Time was running out. Hidden under the veil of night, she had slipped through the outskirts of Godric's Hollow unseen; yet she feared she had arrived too late.
A moment later, the decrepit spire of the church rose from the fog. She exhaled, her breath visible in the night air. Her heart beat steady within her chest, her wand clenched tightly in her fist. A scrap of parchment, bewitched to reveal itself only to her, lay hidden inside her cloak: its message memorized long ago:
St. Veridian's Cloister
Midnight. Hallow's Eve.
The writing was in crimson ink: the highest form of urgency from the Order—or what remained of the Order. At merely twenty-two, she was already one of its seasoned members, having risked her life countless times. The earlier protests of her family had finally given way to necessity. No time remained for coddeling, and even less to mourn their growing losses. So she fought. She had to.
Mist rose from the bracken; mausoleums overshadowed long neglected tombstones. Branches, old and gnarled like Dementor's fingers, twisted in warning about the graveyard. The fog, creeping in from the sea, would soon shroud all. Time. She was running out of time. She gathered the cloak about her, and in silence, her feet hastened up the steps.
The church doors creaked in protest, weary from the unexpected strain. She rested her forehead against their stillness for a moment. A drop of blood slid down the wood; cringing, her fingers rose to her temple. Deatheaters had trailed her every move, finally descending upon her in a deserted field near St. Albans. She had escaped, but her body bore testament to their curses. Cackling, they had torn at her clothes, and trailed their hands upon her. They tied her to a post, intent to burn her at the stake for the witch she was, but not before they had their way with her. She let them touch her, let their bodies get close enough, close enough to see the vile mixture of hatred and lust in their eyes. What a beauty they whispered. Harry Potter's greatest love. What a filthy Muggle-loving beauty.
Hungry mouths, yellow teeth nearly upon her, she whispered the spell. Wrenching her neck free, she spat in their faces; they staggered backwards, and screamed out in pain, their pale skin shriveling away, till nothing remained but dust.
Casting her eyes to the graveyard one last time, she swept over the threshold; the doors rumbled behind her; the hisses of countless spells sealed them shut. Blackness. Her heart froze for a moment; her breathing shallowed. Blinking hard, she clutched her wand; she could see nothing. The musty smell of prayer books pressed in on her; she staggered forward as though blind; her fingers trailed along cool marble till they found another door. Light. She saw light. Sanctuary. Her long held breath left her.
The nave of the church was still, save a solitary collection of votive candles that flickered by the altar. They cast their prayers to heaven as the flames lurched upward in the gust of wind from the opened door. With a thud, thud, the doors fell shut; the candles trembled; their shadows wavered and returned to steadiness.
Her hand gripped the end of each pew as she staggered toward the chancel; stained glass windowed saints eyed her with distrust; the smell of incense hung pungent in the air. Collapsing into a pew, her legs abandoned her, and she fell back. Shivering, she pulled her cloak about her shoulders, and tried to remember the last time she had eaten, or drank, or slept. The grain of the wood, worn down from the bodies of the faithful, found her head. From far off, bells, deep and melancholy, tolled the hour. Her breathing slowed as she counted, matching the count to her breaths, the deep knell soothing her. Twelve. Midnight. Sleep, warm and untrustworthy, curled beside her.
She had made it.
A hand awakened her. It's owner, an elderly monk clothed in a cassock and a look of concern whispered to her, "He's here. He's waiting for you." She blinked her eyes; her body ached in protest as his aged hand found hers, "Come . . . come . . . you do not have much time."
Her hood fell from her face. The old man's eyes wavered. They told her what his words could not. She had no need to look at herself anymore; she could feel the untold strain draining her, paling her, casting dark smudges beneath her eyes. The pity in those gray pools stabbed at her heart. She had been happy once. She wanted to grab him, shake him, and say those words, "I was happy. I was. I wasn't always like this: steeled, hardened, fighting for survival. He held me. Held me in his arms and loved me. That night, the moonlight fell through our bedroom window, blanketing his skin. Alone together--the last time--before they . . ." But the words fell dead on her lips. Her self-control returned. To feel anything now would spell her downfall. There was no time left--for memories least of all.
The monk's arms held her as she found her feet; together they padded across the stone tiles toward the altar. "Stay here, " he whispered, leaving her before the prayer rail. Reaching the tabernacle, he genuflected. Detailed runes, etched into the tabernacle's doors, reflected the candlelight. He reached into his robes and retrieved a black skeleton key. It trembled in his hand as he tapped it against the runes. Moments later, the ornate doors parted, and from within the vessel he withdrew a wand. Runes matching those found on the doors encircled it.
