I tried to kill the pain, But only brought more… So much more. Do you remember me? Lost for so long. My God, my tourniquet, Return to me salvation.
Morning's dawn found Harry and Ginny sleeping peacefully, wrapped in each other's arms. The first signs of daybreak broke through the window and fell on the pair, causing them to stir at about the same time.
Harry opened one bleary eye and immediately had to shield his face from the bright rays. As he did, Ginny groaned and he realised with a shock what had happened. He thought maybe he had been dreaming, but there she was – she was really here. He could feel her warm body next to him, half wrapped in covers and half wrapped around him, soft and inviting.
He smiled happily, his heart swelling with emotion, and with a start he understood what had changed – for the first time in over a year he felt wonderfully happy. What's more, he had never had a better night's sleep; he could not recall waking up feeling so peaceful and content in all his nineteen years.
Everything was brilliantly perfect except for one thing… he really needed to use the loo rather badly.
Unfortunately, he didn't have one in his room and the nearest one was down the hallway right past Ron's room and across from Hermione's. Even though his two best friends were engaged to be married, Hermione still insisted on separate bedrooms. Harry knew perfectly well that Ron ended up in her room most every night, but he still had his own space to occupy whenever they were rowing. Ron usually ended up sleeping in his own room at least once a week and lately, since they had been arguing about Hermione's upcoming trip, he had slept there more often.
Harry pulled himself out of Ginny's embrace reluctantly. As he moved her slender arm, he smiled to see her wearing the bracelet he had bought. The sight of her wearing it and nothing else was enough to wake the desire that was lingering just below the surface. A feeling of bliss raced through him, making him feel slightly giddy and lighter than air. He wondered briefly if one could get pissed on love.
He considered Apparating into the bathroom but decided against it. If Hermione or Ron was already there, it could cause a very awkward situation. Not that it wouldn't get awkward anyway soon enough….
Ginny opened her eyes sleepily and smiled as he threw on some clothes. She was laying face-down on her stomach, her slender back exposed, and looked extremely comfortable in his bed.
"Harry, where are you going?" she asked in a pouting, scratchy, sexy sort of voice that had him cursing his bladder. He wanted nothing more than to climb back into bed with her and show her exactly how much he loved her at the moment.
"I'm on my way to the bathroom. Do you, er….?" he asked uncertainly.
Ginny blushed and nodded. "Actually, yes, I do. Erm, how are we going to…?" she asked hesitantly.
He hadn't thought of that; it was one thing for him to stride down the hallway, but quite another for Ginny, of course. She just couldn't waltz down the hallway sporting yesterday's rumpled clothes right in front of her brother and uptight best friend. There would be a row for certain.
"Maybe you could just, I don't know… Apparate back home?"
Ginny looked thoughtful for a moment. "That's tricky. With the wards we have in place there, I don't know if I'd make it without anyone knowing I've been gone all night. I'd have to sneak into the house, and what if I got caught? How would I explain that to Mum and Dad? 'Sorry… Harry and I had a good shag last night and I didn't make it home for supper. I'll call next time we decide to have a go at each other, though,'" she said with a sarcastic smirk on her face.
"I suppose that isn't our best choice, is it?" Harry agreed, grinning, pleased that she was already assuming there would be a next time. "On the other hand, I don't fancy walking past Ron and Hermione and having to explain things to them either. Any other ideas?"
"Now that you mention it…." her eyes gleamed, "do you have your Invisibility Cloak in here handy?"
"Yes!" Harry exclaimed. "You're brilliant!" He dug around in his old Hogwarts trunk and came up with it. "I haven't had to use it in quite a while. Not much call for sneaking around these days."
Laughing, Ginny sat up and drew the sheet around her modestly. "Stick with me, Potter, and we'll be doing plenty of sneaking, if that's what tickles your fancy."
Bending down on one knee he smoothed her wild hair and touched her face tenderly. "You're what I fancy, and I don't give a rat's arse who knows it," he said.
She looked at him with wide, surprised eyes. "Harry…" she choked out breathlessly. "Y-you don't have to say that just because we…."
"I'm not." He studied her unblinkingly, trying to read the emotions on her beautiful, bedraggled face. "Last night meant more to me than you can ever know."
"Really." He pulled her to her feet – sheet and all – and swept her into a tight embrace, practically lifting her off her feet.
