Ron hovered on his broom above the western coast of England, buffeted by the wind with Wendy, Charlie, and Mr. Weasley hovering beside him while he carefully watched Dudley’s dove. The bird hesitated in its flight as though struggling to maintain its bearings in the storm while searching for Harry. The wind was blowing, it was still snowing and it was dark, but as Ron hovered there he realized that faint lights from the muggle villages and roadways below were able to reach them though the clouds and the snow, giving them an advantage in navigation that Harry probably hadn’t had during the day. As suddenly as the dove had paused its determined flight, it set out again, this time headed even more certainly in a specific direction with the three Weasleys and Wendy directly behind it. Less than a mile inland, the dove quickly dipped down and disappeared into a gap near the roof of a muggle barn.
“Here Dad!” Ron shouted. “They must be in here!”
Ron didn’t wait for an answer. It was bloody freezing here at the coast in the storm, and knowing that Harry had been here for hours increased his sense of urgency about finding him. Ron set down beside the barn, tossed his broom down beside the door and rushed inside with his wand lit before the other three had properly found a place to land. He shone his light around but the only living things he encountered were the bunch of cows huddled there closely together, instinctively sharing body heat to keep themselves warm. Ron spotted a ladder attached to one of the aged barn’s support posts in their midst. He waded in amongst the animals, slipping on the slush and manure covered floor, and climbed up it before anyone else entered the barn. Shining the light from his wand frantically around he searched amongst the hay in the loft. Harry had to be there. The dove was in the rafters above, but where was he? Then he saw him…or rather the hem of Harry’s cloak where it was incompletely covered by the hay.
“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING HARRY!” Ron shouted as he leapt from the top of the ladder onto the loosely piled hay, pulling his black haired friend from the straw, ripping him out of the arms of the tiny woman he’d been passionately kissing while laying mostly buried in the hay.
Harry looked up in shock at his red-haired friend who was shouting furiously, fist pulled back and ready to punch him. Harry rolled trying to dodge the punch, and Ron’s fist merely cuffed his ear, but Ron lunged after him and managed to grab hold of the front of Harry’s robes with both fists. His left hand still held his illuminated wand which was now only inches from Harry’s chin. Ron yanked him up to his feet by the front of his robes.
“You’re engaged to my sister! And I find you cheating on her?” Ron growled, his voice filled with shock, fury and rage. He threw another punch and this one landed solidly against the side of Harry’s face, the force of the blow snapping his head to the side.
“Ohhh…Ron? What are you doing here Ron?” Harry asked, the shocked surprise from the punch as much as Ron’s sudden appearance evident in his voice, while the light from Ron’s wand shone in his face and he tried to pull free. Laura, emerged from the straw showing only curious surprise as she watched the two friends struggle together in the uncertain footing offered by the hay.
“I’m here rescuing you, you arse.” Ron roughly pulled Harry closer, still manhandling his friend by the front of his robes. “The question is, what are you doing?” Ron retorted trying to punch Harry again, but Harry twisted in Ron’s grip and dodged the blow.
“This isn’t what it looks like,” Harry insisted trying to pull free of Ron’s iron fisted grasp. He was fairly certain Ron was going to try to punch him again, and he was right, but his realization came too late. A moment later Ron’s fist made contact with the side of Harry’s face for a second and third time, knocking his glasses into the hay. “I wasn’t cheating!” Harry declared through a mouth full of blood.
“YOU…you were kissing…HER!” he let loose with one hand long enough to point towards Laura, who was just now trying to standing up on shaky legs. “THAT IS NOT MY SISTER…who you’re engaged to. That’s cheating!” Ron insisted.
“I know Laura isn’t Ginny. We were freezing. We were just trying to keep warm.” Harry argued. He managed to wrench himself free, but slipped on the hay covered floor and fell backwards, rolling away as Ron lunged after him, landing where he had just been.
“You’re engaged?” Laura asked Harry calmly, in a very professional sounding tone as she sat back down and began to brush the hay from her clothes and her hair.
“Yeah,” Harry answered roughly as he sat up again while trying to keep his distance from Ron.
“Not just involved, but engaged?” she confirmed with a warm smile looking over at him.
“Yeah,” Harry said a bit sheepishly, smiling at the thought, but his smile faded at the look on Ron’s face. Ron was on his feet again and was coming at him for another go.
“Congratulations,” Laura commented mildly as though this were a casual sort of conversation rather than one happening in the midst of Harry trying to answer to his friend.
“Thanks,” Harry answered her. He turned back to Ron as the red-headed man made to grab him again. “Laura was just showing me some of their French survival techniques,” Harry tried again to explain, still trying to dodge and block Ron’s punches but making no effort to fight back.
“Yeah I’ll show you French survival techniques, trying to shove their tongues down a bloke’s throat. And I didn’t see you objecting much,” Ron retorted acidly, this time landing on top of Harry when he lunged at him. He sat straddled across his chest, pinning him to the straw as he continued to try to pound him with his fists with Harry only managing to block about half the blows.
“What’s going on here?” Mr. Weasley said as he crawled up into the loft of the barn a moment later with his lit wand in his hand. He shone the light briefly on Ron where he sat on top of Harry then around the loft as he took in the scene, noting the depression in the straw from which Harry and Laura had emerged, their hay covered clothes and hair and Ron continuing to try to beat the daylights out of Harry. Mr. Weasley grabbed Ron roughly from behind, pulling him off of the prone man, allowing him to retrieve his glasses, put them back on, and stand up. Shining his light on each of them, he stared at the two as though waiting for some sort of explanation.
