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Chapter 21 : One Step Forward...
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*takes big breath* Harry saved Ginny from Malfoy, only to lose control after regaining his memories, thanks to Snape, who removed the old memory charm in an attempt to put on a new one. After finding Ginny and almost killing her, Harry got control enough to run away, only to have Ginny follow him in an attempt to help...one thing led to another and after a few tense moments and some sharing of power, sex ensued, inexplicably freeing Harry of his dark nature. The tortured couple awoke happy and refreshed...only to realize that their memories were probably in danger of being taken from them again by the family who didn't know Harry was better...so racing off, they tried and failed to keep this from happening, only to have Ginny force the family to reverse it for good when they tried to talk to her to find out what had happened and why Harry hadn't killed her. Furious and hurt, Ginny disowned her family before she and Harry disappeared, running off to live alone in the woods, as any good power-couple should. Ron and Hermione ended up in the hospital after having almost died during Malfoy's ritual...and Snape is dead, having really died when evil Harry slammed him against a wall on his way to find and kill Ginny. It has now been two weeks. :)
Arthur stood at the sink, his hands trembling as he struggled to wash the dishes without breaking them. His vision swam with tears as he swirled the sponge around and around in circles against the plate he held. He’d hardly slept over the last two weeks, unable to think about anything beyond what had happened the night Ginny and Harry disappeared.
He still didn’t know how he’d made it through the trip to the hospital, how he’d managed to tell Molly what had happened.
“No,” Molly breathed, tears filling her eyes as she stood from her chair beside Ron’s bed. “Not dead,” she said, beginning to cry as Arthur approached her. “Not dead…not dead, please,” she moaned as she quickly lost her composure. “You were supposed to protect her!” she cried, pounding her fist on Arthur’s chest before grabbing his robes as her knees buckled.
“She’s not dead,” Arthur soothed, holding her tightly as she cried.
“Then why are you here?” Molly choked out. “I still remember her. Why aren’t you doing the spell?! Where is she?”
Dropping the plate into the water, Arthur pressed his hands against his face. After everything they’d done to keep her safe…Ginny hated them. Hated them so much, she’d disowned them and left. In many ways it felt like they’d failed…they’d kept her alive but she was still gone.
“Arthur,” Molly murmured from behind him.
Arthur lowered his hands from his face as she reached around and turned off the tap.
“I’m…so sorry, Molly,” he said gruffly.
“You have to stop this,” she told him. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“Wasn’t it?” he wondered aloud, gripping the counter hard. “I should have said something else…tried something else. If she just understood.”
“We’ve been over this,” Molly replied. “I don’t know what else you could have said.”
Arthur shut his eyes, suppressing a shudder as she rubbed her hand against his back.
“If this is the price we have to pay, luv, then we’ll pay it,” she whispered. “She’s alive and…and that’s what we wanted.”
“But she hates us,” he breathed. “She hates us and she isn’t coming back.”
“You don’t know that,” Molly reasoned.
“Yes, I do,” Arthur said as the look in Ginny’s eyes when she dismissed him flashed through his mind. “You didn’t see her.”
“No,” Molly murmured in agreement.
She stayed silent for several moments as they stood together, suffocating under the misery that seemed to fill the air around them.
“She’s stubborn, Arthur,” she continued eventually, “but…it’s only been two weeks…one day she’ll need us again.”
Mentally and physically exhausted, Arthur couldn’t bring himself to agree. All he could see was the pain in Ginny’s face. All he could hear was the hatred in her voice and suddenly, he needed to get out.
Turning away from the counter, Arthur took Molly’s face in his hands. Kissing her briefly, he rested his forehead against hers as he wiped the tears from her cheeks. With a last caress of his wife’s hair, he headed for the backdoor on the way to his shed.
A flick of his wand undid the locks as he moved and he pulled open the weathered wooden door. Sagging with age, the corner dragged through the dirt, deepening the crevice dug into the ground before he stepped inside. The door caught on a rock, forcing him to yank it shut.
It closed with a slam, the sound echoing in the cramped space as he fumbled to start the Muggle generator. With a crank and a whine it started, causing the Muggle lightbulb overhead to flicker to life. Past his work desk and his shelves of trinkets, he crossed to the tarp-covered mound in the center of the room.
With a sigh, he dragged the plastic canvas away, causing dust to float around him as he revealed a large pile of indistinguishable metal. Casting the sheet aside, he sneezed into his sleeve and began to work.
Ron frowned as he stared at the chair across the hospital room. His gaze travelled over the worn orange bucket seat and metal frame, while his fingers rubbed against the handle of his new wand. It still felt strange, a little too thick and a little too heavy, but it was the only one that had responded to him with any sort of reaction.
His cheeks flushed as he remembered the way the lamps had only slightly flickered when he’d picked it up. Hermione, on the other hand, had gasped and hugged him tight, as though he’d just mastered some complex spell. Mostly, he’d been relieved that something – anything – had happened…but a small part of him couldn’t help being embarrassed after witnessing the array of colored sparks that had flown when Hermione had found her own replacement wand.
He’d only been trying to use magic for a few days, having spent the last week in his hospital bed. He could feel it inside of him and he’d been anxious to start trying to use it, but so far he’d been unable to access it the way he had before. His first several spell attempts had failed miserably. Wandless magic of any sort was still out of the question.
Healer Allen, a specialist from the Spell Damage Wing on the fourth floor, worked with him for an hour each morning. At first, Ron had been skeptical. There wasn’t actually a precedent for helping wizards who’d had their magic stripped, only to have it later returned through a channeling process that no one could really explain. Still, the basic exercises the healer suggested seemed to be slowly working. His session had officially ended half an hour before, but Ron had wanted to keep practicing.
Raising his wand, he narrowed his eyes as he concentrated. After several seconds he formed the words clearly and firmly, casting a Transfiguration spell that a month ago would have worked instantly. Today, he watched in frustration as the chair shivered violently against the tile before it came to rest, unchanged.