"This way, my child," he instructed her, holding out his hand; and hurried them toward a deserted side chapel. Eerily still, a Madonna and child lit by the flame of a single lantern, smiled down upon them. As the monk drew near, his hand moved gracefully; an incantation flowed from his lips.
"Follow me, please . . . no time, we must hurry," he mumbled.
A secret door revealed itself behind the statuary. Lantern in hand, the monk clasped her elbow, and they began to descend a stone stairwell. She peered over the edge, but only blackness dwelt there. Water dripped from some unknown source, making their journey treacherous; the steps were slick beneath their feet, mosses and lichen clung to the walls. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end--it felt as though they were descending into the very earth itself--wild and organic. A rat scurried across her foot; her heart jumped; its red eyes shone beadily in the darkness. "Steady, steady," the old priest whispered, "You cannot fall. If you waver here, you will be lost."
Down and down they crept; the air soon became cool; the sound of rushing water grew louder. Finally the stairs emptied onto a stone passageway. Her eyes, adjusting to the light, blinked in surprise.
A river, murky and fog covered, cut through a labyrinth of underground caves. A small punt sat moored a few feet away, a lantern hung over the stern. The echo of their heels grew louder with each step as they approached it. The monk deposited her into the rear of the craft, and then pushing off, began the swift and treacherous journey along the canal. The dim light illuminated the surrounding walls. She gasped. Ancient catacombs, like charnel nests, lined them: macabre honeycombs of the long dead. She swallowed, the delicate bones of a human hand, clenched in death, brushed her hair.
Whatever this place was, it had served as a hiding place for centuries. They traveled for a long while, the dead watching their every move, the walls pressing down on them. Clutching her wand, tremors of fear rippled down her back, her lungs tight in claustrophobia. The noxious smell of rotting flesh and sulfur turned her stomach. Finally, when she thought she might lose her mind, the canal ended. She glanced at the monk, her breathing labored. He offered her no comfort, but anchored the boat on a small patch of dirt. Navigating this thin strip, they stepped toward the sound of rushing water. The lantern shed its light on a waterfall in the far corner of the passageway. It gushed into a pool where the earth ceased.
"Careful, careful, come this way; the door is here, hidden behind the falls." The monk's voice echoed through the darkness disappearing into the far off catacombs.
The door screeched on hinges long unused. Stepping inside, it creaked shut behind them;the rushing torrents subsided in their ears.
Setting the lantern into a stand, the monk moved to a table near the far wall. The room appeared to be a study; bookcases and tapestries lined the walls; a settle lay before a massive fireplace. Looking up from the sea of maps and parchments strewn about him, the monk raised his wand and a fire roared to life within the grate.
"Please make yourself comfortable. There is some food and a bit of wine." A second later, he disapparated, leaving her alone.
Fruit and bread lay on a silver plate before the fire. She sat down on the settle and ate hungrily; it had been days since she had tasted food; the journey was so fraught with peril. She hoped Remus had some good news. There had been so little, so very, very little. Drinking the last of the wine, she fell back satiated; her body nestled against the deep cushions; she drew her cloak about her, and blackness found her again.
She dreamed. The images moved like a carousel, spinning, spinning, till they paused, then spun mercilessly on. Colors, and colors, and colors. Then.
Her heart cried out. Harry laughing, holding her tightly in his arms, kissing her, swinging her about in the sunlight.
The carousel spun again.
Harry kneeling by her, bloodied, explaining, always explaining. Then the long absences, the endless war. Moments, only moments, no more could be spared. Hidden. The door closing, then clothes ripped away, and his body, all hard lines and want. Uncontrolled passion, pounding and furious. Savaging each other. With no beginning and no end. Two souls, then one. For that moment. Forgetting everything in that single moment. Please stay. I can't. Please. Please. Goodbye, I love you so.
The carousel spun again.
Blackness. Blackness in the shrouds, the faces, the haunted look in her mother's eyes. No! No! Her mind screamed. The twins, grappling her back from the body, the twisted and tortured body. No! He could not be dead. No! The crush of sorrow drowning her. Hermione's soft hands resting upon her shoulders, "Ginny, he's gone, please – don't -- you can't do this to yourself." Wresting away, she grasped his cold hand; despair cleaved her heart. He was broken. He was gone. He had left her. She would never again hear his laugh, never again feel his whisper on her neck, never again turn to him in the night. Never.
