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Introduction:

harry potter
Chapter 1: Frustrated and Alone

There was a dark and stifling silence in the small, disheveled bedroom at the top of the stairs. The room wasn’t much to look at, but it was arguably a great improvement over the cupboard under the stairs.

The shadows of the room held a troubled boy with dark, unruly hair and an unmistakable lightning bolt scar. In torment, he writhed in his bed as he slept.

It was frustration and fear rolled into one. He felt as though he were being held back from something, or perhaps from someone.

When he awoke with a jolt, he found himself hopelessly tangled in the sheets of his bed, soaked in a cold sweat. His heart was pounding fiercely against his chest and he was completely breathless, again.

“Bloody dream!” he growled in aggravation as he struggled to disentangle himself from the jumble of bedding.

Falling back against his pillow with a sigh, he attempted to settle back into the calming silence of reality.

For the last several nights, Harry Potter had been having horrible dreams. Under normal circumstances, this would be nothing new for the Boy-Who-Lived. In fact, he’d grown rather accustomed to fitful nights over the years, but this was different.

Up until then, his dreams were typically filled with screams of his mother begging for his life or visions of Cedric and Sirius being snuffed out before his eyes.

These visions were much more than dreams. They were flashes of memories from events of his life, horrible and frightful, but nonetheless, memories.

In an attempt to improve his nightly lot, Harry had resigned himself to the fact that he would need to master Occlumency. It was his only hope for ever being able to sleep properly again.

As a means to an end, Harry had suffered through countless nights with Professor Snape during his sixth year at Hogwarts. He spent free evenings in the dungeons, trying to block the potions master’s repeated neurological invasions of his thoughts and memories.

Spending extra time with his least favorite professor was miserable, but that wasn’t the worst of it. His time with Snape actually pulled a close second to the endless snide remarks from Slytherins who were told he was taking remedial potions… again.

Those two factors were motivation enough to master it, even without his best friend Hermione nagging him constantly to “concentrate and take it seriously.”

By the second month of the first term, things had markedly improved for Harry. He seemed to be taking control of his mind and felt he might actually begin to sleep peacefully at night.

However, that was then and this was now.

Another long summer holiday at Privet Drive was staring him in the face, and Harry was already beginning to feel alone and lonely.

He still had over another month before he could return to his real home, Hogwarts. He knew the Dursleys wouldn’t care that he was having nightmares. He would even be willing to wager that they’d take a perverse pleasure in the fact that he was having trouble sleeping.

As he climbed into bed for another round of nightmares, he lay staring up at the ceiling. Once again, the peace of his nights was under attack.

Why, he wondered going over his Occlumency training. What am I doing wrong?

No matter what he did, the nightmares continued. These dreams were different though. They weren’t filled by mere memories anymore, at least not his own. Instead they were plagued by flashes of someone else’s misery.

What truly troubled him about his dreams was that he wasn’t sure if it was just a nightmare or if it was really happening. Did Voldemort have another innocent victim that he was repeatedly torturing for sport, simply to seep into Harry’s thoughts and make him watch?

During his nightly visions, Harry kept trying to reach out to whoever was being tormented. When that didn’t work, in frustration, he tried to close himself off. The attempt proved futile. Despite his efforts to block the dreams through Occlumency, they continued night after night.

Harry suspected why it wasn’t working. In truth, the part of him that wanted to prevent the dreams was continually being beat out by the larger part of him that needed to find her and help her. He finally realized that deep down; he was probably willing the dreams to continue.

With each passing night, he was reminded of the many things he didn’t know about the mysterious dreams. There were a few things that he had been able to determine.

For starters, he knew that this felt different than his dreams about Sirius or the attack on Mr. Weasley. Instead of a clear and vivid image, it was more like sounds, a fragrance, flashes of images, and a ‘sense’ of a person that he experienced.

Each night it was the same. He felt he was trying to get to a person who needed him, but somehow could never find them. His dreams had become filled with the screams of a faceless, nameless person.

The only thing he could discern was that the person was a young woman. Night after night, the helpless woman’s tormented screams seemed to tear through Harry’s chest like the steely blade of a dagger. Most troubling was the fact that he felt he knew her and wanted desperately to help, if only he could find her.

Tonight he had come closer than ever before to reaching her, so close it was maddening. He’d reached the chamber where she was held, opened the door, and felt a surge of excitement mixed with dread wash over him.

His heart pounded with anticipation, thinking of what it would be like to finally see her, help her. But even as he moved forward, the sharp edge of fear crept in on him. He couldn’t help but wonder what he’d see when he did.

As the door swung back to reveal the mysterious young woman at last, he awoke just before he could look into her face.

“Damn it,” he groaned. “I’ve got to do something, but what?”

Frustration plagued him as he mulled over his options. Should he actually do anything at all or should he just keep this new nightmare private?

Following his dreams as fact had not always proved prudent. That was a lesson Harry had learned all too painfully at the loss of his godfather’s life.

Throughout the siege of dreams, Harry considered sending an owl to his best friends for advice. After weighing the pros and cons, he decided against it. Ron would definitely go into panic mode, wondering if someone was actually being tortured.

He didn’t anticipate that Hermione would be much more helpful than Ron. Harry was certain that she would tell him to contact the Order straight away. Neither option seemed favorable to him at the moment. Why should Ron and Hermione worry too? He had no firm information to pass along to the Order, so it seemed useless to tell them now.

The only outcome he could envision was another barrage of stares and lectures.

Snape’s reaction in particular played out vividly in his mind. He could just picture the potion master’s sneer as he told them of his nightly quest.

“Well, I’m having dreams again,” he said aloud, voicing his thoughts. “Someone is in trouble, but I don’t know who… or where…or if it’s real…What do you think?”

How lame does that sound? Harry wondered to himself.

Snape would surely insist Harry wasn’t using his Occlumency properly.

Dumbledore would probably gaze at him over those half moon spectacles contemplatively and respond evenly, “Really? Indeed. Tell us if you learn more, but for now don’t leave your aunt’s home.”

That was not a speech Harry wanted to hear again. No, he definitely needed to know more before he told anyone.

It was his private fight, his secret, at least for now.

________________________________________
Chapter 2 Another Day at Privet Drive

As the morning light crept through his window, Harry lay feeling somewhat groggy and tired. Groaning, he pulled his pillow over his head to block out the arrival of the new day. He hadn’t slept much after waking in the wee hours of the morning from yet another episode with her.

The house had been still, the neighborhood quiet. It was unclear to him why he awoke when he did. What was clear, were the many questions that plagued him about the chamber and its prisoner; questions that still burned incessantly in his mind. In the hopes of finding some answers, Harry had tried to go right back to sleep. His frustration from being yanked unceremoniously from his dream and the identity of the girl in his mind, however, seemed to be preventing sleep from taking him. Instead, he lay there as the few remaining hours of darkness ticked by, mentally wandering through a plan of attack for the next night.

There’s got to be a way to get to her before I wake up, he thought. At this point he wasn’t sure what bothered him more, the fact that he wanted to help her and hadn’t been able to, or the fact that he still didn’t know who she was.

He had memorized the pathway to her chamber as he retraced it in his nightly missions. He could visualize it very clearly in his waking hours. Strangely enough, it was clearer then, than while he slept. Somehow his mind filled in the details, although in his dreams he couldn’t actually see them. The space felt somehow familiar to him. It was like he had been there before, but the key ingredients to solving the mystery were frustratingly out of reach.

He was quickly drawn out of his thoughts as he heard footsteps moving down the hall and towards the stairs. He knew that in no time he would be ‘summoned’ to breakfast. He momentarily considered telling Uncle Vernon to ‘sod off’ when he bellowed for Harry to come down.

After a moment of happy consideration, he decided against it. After all, he could finally do a few things he wanted: owl his friends, look at his spell books, allow Hedwig out, and eat somewhat properly. He didn’t want to risk losing the few privileges he had managed to earn with the Order’s help. Telling Uncle Vernon he hadn’t slept well and he was too tired today simply wouldn’t do.

Things were not as bad as they had been in the past. Since his fifth year, the Dursleys had been forced by Dumbledore, Lupin, and mostly Moody to take care of Harry’s basic needs a little better. Starving him was definitely out of the question with Mad-Eye only an owl away. That didn’t quell their zest for enslaving him to the best of their ability before feeding him, however. If Harry wanted any time of his own, he had to play their game. Yes, he would have to do his daily chores before he could escape to the seclusion of his room and resume planning his nightly excursions into the world of his dreams.

Then, as if on cue, it came. “BOY! Get down here! You’ll not laze about all day when there is work to be done! Get your sorry arse down here and earn your bloody keep!”

Harry thought Uncle Vernon seemed to be in a particularly nasty state for so early in the morning, but no matter. He didn’t exactly exchange pleasantries with any of them. They went about their business and he went about his, (after receiving the list for the day, of course).

Harry rose from his bed, crossed his small room and looked into the mirror as he ran his fingers through his hopelessly unkempt hair. He grinned as he thought of how his unruly hair irritated his aunt and uncle to no end. At least it has some perks he thought, as he roughed it up even more if that was possible. He threw on some clothes and made his way to the stairway, as another ‘wake up call’ erupted from the kitchen.

“POTTER! I said get down here! NOW!”

He couldn’t help himself as he hollered back, “I’M COMING! Get a grip!”

He knew he could push things a bit more now than when he was younger. The fact that he was a wizard, guarded by more powerful wizards, was enough to keep his relatives somewhat in check. He really owed his delicious hold on them to the Order’s decree of “be kinder to Harry, or we’ll be back!”

The last time they ‘stopped by’ Harry thought Aunt Petunia would faint as she watched Moody’s magical eye bore through her to her piggy son hiding behind her skirt. It did his heart good really, their unannounced visits. It gave him the strength to continue and something to look forward to as well. It was always a surprise and very enjoyable to watch. Their ‘inspections’ always bought Harry at least a day or two of total freedom.

It had been awhile since their last visit. He knew another one would be coming any day, which gave him a little more cheek than usual. As he descended the stairs, he thought mischievously about their next ‘reminder’ to treat him properly. Until then…just go along with it. He told himself.

Entering the kitchen, he looked from his uncle’s puffy face to the dining table and discovered the source of Uncle Vernon’s irritation. For once, it had nothing to do with Harry. The post had arrived and apparently, sweet “Diddydum’s” exam scores from Smeltings had been amongst the pile of letters along with an additional notice from the school Head.

It must have been really bad. Aunt Petunia was extremely pale and looked on the verge of tears. Uncle Vernon was storming back and forth across the room blustering and grumbling to himself about the unwelcome, and in Vernon’s opinion, completely unwarranted news from the school.

As Harry prepared breakfast, his ears perked in the hopes of hearing more. Perhaps today wouldn’t be so horrible after all he thought. Dudley’s academic shortcomings were certainly amusing enough. They were sure to serve as a pleasant distraction from the daily din of life with the Dursleys.

From the bits and pieces that he could ascertain, Harry surmised that Dudley had been caught attempting to toss his report and the letter into the bin. It was obvious that ‘Dudders’ had been well aware that he had not achieved what they had hoped. Not only were his scores bordering on atrocious, but the letter from Headmaster Morley stated that if he didn’t show marked improvement in the fall term, he would be dismissed from the school boxing team “until such time that his grades reflected the level of excellence befitting a quality school such as Smeltings.”

The more his uncle paced, the angrier he became until he was in a veritable rampage. Uncle Vernon of course, blamed the school. Headmaster Morley had made several changes in the short time that he had been running the school that Uncle Vernon found nothing short of criminal. From what Harry could tell, those policy adjustments were obviously designed to raise the academic standards of the school while down playing the importance of sport. Such a theory seemed utterly preposterous to Vernon.

“It all comes down to bringing in that new headmaster!” Vernon raged. “That was the worst mistake that school’s ever made in its 80 year history! It’s a crime to watch a proper school like Smeltings spiral down into the gutter with that riff raff at the helm.”

Harry turned away and rolled his eyes. Harry could remember Uncle Vernon quite clearly stating just a year ago that a solid, no nonsense leader like Headmaster Morley was “exactly what that school needed to keep those lazy Red teachers in line.” Now that that same no nonsense style of leadership had come back to bite Dudley, Vernon was taking quite a different tack.

“What’s Morley playing at anyway? When I was at Smeltings, we had proper professors, who could actually spot talent and develop it when it was thrust upon them! We certainly didn’t entertain ruddy Headmasters who couldn’t see the value of a well-rounded student!” Vernon grumbled in disgust.

Dudley’s well-rounded alright, I’ll give you that. Harry thought as he fought off his smirk. For some reason, watching his beastly cousin eat his way into oblivion at the moment was almost amusing. Harry finished serving the breakfast as Vernon went on with his rant.

“I’ll tell you what this is…Morley’s got a son of his own on the boxing team. I’d wager he wants Dud out of the way so there’s a clear path for his boy to be champion. The boy probably can’t handle a little healthy competition…more like he knows the whelp doesn’t stand a chance of being top man with Dudley around, so he wants him off the team.” Vernon said with a nod to Dudley and a slap on his rather beefy arm. “That has to be it!”

Or…Dudley’s really just that daft and an absolutely brainless git. Harry mused to himself before tuning back in to Vernon. “…it’s an outrage!” his uncle continued. “Well, I have news for Headmaster Morley, I’ll simply not have it! Don’t give it another thought Dud, Coach Ellington will have something to say about this supposed dismissal from the team. Empty threats I tell you. Morley wouldn’t dare. With your boxing record, Ellington’s sure to fight to keep you.”

How dare they, Harry thought sarcastically as he returned to the kitchen for the orange juice. Smeltings actually views academic standards as a priority. Bet it really cranks Uncle Vernon that boxing isn’t enough, Harry mused.

Still, Harry couldn’t help but shake his head in disbelief. This was a lot of denial, even for his relatives. Were they really that thick? Did they really think that being the best bully in the school would qualify “Big D” for scholar of the year? He doubted very much if Dudley even cared about his grades, but Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia were mortified.

What would they tell the neighbors who proudly shared their child’s achievements? Harry listened from the kitchen as talk of pulling Dudley out of that school altogether began to circulate about the room.

Harry was beginning to suspect that sending Dudley abroad to spend a year ‘finding himself’ rather than returning to Smeltings for his second year of A levels was sounding better and better. Unless Dudley’s coach really did have that much pull, Harry could see that his relatives were beginning to run out of other alternatives. Having his one and only son chucked off the boxing team certainly wasn’t going to be acceptable to Uncle Vernon. That’s not the sort of thing that you could brag about in social circles. If Dudley left now, that could never happen and he’d end his illustrious boxing career as school champion instead of school pinhead who had been dismissed from the team based purely on his stupidity. Harry suspected that the school would be relieved as well. Dudley was mucking up the school’s academic record anyway.

As Harry walked back into the dining room and poured the juice, he deemed the whole scene truly entertaining. The part that Harry found to be most humorous was Dudley. He sat with a look of complete indifference at the table as he devoured yet another portion of bacon and eggs. Dudley’s only contributions to the conversation had been a periodic nod or snort in response to his father’s ranting. He didn’t confirm or deny anything that Vernon said and allowed his father to spout off until he burned himself out and tucked into his meal.

It had been extremely difficult, but Harry had remained silent. The temptation to make some sort of comment had been gripping him since he had walked into the room, but somehow Harry had held fast until he returned to the kitchen. With the door safely closed behind him, Harry found himself fighting the urge to burst into a fit of laughter.

Harry struggled to get a hold of himself as his uncle stormed into the kitchen. “What on earth are you grinning at boy?” he yelled.

“Er…nothing Uncle Vernon.” He responded as he tried to wipe the smile, quite unsuccessfully, from his face.

Vernon stared daggers through Harry, turning one of his famous shades of purple, as if it were his fault Dudley was an academic failure. Harry knew he’d be busy today. His ‘list’ grew in direct correlation with the foulness of Uncle Vernon’s mood. The grumpier he was, the more Harry usually had to do that day. Today was no different. He had actually written a list instead of firing off the verbal one he usually delivered.

With a satisfied smirk of his own, Vernon shoved it into Harry’s hand and yelled “Grin at that boy!” and stomped off.

A bit stunned by a list on paper, Harry looked down at it in shock. It was filled and there was more on the back. Items such as clean the attic, paint the trim of the house and clip the hedges topped the list. It would be three days’ hard slog before he finished everything on there. The chores were so excessive that Harry could feel his blood begin to boil with rage. As he turned the paper over he stopped dead in his tracks. There at the bottom of the list in capital letters was the one thing worse than anything else they could possibly throw at him. “YOU WILL WELCOME YOUR AUNT MARGE GRACIOUSLY INTO OUR HOME!”

“THE HELL I WILL!” he shouted to the empty kitchen.

She was to arrive at 5:00 o’clock today! Harry’s rage intensified as he remembered his last encounter with Marge. He actually blew her up. He couldn’t believe at first that she even had the nerve to put in another appearance while he was there -- but then he remembered. Her memory had been modified.

Harry had had it. That was the last straw. He crumpled the list in his fist and turned to march into the lounge. He was about to the play the “Moody” card when a loud blast followed by Aunt Petunia’s terrified shriek saved him the trouble. Harry stopped dead in his tracks again, this time to savor the moment, as a mischievous smirk spread across his face. He took a deep breath then walked brightly into the lounge to greet his visitors.

The scene was comical, at least to Harry. The fireplace had been blown to bits, again. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia stood huddled together across the room picking plaster out of their hair while Dudley’s massive bulk tried to disappear behind them. Due to his size, he was failing miserably in his attempt which amused Harry even further. He scanned the room for his guests and beamed happily.

“Fred! George! It’s great to see you!” he exclaimed.

“Hi ya Harry!” They said together waggling their eyebrows and matching his smirk. “Thought we’d pop by and…er… see how you’ve been getting on lately.”

“Interesting path of entry you two blokes chose. Didn’t feel much like apparating today I suspect?” Harry added with a raised eyebrow and a grin. “Perhaps it would be better if they just left the fireplace open then. What do you think?”

George and Fred smirked back, “Perhaps it would. Causes quite an unavoidable mess this way, we’re afraid. Quite unfortunate indeed, but traveling by floo well, requires a floo doesn’t it?” Harry knew just as well as they did that it was in fact, easily avoidable if they had chosen to apparate instead.

“So… why didn’t Ron come?” Harry asked still enjoying their banter as the Dursleys cringed.

They grinned at Harry then allowed their eyes to wonder over to Dudley’s huge arse as it stuck out from behind his mother’s bony body before they continued.

“Ron sends his regards Harry, but mum needed him to stay and help with some things back at headquarters…”

“The Order is a bit busy today, but we’re full-fledged members now, ya know. When they discussed needing someone to come by today at last night’s meeting… we were only too happy to oblige.”

Noting that they had both a captive and delighted audience the twins decided to beef it up a bit. “Course, Moody’ll be along any minute.” George paused allowing his words to sink in properly. Relishing the expressions on the Dursley’s faces, he continued. “He so loves these ‘social calls.’ Isn’t that right Fred?” George smirked.

“Oh, too right you are George.” Fred answered. “I believe he said he simply wouldn’t miss it.”

Harry watched almost giddy, as the Weasley twins hawked Dudley from across the room. The twins were a force to be reckoned with, perhaps on a different plane than Moody, but still a veritable thunderbolt waiting to strike. He was glad that he had always managed to remain on good terms with them.

No doubt his cousin remembered the twins from their last visit when they had accidentally dropped a Ton-Tongue Toffee which Dudley had eaten. Dudley’s tongue wagged somewhere about his navel by the time his parents let Mr. Weasley sort him out.

As those wonderful images floated about in Harry’s mind, he heard a loud crack reverberate through the room. Mad-Eye Moody apparated only inches in front of Vernon and Petunia making them fall back over Dudley who squealed like a little girl.

“Hello professor! I wondered when you’d be making another social call. It’s good of you to come. If you stay long enough you may even get to meet my Aunt Marge.” Harry added gleefully, picturing what would happen if they were still there when she arrived. I’ve got her “gracious welcome” right here, Harry thought.

It felt even sweeter when he heard a sharp gasp and a shudder come from the pile of Dursleys heaped on the lounge floor. He knew what they were thinking. How on earth they would explain their scarred, claw-footed, mad-eyed visitor to a very judgmental Marge. He also knew Moody would never abide her rudeness. Harry found himself wishing and hoping they could stay. He pictured Moody transfiguring her to look like one of her bulldogs and bouncing her off the ceiling. A smile leapt to Harry’s face at the mental images. As Harry fast forwarded through the evening in his mind, he found the best part was that once Moody had finished with her, she would have the Weasley twins to contend with. Harry just had to know what kind of creative, but evil mischief Fred and George would have in store for her and her dog.

It appeared Fred and George had been thinking the very same thing as Harry glanced at them happily with a grin of invitation to do their worst. The twins looked as though Christmas had come early. But it was too good to be true. Unfortunately, play day was to be cut short.

“Haven’t they told you Potter?” Moody asked halting the wheels as they turned in the boys’ heads.

Looking a bit confused Harry asked, “Sorry? Told me what, sir?”

“Sorry Harry, just having a bit of fun first.” Fred interjected.

Moody looked at the twins with a bit of a grumble, and then considered their ability to toy with the Dursleys. He had to give credit where credit was due. They had a knack for their own brand of intimidation.

He looked back at Harry and said. “Its jail-break day for you Potter! Get your trunk!”

Harry couldn’t believe it! His heart soared as he absorbed the news.

“What? Are you serious?” he cried. “I didn’t expect to get to leave for at least another week, around my birthday!” Harry exclaimed. “This is absolutely, bloody excellent!”

Harry then walked directly to the trembling heap that was his uncle and tossed the crumpled list at him. “Here, doesn’t look like I’ll have time for any of this today,” he said cheerfully. “I guess you’ll have to do your own maintenance for a change. See you next year!” With that Harry turned on his heel and headed up to his room to pack, accompanied by the twins. They left Moody in the lounge with the Dursleys to have a little fun.

This was going to be a much better day than Harry had ever felt possible! His summer at the Dursleys’ was cut short. No more lists, no more Dursleys, and most importantly, no Marge! Harry was terribly curious about why he was getting an early out this year, but too happy to ask. No doubt it wasn’t anything good, but that didn’t matter right now. There’d be plenty of time for worry later. Right now he wanted to enjoy every moment of his farewell party.

________________________________________
Chapter 3
Almost Perfect

When they arrived at Order headquarters, the place was completely deserted. Under the circumstances, the whole thing seemed rather strange to Harry.

The twins had just spent the last half hour talking about how ‘busy’ the Order was. They’d even given the impression that Ron wasn’t able to come and pick him up because he was helping his mum at Headquarters.

Now that they’d actually arrived at Grimmauld Place, no one even seemed to be there.

“What’s going on?” Harry asked, turning to Moody. “I expected a bit more activity around here. What happened to make you come and get me now?”

Moody’s magical eye spun round to peer out the side of his head. Looking briefly at the twins, he then rotated it back to rest upon Harry.

“Dumbledore got word that blimp of a woman was showing up today,” he grumbled after a brief pause.

“Got word?” Harry repeated. “From who?“

“Doesn’t matter,” Moody blustered, holding up his hand. “It was smarter to yank you out of there than to let you get yourself into trouble again. We can’t have you hexing her slobbering mutt or turning the woman into a bellowing, muggle balloon.”

“I’ve never hexed her dog,” Harry argued half-heartedly.

I wanted to, he added in his mind, but I didn’t.

“Humph…Well, we were supposed to come and get you next week,” Moody countered, surveying Harry as he scowled. “Would you rather that we’d left you there and put you to the test?”

”No,” Harry responded through gritted teeth, irritated by the implication that he couldn’t control his temper.

“What’s that, you say?” Moody asked, his eyes narrowing.

“No,” Harry repeated louder.

“Then show a little gratitude, Potter,” Moody warned him, his tone gruff and grumpy. “If you don’t, I might decide to take you back to Surrey and just let you wait it out.”

It was an idle threat and Harry knew it. Moody hated the idea of him being with the Dursleys nearly as much as he did.

“Okay,” Harry nodded, deciding to let it go as his eyes dropped to the floor and he bit his lip.

He wanted to disagree with him about what would’ve happened if he’d stayed there with Marge, but deep down he knew Moody was probably right under the circumstances.

“Sorry,” Harry mumbled,

“Humph,” was Moody’s only reply.

“So…where is everyone?” Harry asked changing the subject, his temper beginning to dissipate as he remembered that anything that got him away from Privet Drive couldn’t be all bad. “I thought Ron would be here.”

“Well, he and Mum were here getting things ready for you. You know…cleaning, preparing food, so you’d have what you need,” George explained. “When Dumbledore moved your ‘extraction from Dursley Doom’ up a week unexpectedly, Mum worked herself into a regular froth.”

“I’ll say,” Fred agreed. “She was so worried she wouldn’t have enough time to prepare things properly, that she put Ron and us to work straight away.”

“Yeah,” George continued. “She kept asking if everything felt homey enough and she was bustling around here like she was expecting a visit from the Queen or something.”

“Yeah, she got so worked up that we finally had to slip her some special tea to calm her down,” Fred explained with a shrug. “We developed our own unique blend, you know,” he added with a wink. “She was more than alright after that.”

“Down right blissful, I’d say,” George added with a nod, grinning proudly. “Anyway, she just wanted you to feel at home here, Harry.”

”She did a nice job,” Harry offered sincerely, unsure of what else to say. He wasn’t used to people being that concerned with his comfort. “So…after they fixed things up, I guess they had to leave? I mean, I’ll be staying here…alone?” his voice trailed off.

Mrs. Weasley and the others had obviously worked hard at eliminating the remaining ‘darkness’ from the home. Instead of a den of dark wizards, the house had taken on the feel of a normal Muggle home.

Many of the menacing, Black family heirlooms had finally been replaced by brighter furnishings and cheerier touches.

The only dark remnant appeared to be the wailing portrait of Mrs. Black. Unable to counter the charm that held her in place, she still hung in her usual spot draped by a moldy velvet curtain.

Harry scanned the lounge, taking in the renovations. He had to admit, on the surface, Grimmauld Place looked completely transformed. The state of the house though, wasn’t really the issue.

Harry didn’t fancy being left alone in the home of his dead godfather. Regardless of the physical changes of the room, he could almost feel an echo of Sirius in the space. He wasn’t frightened; it just made him feel rather depressed.

”Um…Harry…We’re not leaving you here by yourself,” Fred assured him as they watched him slowly take in the room.

“No, of course not,” George shook his head. ”We’ll be taking it in turns to…”

“To what?” Harry shot, his anger resurfacing quickly, “Mind me? I don’t need a babysitter!”

“Keep your bloody voice down, boy!” Moody warned. “You’ll wake up…”

But it was too late.

The tattered, moth-eaten curtain flew apart to reveal the yellowing portrait of a rather irate Mrs. Black. Instantly she began to shriek in her frame as though she were being tortured by their mere presence.

Ignoring her screams, Harry raised his voice louder and turned on Moody in a rage.

“This is ridiculous! I want to go to the Burrow!” he insisted.

“It’s not safe boy!” Moody growled. “You know that!”

“Then why can’t Ron come and stay here with me?!” Harry shot back, yelling louder.

Moody said something in response, but with Mrs. Black wailing and carrying on as though she’d been invaded, Harry couldn’t hear a word.

His tolerance finally snapped. Turning on his heels, his wand was in his hand before anyone else could react. Thrusting it toward the portrait he screamed.

“Incendio!”

Seeing what was coming, Mrs. Black squealed in fear and dove out the edge of her frame just before the spell impacted the canvas.

Fred and George stood by, mouths gaping as they watched the decrepit portrait go up in flames.

“Huh,” Moody replied, scratching his chin after a few seconds of silence. “Everyone was so busy trying to tear her off the bleeding wall that no one thought to just burn the old bat out of her frame.”

After a few more seconds, Moody lifted his wand, extinguishing the fire. The canvas hung smoking and charred. Nothing but a scorch mark remained. When Moody turned back around, Harry’s body was still shaking from the intensity of the spell.

“I…I didn’t mean to…” Harry mumbled, glancing at the remnants of the portrait before looking back at Moody.

“Looked like you meant it to me, Potter,” Moody countered grimly, now studying him with both eyes.

Harry looked back at the black splotch on the wall briefly before turning to meet Fred and George’s gazes.

“I…I think we should go,” Harry insisted, his voice rather unsteady. “If we go to the Burrow...”

“Take it easy,” Fred interrupted him, glancing quickly at the now empty frame before looking back at Harry. “No one’s going to care about that. The hag had it coming. We’ve been trying to rip that picture down for weeks, but like Moody said, nothing worked.”

“Besides, Ron’s not at the Burrow,” George chimed in, trying to change his mind. “He went to pick up Hermione and he’ll be coming here tomorrow. They’ll both be joining you tomorrow,” he added quickly.

“Yeah,” Fred nodded quickly. “They’re coming tomorrow and Ginny will be along any minute now. We’re going to keep you company tonight.”

Suddenly Harry felt ridiculous. He’d lost his temper, raged at Moody and the twins and managed to set the wall on fire without stopping to think.

“Ginny’s coming…and you’re staying,” Harry clarified quietly, his eyes dropping to the floor.

“Yeah,” the twins answered in unison.

“Oh,” Harry responded, somewhat lamely, embarrassed by how he’d behaved.

A rather uncomfortable silence filled the room.

Moody shrugged his shoulders and then turned to disappear into the kitchen. Harry and the twins stood looking at each other for a minute longer before taking seats in the lounge.

Several minutes passed as the twins exchanged nervous looks with each other between stealing glimpses at Harry with uncertainty. They seemed to be unsure of how to proceed from there.

To escape the awkwardness, Harry finally decided to excuse himself and go upstairs.

“Well…I think I’ll…er...just take my trunk to my room,” he muttered getting quickly to his feet without making eye contact with the Weasleys. “And…I should probably check to see…um…to see how Hedwig’s settling in.”

“Um…yeah, okay,” Fred nodded. “Do you need any help?”

“NO,” Harry answered much louder than he’d intended, hoping to get away. “Um…No, thanks…” he added, trying to force his tone back to normal.

”Yeah, alright then,” George nodded, “top of the stairs, second door on the left.”

“Thanks,” Harry called over his shoulder as he quickly left the room.

Climbing the stairs, Harry couldn’t help thinking about what he’d just done. In a matter of an hour, he’d gone from thrilled about leaving the Dursleys to furious at the thought of being left alone at Grimmauld Place.

What’s wrong with me, he wondered, recalling the stunned expressions on the twins faces as he shook his head.

It didn’t take long for him to find an answer to that question. He hadn’t slept properly in weeks. He was exhausted and frustrated by his nightly missions to find her.

Maybe that’s all behind me now, he thought hopefully. Maybe a change of scenery is just what I needed to make those dreams go away.

Reaching the landing, Harry headed down the hallway. Exhaling slowly he tried to let it all go. Facing his demons in his godfather’s home wouldn’t be easy, but if it brought the nightmares to an end, then maybe it would be worth it.

Feeling a little better, Harry turned the knob and opened his door. When he walked into his room, it was easy to see it had been given a mother’s touch. It was spotless and everything looked fresh and bright. The curtains were drawn back and sunshine gleamed in through the window.

Harry’s spirits began to rise as he opened the wardrobe and began to unpack. Not only was he done with his Dursley sentence for another year, but he’d be spending the last five weeks of the summer with his best friends. If he could just figure out his dreams, his life would be just about perfect.

Well, maybe not perfect, he reconsidered.

There was still the matter of Voldemort, but all things considered, his life was beginning to look pretty good.

Deciding to let Hedwig share in his freedom, Harry walked to her cage and released the clasp. Normally she’d be asleep at that time of day, but apparently the commotion of the move had her a bit off her routine.

“Go on girl,” Harry encouraged, stroking her snow white feathers with a smile. “Have a bit of a stretch.”

She didn’t seem too keen on moving at first, but when Harry crossed the room and opened the window, Hedwig hopped out of her cage to light momentarily on his arm. Affectionately she nipped his ear in appreciation before gliding out the window and into the open air.

Hooting happily she flew off into the late morning sky. Harry followed her with his eyes until she soared over the rooftops and disappeared.

Wistfully, he imagined how it would feel to grab his Firebolt and join her. It had been weeks since he’d flown. No matter how many times he’d done it, it always felt exhilarating when he pushed off from the ground.

After a few minutes of indulging the thought, he reluctantly tabled it. Harry seriously doubted that Moody, or anyone else, would appreciate him taking an excursion into Muggle air space.

No, definitely not, he shook his head. Flying will have to wait.

With a sigh he turned from the window and finished unpacking. After placing Hedwig’s empty cage on top of the wardrobe, he stretched out on the bed to relax.

In the silence of the room, his mind drifted to the unmistakable presence of his godfather. It was as though he could feel Sirius all around him.

Harry swallowed hard and wondered if he was really ready to spend the summer closed off at Grimmauld Place. Part of the reason Sirius was gone in the first place was because he’d been going stir crazy cooped up at Headquarters.

Knowing his options were few, Harry tried to push the thoughts from his mind. Concentrating on the fact that Fred and George were staying the night, Ginny was on her way, and Ron and Hermione would be arriving tomorrow, he slowly began to relax. Soon he’d be surrounded by the people he loved most.

Besides, Sirius wouldn’t want him to dwell on the tragedies of the past. He’d want him to live for the future and find peace and solace in his memory, not sadness.

As Harry’s mind cleared, his eyes began to slide out of focus. He was feeling more tired than he realized. Obviously lack of sleep and the excitement of the morning had taken its toll. Before Harry knew it, he had drifted off to sleep.

Suddenly he was walking down a torch lit, stone corridor. The flames dancing off the walls were little comfort along the dark and dank pathway of his dreams, but Harry didn’t care.

He moved deliberately through the catacombs turning several times without even thinking. The route was so ingrained in his mind at that point; he didn’t need to think about it.

As the doorway to the chamber came into view, he felt a familiar jolt of excitement mixed with nervousness shoot through him. Moving forward, Harry reached to open the door, hoping that this time the elusive figure would somehow be revealed to him.

When the heavy barrier swung open on its metal hinges, initially things looked the same as they had every other night. They looked the same, but they weren’t. It took only seconds for Harry to sense that something was different.

It was quiet, too quiet.

I’m too late! Harry thought as a surge of panic washed over him.

Hoping he was wrong, he proceeded cautiously as he moved further into the chamber. It was then that he noticed an eerie glow coming from the far corner.

Approaching the light, he saw the form of a girl resting in the center of the glow. She was lying on what looked like a giant stone slab covered in carved serpents. The light he’d seen was a crackling fire. It radiated from behind her, giving her body a rather strange ethereal glow.

Slowly, he moved in, watchful of his surroundings. When he was sure they were alone, he began to close the distance to her limp, lifeless body.

The room seemed to grow and elongate as he walked. He kept moving forward but didn’t feel like he was gaining much ground. When he finally reached her side, he looked down and gasped.

“No! It can’t be! …Ginny!” Harry’s throat constricted as his mind shot back years to the image of her lying on the floor of the Chamber of Secrets. “What happened to you? Wake up, Ginny!”

Reaching out, he touched her cheek. It was icy cold. Her skin was pale, her eyes were closed. She looked dead and he began to panic until he noticed the gentle rise and fall of her chest.

She’s breathing, he told himself. She’s still alive!

Ginny was bound to the table, lost in some sort of deep sleep. She was bruised and scratched. Her eyes were puffy and dark as though she’d been crying.

It’s only a dream, he reminded himself trying to shake the image. This can’t really be happening. She’s coming to see me. Fred and George said so themselves. Ginny is fine. Ginny is fine!

He could almost hear her calling to him even as he repeated the words in his mind.

The voice was off in the distance.

“Harry! Harry, wake up!”

The words finally sunk in as Harry sat bolt upright in bed and came face to face with the real live version of the girl in his dreams.

Ginny was sitting next to him on the edge of the bed. She had been trying to wake him. She looked frightened and exhausted, very much like her counterpart in his dream, except the scratches and bruises were gone.

“Harry, are you alright?”

He froze in silence, stunned by what he’d just seen in his dream. It was even more of a shock, however, to wake up and find Ginny sitting right beside him.

He wanted to grab her and pull her into his arms, relieved that she was safe. He was afraid that if he did though, she’d think he’d lost his mind. Resisting the temptation he just sat, staring at her.

“Harry?” she repeated his name. “What’s wrong?”

He didn’t want to scare her with the truth. Not knowing quite what to say, he lied to her instead.

“Er…I’m fine,” he muttered, trying to sound casual. “How long have I been asleep?”

Ginny looked at him questioningly, as if searching his eyes for answers.

“You found me…” she stated quietly after a short pause. “Didn’t you?”

________________________________________
Chapter 4 The Return of Riddle

Harry sat up in bed completely speechless as he stared at the ginger haired girl perched trembling at his side. He was utterly stunned at Ginny’s question as he played it over in his mind.

‘You found me… didn’t you?’

Harry had yet to respond. It was clear she wanted him to say something, anything, but the words simply wouldn’t come.

She bit her lip nervously as the moments ticked by in a vacuum of silence. Finally, his failure to acknowledge her question forced her to speak.

“Please Harry. Please talk to me. I don’t want to be alone anymore. Tell me you’ve found the chamber,” Ginny begged with her apprehension building. “You’ve found me,” she added in a small, unsteady voice.

Her desperation was breaking him as he nodded in response. Harry’s mind was reeling as the cold reality of her words began to flood in upon him.

She knew. She knew of his haunting dreams because she lived them. It was her screams in agony, her cries for mercy that he’d been hearing. It was Ginny all along.

He raced through the details of the visions, trying to piece together clues that made sense. Nothing fit. Why would he being having nightmares about Ginny? More importantly, why would he be sharing those nightmares with her? Surely he wasn’t flashing back to the episode in the Chamber of Secrets. Although there were some similarities to the experiences, they were really quite different. This wasn’t a memory. He was sure of that, but then what was it?

“This can’t be Ginny,” Harry insisted when he finally found his voice. “It just can’t.”

But even as the words left his mouth, he knew that Ginny would never lie to him.

Ginny exhaled slowly and dropped her eyes from his gaze.

“I’m sorry Harry. It is real, at least in a sense.”

He studied her features and saw them masked with the fear of rejection. He had to say something to reassure her.

“I believe you Ginny. If you say it’s real, then it is. I just don’t understand. How did you know? I haven’t told anyone about my dreams. They aren’t real. They can’t be. You’re sitting right here,” he said in disbelief as if saying it out loud would make it so.

“It was me in your dreams, or rather, you in mine Harry. I’ve been calling to you every night, hoping that you’d find your way.” Ginny rushed on. “I just thought that if anyone could do it, you could. After all, you’ve done it before. I’m so sorry.”

Harry just stared at her.

“Wha…What do you mean you’ve been calling to me? What did you think I could do? Ginny, what is going on?”

Ginny looked bone-weary. She focused on the floor as her eyes filled with tears. Harry studied her not knowing what to do. This was not like Ginny at all. She was always so strong, independent, unfaltering. The Ginny that he had grown to admire as a friend was not prone to break down. He wasn’t sure what to do. He reached out and placed his hand on her cheek. Gently he raised her gaze to his.

“Ginny? Please, just tell me what’s going on.”

A single tear broke loose and slid down her cheek, running over his warm hand and sending an odd tingling up his arm. She shuddered as she held his gaze for a moment before speaking.

“It’s…it’s Tom… Tom Riddle.”

Harry just gaped at her for a few seconds.

“Sorry? I thought you said that Riddle was doing this, but… that can’t be. I…”

He suddenly realized he was still cupping her face in his hand when she reached up to cover it lightly with her own and lowered his hand into her lap where she held it.

“I know it seems impossible, but somehow he has figured out how to enter my dreams. Maybe it’s because he possessed me before through the diary. Maybe he left a thread of his presence in me and made it easier for him to reenter my mind. I don’t know how, but I do know that it’s happening. He’s…”

She paused, unsure of how much to tell Harry about what had been happening.

“He’s what Ginny?” Harry asked becoming alarmed as she seemed to turn pale before his eyes.

“I’m…I’m more than his prisoner. It’s not enough for him to just contain me; he wants to control me. He’s been… torturing me, and apparently… enjoying it immensely,” she finished in a whisper.

“For how long?” Harry asked fearing he already knew the answer.

If he was rightt, it had been weeks. He could feel his anger mounting. He was angry at Riddle for what he was doing to her again, but he was also angry with himself for not finding her sooner. He could have stopped this if only he’d have gotten to her.

“Right after school ended the dreams began. At first, it wasn’t so bad really. He didn’t even speak. He would just watch me over me menacingly and then leave me alone to wonder what he’d do next. As time went on though, he grew bored of simple intimidation. He began to take on a more active role in my dreams.”

“But why Ginny? Why didn’t you tell someone? Your mum, Ron, anyone…they may have been able to help,” he asked as he held her hand more tightly in an attempt to soothe her.

She was quiet for several seconds before meeting Harry’s gaze directly. The look in her eyes made Harry ache with sympathy for her. A renewed loathing filled him for Riddle and the grief he had caused. Whatever Riddle had done, it was searing a scar into her heart and she was breaking from it.

“Please, try to understand,” she pleaded, her lips trembling and fresh tears forming. “I know telling someone, reaching out for help, seems like a simple thing to do, but I couldn’t. I was embarrassed, scared, confused. I just wasn’t sure what to say or how to say it. How do you tell someone who loves you so deeply that your pain becomes their pain that the most evil wizard in existence is invading your dreams? I think the reason I finally came to you, was because I knew you could understand what he does to a person. Haven’t you ever dreamed something that you didn’t think you could bare to tell anyone else?” she asked as her eyes begged Harry for understanding.

He nodded silently and sighed in resignation opening up in way to her that he rarely did with anyone, “I’m afraid I have… more than once. I think, sometimes, there are things that our minds show us while we sleep that we either don’t want to believe or simply cannot face. I think when you have things in your past that are painful; it can open the door to emotions that are already raw.”

Her eyes drifted closed at his words and she exhaled in relief, “Yes Harry, that’s just how I felt. At first I really thought they were just nightmares, you know, of my time in the Chamber of Secrets, but as it went on, he talked to me. He told me it was revenge for what I had done to him.”

“But, you didn’t do anything. It was me. I drove the basilisk tooth through the diary. I killed the image from his memory. You were innocent in it all. He was controlling you. You were powerless to hurt him, it was me,” Harry paused as he looked down at the hand she held then allowed his eyes to slowly travel up to meet her gaze. “Ginny, I’m so sorry that he’s punishing you for the things that I did.”

“How can you apologize for saving my life? If it weren’t for you, I’d have died in that chamber. Don’t you know by now, I owe you my life. Please Harry, don’t be sorry. I couldn’t bare it. You’ve helped me more than you know.”

Harry fell silent again. They’d never really talked about what had happened in the chamber. He never thought of it as saving her life, but as helping a friend. Years had passed since that night, but it was now obvious that they had forged a connection that Harry had never considered until now.

As if for the first time, he really looked at her. She had changed so much since the first day he met her on Platform 9¾. He felt so close to her at that moment. His breathing became somewhat erratic as he searched her eyes and tried to stop thinking of how feeling her hand in his caused his heart to pound. It was wrong. He just felt drawn to her because she was his friend and she was coming to him when she didn’t feel capable of confiding in anyone else. That had to be it. His body was just responding to her need for him, wasn’t it?

Ginny closed her eyes momentarily, searching for the words that would explain how she felt. When she opened them with a sigh she began, “I’m so sorry I pulled you into this Harry. I know it was wrong of me, but I felt so desperate and alone. I tried to handle it on my own, really I did. I thought I could do it, too. I can be a bit stubborn I suppose,” she admitted with a shrug trying to lift some of the tension. “I told myself that it was only a dream and that I was being weak, but as the nights wore on, I couldn’t take it anymore. I knew I needed help. Thinking of you, somehow gave me hope. I guess I thought that since you came and found me in the Chamber in real life, that you could do it in our dreams too.”

“But… how? How did you ‘pull me in’? I don’t understand how I am entering your dreams. That is what I'm doing isn’t it? It’s real…those are your screams I’ve been hearing.”

Ginny couldn’t hold her emotions in check any longer and she turned away from him. He watched as she began to shake and knew she was crying. He moved next to her and put an arm around her.

“Ginny, I’m so sorry…it’s going to be okay. I’ll help you. You know I will.” Without hesitation she buried her face in his chest, threw her arms around his neck, and sobbed against him. Hesitantly, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. He gently rubbed her back and shoulders as he tried to comfort her. He stroked her hair, suddenly aware of how soft it felt sliding through his fingers. His mind wandered to how good it felt to hold her and his heartbeat quickened. After a few minutes of indulgence he stopped himself. ‘What am I thinking? This is Ginny…she’s come to me as a friend…and I go all ‘male’ on her.

He drew back slightly and smiled encouragingly at her.

