Chapter 6 : Ultimatum
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“You should be free to leave tomorrow Mr. Templeton, just please continue taking your potion and let us know if you have any problems,” Hermione said, backing out of the room. She sighed heavily and hung a chart on the door before turning to walk towards the room of her next patient. Hermione was one of the highest-ranked Healers in St. Mungos. She enjoyed doing rounds that allowed her to visit wizards with magical malfunctions, but her specialty was curses. Hermione’s intellect pushed her to discover everything she could about dark magic and curses as she worked to create and find counterjinxes, countercharms, and potions that could save people. Everyone in the hospital felt at ease when she was around. People seemed to overlook the fact that she was overworked because she was so good at her job.
“Healer Granger!” called a voice that caused Hermione to wince before acknowledging the person’s presence.
“Healer Warren,” she said quickly, attempting to walk past the tall blonde man.
“Do you have a moment?”
“Erm – Yes Warren, what can I help you with?” Hermione asked, turning to face him.
“I was wondering if maybe you’d like to get together this evening to go over some new cases? Perhaps over dinner?”
“I’m sorry. I’m busy with rounds tonight. We can make time for a quick meeting tomorrow morning if you like, you can set it up with Mara at the front desk as usual,” Hermione replied with her standard response. She’d gotten used to this and while she tried to avoid it as much as possible, she had developed easy excuses to evade dating for when she couldn’t avoid the question.
“Hermione,” he began quietly, “You don’t have rounds tonight. I checked the schedule. So come to dinner with me,” he continued, trying to meet her eyes.
“I think you checked wrong. I certainly do have rounds tonight. Perhaps Mara forgot to post it, I better go have a word with her,” Hermione said, turning to walk the other direction when Healer Warren grabbed her arm.
“I’m going to keep trying you know,” he told her, looking at her softly. Hermione nodded and moved away.
She was tired of the various suitors that wanted to take her out. It wasn’t that she wasn’t flattered, but she’d closed her heart off four years ago. She pushed all her energy into her work, and that was all she wanted. Thoughts of Ron began to creep into her mind. Hermione closed her eyes and pressed her fingers to her temples.
“Come back to me,” she whispered, running a hand into her curly honey-brown hair. Taking a second to think of his touch, Hermione imagined what it would be like if he returned. Would he be hurt? What if he didn’t remember her? What sort of condition would he be in? “It doesn’t matter,” she told herself, pushing the thoughts of Ron from her mind as she remembered she was supposed to be trying to move past the pain. Hermione focused on her work, put a smile on her face and entered the room of her next patient.
Harry was sitting in his office spilling over old paperwork the next morning. Where could Ron be? He had read and reread the files over and over again, and still couldn’t make heads or tails of the situation. Harry thought back to that day when Ron disappeared. The Burrow had special protections, so the person must have expected Ron to fly or walk away and were waiting for him in the woods. Harry wondered if whoever did this might have had alternate plans for what they would do depending on Ron’s actions. Just after Ron disappeared they had questioned the normal suspects. The Death Eaters had all been put in Azkaban. Just then, something clicked. Harry rushed out of his office and into the elevator that he took to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. He couldn’t believe that he had never thought of this in four years, and walked down the long dark hallway to a room that was locked. Removing his key from his pocket, he quickly placed it in the keyhole and murmured the necessary spells before hurrying down the short hallway to the reception desk.
“I need to see Maggie Humphrey please,” Harry told the small lady at the desk.
“Do you have an appointment?”
“Tell her it’s Harry Potter, and it’s urgent,” Harry replied, his foot tapping impatiently. The woman nodded and wrote a quick note that took off through the air down the hallway beside her.
“It will be a few minutes, Mr. Potter.”
Harry nodded and took a seat. Not even a minute had gone by when a short woman wearing thick black glasses paired with peach dress robes approached Harry.
“Mr. Potter! To what do I owe this pleasure?” Maggie Humphrey asked, thrusting a hand out towards Harry while she used her other hand to push her glasses up on her nose.
“Mrs. Humphrey? I wanted to ask you some questions about the surveillance in place at Azkaban. I know the general idea of it but I wanted to check that I’m correct.”
“Please call me Maggie. Let’s step into my office,” Maggie told him. They walked down the hallway behind the reception desk and entered a good size office on the left. There was a sofa directly to the right of Harry. Maggie offered Harry the chair on the other side of her desk as she took her normal seat and gazed out the window behind her. “What can I help you with Mr. Potter?” Maggie asked, turning her face back to Harry.
