Harry drifted awake, lying on his stomach on his bed in Ron's room. His pillow was damp, his eyes grainy from crying.
Sirius. Why had he dreamed about Sirius?
braced himself for the guilt and sorrow he always felt when he thought
of his godfather, but to his surprise, it didn't come hurtling down on
his heart the way it had since the night of the Battle. He still
mourned, still missed Sirius dreadfully, but the heavy weight of guilt
on his heart had lessened.
He said his death wasn't my fault. And…I believe him.
sat up, rubbing the tear-tracks off his cheeks. He reached into his
trunk for a handkerchief to blow his nose and then retrieved his
glasses. His memories of the Battle, especially the deaths of his
friends, were raw wounds that he had tried to avoid prodding for too
long. They had hurt so badly that he had shied away from them, trying
to bury them beneath the routine of everyday life, but they had always
seemed to rear up unexpectedly, catching him unawares at the worst
He thought about what Sirius had said, how
the rest of Hogwarts had taken time to share, to mourn, but he had been
unconscious. His trip to the cemetery after he'd finally been released
from hospital had been solitary; his grief had been buried deep inside.
He hadn't ever even been able to cry. He had pretended it didn't exist;
it didn't matter.
But it did exist. It did matter.
That's why Ron and Hermione have kept asking me if I'm all right, Harry realised suddenly. They saw me holding it in—and saw it breaking out despite myself.
You need to talk to someone.
That was what Sirius had been saying to him. Everyone else had had
their period to mourn; he needed one, too, or it would just keep coming
out the way it had done before—the way it had with the Dursleys.
But who could he talk to? He would have been able to talk to Sirius or Dumbledore, but….
Maybe Ron or Hermione?
considered, then shook his head. Close as he was to them both, he just
couldn't see himself unburdening his heart to them. Not like this.
She was the closest he'd ever had to a mother, but he didn't somehow
think that she could fully understand. Sirius had said that nobody came
out of war unscathed, but Harry wondered if there wasn't a sort of
connection between people who had gone through the same experiences.
His and Ron's friendship with Hermione had begun as a result of a
shared encounter with a mountain troll in their first year, and grew as
a result of the adventures they'd had in successive years.
But whom did he know who'd survived the Battle that he could talk to?
He could only think of one person.
The door opened quietly and Ron stuck his head in. "Hey," he said, when he saw Harry was awake. "Everything okay?"
Harry gave a wan smile as Ron stepped inside. "Better," he said.
smiled too, relief clear in his face. "Everyone's back," he said.
"They're all downstairs. Lunch is just about ready. Want to come on
Harry ran a hand through his hair and looked at his
watch. It was half-past twelve. "Yeah," he said. "I'll just stop in the
bathroom on the way."
Ron headed out the door, leaving the door open as Harry stood, stretching. I'd better do more than just splash water on my face, Harry reflected. Maybe I should just take another shower. I have to make it look good.Don't want them worrying about me.
But then, maybe they have the right to worry, a small voice from the back of his mind commented. They are, after all, the only real family I have.
And as annoyed as he had been the past few months over being fussed
over, he had to admit that if he had been left alone to stew in his own
juices, it would have been much, much worse.
At least Ron and Hermione got me out of the dormitory, or I'd probably still be there.
trotted down the stairs toward the bathroom, but just as he rounded the
landing, something thudded hard into his chest. He stumbled backward,
his Seeker reflexes automatically reaching out to catch whatever it
was. Brown eyes looked up into his, and his heart nearly stopped.
hair was shoulder-length now, no longer the glorious waist-length river
of fire down her back. She was pale, her freckles standing out against
her ivory skin. She had lost weight, too; her cheeks were hollower than
they should be.
Ginny, collapsing on the ground between
himself and Voldemort, limp, white, barely breathing. Himself,
screaming in terror and fury. Voldemort, laughing. "Such defenders you
have, Harry," he hissed. "It was she who opened the Chamber a few years
ago, wasn't it? Poor girl—no wonder she fainted at the sight of me. I
remind her of—other days. My mark was already on her, Harry. All she
could do was lead you to me. How very efficient of her."
Harry could think about what he was doing, he had reached a hand up to
cup her face. His head bent to touch his lips to hers.
soft Ginny-lips… soft, lithe body against him… the months between them
melted away. It was almost as though the Battle had never been. It was
so clear again.
She leaned into the kiss. His heartbeat sped
up and his pulse began to thud in his ears. He groaned, stepping closer
to her, but suddenly, she broke away. She stared at him for a long
moment with something approaching pure terror, then bolted back down
the stairs, out of sight.
He stood there, stunned, as her
footsteps receded, then he heard the back door open and slam shut. His
heart sank into his shoes. She'd heard about the Dursleys. She must
have heard. Either that, or she'd meant what she'd said to him during
their last row, just before he'd left for Hogsmeade to face down
That was one of the memories he'd been trying so hard to avoid.
went heavily down the next level of stairs and into the bathroom,
shutting and locking the door. Wearily he stripped and turned on the
shower, letting the hot spray bathe his face. The memories just
wouldn't stay hidden any more.
It was mid-March,
and the rumours from Hogsmeade were becoming ever more violent since
the siege had begun in January. Harry was returning from the
greenhouses, where he'd served a detention for Professor Sprout. He
slowed as he passed the Transfiguration classroom; he could see the
staff all gathered there, Professor Dumbledore speaking to them.
