Harry was dreaming of flowers. Or at least, that was what he assumed they were. He could feel the softness of their petals under his fingers and breathe in the deep, heady scent, but his dream moved too fast for him to actually see them - their colours twirled around him, making him dizzy. Bits of lavender, honeyed brown and grand flares of red burned his eyes until he gave up trying to understand what he was seeing.
He let himself enjoy the flowery scent - so familiar, and yet still so unknown to him. He missed that scent. It was everything to him and the only place he could still enjoy it was here, in his dreams. The world spun around him again, and he felt himself let go into it, not caring where he was falling….
With a jolt, Harry moaned and opened his eyes, realising that his head had slipped from the corner of the wall he’d been resting it in, waking him up. His hand reached down into his pocket, to pull out his glasses, and he noted it was still early morning. The ramshackle dwelling he, Ron and Hermione had been holed up in for the last few days was still bathed in that eerie sort of light that was neither day nor night. He heard Ron’s half-snores from the other side of him and his eyes strayed to Hermione’s form that was in between them, although it was closer to Ron’s side than his. He could just make out her arm stretched out towards their friend, as though she’d been holding his hand during the night. Harry sighed and repositioned himself against the wall, willing sleep to come back to him; but he knew it was pointless.
Climbing to his feet, he moved as quietly as possible and stepped out of the room, heading towards the kitchen area. The small building had two rooms, the one they slept in and a narrow room that had a working sink and a small table. Hermione had tried her best to transfigure something into a stove for them so that they could heat themselves and perhaps cook a meal or two, but nothing had worked so far. Harry reckoned it was probably because stoves, magical or not, had a bit more going on than what a single spell would take care of. Hermione had been most displeased she hadn’t been able to make it work, and he grinned as he remembered that he and Ron had spent a cheerful hour good-naturedly goading her about it. It had been the first time they’d felt normal in days, Harry recalled, and his mood sobered again as he thought of their previous week.
Death Eaters had tracked them, and would have caught them if not for Hermione’s fancy spell work. The three of them had been searching for a Horcrux - a tip from Remus Lupin had them trying to find the last known residence of the final Ravenclaw descendant. So far they had not been able to locate either the house or anything else. Even before the Death Eaters had attacked, their frustrations had been heightened at their lack of results and Harry knew that now, after yet another setback, none of them had much motivation to retrace their steps and try to find the house again. Not to mention the fact that none of them even knew for certain what they were looking for to begin with. But he did know that they would have to keep looking until they found it, no matter how hopeless it seemed.
Sounds that Ron and Hermione were awake reached his ears, and he sighed as he tapped his wand on an old kettle Hermione had found and then poured himself a cup of lukewarm tea. He took a few sips and then put the cup back down, feeling as though disappointment was breathing down his neck. He grabbed his jacket and slipped it on, heading outside, feeling as though he wanted to run somewhere - anywhere to get away from the thick, useless sensation inside him. He didn’t walk very far, knowing that Hermione would be doubly cross with him for leaving without telling them, but he hadn’t fancied walking in on his best mates saying good morning to each other. Oh, he wished them no ill will - some part of him was pleased at the fact that they had finally sorted themselves out. They weren’t really bad about it, either, respecting his feelings at being the third party, and he was fairly sure they didn’t do much more than snog, but still…it was yet another reminder of what he himself had given up to finish this fight once and for all.
He stopped and sat down under a small tree, resting his head on his knees, feeling lost, uncertain, and full of frustration. The bitter winter air whipped around him and he shivered, but it wasn’t from cold. He knew he couldn’t let it get to him like this; he needed to keep himself together. But it had been too long and they’d been too far from home, and he’d never expected it to hit him like this. But he should have known.
Harry knew then that he hadn’t really been dreaming of flowers. He’d been dreaming of Ginny.
“Harry! Duck!” Hermione shouted at the last moment, and he reacted instinctively. He could feel a breeze rifle through his hair as the red flash of a spell missed him. He rolled sideways and pushed forward, not really aiming his wand and not caring; he shouted out a curse and jumped to the right, landing somewhere to the left of where his friends were barricaded.
“Bow bin bloody bell bid they bind us?” Ron said, his hand clamped over his nose, which was bleeding rather freely. Hermione pushed her hair out her eyes and aimed her wand over the top part of the rock that was covering them.
“I don’t know, but there’s only three of them. Why haven’t they alerted the others?” she asked as a green flash of light bounced off the stone in front of them. Harry was glad he’d manage to properly cast the Shield Charm around them in time.
“Ron, how’s your nose?” he asked as he moved over Hermione to look at his friend.
“Bleeding, that’s bow bit is.”
“Hold still,” Harry warned, and Ron barely had time to register the fact that his friend was about to cast an unpractised Healing Spell at him. Ron pulled his blood-soaked hand away from his face a moment later and tentatively touched his face. He grinned at Harry.
Harry pursed his lips and looked out at where the three Death Eaters were waiting for them. It was rather odd how no one else had shown up to press the advantage. He looked at Hermione.
“Should we make a break for it?”
She bit her lip in concentration. “We can try. I think I hurt one of them before you put the shield up. Maybe they don’t realise who we are?”
