Author’s Note: First, thanks to my beta Dancing in Magic who helped get this little one-shot ready. This event takes place in what I imagine to be about halfway through the final book, right before the “final confrontation.” I hope you enjoy it—all reviews are deeply appreciated. :-)
Amazingly and unexpectedly the weather had begun to get warm again—a softness that flowed through the slowly growing grass and cracked earth beneath his achy feet. The constant mist that seemed to seep ever deeper into the skin had begun to dissipate slightly, enough that a person felt the endless sharpness of a Dementor’s chill ease a little. Harry pushed his hands through his black untidy hair and stood grimacing at the horizon while the sun edged its way downwards as if hesitant to disappear completely.
Though Harry should have felt a sense of relief that the eerie fog was lessening for the first time in nearly a year, he could not. Harry had decided long ago to lock those feelings away, to immerse himself, focus his intentions solely upon what he now had to do.
Thinking about his world in an optimistic light would have caused him greater pain than he could presently deal with, so the only emotion he ever allowed himself these days was his own penetrating and very personal need for vengeance.
Vengeance, he knew, was no cure for the bitter emptiness that resonated inside of him, no matter how much he may want to deny it. But as empty as he felt, at least he was not entirely alone. Two people had vehemently insisted upon accompanying him on this desolate journey, two people that he knew had been keeping him sane for over eight months and counting. Ron and Hermione were a few feet away, lying closely together under the first real refuge they had found in several exhausting weeks. Harry often wondered if they regretted following him on this harrowing and questionable foray of his, but never once did they protest at the abysmal conditions they had to exist in—never once did they shy away from the danger that inevitably followed them wherever they went.
Yesterday, things had taken an even darker turn still. Ron was sleeping soundly for the first time in hours and hours. A huge rusty-looking gash had been torn into his chest the morning before, and Hermione had worked tirelessly to heal it, even though cures for such things were nearly impossible to conjure out here in the middle of nowhere. The main problem continued to be that the objects themselves, the Horcruxes, by their very nature exerted such a massive amount of Dark magic that those trying to destroy one were frequently caught in the rebounding results of its obliteration.
And this was not the first injury Harry or his friends had suffered on this outing. Harry now had a thick maroon scar that ran from his left eye down his neck to his collarbone, and Hermione’s wand hand had been severely burnt as though by acid and had never really healed properly. Hermione’s hand was serviceable, though scarred, but Harry sincerely doubted that she would ever be able to use it in the same way she had before all of this had started.
Harry sighed as he looked over at his two best friends in the light of the rising moon, and he noted that the small black cauldron was still steaming in the corner. Hermione’s invaluable knowledge of practical magic and advanced potions had saved him and Ron numerous times recently, but it had been Ron’s quick thinking that had kept Hermione’s burn from becoming life-threatening a few weeks earlier. The truth was that they were all dedicated not only to each other, but also to the cause, Harry’s cause, and nothing would allow them to deviate from their course, no matter how daunting and horrifying it was.
Nevertheless, there were things that burst through Harry’s relentlessly stoic exterior on occasion. The enemy of fatigue was getting to be nearly as dangerous as the pieces of Voldemort’s soul that they were trying so desperately to annihilate. Lately when Harry slept, he felt ominously vulnerable, but he knew that no amount of clearing his mind would be enough to help if Voldemort decided to seek entry again. They had just yesterday managed to destroy the third surviving Horcrux; they each knew that the only thing between Voldemort and Harry now was distance and also the venomous and overly large snake known as Nagini. Under different circumstances, Harry might have felt better today—better than usual anyway, since he had taken one more step towards vanquishing Voldemort—but it was not to be. Ron had come all too close to dying when that last piece of Voldemort’s demonic puzzle had been eradicated, and Harry felt the heaviness of his guilt growing almost exponentially with each passing moment of time.
Harry stepped away from the prone forms of his two friends and began pacing around the darkening confines that encompassed the area. They had found this tiny wooden barn—more a shack than anything else—about a week before, and although it had obviously been abandoned long ago and was barely standing on its own foundations, Harry had been especially grateful to see it. The structure, such as it was, had provided them with a small amount of shelter and concealment, and they had realized months ago just how important those things could be.