“Let’s start over. Can you tell me anything else? How this happened, exactly?”

She looked up at him and he thought he would melt. She had incredible eyes, shimmering with tears. He tried to focus as she began.

“When it started, I didn’t know what to do. At first it seemed like just a nightmare, but it was much more. I hated myself for allowing him back into my mind. I was scared and I felt so isolated,” she explained as he reached up absentmindedly with his free hand to wipe a renegade tear as it slid down her cheek.

“Riddle tried to tell me that no one would believe me,” she continued with a small shudder. “He said that they’d think I was mad if I told anyone. Part of me believed him at first. Even I thought I was going mad, so how could I expect anything more from anyone else?”

She paused briefly as she worked to shake the images from her mind.

“I almost told my mum once, but how could I? I’ve put her and my family through so much already. I love them. I didn’t want to worry and hurt even more than I already have.”

“Ginny, they love you. They’d want to help you,” Harry offered encouragingly.

“I know they love me, but I’d decided that it was my problem. I thought I could find a way out on my own,” she confided regretfully. “I bolstered myself each night and was determined to do it alone until I began to sense the presence of someone nearby. At first I didn’t know if it was real or just part of my dream. The longer I thought about it though, the surer I became that someone strong and determined was searching for me. In my waking hours, I could think of no one, but you,” she ended in a whisper with a slight blush to her damp cheeks.

“Me? Why did you think of me?” Harry asked.

“It made sense. You and he are linked Harry. I guess I was able to call to you in my dreams through your connection with Voldemort.”

Harry was slightly taken aback that she used the evil wizard’s name. Other than Dumbledore and himself, he’d heard very few wizards say it out loud.

She paused and looked away again before continuing, “I…I could feel you Harry. I could feel your presence surrounding me. The closer you felt…the more I cried out to lead you to me in my dreams. You gave me courage and hope that you’d come for me. It was only a matter of time.”

“You knew I’d come?” he asked as she nodded in response. “When I found you, at first I thought you were dead. What has he done to you?”

“I think when you finally found me today; I looked asleep because I wasn’t in the dream world with you. I mean, my physical body was awake.” She stopped and looked at him, “This doesn’t make any sense, does it?”

Harry was quiet for a long moment. Then he answered, “Ginny, not much of what has happened to any of us over that last few years has made sense. You and I have been through more at Voldemort’s hands than probably anyone else. It’s only right that we’d have some type of connection. We’re bonded in a way that really no one else can understand.” Harry reached out and took both of her hands in his. She felt her face heat as the warmth of his eyes and his heart filled her with hope.

“Thank you for trusting me Ginny. You’re not alone anymore. Tonight when we go to sleep, I’m going to come for you. I think I can get back again. We’ll face Tom together, I promise,” he said, offering a smile of encouragement.

Her lip began to tremble again as silent tears slid down her face. This time tears of relief as a small smile spread timidly across her face.

“Harry, I don’t know how to thank you.”

He smiled back at her and answered, “You don’t need to thank me. We’re friends. Right?” She nodded and smiled as he continued. “Then…it’s a date. I’ll see you tonight, in our dreams.”

She looked up at him. His words seemed to surprise her.

She leaned in stopping briefly to whisper, “Thank you, Harry.”

Her closeness caused a wave of emotion to flood him once again, but this time it was different. It wasn’t fear or sympathy that engulfed him, but a nervous energy that seemed to fill him from within. He felt her exhale against his skin and time seemed frozen. In those few seconds he found himself wanting to hold her again. He wanted to comfort her and make sure she was really alright. Then before he could register what was to come, she kissed him gently on the cheek and breathed the words “See you tonight.”

In the next moment she rose quietly and left him feeling suddenly quite alone in his bed as his door closed behind her with a small click. Harry just stared at the back of the door. The feel of her soft lips still burned on his cheek as he lifted his hand to the spot in delayed response.

What just happened here? he wondered to himself. Did I just say, “It’s a date.”? Where did that come from? Maybe she didn’t notice. No… she noticed you git.

He lay back on his bed again thinking of her. Her eyes, her hair, and the way she walked when she left the room. He mentally shook himself for his thoughts.

“I’ve got to snap out of it. Ginny’s Ron’s little sister,” he argued aloud. “Yeah, but she’s also sixteen. Hell! When did that happen and how did I miss it?”

Just then his door opened again, causing him to jump. For some reason he felt very guilty as if he’d been doing something very wrong just now. It was Fred.

“Oi! Harry! What are you on about? What happened and what did you miss?”

Harry was stunned temporarily, “Oh, nothing…I thought I forgot my…” scanning the room his eyes fell on his cloak, “my invisibility cloak, but I see it right over there now.”

Looking a little skeptical Fred continued, “Aren’t you ever coming back down? What’s the point of keeping you company, if you insist on staying in your room all day?”

“Er, yeah,” Harry muttered sheepishly. “I just needed a little rest. I’m coming now.”

With that he got up and crossed the room to rejoin the others downstairs.

As he entered the kitchen he caught Ginny’s gaze from across the room. He wanted to be alone with her again. He wanted to talk about the dream more, to plan their attack, but it would have to wait. She was pretty clear she hadn’t told anyone else. He didn’t want to break her trust. If anyone found out, it would come from her, not him.

With a sigh he thought to himself, This is going to be a very long day.

Now that he knew it was Ginny suffering in his dreams, he simply wanted the day to end so he could go to her and take care of her. He wanted to end her misery. He didn’t know how he’d do it, but he simply had to find a way.

________________________________________
Chapter 5 Time for Bed

Morning crept into afternoon. Hour by hour the day seemed to drag on unmercifully while his thoughts continued to dwell on returning to free Ginny from her nightmares.

Since their startling conversation in his room, Harry’s mind had been deluged by a raging flood of questions. There were so many things he wanted to ask, but he’d had very little opportunity in which to do it. Frustration was beginning to set in as he repeatedly tried to get her alone to talk.

Ginny seemed to pick up on Harry’s subtle attempts and at one point tried to help. While her brothers were distracted, she had given Harry a discreet nod and then exited to the kitchen. Harry grabbed the opportunity and followed her a few seconds later. It certainly seemed like a good idea until the twins followed right behind him no more than a moment later. Harry wasn’t sure if it was just coincidence or if for some reason the twins felt the need to chaperone their movements.

Since Harry had emerged from his room, Mad-Eye had made himself scarce. He was busy tinkering with something, but Harry didn’t really know what. What he did know was that having the paranoid, ex-auror preoccupied with something other than watching them had lightened the mood immeasurably. They weren’t really afraid of Moody. As long as they tread lightly around him so as not to startle him, they’d be fine. None of them took Moody’s gruffness to heart any longer, but he did tend to throw cold water on the festivities from time to time with his “Constant vigilance!” mantra.

Fred and George, on the other hand, were nothing if not entertaining. Their stories and antics were somewhat of a distraction, but Harry was still finding it hard to think of anything but the mission that awaited him later that night.

After a couple of hours, it seemed the twins had exhausted all points of conversational interest and had moved on to long bouts of silence. Just when Harry had worked out a new way of pulling Ginny aside for a talk, her brothers announced they had other plans.

Noting the lull in the conversation, Fred decided to take matters in hand. Rising quite suddenly from his perch on the arm of the chair, he looked at the group with a grin. “This party’s gone a bit dull. What we need here is a bit of a stretch. Wouldn’t you agree George?” He asked turning to his twin with a grin.

“Yeah, I reckon that would be nice.” He answered as he turned devilishly to Harry, “What do you think Harry?”

Harry had been watching the twins with reservation. He’d seen that gleam before and usually it wasn’t good. Harry wasn’t sure what they were on about at the moment, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to know either. When no further explanation was offered however, his curiosity got the better of him and Harry asked, “What do I think about what?”

He glanced nervously at Ginny trying to read her expression. Were her brothers bored enough with trying to amuse him that they had now moved on to amusing themselves? Ron and Percy were their usual targets of choice, but since they were currently absent Harry began to fear that Fred and George had decided to focus their energies on him instead. If so, what kind of ‘game’ would they come up with? He couldn’t help but wonder if having a ‘stretch’ with the infamous Weasley twins involved eating one of their joke shop creations and then actually being pulled like a band of taffy until he was ‘stretched’ beyond belief? All in good fun, of course.

Harry began to slowly back away from the twins as he searched his mind for escape routes. That’s completely pointless, he argued with himself. You can’t go anywhere. You’ll just have to take it and be done with it. He told himself. They wouldn’t do anything permanent…at least not on purpose. He felt less reassured than he’d hoped. Before Harry could react he saw Fred nod knowingly to George. Oh here it comes… Harry thought.

“Would you fancy a spot of flying Harry?” George inquired innocently with the edge of a smile curling his lips.

Harry halted his retreat and stood dumbfounded in response. Flying? Are they really suggesting what I think they’re suggesting? When he found his voice Harry said, “You must be joking… You are, aren’t you?”

“Are we? No, I don’t think so.” Fred answered with a smile to match his twin’s.

“How do you propose we do that? I mean, I seriously doubt Dumbledore or the Order would appreciate me jumping on my Firebolt for a bit of a joy ride smack dab in the middle of muggle London. Don’t you think we’d attract a little too much undue attention? The local muggles are bound to notice four people swooping around in the air on brooms,” Harry said trying to sound like the voice of reason.

Upon consideration, Harry wasn’t sure that reasoning was the right approach in the case of the Weasley twins. They were quite a pair of mischief makers and you wouldn’t be far off the mark if you lumped them in with the “Marauders”. They’d earned the title outright while they haunted the halls and lesser known passages of Hogwarts. Fred and George certainly weren’t strangers to ‘creative’ thinking, but what they were suggesting was a bit more than simple mischief. Harry could hear just hear the harangue now about being irresponsible and disregarding everyone’s efforts to keep him safe. Besides the Order’s lectures, Mrs. Weasley would probably have kittens and then blast them straightaway with a howler.

“Harry!” Fred interjected in a tone of mock disappointment as his red headed twin clutched his chest for effect. They were acting as though Harry had just mortally wounded them.

“You’ve cut us to the quick! You aren’t really suggesting that we’d do something that hadn’t been board approved?” George asked in shock.

“Well…” Harry began as he looked over at Ginny to find she was now smiling in amusement. All it took was a slight nod of confirmation from her for Harry to forget that this idea may be a bit on the dodgy side. Harry reasoned if Ginny thought it was okay, perhaps there was something to it after all.

Visions of soaring through the air began to fill Harry’s mind and his heartbeat quickened with the thought of it. “What’s the plan?” He added with renewed anticipation.

George waggled his eyebrows with a broad grin and a nod of satisfaction to his brother. “Accio brooms!” The twins called loudly together.

In a matter of seconds, Harry could here the familiar whistling sound of something moving swiftly through the air. He turned just in time to see four brooms heading straight for them. Fred and George each caught two in their hands then turned to face Harry and Ginny. Fred tossed Ginny’s to her and George held up Harry’s to him. “Care to have a go Harry?”

“Absolutely!” He responded with joy as he reached for his prized broom. “There’s still the small matter of me not being allowed to leave headquarters though; any ideas?” Harry asked hopefully.

Seeing that they were serious and that he wasn’t about to be the subject of one of their test products after all, he’d now abandoned worrying about if they should go and had moved happily on to thoughts of how they could do it without being caught.

“Well, not to worry Harry. Dumbledore decided that it would be best if you could get out and about a bit during your stay here, on ‘Order approved outings’ of course.” Fred offered cheekily.

“How do we get approval, then?” Harry asked quickly beginning to feel his anticipation build within him.

“Well, Fred, shall we let young Mr. Potter out and about on this fine afternoon?” George asked playfully.

“Oh yes, I think so,” Fred responded. “Let’s approve the outing.”

“There you go, Harry.” The twins said in unison.

“That’s…That’s it?” Harry asked incredulously.

“Yep, nothing to it really. After all, we are on duty for the Order now. That gives us the authority to act in your best interest as we see fit. Right now we believe it’s in your best interest to get out of here for awhile.”

“It’s a bit scary really, isn’t it?” Ginny said giggling at the expression on Harry’s giddy face. “Those two having the authority of the Order I mean.”

“That’s good enough for me!” Harry said with a shrug breaking into a smile that, for the first time, reached his eyes.

“Alright then, right this way, Harry.” Without further ado, the twins traipsed off through the house until they reached the back door.

Producing their wands from their pockets they turned to face Harry and Ginny briefly. “You may want to stand back a bit,” Fred said motioning to them as he opened the door to the back garden.

As the others watched expectantly, Fred said loudly, “Muggalus Repulsus!” with a flick of his wand.

Harry recognized the spell as a muggle repelling charm that he’d heard numerous times at the Quidditch World Cup.

“Allow me, ‘Hortus Expandere!’ George said as he cast a second, less familiar spell into the garden.

“What was that?” Harry asked.

“Well, Harry my boy; we can’t just go flying about without certain precautions, now can we.” Fred began. “As part of the preparations for your arrival the Order decided that it’d be wise if you could get out for some fresh air now and again. Take a walk, fly, and perhaps take a swim in the lake if it suited you.”

“The lake?!” Harry asked in astonishment. “I didn’t realize the back garden was that large.”

“Well, it isn’t normally, but with a few well placed spells, like ‘Hortus Expandere,’ you’ve got instantly expandable grounds. The first spell was to ward off nosy muggle neighbors from peering out of their windows and into our garden while it’s in use. The second spell expands the garden to rather enormous proportions, if I do say so myself. Now we have an area roughly the size of a couple of Quidditch pitches in which to muck about as we see fit. If you like, you can even take the path through the woods to the lake for a dip.” George said with a bit of pride in his voice.

“It sounds like the Order’s thought of everything.” Harry said in astonishment.

“Just about, I’d say. There’s only one thing that they forgot.” Ginny said as she entered from the lounge with a trunk in tow. Harry hadn’t realized she’d gone until he heard her speak as she reentered the room. “Lucky, I have my own set for practicing.” She’d gone to collect her crate of Quidditch balls.

“Here, let me help you.” Harry offered as he grabbed hold of one end.

Harry and Ginny began to head towards the door when their path was blocked by George. “Hold it you two. There’s one more measure we need to engage before we can enjoy the great outdoors.”

With that he took his wand and tapped it twice on the wall. A small switch appeared and George reached out to give it a flip.

“What’s that for?” Harry asked. “I didn’t think that electrical switches worked in magical homes.”

“Oh it’s not ekletrical, Harry. It’s the switch for the SEP field,” Fred said by way of an explanation.

“Sorry, but what exactly is a SEP field?” He asked feeling like this was probably one of those times that growing up in a muggle home was once again a disadvantage.

“Well, it takes our problem and makes it someone else’s,” George said with a grin.

“I don’t follow.” Harry said still confused by the switch.

“Think of it this way, it’s like a cloaking charm for the entire grounds. It’s one of the nicer features that Moody added as part of his modifications to the house. It basically hides the garden and surrounding area from muggles and unwanted wizard folk alike.” Fred explained. “If anyone comes poking around looking for Order Headquarters, they won’t be able to spot us or hear us even if they’re standing right beside us. It’s similar to the charm that protects the Knight Bus in theory and execution, with a few special modifications to meet our purposes. It’s also a bit more flexible than the Fidelious Charm.”

“That’s brilliant!” Harry exclaimed.

In response, Harry heard a single “Humph,” from behind followed by some indistinguishable grumbling. Moody had been listening and although Harry could tell Moody was trying to act disinterested, he seemed pleased with Harry’s reaction.

“Thanks professor. This is wonderful,” Harry said turning to address the retreating auror.

Not wanting to appear too pleased, Moody turned to offer some of his own brand of advice. “You lot just stay out of trouble! Just because there are certain safety measures in place, doesn’t mean you should let down your guard out there! You’ve got to practice…”

“…constant vigilance. Yes, we know,” Harry added with a smile.

“Humph.” Moody snorted in response again and headed back into the lounge.

“Well, shall we then?” Fred asked with a flourish of his hand toward the door.

Without another word they headed out into the garden. Stepping into the warm summer sunlight was like breathing again. Harry’s preoccupation with what the evening would bring was quickly wiped from his mind as he and Ginny dropped the Quidditch trunk to the ground.

For a moment, he stood quietly just taking in the amazing garden. It would definitely warrant his Uncle Vernon’s envy. It was large and lush with beautiful flowers banking its borders. The sky was a perfect blue with only a few wispy clouds swiping the horizon. Just as the twins had said, more than 200 meters from the house was a thick forest with a welcoming path at its center. No doubt, the lake lay beyond as promised.

Ginny watched as Harry’s expression went from one of awe to utter happiness. “What do you think?” she asked as she walked over to stand next to him quietly.

“It’s amazing!” Harry answered excitedly.

“You should have seen it before we cleaned it out. We spent the better part of a week getting rid of all the dangerous plants that had grown up in this place over the years. Devil’s Snare, Poison dart flowers, the lot. It was a bit like ‘cleaning’ the house only nothing in there attempted to grab you around the ankles and pull you into the ground. We could have used Neville actually. He’s so good with Herbology and his passion for exotic plants would have come in handy, especially in that corner over there.” She said with a bit of a shudder.

“Well, you’ve certainly done a wonderful job. You’d never know that this place used to belong to a family of dark wizards,” Harry said smiling appreciatively as he gazed around at the results of their labors.

“Yes, it is rather lovely isn’t’ it?” She responded admiring the rainbow of colorful flowers dotting the garden.

Harry looked down at her and watched her enjoying the landscape. He was taken by the way the sunlight played off the rich ginger color of her hair as it swayed with the movement of the breeze. Quietly he answered her without thinking, “Yes, it is.” What she didn’t know was that he wasn’t talking about the garden -- she looked beautiful all windswept and tanned and he couldn’t help but notice.

Having seen the garden before, Fred and George weren’t as keen on surveying the property at any length. “How ‘bout we do a bit of flying to bring you and Ginny back up to snuff for the upcoming Quidditch season?” Fred asked.

“Yeah, that sounds great!” Harry answered.

“We’ll play two on two. Ginny you go with George. Harry you’re with me. Now, since we’ve only got two on a team, we won’t use the bludgers or the snitch.” Fred reasoned.

“No bludgers? Where’s the fun in that?” George asked a bit disgruntled.

“Well, the fun lies in the fact that we won’t get walloped senseless. Without enough players for beaters, do you really want those nasty little buggers flying about?” Fred asked.

“Oh, right. No, I suppose not,” George responded in agreement.

“Alright then, George and I will be keepers. You and Ginny can be chasers. First team to score 100 points wins.” Fred finished his run down of the rules and then grabbed the Quaffle from the crate.

As the twins took off into the air, Ginny took the opportunity to raise the stakes a bit. “Good luck Harry. You’ll need it.” she teased. “After all, I am an experienced Chaser. All you have to do is catch a tiny little ball once during the whole game. I’ve done it. It’s hardly a challenge. I much prefer chasing to Seeking,” She said with a shrug of indifference holding back a smirk.

“Hardly a challenge? Oh really? I’d say that sounds like you’ve thrown down the gauntlet Miss Weasley. I’d watch your back if I were you.” He said with a wink.

With that Harry mounted his Firebolt and shot into the air so fast that it caused the wind that he’d churned up to knock Ginny slightly off kilter.

“Show off,” she giggled as she righted herself and mounted her broom. Pushing off from the ground she rose rapidly to join Harry and her brothers who were now circling the garden in large sweeping loops.

Harry never felt better than when he was flying. Soaring through the air, his cares always seem to fade as he increased the distance between him and the ground below. He couldn’t help but think briefly of his godfather as he circled the tree tops. If he could see Harry now, he’d be smiling for sure. Harry only wished they’d thought of using the same charms when Sirius had been living in the house. It would have made things a lot easier on him.

Knowing that Sirius would be happy for him now made it easier to enjoy the moment. Harry moved into a series of complex flying maneuvers he had picked up from watching the World Cup then returned to the center of the makeshift pitch with Ginny and the others.

When they were all ready, Fred tossed the Quaffle into the air and the game began. Ginny grabbed it first and Harry zoomed after her to block her path. She swooped around him, inverted to avoid him, and effortlessly scored her first goal.

A bit surprised at her reaction time, Harry recovered by yelling, “I gave you that one Weasley.”

“Yeah, right Potter.” She answered with a laugh as she flew over him and they began again.

As they played, Harry began to notice that Ginny had obviously been practicing throughout the holiday. She hadn’t lost a thing from last season. In fact, she was even better than before. Harry became lost in thought watching her aerial acrobatics when Fred called a time out and swooped over to Harry.

Ginny was actually coming close to outscoring Harry and winning the game.
Apparently, Fred didn’t like to lose and he minced no words in telling Harry as much. “Get in the game, Potter, before my baby sister humiliates us!”

Realizing he had been totally distracted by Ginny, he began playing with a renewed focus. In the end, it was still rather close, and Harry was impressed. Ginny never once thought that her chances of beating Harry were out of the question. After all he was a Seeker. He wasn’t used to scoring like she was, truth be told she was indeed a gifted Chaser and she knew it. Her confidence and strength were two things he really admired about Ginny.

It wasn’t until the sun started to set, and the twins were complaining of growling stomachs, that they decided to end the game. They talked and laughed as they walked back into the house. Harry felt more at home at Grimmauld Place than he had ever felt before and even managed to forget his worries temporarily.

Inside the house, Ginny pulled dinner together. Everything was cooked. She just needed to warm it and put some finishing touches the meal. Harry went upstairs to take a quick shower before dinner. As he descended the stairs afterward he followed the wonderful smell permeating the house. Entering the kitchen, he realized he was pretty hungry himself. Moody had gone and it was just Harry and the Weasleys now. Dinner was relaxing and even fun as they sat around recounting their match out back.

After dinner, Fred and George asked if Harry would mind spending a little time with Ginny. They had some urgent Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes business to attend to and wanted to do it while their mum was absent.

Harry and Ginny looked at each other and she asked, “How about a game of chess?”

Harry smiled, “Yeah, sure.” Then temporarily turning his attention to the twins he asked with a grin, “What are you two trying to smuggle this time?”

They looked at each other with a smirk and George responded, “Let’s just say that old Mundungus Fletcher has some quality items that we’re interested in acquiring. Mum doesn’t seem to see the value in his ‘merchandise’. It’s just easier this way. By the way, could we borrow Hedwig?”

Harry smiled with a nod then added, “Yeah, sure. If she’s back, that is. She’d be up in my room.”

The twins started up the stairs talking about their plans to get a bargain out of ‘Old Dung.’ Harry couldn’t help but laugh at their business savvy. They had definitely found their niche.

When Harry looked back at Ginny she was setting up the chessboard. Her long ginger hair fell around her face and shoulders as she bent over the board carefully setting the pieces in place. She looked lovely and Harry was beginning to wonder why he’d never seen it before now. What’s more was that Ginny was the type of girl that didn’t seem to realize her beauty which made her even more attractive to him.

She quickly tucked a few stray hairs behind her ear as she looked up and saw Harry watching her. She held his gaze for a few seconds then asked. “What? Is there something on my face or something?” She was nervously swiping at her cheek as she spoke.

Harry grinned and answered, “No…you look…fine.”

Curiously she raised her eyebrow at him then said, “Well, shall we play then?”

Harry sat down on the floor opposite her and the chessboard and said, “Okay, you go first.”

As they played they talked about all kinds of things. Harry was really enjoying her company and it seemed that she enjoyed his as well. They laughed and teased each other about everything from chess to Quidditch. Harry usually felt self-conscious talking to girls, but Ginny was different. It was a little like talking to Hermione, but with one rather large difference. Harry never found himself staring at Hermione and imagining himself shoving a chessboard out of the way to kiss her.

I have to get a hold of myself. Harry thought to himself as Ginny moved her knight to check his king. I can’t do this. It wouldn’t be fair to Ginny. My life is too uncertain to bring someone into it with me.

“Harry? Harry! It’s your move. Where were you?” Ginny asked.

He blinked and shook off his daydream, “Sorry, just thinking.”

A knowing expression crossed her face as she asked, “About tonight?”

Harry grabbed her thought and lied, “Yeah, I think we should talk about what we’re going to do. I mean is there anything you can tell me that will help me when I get in there?” Harry had been waiting to talk to her all day about this so it wasn’t really a lie, was it?

Ginny considered his question and then tried to fill in the blanks as best she could. “Well, all I can tell you is that he enters through a portal of sorts. It looks kind of like a mirror, but the surface is like liquid. I don’t know how it works. It’s his doorway to my mind but I don’t know how he conjured it.”

Harry peered at her hesitantly from across the board. For much of the evening, he had wrestled with an ominous question. He was almost afraid to ask. The longer it burned in his mind, however, the more he felt he needed to know. The last thing he wanted was to upset her or make things worse, but he had to know what they were facing. Reluctantly, he made up his mind. “Ginny? Can I ask you something?”

She looked up from the board and into his eyes. “Of course…what is it?”

In a quiet voice he asked, “What is he doing to you…in your dreams? I’ve heard your screams enough to know it has to be pretty awful.”

Harry watched in anguish as the color drained from her face and her eyes dropped to the floor. He heard a small shudder in her breath as she seemed to drift back to the painful memories locked in her mind. Seeing her tormented in this way was agonizing for him. He couldn’t stand it any longer. He suddenly wished he could take back his inquiry. “Ginny, if it’s too painful, you don’t have to tell me.”

She was quiet for a minute then looked back into those eyes filled with concern. “Sometimes he uses the Cruciatus Curse. Actually, it’s mostly that. He wants me to tell him about you and the Order. I’ve told him he’ll just have to kill me because I’ll never tell him anything. I owe you my life.”

Harry took a second to absorb her words. When he saw the solemn pledge mirrored in her eyes, he knew she was serious. She’d give her life for me. He didn’t quite know what to do with that information. It wasn’t like he didn’t have others who cared for him. Ron and Hermione would definitely throw themselves between Harry and death. They had done so on several occasions before now. It wasn’t something he liked to think about, but he knew in his heart that it was true, just as he would do and had done for them.

“Ginny, I’m so sorry this is happening to you. Getting close to me never seems to be a good thing, for anyone.” Harry felt his stomach wrench as he spoke the words. His eyes were beginning to sting and he had to look away. Once again the cruel realty of his life had struck home. Once again he had hurt a friend, simply by existing. This beautiful, warm, and innocent girl was suffering through a horrific experience all because of him.

“No Harry, you can’t blame yourself. Look at me, please,” she implored.

After a short pause he sighed and turned to face her. With the weight of his full attention now upon her, she spoke four small, but meaningful words. “You’re worth the risk.” She said quietly with a shy smile then she added. “It’s okay Harry; I’d do just about anything for you.”

He searched her eyes in bewilderment for the meaning behind her words. Before he could stop himself he had asked, “Why?”

She seemed to be turning a bit flush as she answered, “I think you know.” Changing directions suddenly she plunged on, “Actually, the Cruciatus wasn’t really the worst of it.” She added quietly.

Harry gaped in disbelief. “What? What could be worse than that?”

Her gaze returned to the floor as she answered in almost a whisper, “He comes to me as Tom, as his teenage self. I guess because he was a teenager in the diary and that’s the part of him that possessed me. That’s how he appears to me now. He wants… more than information. He said he knows I’m a…” She stopped and looked away as if she couldn’t believe she was telling him this.

Harry could feel her reluctance. It was as if she was embarrassed or ashamed to share this with him. Trying to encourage her he prompted, “He knows you’re a what?”

Ginny continued in silence which only allowed the horrendous possibilities to weave their way through the fabric of Harry’s mind. He could feel his contempt for Riddle intensify as he asked more emphatically. “What has he done to you Ginny?”

Her eyes filled quickly with tears, “A virgin.” She said almost inaudibly.

Harry gaped at her unsure of what to say as she pressed on in disgust. “He knows I’m a virgin. He said that’s how he likes his women…pure. Pure blooded and pure of virtue he called it. He, he kissed me and tou…did other things in my nightmares. When I fought him, he just laughed at me. He told me that if I didn’t talk soon, he’d…make use of me in other ways.”

Ginny paused as she attempted to control her emotions. In her mind’s eye she could see Tom looming over her. For a moment it was as though she had been pulled back into her nightmare. She trembled as she imagined his repulsive lips upon hers. A wave of nausea washed over her at the thought his vulgar hands making contact with her body. She winced and attempted to shake the vile memories from her mind before continuing. “Either way, he said that he was sure I would be…beneficial to him. That’s when I knew I needed help. I can’t get away, not without you.”

Harry could feel anger welling within him as she spoke. Voldemort was not going to hurt her anymore. He’d make sure of it. “I promise you Ginny, he’ll NEVER touch you again.” He looked toward the stairs, “I don’t think they’re coming back down. Let’s finish this!”

Ginny was stunned as she looked at him. “Now?”

“Yes, now.” He answered with finality.

“Harry, are you sure you want to do this? Right now?” She asked feeling a surge of anxiety.

He quietly rose from his seat with determination and held out his hand to help her up. “Go to sleep and I’ll be with you as soon as I can. Until I join you, fight him.”
A wave of panic crossed her face as she looked into his eyes. “Harry, maybe we should talk more about this first. It could be dangerous for you to come to me while Tom’s there. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

He allowed his hand to drop to his side and tried to reassure her, “Ginny, you called me to you. Don’t change your mind. You have to trust me. I have wanted to help you ever since our dreams mixed. I have to stop this. I can’t stand the thought of him touching you or hurting you again.

She looked up at his serious expression and nodded quietly offering a small smile of acceptance.

With that he again offered her his hand to help her up from her seat on the floor. “Right then.” He said as her small hand slid gently into his. “Come on Ginny, we’re going to bed.”


A/N: Once again I would like to thank my wonderful betas, Tante and Sonicdale. Thank you for helping inspire me to push my imagination and my emotional insights.

By the way, 5 points to the House of any student who spotted the Hitchhiker’s Guide reference to the SEP field. Thank you to Douglas Adams for the use of his Somebody Else’s Problem field for the back garden at Grimmauld Place. I’m sure Harry is quite grateful as well. 

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Chapter 6 Unspoken Wishes

Ginny stared at Harry in disbelief as he resolutely held out his hand to her. His expression was tense and serious. Slowly she looked from his face to his outstretched palm and then as if in slow motion, she reached out and allowed his hand to close around hers. Before she could fully stand, Harry started towards the stairs with her in tow.

Ginny’s heart beat quickened as she focused on the fact that Harry, the boy whom she’d secretly loved for years, was leading her to bed. She had fantasized about him saying those words so many times before, but of course the circumstances weren’t exactly what she had pictured in her fantasies. She struggled to rein in her emotions, but the touch of his hand caused a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach. She had to get her thoughts and body in check before she said or did something she’d regret, that is if she hadn’t already.

Ginny was thoroughly conflicted. Compounding the situation was his intense reaction to her admission of Riddle’s plans for her. Although she tried to conceal her feelings, Harry’s sudden burst of anger had frightened her on multiple levels. She was panic-stricken by what could happen if he stormed in there without the proper time to relax and gather his thoughts. In addition to her fear for Harry’s safety, she couldn’t help but wonder if his outburst meant something more.

Does he finally see me as more than a friend? She wondered silently. Or possibly even more frightening, am I even ready for that? What if I can’t give him what he needs? He could push me away completely.

Her thoughts opened avenues to terrifying, but exciting new possibilities. Now isn’t the time. She’d have to push her questions from her mind for now. There were more pressing matters at hand. He needed to be calm and focused as he entered the chamber of her dreams. Right now, she knew he was anything but calm.

Harry stopped on the landing and turned to Ginny. The tension in his face began to ease a bit as he met her eyes. Sadness replaced anger as he dropped her hand and absorbed the anguish that plagued her features. The image of Riddle touching her and hurting her in ‘that way’ was burned into his imagination. He would be enraged by Riddle doing that to any girl, but this was Ginny. She was his friend, his best friend’s sister, and it ripped at his heart when she said that it was ‘worse than the Cruciatus Curse.’

Harry had been a recipient of that curse and the pain it caused was so unbearable he’d simply wished for death. The fact that she’d rather have that curse than Riddle’s hands on her was an absolutely shattering thought for Harry.

Harry’s throat constricted and his heart ached when he considered the torture she had endured at Riddle’s hand. He marveled at her fortitude for living with the nightmare for so long. Gazing warmly down at the small, beautiful, girl before him, Harry wanted desperately to make it all go away for her. He wanted nothing more than to take away the pain and fear the same way that he wished so many times before that someone would make things go away for him. Ginny had shouldered this pain bravely for much too long and, from that moment on, Harry vowed to share her burden. He wanted to hold her and tell her everything would be okay. In a low, gentle voice he spoke.

“Ginny, wait,” he said, but was unsure of his next move. Acting on impulse he slowly he slid his hands up her arms and caressed her skin with the gentlest of touches. He glided his hands up past her shoulders and intertwined his fingers at the nape of her neck. He searched his mind for something, anything that would alleviate her nerves. As his breath slowly escaped from his lungs he leaned his forehead gently against hers in defeat. Words had failed him.

She shuddered as she felt his warmth wash over her. The tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as she tried to keep from physically shivering from his tenderness. She fought hard against the sudden need to wrap her arms around him. She slowly allowed her eyes to drift closed as she relaxed under his touch.

Gradually he pulled back from her a bit and watched her expression as she released the tension from her face. He was struck by how incredible she looked and he wondered what it would be like to watch her sleep.

When she opened her eyes, exhaling slowly, she met his gaze. It was completely mesmerizing. She wasn’t quite sure what was happening, she just knew that they were standing very close to each other. Close enough to feel him breathing against her skin and at the moment, she didn’t care much about being rescued in her dream. She was living a dream at that very moment and she didn’t want it to end.

Harry sighed deeply as he stood before her. His mind raced wildly with everything that had happened that day. Could it have really been just this morning that he realized the girl in his dreams was Ginny?

Then there was the matter of their conversation in the lounge. He had been thinking about one comment in particular as he led her up the stairs. She said she would do ‘anything’ for him. When he asked her why, her only response was “I think you know.” For Harry, it was a loaded comment. It could be interpreted in a couple of ways. He wondered if he was assuming too much to believe his first thought. Did she have feelings for him, even now? She wasn’t exactly eleven anymore. Surely she didn’t hold onto those feelings all these years. Did she?

His mind raced back to an evening that he and Hermione had spent talking. Harry had always known Ginny had a bit of a crush on him when she was little, but she had gone on to date other boys. He thought she had gotten him out of her system. Now, looking down at her beautiful, brown, doe eyes, he wasn’t so sure. He kept replaying Hermione’s words over in his head. “Ginny’s moved on now, Harry.” He found himself selfishly wishing she hadn’t “moved on” as his heartbeat quickened at the closeness of her body.

At this point he didn’t know for sure what he felt. His emotions were a tangled web of confusion. He knew he cared for Ginny. It started when he rescued her from the Chamber of Secrets, but it solidified when she refused to be left behind as he left for the Department of Mysteries in his fifth year. She had willingly risked her life then and he felt sure she’d do it again if the circumstances called for it. The facts were, you don’t experience what they had together and not form a bond. She had been much more than ‘Ron’s little sister’ for years. They had become good friends. She was fun and independent. He had found her great to talk to, especially when Ron and Hermione started in on each other.

However, today he realized something new, something so obvious that he couldn’t understand why it hadn’t struck him sooner. He felt a need well up inside him, something much more primal. Today he realized she was no longer a little girl. She was a young woman, a young woman that he found very, very attractive.

He had to work hard to resist the temptation to pounce on her during their chess game as he watched her lips as she spoke. The way she bit her lower lip as she contemplated her next move nearly drove him to the brink. How could such a simple act be so incredibly sexy? Then there was her hair. He followed it as she moved. He felt a surge in his body as he watched her innocently sweep it back behind her ear as she considered her next chess move. She looked so innocent and so completely unaware of the fantasies that were racing through his hormone-injected mind.

But where could this really lead? He asked himself. It wouldn’t be fair to tell her I think I fancy her then up and get myself killed within the year, perhaps even sooner. The last thing Harry wanted was to hurt her more. Regardless of how he felt, or how she may feel about him, this was for the best. No, it’s better if she never knows.

Ginny was beginning to squirm as Harry stood gazing down at her. His silence lasted longer than he intended and the tension between them had been steadily increasing. Ginny cleared her throat and asked quietly, “Wha…what is it Harry?”

He snapped back to the present and focused on her beautiful eyes as she looked up at him. Worry spread unchecked across her face as she asked, “Have you…er…changed your mind? If you have, it’s okay, I understand. I know the last thing you want to do is face him again. It seems you always have to rescue me and I don’t blame you if…”

She had begun to ramble and Harry cut her off. “No Ginny! Of course I haven’t changed my mind! I would do anything to help you. You’re my friend.”

What he had really wanted to say was “you’re beautiful, and if the table and chess board hadn’t separated us, I may have lost all control and simply kissed you until we forgot our names.” Instead he just sighed, as the words stayed lodged in his mind.

He cast around for something else to say and added, “I just wanted to say that maybe you should give me a few minutes, you know, before you try to sleep. I need to calm down a bit or I’ll never be able to join you.”

That was not a lie actually. He didn’t think he would be able to just go in and fall right to sleep. He wasn’t the least bit tired. He was agitated from hearing what Tom had done to her, and in all honesty, a bit rattled from her standing so close to him.

Harry noted a look of what appeared to be disappointment on her face as she said, “Oh right. I guess I’ll need a little time to relax before drifting off, as well. If you’re sure that’s all then?”

“Er…yeah. That’s all, unless you wanted to say something else.” He didn’t know what he expected, but he hoped that she’d give him a reason not to leave.

She looked up at him wanting to cry out to him, to slowly brush her lips against his, but she was sure he didn’t have the same feelings that she did. He never had. To him she was just a friend. He had said so himself. She tried to put the thought of his touch out of her mind. He was so tender, almost loving as he had caressed her. He had awakened her senses as he gently brushed against her neck. If she didn’t know better, she’d think he had wanted more than to comfort her, but she was sure that’s all it really was. She’d seen him hold Hermione to comfort her before too, hadn’t she? Suddenly she wasn’t so sure. Keeping her emotions and hopes in check she attempted to convince herself that Harry was just being, well Harry. Besides, she couldn’t help but feel it would be very selfish of her to tell him about her feelings now. It wouldn’t be right to put more pressure on him, not when he’s about to face Riddle.

Hoping he hadn’t noticed the hitch in her breathing when he touched her one last time before lowering his hands she answered, “Um…I guess we should just go in, lie down, and wait for sleep.”

“Er…Yeah, well see you soon then,” Harry answered.

“Okay...” she responded quietly as she wondered what was happening. Where is he going? She thought.

Since the beginning of their discussions she assumed that he would spend the night with her. Well, at least that they would sleep in the same room. She’d been bolstered during the day by the notion that he’d be close to her as she entered her dream. She mentally kicked herself as she realized she had obviously misunderstood his intentions. Thankfully she hadn’t said anything that revealed her false impressions, but that didn’t erase the fact that going to bed alone was now more daunting than ever.

He sensed hesitation in her voice. “Ginny, are you going to be okay?” he asked in a last ditch effort to prolong his departure.

If she gives me any indication that she needs me here, I’m not leaving. He thought hoping that she’d ask him to stay.

The fact was, Harry didn’t like the idea of being down the hall, but didn’t know how she’d feel about sharing her bed or at least her room with him for the night. Plus, there was the small matter of her twin brothers. If they caught Harry sleeping with Ginny, no matter how innocent it looked, he was pretty sure that jovial banter and Tri-Wizard winnings wouldn’t cut it. No with Fred and George, all bets would be off.

Harry wouldn’t have the chance to find out. Unfortunately, for them both, Ginny chose to put up a strong front. “I’ll be fine, really. It helps to know that you’ll be coming. I’ll be waiting for you.” She smiled weakly and then said, “Good night.”

“Good night Ginny.” He opened her bedroom door and stood by as he watched her enter her room and close the door behind her. As the door clicked shut he let the air ease out of his lungs as his eyes closed. He stood at her door for a second leaning against the frame. All he could think about was how close he came to leaning down to kiss her when he leaned his forehead against hers. She felt so good in his hands. He rubbed his hands over his eyes and through his disheveled hair trying to wipe the thoughts from his mind. Sighing resolutely he slowly turned and headed quietly to his room down the hall.

Harry moved inside, shutting the door to lean against it. He sighed in frustration as he felt the weight of his emotions slowly closing in on him. Fear, anger, sadness, desire – so many feelings rolled into one.

His thoughts were reeling and his heart was pounding. Harry was finding it a struggle to wipe the lingering effects of Ginny from his mind. The smell of her hair and the softness of her skin were paralyzing. Wanting her wasn’t going to save her and it was probably going to drive him mad, especially if just one evening was any indication of what she could unwittingly do to him. He decided then and there that he needed to keep his distance from her.

That wasn’t exactly going to be easy with them spending the next 5 weeks together in the same house. Not to mention the fact that he didn’t know how long he’d have to continue to enter her dreams. He decided to worry about that later. There were more pressing matters at hand at the moment as he remembered what had been troubling him for weeks now as he slept

He couldn’t let Voldemort win this round. He had to get a grip on himself. He couldn’t allow himself to be distracted. Tom Riddle was up to something and it was time he found out what.


A/N: Thank you to my wonderfully creative beta’s, Tante and Sonicdale, who always offer me lots of food for thought.

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Chapter 7 Ginny’s Nightmare

Closing the door, Ginny let her body fall back against it in despair. As reality struck home, the brief respite she received picturing Harry at her side evaporated with the hollow click of the latch. Seconds melted into minutes as she fought for composure and began to wrap her mind around yet another night with Riddle.

“I’m being ridiculous,” she groaned in annoyance to the empty room. “He’s not here. Now, deal with it, Ginevra.” She exhaled the pressure closing in upon her chest as she reassured herself. “He’ll be in the Chamber. That’s all that matters.”

That’s what she told herself, but her heart and body wove a different tale. She felt dazed from the intensity of her encounter with Harry. If only it hadn’t felt so lovely having him near, this would be much easier now. She allowed the scene on the landing to replay through her mind. Something passed between us.

Touching her forehead where his had rested so tenderly, she could almost feel him. It was as if he’d left a brand of hope on her skin. Would he have pulled away if I had put my arms around him or given him a kiss? Her heart ached with longing to know, but shook herself back to reality. At least I managed not to make a complete fool of myself by pulling him in here and begging him to stay. No chances taken, no risks involved -- and Harry and I remain friends.

Finding some solace in her logic, Ginny padded to her mirror. Slipping into her nightdress, she peered at her reflection in the dim light of the room.

“What a pretty thing you are, my dear,” the mirror sighed. “Such striking hair!”

“Hmph,” was her response.

Plain, ordinary Ginny, she grumbled to herself, with plain ordinary freckles and flaming ginger hair. If I had Cho’s exotic features, then I’d have a chance of turning Harry’s head, she reasoned. He obviously finds that raven-haired, natural beauty-type appealing... along with the bulk of the male population of Hogwarts. She sighed in resignation. I suppose being his friend is better than being ‘Ron’s little sister’ at any rate.

“That’s enough dawdling, Ginevra,” she admonished her reflection. “He can’t help if you never go to sleep.”

With renewed purpose she turned to the bed and struggled to control her sudden feelings of panic and nausea. She used to love snuggling into her cozy bed at the Burrow, but over recent weeks it had evolved from a welcoming comfort to rather oversized, cold and lonely. In fact, since the nightmares began, her warm bed had become nothing more than a torture device. This bed was even larger than her bed at the Burrow and looked even more threatening. Scanning the room for alternatives, she opted for an overstuffed armchair by the window.

That’s better, she thought as she curled up with her feet tucked neatly beneath her. I’ll just sit for a bit, and then go to bed. The warm evening breeze drifting through the window caressed her skin and soothed her nerves. Much better, she sighed, snuggling deeper into the chair and clutching a small pillow tightly against her chest.

As her senses gradually dimmed to a glimmer, clear thoughts and feelings became distant and foggy in her mind. The lingering warmth of Harry’s touch, all but disappeared into the mist. In its place, she found nothing but overwhelming anxiety as a litany of new sensations methodically invaded her body and mind.

She shivered against the sudden chill to the air. All warmth bled from her trembling body as the cold, hard surface of a stone slab table rose to support her. Invisible bindings constricted her wrists and ankles. Then, without warning, the final piece of the puzzle was snapped into place. Immeasurable, paralyzing pain flooded her senses making her strain against her bindings in agony. It wracked Ginny’s subconscious form mercilessly, nearly driving her into oblivion.

It’s not really happening, she thought, as tears stung her eyes. It’s a dream. It’s only a dream.

Try as she might to comfort herself, panic rose uncontrollably in her chest. She was back in the chamber and she was living the nightmare… again.

Harry’s coming, she reassured herself. Focus on Harry.

Mental diversions were of no use now. The stage was set; the first act about to begin in this sick and twisted play of torture. She knew it was only a matter of time before Tom Riddle returned to her side and the scene played out.