Dumbledore's voice sounded flat and exhausted.
"It's no good
denying it any longer, my friends," the headmaster said. "He is only
getting stronger, and soon he will be able to overcome the protections
on this castle. In the interest of the safety of our students, we must
take matters into our own hands now. We must go down and face him on
our terms, not on his."
Face him? Face Voldemort? Harry glanced around, then ducked behind a statue. He had to hear this.
"It's to be tonight, then?" Snape's normally-greasy voice had taken on a gravelly undertone.
is. Sirius Black will be here in—" there was a pause and a rustle of
clothing, "—half an hour. We will be going down to the village at that
time." Another pause, and Harry could imagine Dumbledore meeting every
staff member's eyes. "Any of you who do not wish to go will, of course,
be welcome to stay here and help defend the castle. But as for me, I
must be there."
"Of course you must!" Professor McGonagall said tartly. "As must I."
Minerva." The soft voice had grown slightly deeper. "You will stay here
and organise the castle's defences. You must not leave the castle
except as a last resort. Should anything happen to me, you will be
"If we go down with you, Headmaster, where will
we be going and what will we be doing?" asked Professor Vector, the
"We will follow a secret passage into the
cellar of Honeyduke's and take up our positions from there. The
Ministry will be setting up their line not far away; we will be their
backup. I will be able to tell you more about our specific plans when I
see whom and what we have to work with, but I can tell you now that our
job will be to hold the line. We must let none of Voldemort's
supporters past us, for if they once get into this castle, we are all
lost and Voldemort has finally, completely won."
absolute silence. Then Snape's voice sounded again: "Headmaster," he
said, "I must humbly beg the privilege of standing at your right hand."
Had the situation been any less serious, Harry might have stifled a laugh. Snape, begging?
course, Severus. I would be honoured to have you there." Dumbledore's
voice sounded as though it trembled slightly. But that couldn't be
right; Dumbledore would never let his emotions get the better of him.
Harry's jaw set. He slipped out from behind the
statue and sneaked past the door, then broke into a run, all the way up
to Gryffindor Tower. There was no way the staff were going to face
Voldemort without his being there. He pelted through the nearly-silent
common room—most families had already removed their students from
school—and up the stairs to his dormitory, and grabbed his Invisibility
Cloak and his wand. He paused, about to shut his trunk, then, with a
shaking hand, reached in to pull out the picture album Hagrid had given
him years before.
Sixteen years ago, his parents had faced
down Voldemort and lost, and his world had been changed forever. He'd
spent every day since he'd found out the truth wishing he could have
known them. What had his mother's laugh sounded like? Could his father
sing? What were their favourite jokes? Did they have a nickname for him
when he was a baby? What had his first word been? What had it felt like
to be held by his father, to be kissed by his mother? He wanted to burn
the images of his family into his brain before he left. He wanted their
faces in his mind's eye when he confronted Voldemort again. If he died,
he wanted to die with their images impressed on his heart, and he
wanted with every fibre of his being to take Voldemort with him.
And he would.
researching a paper for Flitwick's class last November, he had come
across a book that looked like it hadn't been opened for centuries,
buried against the back of the bookshelf so that nobody could see it
unless the whole shelf were cleared. It was handwritten in old
calligraphy, and very hard to read. Something about it had caught his
eye, and he pulled it over to the window to look at it in better light.
The heading on the page he'd opened it to nearly made him choke.
THE FYNALLE STRYKKE
read it avidly, his lips moving as he sounded out the medieval
spellings. The charm would collect all magical energy in the vicinity,
channel it through the caster, and allow him or her to direct it at an
enemy too powerful to defeat in any other way. But there was a price to
be paid for this spell: once Fynalle Strykke had been called, the
energy flow through the caster was so great that it would almost
certainly take the caster's life, even as it killed its intended
It's worth it, Harry thought grimly, staring at the smiling, waving pictures of the family he'd never known. If
I can take Voldemort now, it doesn't matter if I go out with him. I can
save lives this way. I can protect the castle. I can protect Ginny.
read his notes about the spell so many times he could recite them in
his sleep, so he left the parchment in his trunk. He wasn't about to go
back down through the common room; he really didn't want anyone left,
especially Ron, Hermione, or Ginny, to know where he was going. He
pulled his Firebolt out from underneath his bed and opened the window
as wide as it would go. Tall as he'd got, it would be a tight fit, but
if nothing else he could just squeeze out the window and pull his broom
up under him while he was falling. He had, what, fourteen stories? That
would be plenty of time. He paused for a moment to shake the
Invisibility Cloak open first, though. He was damned if he'd give the
Death Eaters a target to shoot at before he ever got down to the
"What do you think you're doing?"
dropped the cloak and spun around. Ginny stood in the doorway to his
dormitory, hair tossed back, eyes flashing, one hand on her hip.
He knew that look. His heart twisted, but he forced himself to say calmly, "Going down to Hogsmeade."
"What?" Ginny's irritated demeanour dropped and she stared at him, her eyes filling with fear. "Why, Harry?"
tonight." He couldn't hide it from her; he was amazed she hadn't
already Seen it coming. "I've got to go down there and help. The staff
are heading down in a few minutes, through the Honeyduke's tunnel. I'll
be there when they arrive, and they won't be able to send me back."
