The falling snow surrounded Ginny as she walked across one of the fields behind the Burrow. Her face stung with cold, and she was reasonably certain she'd left both her feet back in the house but she kept walking. She couldn't see very far through the thickly falling snow, but she was determined to put as much distance as she could between herself and the Burrow.
It was three days after Christmas, and she couldn't bear it any longer. They hadn't shown up. She really hadn't expected them to, but deep inside she'd been begging the Heavens or anything that would listen to bring them home for just one day.
Christmas Day had come and gone. Three piles of presents left unopened, three places at the table conspicuously empty, and three beds still neatly made.
Ginny reached the edge of the orchard and sat down on a large rock. It wasn't comfortable, but she felt too disagreeable to do anything about it. She did cast a quick Warming Charm, though. A bad mood was poor reason to risk frostbite.
She reached into her pocket and pulled out a single piece of parchment. It had been read so many times that the creases were threatening to tear, and the edges had gone soft from her fingers. It contained only one word: Remember. There was no signature, none was needed.
To anyone else the message might have seemed inadequate or vague, but Ginny knew exactly what it meant. She closed her eyes and thought back to a moment which seemed so long ago.
"Harry Potter, how dare you leave me out of this!"
"It's not open for discussion, Ginny. I don't want you getting hurt. I have to know that you're going to be safe."
"And Hogwarts is supposed to be safe?" she asked angrily. "Nowhere is safe anymore and you know it."
Harry sighed. "I know, but it's safer than being with me."
"With the three of you, you mean. You don't seem to be that worried about Ron and Hermione's safety."
"That's not fair, Ginny. They're… You're… It's…different with you."
Ginny was quiet; her anger drained away. That was as close as he'd come to talking about it. Ever since he'd arrived at the Burrow for the wedding, their conversations had deliberately steered clear of the topic they were both desperately trying to ignore.
"I know you want to come and I'd love to have you with me. But right now I can't let you. Please try to understand."
She had understood. It was unspoken, but she had known exactly what he was asking of her. She could see the pleading in his eyes.
Wait. Please, wait.
And she understood, so she waited. But understanding didn't make it any easier to watched Harry, Ron and Hermione walk away from the Burrow. Understanding didn't lessen her anxiety as months crawled by with no word from them. And understanding offered no relief from the ache of her loneliness.
She'd returned to Hogwarts, but the castle crawled with memories of her three best friends. There was hardly a nook in the castle that didn't bring one of them to mind. and The only thing that kept her from leaving and tracking them down was her memory of the look in Harry's eyes when he'd begged her to understand.
Then, one morning, she'd been startled to see Hedwig fly in with the other owls delivering mail. Fear and excitement gripped heart as she pulled the unaddressed envelope from Hedwig's leg.
Trembling, she opened the single sheet of parchment. One word: Remember. There at the Gryffindor table in the middle of the Great Hall, she'd closed her eyes and relived that moment again.
"When are you leaving?"
"Tonight, long after you've all gone to sleep."
"You're going to leave without saying good-bye?"
"It'll be easier this way on everyone." He paused. "I don't want to remember you like that."
"I don't want to remember anything painful with you. I need something good to remember; because I have a feeling I'm not going to be making any good memories for quite a while."
He reached out for her hand. "I have to remember what we're fighting for. You have to remember what we're fighting for. Can you do that for me? Remember us. Remember Ron and Hermione. Remember Quidditch and Hogsmeade. Remember all the reasons why I have to do this, why we have to be apart for now. Please, Ginny."
And she had. Whenever she had a particularly difficult day, she would sit down, close her eyes and remember what he had said. She would list all the reasons why they were gone, her strength would return, and she could make it through another day.
The wind blew harder now, and the Warming Charm had long ago dissipated. Ginny gathered her cloak tighter around her shoulders and again closed her eyes to remember. But it had been so long now, months since she'd received his only note. Her memories were blurred around the edges and the echo of their voices grew softer by the day.
Her eyes flew open. He looked horrible. His robes had been ripped and poorly mended in several places. His hair stuck out at odd angles, and his eyes looked as if they hadn't slept in a week. She had never seen a more beautiful sight in her entire life.
"I asked you to do something for me. Do you remember?"