Dropping his hand, Ron pinched the bridge of his nose with the other. Breathing out a curse, he shook his head before a pair of warm hands ran up over his shoulders. His body sagged in response, the tension fading slightly at the soft touch.
“You’re doing great, Ron,” Hermione assured him as she leaned against his back. “Four out of five this time.”
“Yeah, transfiguring a chair,” he muttered.
“No, I know it’s good…I just feel weak,” he admitted, feeling Hermione press closer as he sighed. “If I can’t even transfigure a chair, what happens if I’m in a real situation and it fails…What if I never make it work right?”
Slipping around to his front, Hermione wrapped her arms around his waist.
“You will. Healer Allen says it will just take time,” she reminded him.
“But he doesn’t really know,” Ron replied, exhaling loudly. “This might be as good as it gets.”
“Maybe, but I doubt it,” she said, kissing his chin. “Look at the progress you’ve made already.”
“Yeah, it’s really…”
“Something,” she interrupted firmly. “It’s something, and even if’s is the best we can hope for, I don’t care,” she announced, kissing his jaw and his throat before pressing her face against his chest. “As long as you’re alive, I don’t care about magic.”
Smiling reluctantly, Ron rested his cheek on her head.
“I know you don’t,” he murmured, combing his fingers through her curls. “And you may be used to living a Muggle life, but I’m definitely not interested in that.”
“Hey guys,” a familiar voice said cheerfully from the doorway.
Lifting his head, Ron nodded when he saw Tonks.
“How are you doing?” Hermione asked her.
“Almost good as new,” Tonks smiled, leaning on her cane as she entered the room. “I’ll be back to work any day now.”
“Your pelvis was shattered,” Remus corrected, frowning as he followed her. “You’re not going to be…”
“Oh, posh,” she waved him off as she glanced around the room. “So, any news? Messages?”
“Nothing new,” Hermione replied, shaking her head while Ron tensed.
“But you sent a reply?” Tonks pressed. “You encouraged them to come back? Did you tell them to write again?”
Ron remained silent, letting Hermione do the talking as they began to discuss Harry and Ginny and where they might be. Looking at his fellow Order members, Ron still had a hard time believing what had happened.
His eyes dropped to the floor as Hermione lied smoothly, assuring Remus that they didn’t know where Harry and Ginny were, that a letter was the only communication they’d received.
Everyone’s keeping secrets lately, he thought bitterly.
The fact that Harry and Ginny’s past had been hidden for so long seemed so insane that he still woke up thinking it might all have been a dream. All he could do was shake his head in disbelief when they’d first told him about everything that had happened. In fact, if he hadn’t seen Harry with his own eyes, he probably still wouldn’t believe them.
His eyes drifted to Hermione’s profile as his memory stirred.
For several moments, Ron struggled to wake up. His heavy eyelids drifted open, revealing a second of a dark blurry ceiling, before falling shut again. Something was wrong, but as he fought his way out of the lethargic haze surrounding him, he couldn’t figure out what.
Hermione will know…
His body moved slowly as he dragged his hands from his stomach to the mattress in search of his wife. The small space beside him was empty and he finally realized that it was her warmth that was missing.
Finally coming to, he opened his eyes and rolled his head to the right. Her bed was empty across the room and the sky was black beyond the window. The clock beside him read almost 3am, so he rolled his head to the left, searching for her.
His eyes widened when he found Harry standing with her across the room. A shock of alarm went through him before he remembered what his brothers had told him earlier. It had been nearly impossible to believe that Harry was back in control of himself, but amazingly the proof seemed to be before him.
Harry and Hermione were holding hands and as Ron watched, Harry pulled her into a hug. Whatever he said in her ear made her nod as she leaned into his embrace.
After a few seconds, Ron belatedly heard the rustle of paper beside him. His eyes drifted to where Ginny stood beside his bed scanning his chart.
“Hey,” Ron said, his voice scratching his throat.
Ginny’s head jerked up, her eyes wide as they met his.
A second later, her arms were around him and her hair was in his face as she practically climbed up on the bed beside him.
“What were you thinking?” she demanded, her words choked out against his neck.
“Why do you girls keep asking me that?” he winced, patting her back.
“Because you died,” she sniffled. “You could have…”
“But I didn’t,” Ron reminded her. “Still here. Thanks to you,” he added, squeezing her.
Harry’s face was neutral as he and Hermione approached the bed, but his eyes were green and tender when he reached for Ginny.
“Give him some room, Gin,” Harry said gently, drawing her away.
Ron remained silent as Hermione rounded the bed to stand beside him. For a few more seconds he searched Harry’s face before he finally broke into a wide grin.
Hermione nudged him sharply in the ribs, jerking him back to the present.
“Oh, yeah, um bye,” Ron stammered.
Tonks limped out of the room, but Remus remained behind for a second, staring hard at Ron. His mouth opened as though he were going to say something before he snapped it shut and turned, shaking his head as he followed his wife.
“He knows we’re lying about knowing where they are,” Hermione said as soon as they were gone.
“Technically, we don’t know where they are,” he replied, keeping his voice low.
“You know what I mean, Ron. We’re the only ones they’re talking to…The only ones they’ve seen.”
“Yeah,” Ron replied. “But they’re not going to press about it. At least, not yet.”
Ginny snuggled deeper into her pillow as Harry tried to draw her from sleep. His hand was warm against her back, caressing small circles down her spine.
“Ginny, wake up,” he coaxed, his mouth brushing against her ear.
“Wh’time izzit?” she mumbled as she let him roll her over onto her back. His lips eased over hers, drawing a sleepy moan while his fingers swirled across the ticklish skin under her breasts.
“Early,” he told her when he began brushing kisses across her cheek. “You don’t have to get up. I just wanted to tell you I’m leaving for a few hours.”
