Harry Potter stared at the ceiling of his bedroom at number four, Privet Drive. He was awake much earlier than he planned, probably because of the dream.
Why can't I stop dreaming about her?
He smiled to himself as he stared out the window, pulling the covers to his chin as he worked to consciously slow the beating of his heart, which had been sped up considerably by the content of his dream.
Every night, the dream was the same. He and Ginny were at Dumbledore's funeral, and he was telling her that they couldn't be together anymore. She said she understood, and then he walked away. Then, the dream dissolved into the Hogwarts Express on the way back to King's Cross, and he was alone with her in a compartment, curtains drawn, taking back the things he said just an hour before and begging her to forgive him for being so stupid and noble. She reached for him, and he reached back, and the following happy minutes were spent confirming, with words and touch, their acceptance of what they both knew to be the truth of the matter.
Harry pulled himself out of his reverie and glanced in the moonlight over the sleeping forms of his two best friends, the best friends anyone could ask for, really. Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley were both asleep, from the looks of it, on individual camp beds mere inches from where Harry currently lay. Apparently, their concern about making Harry feel left out disappeared while they were asleep, and their hands were clasped between them. Ron's snores echoed through the room, and a soft smile played across Hermione's face.
Harry rubbed his eyes and checked the alarm clock on his night stand. Four o'clock, he thought to himself. Too early to get up and do anything useful. He punched his pillow and turned back over toward the window, staring out at the yellow street lamp as he pondered, yet again, the implications of his dream.
I was right to break up with her, he told himself sternly. Dreaming about taking it back doesn't change the fact that I didn't. He sighed and closed his eyes again, determined to return to sleep.
Harry finally gave up trying to get back to sleep at five, then silently dressed and headed downstairs to make himself a light breakfast. For the past five days, it had been the same routine – sneak out of the bedroom, make himself breakfast, and greet the dawn sitting in the back garden, thinking about his dreams, and Voldemort, and, he had to admit to himself, Ginny.
"Good morning, Harry," Hermione said, smiling at him. He returned her grin and gestured at the bench beside him, as he had on the previous five mornings. She sat beside him, and examined the Dursleys' immaculately-kept back garden in silence alongside him. After several minutes, she broke with the recently established tradition and spoke into the silence.
"She misses you, Harry."
He turned to her slowly and tried to keep his face impassive.
"Ginny. She misses you. And I know you miss her; I've heard you mumbling her name in your sleep."
Harry's mouth opened and closed several times, giving him the look of a fish gasping for breath. "You what?"
Hermione made an exasperated sound and rolled her eyes. "Honestly, Harry. I know Ron's snores are loud, but I can still hear you." She fixed him with a stare reminiscent of Professor McGonagall.
Harry, realizing there was no denying the obvious truth, slumped in his seat and put his head in his hands. "He'll use her, Hermione, just like he used Sirius. I can't be with her." He blinked several times to keep his composure, a fact not lost on Hermione.
"That's what he does, Harry." She took his hand in hers and patted it reassuringly. "He targets those who are close to his enemies. Do you think I'm not worried about my parents? About the Weasleys? About Ron?" She blushed at the last acknowledgement, but quickly recovered and turned Harry's face toward hers with her other hand. Staring into his emerald green eyes, she sighed and continued. "What do you think the Weasley clock says right now?"
Harry quickly averted his gaze and studied the marigolds in the bucket at his feet. He thought back to the last time he'd been at The Burrow. "They're all on Mortal Peril," he said, not grasping the point.
"Yes. All of them, even Ginny's." Hermione patted his hand again and got up to begin pacing in front of him. "No matter where you keep her, her hand is on Mortal Peril. Home with Mrs. Weasley, at your side, at Hogwarts, it's been in the same place for a year!" She stopped pacing, apparently willing him to understand where she was going with this.
Harry looked up at her, comprehension dawning in his eyes. "You really don't think that she's in any more danger with me than if we're apart?"
Hermione appeared to steel herself before speaking. "Harry, if someone is standing by your side when you're facing Voldemort, they're obviously in more danger than if they're a hundred miles away. But if Voldemort decides to go after that person while you're a hundred miles away, aren't they in more danger than if they were standing by your side? Aren't all the Weasleys a big target already for being 'blood traitors'? Isn't Ginny a target because of what happened her first year and at the Ministry?"
