Harry stopped and looked at the scene before him. He hadn't been back to the Burrow in years, and yet it looked as though time had stood still.
He slung his knapsack over his shoulder. It was weighed down with his work robes, his manuals and all of his supplies. He hadn't had the energy to perform a shrinking spell on them that morning, but now, as he trudged along the sandy path that led up to the Weasleys' home, he wished he had. "Too late," he muttered to himself. "You're almost there."
He'd always thought of Hogwarts as his true home. Privet Drive never had been, and Hogwarts was the first place he'd ever felt completely accepted for who he was. But lately, he'd come to think of the Burrow as that home. The past three years had changed a lot of things in his mind.
It had been a long three years. After he'd finished Hogwarts, the Ministry of Magic had recruited him for a secret position in the Auror division. He'd been assigned, along with several Death Eater double agents and informants, to the depths of the Bulgarian wizarding underground. He'd had charms placed on him: glamours that altered his appearance and voice. When he'd been released three hours ago, he'd found a bathroom, removed the glamours, and hardly recognised himself. His hair had grown; it was curlier, and skimmed the collar of his shirt, and he had stubble on his chin from when he hadn't had time to shave.
The years had been difficult. Communication had been limited to contacts within the department, and so Ron had been the only person who sent him mail with any regularity. Sirius and Remus had been assigned up north, and while their paths had intersected on a few rare occasions, it had been nearly a year since he'd last seen his godfather. Ron had mentioned seeing Remus in his last letter—the one in which he'd mentioned his recent conversation with Ginny.
On impulse, Harry stopped walking and pulled the parchment out of his pocket. He'd been carrying it there since receiving it three weeks ago, and had reread it so many times, he had it memorised. But seeing it in writing was more powerful, somehow, so he placed his pack down on the dusty path and unfolded the ragged and much-read sheet.
I ran into Remus last week. He said he and Sirius are doing fine and want to pass on their love. They miss you terribly and can't wait to see you again.
I had a conversation with Ginny the other day. She says she still thinks about you a lot, and Harry, I can tell she does. Her eyes light up whenever I come home with news about you. She wanted me to tell you how she feels, so I don't feel I'm breaking any confidences by saying this. She still loves you, and if I know anything about anything, she always will.
Hermione sends her love.
Harry carefully folded the parchment and placed it back in his breast pocket. Picking up his pack, he started walking again.
He'd been sure she'd be married by now. A girl like that wouldn't just wait around for some bloke she was never sure she'd see again.
But she had.
He'd dreamt of her often. Sometimes the dreams were wonderful and other times they weren't. Once, a dream of her being attacked by Death Eaters had woken him, screaming. The unit medic had been forced to give him a dose of Dreamless Sleep Potion before he could get back to sleep. Another time, he'd dreamt they were getting married. She'd looked angelic in her white gown and veil, but just as he was about to kiss her, after they'd made their vows, his commanding officer had roused the barracks and the dream had ended.
He could still remember their last night together in the common room, when she'd waited for him to return from Dumbledore's office. It had been the last day of class, and Dumbledore had asked Harry to come see him. It was at this meeting that his life had been set on the path from which he was now returning.
"The Aurors want to recruit you, Harry," Dumbledore had said.
He'd nodded. He'd known it was coming. It had been inevitable, after all.
Ginny had asked him why he looked so tired, so distraught upon his return to Gryffindor tower, but he couldn't tell her. Top secret, Dumbledore had said, and Harry couldn't refuse. He'd held her in his arms, and they'd fallen asleep on the sofa in front of the fire. In the morning, they'd come to take him to training camp, and he'd left her with a kiss on the lips and a short note he'd barely had time to scribble on a scrap of parchment. He'd hoped she'd be able to read between the lines.
The weeks had turned into months and the months into years. Finally, Voldemort had been defeated, thanks, in no small part, to Harry's unit. Last night, Light magic had finally defeated Dark. The Death Eaters had all been arrested and taken to Azkaban, and Harry and his comrades had been released for a well-deserved holiday. Harry had decided to see the Weasleys. He could have gone to see Sirius, but there was another reason he felt he had to go to the Burrow. Ginny was there.
The house shone in the bright morning sun as Harry made his way up the path.
Breakfast at the Burrow was unlike anything Harry could recall from recent memories. The food on base and in his unit had been dull, but it had helped him to grow and fill out a bit. He had needed the strength and stamina it had provided him, and while it had been economical and basic, it had also been flavourless and boring. In contrast, Mrs. Weasley went all out, preparing all his favourite foods and heaping double and triple portions on his plate. He'd been too busy shovelling the wonderful food into his mouth and re-acclimating to the hectic pace of the Burrow to notice anything else.
And then Ginny had come down the stairs. She'd stopped when she saw him, and in an instant, his arms were around her and his mouth was on hers and the maple syrup dripped between them. He'd barely had time to swallow his bite of hot cakes, but she hadn't minded.