“Fat chance of that,” Harry muttered, and he looked at Ron. “You okay to run?”
“I’m brilliant. And I‘ve got this.” He held up the bag of what Harry hoped contained what they had come for.
“All right, I’ll cast my Patronus like we did last time. Hermione you do that Trace Blocking Spell you did as well. Ron, lead the way.”
They stood up together, and Harry saw the shield he’d cast waver as the Death Eaters all fired at once. He cast his Patronus, the brilliance of the white stag blocking them from view for the briefest of moments as Hermione did a spell around them that would make the people following them think they had gone the other way. Ron took off in front and Harry waited to make sure Hermione was in between them as they made their way through the rocks and forest.
They didn’t speak as they hurriedly made their way, Ron keeping a fast pace. Harry couldn’t hear anything behind them, but knew that didn’t mean anything. He kept turning around and double checking, barely believing that they’d managed to escape the same way twice. Hermione stumbled up ahead of him and Ron caught her, pulling her ahead. They finally came to a place they recognized and Ron stopped, breathing heavily, half-carrying Hermione, who looked as though she’d permanently lost her breath. Harry wiped his hand over his face as he glanced back behind them, fear and adrenalin coursing through him. But he knew it would soon be replaced by exhaustion; they’d been running themselves too thin.
The three of them looked at each other and agreed without speaking. Ron nodded and tightened his hold on Hermione’s arm.
“Home,” Ron said, taking the bag off his shoulders and handing it to Harry.
“Home,” Harry agreed.
He watched them Disapparate and then prepared himself for what was awaiting him, knowing it would be harder to deal with than what he’d just faced.
There were soft things covering him - his face, his body…it had been so long since he’d felt anything soothing that at first he didn’t know what to do. So he held on to sleep, needing its protection. The flowery scent was back and he welcomed it, holding it closer to him. It was only when it moved and murmured his name that it astonished him enough to open his eyes.
His mind quickly told him he was in his room at the Burrow. He felt a bit of the tension drift away from him; they were okay for now. It was a respite in the storm. It’d been months since they’d been back, and now they finally had something to show for their work.
But he was alone in his room, and he’d been so sure…Harry reached out for his glasses and slipped them on, glancing around. It was the same as when he’d collapsed into the bed the night before; he was still dressed in his dirty clothes. There was no sign that she had come to check on him and yet….
He knew she had. He could smell her scent lingering in the air and it felt nice to be able to do that while conscious. He should probably be angry with her - she’d promised. Hell, he’d made them both promise. To stay away from each other because that was how it had to be. He’d almost caved at Fleur and Bill’s wedding, and he had seen the hurt and pain in her eyes as he’d left, and some small part of him had died to be the one to put that look on her face.
He knew Ron and Hermione wanted to stay through Christmas at the Burrow; they hadn’t said as much, but he knew. He knew they all deserved it too. But Harry didn’t know if he could take being in the same house as Ginny for too long. Not when there were still two more Horcruxes to be found; not when he was still a marked man and could offer her nothing but his leaving yet again.
He sighed and sat up, groaning a bit as his body protested. Maybe after a hot shower and some of Mrs Weasley’s fine cooking he’d feel up to facing her. Or at least, he’d be in a better position to appear as though every time he looked at her his heart wasn’t breaking.
“Oh, I am so glad the three of you made it home, I’ve been so worried…Harry dear, please eat up. You’re growing far too skinny again.”
Mrs Weasley bustled around her kitchen, making sure the three returnees were over flowing with tea and food.
It was Harry’s second helping, and he finally felt able to move his head and take in his surroundings. The Burrow looked as it always did and yet it felt different to Harry - it was odd to him that life should continue on, while a war raged outside the door. He realised he’d been spending far too much time sleeping on dirty floors in abandoned houses; he’d forgotten what a home felt like.
As if hearing his thoughts, the one person that always made him feel as though he were home, no matter where he was, appeared on the bottom step of the stairs. She paused and it was only a moment, but it was long enough for their eyes to meet and he knew it had been her in his room earlier - the guilt flashed in her eyes before she moved away to welcome Hermione and Ron home.
It was as though everything went red in his mind and he stared down at his plate, suddenly losing his appetite. It was madness - this reaction he had at seeing her. It was half pain and half pleasure as though he enjoyed the fact that he couldn’t touch her or show her his heart. He heard the noises of the people around him but Harry swore he could only truly understand the sound of her - so close and yet miles away.
The sound of Hermione’s voice brought him back and he glanced up to see that Ginny had moved into the kitchen to help her mother.
“Are you all right?” his friend asked, concern in her eyes, and he nodded.
“Yeah, sorry. What did I miss?”
“Mrs Weasley was saying that there’s to be an Order meeting to deal with what we brought back.”
“Oh. Good. When?”
“Tonight. She wanted to know if we were going to stay…in London or come back here.”
The idea of staying in London was perfect for him, he knew. Ginny, who wasn’t an Order member, wouldn’t be going along and it would solve his problem. But just then she moved into his peripheral vision - a flash of colour as her hair moved behind her back and he felt himself weaken.
“No…” he heard himself say. “I reckon we should come back to the Burrow, that is, if it’s okay with you, Mrs Wea