Disclaimer: All characters belong to J.K. Rowling. There is no copyright infringement intended. I am merely borrowing her world to play with for a while.
Chapter One: All Roads Lead To Rome
Taking in a breath of fresh, Roman air, Ginny had to smile. Once again, she was away from her motherland, off on another adventure for no reason beyond enjoyment. Her mum had found an ad in the Daily Prophet for a writing workshop in Berenice, Italy. It would last a month and since she figured she needed some time away, Ginny couldn’t refuse.
Walking three blocks to the Muggle bus station, Ginny took in her surroundings. She had taken a portkey to Rome. Even though Berenice was the largest magical city in the world, they refused to open a portkey station, still worried about dark wizards and witches using it to come in and attack the city.
Rome, though Muggle, was absolutely beautiful. Italian children played in a park she passed, enjoying the perfect autumn weather. Delectable aromas wafted from surrounding restaurants on warm puffs of air. Each step brought a new adjective to Ginny’s mind, defining Rome in more ways than she would have though possible before visiting it.
Though she traveled frequently and had, even in the ten years since her graduation, lived in five countries besides England, Ginny had never been to Italy. The only Muggle city in which she had spent any significant length of time was Burlington, Vermont, and she had only been there for an hour or so. Rome was quite a treat.
After boarding the magical bus that would transport her to Berenice Ginny pulled out her notebook, intending to let her muse run wild on the ride. Instead, she got caught up in the views outside the window. The bus ride took a mere twenty minutes, and the vehicle raced through the streets of Rome like the Knight Bus raced through the streets of London. Slowing down just outside Berenice (which was, Ginny learned from a brochure she’d grabbed in the portkey station, actually sixty kilometers from Rome), Ginny was finally able to take in something about the land. Muggles worked in vast vineyards, preparing to harvest the year’s crop and squish and store the grapes which would ferment into some of the world’s most famous wines. The narrow street, which Ginny would ordinarily have considered old and useless, seemed to connect the vintners with the rest of the world.
The bus came to a narrow fork in the road and made a sudden right that shook the bus wildly, startling Ginny. When she could focus again, she realized that they were no longer in the Italian country, but in a large city. Old, crooked buildings lined the sides of the cobblestone streets. Beyond the end of the main road, patches of green marked some far-off hills, and just down this narrow street was the one thing Ginny had been longing to see since she had first heard about it when she was five years old: The Floating Fountain of Unity.
She had grown to value the fountain even more during the second war with Voldemort. It stood for everything she and her friends and family were fighting for: peace, unity, and freedom. Since the war, it had held a special place in her heart because it reminded her fondly of Harry.
“Welcome to Berenice,” the bus driver said in broken English, bringing Ginny back to Earth. As the cheery driver-witch continued to welcome them in several different languages, Ginny climbed off the bus. Now she just had to find her hotel. With a quick charm, she set her trunk to follow her, and set off through the streets of Berenice, trying to catch everything going on around her.
“Draco?” Gregory Goyle queried as he peered around the door frame into his boss’s office.
“What do you want now, Goyle?” Draco Malfoy growled, throwing his quill down.
“Pettigrew said to come tell you that…that…”
“That what? Spit it out, you stuttering fool!”
“Weasley’s disappeared,” Goyle croaked, attempting to tie his fingers into a knot. Draco slammed his fist down on his desk, making the man flinch.
“What?” the blond snarled. “What do you mean she’s disappeared? Disappeared where?” Draco snapped, instantly knowing that Goyle could only mean Ginny Weasley as she was the one Weasley they had been tracking for ten years.
“Well, er, she isn’t anywhere in London—not at her house, or at her publisher’s. Nott and Zabini haven’t been able to find her anywhere. The spies at her family’s house tell us she isn’t there either,” Goyle explained quickly
“Then get on it, you great oaf! We can’t loose her now!”
“Yes, but, er…?
“How do you suggest we go about finding her?”
“I don’t care how you do it, but if you don’t find her, you’ll regret the day you were born! Now find her and do it fast!”
Goyle practically ran out from under the lintel of the office doorway.
“Wotcher, Harry,” Tonks said, almost running into the Boy-Who-Lived in the corridor.
