Harry woke with a start, his last memory washing over him. Flashes of darkness and indistinct blurs filled his mind's eye. Jerking around, he realized he couldn't see because his glasses were gone. His voice choked as he yelled, "Ron! We've got to save Ron!" But his chest was so tight he couldn't breathe and he found he couldn't speak anymore. His throat ached like something huge was trying to get out of it. He felt himself sliding back into unconsciousness in grief. But then… a hand came to rest lightly on his arm and he heard a tentative voice say, "Harry?"
It was a voice he recognized but it was so far away. His heart beat hard against his chest. No, he thought, that's not possible. Ron's dead.
But it came again, this time a bit closer. "Harry? C'mon, Harry, wake up!"
Harry's voice failed. He tried to squeeze out, "Ron!" but nothing seemed to happen. He grasped at the hand and whispered, "Glasses." A pair of smooth hands brushed his hair up off his eyes and he felt his glasses slide into place. Did he dare open his eyes? He knew he would only be disappointed if Ron wasn't there.
He dared, and found a face he knew staring right back at him. The freckles and red hair couldn't belong to anyone else. Ron was there, sitting next to him, alive and real. It couldn't be possible, could it?
"Ron?" The head nodded back silently and seriously. Harry surprised both of them as he jumped up and pulled Ron into a bone-breaking hug. That giant thing trying to escape his throat choked off all his words. After what seemed like a very long time, Harry felt two other pairs of eyes watching him. He slowly let go of Ron and turned to look at Hermione. He fell into her gaze and saw worry, anxiety, and relief all at once. She rushed toward him, tears falling down her face and he pulled her into the same powerful hug as he had Ron, lifting her feet clear off the floor. She laughed a little and he put her back down, looking over her shoulder at Dumbledore. He looked very tired but a small gleam came into his eyes as he looked at Harry. A single nod told Harry they had done it, they had actually taken Ron back from the clutches of the Death Eaters and the bowels of the Malfoy house. They had done it.
Harry made himself turn back to Ron, expecting to see the worst. He was a little surprised but very relieved as he surveyed the damage. Ron's skin was still very pale and the large bruise on his face shown even more painfully in the warm light of Dumbledore's office, but he was smiling. Harry knew then that he was all right. Wishing he could say something to his best mate, he merely reached out his hand, shook Ron's, and said, "It's good to have you back."
Ron only choked out in return, "It's good to be back."
Harry sat back down on the sofa, running his hand through his hair and letting out a long breath. It just didn't seem possible; he swore he'd seen Ron dead. Somehow, though, it had ended up all right. Had Dumbledore done something? What about Hermione, was she okay? Was she hurt?
With what seemed like extreme effort, Harry lifted his head up and smiled weakly at all of them. He started to speak but his words failed him and his mouth just opened and closed a few times in disbelief. He watched as Dumbledore moved out from behind his large desk to join them in the room below.
He began speaking even before he had reached them. "Harry, you are probably not the only one here who is wondering what exactly happened at the Malfoy house. If you recall, Hermione was with you and Ron either felt or saw you." He paused and glanced over his spectacles at Ron.
"I…" Ron paused for a moment as he tried to figure out just what he had felt, or seen. His face screwed up into a question mark and one eyebrow raised just slightly. He was silent for several moments.
"Well, Harry was there, you see, but he wasn't… I, I knew he was there and I felt him touch me, only… I couldn't really see him, but I almost could. He was real, but…" Suddenly his face lit up. "It was like he was under his Invisibility Cloak. I could hear him and feel him. I couldn't see his face but I could feel his presence." Satisfied that he had explained it to the best of his ability, he took a deep breath and exhaled through his nose. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the soft cushions, clearly relieved.
Then he bolted upright. "Hold on, you said Hermione was there, too?" The concern was evident on his face that he hadn't noticed another person in the room. Harry tried to explain.
"Hermione was there to help me. See, this morning… Wait, do you remember this morning?"
Ron's ears flushed a little as he reached down to examine his shoes for some imaginary dirt. "Yes, you told me you were coming to get me." His voice was grateful and deadly serious. "I thought I was imagining things in my head. You know, er… voices and stuff." His voice trailed off and a small shudder ran down his back. "I don't think I could have made it without that hope, Harry. I thought I was going nutters but a little part of me thought that maybe you had been there, somehow." He glanced nervously up at Harry. "You really did talk to me this morning?"
"Yeah, mate. I did."
Ron smiled a little, and then remembered what they had been talking about, "But, Hermione…"
Dumbledore held up a hand to Harry and Hermione indicating that he would explain. In truth, Harry was grateful because even he didn't really understand it yet. Hermione just gave a weak smile and held on to Harry's arm for support, looking very tired. Ron looked at her, concerned, until Dumbledore finally spoke.
"It seems that Harry has only this morning awakened a powerful new magic within himself. Until he learns to manage it fully, it is a very physically and emotionally draining experience for him. I requested that Hermione be there to provide support for him in his search for you." He nodded his head once at Ron, then continued. "I do not believe that either of them fully appreciated what this exercise would do to them but I do know they were willing to do anything to assure your safety." He smiled widely down at Ron.
"As I explained to them this morning, the bond that has formed between you is extremely complex and deeply magical. Its extent cannot be described by words and it is impenetrable to all but the most powerful of spells – even I don't fully understand it. For some time, Harry has been learning some very advanced magic outside of this school, about which he has been barred from telling you. This morning, for the first time, he was led to use this magic to search you out. Unless I am mistaken, I believe the exertion required was extreme and led to a very long rest by the fireplace under the watchful care of Hermione." He gave Hermione an appreciative glance.
"And again this afternoon," Dumbledore gestured toward Harry, "Harry used this new strength to locate you but this time with the aide of Hermione. Her strength combined with his lasted long enough to locate you and to identify where you were being held. I, then, was able to follow Harry's thoughts, through a connection established by Hermione to his mind. Even if we had not recognized the house you were in, he would have led me directly to you anyway. It is an extremely powerful bond the three, or perhaps four of you share together." Harry thought he saw a small gleam in the Headmaster's eyes and briefly wondered what, or who, he was talking about.
Ron, however, was inspecting his hands thoughtfully. His voice was tentative when he finally spoke. "But what happened? I don't remember being rescued and Harry was so surprised when I was here, he must have thought I was dead."
Dumbledore looked gravely serious and older than ever. "Harry did in fact believe that, and it took more from him and from Hermione than I had anticipated. It appears that you were very close to death. The combined efforts of your friends, in what they were willing to give up for you emotionally and magically, may have indeed been what saved you. I could say this many times, the bond between you is very special. So special, in fact, that I have never encountered such a connection in my life. I believe that Professor Trelawney studies planetary alignments around special periods in one's life: birth, death, and many other life changing experiences. It appears that some very unusual arrangements were in place, not at your births, but on the day of your arrival at this school almost seven years ago and then a year later. Why it has only affected a few of you I do not know. This much, however, is certain: your lives are joined together by unbreakable bonds. You will discover special magic that only exists between you and cannot be performed with anyone else. I believe as you continue to grow closer together in your life's journey you will find magnificent uses for this magic, which even I cannot anticipate. You may have, in fact, demonstrated one of these uses today."