“What?” Ginny asked, her eyes flicking open as a ripple of unease shook her fully awake. “Why?”
“Well…it’s a surprise,” he replied as he pulled back. Despite the mirth in his voice, his eyes were a bit apprehensive as they searched hers.
“What surprise?” she asked, sitting up quickly. “Where are you going?”
“Nowhere dangerous,” he assured her. “I’m just getting you a present.”
“A present? But I don’t want a-”
Harry silenced her with a kiss. His hands threaded through her hair, sending shivers down her back as he eased his lips over hers. It only took a moment for the rising tension in Ginny’s body shift. Her eyes fell shut and she swayed closer, parting her lips as he deepened the kiss.
Her nightgown had been tossed away hours before and his skin was hot against hers as his arms went around her.
“Stay,” she insisted breathlessly.
“Very tempting,” he murmured, teasing her lips for another second before he pulled back, “but I can’t.”
“But, I don’t need a present.”
“How do you know you don’t need it?” he smiled. “You even don’t know what it is yet.”
“Soooo,” he repeated, his hands lingering before he released her, “I want to give it to you. I’ll be back soon. I just didn’t want you to wake up and not know where I was.”
“Well, can’t I go with you?” she asked, her head tilting as her lips formed a pout.
Shaking his head, he kissed her again, letting his mouth linger on hers.
“How can it be a surprise if you’re with me?” he murmured.
“Please?” she whispered. “I promise not to look.”
“Nice try, but no,” he sighed before he guided her back down to the cushions. “It will ruin my plan.”
“Harry, I really don’t think…”
“Ginny,” he interrupted, his voice gentle but still unyielding, “I need to do this. And I really want to make it special. Trust me?”
Ginny gazed up at him for a moment. The room was still a dull grey around them, the Muggle fan rocking back and forth as it turned above his head. His eyebrow arched and she huffed before flipping onto her stomach.
“That’s cheating,” she mumbled into the pillow.
“How is that cheating?” he chuckled.
“You know I’ll say yes, which means I have to let you go.”
She nestled her forehead against the cushion when his arms slipped underneath her. His body was heavy as he rested on her, pulling her tight before he tucked his face against her neck. Tears prickled the backs of her eyes at the comfort that came from his embrace.
“We can’t stay isolated together every second for the rest of our lives,” he whispered.
“Why not?” she breathed, squeezing her eyes shut. “All I need is you.”
She felt his mouth curl into a smile before he pressed a few kisses against the curve of her neck. Her body warmed, secure and protected with him curled around her.
“Well, when you put it that way…I guess we can,” he amended tenderly. “But not until after today,” he added, nipping at her skin. “I promise it will be worth it. Trust me, baby.”
“You know I do.”
Harry pressed his mouth against her skin for a few more seconds, inhaling deeply before he finally released her and rolled off the bed. Grabbing his trousers from the floor, he headed down the hall to the bathroom.
Ginny watched him go before she shifted onto her back. Blinking up at the ceiling, she followed the fan’s spinning with her eyes until she groaned, feeling the apprehension growing slowly inside.
She knew why he’d woken her. Pulling the blankets over her head, she shut her eyes tightly, remembering how her fear had surged the first morning after they’d arrived.
The sun was shining when Ginny opened her eyes. The blankets were pushed down to her waist, tickling the bare skin of her hip as she rolled onto her stomach. Stretching her arms over her head, she felt the pull on her achy muscles and bruised skin. With a groan she pushed up on her elbows and looked for Harry.
Unease skittered through her when she found the room empty. The window was open and the faint sounds of birds and rustling leaves filtered in, filling the space. Sitting up, she crossed her arms over her chest as she looked around.
“Harry?” she called, receiving only silence in return.
It took only a few seconds for her unease to begin to morph into fear.
Did something happen? Did something change? What if he ran away again…
Rising from the bed, she dragged a sheet around her before hurrying from the room. After a quick search of the cabin came up empty, she ran out onto the porch. Stopping at the edge of the steps, she brushed back her hair as she looked around. The garden was empty too and she fought her growing panic as she left the porch. The grass was wet and cold beneath her feet, making her shiver.
“Harry?” she yelled, shielding her eyes as she squinted toward the forest. “Harry!”
“You’re awake,” he said, appearing suddenly beside her.
Turning with a shriek, she clutched the sheet to her chest.
“Sorry,” he smiled sheepishly. “Did I scare you?”
Her relief was so great that her knees wobbled before she threw her arms around his neck.
“Woah,” Harry said, catching her as she clung to him. “What happened? Ginny? What’s wrong?”
“You weren’t there,” she said, her voice muffled as she breathed him in. “I thought…” Her words faded as his grip on her tightened in understanding.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured after a few seconds, kissing her head. “I shouldn’t have left. I thought I’d be done before you woke up.”
“Where were you?” she asked, pulling away.
“Setting up privacy wards,” he answered gesturing vaguely toward the surrounding forest while his gaze ran up and down her front. “I felt you moving and came back.”
“You felt me moving?” she asked, arching her brow.
“Yeah,” he nodded, his expression turning guilty as his eyes flicked to hers. “It’s easy to search for you, so, I kind of…let the connection stay open when I left the house.”
Ginny felt a flare of envy as she considered him. If he’d been the one to wake up alone, he’d have been able to figure out where she was in seconds, but she’d been stuck – unsure and without any way of really knowing.
“Is that ok?” he asked, uncertainly. “I’d never do it all the time or anything, but it just…makes me nervous to be away from you right now.”
“Me too,” she admitted as something inside of her twisted at his words. Rising up on her toes, she gave him a soft, lingering kiss. When she started to pull back, his hand cupped the back of her head, keeping her close as he brushed his lips against hers.
“I don’t mind you knowing where I am,” she whispered, resting her forehead against his. “It’s just going to be frustrating.”
“Why?” he asked, his hand brushing over her hair before coming to rest against the curve of her jaw.
“Because, I can’t find you,” she replied.