“Afternoon, Tonks,” Harry replied, smiling at his friend.
“Good I caught you. I need to talk to you about something. Come into my office.”
Harry nodded and walked through the door. Venturing into Tonks’ office was about as scary as walking into the den of a family of bears. Papers were stacked on every inch of flat surface in the room, save the floor. That was littered with sneakscopes, dark detectors, remembralls, hair clips, and in the corner an unruly pile of confiscated wands waited to be turned over to Azkaban guards.
Harry heard the door slam shut as he sat down, careful not to step on a dormant sneakscope. Tonks was not as careful and tripped on another dark detector.
“Bloody thing,” she muttered as she regained her balance and fell into the furry seat opposite Harry.
“What’s going on? If you’re trying to con me into going on another mission, I’ve just returned and I’d like to stay still for a few minutes, thanks,” Harry said wryly.
“No, no, it’s not a mission. There’s just an Auror’s conference in Greece…or somewhere around there. All of the MLE branches needs to send someone and frankly, you’re the only one who can go. Everyone else is either working on evidence or in the middle of an ongoing stake-out.”
“What about you?” Harry asked, already regretting coming into the office.
“I’ve got to keep an eye on everything. It’s already been arranged—“
“Tonks, I just got back to England two weeks ago. I’ve barely adjusted to the time change and I’m in the middle of training someone.”
“Unless you can come up with a better reason not to go, the portkey leaves at nine tomorrow morning. Hold on a sec…” Tonks dug through a stack of parchment on the left. After a few minutes, she yanked out a brochure, being careful not to let the rest of the stack fall.
“Ah!” she continued, peering briefly at the paper. “It’s in Berenice, Italy, and it lasts about a month. Your lodging has already been confirmed, and your portkey ticket should be…” she pulled a slip of parchment from the top drawer of her desk and handed it to Harry. “There. Looks like you’re to leave at nine tomorrow. Get there an hour early if you want to catch it – which, I can assure you, you do. There’s more information in this packet. Floo me if you have any questions.”
Harry sighed and took the packet. He couldn’t refuse now. He had no way out.
“I’ll continue training your student.”
“Good luck,” Harry muttered sarcastically.
“If I can handle training you, Mr. ‘I’ve-Been-Saving-the-World-Since-I-Was-Eleven,’ I can handle anything,” Tonks shot back with a confident smile. Harry shook his head, standing up. Making his way from the office, he said goodbye and headed home.
He didn’t want to leave – he’d just returned from America two weeks ago. Gone for more than a year, he had gotten extremely homesick and wasn’t looking forward to being gone for another month. He enjoyed the peace and quiet he’d gotten these last few weeks. In America, he’d lived in Georgia. There had been a dark wizard attack on Georgian Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and he had gone to help clean up the mess. Almost all the Aurors had been killed in the attack by John A. Lewis, a wizard who was a flea compared to Voldemort, seeking revenge for his uncle’s imprisonment. Harry had trained four new Aurors and helped with a few other tasks during his stay in Georgia.
When Harry got back to his flat in Wulfric, he didn’t have time for his usual evening routine of showering, possibly eating, and reading. Tonight, he had to pack – again. After packing the necessary formal robes and Defense books and mechanisms, he went to his single bookshelf. Though he had many books, the shelf was sparsely covered. Most books littered the floors, counters and kitchen table, leaving the shelf free for the books Harry owned but couldn’t bring himself to read. The books Ginny Weasley had written.
He fingered the spine of her first work, From the Other Side. She had never mentioned it in the interview when she went on tour with the book, but he’d been there when she’d come been struck with the inspiration for this particular novel. He remembered the day well.
As Harry stepped off the stairs to the boys’ dormitories into the common room, he saw that the fire was crackling wildly, and a redhead was sitting on the sofa in front of the hearth. He knew Ron was making rounds with Hermione (Snogging, more likely, Harry thought), so the only person that could be on the couch was Ginny. Smiling mischievously, he padded silently through the room. As he grew closer, he realized that he could dance naked in front of Ginny and she probably still wouldn’t notice, she was so focused on the book she was reading. He shook his head. She must be reading War and Peace, he thought. The tome was a Muggle book that she had read four times since her fourth year. He wrapped his arms around her from behind and she jumped a little but sighed relief when she noticed it was him.