"But why am I still alive?" Ron's voice split between fascination and concern.
Dumbledore's penetrating gaze fell directly on him and he spoke in the calmest of voices. "Do you not see it? They gave themselves for you. They gave of their own magic and spirit to keep you here and alive. They gave a part of themselves to you, for you, to heal your wounds. That is something that some wizards underestimate, like those who captured you. They do not understand the bonds of love and true friendship. Ultimately it will mean their end."
Dumbledore looked quite satisfied at this thought and gazed around as if to ask if there were any more questions. Harry sat, struggling to wrap his mind around everything that had happened and all that he had heard. Ron had a quizzical look on his face, while Hermione looked as if she could fall asleep at any moment.
Suddenly, Ron's hand shot up into the air and immediately came back down after realizing he wasn't in class anymore. Looking a little sheepish, he glanced at Dumbledore.
"Yes, Ron, do you have a question?"
"Well, yeah. You said 'perhaps four of you' about sharing this bond thing. But who's the fourth?"
Dumbledore looked extremely pleased with Ron's attentiveness, and tenting his fingertips in front of him, he looked over his spectacles at them all. "I'm afraid I can't say. I'll leave it to you to discover." His smile didn't escape any of them; they were all equally perplexed and their looks toward each other showed it. Harry recovered quickly but was still lost on one thing.
"Just the one last question then, Harry? I believe you should all get some rest soon."
"Yes, sir. Only there is something I was wondering about. You see yesterday, when I, er… when Hermione and I… when we were down by the lake," Harry's face grew more and more red, "I was wondering to myself where the afternoon had gone, I mean thinking it in my head, and she answered me. She actually answered me. I mean, answered my thought. But maybe we were just thinking the same thing at the same time. I don't know, it was like… like she could hear what I was thinking. Does that make any sense?" Harry thought he saw Hermione blush a little but the next moment it was gone and he doubted his eyes in the first place. Turning back, he saw Dumbledore looking down, obviously in very deep thought.
The silence began to press in on them and still Dumbledore hadn't spoken. They all knew better than to break the silence so they sat quietly waiting for the answer they knew would come. Harry felt his eyes drop closed more than once and he struggled to fight back his exhaustion. Hermione apparently couldn't and was now resting peacefully with her head tipped just to the side against the sofa cushion and her breaths coming in smooth even sighs.
She looked so much at peace that Harry felt himself closing his eyes, only to be suddenly jolted back to reality by Dumbledore clearing his throat. Ron prodded Hermione gently awake and for a moment she looked slightly upset until she realized the forthcoming explanation would probably help her understand as well. Forcing herself to sit upright, she rubbed her eyes for a moment and then fixed them firmly on Dumbledore.
"Harry, from what you have done today, both this morning and this afternoon and from the apparently effortless connection of Hermione to your mind – which was fascinating in and of itself – I believe that your own powerful gifts, your willingness to reach out to your friends, and their bonds to you, have allowed you to communicate with them without words. I would imagine that for now this will only happen when you are most open and vulnerable, perhaps while in a very extreme emotional state, like yesterday and today.
"As you learn to understand it more, you will probably be able to control it and use it at your will; a most powerful ally in your fight against Voldemort and certainly one of the reasons you were able to find Ron so quickly. As I said before, although your bonds are not blood-related, they are just as strong as family and will allow you to use very special magic amongst yourselves. You may only be scratching the surface of the things you can accomplish. I am also certain that you will find creative ways to put your new skills to use. Just please don't get into too much trouble." He smiled covertly at them and his eyes twinkled.
"Now, I think it's best that you all get yourselves to the Burrow. The other Weasleys have been in suspense long enough. I contacted them only to say that Ron was brought back with us, but little more, and I am sure they are worried about you all. I also know you will have more questions as you explore deeper into your new magic, and as I have learned my lesson about the truth as concerns you three, please feel free to ask me anything, at any time."
Grateful for Dumbledore's direction and his part in the rescue of Ron, Harry went to him and extended his hand, his eyes shining. All he could get out was, "Thanks," before he turned and headed for the door, unsure of his ability to control his emotions just yet. Ron and Hermione followed, each pausing with Dumbledore a moment to express their gratitude in whatever way they could manage, though knowing it could never be enough.
Before Harry knew what had happened, he found himself standing in the kitchen at the Burrow, his bags in a pile on the floor and his breath being choked out of him by Mrs. Weasley, who, the moment he had stuck his head out of the fireplace, had pulled him into a violent hug and told him she could never be more grateful or proud of him. He was surprised at how good it felt to hear it, even though he always knew she included him in the family.
A whoosh of fire told him that Hermione had arrived and Mrs. Weasley busied herself with hugging and thanking her while Mr. Weasley took Harry by the shoulder and thanked him.
Finally, a third burst in the fireplace announced the arrival of Ron, who, without a chance to even take a breath, was wrapped in his family's arms. It seemed to Harry that they had materialized from nowhere. Weasleys came from every direction to form a mob and get a chance to touch Ron. Harry could have sworn there was a very large fire burning in the kitchen with the sight of so much flaming red hair.
He was distracted for a moment, hearing Hermione laugh at the twins and their unusually somber greeting of their brother. He knew deep down they really loved Ron but once in a while it was good to see it. He knew Ron would appreciate it. While he was observing them, he didn't notice one of the group break away to come stand by him. He jerked sideways as a hand touched his arm but instantly relaxed when he saw the thankful smile shining behind the tears of Ginny.
She grabbed him in a hug and cried for what seemed to Harry like several minutes. Not knowing quite what to do and unnerved by the innocent grin on Hermione's face, he held her loosely and patted her back a few times.
When she let go, she laughed a little and stepped back. "Harry, you've never been very good at that. You're not going to hurt us by hugging back, you know!"
Harry grinned shyly and muttered something that sounded like sorry. The whole family spent several minutes hugging and talking, while Harry, feeling a little tired and out of place, slipped unnoticed into the lounge and dropped onto one of the comfortable, worn sofas. He listened to the excited voices from the other room and breathed out a long breath, thinking about just how long the day had been. His whole body seemed exhausted, his arms felt like lead weights and his back was one big, dull ache.
"I hope it gets easier than this," he breathed.
"Yes, because you're such an old man!" a voice chided him.