And now they were in the backyard. Mrs. Weasley had shooed them out of her kitchen when Harry had finished eating, claiming they needed some time alone. Hermione had pulled Ron away and upstairs, after a promise for a good long talk with Harry later, and Harry was now standing face to face with Ginny, his hands entwined in hers. Her shiny hair was pulled back with a white ribbon, and her face was glowing with happiness. She'd grown in the three years since they'd last met, and had not escaped the suffering of the war; her eyes were a testament to that. Their depth threatened to drown him.
When you need a friend, don't look to a stranger, You know in the end, I'll always be there.
"It's so good to see you, Gin," he said, meeting her gaze. "I've missed you."
"I know," she replied with a soft smile. "I've missed you too."
"I didn't…" he began, then hesitated. "I didn't think you'd wait."
"How did you know I did?"
"Oh," she replied in a small voice.
"You didn't have to, you know."
"Didn't you want me to?"
But when you're in doubt, and when you're in danger, Take a look all around, and I'll be there.
"I'd hoped…" he whispered. Rubbing his thumbs over her knuckles, he said, "But I never expected you to. I didn't know how long I'd be away. It wasn't fair to you. I didn't know. I had no control over what I was doing, who I was with, why I was there… I couldn't even write to you!"
"I know. Ron told me. It's okay."
It needed to be said. "You really didn't have to put your life on hold for me." I'm sorry, but I'm just thinking of the right words to say. I know they don't sound the way I planned them to be.
She met his gaze, and as he turned from her, she reached a hand out and cupped his chin. Slowly, she brought his eyes back to hers.
"Harry, I chose to wait."
But if you'll wait around awhile, I'll make you fall for me, I promise you, I promise you I will.
"And…?" he said, not quite daring to hope.
"I'm glad I did."
It was a fact of life Ginny had to live with: Harry was gone.
It wasn't like she hadn't known it was coming. Of course she had; she'd known since the day she had awakened in the Chamber of Secrets and seen him there, battered, bloody, and victorious. She had known what it was he would have to do. He was, after all, the Boy Who Lived. He would face Voldemort again, and again, and again, until one of them was defeated.
She had known, too, that she couldn't be with him when he did it. And that she would have a year, an entire year, of Hogwarts without him. A year of loneliness while he was off facing the unknown. A year of terror, half-expecting to see the headline blazed across the front of the Daily Prophet: "Boy Who Lived Killed by Death Eaters."
But knowing wasn't the same as experiencing.
And experiencing one year wasn't the same as experiencing three.
She still had the note he'd left her that morning, after they had held each other all night and she had fallen asleep in his arms. She'd kept it as though it were a passionate love letter. In its way, it was.
I can't tell you where I'm going, or why. Though you know why, I expect. I can't tell you when I can contact you again, either. All I can tell you is that I love you, Gin. And I'll come back to you. I promise.
That promise had kept her going for three years.
There were times in those three years when she'd honestly thought she would go mad. She heard brief snippets about Harry from Ron—paraphrased, of course, because Ron couldn't share Ministry letters with anyone. But they were something.
He was alive, at least. She held to that like a life-line. He was alive; and he still thought of her.
"Ron," she'd asked one time, late at night, when the rest of the house was asleep and the two of them should have been as well, "when do you think this assignment of Harry's will be over, and he'll be able to come home?"
Ron had turned to face her. They'd both been sitting on the sofa in front of the fireplace, staring into the flames.
"I don't know, Gin," he'd said quietly. "When Voldemort is defeated. Not before. Not because they won't let him go—although they won't—but because Harry won't leave until it's finished."
And she'd known that, too, before she asked.
"I think about him all the time," she had said, consciously not looking at her brother because she knew if she did all the emotions would come pouring out of her, and she couldn't afford that. She'd walled them off too carefully. If they escaped, she'd never get them back behind her carefully-constructed barriers.
"I know," Ron had replied, and his voice had held a wealth of compassion that had nearly undone her. She'd closed her eyes and fought with the pain and the loneliness and the fear until she had chased them back into the corners of her heart, subdued but not cowed.
That had been enough. Barely, but enough.
She'd opened her eyes again to find Ron still watching her. "Do you want me to tell him you think about him?" he'd asked quietly.
"Yes," she'd said.
That had been almost a month ago. When she'd dragged herself out of bed this morning, exhausted from nightmares and long hours awake, staring at the ceiling, she had hardly expected the sight that greeted her in the kitchen.
A figure sat at the table—one she barely recognised. Tousled, black hair hung to his collar; dark stubble covered his chin; well-defined muscles shifted under threadbare clothes.
He looked up and stared at her, wide-eyed. It was the eyes that convinced her it wasn't a dream. They were green, of course. Green; and raw; and blazing with a hunger that had nothing to do with the heaping plate of hot cakes that sat in front of him. He swallowed convulsively, and then he was standing and she was flying and they were in each other's arms. He tasted of maple and of salt, which she thought was strange until she realised the salt was their mingled tears, flowing freely down their faces.