“I found Harry Dad,” Ron explained simply.
Mr. Weasley frowned as he surveyed the two men with a disapproving expression on his face. He glanced at Laura who was struggling to stand up on legs that looked to be none too steady. Neither her front nor Harry’s had much straw on them. That as much as Ron’s words and the ferocity of his attack on Harry suggested to the elder Weasley what had been going on when Ron arrived, and he hoped it wasn’t true. ‘On the other hand they did discuss shared bodily warmth and the tactic of using available materials for insulation in that cold weather survival training I took once,’ Mr. Weasley remembered. ‘It is bloody freezing in here even if it is inside…and Harry has received training Ron hasn’t yet… this may not be what it looks like. Ron may be right about this … but then again he might not. There could also be another explanation, but if there isn’t. We should give Harry the chance to explain himself,’ he thought fairly. ‘But not now. We’re here on ministry business. Family matters will have to wait.’
Having considered all that in the blink of an eye, all Mr. Weasley said was,
“So I see.”
“Ah, oh Mr. Weasley…Arthur. What are you doing here?” Harry asked, looking as shocked to see Mr. Weasley as he had been to see Ron. He replaced his glasses and struggled to get back to his feet.
“We came looking for you Harry,” Wendy said as she climbed up the ladder behind Mr. Weasley.
“How did you find me?” Harry asked.
“Dudley’s bird,” Ron nodded towards the dove which flew down from the rafters and settled himself comfortably on Harry’s shoulder. Harry unconsciously stroked the dove’s chest as Ron talked. “I knew what part of the coast you were searching so we brought him with us then followed him here.”
“That was a really good idea Ron,” Harry praised.
“Thanks,” Ron replied smiling in spite of him self. He actually did think it was a smashing idea, but he felt even better about it knowing that Harry agreed.
“So who else is here?” Harry asked as more footsteps could be heard on the ladder.
“Charlie came too,” Wendy said as Laura got to her feet behind Harry.
“There’s a dragon in that cove,” Charlie told him as his head appeared.
“I know. We saw them. Almost ran into them actually,” Harry said. “They’re here. That’s why I didn’t want to take a chance trying to apparate away or sending a patronus. When we got lost in the blizzard, I think I probably started to fly in circles. I couldn’t be certain we were far enough away.”
“That’s what we figured,” Wendy said looking at Ron who was still furious but was beginning to calm down. “Have you got that cove plotted?”
“Not yet,” Harry admitted.
“I collapsed,” Laura explained. “It was all Harry could do to keep me from falling from my broom into the sea. We didn’t want to set down and risk giving ourselves away, which we would have had to, to mark it then.”
Wendy nodded. It was just as they’d guessed. “We need to do that before we leave.”
“I know. We’ll need to plan this carefully Wendy,” Harry replied, becoming more business like in tone.
“We need to go back to the shore then?” Ron asked.
“Yeah we do. We need to know what the layout is before we go in. We don’t want to spook them this time,” Harry said immediately taking charge. “Ron, you, Wendy and Charlie come with me. Arthur, could you take Laura back to the ministry?”
“Harry, you’re going to need all hands on this,” Laura protested. “I should come with you.”
“Not this time Laura. You already did your bit. You helped us to find them. I promise we’ll include you when we decide to go in.”
Laura tried to argue but Harry held firm, looking at her steadily and finally she agreed.
“Arthur, can you let the rest of them know you’ve found me? We’ll be back after a while.”
“Will do Harry,” Mr. Weasley said recognizing the authority in Harry’s voice. The subtle shift in each of the Aurors’ voices and attitudes towards positions of profound trust and respect professionally wasn’t lost on him. He’d never actually worked with Harry on a job before, but he was beginning to understand what Kingsley meant when his long time friend had talked to him about Harry’s natural ability to lead.
Tucking Dudley’s dove inside his robes, Harry lead them all back down the ladder and outside. He insisted that Laura and Mr. Weasley should leave first, and was careful to make sure they were out of sight before turning back to the other three.
“Now, how do you want to do this?” Harry asked the others.
“I suggest we fly along the top of the cliffs,” Wendy suggested. “We can look for irregularities in the snowfall to tell us where the wards are. That way we can plot them without giving ourselves away.”
“Great. Is there anyway we can detect for certain what they’re doing?”
“I might be able to draw out their dragon,” Charlie offered. “If we followed it, it might give us a clue.”
“Good,” Harry said. “I expect they have muggles there too. Is there anything we can do about that?”
“Not until we come back,” Wendy advised. “I know you want to do something Harry, but we probably should be better prepared.”
Harry frowned. “If only there was some way to make them show up through the shields.”
“You mean glow in the dark?” Ron asked.
“Well, Rupert did insist I take these. He said Dudley had already told you how to use them.”
He handed Harry more than a half dozen canisters of florescent dye. Harry’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Ron you’re brilliant! Tell Dudley he’s brilliant too. This is exactly what we need.”
Wendy looked at him skeptically. “This isn’t like the banana thing you tried last summer is it?”
“No. This they won’t be able to smell or see. In fact with this storm going on, they probably won’t even feel it. If we direct the spray when we release it down into the snow as we fly over the wards, the snowflakes will probably carry it down onto the Death Eaters for us and they won’t be any wiser. This is a good thing Wendy,” he assured her.
