Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul, And sings the tune--without the words, And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard; And sore must be the storm That could abash the little bird That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land, And on the strangest sea; Yet, never, in extremity, It asked a crumb of me.
Harry Potter was tired.
The problem, you see, was that he was having a bit of trouble sleeping lately. Which is kinda like saying that a herd of Blast-Ended Skrewts was going to cause just a bit of trouble if they escaped in the middle of Muggle London. Harry reckoned that the last time he’d had a decent night’s sleep was about two years ago. Two years ago almost to the day, if he hadn’t lost a week or three somewhere again. It was two years ago today that he'd left Ottery St. Catchpole on this ill-fated quest to “find himself”. Or whatever it was that he thought he was supposed to accomplish. He reckoned now that he'd just been running so long he'd forgotten how to stand still. First he was the hunted, then the hunter. And then he'd found his quarry and vanquished it. And everyone around him was so happy that the war was over; there could be peace again. For everyone except Harry, that is. He'd forgotten what peace was, if he ever knew.
And so, he'd left. Stupid thing to do, really. He knew that now, for all the good that it did him. He couldn't go back now. Going back would be admitting that he was wrong, admitting that he had failed everyone that he had ever loved. And worse, going back meant facing them again. Facing everyone again would force him to face himself, at last. He would have to face all of the pain, anger, and sorrow that had driven him out of England in the first place and had kept him running for two years straight. The things that he had lost, the things he'd given up, and the things that had been taken from him; all because of words, spoken before he was born, that said that he was the one with the power to defeat the greatest threat to the wizarding world in many centuries. Oh, how he wished that those words had never been spoken, that his life had not been ruled by those words.
The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches...born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies...and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not...and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives...the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies...
It had all come to pass, exactly as it was spoken. But it was the parts that were not spoken that troubled him. Because the prophecy never spoke of the costs. Oh, the costs that he had had to pay to make these words become true.
But it does not do to dwell too long on these things. It was his never-ending reflection on such things that had driven him out of England, out of his home, and continued to drive him onward. At first he was seeking peace of mind. Trying to come to terms with the costs, so that he could finally heal, and move on. But now he sought only oblivion. Pushing himself each day to the utmost, in hopes that he would find some small oblivion in sleep and forget, if only for an hour, the demons that haunted his steps. It never worked. Which is why he hadn't had a good night's sleep in so long that he had almost forgotten what it felt like.
The sound of a twig snapping under foot brought his attention sharply back to the present, and earned him a reproachful glare from the shaman that was leading him through the woods.
“Many apologies, Teacher, for my wandering attention,” whispered Harry, careful not to disturb the silence any further than it had already been disturbed.
“Your apologies mean nothing here. Only your actions. Keep your focus, or the spirits themselves will teach you to pay attention, and they are not so kind as I.”
Harry grimaced a bit to himself, cursing his wandering mind, before focusing his attention back on the trail that he was following. It had taken him a long time to get even this far along, it wouldn't do for Teacher to refuse him now because he couldn't control himself.
Today was not to be the day, however, for he was interrupted in his thoughts again, this time by the fluttering of wings close by. Owl's wings, by the sound of it. But no ordinary owl would be flying about the forest at noon. Which could mean only one thing: he'd forgotten to renew the charm again. It had happened only once before, he'd been two days late renewing it and he'd woken up one morning to find nearly a dozen owls waiting for him. He hadn't even taken the letters from them, he'd just sent them on their way and renewed the repellent charm to make sure they stayed away.
He turned to the owl, intending to shoo it away like the others, but he stopped short. He recognized this particular owl. More than that, this was his owl. His very own Hedwig. Just the sight of her was enough to bring all the memories flooding back again and all the emotions that went along with them.
