his back to Harry, his magic eye showing white, his other trained on the darkness in the yard. "You didn't ask her here, did ya'?"
Harry shook loose from Lupin. "Ginny, you have to leave!" His eyes were watery and wide, nearly vibrating with intensity.
"Harry, stay back!"
"Something's happening. My scar is . . . hurting."
Ginny was smiling at him, arms outstretched. But Harry had stopped short.
Put your arms down!
Ginny obeyed. Then she told him what the voice told her. "This is yours," she said with a giggle. She was laughing because, amazingly enough, the quill was still clutched in one hand. "Take it, silly. This is just a dream, you know. How else could I get here?"
Harry stared, breathing hard, his eyes swimming with emotion. Then with a tight jaw, he raised his wand, pointing directly at her.
Ginny felt horror, and then nothing, and she had to bite her bottom lip to stop the smile that was breaking over her face. Three powerful wizards all had their wands trained on her-her! Ginny giggled again. She'd never felt this important in her life. With a sigh, she turned a graceful spin, raising her arms up the dark sky.
The men were talking, something testy and mostly monosyllabic that didn't interest her at all. The air around her was warm now, maybe a bit too warm. Why had she been cold before? It was hot. Ginny's arms drifted down and she turned back to Harry. He hadn't moved a muscle, but his eyes held so much misery that she was taken aback. He needed to feel what she was feeling, this peace. The quill was the key.
"Oh, Harry," she said softly, stepping toward him. "You look awful-so tired and miserable. It doesn't have to be this way." The words were coming easily, as if they were being poured into her mind and dripping out on her tongue. "Come with me. Take my hand. We'll go together."
Moody made a sudden move, but Lupin stopped him. "Let's see where this is headed," he said in a low voice. "We don't want to hurt Ginny."
Ginny smiled gratefully at Professor Lupin. So thoughtful. "I'm here to see Harry. I found the perfect spot for a moonlight picnic, Harry. Don't you want to escape for a while?" And in her mind, she saw the clearing she'd just come through transformed into a beautiful oasis, a picnic waiting for them.
"I can't leave, Gin," Harry croaked. His next words were fierce. "You know that. You know it and you know why! Why are you doing this?"
He cared for her. She could see it in his eyes, that this was painful for him, having to suspect her, having to work himself up to defend himself against her.
"Moody, for god's sake, be still!" Lupin said sharply.
"Somethin's out front," he grunted. "Keep a wand on her."
"Silly boy," Ginny said a little louder, pulling Harry's attention back to her. "I came to see you, to take you with me." She paused. Harry's eyes had gone hard. The look on his face unnerved her. She wanted to drop the quill and run to him, apologizing-
Then another wave of peaceful nothingness soaked her mind, bringing with it intense heat. Sweat beaded on her forehead and broke out in pinpricks all over her body. She tugged at her nightgown. "Why are you upset with me?" She rubbed at her face and let her hand trail down the side of her neck. Her fingers played with the neck of her gown, and she could see Harry's eyes following it. She smiled. "I just came to ease your misery. End your pain, for a little while." A hand slid down her slim hip and clutched at the filmy nightgown. Her breath was short and she sucked in a deeper breath. It was so hot. "How do you stand it?"
"Stand . . . what," Harry muttered in a very distracted voice. His wand had lowered a bit.
"The heat," Ginny went on. "It's so hot you could cook a horklump out there." Ginny's other hand gathered material over her right thigh. With slow movements, not even knowing why, she pulled the material up. Fresh air swirled around her legs tantalizingly.
"Out . . . there?" Harry had taken a step closer, his eyes were wide, stunned. Ginny smiled.
Lupin walked forward until he stood between them. "Ginny, stop this immediately," Lupin commanded, standing straight, his wand pointed at her head. "If you can," he added quietly. But he wouldn't hurt her. The voice was right.
Ginny ignored him. Warm, wonderful feelings were coursing through her, and she had Harry's undivided attention. "Here. There. Isn't it . . . hot . . . over there?" She pulled up the fabric until the air on her thighs made her shiver. Harry's jaw had dropped. Time to go in for the kill. Ginny was confused, but she obeyed.