As if her thoughts were the trigger, the sound of rippling waves began to echo from the center of the room. Ginny didn’t have to see the water’s movement to know what was happening. She breathed deeply and steeled herself for what lay ahead. Harry please…where are you? Aren’t you coming? Harry! Ginny closed her eyes in denial before giving into reality and facing her captor. Looming over her with a repulsive leer was her worst nightmare, Tom Riddle.

His dark eyes and chiseled features would have been strikingly handsome had they worn a softer expression. As he towered over her, his cruel nature was easily read in the lines of his face. There was no beauty now, only callousness and selfish desire. Eyes that could have held warmth were filled with malevolence bubbling from within him.

Ginny’s skin prickled with disgust. Her stomach churned with revulsion at the monster before her. Any torment he sensed, any anguish he felt radiate from her body only heightened his pleasure and she simply refused to indulge him. She gathered her courage, fought down her nausea and stared back at him vacant and expressionless.

What Ginny saw in his soul was of no consequence to Riddle. It was time to play and he relished every moment of it. He leaned in close enough for her to feel his hot breath on her cheek.

“Good evening, my sweet,” he whispered. “How are we tonight?”

Ginny remained silent. Instead of meeting his gaze, she looked beyond him, staring fixedly at the chamber ceiling in response. In her mind, her emotions of fear and repulsion played out.

Harry, please… don’t let him touch me again, she pleaded in silence.

Riddle laughed as he regarded her façade and hissed in amusement, “I do believe my little guest is feeling rather feisty this evening.” He grabbed her chin and forced her to look at him, “I do so love your spunk, Miss Weasley. Your resistance makes this all the more interesting for me.” Riddle reveled in their little chess match of power and control. It would make his victory all the sweeter when he finally broke her.

Ginny shut her eyes tightly to maintain control over herself. As it turned out though, attempting to avoid the fire of his gaze only encouraged him to force his will upon her with more fervor. Tom Riddle didn’t abide defiance from his minions and he certainly wouldn’t accept it from a mere girl.

“Is it time for another lesson, my little tart?” he drawled in a tiresome tone. Time after time Riddle had shown her what defiance would garner, but Ginny refused to relent. “It is such a pity you haven’t learned your place yet. This could be so much more pleasurable.” His eyes flashed with wicked excitement for what was to come.

She swallowed hard and tried to refocus her mind on Harry. She pictured his warm, green eyes heating her skin. She imagined the gentle pressure of his hands as he caressed her shoulders. The wanderings of her mind allowed her a moment of peace.

Her resolve strengthened knowing that Harry was coming. It is you that will be taught a lesson tonight, Tom. She imagined the look on Riddle’s face when Harry stormed the chamber and made him pay dearly for torturing her. Her confidence grew and she opened her eyes to face Riddle again.

A sickening grin began to curve the corners of his mouth. He dropped her gaze and his eyes roved brazenly over her body appraising every inch. Riddle truly enjoyed controlling her, even if it was only her subconscious. His pleasure seemed to increase at any sign of agony from her.

Ginny knew what was coming before she felt his touch. Part of her knew that struggling was futile, but her body couldn’t help trying to avoid contact with him. The last of her self control vanished and she screamed at him to leave her alone. To her horror, every scream and whimper only fueled his excitement for their game.

He looked at her with cool amusement. “I should thank you for making this so much more exciting.” He smirked, flagrantly delighting in her misery, “I admit I find you quite intriguing, but I’m tiring of your little performance. You have something I want, and I will claim it.”

The panic that visibly washed over her sparked a surge of energy and lust through his body. His craving to control every part of her now demanded to be fed.

Smile widening, he climbed on the stone table that held her bound. His dark eyes glinted as he absorbed her radiating terror. With heat building within his belly, he whispered, “Served up as a bit of an offering, aren’t we? We’ve played enough games, little Ginny. You’ve given me only a taste of what your body has to offer. I plan to make a feast of you tonight.”

Bracing his arms on either side of her, he slowly lowered his body over her trembling form. His face was within inches of hers. His eyes paused at her rosy, full lips and impulsively licked his own in anticipation. Tears slid down her cheeks unchecked. She struggled against him and screamed into the emptiness of the chamber around her.

“Yes, that’s it!” he growled in perverse pleasure. “Fight it, I want you to fight.”

With that, something inside of her snapped. Her body fell limp under his weight. The wildness of her eyes was replaced by a glassy and distant stare.

Within her mind, she closed a door. Whatever he was about to do to her, she wasn’t going to make it better for him, not if she could help it. She would go inside herself. She would shut herself off and pretend she simply didn’t exist. He wouldn’t be granted the pleasure of breaking her. Deep in the silence of her mind though, she cried out in uncontrolled terror, Harry please, oh please… I need you.

Her silence and her refusal to struggle elevated Riddle to a fury. “Come now, this will never do.” He began snidely and paused for her reaction. When none came, he struck her hard across the face, leaving a red imprint of his hand upon her cheek. She didn’t even flinch at the contact.

“Stupid girl!” he spat. “This new tactic won’t work! I know what’s inside your head.”

Ginny remained immobile and unresponsive to his advances and threats. After a moment’s pause, he laughed at her. “If that’s how you want it, it’s fine with me. Lifeless or not, you’ll meet my needs.”

Without another word, Tom fisted his hand in her hair and jerked her head backward exposing her neck to him. He groaned with satisfaction at the taste of her skin, his other hand roving freely over her body.

Ginny winced in disgust as he moved down her neck. When he reached her collar bone, a new wave of nausea crashed over her. Her will to resist returned and her body tensed defiantly, forbidding him to move lower. She realized her mistake when he released her hair to place his other hand on her body. She felt his victorious smile press into her skin. Ginny’s expression left no hint of her emotions as she forced her body to relax. All traces of defiance and revulsion melted like ice in the warm, summer sun.

An unmistakable arrogance flowed from him as he moved to capture her mouth with his. As Ginny felt him move upward, a silent war waged inside of her to defeat the temptation to give up and give in. Suddenly, a glimmer of hope flickered into her existence and renewed confidence filled her completely.

Harry’s coming for me. He’s getting closer, she thought as she shuddered with relief and gratitude. I feel him. It’s almost over.

Riddle mistook her shudder for something quite different and parted his lips with want. To his surprise, she lifted her head from the cold stone to nearly meet him half way. In a soft, almost alluring tone, she whispered, “Yes.”

That one small word, spoke volumes in his mind. He had her and now he had her willingly. “I knew you would come to your senses, my sweet. How could you not?” he sneered.

When they were mere inches apart an unrivaled defiance welled within her and she yelled, “You disgust me, Tom!” and she spit in his face.

To her immense relief, it made him stop. She held her breath for the force of the retaliation that she knew would come. He lifted himself from her body and sighed with cool, calculated ease. As he stood by her bed of rock, he simply wiped his face with his sleeve. Several seconds ticked off as he glared at her in contempt.

As his controlled exterior returned, he exhaled a long labored breath. She knew his meager show of displeasure was far more moderate than he actually felt. His calm terrified her more than his fury. “Oh Ginny, Ginny, Ginny…I believe someone needs a reminder of who is really in charge here.”

She watched as his hand moved inside his robes to withdraw his wand. Slowly, Riddle ran it down the side of her cheek causing a chill to run up her spine and prickles of impending doom to rise on the nape of her neck.

“You know what’s coming, don’t you love?” he asked his arrogance returning. “If you would just cooperate, these little lessons wouldn’t be necessary. Learn you must, however, and I’m only too happy to teach you.”

Pointing his wand at her he yelled. “CRUCIO!”

Instantly the pain of a thousand jagged teeth tore into her flesh. She squeezed her eyes tightly as tiny dots of light burst behind her eyelids with the wretched torture. Just as she lost all sense of time and space, the affliction left her body as quickly as it had invaded. She gasped for air. Just the mere act of breathing caused her immeasurable agony and she shook uncontrollably with the aftershocks of the curse.

“Now, tell me where they are keeping Potter,” He demanded with a growl.

Still gasping and shaking she glared back defiantly and yelled, “You can go straight to hell, Tom!”

Gradually his anger seemed to dissipate. It was replaced by something she couldn’t place, but felt sure it was worse. He smirked at her, and then suddenly changing tracks he asked in amusement. “Tell me, does he know?”

She continued to glare, but spat back “Does who know what?”

With an arched eyebrow and a grin of satisfaction he offered, “You know who my dear, your precious Potter.”

His lip curved into a sneer at the mention of the name before asking, “Does he know you’re in love with him?” Her words mattered little now. She gave him exactly what he wanted in her expression. He stepped back with a maniacal laugh as she looked back at him in astonishment.

“I…I don’t love him. We’re friends, just friends.” She stammered in denial.

Continuing to laugh and shaking his head in disbelief he said, “You, my dear, are a very bad liar. I’m afraid dishonesty cannot be tolerated, Miss Weasley. You will need to be punished.” He savored her fear and anticipation as he held out his wand and yelled, “CRUCIO!”

Her screams began anew as the pain ripped through every cell of her body. She felt as though she may die, and at that point, she prayed for it. Just as she fell towards unconsciousness, he lifted the curse.

“Perhaps now you feel more like being forthright with me. Come now, my little blood traitor, where is the ‘Order’ headquarters?”

Ginny writhed and gasped as she tried to recover. “I’m…I’m not their S…Secret Keeper! I can’t tell you!” She was trying to control her emotions, but tears were blinding her eyes as she fought to remain conscious.

“Wrong answer again, my dear,” He smirked. “CRUCIO!”

She screamed in agony, convulsing for a third time as every nerve of her body overloaded. Her brain became foggy. Her will to fight diminished. If I just let go, then it will end. She thought. Death will be a sweet deliverance from this Hell. The final threads of her will to live were snapped one by one with the impossibly agonizing pain.

Somewhere in the distance a voice cried out. She recognized it vaguely, but couldn’t focus enough to identify its source. Whose voice she heard, she did not know, nor did she care. Her mind was failing. Just as she begun surrendering to the pain, the curse lifted once again.

Darkness crept in on her. Only a small stream of consciousness filtered through the pain to her mind. She could hear Riddle’s voice in the distance.

“Good girl. Now, that wasn’t so bad was it?” he asked triumphantly. “If Potter wants to play the hero to his damsel again, I have no qualms about waiting for him to arrive. This should actually be rather entertaining.” Riddle purred in satisfaction.

“Wha..what are you talking about? He’s not…” she began in vain before she was cut off by Riddle’s voice.

“Don’t you remember?” he laughed a cold mirthless laugh. “No, of course you wouldn’t. Pain does strange things to a mind, doesn’t it?”

A wave of panic washed over her as she desperately tried to remember what she had said. The memory of the voice that had seemed so far away was coming in clearer now. Snatches of words and phrases flooded her in a jumble of confusion.

“NO!” She exclaimed wild-eyed in response.

“Oh, yes.” He countered with a toothy grin filling his evil face.

The voice that cried out in desperation was hers. She’d tipped their hand. She’d threatened Riddle that Harry was coming for her. Ginny sobbed with the realization of what she had done. Harry would come for her and Riddle would be ready. In her moment of weakness she’d betrayed him. Shame filled her heart. Now she knew the worst of her fears would materialize. Her nightmare, her prison, had suddenly become a trap.

________________________________________
Chapter 8 Into Her Dreams

The air hung thick and stifling in Harry’s room. Seeking relief, he shed his clothes and pushed open the window to breathe in the night air. Tiny bumps formed on his bare skin as a gentle breeze drifted over him.

Ginny, he sighed as he rubbed his hands roughly over his eyes in frustration. Just wipe the sensation of her from your mind Potter. You have to, he told himself as he turned and slipped between the cool linens of his bed. Settling into his downy pillow, he closed his eyes and slowly massaged his temples with his fingertips. His breathing grew deep and deliberate, but sleep stubbornly eluded him.

Falling asleep, a simple task when you think of it, Harry reasoned. Yeah, except when you’re in a hurry to do it and your body feels tense enough to explode. To make matters worse, Ginny’s words, not to mention how she looked, kept invading in his mind.

Relax, relax, relax…he chanted. Getting into her dream is what matters now, not the way she smells or how it feels to be close to her, he admonished. Those nightmares are Riddle’s sick, sadistic idea of fun. Well, play time is over Tom. She’s faced you alone for the last time. I’ll make sure of that.

Precious moments ticked by, as determination turned to regret. What was I thinking? He lamented. I never should have stormed off to bed when I was so riled. By now he was mentally kicking himself. Why didn’t I listen to Ginny? She knew I was too intense to sleep. If I wasn’t such an idiot, I would have stayed with her. We could have stayed together until we were both too sleepy to speak. Surely, we could have found some way to fill the time, he thought as a rebellious image crept back into his mind.

Ginny’s long, fiery hair was flowing about her shoulders and she was biting her lower lip in concentration. Those lips, he moaned with longing. For all his efforts, the only thing he’d managed to accomplish was to conjure a vision that made him anything but sleepy.

“This isn’t working!” he grumbled in aggravation as he wracked his brain for ideas. I need to clear my mind, he thought, trying his hand at one of his Occlumency relaxation techniques. Seconds later, though, he knew it was futile as his mutinous thoughts slid back to Ginny. Pangs of guilt struck as their encounter in the hallway was embellished in new and enticing ways. The harder he fought to erase her form from his mind, the more vivid the image seemed to become. Finally, he simply quit fighting and let the images overtake him.

In an instant he was back in the hallway and standing before her. In reality it had taken every ounce of his self-control to resist moving his lips over hers and pulling her into his arms. Now, in his fantasy, there was no reason for restraint.

With fluid ease the hallway around them morphed into a scene in his room. He found himself lying in bed, watching as she slowly moved to join him. He imagined the feel her skin under his touch as his body tingled with a renewed primal heat. Closer she moved, until they met in a warm, welcoming kiss, awakening the beast within him in almost painful ways.

I’ve got to snap out of it. Harry, shook his head, fisted his bedding in his hands and fought down the growing need within him. “Stupid!” he growled in frustration. His brief visit into the world of fantasy had only served to make his lot worse.

“Why?” he gasped shaking his head, but deep down he felt he knew the answer. Ginny is special. She’s the only friend I have that knows what it’s like to have Voldemort inside her head. She understands what I’ve been through, and amazingly, she still wants to know me. It’s more than that, though. It’s like she’s captivated me without even trying, claimed a part of me that Cho never knew. Suddenly, he found himself wishing she’d claimed of bit more. The thought of her touch caused a stirring in him like he’d never known. His heart pounded wildly and a warm flush crept over his face.

Do I fancy Ginny Weasley? Is that even allowed? He wondered nervously, picturing a virtual horde of brothers, surrounding her. I fancied Cho, but that was nothing like this.

Harry recalled how forced everything had felt with Cho Chang. We both tried to make something develop that just wasn’t there. With Ginny it’s different, easy, but why now? We’ve spent loads of time together at the Burrow and at Hogwarts. Of course, there were always plenty of people around. This is the first time we’ve been completely alone; alone enough for me to appreciate the person she is and get a glimpse at the woman she’s becoming.

Harry had seen a new playful, yet alluring side of her that he found utterly intriguing. Add to that her strong independence and her blind trust in him and the result was an unsettling, but empowering combination. The fact that she remained totally unaware of her charms only made her more irresistible. Harry had never wanted to be ‘the hero’ before, but tonight he did. She needed him. He could feel it in her body’s reaction to his touch. Even in her dreams, she had reached out to him. He needed to make her safe, wanted to make her happy again. Just a few short steps down the hall and I could be with her, a small voice taunted in his head as the temptation grew at an alarming rate. Her soft skin, the blush of her cheeks, the fullness of her lips, his imagination was killing him. His eyes flew open and he struggled for control.

What is the matter with me? He berated himself. Ginny is being tortured in her dreams every night, but instead of going in to help her, I’m lying here wondering what her skin would feel like against mine!

Harry squeezed his eyes shut tightly; pressing his palms firmly against them as if the action would clear the thoughts from his mind. With a sigh of resolution he rose, throwing the covers aside in his wake. In one smooth motion, he grabbed a robe and crossed the room to his door. He needed to find some way to release his tension or he’d be of no use to her tonight.

Quietly, he peered out into the hallway. No Fred and George. Still off doing business, Harry assumed in relief. Good, I really don’t want to try to explain this to them tonight. I don’t even know what I’d be explaining. Ginny didn’t want them to know about her dreams, not yet anyway. He wasn’t going to betray her trust. As for rest, he wasn’t about to confide in Fred and George about his new feelings for their sister either. Even if they had been blokes he could talk to, it was useless. She ended her crush ages ago and moved on, right? …but what if she hadn’t? He argued, as he considered her possible reactions to him loving her in his mind. Would she be happy or throttle him with a vicious, but legendary bat-bogey hex.

I’ve just got to put it aside for now, he thought, shaking his head for a second time and entering the hallway. Harry turned and headed toward the stairs. He’d pop down to the kitchen for some tea, perhaps with a little fire whiskey poured in for good measure if he could manage it. Then he’d be able to rest.

Quietly, he padded toward the landing, but stopped dead outside Ginny’s room. The temptation was horribly gripping. After a second’s indecision, he turned and reached out to open her door. He stood frozen, his hand on the doorknob and his mind racing. What can I say that will make this late night visit acceptable? When nothing sprang to mind he leaned against the door, seething with frustration. Closing his eyes he made his choice. He slowly turned the knob in his hand and eased open the door. He knew he shouldn’t be there. It was wrong, very wrong, especially in his state, but he had to talk to her. That’s all you are going to do, just talk. Just keep your distance Harry. You’ll be fine if you just don’t touch her, he told himself. He had to know what, if anything was happening between them. If he didn’t, he was absolutely sure he’d go mad.

As he advanced into her room and quietly closed the door, the first thing that struck him was the sweet smell of her hair and skin. It was everywhere. He felt his body respond as her scent filled his lungs. Grateful for wearing a robe, he closed it tighter around himself. He didn’t want her to know what the simple thought of being in her bedchamber was doing to him.

As he moved further into her room, there was a glow emanating from a small lamp on her night table. It was enough light to allow him a brief scan the room. His eyes first rested upon her bed, somewhat gratefully, he found it empty. Moving his gaze further around the dimly lit space he spotted her small form cuddled up sweetly in a chair. She looked so peaceful sleeping by the window. She’s even more beautiful as she sleeps, he thought, admiring her in silence as her steady breathing heralded the signs of deep sleep.

Being struck with the realization, Harry turned and quickly retreated. He had to get back to his room. He had to sleep. He didn’t want her to hurt anymore, not if he could prevent it. When she began to dream he knew what would happen.

How could I have been so bloody selfish? It really wasn’t like Harry to let his body do his thinking for him and he was angry with himself for the self-indulgence. He couldn’t help but think that it was something Malfoy would do.

He closed her door, but instead of heading straight for his room he slipped silently into the bathroom. He disrobed, stepped into the shower and braced himself as he cranked the cold water tap on full blast. He swore as he stood shivering under the icy jets of water until the shower could do its work. When he turned off the taps and slid back into his robe, he was dripping and cold. Ignoring his discomfort, he returned to his room and grabbed his wand off the bedside table. He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t thought of it before now. A wave of calm crashed over him as he performed a relaxation charm that Dumbledore had taught him to use before his Occlumency lessons.

Replacing the wand on the table he returned to his bed. Gradually, his mind cleared and a warm, peaceful sensation began flowing through him. His eyelids drooped and he was strangely aware of the weight of his body. He could feel his limbs sinking comfortably into the bed. A feeling of contentment encompassed him and he slowly allowed his eyes to close.

Moments later, he experienced a burst of chills shuddering though his body. The warmth and comfort of his bed had disappeared. He found himself dressed and inside a dark and dank, torch-lit corridor. The putrid smell of earth mixed with what Harry could only describe as rotting flesh filled his senses. Something had obviously lived here, eaten here, and died here at one point. A flood of recognition poured over him as the path stretched out before him. Moving from one passage to the next, he followed his nightly route with ease.

How long has she been asleep he wondered, a feeling of renewed panic striking him. He had wasted nearly an hour with his thoughts of her body; an hour in which Riddle could have hurt her even more. She had been counting on him, waiting for him, and he had let her down.

Harry quickened his pace, moving quietly and deliberately. The crosshatch of tunnels seemed endless and his thoughts filled with visions of torture and pain. Adrenaline coursed through his body as he plunged on in the semi-darkness. After what seemed like an eternity, he approached the familiar corridor that led to the chamber of her dreams. Cautiously, he moved toward the heavy, wooden door. The entrance to her chamber had the feel of the opening to a tomb. It was laden with iron and arched at its peak. A serpent-shaped crest adorned the sash over the frame. Hands trembling, nerves raw, he reached out for the door. Then it happened. His heart leapt to his throat as a blood-curdling scream escaped the room and met his ears in deafening confirmation.

That single scream spoke volumes. Riddle had beaten him to her and was already taking great pleasure in her pain. Harry froze, his fear for Ginny and waves of guilt threatening to engulf him. Time was running out. He drew a raspy, shuddering breath before slipping quietly into the room and sliding into a darkened corner.

Harry watched the eerie vision play out before him like a scene from a muggle horror movie. A stone table, enchanted by evil, held its hostage fixedly in place. A dark figure loomed over his captive, plotting his next vindictive move. It was ethereal, surreal, and he stood momentarily transfixed until Ginny’s quiet sobbing was punctuated by terrifying outbursts of misery. Loathing and anger seeped from every pore of Harry’s body. He wanted nothing more than to run headlong into Riddle and tackle him muggle-style, but he knew he needed to stay calm. If he were to get Ginny out and keep her out for good, he needed to plan. For that, he needed a clear head.

Patience and clarity were not easy to maintain, however. He cringed with each horrible scream as he scanned the room for ideas. She was now mumbling the ramblings of a tortured soul between horrific outbursts. Harry strained his ears; attempting to make out bits of her mutterings and searching for clues that seemed hopeless to attain. He needed to do something, to help her. He could hardly stand to witness her torment, but he knew rushing in would only lead to mistakes that neither he nor Ginny couldn’t afford. The last thing he wanted was to take her from her nightmares, only to allow Riddle to return to violate her dreams again. No, he needed to find the portal she spoke of earlier. Find it and destroy it.

Blocking her anguish as best he could, he quickly spotted the object hanging across the cavernous room. It resembled a large mirror, just as she’d explained, but with one very obvious difference. Harry had never seen anything like it. Although its surface was appeared smooth, its reflection seemed to ripple with the fluid motion of waves radiating from its center like a pool. A strange, blue glow surrounded the mirror-like portal. Harry was convinced that Ginny was right. Riddle had to be using that bizarre object to enter her dreams. That mirror’s destruction was the key to ridding her of him. Harry was sure of than now, but how?

Harry’s attention was drawn back to the stone table and the two figures softly illuminated by the amber glow of the chamber. Riddle was talking in a low voice of satisfaction and Ginny seemed agitated at his words. She began to cry again, but this time it was different. It wasn’t an outcry, wrenched from her depths in horrible pain. It was the mournful sob of unbridled remorse. Riddle’s words were more than upsetting to her, but on the contrary, he seemed utterly amused.

Harry had seen enough. He would not allow him more time to torment her. He still didn’t know exactly what he would do, but he chose to act as he quietly pulled his wand.

He wished he had planned better, thought things through before this whole nightmare began. He thought of his cloak and how invisibility would have given him an edge. The moment Harry regretted leaving it behind, he was filled with a tingling sensation that briefly surged through his arm. When the sensation subsided, a fluid-like material was conjured from nothing and his cloak instantly appeared in his arms. Harry’s only explanation for its arrival was that being in the dream world would have some unforeseen advantages. His subconscious was providing him with what he desired, and he would take full advantage where possible.

Using a silencing charm to mask his movements until the last possible second, Harry slipped on the cloak and stepped out of the shadows. He began to approach Riddle from behind, wand at the ready. Harry wasn’t sure what he would face under the circumstances. The workings of the dream world were still a mystery. In Harry’s mind though, two things were certain. His reality and Tom Riddle’s plans for Ginny were about to collide. When they did, he’d make Riddle pay. He’d sweep in unnoticed and attack with a vengeance, using the element of surprise to his advantage…or so Harry thought.

A/N: I just had to include “the beast” reference from JKR’s Half Blood Prince. I loved that description of his libido awakening.

As always, thank you to my betas, Sonicdale and Tante, for their helpful insights and support.

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Chapter 9 More Than A Dream

Ginny lay bound to the stone altar of her nightmares sobbing, her spirit nearly broken. There was no denying it. In desperation she’d cried out and revealed Harry’s intentions to Riddle.

Horrified by her own betrayal, she tried to forewarn Harry. Her efforts proved futile. A strange tightening gripped her throat. It sucked the air from her lungs, rendering her screams completely useless. Riddle sneered as her words were swallowed up, her voice completely absorbed in a deafening vacuum of silence.

Breathe Ginny, she thought. You have to breathe. She felt faint. Her thoughts grew fuzzy. Her lungs burned with need as her suffocating body tingled with the sensation of a million tiny needles prickling her skin.

Suddenly, the pressure lifted and she gasped, rapidly refilling her lungs. Riddle had made his point clear. She had no choice but to abandon her efforts. Harry would be there any second. She could feel his presence drawing nearer. There was no way to warn him, except one. With tears streaking her cheeks, she began reaching out in her mind. Go back, Harry! He knows! He knows you’re coming!

Riddle loomed over her helpless, trembling body. He studied her wild eyes and frantic expression. Whispering, he leaned in close. “Ginny, Ginny, Ginny…No fair telling. Now, where’s the fun in that?” he asked. Then louder, his voice heavily laden with sarcasm, “I’m afraid that was very naughty.” Ginny watched his eyes narrow. She braced herself for retribution, but instead his expression smoothed into one of amusement. “Not to worry, my feisty little blood traitor. It just so happens, I have a bit of a soft spot for ‘naughty’ little girls.”

Riddle stared fixedly into Ginny’s eyes. A sickening smirk spread across his face, “I do believe our guest of honor has arrived.” He paused again, allowing the meaning of his words to settle in her mind. “Let’s give Mr. Potter a proper welcome, shall we? Perhaps a little ‘performance’ of sorts is in order.” With that, he released her binds. She was struggling to sit up when he raised his wand again, “Imperio!”

Her eyes went glassy, her expression vacant. Vaguely, she could hear someone’s voice whispering inside her head. “Wrap your arms around me. Make me feel your body burning for me. Kiss me as if your life depended on it! Do it now!”

Strange, she thought. Ginny could feel the strong sensation of her body and mind fighting over the confusing orders, but somehow she was totally calm. It was an odd, pleasant sort of feeling. When she came ‘round from her daze, she found herself clinging desperately to a smug looking Riddle with her hands roughly tangled in his dark hair. Their lips were only a hair’s breadth apart as if she’d just given him a mind-numbing kiss.

Riddle grinned with pleasure as his tongue darted out to touch her lips once more. “Yeeessss,” he hissed, caught up in the heat of her temporarily willing body. “I knew there was more to you than meets the eye. This may work out better than I imagined,” he said, his fiery eyes filled with selfish want.

Ginny recoiled, repulsed at his tongue touching her lips. As she attempted to wipe him from her skin, it hit her. She was free. Without hesitation, she threw herself to the floor, narrowly evading Tom’s grasp as he reached for her. When she hit the cold stone, she heard a horrible crack and a renewed jolt of pain shot like a knife through her arm. She was certain it was broken. She winced, clutching her useless arm to her side. It doesn’t matter! She told her self, ignoring the pain. For the first time since her nightmares had begun, she was free of her bonds.

From across the chamber, Harry watched in silent horror as the events played out before him. He’s controlling her! He has to be! His gut clenched at the thought. It’s the only possibly explanation. She would never kiss Riddle like that willingly. What other things did he make her do under the Imperious Curse? Harry pushed the repugnant possibilities from his mind. He needed to focus on the here and now.

Quietly, he advanced until he was standing mere feet away. Prepared to attack, Harry reached up to pull off the invisibility cloak. Instead of surprising Riddle, however, Harry was the one caught off guard. At the last possible second, Riddle launched an unexpected and powerful banishing curse at him, blasting him back against the far wall. Riddle’s mirthless laugh echoed through the chamber as Harry fell to the floor with a sickening thud.

“It’s not polite to attend a party uninvited, Mr. Potter. Didn’t your mother teach you that?” Riddle admonished with a vengeful gleam in his eye. “Oh that’s right, how silly of me,” he simpered. “She snuffed it before she had the chance to teach you anything at all. Pity, you know. She may have proved useful, even if she was a mudblood,” he added for good measure. “No matter, school is in session now Potter. Perhaps that little lesson will help you learn some manners!”

Ginny cringed and gasped at the sound of Harry’s body crashing then sliding down the wall into a heap on the floor. Tears stung her eyes as the cloak slipped from his legs. He’s not moving! An intense surge of adrenaline all but erased the pain in her arm as she scrambled to her feet and ran. She threw herself to the floor at his side and carefully pulled the cloak away to check his motionless body. Relief filled her as he moaned. He’s still alive! With renewed hope she snatched his wand from the floor beside him and thrust it back into his hand.

Groggy and bleary-eyed, Harry gazed up at her. “Gin… Ginny? Wha…What happened?” he stuttered faintly.

She didn’t answer; instead she gripped her throat and shook her head desperately. He rubbed his eyes, blinking and tried to steady himself. The room seemed to spin and her face slid out of focus. Tightly he squeezed his eyes shut against the swirl of images and the pain in his body. Memories flooded back to him: the dream, the Chamber, Riddle... He reopened his eyes and the realization struck home. Riddle’s done something to her. He’s hurt her so badly, she can’t even speak.

Riddle circled like a shark to the feed as Harry and Ginny huddled together on the floor. Tiring of waiting for his prey to react, he opted for a psychological attack. “You know Potter, Miss Weasley and I had rather ‘private plans’ in the works for this evening. I’m afraid that you’ve ruined the mood. I don’t think I can allow your intrusion to go unchecked.”

Riddle glared contemptuously at Harry. He did not need his wand to inflict pain as he made eye contact and drove himself into Harry’s mind. In his weakened state, Harry was unable block the intense neurological intrusion in time.

He swore as the prickling in his scar morphed into an explosion of searing pain. Tears formed in the creases of his eyes and a wave of nausea threatened to overtake him.

Ginny felt helpless as she pulled him against her body. She shook with fear and silent tears trailed down her cheeks. Harry, I’m so sorry! I never should have brought you into this, she thought filled with fear and remorse. Please, you have to be okay. Hopeless, she began to smooth his throbbing forehead as she rocked him in her arms. Harry, please; I can’t do this alone.

Just as she was giving up, her closeness began to recharge him. It refocused his thoughts and strength trickled into his limbs. With new determination, Harry concentrated on building a barrier against Riddle in his mind. She needs me, he thought. I can’t let him hurt her.

Drawing from his feelings for Ginny and her presence, Harry evicted the dark wizard from his mind. As Voldemort was forced out, the pain in his scar eased. He regained enough control to pull away from Ginny, point his wand at her throat and lift the silencing charm that engulfed her. The second her voice was restored she grabbed Harry’s wand and yelled, “Enervate!” Her quick thinking rejuvenated him. He took back his wand and rose to his feet.

It was as if the volume in the room had just been turned up. Ginny’s voice restored, Harry now heard her crying out to him. “I’m so sorry Harry! It’s my fault! I was weak! I…I failed you!” She was sobbing, but there was no time to calm her. Instead, he moved to position himself in front of her crumpled form, shielding her with his body.

Riddle laughed and clapped his hands sarcastically, “Oh, bravo. What a touching performance. She’s quite the little actress isn’t she? After all, you saw her a moment ago didn’t you Potter? She’s simply aching for me to make her a woman,” he smirked casting his gaze quickly to Ginny and back. “I’d wager that I could show her pleasures like no other can.” Riddle watched with satisfaction as Harry’s anger swelled. Amused at the results, he chose to up the ante, “I do have to admit, I don’t blame you one bit for coming after her, Potter. She’s one hell of a shag.”

Harry’s blood boiled as he grappled with thoughts that his worst fears were true. Riddle raped her under the Imperious Curse! Harry tried to remind himself that it was still a dream. It wasn’t really Ginny’s body he had, but that private invasion of her still maddened him. If it was possible to destroy a person’s subconscious, Harry would find a way to obliterate Riddle’s! He’d annihilate him and his little dream portal!

Then he heard Ginny’s voice ringing through his head. “It’s not true Harry! It never happened! I swear! That was his plan tonight, but I made him angry and he stopped! Please Harry, you have to believe me! He’s only saying it to get to you! Don’t let him!” Ginny was gasping as she struggled to her feet, pushing off with her good arm.

“Ginny! Stay behind me!” Harry yelled as he flung one arm out to hold her back. Slowly he moved forward, wand raised, watching and waiting for his moment. If Riddle wants a war, he’ll have it.

Harry was older, better trained, and more experienced than the last time he faced Voldemort’s teen-aged personification. The next time Riddle threw a curse at him, he was ready. He deflected it to a nearby statue which exploded into shards of stone. Immediately, Harry threw a curse of his own and they began to duel. His confidence seemed to cause Riddle to falter a bit as he backed away slightly.

Curses ricocheted in all directions. Harry found it miraculous that Ginny wasn’t hit in the crossfire as he continued to advance on Riddle, pushing him back. When he was level with the bizarre mirror that hung on the wall, Harry began to work a plan in his mind. That’s it, just a bit further. I’ve got to force Riddle through, then destroy the portal.

Harry held his wand tightly as it vibrated with unbelievable energy. An endless volley of hexes raged between them until something went terribly wrong. In a cruel twist of fate, Riddle and Harry threw the same curse at precisely the same moment. The two curses were fused upon impact and white-hot liquid dripped from the vertex. Riddle’s eyes shot open wide in response and Harry’s body shook with the jarring force.

Harry gripped his wand with both hands to control it as Riddle struggled with his. Slowly they each moved forward, curses literally melting between them. It took immense concentration to maintain the connection.

Harry and Riddle squared off, mere meters apart. Harry was unfaltering, focused, centered. They were now positioned directly in front of the portal. The hazy blue glow radiating from the rippling surface cast an eerie glow upon their faces. Ginny stood by, wandless, searching her mind for ways to distract Riddle and weaken his focus.

Harry’s anger and his need to protect Ginny sent power pouring from every cell of his body. Remembering the unearthly advantages afforded him in the dream world, he began using his mind to blow Riddle off his feet. Harry steadily closed the distance between them until only centimeters separated their wand tips. The unexpected surge from Harry, coupled with the resonating pressure from the fusion of wands, sent Riddle reeling. In his shock, he overcompensated and lost his balance. Attempting to regain his footing, his wand lifted and broke their connection.

Ginny looked on speechless at the scene unfolding before her. Everything happened in a matter of seconds, but time felt strangely frozen. Harry had such incredible powers inside of him. It was almost frightening. Part of her knew that after that moment, Harry would never be the same. He had come to help her, save her. Now, Riddle was falling through the portal, in a moment she’d be free.

She moved closer to reach out to Harry when suddenly Riddle reached him first. He grabbed Harry by the arm and in the next second, they were gone. Riddle had fallen through the portal and pulled Harry in with him!

“Noooo! Oh Harry, NO!” she screamed. Her heart was pounding out of her chest. She was in a state of shock and panic! Seconds ticked by and Harry did not return. “Oh, please NO!”

Ginny took off at a sprint for the chamber door. She tore through the passages until she came to a door with light glowing beneath it. She grabbed the knob and wrenched it open. As the light hit her eyes…

Ginny gasped as though emerging from underwater and sat bolt upright in her chair. She was panting, sweaty and aching all over. Tears stung her eyes as she jumped up from her chair, screaming her dismay. As she ran into the hall, Fred and George appeared from their room.

“Ginny! What’s going on? What’s the matter? Did you have a nightmare or something?” Fred asked, trying to make sense of her ranting.

Ginny ran at her twin brothers screaming Harry’s name. Instead of throwing herself at them, she shoved them out of her way, knocking Fred painfully against the wall.

“Bloody hell, Ginny!” Fred yelled after her. The twins exchanged looks of shock then ran off after their sister.

Ginny reached Harry’s door and flung it open. Once inside, she practically dove onto his bed, grabbing him by the shoulders. She shook him desperately hard as she straddled him, crying out his name.

By all rights, he should have jumped right out of his skin from the rude awakening he was receiving, but Harry didn’t move. He looked dead as his head bobbed back and forth with the rhythm of her shaking.

Fred and George, who had followed their little sister at a run, were now trying to pry her away from Harry. “Is he dead? What the hell is going on, Ginny? Have you gone completely mental?!” She didn’t stop to explain, but instead fought them off and protectively clung to Harry.

She was absolutely hysterical. George shrugged his shoulders and tilted his head toward Ginny while looking at his twin as if to ask “What the hell do we do now?” For lack of a better idea, Fred slapped her across the face, bringing her back to reality.

George grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her to face him as he crouched on the floor next to Harry’s bed. “Ginny? Calm down! You have to tell us what’s happened!”

Her shoulders fell and she slowly brushed Harry’s cheek with her trembling hand. The life had gone out of her. She slid from his seemingly lifeless body and collapsed into George’s arms in desperate sobs. She clung to her brother as if she was drowning and he was her only lifeline. George pulled her to him and wrapped his arms tightly around her as she buried her face in his chest. All she could manage to say was “Riddle…Riddle…took Harry!”

Over the top of Ginny’s small form the twins looked at each other in utter shock and disbelief. Their eyes darted from Ginny to Harry’s form on the bed. Something was very, very wrong. He had been completely unaffected by her attempts to wake him. Whatever was happening, it was much more than a dream. They were sure of it. It was a nightmare; a nightmare they feared that had just come to life.

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Chapter 10 Breaching the Threshold

Everything changed in an instant as they plunged head first into the portal. Only seconds before, Harry was in control. He should have brought the curtain crashing down upon Riddle’s twisted play of torture, but the scene went terribly wrong. Instead of cutting the dark wizard from Ginny’s dreams, Harry was center stage in a whole new act and Tom Riddle was directing the script.

The next few moments added all the elements of a classic nightmare: darkness, uncertainty, and a brutalizing chill that cut straight to the bone.

When he broke the surface, Harry expected to pass straight through the portal. Instead, he seemed caught. Harry struggled to make sense of his bizarre new surroundings as his world became oddly muted. The sound of his pulse throbbed wildly within a cocoon of silence. Every nerve in Harry’s body erupted and a barrage of painful sensations inundated his brain. Thousands of tiny icicles seemed to bore into every inch of his exposed flesh as he spiraled downward at breakneck speed. It was like traveling by portkey but much more painful.

He was pulled, not by Riddle, whose grip Harry still felt vaguely on his arm, but by some unknown force. It wrenched them at top speed toward a fathoms-deep, watery pit of darkness. As they dove, thick, icy plasma engulfed him. Harry’s body shook uncontrollably and his chest tightened painfully making it impossible to breathe. It was extreme, a cold so intense that it burned as it soaked through his clothing to sear his skin beneath. Precious seconds ticked by without oxygen. His vision blurred and he grew light-headed, racing through the column of ooze.

It’s only a dream; he tried to reason through his haze of thoughts. It isn’t real.

That was little comfort to his oxygen-starved brain and burning lungs. Harry was gradually losing consciousness. Just as the last of his will was fading, he emerged from the darkness. As they breached the threshold of the mirror, Riddle’s hold on Harry was broken. Tumbling out of the portal into another chamber, they hit the cold, stone floor with a shuddering thud.

Battered and frozen, Harry’s stiff and achy body lay motionless. He managed a gasp, sending his lungs a much-needed burst of air. Icy pain was suddenly replaced by comforting warmth that radiated from his laboring heart. It fingered outward like a web, encompassing his entire body within its boundaries. Harry peered down to find steam billowing from him in wispy spirals of mist. His clothes dried before his eyes as strength replaced agony. His recovery was so complete; it was as though none of it had taken place.

It is only a dream, Harry reminded himself, or is it? He wondered. The dream world and his reality seemed fused into one. Is this how Ginny has felt all this time? Living a dream, she was unable to escape?

Harry’s thoughts were interrupted as his opponent came into focus. Riddle was struggling to regain his footing as a familiar mist of vapor encircled him.

Is it a dream or reality? That’s irrelevant now, Harry chastised himself, rising quickly to his feet, wand in hand. He prepared to face off with Riddle, who was regarding Harry with amused silence and a wicked grin of satisfaction.

He’s waiting for my reaction, toying with me, Harry thought in contempt as he tightened his grip on his wand and fixed what he hoped was a detached expression upon his face.

“What? No fight left in you, Potter?” Riddle prodded.

Harry glared in response. In no hurry to entertain Riddle, he forced himself to remain calm and scanned his surroundings for details.

If Harry didn’t know better, he’d think they’d just entered the lounge of a very wealthy, dark wizard. Torches and candles dimly lit the expansive room. Several amber colored stone pillars flanked mahogany paneled walls. The floor was inlaid with rich looking marble, bordered in mosaic tiles. From the far wall, a flicker of light emanated from an oversized ornate fireplace. Over the mantle hung the life-sized portrait of a menacing wizard who seemed to regard Harry’s presence with a scowl of distaste. The walls and floors were embellished with colorful tapestries and oriental rugs. A large sofa near the hearth, a variety of leather chairs, and an assortment of odd objects upon side tables made up the bulk of the chamber’s furnishings. A single, intricately carved, wooden door was visible at the far end of the chamber to Harry’s right. It arched like the one that led to Ginny’s chamber above and had a large handle in the shape of a serpent in place of a knob.

Harry discreetly eyed the door, considering his options. Where does it lead? He wondered. Is that the way out or just a trap put there to taunt me? Harry settled on the latter. Then, as if lightening struck, if I entered through the portal, maybe I can use it to get out.

Riddle scrutinized him with bemused interest as Harry moved into position to have a clear view. The hazy blue glow still radiated from the object, making Harry’s decision instantaneous. Taking three quick strides, he attempted his escape. As he reached out, the cobalt light flickered and vanished. The rippling waves slowed their movement and then stopped. The portal was suddenly masked behind a smooth piece of glass. Harry’s reflection seemed to mock him as he stared at the mirrored surface in disbelief. In momentary denial, he ran his hand over the glass. The once fluid surface now felt solid and cool to the touch. His door to freedom was closed. Harry was trapped inside his very own nightmare with no visible means of escape.

Has this been Riddle’s plan all along? Harry wondered. Did he use Ginny to lure me here?

Behind him mirthless laugher erupted from the silence. Harry whipped around to face Riddle, who spoke with sarcasm dripping from every word. “Nice try, Potter. It’s too bad, really. You were just one second too late. It looks like little Ginny decided to wake up.”

Harry narrowed his eyes but refused to speak.

“Oh, come now, Potter. I was sure you would have figured it out. My dream portal is only open while she sleeps. I must say, I’m rather disappointed to have missed seeing her expression when you came through with me,” he smirked. “I imagine that would have been most entertaining.”

“Shut up!” Harry spat even as he tried to calm himself. He needed a clear head. Anger would only distract him and Harry had no intentions of giving Riddle more of an edge.

“I don’t think you have learned your place yet, have you, Potter? Perhaps you need another lesson,” he sneered. “You seem to be under the impression that you have some control over what I say and do, you pathetic…weak… disappointing little boy. You’re just like your parents.”

Harry forced himself to ignore the words. Ginny is safe, Harry thought to himself. She’s awake and free of the chamber and that’s what matters at the moment. He took comfort in that assurance as he returned to surveying the room. There must be something useful here. Something that can give me the upper hand, he thought as he scanned for signs of anything that could help. I need more time.

“Your parents were weak too...always talking of love’s power,” Riddle’s face contorted grotesquely at the words as he began to advance. “A pity their love didn’t save them when I paid them a call.”

“It saved me though, didn’t it? It saved me and destroyed you!” Harry snapped unable to hold back any longer.

“Hardly, Potter,” he drawled. “It was merely a temporary set back. I assure you, I’m far from destroyed.”

“You may have managed to survive that night, to exist in some way, but for how long?” Harry asked steeling himself for any movement from Riddle. “You’re afraid and you should be. You’re afraid because you are right! I am just like my parents and it’s only a matter of time before I finish you, isn’t it?”

“You have delusions of grandeur, Mr. Potter,” Riddle retorted wearily with a sigh. “Your parents were failures and I expect no more from you.”

“If I were you, I’d be thinking of your own disappointing failure. Your plans to have Ginny didn’t exactly go as you thought. From where I’m sitting, I’d say this 'pathetic…weak…disappointing little boy' had something to do with that, wouldn’t you?”

That stopped Riddle in his tracks, seething anger filled his features. “You’ll regret your interference, Potter.”

“Will I? I suppose that remains to be seen, doesn’t it? After all, I accomplished what I set out to do tonight. Did you?” he mocked. Riddle’s silence felt like a small victory for Harry in their game of cat and mouse. “What is this place anyway?” he added trying to vie for more time.