“Merlin, Harry, you scared me!” she whispered.
“I meant to,” Harry replied.
“Why do you mean to scare me?”
“I like the look on your face,” he whispered into her neck as he kissed it.
“Prat,” Ginny said, but she turned her head around to reach his lips anyway. Harry pulled away after a moment and went to sit next to her.
“It’s after one. Where do you think Ron and Hermione are?” Ginny asked, setting her favorite book on the coffee table before them.
“I don’t want to know where they are, or what they’re doing,” Harry said.
“You’ve got a point. I don’t think I want to know what they’re doing either.” Ginny smiled.
“They’d just better stay away from the secret entrances, and they’d better stay in the castle.” Ginny’s smile faded at Harry’s words.
“They will, Harry. Ron may be a little thick when it comes to women, but he’s not stupid. And Hermione would never put them in danger like that.” Ginny could tell this didn’t comfort Harry because she continued. “Harry, I’m certain they’ve stayed in the castle. You know they’d never leave the castle at night. Especially now…”
She didn’t finish but Harry knew that she meant, “Especially now that the war is just outside the gates of Hogwarts.”
And it was. Sometimes, they woke to the screams of Hogsmeade’s residents. They weren’t allowed to anything but watch. . . . Fires erupting from buildings, Dark Marks shooting into the sky, people running in every direction, young children begging to be let into Hogwarts for safety . . .
The couple was silent. Ginny nestled her head back on Harry’s shoulder and he rested his forehead on hers.
“Harry,” Ginny said finally. “Do you know what Muggle wars are like? I mean, were there any going on when you were a boy?”
Harry thought for a few moments. “Not in England. I think I remember a short war in the Middle-East between the United States and Saudi Arabia when I was about eight though. I learned about the World Wars in school too. World War II was the one they pounded into our heads. There was this thing called the Holocaust. A man named Adolph Hitler led it. It started in Germany, but it moved all over Europe. He put people, mostly Jewish people, into labor camps. They were forced to work and live in them, crammed together like sardines. Most of them died, if not from the work and starvation, then from the gas chambers.”
“That’s…that’s horrible! Why?”
“Because they were different. They weren’t the same as Hitler and his Nazi’s, his followers.”
“So, it was like it is now. There was a war because some people were different?”
Harry nodded. “Exactly. Six million Jews died in the labor camps there, and more people from all over the world died in battles.”
Ginny was quiet again. It wasn’t until ten minutes later that she spoke again. “Harry, do the Muggles notice this war, even though they don’t know about the wizarding world?”
“They notice that people are dying mysteriously, as if they were frightened to death. They see the battles in the streets sometimes, but they label them as gang fights, bar brawls. They either don’t think much of it, or get Obliviated.”
Ginny was quiet again, contemplating something. “What if…what if there was a girl…and she knew about magic somehow, but she was a Muggle…and she saw the war, but no one believed her when she said it was a war…and…”
Ginny jumped up suddenly, kissed Harry’s cheek, and ran to her dormitory.
Harry had never read the book inspired that night, though he had bought it, but from the description on the back, it followed the same premise Ginny had come up with that night. He’d never been able to read the entire thing. He’d read the first chapter several times, but after that, the pain of memories hit him. He could hear Ginny reading it; he could see her writing it. He could picture her face in his head, forehead scrunched up in concentration, and after that he could never force himself to read more.
Determined to get past the first chapter while he was in Italy, Harry carefully set the book in his trunk and closed the lid, locking it with a flick of his wand.
With Aidan asleep for at least the next two hours, and Ellie focused on the tell-i-wiz, Hermione finally had a little time to focus on researching and writing a new bill on Elfish rights for the Wizengamot to, hopefully, approve. Before she’d had children, she’d sworn that she’d never use the television to keep them in line, but then she’d found that reading to restless kids and trying to work at the same time was impossible, so she’d compromised, letting them watch educational programs while she worked instead.
It worked beautifully.
Unless her husband decided to ruin it, Flooing while she was mid-sentence.
“Afternoon, Hermione,” he said.