Harry nearly jumped off the sofa at Hermione's voice and shot an exasperated look toward the doorway. "Shut it, you," he snapped at her, smiling a bit. Apparently he wasn't as alone as he thought.
"They asked me to come in here and see if you'd fallen asleep on the sofa." She laughed a little. "Actually, I'm surprised you haven't. I'm so exhausted." She flopped down at the other end of the sofa and pulled her legs up next to her.
Harry couldn't help himself, the opportunity was too good to pass up. He quickly reached over and attacked her feet, tickling them mercilessly. She jerked them back and swatted at him, laughing out loud. Harry laughed, too, and realized how good it felt, if even for a moment. It didn't happen very often anymore. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the peace. He thought about how he always felt so at-home here. The Weasleys were so kind to him. Mrs. Weasley had, over the years, seemingly accepted him as of one of her own children and bossed him around as much as any of the others, though always with a smile. Mr. Weasley found Harry fascinating and seemed to respect him. He also enjoyed quizzing Harry about Muggles and their strange ways of doing things without magic. Harry didn't mind though; he'd long ago got used to the questions.
As his mind drifted about, he thought of the letter in his pocket for Hermione. He blushed a little and opened his eyes to look at her. Her eyes were closed and her breathing smooth and peaceful. Harry was so happy that she was finally relaxed and content that he almost didn't want to wake her… almost.
He nudged her gently and said her name. She groaned, stirring sleepily and opening one eye toward him, trying to figure out who was bothering her. He held out the letter and tried to find his voice.
"Hermione? This is for you. I wrote it last night. I kind of put a lot into it. That's why I guess I slept all right last night. It helped to get it all out."
She blinked at him and took the letter. When she began to open it, he reached out quickly and touched her hand. "Not now, just… later, when you're by yourself."
She nodded and then tucked it in her pocket. Just in time as it turned out, because several Weasleys, including Ron, came bustling loudly through the door. Ron looked tired but happy and Harry couldn't help but smile when he realized that they were all back together again. He thought about Dumbledore's words, about friends and family – Harry's family, and glanced sideways at Hermione. She smiled curiously back at him.
I hope you'll all be my family, he thought.
She looked startled, and her smile widened just slightly as her mouth dropped open a little. She glanced around the room and then turned back to Harry. "Your family?" she said faintly.
This time it was Harry's turn to be startled. It felt like the heat had just gone up in the room. His blood pounded in his ears. He looked at her in disbelief and then as understanding slowly dawned on him, he nodded, not trusting his voice. They had done it again. Harry briefly wondered if he could ever really get used to it but decided he didn't care. This was wonderful, this was fantastic, this was… brilliant.
Trying not to give anything away, he reached over and grabbed Hermione's hand, making certain he was unnoticed. He gave her a small wink and she nodded back with instant understanding. Harry stilled his body and focused entirely on Ron, he felt Hermione enter his mind and he felt her strength flowing through him and beyond him. It was smooth, strong and comforting. Again he reached out with his mind and again he found Ron almost immediately. Burying all of his other thoughts deep below his conscious mind, he screwed up his strength and spoke quietly to Ron.
"You're a lot of trouble you know, first making us come and rescue you and then keeping us up until all hours of the night partying with your family. I'm beginning to wonder if you're worth it." Harry almost laughed out loud at the look on Ron's face across the room but he clenched his mouth shut and shook with silent laughter.
Then he heard Hermione's voice, "Yes, I quite agree, Harry. No respect, that's what it is. You'd think after all these years we've been friends with him, he'd at least come and sit with us. I'm quite put out." She tried to frown toward him but the corners of her mouth turned up. Soon she was shaking with laughter, too.
Ron looked completely bewildered as he stood up, walked across the room and stopped in front of them. Harry released the connection, feeling honestly a bit relieved – this magic definitely needed practice – and looked innocently up at Ron.
Clearly not knowing what to do, Ron opened and shut his mouth a few times. When he finally found his voice, it squeaked a little. "Harry? What was that? Were you… doing it again?" His eyebrows furrowed up his forehead as he looked back and forth between them.
Unable to contain himself any longer, Harry burst out laughing and Hermione quickly followed. Ron's face turned red but he smiled and sat down between them. He quickly lashed out both arms and grabbed them around the necks, pulling them into his shoulders. He practically yelled, "And these are my friends! They just saved my life an hour ago and already they're expecting payback!" The conversations in the room stopped and everyone turned to watch Ron. Harry tried to catch his breath as he slid out from under Ron's hold. Hermione only looked down at her hands, still giggling, and very red in the face.
Ron suddenly realized how close he was holding her and immediately let her fall back into her seat. She looked up at him with hair falling down across her face.
"Ron, honestly, that was funny. The look on your face…" She opened her mouth and crossed her eyes. He whacked her on the arm, smiling a little, but then turned more seriously to Harry.
"So, did you really… do it? You know, talk to me?"
Harry nodded slowly back. "Yeah, it's tough though. I had to have Hermione's help, the same way… the same way as today." Harry looked down at his hands, suddenly feeling very self-conscious. He knew everyone was staring at him but he didn't know what to say. He loved them and knew he would do anything for Ron, but the Weasleys were sometimes a little intimidating. They were loud and rambunctious, always teasing each other, and Harry was just… not.
Hermione seemed to sense his feelings and took charge of the situation, which she was always very good at doing. She moved to sit between Ron and Harry and took each of their hands in hers, much to the raised eyebrows of everyone.
"Okay," she started with a small sigh, "we'll try to answer your questions but remember we're really tired and we're still trying to work out some these things even for ourselves."
She looked tired but determined and they all sat in silence waiting for her to start. Harry couldn't help but feel strengthened by her touch but he worried a little when he noticed the dark circles under her eyes. Maybe he hadn't given her enough credit for her part in the rescue.
"This morning Harry worked out some new magic between us," she began slowly, glancing at both of them. "Dumbledore believes it's related to the planetary alignments the day we started Hogwarts – I don't know. Anyway, he says we share a very special bond that's unbreakable. He says…"
"Well, he says that we may discover strange and interesting magic between us. Like sometimes we can hear each others thoughts." Her face reddened a little. "And we can seek each other out across distances, like Harry did today. Twice today, actually." They all turned back to Harry, and Hermione gave him a little smile. He knew he was supposed to take it from there, and he took a deep breath and gathered up his strength.
"Well… this morning I… I was sitting by the window in the common room and I just felt like I should go looking for Ron. Dumbledore had told us that we weren't to actually go out and search for him, so I thought about, er, some things I'd learned, and it seemed so clear all of the sudden. The magic was exhausting but I managed to find him. I… I told him we were coming to get him but that was as far as I could get. I guess this kind of magic is just… hard."
