"We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope."
~Martin Luther King Jr.~
The heat in Little Whinging was almost unbearable, but it didn't matter to Harry Potter, who lay on his back in the middle of the freshly cut grass behind number four - grass that he'd cut only minutes before. He welcomed the heat, hoping to melt away some of the guilt and sorrow left over from the past school year. He could feel his face burning, and accepted the fact that he would most likely be in pain for some time after. He deserved it, for what he'd done.
For what he hadn't done.
Harry wanted desperately to block out the tiny voice in his mind, but couldn't bring himself to even try.
You let her go.
In the two weeks since he'd been at the Dursley's, he'd lain on the lawn every day, playing the scene over and over in his mind. He should have told her the truth. He should have stayed with her. He should have done... something.
He stood alone, just off the platform, watching his friends greet their families. Something that he would never be able to do. But he was over that. He'd had a whole year to accept the way things would be for him, a whole year since he'd heard the prophecy that sealed his fate. He knew that he would be alone, at least until it was over.
He flinched at the sound of her voice, a voice that he'd been avoiding. It had become harder and harder to ignore the feelings that swirled through him whenever she was near, and even when she wasn't. She wasn't to be with him, at least not when he was a target.
"Shouldn't you be leaving?" The words came out as an accusation, not at all like he'd wanted. He immediately felt guilty as he watched her face harden. "Look-"
"Why are you doing this?" she demanded, folding her arms across her chest. He'd seen her take that stance so many times before; he almost smiled at her consistency. Almost. Instead, he fixed his face into a neutral expression, hoping to not give away any of the feelings that were raging inside of him.
"I don't know what you're talking about." He shifted his gaze from her, because her eyes told him that she didn't believe his words. "Look, everyone's leaving," he added quickly. "You should too."
"What about you? Are you just going to stand here, being a prat?"
"I have to wait for the Dursleys, you know that. Another summer of fun," he replied dryly.
Her face softened and he almost broke. "Harry-"
It was so hard to turn from her, but he did. "Just go."
She stepped forward instead, resting a hand on his arm. "Harry, talk to me. You know that you're not alone in this." She came around him then, taking his hands. He stared down at their joined fingers, hers looking so small in comparison to his. "You don't have to be alone."
He saw it then, when he looked in her eyes. This was what he wanted to avoid, to stay away from. The look of love in her eyes was almost too much to handle. He felt his resolve crumbling.
I love you.
His mind was screaming those three words as he looked away from her. He knew all too well the price of loving, and he wasn't willing to risk it, not this time. Not with her.
"You'd better go."
He knew that he had to leave, or he'd succumb to what she was offering, something that he very much wanted. "Fine. I'll go. Have a nice summer."
He left her then, standing on the platform. He didn't look back, and didn't see the figures Apparate so close to her. He was almost to the barrier when he heard her scream, a sound that would haunt him forever.
He hadn't told her, hadn't been able to save her before the damage was done. Now, her future was in question, and he could do no more than lie on the grass and relive her cries.
"Harry? Harry, what are you doing?"
He sat up at the sound of the voice. "Hermione? What are you doing here?" he demanded as he stared at her, utterly confused. She looked well, and rested, and he couldn't help the bitterness that spewed out of him. "Shouldn't you be with the Weasleys?"
"Harry, you're supposed to ask me for my word!" Hermione exclaimed, reprehensively.
"Fine. What is it?"
"Chudley," she proclaimed, grinning at him. He could only scowl at her. She rushed forward then, pulling on his arm to stand him up, something that he didn't have any inclination to do. "Get out of the sun. You're burning! What's wrong with you?"
He stood up, pulling away from her. "Nothing's wrong! I'm having a grand old time here at the Dursleys."
She didn't flinch at his words, only sighed and pulled him along with her. "Come inside, Harry." He followed, only because he couldn't produce the energy to fight her. "Ah, relief from the heat," she sighed as they stepped into the air-conditioned house. "It really is hot outside, isn't it? Here," she said, reaching into her bag and handing him a small jar.
"What is this?"
"It's lotion. Make sure you put it on, it'll help the burn."
"I wish that we could do magic outside of school. I've practiced my sun block charms, they're really quite easy. For now though, you ought to use sunscreen, Harry."
"We should get you packed. Where's you're room?"
She headed for the stairs before he could stop her. "I assume that it's upstairs, I didn't see any bedrooms on the main floor." She scowled as she passed the cupboard, his old room. "Terrible people, the Dursleys."
"Hermione," he called. "Wait!"
"It's so hot, you could cook a Hippogriff out there! Bloody cooling charm doesn't last long enough!"
Harry whirled at the gruff voice behind him. "Moody?"
"That's right, boy. Now, just who are you? What's the word?"
"Prongs," Harry said automatically, giving the code word the members of the Order used to identify themselves.
Mad-Eye Moody nodded once then turned gestured to Hermione. "Is he packed yet?"
"No, we're just heading up to do that. I assume everything is fine outside."