Harry looked towards Teacher, not quite knowing what to say. But when each saw the look in the other's eyes there wasn't a need to say anything at all. His teacher was an accomplished Legilimens, after all. More than that, though, he was a natural Empath. And so Teacher understood that Harry would go no further today. Today Harry would spend time with Hedwig, and with his memories. He held out his hand and the weight of her settling down on his arm felt right, as though no time had passed since he last held her this way. He began the long walk back to the camp, hardly paying any attention to his surroundings, lost in the memories already.
It was the summer after 5th year that I finally realized that something had changed between us. Nothing that anyone could see, I hope. I know Ginny didn't notice anything at first because I asked her about it, much later. Hermione probably noticed, she was watching me like a hawk after the catastrophe of dealing with the toad woman for a year; and that debacle at the ministry. And... Sirius. That one still hurts, a little bit. The one consolation was that in all the commotion somebody let slip to Mrs. Weasley what Umbridge had made me do for detention. They say that the Howler she sent to Dumbledore shattered the few pieces that I hadn't been able to reach a couple weeks before. She was ready to set the twins on the Dursleys even; anything to get me out of that wretched house. So I spent that whole summer at the Burrow. Not Grimmauld place, thankfully. Sirius had made out a will leaving the whole thing to Remus, to make sure that he'd always have a place to stay, and that the Order could still have a headquarters. So we could've stayed there, I guess. But he also left a sizable fortune to the Weasleys. With strict instructions: they were to spend at least a thousand galleons that summer just living. Told us all how he'd spent so many years just trying to stay alive that he'd forgotten what it meant to live. And he wouldn't allow us all to suffer the same fate. You just can't deny a dying man his last wishes, can you?
So that summer was actually really great. Arthur fixed up the burrow, expanded it a little bit more, got Dumbledore himself to cast the strongest wards he could find, bought Ron and Ginny some new brooms, and generally did a lot of stuff they just couldn't afford before. And then we had a party. Oh, what a party it was. Mrs. Weasley had found out a lot of things that I'd tried to hide from everyone, after she released me from the Dursley's tender care. Like the fact that I'd never had a proper birthday party. So that summer, we had the “party to end all parties”. That's what the twins decided to call it. Everyone got in on it. Hermione took us all shopping, muggle style, for some fancy dress clothes. Mrs. Weasley cooked up all my favorites; enough food to feed an army. There were presents and party games, music and dancing, and everyone was having the time of their lives. Ginny looked amazing. I knew she was sort of attractive before, in an abstract sort of way. She'd been on more dates than I had, she had to have something going for her. But that night, all dressed up, she just looked radiant. I started having that funny feeling in my stomach, the one that used to happen around Cho. And I caught myself quite a few times just staring at her from across the room. I think a few other people caught me, too. Hermione had a bit of a smirk on her face when I looked up at her once. And Mrs. Weasley was definitely smiling extra big about something; she looked like the cat that ate the canary. But nobody said anything. Good thing they didn't, since it probably would've made me retreat or try to hide again. I had always looked at Ginny at “Ron's little sister” before. It was that night that I really started to think of her as just Ginny. And I was thinking about her a lot more than I had been.
“Ummm.... Ginny? Can I talk to you for a second?”
“Sure Harry, what's on your mind?”
I'd been trying to get her alone for days now, ever since I decided I was going to ask her to Hogsmeade. Might be the last chance, since it was looking like the war was really going to start getting worse. But she was always with her friends, or on her way to class, or I was with Ron and Hermione. They'd run off to find a broom closet somewhere. Hermione said she had some Prefect duties to do, but Ginny was a Prefect this year, too, and she'd mentioned to me once that Hermione didn't have nearly as many duties as she'd been claiming and she had caught the two of them coming out of a closet up on the third floor once.
“Er, well... I was wondering...” I sort of sputtered to a stop, I couldn't seem to get the words to come out right.
“Harry, is everything all right?” She sounded really concerned. I hadn't totally gotten over the moodiness thing yet.
