A/N: Dedicated to Jo, whose fiction "Past and Presents" inspired me to write fan fiction. Thanks, Jo! Thanks are also in order to Lucyjekyll, whose amazing beta work made this story transform from a fun tryst into a serious piece of fluff. You rock, Lucy!
Chapter One – The Mysterious Present
Harry Potter slammed into the hard ground and fell against his battered school trunk. His gangly sixteen-year-old frame faltered inelegantly as he struggled to find his balance. Shaking his head to recompose himself, Harry remembered why he hated traveling by Portkey. Just as he was about to regain his balance, he was knocked to the ground again by a blur with bushy brown hair.
"Harry!" exclaimed Hermione anxiously. She had just come barreling from the Burrow's front door. "It's so good to see you again! How have you been?" Her grip tightened around him as she spoke breathlessly into his chest. She continued to hug him, and Harry had difficulty getting enough air.
"It's good to see you too, Hermione, but I can't...seem to...breathe...properly..." replied Harry, between labored breaths.
"Oh...sorry." She jumped off Harry immediately and ducked her head away to hide a blush. Just as Harry was getting up, Ron appeared and clapped him into a manly hug that once again left him breathless.
"Good to see ya, mate!" said Ron, as he slapped Harry's back enthusiastically. "We were wondering when you'd show up. Looks like Dumbledore finally realized that you needed to come to your real home, eh?"
"Reckon so. It's good to be here, Ron. I don't know if I could stand another minute at the Dursleys'." Harry momentarily reflected on his relatives with bitterness, and then he shook the thought away and gestured to his belongings. "I could use a spot of help with these."
"Right," said Ron, and he grabbed one of the trunk's handles. "Did you hear about the Cannons' new roster this year?" The conversation focused on Quidditch as they proceeded into the Burrow, Hermione taking up the rear with Hedwig's cage.
The boys were enjoying a game of Exploding Snap in the living room. Ron was just about to lay down a card when the stack burst into flames, singing his eyebrows and blackening his face. "Bloody hell..." muttered Ron under his breath. "How come you never get burnt, Harry?"
Harry chuckled silently to himself and shook his head. "I'll let you get revenge on me with a game of chess later."
Mrs. Weasley's voice carried into the living room. "Harry! Ron! Go get cleaned up for dinner."
"All right," said Ron to Harry. "But don't expect any mercy." Then to his mother he said, "We're coming, Mum."
They were almost done with dinner when Harry noticed several things out of the ordinary. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were speaking to each other in hushed but urgent tones. Unfortunately, the regular dinner banter was keeping him from hearing what they were saying. He also realized that someone had never shown up for dinner, and it was very important that he talk with that someone about one of his birthday presents. He unconsciously felt his jeans pocket to find a now familiar lump there. Ever since Pigwidgeon had delivered the present yesterday, he had been mystified about why Ginny Weasley would send him a rock for his birthday. It was nice as far as rocks go, but the smooth green stone was stunningly ordinary to his mind. Had he done something to offend her? Now she seemed to be avoiding him, as he sat at the dinner table wondering what he could do to win her friendship back.
His fifth year had allowed him opportunity to increase his friendship with many people at Hogwarts. He had become especially close with certain members of the defense club that he and Hermione had started. Ginny seemed to be a good friend, especially after what happened to Mr. Weasley and what they went through together in the Department of Mysteries. Harry thought that things were going pretty well between himself and the youngest Weasley, as Hermione had even told him that Ginny had been over her crush on him for months.
"Harry, pass the rolls, mate." Ron's voice broke through Harry's thoughts, and as he passed the rolls, he finally caught some of Mr. and Mrs. Weasley's conversation.
"...didn't want anyone to know, dear." Harry noticed Mr. Weasley glancing at the others at the table through the corner of his eye as he said this. "If what she believes is true, she could have every Death Eater in the country following her. We can't tell anyone, especially Harry. At least not yet."
"I know, Arthur, but she's my baby, and I can't help but try to protect her." Mrs. Weasley could barely keep her voice steady, but she stopped speaking abruptly as Mr. Weasley caught her hand and nodded at Harry. They must have noticed that Harry wasn't eating, because they stopped their conversation.
Whatever Ginny was hiding, Harry needed to find out, especially if she was going to get in trouble over it. What in the name of Merlin could Ginny know that would cause Voldemort's followers to go after her? No matter what it was, Harry was sure that it had something to do with him, and he was going to get to the bottom of it.
After helping clear the table, Harry and Ron started a game of chess in the living room. Harry was losing spectacularly to Ron as he tried to get his mind off the elder Weasleys' conversation. Just as Ron was about to move his knight in for the kill, the front door burst open, and a soaking wet Ginny Weasley entered the room.