“If I can help it,” he told her, leaning down and pressing another firm kiss to her lips, “you’ll never need to try to find me.”
Ginny’s eyes filled with tears before she tucked her face against his chest. Her fingers curled into the hair at the nape of his neck as he embraced her.
Ginny groaned against the blankets, not wanting to succumb to the feelings already churning in her stomach at the prospect of being alone. She felt like a fragile child but she couldn’t seem to help it.
When Harry came back from the bathroom, she stayed beneath the covers listening to the rustle of him moving around the room. Eventually, the bed dipped with his weight and he pulled the blankets down. Brushing her hair off her face, he leaned in and gave her a kiss.
“I’ve made a decision,” he told her softly.
“Oh yeah?” she replied, hoping he’d say he was staying.
“Mhm,” he nodded against her with a smile. “I’ve decided that to get your present,” he mused as his hand dipped beneath the sheet, “you need to be naked.”
Ginny smiled despite her disappointment, her neck arching as he dropped his mouth briefly to her throat. His hand moved over her skin, brushing across her breasts.
“I really don’t want you to go,” she breathed.
“I know,” he sighed, lifting his head. “But it will be worth it, I promise. Just go back to sleep and I’ll be back before you know it.”
Ginny nodded, before watching him as he climbed from the bed and left the room. For a few minutes she stayed where she was but it didn’t take long for her to become restless. She knew sleeping would make the time go faster, but without Harry there to hold her, she was afraid of her dreams. Eventually she got up and walked over to the window.
Although the sky was overcast, it didn’t look like rain was eminent, so she pulled on a pair of jeans, one of Harry’s shirts and a pair of boots before heading outside. Crossing her arms over her chest against the chill, she walked into the woods, knowing the path by heart.
The deeper she went, the darker it became, but it didn’t frighten her. Instead, some of the weight on her chest began to lift. The rustle of the leaves and occasional sounds of scampering things were oddly comforting reminding her of when Harry first showed her the way.
“Where are we going?” she asked when he took her into the woods behind the cabin.
“You’ll see,” Harry said, smiling slightly when he heard the curiosity in her tone. “I want to show you something.”
Holding her hand, he led the way down one of the worn paths that snaked through the trees. The silence enveloped them, soothing and thick as they walked together.
Eventually, they came to a fork in the path and he led Ginny down the smaller of the two. Before long, the trees opened before them, revealing a cliff and the majestic beauty of the fjord.
Ginny gasped and her grip on his hand tightened as she looked around. Far below them the blue water rushed by, while green forest lined the earth on the other side. The colors seemed richer here than in other places, with the sun reflecting off of the water below them.
“It’s so beautiful,” she murmured.
“Reminds me of you,” he told her.
Peering over at him, her eyes flashed with amusement. Grinning back, he pulled her against him, wrapping his arms around her shoulders.
“What, too corny?” he asked as she hugged him tight around the waist.
When she nodded against him, he tipped her face up and kissed her.
“It does though,” he whispered before teasing her bottom lip with his teeth.
For a few seconds they grinned before the kiss deepened. Ginny whimpered when she felt his body begin to react to being pressed up against hers. They’d had years taken from them and she couldn’t seem to get enough of him. All she seemed to want to do was get as close as she could get, to feel the ecstasy that came from being with him.
“Is it wrong to want to make love again?” she asked against his mouth.
“I hope not,” he chuckled, his hands already pulling at her dress. After a second he seemed to give up and she gasped when he simply banished it.
“Harry!” she exclaimed, instinctively clutching him tight as she looked around.
“What?” he replied innocently as he ran his hands down her back.
“No worries, love,” he told her, smiling against her throat as he lifted her up. “With everything I put up…no one’s coming anywhere near here unless we invite them.”
Sinking to her knees near the edge of the cliff, Ginny curled her arms around her stomach as she continued to replay the last two weeks in her mind…determined to remember every moment with Harry. Just in case.
Harry stood in the center of a gravel walk over a thousand kilometers away from the cabin. Three stories high with ivy blanketing the dark red brick, the building before him was old and imposing. Harry’s gaze moved across the broken windows of the second floor before lingering on the one in the center.
His memories from the night he’d been here were distorted, incomplete because he’d been out of control, but he remembered Ginny silhouetted in the window frame as she screamed his name. Even now, knowing she was safe, he could feel his body tensing.
His stomach churned inside of him, his disgust at their family’s actions still fresh as he thought about why he was here. Even after a week, it still made him feel sick to know it had taken him days to remember one of the most important moments they’d stolen from him.
He lay stretched out on the grass, his arms crossed behind his head. The sky was becoming overcast, the clouds rolling against each other, but Harry hardly noticed. His attention was too focused on the woman draped across him.
“I like it here,” she murmured, her eyes on the waterfall across the ravine. “It feels safe.”
Harry’s gaze roamed her face, moving over the smattering of familiar freckles on her nose. Her body was warm against his, her feet resting against his ankles and her arms folded across his chest. Even her fingers were dusted with freckles and his mouth quirked up as he reached for one of her hands.
For a few seconds he played with her fingers. Her skin was pale beneath his as his thumb came to rest against her bare fourth finger. It took a moment for him to remember what should have been on it, but when he did, his body went cold.
“Oh, my God,” he breathed.
“I lost it,” Ginny whispered.
“What?” His gaze flew up to find her eyes full of tears as she stared at where he held her finger.
“At Malfoy’s…You tried to give it back, but…” she shook her head. “I don’t remember what happened to it.”
Harry blinked, struggling to make sense of what she was saying. His brain seemed to be stuck on the fact that they’d been engaged – that really, they should already be married. Thinking back, it was like a wall came down and he could suddenly remember the moment he proposed like it was yesterday. Truly, in many ways it felt like it was yesterday. It was the last time he’d seen her before the final battle…before everything had fallen apart.
His vision blurred and he felt sick.