Ron looked hard at Harry, the tears brimming in his eyes again. When he spoke though, it was with a firm voice. "Harry did it. I felt him by me and I heard his voice. I was in pretty bad shape by then but it gave me something to hold on to…" His voice trailed off and Hermione put both her hands on his. He sniffed a little and leaned his head against hers.
Harry picked it up again, trying not to be too distracted by them. "It was tough. I heard that I took a two hour nap by the window after that. But Dumbledore seemed to understand it better than I did. I don't know how; I guess he figured that Hermione would be able to help me do it all over again this afternoon. We went to his office and he explained what we were going to do. He showed us a charm for joining our minds together."
They were clearly bewildered, so Harry tried to explain. "It's a branch of magic called Mens Mentis Expositus. One person opens their mind to another, so that person can come into it and feel their emotions and see what they're seeing. Hermione used it on me and Dumbledore used it on her so it'd be easier on me. I don't know how he knew, but because of Hermione, I could do it again and it was easier. It was like our combined strength was more than the sum of our individual strengths."
He paused a moment to marvel at the depth of the thought, then shook himself back to reality. "It was still tiring but together we managed to find Ron, and… where they were keeping him."
Harry looked down and bit his lip, wishing he hadn't said it. Ron looked white, Hermione looked sick, and the rest were twisted somewhere between rage and curiosity. He knew they were going to ask.
When it was Ginny who finally spoke up, Harry found he didn't mind so much her asking the question. But the answer still made his insides churn.
"He was at the Malfoys'," he said quietly, not lifting his gaze to them.
The room erupted in shouts and oaths. Harry, Hermione and Ron sat huddled together on the sofa, holding each other with all their might. It felt as if at any moment one of them might be stolen away again. The Weasleys suddenly seemed like a small army preparing for battle.
The only one who didn't join in the fray was Ginny. She quietly stole from her seat across the room, to the sofa, nudging her way in to squeeze Ron so tightly he couldn't breathe.
Finally, after several minutes, Mr. Weasley stood up and patiently requested silence. Quieting their voices, but with anger still seething through them, they simmered down. Eventually, there was only a quiet sniffing from Ginny, who still had not released Ron. Once again everyone turned to Ron, their expressions unclear, mixed between anger and guilt.
Mr. Weasley spoke again. "I think, given what these three have been through, we ought to let them get some rest. I think that anger is not what they need right now and we're not helping anyone by yelling about it." Harry looked gratefully at him, his own face deep with tired lines. He stood and with Hermione on Ron's other side, they lifted him off the sofa and helped him awkwardly upstairs.
When they got to Ron's room, they deposited him on his bed and Harry pulled his shoes off, making a foul face as he did so.
"Ron, don't you ever wash your feet?" Harry laughed briefly and felt his back relax just a little – laughing always seemed to help him. Hermione smiled a little and headed for the door. Harry looked at her for a moment, watching her hair fall down around her shoulders, then went silently after her. When he reached the hallway, she turned, apparently expecting him behind her. She looked at him questioningly for a moment before burying her face in his shoulder, a place she was apparently becoming comfortable with. She cried hard, but quietly, and her tears only lasted a few moments, having exhausted themselves from earlier.
Harry gripped her tightly and reminded her to read the letter. She nodded her head and turned toward Ginny's room, only stopping to give him one last tired look before closing the door.
Hermione rested her head against the back of Ginny's closed door and shut her eyes, the day's events pressing in on her until she thought she would collapse. The cool wood was soothing against her forehead and it gave her enough strength to turn towards her bed, made up on the floor beside Ginny's.
She jumped a little when she noticed Ginny watching her from her own bed, already dressed in her pajamas with her hair plaited loosely down the back of her neck.
Ginny looked as tired as any of them. Her mouth hung open slightly as if she were searching for words but couldn't remember what she was going to say. She finally spoke and her voice was quiet and ragged, "Hermione, I'm so sorry. I wish I could've helped. It must've been really hard for you and Harry, by yourselves." Hermione tried not to look too closely at her, not wanting to betray that she could tell what Ginny was really thinking. She pulled back the covers of her bed and made to sit down but found she couldn't. Instead, she stood back up with a sigh, and sat down on Ginny's bed.
"How are you doing?"
Ginny was tired but her cheeks flushed a little anyway. "Well, I can't believe I'm thinking about him right now, when my brother was just… at the Malfoys'." The word was bitter in her mouth and she looked sick again. Hermione touched her hand.
"Ginny, it's okay. And honestly, I think Harry would have been too distracted by you to do much good anyway, so it's a good thing you weren't there." Ginny smiled appreciatively at her and closed her eyes. She really was tired.
"Maybe I'll just go to sleep and try not to think about it at all."
"Okay, but do you mind if I keep the light on for a few minutes? I've a letter to read." Hermione could feel herself getting warm and looked away. She sat down on her bed, pulling the letter from her pocket, and realized she hadn't changed yet. She dropped the letter on her pillow and quickly changed into her pajamas.
A forlorn voice spoke from the bed as she laid down again.
"Who's it from?"
"Um… it's from Harry."
Hermione could almost feel the jealousy radiating from the bed but all Ginny said was, "Oh. Well, that's nice."
Hermione felt a stab of pain for her friend but didn't quite know what to say. She opened the letter as quietly as she could, knowing Ginny was only pretending to be asleep. It was quite long, which amazed her coming from Harry, and she fought back her tears one more time.
Without knowing what tomorrow will bring, there are some things that need to be said today, about us, because I'm having some feelings for you that I've never had before. I had a great day with you today, exceptionally so given the circumstances really. You're such a special person to me, so much more than a friend. To be honest with you, I didn't really know what that meant until today. We've known each other for so long and been through so much together. We know each other so well; we can sit in the same room together and not say a word for hours but still understand each other. It's quite amazing. I've never had that with anyone before.
I think I've felt more different emotions today than I have ever felt in a day, or even a week, maybe ever. It was confusing, made more so by the fact that Ron wasn't here with us to share it.
There are so many things to say. Embarrassing? Some, maybe. I hope you don't mind. This is so hard to write but I want to be completely honest with you. I felt things today that were different, not uncomfortable, but nice in a way. Okay, here it goes, when we were lying by the lake under the trees, all I could think about was you. You're really beautiful you know and any bloke would be out of his mind not to think of you anytime you're within 10 yards - the curse of being a man, I guess. There was something so peaceful and warm about your presence. I'm not going to deny that spending the whole day with you, and talking so much, and even, well… holding your hand was wonderful. You are a strong person and the tears I saw today tore at my heart, because I would do anything to stop them. That's right, anything. Actually, I've known that since we first met but I don't think I've ever told you before. You deserve it. I'll always be there for you.
So what do you think about the connection we had today? I swear you heard what I was thinking, because I know I didn't say it out loud. Maybe it's one of the gifts of our friendship. I've been thinking about it and that's what I've decided it must be. Just like how I can feel it when you enter the room, did you know that? Have you ever wondered why you can't sneak up on me? There it is.