"I feel like a different person, thanks to you. Last night you made me feel things I never thought I'd feel again. You gave me hope, Ginny." He kissed her lightly on the lips. "Thank you for not giving up on me."
Ginny smiled warmly, leaning into him. "I'll never give up on you Harry. Ever." She arched her eyebrow. "But right now we both need to use the loo, so why don't we table this discussion till later?"
He chuckled as she turned and threw on last night's clothes, and then donned the Invisibility Cloak. When she was securely invisible, Harry picked up his wand and flicked it at the door, releasing the spells he had placed on it the night before. Quietly sliding it open, he checked the hallway; finding it clear and Ron's door closed, he silently padded down the corridor, grateful he couldn't hear Ginny following closely behind him.
He thought he was home free until he reached the bathroom door and found it occupied. He was just beginning to turn around and find that flowerpot when the door swung open and Ron stepped out, bare-chested, his hair still wet from the shower.
Both boys gave a startled yelp. "Oi, Harry!" Ron exclaimed irritably. "What in the bloody hell are you doing?"
"W-what'd ya mean?" he answered, trying to control his terrified, beating heart.
"You scared the bejeezes out' a me," he said, shaking his head. "I wasn't expecting you to be up already. Thought I'd have to wake your arse up, actually. Hurry up or we'll be late for class."
He cursed. "Damn! I forgot all about class today. What time is it?"
"No worries, mate," Ron said, giving him a funny look and checking his watch. "You still have twenty minutes before we have to leave. Plenty of time!"
Harry shoved passed Ron, who shook his head and stepped aside, but he didn't close the door until he felt the swish of invisible fabric around his ankles and Ginny's soft whisper near his ear affirming that she was in.
Now in a rush, he quickly relieved himself as Ginny disentangled from the Invisibility Cloak. Turning on the shower with a flick of his wand, he barely waited for it to heat up before he jumped in after stripping off his jeans, flinging them across the room in his haste. He was just lathering up when Ginny startled him by slipping in behind him, but smiled broadly when she slid her hands around his chest and helped him wash. It felt like the most natural thing in the world, and he wasn't a bit embarrassed to be sharing a shower with a girl. He quickly decided he liked this new intimacy, this trust, between them.
"You know I'm going to be late, don't you?" he groaned. She was torturing him with her hands, but it felt so wonderful he couldn't complain.
"Yes," she said in a playful, amused voice, rubbing her hand sensuously over his chest and then a bit lower, "but I can make it worth your while…."
Harry took her hands in his and pulled them to him tightly, leaning back against her. He'd gladly skive off training today if he thought he could get away with it. Unfortunately, after last night's dismal performance, he knew his future as an Auror was on shaky ground.
He turned around and held her to him tightly, looking deeply into her eyes. "How about I take you out tonight for a proper date?" he said. "…Then we can continue this afterward."
Ginny sighed, disappointed but resigned. "I have an interview today anyway. Besides, I'm sure Mum is having kittens and ready to call out the entire Order of the Phoenix to find me." She frowned. "I wonder why Ron didn't ask a load of questions. He was here last night when I went into your room, and he obviously didn't see me leave."
Harry chortled quietly. "Ron was in such a good mood last night, I'd bet a thousand Galleons he and Hermione were too busy celebrating to notice much of anything." He became serious again, thinking of how he had almost botched the mission and got everyone on his team 'killed' in the process. "I might be free sooner than I want to be, actually. In fact, I'll be shocked if I'm still in the program by the end of the day after last night's fiasco."
Ginny kissed his cheek and massaged his shoulders gently. "Remember who you are, Harry."
"Yeah, I know… the bloody Boy-Who-Lived," he said grimacing bitterly. "That won't get me much these days though, not after the year I've had."
"No," she said firmly, forcing him to look her in the eyes. "You're the man I love, the most capable wizard I've ever met. Don't let anyone take that away from you."
Harry could see the truth of her words in her deep brown eyes and he felt the sensation again of melting into her as he gazed into her eyes. Their souls seemed to connect for one perfect moment, and his heart leapt into his throat. He couldn't answer – couldn't speak for the lump that had formed there.
Instead he pulled her close, bringing his mouth to hers and letting the soothing warm water flow over them both as they kissed deeply. The feeling of her unclothed body next to his was driving him wild with desire. She had just admitted that she loved him! He wanted nothing more than to stay here for hours, making love to Ginny under the spray of the water and showing her how much he returned her love, but a loud bang outside the bathroom caused them to jump apart in surprise.