How could I have forgotten that?
“He was going to kill Hermione,” Ginny said.
“Wait,” he shook his head. “Kill Hermione? What?”
“The ring protected me,” Ginny explained, looking ill as she thought back, “Malfoy was going to kill Hermione unless I took it off so he could…touch me.”
Bile curled in Harry’s throat as he squeezed Ginny’s hand. She sat up a second later, her hair spilling over her breasts as she wrapped her arms around her stomach. He could see fury replacing the revulsion in her eyes as she looked off into the trees.
“How can they be so horrible?” she demanded abruptly. “How could they be so…so cruel…”
Harry sat up, catching her face in his hands as she began to cry.
“Who?” he asked, not understanding her words. “What do you mean? Malfoy?”
“My f-family, they…”
“Ginny, don’t,” he soothed, kissing her. “Stop, baby, it’s in the past. We’re together now.”
“No,” she choked out, shaking her head. “No, it’s not! I’ll always know they let me keep it,” she whimpered, clutching her bare finger. “They let me…wear it…and…think it was from…them…”
Harry folded her into his embrace as she cried, her tears wetting his shoulder as she shook against him. He wanted to help her, to make her feel better, but he didn’t know what to say, so he just held her until she’d cried herself out.
When she continued to shiver, Harry conjured a large, thick blanket and draped it around them.
Taking a breath, Harry Apparated, this time arriving inside the second floor room. The bloody pentagram from Malfoy’s ritual had been cleaned from the floor. The cauldron and broken glass were also gone, but the large ruined bed frame remained pushed against the far wall.
Harry’s stomach turned over at the sight of it.
Almost too late, he remembered with a shudder.
For a second all he could see was Ginny trapped under Malfoy with her hands bound above her head and her gown ripped open. Her screams seemed to linger in the room, sending a shiver down Harry’s back as he stared at the bed.
Forcing himself to turn away, his eyes flicked back around the room. Jumbled moments came to him, from Malfoy throwing curses - to Ginny pleading for him to fight back his power. Harry’s gaze lingered on the floor where he’d cradled Hermione, trying to hold them both together when they thought they’d lost Ron.
“Come away, Hermione,” he whispered, easing his arms around her waist. “I’ve got you,” he soothed as she began to sob harder. “Come with me, let them try to help him…”
At his quiet urging she moaned, slowly allowing him to pull her away. He held her gently, his cheek pressed against hers as he cried with her.
His memories were slowly overwhelming him as he played through everything that had happened. Wanting to get back to Ginny and the comfort she provided, he dragged his thoughts from the past and focused on why he’d come.
He knew it was likely the ring ended up as Auror evidence, but he’d been hoping something so small and seemingly inconsequential had been overlooked in the chaos of that night. The last thing he wanted to do was go back to the Ministry.
“Accio Ring,” he declared, pointing his wand.
Looking around, he waited. Repeating the spell, he waited again, watching in vain for it to fly toward him. His heart sank when nothing happened.
Rubbing his hand over his hair, he grimaced before biting out a curse. In the next breath, he disappeared with a crack only to arrive a second later in the center of a small dingy London alley. It was a location he’d used many times before and he headed east, weaving his way quickly through two blocks until he reached the entrance to Diagon Alley.
Here, he paused, hesitating for a moment before casting a disillusionment spell. He felt his disguise fall into place before he continued on, passing through the brick wall and out of Muggle London.
No one recognized him as he made his way to the Ministry. Once he was inside the Atrium, he let out a breath.
Looks like I’m still on the books, he noted, relieved the wards had allowed him inside without a problem.
Careful not to make eye contact with anyone in the main hall, he crossed directly to the elevators. When he got close, he slowed, distracted by his own reflection in the highly polished brass doors. The face was familiar to him, being the one he’d used as a disguise many times before, but for some reason, today, it made his stomach clench.
For a few seconds he didn’t understand why his appearance bothered him before the answer hit him like a blow to the chest.
“Oh my God,” he breathed, horrified. “I’m Julien.”
“Pardon?” someone beside him asked.
Harry didn’t respond, his eyes locked on his reflection. He looked like the boy from Ginny’s memories. Revulsion filled him at the thought of them putting him there. Or leaving him there.
How much had she remembered? he wondered. How much had been altered to be Julien instead of me?
His throat tightened at the perverseness of what they’d done to her. Even when he was gone he was still in her mind. Gritting his teeth until the doors opened with a ding, Harry stepped inside.
“This one’s taken,” he barked when the man behind him tried to enter.
As soon as the doors shut, Harry raked his fingers roughly through his hair. By the time he arrived on level two, he looked like himself again, his hair black and tangled and his eyes bright green.
Searching quickly with his power, he felt the other Aurors moving around the floor. Remus was in his office, while Ron’s desk was empty. Knowing Remus was so close made Harry’s skin tingle and he clenched his fists as he suppressed the urge to lash out.
“In and out…just get in and out,” he muttered to himself, heading down a small corridor on his right until he reached the door at the end of the hall. A faded metal tag labeled “Evidence Room” hung at an angle against the dark wood.
The door opened with a creak, revealing a cramped room with bare grey walls. There was a desk situated in the center of the room, with a small balding mad sitting behind it.
“P-Potter!” the man squeaked when he looked up from his papers.
“Lunley,” Harry replied shortly.
Picking up the quill, Harry quickly scribbled what he wanted onto the ledger sheet situated in the center of the desk.
“Are you…um,” the older man faltered as his fingers worried over his tie, “are you supposed to be accessing…I mean…does Lupin know you’re here?”
“Of course,” Harry replied, pushing the parchment toward him. “Go ask him if you want.”
There was a brief uncomfortable silence and Harry watched the indecision flit across the older man’s face. When Lunley shook his head and placed his signature in his own red ink, Harry relaxed.
“It should arrive in a second,” Lunley said, gesturing him toward the door that had appeared on the wall to Harry’s left.