Riddle glared momentarily and then rejoined the game. With exaggerated manners he addressed Harry as an invited guest. “Welcome to my home,” he said raising his arms to gesture about the room. “The Dark arts provide well for me as you can see, even in my dreams. As for your brief triumph as Miss Weasley’s hero, well, there’s always tomorrow night. The girl will have to sleep, eventually. The next time she dreams, her beloved knight in shining armor won’t be there to interrupt, will he, Potter? I’ll have plenty of time for entertaining her then.”

Riddle relished the anger pulsating from Harry and decided to have some fun. “I assure you, Mr. Potter. Tonight wasn’t an entire loss. I’ve got you, haven’t I? This turn of events is definitely an unexpected bonus. You should know. Things on this side of the portal are a bit different.”

“What’s that supposed to mean,” Harry asked entertaining his foe.

“My power is, shall we say, further reaching from this vantage point. I believe I’ll let you stew on that for awhile,” he ended with a confident smirk.

Games aside, the truth about Ginny was undeniable. She was still in very real danger.

Harry’s heart leapt to his throat. Fear and rage melded together as he imagined what Riddle would do to her now. Harry’s emotions blazed within him until he reached a level of fury that he rarely felt. With feelings this strong, in the past he’d found he could perform wandless magic. Unfortunately, the intensity of his feelings usually caused the magic to be beyond his command.

Stay in control, Harry thought. You can’t help her if you don’t. Now think. Keep him talking, just little a while longer. Burying his urge to attack, he baited Riddle to continue, “Too bad…”

After a few seconds pause, Riddle looked back curiously, “Too bad what, Potter? Too upset to make sense, are we?”

“Too bad that the only way you’ll ever have her is through the Imperious Curse. I can’t imagine it would be very good like that. She’ll never give herself to you willingly. You make her flesh crawl, Tom!” Harry finished with a look of disgust.

Riddle’s anger rose at the sound of his given name. Harry knew he hated his muggle father enough to murder him. The thought of being his namesake disgusted him, but Riddle quickly regained his composure.

“Her willingness is not really an issue for me. I like a fighter, Potter,” he hissed with a look of hunger at the thought. “You really should try it sometime. It’s quite intense,” he leered causing Harry’s stomach to turn. “Besides, what makes you think she won’t give in to me if she thinks it will save you?”

“You’re insane! She’ll never…” Harry began enraged, but Riddle interrupted.

“While I appreciate you concern for my pleasure, when would you have discovered how it would be good? Innocent, righteous Potter; always the gentleman, aren’t you? I do so love irony.”

“What are you on about now?” Harry spat.

“I just find it rather ironic that you’re the one she wants, but she’s going to give herself to me to buy your freedom,” Riddle paused gloating, as shock played over Harry’s face. “You do realize you could have bedded her long ago?” Riddle paused as Harry glared, speechless.

“No? Oh well, your stupidity has left her pristine for me. I owe you my thanks. Although she’s not very useful in the information department, she’s not a total loss. I’m rather looking forward to training her up a bit,” he said with a sly wink as if he was talking to a good friend.

That was it. “SHUT UP! If you say one more word about her, I’ll make you regret it!” Harry shot back.

“Oh…I have struck a nerve, haven’t I?” he grinned with amusement. “Here’s a tidbit that may interest you. The only reason I went after her in the first place was her relationship with you. I thought she could be useful. I admit, however, it has been rather tedious listening to her sickening ramblings under the curses. She seems to think you’re her “soul mate,” he scoffed, rolling his eyes. “She’s just as pathetic as you are really, a poor, naive school girl, hopelessly in love with her hero.”

“You’re a liar!” Harry lashed out. “Ginny doesn’t… doesn’t see me that way! We’re friends! That’s all we’ve ever been, so you can quit torturing her to…to get to me. You’ve got me and you don’t need her anymore.”

“But it’s more than that, isn’t it…” Riddle’s voice trailed off as Harry’s mind began to race.

Does Riddle really know Ginny’s heart or is this just more of his brand of psychological warfare? What exactly did she reveal under the curses? I’m sure she held back the information about the Order, but what about personal information?

Riddle snapped Harry’s thoughts back to the present. “…appallingly stupid,” he added looking over Harry appraisingly. “Well, even if you choose to ignore it, I know her heart and mind. They made her rather tiresome and so annoyingly uncooperative. She refused to reveal anything that could hurt her ‘precious Potter.’ Of course, that all changed when the Cruciatus Curse broke her,” he stopped to revel in victory once again. “It was quite amusing really. ‘Harry is coming for me! When he does, he’ll make you pay!’” he mimicked her sarcastically. Heaving an exaggerated sigh, Riddle finished with a shrug, “I’ve grown tired of our little talk. I’ve allowed you a bit of leeway for my own amusement, but …”

Harry deflected the brunt of the curse Riddle blasted without warning. Searing pain erupted where the dark spell grazed his cheek. Harry reached up to feel the oozing warmth of blood against his finger tips.

Instantly, the scene turned from controlled conversation to chaos. Curses volleyed between them in a rampage. This was far from their first clash, but it was by far the nastiest to date. The assault of their wands was joined by a battle of wits as Riddle attempted to bore into Harry’s mind. Drawing upon his Occlumency training, Harry fought to rapidly erect mental barriers against him.

Their opulent surroundings were irrelevant. The mangled wreckage of furniture and hangings lay strewn about the chamber. Even the dark wizard in the portrait evacuated as a blast tore through his canvas. The fight seemed endless. Both wizards were focused, intent on the destruction of the other.

In a single beat, everything changed. Riddle renewed his mental assault and Harry’s scar exploded in pain. From within the din of battle, a new sound emerged. Harry heard a voice, Ginny’s voice, coming from the arched doorway. She begged and pleaded desperately for his help. The sound of her pain drew Harry’s attention for a split second, but that’s all Riddle required. Ginny’s voice morphed into Riddle’s laughter. It was a trick, but Harry realized too late. His body convulsed in pain as an excruciating blast rocketed through his head. Unable to fight any longer, Harry slumped to the floor. His world now engulfed in darkness.

Riddle stood over him, eyes gleaming, “Good night, Harry Potter. I’m afraid this is the end of your dreams.”


A/N: I’d like to extend my continued thanks to Tante and Sonicdale for their fresh eyes and perspective on my writing. I appreciate your feedback and insights. :-)

________________________________________
Chapter 11 Out of Time

Harry was gone. His body lived on, but his mind seemed trapped between two planes of consciousness.

Resignation and guilt weighed heavily upon Ginny. I never should have told him, she thought. I should have found a way to help myself. Then he'd be safe right now instead of locked away in his mind with Tom Riddle.

She felt helpless. Her only comforts were her brothers. They had come to her aid as she raced to Harry's side. George held her close while Fred cast charm after enervation charm in futility. Despite all efforts to revive him, Harry remained completely unresponsive.

How could this happen, Fred wondered as he stood over Harry's lifeless body in shock. Only hours ago we were playing Quidditch, discussing business deals and joking about Mad-Eye Moody's attitude. How did we get from there… to here?

Realizing the irrelevance, Fred moved closer and placed his hand on Harry's chest. He was grateful to feel its reassuring rise and fall and the constant beating of his heart. With a sigh of relief, he nodded to his twin.

As if on cue, George held Ginny at arms length, searching her eyes for answers. "Ginny, please," he began gently, "you need to explain what happened."

Slowly her tear-filled eyes met his, "Riddle has…has taken Harry…and it's entirely my fault. He was trying to help me," Ginny shuddered as she retold the tale of her nightmares and how Harry had been drawn into her dreams. "We've got to get him back," she pleaded quietly, her lower lip trembling. "Please, we've got to help him."

All her life, her older brothers had looked out for her. Through the mishaps and joys of childhood each one had served as her protector, her champion, her hero. Now, in her greatest hour of need, the twins were powerless. There was nothing they could do for Harry and that realization caused an ache in the pit of her stomach.

She pulled from her brother's grasp and crawled to Harry's bedside. Desperately she clung to Harry's limp hand.

"We need help," George said seriously as he looked from Harry to his twin.

With a nod from Fred, George strode briskly from the room to sound the alarm. The door clicked closed, Fred knelt beside Ginny and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. He felt as helpless as she did. All they could do was watch and wait as Harry's mind fought an invisible foe.

Word spread quickly to the Order. Within minutes, wizards from all walks of life descended upon Grimmauld Place, whipping headquarters into a frenzy of activity.

*****************

Two young wizards, however, did not hear the call. When the alert went out, Ron was at the home of the Grangers collecting Hermione for their visit with Harry.

Ron helped Hermione bring her bags down from her room. They were to Portkey from her home to the Burrow, spend the night and set off for Grimmauld Place in the morning. Professor Dumbledore had charmed an old pocket watch for the occasion.

After bidding farewell to Mr. and Mrs. Granger, they descended the front porch stairs and crossed the lawn. A small wooded area bordered the Granger's property and was to serve as their point of departure. Before Ron could retrieve the watch from his pocket, Harry's snowy owl arrived with urgent post.

"Hedwig? What are you …" Hermione stopped as the owl swooped and hooted wildly about their heads.

After several erratic passes she lit upon Ron, gripping his shoulder severely. Without a doubt, she was not herself. Hedwig was an exemplary owl. At the moment, however, her usual air of propriety and decorum had all but vanished. She seemed, in short, panicked.

Ron and Hermione exchanged looks of dismay. Hedwig held out a trembling leg as Hermione untied the note with trepidation and handed it to Ron. As soon as he took it, Hedwig began viciously pecking his head, urging him to hurry. He struggled to unroll the parchment as he waved her off with his free arm.

"Bloody hell, Hedwig! What's gotten into you?" Ron cursed and ducked, dodging her attack as he read the note silently. Hermione waited as he finished and then physically paled before her eyes.

"What is it?" Hermione's voice filled with alarm as she looked from the retreating owl to Ron's ashen face.

"It's Harry," he answered in a barely audible voice.

"What?" she asked again.

"It's Harry, Hermione. Riddle's taken him," he responded more loudly as his shock turned to anger. "We've got to get to headquarters!"

Hermione snatched the parchment from Ron's hand to read it.

Ron,

Plans have changed. Something horrible has happened. We think Harry has been kidnapped by Voldemort. The details are unclear at this point.

Sorry, mate, but Mum's in a right state. She wants you to stay at the Grangers'. Don't try to use the Portkey because no one will be at the Burrow. They're sending an Order escort to bring you directly to headquarters.

I'll make sure they send for you soon, I promise.

Fred

Hermione was beside herself with worry. "What are we going to do?"

"How can they expect us to just sit here doing nothing and wait for a bloody escort?" Ron spat, pacing back and forth.

"What choice do we have? We're not supposed to use the Portkey. Even if we did, it wouldn't take us where we need to be," she reminded, trying to reason with him. "Maybe we should…"

"Just stop! I need to think, Hermione," he snapped, then immediately regretted it. She was upset and his words stung. He stopped pacing, met her eyes and found tears forming. He sighed and dropped his head, "Look, I'm sorry. I don't mean to yell at you, but I'm not going to hang about while I could be helping get Harry back. I just can't do that, Hermione."

"I know, Ron. You're upset and so am I, but we don't want to make a decision that could make things worse," she responded her voice softer and more subdued in hopes of calming him.

Ron sighed deeply and glared in response. It took all his restraint to refrain from snapping back at her blatantly, rational behavior. Instead, he focused his anger elsewhere. He continued to pace and mumble to himself about the "ruddy Order's procedures", then quite suddenly, he stopped.

"Ron?" she began nervously, "What's wrong?"

He turned to face Hermione, wild-eyed, "I've got it!"

"What is it?" she asked, but after observing the look on his face, she was unsure if she really wanted to know.

"Well,I haven't passed my apparition test, but you have! Do you remember how Harry told us about side along apparition?" he asked, eyes blazing

"Yes, but…I've never done it, Ron." she added uncertainly. "What if I make a mistake? We could…"

"I know you can do it, Hermione," he interrupted. "I'm not waiting for a bleeding guard to get around to fetching us! We have to go now!"

Hermione paused, searching his eyes. There would be no talking him out of it. Reluctantly, she nodded in agreement and then placed a trembling hand to Ron's arm. As she gripped it firmly, a flash of fire erupted overhead. Above them they spotted a piece of smoking, red parchment fluttering down from the talons of large crimson bird. Dumbledore's phoenix, Fawkes, circled the pair once and then vanished with another flash of brilliant flames.

There was barely time to react. The Howler burst open in mid air and Mrs. Weasley's booming voice filled the night.

"RONALD WEASLEY! WHAT IN MERLIN'S NAME DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING! I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU ARE ATTEMPTING TO LEAVE THE GRANGERS' HOME… OF ALL THE IRRESPONSIBLE CHOICES!! YOU WILL WAIT RIGHT THERE UNTIL SOMEONE COMES TO FETCH YOU! YOU HAVE NO WAY OF KNOWING WHAT OTHER TROUBLE IS BREWING AND I'M SIMPLY DISGUSTED THAT YOU WOULD PLACE HERMIONE IN THAT SORT OF DANGER AS WELL AS DISOBEY A DIRECT ORDER! IF YOU DARE TAKE ONE STEP OFF THAT PROPERTY, I'LL HEX YOU MYSELF!!

Oh and Hermione, dear, please give your parents my fondest regards."

With that, the parchment disintegrated into tiny fragments of ash and was carried away by the wind.

The message left nothing to interpretation. A heavy silence fell over Ron and Hermione. It was as if they were frozen to the spot. Hermione still clutched his arm as they recovered from shock.

"H…how did she know?" Hermione asked, shakily.

Ron bristled at his mother's condescending tone, "I don't know, probably Dumbledore! He's seems to see everything somehow, but I don't care! What does she think she's playing at, telling us to stay put! It's as if she doesn't think we can handle ourselves!" he growled indignantly. "After everything we've been through, she doesn't even think we can manage to get ourselves to headquarters!"

"Ron, keep your voice down," Hermione whispered as she glanced at the front door of her home and then scanned the neighboring landscape. If anyone had been in the vicinity they would have heard the Howler's rage. Her closest neighbor lived more than a mile away, but that was little consolation at the moment. The porch light had come on and her parents were outside. They obviously heard the racket and emerged from their home to investigate.

Hermione shot Ron a grave look of warning as she followed the progress of her parents into the front garden. Confusion filled their expressions.

"Hermione?" her mother called from twenty paces away. "What was that? We thought we heard yelling."

Mr. and Mrs. Granger were kind people and loving parents. They may have been somewhat naïve when it came to the magical world in which their daughter spent most of her time, but they were far from daft. It was clear to them that something was amiss and they intended to find out what.

"Er...nothing really, just a message," Hermione mumbled vying for time.

"A message?" her mother repeated in disbelief. "What kind of message?"

"Ron's mother wanted to let us know that someone is going to pick us up. She asked us not to use the Portkey," Hermione said, attempting to smooth over the situation without giving any actual details. "Sorry if it bothered you. It was a bit loud," she added observing their lack of confidence in her explanation.

If they suspected real danger, her chances of going with Ron would quickly disappear. She couldn't stand the thought of being left behind when Harry needed them. "Er…Mrs. Weasley sends her regards, by the way," she added trying to keep the conversation light. For good measure, she forced a smile. That's not a total fabrication, she thought hoping it would be enough of an explanation.

"Hermione," Ron whispered gruffly, "we've got to go."

"Not now, Ron, my parents won't understand," she muttered under her breath.

"We're coming back inside to wait for our friends," Hermione said, fixing a smile in place and glaring in Ron's direction. Her look of admonishment was enough to stifle his rampage temporarily. He didn't want to alarm the Grangers any more than the howler already had.

In strained silence, Ron trailed Hermione into the lounge. Avoiding eye contact with the Grangers, he sat down on the couch to wait. He wasn't sure why he felt guilty, but for some reason he did. Sitting in their home made his stomach squirm and his heart pound. The feeling was similar to the tension before a well-earned detention with Snape.

Mr. Granger had always been quite friendly to Ron and Harry, but at the moment pleasantries were not forthcoming. The flush rose steadily in his cheeks under the suspicious gaze of Hermione's father. Ron felt like he'd just kept Mr. Granger's little girl out past curfew and was awaiting retribution.

Where, the hell, are they, he wondered as he glanced nervously at the door. This is just beautiful, Ron thought as he snuck another glance at Hermione's parents. He got the distinct impression that the Granger's were unconvinced by Hermione's story. I'll just sit here quietly and let Hermione do the talking. They're her parents after all; he thought, focusing intently on his hands resting in his lap.

"So Ron, who will be coming to escort you," Mrs. Granger began conversationally, visibly startling Ron out of his reverie.

"Er…no idea," he answered lamely, which garnered a subtle kick from Hermione as she reached for the tea her mother offered them both.

"What I meant to say…um, thank you," he added taking the cup from Mrs. Granger, "is Mum said she was sending a family friend, but didn't mention who."

"Ah…I see," Mrs. Granger nodded, sipping her tea and glancing at her husband over her cup to gage his reaction.

When she returned her attention to the pair on the couch, Mr. Granger took up the cause.

"Why can't you take the Portkey as planned, Hermione?"

"I don't know. It was something about a batch of dodgy Portkeys. Apparently, they've found several quite recently. Right, Ron?" she asked in search of support.

"Er…yeah," he added feebly.

"Yes, well, they felt it would be prudent not to risk it," Hermione embellished to keep Ron from speaking more than necessary. "It's the return trips that have been a bit unpredictable. So even though Ron successfully arrived, they aren't sure of where we'd end up round trip."

How can she fabricate a story like that on the spot? Ron thought. Harry and I have obviously been a horrible influence on her. Good thing we have.

Ron swallowed hard, hoping her tale would be sufficient and resumed the careful inspection of his hands.

Maybe they won't ask me anything else, he hoped. I'm rubbish at concocting lies in the heat of the moment. Where are the bloody twins when you need them? Oh…that's right, they're at headquarters…gits.

*********************

Back at Grimmauld Place, Mrs. Weasley arrived and immediately sought out her daughter. At George's suggestion, she found Ginny at Harry's side still clutching his hand in hers.

Molly's chest tightened painfully at the sight of her youngest child in such despair. Quietly Mrs. Weasley crossed the room. Seeing Harry lying there on the bed brought an eerie chill to her bones.

This can't be good for Ginny, she thought. It's only making her more upset to see him this way.

"Come on, dear," she encouraged, placing her hand on her daughter's shoulder.

Ginny stubbornly held her ground. "No, I'm not leaving him."

"Please Ginny, there is nothing more we can do for him now," she said gently. "There is a way you can help though. Learning the details of the evening might give us some clues and it could even lead us to a solution."

Reluctantly, Ginny allowed herself to be shunted from the room. As Mrs. Weasley took her hand and led her down the stairs, a horrible thought occurred to Ginny. She would have to explain everything all over again.

Ginny's nerves were raw as she entered the lounge. This is entirely my fault, she thought as wizards entered headquarters in twos and threes. Mrs. Weasley was drawn away momentarily and Ginny was left alone in the midst of the gathering wizards.

There were so many unfamiliar faces, all of them looking appraisingly at her. With each whispering glance, her guilt increased ten fold.

Mrs. Weasley returned from the kitchen and quickly realized the strain Ginny was under enduring the weight of their stares. Protectively, she gathered Ginny into her arms and removed her from the horde of watchful eyes.

"Let's go, dear. They'll call us when they're ready to begin." She led Ginny back up the stairs and down the hall to her room.

Crossing the threshold broke a dam of emotion. "I'm so sorry, Mum. I know I should have told you, but I didn't want to worry you anymore. It was hard enough on you when Riddle possessed me through the diary. I couldn't face hurting you like that again. I tried to handle it myself, but I couldn't. When I started to feel Harry in my dreams, it seemed like the answer. I never meant to hurt anyone, especially not Harry," she sobbed hugging her mother tighter.

"Shh…now," Mrs. Weasley soothed. "It will be alright, dear."

"No, it won't. He can't be hurt. I can't lose him," she whispered through choked tears, "Mum…I…I love him."

Mrs. Weasley closed her eyes. A sad, but knowing smile adorned her face. I should have seen this coming, she thought. She had known for years that Ginny had harbored a crush as a young girl, but she'd moved passed that hadn't she? No, there were signs, Mrs. Weasley admitted. There were always clues that a normal mother, under normal circumstances, would have noticed, she chastised herself. Of course, times these days are far from normal.

From there, Ginny's words flowed like a river, free of its banks. "I've felt this way for ages. I tried not to, Mum, really I did. I thought dating other boys would help, but it just wouldn't go away. Honestly, I didn't understand what I was feeling for the longest time." Ginny paused as her eyes dropped to the floor. The thought of Harry swept through her, "He's amazing, Mum. Even after everything he's been through, he's still caring and kind and… I love him," she whispered fixing her gaze on her mother. "What if I never get the chance to tell him how I feel? What if he...This is my fault," she admitted through the trembling of sobs.

"No, Ginevra, you listen to me. This is not your fault. You can't punish yourself for the actions a deranged wizard." Molly pulled Ginny closer, her heart breaking for her daughter. "Sshh… dear, it is going to be alright, I promise," she said consolingly. "We're all here now and we're going to help. You're not alone anymore."

Ginny pulled back and looked at her mum. Her sobs were subsiding, but the tears still trailed her cheeks. "Does loving someone always hurt this much?" she asked softly.

Mrs. Weasley felt a lump form in her throat. So innocent in the ways and pains of love, she thought as tears shined in her own eyes.

Mrs. Weasley tenderly brushed an errant tendril from Ginny's face. She held her chin in her hand, met her gaze and took a deep breath. "When you love someone with your whole heart, sometimes it hurts. It's also quite wonderful, dear. Loving someone is like giving your heart to another and trusting them keep it safe. Sometimes we choose the keeper, sometimes the keeper chooses us. It hurts because love makes the heart tender, but it strengthens the soul." Then brushing a tear away she added with a smile, "You'll have your chance to tell him, Ginny. I'm sure of it…and I want you to know, you've chosen well."

Downstairs, Ron and Hermione arrived. They were escorted by Moody and Tonks and joined the large group of wizards assembled in the lounge. Angry that everyone had been given priority over them, Ron entered the house in a blazing temper and ready for a fight. He was set to storm into the kitchen and let off some steam by showing them how hacked off he really was when Hermione reached out and grabbed his arm.

Ron stopped. He looked down at her quizzically in silence. When she offered no explanation for detaining him he spat, "What?!"

She simply held his gaze and slowly shook her head at him. She said nothing, but gently squeezed his arm in her hand. Her eyes remained locked on his. It was an odd sort of sight. Ron's expression was intense. He towered over her small body with his nearly six foot four frame, but she was no more intimidated by him than she would have been of a small child.

He contemplated her for a few measured seconds, and then just sighed deeply as she released his arm. No words had passed between them, but something undoubtedly did. Ron's anger remained, but the fire was gone. With a sigh he took a seat in the lounge and focused his energies on glaring at the gathering of wizards, his brothers included. In Ron's eyes, being 'on duty' when everything went wrong, made it mostly the twins fault.

Hermione, having diffused the worst of Ron's anger, walked straight to Ginny. She had just entered the lounge with Mrs. Weasley and looked completely distressed. Hermione wasted no time before pulling her into a tight, sisterly hug.

Fred and George regarded Ron warily under the weight of his stare. They had learned just how far to push him over the years. From their experience, they knew now was not the time try to take an extra inch of ground.

To say they were fascinated by the exchange between their brother and Hermione would be an understatement. Ron wasn't usually one to back down easily. Perplexed by the odd turn of events, the twins took to a quiet spot on the fringe of the room. They hovered at a safe distance in conference as their eyes darted between Ron and Hermione.

"Did you see that?" George asked Fred conspiratorially.

"Yeah, weird that was. She just looked at him. What's that all about?" Fred answered his twin's question with another inquiry.

"I don't know. From what I've seen, she's usually primed to get his hackles up with the rest of us, not calm him down," George added watching Ron stew across the room with interest.

"Well, however she's 'tamed' him, I for one am grateful. He can only be pushed so far, and I reckon he's at his limit at the moment," Fred admitted as George nodded in agreement.

"Yeah, as tempting as it is to turn this into the 'let's get Ron' escapade of the day, I think we should count ourselves lucky she was here. He looked right deadly when he walked in…and he's grown, you know. He might use more than his wand on us, given the chance."

Ron glared in their direction and then looked away. He was either unready or unwilling to forgive at the moment.

Exactly what happened here? Ron wondered.

From snatches of conversations about the room he'd gathered bits and pieces of information. No one seemed clear on the all the details, but Ron knew enough. He knew enough to be upset that his sister had been suffering in silence nearly all summer. He knew that because she chose not to confide in anyone, that his best friend was now somehow trapped in some sort of dream purgatory.

Ron was boiling inside at the thought of it. He wasn't angry at Ginny, exactly. She'd obviously been through hell from what they could piece together. Ron overheard Fred and George telling Tonks how Ginny looked as she tore down the hall to Harry's room. They said they had physically pried her from Harry's body and that she was nearly consumed with fear and panic.

Pressing down upon Ron's anger was another, more painful emotion. He was hurt. Hurt that she hadn't trusted him enough to come to him. Hurt that he had been too busy in his own dealings to notice something was terribly wrong. Most of all, hurt because growing up, they had always been close. They were companions, confidants, and friends. He was little more than a year her senior, but it was still his room Ginny ran to when she needed someone to 'chase away' her nightmares. He didn't completely understand why, but it felt as though that role had just been stripped from him in a single night's time.

Ron's attention was drawn from his thoughts as Professor Dumbledore directed the group into the kitchen. Nearly two dozen Aurors and Order members crammed themselves into the space. The entire Weasley clan was in attendance, oddly enough, Percy included. They were joined by McGonagall, Lupin, Moody, Tonks and a cast of several other Order members. They crowded around the room and waited for Dumbledore to begin.

Ginny was seated between Mrs. Weasley and her eldest brother at the table. The Headmaster positioned himself directly across from her as he spoke. "Although it may be difficult, Miss Weasley, it is imperative that we learn exactly what transpired here this evening. Any information connected to the events may assist us in retrieving Harry," Dumbledore coaxed smoothly.

Ginny nodded, but hesitated as every eye bore down upon her. Her vocal chords seemed to tighten painfully, lodging the words in her throat. Paralyzed by the gaze of her captive audience, the pressure overwhelmed her.

Bill Weasley reached for his sister's hand as she struggled to compose herself.

Dumbledore looked on sympathetically, thinking, if she is willing to accept the intrusion…"Excuse me, Miss Weasley, but perhaps I may be of some help. If you'd prefer, I could take a look and then share your experience for you," he offered with a comforting smile.

Ginny looked confused as she stuttered, "Er...sorry? Ta…Take a look at what?"

"Well, I happen to be in the position to peer into your mind, into your memories to be exact. Has Harry ever explained Occlumency to you?" he inquired maintaining a light and warm expression.

Comprehension dawned as Ginny nodded her permission. She was grateful to accept Dumbledore's offer to extract her memories. It meant her exemption from reliving the experience herself. It felt strange having Professor Dumbledore exploring her thoughts and recent images. When he finished, she felt oddly tired. It was as though she'd just played a rather long and physical game of Quidditch instead of having her thoughts played back in her head. Unconcerned with the side effects, she decided the trade off was worth any lingering discomfort.

"Professor, would it be alright…I'm mean, may I be excused please?" she asked in a quiet voice. The last thing she wanted was to be gawked at while Professor Dumbledore recounted the details of her experience. With a nod of understanding he consented. Bill gave Ginny's hand a comforting squeeze and then released her.

When the kitchen door closed behind her, the members of the group erupted with questions. Dumbledore filled in the missing details, explaining everything that led up to events of the evening. He'd also been privy to some rather personal information, which he respectfully chose to exclude. Ginny's feelings and the few tender moments she and Harry had shared were private and irrelevant to the situation. Dumbledore felt they should remain so, until Ginny herself felt otherwise inclined.

After Dumbledore's summary, the group huddled around the table talking in whispers. Numerous possibilities and their ramifications flooded the room as various groups shared their ideas. After all reasonable, and some not so reasonable options had been considered, Professor Dumbledore rose, covering the room in a blanket of silence.

"It seems to me," he began, "the obvious answer is to do one, of two things. We can provide Ginny with a sleeping draught that will allow her to have dreamless sleep and wait for Harry to fight his way out." Rumblings flooded the room, as the logic and merits of that option were considered and then unanimously ruled out.

"I thought not," Dumbledore responded with a bemused smile. "The other option I'm afraid, is for Ginny to go back into her dream, taking with her reinforcements… namely me. I can enter her mind as she sleeps and in effect, accompany her back into the chamber." Again there were rumblings, but this time the general consensus was much more positive. That was until a sharp gasp was heard from the far end of the table.

Mrs. Weasley grasped where the plan was going and rose abruptly from her chair in dissent, "Absolutely not! We are not using my only daughter as bait! Surely Albus, there has to be another way!"

Dumbledore gazed back at her, sadness in his eyes, "I'm afraid not, Molly. Ginevra's dream opens the portal. Her presence is unfortunately required. Without her assistance, I fear Harry may be trapped for quite some time while we work out another plan."

"More time, then," she responded. "We simply need more time to come up with a better plan. From Ginny's memories we know that no matter what happened in her dream, when she awoke she was unharmed, at least physically. So, in a manner of speaking, Harry's 'safe' for now."

Had Ginny heard Dumbledore's suggestion, it would no longer be up for discussion. She would have agreed to it immediately. However, after leaving the kitchen, she returned to Harry's bedroom and pulled a chair to his bedside. Keeping vigil, she sat transfixed by the steady rise and fall of his chest. His slow, deep breathing remained her only reassurance of his continued survival. When watching alone became agonizing, she reached out to rest her hand on his heart, just to feel it beating.

Guilt devoured her. If only I had told someone sooner, Harry wouldn't be lost right now. She heard enough downstairs to know that they could have stopped the torture with a simple dreamless sleep draught. Why hadn't I thought of that?

"Please, Harry, you have to wake up," she pleaded quietly as she straightened the tangle of sheets over his body. "I'm so sorry this has happened to you. I never meant to hurt you. That's the last thing I would ever want. I love you," she ended in a whisper.

Slowly she moved closer to him and touched his cheek with her hand. It was warm and soft against her skin. Without thinking, she leaned down, kissing his forehead and tenderly smoothed the hair around his face. She moved to return to her chair when a fine red line began forming on his cheek. She ran her fingers slowly over the mark as it widened. Warm, wet liquid seeped against the tips of her fingers. Startled, she jerked them away. Her hand trembled uncontrollably. Reluctantly, her eyes fixed on the sight in horror.

"Harry, NO! HELP HIM!! Someone, help him!" she cried.

In seconds, wizards apparated all around her and Mrs. Weasley bustled to her daughter taking hold of her shoulders, "Ginny! Ginny, what's wrong?"

Ginny's body was now shaking with renewed sobs as she raised her hand into view.

Mrs. Weasley froze, temporarily stunned at the sight, "Blood?!" she exclaimed, a wave of fear crashing upon her. "Where…where did that come from?! Are you hurt?"

Ginny shook her head, lower lip trembling. She didn't speak, but looked back at Harry. The others followed her gaze to his cheek. A newly formed gash was emitting a slow, but steady red trickle. It formed a bloody trail as it ran down his cheek and onto his pillow.

Instantly, near-hysteria filled the room. The bedlam was enough to wake the dead, but Harry's body remained lifeless.

"Enough!" Professor Dumbledore shouted over the pandemonium. "Panic can not help Harry, only expedient actions."

The tone of the room was intense, the urgency of the situation, magnified. Harry was in real danger. A ripple effect seemed to have begun and his body was mirroring events from the dream. If Harry could be cut in the dream world and bleed in reality, then they knew that the worst must also be true.

Immediately, Mr. Weasley knew what it meant. He pushed down his fear and went to comfort his wife. Ron held his little sister as she buried her face in his shoulder with grief. Hermione moved to the bedside and slid Harry's hand into hers, tears spilling from her eyes unchecked. The others stood by, shocked into silence.

Professor Dumbledore, alone, chose to speak. Slowly his eyes left Harry and met Mr. Weasley's. Then, he moved closer and rested his hand on Mrs. Weasley's shoulder.

"No, Albus," she pleaded. "There must be another way."

"I'm sorry, Molly," Dumbledore responded, "I am afraid we are now, out of time."


A/N: Continued appreciation goes out to my wonderful betas, Sonicdale and Tante. You two are the best! By the way Tante, thanks for helping me to keep George's behavior on the up and up. :)


________________________________________
Chapter 12 The Code of Brotherhood

Harry forced his eyes to open and absorb his new surroundings. The room was dimly lit and unfamiliar. Cold, unforgiving stone lay beneath him. Although he was sure the chamber was motionless, it felt as though it was spinning. The whirling sensation brought an unpleasant churn to his stomach and a dazed state to his mind.

Flattening his hands to the floor, Harry squeezed his eyes shut tightly and rode out the feeling, willing it to stop. With a deep, steadying breath he then exhaled slowly, fighting off a wave of nausea. As the spinning sensation eased, Harry began to gather his strength.

Feeling a little better, he tried to push himself into a sitting position, but was immediately floored by a bout of dizziness.

Start small, Harry told himself, pinching the bridge of his nose. Gingerly he touched the throbbing slice on his cheek. His skin felt numb and tight where blood had dried and crystallized on his face.

How did I get here? Harry wondered struggling to focus. His last memory was Ginny’s voice. Images came flooding back.

The portal, wand blasts, Ginny’s cries for help… Riddle. Suddenly, Harry’s muscles clenched and he sat bolt upright. He tricked me!

A sobering anger crackled to life as Harry’s mind began to race.

How long have I been here? Minutes… hours… a day? I need to get out of here and back to Ginny.

The last thing Harry wanted was for Ginny to be hurt again because of him, but he feared that’s exactly what would happen. A lump formed in his throat as the possibilities filled his mind. She would never just abandon him there and that’s what troubled him the most.

When she returns to find me, Tom Riddle will prove he’s not bluffing. He’ll make good on his promise to force her to become useful. Harry winced at the thought, recalling the earlier scene between Ginny and Riddle.

“The Kiss.” It was the last thing Harry wanted to think about, but he simply couldn’t shake it. From under his cloak he had watched Ginny entwine herself with Riddle and hungrily cover his mouth with hers in the chamber of her dreams. Harry wanted to look away, but couldn’t. It was like he was frozen with a morbid curiosity which forced him to watch. Now, the image was permanently burned into his mind.

Anger and aversion seared through him like wildfire. Such a passionate response from Ginny had completely sickened Harry. Riddle himself had even faltered at her intensity, which only served to put a finer point on Harry’s jealousy.

Then another startling thought occurred to Harry. What if he pulls her through the portal? Was Riddle’s claim to be more powerful from this side of the dream world just an attempt at more psychological warfare, or simply fact?

Harry wasn’t sure exactly what to believe, but from the painful cut on his cheek, he knew the situation couldn’t be good.

To make matters worse, if she was that passionate with a kiss, Harry shuddered to think what would happen under the Imperios Curse if Riddle demanded more. She’d have no choice, but to obediently do as he commanded.

Harry would be enraged by Riddle doing that to anyone, but choosing Ginny made it personal. Harry began to realize that everything about Ginny had become personal to him. The entrancing way she bit her bottom lip when she was thinking or nervous, the smell of her skin, and the freckles on her nose, but most of all her hair. It held almost a hypnotic attraction for him. If he were truly honest with himself, “The Kiss” was far more familiar than Harry’s conscience would allow him to admit. Some of his more recent fantasies were very much like that kiss… raw, intense and completely intoxicating. It took every ounce of his willpower to resist living out those fantasies when he stood on the landing outside her bedroom hours earlier. He wanted to touch her, to kiss her lips, to bury his hands in her beautiful hair, but somehow he resisted.

“Why now?” He groaned rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands. Just days ago, she was like a sister. Now all I can think about is protecting her and being anything but brotherly.

I’ve got to get out of here; I’ve got to help her. Harry took a deep breath and slowly got to his feet.

It appeared that Harry had been thrown into a room and left where he lay. He was stiff and sore, but apart from a few minor injuries, still unharmed.

Why didn’t Riddle simply finish me off? If he was able to cut my cheek, surely he could have done worse, Harry reasoned. Why did he allow me to live if he had the chance to kill me?

Harry paused in thought. Obviously, he isn’t finished with me yet. If he didn’t have some new form of torture planned, he wouldn’t have bothered to let me live at all.

Or would he? Another thought suddenly occurred to Harry. Perhaps Riddle can’t kill me in the dream world. Perhaps, he was forced to settle for torturing me. But if that’s the case, he’s not up to his usual level of evil. It’s almost as if he wanted me to wake up, but why?

Harry was not about to sit around waiting to find out. He began searching for a way to escape. He found this chamber was quite different than the one he had tumbled into with Riddle. It had the same stone pillars and paneled mahogany walls, but it was completely devoid of any other furnishings. No warm fire crackled in the grate. A single torch provided the only light in the windowless space. His heart leapt momentarily when he spotted a large mirror hanging over the empty fireplace. Upon closer inspection, however, he realized that other than being a bit garish, it was otherwise unremarkable. It certainly didn’t resemble the portal through which he arrived.

That’s not the way out, he thought. Hopelessness crept into his heart until his eyes came to rest upon a familiar looking doorway. It was nearly identical to the one in the other chamber.

That’s too easy, he told himself. It has to be, doesn’t it? Even if the door is open, which I doubt, going through it would be like walking into a trap. Unless… that’s what he expects me to think. Unable to resist the temptation, Harry cautiously moved to the door and tentatively reached for the handle.

Locked, he sighed. As expected, the door was sealed tight.

Harry reached for his wand out of habit and realized it was missing. Of course it’s gone, Harry thought mentally kicking himself. Riddle’s not going to make it that easy, but he also may not have considered the special abilities that the dream world allows me. My cloak appeared upon my will and I was able to knock Riddle off balance using only my mind.

Eyes closed, Harry focused his concentration on his wand and waited for the familiar tingling to erupt in his hands. After several seconds, he opened his eyes and glared at the door barring his exit. His wand never appeared.

Alright, things are different on this side of the portal. Not to be deterred, Harry changed tracks. I can’t summon my wand, but perhaps I can affect objects that are here.

Harry refocused his energies on targeting the doorway itself. He tried to envision the locking mechanism and the tumblers moving into place. He visualized the process in his mind as he pictured the door opening before him and leaving a lit pathway ahead. Unfortunately, when he reopened his eyes, a vision was all it had been.

So much for unearthly abilities, he muttered. The door remained locked.

Harry’s frustration grew, but he refused to give up. He walked the perimeter of the room, his hand sliding smoothly along the walls as he searched for trick panels, hidden passages or anything that could provide a way out.

After making a complete circuit of the chamber twice, Harry walked to the far side of the room across from the fireplace and leaned his back against the wall.

Now what, he sighed.

Harry was forced to concede for the moment. He was out of ideas. He allowed his body to slide slowly down the wall until he came to rest on the floor. Blankly he stared across the room and into the gaudy mirror positioned over the mantle. He began watching the reflection of the torch light on the wall behind him. Minute stacked upon monotonous minute. His vision clouded as he stared. Harry shook his head and blinked several times.

I need to focus on something. Images of Ginny rebelliously filled his mind. It was a pleasant escape, yet torturous at the same time. He couldn’t resist wondering what it would be like to share a kiss with her like the one he had witnessed.

That’s a bad idea, Potter he thought. It’ll just make Ginny’s lot worse if Riddle knows that I…That I what exactly? Like her? ... Fancy her? ...Want her for myself? Harry knew it didn’t matter, in that moment he reiterated his vow to keep his distance for Ginny’s own good.

With a sigh of resignation, Harry tried to wipe her from his mind for the moment. There was nothing more to do but wait, so he refocused his attention on the mirror. Several minutes passed. His eyes grew heavy and gradually began to slide out of focus. Harry ran his fingers roughly through his hair to stay alert. He was in Riddle’s game now and he couldn’t afford complacency. He’d have to wait for Riddle to make his next move, no matter how long it took. The one thing Harry could guarantee was that Riddle would come and when he did, Harry would be ready.

*********************************************************************

Back at Grimmauld Place, to say things were tense would be a gross understatement of the situation.

Professor Dumbledore had explained what they would do and then sent for the Hogwarts nurse. She had been enlisted to prepare a sleeping draught for Ginny and then stand by in case something went wrong and they needed emergency care.

While they waited for Madame Pomfrey, Ginny, Hermione, and Mrs. Weasley holed up in the girls’ bedroom. Ginny worked to remain calm; Mrs. Weasley fought back tears and Hermione paced the room feeling helpless.

She was sick with worry for Harry. After all, he was one of her best friends. Frankly, he was the closest thing she had to a brother and she loved him dearly. She did have Ron, but he was different. There was an inexplicable tension that always seemed to creep in between her and Ron, keeping them from getting too close. With Harry, she could relax and let go. Hermione knew it was selfish, but her life would never be the same without him.

Her worry for Harry was only matched by her dread for Ginny’s part in the plan. They would be offering Ginny to Riddle on a silver platter. Hermione shuddered at the thought of it. For all her intelligence, she could think of nothing that would help. That was maddening for a witch like Hermione who counted on her wits to help in dire times. She wished she could go in Ginny’s place, but that idea was immediately eliminated as it crossed her mind. After all, it was Ginny’s dream.

After seeing Harry bleeding, Mrs. Weasley conceded that they really had no other choice. Dumbledore’s plan was the only chance they had of getting Harry back. Even if that were not the case, once Ginny had heard what Professor Dumbledore had in mind, there was no stopping her.

Mrs. Weasley knew deep down, Ginny would do anything to get Harry out safely. Her only daughter was in love. She had said so herself and Molly had no doubt that she meant it. For all her protesting, Molly had to admit if the circumstances were reversed and Arthur was trapped in there, she’d be doing exactly the same thing.

Ginny, for her part, was actually the calmest of the three, but she grew impatient. Learning they would have to wait for Madame Pomfrey upset her so much that Mrs. Weasley offered to make her some special tea. Ginny absolutely refused, insisting she needed to keep her wits about her. She passed the time actively avoiding eye contact with the other women. Tuning out their stress was the only way she could manage to keep her own anxiety in check and focus on her objective. Save Harry. Nothing else matters, she thought. I can survive anything as long as Harry is safe.

Ginny’s mission had been explained very clearly to her. She was to serve as a distraction, offer herself in exchange for Harry. Riddle was sure to go for it because, in reality, it was something Ginny would do and Riddle knew that about her.

They all knew it was highly unlikely that Riddle would actually stick to the bargain if he agreed to the trade. The hope remained though that the whole process of “the trade” would provide them with a window of opportunity. Professor Dumbledore would retrieve Harry and, hopefully, get to Ginny before Riddle could inflict anymore of his disgusting fantasies upon her.

The whole thing was a gamble, at best. Dumbledore would be there of course, but he explained that he would be unable to help until he could ascertain Harry’s whereabouts. If he intervened too soon, then they would tip their hand and Harry’s chances would disintegrate.

The plan seemed simple enough. The worst part, the part that no one wanted to face or even discuss, was that there were certain sacrifices Ginny may be called upon to make. They hoped it wouldn’t be necessary. Professor Dumbledore had reassured everyone that it would all be over before things got out of hand with Riddle and Ginny, but that really wasn’t much consolation. Even more frightening was the fact that if somehow he managed to get Ginny through the portal, what happened to her there, Dumbledore now knew would also happen to her physical body in the real world.

Downstairs, the Order members were gathered in the kitchen discussing last minute possibilities. Mr. Weasley was the only one not talking at all. All he could think of was that he was sending his baby girl to the slaughter. Everyone hated the plan, including Professor Dumbledore, but it was the only one they had. They all knew this was bigger than just saving Harry because he was a good person and they all loved him. He was the marked one. Without him, the prophecy could never be fulfilled. Voldemort would win. Harry’s survival was imperative and they all knew it.

In the lounge, the Weasley brothers had a meeting of their own in hushed voices. For the first time in ages, all six Weasley sons were present. The twins and Ron were especially hostile about the situation.

“What the hell is Dumbledore playing at?” Fred growled. “Doesn’t he realize what he’s asking Ginny to do?”

Charlie looked pale as he answered in almost a whisper, “He’s says it…it won’t come to that.” His tone sounded as though he was trying to convince himself more than anyone else really.

Ron and George both huffed at the same time and then George exploded. “Bloody hell, Charlie! We’re talking about our sister here! I know first hand that Ginny’s brilliant at hexes and curses, but she’s not an Auror! She’s sixteen bloody years old! How the hell does he know what it will come to in there?”