“Yeah, everything's fine. Really. I just...” At this point I had started wringing my hands, and I'm sure I was bright red. Ginny just giggled at me. I stared at her. “Hey! No fair laughing at me!” It was a measure of how much I'd grown, and we'd grown together. I could actually tease her sometimes, and laugh when she teased me.
“Why isn't it fair, Harry? You've laughed at me plenty of times.”
“Yeah, but this is important!” I was indignant. Better angry than embarrassed.
Ginny got real serious finally. “What is it Harry?” She sounded worried again. Now I've really blown it.
“I wanted to know... willyougotoHogsmeadewithme?”
“What was that?”
“I want you to come to Hogsmeade with me. Next weekend. Just us.” Ginny was speechless. Whatever it was that she was expecting, that certainly wasn't it. She just stared at me. I was crushed; I thought that all the silence meant that she was disgusted by the idea, or something. I started to turn away. “I guess that's a no, then. I'll just be going now.” I felt her hand on my shoulder forcing me to turn around again. Before I even knew what was happening, she'd pressed me up against the wall and kissed me. Now it was my turn to be speechless. I'd never imagined, after the Cho fiasco, that a kiss could be such an amazing thing. I suddenly understood the near-universal fascination with broom closets.
“I... that... that was amazing!” Not my most coherent moment, really. Ginny just giggled at me again.
“That was a yes, in case you were wondering.” We both laughed a little at that.
“I'm not sure if I heard you right, you should say it again.” And she did, and we did. I was late to Potions that day, Snape gave me detention. Best detention I ever got.
It was just after my 17th birthday that I gave her the ring. My parents had more than just the one vault they'd left for my schooling, of course. I don't know why nobody had ever mentioned it before. I do know why they'd never taken me to it, of course. Nobody but a Potter, or the highest ranked among the Goblins, could open that vault. And further, it could only be opened once I was of age. Until then, the Potter fortune, most of it anyways, was in some kind of limbo. That's one of the reasons for the school vault, actually. So that I was assured that I'd have enough money to live to open the real vault. I could've lived for a lot longer than that on it, since I'd gotten used to living on so little. My parents, and all the Potters before them, had lived in places a whole lot nicer than a cupboard under their uncle's staircase.
On my 17th birthday, Dumbledore finally told me about the family vault. Mostly because he wanted me to go open the bloody thing to prove to the Goblins that I was the rightful owner of it, so they wouldn't try to seize anything. Dumbledore never did do anything that wasn't calculated to help the cause, even up to the end.
The vault was enormous. Easily ten times the size of the vault that I had been using till now. And mostly full. Piles and piles of galleons, of course, more than I ever thought to see in one place. But I already had more money than I could ever need. I was more interested in all the rest of it. Furniture, paintings, trunks, boxes, clothing; just a bunch of ordinary stuff. My parents had been on the run for so long they knew they might have to run again at a moments notice. So they'd taken everything that they could out of the house and into this vault, so that nothing important would get lost, or left behind. The house at Godric's Hollow was pretty much empty when Voldemort burned it to the ground. And nobody really knew, because, well, he'd burned it to the ground. I could've spent weeks in that vault, just looking at everything. As it was, I could only stay for about eight hours before hunger and exhaustion forced me to return to the Burrow.
I took a few things with me though. My dad's old Cleansweep I gave to Ron. It wasn't the best broom nowadays, he already had a better one for flying. But this one had a serial number and a signature on it. It was the very first of that model that ever got produced, signed by the master broomsmith himself. As a collector's item it was worth a dozen Firebolts.
My mother had been one of the best Charms students that had gone through Hogwarts in a very long time. She'd kept working on it after she'd left Hogwarts only this time she was creating charms, not just learning them. And she'd kept her notes almost as perfectly organized as Hermione's. So it seemed only natural to let Hermione pick up where Mum had left off. Turned out to be the second best choice I made that day.