The door opened to another virtually empty room, this one containing a square table and one straight-backed chair. A round orb floated near the ceiling, flickering to life and casting a halo down on the tabletop as Harry entered.
Harry stood in front of the table, waiting until a cardboard evidence box appeared3 in the center. The case number was stamped on the side, with a date printed below it. Pulling the lid off, Harry sucked in his breath. Reaching in, he fingered the remains of Ginny’s white gown before pushing it out of the way to see what was beneath. Everything was there, Malfoy’s knife and goblet and the remnants of the cauldron.
He picked up the pieces of his friends’ broken wands, studying them for a second before impulsively tucking Ginny’s into his back pocket. Reaching back in, he searched for a few more seconds before he found the ring.
Pulling it out, he cradled it in his hand as he examined it. One of the small diamonds that surrounded the emerald was missing and the band was bent. Despite the imperfections, warmth flowed from the gold into his palm as he stared down at it, his vision blurring abruptly as he remembered the day he’d first gotten it.
Slipping into the Potter vault, Harry ignored the precariously stacked gold as he headed to one of the oak cabinets on the far wall.
“I’ll just wait outside,” the Goblin said from behind him before pulling the heavy door closed.
Harry knew he only had a few minutes before someone noticed his absence at headquarters so he wasted no time as he pulled open the glass front. Inside were several inlaid boxes, each containing jewelry passed down through the Potter generations.
“Come on,” he murmured when the first two boxes didn’t hold what he wanted.
He’d only seen it once before but it had stuck in the back of his mind, reminding him of Ginny.
Opening the third box, he breathed a sigh of relief when he found it. Nestled in a velvet ring pillow, the emerald winked up at him. The stone still sparkled, almost as though it had just recently been cleaned. Pulling it out, Harry weighed the small band in his hand, wondering briefly whose it had been. There were probably records somewhere, but he knew he didn’t have time to do any research.
Part of him knew that coming to get this was selfish, that he was risking everything by coming to Diagon Alley when they were so close to the end, but he couldn’t seem to focus on anything else. He needed Ginny to know how he felt and he wanted to give her this…he needed to give her this before he met Voldemort for the final time. His heart quickened at the thought before he closed his fist around the ring. Tucking it into his pocket, he hurried back to the door.
“Harry? We weren’t expecting you,” a familiar voice pulled him back from his thoughts. “Why didn’t you come to my office? What are you doing in here?”
Harry’s fingers closed quickly over the ring at the sound of Remus’s voice. Anger rippled through him and he closed his eyes for a second before he turned around. His former mentor was framed in the doorway with Lunley looking both guilty and fascinated as he peeked around from behind. Harry felt the heat rising in his face as he glared back at them both in silence.
“Harry?” Remus prompted again when he didn’t reply. “I asked what were you doing here.”
“Nothing that concerns you,” Harry replied tightly, tightening his hand around the ring.
“It doesn’t look like nothing, to me,” Remus countered. “I saw you take something from the box. We need to talk and I’m glad you finally came in, but you can’t just…”
“I’m not here to talk,” he corrected him tersely. “I just came to get something.”
“What are you taking?” Remus asked, his voice hardening as he looked down at Harry’s hand.
“That’s none of your business,” Harry retorted defiantly.
“It is my business,” Remus argued. “You can’t just come in here and take evidence.”
“It’s not evidence.”
“Of course, it’s evidence,” Remus countered. “Everything in there came from the Malfoy house.”
“It came from the house, but it wasn’t part of the ritual,” Harry dismissed him. “It belongs to Ginny, so-”
“Ginny? Where is she?” Remus interrupted. “How is she?”
“How do you think she is?” Harry snapped, stiffening at the worry he heard in Remus’s voice. Suddenly, it was too much. His memories and anger…everything hurt too much and he strode forward. “You want to know what I’m getting?” he demanded, thrusting out his hand, “I came to get this.”
Harry’s hand trembled as he held the ring out, uneven ripples of his power beginning to flow out with his emotions.
“I came to get something you stole,” Harry continued, watching Remu’s face as he stared down at the ring, “and you tainted with your lies and your attempts at playing God!”
“Lunley, get out,” Remus ordered before the door snapped shut, darkening the room. “I don’t know what that is, Harry, or why it’s so important, but...”
“It’s her engagement ring!” Harry exploded, his cheeks burning with fury. “The one you…”
“Wait, her what?” Remus cut him off, his eyes widening.
“Her ring! The one you let her keep and wear with some disgusting lie about how she got it, when you knew what it was and what it meant and that…”
“Stop…wait,” Remus spoke over him, “just…when did you propose to her? Recently?”
Harry paused mid-rant. For a second he stared at Remus before he blinked, his fury deflating slightly at the unexpected question.
“Harry, when did you propose to her?” Remus asked again, seeing the flicker of uncertainty that joined the hatred in Harry’s eyes. “Tell me what happened. Was…was it before Voldemort?””
When Harry nodded, a heavy silence settled between them.
Remus rubbed his hand over his mouth as he looked away. He didn’t know anything about an engagement, or of anyone ever talking about it. He didn’t even remember ever seeing the ring before today. If anyone had known, it would have been Hermione and Ron, and neither of them had said anything five years ago, or even five days ago.
“I didn’t know you’d proposed, Harry,” Remus said as firmly as he could. “Did anyone know? Did you tell anyone?”
“I…I don’t remember,” Harry admitted reluctantly, his brow furrowing. “I’m not sure, I thought…maybe there wasn’t time.”
“We’d never have let her keep that ring,” Remus assured him. “We didn’t even know she had it. Merlin, what kind of people do you think we are?”
Harry’s eyes hardened before he looked down, his fingers curling tightly around the ring.
“How much do you remember from back then?” Remus asked after a second.
“It’s coming back slowly,” Harry replied, feeling the weight of Remus’s gaze on his face.
“Do you remember any of the times you regained control?”