“Dumbledore is the greatest wizard I know, but he hasn’t been able to defeat Vol…Volde…aw Hell! He hasn’t beaten You-Know-Who yet, has he?” Ron added with a grimace. “We all know what Riddle is capable of, none better than Ginny herself! Besides you saw Harry bleeding just like the rest of us! Things have become much more dangerous. The rules have bloody-well changed!”

Following Ron and Fred’s lead, George interjected, “Yeah! You lot didn’t see her. She was absolutely terrified! It may be just a bloody dream, but I’m telling you, it feels damn real to her! I’m afraid she’ll get in there and just…just panic!”

Charlie ran his hands roughly over his eyes then looked to his eldest brother Bill for leadership and direction. Until this point, Bill had been staring at the floor; fists clenched listening to the others. Bill scanned the group of his brothers then spat out, “To Hell with it! We can’t let them do it! We just can’t, not alone.”

Fred’s response came swiftly, as he punched his fist into the air, “YES!! Now you’re talking!!”

Percy had been silent until now as he cleared his throat a bit cautiously, “Er…I don’t think we should interfere. Dumbledore knows wh…what he’s doing,” he added as his voice cracked nervously.

Five pairs of young men’s eyes turned abruptly to glare down on Percy with fury. The boys had never truly forgiven Percy for his betrayal of their family. The only reason they even tolerated him was for their mother’s sake. Ron practically burnt a hole through Percy with the intensity of his glare.

“Shut it, Percy! Since when do you support Dumbledore so blindly? In fact, I’m not sure your vote counts at all! It wasn’t that long ago that you were totally against him. You even claimed he’d gone a bit ‘round the twist, if I recall! Let’s face it, you haven’t exactly always had the family’s best interests at heart either, have you Mr. Ambition? You’re probably worried about your own sorry arse right now! Well, here’s a news flash for ya Percy, the Ministry is falling apart! You can forget about getting any ruddy promotions any time soon! But hell, I guess you figure, just in case, it’s Ginny and Harry be damned to you, huh? Well, if you don’t want to help our own little sister and my best mate, then you can just BLEEDING SOD OFF!”

Percy tried desperately to back track as the circle of his brothers seemed to close in on him. “Well, no, er…of course not. I just thought that…eh…hell…”

Fred and George further focused their glares on Percy as Fred interrupted the stuttering with his own brand of advice, “If you so much as take one bloody step toward Dumbledore…”

“Or Mum for that matter…” George added.

“Right,” Fred agreed. “If you so much as think of going to tell them what’s up, George and I will curse you into oblivion and you know we can. Just give us a reason.”

With that said, Percy resumed his silence.

Charlie then looked to Bill again, “One thing’s for sure, we can’t leave Harry any longer. So, what do you have in mind?” The brothers all murmured their agreement, except Percy of course who looked white as a sheet, but honored their request for his silence.

They could all agree with Dumbledore that they were indeed out of time. Something had to be done and it had to be done now. They fell silent and stared at the eldest Weasley brother, waiting for instructions.

No one needed to tell any of them how important Harry was to the wizarding world, but he was much more than that to them. Harry may be Ron’s best friend, but they had all grown rather attached to Harry over the years. He had become somewhat of a seventh brother to them. The Weasley boys had always followed a sort of unwritten code of brotherhood. To them, Harry was family, bloodlines be damned. Their code simply wouldn’t allow for them to desert a brother, and in their minds that included Harry.

Bill scanned the circle then lowered his voice. “I’m not sure if Dumbledore will go for it, but I am sure Mum won’t. We’ll need to be a bit stealthy in our execution and I’ll need a little time to gather what we need.” Pausing briefly, he looked at the twins, “A diversion of sorts is in order. I believe this is your area of expertise,” he grinned with a wink. They nodded in agreement with matching smirks spread across their faces.

“We’ll need total cooperation.” At that, he shot Percy a bit of a warning look, before continuing. “The rest of you lot, what I have in mind is risky. There’s also the fact that this isn’t exactly…well, legal… not entirely. If you want out, I’ll understand.”

Bill waited, allowing time for anyone to step away from the circle. Not one brother moved, not even Percy. Bill was impressed with his brother: lawlessness and risks were two things that made Percy literally break out in hives.

After a bit of a pause, Bill continued, “Good! Together then!” Nods of assent came from all points of the circle.

“Right. Now, listen closely; this is what we’re going to do…”

A/N: Thanks to the time and effort of my wonderful betas, Tante and Sonicdale. You two help me to make the most of my writing and I really appreciate it.

________________________________________
Chapter 13 Waging War with the Weasleys

Bill Weasley sat surrounded by a tight huddle of brothers, like a general briefing his troops. A feeling of pride filled him as he scanned the group, one resolute face at a time.

“I know I don’t need to explain how important this,” he began. “It won’t be easy, but Riddle has left us no choice.”

There was a unanimous rumbling of agreement and then Bill’s eyes fell upon his youngest brother. Ron’s hands were clenched tightly into white-knuckled fists. His expression was tense and determined.

“You sure about this, Ron?” Bill asked.

For the last several minutes Ron’s gaze had been fixed intently on the floor, the muscles of his face pulled taunt. His eyes moved to focus on his eldest brother then he ground out only three words in response, “Let’s do this.”

Bill reached out and squeezed Ron firmly on the shoulder. “We will get them back.”

“Damn right,” Ron growled.

“Alright then, let’s show that bloody bastard what happens when he goes to war with the Weasleys,” Bill snarled, slamming his fist into his other hand.

Moments later, Fred and George slipped back in the front door and threw their brothers a wink and a nod. With that, Bill, Charlie and Percy stepped to the fireplace, tossed a handful of floo powder into the grate and vanished in quick succession. Just as the last flicker of green flames extinguished, the door to the kitchen swung open. Dumbledore, Lupin, and Mr. Weasley climbed the stairs from the basement and entered the drawing room looking serious and rather exhausted.

The three remaining Weasley brothers stepped up. They all had their assignments. Now was the time to put their plan into action.

Ron approached Mr. Weasley first, looking stressed and completely spent. “Er…Dad? Can I have a word, alone?”

Mr. Weasley regarded his son sympathetically. This has to be hard on Ron. Not only is his sister involved, but Harry is his best friend. Mr. Weasley was suddenly reminded of how many unfortunate things Ron had seen over the last few years. There’s no denying it, he conceded, Harry and Ron have been through more adventures together in their seventeen years than most wizards have in a lifetime.

“Er…Albus?” Mr. Weasley shot Dumbledore a questioning glance.

“Oh, of course, Arthur,” he responded compassionately, motioning for Mr. Weasley to see to his son.

“Where would you like to go?” Mr. Weasley asked.

Ron turned quietly and led his father back down the stairs and through the kitchen. They passed the other Order members, slipped out the back door and into the garden.

With Mr. Weasley safely out of the way, Fred and George cornered Professors Dumbledore and Lupin.

“We need to speak to you two, now,” Fred stated as more of a command than a request.

The expressions on the twin’s faces were different from their usual mischievous smirks. The headmaster knew immediately that this was no game. It wasn’t one of their pranks; this was business. After a moment of bemused contemplation, the older wizards exchanged quizzically looks.

“What exactly can we do for you?” Dumbledore inquired.

“Not here,” George warned in a hushed voice glancing toward the kitchen stairwell. “We need to speak to you in private.”

Lupin and Dumbledore could not resist the intrigue of their request or the seriousness of their expressions.

“Very well,” Dumbledore responded gesturing for the twins to lead the way.

Heading into the entry hall and towards the stairs, the twins urged Dumbledore and Lupin to follow. As they reached the landing at the top, Fred shot George a nervous glance and then in tandem their eyes traveled to the room to their right. The muffled voices of Mrs. Weasley, Ginny, and Hermione could be heard drifting into the hallway. The twins froze, their eyes trained on the door as Dumbledore and Lupin watched and waited curiously. After a brief pause, Fred nudged George and then pointed down the hall in silence.

When they came to a stop again they were in front of another bedroom to the left. Entering quickly, they beckoned Lupin and Dumbledore to follow. Once inside, they sealed the door and shielded the room.

“I must say,” Dumbledore began as they turned to face their former headmaster, “you two have certainly piqued my interest. Is there a particular reason you did not wish for your mum to know we were speaking? That was what you were worried about outside the girls’ room just now I assume?”

“Er…well yeah. That’s sounds about right,” George admitted. “We figured Mum’s better off if she just stays with Ginny for now, and frankly, so are we.”

“I see, fair enough,” Dumbledore responded allowing George’s brief explanation to pass for sufficient. “I’d wager it’s not something your father would want to hear either, given the fact that Ron was instructed to remove Arthur from the equation just minutes ago.”

Fred and George exchanged looks that the two elder wizards couldn’t place. They watched with interest as the twins, visibly gulped, pulled their wands and then pointed them at Dumbledore and Lupin.

The wizards’ eyes roved down from the twins’ faces to the wands clutched firmly in their hands. The headmaster fixed a serious expression in place, curbing his urge to chuckle. He had to admit to himself, they have moxie.

Looking puzzled but nonplussed Dumbledore suggested, “I assure you, those won’t be necessary. We are here to listen. It appears you two have something of importance to share with us.” Dumbledore gazed inquisitively at the twins.

“Perhaps you should start at the beginning.”

Fred and George took one look at each other, shrugged and then with a sigh of relief lowered their wands.

“Thanks professor. Honestly, we knew we didn’t have a chance of using our wands, never planned to really. We just thought that maybe if we did that, you’d know we meant business and hear us out in the end,” George explained sheepishly.

“Yeah, thanks for not zapping us to shreds. That was right friendly of you, sir,” Fred added.

“Think nothing of it,” Dumbledore responded with a small curve to his lips and a wave of his hand.

“So, what’s this all about?” asked Lupin rather amused by their bluff.

“Ginny is our sister and Harry is more than just a mate to us,” Fred began a bit nervously. “He’s like family. We don’t reckon sitting around and waiting to see how things turn out is going to work for us.”

“That’s quite understandable. I’d say on that point we could agree.” Lupin stated. “I’m sensing you have given the circumstances careful thought.”

“Yes,” Dumbledore agreed. “Would you like to share with us what you have in mind?”

Feeling a bit more confident, Fred continued, “Well, the thing is, we’ve kind of come up with a plan of our own. That is to say, Bill has. It’s already been set in motion, so we’re hoping you’ll get on board. We thought for Dad’s sake, it was best to leave him out of it. Mum would skin us if she knew what we were up to right now. It’s better for Dad if he can honestly say he had absolutely no idea. Not to mention the possible consequences at the Ministry over this.”

“That sounds true enough,” Dumbledore agreed as he peered at Fred and George calmly over his half moon spectacles. “I’m sure your father will thank you in the long run. So, in what ways exactly have the Weasley brothers tweaked the plan?

By the time Fred and George had finished laying it all out for them, Professor Dumbledore and Lupin were both grinning.

“Interesting; if it works, it sounds as though it will provide us with a more permanent solution to our problem. Funny though, I wasn’t aware that we had such an artifact in our possession,” Dumbledore added.

George gave Fred a wary glance before answering. “Well, it’s not exactly in our possession, not yet anyway. Bill and Charlie went to…er… borrow it.”

“Borrow it?” Lupin repeated.

“Yeah, Bill recovered it on a tomb raid in Egypt,” Fred confirmed. “That’s how he knew about it. It’s being stored at the Ministry in the Department of Mysteries.”

Lupin gasped, “Their plan is to steal it from the department of Mysteries? Er…I’m not sure that’s wise.”

“Well, Bill and Charlie have seen some things working in Romania and Egypt over the years,” George offered simply with a bit of a smirk. “They didn’t exactly give us the details of how they intended to pull it off, but they’re pretty resourceful. They didn’t seem to think that getting it would be the problem. They were more concerned about getting out of the Ministry once they’ve got it.”

“Yes, understandably so,” responded Professor Dumbledore. “Once they’ve arrived, how do they intend to slip past Molly to do this?”

“Well, that’s where we come in isn’t it? Bill figured a little distraction was in order. Just so happens, we’ve developed a bit of a talent for diversions,” George answered with a grin.

“Ah yes, I seem to recall a spectacular story about a swamp erupting in the fifth floor corridor of the east wing at Hogwarts during my absence.” He was definitely smiling now. “Am I safe in assuming that your brother Percy was more than a little distraught over the new plan?”

“Well, he wasn’t what you might call thrilled, but he agreed to help. At least he agreed not to muck it up on purpose,” George conceded.

“Yeah, under threat of being cursed into pieces small enough to fit into a wand box,” Fred added with a wink. “The git…er…I mean Percy is at Hogwarts detaining Madame Pomfrey as we speak. His job was to buy us some time while the rest of us attend to the other essentials.”

“It appears you have thought of everything except one minor detail,” Lupin concluded.” What about Miss Granger?”

“Hermione? What about her?” Fred asked in confusion.

“Do you really think she’ll abandon Harry’s side when it sounds like all hell’s breaking loose in the front garden?” Lupin asked. “I’d bet a sack of galleons that she won’t leave him unguarded.”

“Hmm…We hadn’t considered that, but you may be right. What do you think, George?” Fred asked with a grin. “Can Ron handle her?”

“Well,” George smirked, “I think he’s wanted to handle her for quite some time. “

“Right-o,” Fred chimed in, winking at his twin. “Ya reckon he could kill two birds with one stone?”

“Why not,” George shrugged, “he could get things off his chest--“

“-- and keep her out of the way,” Fred added grinning back. “Although…if she were in on the plan, I doubt she’d protest. Hermione isn’t known for stepping aside when things get rough.”

“Yeah,” Fred said. “Who knows, she may even help.”

Then, as if they were hit by the same bolt of lightning, “Hey…maybe she could help us with Mum,” they blurted out in unison.

“Okay, it’s settled then,” George concluded. “Ron can talk to her and if he runs into trouble –“

“-- he’ll just have to suck it up and throw her off by snogging her,” his twin declared.

“Do you think he’ll go for it?” Fred asked. “I’m not sure the lad is wholly up to the task.”

“I don’t know,” George answered with a gleam in his eye. “I guess we’ll find out, but I’ll tell ya, if he doesn’t, he’s a prat. I mean, have you looked at Hermione lately? I mean really looked?”

Fred’s grin grew wider as he nodded to his twin.

“Don’t tell Ron,” George leaned in conspiratorially, “but if he didn’t fancy her, I wouldn’t mind having a go.”

“Yeah, she has filled out rather nicely over the years hasn’t she?” Fred paused to picture the younger Gryffindor’s newly developed form. “‘Course, like you said Ron has definitely marked his territory --“

“--even if he is too thick to do anything about it,” George grumbled. “You saw how they looked at each other when they arrived.”

“Something is going on between them,” Fred interjected.

“Yeah,” George agreed. “She has too much power over him for there not to be.”

“Er…hello?” Remus chuckled, “I believe we can all agree that Miss Granger is lovely, but aren’t you two getting a bit off topic here?”

Fred shrugged with a grin. “I suppose you’re right. We’d better be getting downstairs now. I don’t know how much longer Ron can play the part of the tortured friend and brother in need of fatherly advice.”

“He’s got to be running out of misery to vent by now and it is better if Dad doesn’t suspect we’ve talked,” George added. “At least not until after things are fully under way.”

As they reentered the drawing room, they found Bill and Charlie healing some minor injuries for each other with their wands. Charlie had a particularly impressive black eye blooming. Bill’s lip was swollen and bleeding rather profusely. After a bit of medi-magic, they appeared basically unscathed.

As they joined the group, Fred whispered, “Well? Did you get it?”

With a look of triumph, Bill pulled a thin gold chain from his robes and held it out in front of him. Suspended from the fluid-like links was a perfectly smooth, deep, emerald green stone. It was the size and shape of a small egg and emitted a faint glow from within its core. It looked ancient and probably was considering its point of origin.

Charlie spoke quietly as he asked, “So things have gone off like clockwork here I take it?” tilting his head toward Dumbledore with a grin.

“Yes, Mr. Weasley, Remus and I are pleased with your initiative. I’m not sure I want to know this, but just how did you get out of the Ministry?” Dumbledore asked with a grin.

“Well, let’s just say more than a few wizards won’t remember much of their guard duty tonight at the department of Mysteries. Isn’t that right, Charlie?” Bill chuckled with a wink, slapping his brother on the arm as if what they had just done was a bit of a lark; a game. It had been risky, but thrilling. They were both trained in magical war tactics and had seen quite a bit of action; more than Mrs. Weasley would ever want to know about.

“Yeah, I’d say that’s about the size of it. Besides,” Charlie continued, “once you’ve fought off dragons and Egyptian curses…what’s a couple of wizards on guard duty after all? They’re a bit more predictable I’d say… and easier to stun.”

“Exactly,” Bill agreed. “So, is Percy back yet?” The words were barely out of his mouth when their brother stepped from the fireplace and appeared at his side. “How much time do we have?” Bill asked turning to Percy, completely unfazed by his sudden appearance.

“Not long now, probably just a few minutes I’d say. I’m afraid she’s a bit hacked off though. To keep her from getting here too soon I had to accidentally break the vial holding the sleeping draught…twice,” he said with a bit of a wince. “The first time I just knocked it off the table, but the second time I had to actually pretend to trip and knock it out of her hand as she was preparing to step into the grate. She was on her third batch when she told me to go on without her. How are we doing back here?” He asked looking less distraught than when he left noting the inclusion of Dumbledore and Lupin in the circle of their discussion.

“Ron’s got dad off listening to his woes. They should be back any minute,” Fred said.

By this point, other Order members began to trickle into the lounge. A few of them cast curious looks toward the cluster of Weasleys. Moody in particular seemed to eye them all suspiciously. If he had any idea about what they planned to do, however, he never let on as he moved to join Professor McGonagall and Tonks.

Shortly afterward, Madame Pomfrey arrived. Weary and irritated, she walked over to Dumbledore.

“Good evening, Poppy,” he greeted her warmly, extending his hand. ”No trouble I hope?” Then for good measure he threw in, “I’d rather thought you’d get here a little more quickly.” Holding back a small grin, he envisioned the nurse cringing as the potion splattered all over the floor for the second time.

Through gritted teeth she answered, “Well, I would have, but we had a couple of mishaps.” She shot Percy a contemptuous glare as she spoke.

Dumbledore answered brightly, “Well, no matter. You’re here now.”

As the nurse moved off to speak with Mrs. Weasley, Dumbledore observed the Weasley brothers in action with amusement. He had always enjoyed their creativity. Even Fred and George, with all their antics, had been vastly entertaining.

Mr. Weasley and Ron returned to the drawing room. Ron looked every bit the part of the pitiful son. When Mr. Weasley had said his final words of encouragement and moved off to speak to Professor McGonagall, Fred and George pulled Ron aside.

A brief discussion was exchanged between the three youngest Weasley brothers and Ron visibly bristled in alarm. Dumbledore continued to watch as Ron’s face turned a bright pink and he adamantly shook his head in refusal. Fred whispered again and slapped Ron on the shoulder with a wink. Poor Ron stood gaping at his brothers then his gaze dropped to the feet. After a few more seconds of quiet argument, his shoulders slumped in resolution. He slowly nodded as he turned to see Mrs. Weasley, Ginny and Hermione in the far corner of the drawing room speaking to Madame Pomfrey. With a bit of a nudge from George, Ron slowly moved off through the room, skirting the crowd of people now in attendance.

As he approached Hermione, he bent down and whispered something to her. She looked up, an expression of concern filling her features. After a brief pause she nodded quietly.

With his heart pounding, Ron led her to the kitchen. He was relieved to see the room was now completely empty. As he heard the kitchen door swing closed behind him, he turned to face Hermione.

“What is it Ron? You’re scaring me,” she said searching his eyes with panic in her voice.

“There’s something I have to tell you Hermione,” he offered stalling for time and courage.

“Yes, Ron. I gathered that when you said that you needed to talk to me in private and that it couldn’t wait,” she answered a bit flustered. “What’s going on? Is it about Harry?”

“Well, yes. You see Bill has come up with an alternative to the original plan. It won’t be just Ginny and Dumbledore going into her dream. Bill and I will be going in as well.” He watched as her mouth gaped slightly and then before she could protest he moved his fingers over her lips to quiet her. “Before you say anything, you should know that Dumbledore and Lupin know about this and they agreed it could work.”

Reaching up to remove his hand from her lips she quietly asked, “It could work? That doesn’t sound all that convincing, does it?” She was still holding the hand that she had removed as she gazed up at him.

“Listen Hermione, we couldn’t just sit idly by and wait. You know that’s not who we are; who I am. I need to know you’re with me on this. It’s for Harry and Ginny. Actually, we could really use your help with Mum,” he pleaded looking down at her.

“Of course I’ll help, Ron. I’m just worried. Now, all three of my best friends will be in there. Why can’t I come too?” She looked up hopefully.

“Absolutely not! There is no way that I’m letting you come! It’s simply out of the question!” he growled a bit louder than he intended.

He watched as the hurt spread across her face in response to the bite of his voice. Slowly he took a breath to steady himself. “Hermione you have to listen to me. I’m sorry for yelling, but I won’t be able to concentrate on what’s happening if I’m worried that Riddle will grab you as well.” Without thinking he had taken hold of her arms and was looking directly into her eyes.

“Alright,” she agreed, looking rather stunned by the intensity of his expression and his open concern for her safety. “I’ll do whatever you ask. Tell me how can I help?”

The tension began to ease from his body as he explained their plans and the diversion. He told her what he needed her to do and she nodded in agreement.

“Well,” he said somewhat awkwardly, “I suppose we should get back. I’m sure they’ll be starting soon.” As he turned to leave, Hermione reached out her hand to stop him.

Ron froze mid step and his eyes trailed down to her fingers encircling his fore arm. His legs turned to mush, his stomach knotted and suddenly his brothers’ suggestion to tell her how he really felt raced through his mind. As panicked as he felt at the thought of it, part of him ached to tell her.

What if she doesn’t want me? It could ruin what we do have together. I couldn’t stand it if she wasn’t in my life at all. Swallowing hard he spoke in almost a whisper, “Wha…What is it Hermione?” his voice cracking a bit.

“Ron? What if I had said ‘no?’” she asked. “What would you have done then?”

Ron practically choked as his breath caught in his throat. “Er…What do you mean?”

She continued to gaze at him unwaveringly as she firmly held onto his arm. “I mean, what if I had said I couldn’t do this and that I was going to tell your mum what you were doing? What if I had threatened to tell her to keep you safe?”

He gently pulled from her grasp and walked over to lean against the counter in front of the sink. He slowly ran his hands over his face rubbing his eyes. When he opened his eyes again, she was standing before him looking curiously up at him. He was tired, stressed, and nervous as hell.

In that moment she looked so incredibly beautiful, so vulnerable. In a voice that was barely audible he spoke, “There was a Plan B.”

She cocked her head in confusion. “A Plan B? What was your second plan?”

He swallowed hard again and slowly reached out to brush a strand of hair from her face.

Just do it you idiot, he told himself. Just tell her.

Gently, he slid his hand down her cheek and rested it at her jaw line. His eyes were locked on hers. The noise from the next room had disappeared. The only sound he could hear was his heart pounding in his chest.

She didn’t pull away. She didn’t even move, he thought.

Gaining courage, he slowly moved his hand down and slid it under her hair, cupping the nape of her neck.

She shuddered at his touch and the small hairs on the back of her neck prickled. Driven by the response of her body, Ron began to lean down towards her. He watched her as he moved steadily closer. He was close enough to feel her breathe when he saw her eyes slowly close. Did he dare hope that she wanted him too? As he closed the small gap between them he brushed his lips gently against hers.

She responded instantly and warmly. Her hands slid up his chest and around his neck pulling him against her. With a moan, he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her fully. With each passing second his desire for her increased. He deepened their kiss and slid his tongue past her parted lips. After a few more seconds he pulled away, but held her warm gaze. Without a word passing between them he pulled her close again, burying his face in her hair. It was time. He had to let it go. “I love you, Hermione. I love you so much.”

When he looked at her again, there were unshed tears in her eyes. With a smile she moved to hold his face in her hands. “Do you have any idea how long I’ve wanted to hear you say those words? I love you, too, Ron.”

This can’t be happening, he thought.

He’d dreamed of this moment for years and now it was here. It felt so right to be with her finally. Why had he waited so long? The timing however was horrible as the voices from the lounge began to seep back into his mind. This would have to wait. Harry needed them now.

“We need to go Hermione,” Ron began, “but when this is over, would you go out with me?”

She smiled up at him and nodded. “I was hoping you’d ask,” she said kissing him once more.

As he turned to go, again she reached out to stop him. With a bit of a smile she asked, “That was really your Plan B? You were going to win me over by snogging me senseless?”

Ron’s throat and cheeks flushed, the tips of his ears turned pink. “Er…Yeah that was pretty much it, but I don’t want you to think…Well, what I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t mean I didn’t want to do it anyway… before it was part of “The Plan”. It’s just I’ve been having a hard time plucking up the courage to do it. I’m sorry, Hermione. Are you angry?”

She grinned shyly at him then quietly responded, “No, I’m not angry,” she whispered brushing his cheek with her finger tips. “In fact, I believe it would have worked.”

“Yeah?” he asked a little surprised, but pleased.

“Definitely,” she said blushing slightly.

With a small chuckle and a broad grin he took her hand and they walked to the door. As he moved to open it, he bent down and kissed her gently one last time before leading her back to the others.

He cast a nod to his brothers as he joined them and Hermione went to talk to Mrs. Weasley.

Professor Dumbledore cleared his throat as the room quieted. “I believe everything is now is place. There is no need to delay further. Miss Weasley? Are you ready?”

Ginny looked up at the headmaster and nodded with determination. “Yes Professor, I’m ready. Let’s go.”

A/N: Sorry to stop there for now. This chapter was getting a bit long…too long to start into the next phase of the story in the same chapter. I promise things will all become clear very soon.

________________________________________
Chapter 14 The Power of the Amulet

Ginny climbed the staircase in silence, eyes focused on her feet. Her heart was pounding, her hands shaking. The nervousness that had dissipated as they discussed the plan now returned in full measure.

Focus on Harry, she reminded herself. He’s all that matters right now.

As she entered her room, newly formed knots tightened in the pit of her stomach. She felt like a test subject in some new and interesting experiment. Dozens of eyes followed her every move as she approached the bed. She knew they were there to support her, but that didn’t make their presence any less overwhelming.

Mrs. Weasley stood next to her, smiling bravely through her tears.

“Now, it’s going to be alright dear,” she soothed, gathering her daughter into her arms.

Ginny shuddered, but held back her own tears and nodded.

“Promise me you’ll be careful,” Mrs. Weasley said looking down at her youngest child.

“Mum…” Ginny groaned pulling away.

“Yes, I know, but I can’t help worrying,” Mrs. Weasley admitted holding her at arms length.

“Fine, I promise, Mum,” Ginny answered indulgently.

“Good,” Mrs. Weasley responded releasing her before adding “and Ginny…”

“Yeah?” she asked.

“You’ll find him,” her mother said with the voice of certainty. “You’ll find Harry and bring him home. When you do, we’ll be right here waiting for you when you wake up.”

Ginny nodded and forced a smile.

Mum’s right, she thought. I brought Harry into this nightmare and now I’m going to get him out.

Ginny crawled into bed and settled against the pillows. When she looked up into the many faces surrounding her, she couldn’t help feeling self-conscious.

“Er…professor?” she asked quietly. “Do all of these people need to watch?”

Professor Dumbledore glanced about the room and then nodded his understanding, “No, Miss Weasley. Perhaps a little more privacy is in order.”

Honoring her wishes, one by one Order members left the room. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley stayed, along with her brothers and Hermione. In turn, each of the Weasley boys offered their own words of encouragement and then filed out as well.

Ron was the last to exit. During the last several minutes, he’d remained oddly quiet and didn’t seem at all like himself. Ginny watched as he walked to the bed, leaned down and kissed her on the top of the head.

“Be strong,” he said in a whisper. Then he mumbled, “…love you.”

Ginny would have expected that from Bill, but not from Ron. He was never that openly affectionate. His actions caused a small lump to form in her throat. Before she could respond, he gave her hand a quick squeeze and then turned to follow Charlie from the room. As Ron crossed to the door he cast Hermione a furtive look and then entered the hall, closing the door behind him.

Despite having her parents and Hermione at her side, Ginny felt suddenly alone. All of the waiting and planning had stolen a piece of her courage. It was too much to think about Riddle and what he would inevitably have in store for her.

Ginny understood her part in the plan very clearly. Helping Harry meant doing things that would not be easy or pleasant, but Ginny was determined.

Anything is worth making Harry safe, she told herself once more.

Madame Pomfrey approached Ginny’s bed clutching a small blue bottle of potion. Ginny reached out with a shaky hand, took the vial and drank its contents in one go. She choked and swallowed hard as they last of the draught disappeared. It burned as it slid down her throat and left a bitter taste in her mouth.

Placing the bottle on the side table, she waited for something to happen.

“I…I don’t think it worked,” Ginny told them nervously after a handful of seconds.

“Give it time,” Madame Pomfrey advised. “You should be feeling the potion’s effects any moment.”

Sure enough, Ginny felt the sleeping draught take hold almost immediately.

Her head filled with a fuzzy swirl of images. Visions of Harry, Riddle and the chamber of her nightmares churned in a sickening whirlpool of color and shapes. She closed her eyes as the feel of a thousand icy pin pricks riddled her body, spreading rapidly and fingering out to her arms and legs like cracks on a frozen lake. Just when it seemed like too much to endure, she was granted relief. Comforting warmth filled her body, the tension eased and her anxiety all but vanished.

Slowly the misty curtain cleared. When her eyes focused, the room and her parents were gone. Instead, Ginny found herself standing in a dimly torch lit passageway.

It felt strange to be going back. Usually Ginny entered the nightmare unwillingly, bound and held captive. She certainly never expected to return if she ever managed to break free. Now, here she was, navigating a maze of corridors and deliberately entering the dream.

This time things are different, she thought as she sensed Professor Dumbledore’s presence around her. This time, I’m not alone.

That knowledge gave her courage and Ginny quickened her pace.

Finally she turned a corner, bringing a door into view. She stopped dead for a moment as reality took hold.

This is it, she thought. I’m going back.

The heavy, wooden door, laden with iron, curved in an arch at its peak. A serpent-shaped crest adorned the sash over the frame and a misty glow emanated from the threshold.

The door to Riddle and his sick game, she thought. How am I going to do this? How am I going to keep things from going too far, but still keep Tom occupied and interested?

Ginny shook her head and forced herself to resist the urge to run. Instead she channeled her energy into regaining and maintaining control. Holding her breath, she grasped the snake-like handle and slowly pushed open the door.

Control, she thought. Stay in control.

Ginny paused only a moment before stepping into the chamber and closing the door. Memories of her nightmares flooded her thoughts and she struggled to calm her nerves. Steeling herself, she took a single step forward into the cavernous chamber. Ginny was relieved to find the room deserted, but she knew it wouldn’t last. Before long, Riddle would know she’d returned and come back to provide her ‘reward’.

Flickering torchlight cast eerie shadows on the walls all around her. By the light of their glow she could see a large stone table, covered with the signs and symbols of Slytherin. It had been erected for a purpose at the far end of the room to her left. For weeks that table had served as her prison, condemning her to endure Tom Riddle’s every twisted whim. Her own desperate cries echoed through her mind as she shuddered and forced herself to look away.

A large mirror-like object hung in the center of the far wall opposite the door. It cast a hazy blue glow and its surface rippled like tiny waves on a pond. Momentarily paralyzed, Ginny watched the portal for signs of Riddle’s approach. Thankfully the portal remained empty.

Grateful for the reprieve, Ginny tried to acquaint herself with her surroundings. Everything looked different from her new perspective. Concentrating, she memorized every detail.

There has to be something here that I can use to my advantage, she thought.

Slowly Ginny surveyed the room until the sound of moving water drew her attention back to the portal. Its once-smooth face rolled in waves like the surface of a pond in the wind. Ginny froze, her heart pounding wildly in her chest.

A single leg seemed to grow from the portal, followed by the rest of a tall, teenaged wizard with jet black hair and dark eyes.

Ginny gasped and then covered her mouth.

“Good evening, Miss Weasley,” he leered. “It was so kind of you to join me.”

Ginny stood trembling as Tom Riddle raked his long, skinny fingers through his dark, wet hair. Soaked from head to toe by his trip through the portal, he shivered momentarily as if chilled to the bone.

Ginny searched her mind for ways to deter him as steam billowed from his body in heated swirls. His clothing dried, his body warmed and then he took a step forward, the smug look of victory fixed on his face.

“Back for more?” he taunted surveying her hungrily from across the chamber, like a starving man brought to a feast.

On the outside, Ginny’s expression was stoic. Her eyes narrowed. Her hands formed into fists at her sides as she allowed her stubborn nature and anger to take over. Inside, she was terrified. It was only through sheer willpower that she held her ground. She simply refused to add to his pleasure.

“Where’s Harry?” she asked with more confidence than even she had expected. “What have you done with him?”

Riddle’s grin widened, amused by her courage. “Potter?” he asked. “Are we on that old subject again?”

“I want to see him,” she insisted.

“That’s what you want is it? Well, my little blood traitor, I’m afraid nothing is free,” he remarked, slipping smoothly into the game. “What’s in the arrangement for me? What would you give to have your precious Potter back?”

“What do you want?” she asked defiantly locking her eyes with his.

“Oh, I want a lot of things, my dear,” he answered, his eyes roving her body. “But for now, information will do for a start.”

Just keep him talking, she thought. Dumbledore will find Harry and this will all be over.

“What information?” she asked indulgently, stalling for time.

“Perhaps you’d like to engage in a little tit for tat. You know,” he smirked as he paused for effect, “a small bargain of sorts.”

“I’m not making any deals with you,” she shot back.

“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” he said doubtfully. “You will provide me with information about Dumbledore’s beloved Order and in exchange, I’ll consider giving you a glimpse of Wonder Boy.”

“You’ve already got Harry!” she pointed out as she glared. “Do you really think I’ll just hand everyone else over to you as well?”

“I don’t believe I gave you a choice,” he stated flatly. “Now, I suggest you drop this annoying act of bravery and get to the point,” he prodded. “My patience and generous spirit are waning, Miss Weasley.”

“You can go straight to Hell ‘Tom’!” she screamed in contempt.

Ginny stood firm, holding her breath for the backlash,

Riddle’s faced flushed in anger and he cringed at the sound of his name.

Ginny knew what she’d done. Retribution would be swift and painful if she continued to bait him, but her actions were buying them time.

“Tell me where Harry is right now!” she demanded. “I’m not telling you anything until I see him, not until I know he’s okay!”

Riddle bristled and then quickly replaced his anger with the shrill sound of cold laughter.

“Oh little Ginny,” he began, rolling his eyes. “Tsk, tsk, tsk…You just don’t get it do you? I have tried to teach you, really I have, but you simply refuse to learn. You know what I do with an insolent pupil, don’t you?”

With a tired sigh, he moved closer, causing Ginny to take a step back.

Her courage had faltered and he didn’t hesitate to draw from her fear. With one eyebrow raised and a sneer on his lips he began.

“Okay, let’s review one… more… time…” he said enunciating each word with a bite. “I make the rules here and you follow them, one way or another. You seem to keep forgetting you don’t actually have a choice.”

“Perhaps a reminder is warranted,” he added and raised his wand.

“CRUCIO!”

Ginny cried out and crumpled to the floor as the first wave of intense, searing pain ripped through every cell in her body.

Riddle laughed as she writhed in agony. After several seconds he lifted the curse with a lazy flick of his wand.

Ginny gasped and then moaned as she curled into a ball on the floor. Her skin burned, her muscles were clenched in knots, her bones ached and her lungs were void of air. She squeezed her eyes shut against the pain as defiant tears welled and ran down her cheeks.

“You see, little crumpet,” he said standing over her tortured form, “this is not your call,” he reminded. “Now get up!”

“I…I can’t,” she cried, her voice shaky with tears.

Riddle grinned with satisfaction. His expression was cold, eyes dark and unyielding.

“You will do as I say,” he commanding before lifting his wand once more.

“Imperio!”

Ginny winced in pain as she was brutally wrenched to her feet. Her muscles working against her will. Her eyes dropped to the floor as Riddle moved within centimeters of her.

Firmly he lifted her chin, forcing her to meet his gaze. “Don’t you remember, Miss Weasley?” he taunted, circling her body with each step. “I have ways of encouraging your cooperation. In fact,” he whispered leaning in close to her ear from behind, “I’ve found that you’re quite accommodating with the proper incentives.”

Ginny recoiled as he trailed his fingers slowly down the line of her jaw, his gaze dropping briefly to her lips.

“I’ll admit, you took a little convincing, but in the end, you did warn me Potter was coming. For that, I owe you my thanks. Not to worry though, I’m sure I could find some small way to repay you,” he said, his eyes darkening. “You could be so much more than just a source of information.”

Ginny’s stomach churned as Riddle looked her over appraisingly.

“Do you want to know what’s even more enticing?” he asked, lust filling his eyes. “How willing you were under the Imperious Curse.”

“You, my little witch, are in serious need of a man’s touch,” he said licking his lips.

“Stop it,” she shouted, but that only brought a smile to his face.

“Come now, there’s no use denying your desire,” he said roughly holding her face in his hands. “I felt your heat,” he said, pausing to gauge her reaction.

“You’re sick!” she yelled back.

“Oh, don’t play coy with me,” he sneered. “It’s obvious that you’re raging with need. Just so you know,” he added, “I’m up for the task, even if you are a Weasley.”

Her reaction came swift and fierce. She slapped him hard enough to bring a tiny trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth. His tongue darted out to swipe it away and a full grin bloomed on his lips.

“Deliciously feisty, aren’t we?” he leered.

Ginny’s lip trembled as Riddle aimed his wand at her throat, pushing it hard against her skin. Keeping his eyes fixed on her expression, he slid his other arm around her, pulling her body roughly against his, “I like feisty.”

It was clear he was enjoying the slow torture he was inflicting upon her, but he decided to up the ante.

“Who am I to refuse a virgin, especially one with your fire?” he whispered against her skin, pulling her body more firmly to his.

Ginny choked against the pressure of the wand trained on her throat. His breath felt hot upon her skin as he leaned closer to her ear again.

“Oh, I’m going to enjoy this. I can’t wait to feel your innocence tear away,” he said turning her stomach. “In my own time and in my own way, I will take you tonight.”

Ginny froze as his tongue darted out to graze her skin. He nipped at her ear and neck as tears formed in her eyes.

I won’t cry out, she thought trying to withdraw into her mind. I won’t give him the satisfaction of begging for mercy.

Ginny knew from experience, struggling would only make Riddle more aroused.

Focus on Harry, she thought, only on Harry.

With everything that was in her, she cried out to him in her mind.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Ginny did not know from his cell of a room, Harry was witnessing the entire scene as it unfolded.

He sat on the floor for what seemed like hours, his back against the wall. He fought to stay sharp, ready and waiting until suddenly a strange thing began to happen. The mirror above the empty fireplace began to change. Harry rose and moved to the glass as he watched Ginny enter the dream chamber.

“NO, Ginny! Go back,” he shouted in vain.

It was now painfully clear that it was no ordinary mirror, but a window to Ginny’s experience. He watched as she took in her surroundings and then Riddle appeared from the portal.

Anxiously Harry paced the room, searching his mind for a plan. With no other recourse he lowered his shoulder and slammed into the door of his room at a run.

“Damn it!” he swore clutching his arm in pain. “I’ve got to get to her!”

Harry did not need to imagine what Riddle would do to her as punishment for her escape. He was watching it live and in color.

“This is the reason Riddle didn’t killed me,” Harry growled to the empty room as his anger swelled in his chest. “He wanted me to wake up! The bloody bastard will torture Ginny and he’s going to make me watch!”

Through his frenzy Harry watched Riddle grab Ginny and rake his hands roughly over her body. Harry’s blood boiled with the rage of a territorial animal waiting to attack.

“I’m going to kill him!” Harry vowed. “I’m going to make him suffer and then snuff him out the same way he killed my parents!”

Harry listened as Riddle told her what he intended to do to her in disgustingly, graphic detail. As Riddle spoke, something in Harry snapped. Overcome by desperation to help her, adrenaline coursed through his body. His hatred of Riddle and his love of and fear for Ginny were swallowing him. Harry was losing control.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

From his vantage point in Ginny’s mind, Dumbledore watched the entire dream sequence with painstaking concentration. His body may have been firmly fixed in the world of reality, but his mind was guarding her fiercely within her dreams.

Hang on, Ginny, he encouraged. We have to find Harry first.

Dumbledore tried to calm her, but he could feel the tension and fear build within her, wracking her into submission.

Back at headquarters, his expression remained smooth and unrevealing. He knew that Mrs. Weasley stood by watching and waiting for any sign of trouble. It would serve no purpose to add a frantic mother to the list of concerns and if she could see what he could see, it would only make matters worse.

Dumbledore waited as long as he could for Harry to appear, but as Riddle grew more aggressive he realized they would need to go in and find him. They were prepared for this eventuality. Following Bill’s plan, Ron returned to the room after Ginny was asleep. When the moment for action arrived, Dumbledore shot him a quick, but meaningful glance. Ron nodded discreetly in response and then excused himself from the room.

Ron’s heart beat faster as he crept down the hall to Fred and George’s room. He entered, closed the door with a snap and quickly shielded the room.

“It’s time,” he said as his five brothers all jumped from their seats on the beds.

They exited the room in turn. Fred and George went first, disappearing with the familiar crack of Apparition. With a nod to Bill, Percy left next and descended the stairs to the lounge. Ron and Bill headed to Harry’s room and Charlie turned toward Ginny’s. Finally, they were all in place.

“Alright, let the games begin,” George ground out as he and Fred set their diversion in motion and then apparated back to their room.

Percy made his way through the group of wizards milling around the lounge, waiting for the chaos to ensue.

Charlie entered Ginny’s room and signaled Dumbledore that things were under way.

Just a little longer, Ginny, it will all be over soon be over, he assured her.

Ron and Bill found Professor McGonagall on guard duty in Harry’s room. Madame Pomfrey popped in briefly to check on Harry’s condition. She reported no change to his unconscious state, but his heartbeat was pounding fiercely and sweat was rolling off his body.

Just after Madame Pomfrey left the room, a huge bang and the sound of numerous explosions erupted in the front garden. McGonagall jumped to her feet in alarm.

Bill quickly took her arm and looked down at her apologetically, “I’m really very sorry about this, Minerva.”

“What are you talking about?” she spat.

There was no time to explain. She looked up in confusion as Bill stunned her and then laid her gently on the floor.

Ron looked at him and then gaped at his professor. Suddenly he was quite relieved that it was Bill’s job to stun her. After all, Ron still had his seventh year to survive at Hogwarts and McGonagall was going to be completely hacked off over this when she was revived.

Wasting no time, Bill withdrew the amulet from his pocket and slid it around Harry’s neck.

Hermione suddenly burst into the room, causing both Ron and Bill to jump and draw their wands. Completely unaware of the fact that she was nearly stunned, she ran to Ron and grabbed a fistful of his shirt in her hand.

“Everyone is in a panic! Go quickly, and be careful!” she said pulling him to her and kissing him hard on the mouth.

Bill stood by as she ran back out of the room locking door behind her. He grinned at his youngest brother with pride and a raised eyebrow. “You used Plan ‘B’, then?”

Ron glared at him, “Oh, shut up Bill! You can wind me up later. You heard her, we don’t have much time!”

“On three then…1...2…3”

Simultaneously they touched their wand tips to the deep green amulet around Harry’s neck. The dull glow inside the stone grew to a white-hot light. Their wand tips began to tremble as the power of the amulet surged up the shafts of their wands and into their bodies. Ron felt his body collapsing. In the next second everything went black.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Within the confines of his chamber, a strange charge of power built up around Harry with the steady rise of his temper. He watched as Riddle ripped Ginny’s shirt and then tore it from her body.

Ginny dropped all pretenses and cried out, begging him to stop.

Like an animal in a cage, Harry ran at the door once more, slamming into it and causing his shoulder to buckle. He was sure it was dislocated at the very least, but Harry stubbornly ignored the pain.

Instead he stepped back and focused all of his energy on that door, the one thing that separated him from Ginny. Slowly it began to creak and shake at its hinges. An explosion of energy blasted the barrier, sending pieces of wood and metal flying into the corridor beyond.

Taking no time to process what he’d done, Harry burst from the room and down the corridor. As he turned a corner another door came into view. He recognized it immediately. It was the door to the chamber containing the portal. He was sure of it.

As he came closer, a shadowy figure formed in the corridor. It was large and completely blocking his path. Without a second thought he rushed at the mass of shadows and tackled it. Harry’s mind raced for thoughts of what he could do. He had no wand, no light and no idea what or whom he was facing. Then suddenly, he heard a familiar, but angry voice.

“Bloody Hell, Harry! Get off! We’re here to help you!”

“Ron?” Harry asked dumbfounded.