Mum had also been a sentimental packrat. I saw in that moment where I'd gotten the tendency from and it made me cherish those memories even more. I still had my first Weasley sweater, even though I'd never again be able to wear it. And my mum still had her Hogwarts letter from first year. And the ring. It wasn't even real gold. It was muggle costume jewelry, basically. Gilt metal, and a glass “emerald”. But she'd still kept it. I don't even know why she did, and I never will. But it had obviously been important to her. I decided that I'd give it to Ginny. Not as an engagement ring or anything. We were both too young, and I wanted that ring to be perfect, if and when I finally bought it. I was already thinking about it, though, and dreaming about it. It was a happy dream; such a welcome change from the nightmares I'd suffered for so long.
Ginny had loved it. She said it matched my eyes. Maybe that's why mum bought it. She also said she'd wear it all the time. She tried to put it on her index finger at first, but it was too small. Fit perfect on her ring finger, though. Right where her eventual wedding ring would go. We just sort of looked at each other for a long moment. I was uncomfortable with the whole thing, but I didn't flinch or turn away. Then she slipped it on her pinky. It was a little loose but she said it wasn't so bad it would fall off. But we both knew what we'd been thinking about.
“... he was my brother, and I will always love him.” Bill's speech had the whole room in tears. He was the eldest, he'd seen Percy growing up, known him from birth. He'd helped mum and dad watch over him when he was small. Bill always saw the best in people. He'd been the last one to curse Percy when he left, and the first one to forgive him when he came back. After the Ministry battle, after Sirius was pardoned, after Fudge was thrown out on his fat arse, he couldn't deny that he'd been wrong. He came back. He was in a right state to be honest. “Minister's Bootlicker” doesn't pay as well as you'd might think, and he hadn't had Mrs. Weasley to watch over him anymore. Ron wanted to throw him back out again, the twins wanted to hex him into next week. But none of them could do that to their mother. She wanted her family back. Her whole family. And so she got it. It was uneasy at first, but Percy had changed. Living in the gutter for a couple weeks had killed off the pompous git that he'd been and left behind a Weasley through and through. He showed us why he'd been put in Gryffindor. He'd been keeping notes on all the suspicious activity that had gone on right under the Minister's nose. The Death Eaters had gotten cocky since Fudge was an irredeemable moron. He'd gotten enough evidence to bankrupt the Malfoys and put Lucius back behind bars for life, once we caught him again. They'd stuck him in Azkaban after the Ministry battle but Voldemort broke the place open six months later. But Percy had paid his price. Somebody found out where the tip off had come from. They'd caught him outside of the wards one day, on his way to visit Penelope. They'd put him under Cruciatus. And left it there, watching him scream and writhe in pain, until the strain became so much that his heart just stopped. Then they just left him there, like so much garbage.
So here we all were, a week later, come to pay our last respects. That just sounds so hollow to say it like that. But what can you say at a time like this? I wouldn't have been able to find the words. But Bill did. He made us all think of all the good that Percy had done in his life. Of all the little hurts that he'd endured with his chin up and his back straight. Of all the times that he'd watched out for those who were smaller, weaker, and couldn't look out for themselves. We all just sat there as we remembered; and we cried. For Percy, for ourselves, and for everyone that was made to suffer by this damned war. It was then that I decided that I was going to win this fight. Even if it meant my own life. I wasn't going to be afraid anymore. I owed it to Percy and to all the Weasleys. It was my job to end this thing and by god I was going to end it. I also decided that I would have to break it off with Ginny. I couldn't bear to see her crying. I couldn't even imagine if she was crying like that over me. Better that she should hate me.
She couldn't hate me, of course. Even at my worst. She had far, far too much love in her, and far too little hatred to be able to spare any for me.
But that would wait. For today we sat together and I held her in my arms and we cried on each other, until neither of us could cry any longer.