“A few,” Harry said, shuddering instinctively at the thought of what he’d been determined to do back then, “but I don’t see how any of that makes a difference now. Why does that matter?”
“We all had to make tough decisions, Harry,” Remus replied, seeming to choose his words carefully. “All of us. Maybe one day you won’t be so quick to judge us.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing,” Remus shrugged before crossing to the evidence box. For a second he stared down into the contents before he picked up the lid and closed the box. “Take the ring, I’ll cover you for it. I’m sure you want to get back to her.”
Nodding even though Remus wasn’t looking, Harry turned and headed for the door. “I wasn’t lying, you know,” Harry said, pausing briefly when he’d pulled it open, “when I said I’d come back to deal with…things. I will keep my word.”
“I know,” Remus replied.
“She just…I need some more time,” he admitted, shifting his weight. “I’ll send an owl. Tell Dumbledore.”
“Ok,” Remus replied. “And Harry,” he said, stopping him as he started to leave again. “You still have a job if you want it.”
Harry left without replying, hurrying toward the elevator. His thoughts were tangled, his emotions confused by his encounter with Remus. His anger had faded, leaving him unsure of himself and he reached for the ring in his pocket.
Just focus on Ginny for now, he ordered himself.
Running his fingers over the warm bent band, he left the Ministry and headed deeper into Diagon Alley. When he noticed someone do a double-take, he quickly conjured a cap and tugged it down over his hair.
He’d never been to a jewelry store before but knew he’d seen one amid the various magical shops over the years. He finally found it nestled between a specialty cauldron shop and one of the many Quidditch stores that dotted the alley.
Ducking inside, several small silver bells jingled above his head. The shop was free of customers, but packed full of merchandise. The cabinets and shelves were overflowing with shiny, glittering pieces of all shapes and sizes. Some pieces appeared ancient, while other sparkled like they’d just been created.
“May I help you?” asked a shrewd looking Goblin perched on a stool behind the far counter.
“Um, yeah, do you do repairs?” Harry asked, his eyes drawn to the jewelry cases as he crossed the store. He’d barely finished his question when he paused, his attention caught by a small item in one of the cabinets.
“Find something you like?” the Goblin asked from Harry’s side a few seconds later.
“Maybe,” Harry murmured, leaning closer to get a better look as an idea bloomed in his mind.
Two hours later, Harry arrived back at the cottage.
Pushing open the front door, he found the lights still off on the first floor. Jogging up the stairs, his hand strayed to the two small packages in his pocket when they began to bounce. Smiling at the thought of her reaction, he let his magic flow out of him, reaching for hers.
He froze suddenly, one foot hovering over a step when he didn’t feel her.
In an instant his body went cold and he Apparated the rest of the way, arriving in the bedroom with a stumbling crack.
“Ginny?” he called looking around when he found the bed empty. “Ginny!”
Suddenly, he knew exactly how she’d felt that first day when she’d woken up alone. All he could think was that she was gone. For a second he remained frozen, his thoughts and emotions flying in all different directions at once. He’d only left for a few hours and something had happened.
Something went wrong… someone found her… something has…Stop, he ordered himself. Calm down.
His hands curled into fists and his eyes shut. His magic spilled back out of him, sweeping past the house and into the wilderness. His heart stuttered when he finally felt her. Disapparating, he arrived on the cliff, just past the tree line.
Of course, he thought recognizing where they were.
His panic faded when he saw Ginny sitting in the grass, staring out over the fjord.
Crossing to her, he hesitated when he saw the look on her face. It was an expression he’d come to recognize. He’d seen her flip-flop between emotions with frightening speed during the last two weeks. She could go from being unbelievably happy to a depression so complete he didn’t know what to do.
Harry had experienced many different degrees of helplessness throughout his life: growing up with the Dursleys, during the years waiting to face Voldemort, and when he was trying to control his own power– but nothing seemed as acute as what he felt while watching Ginny.
Taking a breath, he pushed back his own feelings as he sat down beside her. She hasn’t seemed to have even noticed his approach, but she didn’t jump when he reached for her hand.
“Find what you wanted?” she asked, her voice soft and her eyes still on the water below them.
“Yes,” he answered, pressing a kiss to her palm. Her fingers were cold and he wrapped them between his, rubbing gently as he watched her. “What are you doing out here?”
“About your present?”
“Of course,” she smiled and he could see her trying to pull herself out of the dark place she’d fallen into in the brief time he was away. Turning her head, she rested her cheek on her knees as she met his gaze.
They both knew that wasn’t what she was thinking about, but he reached up patting his pocket and she smiled again, the first glimmer of sparkle coming back into her eyes.
Shifting around to face him, she sat with her legs crossed.
Pulling the small bag from his pocket, Harry opened it and poured a small necklace into his palm. Sterling silver, the metal sparkled in the sun as he picked it up. The chain was delicate with a small round pendant.
“Harry,” Ginny murmured, taking it from him. “It’s beautiful.”
“It’s a compass,” he told her. “I wanted you to always be able to find me.”
“So you’re going to stay north of me all the time?” she teased, looking up.
“No,” he replied, smirking briefly before he sobered. “It doesn’t point north.”
Ginny stared at him for a few seconds before she looked back down.
“Watch,” he whispered, before he stood up and Apparated to the edge of the cliff.
Ginny stopped breathing when the tiny silver arrow shifted to point to where he stood. He Apparated again, this time disappearing from sight. When the arrow swung to point toward her, she looked over her shoulder and found him standing several meters away. It swung back to where it had started when he reappeared in front of her.
“I know it’s not the same as what I can do,” he said, sounding almost embarrassed as he sat back down. “But I just…”
Ginny shook her head sharply and he stopped talking. Her chest ached and her vision swam with tears as she ran her finger over the small silver compass, lingering on where the pointer was directed toward him.
“I wanted you to know that you can find me,” he repeated softly after a second. “Always.”