"Oh. I dropped my quill. Would you get it for me, Harry?"
He started forward, hand outstretched, but suddenly stopped. His eyes went to hers, bright green shock shining out of them. She wanted to plead, beg him, but the words caught in her throat. Lupin spun a red spell toward her. His muttered apology was the last thing she heard.
Harry ran to Ginny. She was sprawled out gracefully, red hair fanned out over the lawn, thin white arms out as if to embrace him. The offending quill rested on the grass.
A firm hand gripped Harry's shoulder. "Don't touch it, Harry."
Harry nodded, swallowing. Ginny looked so tiny and frail. His eyes traveled over her blank, pale face, wishing the brown eyes were open and sparkling with their normal fire instead of the blank pleading they had held every second he'd seen her tonight. He pressed a shaking hand to his forehead, still nauseous from feeling Voldemort's joy through the connection. That bastard had done this. On purpose.
Lupin moved closer and waved his wand over the quill, canceling the Portus spell with a muttered incantation.
"Will she be all right?" Harry croaked.
"Yes, Harry," Lupin said, his eyes gentle. "I only wanted to keep her from hurting you. You do realize that she was under the Imperius?" Harry nodded. "Do not hold her responsible for anything she did or said tonight. She will likely be confused and . . . embarrassed by the whole episode."
Harry flushed a dull, angry red and stood. He couldn't stand the thought of Ginny waking and remembering. Fury heated his blood. He paced away, trying to get the pounding in his head under control.
"False alarm," Moody said in clipped tones. "We should get Miss Weasley back home."
"I agree," Lupin said firmly.
"And . . . a Memory Charm might not be amiss." Harry spun around to stare at Moody, mouth open to protest. But he stopped.
Lupin sighed from where he knelt by Ginny. "It's for the best, Harry."
"No, I . . ." Harry trailed off, certain that Ginny wouldn't want it.
"Not your decision, lad," Moody growled. "Standard Auror practice for an underage wizard who's been used by the Dark Side. The memory could break her."
Harry wanted to snort at the idea of Ginny being broken that easily, but couldn't. As she had reminded him forcefully last year, she was still dealing with the memories of the first time Voldemort possessed her.
"We'll have to tell Molly and Arthur, but they'll understand. Looks as if they'll be needing another set of wards up at the Burrow now, ones to keep the kids in. Eh?" Lupin looked tiredly up at Moody and nodded, then put his wand over Ginny. At the last moment, he glanced up at Harry.
Harry nodded, feeling unsettled again as soon as he looked at Ginny's prone form.
Ginny stirred and moaned softly, bringing one pale hand to her face with a grimace. She rolled over to her side, exposing a bit of one leg, and Harry looked away. When he glanced back, Lupin had covered her with a conjured blanket and was helping her up.
"Ginny, are you feeling all right? Are you hurt?"
Ginny was confused, shaking her head and pressing one hand against her forehead as if it ached. "What happened?" she said thickly, looking at Lupin and then Harry with startled eyes. "Harry?"
Harry fiddled with his wand and made a tardy attempt to brush down his hair. "Er . . . yeah. Are you okay?"
"Why am I here?" She said slowly, looking about the yard, pulling the blanket tighter around her shoulders.
"Do you remember anything?" Lupin said kindly. She made as if to answer, and then went rigid. Harry noticed her gaze, fixed on the quill lying on the ground.
"Oh," she said in a small voice. "It wasn't a dream."
"Ginny, it wasn't your fault."
"But I-" she looked at Harry in horror. "And then I--oh no." Her gaze slid away, her hands covered her face and she swayed.
"Yeah," said Moody in a growl, indicating Ginny with a jerk of his head. "Best thing for her, Harry. Miss Weasley, we'd best be getting you home."
Harry found himself desperate to make Ginny feel better. Not that it really mattered, since she wouldn't be remembering any of this, anyway. A sudden thought struck him.
"Could I talk to her for a minute? Please," Harry said. Moody nodded and Harry turned an intense gaze on Lupin, who almost immediately gave way. This was the first time Harry'd felt strongly about anything in far too long.