So by now you're probably wondering why, if I feel the way I've said I do, we aren't snogging in the common room right now. Well, it's deeper and more complex than that. It took me a long time staring at the ceiling over my bed to figure that out. I have something to say to you, that I've never said before today.
I love you.
Wow, I actually wrote that. Really though, it's how I feel. But it's like nothing I've ever felt before. You are my sister and best friend all wrapped up in one. Any boy would be honored to be your boyfriend but I want you to be something else - my family. Will you, only I hope it's not too much to ask, will you let me call you my family, my sister?
Hermione put the letter down and closed her eyes. The rush of so many different emotions threatened to shred what little control she had left from the day. Her mind raced in so many directions. Harry was just down the corridor. Ron was here, with them. Ginny was not asleep. The Malfoys had held Ron. They had all rescued him. Dumbledore had known. Harry had called her beautiful.
She only shed a single tear, even though her chest was bursting with emotion. And suddenly she knew Harry was right. As much as she enjoyed flirting with him, holding his hand, crying on his shoulder, fighting for him and with him, she knew that he was not for her. He was Harry, he really was like a brother to her and he was truly her best friend. She smiled at the thought, and then another one popped into her head. Maybe it would have been fun to kiss him just once to see what it was like. Maybe sometime just for fun….
She dried her eyes and laughed quietly at herself. So Harry wanted her as his family…. That was a good thing, a wonderful thing, a beautiful thing. He'd never said as much before but somehow she knew it was already true. Though he would never say it, she could tell that he longed for times like she spent with her parents, and Ron had with his family. Harry had always been a part of the Weasley family and Mrs. Weasley clearly loved him as her own son, but it was never said out loud. It was never acknowledged by them, only assumed. Hermione couldn't even imagine what it must have been like for him growing up without his parents, never even being allowed to hear about them or ask questions about them. Hermione had often thought about it, over the years. She always had a home to go back to, family that missed her and cared about her and parents who loved her no matter who or what she was.
Harry didn't have a family like that anymore.
Her heart went out to him again and she solemnly promised herself that no matter what happened in her life she would always be there for him. He deserved at least that much.
A little cough from the bed told her that Ginny was still awake and probably waiting to hear what Harry had written that took so long to read.
"Ginny," she whispered, "are you still awake?"
"Do you want to read it?"
"Yes!" Ginny answered a little too quickly. Then composing herself, "I mean, if you don't mind."
"No, go ahead." She passed the parchment up to Ginny's outstretched hand.
Hermione lay back and shut her eyes, still too full of emotion to think straight. A warm breeze blew through the open window and across her. She willed it to take her thoughts and pains away with it. Her mind was so full that it almost seemed blank. How nice a Pensieve would be right now, she thought. A smile played across her face and she thought of her friends. She thought of how they were all back together again. She breathed a sigh of relief and slowly began to relax.
Sleep always comes out of the blue, catching up and taking hold at the most unexpected moment. Hermione finally drifted off to her dreams and was at peace the rest of the night.
And Ginny cried herself to sleep.
When Harry woke up the next morning, the first thing he tried to figure out was why he wasn't at Hogwarts. It was a school day, he knew that much, but he still couldn't figure out why it was so quiet, why the sun was shining on him from the wrong side and why his bed didn't feel quite right. As his brain slowly engaged, he lifted his head and looked across the room at Ron, just to make certain he wasn't still dreaming. But it was true, Ron was still alive and in his bed, his tangled sheets moving almost imperceptibly with his breathing.
Harry relaxed and laid his head back on his pillow, still trying to remember what had happened yesterday. The chair, the room, Ron, the Malfoys, Dumbledore, Hermione, the Weasleys, grief, joy, exhaustion, everything came back all jumbled together. Harry tried to sort it out, tried to make some sense of it, but just couldn't. It seemed that his brain had put a block on it for the time being, and he felt… warm and comfortable.
He pulled his legs up to his chest and then straightened them back out, stretching every muscle as he went. It felt good and he felt relaxed, more relaxed than he had in a long time… like the stress of the world, of his life, had diminished just for a moment so that he could have some peace.
He wondered what Hermione was doing, whether she was still asleep, and whether Ginny was still asleep. His mind drifted a little. Ginny had really been great yesterday. She had been the only calm one when he told them that Ron was at the Malfoys'. She had cried a lot, but then again, she'd probably been the only sane one in the house for the last few days and she deserved a break; plus, he realized, she was sort of pretty when her face was red.
Ron's great, loud yawn broke his train of thought and he sat up slowly. Sleep had done well by Ron; his face wasn't quite so drawn and had most of its color back. The bruise had changed color to a light yellow, and Harry laughed a bit when he realized what Mrs. Weasley would say about it when she saw it this morning.
"You should see yourself, mate. Go find a mirror."
Ron looked sleepily back at him and blinked a few times. "That bad, eh? Well, those slimy gits didn't exactly give me a warm welcome now, did they?"
"Sorry, I wasn't trying to—"
"No, it's okay. I wasn't… I didn't mean it that way." He touched the bruise with his fingertips and flinched a little. "That's going to take some time to heal."
"Don't worry, I reckon Madam Pomfrey can fix it up in no time – she's helped me loads of times."
"Yeah, I know. Remember when Dobby's Bludger broke your arm, and Lockhart tried to fix it? She made you drink that horrible stuff to re-grow your bones." Ron laughed a little.
Harry winced, not sure which one bothered him more – Lockhart, or re-growing bones. He decided to hate them both equally, and then laughed along with Ron.
As they made their way sleepily down the stairs for breakfast, Harry briefly wondered about his exams. The events of the past several days had driven school far from his mind and he suddenly realized that in only a few days time, he would be taking the last exams of his life: his N.E.W.T.s. Feeling a bit guilty that he hadn't been studying very much, he stopped mid-way down the stairs and contemplated the next step for a moment.
"D'you realize that Hermione hasn't studied at all the last two days?"
Ron turned abruptly, the surprise clearly visible on his face. "She hasn't?"
"No, we were together all day Tuesday," Harry still got a little red thinking about that, "and yesterday we spent the whole day trying to find you. I bet she's never gone this long in her life without studying." He broke into a smile.
"Yeah," said Ron, looking concerned, "I bet she's really mad at me."
Behind them, in the shadows, two pairs of slippered feet had stepped into thecorridor. "Oh, Ron, I'm not mad at you." Hermione came running over and hugged him around the middle. "I mean, you really are more important than exams." She paused. "I would have done anything to get you back." She blushed a little and bit her lip.