“I believe you Harry. But if they can’t see it, that means we won’t be able to either. How do you make it show up?”
“Like this,” Harry said.
He stepped back into the barn and released one of the canisters onto the cows. Then he demonstrated the lumos black spell he’d developed with Hermione back over the summer. They all practiced it until every one there could make the cows glow.
“You know Potter, this just might work,” Wendy acknowledged.
Harry grinned at Wendy’s expression. “You see? I have learned.”
“I never doubted it. Shall we go?”
Harry nodded. “Ron, you fly with Charlie. Take two of these and fly around the perimeter. Stay as low as you can and saturate the area with the spray. Wendy and I will take the middle.”
“Right,” Ron said as he and Charlie took their canisters and walked a short distance away to give themselves enough room to take off.
“So what happened to you Potter?” Wendy asked with a smirk as they walked in the opposite direction to give themselves space while Harry wiped a trickle of blood away from the corner of his mouth with his thumb.
“Laura was introducing me to French survival training methods when Ron showed up.”
Wendy’s expression turned to one of bemusement. “You have to watch those foreign training methods. I tried to warn you about the French.”
“Yeah you did,” Harry admitted.
Wendy’s smirk only deepened. “And you thought my training methods were bad. At least they didn’t get you hit.”
Harry grinned sheepishly as he passed her a couple of the canisters and the two Aurors mounted their brooms. He gave the signal to kick off and the four headed back towards the coast. It was still snowing just as hard as it had been during the day but the wind wasn’t blowing any longer, making flying easier. Although the visibility in the dark wasn’t much better, muggle lights here and there shone through the snow preventing them from getting turned around again. They were back at the coast in ten minutes time and the presence of the magical wards was indeed made evident by the disruption in the pattern of the falling snow. Odd sorts of drifts were accumulating around its perimeter, though most of the snow after swirling at the barrier continued straight down. Flying as close as he could to the ward, Harry pulled the pin on his first canister, directing the spray downward where it was carried to the surface by the snow. Harry focused his wand, shining the black light down. It wasn’t steady, but it was enough to momentarily reveal vague moving shapes beneath the transparent dome of the ward below. Encouraged by his success, the others followed his lead and gradually the figures became clearer. Most seemed to be sitting all in a huddle, but there were maybe twenty moving among them and a half dozen more circling the form of a sleeping dragon. Harry was certain he’d seen two dragons earlier, but now there was only one.
“I wonder where it went?” Harry mused as they flew overhead, inspecting the scene.
“Maybe we can get that one to show us,” Charlie suggested and he pulled a short metal tube from his pocket.
Charlie put one end of the tube in his mouth and blew. Harry didn’t hear anything, but the dragon below clearly did. Straight away the animal was awake, pulling against the restraints the wizards surrounding it were holding. It must have taken them by surprise however, for the dragon broke free surprisingly easily, rising into the air and immediately heading out to sea.
“Follow it,” Harry called.
“Behind me,” Charlie said.
He positioned himself above and behind the dragon which flew low, barely five feet above the surface of the water. If the dragon knew they were there, it ignored them, dodging fishing boats and other vessels still out on the water in the storm, flying sharply away from the coast. It wasn’t long before Harry and the others lost sight of land completely and he began to wonder about the wisdom of his decision to follow the dragon in the storm. Apparently the dragon knew where it was going as a fresh set of cliffs appeared directly in front of them and the dragon momentarily folded its wings and disappeared beneath a low overhang, into an area of deep shadows suggesting a cave before emerging again. A roar announced the brief appearance of a second dragon coming out to welcome it, nuzzling the first one affectionately before they both flew back through what appeared to be a fresh set of wards. Harry flew briefly over the rugged bluffs thinking, ‘there’s no obvious beach and if flew between two outcroppings of rock … there must be a cave.’
“Where are we?” Wendy asked as they pulled up sharply to avoid colliding with the bluffs.
“No idea,” Harry said. “Let’s mark it and come back when the weather is better.”
“Okay, we’ll wait for you up there,” Wendy pointed to the top of the cliffs. Ron and Charlie nodded and the three of them flew up to wait for Harry.
Using his last canister, Harry flew along the face of the cliff and sprayed its surface with the florescent tag. Again he illuminated his wand with the UV light long enough to confirm that the place above where the dragon disappeared had indeed been marked.
“Let’s go home,” Harry said as he rejoined the others at the top.
“Are you sure Harry?” Ron asked. “Shouldn’t we find out where we are first? It’s hardly snowing here.”
“We know where we were and the dragon flew straight. We’ll figure it out,” Harry said confidently.
“Charlie and I could probably stay if you’d like,” Wendy offered, standing alongside Charlie. “I’m sure we’ve missed dinner at the Burrow, so there’s really no reason to hurry back.”
Harry shrugged. “That’s up to you Wendy. You can if you want to. But, this has been a really long day and all this is still unofficial. I just really want to go home.”
Charlie glanced at his girlfriend. “I have a feeling if we fly south a bit, we’ll find a place to get something to eat.”
“Sounds good,” Wendy agreed. “See you on Monday Harry,” she said and the pair kicked off together.
Harry watched them go, thinking about going home.
“Are you coming to the Burrow?” Ron asked as they mounted their brooms. “I think Ginny’s waiting for you there.”