"But..." Harry sputtered, his eyes practically pleading with Hermione to validate his decision at the funeral. "If Voldemort ever knew how important she is to me, he could use her...." His voice broke, and he stared back at the ground.
Hermione placed a hand gently on the top of Harry's head, and he sagged just a little lower from the contact. "What did Dumbledore tell you was the power the Dark Lord knew not?"
Harry's eyes flicked toward Hermione briefly, then returned to his trainers. "Love," he muttered, not liking where this conversation was going at all, even as the creature in his chest sniffed the air hopefully.
Hermione dropped to her knees in front of Harry and took his head in her hands, forcing him to look at her again. His eyes refused the contact for a few frantic seconds, looking anywhere but at the bright brown eyes in front of him. When he finally resigned himself to looking at Hermione, the light faded from his eyes even as his eyebrows rose.
She soldiered on. "That's right, Harry. Love. Not friendship, or hope, or righteous indignation, or bravery, but love."
Harry's whispered, anguished response was barely audible over the wind rustling the branches of the trees overhead. "What is love, Hermione?"
Tears escaped the rims of Hermione's eyes as she glanced back at the home Harry had been forced to endure for almost sixteen years.
"Oh, Harry. You know love. Your love for Sirius was what took us all to the Ministry that night! It's what kept Voldemort from possessing you! Your mother's love is what saved you as a baby."
Harry sighed and looked back up at Hermione. "That's what Dumbledore said, too, but I still don't think I really understand. I'd go anywhere to rescue you and Ron; does that mean I love you?" He blushed slightly at the implication and looked at his shoes again.
"Of course, Harry. You love me, and Ron, as friends, and we love you. Your mother loved you as a mother loves a child. You loved Sirius, and Dumbledore, almost like fathers. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley love you and me both like we were their own children. There are many different kinds of love, and it's all around you, Harry. And I think the only one you're missing is the love you feel for...." She stopped, clearly unsure if this was crossing an unmarked boundary.
Harry sat up a bit straighter and fixed his gaze on Hermione again. "The love I feel for Ginny." He scrubbed his face with his hands as Hermione nodded vigorously. "Why does this have to be so hard, Hermione? Why can't I just a normal person and worry about girls and exams and Quidditch? I'm not even seventeen, and here I am, wondering about the meaning of love and life and how to keep the people around me safe."
Ron emerged from the back door at this moment, obviously unsure as to whether he should intrude. Harry gestured him over and gave him a conspiratorial glance, hoping he would rescue Harry from the murky waters in which he found himself. He was sorely disappointed with Ron's approach to the situation.
"It goes with the territory of being the Chosen One, mate, just like the prophecies and the Dark Lord business." He flopped down on the bench next to Harry and slung a sympathetic arm around Harry's shoulders. "I know I shouldn't be asking this, as it's my baby sister who's the girl in question, but, er...." His panicked eyes flitted to Hermione, hoping for some help.
"Harry, how do you feel about Ginny?" Hermione finished for him, rolling her eyes at Ron, smiling fondly at his inability to articulate the question.
Harry seemed to gather himself, running a hand through his untidy black hair, and then straightening his glasses on his nose. He tried to ignore Ron's gaze as he said, "I feel incredible when she's around, like I can do anything. Like if she believes in me, it doesn't matter what anyone else says. Calmer, but somehow more excited." He blushed as he paused, not sure if he wanted to continue with Ron sitting right there but feeling he was on the verge of a very important discovery. "I told her that I felt like the time with her was something out of someone else's life. She made me feel like a real person, not just the Boy Who Lived, or The Chosen One, or some specimen in a zoo." He hesitated again, gazing skyward. "But I need to keep her safe. I can't expose her to the dangers of what we're doing."
Hermione gave an exasperated sigh. Ron patted Harry on the back and avoided looking at Hermione as he said, "Sounds like you're in love with my sister, mate." He sighed and put his hands on his knees. Hermione beamed at him.
"But...." Harry struggled to put his question into words as he looked pleadingly at Hermione. "How do I know that?" He felt the heat rise from the collar of his scruffy t-shirt as he asked the question. This was not a conversation in which he'd really anticipated Ron participating.
Hermione put one hand on Ron's, and the other on Harry's, then cleared her throat, obviously feeling that her next question was something important. "What does your heart tell you, Harry?"
Harry Potter stood in the back garden of his aunt and uncle's house and, with a glance back at his friends, disappeared with a crack.