Harry’s mind was racing mercilessly as he stomped around the shack’s perimeter. This was insane; how could he in good conscience let Ron and Hermione continue to do this? Should he start an all-out row that would chase them from him? Should he stop right this second and try to Apparate away as quickly and as far from them as was humanly possible? Should he hide and wait for them to give up and leave him there? But Harry discarded each idea even as they entered his head. He could not abandon Ron in his current weakened state, and he honestly wondered if he could now finish all of this by himself. Both Ron and Hermione would hex him into next week before they let him do this alone anyway, and on some basic level he understood that with an undeniable certainty. Eventually, after two hours of restlessly retracing the same circular path in the dirt outside of their ramshackle shelter, Harry settled himself wearily beneath the branches of a nearby tree. Within moments of falling asleep, however, he was faced with yet another problem, for his dreaming mind could never deny the truth quite as effectively as his waking mind usually managed to.
They were running together hand in hand out of the portrait hole, grins plastered to each of their faces. Upon reaching the grounds, Harry pulled her into the shadow of the castle marvelling at the ridiculously joyous feeling that was now rising in his chest. She surprised him first by reaching out and pulling him into a tight embrace and then by kissing him so ardently that she nearly took his breath away. Harry remembered wondering at the time if this was really happening to him; he could not seem to remember ever being this happy before....
She was lying there curled like a cat in the squashy armchair next to his reading her Charms notes with a decidedly distracted air while stealing glances at him every few seconds. Smiling, Harry finally caught her eye, and they giggled guiltily together as Hermione scowled at them in a distinctly McGonagall-like way from across the room....
Harry lay with his back pressed against the soft bark of the beech tree in the lingering warmth of the afternoon sun. Ginny lay half on top of him, her flowery-scented hair wafting gently in the breeze and occasionally brushing past the bottom of his chin as they both stared out across the vast blue expanse of the lake.
“You look different, you know,” Ginny spoke softly in his ear.
“Different?” Harry had asked bemusedly.
“Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile this much. You should definitely keep it up,” Ginny advised, only half-joking.
“Why?” Harry inquired, looking up into her face.
“Because I simply can’t resist snogging the living daylights out of you when you smile at me like that.” She then proceeded to prove her point to him most convincingly, and Harry felt the beast inside of him roar hastily to life as her lips met his again and again with an almost overwhelming intensity....
Harry then broke away from Ginny as he felt the atmosphere of the dream-like memory change with the rapidity of a charging bull. And for the first time in two years, Harry felt a sharp biting pain in the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Without preamble and without even the briefest of warnings, Harry then heard a hate-filled and all too familiar voice reverberating around inside his head.
“So this is what you’ve been hiding from me, Potter,” the voice hissed, and Harry tried to fight it, tried to block it out, but he was powerless to do so. “I can see why now, of course. I’d want to keep her all to myself, as well.” Menace dripped from every syllable that the voice uttered, menace and...innuendo. Harry felt his stomach churn at the sound of it.
“You stay away from her!” Harry shouted, as a blind rage surged through him. “This has nothing to do with her!”
“No, this has to do with you, Potter. You want this girl, and I want you. The perfect connection, you might say. Nothing and no one escapes from me, and you should know that better than anyone by now. Let’s let her in on our little secret, shall we?” And as Harry watched, Voldemort’s horrid snakelike form appeared next to them in the dream, leering at Ginny suggestively as everything around them immediately went black.
“NO!” Harry screamed soundlessly inside his mind, but he somehow knew that no matter how loudly he yelled, Ginny would not be able to hear him, that she might never be able to hear him ever again....
Ginny crossed the worn dirt lane with a feeling of increasing excitement. At long last, she was getting closer; she could feel it. This mad quest of hers was finally leading her somewhere, and after a solid month of fruitless searching, Ginny could tell that what she sought was now growing quite near.
Ginny had known from the outset that what she was doing was unwise, but she had also known that she could never live with herself if she did not at least attempt it. For the past six months, Ginny had spent every waking hour working endlessly to teach herself how to do some very exacting kinds of spells and enchantments. Many Ginny had heard of or had seen before but had never used, but she knew that she must become accomplished at them if she was to reach her final goal. A few carefully chosen people had helped along the way. Fred and George had spent their small amount of time off giving her not only magical pointers but also several of their more secret inventions, some of which had already helped Ginny to get out of a few exceedingly tight spots indeed.
Professor Flitwick had assisted, too, in his way. Ginny felt that he had suspected her of something like this all along but had feigned ignorance so that she could still get what she needed without arousing suspicion. It was he who had taught her how to Apparate early, and also how to Disillusion herself rather effectively. He had also helped her to hone some of the more obscure duelling techniques that he knew, and while Ginny considered herself a fairly decent dueller, she had gotten even better under Flitwick’s steady tutelage. Flitwick had provided Ginny with the one piece of knowledge that she had needed above all others as well. He had given her something from his own personal library; it was an enormous book, simply entitled in worn golden lettering with the words, “Ancient Magic.”