“Hi, Ron,” Hermione answered, not looking up from the parchment. After she finished the paragraph—Ron waiting patiently as she set down her quill—she looked up.
“I have to stay for a meeting with Puddlemere tonight. A scout last week caught the team practicing cheats, so I figured I’d better have a talk with the team.”
“Oliver’s old team?”
“Only their Seeker is left. All the others are new and haven’t realized that the Department does get involved when they cheat.”
Before her husband continued his typical speech about the cheating in Quidditch lately, Hermione said, “Oh. Well, I’m sure you’ll teach the kids a lesson. Don’t be too harsh, all right?”
“Yes, dear,” Ron said, with a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
“Don’t be home too late, please. I’ve a meeting with Amelia tomorrow; she wants to know how the bill is going. It’s at eight so you’ll have to get Ellie to school.”
“Sure thing,” Ron said. “Oh, I’d better go. Bye, love.”
His head disappeared before Hermione could even reply. Returning to her work, she saw that her book was gone and groaned; Ellie had taken it again.
She headed downstairs, but couldn’t find her daughter anywhere. This was a game Ellie liked to play with her mother. Hermione didn’t mind unless she was working, and though she’d told Ellie this several times, Ellie didn’t pay much attention to the warning.
“Ellie,” Hermione said. “Come on, bring Mummy’s book back now, please.”
No answer. Going up the rickety steps into the attic, she heard the padding of little feet across the wooden floor.
“Elizabeth, come on.”
The reply was a humming sequence of “Mm”s that clearly told Hermione the answer was no. Unable to help the smile, Hermione peeked behind the old armoire they’d inherited from her parents but never used. Ellie wasn’t there, but the disturbed dust told Hermione she had been.
“Ellie, Ellie, Ellie, where is my Ellie?” Hermione said in a sing-song voice. She flipped up the old blanket covering an old writing table, but Ellie wasn’t there either. She heard a giggle from the stairs and saw the end of her daughter’s lavender robes leaving the attic. Hermione chased her daughter through the house and into the back garden, finally catching her in the grass.
These are the days, Hermione thought. The days of chasing kids through the gardens of each others’ houses, of laughing together on the deck as the children played together in the grass. Days that she and her friends had all dreamed of at Hogwarts.
There were still so many of those dreams left unfulfilled. Ginny wasn’t married, and had no children. But that was because Harry was gone. She knew it would probably remain the same until he returned to them, and who knew when that would be. It had been ten years already.
Harry had missed so much. Hermione and Ron had put off their wedding for over a year, waiting for him to come back, but he never had, and they simply could not wait any longer to start their lives together. Ginny, it seemed, had been hiding since her graduation from Hogwarts. She hadn’t disappeared the way Harry had, but she had rushed to leave England and wasn’t as open with Hermione as she had been in school. Watching the girl who had once been her best female friend, nearly the sister she’d never had, close herself off from the people she loved put a second stake through Hermione’s heart.
“You found me, Mummy!” Ellie squealed, bringing Hermione back to the present.
“Yes, I did. I found you.”
Harry stuck the skeleton key into the keyhole of his hotel room door. Turning it, he pushed the old, oak door open and went inside. He immediately noticed the large bed, exactly opposite the door, and that it was piled high with more pillows than he had ever seen on a single bed. He closed the door behind him, and set to unpacking. He had no intention of attempting to live out of a trunk for a month, so he put his clothes in the antique wardrobe, watching as the beams of light moved and the sun disappeared behind the hills.
When Harry emerged from the shower half an hour later, he noticed that it was still early: not yet nine in England. Since he usually went to bed around eleven, he was wide awake and not at all hungry, as he had grabbed a slice of pizza on the way to the hotel. Picking up a book, he started to read. It was one of the many defense books Hermione had given him throughout their Hogwarts years, and though he’d read and enjoyed it before, he could not seem to stay interested. Instead, he grabbed the copy of Ginny’s first book he had brought, and attempted to read it again.
As they always did, images of Ginny started floating through his head, and he let them. His favorite memory of her passed his mind’s eye. It was just after the Final Battle, before they had learned the death toll.
“Harry! Harry!” Ginny yelled. Harry was still focused on the spot of clear air where his nemesis had stood only moments before. “Harry, you did it! It’s over.”