"Get out of the blasted shower, already, Harry!" Ron shouted from outside the door. "If you're not geared up and ready to go in ten minutes, I'm leaving your arse!"
Harry groaned. "I'll be ready!" he shouted back irritably, adding a few choice expletives of his own that had Ginny giggling.
They both finished up quickly after that, foregoing the teasing foreplay in favour of speediness. After they towelled off and dressed, Harry brushed his teeth and combed his hair, performing a fast drying spell on Ginny's hair for her and watching as she brushed the tangles out and tied it up in a knot on top of her head quickly.
"I'll wait in your room until you're gone," she said as she slipped the Cloak back on around her shoulders, leaving only her head visible. "I need time to think up a good excuse for Mum in case she asks where I've been all night. What time are we meeting this evening, and how should I dress?"
Harry thought for a minute, searching his mind for a place special enough to take her. He wanted it to be memorable but fun, something they could both look back on with fondness as the place where they spent their first date, "How does seven o'clock sound to you? I'll pick you up. That'll give me time to get back, shower, change, and make some arrangements. Dress in your nicest casual Muggle outfit… but comfortable," Harry said after a split second. "Something appropriate for a night on the town, I think. Tonight, I feel like celebrating."
He opened the door and walked down the hall, feeling the thin fabric of the cloak brush up against him every once in a while as they made their way back to his room. He could smell the delicious aromas of bangers and eggs wafting in from the kitchen and he heard Ginny's stomach growl.
She giggled as she pulled the cloak off once they were safely in his room. "Good thing Ron wasn't around. I didn't realise I was so hungry until I smelled the food!"
"Me either," Harry agreed. "I suddenly feel famished!"
Ginny looked delighted. "I haven't heard you say that in such a long time, Harry."
He blushed and busied himself with getting his gear ready so that she would not see how pleased he was with her approval. As soon as he was ready, she hid behind the door. He gave her one last, deep kiss full of promise before he opened the door and met Ron in the living room by the fireplace.
Hermione was there too. She shoved a plate of food into his hands. "Eat," she ordered. "You can't go all day without eating or you'll be sick."
Harry grinned happily and wolfed down the food. He finished in minutes and then downed a big glass of pumpkin juice. "Thanks, Hermione," he said happily. "That was the best meal I've had in ages."
She gave him a curious look but smiled, looking extremely pleased. "Are you feeling better today, Harry?" she asked curiously. "You look… different."
"I feel smashing, Hermione," he answered with a wide grin. "…Like a new man." On impulse, he leaned in and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before he whooshed off after Ron in a blaze of emerald fire.
Hermione was left alone in the living room holding an empty plate of food, blinking owlishly at an empty fireplace. Her eyes narrowed, thinking.
Deliberately, she hummed to herself as she bustled around the kitchen, cleaning up the breakfast dishes and putting the remaining food on a plate. When she was done she picked up the plate and walked over to Harry's bedroom door, knocking loudly.
"Open up, Ginevra Weasley. I know you're in there."
Ginny timidly opened the door and stepped outside, dressed in last night's rumpled clothes. Hermione shoved the plate of food into her hands roughly. "Eat," she ordered in a stern, no-nonsense voice. "And then we are going to have a nice, long chat young lady. I need to know what's going on between you and Harry because if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I doubt I'd believe it."
Harry was surprised upon his arrival at the Auror Centre for Trainees (or ACT, as most people called it), to learn he was not sacked. In fact, the instructors gathered them together in the largest training room and immediately began the newest phase of instruction: Stealth and Surprise Attack.
The trainees were placed on risers to watch a simulation of a sneak attack on a group of Death Eaters holed up in a corner of the room. The vast room was lined with various obstacles which all had to be navigated carefully so as to not set off an alarm and alert the 'Death Eaters' of the coming attack.
Harry practically bounced up and down with anticipation as he and Ron took seats towards the back of the risers. He felt an overwhelming sense of excitement and anticipation, like a surge of emotions that were finally breaking free from the bonds that had held them for over a year. They were all so close to the surface he was finding it difficult to control them, and he honestly didn't want to.