“I was talking to a friend yesterday about the security in Azkaban and just needed to clear a few things up. We’ve still got dementors there, correct?”
“Yes. But we’ve also added manpower as well seeing as the last time it was only dementors they turned from the Ministry. The enforcements we have there are all well trained, and as you know, we have some Aurors there as well. I’m sure you trained some of them yourself, so you know what they’re supposed to look out for.”
“Right. And the prisoners? I’m clear on what the Aurors there are doing but how exactly are the prisoners treated? I send a lot of people to Azkaban but have never visited.”
“As you know Mr. Potter-“
“Harry, Azkaban is a dark place. The prisoners there live in dark cells and are closely watched. The guards are checked daily for any sign of being under the imperious curse. No wands are allowed around the prisoners, so the Aurors and other enforcement officers are trained in combat.”
“Are the prisoners allowed around each other?”
“Yes. A couple of years ago we changed the system so that they have meals together. The ones who we believe most dangerous obviously stay in their cells. Since He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Names was defeated, most of his most trusted followers-“
“Were killed in the final battle or committed suicide shortly after. Yeah I remember,” Harry sighed.
“Yes. So Azkaban is still a dark and dreary place, but things there needn’t be as harsh as they were years ago.”
“Right. That’s all I needed to know. Thank you Maggie,” Harry said, standing to his feet and offering his hand.
“Anytime. My office is always open. Did I help you at all?” Maggie asked as she shook Harry’s hand.
“Yes. I think I’ve got everything I need. Have a good one,” Harry said. He turned and left the office.
Harry walked quickly through the hall and back to the lift. Instead of returning to his office, he took the lift to the floor of records. Once there, he began searching through the records of inmates admitted to Azkaban in the past couple of years. Harry combed through the files of various dark wizards for hours until he found something out of the ordinary.
“Shit,” Harry murmured. He took the file and quickly left the room. Harry hurried to the exit of the Ministry and apparated as soon as he set foot outside of the doors.
Harry walked out of the ally to which he apparated near his home and walked to the front door of his flat. Unlocking the door with his wand, Harry went inside and walked to his home office where he began to pace. He knew what he had to do, and he’d have to be quick so that no one would notice he was gone. Ginny would certainly not approve of his decision. While things were strained between then, Harry knew that finding Ron would help them put the pieces of their lives back together.
“They aren’t looking for him. This isn’t going to work,” said a small, wheezy voice.
“They will come. If it takes more time, then we must have patience and continue to build what we have created.”
“And if they don’t come?”
They will. I know Potter. Understand, that they have been without him for four years. They’re not getting along well, no matter how chummy things may appear. Patience. Potter will come,” replied a stern voice.
“Is there anything we can do to move things along? Everything has gone according to plan. He’s ready.”
“There are certain actions we can take, but the best results will come with patience. If Potter does not find him within the month, then we will act. I assure you, we have hidden him well, but not well enough that Potter is too inept to find him.”
“Alright. Then let the games begin.”
“Indeed,” replied the stern voice. The two men moved towards the window of a small cottage they had occupied for some time. The smaller man chuckled. This was just the beginning.
Harry considered the possibilities of his actions. He decided not to tell Hermione because she would just ask to come along and he decided that was not an option. Telling work would mean filling out the necessary paperwork and he didn’t have time for that. Being Harry Potter did have some advantages, and he figured getting into Azkaban wouldn’t be a problem. As he paced and contemplated what to do, the main source of his anxiety walked through the front door. His decision to tell her his plans had been made for him by her entrance. Harry started down the hallway and walked into the living room to find Ginny placing her key in the basket next to the door.
“We have magic for a reason you know,” he said with a smile.
“What are you doing home?” Ginny asked, her hand flying to her chest.
“Did I scare you?”
“Yes, I wasn’t expecting you. Why are you home?”
“You don’t sound happy to see me,” Harry frowned, walking towards her.
Ginny searched his eyes as she set her bag down on the couch. He was avoiding her question, which meant he had something to tell her he knew she wouldn’t like. Ginny sighed and turned to face him.
“Harry. You’re leaving again, aren’t you.” It wasn’t a question.
“Gin, just hear me out –“
“I can see it in your eyes. Merlin Harry. You promised.”
“I know I did Gin, but this is your brother! I’ve got to do anything I can-“
“Harry there are other aurors! Why can’t they find him? Why does it always have to be you?”