For a long moment, Ginny didn’t respond. She couldn’t seem to budge, her throat so tight she could barely swallow. When she finally moved, it was with a strangled sound as her arms flew around his neck.
“Thank you,” she choked out. “It’s…it’s an amazing gift.”
“I’m not sure how functional it would actually be,” he admitted sheepishly against her shoulder, “but-“
“…doesn’t matter,” she cut him off, squeezing him harder.
“I know,” he murmured after a second.
Pulling back, she tried to open the clasp, but her hands were trembling so much that after a second he took it from her. Lifting her hair, she watched his face as he put it on her. His eyes were bright and green and so full of love, Ginny couldn’t seem to stop the emotion that closed her throat again. The metal was cool against her skin, but his fingers were warm as they traced down the chain, lingering against the compass.
Cupping his cheek, she leaned forward to kiss him. “You are the most wonderful man,” she whispered.
He kissed her back for a few seconds before he pulled away.
“Come on,” he said, taking her hands before pulling her to her feet. Threading his fingers through hers, he led her over to the edge of the cliff. For a moment he stared out across the fjord, breathing deeply as the wind messed up his hair.
Leaning against him, Ginny pressed her cheek against his arm. Her fingers trailed over the compass, circling the smooth metal until it began to warm beneath her touch.
“I have something else for you too,” he told her.
“Harry,” she murmured, tightening her grip on his hand.
Turning, he gazed down at her as he pulled the other satchel from his pocket.
“I know you don’t need anything,” he said, his hands trembling as he loosened the opening. He suddenly felt young and inexplicably nervous as his mind returned to the first time he’d done this. “but I…I’d hoped that you’d want this.”
Across from him, Ginny gasped as he pulled out the ring. It looked brand new, glimmering and perfect in the sunlight. Her hands covered her mouth while her vision blurred. Blinking, she felt her tears roll down her cheeks as she began to shake.
“How did you…” she managed before her voice broke.
Her body flashed hot as he cupped her cheek. Reaching out, her hand closed around his, her thumb brushing against the warm metal.
“It’s already yours,” he murmured, “as long as you still want it.”
“Of course, I want it,” she breathed.
The world around her fell away as she watched him slide the ring onto her finger. The metal was cool against her skin, but it warmed in an instant as something seemed to settle into place inside of her.
A second later he was kissing her.
Pulled up against him, she clung to his neck, kissing him back. His body was warm, his hands firm on her back as he held her.
“Marry me,” she choked out after several long moments.
“Ok,” he smiled, his forehead against hers.
“No, I mean now,” she said breaking away. “Marry me now.”
“Right now?” he asked, his hand moving over her hair. “But what about…” his words faded when she shook her head.
“I don’t want anyone else there,” she said firmly, her fingers curled into his shirt.
“Are you sure?” he asked, unease niggling at him as he considered it.
“Please,” she said. “This is about us. Just us.”
“I don’t even know where we’d go.”
“We’ll figure it out,” she replied. “I want to be married to you.”
Harry was silent for a moment before he smiled, his heart in his eyes.
"We are gathered here today to celebrate the union of two faithful souls…”
The wizard’s voice shook with nerves as he began the ceremony, his eyes still wide as he gaped at the couple standing before him on the front steps of the small chapel. The sun shone down on them, the Scotland skies unusually clear for the time of year.
Harry didn’t notice, unable to look away from Ginny as she stood across from him. Dressed in a simple white dress and her new necklace, she’d done her hair in loose curls that hung around her shoulders. Her cheeks were pink and her eyes were sparkling with happiness as she held his gaze. He didn’t think she’d ever looked more beautiful.
“Do you, Harry, take this woman to be your wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward…”
Harry’s heart pounded, as he heard the vows that would bind them together. Standing together, he was able to temporarily forget all of the anger and the pain. The last five years didn’t matter. The fact that they were here together was a miracle, and he knew he would never be able to repay her for the gift she’d given him the night she’d saved him.
“I do,” he declared.
Ginny started to cry, her hands shaking even as she smiled up at him. He squeezed her hands, fighting his own tears as the wizard read her vows.
Ginny kept her eyes locked on Harry’s, the love she saw in them so beautiful she could barely stand it. It was like a dream, simple and perfect and the wizard couldn’t say the vows fast enough. For her, this moment was all that mattered, being with Harry was the only thing in her life that she needed.
“I do,” she said, her voice firm despite the tears still rolling down her cheeks.
Harry slid the ring onto her finger for a final time, and they watched the gold ribbon of light pour from the wizard’s wand and wrap around their clasped hands. For a second, as they neared the end and the wizard asked if there were any objections, Harry held her hands tighter, afraid something would happen to take this away from them.
But Aurors didn’t suddenly appear and Harry felt more in control of his power than he ever had. The only thing he felt was joy and it filled him up as the ceremony came to a close.
“I declare you bonded for life.”
She was in his arms before the invitation to kiss the bride was even given. His magic reached for hers, wrapping around them as they kissed. He couldn’t stop smiling when he finally broke away.
“Are you happy, Mrs. Potter?” he asked, wiping the tears from her cheeks.
“Yes, Mr. Potter,” she answered.
In a tiny, often forgotten office at the Ministry, a young man sat hunched over his desk. His head was resting on his hand as he flipped through an old copy of Quidditch Weekly. Around him the walls were floor to ceiling bookshelves, filled with large matching books bound in thick dark leather.
Every few minutes, a ding would sound and he’d glance absently toward the current volume that lay open in the center of his desk. He’d never recognized a single set of names during his year spent in what he liked to call registry hell, but today he did a double take.
Standing up, he leaned over the desk, peering down at the names and location that had just appeared on the day’s list.
Harry James Potter l Ginevra Molly Weasley l Spean Bridge, Scotland
The young man blinked down at the names for another second before he scrambled from behind his desk, eager to finally, finally have something worth sharing.
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