He had an extremely difficult time keeping himself from laughing, but did whistle and clap enthusiastically, when Agent Tonks was called up to demonstrate the improper way to launch a surprise attack. Harry hadn't seen her in months. She had been out of the country tracking down Draco Malfoy and some renegade Death Eaters who refused to believe that Voldemort was really gone for good this time. If she were back, Harry wondered if perhaps Remus and Hagrid were back as well. They had been sent along with a group of Aurors to scope out the more unsavoury areas of Europe for Death Eater activity.
It was no surprise that Tonks proceeded to make every dunderhead mistake she could possibly make, setting the alarms off with every botched attempt. Her natural clumsiness mixed with her outlandish appearance – her hair was bright green today with severe pink spikes – made for a comical combination. Despite this, the trainees were expected to take this exercise seriously and spot as many errors as they possibly could. Laughter was not appropriate, no matter how funny Tonks made it seem. Harry couldn't help himself, though. His barely contained laughter soon attracted some attention from other trainees around him, including Ron. Most of the others were either trying to figure out what was so funny, or frowned at him disapprovingly. Ron just looked flabbergasted; Harry realised it was probably because his best friend hadn't seen him laugh in a long, long time. It must have been contagious, though, because soon Ron had joined in and it felt just like old times – just like they were back at Hogwarts.
Ron and Harry's mischief in the back of the classroom finally attracted the attention of the instructors, who did a double-take when they saw who, exactly, was making the ruckus. They had never had this particular problem before with these two. Harry had always been too sullen and distracted, while Ron was too focused on impressing the instructors, helping Potter whenever he could, and generally far too serious about the program to risk the instructors' wrath.
Auror Greenhorn, the head instructor, called a halt to the demonstration and stalked over to the two trainees who were still fighting to control their laughter. He ordered them both down front to stand at attention in front of the class; clearly, his intention was to shake some sense into them and set an example for the rest of the class, but it didn't work. For Harry, the harder he tried to hold it in, the funnier he thought it was – and the harder Ron laughed at Harry's efforts to control himself.
"Gentlemen, I fail to see the humour. We are training you to handle yourself in life and death situations. Given your dismal performance last night, Potter, I suggest you exercise some control." Greenhorn scowled at the pair, causing Harry to recall his potions class with Professor Snape and laugh even harder. Greenhorn greatly resembled Snape, except that he was much shorter and fatter, and he didn't have much hair. Come to think of it, he didn't look like Snape at all. It must be the fact that they both hated him and wanted to see him fail that caused the connection to form in his mind. Harry found that extremely funny, and he tried miserably to contain his laughter.
"I- I'm… sorry… Prof-, I mean Sir…." he sputtered. "I just… couldn't… help recalling all… the times… Tonks tripped… over her own… two feet… and Moody yelling… at her about… her clumsiness... and all the times… she tried to help Molly in the kitchen… only to have the meal… ruined… because she dropped something or… spilled it."
"Harry!" Tonks yelled from her position on the floor where she was sprawled after having tripped over her fallen wand. "I might be offended if I wasn't pleased as punch to see you looking so happy for a change." She jumped up excitedly and ran over to him. "Wait till I tell Remus! He won't believe me. I might have to come entertain the class more often if this is the reaction I'm going to get!"
She almost barrelled him over with a big bear hug that would have had them both sprawled on the floor if Ron hadn't steadied them.
"It's good to see you, Tonks!" Harry exclaimed excitedly. "How long have you been back? Are Remus and Hagrid with you? Did you catch Malfoy and Nott?" Ron was asking his own questions about Charlie and Bill, who were among the search party.
"Mr. Potter!" Greenhorn cried out indignantly. "Auror Tonks! Mr. Weasley! That is quite enough! We are in the middle of a training session. Now is not the time to catch up on such matters!"
"Aw, Joe!" Tonks said casually. "Lighten up, why don't ya? Bugger it all, but it's good to see the kid laugh. It's been far too long." She ruffled Harry's messy hair affectionately. "If Sirius could see you now, Harry, he'd be so proud. Just wait 'til I tell Remus," she said again, shaking her head in wonder. "He'll be so 'appy he'll probably howl all night! We've all been worried about you since… well, youknow."
Harry blushed and finally got himself under control. The whole class was staring at them with a mixture of curiosity, irritation, and confusion. Many were scowling, but a few were smiling. Ron was grinning from ear to ear.
"When did this happen?" she asked the two. "What changed?"
