A/N: This story was written for the song lyric challenge at hg_silverliningon Live Journal. It is a story inspired by two prompts — the song below and the myth of Philemon and his wife, Baucis. Insertparagraphgave me the plot bunny of using that myth for H/G over two years ago, and I’ve finally worked it into a story. Thanks to Sherylyn for the beta!
Warning: This is a very angsty story that contains the death of two beloved characters.
And I'd give up forever to touch you 'Cause I know that you feel me somehow You're the closest to heaven that I'll ever be And I don't want to go home right now
“Iris” — The Goo Goo Dolls
The wireless was on constantly at St. Mungo’s — chat shows and music and occasionally, the news, read by a smoky-voiced witch. Ginny Potter listened from her hospital bed when the pain potions wore off and she needed to focus her mind on something besides the heaviness in her lungs and the band of steel constricting her heart.
She was very ill — and very old. These two facts didn’t alarm her, even though they probably should. What worried her was that Harry wouldn’t leave her, even though he had been stricken with this same malady and wasn’t feeling that well himself. The children had been taking turns visiting, but Harry had stayed the entire time. She turned her head and saw him sitting in the chair next to her bed. He was fast asleep with this chin propped on his chest, his hands folded loosely together.
His hair was snowy white now, but it was still as thick and endearingly rumpled as it ever was.
“Harry,” she whispered. She hadn’t meant to whisper — it was all the voice she had left.
Even though the sound was slight, Harry woke up with a start. He turned toward her, anxiety in his green eyes.
“Lie in the bed with me,” Ginny said.
“But the Healers said —”
“Sod the Healers.”
That bit of juvenile rebellion must have sounded funny coming from an old woman’s mouth, because Harry smiled. “Right. Sod the Healers.”
“What are they going to do to me?” she added, just to see him smile again. “Take away my birthday?”
He did smile as he gingerly sat on the bed next to her and then slowly swung his legs so that he was lying on his back. “Ah. Much better.”
Harry always sighed in satisfaction after lying prone. He had been doing that for the hundred years they had been married. It was a homely sound and one she had missed since she had been at St. Mungo’s for — how many days? She wasn’t sure anymore. Time didn’t seem to matter in hospital.
Harry took her hand in his, but didn’t talk. It was enough. They were together.
Ginny slept again.
When she awoke the news was being read on the wireless and Harry was still lying next to her.
“It comes as no surprise, but now it’s official,” the wireless announcer intoned. “The Hogwarts Express will make its last journey north tomorrow. The scarlet engine, so beloved by generations of students, is being retired in favor of a newer and faster train, which will be delivered from the goblin works in time for the Christmas holidays.”
No more Hogwarts Express. Ginny was surprised that this disturbed her. She should be used to change after having lived over a hundred years. But then, she had always hated change.
Ginny watched in dismay as the shiny red Hogwarts Express slowly began to move. She could feel the vibrations of the giant steam engine travel from her feet up through her spine until her mind was throbbing with its rhythmic energy. “Left behind” the wheels seem to say as they slowly rotated for the first time.
Left behind. The wheels were speeding up.
Ginny started to run.
Left behind, left behind.
They were going away. Percy. Fred and George. Ron.
“We’ll send you a toilet seat!”
She laughed through her tears and didn’t stop running.
Left behind, left behind, left behind.
Someone was watching her from the window.
Left behind, left behind, left behind, left behind.
Her lungs ached. She would never catch up.
Left behind, left behind, left behind, left behind, left behind.
The train gained speed and was gone.
Ginny walked slowly back on the platform and took Mum’s hand. She didn’t want to go home, but she had to. She was too young to go to Hogwarts this year.
For the rest of that long, lonely day she wondered who had watched her so intently from the train window.
Ginny knew that her mind was roaming out of the present and into the past — and she should try to stop it.
She was still in St. Mungo’s. Harry’s warm body was still next to her. There were two people talking on the wireless. Must be a chat show.
“We’re reminiscing about the Hogwarts Express. Lionel, what do you remember about that eight-hour journey? With the new train it will only take four hours.”
“The sweets cart,” Lionel answered promptly. “And trying out all the new hexes you had learnt over the summer. We thought it impressed the witches.”
There was laughter.
“I never liked going north,” a different voice said. “I liked coming home for the summer holidays. The windows would be wide-open and it was still light when you arrived at King’s Cross….”