It’s over. The words rang through Harry’s head several times before they took meaning. It was over. The war, the danger, the uncertainty, it was all over.
“It’s over,” Harry repeated. He said it several more times, and each time, he found himself believing it just a little more. Ginny nodded. He pulled her into his arms and swung her around. Her hair, wet from the rain, swung around with her, tangled and messy, but he didn’t care. This was how he liked her best: real. There was no barrier, no façade. Ginny rarely hid herself, though. She was almost always natural – at least with him.
He felt her lips on his, and welcomed their presence warmly, kissing her back. It was over. He could be with Ginny without fear now. He could be free again. Then, as he was kissing Ginny, he realized that he never had been free. If the Dursleys weren’t stifling him, Voldemort was after him. Freedom was a novel experience.
The Keeper from Puddlemere United was arrogant and haughty. His jaw was set, his eyes focused on the poster of a Quidditch match across the room when Ron walked in. The boy obviously cared nothing about this meeting. Like many Quidditch players nowadays, all this boy cared about was girls, fame, and fortune.
That could’ve been me, Ron thought, his own focus dwindling as he recalled exactly why he had never been able to experience life as a Keeper. The name of his old best mate came into his mind. Harry. Harry Potter. Harry bloody Potter.
No, Ron contradicted himself silently. It wasn’t Harry’s fault, Ron. It was Bellatrix Lestrange’s fault. She’s the one who cast the Cruciatus on you.
But if only Harry had moved out of the way himself, Ron would not have had to put himself in harm’s way!
“Ron! Ron Weasley!” Ramie, an expert on cheating policies hissed from beside him.
“What?” he replied.
“Pay attention, mate!”
Ron nodded as Puddlemere’s team captain asked him a question. He answered half-heartedly, his enthusiasm from earlier having disappeared with thoughts of Harry.
Draco lounged contentedly in the parlor of his very large manor, sipping a glass of brandy and staring at the blazing fire. He wore his pajamas with his silver dressing gown, unconsciously tapping his foot in the air.
For some reason, the fire was extremely captivating tonight. Every night after checking the closing costs for his shares in the Bulgarian stock market, he would eat the meal prepared for him by his house elves, take a very hot bath, pull on his pajamas and dressing gown, and pour himself some brandy. Then he would stare at the fire, thinking about anything and everything under the sun—or, rather, moon. He would refill the brandy glass many times throughout the night, sobriety dwindling. The house elves would stay clear; Draco’s drunken rants did not make the servants happy.
But on this particular night in September, one of his comrades – a former Death Eater -- did not stay clear of him.
With a loud pop and a rush of green flame, the floo network opened, revealing Blaise Zabini.
“What do you want?” Draco snapped as his old classmate dusted the soot off his robes.
“Potter’s gone,” the thin man stated.
“What do you mean, he’s ‘gone’?” Draco demanded, instantly sober, and set his brandy tumbler on the table. The remaining liquid sloshed dangerously in the short glass, a few drops sliding down the sides onto the polished wood surface.
“We thought he was leaving for work this morning, and he did, but apparently he never showed up. That Tonks woman trained Potter’s student,” he explained, not daring to remove himself from the fireplace where small flames licked at his trousers. He was grateful Nott had thought to cast a fire-resistant charm on him before he left.
“Find out where he’s gone, you fool! Don’t just stand there!” Draco ordered, gesticulating wildly with one hand, the other on his hip, as he paced before the fireplace.
“We have Parkinson and Bulstrode on it already, but sir, if I may?”
“What is it, Zabini?”
“Both the youngest Weasley and Potter have disappeared within a day of each other.”
“Yes, I know. I’m not stupid, you know! Now, get out, before I decide that choking you to death is a good idea.”
Zabini threw some more Floo powder into the fireplace, and yelled, “Zabini Mansion!” disappearing in a flurry of green flames.
Draco smirked. The Weaslette and the Boy-Who-Lived had disappeared within a day of each other. Perhaps he wouldn’t have to wait as long for his revenge as he’d thought he would.
A/N: Again, this would not be half as good without the help of my wonderful beta, Darcy (a.k.a. DSDragon). Thanks so much!