Ron stared at Harry in astonishment. "I'd like to know that, myself."
Harry just shrugged and grinned widely. He knew he must look a fool but he couldn't stop smiling. It felt so good to feel happy again. It had been so long….
"You might say I woke up this morning with a new perspective on life," he told them. "Someone showed me that there was still hope."
"Whoever she was," Tonks said, grinning broadly, "I owe her a big bottle of the finest scotch and a lifetime supply of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes."
Harry blushed harder. "Whoever said it was a she?" he mumbled. Thinking of his night with Ginny had him redder than Ron's hair, and Tonks hooting with laughter. He couldn't look either of them in the eye and became suddenly interested in a spot on the floor near his left toe.
"Not to worry, Harry-kins," she said cheekily. "I won't let anyone in the Order tease you too badly."
Mr. Greenhorn cleared his throat noisily. He seemed determined to keep the upper hand and gain control of his class once again. His voice was strongly disapproving and heavily laced with sarcasm. "Since Mr. Potter is in such a good mood today, Auror Tonks, perhaps he would like to assist us today with our little demonstration."
He shot Harry a look that clearly said he thought he was doomed. Despite his rather dumpy appearance, Instructor Greenhorn was the senior Auror in charge of training new recruits. He was deadly accurate with spells and the fastest dueller in the organization. Harry's performance thus far had been so disappointing Greenhorn had tried twice to have him dismissed from the program. The powers that be at the Ministry, however, had overridden his decision and vetoed the action. The unofficial word was Potter stayed because of his reputation as the defeater of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The publicity angle was just too great to turn down. Harry knew this made Greenhorn extremely annoyed with him because he felt that Harry's reputation was very over-rated.
In all honesty, Harry couldn't blame him – he had been performing dismally – but all that was about to change, starting today. He knew he needed to focus and resolved to treat this like his first day – and that meant getting control of himself.
Tonks' eyes lit up. "Yes, Harry," she said, clearly missing Greenhorn's menacing tone, "let's show'em how it's done. Enough of this tomfoolery. How 'bout it?"
Harry was reluctant to draw more attention to himself. "No, I-" he started, but Greenhorn cut him off.
"Perhaps I did not make myself clear," he said. "You will assist Auror Tonks in her demonstration. After the way you handled yourself during last night's mission, I'm sure it won't take long for you to breech the wards and alert every Death Eater within one hundred meters of your approach," he sneered.
A sudden determination came over Harry and he wanted nothing more than to show this git that he could do it – to prove it to himself, if nothing else. Greenhorn didn't realise something had changed. Ginny was back in his life and had somehow managed to break the spell that had been holding him prisoner for over a year. That other Harry was gone, and in its place was the old Harry – only better.
Harry and Tonks took their positions at the start of the course and waited for the go ahead to start. When they got it, they nodded at each other and quickly cast a silencing charm on themselves – a trick Mad Eye Moody had taught them two years ago. This kept their shoes from squeaking or making any sound as they moved from one obstacle to another.
The next thing that Harry did was control his breathing. He felt the familiar nervousness in the pit of his stomach, even though he knew this was just a simulation. He drew upon the feelings of calmness and peace he had the night before and felt significantly better. He knew he could do this. It was only a simulation, after all, and he had faced much worse and survived.
They moved cautiously through the course, dodging traps and using all the detection spells they knew to avoid the wards erected by the instructors. Harry had studied these extensively during his year-long Horcrux hunt. Hermione had insisted on it.
Some of the traps were pretty obvious, while others required a great deal of caution and thought. Ironically, some of the obstacles were the very same ones he had got by when he went to rescue Ron and Hermione. Yesterday, that fact might have distracted him so much he would have failed the course, but today his confidence increased with every successful outcome.
The two worked together nicely and, at times, almost seemed to be communicating telepathically. On several occasions, though, Harry barely caught Tonks before she set off an alarm.
As they approached the last obstacle, a particularly difficult combination of spells and enchantments that could have several different outcomes, Harry stopped short of the obstacle and just stared at it. He held up his hand for Tonks to stop. Something just wasn't right about it. It was too simple…
He weighed his options. Tonks looked at him expectantly, raising her shoulders in question, a sign that she had no clue what to do and it was clearly going to be up to him to decide. Several options raced through his head, but which one…? Nervously, he dragged his hand through his hair. He needed to get this right.
