A/N: Shout-outs and drinks all around to my pre-betas attilatehbun, Antonia East, and Pirate Ginny, and to my bo-peep Katieay, for their help (and bravery) in getting this ready. Thanks, too, to Lady G for dipping her toes back into the fandom long enough to sponsor another round of the Ficafest, and to my PhoenixSong beta Jenadamson, who says I'm an easy writer to beta for but I know it's lies, ALL lies. :-) Finally, I'd like to acknowledge my debt to the Web site Orkneyjar, without which this fic would probably not have quite so much local color.
Ginny turned off the tap and shook the excess water from her hands before wiping them on her skirt. The night sky as seen through her kitchen window was dusky rose, despite the late hour; even after living in Orkney for several years, she had yet to grow accustomed to the midnight sun of high summer. As the days stretched on into the wee hours of the morning she found herself sleeping less and less and having to find activities to keep her mind occupied. Washing the day's dishes without magic only lasted so long, however, especially since she used so few to begin with. Inevitably she would come to a point in each day when, neither her mind nor her body able to rest, she would find herself thinking about Harry.
He'd been gone for just over nine years. The first two she, Ron, Hermione, Neville, and Luna had spent looking for him, each of them refusing to accept that his disappearance at the moment of Voldemort's annihilation was anything more sinister or permanent. After two years, though, Neville's gran died, so he had to return home to attend to the affairs of her estate. Around the same time Luna thought perhaps she should return to her father, as she hadn't exactly told him she was leaving in the first place. A year and a half later, Ron and Hermione decided it would be best if they settled down in one place -- together -- and let Harry find them when he was ready to.
Ginny wasn't quite willing to give up yet, however, and so she soldiered on for another fifteen months until she had exhausted all her resources, including, it seemed, her spirit. Great-Aunt Muriel had died in the interim and bequeathed her holiday cottage on Papay to her. So, after procuring, thanks to one of her father's connections at the Ministry, employment as a spell-inventor that allowed -- encouraged, even -- her to work from home and file weekly progress reports, Ginny gathered up her few belongings from the Burrow and moved in.
For the next four years she lived quietly, unobtrusively, entertaining the family and friends who stopped in for the occasional cup of tea or to spend the weekend in exchange for submitting to her experimental spells. She'd made a few local friends, most of them on the neighboring island of Westray, and had even made a half-hearted attempt to have a relationship with a local man, a wizard who hired himself out to the Muggle deep-sea fishing boats,but for the most part she kept to herself as much as possible. She thought about Harry all the time, though, especially when she wasn't working. At times it was as though he'd never left; at times she thought she could even feel his presence nearby, only to turn towards it and find nothing there.
Midsummer was always the most difficult time of year. The short nights with little more than a breeze to stir the damp, redolent air produced an alchemical reaction in Ginny that left her in a near-constant state of alert wakefulness. There would be moments when she became absolutely convinced someone was standing right behind her, but whenever she turned around, no one was there. Other times -- nights, usually, as she lay in bed and listened to the surf pounding against the rocks, waiting for dawn to come -- her thoughts of Harry grew so tangible, so palpable, she would turn in the direction she expected him to be and swear she could see an impression in the mattress beside her.
These sensations of imminence had been growing increasingly stronger in recent weeks. Last night had been the worst, the most unsettling, so far. Something had awakened Ginny from a restless sleep in which she had been dreaming that she was a little girl again, too young to attend Hogwarts, running after the train the way she had when Ron had left for the first time, the day she had met Harry and her life had changed forever. She awakened breathless and crying, with the bedcovers tangled around her legs as though she'd been enacting the dream as she slept.
As she lay there, waiting for her heart to stop racing, she wondered what had shaken her from her nightmare. The night was still and quiet; the sky was a muted shade of indigo, and even the sea was calm. She breathed deeply, thinking the salty tang of the sea air would clear her head and soothe her jangled nerves, but instead it was as though she'd walked past a cauldron of freshly-brewed Amortentia.
She sat up then, her mouth agape as she sucked in deep draughts of the potent aromas of woodsmoke and dragon-hide leather and something that to anyone else might have reeked of old socks but to her was utterly, indefinably Harry. Longing clawed at her insides until she thought it would tear its way out of her.
Then, in the still, small space before she drew the next breath, Ginny thought she heard someone murmur her name. It was so faint it might easily have been the wind ruffling through her curtains at the open window. Her palm pressed flat over her chest, the tips of her fingers brushing against the scalloped neckline of her nightdress, she whispered into the dimness, "Harry?"
But the voice, had it been such, did not speak again, and the scent that had flared her nostrils was rapidly fading, and Ginny realized that once again she had allowed her mind to play a bitterly cruel trick on her.
That had been last night. Sleep had eluded her, until the pale imitation of night gave way to dawn's grasping fingers and Ginny dragged her taut body and aching head out of bed to cope with the long day that lay ahead.