“He’s my best friend. You have to understand –“
“You’re too involved in this Harry. The case has been closed. If you have new information you should give it to the ministry and let them work on it for you. I’m tired of watching you disappoint yourself over and over while you look for him!”
“Ginny please understand. He’s such a big part of our lives. How can you just give up on him? Why am I the only one who cares?” Harry said, his voice rising. Ginny turned away from him and looked towards the fireplace. Harry turned to face the wall and braced himself against it with his palms.
“Harry. Ron’s disappearance wasn’t your fault. Hermione and I have accepted that there was nothing we could do. You need to accept that fact also,” Ginny said.
“No. That’s not going to happen. Ron has always been there for me. I am not going to let his case close until I find him dead. If you and Hermione can’t understand that then I have to keep looking myself.”
“Harry you’re hurting us! You’re hurting all of us because you can’t let it go!”
“And what if he comes back? What if he comes back to see that we’ve all moved on? That we’ve forgotten about him?!”
“We can never forget! No one will ever forget. I'm not trying to sound like a horrible person but I believe moving on is part of the grieving process. It’s life, Harry. We lose people – “
“Don’t you think I understand that? I lost my parents. I lost Sirius. Dumbledore, Dobby. Lupin. Tonks. Fred. I’ve lost so many people because they died and there was nothing I could do. But Ron is not dead. I know he’s not. I can’t rest until we find him!” Harry exclaimed, punching his hand against the wall. He was breathing hard. “Shit. We’re falling apart. We’re never going to agree on this. But I can’t stop. I can’t make you understand. But I can’t stop,” Harry said quietly. He sank down against the wall.
“Stop it. Stand up. I’m not going to feel sorry for you anymore Harry. I’ve been supporting you all this time, because I believed we could find a trace of him. I will never give up hope, but I’m not going to put my life on hold any longer. You promised Harry. You promised me we would get on with our lives!” Ginny cried, staring angrily at Harry’s defeated form on the floor. Harry ran his fingers through his hair and took a deep breath. He had to make her understand.
“One more time Ginny. I really think that I’ve found – “
“No. It’s always one more time. One more chance. One last case. I can’t take it anymore Harry.”
“Really, I promise –“
“Don’t promise me anything anymore Harry. I don’t want to hear it.”
“Ginny,” Harry began, rising to his feet. “Just listen – “
“I don’t want to listen anymore! I want you to show me! I told you I need to know that you still care about me. That you still want me.”
“Of course I do. You’re my world – “
“Bullshit! If I were still important to you then you would come home more often. You would sleep through an entire night just to be next to me. You would come home for dinner. I understand that he’s your best friend but I lost a brother! Two of them. And you don’t see me ignoring you or dwelling on the fact that they’re gone. It hurts everyday and I think about it all the time but you constantly worrying over this isn't helping things get better! I need you, and you're never here.”
“Ginny. I love you. We’re going to get married – “
“Those are the key words Harry. We’re going to. But when? When is it ever going to happen?”
"You're asking me to choose between you and finding your brother -"
"I never thought I'd have to ask you to choose! When you asked me to marry you, I said we should wait. But I thought by now Ron would be found and we would have been married. We talked about this earlier and I told you I couldn't wait for him anymore!"
Harry stood up and started to walk towards her. He was surprised when Ginny took a step away from him and moved his eyes up to meet hers. He opened his mouth and then closed it again.
“Just as I thought, you still aren’t ready to set a date,” Ginny scoffed. “Where is it you want to go? Where is this magical place where you’re going to find Ron?”
“It’s work Ginny, you know I can’t – “
“Harry James Potter if you don’t tell me where the hell you want to go then –“
“I can’t! It’s not protocol! You have to understand –“
“Are you taking a team? Or just yourself? Does your boss even know?”
“This mission would just be me –“
“Dammit Harry you’re not even going to tell work you’re going! Stop lying to me. Tell me where you’re going.” Harry averted his eyes. He didn’t know how he was going to get out of this one.
“Gin, it’s too dangerous. It’s not a secret, I’d just rather not tell you until I’m back.”
“Were you even going to tell me at all? Or were you just planning on leaving? Were you going to lie to me about where you were going?” Ginny exclaimed.
“No of course not, it’s just that –“
“If you go,” Ginny began quietly, “I don’t want you to come back here,” Ginny said. Tears leaked out of her eyes as she brought her hand to her mouth in surprise at what she’d said.
“What?” Harry asked, taken aback by her statement. His face fell as he took in her words.
“You heard me.”