"Ginny dear, is that you?" called Mrs. Weasley from the kitchen.
"Yes, Mum, I'm home." Ginny glanced at Harry and nervously removed her sopping wet cloak and shoes. As she made her way to the entryway, Mrs. Weasley reached out a hand to stop Ginny from climbing the stairs. Then she used a spell to dry her off and enveloped her in a hug.
"We were getting a bit worried, dear. I hope whatever you were after was worth being out in the rain." Mrs. Weasley's eyebrows rose in question as she looked at her daughter. Ginny avoided her gaze and started up the stairs for her room.
Turning around, Ginny said, "I'll have to sort some of it out in this book first." She held up a large, dilapidated tome in explanation and resumed tramping upstairs.
Mrs. Weasley sighed heavily as she glanced at the boys, and then marched back into the kitchen to finish the dishes.
"What was that all about, Ron?" asked Harry, fixing his gaze upon his friend across the chessboard from him.
"I'm not quite sure, myself. Ginny has been acting a bit odd for a while now. I've caught her and Mum whispering to each other a bunch, and she always goes off somewhere just before supper." Ron started to clear off the chess pieces, which were busy congratulating each other on a fine game.
"When did this start?" asked Harry, intent on getting as much information as he could from Ron.
"About two weeks ago, I think. She doesn't fancy me marking her every move, you know."
"Well, I've got something I wanted to ask her anyway, so I'll try to find out for myself." Harry got up and started for the stairs, when Ron called out to him.
"Be careful, mate. She's been a bit on edge whenever anyone has asked her anything about it."
"Don't worry, Ron. I can take care of myself," Harry called over his shoulder.
Reaching the landing where Ginny's room was, Harry paused and considered how he was going to broach the subject with her. He wanted to find out how he had offended her enough to get a rock for a birthday gift, but he also wanted to know why Voldemort would be interested in her.
Steeling his resolve, Harry knocked on the partially opened door, which opened a bit more from the force of his knuckles.
"Come in, Harry," called Ginny from her bed.
As Harry entered, he realized that he had never been in her room before. It was neatly organized, with a narrow entryway that opened into a sparsely decorated, brightly lit area. A small closet was situated on the immediate right, with a simple bed in the far right corner and a beat up chest of drawers at its foot. In between the closet and bed stood a desk with a few stacks of parchment, quills, inkbottles, and books.
Focusing his eyes on Ginny, Harry asked, "How did you know it was me?"
Smiling up at him, she said simply, "No one else but you would knock."
"Oh." He made for the chair by the desk, but Ginny caught his attention and motioned for him to sit on the bed. Flushing a little at the thought of being on her bed, Harry hesitated but sat down anyway, making sure to sit as far from her as possible.
"Look, Ginny, I need to ask you something about my birthday present," he started, but she cut him off.
"I meant to tell you, Harry, but I didn't know much about it, either."
Harry furrowed his brow in confusion and tried to get some insight into her words by looking at her expression. "Well, I was wondering what I did to offend you."
Now Ginny's brow was furrowed, and she asked, "What do you mean? I'm not mad at you."
"Oh, well, you've never given me a present before, and while I'm grateful to get anything from you, it seemed a bit odd to get a rock. I mean it's a nice rock and everything, but I just thought that I must have made you angry, or you would have given me a card or something...." Harry was rambling, but he couldn't seem to get his thoughts in order. Ginny, however, was giggling and looking at him through scrunched-up eyes.
"Oh, Harry. I'm sorry if I didn't explain anything in my letter, but like I said, I didn't know anything about it then. In fact, I only just found confirmation in this book. See for yourself." She plopped the open book in his lap and pointed at one of the entries. It had a diagram of a stone that looked exactly like the one in his pocket. The entry was entitled "Wishing Stones."
Wishing stones are extremely rare magical objects that were created by the light wizard Merlin. No one knows how they were created, but history tells us that there were only twenty-four made before his death. Of the twenty-four, twenty were used by Merlin himself in his battles with two dark wizards. Three of the four remaining stones were destroyed to keep them out of the control of Grindelwald in 1942. The last stone is rumored to be lost and was last seen in the hilt of Godric Gryffindor's sword just before Godric's death.
The wishing stones were created to allow the holder a single wish, but could only be used to complete tasks that would otherwise be performed magically. They could not be used to kill, nor could they bring back anyone who had been killed. Upon the successful completion of a wish, the stone became unusable and disappeared.
Harry read through the entry twice before he looked up at Ginny, his eyes wide with wonder. Pulling the stone from his pocket, he asked her, "Is that what this is? A wishing stone?"