Harry sighed. “Yeah, I should. We were supposed to go shopping this afternoon. She’s going to be really mad at me.”
“You’re going to face her though, right?” Ron asked with determination as they prepared to kick off.
“I plan to,” Harry promised.
“And you are going to tell her about Laura,” Ron said firmly putting extra emphasis on the word ‘are’.
Harry pursed his lips. “Come on Ron, let’s go home.”
“Harry?” Ron said in a warning tone.
“What?” Harry said sharply.
“I’d rather you did it, but if you don’t I will,” Ron warned.
Harry glared at him.
“Promise me you’ll say something,” Ron insisted.
“Alright, I will,” Harry said and he swore as the two kicked off.
Dinner was subdued and strained that night at the Burrow. The family dinner had been turned into a dinner for those the search party left behind. Bill, Fleur, Victoire, Percy, Angelina and George, Hermione and Ginny, and Mrs. Weasley sat gathered together as the hours passed, waiting. Dinner had been finished, lingered over, dessert and coffee served to occupy their time and still everyone waited, keeping vigil at the table. Finally footsteps were heard outside in the snow as someone came up the walk.
“We found Harry,” Mr. Weasley announced as he burst into the room.
“Where is he Dad?” Ginny asked anxiously as she leapt to her feet, realizing as she did there was no one behind him. “Is he hurt?”
“No, Harry is fine, for the most part. His partner collapsed though. He was tending her when we found them. I took her back to the ministry so she could floo home,” Mr. Weasley explained.
“Then where are the others?” Mrs. Weasley asked. “Why weren’t they here ahead of you if you went by the ministry before coming home?”
“Wendy was right Molly. Harry and his partner think they have the Death Eaters’ site identified. They stayed behind to plot the cove, I think they said,” he explained. “They should be here before long.”
Mr. Weasley glanced awkwardly at his daughter then his eldest son thinking of the scene he’d interrupted between Ron and Harry before sitting down to a much delayed dinner.
It was well past midnight at the Burrow before any sign of the two Aurors was detected. Everyone besides Hermione, Bill, Ginny, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had long since gone to bed, but the five of them were seated around the kitchen table, with Ginny resting her head on folded arms, dozing as she waited. Finally they heard the crunch of footsteps in the snow outside. Ginny flew to the door to see Ron and Harry trudging tiredly up the path to the house, stepping back as Ron pushed open the kitchen door and the pair stepped inside.
Both men were covered with snow when they walked in, though Harry, who had been out in the cold longest, was nearly frozen. Frost and icicles clung to his cloak, eyebrows, and bangs, and though he was walking he did so with great difficulty and he was shivering violently. There was also a rough discoloration to one side of his face while the other side looked distinctly pale.
“Where are Wendy and Charlie?” Mrs. Weasley asked immediately rushing to the door as though expecting to see her second son and his girl friend directly behind them.
“They decided to stay behind. I don’t think they fancied much flying any more in the storm,” Harry explained.
“Dinner near the coast was closer,” Ron supplied.
Mrs. Weasley nodded turning back, focusing her attention more acutely on Ron and Harry’s condition.
“What happened?” Ginny asked anxiously, taking in Harry’s appearance and rushing to his side to remove his snow filled cloak. She quickly forced a mug of hot tea into his hands, while Hermione did the same for Ron.
“Tell her Harry,” Ron said directly, standing over him as Ginny forced Harry to sit down close to the fire and urged him to sip the tea.
“Not just now,” Mr. Weasley told him taking in Harry’s frozen state.
“But Dad!” Ron protested.
“Sit down,” Mr. Weasley said firmly. “Harry very nearly has frostbite, so unless you want to be taking him to St. Mungo’s next, I suggest you also sit down and give him a few minutes to warm up. You could use that yourself, so sit down and drink your tea.”
Mrs. Weasley narrowed her eyes at her husband before glancing back at Harry. There was a look of guilt and misery in his eyes that didn’t directly look to be related to the cold.
“Take off your gloves Harry,” Mrs. Weasley directed.
He did as she said while Mrs. Weasley carefully inspected the tips of each of his fingers, looking for signs of frostbite damage. While his fingers were icy and pale there was none.
“How about your toes? Can you feel them?” Mrs. Weasley asked.
“Not much,” Harry admitted. “I’m not sure I can even feel my feet. I’m pretty much numb below my knees.”
“Let’s see them,” Mrs. Weasley said.
Harry bent down and tried to untie his shoe laces, but his numb fingers refused to function properly and he fumbled with them clumsily.
“Let me help you Harry,” Ginny said gently as her despair from earlier turned to anxious relief to have him back and a desperate desire to do something to help.
“Thanks,” Harry replied as she bent down by his feet to untie his shoes for him.
When his feet were bare, Mrs. Weasley muttered a diagnostic charm as she passed her wand over them. The two smallest toes on one foot and three on the other turned black.
“What does that mean?” Ginny asked her mother.
“It means his toes are frozen,” Mrs. Weasley said. “We need to be careful not to warm you up too fast Harry or you’re liable to loose them.”
She conjured a basin, filled it with cool water and directed Harry to put his feet in it, then brought him a potion to drink. She stood with her hands on her hips, not saying anything until he did.
“What I want to know is, if your feet are this bad off, how did you prevent the same thing from happening to your face and hands?”