Work kept her busy through lunch. She'd been plotting a series of Transfiguration charms on a commission from Kingsley Shacklebolt, and the last stage had proven to be rather troublesome. Her worktable was littered with scraps of parchment covered in scribbled calculations and several malformed pincushions, the detritus of three days' worth of failed attempts to get the spells to work. When the grumbling of her empty stomach could no longer be ignored, she set down her quill, locked the door to her office (a converted boat shed), and walked down the lane to the village pub.
"Thoor lookin' a raffle today, lass," the publican said in his thick Orkadian accent as Ginny came in. As it was well past midday, the place was nearly empty, and he was sweeping under the tables. He leaned the broom against the wall and wiped off one of the barstools with a dishtowel. "Sit ye doon now and hiv some maet." He shouted an order for fish -- pulled fresh from the sea that morning no doubt -- served on a bed of spinach noodles, one of Ginny's favorite dishes, through the pass-through window that led to the kitchen.
"Thanks, Lars," Ginny said, sliding up on to the stool and accepting the pint of stout he set before her. "I've had a few rough nights lately."
"Ja," he said, clicking his tongue in sympathy. "Johnsmas is morra. The simmer dim makes us all kringly-headed."
"I reckon so," Ginny said thoughtfully. "But midsummer's never affected me like this before."
Lars' bushy gray eyebrows went up. "Y'dinna say?" He leaned forward. "Gang clipe me?"
Ginny took a deep draught of her beer and set the glass down, concentrating on fitting it exactly on top of the ring of moisture that stained her coaster as she pondered what she could safely tell him. "Well... my imagination seems to be playing tricks on me."
"Ja. Bin seein' things?"
She nodded. "Seeing things, hearing things... smelling things..."
"Ye dun netted y'self a selkie-man, lass," said a cracked female voice. A plate piled high with noodles topped with a large grilled salmon appeared, and Ginny raised her head to see Lars' ancient mother standing before her. Clumps of batter and splotches of the homemade lemon butter she used for cooking spattered her apron. Ginny reckoned her to be well into her nineties, unusually long-lived for a Muggle, but she showed no signs of slowing down.
"A selkie-man?" Ginny asked.
"Ja," the old woman said, her eyes, such a pale blue they were almost colorless, glittering. "Dey coom ashoor a' midsummer and ramp aboot in sarch o' wimmen ta lie wi'. Some o' dem linger on, but most retarn to sea and aren't hard from agin until nine months later."
Ginny smiled. "I doubt I'm in much danger of being impregnated by a shapeshifting seal," she said as she used her fork to pull away several delicate flakes of fish.
"Thoorn't ta fyurst ta say dat," she said sharply. "An' I da'n't say thoo'll be ta last." Before Ginny could reply, she'd disappeared back into the kitchen.
"I'm sorry," Ginny said, at a loss. "I didn't mean to offend her."
"Nae, lass, ye haen't din no harm," Lars said. "Ma knows the selkie-folk dinna fleg young'uns no more." He took Ginny's empty pint glass and refilled it. "Ye shouldna dismiss her so quick, though. Dere's all soorts o' magic in the air 'roond Johnsmas, and ye'd be a smart lass t' be wary."
She pushed her plate away, her appetite gone. "Magic?"
"Ja. It's nae coincidence moost berns arrive in March." He winked.
Ginny felt her cheeks grow warm as she thought of last night, and the impression she thought she'd seen in the bed next to her. "I'll be sure to lock my door at night, then." She hopped off the stool and folded a couple of notes beside the plate of scarcely-touched fish. "Thank you for lunch," she said. "Tell your mum I'm sorry for my rudeness."
Lars seemed puzzled by her abruptness, but waved her off. "Don't work too hard, ja?"
Papay is a small island, and Ginny had to go far inland to be out of sight of the sea. Yet even then, she couldn't escape its smell that had taken up permanent lodgings in her hair, clothes, even her towels and bedlinens, or the incessant pounding of the surf against the island's rugged shoreline, where hundreds of ships had been ripped to splinters over the centuries. The path between her cottage and the village passed by a craggy oceanside outcropping, and Ginny couldn't help stopping to look out at the mottled gray and brown shapes sunning themselves on the rocks that rose from the water a hundred meters out from shore, their infrequent barks ricocheting off the cliffs.
She knew all about the selkie-folk, of course. Ginny reckoned that Lars' mother would not be at all shocked to discover that they were more than mere folklore, that selkies were water-borne shapeshifters in the same broad category as lindworms and kelpies. She'd first learned about them in Defense Against the Dark Arts years ago, when Remus Lupin had been her teacher. Something in his account of the selkie-men had prickled at her still painfully fresh memory of how easily Tom Riddle had seduced her the year before, and she'd gone to his office after dinner one evening in search of information and reassurance. In return he'd lent her a battered and dog-eared and very thorough volume on Dark seducers.