Then, like an epiphany, it hit him. He saw clearly what he had to do. With a flick of his wand and a well-aimed severing spell he was through; the whole intricate system of enchantments came crashing down, leaving the group of instructors posing as Death Eaters exposed.
No one had told him he would have to fight, but it should have been no surprise since the course was called "Stealth and Surprise Attack." As the "Death Eaters" rushed towards them casting spells, Harry and Tonks dove for cover. In minutes, they were engaged in an all-out combat simulation. The instructors weren't wasting time with namby-pamby spells either. They were throwing curses and jinxes around at an alarming rate, although many were ill-aimed and not particularly powerful in their haste; they hadn't expected their wards to be broken so quickly.
Harry and Tonks hid behind a wall that had been part of one of the obstacles. After a few more minutes of exchanging curses, it was clear that they would lose if something wasn't done soon. They were vastly outnumbered and at a disadvantage behind the wall. They could hold out for awhile, but soon they would tire and then it would be all too easy for the instructors to overtake them. As he traded hexes and jinxes, a plan began to form in his mind. It was risky, and he wasn't even sure it would work, but it was definitely worth a shot. Tonks' eyes widened as he explained what he was going to do, but her eyes twinkled at the same time.
As she volleyed curses back and forth to keep their opponents busy, Harry concentrated on what needed to be done. Then, in a blink of an eye, he disappeared and reappeared behind the instructors. They had no idea he was even there. Using the fact that the small group was now surrounded to his advantage, Harry suddenly threw a volley of curses that disabled two of the five. The other three, now realizing that they were surrounded, split up and began fighting the two on different fronts. Probably because he was seen as the weakest link, two of the three went after Harry hoping to disable him quickly and then move on to Tonks.
Harry cast a shield charm on himself as protection from the incoming spells. Then he began trading hexes and curses with the pair at lightening speed. Several times he disappeared and then reappeared in a different spot – one that would give him a better advantage.
Harry could never remember performing so well in a combat situation. This felt like child's play to him. He knew without a doubt that no one could touch him. Not since that night in Voldemort's lair when he had defeated him had Harry felt such power deep inside himself. It was like a wall had broken and everything that was him was spilling out. It was all his opponents could do to stay on their feet. They sent spells in return, but they just seemed to bounce off him, causing no more harm than a pesky fly.
Without meaning to, he found himself using his left hand to maintain the shield while his wand hand shot curses. He didn't stop to think that this was impossible – he had never heard of a shield charm that allowed spells to go out but not come in – but he was doing it.
It didn't take long before all three Aurors were defeated. As soon as the last "Death Eater" was downed, the crowd of trainees erupted in a loud cheer, with Ron's voice the loudest. Harry could hear his distinctive whoops and exclamations above all the others and he swelled with pride. He had done it!
Tonks high-fived him, grinning wildly. "I haven't seen spell work like that since… well, since over a year! Welcome back, Harry! Well done!"
"Thanks," he said, grinning.
Elation was an understatement – this feeling went beyond anything he had felt so far. The happiness welled up inside him and he thought he might burst from the forgotten feeling. The old sense of confidence in his defensive abilities had returned and he was starting to think he might be alright after all.
All thanks to Ginny.
Just thinking her name brought about a new tidal wave of emotions that swept him away with the force of it. Even surrounded by people and the centre of attention, he could recall her touch, her smell, her laugh; she was intoxicating. He physically ached for her.
"What's wrong, mate?" Ron asked as he pushed his way to the front of the crowd.
Harry could feel his cheeks flush and he felt slightly dizzy. The ache was growing, just thinking about her and some of the elation at performing so well was ebbing. It was like coming down from a high and crashing without warning or walking along a bridge only to have it break suddenly, sending him plunging towards the cold water below.
"Nothing," he mumbled, fighting the shadow of sadness that was beginning to worm its way back in. "It's nothing," he lied.
"Good," Ron said loudly. "Because that performance was bloody brilliant! I insist that you show me that shield charm. I've never seen anything like it! Excellent, mate!"
Suddenly Greenhorn's booming voice reverberated over the loud din of conversation, making almost everyone in the vicinity jump to attention.
His stride was purposeful and directed towards him; the look on his face stern but otherwise unreadable. Harry stiffened, expecting to get another rude comment from his critical instructor.
"Yes, sir?" he asked guardedly, aware of how loud his voice sounded in the sudden hush.