“Harry wasn’t alone Mum. His partner was with him,” Ron said looking meaningfully at Harry.
“Wasn’t Wendy with you?” Mrs. Weasley asked her son.
“Laura was with me,” Harry explained. “She’d undergone winter environmental survival training in the Alps, with the French Ministry, so she knew what to do.”
He glanced at Ron who was scowling darkly at him, then at Ginny who he expected would be mad but she wasn’t. Instead, she looked worried. Harry frowned. He couldn’t understand it. He’d been so certain Ginny would be furious with him for being so late, but she wasn’t.
“Ginny?” he asked questioningly. “What’s going on?”
“We need to talk Harry,” she said quietly.
Harry looked into her eyes then down at his feet, avoiding her gaze.
“I know we do,” he answered without looking up, feeling miserable and guilty. “But I don’t see how that’s possible at the moment. I can’t go anywhere.”
“We could leave,” Bill offered, knowing the couple needed their privacy.
“Yeah we could. As long as you tell her Harry,” Ron said.
“Tell me what?” Ginny asked with a furrowed brow.
“I will Ron, but in my own time,” Harry insisted, lifting his head to stare at his best friend.
“Now Harry,” Ron warned.
“Harry, what do you need to tell me?” Ginny asked.
“I messed up Ginny. I need to tell you about it, but I’d prefer to do it alone.” Harry said shifting so he could look at Ginny beside him. “If you don’t mind, Ron?” Harry added turning to glare at his friend.
“You too Ginny,” Bill said.
Harry’s head snapped back towards Ginny. “What did you do?”
“I messed up too Harry,” she said in a small voice. “I’m sorry.”
Mr. Weasley gazed steadily between his daughter and her fiancé. Both were admitting guilt and both were willing to talk. He knew from personal experience it was a hard thing to do, but particularly so in front of the family. In his mind that bode well for their ability to somehow work things out.
“I think it might be prudent for the rest of us to either go to bed or retire to the front room,” Mr. Weasley suggested.
“But Dad,” Ron objected.
“Dad’s right Ron. These two know what they need to do,” Bill said getting up. “I think we’ve done as much as we can. It’s up to them now to work things out.”
Ron glanced at Hermione who was looking at Harry sadly.
“I hope you can,” she told her friend as she kissed his still cold cheek. “Come on Ron, it’s time for bed.”
Ron allowed Hermione to guide him from the room, but not before he shot one last meaningful glance back at Harry.
“Molly?” Mr. Weasley prompted as he too got up.
“His feet need tending to Arthur,” Mrs. Weasley said.
“Just tell me what to do Mum,” Ginny said. “I can do it.”
Still Mrs. Weasley hesitated, but at her husband’s urging she finally gave in.
“Oh all right,” Mrs. Weasley agreed, and she explained to Ginny what needed to happen to take care of Harry.
Mr. Weasley waited for his wife at the bottom of the stairs. “We’ll check in with you in the morning. Good night,” he told his daughter. Then he and Mrs. Weasley went up to bed.
Harry watched as the rest of his adopted family disappeared up the stairs before turning his attention back to Ginny. They were alone in the kitchen of the Burrow, with only the roaring fire for light and each other for company. Harry sat on the bench in front of the fire with his feet in the basin of water Mrs. Weasley had prepared while Ginny knelt over it adjusting the temperature of the water with her wand.
“Thank you for taking care of me Ginny,” Harry said, not knowing how else to begin.
“I’m your fiancée Harry, I’m supposed to take care of you,” Ginny said with her head still down studying the surface of the water. “Of course that’s assuming you haven’t changed your mind about that.”
She sat back on her heels looking up a Harry when he didn’t answer.
“Have you?” she asked. “I know things have been horrible between us lately.” There was a calm seriousness in her voice Harry had never heard before and it scared him. It would have been so much easier if she had yelled.
“No, I haven’t changed my mind,” Harry answered slowly. “But I was beginning to wonder if you had. Do you still want to marry me Ginny?”
“Yes Harry, I do,” she said quietly.
“You know, I’ll understand if you change your mind once you’ve heard what I’ve done,” Harry said.
“It can’t be that bad, can it?” she asked rising from the floor to sit beside him.
“Bad enough for Ron to hit me for it,” Harry cautioned gingerly touching the rising bruise covering the side of his face as the numbness started to fade to be replaced by a throbbing ache. The whole side of his face hurt from his eye socket to his jaw.
“I’m listening,” Ginny said. Fear entered her mind at what she might hear, but to her astonishment her fear of losing Harry was greater, and with that fear came the determination to hear him out, to really listen to what he had to say.
“I kissed someone,” Harry admitted. “Someone who wasn’t you.”
“Why?” She asked cautiously.
“She was trying to keep me warm…and I let her,” Harry answered.
“During the blizzard you mean,” Ginny said.
“Then that’s why your face and hands aren’t as badly frozen as your feet,” Ginny guessed.
“Yes, that’s why,” Harry confessed.
“She was protecting you.”
“Did you kiss her back?” Ginny queried.
“I was trying to help her too,” Harry said.
“Did you enjoy it?”
“A little,” Harry admitted.
“Was keeping her warm the only reason you kissed her?” Ginny questioned.