“I can't handle it anymore, Ginny, it's all just too much.” It was a lie, of course. Or maybe a half-truth. We'd been talking about her grief over Percy's death and I figured it was now or never. She'd figure I hadn't changed subjects and I wouldn't bother to correct her.
“I know it's all too much right now, Harry. You have to give it time. It'll get better, it'll get easier.”
“That's just it, though, don't you see? It never gets any better! Never! It just keeps getting worse and worse until all we've got left is pain, and death.” Even Ginny winced a little bit to hear that, she who had put up with so many of my outbursts lately. Truth was, it was getting easier. She was right. It'd take me another few years to see that, though, I was still too blinded by the pain of trying to live, and the weight of that damned Prophecy.
“But it will, Harry. You'll see. It has to, as long as we keep trying.”
“It won't for me. You still have hope though. Get away from me now while you still have a chance.” Oops. I wasn't supposed to say that. Now she's on to me.
“That old thing again, Harry? You should know by now that that's not going to work. I'm here with you to the end, whether you like it or not. You can't push me away.”
“Bloody hell, Ginny. Can't you see by now that I'm no good? And Hermione thought I had a 'saving-people-thing'. You take the cake, let me tell you.” Ouch. That one hurt her. I didn't want it to be this way, but I'd better see it through now that I've started it.
“Harry... I... “
“No, Ginny. I won't listen to it, not this time. Maybe when this is all over I can afford the luxury of caring about people again. But I've got a job to do, and the whole world is counting on me to do it. And I can't let you get in my way anymore.”
“Get in your way? But, Harry... “
“But Harry nothing. It's over. I can't go on like this, and you deserve something better than being chained to a dead man walking.” I reach for her hand, intending to try to take the ring off of her finger. She sees right through me, and struggles to pull her hand away. My heart isn't really in it to fight against her, and we both know it.
“Oh no you don't. You gave me this ring fair and square, it's mine now. And the promise that went with it. I'm going to hold you to that promise, Harry James Potter, one of these days.” Ginny started to wind herself up for a good long diatribe, but stopped short, deflated. “But I guess that won't be today. Very well Harry, you win. I'll leave you alone. I just don't have the strength to fight with you anymore.”
“Goodbye Ginny. I did love you, once. But it has to be this way.”
“Harry, if you ever did love me, you wouldn't do this.”
I steel myself to keep my face neutral. I've had a lot of practice at it, over the years, but it takes all the control I have left to stand here impassive as I watch Ginny's face crumble with the pain of knowing that she really has lost me this time. In time, she walks away, back into the safe confines of Hogwarts. I fall to the ground where I had stood, and howl away my pain and my misery at giving up the one thing that meant anything to me anymore.
Some time later, Harry found himself seated in his tent in camp, with no conscious recollection of how he had gotten back from the grove. So many memories coming back, so many voices that had been too long silent. He brushed away the last of the tears that had been streaming down his face and looked up to see Hedwig standing calmly on his bedroll, as though waiting for him to come back to himself. She hooted softly at his glance, and hopped over closer to him. She held herself as though she had a delivery for him, as serious as could be, but Harry saw no sign of any letter or package for him to take. How long ago had she been sent, he wondered. Perhaps the letter had simply rotted away in the wind and the rain. But no, he saw no thong or clip on her leg either, nothing that could have once held a letter. As he reached out to stroke the soft feathers of her head, his hand touched something cold and hard around her neck. Curious about what this might be, since he'd never given her a collar or anything, he searched with his fingers through the feathers around her neck, finding a rather fine gold chain.
“Who gave this to you, girl?” Hedwig just hooted softly at him in response.
Harry unlatched the clasp that held the chain on her neck, and pulled it away. And was startled to find a very familiar ring hanging from the end of the chain. His heart fell as he recognized the ring he had given Ginny. His mother's ring. It seemed like forever ago that he'd given it to her. He'd tried to take it back from her once. At the time, he'd been upset that she'd refused. He wanted her to be angry at him, to forget that she'd loved him once. In hindsight, he'd been very glad. It meant that he still had a chance to come back. But now, she'd finally given up on him. Or maybe she'd given up on him long since, he had no way of knowing how long Hedwig had carried the ring around before she'd found him.