Another voice came up behind Harry, speaking gently. "Yeah, and next time, let some other people help as well. You don't need to do everything by yourself, Harry." Ginny touched his arm lightly, and then spoke a little softer. "You take too much on yourself, you know." She held his gaze for a moment and then turned away with a slightly pained look, before heading downstairs with Hermione and Ron.
Harry stood there for a moment, wondering what had just happened. His heart beat fast in his chest and his breathing was uneven. The spot on his arm that she had just touched was still warm and he closed his eyes for a moment and smiled, not even sure why. But then he recollected himself, wondering why she had suddenly looked so hurt. Surely he hadn't done anything, he thought. As he met them all in the kitchen, he tried to remember the night before but was soon too occupied with sausage, eggs and rolls to think of anything.
He was surprised when Ginny sat down next to him, after her behavior only moments earlier. She offered him a piece of buttered toast, her own clamped tightly in her mouth as she set her plate down.
"Thanks." He laughed. She smiled back and set hers down on her plate.
"Sorry," she laughed, "at least I didn't give you this one – " She picked up her own, waved it at him, and then spread strawberry jam all over it.
"Can I have some of that?" he asked.
"Sure." She took his piece out of his hand and pulled her spoon back out of the jar, smothering the bread in sweet red jam. She handed it back to him.
"Thanks. How did you know I like lots?" He looked curiously at her.
Her ears started to turn pink. "I don't know. I guess I've just seen you eat it that way for so long…" She turned back to her own food, clearly embarrassed.
Harry only smiled and said "thanks" again. Maybe she wasn't really mad at him, he thought, and her pink cheeks were rather endearing.
They spent most of the day relaxing in the sun and dipping their feet in the water of the small stream running through the woods behind the Burrow. Mrs. Weasley kept them all well fed and insisted that Ron have a fourth helping of her chicken salad at lunch, which he wasn't exactly reluctant to accept. Harry couldn't remember very many times when the four of them had had so much fun together just doing nothing. They talked and laughed about school, teachers, exams, Muggles, Percy, and Mrs. Weasley, and steered clear of anything too serious.
Harry watched his friends with happiness all day, pushing far back into his head the fact that they all had to leave again the next morning to go back to school. Even Hermione seemed relaxed, and held herself to only mentioning studying for exams thirty or forty times that afternoon.
When it came time for dinner, the tables were set up as they so often were, in the garden behind the house, picnic style. Everyone gathered in high spirits and Harry found himself sitting down to eat, joined on either side by Fred and Ginny. Ginny smiled happily at him, her deep brown eyes sparkling in a way he'd never seen, or perhaps just never noticed before. The sunset danced on her hair in golden shades of red and bronze and her sweet laughter filled the air. Harry was so mesmerized that he didn't even realize he'd been staring until Fred tried to pass him a large bowl of mashed potatoes and he said, "No thanks, I've already got some salad." Harry laughed heartily along with the rest and was glad that they hadn't been paying enough attention to notice why he was so preoccupied.
Mrs. Weasley managed to whip up a fantastic assortment of dishes, even though she had spent most of her day just being with her children, telling stories and laughing with them. Harry never quite knew how she managed to make everything taste so good but he wasn't about to wonder out loud. He was perfectly content just enjoying the food and the company to worry about much else. Even though the food at Hogwarts was always delicious, Harry never lost his appreciation for good meals, remembering the times he had got little or nothing to eat while at the Dursleys'. He was even too content to realize the wonderful fact that he would never have to live there again.
After dinner, Fred and George entertained them all for some time with an assortment of new product demonstrations from their joke shop. Harry's favorite was the edible parchment (You could say your dog ate your homework and it would really be true!). They ended with a presentation to Ron of a gift of twenty Galleons worth of merchandise from their shop, as long as he promised to use it to wreak havoc on the school during their last week at Hogwarts. Ron turned red and muttered 'thanks' but the twins wouldn't let him get away with it that easily, so they wrestled him to the ground and briefly turned him into a very red-haired chicken. He was finding feathers in his clothes the rest of the night.
When it got too dark to carry on conversations down the table, they cleaned up and moved inside. Charlie and Bill hugged their mother and father and gave Ron a handshake and a chuck on the shoulder before they left to go home, while Percy exclaimed loudly that he had lots of important work to do and would see them all after their exams. Of course, no one listened to him except Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, who finally bid him goodbye in the cool night air. Fred and George stayed a little longer just to watch Ron and Harry start a game of wizard chess, then they, too, went on their way back to their flat over the joke shop.
Hermione and Ginny sat and talked and watched them play off and on, really more talking than pretending to be interested in Ron's complex strategy, which he was altogether too happy to explain whenever they would listen.
After Harry had won one game (only because Ron had let him) and Ron three, they yawned and decided to call it quits for the night. The four of them said goodnight to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley and trudged up the stairs.
When they got to the door to Ginny's room, they all paused and looked uncomfortably at the floor for a moment, then Ginny and Hermione both rushed at Ron and gave him one big hug, saying how happy they were that he was back. To Harry's amazement, Ginny then came over to him and gave him the same hug, pulling him very close and telling him quietly how proud she was of what he had done for Ron. Once again he didn't know quite what to do, so he squeezed her quickly and patted her back once or twice. She laughed out loud and walked to her door, turning just as she got to it.
"Harry, one of these days you're going to learn how to give a proper hug."
The others laughed and Ron soon disappeared up the stairs to his own room, while Hermione turned to Harry and buried her head in his shoulder. He held her tightly and whispered quiet, comforting words to her.
Suddenly she raised her head, "Harry?"
"I read your letter last night."
He paused for a moment and then in as quiet a voice as he could muster, "Well, I still can't believe I gave that to you. There was some stuff in it that… well, you read it, and I just – "
"Harry," she interrupted him, "it's okay. I understand you. I know you, remember?" She poked him in the chest with her finger. "And I feel the same way."
She stepped back and took both of his hands in hers. "Harry, you've been my family since I met you but let me say it to you right now. You're practically my best friend and I've always thought of you as a brother. I also know that Ron and Ginny feel the same way - we've talked about it before. Harry, look at me." He lifted his gaze from the floor. "We love you, and we're never going anywhere, ever," she said simply. "Okay?"
He felt his face get a little red but he knew he was okay.
"Yeah, thanks. I really needed to hear that. So… thanks."
She gave him another quick hug which he returned tightly, and then they turned toward their rooms. Harry caught a quick glimpse of what looked like Ginny watching from across her room with a strange look on her face, but then the door closed and he remembered how tired he still was. He climbed the rest of the way up to Ron's room. The bed had been made sometime during the day so he put his pajamas on quickly and slipped under the warm covers, feeling the night breeze through the window take him away to his dreams.
In the other room, Hermione was startled by the mean look on Ginny's face when she closed the door behind her.
"WHY?" Ginny screamed loudly. Hermione just opened her mouth but didn't know how to respond. She'd never seen Ginny like this before.