“Yeah, it’s me! What did you have to go and tackle us for?” he grumbled.

Harry rolled off in disbelief. “Sorry,” he muttered. “I thought you were Riddle. Wait, did you say us? Bill? Is that you? How…how did you two get in here?”

“We don’t have time to explain right now! How do we get to Ginny?” Bill rubbed his aching ribs and pushed off from the floor.

Snapping out of his shock, “It’s through here! Come on!” Harry moved passed them and shoved open the door to the lounge.

They followed him inside and then stopped only momentarily to take in the room. “What is this place?” Bill exclaimed.

“It’s Riddle’s or least it’s what his fantasies have created. Let’s go, it’s over here. Oh, hang on, ‘Accio wand!’” A drawer shot open violently and Harry’s wand zoomed to him from the cabinet across the room.

He then turned and sprinted across the room to the portal.

“Through here!” Harry told them.

“Are you sure?” Ron asked a bit uneasily.

“You have to trust me,” Harry argued, “just step through. It’s the only way out!”

Without another word, Harry climbed into the portal, immediately disappearing from view. A wave of nausea took him as his body rocketed upwards through the thick, bone-chilling liquid. In less than a minute, he burst through the portal at the other side gasping for air.

Harry lunged forward and dove into an unsuspecting Riddle, who had Ginny pinned to the floor beneath him. Using the element of surprise, Harry rolled Riddle from her body and began pummeling him violently with his fists.

Harry hadn’t even raised his wand. That would be too easy a punishment for Riddle. Harry was going to beat the bloody hell out of him first. Even if Riddle was only an image in a dream, Harry was determined to make him suffer for every moment of the horrible nightmare Ginny was forced to endure.

Ginny lay curled up sobbing and half-naked on the floor as Bill and Ron rushed out of the portal seconds later. Ron ran to Ginny’s side, covered her with his robes, and gathered her into his arms.

“Sshhh, its okay now, Ginny, we’re here,” he soothed. “He’s not going to touch you ever again. We promise.”

Ginny sank against her brother’s chest as his arms enveloped her. Wrapped protectively in his embrace, Ginny’s head began to clear. Suddenly her mission refocused in her mind.

“Harry? I have to help Harry!”

“No Ginny! You’ve done your part! What you have to do is get out of here right now!” Ron helped her stand, but continued to hold her back from the battle raging on the other side of the chamber. Instead he led her to the door and pushed her out into the corridor, “Run, Ginny! NOW!”

With that he spun around to join Harry and Bill. Harry was no longer hammering Riddle into the floor. Now, the three wizards battled fiercely as Bill and Harry backed Riddle toward the portal. Ron threw himself into the fray, wand arm outstretched for battle.

Even against the strength of three, Riddle’s power was still unbelievable! He wasn’t advancing on them, but he had stopped their advance on him. Smugly, he stood before the portal taunting them. He brazenly bragged about the things he’d done to Ginny as spells blazed brightly through the air.

Suddenly, out of the shadows of the chamber, Ginny came barreling at him full speed. Using the momentum of her body, she shoved him into the portal and dove to the side.

“Do it now!” she yelled. “Destroy it!”

Bill closed his fist around the amulet, yanked it from Harry’s neck and cast it into the portal.

“What the hell was that?” Harry asked, rubbing his burned skin where the chain dug into his flesh. Harry hadn’t even noticed the stone in his rage until Bill ripped it from his throat.

“It’s the reason we’re here!” Ron shot.

“Now Ron! Now!” Bill yelled.

The brothers hit the portal with a spell that Harry had never heard. The amulet glowed with a fiery white light. Instead of disappearing into the portal to emerge on the other side, it hung suspended beneath its surface. Riddle’s face appeared behind the watery curtain, but he seemed unable to pass through.

The amulet’s power formed a barrier against him. They could see Riddle raging, pounding his fists against the interior of the portal. As the surface began to ripple, Riddle’s image seemed to ripple with it. In the next second, the portal burst violently into millions of droplets of blue liquid. They froze instantly in mid air and then vanished, leaving a scorched ring of black where the portal once hung.

Recovering; Harry thrust his wand into his robes and ran to Ginny who lay huddled on the floor to their left.

“Ginny, are you alright? Did he…What did he do to you?” A mixture of panic and anger filled his voice.

She looked up weakly, “Harry?”

She then flung arms around his neck, and crawled into his lap, allowing him to cradle her protectively.

“It’s alright now. You’re safe,” he soothed stroking her hair and holding her tight.

She buried her face in his shoulder, “You’re here,” she cried. “You’re safe.”

A lump formed in his throat at her words and tears stung his eyes. After everything she’s been through, she’s still worried about me, he thought.

Hiding his face in her hair he whispered, “I’m so sorry, Ginny. I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through.”

Harry looked up at her brothers in desperation. This is my fault, he thought. Because she cared for me, she was hurt, maybe beyond recovery.

Deep down Harry knew that they didn’t blame him, but, somehow he still felt the need to ask their forgiveness for simply being alive. If he no longer existed, there would be no reason for Riddle to come after the people he loved.

Ron and Bill stood uncertainly as they watched Harry hold their sister in his arms, guilt and misery etched into his face. Ron had seen that look before and knew all to well what it meant.

“This isn’t your fault, Harry. You know that don’t you? Riddle’s a twisted bastard,” he said breaking the deafening silence of the chamber. “We’ve got her now, Harry. She’s going to be okay, but we need to wake up, all of us. We need to get her out of this nightmare.”

With her next breath, Harry felt her body go limp. Fearing the worst, he quickly but carefully gathered her into his arms.

“Let’s…let’s go,” he said, his voice cracking slightly. “It’s this way.”

They hurried out of the chamber and followed the twists and turns through passageways until they came to a door at the end of the tunnel.

Harry stood back as Bill and Ron left the tunnel and then stopped a moment as Ginny stirred against him. His eyes traveled down to her tear-stained face. Impulsively he pressed his lips lightly to her forehead, savoring the feeling of holding her, safe in his arms. .

“Never again,” he whispered. “I promise you, Ginny. He’ll never hurt you again. I’ll see to it.”

With renewed strength, he stepped through the doorway, delivering Ginny into the welcoming light of day.

In an instant, he gasped and sat bolt upright in bed. A harsh light shone in his eyes. He was back. It was over. The portal was gone, closed forever along with Tom Riddle’s ability to haunt Ginny’s dreams. Together they had brought Riddle’s twisted game to an end.


A/N: Don’t worry, this isn’t actually quite the end. It is a romance after all. I hope you’ll continue to read through to the end.

I was very disappointed about the computer glitch that caused the last two weeks of updates and reviews to be deleted from the site. These things happen…I always back up my stories so that wasn’t a problem, however I lost over 20 of your reviews. If you have reviewed and I had not responded I apologize. My readers who have reviewed before know that I feel strongly about personally addressing your feedback. I feel if you take the time to post, you deserve a response. If a review was deleted prior to me responding, please feel free to post your comments again.

Thanks for sticking with me. --Donna

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Chapter 15 Out of the Darkness

Waking from the dream was like moving through a tunnel of darkness and into the bright light of day. The first thing Harry sensed was the literal buzz of activity around him. Muffled voices, banging doors and hurried footsteps seemed to completely encircle him. He opened his eyes and he resisted the temptation to allow himself to be pulled under again.

Seconds ticked by. The voices grew louder and less garbled. His entire body ached like he’d fallen from his broom. The worst seemed to be the throb in his shoulder and the sharp sting on his cheekbone. Reaching up with his good arm, he touched the painful spot on his face. It was then that he felt the remnants of a deep cut and the crust of dried blood on his cheek.

Everything came flooding back as he remembered Riddle’s searing curse. The gash in his dream carried through to his physical body. The pain in his shoulder had been self-inflicted as he rammed the door at a run, but yet the effects of it still remained.

What else carried over? Harry wondered groggily.

“Ginny?” he mumbled in confusion.

There was a sudden hush in the din and then the voices closed in around him.

“He’s waking up. Albus! Remus! Go and fetch Poppy! She needs to see to the boy!”

That voice is familiar. Who was that? Harry wondered. Was that… Professor McGonagall? What’s she doing here?

Still groggy and confused, Harry forced his eyes to open, squinting against the harsh intrusion of light. At first he thought someone had removed his glasses, but as he blinked Bill and Ron came into focus on either side of his bed. They were heaving themselves up off the floor and looking a bit pained in their movements.

“Ron? Wha…what happened? How did you get into Ginny’s dream, or… were you in my dream?” Harry asked bleary-eyed. “I don’t understand.”

“When you didn’t come out of the dream, Ginny called in a bit of ‘backup’,” Ron smiled weakly. “The original plan called for Dumbledore to go in through Ginny’s mind to help, but we,” nodding towards Bill he added, “came up with a plan of our own.”

“…with a bit of a Weasley twist,” Bill concluded with a shrug.

“Are you alright?” Ron asked. “Do you think you can sit up?”

“Yeah, I think I’m okay, just a bit sore,” Harry answered.

Carefully Harry pushed himself to a sitting position. He leaned against the headboard and then rested his injured arm gingerly in front on his lap.

Bill leaned on the edge of the bed for support. “What’s wrong with your arm?”

“I think I jammed my shoulder or something,” Harry explained. “I kind of used it to try to…er… break down a door.”

“Looks like the door resisted?” Bill grinned.

“Yeah, you could say that,” Harry admitted wincing slightly, “but I took charge in the end, nothing left but a scorched pile of rubble.”

“That’s showing it,” Bill nodded with a smirk.

“What about the slice on your face?” Ron asked taking a closer look.

“Riddle hit me with a…Wait,” Harry changed topic, “original plan? I don’t understand. Ginny said that no one else knew about her dream and was pretty clear that she wanted it that way. I think I’ve missed something here.”

Ron looked at Bill and then continued. “Well, no one did know until last night. Ginny went into a right state when you wouldn’t wake up. She practically threw Fred through the wall - his words - trying to get to you. Fred and George thought she’d shake you senseless trying to wake you up. I think they had to slap her to bring her out of it in the end. It was the only way to get her to calm down enough to tell them what happened. Fred and George summoned the Order. Hermione and I arrived shortly afterward,” Ron finished.

As Harry looked around the room he realized there were at least a half dozen other people standing nearby. Professor McGonagall, Professor Dumbledore, and Fred and George were among them, all wearing varying degrees of concern on their faces.

Harry suddenly felt very self-conscious under their silent stares; especially as it dawned on him that he was only wearing a pair of boxers. Glancing down quickly, he sighed in relief to find that he managed to stay covered through his ordeal. From the tangle of bedding, he could tell he’d been doing a good bit of thrashing about. It was amazing that he hadn’t fallen out of bed altogether. He also noticed he was wearing an odd, green stone suspended on a gold chain. He was about to ask about it when the door flew open diverting his attention.

Madame Pomfrey bustled into the room in a flourish of robes. Professor Lupin followed behind her, tray in hand.

“Mr. Potter!” the school nurse scolded. “What were you thinking?” She grabbed two of the vials from Lupin’s tray and shoved them at briskly at Harry.

“Here, drink them down.”

Harry did as he was told. The first potion revived him a bit. He felt more awake and alert. The second concoction began to ease the pain in his aching body. Madame Pomfrey then took her wand and healed the gash on his face with a swish. After a quick examination she repaired his shoulder and summoned a sling for his arm.

Madame Pomfrey had just finished when the sound of numerous new voices drifted from the hall. He recognized Mrs. Weasley’s voice at one. She was pleading with someone to go back to bed just as the door to his room burst open.

It was Ginny. Her eyes were set hard, her body intense as she rushed unabated into the room. She looked as white as a sheet as she came to a breathless halt at his side. Their eyes locked and silence fell over the room. Harry wanted nothing more than to reach out and pull her to him. If not for the audience, he may have done so.

Instead he quietly spoke, “Are you okay?”

Tears pooled in her eyes as she nodded. “You?”

“I’m fine, Ginny. Everything’s okay now. He can’t hurt you anymore,” he added quietly.

He saw her body shudder and could tell that she was fighting desperately to remain in control of her emotions.

“Er…Mrs. Weasley? Would it be okay if I talked to Ginny…er… alone, I mean. It would only take a minute?” Harry asked a bit nervously, still extremely aware he was wearing only his boxers.

Ron and Bill looked at each other knowingly. They had seen the way Harry looked at Ginny in the chamber. They knew he needed time to make peace with his demons. With a nod to each other, they began to move towards the door taking Fred and George with them.

Mr. Weasley began ushering everyone else from the room. Having cleared the crowd, he came to his wife and gently coaxed her to follow.

Mrs. Weasley held her ground. Unlike her husband and children, she looked a bit unsure. Her gaze moved from Ginny to Harry and back again. Her daughter’s words from earlier were ringing in her head. This young man had her daughter’s heart. Now he wanted to be alone with her while he was practically naked in his bed and she was extremely vulnerable. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Harry, but after what her daughter had been through, she was reluctant to let her out of her sight.

“Come on Molly, dear. They need a minute,” he said. “It’ll be fine. She’s safe now,” Mr. Weasley reassured his wife before leading her by the arm out into the hall and closing the door behind them.

When they were alone Harry held out his hand to her. “Ginny, I…”

Before he could finish, she’d thrown her arms around his neck and buried her face in his chest. She shook with emotion as warm tears spilled from her eyes and ran down his body. He wrapped his arms around her without hesitation, pulled her closer and held her tight. He stroked her hair gently, whispering words of comfort. After a few minutes, he felt her relax. Her tears subsided and the tension seemed to drain from her body.

“Harry, I was so worried,” she said, swiping her tears with the back of her hand. “I was afraid that you’d never wake up. It would have been entirely my fault. I couldn’t stand it if…”

“If what?” Harry asked.

She pulled back to look directly into his eyes. His throat constricted under the intensity of her stare. “If…if I lost you,” she shuddered slightly as she spoke.

Harry swallowed hard before pulling her back to him, “Shhh, it’s okay now Ginny,” he whispered. “This wasn’t your fault. Riddle’s the one to blame. I’m right here. We’re both okay now. See?”

Gently he lifted her hand and brushed it over his chest, as if to prove he was real. “I’m perfectly safe and sound.”

For a full minute they were silent then Harry leaned back and looked at her more fully. She wore a nightdress and pale green robe. Her hair draped loosely over her shoulders and her hand still rested gently against his bare chest. She looked fragile, so beautiful. He just wanted to make it better. His eyes darted impulsively to her soft, pouting lips.

Damn, this is not good, he thought nervously.

He wondered what it would be like to lean down and touch her lips with his. He ached to kiss away her fears and uncertainty.

I can’t, he reasoned. Not now, after everything she’s been through because of me. It would be selfish and completely unfair to her.

Instead he gave himself over to her, “What can I do, Ginny? Tell me what you need. I’ll do anything. I only want to help.”

“You’re doing it right now,” she whispered. “Just be near me.”

Smiling down at her, he felt closer to her than he had ever felt to any girl, other than perhaps Hermione. He gently brushed a lingering tear from her cheek and pulled her into his arms again. As he held her though, he remembered the cut on his face. A horrible thought raced through his mind and a knot formed in his stomach.

Please, don’t let us have been too late.

Clearing his throat nervously he asked, “Ginny, I need to know. Are you really okay? Did he… Did we stop him in time?”

With a shudder she nodded, “He didn’t, Harry. You tackled him before he could.” A bit of a smile lit her face as she heard his sigh of relief. It was as though he had been holding his breath in wait of her answer.

“You’re my hero, again,” she smiled shyly. “Coming to my rescue has become a bit of a habit with you, hasn’t it? I’m sorry that I seem to have a penchant for getting into situations that require it. I really don’t know how to thank you Harry.”

“You don’t have to thank…” but he stopped mid sentence to watch her move. She curled up on the bed next to him and folded her legs beneath her.

He was suddenly aware of how close she now was and completely forgot what he was about to say.

Slowly, she slid her free hand into his and pulled it to her lips. As she held his gaze, she kissed his palm warmly. Pulling his hand up to her cheek, she then stroked it gently against her face as her eyes slid closed.

His heart began to race as her body shifted forward. The spot where her hand rested against his bare chest seemed to burn with the trembling of her fingers. She had a look on her face that told him she wanted more than just to ‘be near him’.

The warmth from her kiss seemed to radiate from his hand through the rest of his body. Her eyes opened again and Harry melted under her stare. With his breath hitching in his chest, his eyes instinctively dropped to her mouth again. She was biting her bottom lip nervously.

Stay in control, Harry thought. She’s upset and…why does she have to look so beautiful. How am I supposed to resist her when she’s doing that? Harry argued with himself. What if Riddle was telling the truth? What if she wants me as much as I want her?

While Harry struggled internally about what was right, Ginny slowly closed the space between them. When they were centimeters apart, he gave in to the moment.

I’ll just let it play out, he thought, and see where it takes us.

His hand slid from her cheek to rest upon her neck. He felt her pulse quicken and her body shudder as he grazed his thumb tenderly over her soft skin. Encouraged by her reaction, Harry moved his other hand to her waist and rested it against the small of her back. His heart pounded fiercely. He wanted nothing more than to devour her inch by inch as his fantasies came to life right before his eyes.

Do it, you idiot, he thought. Just lean in and kiss her.

Just as he was fully letting go, there was an untimely knock at the door.

Ginny jumped from the bed with a start. Flushed and slightly embarrassed, she stood next to him as they listened in silence. Harry forced a smile, but silently cursed whoever had triggered the inopportune interruption.

“Harry?” came the familiar voice of Hermione. “Can we come in?”

Harry glanced at Ginny, who still looked a bit pink in the cheeks. She stared fixedly at the floor and avoided his eyes. He sighed, cleared his throat and quickly got hold of his senses. “Yeah, of course, come in.”

Hermione opened the door, took a few nervous steps and stopped to stand just inside the room.

Harry read the worry in the lines of her face. “I’m okay Hermione, really. Come here.”

He held out his hand to her as she approached him followed closely by Ron. She looked tired and stressed as she moved more deliberately to the side of his bed opposite Ginny.

“Tell me,” she said leaning down to kiss his cheek and sitting on the edge of his bed. “How many times are you going to do this to us, you prat?” she said with a feigned tone of annoyance.

Harry shrugged and then grinned as she slid her hand into his.

“You know,” she added. “You can be a bit of a pain in the arse.”

“Yeah, I know,” he answered cheekily, “but you still love me.”

“Yes, well,” she rolled her eyes in mock irritation. “I suppose we have no choice.”
Then more seriously she added, “You know I’m happy you’re alright, both of you. We’re so sorry for everything you’ve been through Ginny,” Hermione offered. “We only wish we’d known sooner.”

Ginny’s cheeks warmed as she nodded in return and then Hermione refocused on Harry.

“It’s so good to see you awake now. We’ve all been so worried. You are alright aren’t you? Is there anything we can do for you?”

Releasing Harry’s hand she stood up to give him a full inspection. While she looked for signs of distress, Ron moved closer.

“Calm down Hermione. You heard him. He’s okay. Don’t fuss over him,” he scolded. “You know how he hates it.”

“Er…excuse me, but I am sitting right here,” Harry said in aggravation.

Ron immediately changed tacks, “I’m the one you should be worried about you know. I was the one he tackled in there,” he said with an exaggerated grimace, clutching his side. “You should see the bruises on my ribs.”

“Oh Ron, don’t be such a baby,” Hermione teased nudging him with her shoulder.

“But, you’ll heal them later won’t you?” Ron asked waggling his eyebrows a bit suggestively at her.

“We’ll see,” she responded as he slid his arms around her waist and pulled her close.

Harry watched mouth agape as Ron leaned down to kiss her temple. Instead of swatting him soundly for his trouble, she just melted into him and relaxed.

Ron just took Hermione in his arms like he’s done it thousand times before…What the hell is going on here? Harry wondered thunderstruck.

“Er…exactly how long have I been out?” Harry asked, his eyebrows raised and his mouth curled into a smirk.

Mumbling a bit, Ron answered, “Um…Hermione and I have…er… had a bit of a talk.”

“That must have been some ‘talk’ Ron,” Harry grinned mischievously.

“Er…Yeah, we…um…well, she’s agreed to go out with me,” he stuttered, his ears glowing red.

Ginny and Harry looked at each other and both broke into rather knowing grins. “Well, it’s about time. Don’t you think so, Ginny?”

“Yeah, I’ll say. I wondered how long they were going to keep fighting with each other to cut the tension between them.” Then turning her attention to her brother she asked, “So, you finally just hauled off and snogged her then, did you?”

Harry couldn’t help but laugh at her brashness.

Ginny obviously grew up with six brothers Harry thought to himself.

It was clear that all pretenses of delicacy were out of the question, much to a blushing Hermione’s dismay.

“Shut up, Ginny!” Ron yelled.

“So, that’s a yes, then?” Harry added with a chuckle.

“Oh, don’t help her, you git!” Ron shot at Harry.

“Something tells me, she won’t need my help to wind you up.”

“Fine! We’re in love with each other! Is that what you wanted to hear?” Ron shot at them both.

After about two seconds of stunned silence, Harry and Ginny shot back together. “WHAT?!”

Collecting himself and noting the unwavering expressions on his best friends’ faces Harry asked, “Are you serious?”

There was a pause as Ron and Hermione exchanged glances and shy grins.

“You are, aren’t you? Blimey! When did this happen? And why wasn’t I in the loop?” Harry asked with a grin.

“Well, we only just figured it out for ourselves last night. You were asleep at the time, but we’re telling you now. You and Ginny are the first to know actually,” Hermione answered, turning a deeper shade of red. Something told Harry that Ron’s sudden admission of love to Harry and Ginny had definitely won him points.

“Wow! That’s just…wow!” Harry said practically speechless. “It’s great! I’m happy for you two. Really, it’s wonderful.”

“Thanks, Harry. We weren’t sure how you’d feel about it.” Hermione smiled a bit more confidently.

“So…um…”Harry said casting around for discussion points. “Tell me what exactly did happen. What is this thing around my neck?” he asked grasping the amulet in his hand. It still glowed dimly and felt warm to the touch.

“I’d like to know as well. No one told me that you and Bill would be coming. I may have felt better knowing that you were,” Ginny said.

“Sorry, Ginny, there wasn’t time, but Ican fill you both in now,” Ron offered apologetically.

Ginny sat back down next to Harry and Ron began to tell them the whole story. He started by telling Harry and Ginny how frustrated he and his brothers were with the Order.

“Everyone just seemed content to mill around and wait, but Bill, Charlie and the rest of us couldn’t do that. The six of us finally agreed that it just wasn’t going to work.”

Afterward, Ron told them about Bill and Charlie’s mission to the Department of Mysteries to retrieve the amulet. As Ron explained the origin of the Egyptian amulet, Harry listened in stunned silence. When Ron finished Harry finally responded.

“So, let me get this straight. This ‘amulet thingy’ is centuries old and its use is restricted?”

“Uh huh,” Ron answered flatly.

“Dumbledore wasn’t even aware of its existence, but your brothers broke into the Department of Mysteries and stole it so you could come and help me?” Harry clarified further.

With a matter-of-fact expression Ron answered, “Yeah, that about sums it up.”

“Well, how exactly does it work?” Harry asked.

“The legend, which we obviously now know is true, says the mind of the person who wears the amulet becomes a portal if you will. When Bill and I touched it with our wands, it pulled us into your subconscious. But, it’s more than that. Our physical bodies can be affected while we’re under its power. That’s why it’s a bit risky to use it, barring the fact, of course, that they had to nick it from the Ministry as well.”

“Anyway, when the amulet took hold of us, it transported us to where you were in the dream world. Our actual bodies were still here on the floor, but no one could have woken us up if they had tried, not even with an enervation charm.”

“Once we were in there and Riddle was trapped, Bill threw the dream version of the amulet into the portal that contained him. The spell we cast was one that reverses the force of the amulet. It closes the subconscious pathways instead of opening them. The only reason we even knew about it was because Bill had researched it after he recovered the amulet from a tomb in Egypt on one of their missions. Quite a lucky coincidence when you think about it,” Ron interjected before going ahead. “In short, we’ve locked Riddle out and we’re pretty sure we’ve denied any future access to Ginny that way ever again. The actual physical amulet, as you can see, is still here and completely in tact.”

“That’s amazing…” Harry said in wonderment. “I mean, stealing from the Ministry sounds like a Mundungus Fletcher sort of thing to do. We all know how much your mum ‘loves’ him. It doesn’t exactly sound like something she’d go for does it?” Harry asked stunned.

“Well, she didn’t actually agree. We kind of had to do it on the sly. Fred and George took the worst of it I’m afraid, while Bill and I were still with you. By the time it was over, Dumbledore had explained everything to her and she was just glad everyone was okay. It’s McGonagall that I’m really worried about,” Ron admitted looking off in the distance.

“Why would you worry about Professor McGonagall and not your mum?”

“Well, there really wasn’t time to explain everything so, Bill sort of had to stun her.”
Ron answered looking a bit ill.

“Stun her!” Harry shot back with a smirk.

“She was more than a little ticked off when they bought her out of it. Bill’s in the clear of course. He can just avoid her for awhile, but I’ve got seventh year to finish! I could have sworn I heard her grumbling about summer transfiguration projects downstairs just now! I’m bloody doomed!”

Harry chuckled at Ron’s predicament. “You never know, maybe she’ll cool off and just forget about it,” he offered.

“Yeah, fat chance of that happening. This is McGonagall we’re talking about, mate. She’s doesn’t just forget. If she could take house points over the summer holidays, Gryffindor would be in negative numbers right,” Ron grumbled.

“I don’t know Ron; it was for a good cause. Even she’ll have to admit that. What you and Bill did was absolutely necessary in the moment. And Bill did apologize before stunning her. It simply couldn’t be helped,” Hermione reassured him.

Still unconvinced he answered, “Well, if she doesn’t see to reason,” Ron looked pleadingly at Hermione, “you and Harry get to help me with whatever it is she decides to assign, right?”

For once she just nodded instead of protesting and smiled up at him warmly.

Harry watched Ron and Hermione whisper and smile at each other. He was amazed at how comfortable they seemed with one another. It was like they’d been together all along, which in some ways Harry thought, perhaps they had. Harry’s eyes fell upon Ginny. She blushed and smiled when he caught her watching him.

Finding courage, Ginny eased her hand over and brushed it lightly against his skin. As she sat on his bed, her hand was at his side and completely hidden from view.

Heat crept up Harry’s neck and into his cheeks. Her touch was like a secret; exciting, private, and a little unexpected. It sent Harry’s heart reeling and his thoughts racing. He glanced at his friends, gauging their reaction, but they seemed lost in a world of their own. Harry decided to take a chance. Slowly his hand drifted over to hers, brushing her fingers with his. He was about to take her hand when the spell was broken for a second time.

The door opened again and Mrs. Weasley came scurrying into the room to check on the progress of their ‘conversation’. Ron and Hermione practically jumped apart and Harry couldn’t help but grin at them for it. Ginny hadn’t bothered to jump from the bed this time, which he found a bit curious. However, she did move her hand back to her lap discreetly. Harry also noted Mrs. Weasley had not bothered to knock or give any warning of her presence prior to entering.

Is she trying to see how trustworthy I am with her daughter or is it just my imagination? Harry wondered. Surely she has no idea how I feel about Ginny. How could she?

“Alright you two,” she said to Ron and Hermione. “Harry needs to get up and get dressed. I’m sure he could do with a shower and a spot of something to eat,” she smiled warmly before adding, “Ginny, you too; off you go. You need to get dressed.”

Just then Mrs. Weasley seemed to notice something odd about Ron and Hermione. She scrutinized them in silence, a bit too long for Ron’s comfort. Then she added, “On second thought, you two can just come with me. I need help in the kitchen. There are a lot of hungry people to feed.”

Ron tried to protest as she ushered them out the door in front of her.

“Oh, and Harry, dear,” she called back from the corridor, “take your time. When you’re feeling up to it, join us in the kitchen.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Weasley. I am a bit hungry,” Harry admitted. “I’ll be down soon.”

Harry lay back and imagined Ginny as she walked away. Sighing deeply, Harry began to think that his plan to stay away from Ginny this summer was going to be much harder than he thought.

________________________________________
Chapter16 Out of Tea

Over the several few days, Headquarters was a constant whir of activity. A steady stream of wizards flowed in and out of the house at all hours of the day and night. For Harry, Ron and the girls, it was both a blessing and a curse.

On one hand, the commotion could be rather entertaining. When Molly wasn’t looking, they occupied themselves by putting their Extendable Ears to good use. That bit of mischief provided them with an endless list of topics for conversation.

On the other hand, the constant activity meant that there was never a moment’s peace in the house and everyone remained tense and snappish.

After nearly a week, however, the traffic at Grimmauld began to taper off. With no one left to eavesdrop on, the flesh-colored strings were soon abandoned, discarded at the bottom of their trunks.

In the days that followed, the house seemed rather quiet, too quiet in fact. Suddenly, they were faced with a sharp increase in free time and little or no entertainment with which to fill it. Trapped inside Headquarters, they quickly came to a unanimous conclusion. There are only so many games of Exploding Snap or Wizard’s Chess a person can play before the monotony will begin to grate at them.

Luckily, just as their cabin fever was intensifying, Mrs. Weasley gave them the go ahead to go out of doors.

Summer’s beauty was in full bloom. The garden was lush and green with fragrant flowers dotting its edges. Azure blue skies and the warm, sunny days of the season beckoned them outside. Soon their time was filled with the exhilaration of flying in the Expandable Garden and pick-up games of Quidditch with Fred and George quickly became a favorite of the group.

In the afternoons, they relaxed, lounging lazily by the lake and simply enjoying the peace and quiet.

During their evenings and on rainy days, they resorted to their old stand-bys, Wizard’s Chess in the lounge and Exploding Snap in Buckbeak’s old room. Somehow, now that those games weren’t their only form of entertainment, they were much more enjoyable.

So this is what it’s like to spend a holiday with friends, Harry thought one cloudless day as they stood on the shore of the lake, skipping stones across the water.

Ginny’s nightmare, and Riddle’s part in it, now seemed a lifetime away. Her color had returned, her smile was bright and Harry couldn’t help but admire her inherent zest for life. For the first time in his life, Harry was actually enjoying his holiday from school.

Incidentally, so were Ron and Hermione.

Things had been building between them for years and Harry had to admit, his friends were perfect for each other. He really was happy for them. However, after everything the three of them had been through, seeing them together was a bit a bit like catching your best friend with your sister. It was not exactly a spectator sport that Harry wanted to be in the stands to witness.

Out of respect for him, they began stealing kisses in deserted hallways and empty rooms. When Mrs. Weasley was nearby, they were even more discrete, painting the perfect picture of friendly innocence. Harry suspected the danger of being discovered was all part of the fun, but that would only last as long as they didn’t get caught.

Truthfully, Ron wasn’t even sure his mother would allow Hermione to stay with them if she knew about the change in their relationship. As long as they kept their secret though, they wouldn’t have to find out. And…with the tension between them was being alleviated on a regular basis, Ron and Hermione seemed incredibly happy.

Harry wasn’t the only one to notice the change in them. Ginny had taken note as well, but for some reason, she was rather disturbed by their behavior.

“They’re awfully quiet, don’t you think?” she whispered to Harry one afternoon as she nodded towards Hermione and her brother.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked curiously, turning to watch Ron persuade Hermione to go with him for a broom ride. They were both smiling and standing much closer than necessary. “They seem happy enough to me,” Harry shrugged.

“No, think about it, Harry,” she prompted seriously, turning to face him. “When is the last time you can remember them having a row?”

“Um…well, they did have that disagreement yesterday about House Elf attire,” Harry offered helpfully.

“You call that a disagreement? We’re talking about Ron and Hermione here. They didn’t even raise their voices,” she said in annoyance. “Granted, they still argue, but neither of them seems to care who wins the battle anymore. It’s just not natural, at least not for them,” she concluded with a shiver.

“I suppose there is a lot more compromising going on around here and far fewer angry silences,” Harry chuckled, amused by her take on the situation.

“Exactly,” she said replied as if it were an evil plot.

“You know,” Harry said lowering his voice and leaning in conspiratorially, “maybe you’re right. Perhaps they’re under the Imperius Curse and it’s forcing them to be kind to each other. This must be the work of dark magic,” he said, his face set hard. “We should alert the Order!”

Ginny fell silent as Harry held his serious expression. A few seconds later he burst into laughter at her stunned reaction.

“Very funny, Harry,” she said swatting his arm and pushing him away. “You know, you’re a real comedian,” she added rolling her eyes. “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, just… different.”

“Yeah, but different can be good,” Harry said with a wink and a grin.

Besides he thought, I imagine there’s a method to Ron’s madness.

Avoiding arguments with Hermione kept Ron’s newly acquired rights safely in tact, but to some extent, Harry had to agree. It just wasn’t normal, not for them at least. As the bickering-free days went by, Harry half expected one or both of them to snap at some point under the pressure, but they hadn’t.

All in all, things were good at Grimmauld Place. Despite Ron and Hermione’s tendency to wander off alone, Harry had managed to avoid any compromising situations with Ginny. Their trio easily grew into a foursome and he felt at ease and happy when he was with her.

I can do this, he thought feeling proud to have stuck to his plan to keep things on a ‘friendly’ basis between them. The tension between us is gone. We can joke around with each other and have fun. She hasn’t brought up our ‘almost kiss’ and I’m certainly not going to. So, it looks like we’re in the clear. Maybe spending the summer here together isn’t going to be as tough as I thought.

The next day, he was given the opportunity to test his theory. It was midmorning and Harry had just spent the last thirty minutes watching Hermione and Ginny whisper over their teacups in the kitchen while he skimmed the Daily Prophet. For the first time since that moment in his room, Harry hadn’t been tempted to jump across the table and kiss her, not once.

‘Friends’, he thought folding the paper and placing it on the table. Yes, this could definitely work. Feeling proud of his restraint, he rose from the table. It’s better for Ginny this way, too. Being with me would be a risk; one that I’m simply not going to allow her to take, he thought as he turned to leave the kitchen.

The last couple of days had been rainy and Harry was anxious to get out for some fresh air. He was hoping Ron might feel like a bit of flying. Feeling confident and a bit relieved, Harry passed through the lounge and climbed the stairs to get his broom. As he descended the stairs a minute later with his Firebolt in hand, Harry decided that all in all, the summer was shaping up pretty nicely. At least that was what Harry thought… until they ran out of tea.

Shortly after Harry left the room, Mrs. Weasley had entered the kitchen to fix herself a cup.

“Sorry Mum,” Ginny apologized as her Mum took out a mug. “I think we used the last of it.”

“Oh, that’s alright, dear. I need to go into Diagon Alley for some other necessities anyway. We’re almost out of floo powder as well. Would you girls care to join me?” Mrs. Weasley asked hopefully with a smile. “We could have lunch and make it a bit of an outing.”

“Oh, thanks very much Mrs. Weasley, but I need to owl my parents. I haven’t written in over a week and I’m sure they’re beginning to wonder. Maybe we could go another day?” Hermione asked politely.

“That’s fine dear, of course, we can,” Mrs. Weasley replied turning to her daughter.

“Would you mind if I bowed out as well?” Ginny asked. “I think I’ll stick around here and keep Hermione company. After she’s done with her letter, I thought we could take a walk down to the water or something. It’s such a beautiful day.”

Mrs. Weasley looked a bit disappointed, but chalked it up to teenage girls doing teenaged girls things. They spent so much time with Ron and Harry that they had very little time to just chat.

“That’s fine girls. We’ll do it another day,” she agreed with a smile. “I’ll be back in a few hours. Perhaps I’ll meet your father for lunch instead while I’m out. Try to keep those boys out of trouble while I’m gone, would you? Enjoy your walk.”

“Sure Mum and thanks. Have a nice afternoon,” Ginny said as she watched her mum step into the fireplace and quickly disappear in a burst of green flames.

As if on cue, Harry and Ron walked into the kitchen. Harry stood with his broom in his hand as Ron looked past Ginny and Hermione, scanning the room.

“Where’s Mum, Ginny?” he asked. “I know I just saw her come in here. I need my broom and I can’t find it anywhere,” Ron said with a look of annoyance.

Hermione’s eyes fixed on Ron. This was the first time they’d been left unattended by an adult since Ron’s admission of his feelings for her. Truth be told, it made her a bit anxious and her voice betrayed her nerves.

“Er…we’re out of tea,” Hermione explained in a small, quiet voice.

Ron paused to glance at her curiously, “Is that so? …er… Hermione, are you feeling okay?” he asked with the perk of an eyebrow and a small grin.

“Yes, of course, I’m fine,” she shot back in response. “Why do you ask?”

“Um…No reason I guess. So anyway, where’s Mum?” he asked returning his gaze to his little sister.

“Well, like Hermione said, we ran out of tea so she went to fetch some from Diagon Alley. She said something about meeting Dad for lunch. She’ll probably be gone a few hours. I guess you’ll have to find your broom yourself or do without until she gets back,” Ginny ended matter-of-factly.

Ron just looked at her for a second then asked for clarification. “Mum’s gone for the entire afternoon?”

“Yeah, it sounded like she’d be awhile. She had several stops to make and then the lunch with Dad,” she confirmed. “Why?”

Ginny needn’t have asked. She could just imagine the wheels as they turned in her brother’s head. She suspected what he was thinking as a frighteningly Fred and George-like smirk spread across Ron’s face. Ginny’s gaze darted from Ron to Hermione and she waited for the show to commence.

“Just wondering, you know…I…er…need my broom, remember?” Ron answered, attempting to sound nonchalant.

“Right,” Ginny grumbled skeptically as Ron’s gaze roamed to Hermione, his expression mischievous, his mouth curved in a playful smirk.

Hermione responded by dropping her teacup. It shattered to bits upon the kitchen floor, which made her jump and flush a rosy pink.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she began in a rush. “It must have slipped,” she said kneeling down to collect the pieces.

Is she that nervous about being here alone, Ron wondered with a grin as he moved closer. His demeanor was much like a cat ready to pounce, or so it seemed to Hermione.

“Hermione,” Ron said, kneeling beside her, “there are better ways of dealing with this. I’m of age now. Let me help you.”

Hermione stared at him as he took out his wand, repaired the cup and banished the spilt tea with a flick of his wrist. Taking her hand, he then pulled her to her feet.

There was an odd silence in the kitchen as Ron stood looking down into her eyes, her hand still clasped in his. At better than 6 feet in height, Ron towered over her small frame. It was as though Harry and Ginny no longer existed.

“Hermione, there’s something I’ve wanted to…er… show you. Do you have a minute?” Ron asked raising one eyebrow.

“Show me? You want to…to show me something?” she stuttered.

He was grinning at the effect he was having on her. Somehow he found it oddly attractive that Hermione went a bit daft at the thought of being alone with him.

Hopefully that’s a good sign, he thought.

Quietly, but succinctly he answered her question. “Yeah, come on.”

As he led her from the kitchen, Ron cast a nervous glance at Harry, “You don’t mind do you, Harry? Er…I can’t find my broom anyway. We can fly later, right?”

Deciding to make things difficult, Harry answered in a somewhat serious tone, “Well, I don’t know, Ron. I was rather looking forward to a bit of Quidditch. Are you quite sure you’ve checked everywhere?” Harry grinned broadly as he raised one eyebrow at his mate.

This is going to be interesting.

“Yeah, er…well…I’ve looked all over,” came his quick response.

“Well,” Harry persisted, trying not to laugh, “have you tried summoning it?”

“What?” Ron stopped short.

“Remember…you are of age,” Harry reminded helpfully. “You could just Accio your broom and be done with it.”

Ron stared dumbfounded at his friend briefly before answering. “I don’t think Mum would like that…brooms flying through the house unattended…you know, things might get broken…or something,” he added lamely.

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” Harry nodded. “Best not to risk it.”

“Exactly,” Ron agreed in relief. “Sorry Harry, but you and Ginny can hang out right?”

Before Harry could argue, Ron turned and rushed from the room with a rather embarrassed Hermione in tow.

“You know,” Harry laughed. “I don’t think he’s the least bit sorry. Do you?” he asked turning to Ginny, who he was startled to find, looked utterly scandalized.

Once the kitchen door swung closed Ginny unloaded, “Show her something my foot; not much of a code talker, that one? That must be Ron-speak for ‘Hey, my Mum’s gone for the afternoon. What to have a snog?’ Oh he’s smooth alright.”

Harry couldn’t help but laugh. Ginny was completely right after all. Ron hadn’t exactly been hard to read.

“Well, Hermione seemed a bit nervous, but she did go with him. I’m sure they’ll be fine. This is Ron we’re talking about after all. He would never do anything to hurt her. Besides, he knows if he did, I’d have no choice but to kick his ruddy arse.”

Ginny seemed to loosen up as the images of Harry beating up her brother danced in her head.

“Feel better now?” he asked as the smile returned to her face and she nodded in response.

“Good,” he winked. “It looks like we have some time on our own. Do you feel like a game of chess or something?”

“Sure. I have the feeling he’ll be showing her something for quite awhile,” Ginny answered rolling her eyes.

As Harry listened to her, he couldn’t help but think that he’d like to be “showing Ginny something” as well, but he wasn’t about to admit that out loud. Harry got the distinct impression that if any man tried to use that kind of a line on her, she’d probably hex him. Then and there Harry made a mental note.

If the situation between us ever changes, I will never use cheeky, encrypted lines on Ginny for fear of harsh retaliation. After all, her Bat Bogey Hexes are legendary.

They were still laughing about Ron’s subtle nature as they walked into the lounge. After taking three steps, Ginny stopped dead in her tracks.

Unaware of what was happening, Harry ran smack into the back of her before he realized why she had halted so abruptly. Over the top of Ginny’s head he spotted Ron and Hermione “showing each other something” quite intensely, as they lay tangled together on the sofa.

Harry heard a gasp begin to escape Ginny’s lips and he quickly covered her mouth with his hand. Sliding his other hand around her waist and resting it over her navel, he pulled her back against his chest. Carefully they backed their way into the kitchen, closing the door behind them. Once inside, Harry let go of her and threw a silencing charm over them as they both burst into laughter.

“Well,” Ginny said shaking with laughter, “Ron’s ‘showing her something’ alright.”

“Yeah, couldn’t they at least have had the decency to go to his room or something?” Harry countered with a shiver.

“Apparently, not,” Ginny smirked, continuing to laugh. “At least Hermione got over being nervous.”

“Oh…you think?” he rolled his eyes sarcastically.

“Yeah, looks like she’s a quick study,” Ginny grinned, her laughter subsiding a bit.

“Apparently,” Harry agreed, “but, I could have lived my whole life happily NOT knowing that.”

“Oh, come on Harry,” she prodded, nudging his shoulder with hers. “That’s Hermione isn’t it? She excels at everything she tries.”

“Now…to be fair,” Harry corrected, cocking his head slyly to one slide, “that’s not exactly true.”

“No?” Ginny asked curiously.

“No. She doesn’t excel at flying…unless she’s in an airplane,” Harry teased.

Ginny just rolled her eyes, “I’m not sure that counts.”

“Oh, well…I gave it a shot,” he grinned with a wink.

“Yeah, valiant effort,” Ginny said rolling her eyes before shaking her head with a small grin.

“I had to do something to get that image out of my mind, didn’t I?”

“Yes, I suppose so, but now what?” she asked, crossing her arms in front of her chest.

Harry couldn’t help grinning at her as she stood by waiting rather impatiently.

“Obviously, chess is out of the question because the board and pieces are in there,” Harry began. “We can’t go upstairs to get my set because; again, we’d have to go through there. So, do you have any other suggestions?”

“Well, I guess we could go outside and take a walk. That’s what Hermione and I were planning to do… before Mr. Subtle showed up.”

“Yeah, okay,” Harry nodded. “That’s sounds good.”

“We could take a picnic along,” she added as an afterthought. “I don’t think they have any intentions of stopping for lunch.”

“I’d say that’s a safe wager. Besides,” Harry shrugged, “getting some fresh air sounds great. We have been cooped up in here since the day before yesterday after all.”

“Great, just let me pull something together and we’ll be off.”

Ginny gathered a few tidbits in a basket and they headed out the back door and into the garden. After leading him down the path to the small lake, she spread out the blanket and placed the basket down on top of it.

It was a hot summer day and the cool, moving water looked inviting. Without a second thought, she kicked off her shoes, walked over to the lake and waded out into the water. Harry sat down on the blanket to watch as she waded deeper. She looked so sweet and innocent just enjoying the peacefulness of the day.

As he followed her progress, he could hardly believe this was the same girl he found in the chamber of her nightmares. She was so strong. He admired that strength as well as her ability to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

Gradually, his admiration was joined by something else. Taking slow, measured breaths, his eyes trailed down her slim figure to her bare legs as she moved through the water.

God, she’s beautiful. Good thing she’s in there and I’m out here.

After several minutes of wading through the water she looked back at him and motioned for him to join her. “Come on Harry, the water feels wonderful.”