Ginny looked at him for a long moment. "You don't have to do this," she
whispered. "Let Dumbledore handle it. This doesn't have to be you."
it does," he said flatly. "This is my fight too, Ginny. I've lost as
much as anyone to Voldemort. More than most. He's got a lot to answer
"But it doesn't have to be you," she pleaded. She
stepped forward, coming toward him, laying her hand on his arm. "Harry,
please. I—" She swallowed. "I've Seen things," she said. "Horrible
things. Harry, you can't do this."
So, she had Seen. He
wondered what it had looked like to her. Would he disappear in a flash
of blinding green light, or would he simply explode with the power? He
had to get close to Voldemort to do it; he had to be within a few feet
even, if the book was correct.
The pain in her eyes was too
much to bear. He bent and kissed her hungrily, a deep, ravenous kiss
that brought back all the memories of all the time they'd spent
together, and made him regret all the time they never would. She clung
to him, moulding herself to him. He let his Firebolt drop and held her
as close as he could. His parents' faces in his mind and Ginny's kiss
on his lips: yes, that was the way to die.
He ended the kiss,
drawing back with effort. "I love you, Ginny," he said hoarsely.
Gently, gently, he pushed her away, picked up his Firebolt again, and
stepped up onto the bedside table and thence onto the windowsill.
Against his better judgment, he turned around and saw her again, tears
streaming down his face. "If you go out that window," she said, her
voice quavering and her face set, "I will never speak to you again."
flinched violently. How could she say that? Didn't she understand? He
stared at her a long moment as she stood there, eyes full of fear and
the anger that comes from fear. But he couldn't live with himself if he
stopped now. He couldn't live with himself if more people died when he
could have stopped it all himself.
He swallowed. She never would
speak to him again, but it nearly destroyed him to die while she was so
angry. "I'm sorry, Ginny," he said, forcing the words past the lump in
his throat. "I'm sorry." He turned and, before his courage could give
way, flung himself out into the air.
and raised his hands, running them through his wet hair. He had to go
downstairs now. They were all waiting for him. He was almost glad that
Ginny had run out of the house; he wasn't sure he could face her now,
with the memory fresh in his mind and her taste still lingering on his
lips. He turned off the tap and opened the shower. Gingerly, he felt
the bandages along his side; he hadn't been able to change them
himself, so they'd got wet twice today already, but they were just to
protect the burned flesh while it was healing, anyway. He'd have to
remember to ask Ron to help him change them later. Or maybe Hermione;
she'd probably do a better job than Ron, who was more than a little
squeamish. He dried both himself and the bandages with a quick spell,
and got back into his clothes.
He walked into the kitchen to
find nearly the whole family gathered there. Percy and his wife
Penelope were sitting at the kitchen table with Mr. Weasley and
Hermione; they seemed to be discussing something going on at the
Ministry. Ron and his brother Bill, who was still sporting a few
bandages himself from the Last Battle, were playing chess in a corner,
with Charlie watching—though Harry was amused to note that Ron spent
more time ogling Hermione than watching the chessboard. Mrs. Weasley
was standing at the sink, directing knives that were chopping food with
vigour. Through the open door, he could see Fred and George in the back
yard, apparently experimenting with more of their Weasley's Wizard
Wheezes stock. A minor explosion sounded, causing chickens to squawk
"Fred and George Weasley!" shouted their mother. "Don't you dare
put my chickens off their laying!" She shook her head and turned,
catching sight of Harry. Her face brightened and she came quickly
toward him, arms outstretched. "Harry, dear!" she said brightly,
enfolding him in a hug. "It's so wonderful to see you! Ron said you
hadn't slept well, so we just let you carry on napping, but it's lovely
to see you awake. How are you, dear?"
"I'm great, Mrs. Weasley," he said. It was even almost true. "Thanks for letting me stay here."
posh," she said, waving him off. "You're family! We would have had you
living here every summer for years now, if it weren't
The spell that Dumbledore cast to protect me when I was a baby,
Harry translated. As long as he had lived with his relatives, he was
safe from Voldemort. "I really appreciate it," he said warmly, and had
the satisfaction of watching her eyes brighten with pleasure. He
glanced around, getting waves and smiles from everyone in the room.
"This has always been home to me."
"You must be nearly
starving," Mrs. Weasley said, letting go of him and trotting back to
the sink. "I can't imagine you've had much to eat today. Lunch will be
ready in a few moments, dear." She glanced over her shoulder and a
small smile curved her mouth. "Ginny's out in the tree house, I think,"
Percy looked up at his mother in puzzlement. "Why would Harry want to know where Ginny was, Mother?" he asked.
Weasley blushed, busying herself again at the sink. "Well, everyone
else is right here. I thought he might be wondering where she was."
Harry said, a bit uncomfortably. "Well, if she's out in the tree house,
I won't trouble her. I'm sure she's looking for peace and quiet."
all of us here, who wouldn't?" Bill said with a grin, directing his
castle. He looked up. "Charlie's brought his new broom too, Harry. It's
a Nimbus 2002. My old Cleansweep won't do much against you two, but
fancy a match out in the orchard after lunch?"
"Yeah," Harry said. "That sounds great, Bill. Ron, you in?"