"The area seems secure. Mundungus is still patrolling, but I'd like to get this over with and leave. This was a risk, and I don't like it," the older wizard said darkly.
"Will you tell me what's going on?" Harry demanded.
"Don't you want to leave, Harry? Dumbledore said you've been here long enough," Hermione said simply. "I asked if I could come and get you, since everyone else is... well, they're tied up right now."
He knew perfectly well where most of the Order would be.
"Maybe I want to stay," he said stubbornly.
"Oh, stop it, Harry. We don't have much time." Hermione disappeared up the stairs and Harry trudged up after her.
"Mummy, does this make my bottom look big? Mum-"
Harry froze at the top of the stairs, where Dudley stood in the doorway of his room, staring at Hermione. She held out her hand. "You must be Dudley. I'm Hermione Granger, Harry's friend from school."
Dudley started, looking extremely uncomfortable, before stepping back and slamming the door in Hermione's face. "Well, that was rude," she muttered.
"What do you expect? It's Dudley. Come on, let's get out of here."
Fifteen minutes later, Harry found himself in a secluded park in London. He hated Portkeys, but didn't bother to question how they got one.
"You two wait here until I confirm the safety of the area," grunted Moody, walking away from them.
"He didn't think that it was a good idea for me to come," Hermione confided, "but Dumbledore agreed with me that it would be best if I did."
"Great," Harry muttered, flopping down on the grass. All he wanted was to be left alone. He was oddly satisfied that the heat was just as intense in London as it was in Little Whinging. He spread his arms, basking in the sunlight, feeling his limbs burn. A shadow fell across him and he reluctantly opened his eyes. "What?"
Hermione's voice was soft, and all together annoying. "Why haven't you asked me about her?"
"I - it's none of my business," he said lamely.
She knelt down then, taking his hand. Harry could feel the beads of sweat trickle down his back, unsure if it was the heat or the subject that was the cause. "Harry, talk to me. I know that it must be difficult-"
He snatched his hand away. He didn't deserve any sympathy from anyone, especially someone else whose life was in danger because of him. "You have no idea what it's like, Hermione. There's no way in hell you could possibly understand how I feel," he whispered.
"I left her! She was there because of me, and I left her!"
"What the hell are you doing? Are you trying to draw attention to yourself, shouting like that?" Moody appeared beside him and rapped Harry on the side of the head. "Be quiet!"
"Fine," muttered Harry, glaring at Hermione. "Let's just go."
The two-block walk to Headquarters was silent and tense, which was just fine with Harry. He didn't want to be at number twelve, Grimmauld Place, not now. He hated that house to begin with, but the last thing he wanted to do was interact with people.
"It'll be okay, Harry," whispered Hermione from beside him.
He didn't respond.
He sped up, reaching the door to Headquarters yards ahead of Hermione and Moody. Slipping inside the door, he quickly made a beeline for the stairs. He reached his room, relieved that he hadn't run into anyone, and locked his door behind him. He noticed Ron's things across the room and cringed. How could he face Ron? How could he face anyone for that matter?
You left her.
He lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling, the screams in his head louder now.
He turned at the sound of her scream, drawing his wand when he spotted the cloaked figures surrounding her. He didn't have to hear the words to know which curse they were using on her. The ultimate pain.
"No!" He charged forward, his breath clogged in his throat. This couldn't be happening, not now. Not to her.
He attacked with all that he had. He could see her, lying on the ground at the feet of four Death Eaters, her body straining against the shock of pain. He took down one figure with the disarming charm, but was quickly disarmed himself when another turned to him.
He had nothing. No wand. No power. Nothing. Yet he ran forward, trying to get to her. He felt the arms around his chest, could hear the mocking laughter as he struggled. Suddenly, there was a wand at his heart, and he stared into eyes he didn't recognize.
Then came the pain.
He didn't remember anything that happened after that moment. It was all a blank until he woke up back at Hogwarts, with Dumbledore staring down at him, his eyes unusually dull.
He'd been shipped off to the Dursley's almost immediately, under the Headmaster's orders. He hadn't seen her, hadn't seen anyone. Dumbledore informed him before Apparating from the Dursley's that she was critical... whatever that meant. Since then, he'd had no news of her, or anyone else in the Order. He'd thought that the secrets were over after fifth year, but obviously Dumbledore had other plans. He'd been left in the dark, with only his imagination to fuel him. And his imagination could be vivid.
If she dies...
Harry shook his head, trying to dispel the words that formed in his mind.
If she dies, it's your fault.
There were so many things he wished he could change. She'd been on the platform alone because of him, because she wanted to be with him.
And you left her there...
"Harry! Harry! Open the bloody door!"
He flinched at the sound of Ron's voice. He trudged over to the door and opened it, willing to accept any punishment, welcoming it.
He wasn't disappointed.
Ron shoved him back into the room, hard enough that Harry stumbled to the ground. "Tell me what happened!" the taller redhead demanded.