As he sat there, staring at the ring dangling from the end of the chain, it swung around to brush against his wrist. He felt a surge of... something, some energy, shooting through his arm; through his whole body. Years of combat reflexes came into play immediately, as he cast the ring to the far side of his tent and assumed a defensive stance, ready for anything. After a moment, when he was sure that nothing further was going to come out of the ring, he relaxed a bit. And then began casting a complex series of charms and detection spells to figure out what had just happened. The ring was obviously charmed, but with a spell he had never seen before. That he'd never seen it before was itself remarkable, since he'd done little but study magic for the last two years. But the signature on the spell was very familiar to him indeed. The first signature he'd ever seen when he had first studied the spell to reveal the magical signatures left behind by spellwork. Ginny's. No matter how angry she had been at him when she'd given the ring to Hedwig, he just couldn't imagine her ever wanting to hurt him. His apprehension melted away entirely, to be replaced by curiosity.
Walking to the far side of the tent to retrieve the ring from where he'd thrown it, however, his apprehension started to return. Some new prank, perhaps? The twins were capable of some truly horrendous things when they were inspired, and Ginny could be just as devious when provoked. Sometimes she could even be worse, because the twins only ever pranked in fun, Harry could hardly remember either of them ever getting angry. Except at Percy. And Malfoy. But Ginny had a truly impressive temper, and Harry had been on the wrong end of quite a few times before. And she'd had nearly two years to practice for this moment, and to nurse any grudges she might still be holding. He reached out cautiously, at first grasping only the clasp end of the chain, furthest from the ring. Steeling himself for the unexpected, he reached out with his other hand and grabbed the ring itself. And he was nearly blown off his feet with the power of the spell that took hold of him. The emotion that Ginny had poured into the ring nearly two years ago now when she left it with Hedwig remained undiminished. It was that emotion that now held Harry in thrall. Love. Ginny's love. She still loved him!
As Harry came back to himself, he wanted to shout, to cry, and to jump to the stars. His fondest wish was fulfilled. He still had a chance; she hadn't given up on him completely. At least, she hadn't given up on him at the time that she'd sent Hedwig off with the ring. But really, that could have been years ago. He hadn't seen Hedwig since he left England, she could have been carrying it around all this time, searching for him. Harry's doubts began to creep back in. He didn't think he was worthy of her; he didn't deserve her. He was still broken, and she deserved more than to spend her life trying to put him back together again. And maybe in the last couple of years she'd finally realized that, gotten herself a better man to be with.
But he had to try. The joy that he'd felt when he'd first held the ring, the complete, utter happiness, that wasn't something to be given up lightly, or easily. He knew that now, one of the lessons he'd learned the hard way on this journey of his. He wasn't going to give up without a fight, not this time.
He still had obligations here, though. He'd made a commitment to Teacher, one that he would not back down from. Ginny had been waiting for him for two years now, and he regretted every minute of it, but she would just have to wait a bit longer for him.
It was some time later that evening that Teacher came to Harry's tent. Harry had stayed inside after the episode with the ring, knowing that Teacher had dismissed him for the day, and that he would get no further lessons until tomorrow. And so he allowed himself time to remember, to get lost in the memories that he had tried to keep silent for so long. The pain of the memories was so much diminished now that he had the sense of anticipation back again. He was no longer looking at things as though he would never see any of his friends, his family again. Now that he knew he would return, come what may, he could explore his memories with equanimity, enjoying those pleasant memories that he had of the people he left behind, and allowing himself also to experience those memories that weren't so pleasant, hoping to find a sense of peace about them, some closure. His meditations were interrupted, however, when Teacher came into his tent unannounced. Harry started to ask him what had brought him, but then he saw the look on the other's face and figured that he already knew. “I suppose you've come to tell me that I've failed your tests?”