"What?" Ron said vaguely, his eyes on his girlfriend. "Sure. In what?"
in trouble, that's what he's in," Ron's queen squeaked indignantly, one
tiny fist on her hip and her finger waggling warningly. "Honestly, if
he can't keep his eyes off the young lady and on the game, we're going
to lose! To Bill!"
Ron jerked his eyes away from
Hermione, who was still deep in discussion with Mr. Weasley and
apparently hadn't noticed a thing. "Oh," he said, looking back down at
the chessboard and flushing bright pink. "Yeah. Sorry. Erm." He put his
chin on his hand and stared at the board, apparently trying to
Harry suppressed both a chuckle and a pang. Once,
not so long ago, that could have been Ginny and him. He looked up at
Mrs. Weasley. "Can I help you at all with lunch?" he asked her.
beamed at him. "Well, bless you for asking, Harry. Would you mind
giving Fred and George a hand with setting up the tables out there? I
thought we'd eat in the garden again. It's such a lovely day." Another
explosive thwomp sounded from outside, sending a hail of
chickens flying. Harry profoundly hoped the birds were moving of their
own accord. "And maybe you can convince those two to either stop
totally, or take their inventions somewhere else," Mrs. Weasley finished with emphasis.
grinned despite himself and stepped outside. There were worse things to
do than spend an afternoon with Fred and George. Maybe they'd be able
to take his mind off Ginny.
Ginny sat in the tree house, head on her knees, sobbing her heart out.
kissed her. He'd actually kissed her. And then she, coward that she
was, had turned tail and fled. He probably hated her again. And even if
he didn't now, he would as soon as he knew the reason why she'd been
avoiding him so assiduously for so long.
Hi, Harry. Good to see you conscious again. By the way, did I mention I sacrificed our baby to destroy Voldemort?
Pomfrey had told her the news when she'd awakened in hospital three
weeks after the Battle. She hadn't even known she'd been pregnant.
She'd sworn the Hogwarts nurse to secrecy; no one was to know. No one.
But she knew she couldn't keep it from Harry forever. If nothing else,
he deserved to know.
But how do I go about telling the man
I love that I went to face Voldemort pregnant? "Sorry, Harry; I Saw
that if you went alone we'd all die, but if I went I could save us all.
I took the parchment I found in your trunk and called Fynalle Strykke
on him. It just happened to destroy our baby in the process. Another
cup of tea?" That sounds wonderful, Ginny. Completely cold. Maybe it's
best you're not a mother after all.
leaned her head back against the side of the tree house, looking up at
the rough-hewn boards that made up the roof. She had tried to forget
all about Harry, but knowing that he would be back at the Burrow this
summer hadn't helped. She closed her eyes and let her memories take her
back to the first—and only—time she and Harry had made love.
was after eleven o'clock on the night before Valentine's Day, and Ginny
was exhausted. She was already in her night dress and dressing gown,
and decided it was time to go to bed. Harry had gone up about fifteen
minutes before, pleading exhaustion. She wandered into her dormitory,
where the other four girls were already asleep, and had started to pull
back the covers on her bed when she noticed a perfectly-formed red
rosebud and a piece of parchment resting on her pillow. The parchment
was obviously the Marauder's Map, and had already been activated; she
could see tiny, labelled dots moving around the corridors of the
school. The rose had been de-thorned, and a tag was attached to the
stem just above the leaves. Smiling, she sat down on the edge of her
bed, picked it up, and angled the tag into a stripe of moonlight so
that she could read it.
In Harry's handwriting, it read:
It's a Valentine's Day present-hunt
A game of seek-and-find
Just follow all the clues you get;
See if you read my mind.
laughed in delight. A scavenger hunt! This suited her impish sense of
humour down to the marrow. And at nearly midnight just before
Valentine's Day! She read on:
First, a charming little pillow
In a charming little nook
Of a charming little cupboard:
That's where you'll have to look.
She read it over again,
frowning. Then she brightened. "The pillows in the Charms room!" she
crowed, and leapt off the bed. Her roommates, who had been asleep,
muttered and growled at her for waking them, but she didn't care. She
tore out of the dormitory and into the common room, still in her night
clothes and slippers.
A few sleepy people were still up, but
as it was very nearly midnight, not many were in evidence. She slowed
down once she got to the bottom of the staircase, but Harry was nowhere
to be seen. The grin still spreading across her face and the rosebud in
her hand, she clambered through the portrait hole. She had to see what
he had planned for her. "Lumos," she whispered, and, looking at the map carefully to avoid discovery, took off quietly down the hallway.
Flitwick's classroom was unlocked, the door open a few centimetres. She
pushed it open gently, sticking her head in cautiously to make sure no
one was in there, then dashed over to the cupboard where Professor
Flitwick kept the cushions he used to teach Summoning and Banishing
Charms. Sure enough, another rosebud rested on the topmost pillow,
along with another note. She picked it up and read greedily by the
light of her wand.
Now, I don't want to "plug" myself
Or "drive" your love away,
But here you have a "remote" chance
Of finding me today.
This one made no sense at all. What did "plug myself" mean? "Drive your love away?" How could he even think that? A "remote chance" of finding him? "Think, Weasley," she told herself. "What do all these things have in common?"