At first, Ginny had not realized the depth of the enchantments and charms held within the massive tome, but upon careful inspection she had discovered the one charm that had led her all the way from Hogwarts castle to this dilapidated dirt road somewhere in the south of England. The charm had had no name, but it had jumped out at her immediately—it could be cast to determine not only if magic had been used in a specific place, but also who had used it. It would only work, however, if used by someone who was connected to the person sought at the deepest and most intimate of levels—by a connection of purest trust, loyalty, and friendship, but even more importantly in Ginny’s case—by love.
Ginny nearly tripped as she sped through a copse of heavily-branched trees that encircled what appeared to be an abandoned barn on a gently sloping hill. There were a couple of larger trees by the front of the structure, and as Ginny neared it, she felt a surge of power flow up her arm from her wand—a signal that she was almost there. Ginny hesitated within a few yards of the shack itself, however; she had travelled long and hard and as secretly as possible over this past month trying to get here, and she did not want to ruin her chances now that she was this close.
She glanced in through the cracked and grimy window. It was far too dark to make heads or tails of anything inside, and Ginny had just begun to look for an entrance when she heard something. She turned deliberately and slowly, listening for all she was worth. The sound was coming from somewhere near the front of the building, and Ginny tentatively began to make her way towards it.
Harry awoke abruptly in an extremely agitated state, jerking his head wildly in every direction searching for the sickly-white visage of Lord Voldemort. As the pain in his scar spiked horribly, Harry felt his tightly bottled emotions—always so carefully hidden—edge forcibly upwards towards the surface. How could he have been this stupid? Why did he not see this before? Voldemort was the most powerful Legilimens on the planet; of course he would be seeking out Harry’s most private and treasured moments to discover what he was up to—to find out what his plans were. But Harry had not been prepared for this, for Voldemort to invade his dreams and memories after ignoring him so completely for so long; for him to discover how Harry had felt—still felt, if he was honest with himself—about Ginny.
Suddenly, everything he had done—everything he was continuing to do—seemed foolish and useless. What good would it do him to risk his life and those of his two oldest friends if Voldemort simply decided to start killing off everyone they had left behind? Would it make any difference that he had succeeded in getting rid of the remaining Horcruxes if the members of the Order of the Phoenix were all slaughtered? Would any of it matter if the Burrow was burnt to the ground and destroyed? And worst of all, what would he do if he got back to Hogwarts to find that Ginny had been attacked or even murdered despite his very best intentions to keep her out of danger?
A huge wave of hopelessness and fear then crashed over Harry, overpowering each of his other senses. Everything felt pointless and futile, for Voldemort seemed to always be one crucial and life-shattering step ahead of him. Harry’s body sagged against the trunk of the tree he was still sitting under, and as he gripped his knees to his chest and cradled his head in his hands, he could not help giving in to despair as he wept miserably into the dark silence of that summer night.
There beneath the taller of the two trees sat a lone figure barely visible within the dim and highly-shadowed landscape. She could only just make out the tremors that seemed to be ravaging his form, but it was the sound of his desperate sobs that urged Ginny forward. She stood staring hard at him for a moment just behind where he sat; she did not want to startle him, but she had to be sure. Ginny continued to cautiously approach him and was beginning to reach out to touch his shoulder when Harry hastily whipped around—gasping audibly as he caught sight of her. Ginny instantly found herself looking down the business end of Harry’s lit wand; the little she could see of his face was set with suspicion and clearly discernible anger.
“It’s me, Harry,” Ginny whispered in the most soothing voice she could muster; she was unwilling to let him see how alarmed she really was at his frighteningly swift reaction. Harry kept his wand trained on her for what seemed to be an eternity, and then ever so slowly, his hand dropped to his side. At the same time, Harry turned from her as though ashamed, and Ginny immediately reached towards him again and made him face her. The look that Ginny saw in Harry’s eyes troubled her far worse than the fact that he had nearly jinxed her only a moment before. She had not seen Harry looking this tormented, this haunted, since his fifth year at school. Not even at Dumbledore’s funeral had Harry struggled quite this badly—he appeared to be a man at the very end of his rope.
“I’m sorry,” Harry muttered brokenly in a voice markedly different from the one Ginny remembered.
“You don’t have to be sorry, Harry,” she replied at once. Harry gaped at her incredulously.
“Yes, I do!” he said fiercely. “I owe a lot of people apologies, Ginny, but you most of all.”