The suggestion that she was being seduced by a selkie, however easily she'd dismissed the notion to Lars and his mother, troubled her. She'd been so convinced that was Harry's voice calling her name, his scent filling her nostrils, his body lying beside her, his spirit reaching out to her... had her desperate conviction that he would one day return made her vulnerable, the same way her loneliness made her such easy prey for Riddle over fifteen years before? Had she learned nothing from that horrible nightmare? The possibility rankled deeply.
A sound filtered to her ears through the pounding of the surf and the wind as it rushed up the cliff face, and Ginny looked down to see two seals squabbling over a third. Their guttural bellows echoed in her head. Selkies, despite the gradual softening of the folklore -- both Muggle and magical -- about them, were still classified as Dark creatures and considered very dangerous to humans, with a Ministry of Magic rating of four on a five-point scale, along with sirens and other merpeople. The danger lay in their harmless, even appealing, appearance, just as with seals. Seals, though, were cunning hunters, and few humans ensnared in a selkie's allure managed to escape to tell the tale.
Ginny watched as one of the seals dove beneath the waves and swam off. The other, wasting no time in mounting the third, roared its triumph to the sky with each rolling thrust. Soon the cow joined her voice to his. The cacophony was too much for Ginny to endure, so she turned away and walked the rest of the way home.
Though the afternoon dragged interminably, Ginny made little progress on her spellwork. Preoccupation and weariness made it difficult to concentrate. Desperate for any activity to keep her mind off the seals, or the queer sensation that she was not alone, she refused to set her work aside until the blast of the passenger ferry bound for Westray awoke her violently.
She'd fallen asleep at her worktable, her chin drooping down on to her chest, much like her father tended to do when he snoozed in his favorite armchair on Sunday afternoons, the Sunday Prophet spread open across his lap. Consequently, when she jerked awake at the sound of the ferry's horn announcing its last departure for the day, she wrenched her neck. Cursing with a fluency that would impress Ron and shock Hermione, Ginny rubbed at her neck and stared out the window, watching the tops of the ferry's smokestacks drift past as it headed for deeper waters.
"A long, hot soak with a good book would do me good," she said to herself. "No wonder I can't relax -- I'm too keyed up waiting for something to happen."
Fifteen minutes later the water in her ancient claw-footed tub was deep enough. Ginny shucked off her clothes and lowered herself into its steaming depths. With the radio broadcasting a match between the Montrose Magpies and the Wigtown Wanderers, a pillow to lean back against, a bottle of butterbeer within easy reach, a novel set at the legendary courts of love of Marie de Champagne (a Christmas gift from Fleur), and her wand available to re-heat the water as needed, Ginny reckoned she could enjoy her bath indefinitely, or at least until her toes turned too wrinkled and pruny.
With a sigh of relief she leaned back against the pillow and gave herself a moment or two to adjust to the water's temperature. The rising steam had caused the few loose hairs at her temples and the back of her neck to curl and frizz and her feet tingled, but the heat felt wonderful against her lower back. She hadn't realized until then just how tense she'd become over the past several days. She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths, letting each one out slowly through pursed lips. Then, taking one more deep breath, Ginny completely submerged herself.
The sensation was oddly comforting. There was a faint roar that she took to be coming from the radio broadcast, probably the spectators cheering a goal or a save, but beyond that she could hear nothing else, not even the cries of seabirds that flocked to the island sanctuary or the sound of waves breaking over rocks. She felt warm and sheltered beneath the water, insulated from all outside worries, like an egg in an incubator.
Ginny opened her eyes. The water stung at first, but she quickly adjusted and looked up at her world through the limited perspective allowed by the dimensions of her bath. The distortion created by the water gave everything a vaguely out-of-focus, silver-tinted cast, but she could still easily identify familiar objects -- a soap caddy, a towel bar with rose-colored towel hanging from it, the radio perched up on the windowsill, a candle beside it, its flame flickering in the evening breeze.
When the flame snuffed out Ginny didn't think much of it; at midsummer, light remained plentiful most of the night. She remained beneath the water, hands clasped across her stomach, and watched a bubble of air, then another, and a third, escape her nose and float to the surface, where they burst open. In some distant corner of her mind she became aware of a red haze creeping across her field of view and a faint voice warning about danger, but she felt so at peace she thought it would be nice to stay down here forever.
The red haze was now all around her, so that she wondered if she might be missing an especially spectacular sunset, when she grew dimly aware of a shape, darker than everything else, entering her field of view. Curious despite the light-headedness that made it difficult to keep her eyes open, Ginny watched the shape take on more distinctive features, features that were oddly, disturbingly familiar. As it grew closer, looming large in her vision, Ginny gasped in fear and surprise, inhaling water through her nostrils.
With a sob she burst out of the water into the chilly evening air, choking and sputtering, her lungs on fire as she sucked in deep draughts of air. The radio announced that Wigtown had won in an upset, 160-120, but she didn't care; she just clung to the side of the tub and cried.