Plug… drive… remote…
The Muggle Studies classroom!
she went like a shot, almost able to hear Harry chuckling at the
anticipation in her face. Muggle Studies was up a flight and over a few
doors from Charms; she got there in only a minute or two. She slipped
past the desks and toward the corner where the "television set" sat
next to a model of a Muggle automobile, and sure enough, on top of the
remote control was yet another rosebud with a note. Grinning
triumphantly, she picked this one up and added it to the other two.
On the topmost of towers
Where sisters hang high,
Your initial embedded
In the bright midnight sky.
This one was easy:
Cassiopeia, the constellation shaped like a W, which was near the
Pleiades, the Seven Sisters. He was on the Astronomy Tower.
Hang on—there was something more.
Your lover awaits you
His passion to show
To the left, up the stairs
To the hidden door go.
She blinked. "Your lover
awaits you?" she repeated aloud. A warm tingle began to spread through
her. Did he mean what it sounded like he meant? She and Harry had been
so close to consummating their love any number of times, but things
always seemed to interfere—things like her brother, or her roommates,
or a teacher, or Filch. It seemed Harry had found his way around those.
There was only one way to find out.
map again, she determined that Filch and Mrs. Norris were clear down in
the dungeons and no teachers appeared to be roaming the halls. Relieved
of the fear of getting caught, she headed back out of the Muggle
Studies classroom and up the centre staircase toward the Astronomy
She reached the open-air landing where they did their
observations. It was completely deserted—and freezing cold. Well, it
was February. At least it wasn't snowing. "Harry?" she called through
chattering teeth. She was glad she'd nicked his warm wool socks; they
were what he used for Quidditch when the weather was particularly foul,
and her feet got cold easily, even in slippers. He didn't answer, and
she played the light from her wand around, looking for him. The beam
fell on a stair she hadn't ever climbed, off to her left.
To the left, up the stairs
To the hidden door go.
Clenching her teeth so they
wouldn't chatter so loudly, she started up the staircase. It was narrow
and dark, and she almost jumped out of her skin when a door in the wall
swung open. She paused, heart thumping, before shining her wand inside.
"Harry?" she whispered.
A warm hand reached out to clasp hers,
and Harry's face materialised out of the darkness. He smiled and kissed
her, briefly but warmly. "Come in here," he murmured, reaching to close
the door behind her as he pulled her to him. She doused her wand as the
door shut, and they were in utter darkness.
descended on hers again, possessively. She moaned and slid her arms
around his waist, holding onto the roses in one hand as she pressed
herself against him. After a long, sweet moment, he ended the kiss,
chuckling at her small whimper of protest. "Incendio!" she heard
him say, and a fireplace burst into flame along the wall behind her.
She blinked at the sudden light, and then her jaw dropped open.
was a beautifully furnished sitting room, with soft rugs on the floor
and red velvet furnishings arranged tastefully about the room. In front
of the hearth was a small tray with cheese and fruit and a pair of
goblets, along with a bottle of something that didn't look like pumpkin
juice. She looked up at Harry in wonder.
He chuckled. "This
place hasn't been used since Professor Estrella, the former Astronomy
witch, lived here with her family," he said. "She retired about ten
years ago, and it's just been gathering dust all this time." He nodded
toward a corner, where she could make out a pile of white fabric,
probably dust covers. "I figured, as long as it wasn't being used…." He
grinned wickedly at her. She smiled up at him.
"Harry, you're amazing. How did you find out about this place?"
he said wisely, "when you're in seventh year, you can pull a few
strings. It's amazing the doors that will open when you produce a few
well-timed pairs of socks."
She laughed outright. "Dobby!" she
guessed, and his grin confirmed it. "I should have known. Who else
would dust and put a tray together for us?"
Harry joined in
her laughter, and then he sobered slightly, looking deep into her eyes.
"Gin," he said, cupping her cheek with his hand, "I took a few
liberties in that poem. I don't want you to think that I expect—I mean,
that I think you owe—" He stopped, swallowed and tried again. "We won't
do anything you don't want to do," he said huskily. "We won't do
anything you're not ready for."
Looking up at him, her heart
swelled with love that she couldn't possibly express in words. She
reached up, twined her fingers in his hair, and drew his face down to
hers, letting her kiss speak for her. He groaned and wrapped his arms
tightly around her, pulling her against him and letting his tongue
gently explore her mouth. She was glad he had clutched her to him so
hard; she wasn't sure her knees would have held her otherwise.
Especially once his lips moved from hers, across her jaw line and to
her earlobe. Sparks of desire ignited deep in her, and she arched
toward him, whimpering. She had dreamed about this for so many years,
it was almost impossible that it should be happening now.
Harry pulled back to look in her eyes again, his breathing ragged. "Ginny," he said hoarsely, "are you sure?"
knew she probably ought to be embarrassed, but somehow, she just
wasn't. This was right. "I'm as sure as I am of you," she said softly,
running her fingers through his hair. "As sure as I am of us."
looked into her eyes for another long moment, then bent down and swept
his arm beneath her knees, picking her up. She was amazed by how easily
he did it. He took her over to the rug before the fire and knelt down,
laying her on her back with all the tenderness of a parent for a
newborn. He stretched out beside her, his hand on the tie of her
dressing gown, but he didn't attempt to undo it yet.