"Ginny, I don't –"
Ginny held up her hand to stop her. The look of hurt and pain on her face was only eclipsed by the intense anger in her eyes. She jumped down off her bed and advanced on Hermione, gesturing wildly with her arms.
"Why can't he hold me like that? Why can't he write me love letters like yours? I mean, he can hug you just fine. Is there something wrong with me? Does he hate me for some reason and love you. Damn it, Hermione! I've been in love with him since before I even started Hogwarts, and he doesn't even know me. He has to go and fall in love with you. He said it in his letter to you, and I've… and I… don't have him." Her voice was starting to shake and tears shown in her eyes where the sparkle had been only a few hours before.
"I love him but somehow it's you three that get the special magical bond, and I'm just… on the outside. I know I'll never stop loving him, even if I can't have him. I'm just having a hard time accepting that." She looked down at her feet and crossed back to the bed, wiping a tear from her face.
"Ginny, it's not –"
"Don't!" The fierce tone in Ginny's voice stopped Hermione in her tracks. "Look, maybe we can talk about this tomorrow. Right now, I just don't want to hear what you have to say."
She got in her bed and pulled the covers up to her neck, rolling towards the wall. Hermione could hear her crying softly but didn't want to provoke another outburst. She changed quietly into her pajamas and slipped silently into her bed. Her own tears poured out for her friend. Many minutes passed before she could stop crying and hours passed before she could go to sleep, trying in vain to come up with the right words to say to Ginny.
When Harry woke the next morning, there was only a faint pink tinge to the dim light coming in through the window. He yawned widely and rolled over, throwing his arm over his eyes to shield them from the light. Dumbledore had asked them to return to the school by noon, and knowing that it was still very early, he decided to sleep a little longer and enjoy this precious time without homework or classes.
It was precisely that which kept him from going back to sleep again. The sudden realization that these were the last two weeks of his life at Hogwarts unsettled his mind and made him too restless to sleep. Thoughts of his classmates, both good and bad, meandered through his mind and he wondered how many of them he would see again after they finished school. Of course, he realized, there were some he'd never want to see again.
Pushing Malfoy aside in his mind, he tried to envision where some of his friends would end up. Perhaps some would join the Ministry. Others might be like Fred and George and open their own shops. Then there would be some like Harry that would join the Order full time, devoting, and perhaps giving their lives for the battle against Dark Magic.
Whatever his friends might do, he knew he would still be with Ron and Hermione, which was a comforting thought. It saved him from something like fear, the fear of going out into the world alone. Hermione and Ron would always have their families but Harry would have no parents to wonder where he was, no brothers to punch in the arm, no sisters to protect. He thought about what Hermione had said yesterday, about how they would never leave him. He wondered, though, how that was going to work when they had families of their own? But then, perhaps Ron and Hermione would marry each other and he wouldn't have to worry about it.
He smiled into his pillow, stifling a small laugh. His two best friends had shown interest in each other a few years ago, mostly evident through their constant bickering, but it had never worked out. In the end, nothing had happened. Harry forced himself not to think about what would happen if his friends met other people and moved away. He supposed he would still see them but it wouldn't be the same. No more living together. No more doing homework until the wee hours of the morning, laughing at their teachers and worrying about what Voldemort was doing.
No, he wasn't going to think about that. Harry never thought about that, just like he never thought about what he was going to do in the future. It always stopped at Voldemort – wondering when they would finally meet for their last battle and who would come out of it alive, if either of them. By detaching from his feelings, he had nearly reconciled himself to what could happen. By never making plans for the future, he couldn't be disappointed if they didn't come to pass.
In his mind, he had envisioned the last battle many times but could never get beyond it. As a self defense mechanism, he would never allow himself. It would bring up too many questions. Would he live? Would his friends live? Would Dumbledore, Hagrid and the other teachers survive? What would he do as an adult wizard with no enemy to fight? By never imagining life after Voldemort, he could protect himself from the terror of not knowing.
Now, in Ron's bedroom at the Burrow, with the sun beginning to brighten through the window, Harry was no different than ever. He never allowed thoughts of life after Voldemort into his mind, and now was no time to start. It unnerved him how cold he could be, even to his friends sometimes, when they started talking about their futures. He had grown so used to hiding his feelings over the years, and felt protected in his ability to do so. But right now, there were too many things to occupy his mind in the present. The fact that he was about to take his N.E.W.T.s was unsettling, to say the least. He, Ron, and Hermione had studied many, many weeks for these tests, but as they were now only three days away, he suddenly felt the first pangs of nervousness.
The thump of footsteps on the stairs broke his reverie and he stretched his arms and legs out, enjoying a final moment of warmth in the bed. Grabbing his glasses off the table, he tipped himself out of bed and padded quietly to the door. Ron was still very much asleep and Harry had no desire to wake him yet. Seven years of living with him had taught him that Ron was not usually a morning person.
Closing the door silently behind him, he wound his way down the stairs and into the kitchen. Mrs. Weasley was busying herself with cooking a mountain of eggs and sausage in a large iron frying pan. With her wand and a deft flick of the wrist, the sausages all turned over and a spatula tipped itself into the pan and started stirring the eggs. Only then did she notice Harry.
"Oh, Harry my dear, have a seat – this won't be ready for a few minutes."
Harry managed a yawn and a smile and sat down at the end of the table. Mrs. Weasley went back to her cooking, humming a little to herself.
Suddenly Harry remembered something, "Mrs. Weasley, I thought I heard footsteps on the stairs. That's why I came down."
"Oh yes, Ginny's outside. She likes to have a cup of cocoa on cool mornings and watch the sun rise."
"Oh… Do you think she'd mind if I went out?" He could feel his ears getting red for no reason at all.
"Oh no, dear. I sit out there with her all the time. I think she'd like the company."
Harry poured himself some cocoa and went to the door. He could just see her red hair through the window. He took a deep breath and then stepped outside.
Ginny turned to see who had come out and smiled at Harry as he sat down on the swing beside her. He put his mug on the small table in front of them and looked out over the fields toward the rising sun. A few clouds on the horizon were lit up with silver edges as the sunlight streamed from behind them and the morning mist had not yet risen, giving the scene a very picturesque touch. He was surprised at how beautiful it was and realized how seldom he saw the sun rise.
A chill in his feet reminded him it was still early and he pulled them up onto the swing, conscious that his pajamas wouldn't keep him warm for long. He looked over at Ginny and saw that she had pulled a thick blanket around herself and held her mug in her hands to keep them warm.
She smiled a little and asked if he'd like to share the blanket.
"Sure… yeah," he stammered. She threw it over him and he caught a glimpse of deep purple silk as she re-covered herself and moved a little closer. He felt his face grow hot and sipped from his mug, determined not to let her notice.