Greenhorn stopped in front of him. His plump face studied Harry closely. "That was some extremely impressive work you just did," he said begrudgingly. "What I want to know is… where has that been all along?" His voice demanded a response.
Harry hesitated, not knowing how to explain. Telling the truth would open up a whole can of flobberworms he'd rather not get into at the moment…
Instead he said, "Have you ever felt like you've been living in a nightmare for a very long time and then, suddenly, one day you find that you've woken up and everything has changed for the better, sir?" he said carefully.
Greenhorn looked confused. "Like after the war?"
"Yes, sir," Harry said quietly. "Something happened to me during that last battle with Voldemort, and I've been stuck in a nightmare of his creation every since. But last night, with the help of someone very special, I woke up."
"Well, Potter," Greenhorn said affably, "I do hope that it continues. Your performance today was nothing short of astonishing. And I must add, coming from you… quite unexpected. I hope to see that sort of effort in future." His eyes were rock steady and challenging.
"With all due respect, sir," he said evenly, looking him straight in the eye, "my effort has never been the issue. But I think things are definitely going to be changing around here."
"Damn straight!" Ron added, practically tacking Harry and messing his hair up even more than it already was. "I can't wait to tell Hermione!" he said gleefully.
Harry laughed and wrestled him off, forgetting all about the sudden darkness that had come over him earlier. It didn't matter… not when he was so happy.
Ginny's talk with Hermione was illuminating. She thanked the forces of the universe that her friend was so astute. When she never emerged from Harry's room the night before, Hermione had tried to knock but found the door sealed and a silencing charm in place. She had put two and two together and taken it upon herself to cover for Ginny. Her Mum thought she was spending the night with them to celebrate Ron's success, and Ron – who had taken a shower soon after Ginny went into Harry's room – thought she had gone home.
To Ginny's surprise, Hermione did not question her much about what had taken place last night – she was more curious about Harry's change in attitude. Ginny tried to explain while remaining as discrete as possible. But she hadn't told her friend everything. Even now, on her way to the Ministry for her interview with the head of the Auror division, she felt the melancholy roiling around in her soul.
On the one hand she was happy – as happy as she could ever remember feeling. But on the other hand, she sensed the blackness in her soul; a darkness that was not her own and did not belong to her, but was real all the same.
It was a familiar feeling. A feeling she had thought was long gone because she had buried it so far away, she had fooled herself into thinking she was cured. Only occasionally now did the nightmares come.
He's gone and he's never coming back. This was what she told herself over and over again to combat the rising panic that came whenever she thought about him. Yet, no matter what she did, the thing inside her would not be swayed. It was like a seed that had lain dormant over the long winter; she could feel it taking root in her soul, waiting to be nourished so that it could spread and grow and thrive.
Concentrating on the other part of her soul helped. Like Devil's Snare, it withered in the rays of light that filled her heart when she thought about Harry.
She could feel him even now – his touch, his smell, his skin. If she closed her eyes she knew she would see him there, staring at her with such intensity that her body would respond just from the mere thought of him. She could scarcely believe what had happened between them. She burned with want and need, and countless other feelings she could not name.
She was the luckiest girl in the world… wasn't she?
She longed to see him again, but at the same time she found herself afraid. What was wrong with her? Couldn't she just have this one thing and leave it at that? Why did Harry always have to be synonymous with hurt and pain and shame?
She stepped out of the shadows of the dark alleyway into the streaming sunlight of the London street, directly in front of the Ministry of Magic – her future. The bright afternoon sun chased away the worst of the darkness and the warm rays illuminated her heart. After a moment she felt much better. She could almost pretend that the darkness didn't exist; it was nothing more than her imagination.
Shaking it off, she walked towards her new life with confident, sure steps.
Harry. That's what she would focus on. Harry. If he could do it, then she would, too. He meant everything to her. Even if her life ended tomorrow, she would never, ever regret what they had shared last night. …Even if the darkness overtook her again, it would be worth it. She'd give her very life for him, if need be. He was her everything.
Ginny smiled to herself as she hurried along. It wouldn't do to be late; she'd never get into the Auror program that way, would she?
[A/N: Thanks for all the wonderful comments and reviews so far on this story. I really appreciate knowing that people like what I'm doing with this story so far. Please remember to leave a review and let me know what you thought of this chapter. Thanks for reading!]