He smiled down at her. "Nervous?" he asked.
she said softly. And she wasn't. She didn't know how or why, but all
her nervousness had vanished in the glow of those emerald eyes.
corner of his mouth quirked up. "I am," he said, gently brushing her
hair out of her eyes. "I want this to be perfect for you."
reached up and touched his cheek. It felt as though her heart would
burst with love for this boy, this man, beside her. "Harry," she
whispered, "it already is." She drew his head down to hers as his
fingers tugged gently at the tie of her dressing gown, loosening it so
that he could slide his hands inside to caress her through the thin
fabric of her night dress.
sat bolt upright, startled out of her memories by her brother's voice.
Hastily wiping her cheeks, she stuck her head out the trap door and
looked for the source of the voice. "Yes?"
"Didn't you hear us?" Charlie called up, shading his eyes from the sun. "We called you almost an hour ago for lunch. Hungry?"
stomach twisted. "No," she said. "I'm not." She pulled her head back
in. She just wanted to be left alone. Why couldn't they just leave her
"Ginny, you can't hide up there forever." Dammit, were
those his footsteps on the ladder? "Come on. We're all going to play
Quidditch down in the orchard. Want to come watch?"
want to come watch the man I loved and betrayed skate around the sky on
his broom, looking far too sexy for my comfort? Do I want to give him
the chance to corner me again and risk telling him what happened?
she said shortly, glaring at her brother's red hair as it appeared
through the trap door. He stopped climbing, only his head, chest, and
arms visible from her vantage point. "I've had about enough Quidditch
talk, thanks. You've only been here three days, and already you and Ron
are talking about nothing else. I still have another year at Hogwarts,
remember? I expect I'll get more than enough Quidditch talk there."
looked as though he would have liked to argue with her, but to her
surprise, he said only, "All right, then. But come down to dinner at
"All right," she sighed, leaning her head back against the wall. Maybe now he'd go away.
looked at her again, and then said with a mixture of concern and love,
"Ginny, you know, if you need to talk about—anything—we're all here for
Her heart nearly stopped, and she must have paled, for
he was immediately up the rest of the ladder and kneeling next to her.
"What's wrong? Are you okay?"
"Fine," she tried to say, but it
came out in a whisper. She swallowed and tried again, more firmly. "I'm
fine." It worked better that time.
"You are not fine. What
happened, Gin?" Charlie had inherited the family's blue eyes; they were
dark sapphire now, close and anxious.
"Nothing. I'm just not feeling well." She started to struggle to her feet. "Maybe I should go have a lie down."
helped her up, and silently they made their way down the ladder and
toward the house. Ginny kept strict control over her face, but terror
shivered through her. If I need to talk about "anything"—has
someone guessed about the baby? Did Madam Pomfrey tell? Oh, God—what if
someone tells Harry?
As they approached the house
they saw two figures outside on the grass. One was shirtless, pale, and
clearly male, but she couldn't see who it was; his face was blocked by
the other who was, by her hair, Hermione. A corner of Ginny's mouth
quirked up. As painful as it was to watch her brother and his
girlfriend together, remembering herself and Harry in their place, she
had to admit that she was happy for them. Hermione was good for Ron,
and it was obvious they were devoted to each other.
they approached closer, Hermione moved, and Ginny gasped. It wasn't Ron
lying shirtless on the grass—it was Harry. What she had thought was a
redhead's pale skin was actually bandages. He was stretched out on his
right side, arms under his head, facing her, and it looked like
Hermione was doing something with the bandages on his torso. Replacing
them, it appeared. She carefully removed them—by hand, Ginny was
surprised to see, not with magic—but then, as Hermione delicately
peeled the last of the bandages back, Ginny put a hand to her mouth in
His entire side, from the top of his ribcage to his
low-slung jeans and nearly fifteen centimetres wide, was fiery red and
shiny, though the skin was starting to take on the pebbly texture of a
very bad burn that's healed over. Hermione was obviously being as
careful as she could, but Harry still hissed in pain as the bandages
"Sorry," Hermione said quietly, though she didn't stop what she was doing.
get on with it," Harry grated. Ginny could see the tension in his
shoulders as he strove to keep from crying out. Images came unbidden to
Voldemort standing over her, wand outstretched.
Bright green flaring from its tip, right at Harry. Harry's form,
glowing green as the curse shot toward him, leaping to the right as it
cut the air right above them. A scream; a stench of burning flesh.
in hospital, still out cold. Bandages covering most of his body; minor
burns and nicks were healed quickly, but the burn from the Killing
Curse was so severe that more magic would only make it worse; it had to
heal on its own. Madam Pomfrey's quiet voice, when she thought nobody
could overhear her: "Poor boy looked like a charbroiled side of beef
when he came in here. I may never eat steak again…"
looked up from her work as she heard them approach. "Ginny!" she said
with a smile. "Good. I could use a hand with this." She raised an
eyebrow. "Unless you want to help too, Charlie?"
mention of Ginny's name, Harry started and looked up. Their eyes met,
green to brown. Ginny trembled at the depth of emotion in his eyes. She
could read love there, yes, but there was also fear and despair and
something else—something she couldn't quite read. Something she wasn't
sure she wanted to. She looked away.
"No, I don't think so,
Hermione," Charlie said comfortably. "I'll let you two ladies do the
spreading of glop all over Potter's body, thanks. I'll just go on into
"Then you can help me, Ginny," Hermione said, with
an amused look at Charlie. "Come here. I need you to help hand me
stuff." Ginny hesitated, and Hermione said gently, "Unless you'd rather
Ginny swallowed and said, "No, it's okay, Hermione.