“N…no…er… thanks, I’m fine right here,” Harry smiled, hoping she hadn’t noticed his voice cracking or the blush of his cheeks. “You enjoy it though.”

“Oh come on, pleeeease?” Ginny begged. As she was looking at Harry however, she wasn’t looking where she was stepping. Her foot slipped on a stone and she cried out in pain.

“Harry, help me! My foot is caught.”

For a second Harry was suspicious that it could be a trick, but after seeing the pained expression on her face, he decided to go and help. Getting to his feet, he took off his shoes then began wading out to where she stood and looked down. Her foot was definitely caught between two rocks and she couldn’t pull it free.

First he reached down and gently tried to pry them apart. As he worked to free her she reached out, placing her hands on his shoulders to steady herself.

Extrication from her predicament proved to be harder than he thought and Harry had to work hard to move the stones. When the rock finally broke free, he lost his balance and fell back into the water, rock in hand. Luckily it was deep enough that he caught himself before his body met with any other stones in the water. Unfortunately for Harry though, he wasn’t in time to prevent himself from being effectively soaked him from head to toe.

Foot now free, Ginny began to laugh as he picked himself up from the water. Harry, however, did not look amused.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Harry,” she laughed harder at his drowned rat appearance.

“Sorry? You don’t exactly look sorry to me. You look more amused…”

“No, honestly…sorry about that, Harry,” she giggled.

“Yeah, I’ll bet. I’ll show you sorry Ginevra Weasley,” he growled playfully.

With a cheeky grin, Harry took off after her. She squealed with laughter as she tried to make a hasty exit from the water. In three quick strides he caught her and lifted her struggling body into his arms. As he cradled her against him, she struggled as she laughed.

Harry was enjoying this as he grinned down at her broadly.

“Now, if memory serves from when I went swimming here with your brothers, we’ll need to be especially careful in this particular area,” he warned with a smirk. “There’s a bit of a deep spot, just over there.”

Grinning mischievously, he walked toward the spot in question still holding her in his arms.

“Oh Harry, please…please don’t! You wouldn’t, would you?” she squealed again as she tightened her grip around his neck.

Fueled by the playful panic in her voice, he felt a surge of adrenaline. He had to admit, it felt rather exhilarating.

“Whoops! I think… oh yes, my grip is slipping,” he said holding her away from his body. “Uh oh, Gin, I’m afraid I’m dropping you,” he confessed as he threw her deliberately into the deep water.

‘The spot’ was like a sinkhole. The water there was a good 10 meters deep, where as the rest of the area was only knee to waist high at best.

She came up for air looking completely shocked. “I can’t believe you actually did that to me!”

“It was an accident. I just slipped,” he laughed playfully at her. “I swear,” he promised, holding up his hand in a feigned solemn pledge. “I’m soooo sorry, really, Ginny.”

“Alright…now that you’ve had you’re fun,” she smirked, “could you at least help me out of here?”

“Well, okay, but only if you’ll call a truce; we’re even now, right?” Harry asked suspiciously.

“Yes, yes… whatever you say. Now help me.”

Harry reached down and grabbed her hand. As he went to pull her out, she pulled him forward instead and he lost his balance. He fell headfirst into the deep water.
Quickly resurfacing, Harry gasped and turned to catch her by the ankle as she scrambled to climb out of the hole and back onto the edge of the rocks.

“Not so fast, Miss Weasley,” he growled playfully as he grabbed her more firmly around the waist and pulled her back in with him. “You’ll need to pay for that one!”

Harry had a tight hold on her now and was tickling the daylights out of her as they tread water together. Struggling against him, Ginny tried to get away as she giggled and begged him to let her go.

“Actually, I’m quite enjoying this,” he offered matter-of-factly. “I’m not sure I want to let you go. What exactly would you give me for your timely release?”

By that point, Ginny was giggling to the point of crying as she offered, “Anything! Please Harry, I’ll do anything. What do you want?”

Her words had obviously struck a chord with him. He had her around the waist with one arm and had been tickling her relentlessly with the other. Now he had suddenly stopped. His laughter was subsiding and his eyes had turned rather dark.

Finally wriggling out of his arms, Ginny looked up to see him staring at her. She had obviously asked the wrong question. The playfulness between them was quickly disappearing. What he wanted was written all over his face.

Slowly, she eased closer to him, causing small ripples in the water with her hands as she moved. He drifted closer, reclaiming her by sliding his arm around her waist. Gently he pulled her closer until their bodies were dangerously close.

Seconds seemed like minutes as his eyes dropped to her lips and then roved back to her to her eyes. She was trembling, he could feel it, but something in her gaze told him it wasn’t from the chill. As her laughter subsided, her expression took on one of desire to match his.

Weighing his options, Harry followed the progress of a single drop of water as it ran down her cheek and past her lips. His heart was pounding. His imagination began to race at top speed. Reigning in his impulses, he fought for control.

Damn, I can’t do this, he thought.

Before things could move any further, he released her and floated backward in the water.

Harry held her gaze for a moment in silence. Making his decision, he moved past her in the water.

“Come on, we should get dried off. I’ll help you out.”

Climbing up onto the rock ledge, he reached down for her. Taking both of her hands in his, he pulled her up with one fluid motion and lifted her onto the ledge with him. Keeping one of her hands in his he led her to the bank and climbed out onto the grass.

After she was safely ashore, he let go of her hand and walked back to the blanket. With a sigh, he dropped to the ground, placed his arms behind his head and stretched out on the blanket on his back.

The sunshine beating down upon his wet, chilled skin felt relaxing. He closed his eyes and he tried to forget what just passed between them.

Feeling a bit confused, Ginny slowly made her way back up the bank to where he was lying. When she joined him on the blanket, she lay down on her side facing him and propped her head up on her hand. She lay there for several minutes as she simply watched him curiously in silence.

When he finally looked over at her all he could say was, “What?”

“Harry,” she asked quietly, “did I do something wrong?”

“No, Ginny,” he sighed after a brief pause. “You didn’t do anything wrong. It was me.”

Considering his answer for a moment, a small smile curled her lips. She reached over to move the basket that was positioned between them and set it down on the grass. Next she rolled onto her stomach and propped herself up on her elbows. Their bodies were lying very close together now. She looked down at Harry as he lay on his back, trying desperately just to stare up at the sky.

As he lay there quietly on the blanket, Harry could feel her eyes on him. He knew she must be confused and that he had caused that. He also knew he shouldn’t, but he couldn’t help but glance over at her.

When he finally allowed his eyes to meet hers, it became clear that he was in deep, way over his head. She looked incredibly attractive with the sun shining down on her. The light behind her was causing a halo effect around her ginger hair. Wet tendrils dripped and hung all around her face. Her shirt clung mercilessly to her body as Harry tried unsuccessfully, not to notice.

He couldn’t stand it anymore. He began to feel that familiar ache that filled his dreams of her. Her gaze seemed to bore straight through him, but he knew that he needed to be strong. He needed to keep her safe the only way he knew how. He needed to put a stop to the disaster that was undoubtedly, only seconds away from occurring.

“Ginny,” he cleared his throat nervously; making direct eye contact with her, “this isn’t a good idea.”

“What isn’t a good idea?” she asked silkily raising an eyebrow, allowing her small smile to grow to a full grin. “Getting wet… or lying in the sun together after we’ve gotten wet?”

Slowly she reached over and gently brushing a piece of damp hair from of his forehead and then ran her fingers through his ruffled hair. She watched as his eyes closed and he exhaled slowly at her touch.

Struggling for sanity he offered. “All…all of it.” his responded, his voice cracking a bit.

“Oh, I don’t know Harry,” she whispered in invitation. “I happen to think it was all a very good idea.”

“You…you do?” he stuttered nervously, trying to focus on something else.

It didn’t work.

Before he could protest, she slowly lowered her head and warmly kissed his cheek. Tracing the spot she kissed with her finger, she slid her body closer to him. Again she kissed his cheek, but this time she allowed her lips to linger as she slid them to his down to his jaw line, brushing his skin with another feathery kiss.

Her breathing was shaky and unsteady. He could feel it on his skin. This is definitely not good, Harry thought, not good at all.

Finding his voice he started to speak in the best ‘voice of reason’ tone he could manage.

“Ginny, I don’t think…”

Instead of listening to him, she slid her hand to his mouth placing her fingers to his lips as she whispered, “Sshhh…don’t think, just feel,” she urged as she pulled back slightly, locking her eyes with his.

Harry felt lost in her amber gaze. His reserves were completely tapped out and he suspected that she knew it.

Slowly, she moved back to his jaw line then started a soft trail of kisses down his neck. He groaned as she reached his pulse point and began to run her tongue gently over his throat. At first it was in tender movements, but as she kissed him, her tenderness turned into hunger. He heard a small moan escape her lips followed by his name as she nipped and kissed his neck.

That was it. He had reached his limits. She had successfully broken him.

Before she knew what was happening, he had flipped her over, pinning her, almost roughly, beneath him. He held her wrists above her head as his eyes blazed. The urge to have her was nearly overwhelming as he struggled to maintain control. For a split second he paused, weighing her response to his aggressive measure.

When she simply looked back and nodded, he gave himself completely over to her will.

With a throaty moan he covered her mouth greedily with his and released her hands. She slid her arms around him pulling him more fully on top of her. At first, their kisses were rough and desperate, but then they settled into a seductively slow rhythm of passion. They were lost in the moment as their kisses deepened even more. His tongue passed freely between her lips and he felt her shudder as a small gasp of pleasure erupted from her.

Things were happening rapidly as they explored each other over their wet clothes wanting more. It felt so good to finally be with her. It was better than his fantasies. In fact, it was too good Harry realized as he felt an irresistible heat begin to pool in his pit of his stomach.. Pulling away, he paused and looked down at her.

Ginny was completely mesmerized by him. This was more than she’d ever dreamed of. Feeling his body respond so intensely to her only spurred her on as she slid her hands up into his hair, pulling him back to her mouth and into a renewed kiss. Gradually she slid her arms down his back, grazing him with her nails. He gasped and then exhaled slowly with the new sensation of her touch.

Reaching the small of his back, she eased her fingers under the hem of his shirt and began to peel the wet garment slowly from his skin, all the while holding his gaze. Finally she pulled it over his head and tossed it aside as she ran her hands gently over his muscled chest. Quidditch and D.A. training obviously had a beneficial effect on his body. He leaned down to her again, capturing her bottom lip between his teeth and then gently kissing her. He wanted so badly to feel her skin against his.

Eyeing the buttons of her shirt hungrily, a thought suddenly struck Harry. If they didn’t stop now, they might not stop at all. Reality came crashing in on him and without warning; he suddenly pulled away and sat up leaving her breathless and lying on the blanket beside him.

After a few seconds of stunned silence Ginny sat up beside him.

“What’s wrong, Harry?” she asked in confusion. “Don’t you…I thought you wanted this too. I thought that…well, I felt it that day in your room. I’m sure I felt it just now. If Ron and Hermione hadn’t interrupted that day then we…”

Before she could finish that thought Harry cut her off, “We can’t do this, Ginny,” he said quietly as he tried to convince himself as much as her.

“Sorry? What do you mean? Of course we can. I want this too,” she answered with a shy smile as she ran her finger nails lightly over his bare back, invoking a shiver from him that had nothing to do with being cold.

Battling to maintain control despite her attempts to the contrary, he replied, “No, I mean it, Ginny. I can’t do this to you. It wouldn’t be fair.”

His answer was firm. To avoid reconsidering, he got up and walked over to the water’s edge. Slowly she pushed off from the ground and went to follow him. As she stood there quietly, she gazed up at him. She could see worry in his expression and wanted to reassure him. Gently, she eased her hand up to touch his shoulder.

Harry closed his eyes, releasing a long breath, he reluctantly he turned to face her.

“I don’t understand, Harry,” she said quietly. “What exactly wouldn’t be fair to me? Do you care for me?”

“Yes,” he answered a bit flustered, “of course I do.”

“You…you don’t find me attractive,” she said looking down at her feet.

Harry placed a finger under her chin, forcing her to look at him, “I think you know that I do. You’re beautiful, Ginny.”

“Then why, Harry? Why can’t we do this?” she responded in confusion. “I think it’s pretty clear that I fancy you too.”

He took another deep breath and then allowed his gaze to meet hers. He didn’t want to hurt her so he chose his words very carefully. “Ginny, it’s not you. I just lost my head there for a minute. I’m sorry. I don’t want to take advantage of you. I could never do that to you.”

With a small smile gracing her face Ginny answered, “Harry, I think that the girl has to be either unwilling or naïve in order for the boy to take advantage of her. I assure you that I’m neither of those things.” Then more seriously she added, “I’m not ten years old anymore. I’m growing up and my feelings for you have only grown stronger over the years; strong enough to know that …I love you, Harry. I think it’s time you knew what’s in my heart.”

He swallowed hard looking down at her, “You…you love me?”

“Yes, surely you had some idea,” she said a bit sheepishly. “I haven’t always known for sure, of course. At first it was just a bit of a crush, but as I really got to know you, I found that it developed into something quite deeper. I know you don’t share my feelings, but maybe in time…”

Again he cut her off, “Ginny, you’re wrong. I do have feelings for you. That’s part of the problem. They’re strong feelings, but I still can’t do this,” he said sadly.

Ginny looked into his eyes. Getting lost in their wonderful green glow she slid her hands up his chest and around his neck. She stood on tiptoe as she slowly sought out his lips once more, whispering, “You can do whatever you like Harry.”

He was momentarily lost in the sensation of her touch and the implication of her words, as he brushed his lips against hers. But then before he could completely lose himself again, he reached up, grasping her hands and pulled them gently from his body. He took a step back and moved away from her again.

“No Ginny, I mean it. I can’t do this. The closer you are to me, the more danger I put you in. If Voldemort ever found out that I have feelings for you then you’d become his prime target. There would be death eaters all over you. He’s already killed practically everyone else that I love. My parents, Sirius…I don’t want you to be next. I couldn’t live with myself if anything else happened to you because of me. You’ve been through too much already.”

She knew he was serious, but she couldn’t let him shut her out like this. “Harry, please, you can’t let him run your life. He already knows how I feel about you. What difference does it make if he knows you have feelings for me too?” she asked.

Feeling a surge of anger he raised his voice more than he intended. “What difference does it make? What difference? I’ll tell you! It makes a hell of a lot of difference! It could be perhaps the difference between him wanting to just play games with you and him wanting you dead simply to hurt me. No Ginny! My mind’s made up. I can’t do this!” Harry said with finality. He didn’t want to be mean, but she was leaving him no choice as his tone took on an angry undercurrent.

He thought that would be it. As far as he was concerned, he matter was closed, but of course this was Ginny. She was not one to back down easily from a fight. After a few seconds of angry silence she shot back, “You can’t or you won’t?”

“It all comes to the same thing doesn’t it? Why do you even want to be with me anyway? I can’t be with you because I’m living on borrowed time as it is! I’ll probably be dead before you can even come of age next year!"

Before Harry could react Ginny raised her hand and slapped him hard across the cheek, “DON”T. EVER. SAY. THAT. AGAIN!” she said as tears began to form in her eyes.

She was shuddering as she spoke. “If you deprive yourself of all that is good in life, if you deprive yourself of love… then he’s already taken control of you. If that’s the way you’re going to live, I’m afraid he’s already won. You… you may as well be dead,” she said as a tear slid silently down her cheek.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Ginny! You haven’t been living with him hanging over you… not like I have anyway! I’m trying to keep you from getting hurt. It’s because I care that I can’t be with you. I can’t be that person for you now. It’s possible that I’ll never be able to give myself to you that way. It wouldn’t be fair to you to wait for me. You need to meet someone else, just move on and forget me. When you forget about me, then he’ll forget about you. You’ll be safe.”

The sad thing was that Harry actually believed that was true, unfortunately Ginny did not. “Move on? You’re telling me to just move on then?”

“Yeah, you have to,” he answered simply.

“Well, Harry Potter, I have a news flash for you! I’ve tried that! Or hadn’t you noticed? What do you think I was doing when I was dating Michael and Dean and those other boys? I was trying to ‘move on’ and forget my feelings for you, but it didn’t work then and it won’t work now! Especially not after what just happened between us! That felt right. We feel right and you know it just as much as I do.”

“What do you want me to do, Ginny? I’m doing this for you!” he insisted, frustration overcoming him.

Her expression softened under his gaze. In a voice he could barely hear she said. “Just love me. That’s all I want.”

Harry’s throat tightened painfully and his heart seemed to break from the pain he was causing her. “I’m sorry Ginny. I don’t want to hurt you. That’s the last thing I meant to do. Why do you think I’ve been avoiding exactly what just happened on that blanket for the last few weeks?”

With his last comment her anger returned full force, “You mean you’ve been deliberately avoiding this? That’s not fair to either of us!” she spat. “You need to understand something, Harry. I didn’t choose to love you. It just happened. It’s not going to just go away. I can’t turn off my feelings for you like that.”

“Well, you don’t have a choice! My mind’s made up! It’s not going to happen. We’re not going to happen Ginny; NOT now, NOT ever!” His face was tense and angry. Why couldn’t she understand that it was for her own good? Why couldn’t she see to reason and accept that what he was doing was what was best for her?

The anger in her voice was replaced by what sounded like pity. Anger was much easier to manage Harry thought as she spoke.

“If that’s really how you feel, I guess you aren’t the person I thought you were. I thought you were stronger than this,” she said sadly.

Tears rolled freely down her cheeks as she turned to leave. A few steps from the path she stopped and slowly turned back to face him.

“I do love you, Harry,” she said quietly. “I know you don’t want to hear that, but it isn’t going to change. If you ever decide that you want to live -- and I hope you do -- you know where to find me.”

Sadly she turned and left him standing there alone. It felt as though she had just torn out his heart and handed it to him.

Harry wanted to stop her. He certainly didn’t want them to leave things that way, but it would only make things worse if he reached out to her now. He knew he had to let her go; now and forever.

________________________________________
Chapter 17 Mrs. Weasley’s Secret

Day after lonely day had passed since Harry made his decision. Choosing to protect Ginny and ignore his own feelings was the right thing to do. At least that’s what he kept telling himself.

We’ll move past this, he reassured himself each night as he stretched out on his bed. It will just take time.

The problem was, no matter how many times Harry told himself everything would be fine, things were just not the same.

Headquarters felt cramped and stifling, like there was nowhere to go. Every room held memories of his friendship with Ginny.

Taking a walk down to the water was completely out of the question. The one time he did that, a vision of Ginny lying beneath him, hair draped around her shoulders and blouse clinging to her wet skin filled his mind.

Harry should have prepared for this when he watched her walk away from him that day. He knew she was angry and hurt. That he understood. What he didn’t understand was how she could hold a grudge indefinitely.

He had naturally assumed she’d get over it eventually. When she did, they’d go back to being friends.

Apparently, Harry couldn’t have been more wrong.

Ginny was having no part of him. In fact, in the handful of days since their argument, she had made one thing painfully clear. If he wasn’t going to be true to his feelings, then Ginny simply wasn’t going to speak to him at all.

Instead of softening to him with time, Ginny spent the better part of her days leaving rooms in a huff as he entered. On the occasions that she chose to remain, she completely ignored him.

Her cold, indifferent attitude toward him was all too familiar for Harry’s liking. He was beginning to feel like he was back at Privet Drive. Like the Dursleys, Ginny was acting as though he simply didn’t exist. When he began to long for the days of hiding beneath the hedgerows of Number 4, he knew things were serious.

Ron and Hermione were still there, of course, but that wasn’t much help. Ron was floating around in a veritable fog of bliss, too preoccupied to realize that his sister was completely ignoring his best friend.

Hermione, to the contrary, did notice the change in atmosphere. When she questioned Harry though, he told her nothing was wrong. When she continued to press him, he admitted he and Ginny had a disagreement, but then insisted it would be fine. He made it clear that he didn’t want to talk about it and that she wasn’t to ask Ginny about it either. Reluctantly, Hermione agreed to let it be, at least for now.

If he could only find a way to distract himself, eventually the summer would end and he could go back to Hogwarts. Then he would put the whole incident behind him, at least that was the plan. Unfortunately, it was getting harder and harder to find ways to fill his time. To make a difficult situation even more tenuous, ever since Ron had ‘shown Hermione something’ in the lounge, they had begun disappearing at regular intervals. That had probably been happening longer than Harry realized, but apparently he hadn’t noticed before because he was happy to spend time with Ginny.

Now that option was definitely off the table.

There were times that he was able to tag along with Ron and Hermione, but those afternoons always seemed to end with the two of them snuggling and talking together in whispers. Harry knew they weren’t really trying to be inconsiderate, but it was pretty clear that they needed time alone.

I can’t be angry with them, he thought one day as they wandered off to Buckbeak’s room alone. If it were me, I’d be doing the same thing.

In truth, Harry did understand, but he was lonesome. It wasn’t as though he wished he could be with Hermione instead of Ron or anything. He wanted Ginny, but knew he couldn’t have her.

That fact made him a bit jealous of what Ron and Hermione had, but he couldn’t help it. His best friends in the world now shared something that he’d never be a part of. He missed hanging out, just the three of them. As their threesome became a twosome plus Harry, he began to feel more and more alone.

Trying very hard never to show that it bothered him, Harry began to spend more time by himself. After all, there was no reason for them to be unhappy just because he was. He certainly didn’t want them to feel guilty for figuring out that they actually loved each other. That wouldn’t be fair. He knew he would get used to the new state of normal. It would just take a little time.

For now, whenever they started to drift off into their own world, Harry would quietly sneak away, usually retreating to his room. It was at those times that he’d allow himself to think of her.

It just about drove him mad to replay that afternoon by the water in his mind. His heart would race as he imagined pinning her beneath him, finally giving into his need.

Harry had to admit, she had been right on one count; it did feel right to be with her. It was the most natural thing in the world. Whether she knew it or not, he had given a part of himself to her that day, a part that he was afraid that he’d never be able to reclaim.

Sometimes he wondered if he’d ever be whole again without her. Those were times that he almost gave in to his feelings. Whenever he began to falter, however, he simply looked in the mirror. The jagged line was there to remind him of the reasons he was alone.

He hated that scar. He hated what it represented and he hated what it meant for his future.

It meant he simply didn’t have one.

As an alternative to thinking of his future, Harry chose to live day to day. With the rest of the Order now back to their normal routines and the other Weasley’s back at their jobs, Harry had taken to haunting the kitchen when he wasn’t holed up in his room.

Mrs. Weasley quickly became the highlight of his day. He spent his time talking to her and helping her with daily household duties. After spending every other summer he could remember working like a house servant for his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, helping Mrs. Weasley didn’t seem like work at all. Cooking, cleaning and weeding the garden were much easier and more enjoyable when you could use magic to do it.

Besides, spending time with her meant at least one Weasley female was speaking to him.

After several days of walking in her shadows, however, Mrs. Weasley questioned Harry about his frequent visits.

“Harry dear, is anything wrong?” she asked one afternoon when he offered to help her de-gnome the flower gardens a little more enthusiastically than seemed normal.

“Uh…no, Mrs. Weasley, I’m fine,” he answered trying to sound sincere and not too desperate. “What could possibly be wrong?”

“Well, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the help…or the company, but wouldn’t you rather spend your time with Ron and Hermione… or perhaps Ginny? You’ve been on your own an awful lot this week. I was just wondering if perhaps you lot have had a row or something,” she asked with concern.

Even as he denied that anything was wrong, Harry marveled at her instincts. Molly knew him well enough to know when he wasn’t acting himself. It comforted him to know that she could see into him as a real mother would.

Regardless of how in touch with Harry’s feelings she was, Harry had no intentions of telling Mrs. Weasley what was wrong. Unfortunately, she was not put off as easily as Hermione.

Harry sank into a chair at the table with a sigh. His eyes dropped to the scrubbed wooden surface in front of him.

Mrs. Weasley turned, walked to the counter and conjured a quick pot of tea. After pouring a steaming cup for Harry, she returned to the table. Sitting down across from him, she handed him the tea. For a full minute, she waited patiently, regarding him silently with an encouraging smile.

Realizing she wasn’t going away, Harry reluctantly broke the silence.

“Mrs. Weasley, there’s something you should know...”

Hesitating, he stopped to ask himself if he really wanted to tell Ginny’s mum what was going on with him. Seeing no other outlet for his feelings though, he quickly gave in to the temptation to vent to her.

“It’s just that, Ginny, well…that is to say that I…Oh, I don’t know what to say,” he ended with a huff.

Mrs. Weasley simply smiled before speaking quietly.

“Harry, if you’re trying to tell me that Ginny has feelings for you, you needn’t bother. I already know. She told me that she’s in love with you. She told me while you were trapped in her dream. Apparently, sometime between then and now, she’s told you as well. Am I correct?”

Harry could feel his cheeks flushing as the heat of embarrassment overcame him. It was one thing for him to tell her now, but to find out she’s known all this time kind of made him feel uncomfortable for some reason.

“I’m really sorry, Mrs. Weasley,” he offered in response.

“Sorry for what, dear?”

“Well, I want you to know I didn’t do anything about it. I don’t want to hurt Ginny. I would never do anything that would hurt her,” he assured her.

Suddenly he felt as though he should beg for forgiveness, but he wasn’t quite sure why.

As she continued to smile warmly at him, he felt more and more flustered. With a shaky hand, he lifted his teacup to his lips and took a sip, stalling for time. He was searching for something else to say when she reached across the table to cover his free hand with hers.

“Harry,” she began, giving his hand a gentle squeeze, “after everything you’ve done for Ginny in the past, everything you’ve done for our family, how could you ever think that I would find you untrustworthy where she was concerned?”

Harry remained silent, unsure of what to say.

“I know you aren’t my son,” Mrs. Weasley admitted, pulling her hand away as her eyes dropped briefly to the table before looking back at him, “but you should know that I’m proud to be here for you. Arthur and I both love you as family. You do know that, don’t you?”

Harry looked sheepishly into his teacup as he quietly nodded, avoiding her gaze.

“Well, then,” she continued, “you should also know that if your mum was here, she’d be asking you the very same questions. As I said, I know I’m not your mum and… I would never try to replace Lily, but if you need me, if you have questions…”

Harry’s face turned a brighter shade of red.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Harry. It wasn’t my intention to embarrass you or intrude on your personal feelings, but I guess I’m safe in assuming that you don’t return her feelings then?”

Harry finally looked up from his tea and straight into her eyes. Nervously, he took a deep breath and then began to release all of the pent up frustrations and feelings he’d been hiding.

“Actually,” Harry began, “that’s not really the case. I do care for Ginny, Mrs. Weasley. I care a lot about her and that’s why I can’t…er…be with her,” he finished, choosing his words carefully.

He seriously doubted that her motherly instincts towards him would extend to the fact that he wanted to tear off her daughter’s blouse and then see where it took them.

“Oh…er…Harry, I’m not quite sure I understand. If it’s my blessing your concerned about, you needn’t be. I couldn’t imagine Ginny ever choosing someone more worthy of her love than you. Nor could I ever imagine her finding anyone who would take better care of her than you. I’ve known you long enough to know that family and friends are your priority, even above yourself. I can’t ask for more for my only daughter than a kind and giving young man who cares for her, now can I?” she finished with a broad smile and glistening eyes.

“Thank you, Mrs. Weasley,” Harry looked at her with a warmed heart. “That really means a lot to me, but I only wish it were that simple.”

In response to the curious look on her face, he began to explain his argument.

“The problem isn’t how I feel about her…Well in a way, that’s part of it actually, but the real problem is that if Volde…sorry…You-Know-Who ever realized my feelings for her, it would be, in essence, like placing a target squarely on her back.”

Mrs. Weasley gasped at his statement.

“Don’t say that, Harry!”

“Come on, you know it’s true. You have to realize that if Ginny loves me, it puts her in unnecessary danger.” he asserted.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily true,” she disagreed half-heartily.

“Yes, it is,” he countered, “and I can’t let that happen. I can’t take that risk.”

As he spoke, Mrs. Weasley’s eyes dropped to the floor. Worry was etched in the lines of her face.

“I can tellyou see my point,” he noted, taking in her fallen expression, “but the issue is that Ginny doesn’t. I’ve tried to explain it to her. I told her that she needed to move on and find someone else.”

“I’m guessing that didn’t go well,” Mrs. Weasley smiled weakly.

“No!” he exclaimed. “She’s so unreasonable. Why doesn’t she want to be with someone who has a better chance of…well, surviving to see his next birthday?”

“She wants you.”

“She can’t have me! It just can’t work, but she’s so stubborn! Why can’t she just see reason?” he ranted in frustration. “Ginny says that her feelings aren’t going to change, but she’s not even trying. She basically called me a coward and said that I might as well be dead if this is how I was going to live. Can you believe her?” he paused to take a breath.

“Well, I think…”

Before Mrs. Weasley could finish her answer, the back door to the kitchen swung open. Harry and Mrs. Weasley froze and then fell silent as Ginny walked into the room from the garden.

For several seconds she stood there, just inside the doorway. She held an empty pitcher in her hand and wore an uncomfortable expression.

“Did you need something, dear?” Mrs. Weasley asked nodding to the pitcher.

Ginny didn’t answer. Her eyes moved from her mother to briefly lock upon Harry. The tension in the room was palpable and the extended silence only served to make it worse. Suddenly, Ginny turned on her heels, opened the door with a huff and headed back into the garden with the empty pitcher still in hand.

Harry waited for the door to close before he unloaded.

“Do you see what I mean? She’s just so infuriating!” he insisted, pointing at the door that she’d used for her hasty retreat. “She can’t even stand to be near me long enough to get a drink…or whatever she was doing. Why can’t she just get over it?” he asked, his anger waning as quickly as it had come, giving way to regret. “Why can’t it go back to the way it was? Why does she have to…”

“Forgive me, dear, if I’m out of line,” she interrupted sympathetically, “but regardless of how ‘infuriating’ she can be it sounds to me like you miss her.”

Harry listened before releasing a tired sigh.

“I do,” he admitted quietly with a shrug, “but little good that does me. Missing her won’t make her forgive me.”

“Don’t give up, Harry,” Mrs. Weasley encouraged. “She’ll come around. She loves you too much to stay away completely.”

“No, I’m afraid she’s pretty well shot of me. You saw her,” he reminded. “She won’t even speak to me. If she could only see that I’m doing this to protect her, then maybe she’d understand. I do miss her. I miss her friendship. I’d give anything for it to just go back to the way it was before she told me how she felt,” he admitted regretfully.

“I’m sorry that you’ve had to add this to your list of worries. Finding out that someone is in love with you should be a happy time, especially when it’s someone you care for as well. I’m sorry that it’s only brought you misery. The way you’ve been skulking around here for the last week makes complete sense to me now. I know you think you’re angry at her for being unreasonable, but perhaps being angry with her is your way of convincing yourself that you should just stay away from her.”

He looked at her in disbelief, “I would think you’d want me to stay away from her given the circumstances. I thought I could at least count on you to support my decision.”

“I’m sorry Harry, but I know my daughter. Once she sets her mind to something, what I think will have very little effect on her. When she told me that she loved you, it came from her heart. It isn’t a little school girl’s crush. She believes that you are the only one for her.

“But…” Harry began.

“No, Harry,” she said holding up her hand to quiet him. “You need to ask yourself how you would feel if she did go on and find someone else. Could you live with the fact that she would be with another man instead of you? Have you considered how you’d feel if she actually takes your advice, finds someone else and perhaps one day marries that person?”

“Married?” Harry responded in revulsion.

“Yes, dear,” Mrs. Weasley nodded patiently. “Someday, it could happen you know.”

The thought of any other man touching her, kissing her, or doing anything of the kind wasn’t an image he wanted to dwell on.

“I thought not,” Mrs. Weasley confirmed, reading his body language. “You know, true love is a powerful force, Harry. Have you considered that?”

“What do you mean?” he asked still trying to wipe the image of some faceless git with his hands all over Ginny from his mind.

“Well, it was your mother’s love that saved you the first time from Voldemort, wasn’t it?” she responded firmly.

“Yes,” he paused, a bit startled by her use of his name, “but she died while saving me. She sacrificed herself so that I could live. If you’re saying that I should allow myself to care for…to love her so that it will protect me, I’m not sure I can do that. I couldn’t live with myself if another person I care for dies because of me. Do you have any idea what that feels like?”

Mrs. Weasley got up from the table with tears forming in her eyes. She walked to the window and looked out over the garden.

“Actually, Harry, yes; I do.”

For a few seconds he just sat in stunned silence.

“What?” he responded, finally finding his voice. “What do you mean you know what that feels like?”

“Harry, if I tell you something, something about my past, do you promise to keep this between us?” she asked turning to look at him. “My children don’t know about this and I’d prefer that it stay that way.”

Harry didn’t know if it was fair for him to agree to such a promise. After all, Ron was his best friend. What if it was something he deserved to know? His curiosity quickly got the better of him, however.

“Um…Yeah…of course, Mrs. Weasley, what is it?”

“Well, you may be aware that the majority of my family was killed in the first war by Voldemort and his Death Eaters.”

Harry nodded, uncertain of where this was going.

“My parents were members of an organization similar to the Order of the Phoenix, sort of the early freedom fighters for the cause.”

“I didn’t know there was another group before the Order,” Harry told her in surprise.

“Few people do,” she admitted. “They were working to gain information about Voldemort and moving in secret to do so. When they were discovered, he sent a band of Death Eaters to destroy them. He wanted them to die, them and their heirs to be more precise actually,” she told him shakily.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said sympathetically. “Ron told me that you don’t have much family, but I never really knew what happened or why.”

“Now that you know, would you like to guess how I managed to survive?” she asked.

“Er…I don’t know. Did they send you away...maybe you weren’t at home when they came,” he responded.

“No, Harry, I was indeed at home at the time,” she admitted. “I was 10 years old. I was the youngest of my siblings. My mother had taken me and hidden me as they entered our home. I could hear the screams and the explosions happening all around me. I knew that my family was being slaughtered. All six of my brothers, my father, and I assumed my mother. As the sounds came closer to where I was hidden, I heard my mother trying to fight them off. I couldn’t stand it any longer.”

Harry’s throat tightened at the mental images. “What did you do?”

“I burst from my hiding spot. When I did, she jumped in front of me and shielded me just as he cast the Avada Kedarva curse at me. The last thing I remember her saying was ‘Not my daughter!’ Then she was gone,” Mrs. Weasley recalled, tears streaming down her face, her voice faltering.

“Mrs. Weasley,” Harry began, unsure of what to do, “I’m sorry. I never knew. It must have been horrible to be old enough to fully understand what was happening and feel helpless to do anything about it. How did you get out of there?”

“Well, they tried to curse me after she fell to the floor, but a strange glow erupted all around me. It was like… a force field of love you could say, I guess. They were unable to curse me or even touch me. Then Professor Dumbledore came with the other Order members. He took me to Hogwarts. I stayed there until the next fall when I started school. The rest, as they say, is history,” she finished as if on automatic pilot.

“How do you do it?” Harry asked in awe. “How do you forget about all of it and just go on as if nothing has happened. I never would have believed it had you not just told me yourself.”

“Well, it wasn’t easy. I’ve had a few more years to deal with it than you have of course. You never forget, but it does get easier. I never would have made it if it weren’t for Arthur though. He showed me that it was not only possible to love again, but crucial that I do so. It was the only way I could go on living,” she paused briefly, sorting through the feelings their discussion had dredged up for her. “There was a time when I felt guilty, guilty for living, I mean. I suspect you’ve felt that too, haven’t you?”

Harry simply couldn’t believe that they were having this conversation. There was actually someone in the world who knew how it felt to be him.

“Yeah,” he responded simply. “There have been times that I wished that I would have died with them. I guess my need to avenge them, wins out over my wish to join them though.”

“Good! You continue to fight Harry. Life is so worth living. When I look at my husband and children, I know that I’ve made the right choice choosing life; choosing love. It would have been an insult to my mother’s memory to go through life not really living it. It would have made my mother’s sacrifice all for not. There’s something else Harry, something that may change your mind about Ginny,” she said now turning back to the window.

“What’s that?”

Harry couldn’t imagine what else she could possible say that would be more astonishing than what she’d already shared.

“Well, the protection that’s inside of me because of my mother, the same protection that lives in you, it doesn’t stop there,” she explained quietly.

“What do you mean, it doesn’t stop there?” he asked curiously.

“It is passed on to future generations through bloodlines,” she explained. “What I’m trying to say is that it was passed to my children as well. It lives inside of all of them, Ginny included.”

“I know you’re worried Harry, and each of us needs to make our own choices. We all need to find our own path, but if someday you choose to have children, I suspect the same protection will guard them as well. Without being too forward or assuming too much, if Ginny were their mother, they would inherit the charm from both of your blood lines. I suspect they would be better protected than any other child on Earth, perhaps any living creature on Earth. There would be virtually nothing in the world of dark magic that could touch them.”

Harry was shocked at both the mention of children, but also the implication that she would be supportive of him having children with her only daughter. Only as an afterthought did he truly comprehend what she was saying. If he in fact survived to have children of his own, they’d be practically untouchable by Voldemort and his followers.

“The point is, Harry,” she went on, “Ginny can help you because she has the same shield of love that you have. She doesn’t know that of course. She only knows she loves you, which is really all it takes to extend that shield around you.”

“But Mrs. Weasley, if all of this is true, then why was ‘He’ able to take her, twice? What about all the times your sons have been injured in battle over the years?” he asked.

“That’s the key word isn’t it, Harry? They were injured. Ginny was hurt, but managed to survive everything that happened with no lasting effects. A normal wizard wouldn’t be likely to survive half of the things that my children have. For that matter, I suspect Fred and George would have met their fates at their own hands on several occasions with their experimental magic had it not been for the charm that protects them,” she added quite seriously.

“So, why don’t you tell them? Why do you keep it a secret? Surely, it would be good for them to know,” he suggested quizzically.

“Would it? I don’t think so, Harry. They might think they were invincible or something. I don’t want my children taking unnecessary risks. Risks that I believe they’d take if they knew about the charm, risks that could lead to their downfall if they weren’t careful. No one is completely invincible. Please Harry; promise me you won’t tell them, any of them.”

“If you want this to remain secret, of course, I won’t tell them,” he assured her, “but don’t you think someday that you’ll need to tell them?”

“Perhaps,” she conceded, “but for now, it’s our secret. Okay?”

“Okay…and Mrs. Weasley?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you for sharing this with me,” he said after a brief pause. “It must be difficult to talk about after all this time. It means a lot to me that you trusted me with this. Who else knows?”

“Well, the list is rather short,” she admitted. “Professor Dumbledore, of course, Minerva McGonagall, who looked after me at Hogwarts, Arthur… and now you,” she sighed. “Harry, if there’s one thing that you take from what I have shared with you today, let it be this. We are the guides of our own journey. My advice, from someone who knows a bit about this, is never let someone else, no matter how powerful they are, choose which road you take.”

“I’m not letting him choose my road,” he insisted as he pushed his chair away and rose from the table. “I’m trying to protect your daughter, Mrs. Weasley!”

In frustration, Harry walked to the sink and placed his hands upon the counter. Looking out the window and into the garden, he took a steadying breath and then turned to face her.

“Why can’t anyone understand that I am doing this for Ginny? Shielding Charm or not, she deserves better. She deserves a life with someone who isn’t marked for death,” he argued, raising his voice and dragging his hands through his hair before covering his face with them briefly.

Slowly he regained his composure and walked back to the table to sit down. For several seconds they sat in silence. Harry didn’t know what else to say to convince her. All he knew was that he needed to make someone understand.

“There is something you need to know,” he elaborated finally. “My shield, as you call it, is weakened now because Voldemort was able to take some of my blood at the end of the Tri-Wizard tournament.”

To drive the point home, Harry pulled back his sleeve to reveal a small scar carved into his arm.

“That’s from Pettigrew’s blade,” he told her, “the blade that drew my blood to return Voldemort to his body.”

Mrs. Weasley’s face blanched as she looked at the mark. Harry hated to upset her, but he saw no other way.

“Professor Dumbledore said that in some ways, I passed the protection of my mother onto him that night,” he continued as he covered the scar. “Even though it isn’t gone completely, Professor Dumbledore believes that it has lost some of its strength.”

“I didn’t realize…”

“Wait,” he interrupted. “The good news is that having my blood running through his veins does give us one advantage.”

“How can that possibly help us?” she questioned.

“There is one detail that Professor Dumbledore believes Voldemort has overlooked.”

“What detail?”

“By taking my blood and injecting it into his body, in essence, he’s rendered himself human again.”

“You mean…”

“I mean, he’s no longer immortal. He’s just as vulnerable to a human death as I am in some respects.”

“Oh Harry,” Molly exclaimed. “This could be the break we need.”

“Well, I don’t know about that,” he cautioned. “No one knows what he’s capable of or how capable I am of actually defeating him, which is my problem. If I follow my feelings and go to Ginny, I put her at risk for his attacks. Not only that, but I also run the risk of abandoning her if I can’t defeat him and I…well, don’t come back that day.”

“But Harry…”

“No,” he stopped her. “Ginny should be with someone who at least has a chance of someday marrying her, giving her children and growing old with her. I’m doing what’s best for her. I guess in a sense I’m hurting her a little now, so I don’t hurt her even more later,” he finished resolutely.

Mrs. Weasley sighed and slowly walked over to Harry, placing her hand on his shoulder.

“I have no doubt that your intentions are pure, Harry. If that’s your decision, then that’s your decision, dear. I will never presume to tell you how you should live your life. Only you can decide that, but just know that we love you, Harry.”

As she crossed the kitchen and opened the back garden door she turned and added, “If you should ever choose to follow your heart instead of your head, you have my support.”

Harry sat for a long time, alone in the kitchen thinking over her words. For the rest of the day, he kept to himself. As the sky grew dark outside, Harry felt drained. He slowly climbed the stairs and entered his room. In the dim light of the moon, Harry could make out a small package positioned on his pillow. Curiously, he moved to the bed and sat down on the edge, picking up the parcel and turning it over in his hands. As he untied the ribbon and opened the parchment he could scarcely believe what he was holding. There, inside the wrappings, was the Dream Amulet.

Attached was a note.

Harry,

Thank you for sharing your heart with me today. I know it wasn’t easy for you to open yourself up in that way. I also know that you will keep my secret safe.

Always remember that you are not alone. Now that you know that I am capable of understanding how you feel more than most realize, I hope that it brings you some small measure of comfort.

Please consider your options very carefully before casting your lot. In light of the circumstances, I am giving this back to you. Don’t be hasty. Take your time and be sure that you are making the right decision for you. I will always be here to support you, even if you and Ginny aren’t meant to be.

Finally Harry, you will always be family, please remember that. I think you know what to do. Pleasant dreams, Harry.

With Love,
Molly

________________________________________
Chapter 18 Bittersweet Dreams

Harry lay in his bed, slowly rubbing the smooth emerald surface of the Dream Amulet between his thumb and fingers. Briefly he watched the moon’s silvery light play off the stone before clasping it tightly in his hand.

In one way, holding the talisman was soothing for him. It made him feel closer to Ginny, as though it connected him to her in some way.

In another way, having the amulet in his possession was like gripping temptation in the palm of his hand. The stone’s glow seemed to call to him, taunting him. The longer he held it, the harder it became to ignore.

The true temptation stemmed from one simple fact.

The amulet not only allowed him to feel more connected to Ginny, but it also had the potential to offer him much more. He could go to her, be with her, even if it was only a dream.

It was that knowledge that had plagued him from the moment he’d opened the package.

Should I really do anything? he wondered.

Ever since he’d found the amulet tied up neatly and sitting on his pillow, Harry had been asking himself that very question. As he turned the stone over in his hand, he mentally worked through the possibilities.

What would happen if I used it?

I could go to her right now, spend time with her, he thought, indulging the idea for a moment. She’d never have to know. As long as I keep my distance during the day, what could it hurt?

But…he reconsidered; maybe it would be better if I just tucked it away for safe keeping, give the whole idea a bit more thought.

Who knows, he thought, working through scenarios, maybe if I give Ginny enough time, she’ll start to move on and we can go back to the way things were before…before I was stupid enough to kiss her, he sighed shaking his head.

If I do that, Voldemort will keep his sights set on me instead of her and I get my friend back. It’s a win – win situation, he tried to convince himself.

Reluctantly, Harry’s eyes roved to the trunk deposited in the corner of his room. If he put it away right then, there would be no risk involved. Ginny would remain safe and he would avoid doing something stupid and selfish. After several seconds of indecision he released a long tired sigh and rolled onto his side, the stone still clutched in his hand. For several minutes he laid thinking of how hard it would be to have it so close by, wrapped up in the bottom of his trunk.

Would I be able to just leave it there?

It didn’t take long for him to decide. The answer was a resounding no.

“Ah, hell,” he groaned.

I should probably give it back to Mrs. Weasley…just eliminate the temptation altogether.