“No,” Harry answered deciding to come clean. “Laura is a very special person Ginny. There are some things in her personal history that are similar to what’s in mine. Her mum died for her too just like my mum died for me. She survived the killing curse when she was only three, and she has a scar like mine that connects her to her would-be killer. We discovered that while we were working together over the summer. But on the way home from Persia on the train I also discovered that I understand her pain.
“Her scar is like mine used to be Ginny. It can incapacitate her sometimes, but it’s useful. That’s what led us to the Death Eaters, not just today, but in the past too. And she trusts me enough to protect her and help her through it when it happens. It’s because of me that she allows herself to use it in that way,” Harry struggled to explain. “I can understand that pain and we found out, partly by accident and partly through our training in Persia, that the power of our friendship and talking about those we love can be used to control it. The pain lessens if I’m near her. That’s what I was trying to do, but it got out of hand.”
Harry waited, looking at Ginny with an expression full of guilt and remorse as the color came back to his face. He looked better, but he was still very, very pale except where his skin was becoming redder by the minute.
“You are saying that you kissed her then too,” Ginny realized with a pang of hurt in her voice. She couldn’t help it. It never occurred to her that Harry might do something like this and she fought back tears of anger and hurt as she struggled to listen, wondering how her own behavior towards him might have contributed to what he had done as the depths of despair threatened to overtake her again. She felt a flush as her temper rose and she pushed it back, trying to keep a clear head, trying for once in her life to take in what he was saying, not just the words but the meaning behind it too.
“Yes. That’s part of the reason I kissed her today too. We knew it could help,” Harry answered.
“Next are you going to tell me that it didn’t mean anything?” She challenged, letting some of her anger leak into the tone of her words.
“No, I’m not going to do that. It did mean something. Laura and I have this thing in common that nobody else has. That means a lot to me, but not as much as you,” Harry tried to explain.
“Are you sure Harry?” Ginny’s voice quaked in calm fury and fear. “Because if you’re not, maybe I should step out of the way until you figure it out,” she offered, struggling to keep her feelings of anger, sadness and dismay at bay.
“No…please Ginny. Please forgive me?” he asked quickly. “I thought you should know what happened, and if you don’t want me because of that, I’ll understand…but I don’t want that. Laura’s a colleague who’s become a friend, that’s all. She needs my support right now and I promised to help her, but she has nothing that I want or need. I hope you can believe that,” Harry said earnestly. “I’m sorry I let her come between me and you … between us.”
For the first time since arriving at the Burrow he faced Ginny openly. He could see the anger flash in her eyes, anger she was controlling, but he also saw fear and he knew from her expression how fiercely those feelings were fighting within her just now. One moment her anger seemed to be controlled though just barely, the next she seemed nearly paralyzed with fear. He’d never seen Ginny like that before and he wondered just exactly how she was going to react. Would she become a volcano of fury, give up on him sadly and quietly, or even worse, simply walk away without saying a word.
Ginny studied Harry’s sorrow filled eyes. She gazed into them, not speaking, just taking in their expression, their sadness, their remorse and their pain; and as she did she realized that she wasn’t the only one who was hurting, Harry was too. Surrounding those sad, brilliant green eyes were the bruised contours of Harry’s face where, she just now realized, Ron had hit him apparently not just once but repeatedly. With the warmth of the room around him, his face was becoming swollen, threatening to nearly close one eye and turning slightly purple beneath his pale skin. Gingerly, Ginny touched the place with her fingers where the bruise had begun to bloom as she worked to sort out her own feelings and to understand his. She understood the truth now, he truly regretted kissing Laura, but he’d felt alone … abandoned by their isolation from one another and her own ability to hear him those few times they’d talked. Ginny thought back to the words of her mother and her brother, weighing all the things she’d been told about this evening and for first time fully acknowledged to herself her part in all of this. She had ignored Harry when he’d needed her. She was in fact partly to blame for him feeling this way, for seeking comfort in the arms of a friend.
“Were you lonely Harry?” she asked after a while. “Is that why? Because if you were, that’s my fault not yours.”
“How could it be Gin?” Harry asked in surprise. “I knew better. I knew you were busy, I just let it happen.”
“I know. And I’m not going to say you’re not responsible for your actions, but I am at least in part responsible for how you feel…how you felt. Hermione told me what happened at her place last June, how depressed you were, why you didn’t come to me…and I’ve been thinking Harry. I think that’s when all the trouble started, when I stopped paying attention to you. Is that what happened? Is it my fault?”
“Not really. I think it started before that,” Harry said. “When I first went to France, remember?”
“Is that when you first met Laura?”
“No. I met her nearly a month afterwards,” Harry said.
“What happened then Harry? What started this?”
“I stopped telling you things Gin. You were nervous about the Harpies and studying for your exams, and the memory training was really getting to me then. I didn’t want to bring you down or give you more to worry about, so didn’t tell you about it,” Harry confessed.
“You told Ron and Hermione though,” Ginny said.
“I tried to,” Harry said. “But what I needed was you.”
Ginny nodded. “I think I understand. Bill talked to me this evening and he made me see that I’ve been neglecting you. I’ve been so caught up in my own little world…things were so perfect between us when things started for me with the Harpies, I just assumed they’d stay that way. That you’d be there waiting for me, same as always when things settled down. And then they never did. I’ve made you wait and wait, talking about myself mostly when we were together and sometimes about your job, but never about you. I didn’t even stop to think what might be happening to you while I was off living my dream.” She paused, taking a moment to collect herself and then continued with her confession.