I'll help." She came around Harry and knelt down, with Hermione between
herself and Harry's eyes. She couldn't take her eyes off that livid
burn scar. If it looks like this now, she thought, what must it have looked like three months ago? What must he have gone through?
nudged her, and she looked up, startled. "I said, hand me that brown
glass jar, will you?" Hermione said, but her voice wasn't impatient. In
fact, her gaze was strangely understanding. Hermione had known that she
and Harry were together, of course; most of the school had. Ginny knew
that Hermione wished she and Harry would patch things up, but her
friend had never pushed her to talk about it, for which Ginny was
grateful. Now Hermione kept up a running commentary to Harry, letting
Ginny remain silent with her thoughts.
"This is looking really
good, Harry. Another month or so and we can see about repairing the
skin itself. You remember Madam Pomfrey said that burns like this were
tricky to fix until they were healed, but once they've healed, we can
get rid of all this scarring. You'll look good as new. You're doing
those stretches, aren't you?"
"Yeah," Harry said in a
distracted tone of voice. Ginny glanced up. He had shifted slightly so
that he could look at her. The longing and fear in those emerald eyes
nearly undid her. She looked down and handed Hermione the strip of
bandage she asked for.
"You really should change these more
often, you know," Hermione went on. "The more often you apply the
ointment, the more supple the skin will be. That's all to the good, you
know, supple skin. It'll make repairing the scarring much easier. Of
course, it's in an awkward position, too, you almost have to have help
to do it, and I know that the Dursleys wouldn't have given you any."
Hermione broke off and looked around, frowning. "Well, really!" she
said in exasperation. "What did I do with it?"
"With what?" Harry asked. Ginny could still feel his eyes on her. She swallowed.
Magical Meditape. I'm sure I brought it out with me. Ginny, do you see
it over there? In a blue dispenser with a red cross on it."
Ginny started, then looked around. "Uh… no," she said. "Shall I go in and get it for you?"
Hermione said, tutting to herself as she jumped to her feet. "So silly.
I know right where it must be, I just saw it there. I'll be right
back." She disappeared into the house, leaving Harry and Ginny alone
There was a slight, uncomfortable silence, then
Harry gave a short laugh. "If you hadn't just appeared unexpectedly,"
he said, "I'd almost suspect her of setting us up."
couldn't hold in a chuckle. It did seem awfully convenient, and
Hermione had been nearly desperate to bring them back together. Her
laughter died in her throat, though, when Harry reached out and took
her hand. Unwillingly, but unable to stop herself, she looked up to
meet his gaze again. His eyes shone as though he had candles behind
them, blazing out at her.
"Gin," he said hesitantly, "does this—" he nodded at his raw, red side "—bother you?"
Her jaw dropped. "Of course it does, Harry!" she said without thinking. "You think I can see you cooked like a chunk of meat and not be bothered by it?"
Harry's eyes widened; he was obviously taken aback. "I—I—" he stuttered.
could have kicked herself. He'd been hurt so badly, not least by her.
She should have told him what she'd Seen in the dormitory the day of
the Battle, not just given him a stupid ultimatum. If she'd told him,
maybe he would have been safe—
And let me go risk myself
on a Fynalle Strykke without him? Oh, right, Ginny. Of course he
would've done. "Sure, love, go risk your life to destroy Voldemort. You
Saw it, so it must be true. I'll have supper ready when you get back.
"Harry," she said more gently, "it hurts me to
see you hurt." That was true. Merlin, that was true. "But if you're
asking, does this disgust me…." She reached hesitantly toward his side,
now even shinier with the ointment Hermione had put on it, but didn't
touch; she didn't know how sensitive it was and didn't want to cause
him any more pain. She rested her fingers on the untouched flesh of his
abdomen instead. "No," she said firmly. "It doesn't."
free hand reached down to lay across her hand on his abdomen, not quite
clutching at it. She sensed his desire rising; saw it in the way his
eyes became a deeper, darker green. Her traitorous body responded; she
felt a tightening deep in her belly and felt an overwhelming urge to
lean forward and kiss him.
Without warning, Harry's face was replaced with an image seared onto her eyeballs.
hooded figures appear in the middle of the orchard, wands drawn.
Multiple voices shout spells; red-haired bodies fall out of the sky.
The eldest, who had been flying lower than the others, recovers enough
to fight back. A blast of light hits him in the chest; he falls back,
screaming in agony, as the figures swarm another of the fallen—a tall,
lanky teen. With a whoosh, they and their chosen are gone, leaving two
identical broken, bleeding bodies and the other lying limply, barely
able to breathe after the agony of the attack—
came back to herself. Harry was sitting up, injuries forgotten,
clasping her hands tight within his. "What is it, Gin?" he asked.
She was shaking. "The Quidditch match," she whispered. "Now—quick—your wand—"
He snatched it up and sprang to his feet, pulling her along with him and pointing his wand at the table behind him. "Accio
Firebolt!" he called, and the broom zoomed into his outstretched hand.
"Come on, it'll hold two," he told her, helping her onto the broom in
front of him. He wrapped one arm about her waist and kicked off,
soaring up into the sky.