“No. No Ginny. You don’t mean that. We can fix things. We’re just having a rough time –“
“We’ve been having a rough time for too long Harry. I’m not going to deal with it anymore,” Ginny told him, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“No. We’re going to be together forever. I need you. I love you. Please baby. Don’t give up on me. I can make this work,” Harry told her. He walked towards her again, but she moved away. Harry’s voice caught in his throat.
“You know what’s really awful Harry?” Ginny said, her voice thick through her tears, “Is that just now, you didn’t say you wouldn’t go. And that can only mean that it doesn’t matter what I say,” she finished. Ginny turned towards the couch next to her and grabbed her bag. She started for the door, her breathing labored and her heart breaking. She opened the door and rushed outside, slamming the door behind her.
“Ginny no! Just wait!” Harry yelled.
But he was too late. He opened the door and found that she was already gone. He ran out of their flat, calling her name as he searched the surrounding area, but he knew she had apparated as soon as she got outside the door. Harry turned around, walked back to the flat, and slammed the door. He opened it and slammed it again. Where would she have gone? She knows he would check St. Mungo’s where she worked, Hermione’s flat, and the Burrow, so he couldn’t check those places. Harry walked back towards his office and looked over the notes he had sitting on his desk. Everything was in place. He would find Ron before Ginny returned home, and then everything would get better. It had to. Harry grabbed his jacket and pulled his cloak over his arm. He would need both muggle and magic transportation to get where he was going. And he would have to be quick. Harry scribbled a note to Ginny before leaving the flat and locking the door behind him.
Ginny sat at a corner table in the Leady Cauldron. She would have to wait a while before trying to go to her parent’s house or to Hermione’s, because Harry would look for her there first, if he even cared to find her. Ginny sat facing the corner so she would be less likely to be questioned about her tear-stained face. This was the first time she had ever thought of what life without Harry would be like, and she didn’t like the feeling. She hadn’t meant the things she said, but she needed him to stop being so stubborn and consider how he was hurting their relationship. She remembered his proposal like it was yesterday.
Ginny was sitting in the kitchen at the Burrow on Christmas Eve sipping a cup of tea while everyone else was asleep. It was the second year they’d been without Ron and Fred, and the holidays weren’t getting any easier. She hadn’t been able to sleep and was hoping the tea would calm her. Hermione and Harry were both visiting for the holidays, as Mrs. Weasley would have it no other way. Ginny took another sip when she felt a pair of arms slip around her waist. She tensed at first, but upon recognizing it was Harry, she relaxed back into his chest. He kissed her neck and held her tight.
“You couldn’t sleep either?” Harry asked her.
“Just have a lot on my mind. Hermione’s crying again and I didn’t want to stay in the room,” Ginny replied. Harry nodded his understanding.
“Come with me, let’s sit by the fire,” Harry suggested, taking her hand. Ginny followed him into the next room and curled up in his lap. Harry slipped his arms around her waist and held her close. “ I love you,” he whispered.
“I love you too,” Ginny replied, turning her face so she could press a kiss to his lips.
“Will you open one of your presents tonight? Technically…it’s already Christmas day,” Harry murmured, looking at the clock that read five minutes after twelve. He placed feather-light kisses across her forehead. Ginny chuckled and pulled back to look at him.
“Which present is it you’d like me to open?”
“This one,” Harry asked, handing her a small black box. Ginny gasped and took the box from him. She slid off his lap and sat next to him on the sofa. Harry’s eyes sparkled with happiness as he watched her contemplate opening the box. Slowly, she pulled it open with her delicate fingers and found a silver ring set with green emeralds. The center stone sparkled as Ginny held the box out to admire it. When she glanced sideways to catch Harry’s eye she found him kneeling on the floor in front of her.
“Harry, what –“
“Ginny. I love you. You mean everything to me. I’m so proud of the way you’ve grown, and of the way we’ve grown together through all that has happened. You make me better, and you complete me. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, loving you, and being there for you for anything you need. Will you please do me the honor, of becoming my wife?” Harry stopped to catch his breath as he looked into her eyes. He knew the answer before she opened her mouth. Her look was so sincere and so loving, and he couldn’t wait for them to start their lives together. A single tear fell from his left eye as he became swept up in the moment and the intensity of the feelings he felt for Ginny.