"Only a minute, mind you."
Harry nodded and stepped over to Ginny, who was trembling, hands still clamped on her face in horror. The blanket had slid halfway off her shoulders and she was mumbling. "Where did the damn forest go?"
"Ginny," Harry murmured, "it's all right, nothing happened." He was grateful when Lupin walked away. Mad-Eye had already turned his back.
Ginny shook her head slightly, seeming to compose herself with effort. Then she looked up at Harry, tears clinging to her dark lashes. "I'm sorry, Harry. I'm so sorry. I hope you don't think-I mean, you understand that-oh, that wasn't me!"
Harry understood, was desperate to tell her so, but didn't know how. "Hush, Ginny." Awkwardly, he reached out and pulled the blanket back up to her shoulders. She was shuddering with sobs and he guided her into his arms. "Come on, Gin. You didn't do anything. We both know whose fault this is."
She mumbled incoherently for a moment, then fell silent. Harry felt something tickling his hand and opened it to let her hair slide through his fingers. He'd always thought her hair was beautiful. A reckless impulse seized him, one that might wipe away some of the horror of the night, even though she wouldn't remember.
Harry pulled back and ducked his head to see into her eyes. She looked up, a pretty flush coloring her cheeks. He'd never seen her this close before. The brown of her eyes was sparkling darkly, and the turn of her freckled nose was perfect. If only she would smile . . .
"You've been a good friend, Ginny" Harry said in a surprisingly husky voice. He resisted the urge to clear his throat. "I want you to know that I . . . noticed how special you were long ago. You're very special to me." The words fell from his lips so easily that he was surprised to find them true. But they were. He bent and touched his lips gently to her cheek.
Of course, it was wet with tears. Harry cursed his luck with girls, and surreptitiously wiped his mouth. Ginny had frozen and now looked up at him wonderingly. She looked so vulnerable with her lips parted, that Harry had to kiss her. So he did.
The kiss was soft and warm, and his head began to buzz as if a hundred bees had taken flight nearby. Harry started to tremble. Something deep within was being touched by this, by Ginny. Harry pulled away in shock , watching as she slowly came back to herself and opened her eyes.
There was a question in them that Harry couldn't answer, and he just blinked. Ginny smiled at him, a tentative smile that said she understood. How, he didn't know, since he didn't understand himself. But then she whispered a broken, "Thank you, Harry."
He looked down at the grass, feeling as if the inside of himself had somehow gotten tangled up with Ginny. One kiss, that was all it was supposed to be. One kiss that she would forget.
"Harry, back inside. Looks as if I'll need to de-brief the Dursleys for you." Harry looked up to see Uncle Vernon in the window, purple-faced, phone in hand.
Harry nodded, not trusting his own voice.
Moody was already leading Ginny away, quill in hand. "We'll walk outside the wards and then be off. 'Night, Harry. Stay inside next time, eh?"
Harry didn't reply. He met Ginny's eyes once more and was surprised to see them serene and warm towards him. Then the two turned and walked into the darkness that edged the back yard.
"Come along, Harry," Lupin said in a too-cheerful voice. "Don't worry about Ginny. She won't even remember this nightmare."
"Good," Harry said shortly. He didn't want her to remember. Not any part of it. At least, that's what he told himself that night as he climbed the stairs, and for a long time afterwards.
As the weeks went by, he told no one, and the summer passed slowly and uneventfully.
When he was allowed to go to the Burrow a week before school began, Arthur pulled him aside to thank him for protecting Ginny and for not doing anything rash that night. Harry nodded, keeping all thoughts of the kiss as far away as possible. Molly gave him an extra hug and told him they were having a hand made for him to put on their family clock. Harry's eyes watered and he excused himself quickly.
Ginny acted normally, not preoccupied with him at all. But Harry watched her furtively, and once or twice, caught her face at that angle again, where the brown of her eyes sparkled darkly and the curve of her nose was . . . perfect. A burning would bloom in his chest and he'd remind himself that for him to be in love-vulnerable, exposed-would be nothing less than a nightmare