Teacher's scowling face broke into a broad grin at this. “Yes, I suppose I have. And also that you've surpassed all my expectations.” Harry just sat there, looking a bit bewildered. “You have indeed failed the test that I had originally set before you. But you've passed another much more important test today, and in doing so have achieved exactly that which I had hoped you might get a bit closer to in doing the other work. I didn't think you were yet ready for the real test, but something has happened to change that.” Teacher smiled at him again and moved to sit on the rug across from Harry. “And I was hoping you might share your story with an old man who likes happy endings.”
Harry's head was still spinning a bit from the earlier revelations, and this was coming at him a bit too fast. “I'm afraid I don't understand, Teacher. What test?”
“The point of the vision quest, Harry, is to become what you are. You go to the spirits and they test you, to see if you are ready to see yourself with open eyes. Most of us go through life with our eyes half open, refusing to look our own reflection in the eye. It was my thought that being able to reconcile with your true self would have given you the courage to attempt to reconcile with your past. I might even have been right. But now, I can see in your eyes that it's no longer needed. I felt it, earlier, when you released whatever magic it was that the owl brought to you.”
“Wait, what? You felt that? But I thought that spell was only supposed to work through touch?”
“I know not what spell you used. And I suppose I misspoke, I did not sense the magics directly. Oh, I knew that some powerful magic had been released here; the flows of energy were quite plain to see. But I knew nothing of the nature of it, only the effect that it had on you when it touched you. I'm an empath, Harry, you know that. Whatever it was that happened here today created such a powerful joy in you that even just the echo of it was enough to send me back to some of my own happiest memories. And so I wanted to thank you for that experience, and perhaps find out what it was, that I might learn to use it myself.”
At this, Harry finally understood. “It was love, Teacher. The charm itself is a fairly simple one, although nearly lost now through disuse. The real magic that happened here was that Ginny, the girl that I loved and left behind, used that charm to send to me a portion of her love for me; to give to me the feelings that she felt.”
Teacher nodded once. “A very powerful magic indeed, then. Love is perhaps the most powerful magic I know.”
“I think I understand that now. I never did, before. I was afraid of allowing myself to love, because everything I had ever loved before had been taken from me. So I never knew how strong it could be until Ginny gave me hers in this way. The force of it was overwhelming. Like a blinding light that drives away the darkness, it drove away the last of my fears.”
“Then we both know what you must do next. I release you from your oath to me. You have more important things to do now than stay here to humor an old man by learning lessons you no longer need.” Teacher rose to his feet and beckoned Harry to rise as well. And then he surprised Harry once again by capturing him in a joyous hug. He was remarkably strong given his frail appearance. “Be well, Harry. You have the secrets now, use them rightly and your happiness will know no bounds.”
Harry felt tears beginning to form and started to resist them. But then grief is only one more piece of love, and he was beginning to understand that neither should be confined. So he wept freely, without shame. “I will miss you, Teacher, and this place where I have learned so much. But I know now where I belong, and it's long past time for me to go home.”
Author's Note: It seems that every time I post anything I'm apologizing for how long it's taken me to finish. I guess my tendencies towards procrastination are even worse when there aren't any deadlines to enforce.
I had a lot of trouble with this chapter, partly because it occurred to me about halfway through it that I couldn't possibly finish this tale without figuring out at least a rough outline of the events between the end of OotP and the present day. So I had to sit down and work out a whole bunch of backstory that'll never see the light of day. Some of it I might like to write, but I want to finish this one first, just in time for new canon to come and invalidate most of my assumptions.
The next chapter is half-written. No promises on when it'll actually get finished, but I do hope to have the final chapter of this storyline written and posted before HBP comes out. Best get cracking.
Thanks again to my beta, Angelique, for taking up arms against a sea of commas, and by opposing, delete them.