"Did you sleep well?" she asked.
"Yeah, I did, even with Ron's snoring. Bit annoying, that."
"I know," she giggled. "He's always been like that."
They sat a few minutes in silence, broken only by the occasional sip of cocoa from a hot mug (Magically heated, to keep your coffee hot all day long!). Harry was surprised at how comfortable he was now with Ginny. Of course, they had been friends at school for many years now but the feelings and emotions of the last few days, along with the extended periods of time spent together, had brought them closer than ever. Harry wasn't surprised then when Ginny brought up the magical relationship that he seemed to share with Ron and Hermione.
He sipped slowly from his mug, his mind running over all the different paths this conversation could lead down and finding that none of them seemed to end well. He turned and looked into her deep brown eyes. They seemed to be pleading with him, but for what, he couldn't tell. He only knew that he suddenly felt a twinge of pain in his heart for her.
"Harry? I didn't mean to pry, I just… I wondered what it was like to share something like that with someone. I mean, can you do it at will, like any time? And is it really hard? The other day you had to have Hermione's help to… to find Ron. But couldn't you do it yourself? Or was there something special about having her help you?"
Harry continued to hold her gaze. It felt like his insides were changing temperatures and being quickly rearranged.
"Well…" he started, "I don't know." He breathed out a long breath and leaned back, looking out over the sunshine now flooding the fields and burning off the morning mist.
"I only found out I could do it two days ago," he continued heavily. "I've been working with the Teacher on this type of thing for a long time now but never really thought I'd be able to do it."
He saw her light up with questions about the Teacher and the things he was learning from him but she somehow managed not to ask. He smiled weakly at her.
"I don't know how this all came about. Dumbledore seems to think it's related to the planetary positions when we all came to school but he doesn't know why it affected only us." He raised his eyebrows, "He actually said there were four but he wouldn't tell us who the fourth was." He looked away, the disappointment clear in his face.
"Anyway, it is really exhausting, trying to use it. The first night here, Hermione helped me do it again. That was when Ron came over and sat with us… that was when we told everyone about what happened." He was silent for a moment.
"I don't know if there's something special about her," he continued, "or if anyone could do it. I suppose… well, there might be a way to find out. Fancy waking Ron up now?"
She appeared surprised by the mischievous grin on his face and the way he was looking at her.
"But what does he have to do with--" Then dawning comprehension spread across her face and her ears began to go pink. "You mean, you want me to help you? To see if we can reach him… together?"
He nodded, still smiling.
"Okay," she said slowly, "what do I have to do?"
"All you have to do is take my hand and hold it tight."
A deep blush spread across her face but Harry pretended he didn't notice. She reached across under the blanket and took his hand tightly in hers. Harry felt like his insides were melting when she touched him. Immediately he felt her magic moving through him. It was quite different than Hermione's. It was slow and beautiful… and powerful. Harry was surprised how powerful. He opened his eyes to look at her, taking in the way wisps of her golden-red hair blew in the breeze and brushed her cheek. Her eyes were closed and she had a very peaceful look on her face. He felt a strange desire to sit with her forever but then remembered what he was supposed to be doing and closed his eyes again.
"Harry, are you doing it?" she asked softly.
"Shhh, yes, it takes me a minute to slow myself down and find him." He relaxed and brought his mind around to Ron but then remembered something.
"Ginny, I forgot a step. You're going to have to get into my mind if you want be a part of it."
She opened her eyes and stared at him, looking concerned.
"How do I do that?"
"There's a spell. It's called Memoria Acies. You can use it to enter my mind. It works if I'm willing to let you in. It lets you feel and see everything that I do. Then, if we do this properly, you can talk to Ron, too. It really takes a lot of concentration, although Hermione managed to get it on the first try. She seems to do that a lot." Harry gazed off into space with a mildly impressed look on his face. Ginny scowled at the floor for a moment but then turned back to him with a fiercely determined look on her face.
"Right," he said, "are you ready?"
"Okay, give me a moment to clear my mind then, before you try it."
Harry let a few images of brown eyes and stunning red hair pass through his mind. He forced them beyond where she could see, feeling a little uncomfortable with them in the first place. Before long he heard the words again, a whisper of Memoria Acies, and she entered his mind.
On a conscious level, Harry knew he had to be careful where he directed his thoughts with Ginny inside. The last few days had forced him to be with her quite a lot and he had caught himself thinking about her more than he desired. He had promised himself some time ago that he would be careful about who his friends were and how he felt about them. Ron and Hermione were like his family and he knew they would do anything for him, including the worst possible sacrifice. That alone was enough to nearly drive him distracted on many an occasion. He couldn't allow anyone else to get that close to him, though Ginny was fast becoming a good friend. She seemed to care for him in ways that he had never known before and he was beginning to get too comfortable around her.
But he still couldn't let her see those thoughts. As long as he had control over his own thoughts, he could master them. If anything slipped out, it could all come crashing down – his hopes, and his fears. They would no longer belong only to him. So yet again, he pushed his thoughts and feelings deep down, where they were unreachable to anyone, even himself.
Her presence in his mind was like a warm blanket on a cool morning. It was soothing and relaxing and seemed to wrap itself around him, almost as if it were trying to protect him. He smiled a little as he took a few deep breaths and then pictured Ron's face in his mind.
Perhaps it was that Ron was so close by, or perhaps it was that Harry was more relaxed and rested than he had been before but he found getting to Ron remarkably easy this time. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat as another possibility occurred to him - that it was because of Ginny's help.
"Okay, Ginny, I've got him. Do you want the honor of waking him up?"
"With pleasure… RON!" she yelled inside Harry's head.
Keeping his concentration after seeing Ron's reaction, and through his own laughter, was very difficult. He could feel Ginny laughing to herself next to him and it took all of his self-control not to open his eyes and look at her.
In his mind, he saw Ron's eyes open quickly, looking around in fear until he recognized Ginny's voice. Ron searched the room, frantically trying to find her but then suddenly stopped. A lopsided grin appeared and he spoke out loud to the room.
"Harry? Very funny, Harry, you just wait 'til I figure out how to do that and see how you feel being woken up this early in the morning."
Harry knew he was caught and decided it best to admit his guilt.
"Yeah, okay. Now you mention it, maybe we should work on this together after school is done. But I think I just heard your mum say breakfast is ready, so see you in a minute."
Harry let go - to his great relief - and opened his eyes. His first sight was Ginny looking up into his face. The sparkle had returned to her eyes and she laughed and said thanks. Indeed, Harry had no idea how thankful she really was.
They got all the way to the door before Harry realized he was still holding her hand. He felt his neck get hot and let go quickly before reaching for the handle. Holding the door open for her, he cast one last long glance out over the fields, wondering when, and if, he would ever get to watch the sun rise with her again.