She should have thanked him, Ginny thought as they parted at King’s Cross. Harry had saved her life, but she hadn’t said one word in gratitude. Instead, she had cried like a baby in the Chamber and in Professor McGonagall’s office. Later on she couldn’t find the right time or the right point in the conversation to say anything. Today on the train Harry had looked directly into her eyes — it was her big chance. But she hadn’t taken it. Instead she had laughed with him about Percy.
She chewed on her lip as Mum directed them to the Ministry car Dad had borrowed for the trip home. Harry seemed relieved that she was laughing. Maybe he didn’t like crying girls? Ginny straightened her shoulders. She didn’t like crying girls — why would Harry?
She looked in vain for a glimpse of his dark hair in the crowd.
He was gone — and now she had to go home
“I have so many memories of the Hogwarts Express!” The voice was so young and lively that it pierced Ginny’s consciousness and brought her into the present for a brief moment. “But then I loved school. It didn’t seem like anything bad could happen there.”
Harry was in the front compartment with Ron and Hermione and Ginny was in the back compartment with Luna. She was separated from Harry by the length of a train and an inexorable task.
Harry had told her that he never wanted to go to her funeral.
What could she say to that? She didn’t want to go to his, either.
Her heart was wrung dry, which was just as well. She didn’t like crying girls.
Harry woke up when the Healer padded in to check on Ginny. The Healer waved her wand, scribbled something on a roll of parchment, and then gave Harry a hard look.
He almost wished the Healer would scold him so he would have something to tell Ginny when she woke up again. It hurt her to talk, so it was up to him to keep up her spirits and her mind focused. He smirked at the irony. Even though it was his responsibility to cheer up Ginny, she was the one who was still saying unexpected things — still making him smile. This bit of rule breaking was her idea.
The Healers didn’t hold out much hope. Another day or two, Mr. Potter, they had said.
He had been given so much in this life with Ginny and now he wanted more. He wasn’t afraid of his own death. He wasn’t afraid for Ginny, either — her pain would cease and she would be at rest. But now, listening to Ginny struggling to breathe, he was surprised at how he fiercely wanted her to fight the inevitable.
His heart thumped painfully with desperate hope. He would fight with her. There was always unicorn blood or the Stone he had dropped in the Forbidden Forest or…
He squeezed his eyes shut. He mustn’t. It was wicked and wrong, as his mind well knew. But his heart — his heart was another matter.
He had loved her for what seemed like forever, and, as he watched her sleep, he marveled at how little she had changed since their school days. There were a few laugh lines around her mouth and eyes and her hair was a faded red, but she was still beautiful in his eyes — still his to fight for and to cherish and to protect.
This possessiveness shouldn’t be a surprise. He had never wanted to be apart from Ginny.
Harry kissed her one last time, ignoring the cold January winds and the hissing of the steam engine and the crowd on the platform. The Christmas holidays had been wonderful and now they were ending. His hands lingered in her hair and he let his forehead rest against hers.
“We’ll see each other in February,” Ginny whispered. “At Hogsmeade. We can take up where we left off.”
“I know.” His throat felt raw with emotion.
Ginny pulled away and tried to smile. “So —”
Harry didn’t want to hear about dating opportunities or Veelas or any of the other jokes they usually used to ward off the inevitable pain of parting. Instead, amazingly, without plan or purpose, he found himself blurting for the first time, “I love you.”
She blinked. And then her brown eyes filled with tears. “I love you, too,” she said steadily.
They stared at each other with a foot of empty space between them, their breaths visible in the cold.
The wheels started turning. Left behind.
Ginny blanched at the sound. “Bye.” Without a backwards glance she ran toward the open door of the carriage and leapt on to the train. Harry jogged behind as the train picked up speed. Left Behind, left behind.
He saw her shadow in the window. She was watching him.
The train raced away. When it was out of sight he reluctantly turned in the opposite direction and headed toward home.
Ginny was sleeping on her side, turned away from him. He curved his body protectively around her — keeping her warm during the darkest hours. He was also assuring himself that she was still breathing — still with him. Albus had just arrived to keep vigil, but Harry didn't feel like talking.
The wireless was playing softly — one of those intellectual chat shows they only aired at night. “So, we’re back with Ancient Stories. Professor Jenkins, a lot of our ancient stories include encounters with Muggles. Let’s talk about Baucis and Philemon from the Roman occupation of Britain, shall we?”