* * * * *
Her hair was still damp when she Apparated outside a townhouse in a posh London neighborhood. The sun had set long before this far south, but Ginny gave no thought to the late hour as she banged heavily on the door; she'd seen a light on in a downstairs window and knew at least one of the house's occupants was still up. She continued knocking, alternating between the side of her fist and her knuckles, until the outside light came on and the door inched open to reveal George in his dressing gown and slippers, his wand pointed at her. "Thank Merlin," she cried, ignoring the threat to push past him into the entrance hall.
"Ginny! What on --"
"Is Luna here?" She looked quickly around into the adjoining rooms. "I really need to see her."
"What's going on?" Fred, still clad in street clothes, emerged from the dining room. "You look like hell."
She looked imploringly at George. "Please fetch Luna. I really need to see her tonight."
He studied her for a moment, his lower jaw jutting forth, then nodded. "All right. She's only just gone to bed, so she may still be awake." He began to ascend the stairs, then paused to add, "Don't keep her long, she tires easily these days."
His footsteps faded away, leaving Ginny and Fred in the foyer. She was aware of her brother's concerned stare and developed an avid interest in a photograph to deter any unwelcome questions.
"Tea?" he finally said. She nodded, then exhaled with relief when he left her alone to fetch the tea. As much as she loved Fred, she knew he wouldn't pass up the opportunity to take the piss, or find some way to turn her misery into a gimmick for the shop.
Of all the couplings that Ginny had seen her friends and siblings form since her Hogwarts days, George and Luna was by far the last one she might have predicted, yet, in hindsight, it should have been the most obvious. She was sorry not to have seen the first blush of their romance; by the time she returned to England, they were already planning their wedding. Once she'd had a chance to grow used to the idea, however, Ginny realized how perfectly matched they were: George's imagination and Luna's eccentricity fit together like hand in glove.
Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes had gone global a few years ago and Fred, as the more outgoing twin, was its chairman, while George, as the creative genius behind most of their products, preferred to take a more behind-the-scenes role. Luna, upon a recommendation from Professor Flitwick, had found employment in the Spell Damage ward at St. Mungo's, where she worked primarily with patients suffering from long-term after-effects of the Imperius Curse. She now ran a rather lucrative private practice in Diagon Alley. Her inherent empathy and ability to take anything in stride made her the ideal person to help survivors of either war to overcome the mental trauma they'd suffered. This was what had brought Ginny here; anyone else would call her insane after hearing what she'd been through the past few days.
At the creaking of floorboards above, Ginny ran to the foot of the stairs. Soon George came into view, leading Luna. She had obviously already gone to bed: she was bare-footed, her long hair was pulled back in a braid, and she was yawning. "Hullo, Ginny," she said as though nothing was amiss. "What brings you here?"
"Luna, I'm sorry to have got you out of bed at such a late hour, but I really need your help."
"Why, whatever is the matter?"
Ginny reached out to take her hand and held fast, giving her a hard stare that she prayed would effectively convey her desperation without words. "I think I'm going mad."
Luna studied her calmly. Finally, with a slight nod of her head, she came to a decision. "George, may we use the study?"
He opened his mouth in what Ginny could tell was about to be an objection, but something about the look on his wife's face must have convinced him otherwise. "Yes, of course. Fred and I are working in the dining room."
"Good. I thought you might be." She steered Ginny towards the door opposite the one Fred had come out of when Ginny first arrived. "Oh, and get Fred to bring us some biscuits too, will you please? I'm rather hungry, and Ginny looks like she's about to faint."
Ginny let Luna lead her into the study and to one of the two leather wingback chairs by the window that faced out on the back garden. Once Ginny was settled, Luna lit several candles to provide just enough light to give the room a warm and comforting glow. She then took the chair opposite Ginny, tucking her feet up under her and nearly folding her hands over the roundness that had only recently begun to show.
"All right, Ginny, you have my attention now. Tell me what's going on."
For the next two hours Ginny poured out her heart to Luna. She told her first about how isolated and lonely she'd been feeling in recent months, and how she couldn't shake the thought that her life had become a means to pass the time as she waited for an event she had only recently begun to think would never happen. She told Luna about how midsummer, with the sun that never completely set, left her feeling unsettled and anxious. Then she told her about the strange occurrences from the past several days: the sensation that she was not alone even when she knew no one was around; the ghostly voice that sounded disturbingly like Harry's; the faint impression of another body in her bed; the dreams that had plagued her, dreams she'd tried not to think about because they had been so painfully tangible in their eroticism; and then, finally, about looking up out of the water in her bath to see Harry bent over her, looking back in, his mouth moving as though he were calling her name.
Throughout the interview Luna listened alertly and patiently, asking only a question or two whenever Ginny seemed to stumble over her words or lose focus. When Ginny mentioned the selkie-folk, however, Luna sat up with added interest and Summoned a scroll and quill which she used to scribble a few illegible notes.
Early on Fred brought in the promised tea and biscuits, then later George came to tell them that Fred had gone home and that he was going to bed. As he exited, a cat sidled in through the door before it closed all the way. Without hesitation it jumped on to Ginny's lap and curled up, purring loudly and kneading her thighs as she raked her fingers through its thick grey fur.
