Disclaimer: Many of the characters in this story are the property of J. K. Rowling, as a result I am making no profit in this endeavor. Pity that.
It had been almost two years since the last time, yet she looked almost the same, her vivid red hair standing out against pale skin and freckles. It was shorter now than it had been the last time he had seen her; it danced at her shoulders, curling slightly back to her face. She laughed suddenly, her face alighting with a glow of happiness. She patted Ron and Hermione’s oldest son, Harry, on the head, showing her appreciation of his antics.
Disillusioned in the shadows, he watched her quietly, his heart aching at the sight of her. She was dressed conservatively in a knee-length sun dress, wearing heels that did little to hide her petite stature. She was beautiful. Harry’s breath caught in his chest as he watched her, willing himself to be strong and not reveal himself. If she knew he was here, staring at her from the shadows, what would she think? What did she think of him anyway? He hadn’t spoken a single word to her in nine years, and that memory seared his soul. He had broken her heart.
The carpool van pulled up to take the kids to school, and the children hopped inside and arranged themselves. Ginny said a friendly hello to the driver, closed the van door and waved goodbye to the kids. She turned away from the street and started walking back up to the path towards the house. Harry’s eyes began to water as he watched the gentle sway of her hips as she walked. Instinctively, he began to follow her, his feet with a mind of their own. She suddenly stopped and spun around, her wand appearing from nowhere. Harry froze.
“Who’s there?” Ginny demanded.
Harry stood rooted on the spot, one foot hovering slightly above the ground, balanced precariously.
“I know you’re there. Show yourself!” Ginny fidgeted slightly, moving forward while looking for some sign of the invisible person. Nervously, she began to twist the ring on her finger to calm herself.
Harry saw her start to play with the ring, that damn ring! He had sent it to her in a moment of weakness the first Christmas they were apart. He hadn’t been able to stop thinking about her for months, and it was breaking his concentration. The ring had belonged to Rowena Ravenclaw, and he had, for a short time hoped it was a Horcrux. He had purchased it from an old man in a Muggle antique shop in Southern England who had no clue of its importance.
The ring had come to the shopkeeper many years previously and, though beautiful, no customer would ever buy it. He had finally taken the price tag off of it, assuming it might never sell. One day a strange young man with an odd scar appeared and asked him about a number of items he had purchased some fifteen years previous. There had been an estate sale when the couple who had lived on the hill had been mysteriously murdered. He had bought many of the family heirlooms at auction, and some how this young man had tracked him down.
Harry had recognised the ring immediately and purchased it. With smooth talking and Legilimency, he had convinced the shopkeeper to reveal to whom the other remaining artifacts were sold. It had taken Harry several months to actually find the Tiara, but he had eventually tracked it down. After that, the ring had little meaning. In a moment of loneliness he wrapped it carefully and sent it to Ginny for Christmas. He had hoped at the time that it would be their only Christmas apart, and it would make it easier for her if she had something from him. He had signed the card with only a few words.
Sorry I can’t be there. I hope someday I make it up to you.
In all the stolen looks of her he’d had over the last nine years she had never been without it. Always on her left hand, it was the unspoken promise he had made to her that she was unwilling to give up on.
“Harry?” Ginny called quietly.
Harry’s heart stopped for several seconds, panic coursing through his veins. She knew!
“Harry? Please, are you there? Please talk to me.” The words hung in the air, the weight of them crushing Harry’s chest as he willed himself to stay strong. Ginny started sobbing quietly. She turned and started back up the path towards the house. She must have decided that she was wrong, or thought she was hearing things. Ginny obviously suspected Harry was close by, he’d been this close before, but he had never revealed himself to her. She often seemed to know when he was near but Harry couldn’t fathom how. She walked away quietly, swaying to and fro gently as she visibly tried to quell her tears.
Harry’s heart ached in his chest, but he knew he had to let her go. He wasn’t fit to love. The horrors that he had seen and committed had ruined him. If she knew, she wouldn’t want him anyway. He felt constantly dirty, and his heart raced whenever he got this close to those he’d once loved. Why had he come back? What could be worth dredging up the pain again? Not that he was ever without it, but seeing her like this tore the wounds open again. He felt the sickening clench in his stomach return, that horrible feeling that had become his constant companion. He watched Ginny close the front door of the house, and then he Disapparated with a quiet ‘crack’.
Seconds later, Ron Weasley, seated at his desk, heard a sound he knew could only have been created by one person. “Hi, Harry,” he said evenly, trying to contain the excitement in his voice, shocked that his old friend had decided to pay him a visit.
“Feeling shy?” Ron asked, as he looked around his office. “I know it's you. No one else can Apparate inside here; it’s supposed to be impossible.” Ron smirked and waited for Harry to say something.
Harry rapped himself on the head and appeared silently before Ron’s desk, his face an artist’s rendering of complete misery. He was obviously trying to hold himself together but barely succeeding.
“I see you’ve been to visit Ginny,” Ron said, cottoning on to the look on Harry’s face, smirking just a bit. “Did you talk to her this time or just hide in the shadows like a school boy?”
“She knew I was there,” Harry said quietly, letting the words hang in the air.
“Ginny always knows, Harry. She started talking a few days ago about the fact that you were getting closer again; she can feel you. I don’t know how, but Ginny can always tell when you’re getting close to paying us a visit. You should have heard her this morning; she insisted that I call her the minute you showed up somewhere.” Ron sighed. “Is that why you came back? Is it finally Ginny’s turn?”
“Why is she waiting, Ron? Why hasn’t she moved on? Started a family of her own, found someone to make her happy again? Why?” Harry trailed off, his voice was scratched and breaking, he sounded like a man with no more will to fight. Then his voice picked up again in a whisper. “I never wanted this, you know? I wanted her to be happy, to move on, and find someone to share her life with. Haven’t you told her what I’m like now?”
“What are you like now, Harry? What would I tell her? That you blame yourself for the deaths of your friends—for Dumbledore, for Remus, for Moody?” Ron paused for a moment. “For Charlie?” Harry broke down openly at this, sobs wracking his body. He cowered at the mention of his friends lost in battle.
“It’s not your fault, Harry; their deaths are not your fault. We mourned them, and we miss them, but they are gone, Harry. You have to let them go, too. They wouldn’t want you to spend your life blaming yourself.” Ron watched Harry carefully, he knew what was coming. In seven years he had never had more than a few minutes of conversation with Harry. He looked terrible, his face covered with a scraggly beard, his cheeks hollow. His skin had a pale dull look causing him to appear grey.
“I….I….can’t, Ron, it’s my fault!” Harry moaned.
Ron knew he had to act quickly; Harry would Disapparate soon and might show up again in a few months or even a few years. It had been almost two years since they last had this same conversation, it never changed. Harry blamed himself for those lost in the war. Wracked with guilt over the people he had killed to get to Voldemort, it had crushed Harry’s soul when it was over. The Order knew he had won the battle that day. They had found the bodies a few hours after Harry had disappeared, and they blessed Merlin that his body was not among the dead. Voldemort’s body had been recovered, cleaved completely in two, still resting where it had fallen.
Ron glanced at Harry once more and shook his head. “I’m sorry, mate, but I have to.”
Harry glanced up shocked to find Ron with his wand pointed squarely at him. He tried to raise a shield, but it was too late. The Stunner hit him solidly in the chest and he crumpled to the ground.