Ginny could hear the guilt—the immense amount of pain in his voice, and instead of arguing with him, she quickly wrapped her arms around Harry and pulled him to her. Harry seemed to crumble as all of the fight then went out of him, and soon Ginny felt the front of her robes grow damp with the silent rush of his renewed anguish. Feeling more relieved than she would have thought possible, Ginny continued to hold him as time trickled past unnoticed; nothing else in the world mattered now. Against all odds, she had found him at last, and the stars themselves could have exploded in the sky for all Ginny cared.
After a long passage of time Harry’s body finally stopped shaking, and they simply sat there together—bound by the multitude of things they had left unsaid. Eventually, he murmured something unintelligible into Ginny’s shoulder, and she had to ask him to repeat what he had said. Harry took a deep breath as he pulled back a little and gazed into her eyes intently.
“I said, I love you, Ginny,” he said firmly. Ginny felt stunned. Even though she had had no doubt whatsoever about her own feelings, over the long months of Harry’s absence she had not been able to keep herself from wondering if Harry truly felt the same way. After a moment, however, her common sense reasserted itself, and despite everything that had happened she found she was smiling somewhat impishly into his face.
“Yes, Harry, I know. You see, there’s no way I would’ve been able to find you if you hadn’t,” she responded unabashedly. Now it was Harry’s turn to look stunned.
“But...how did you find me, then?”
“Through the use of a very, very old charm, actually. It was a bit complicated to perform, but I managed it in the end.” Unexpectedly, Harry smiled back at her, and for the first time since she had arrived Ginny thought that perhaps everything might be all right after all.
“No wonder you used to be one of Old Sluggy’s favourites, with a brain like yours....”
“‘Old Sluggy’? Slughorn didn’t use that tacky nickname himself, did he?”
“No, it was your favourite Keeper, Cormac McLaggen.”
“McLaggen?” Ginny exclaimed as she wrinkled her nose in a highly disgusted fashion. Harry laughed at her expression—it was a genuine laugh, and Ginny felt her spirit soar at the sound of it. “Well, that figures...” Ginny mumbled under her breath, but she felt her smile slip when she saw Harry’s face become suddenly serious again.
“Have you any idea just how dangerous it was for you to come out here on your own like this?” he asked her, some of the fire returning to his eyes.
“Listen to me, Harry, I realized that it was going to be risky, but I had to do this. After you left I made it my mission to find you—to help you, even though I knew there was a certain amount of danger involved. And there is no possible way that Voldemort or any of his Death Eaters will be able to use the same charm I used to find you,” Ginny went on. “Even if they do discover the spell itself—it won’t work for them.”
“Because they’re not in love with you,” answered Ginny, simply. Harry gazed at her with a conflicted-looking expression on his face.
“I don’t know what to say to this, Ginny. There’s this massive part of me that’s so glad that you’re here, but the rest of me is terrified of what this means. What if something happens to you now? What if I can’t protect you?”
“I’ll tell you exactly what this means, Harry Potter. It means that you are going to have to trust me. I’m not eleven anymore—I’m more than capable of taking care of myself, and you’d do well to remember that once in a while,” said Ginny, sternly. She had known all along that this was coming and was determined to not let Harry fall back into his “protector” mode again. “Besides,” she continued more gently, as she gingerly traced the livid new scar on the side of his face with her finger, “I’m not the one who’s been hurt.” Harry dropped his eyes to the ground; he was looking guilty once more.
“You should know, Ginny. Ron and Hermione have been injured, too. In fact, Ron almost died yesterday—he would’ve died if it hadn’t been for Hermione.” Ginny’s heart began to beat extremely fast.
“Is he...are they all right?”
“I think so. They’re both inside asleep,” said Harry, indicating the rough wooden building behind them. “There’s something more as well.... Voldemort knows about us, Ginny,” he whispered heavily, and then fell quiet. For some time neither of them spoke.
“Did you really think we could keep this hidden from him forever, Harry?” He glanced back up at her. “And honestly, it doesn’t matter anyway, because I’m not going back,” said Ginny insistently. Harry paused for a moment but then nodded, seemingly giving in to the inevitable. His expression had lightened somehow; he now looked much more like the Harry she remembered from last year—the same Harry that had fallen in love with her.
“Right. Well, you’d better get comfortable then, because if you’re going to stay I’ve got loads of things to tell you.” Ginny allowed herself a split-second of pure, blissful happiness at being able to be with Harry again, then repositioned herself against him beneath the darkened branches of the tree as she began to prepare herself for what was to come.