"Honestly, Luna, I don't know what to do anymore. I can't sleep, I can't concentrate, I see Harry everywhere I turn..." She leaned her head back against the chair and sighed. "He's been gone nine years. People have found jobs, fallen in love, got married, started families. Ron and Hermione were able to move forward with their lives, you did, Neville did.... Why can't I?"
"You have moved on, Ginny. You've found work you enjoy, you have a home, you've had relationships -"
"One." Ginny shook her head. "I've had one relationship since I came back. Even then, it was just sex. He spends most of the year on a fishing boat, and I can't let go of Harry. We were just two emotional cripples humping like rabbits, desperate for anything resembling intimacy." She laughed bitterly. "Why can't I just accept that he's not coming back?"
"I don't --" Luna paused. "What do you want me to tell you? What do you want to hear? Do you want me to forgive you for wanting to give up on the idea that he isn't ever coming back? I can't do that, Ginny. Only you can."
Ginny rubbed at her eyes. "I don't know what I want anymore, Luna. I want... I want to feel alive again. I'm tired of feeling as if I'm waiting for something that isn't going to happen."
"Then don't." She leaned towards Ginny. "I believe in my heart that Harry will come back someday." Ginny gasped. "I've always believed that. But I haven't hung the rest of my life on that one hope. It's like waiting for a potion brew -- watching it just makes it takes so much longer, so you have to keep yourself occupied with other things. You can still hope for Harry to return, but you need to stop waiting for him."
Ginny reached out to finger the sleeve of Luna's dressing gown. "Will the hallucinations go away if I do?"
Rather than answer, Luna propped her chin on her hand and drummed her fingers against her cheek as she hummed to herself. After a moment or two, she took her wand and Summoned three books from the shelves that lined the opposite wall. The first one she leafed through briefly, then discarded. The second one Ginny recognized as a copy of the same book Professor Lupin had lent her years before. She leaned over to see that Luna had it open to the entry on selkies. Luna skimmed it, her index finger moving rapidly down the page, then she set it on the floor and picked up the third volume, which was thicker than the other two combined. She flipped back and forth until she found the page she needed, then settled back to read it, humming all the while.
Ginny bent down, dumping the cat on the floor, and picked up the other book to refresh her memory. Her secondary purpose in doing so -- though, if she were being truly honest, her chief purpose -- was to prevent herself from leaning over to try to see what Luna was reading. It was only momentarily successful.
Luna had stopped humming and was tapping her finger next to a particular passage. Her other hand absently caressed her slightly distended abdomen as a vague smile tugged at her lips. Then she picked up the scrap of parchment she'd written on earlier, glanced at it, made a clucking noise as she nodded her head, slipped the note inside the book she'd just been reading to mark the page, then closed the book with a decisive snap.
Ginny couldn't stand the suspense any longer. "Well?"
Luna turned her slightly bug-eyed gaze on her. "Tomorrow is Midsummer's Eve, am I correct? When the sun stays above the horizon all night?"
"Yes. There'll be celebrations all over the islands."
"That's not really what interests me." She stood up and held out her hand to Ginny. "Come with me."
Unsure what to make of this strange turn of events -- though with Luna, strange turns of events were usually the normal course of things -- Ginny took her hand and let Luna lead her up the stairs to the next landing and into a cozy bedroom situated directly over the study, with a white chenille bedspread and sheer curtains at the windows. A flick of Luna's wand turned on the bedside lamp. She then released Ginny's hand to turn down the bedcovers and plump the pillows.
"Er, Luna--?" Ginny said.
Luna patted the mattress. "Get in. It's well after midnight, and you're exhausted."
"But --" Before she could say anything more, Luna had swept past her and out of the room. Ginny stared in the direction she'd gone, then rolled her eyes and toed off her shoes. She was tired. Maybe if she stayed here tonight, where the sun had set hours before and the sea was miles away, she'd actually sleep soundly.
She'd stripped down to her T-shirt and knickers and had just slid between the bedcovers when Luna returned with a glass of water and a small, dark brown bottle with an apothecary's label and a bulbed top. She set the glass on the bedside table and unstoppered the bottle to measure two droppersful of a dark reddish-purple liquid into the water. After replacing the top and swirling the contents of the glass until the mixture had blended, she handed the glass to Ginny. "Drink this."
"What is it?"
"Just a Sleeping Draught." She showed the bottle to Ginny.
Ginny drew the now half-empty glass from her mouth in disbelief. "That's it? 'Drink this, it'll make you feel better'?"
Luna went over to the window and raised the sash a few inches to let in some fresh air. "Normally I'm not one to recommend a pharmacological solution, but in your case I think it's appropriate. You have always had a very restricted, one-sided perspective. Either Harry's coming back, or he isn't. Either you're having hallucinations, or you're not. Either it's day, or it's night. It's not wrong, but sometimes it can make dealing with the unexpected difficult." She came over and sat on the bed near Ginny. "And as if that's not enough, you're in such a state over what you think you might be seeing that you can't see what's right in front of you. So, tonight, I just want you to sleep without any disruption."