“Yes. Yes Harry, Merlin yes,” Ginny said softly without hesitation, as Harry gently removed the ring from the box and slid it onto her finger. Ginny stood up and Harry pulled her into his arms. Ginny moved her face and kissed Harry softly on the lips. Their snogging became more passionate as Harry traced her bottom lip with his tongue. She graciously and willingly opened her mouth, allowing their tongues to meet. She wanted to be with him, closer then they’d ever been before. Harry pulled Ginny closer to him with one arm around her waist and cupped her face with his free hand.
“I love you. I love you so much,” Harry told her between kisses. Ginny pulled back to see his face and smiled.
“I love you too. I can’t wait for us to be married Harry. I wasn’t expecting this,” Ginny said, her eyes flying to her ring finger. She moved her hand back and forth as her grin grew.
“Well it had to be somewhat of a surprise. Except to your parents. Your Dad knows I was planning to ask you,” Harry told her, running a hand through her bright red hair.
“You asked my father?” Ginny asked as a small giggle escaped her lips.
“Had to do it the right way, didn’t I?” Harry said. He pulled Ginny into his lap and the two sat down on the sofa again. Ginny wove her arms around Harry’s neck and pulled their foreheads together.
“Harry. I want to married as soon as possible, but maybe if we just give it a little bit more time. Just to make sure –“ Ginny’s voice trailed off. Harry understood that she wanted to wait for a final word on her brother. The auror team wasn’t finding many leads, but she still had hope that something might happen.
“Ok. We can wait. I’m just happy to be engaged to you,” Harry said, kissing her gently on the cheek. “But maybe…you’d like to move into my place?” Harry asked her, his face serious.
“Really? I thought you’d never ask,” Ginny laughed. “I’m practically there all the time anyway,” she told him, running her fingers through his hair repeatedly.
“I don’t want to rush things. You know I’m yours for the rest of our lives,” Harry told her.
“I don’t think it’s rushing. If things had gone as planned…we’d already be married and living together. But you know. Since things didn’t happen that way…I’d say moving in now is perfect. I start working at St. Mungos soon, and your flat is brilliant and big enough,” Ginny said.
“Well, I did pick it out with you in mind,” Harry told her. He had chosen a flat in London shortly after he started auror training as an alternative to returning to Hogwarts. He had chosen not to live at Grimmauld Place as it held too many memories he wasn’t quite ready to face yet. Ginny had returned for her final year before starting work towards becoming a Healer along with Hermione. Hermione had surprised everyone by choosing to throw herself into a profession without returning for her final year at Hogwarts. No one was surprised when it worked out well for her and she became the highest ranked Healer in only two years. Ginny worked in the children’s ward and loved every second of it. She continued to play quidditch in her spare time.
“We’re going to be ok. Something will happen. We will find him,” Ginny said with a sigh. “But for now, we celebrate.” Ginny shifted so she was lying down and motioned to Harry to do the same. She moved her hand under his shirt and began to trace circles along his back. Harry placed his hand on her neck and brought their lips together in a tender kiss. They began to snog slowly, savoring each moment and every touch. Harry ran a hand along the length of Ginny's body and finally rested it on her hip. Pushing her into the couch, Harry shifted so he could gain better access to her neck. His lips moved softly along her skin, causing her to gasp with pleasure. Harry whispered her name as he kissed along her cheek before crushing his lips against hers. He moved the hand that had been gripping her hip and searched for Ginny's free hand. Harry laced their fingers together and squeezed. Ginny opened one eye to glance at her ring, and smiled as she kissed her fiancé.
At the time, waiting to find Ron seemed like the logical thing to do. She knew that the only reason Harry had waited so long to propose was because Ron was missing. She also knew that Harry was trying to consider Hermione’s feelings about them doing something they all knew Ron should be a part of. While she believed back then that Ron was going to be found, she wasn’t as sure anymore. Ginny wanted to move on. She wanted to be married and really start her life with Harry. Dwelling on Ron’s disappearance was becoming too much, and Ginny felt that Harry would never focus his energy on loving her like he had before Ron disappeared.
Ginny wiped her eyes and stood up. Instead of going to Hermione's or her parents' house, she left the pub and apparated home, hoping to find Harry and work things out. Opening the door to the flat, she noticed a piece of parchment sitting on the table. Recognizing Harry’s writing, Ginny knew she didn’t have to read it to know he had left. He didn't care enough to stay at home waiting for her to return. Why didn't she mean anything to him anymore? Tears resurfaced as she carefully considered what she was about to do. Slowly, Ginny slid her engagement ring off of her finger. She placed it on the piece of parchment paper and left the house. Left Harry.
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