"Ron!" Hermione stood in the doorway, her hands on her hips, frowning at her boyfriend. "You told me that you would be calm!"
"Tell me," Ron growled, earning another frown from Hermione.
"Good to see you too, Ron," Harry replied mildly. He was rewarded when Ron picked him up off the ground, tossing him onto a bed. When the wand pointed at his throat, he wished desperately that Ron would use it. Anything would be better than seeing the accusatory look in his best friend's eyes, which was more punishment than he could handle.
"Why didn't you protect her?" Ron whispered, and Harry could hear the pain in his voice. A pain that echoed in his own heart.
He squeezed his eyes shut. "I'm sorry Ron. I - I couldn't... it's my fault... I didn't..." he trailed off lamely.
"Ron, that's enough." Hermione said sharply, coming to sit beside Harry on the bed. "Harry, she's awake."
His breath caught as he looked up sharply. "What?"
"What do you care?" demanded Ron. "You didn't even ask about her, I know you didn't." Ron glanced briefly at Hermione, who looked guilty. "She's been lying in that bed for two weeks, and you didn't even bother to find out how she was!"
"I - I couldn't..."
Hermione hugged him then, and he felt smaller than ever. She was crying, he could feel her tears soaking into his shirt. "You need to see her, Harry," she whispered against his neck.
"I messed up, Hermione. It's all my fault."
"You didn't make her a target, Harry. It's foolish to think that you can protect people by pretending not to care. It's never too late to do what's in your heart." He looked up then, seeing the understanding in her eyes.
"You - How did you know?"
"I've been your best friend for six years. I know you, Harry."
He looked at Ron then, feeling like a slug as his best friend stared at him. Ron seemed much calmer, but there was still a dangerous glint in his eyes. "I'm sorry Ron."
"You have feelings for her?" he asked, his eyes narrowed.
"Y - Yes."
"She asked about you. She was only awake for a few minutes, but she asked for you." Harry heard the trace of bitterness in his voice, and didn't blame him.
"Where is she?"
"In Sirius' old room. Did you want-"
"Wait a minute," Harry snapped. "She's here? In the house? I thought... I thought she'd be at St. Mungo's, or Hogwarts."
"Dumbledore thought it would be better if she were here, with her family," said Ron, shrugging.
"I have to go," whispered Harry, rising from the bed and leaving his two best friends staring after him.
He stood outside her room, his fingers itching to turn the knob, his heart not ready to face her. What would he say to her?
I'm sorry for leaving you alone, for not protecting you. I'm sorry you were cursed almost to death.
I'm sorry that I didn't tell you the truth.
It all seemed so inadequate. She'd almost died and he couldn't think of a single thing to say to her. She was probably asleep anyway. He desperately hoped that she was.
Shaking his head, he pushed open the door, slipping inside as quietly as he could manage. His heart was pounding so loud it was deafening.
She looked like an angel, covered in white, her hair a bright contrast against her pale skin. Her eyes were open, and they looked at him with such softness that Harry almost turned and fled.
"Harry?" she whispered, her voice raw. He froze, scared to death of her. "You can come closer."
He inched forward, ever ready for the anger he expected from her. It didn't come. Instead, she held out her hand, grabbing his lightly when he was close enough.
"How are you, Harry?"
"Me?" How could he answer that? He was terrible. He spent the last two weeks wanting to suffer for hurting her. He was miserable. "I'm fine. How are... are you feeling okay?"
She smiled slightly. "Oh, I'm grand. I can't say I'll be playing Quidditch in the next few days, but I'll manage."
He laughed quickly, then frowned. How could she make jokes?
"Oh Harry," she murmured. "Don't look so sad. Everything will be fine."
"How can you say that, after what I did?"
"What do you mean?"
"I - I left you there, I let them attack you. I didn't protect you, I didn't help you." It all rushed out of him then, like a dam bursting. "I should have helped you. I couldn't - I tried, I swear I did! I wish it had been me that they grabbed. I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry that it was you, that you were with me and they hurt you! I never wanted you hurt, not ever. I wish... I wish I could go back and tell you the truth, and not leave you alone. I wish... but I can't. And now you're here, because of me, and I just... I'm so sorry..." he trailed off quietly, feeling horribly inadequate.
"Come here," she said simply, patting the space next to her. He hesitated a moment before climbing onto the bed next to her. She took his face in her hands, her skin cold, despite the heat coursing through the house. He stared into her eyes, thinking that he would drown. "It wasn't your fault. Do you hear me? Just being a Weasley puts me in danger, half my family is in the Order."
"No buts, Harry. You may not be ready to hear it, but under the circumstances, I think that this needs to be said. I love you, Harry. I'll love you for the rest of my life, and there's nothing you can do change my mind about it. I know that I'm young, but I feel in my heart that you're it for me." She lowered her hands then, and his skin felt cold.
He wanted to weep. He wanted to announce his happiness from the rooftops. He wanted to hold on tight and never let her go. He wanted to lock her away, where she could be safe.