Ginny drained the rest of the glass and handed it back. "Luna," she said, yawning, as the Sleeping Draught began to take effect, "what did that book say?"
Her normal vacant, dreamy demeanor slipped away, revealing the sharply discerning Ravenclaw few people knew. "Don't you trust me?"
"Absolutely," Ginny said without hesitation. "I wouldn't have come here if I didn't. But I want to know what you were reading."
"It was a book on ancient love magic, and that's all I'm going to say." She flicked her wand again, turning off the lamp. "Sleep well, Ginny. You'll feel much better in the morning and can deal with this with a clear head."
Ginny's eyelids felt heavy. "Thanks for listening, Luna," she murmured as sleep overtook her.
* * * * *
Ginny awoke the next morning to the patter of rain on the window. Sometime during the night the grey cat had crept into her room and curled up next to her; when she reached over to scratch between its ears, it opened one round orange eye, yawned widely, then proceeded to wash its paws.
She felt refreshed, despite the memory of a vivid dream in which she'd watched as a seal shed its skin, selkie-like, and emerged from the churning surf to reveal itself to be Harry. What happened next had been even more graphic, enough so to make her flush at the memory, but it had not left her feeling unsettled as previous dreams of that nature had. Rather, it had brought her a feeling of release and relaxation she hadn't felt in ages. She stretched languidly, wondering if it would be possible to recapture that dream state and the euphoria it brought.
She turned on her side, pulling the bedcovers up over her shoulder, when she spotted a tray with a bowl containing several different kinds of melon pieces, a plate of toast spread with honey, and a carafe of coffee under a Warming Charm, on the bedside table. Ginny's stomach grumbled at the sight.
Passing up the allure of one sensual pleasure in favor of another, Ginny sat up and took a slice of toast. After washing it down with a cup of coffee, she took the bowl of fruit and picked out all the honeydew to eat.
The cat, having completed its morning ablutions, bumped its head against Ginny's shoulder and meowed at her. She laughed and tickled its chin. "I did sleep well last night, thank you," she said, grinning when it flopped down to wrestle with her hand.
She was about to have another cup of coffee when, like a bolt of lightning on a cloudless day, the solution to the spell design that had evaded her for days came to her. Shocked by the unexpectedness of it and the sheer simplicity to the solution, she leaped out of bed, almost knocking over the carafe in her haste. Ginny knew she had to get home to test her theory and be sure it actually worked. She dressed hastily and ducked into the loo to attend to business before heading downstairs.
The house's occupants had already left for the day -- Ginny found herself feeling momentarily grateful she had an occupation that didn't require her to keep regular hours -- but Luna had left a note in plain view telling Ginny that she had morning appointments, but she'd be home for lunch if Ginny still needed to talk, and if she didn't, would she be joining them for Sunday dinner at the Burrow? Beneath Luna's note George had jotted a postscript: Come and see what we've got planned for autumn. It was his way of saying, "Fred and I are here for you if you need us," as well as, "McGonagall's going to want to hoist us up by our short and curlies on September 2nd." Ginny turned over the note and scrawled on the back, Something came up. If you don't hear from me before then, I'll be at Mum and Dad's on Sunday. Thanks for everything. She then let herself out, making sure the front door locked behind her, and, finding a place out of sight, Apparated home.
* * * * *
Ginny dedicated the rest of the day to finishing her project, pausing only when the demands of Nature required it. The insight she'd had that morning had been on the mark, but in order to implement it she had to tear down all the work she'd done previously and start over from scratch. It was arduous, painstaking work, but she welcomed it.
When she set down her quill and pushed back from her work table, her task finally complete, the sky outside was a brilliant shade of coral shot through with streaks of pale indigo. Through the open window Ginny could hear the omnipresent roar of the surf, accented by the cries of sea birds. Distant music filtered to her ears, as well as the thunderclap of fireworks being set off; the village celebrations of Johnsmas were already in full swing.
In previous years she'd joined them at the pub, quaffing pint after pint of Lars' homemade brew and playing billiards until just before midnight, when all the islanders would troop up to the highest spot on the island to light the traditional bonfire. This year, Ginny decided, she would not be joining the revelry. Although her mood had improved since yesterday, she was nonetheless not in a celebratory state of mind. Instead she locked up her workshop and followed a steep, rock-strewn path down to the beach.
The tide was near its apogee. Most of the seals had headed to deeper waters for that night's hunt, although Ginny could still see the dark, glossy heads of a few bobbing above the waves. Tucking her skirt around her legs, she sat down on the damp sand and folded her arms across her knees.
Down here, at water's edge, the roar of the surf was almost deafening. If she closed her eyes Ginny fancied she could feel the vibrations of each surge as it crashed against the shore throbbing pulselike up her spine. It was an intense, intoxicating sensation, and she sought to empty her mind of all mundane thoughts to let it fill her up. If she concentrated hard enough, she swore she could hear the ebb and flow of blood coursing through her veins in rhythm with the movement of the waves. Cocooned in the rise and fall of sound, Ginny let herself relax.