From there the carousel spun around slowly, only the masks of Deatheaters and the life of the Order – the last resistance -- visible. Spinning slowly, slowly, slowly. Down to a stop.
She started. The fire crackled, embers hissed in the blackness. Another dream. He spoke to her as he had in countless others, softly.
"Harry," she whispered back into the dizzying flames.
She felt the color slowly drain from her face. She lay there, unable to move, unable to breath. In that moment, a thousand prayers raced through her heart. Please, let me be awake. Please. Please. Slowly, she turned. Her heart stopped.
He stood by the door. Dressed entirely in black, a heavy traveling cloak draped his shoulders. His face bore recent scars, his cheek bruised. His eyes reflected the firelight.
In two strides he was by her side, and swept her into his arms. Kissing her, he tasted tears, quenching himself in them; his lips moved feverishly to her cheeks, her neck, then found her lips again. Twisting and turning, their hands grasped and clutched, refusing to let go.
"Harry, how . . . how . . .you were dead . . . I saw . . ." Ginny struggled to speak, Harry's lips lost in her hair. Then she spoke no more, his mouth silencing her. The agony of the past year melted away as they clung to each other, their lips frantic, each bruising the other in need.
"It was a spell, Remus . . .Remus performed . . .After you all were safe, we needed to… Listen . . .listen . . ."
He cradled her in his arms and carried her to the settle; loathe to part with her for even a second. Her heart beat bird-like against his chest; her hands clutched his shoulders, afraid to let go. He had changed, hardened somehow, as though fighting had required every muscle he had. She rested against him, his body taut and alive. Alive. Her lips found his neck as he embraced her. He sighed and moaned softly, nearly losing himself in her. His mind battled his body: his desire for her was so strong; it boiled throughout every inch of him. To kiss her skin again. To have her. No. Now he needed her to know, she must know, there wasn't much time.
Drawing away, he found her eyes. Hope, pain and lust swirled within them, forcing him to look away. He raised her hands to his lips, and kissed her wrists roughly, then clasped them under his chin.
"We don't have much time, Ginny." She began to protest again, but he silenced her with another kiss. "First, I love you, and God, I've missed you," his voice broke, and she raised her lips, "No, no, please, love. Let me explain, there's so much."
His arms enfolded her, and his head nuzzled against hers as they huddled before the fire. He could feel her lithe body pressed against him, and he swallowed hard, trying to force his mind to the task at hand. "The only people who know I'm alive are Remus, Hermione, Ron, and now you. I'm so sorry to have done this to you, but I had no choice. We were desperate. We needed to convince Voldemort that I was dead. We needed time to find the last Horcrux, and we were terrified he knew--knew that we were hunting them. We've been forced to take Polyjuice potion for months now to continue our search. But we finally found it. We found it! It was hidden under the boards of his old orphanage." He paused and drew a breath, "The curses on it were terrible." He bit back the images of Ron's wounded leg, and the scar Hermione would forever bear across her hands, "But now we have them all. We have them Ginny! And tomorrow. Tomorrow we face him . . . I face him."
She felt him tighten his hold, his breath warm in her hair. He lowered his forehead to her neck and placed a kiss there, as though words were too difficult now.
"So you see, I had to see you. I had to see you before . . ."
"I'm not leaving you."
"Ginny. We have until dawn, that's all. Then I've got to go. Alone. Do you understand?"
It was more of a statement than a question, but the words were soft. The torrent of her emotions forced her to lower her head against his shoulder. He smelled of the night and sweat, and a weariness that never gives in, never falters. Never. She took his hand and lowered it to her heart, placing it against her breast; it pounded madly. His breath caught.
"You are never alone," she whispered, and raised her eyes to his. "Never."
"Never," he whispered back, speaking with difficulty, controlling something so powerful, his body trembled with the effort. Then she drew him down over her, her hair fanned out in flame on the settle. As his lips found hers, she was grateful that the room held no windows, so she wouldn't have to hear the sounds of morning.
She stirred against him, his cloak draped them; the fire had died out to glowing embers. He kissed her slowly, luxuriously; trying to memorize every curve of her face with his fingers; then trailed his touch to her shoulders, dusting lazy patterns along her skin.
"Harry you are going to do this – win this, you know that, don't you?" She nestled against him, raising herself onto her elbow to see his face. His gaze remained distant, almost wistful, "You are going to end this. You have to believe that."