Harry glanced at the discarded Amulet wrappings on his bedside table. Slowly he rose to a sitting position and swung his legs over the side of the bed. For several minutes he sat with his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands. As he pressed his palms to his eyes, the amulet dangled from his hand, its chain interlaced between his fingers.

After several minutes he pulled his hands from his eyes and looked down at the amulet, now resting in his hand, the chain pooled in a circle of gold surrounding the emerald green stone.

Making his choice, Harry picked up the wrappings from the small table. After a brief pause, he balled them up and chucked them in the bin. He wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do yet, but he was sure that he wasn’t giving it back.

Mrs. Weasley gave it to me for a reason. If she thinks I should use it, maybe it’s worth considering.

At least, that was his rationalization.

Truthfully, the idea of visiting Ginny’s dreams was eating away at his self-control. He knew that he should just stick to his plan to stay away, but somehow he couldn’t help fantasizing about walking into her dreams, if only for a little while. In a battle of wills with his conscience, Harry closed his eyes, lay back on the bed and clutched the deep green stone to his chest.

Concentrating on the radiant warmth of the gem, he struggled to sort out his feelings and conflicted thoughts as he exhaled a slow, calming breath.

Maybe I should just leave her alone; he sighed as he rolled onto his side again and placed the amulet on the pillow next to him.

For several seconds he stared at the stone, mulling things over. Images of her smile, her long silky hair, their talks and their encounter by the water...all of it flashed in his mind.

Slowly he reached out and closed his fingers around the Dream Amulet once more.

I just need to be with her, he thought, finally giving in to temptation, just once.

With that, he pushed off the covers, climbed from his bed and pulled his robe on over his pajamas.

I won’t bother her, he thought with conviction. If I can just be near her when she isn’t scowling at me or running the other way, then maybe I can put this behind me. It will be like… saying goodbye.

Having justified his actions, Harry crossed to the door and then paused momentarily, listening for signs of life.

The Burrow had fallen silent over an hour ago, but he needed to be sure. The last thing he wanted was to have to explain what he was doing out of bed at that hour, worse yet, what he was doing in Ginny’s bedroom.

When he was satisfied everyone was asleep; Harry placed his hand on the knob. As he turned it and pulled open the door, his stomach twisted in knots.

A small part of him knew what he was doing was wrong, but he pointedly chose to ignore the nagging pangs of guilt. He missed her so much that neither his nerves nor his guilt mattered anymore. He’d made up his mind. He had to be near her, even if it wasn’t real.

Harry peered out into the vacant hallway and tried to remain calm. Before he could change his mind, he quickly crossed the hall and ducked into Ginny’s room. As the door closed behind him, the latch fell into place with a small click. To Harry, it sounded much louder in the silence of her room.

For a few seconds he stopped dead, just inside the door, his heart pounded against his chest. Waiting and watching to see if she would stir, his mind began raced.

What am I going to say if she wakes up and finds me here?

Harry tried to formulate a logical reason for being there, but nothing came to mind. When she continued to breathe slowly and deeply, he exhaled in relief and moved closer to her bed.

Only meters away from her, he froze; temporarily mesmerized by the way she looked in the moonlight. Her hair was fanned out like a blaze of brilliant, ginger flames. She had one arm laid back on the pillow above her head and the other rested gently across her stomach. The blankets lay just above her naval, exposing the way her white, sleeveless nightgown followed the contour of her body.

Harry swallowed hard and took in a shuddering breath as his eyes moved up her body to study the lines of her face. She looked so peaceful, lost in her dreams. She even seemed to have a smile on her lips.

This was the way he knew her… sweet, beautiful, happy.

Her dreams were pleasant. That much was clear. It was comforting for Harry to know that he’d played a part in helping her to regain her sweet dreams.

A small lump formed in his throat as he watched her. He longed to be with her, but he fought the urge to wake her and tell her how much he missed her.

You can’t interfere, he reminded himself. You’re here to say goodbye, nothing more.

Cautiously, he moved closer to stand by her bed. Releasing another shaky breath, he dared to lean down and gently touch her silky hair with the tips of his fingers.

Just say goodbye, he reminded himself, pulling his hand away.

Unfortunately, Harry was finding it just wasn’t that easy. As much as he wanted to pretend that it wasn’t true, he felt connected to her. He felt a bond between the two of them and he was beginning to fear that he always would. They’d shared too much, been through more than most together.

Some experiences and people just leave a lasting impression in your life and she had definitely left one in his.

That only served to make his lot more difficult. Even as he knelt beside her bed, he was torn between what he wanted and what was right.

What he really wanted was to tell her he cared for her and beg for another chance, but he knew he couldn’t do that. He then envisioned himself lying down next to her, simply watching her sleep for the remainder of the night.

Selfish thoughts, he told himself. Stay in control, Potter. What you should do is leave right now before you do something you’ll regret.

In the end, he didn’t do any of those things. Instead, he pushed aside all possible consequences, reached into the pocket of his robe and pulled out the amulet. Slowly he turned it over in his hand as his eyes drifted to her sleeping form.

Just once, he reminded himself, and then I’ll put it away.

Gently, Harry placed the stone upon Ginny’s chest. As he watched, the chain slowly snaked its way over her body, clasping itself at the nape of her neck.

Ginny stirred slightly from the sensation of the delicate metal links brushing against her skin. Harry held his breath once more, half hoping she’d wake up, and half hoping she wouldn’t.

When her body relaxed, Harry lifted his wand and touched the tip to the stone before he could change his mind. Barely audibly, he whispered the incantation, closed his eyes and waited.

By the time he opened them, the dull glow emanating from within the stone was gradually growing to a white-hot light.

Power surged forward from the stone as his wand tip began to tremble. Tracking the progression of its force, Harry watched it move up the shaft of his wand and into his body.

In the next instant, a misty fog began to encircle him. He felt his body crumpling and falling to the floor. Unable to catch himself Harry hit hard and then everything went black.

The next thing he knew, the bright light of day was flooding his eyes. Blinking as he struggled to focus and regain his bearings, Harry rose to his feet and took in his new surroundings.

It didn’t take long for him to realize that he was on familiar ground.

When he’d entered Ginny’s dream, he’d been transported to the Burrow.

It was a beautiful summer day. He was standing at the edge of the garden, just out of the view of several children playing together. From the looks of the ginger-haired heads, it was the Weasley children.

She’s dreaming about her childhood, Harry mused with a grin.

Thinking back to the way he was able to interact in her other dream, Harry began to wonder if this would be the same.

Can they see me? Could I interact with the dream if I wanted? And what would happen if they did see me, he wondered uncertainly as he watched.

Would they panic and try to hex me? Would they realize that I’m ‘Harry Potter’ or just think I was an intruder?

Harry wasn’t sure that her brothers would recognize me in the dream. For that matter, he wasn’t even sure Ginny would.

Suddenly he felt rather exposed in his current hiding place. Carefully he moved to a new position so that he could watch the scene play out undetected.

Over the next several minutes, Harry saw how wonderful it must have been to grow up with so many siblings. They were having a wonderful time together, playing, laughing, talking…

The Weasleys were close, happy and supportive of one another. No matter how much they fought with each other, Harry knew that in a pinch they would ban together against anyone or anything.

The differences between Harry’s childhood and the Weasleys’ lives were innumerable.

For starters, Harry had grown up with Dudley.

He and Dudley never played together, were far from friendly and didn’t even like each other. In fact, Harry was seen as a nuisance, an embarrassment and a freak. He wasn’t included in family outings or celebrations.

Until he was rescued from the shack on the rock by Hagrid, he pretty much lived alone in a house full of other people. The only attention he did receive, Harry avoided whenever possible. It usually consisted of receiving a list of duties for the day or Dudley using him as punching bag.

Shrugging off the past, Harry drew his thoughts back to the scene, trying to figure out who was who.

First, he looked to the sky. Two redheaded blurs whooshed by, one after another. Stopping in mid-air, the teenaged boys hovered on their brooms a few meters above the vegetable garden.

Bill and Charlie, Harry thought with a grin.

It had to be them. They were the oldest redheads in view. Harry was guessing that they couldn’t have been more than fifteen and thirteen at the time.

After watching them for a minute, he turned his attention to the ground. Harry immediately spotted Fred and George moving in tandem. They were playing a game involving garden gnomes and a bit of a stick with another boy of six or seven years old. The younger boy was undoubtedly Ron. They were running, flailing their stick in the air and seemed to be having a great time.

Harry laughed as a tiny gnome turned on Ron and thumped him on the shin with a rock from the garden.

Well, that’s all the Weasley boys, except Percy, Harry thought pulling his eyes from Ron, Fred and George.

Oh, wait, he thought, finally locating him under a tree reading a rather large book.

There he is…typical, Harry thought. Even back then, Percy just didn’t fit in I guess.

So, that’s all the Weasley boys…where’s…

Finally, he spotted her. Ginny had just emerged from a patch of wild flowers. She had been picking them not far from where Harry was hidden and she was humming a little song happily to herself.

She couldn’t have been more than four or five, Harry guessed, but she was already simply lovely.

She had long, shimmering, ginger hair that rested somewhere about her waist and ended with soft curls at the tips. She seemed to smile to herself as she went about her work and looked extremely proud of herself.

After several minutes she stopped and looked at the colorful collection of flowers in her hands. Satisfied with the bouquet she’d created; Ginny looked at the twins and Ron before she turned and skipped off in the other direction.

Bill and Charlie had just landed their brooms. They were arguing jokingly about who was the better flier, when Ginny bounded up to them and quietly tugged on the older boy’s shirt.

Halting their bickering, Bill and Charlie patiently looked down at her.

“What can I do for you, little Princess?” Bill asked with a smile.

It was pretty clear that her brothers doted on her when she was little.

How could they not, Harry wondered. He smiled as he watched her raise the small fistful of flowers up for Bill to see. She’s adorable.

“Look, Billy! I picked some of Mummy’s flowers! I picked them just for you,” she said with a smile. “Aren’t they lovely?”

Reaching down, he lifted her up into his arms, resting her on his hip.

“They are lovely…and you picked them just for me?”

She nodded proudly as he continued.

“That was very thoughtful, little one.”

Taking them from her, he tucked all but one of them carefully into his shirt pocket so they poked out of the top.

“You’re so silly,” she laughed.

At that, he took the remaining flower and gently tucked it into her hair behind her ear.

“I love you, Billy,” she said as she flung her arms around his neck, hugging him.

“I love you, too, Princess Ginny,” he answered as she giggled warmly.

“Billy?” she looked down at the broom in his other hand. “Can I have a go on your broom?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Princess. You’re a bit too small to ride my broom alone,” he responded gently.

“Will you take me flying, then?” she asked innocently as she leaned back slightly in his arms to look at him.

Bill raised an eyebrow before glancing at Charlie with a grin.

Charlie wore a grin to match and simply shook his head with a shrug.

How did she learn to be so irresistible at such a young age, Harry chuckled quietly from his vantage point amongst the shrubbery.

As he watched, he had to fight the urge to laugh out loud as Bill tried to convince her she was too little.

“Ginny,” he began gently; “Mummy won’t like it if I take you flying.”

“You mean she’d skin you alive,” Charlie offered helpfully.

At Bill’s reluctance, Ginny gently placed her tiny hands on his cheeks, forcing him to look at her as she begged.

“Oh please, Billy. I promise…I’ll be a very good girl. Please? I want to fly like the birds do.”

Harry watched in amusement as she turned on the charm for her eldest brother.
Ginny frequently complained of ‘having to grow up as the only girl in house full of boys’, but it was quite evident that the littlest Weasley and ‘only girl’ had really held the power.

“Oh, alright love,” Bill relented finally, unable to deny her, “but you really must promise never to tell Mummy. Can you do that, Princess?”

“Oh, yes!” she squealed with delight as she hugged her brother tightly around his neck. “I promise! I promise!”

“Alright then,” he nodded before kissing her on the nose. “Let’s go fly like the birds, okay?”

With that he set her down long enough to mount his broom. Then he held his arms out to her and lifted her onto the broomstick in front of him. He held her in place with one arm as he slowly took off and began to make gentle passes across the garden through the air.

Harry could hear her laughter and gasps as they flew for several minutes back and forth fifteen or so meters above the ground. When Bill returned to the ground, he gently lifted her off, returning her safely to her feet.

“Oh, thank you!” she beamed as she reached up and kissed Bill on the cheek. “That was wonderful!”

“You’re welcome, love,” he said with a wink. “Now remember your promise, Princess. Mummy can never know, right?”

“Oh, never, Billy,” she promised before turning her attention to her brother, Charlie.

“Charlie, will you play with me?” she asked as she slid her tiny hand into her brother’s larger one.

As she looked up at Charlie with her warm brown doe eyes, Harry was sure she was completely irresistible to the male population at large.

“Alright, sweetheart,” he agreed, admitting defeat with a grin. “What would you like to do?”

She seemed to consider the question for a moment before she answered with a smile.

“I want to go down to the stream and go wading, but I’m not allowed to go in the water alone,” she added for good measure. “Would you take me?”

“Yeah,” he winked. “I guess that would be alright.”

They began to walk off together, hand in hand, towards the stream at the back of the Weasley’s property.

Harry started to leave his hiding place but stopped dead when his line of sight was crossed by Bill and Fred. In order to follow Ginny and Charlie, he’d have to walk by the other Weasleys. Wishing he had thought to bring his cloak, he was forced to accept that his visit was over for the night.

In the next second, Harry found himself lying on the floor of Ginny’s room. He felt sore from his fall, but all in all he was fine. In fact, he felt better than he had in days.

As he got to his feet, he noticed a rather large bruise forming on his elbow where he’d undoubtedly hit the floor. Bruises didn’t matter though. He’d happily take a ‘Dudley style’ beating, if it meant he could be with her again.

That was the problem. Rather than saying goodbye, Harry was even more drawn to her. He found himself wanting to know more about her life, her childhood.

He wanted to know everything about her. That wasn’t what he had planned at all.

In the end, instead of closing the chapter on that part of his life as he’d planned, he looked down at her with renewed affection.

Unable to resist, he slowly bent over her and kissed her forehead. He watched her stir slightly before rubbing her face in her sleep. Smiling down at her, he released the clasp on the chain with his wand and summoned the amulet to him. After taking one last look at her, he quietly crept from the room.

Before that night, Harry had wondered what he really felt for Ginny. He hadn’t had much experience with the emotion of love, after all. When it came to her, his feelings had been so confusing. He knew he was extremely attracted to her and that he cared about her, but, was it just lust mixed with friendship or… was he really in love with her?

It doesn’t matter if I do love her, he told himself. I can’t. This is bad; he admitted as he returned to his bed. I never should have gone into her dream.

For nearly an hour he lay in his bunk, unable to sleep. The more he told himself he couldn’t love her, the more he knew that it was too late. Her sweetness, her innocence, and the strength that she had grown to possess were all endearing to him.

Then there was her family. Ginny and her brothers may have been poor, but they never knew it, not back then anyway.

They were rich in ways that mattered and they were happier just being together than anything they could buy would ever make them.

Harry didn’t have the benefit of love or money growing up.

If I had a family though, I would have chosen love over money any day.

His eyes were growing heavier, but instead of drifting off to sleep, he suddenly found himself imagining what it would be like to be a part of a family like the Weasleys’. He wondered what it would be like to have that life with someone he loved…someone like Ginny.

Harry chuckled at the thought of melting under the pleading eyes of a little girl, his little girl. Even though he knew it could never really happen, just the thought of it made him smile.

Somewhere between his fantasies, he drifted off to sleep and slipped into his own dreams. For just one night, in his world there was no prophecy or Dark Lord in the wings. For just one night, he dreamt of a normal life and at the center of that life, was Ginny.

The next morning Harry awoke feeling pleasantly rested. His dreams had been so wonderful that for a moment he’d forgotten that it wasn’t real. Unfortunately, he was immediately reminded of that fact as he left his room and entered the hall.

Stepping into the corridor, he ran smack into the very person he’d been dreaming about as she passed his room on her way to the stairway.

“Ginny, I’m sorry!” he exclaimed, his cheeks flushing after they collided. “I didn’t know you were…well, I didn’t see you when I came out of my room,” he told her. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Harry,” she glared at him stubbornly, “not that you’d notice or even care for that matter.”

Angrily, she brushed passed him.

“Ginny, wait,” he called.

“What for, Harry?” she asked sarcastically as she turned to glare at him.

“I…er…never mind,” he reconsidered. “It was nothing.”

“I guess you’re right. It was nothing,” with that she stormed down the hall and disappeared down the stairs.

With her biting response, Harry came crashing back to reality. Leaning back against his door, he raked his hands through his hair in frustration.

Her abrupt reaction to him was a rather painful reminder of his decision. I chose this, he reiterated in his mind. Yeah, but what if I was wrong? What if Ginny was right and things could work between us if I would just let them.

His eyes dropped to the floor and his arms folded across his chest. It doesn’t really matter now. She hates me. If she doesn’t hate me, she’s doing a bang up job of pretending she does, he sighed. What was I thinking last night…dreaming about our children and our life together? She can’t even stand the sight of me. Wake up, Potter. The dream’s over. Welcome to reality.

With a sigh he followed her down the stairs to begin what was sure to be another lonely day at Grimmauld Place.

Throughout the morning, he’d managed to steer clear of her. After lunch he talked Ron into a game of chess, which provided a much needed diversion. The rest of his day, however, seemed to drag on and on at a painfully slow pace. The worst moments came at dinner when they were forced to sit together at the same table.

Throughout the meal, Ginny deliberately avoided his gaze. She refused to enter any conversation that involved Harry in any way. After a bit, he excused himself, got up and left he chilly atmosphere of the kitchen.

After the day he’d had, Harry had entered his room defeated. All the happiness he’d felt the night before had been drained from his body and mind in the icy wake of Ginny.

In an attempt to distract himself, he tried to focus on other things, Quidditch, spell books, anything that came to mind.

It was no use.

Try as he might, he couldn’t keep his mind from drifting to the small package that was wrapped up in an old sock and hidden at the bottom of his trunk.

To avoid temptation, he finally climbed into bed. Restlessly, Harry tossed and turned, longing for just a taste of the comfort her dreams had provided. Watching those memories through her eyes was the only happiness he’d found in weeks. Now that was gone.

For nearly an hour Harry tried to forget about the amulet and how it had felt to be in her dreams. In the end, his resistance was futile.

I said I’d only use the Amulet once, he thought, but I need to see her. What’s one more visit anyway? What could it hurt?

When the last sounds of the day had waned, he quietly rose from his bed, rummaged through his trunk, slipped out of his room and across the hall.

This time I’ll be smarter, he thought as he levitated a chair silently to her bedside.

He didn’t fancy falling to the floor again when his bruises from the previous night were still healing. Plus, the sound of his body hitting the floor could even wake her.

After placing the chair near her bed, he sank into it with a sigh. For a few minutes, he simply watched her.

Tonight she was curled on her side facing him with her hands tucked neatly under her pillow near her chin. Her hair was partially hiding her face from view and he had to fight the urge to brush it away. Her gown was different, too. It was pale blue with tiny little straps across her shoulders.

God, she’s beautiful, Harry thought before raking his hands through his hair.

Suddenly, she stirred in her sleep. She giggled quietly and then rolled onto her back, sinking into her pillows.

Harry’s heart was racing as he wondered whether he should just get out of there before she woke up and found him sitting by her bed.

For several more minutes he waited, trying to decide what to do. When she never stirred again, his courage returned. Pulling the amulet from his pocket, he moved to her bedside and gently laid the stone upon her chest once more.

He sat mesmerized by the movement of the chain as it crawled over her skin. When the clasp was finally in place, he sat back in his chair and raised his wand.

The tip made contact with the Dream Amulet and his body went limp as he slumped over in the chair. His consciousness vacated his mind and Harry left behind the misery of the day, entering the comfort of another night with her.

And so it went.

During the day, Harry renewed his vow to keep his distance. Miserable as he was, he still contended, it was for the best.

When darkness fell, however, he faltered. Night after night he’d slip into her room and enter her dreams. Before long, he spent his days, looking forward to the night.

Her dreams were an escape from the reality of his life. It meant he could be close to her, if only for a little while. He was grateful for the nighttime because little by little the days were growing harder to bear.

By day, Ginny avoided him, turning a cold shoulder any time he was nearby.

During his nightly visits to her dreams however, he grew to love her even more. Soon after his visits began, he began taking his cloak. Not only did it make it easier to stay with her longer, but it enabled him to be closer to her in the dreams. He’d watched as she dreamt of everything from her childhood to taking exams under scrutiny of Snape’s watchful eyes.

All in all, his nights were heaven.

Then, as if he were the subject of a rather cruel joke, each day she would treat him worse than she had on the last. Instead of getting over things, it seemed as though she was becoming angrier with him, if that were possible. For the life of him, he couldn’t figure out why.

Part of him knew he should be grateful for her cold demeanor. At that point, he didn’t trust himself around her. The way he felt about her, he was afraid that if she ever did allow him back into her life, he wouldn’t be able to keep his perspective. Harry didn’t even want to think about the possible consequences that could bring.

Still, her mounting anger was baffling. He was giving her space. He wasn’t trying to talk to her or spend time with her, but somehow when their paths crossed in the light of day, she was increasingly spiteful to him.

One warm afternoon was particularly difficult. He’d ventured outside, unaware that she’d gone for a swim. When Harry came upon her, out of habit he stood quietly and watched her floating, casually paddling about until suddenly she spotted him.

“What are you doing?” she yelled furiously. “Can’t you just stay the hell away from me? Get out of here! STOP watching me!”

Harry was stunned by her anger and instead of leaving immediately, he froze on the spot, mouth gaping.

“GO AWAY!” she repeated pushing her hands against the water and splashing in his direction.

“I’m sorry,” he muttered as he took a step back, his throat tightening. “I didn’t know that you’d be…

“Just leave, Harry!” she yelled turning her back.

“Okay, yeah, I’ll just….”

But Ginny didn’t hear the rest of his words. She dove underwater to get away.

As Harry walked away, he swiped tears from his face with the back of his hand.

I love her and she hates me. God, what have I done?

For the next two days, Harry basically lived for his dreams. He didn’t eat much; he avoided everyone, including Mrs. Weasley and kept to his room whenever possible.

How Ginny had grown to loathe him so deeply was a mystery, but he figured that it was just how she had to deal with what had happened between them…and what hadn’t.

Harry continued to believe that simple explanation until one night, he discovered the real reason.

Harry had entered her dream, just as he usually did. When he laid the amulet upon her skin, he almost breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that soon he’d walk in her world once again. He needed to be near her so much, his chest seemed to ache from it.

Emerging in the dream world, Harry quickly got his bearings and found himself on the path near the bank of the river at Grimmauld Place. It was the spot that Ginny had first confessed her feelings to him. It was also the place where the growing rift between them had first been created.

Curious about the location of the dream, Harry moved closer, draping himself with his Invisibility cloak. He came to a stop at the edge of the wooded path, leaned against a tree and prepared to settle in to watch the dream unfold.

A barefoot Ginny was sitting alone on the ground near the water. He could see her at an angle, catching the contours of her face and the lines of her body in the dusky light of the setting sun.

Her long ginger hair was draped about her shoulders. Periodically, it seemed to flow back and forth with the gentle movements of the wind. Her legs were curled up against her body with her arms wrapped tightly, almost protectively, around her shins. As she rested her chin upon her knees she seemed to be doing nothing more than staring out at the water, deep in contemplation.

Harry couldn’t help but think she looked sad and lonely as she watched the water moving lazily past. He wondered what memory was replaying for her and when it had happened.

He wanted to reach out to her, but he knew he shouldn’t. After all, she was dreaming and he wasn’t sure exactly what would happen next. Nor could he have prepared for it if he had known.

Before he could make any decisions, she spoke.

“Why are you doing this to me?”

Her voice was sad, quiet, almost defeated.

“Why are you haunting me?”

Harry froze for a second, unsure of what to think.

Is she actually…talking to me? No, that’s ridiculous, he reassured himself with a shake of his head.

Harry found himself checking to be sure his cloak was properly covering him. When he was sure it was, he began looking around to see if there was anyone else nearby. Seeing no one, he had to ask. Does she know I’m here?

Momentarily Harry dismissed the thought, waiting to see what would happen. After all, he had been careful to hide himself.

How could she possibly know?

“I can feel you,” she said as if in answer to his thoughts. “It’s just like before… when I was calling to you in my nightmares. I know when you’re here, Harry.”

Harry’s heart seemed to drop into his stomach at her words. He knew he should move towards her, but his feet felt oddly heavy. Swallowing hard, Harry pushed off from the tree, slipped off his cloak and stepped out of the shadows.

As he moved closer, he watched her body as it visibly tensed. Her physical reaction to his presence was almost as painful for him as it was to see her looking so sad and broken. Guilt seemed to grip him by the throat as he stood, staring down at her as she sat a few meters away. Finally forcing the words to come, he apologized.

“I’m sorry, Ginny,” he said quietly, looking down at his feet. “I didn’t know. I just…I miss you. You won’t even look at me anymore. Somehow we’ve gone from being good friends to just…this,” he said holding out his arms in frustration.

Without warning or even a response, she pushed off from the ground and strode to the water’s edge, folding her arms across her chest.

For several seconds a strained silence hung in the air between them. Harry was so tense; he was finding it hard to breathe.

“Ginny…” he called to her, barely above a whisper. “Ginny, please, this is killing me.”

That was the wrong thing to say.

In an instant she spun around on the spot to glare at him. There was an instant fury and tears in her eyes.

“It’s killing, YOU?!” she snapped. “What do you think you’re doing to me? You keep coming into my dreams! Your presence is…it’s all around me! How do you think that makes me feel when you won’t let us be together?”

Before Harry could speak, Ginny answered her own question.

“It hurts, Harry! It hurts like hell! I can’t be near you during the day because some wounds just don’t heal that easily, especially when you keep ripping them open night after night!”

“But I…”

“No, Harry, just listen!” she ordered holding up her hand and taking a step closer. “Did you honestly think that it would all just disappear?”

“Well, I’d hoped that we could…”

“You’d hoped what, Harry? That we could just go back to being friends? Did you honestly think it would be that easy after what happened between us?” she asked incredulously, squaring off with him as she took another step closer. “I can’t do that! It’s just too hard! Maybe someday I’ll be able to, but not now. It’s too raw. It’s too painful.”

Harry stood paralyzed, unable to move or respond. He wasn’t at all prepared for this confrontation. As he stood gaping at her in alarm and surprise, he wasn’t quite sure what to say. He had no idea that she was aware of his nightly visits into her subconscious. He suddenly felt a bit like a voyeur for invading her private thoughts and memories.

“I’m…I’m sorry, Ginny,” he stammered. “I didn’t know that you knew.”

“Is that supposed to make it better?”

“No, I’m not saying that,” he replied, “but, please believe me. I had no idea that I was hurting you. I just wanted to be near you. I’m really sorry,” he finished staring at the ground between them. “It was selfish of me.”

“Well, I’m sorry too, Harry, but I can’t do this. If you have to leave me, I wish you would just leave. Stop lingering in my mind and just let me deal with this on my own,” she pleaded trying to rein in her emotions. “I can’t take this any longer. That’s why I was waiting here for you tonight. You have to stop.”

“If I’d have known it was hurting you,” he said pulling his gaze from the ground to look at her. “I never would have kept doing it. It’s just that… I was so lonely for you,” he admitted quietly.

“You’re lonely?” she scoffed. “Well, whose fault is that?”

“I’m doing this for you, Ginny,” he insisted in aggravation.

“Oh, really? Well don’t expect a thank you for your efforts. Just leave me alone, Harry,” she said as her eyes filled with tears. She inhaled a shuddering breath before she forced out the next line. “If you care for me at all, you have to stop torturing me this way.”

“Ginny, please,” he begged, stepping forward to close the short distance between them. When he reached out to lay his hand on her shoulder, she responded by roughly shrugging it off.

“Please, what?” she snapped.

Harry exhaled slowly and tried to explain.

“You have every right to be angry,” he conceded, “but please try to understand. There is no one I’d rather be with than you. Believe me, I’ve had lots of time alone to think about us, but I’m trying to protect you.”

“Oh, just stop!” she exclaimed, throwing up her hands and turning her back on him. “I don’t want to hear this again.”

“Why can’t you understand?” he persisted moving in front of her, forcing her to face him. “You deserve better. You deserve a life with someone who isn’t marked for death,” he said running his hands through his hair. “God, Ginny, don’t you understand?”

“Oh, I understand, alright,” Ginny shot sarcastically. “We can’t be together, but you can just invade my mind anytime you want.”

“NO!” he yelled in frustration.

Harry closed his eyes, drew a deep breath and exhaled before regaining control.

“That’s not what I meant, Ginny. The point is…I want you to have more than what I can give you. You’re too young to give up your happiness for me. You should be with someone who at least has a chance of giving you a future.”

“I don’t want anyone else,” she told him, her lower lip trembling as her anger gave way to anguish. “It’s just not that easy to forget. You’re not that easy to forget,” she added near a whisper.

“Ginny…” he paused as he chose his words carefully. “This isn’t easy for me either. I know that you think it is,” he said tentatively reaching out to gently brush away her tears, “but it isn’t.”

Instead of warming to his touch, she flinched and pushed his hand away.

“You seem to be getting by just fine,” she responded coldly.

“Do I? Damn it, Ginny! Do you really believe that I want to be alone? I’m trying…I’m trying to do what’s best for you,” he finished as his chest tighten and his eyes began to well with tears.

At the sound of his choked voice, she looked up into his eyes. Her bottom lip began to quiver.

Slowly, with the softest of touches, her hand came to rest against his cheek. Closing his eyes, he squeezed them shut tight, willing himself to hold back.

She was so close and reaching out to him. All he wanted was to wrap his arms around her and let everything else go.

“Harry, why can’t you see that you ARE what’s best for me?”

Seeming to recognize his weakness, she gently placed her free hand upon his other cheek and moved closer.

“I love you,” she whispered locking her gaze with his as she soothingly brushed the pads of her thumbs against his skin. “I want to face whatever comes… by your side.”

“You can’t,” he argued half-heartedly taking her wrists in his hands and gently pulling them away from his face before taking a step back. “Voldemort would…”

“Stop,” she said holding up her hand. “Regardless of what you do or don’t do now; I’m already a mark for Voldemort. That isn’t going to change. He knows what type of person you are, Harry,” she pointed out. “He knows that you’d come for me. It doesn’t matter if we’re together or not.”

Slowly she moved forward again and into his space. As though it were the most natural thing in the world, her fingertips glided down the length of his arm from his shoulder to his hand. When her fingers laced with his, Harry’s eyes dropped to their hands and then back to her face. He knew he should break the contact with her, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

“That is true isn’t it?” she asked. “You’d come for me.”

“Yes,” he admitted quietly. “You know I would. I will always be there if you need me.”

“But you’re not,” she contradicted. “I need you now, and where are you?”

“That’s not fair,” he replied. “It’s not the same.”

“Why not?” she asked before reaching for his other hand. “Tell me, if we agree that I’m already in danger and you admit that you’ll do whatever it takes to help me, then why are you doing this? Why are you cheating yourself out of being happy in the meantime?”

Harry was silent. She had a point. The only real difference would be that between horrible times, they’d have each other.

“I…er…well, what if it gets worse?” he asked almost as if he were grasping for reasons to rationalize his decision.

“Then we’ll face it together,” she replied pulling her hands from his and sliding them up his arms to his shoulders.

“I…I don’t know,” he stumbled over his words as he looked down and into her eyes.

“I do know,” she insisted quietly, before gently kissing his lips.

It was brief, but tender and Harry didn’t know how much more he could take. It felt incredible for her touch him again, to kiss him. The urge to just lean into and let his instincts take over was building. When she broke the kiss, he looked into her eyes again and knew.

He had lost control of the moment.

“If something ever happened to you because of me I’d…”

“Shhh….” she breathed, reaching up and gently covering his lips with her fingertips.

The gesture was familiar and instantly Harry’s thoughts were drawn back to that day by the river as they lay upon the blanket together.

Her expression was indescribable. Unnerved by her intensity, he held his breath, completely mesmerized by her eyes. It was though she could see directly into his soul and the protective wall he’d built between them was beginning to crumble under her gaze.

“If you don’t love me,” she said softly, her fingers moving from his lips to glide gently over his cheek, “just tell me. Just say it, and then let me go. Don’t come into my dreams and stay away from me at school. But, if you do love me,” she pleaded sliding her hand to his nape, “don’t you think we both deserve whatever happiness we can find?”

Harry couldn’t answer. The tiny hairs at the base of his neck were prickling from her touch and if she didn’t stop looking at him that way very soon, he was sure to give in. He was so torn with mixed emotions. His need to protect her was fiercely battling his desire to comfort her.

“Harry…” she whispered moving still closer to his body until she was nearly against him. “Don’t you realize that none of us know how long we have? Voldemort or not, life is an uncertainty. You have to stop thinking like it’s only your world that may end tomorrow. And…whether you like it not; we’re all in this together. You can’t protect me from what will happen in the future, because it will happen whether we’re together or not.”

“I can try to protect you,” he offered. “I have to try.”

“But that’s just it…you don’t have to do that,” she reassured him before asking, “Do you love me?”

“It’s…it’s not that simple, Ginny,” he replied in desperation, trying to ignore the way it made him feel to have her so close.

“It is that simple if you let it be,” she told him, sliding her free hand slowly up his body to rest upon his chest.

“Please, Harry, I need to know,” she urged biting her bottom lip nervously and unwittingly driving him crazy as she did. “Do you love me?”

She had no idea of the power she wielded with that simple act nor did Harry understand why it nearly drove him to insanity every time he watched her do it. Trying to pull his eyes from her mouth, he struggled for words.

When he didn’t answer after several seconds, it seemed to speak volumes to her. She finally allowed her tears to break free and roll down her cheeks. In silence, she dropped her hands and pulled away. Taking his silence as a no, she turned away to face the water.

Harry watched as her shoulders began to shudder with silent tears. He felt horrible for hurting her again. The truth was he wanted to believe her. He wanted to believe that it would be alright and if it wasn’t, they’d deal with whatever went wrong when it happened. He ached to reach out and take away her pain, but it was more than that.

Standing there, close enough to touch her, he realized that he really had no choice. He loved her and he was lost without her. He couldn’t face another day of silence between them and certainly not a lifetime of loneliness without her.

He knew what he needed to do. Moving to stand behind her, he wrapped his arms around her now shaking body. She sobbed as he pulled her against him, holding her tight and burying his face in her hair.

“Please, don’t cry, Ginny,” he breathed into her ear from behind. “You’re right; I don’t want to let him win.”

Slowly, he moved his hands up to her shoulders and gently turned her to face him.

“I need you,” he admitted shakily, his heart melting as her eyes filled with tears. “You save me, Ginny.”

Gently he brushed a tear from her cheek and allowed his hand to linger on her face.

“When I’m with you, Ginny…it’s like… you breathe life into me. You make me want more than I have,” he paused kissing her tenderly upon the forehead. “When I think about you, I see the future…the way I wish it could be.”

“You…you do?” she hiccoughed, brushing her tears away with the backs of her fingers.

“Yes,” he assured her with a small smile. “You make me want to fight harder so that I have a future. Please, help me. Save my life.”

Again he kissed her, this time brushing her cheek, just at the corner of her mouth.

“I love you,” he whispered, his lips mere centimeters from her skin, “more than ever I thought possible.”

In response to his words, she turned to catch his lips with her own.

A moan rose from his throat as he pressed his lips to hers, desperately deepening the kiss. After several seconds he broke the kiss and pulled her to him, wrapping her tightly in his arms.

“I never stopped thinking about you,” he assured her as they clung to each other. “Please, forgive me.”

“For being such an insufferable prat?” she teased as she pulled back to look into his eyes.

“Yeah,” Harry chuckled with a grin, “for being an insufferable prat.”

She returned his smile and slid her arms up his chest and around his neck.

“I’ll think about it,” she teased before kissing him briefly and then hugging him tightly.

“Thanks,” he retorted in her ear. “How long do you think you’ll need to think about it?”

Slowly she pulled back and met his gaze once more. Without speaking she brushed her lips over his cheek and then down his neck. Slowly and deliberately she moved over his skin.

Harry shuddered as she moved back up his neck, stopping at his ear lobe.

In a tiny whisper she breathed, “You’re forgiven, but please, tell me this is real and that you won’t be gone when I wake up. Tell me this isn’t just a wonderful dream.”

“It’s real,” he assured her, pulling back to look into her eyes. “I promise.”

To make his point clearer, Harry slowly leaned down and kissed her gently. As the seconds went by, their tenderness gave way to warmth and then heat.

Without thinking they dropped to their knees together on the ground. Pulling her against him, he kissed her more deeply as a primal hunger rose within him. He broke the kiss only long enough to lay her back on the grass.

“I love you, Ginny,” he whispered, moving to join her before kissing her tenderly, “love you, so much.”

“I love you, too,” she responded before she whimpered softly and her fingers tangled in his hair.

Her reaction only spurred him on as he sank into the feel of his body pressed against hers. Just like the first time they were together, they quickly became lost in each other.

Struggling for control, Harry broke their kiss and pulled back to look down at her. Her eyes were full of tears and a small trail of them had formed down the side of her face.

“Ginny,” he whispered rising up on his elbows so he could look at her more fully. “What’s wrong? I thought this was what you wanted.”

“It is,” she smiled through her tears.

“Then why…”

“Shhh…” she said. “I’m crying because I’m happy that I was wrong. I never thought this night would end this way.”

A smile warmed his worried expression.

“I know,” he whispered “neither did I. I’m sorry I wasted so much time. I should have listened to you,” he paused to kiss her. “When I’m with you, the rest of the world and everything in it just fades away.”

“I know,” she smiled. “It feels amazing when we’re together.”

“Amazing…and a bit overwhelming,” he admitted as her hands glided down his back to touch the bare skin at the hem of his t-shirt. “I could easily lose control when we’re together.”

Ginny’s eyes locked on his, “Then lose control with me.”

Gently she slid her hands under his shirt, grazing his flesh with her nails.

“Wha…What?”

Harry was finding it hard to concentrate on anything but the feel of her fingertips moving up his back.

“Make me believe this dream is real,” she whispered her gaze dropping to his lips. “Make love to me, here…now.”

Harry swallowed hard as he studied her, searching her eyes. He was certainly concentrating on her words now. Instantly his body reacted as he imagined what it would feel like to share that with her, to be together, trusting… loving each other completely.

Giving into the idea briefly, he lowered himself and covered her mouth with his own. The kiss was intense and full of need. She placed a hand at the back of his head, pulling him more firmly to her and deepening the kiss. After several minutes, Harry stopped and abruptly pulled away.

They were both breathing heavily and Ginny was flushed from the base of her throat up into her cheeks. There was grass in her hair and her clothes were disheveled. To Harry she looked completely beautiful.

Closing his eyes, he exhaled slowly and then shifted his weight a bit to the side. When she moaned in protest and tried to pull him back more fully on top of her, he resisted.

“Wait,” he said shakily, trying to take slow, steady breaths. “I can’t believe I’m really going to say this, but… we can’t.”

Puzzled she studied him, searching his eyes for an explanation. “I’m…I’m sorry. I just thought…” she shook her head and fought back tears. “I’m sorry.”

Harry watched as the warmth of her eyes seemed to fade. Her cheeks turned scarlet before she turned her head and fixed her gaze upon a distant tree. It was obvious that she was embarrassed and feeling extremely uncomfortable. She had told him what she wanted and he had turned her down.

“Ginny,” he said soothingly as he placed his palm against her cheek. “Look at me.”

After a few seconds, she finally turned her head and met his gaze.

“You have no idea how much I want you,” he reassured her, “but… not like this.”

“Not like…what?” she asked.

Instead of answering his eyes dropped to her lips. With a small moan, he rolled off of her completely and lay on the ground on his back, his hands covering his face.

Ginny turned over on her stomach, propped herself up on her elbows and lay next to him on the ground. For a few seconds she watched him before reaching up to move his hands. Harry resisted looking at her as long as he could. Turning his head towards her finally, he offered her a small smile.

“I don’t understand, Harry.”

“It’s just that…” he paused long enough to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear, “this is a dream.”

Ginny searched his eyes curiously for a few seconds, “And?”

“I want to be with you,” he told her, “but when we are…I want it to be as two fully awake, aware people. I want to feel everything; experience everything that I share with you.”

“But this feels real, doesn’t it?” she smiled as she shifted her weight so her body was draped partially on top of his before leaning down to kiss his neck.

“Please,” he begged as he struggled to remember his reason for waiting. “You aren’t playing fair.”

“I’m not playing at all,” she said raising an eyebrow.

“I mean it, Gin,” he pleaded. “When I’m with you, I want to be with you… physically. This may feel real, but it isn’t. I think we should wait…at least for a little while.”

Ginny looked down at him, eyebrow still perked.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” he groaned. “I’m afraid I am.”

“Well,” she grinned mischievously. “Just how long do we have to wait?”

Harry didn’t answer. Instead he disappeared from beneath her. Suddenly she found herself lying on the ground, alone again in her dreams.

After a few seconds of stunned silence, she rolled over and sat up. Pushing off from the ground, she got to her feet. For a minute she stood looking out at the water, considering what he’d done. Slowly, it began to make sense.

As she began walking toward the path, she thought she heard a voice off in the distance. Continuing toward the house she entered the path.

Suddenly, it grew dark. She felt her body move against something warm and soft. In the next moment she realized that she was waking up and that Harry was calling to her.

“Ginny, wake up.”

Gently he shook her shoulders. He had moved from his chair and was sitting on the bed smiling down at her.

“Harry?” she said groggily.

“Yeah,” he grinned brushing a strand of hair from her cheek.

Taking her hand in his, he softly kissed her finger tips before interlocking her fingers with his. His eyes roamed over her body before lifting his gaze to her eyes once more. Slowly, the grin disappeared to be replaced by desire.

A slow rising blush of pink crept up her neck and into her cheeks under his gaze. Tentatively she placed her hand at the nape of his neck. Gently she gave him a tug, pulling him down to her. When they met, it was in a warm and inviting kiss.

Breaking apart a minute later, Harry wore a boyish grin.

“Hi,” was all he could manage.

“Hi.”

“Um…I think you were wondering how long I wanted us to wait,” he said raising his eyebrows suggestively and pulling her by the hands to help her sit up in bed.

“Stop,” she said blushing scarlet. “It’s embarrassing enough without you teasing me about it.

“Embarrassing? Why?”

“Because I practically threw myself at you…no,” she corrected, “I did throw myself at you.”

“I didn’t mind,” he grinned.

“Stop,” she repeated.

“Alright,” he said turning serious. “I’m sorry, but I love that you wanted me. Do you have any idea how hard you were to resist?”

“Not that hard, apparently,” she smirked.

“What if I told you that I left the dream to be with you? I’m here now. We’re alone, awake…not to mention on your bed.”

“You’ve noticed that, have you?”

“Oh, yeah,” he grinned waggling his eyebrows and pulling her body to his. “We’re not dreaming now… are we?”

She laid her hand against his cheek, slowly brushing her thumb over his lower lip. In reaction he turned his head toward her hand, kissing her palm and covering her hand with his own.

“I’m sorry, Harry,” she began feeling embarrassed. “I was caught up before…I lost my head for a minute, but I’m not sure I’m ready, not really.”

“Oh…” he answered, his gaze dropping momentarily before looking back into her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized. “It’s just, now that I’ve had a minute to think, I’m not sure.”

Harry closed his eyes and released a slow breath. “Then we’ll wait, and, don’t be sorry,” he said gathering a smile.

Placing his finger under her chin, he brought her gaze back to his.

“You’re being honest with me. I can’t ask for more than that. If you aren’t sure or don’t feel ready, that’s okay. Just knowing that you want me as much I as want you is enough for now.”

“Really?”

“Yes…well, no, not really,” he laughed making her smile.

“I’m sorry,” she giggled. “That was mean of me.”

“No, not mean, just…very, very tempting. No matter what you may think, it was really hard for me to say no to you back there. You were pretty persuasive, you know.”

“You were wonderful,” she said. “You gave me a chance to get control of my wits.”

“That was stupid of me,” he teased. “I’m sure I could remind you of why you ‘lost your wits’ if you gave me a chance.”

“Stop,” she laughed.

“Okay,” he said kissing the tip of her nose before winking. “We can wait as long as you want. You know that, right?”

“I love you,” she said kissing his lips.

“I love you, too,” he whispered. “Someday, when you’re ready, I am going to show just how much.”

“Promise?” she smiled.

“Absolutely, but right now, I think I’d better go before my resolve to remain a gentleman wears off,” he grinned. “Good night, Ginny. Sweet dreams.”

“Good night, Harry.”

The End

A/N: Now that this is finished, I'm off to revise the early chapters of the sequel "A Dream of Hope". Thank you for reading and taking the time to post your feedback.

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