They had talked all day, out in the back yard, holding hands and touching and reacquainting themselves with each other. Ginny felt a little guilty; she knew Ron and Hermione and the rest of her family must want some time with Harry, too, but somehow she couldn't give him back to them. Not yet. And she knew he wanted—needed—to be with her.
"Tell me what it was like for you, Harry."
He shook his head. They were sitting on the hill overlooking the village of Ottery St Catchpole, watching as the sun crept toward the western horizon. "I can't," he said.
"You can tell me anything."
"No, that's not what I mean." He stared into space for a moment. "There just aren't any words," he said at last, softly. "No language has the words for the horrific things people can do to one another. No language has the ability to describe battle, to capture the essence of three years spent watching people die. Sometimes in your arms. Sometimes by your hand. Sometimes—" He swallowed. "Sometimes because of your mistakes."
She squeezed his hand. She didn't have the words, either.
He turned to her suddenly. "Ginny," he said, and there was an intensity to his gaze that made her catch her breath. He took her other hand as well. "Does this—all of this—what I am, what I've done—does it—change anything for you?"
She didn't understand what he was asking. "Change? Change what?"
"Your—feelings for me." He swallowed, and his eyes glistened. "I'm a murderer, Gin," he said hollowly. "I've lost count of how many I've killed. I've lost count of how many died because I couldn't be there to protect them. I've lost count of how many nights I've lain awake, listening to the silence and hearing dead friends accuse me. Can you live with that? Can you live with me, knowing I've done these things? Can you live with me jumping at sounds, and startling at nothing, and waking up in the night screaming with nightmares? Can you?"
When your day is through, and so is your temper, You know what to do, I'm gonna always be there.
"Yes," she said, and there was no hesitation.
"I've killed, Ginny." His face was haunted. "By intent and by neglect, I've killed." He turned away, not able to look at her.
"It was a war, Harry," she said, cupping his chin and pulling his face towards hers, forcing him to look at her. "You killed those who would have killed others. Had killed others. Were killing others."
"Harry," she said forcefully, "I have waited for three years. Don't you dare try to walk away from me now! I know that you fought in a war. I know enough of what that entails to have worked out long ago that Death Eaters were dying at your hand. And I was glad of it, Harry! Glad of it!"
Sometimes if I shout, it's not what's intended. These words just come out, with no gripe to bear. She realised she was shouting and softened her voice, pulling her hand down and intertwining their fingers again. She kept her gaze locked with his. "I was glad of it," she repeated more calmly, "because if you weren't killing them, they were most assuredly going to kill you, and that in turn would have killed me. I would have died if you had, don't you see that?"
I'm sorry, but I'm just thinking of the right words to say. I know they don't sound the way I planned them to be.
He was staring at her, stunned, with a faint glimmer in his eyes that she thought might be hope. She pressed her point.
"Don't go away from me again, Harry," she pleaded. "I want you here. I want you with me. I love you, Harry. Please. Please stay."
But if you'll wait around awhile, I'll make you fall for me, I promise you, I promise you...
Harry didn't respond for a long moment. Then, "I might have to go," he said thickly. "I still work for the Ministry. They can still send me wherever they want. Whenever they want."
I'm sorry, but I'm just thinking of the right words to say. I know they don't sound the way I planned them to be.
A tear spilled out of each eye. "Then you had better come back to me, Harry Potter," she said just as thickly. "Or I might have to come after you."
And if I had to walk the world, I'd make you fall for me, I promise you, I promise you I will.
He let go her hands and reached out, wiping the tears from her cheeks, and then they were kissing again, lying back against the grass, one of his hands at the small of her back and the other twined in her hair, and she could feel the emotions he couldn't express in words.
I gotta tell you, I gotta tell you, I need to tell you...
He pulled back from the kiss and met her gaze.
"I understand if you want to wait," he said, his eyes a dark emerald green that made her heart tighten at their intensity. "I've only just got back. But I've been wanting to say this for three years. I love you, Ginny. I'll always love you. Will you marry me?"
I'm sorry, but I'm just thinking of the right words to say. I know they don't sound the way I planned them to be. But if you'll wait around awhile, I'll make you fall for me, I promise you, I promise you...
Her heart seemed to burst with happiness, and she tightened her arms around him. "Who needs to wait?" she whispered, and watched with delight as his face lit up with joy.
"So you will?" he asked, as though needing to hear the words.
I'm sorry, but I'm just thinking of the right words to say. I know they don't sound the way I planned them to be. And if I had to walk the world, I'd make you fall for me, I promise you, I promise you I will. I will. I will.
A/N: The Promise performed by When in Rome, released by Virgin Records on When in Rome (self-titled) on Sept. 13, 1988. All rights reserved by their lawful owners and no copyright infringement is implied or intended.