“You’ve always been so strong Harry. It never occurred to me that you might be struggling without me. I’ve been so selfish and I’m…I’m sorry. You needed me and I wasn’t there for you. You were hurting and I didn’t even realize it. That’s at least as bad as anything you’ve done, and in my case I wasn’t even trying to help anyone, “ she answered, her voice filled with remorse and guilt in equal measure to his.
“Are you sure you still want me?” Harry asked timidly. “Tell me honestly Ginny. I don’t want to pretend any more.”
“We’ve been pretending every thing’s okay since the summer haven’t we?”
“Pretty much,” Harry agreed. “Do you Gin? Do you want me?”
Harry waited, not speaking as Ginny searched his face, thinking about her answer.
“I do,” Ginny she answered finally.
“More than the Harpies?”
“Harry…don’t ask me to give up that.”
“I’m not. I only want to know, which is more important to you? The Harpies or us?” Harry finally asked the question that had been plaguing him since last June. From the expression on her face, he felt he was right to fear the answer as conflicting passions played across her face.
“Does it matter Harry, if you don’t want me?” she answered finally.
“Aren’t you going to tell me Ginny? Don’t you care enough for me to at least give me an honest answer?” Harry asked.
Ginny refused to meet his eyes. Kneeling down again she adjusted the temperature in his basin of water once more, then still keeping her face turned away from him, she got up and strode across the room. Harry feared she was leaving until she turned around. Ginny stood on the other side of the room, staring at him, studying his face and features as though seeing them anew.
“I’m going to tell you a story Harry. It’s about when I was a little girl,” she answered. “Can I?” she asked. “Will you listen?”
“I’ll listen to anything you have to say,” he assured her.
Ginny nodded. “When I was about five, Mum used to read me stories at bedtime nearly every night. There were a lot of stories she used to read to me actually, but two became my all time favorites. One was about an all-girl quidditch team called the Harpies, who were good enough to even beat teams of all boys. The other was about the Boy –Who-Lived. After she read to me, I would go to sleep and dream about whatever story she read to me on that night. I didn’t know you then, but I knew about you just like I knew about the Harpies and I dreamed about playing with them and being with you. Every night at bed time, Mum would ask me to choose a story and I never could. I always wanted them both, and I still do.
“Now years later, I’m all grown up. I’ve come to know the Harpies and I’ve gotten to know you too. I love playing for the Harpies Harry; it’s what I always dreamed of. But I also love you. Not because of the character in the story Mum used to read who had your name, but because I truly know you. You saved me in the Chamber of Secrets, you came back to me after the war, I got used to being with you over that wonderful summer. I felt I had everything…and now you’re asking me to choose. You are my hero, my beloved, my one and only. How could you ever doubt that I would choose you?”
Harry stood without thinking, trying to take a step towards her and tripped on his basin of water. Ginny rushed forward to try to steady him as he fell. The water splashed up over them both as the basin emptied, and they landed painfully against the side of the table.
“Ouch,” she said.
“Sorry,” Harry murmured as he rolled off from on top of her, but still holding on to her. “I didn’t mean to do that.”
“I know,” Ginny giggled and she kissed his cheek.
Harry laughed at the ridiculous sight they made and he began to dry them with his wand.
“So do we fix this or what?” he asked finally, still holding her as their clothes dried and their laughter subsided.
“I say we do,” Ginny said straightening some so that she was sitting on her own again.
“I’ve messed up and I know it,” Harry admitted to her.
“I did too. I wasn’t a very good fiancée. I’ve been selfish, and I didn’t even realize,” Ginny said softly.
“It’s going to take a lot of work to repair all this.”
“I know it is,” Ginny said soberly setting up his basin again and refilling it at the correct temperature. “More than half of our engagement has been spent doing the wrong thing. I want the magic back Harry. I don’t want to loose this…this little bit that’s left.”
She held up her ring for him to see. For the first time that evening, the stone had a very faint glow. Harry stared at the stone.
“What happened to it?” he asked.
“We happened to it. This ring used to glow brightly because of the magic between the two of us. It stopped glowing tonight Harry, while you were lost. I didn’t realize before that happened just how bad things have been.”
“It stopped glowing when I was with Laura,” Harry realized.
“Yes. It started to come back while you were telling me about her,” Ginny said as she finished heating his water.
“Then that’s how we fix this Ginny. We go back to the beginning, to the time when the stone was bright and our magic was strong. Then we tell each other everything, no matter how painful or difficult or small. Don’t leave anything out,” Harry urged. “Can you do that?”
“I’ll try,” she promised. “Can you?”
“Yes. How shall we begin?”
“Tell me everything Harry. Start from last June, from that weekend you went to Ron and Hermione’s. Tell me everything that happened that you wouldn’t tell me then, and I’ll do the same for you.”
“Okay. Are your ready?” he asked. “This is going to take a while.”
“Ready,” Ginny said as she leaned back to get comfortable in her chair.
“Okay for me, it all started with the memory training,” Harry began and he told her about the exercises and the memories he’d had to review and their affect on him. He told her of his doubts and his worries about being rejected by her once her offer from the Harpies finally came through, and of the depression that had driven him more than once to a bar. As they talked Ginny began to reciprocate, and slowly they worked through all that had happened since the last time they’d been happy together.