He closed his eyes, the weight of the world upon him; he looked so young at that moment, so helpless. "I need to say things to you, Ginny, before I . . . I need you to understand." They were facing each other now, his thumb stroking her cheekbone. "I will always love you – you need to know that. No matter what happens. I have loved you for forever, even before I knew what it was. I know you say I saved you from the Chamber – but that's not true. You saved me. You did. All those awful years with the Dursleys, fighting just to believe there was hope somewhere out there. All those days sitting on that cold stone floor, staring at that mirror – wishing-- wishing for this, Ginny." He gripped her face in his hands now, his words burning through her, "If anything happens to me, I want you to be happy, to live, to love – I can face that emptiness -- I'm not afraid to die, I'm not. But what I can't face, what would kill me, is to know you're alone, in pain. I love you too much. Please, please promise me."
Ginny stared into his eyes, moist in the firelight, so earnest, so tortured. Her fingers rose tentatively to stroke his face; a tear trickled down his unshaven cheek, the wetness disappearing into the stubble. He closed his eyes, trapping the remaining tears. He hid his face in her cupped hand, kissing her palm fiercely, "Promise me," be begged, his words desperate.
"No," she hissed, "No, I'll do no such thing."
"How can you ask that of me? I've lived for a year thinking that you were dead. One horrible, terrible year. You at least knew I was alive. Do you know how I felt? Every night, the awful pain, the loneliness. I died then. Do you understand? I won't go back there, don't make me go back there. You are going to end him, Harry, do you understand? And you're going to come back to me, and we're going to love each other, and have babies and . . ." sobs engulfed her voice, drowning her in fear. Shouldering the tears from her face, she shouted, "You are coming home. To me."
She tore away from him and stood before the desk, her head bowed. Madly wiping the tears from her eyes, she snatched up her clothes, and began to dress, hiccupping small whimpers. Harry laid back in silence and watched her.
She fastened her jeans, still refusing to look at him.
"Ginny, how did you get those scars?" He rose and stood behind her, his fingers trailed down her back, his face ashen.
"It's nothing, nothing." She yanked her shirt over her head.
"Ginny? How did you get those scars?"
She remained silent. His eyes never left her as he reached for his clothes and dressed. Wrapping her arms about her waist, she knew full well that he was now an accomplished Legilimens: there would be no lying to him about the attack. Finally clothed, he stood before her, his hands on her shoulders. She raised her face and let him into her mind.
After he finished, he stood, motionless, his eyes riveted upon her, his jaw clenched in fury.
Suddenly the door swung open. The monk entered accompanied by Remus, whose face looked deathly tired. He nodded toward Ginny, and then cast a glance to the clock on the mantle, "Harry, we have to leave; there's no more time." The monk swept up the parchments from the desk, and handed them to Remus. They both moved toward the door. "Harry, now."
"Please!" said Harry sharply, and they both turned and looked at him. "A moment, please!" His eyes fell on Ginny.
Ginny's heart was frantic. No. No. He could not leave her again. He could not do this to her. Harry suddenly turned to face the monk, "Wait," he said, "You're a prelate wizard are you not?" The old man nodded solemnly. Harry's eyes tore between the faces in the room, stopping when they found Ginny's. His gaze was steady as he took his place by her side. He grasped her hand in his, his voice clear, "Prelate, I want you to marry us."
Remus looked stricken, "Harry. No! There's no time. We've only a small window before they'll be able to track us." The monk likewise moved to argue.
Harry turned and found Ginny, his eyes never wavering from hers, "Please, prelate," his tenor so moving, so wanting, the old man's demeanor faltered. Harry looked to Remus who simply raised his eyes to the ceiling, "Harry, you have got to reconsider. There are serious repercussions."
"I know Remus, I know, I'm willing to take the risk."
Ginny's eyes darted to Remus, "What, what repercussions?"
The professor's voice was heavy, pained; he laid his hands down on the desk and lowered his head, "It concerns the life debt you share. If Harry were to wed you, take you as his wife under wizarding law, the bond you share will intensify. Your emotions will become his. All of your emotions, especially your most harrowing ones-- fear, terror, anguish--they all become Harry's. Voldemort can turn these against him, concentrate their power. Your union allows him to exponentially increase the power of the Cruciatus curse he can wield over Harry. It is a horrible fate. The victim can be made to suffer in the extreme, tortured beyond death by this kind of bond."
"Harry, no!" Ginny dropped his hands, "No, I won't let you do this. No!" She stepped back, tears chocking off her words.
"Tell her, Remus, tell her, the other part," his gaze never leaving her.
"What part?" Ginny demanded.
"We're not sure about that Harry – we've never been sure."
"What? Tell me."