“Ah yes, Philemon,” Professor Jenkins mused. “He and his wife, Baucis, were a poor, elderly, Muggle couple who helped two wizards and were granted a wish. They didn’t want gold or youth — their wish was that they die together.”
“Die together? How odd. Did the wizards hex them on the spot?”
Professor Jenkins laughed. “No, they enchanted them so they would gradually turn into trees. Baucis became a linden — or lime tree as we say here, and Philemon became an oak. They grew together out of one trunk. They’re still in Epping Forest, I believe.”
Her voice was so slight, he wondered if he had dreamed it. He looked over at Albus dozing in the chair. “Ginny?” he whispered.
“Did I —?” Her clear brown eyes were wide open, looking into his. “Did I ever thank you for saving my life?”
He smiled. He hadn’t expected that. “You just did.”
“Oh.” Her lips curved upward and then she sighed and closed her eyes.
“Did I ever thank you for being my life?” Harry asked her as the tears fell.
There was no reason to linger at the hospital and Harry had to go somewhere. His children didn’t want him to be on his own, but he stubbornly insisted on grieving in private. His compromise was to allow James to call a driver to take him back to the small, thatched-roof cottage he had shared with Ginny for the past forty years.
The car was blue and the driver had the same merry brown eyes as the Weasley twins. Harry suddenly wondered if the car could fly.
“Where to?” the driver asked.
He didn’t want to go to the cottage where all that was left of home was the smell of Ginny’s perfume lingering in the clothes cupboard and the sight of her unfinished knitting flung across her empty chair.
“King’s Cross,” he blurted, surprising himself.
It was September first, a day of adventure for every Hogwarts student. The platform was crowded with excited, chattering children, harried parents and reporters who were covering the last journey of the Hogwarts Express. In the general commotion, no one noticed Harry.
It was surreal to see it all again — this short time of transition when families were parted and friends found each other again. Harry had lived this moment so many times, but today he felt strangely detached. The bright sunlight hurt his eyes and he felt weak. It had been a mistake to come here — he should go home.
Before he could summon the energy to leave, the train started to pull away from the station.
Harry’s heart fluttered and then thumped painfully as one carriage after another glided by the platform where he was standing. A wave of dizziness passed over him, but he kept his feet. He couldn’t stop watching the train — even as he gasped for a breath. Left behind. Left behind.
His vision narrowed to what was ahead of the red engine. The two rails appeared parallel at first but then merged into one in the distance. It wasn’t an optical illusion — that point was a real place and he should try to reach it. Ginny was there. He didn’t have the strength to run after the train, but he thought that if he put out one hand and stretched, he could catch that red engine like he had caught the Golden Snitch.
“A sad day for Britain and the rest of the wizarding world,” said the announcer on the wireless. “Harry Potter, the boy champion who defeated one of greatest menaces in history, has died after collapsing at King’s Cross station. He was one hundred and twenty-three. His death follows that of his wife of one hundred years, Ginevra Weasley Potter, who died in hospital not hours before. A double funeral is planned.”
The Magical Mystery Tour Bus ran all summer and always stopped at Godric’s Hollow after visiting Hogwarts. The quaint village was the logical next stop on the tour after showcasing the intellectuals and statesmen who were buried in the school graveyard.
The guides liked to invite the tourists into the living history museum, which depicted a typical magical home from the twentieth century, and then let them wander through the kissing gate by the church to see the grave of ‘The Hero and his Lady.’
It was a timeless story — a sweet legend that never failed to delight and move — of how the devoted pair died within hours of each other and how the oak and linden tree, planted by their children, grew together over time until now it looked like one green mass shading the entire churchyard. The tourists were always surprised when they learned that the hero was Harry Potter from their history books. There was more to his story than the first seventeen years of his life, but they never bothered to cover that part in school.
The guides always smiled at this. It’s why people traveled and went on tours — to get more of the story — to see for themselves the mysteries and wonders of the world. After Godric’s Hollow, they would journey to the preserve in Somerset to marvel at the sunlight glinting on the wings of a Golden Snidget. Then there was dinner, and the wait for nightfall when the lucky tourist might glimpse a shy unicorn flitting through the Enchanted Wood. Even if the elusive creatures weren’t spotted, it didn’t matter. There was magic enough in the millions of stars twinkling in the summer sky and the green comfort of the trees — the beech and the chestnut, the oak and the linden.