The orchard wasn't far, but as they
approached, they could hear the distinctive popping sound of Apparating
wizards. Harry swore and pushed the Firebolt into a dive, holding tight
to Ginny. She closed her eyes, fighting to keep her stomach as he
swerved around a tree and leaned forward again. She heard startled
shouts and opened her eyes just in time to see cloaked figures diving
for cover; apparently Harry had aimed his broom right for the lot of
them. "Wands!" he yelled at her brothers, looping back for another
pass. "Come on! Now!"
He suited action to word, pointing his wand at one of the cloaked figures and yelling, "Expelliarmus! Impedimenta!"
Immediately the figure's wand flew out of his grip and his feet slowed,
tripping him up. Harry caught the wand and landed next to a tree,
handing the wand to Ginny and lifting her off the broom. "Stay here,"
he panted. "Put your back against the tree and hold them off. Right?"
disorientation from the vision was gone. She was hyperfocused, just
like at the Battle; it was as though she'd slowed the world through
Omnioculars. "Yes," she said crisply, and he took off again, chasing
down yet another Death Eater.
A twig snapped to her left and she spun around, snapping the wand forward. "Stupefy!"
felt the captured wand give an almighty kick, and the spell that shot
from it knocked the cloaked figure back a good metre before he fell to
the ground, unconscious. Someone grabbed her from behind; remembering
past wrestling matches with her brothers, she stepped backward with all
her weight onto her attacker's instep. Something crunched beneath her
foot, and she was released. She spun back around to face him. "Stupefy!"
she shouted again, and the second one dropped. A curse shot over her
shoulder, missing her by inches and exploding against the bark of a
tree. Instinctively she dove for the ground and fired back, her
Stunning spell catching the figure in the abdomen. He went down and she
scrambled back to her feet, wand ready.
Then Harry was in
front of her, breathing heavily and holding his hands out. "It's okay,
Ginny," he said. "It's me. We've got them all, I think."
lowered the wand and looked around, shakily. No fewer than a dozen
cloaked figures were down, some Stunned, others simply rendered
helpless. Bill, the twins, and Ron were keeping watch over groups of
two or three. It was over so quickly. Relieved, she looked up at Harry,
and she froze. She had never seen him so angry. He was shaking as hard
as she, but it wasn't fear or adrenalin overload: it was blind fury.
stepped toward the second Death Eater she had Stunned and flipped him
over with a foot. He rolled over onto his back and his hood fell back,
revealing a youngish man, not older than 25 certainly, whom she didn't
recognise. "Right," Harry said harshly, and pointed his wand at the
The Death Eater's eyes opened, and he
stared up at Harry. "Don't move," Harry grated. "I'm waiting for an
excuse to finish you off, you sorry piece of shite."
The captive's face curved into a sneer, but he said nothing.
"Now," Harry said, enunciating each word clearly, "you will tell me just what exactly you meant to do here, and who sent you."
The Death Eater laughed. "Or you'll do what, Potter?" he scoffed. "Perform the Cruciatus Curse on us? Torture us into talking?"
turned deathly pale, but his mouth tightened into a thin line. "Talk,"
he said in the most dangerous voice Ginny had ever heard him use, "and
you'll never need to know."
The Death Eater laughed again, louder. "I don't think so," he said. He reached to his belt buckle. "Reverto!" he cried, and suddenly all twelve hooded figures disappeared.
Harry stared, whirling around to check for the other captives, then his hands curled into fists. "Damn!" he screamed, throwing a punch at a tree. There was a nasty crunching noise as he made contact, but he didn't seem to notice.
other Weasleys, equally shocked at the sudden disappearance of their
quarry, came running up to him. "What happened?" Bill said as they came
up. "Where'd they go?"
"Portkeys, at a guess," Harry said. "On their belts. Voice-activated for the whole lot of them. Damn, damn, damn."
He looked at the brothers. Ginny realised that Ron had a nasty cut on
his shoulder, both of the twins were sporting black eyes, and Bill was
favouring one leg. "Injuries?"
"What you see," George said flatly. "I think Bill's sprained his ankle, though."
"Twisted it," Bill corrected. "Bloody good thing you came, Harry. What tipped you?"
looked at Harry in panic, but he didn't even glance her way. "My scar,"
he said, rubbing it as though it bothered him. "Hermione was right in
the middle of changing my bandages. I just hopped on my broom and took
off when it hit."
"Where's Hermione, then?" Ron asked, fear in his voice.
gone into the house to get something she'd left behind. I don't think
she knows anything about it." Harry looked down at himself, where dirt
and leaves were stuck to the ointment on his side, and the few bandages
Hermione had managed to lay on were hanging limply. He smiled a bit
ruefully, wincing. "It looks like it's to do all over again," he said.
"Come on, we need to get back to the house and discuss this.
Apparently, though Voldemort's gone, we're not out of danger yet."
all started back toward the house on foot except for Bill, who didn't
want to put weight on his ankle just yet; he coasted along on his
broom. Ginny was grateful both for Harry's lie to Bill about his scar
and for the fact that none of her brothers had questioned why Harry had
brought her along. Ron was looking at her sidelong, but he said
nothing. She drew a long, shaky breath. Two things were clear: Harry
trusted her visions, and he trusted her to take care of herself. She
wasn't sure which touched her more.
But how will he be able to trust me when he finds out the truth about that night?
A/N: Thanks again to my betas, especially Shannon, Michael, Helen, and, of *course*, Ahmie! Please R/R.