"The protection, Remus, the protection – tell her."
Remus sighed and rubbed the weariness from his face. He looked at Ginny, "If Harry dies at Voldemort's hand, you, as his wife, receive total Fidelius concealment. It's ancient magic – his blood sacrifice and your life debt combine to protect you from the hand of Voldemort or any of his followers. They cannot harm you." He looked to Harry and smiled sadly, as though he were gazing into the past, "Harry's death ensures your life."
The room was silent save the tick of the mantle clock. The weight of the knowledge hung above them like a sword.
"Harry, no," she whispered.
"Ginny," he seized her by the shoulders, an urgency in his voice she had never heard, "I need you to do this for me. I want to believe I can destroy him. I want to. But I have to know you'll be safe, that he won't be able to touch you. You're all I have, all I've ever had. My father couldn't protect my mother; he couldn't – as hard as he fought. He had to die knowing that. Knowing that she and I were hiding in that room. But I can protect you. I can. Dammit Ginny, I have nothing else. Nothing to give you – nothing. But this vow – this vow I can give you – please."
Tears coursed down her cheeks. The room blurred around her. Harry's grasp her only anchor.
"Love me, Ginny. Marry me."
No. This is not how it should be. They were to be wed at the Burrow, surrounded by everyone that cared for them. Not this. In the cold light of morning, moments before the end. She looked into his face. A face she had loved for so long. A face she had run after, laughing, crying, straining to catch one last glimpse of before it disappeared from sight. This strong, brave, handsome face that she would love for the rest of her life. There would be no other.
She nodded numbly. Harry's shoulders fell; he closed his eyes, and smiled softly as though a huge weight had been lifted from him.
The monk looked to Remus who sighed wearily, then shook his head in agreement. From his pocket, the old priest took a linen cloth, and approaching the couple, he wrapped it tightly about their hands. Harry's defiant eyes stared directly into hers, "I love you," they said, "You're mine. Believe that. Till the very end. Believe that."
Taking his wand, the monk murmured the incantation. A fiery surge, like sunlight, coursed through her veins; it clenched her heart. Harry's hand steadied her, his eyes warm. Grimacing, he stiffened for a second then smiled, swallowing, his breathing steady.
The cloth fell away. The monk moved his wand in one last ancient and mysterious pattern
"Harry, I must insist, now. Please," Remus demanded.
Harry stared into Ginny's eyes, their hands still clasped. He would utter no words; there was nothing more to say. He only kissed her, his lips trembling.
She closed her eyes, feeling his lips part from hers, then his fingertips. She heard the footsteps on the flagstone floor; they paused briefly before the door. Then the silence crept softly backwards, with the sound of their feet they were gone.
She kept vigil in the study, the mantle clock chiming the hour. After all the fighting, all the battles, it had come down to this: Cloistered away. She should be by his side, wand raised, ready to die for what she believed in rather than hiding here in this stone prison.
The monk had bought her food, but it lay forgotten. She paced the room, shivering. Why? Why had she agreed to this? Why? The hours dragged by.
Near midnight, she fell to her knees before the fire, too tired to move anymore. Head down, she wept, tears chocking her. She felt like a wire pulled too tight, just about to snap. Terrified and heartbroken, she cursed herself for being weak, when out there, somewhere, he was fighting, fighting to the death.
The door opened behind her. She swallowed and lifted her head as though being summoned to her execution. She stared into the fire, the smell of ash filling her nose. She would not look. She would close her eyes, and they would tell her.
The voice of the monk whispered her name. Back straight, she remained on her knees.
"Please, come with me," he said.
"Please, please, there is not much time."
A new voice spoke: A weary voice, yet full of pride and triumph--and unwavering love, "The celebrations can't begin until you're there. Everyone is waiting for you, Mrs. Potter."
In the end, the monk departed discretely and made his way to the fields where fireworks ripped through the sky, and people shouted and hugged and kissed and wept. When questioned about when the hero and his new bride would return, he simply smiled and said, "In a while. I believe they needed a little time," then he ambled off in search of a long deserved glass of mead.
Notes and Definitions:
Prelate Wizard: My invention. A wizard responsible for performing wizarding marriages.
Chancel: The space around the altar of a church.
Nave: The central area of a church.
Inspiration for this piece came from a hodgepodge of sources: Shakespeare's, Romeo and Juliet, Sir Thomas Malory's, Le Morte d'Arthur, as well as Walter de la Mare's, The Listeners, to name a few.
As always, this world and its players belong to JKR. And we're thankful for it.