Her eyes snapped open. "Harry?" She held her breath, fearing the long-anticipated reply, fearing no reply would come, fearing the unknown and unknowable. "Harry, I'm here. I've always been here," she babbled. "Please come home."
"He'll nae coom ashoor wi' ye watchin' fur him," came an unexpected voice.
She spun around and saw Lars' mother seated on a piece of driftwood nearby, a clump of heather at her feet. "I'm not watching for him," she said sullenly.
"Nae y'ain't, lass." She stretched out her legs to wiggle her toes in the sand. "Thoo're hayr fur de sea ayr and de briskenin' coompany."
Ginny harrumphed and turned back to look out at the water. To her amazement, one of the seals had come towards shore and was now poised at the edge of the surf, scrutinizing her with its large, expressive eyes. Mystified, Ginny glanced back over her shoulder to see if the old woman had seen as well.
She lifted her chin in acknowledgment. "Tol' ye sae." She reached into her dress pocket and pulled out something which, Ginny realized as the old woman tossed it towards the seal, was a small fish.
The seal's neck undulated from side to side as it considered the wisdom in accepting the offering, then it hauled its bulk further inland, stretching forward until it could snatch the fish up with its sharp teeth. With one jerk of its head, the seal swallowed the treat whole. It then turned towards Ginny and, with the ungainly, inelegant movement its weak forelimbs required, moved a foot or two closer to her. Even with the noise of the breaking waves, Ginny could hear the seal making snuffling noises as it tried to ascertain if she were friend, food, or foe. Unsure how to respond -- and unwilling to make any sudden movement that might startle it into fight or flight -- she held her breath and studied it back.
The crackle of a match being struck broke the trance. Breaking off a sizeable branch of heather, the old woman ignited it and held it out towards Ginny, clearly intending for her to take it. With a watchful eye on the seal, which seemed content enough to watch what was unfolding, Ginny got up carefully and took the makeshift torch.
The old woman had lighted her own branch now and got to her feet. Taking hold of Ginny's arm with her free hand, she said, "Let's gang airt o' watter."
The seal managed to turn itself around to gaze at the two women as they walked right up to the water's edge, but showed no inclination to approach them or return to its more accustomed environment. As the breakers lapped around her ankles, the flaming branch of heather crackling in her hand, Ginny found herself looking out at the western horizon. Though it was nearly midnight, the sun's disk was still fully visible, igniting the sky with bands of red, orange and violet.
After tonight, the sun would gradually begin to set and rise later and later, until by the winter solstice the midnight sun had been replaced with a dawn that refused to come. It was strange, Ginny thought, strange and almost unnatural, to live in a place where the sun refused to rise or set at certain times of the year, where night and day were not always at odds with each other.
The first year she'd lived in Orkney she thought she liked the phenomenon, but this, her fourth midsummer, had been a difficult and disturbing one to endure. Perhaps Luna was right. Perhaps it was time to sell the cottage and move closer to friends and family, to work among other people, to allow another man into her bed and heart. Despite the flicker of hope Luna had ignited in her last night by admitting her own belief in Harry's eventual return, Ginny thought perhaps she was finally ready to stop waiting for him and move on with her life.
There was a splash followed by a hiss. The old woman had thrown her branch into the sea. "Ye has t'speir fur yoor gretest desire, den fire t'wid oan de watter," she told Ginny.
The smoke from the burning heather was stinging her eyes. At least, that was the explanation Ginny gave herself when she realized she was crying. She screwed her eyes shut, thought hard about what she wanted more than anything else, then flung her branch as hard as she could. When she heard the hiss of water extinguishing the flames, she opened her eyes again. The old woman was looking up at her with sympathy and compassion.
"Ye dun richt, bonnie lass," she said, her gnarled, spotted hand reaching up to caress Ginny's cheek. "Nou gang ye on hame t'bed afoor de lads find ye. Morn thoo'll feel muckle guid."
"Thank you," Ginny said. "I feel better already." Strangely, she did; casting her wish into the sea had lifted a heavy weight from her shoulders. She was about to ask the old woman if she, too, had once been haunted by visions of a lost love, when she caught sight of the seal hauling itself back into the water. It slipped beneath the waves, then resurfaced near the branch Ginny had thrown in. For a moment or two it remained there, studying her, the branch bobbing along beside it, then the seal dove once again and disappeared.
When Ginny turned away from the sea, the old woman was gone as well.
* * * * *
The dream that came to Ginny that night was more vivid than any she'd ever experienced before, even the horrible months-long waking nightmare Tom had put her through. It had come upon her so rapidly, and seemed so utterly real in its physicality, she couldn't even be sure that it was a dream. The only element that kept her from completely losing herself in the illusion was Harry's presence. Even then, she doubted she could have given herself over to ardor more completely if she had actually been making love with him.