Ginny stared unblinkingly into his eyes and nodded twice, a small grin forming on her lips. "I'm pretty sure now, but I didn't want anyone else to know. With owl post being watched, I didn't want to say anything before you got here."
"But Ginny...." His eyes were still wide and searching. "Where did you find it, and why did you give it to me?"
Ginny's eyes fell to her hands, which were now twisting in her lap. Harry thought he detected a twinge of pink on her ears, but her head shot back up, and she pinned him with her eyes. All pretence of shyness was now gone from her face. "Harry, I have an idea, but you need to hear me out before you say anything. I need you to understand that this stone could change the course of the war if Voldemort got his hands on it."
"All right, but don't leave anything out." Harry felt uncomfortably warm and a little bit nervous about what she was about to tell him.
Ginny took the book from Harry's hands and placed it on the desk. Moving closer to him, she kept eye contact as she explained how she found the stone.
"Well, you remember the Chamber of Secrets, of course." Harry nodded. "After you destroyed the diary...." She stopped talking at this and looked as though she couldn't breathe, but quickly recaptured her composure and continued. "I noticed that there was this stone on the floor between you and the basilisk. I guess you didn't see it, because after you helped me up, you were focused on the entrance to the Chamber. It was the only thing on the floor besides the dead basilisk, so I grabbed it and followed you out.
"I kept it hidden in my sock drawer inside an old pair of socks, but I guess I forgot about it. I only found it again a week after we got back from Hogwarts, when I was running low on socks, and there it was.
"For some reason, I knew that I had to give it to you," Ginny continued. "Since I didn't know what it was, and since the whole situation was really strange, I decided to ask Mum for help figuring it out. She told me to ask Mr. Glazier, one of the other wizards in the village who collects rocks, if he had seen it before. He said he hadn't, but he let me look in his library to see if there was anything about it there. That's where I was tonight, and this book is his." She finished by pulling her legs underneath herself on the bed.
Harry was still confused. "So you find this stone in the Chamber of Secrets. Then you dig through loads of books to find what it is. Obviously, this is the wishing stone that was in Gryffindor's sword. It must have fallen out when I was fighting the basilisk." He said this last part almost to himself. "And you still want me to have it? You realize you could have all the money you wanted, or a new house, or...or you could be smarter than Hermione!" He grinned wickedly as he said this last bit.
"Harry, I don't want any of those things. Besides, I said I have an idea for what to do with the stone. Voldemort would kill to get a hold of this." She took the stone from Harry's hands and held it up between them. "We have to use it before he can. I think you should use it for something you really want. Something you've wanted your entire life."
"Wha—what's that?" Harry's face became ashen as he thought back to the Mirror of Erised. Seeing his parents was the thing he most wanted then. But what about now?
"Don't you want to see your parents and get to know them?" Ginny asked incredulously. "I know that you would really like to have Sirius or your parents back, but we can't have that. I thought that since we needed to use the stone to keep it out of Voldemort's hands, and since we can't use it to kill him outright, we might as well get something else from it, something almost as good as having your father and mother. It's your birthday present, Harry. I gave it to you, and you need to decide what to do with it." Ginny's eyes were shining with unshed tears as she finished quietly.
Harry was dumbstruck. How could she just give this to him? When he came into her room, he was trying to figure out what he had done to make her upset with him. Now he was wondering how she could sacrifice so much for him. How did Ginny know him so well? He knew hardly anything about her, but he knew that what he wanted most was to see his parents. Now he also wanted to somehow share this with Ginny.
With a serious and thoughtful expression, he asked, "What would you wish for, Gin?"
She considered him for a moment and then seemed to have an internal debate about something. At length, she let out her breath and said without wavering, "I want you to be happy."
For only the second time in his life, Harry felt like someone truly cared about his happiness. Not since Mrs. Weasley held him after the third task in fourth year had he felt this loved. He just couldn't get past feeling wholly inadequate and undeserving of such attention. But if Ginny wanted him to be happy, he had an idea of how it could happen. "All right. I'm going to see my parents, but I want you to come with me."
"Me?" she said, but it wasn't surprise displayed on her face. Instead, she looked happy. "Really? You mean it?"
"Of course. There isn't a proper way for me to repay you for giving me this, but I reckon I have to start somewhere." Harry got off the bed and began to turn for the door, when he stopped.
"We better get to sleep. Let's try it tomorrow, after we've worked out what exactly we're going to wish for." He turned back to face her, bent down impulsively, and kissed her on the cheek.
"Thanks, Gin. This is the best birthday present I've ever had." With that, he left a very shocked but happy Ginny Weasley to her thoughts and went upstairs to Ron's room.