In the morning Mr. and Mrs. Weasley awoke early to the sound of voices wafting up the stairs. Mrs. Weasley glanced at her husband in concern as she left their bed, pulled on a dressing gown, and crept down the stairs to the kitchen. Harry and Ginny were still seated by the fireplace, deep in discussion about the things that had happened. Neither of them had noticed that the fire had grown cold, or that the pale light of the wintery dawn was coming through the kitchen window. The couple only had eyes for one another. Mrs. Weasley entered the kitchen studying the two of them; though her daughter’s face was streaked with dried up tears shed at some point during the night, she looked relatively happy. Harry on the other hand looked exhausted. Between his mission, the cold, and heart to heart talk he was now having with Ginny, he to be absolutely drained. But the expression on his face looked happy too.
“Did either of you ever sleep?” Mrs. Weasley asked when they finally noticed that she was there.
“Did we wake you Molly?” Harry asked. “We’ve been thinking that we probably should be going to bed.”
“Its morning, Harry. Have you been up talking all night?”
“It is?” Ginny asked in surprise looking out the window. “Is that the sun coming up? Already?”
“Yes dear,” her mother said.
Ginny turned back, looking sharply at Harry. “I’ve done it again,” she lamented. “I’ve been so busy trying to fix things for us I forgot about you! Harry, how could you let me do that to you again?!”
“Good morning Harry, Ginny,” Mr. Weasley said to each of them as he came down into the kitchen behind his wife.
“Good morning Arthur.”
“Good morning Dad.”
He stopped in front of them carefully appraising the two young adults. “I heard what you said Ginny. Am I to believe that you have worked out your differences?”
Ginny looked back to Harry who nodded then shrugged ever so slightly.
“Most of them Dad. We’ve got some left to go, but we’re getting there,” Ginny said.
“Then would you mind terribly if I gave you a word of advice?”
“Please do,” Harry said. “I think at this point we would take any help or advice we can get.”
“Do you agree Ginny?” Mr. Weasley asked his daughter.
“Yes I do Dad.”
“Then let me tell you both something before the rest of them get up. Making up and working through your problems once they’ve developed, as difficult as that is, is the easy part. Making sure it doesn’t happen again is much harder. I think you’ve discovered that yourself Ginny, just now.”
Ginny looked up, startled that he’d recognized that. “Yes Dad. I hadn’t realized how automatic it is.”
“Exactly. It is relatively easy to admit you are wrong and. promise to make amends, but it is much harder to change bad habits once they’ve developed and to regularly open the communication channels again. It won’t happen immediately, nor will any change you try to make happen overnight, but then the problems you have didn’t get that way overnight either, did they?” Mr. Weasley asked them.
“No,” Ginny admitted. “This has been a long time coming.”
“Yeah it has,” Harry agreed.
“Then my advice to you both is to expect that the amount of time it took for your problems to develop is about the length of time they will take to fix. Be patient with each other. Be supportive. Be understanding of the occasional backslide. But above all, be committed both to each other and to fixing this. Do you understand what I’m saying?” he asked the pair.
“Dad, are you saying that we shouldn’t expect to get back what we once had?” Ginny asked, studying her ring. “That the magic won’t come back?
“Not at all. I am only saying that talking one night as you have won’t be enough to bring it back. It will come back with a lot of effort and hard work on both your parts, and when it does, you will find that it’s changed.”
“Changed how Sir?” Harry asked.
“My guess is that it will be stronger,“ Mr. Weasley said carefully. “Neither you nor Ginny are the people you were even a year ago. You change, your relationship changes, and I believe you are learning that maintaining even the best of relationships takes work,” Mr. Weasley explained. “That doesn’t stop the moment you become engaged or when you marry.”
“Is that true Mum?” Ginny asked as Mrs. Weasley moved about the kitchen beginning breakfast.
“Yes it’s true Ginny,” Mrs. Weasley said.
“But you and Dad always seem so happy!” Ginny exclaimed.
“We are happy Ginny. Unbelievably happy,” Mrs. Weasley told her daughter. “But that doesn’t mean we no longer need to pay attention to one another, or can stop putting the effort into our relationship. The magic would die if we were to let that happen.”
Ginny turned to look at Harry as the expression of worry from earlier that morning returned to her face.
“We’ll be okay Ginny,” Harry soothed. “It won’t be easy, but I think we’ll be okay.”
Ginny nodded as she stood up and then leaned down beside Harry, sliding an arm around his waist to help him to stand. Though his feet had recovered some through Ginny’s ministering, his toes still looked bluer than their normal color and he still found it painful to walk.
“Are you going somewhere?” Mrs. Weasley asked.
“Home Molly,” Harry said.
“Harry needs some sleep and I do too,” Ginny said. “I’m going to take care of him Mum.”
Mrs. Weasley regarded her daughter thoughtfully. “All right Ginny. You’re probably right. You will both probably sleep better at home than you would here. Take this with you,” she said handing her a vial.
“What is it?” Ginny asked.
“A second potion to help with the frostbite. Give half to Harry before he goes to sleep and the other half when he wakes up,” Mrs. Weasley directed.
“I will Mum. And thank you, for everything.”
“Yeah Molly. Thank you. I’m sorry I caused you all so much trouble.”
“Think nothing of it Harry. That’s what families are for,” Mr. Weasley assured him as he slid his own arm around the waist of his wife.
The young couple smiled and nodded as they stepped into the fire and shouted “Number Twelve Grimmauld Place”.