She had walked alone back to the cottage, listening carefully for the sounds of any approaching revelers, her wand at the ready should she need to defend herself. Save the two youths she spotted coupling enthusiastically behind a boulder, however, she made it home without seeing anyone. Once inside, she declined to light any lamps, choosing instead to let the light from outside provide the only illumination. Shadows and the whispers of a breeze accompanied her as she made a cup of tea and prepared for bed, but she no longer felt them intrusive or unwelcome.
Her head had scarcely touched the pillow before the dream came upon her. At first she thought the wind had picked up, until she heard the low murmur of Harry's voice in her ear. She turned towards it, the better to hear him, and felt lips flutter across her brow, eyes, nose, cheeks, and throat, before coming back to her own lips to kiss her thoroughly. Instinctively she opened her mouth to the apparition, letting a quiet groan escape as her imagination and years of pent-up longing added fuel to the fire.
The confession evoked an answering laugh. A hand trailed down her side, following the curve of her hip as it flared out from her waist and halfway down her thigh, then began to move upwards once again, sliding under the hem of her nightdress. Ginny turned towards her dream lover and raised her hips.
In response the kisses grew deeper, more forceful, and an unseen but welcome presence moved over her. Now two hands lifted the nightdress away from her body. Ginny reached down to pull it up over her head and came into contact with a warm, solid mass. The thrill of it made her yelp. Her limbs became tangled then as she tried to remove her clothing and wrap her arms and legs around the most incredible, impossible fantasy her psyche could have concocted.
Eventually Ginny sorted herself out and found herself pressed flesh to flesh against the object of her heart's greatest desire. "Harry?" she whispered, her hands caressing the smooth planes of his bare skin, her fingers mapping each dip, curve and swell as her mind's eye reconstructed an image of him from memory. "Is it really you?"
"I'm here, Ginny," he murmured against her skin, and then he was moving into her, and she was tilting her hips forward to bring him in, and like the endless motion of the sea he was crashing against her, and the roar of the surf was pounding in her head, and her thighs were trembling and his back was damp with sweat, and then he gave one final rolling, shuddering thrust, grunting unintelligibly, and with that Ginny followed him over the edge, keening his name as tears of ecstasy and pain and joy and grief dampened her cheeks.
He lifted his head and kissed a spot between her breasts, then carefully withdrew from her. "What's wrong?"
Ginny wrapped her arms around his shoulders to prevent him from moving away. "I don't want to wake up," she cried. "I don't want this dream to ever end."
"Shh," Harry crooned. As he had at the outset, he kissed her brow, then her eyes, nose, cheeks and finally her lips, lingering there lightly. "This is no dream, Ginny. I'm here, and you're wide awake."
She was desperate to believe him, but she'd been tricked and disappointed by hope too many times before. She refused to give in to it this time, however. She would accept the gift her imagination had given her tonight, but come morning she would be turning over a new leaf. She embraced the apparition, savoring its transitory substantiality. "Thank you for tonight. Whatever comes of it, I'll never forget it."
His eyes -- she'd forgotten how brilliantly green and expressive they were -- betrayed his confusion at her words, but he said nothing. For her part, Ginny could sense the end of the dream approaching and the tell-tale signs of her body emerging from sleep. Unable to fight off the inevitability of morning, she pressed her nose against him, breathing him in. Then, her cheek pressed against his chest, his hand held between hers, her lips whispering his name over and over, she succumbed.
* * * * *
The sun streamed in through Ginny's bedroom window, warming her skin. The breeze, too, was warm and gentle, reminding her of summers at the Burrow. That, in turn, reminded her of the long happy hours she and Harry would spend flying around the paddock, either playing Quidditch with Ron and the twins, or just taking delight in the freedom of flight. The last summer before he, Ron, and Hermione left to track down the scattered pieces of Voldemort's soul, their feet hardly touched the ground, and when they did it was to take flight of an entirely different nature. Ginny had known at the time that her happiness was fleeting -- Harry had made it clear that he didn't intend to renounce his determination to part company with her -- but she had expected their separation to be only temporary. What would she have done if she had known Harry would never be coming back? Could she have accepted his disappearance more readily?
As she stretched into wakefulness, a sharp twinge brought back a flood of memories of the dream she'd had the night before. Even as her skin flushed in sympathetic remembrance, she couldn't help feeling a sense of loss, believing that a door had been closed forever. Last night she'd resolved to put her longing for Harry's return behind her and to move forward with her life, and she couldn't help wondering if her imagination had drained all of its reserves to give her one last chance to embrace him, even if it was only an illusion.
Now the dream was over, and morning was here, and Ginny Weasley was finally ready to accept that Harry Potter would never return. With her face turned towards the window, she said, "Goodbye, Harry."
And then a hand pressed against her cheek, forcing her to turn back towards the bed, and she found herself staring into a familiar pair of brilliant green eyes, set into a head topped with a familiar unruly mop of black hair, and a familiar mouth opened to say in a familiar, much-loved voice, "I'm home, Ginny."