The Sugar Quill
Author: The Frog (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Scars of War  Chapter: Chapter Two
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

An unusually quiet Ginny entered the Leaky Cauldron from the streets of Muggle London, nearly an hour late for a meeting with her youngest brother and his wife.  The stale air of the crowded pub greeted her, its odor a delicate mix of ale, butterbeer, and Prometheus Incindron’s Multi-Scented Cigars (Changes flavor with every puff!), not to mention the smoky scent of the burning torches combined with the sweat of dozens of witches, wizards, hags, ogres, and other magical beings who welcomed cold refreshment on a muggy summer’s day.  While overall repugnant, the smell was so familiar after such a strange day that Ginny found it wholesome and inviting. 

            Weaving her way through the motley crowd, careful to avoid anyone with a large club or too many warts, Ginny soon spotted her party in a corner booth towards the back of the pub.  Ron, at least, was not starving in her absence; he had already tucked into a large pile of what looked to be chicken legs.  “Ginny!” he greeted in mid-chew, earning himself a reproachful glare from his wife.  “It’s almost ten-thirty!  Where—“ Suddenly, a piece of chicken flew from his mouth and struck a couple at a table across from them.  The couple looked disgusted, but appeared not to want to pick a fight with someone of Ron’s considerable height. 

            “Ron!  That’s disgusting!  How many times do I have to tell you not to talk with your mouth open?  And yelling in a restaurant like that!  Why do I even leave the house with you?  Honestly, I don’t know HOW you can sit here in public and…Ginny!  You look as though you’ve seen a ghost!  Come, sit down.  Where have you been?”

            Ron, rolling his eyes, ignored the comments about his behavior; this had been an ongoing argument since they had been eleven.  “Hermione, she has seen a ghost.  There’s one right over there, next to the bar.  See?  Wearing a raincoat?”

            “It’s a figure of speech, Ron.”

            “I’m just saying that there is a ghost right over there and that I see no reason why seeing one should provoke any kind of reaction, negative or positive.”  He grinned, winking at Ginny, who was barely paying attention.

            “Honestly, Ron, you’re impossible!  I was just saying that she looked as if something had scared her!”

            “But that ghost isn’t scary!  Look!  He’s doing coin tricks!  In one ear and out the other!”

            “It’s a figure of speech, Ron!” growled Hermione through gritted teeth.

            “I was just saying…” 

            Throughout the scene, Ginny sat staring at the linoleum table covering, barely hearing a word spoken between the couple.  The memory of the battle that she had recently fled still filled her memory.  With a final roll of her eyes and another exasperated look, the fight appeared to be over and Hermione had turned her attention towards Ginny.  “Anyhow, now that you’re here, I suppose we could order some real food-“ she broke off.  “What happened, Ginny?  You look as if…” she glared reproachfully at Ron.  “…you look as if something spooked you.  Why are you so late?  Are you all right?  Are you sick?  Molly would positively kill me if I didn’t look after you properly.”

            “That’s not your job, Hermione, and Ginny resents the implication that she can’t take care of herself…don’t you, Ginny?”  Ron was trying to cheer her up, she knew, but right now his comments were not appreciated.  “…Don’t you?  Are you OK?”   

            Ginny continued to stare at the table, not wanting to meet their questioning eyes.  Should she tell them?  Finally, after all these years, they seemed almost back to normal.  Aside from her, Ron and Hermione had been the most affected by Harry’s disappearance.  None of them had known what to do when he had left.  He had always been the backbone, the supporter, and then he was just gone.  None of them could ever quite forgive him for that.  They all might have thought him dead except for one simple note left on his bed at the Burrow the summer after seventh year, after the war ended:  Gone Fishin’.  He had never returned.  Telling Ron and Hermione might bring back all of the horrible memories, might ruin all that they had worked so hard to forget.  Then again, if they ever found out what she was keeping from them about            Harry, she might never live for a second confrontation with him.  And there would be a second.  This was not over by a long shot. 

            When Ginny looked back up at her companions, it was with tired resignation.  “I saw Harry today,” she said finally.

            “What?!” Ron, who had taken another large bite of chicken, spluttered.  Hermione didn’t even try to act indignant.  “Where?”

            “At a Muggle café I like to go to.  He was…” She felt a dark look cross her face as she tried to quell the anger welling in her stomach.  “He was with another woman.  They seemed quite happy, in fact,” she said bitterly.

            “Are you sure it was him?”

            “Oh, no, Hermione,” mocked Ron.  “Because there are so many men running about with large scars on their forehead!”

            “I don’t need your sarcasm, Ron!”

            “Shut it, both of you!”  They both shut up.  “I know it was him.  He recognized me, too, though I don’t think he thought it was possible, and he left the shop.  But, I found out everything.  I know where he lives, what he does for a living, everything.  I talked to him, confronted him, and he was just…” Ginny swallowed, remembering his cruel words, the indifferent way in which he had pried her body from his.  “He was just horrible.  He denied that he knew a Harry Potter, but it was hard for him to deny that bloody scar on his forehead.”  She shook her head.  “He wants to be left alone, that’s for sure.”

            Ron’s face coloured bright red in anger.  “I can’t accept that,” he said brusquely.  “Where is he?  Where does he work?  What does he do?  Where does he live?  I want to pay that git a visit, tell him exactly what I think of him deserting us.”  In lieu of an answer, Ginny pulled a thick paperback book out of her purse and tossed it on the table.  Ron scoffed.  “She’s going as batty as Hermione, that one.  Pulling books out of her arse to answer every little problem that comes up.”

            Hermione’s eyebrows, however, shot up.  “Carpe Diem.  Jameson is a Muggle author, isn’t he?  He’s quite good.  I’ve read most of his work—it’s very fascinating, especially his fixation with scars…”  Her voice trailed off as the realization hit home.  “Of course!”  She whispered and smacked herself upside the head.  “Why didn’t I see it before?  Evan Jameson.  Lily Evans.  James’s son.  That’s it…that explains it all…all of the mystery, the intrigue…avoiding public…there are no photos of him…no biography…everyone thinks that he’s crazy!  But he’s not…he’s just Harry!” 

            Ron snorted indignantly.  “Wait, you mean to tell me that Harry…Harry Potter… is a world-famous writer?  I’m sorry, but it just isn’t possible.  I did Divination homework with him for five years, and while he may be creative, believe me—he’s no fair shakes as a writer!”

            Was no fair shakes you mean,” Hermione argued.  “I’m sure the war gave him a lot to write about,” she added, quietly.  “Now that I think about it, all of his books closely paralleled things that happened in the war, but embellished, with little twists to make them sound like Muggle spy missions.”

            “His next book is about me,” Ginny whispered.  “About a girl—Jenny—with a scar down the right side of her face.”  Hermione gave her a wondering look, but didn’t need to voice the question on her mind—How do you know—to have Ginny answer it.  “It was how I found him.  He left something at the café, a notebook.  It was the beginning of a story.  It had his address on the front.  That was how I knew where to look for him after he left.”

            “Well,” said Hermione, shifting into Professor Mode.  “He’s obviously projecting his feelings of loss, resentment, and hostility from the war into his books.  That’s why they’re so popular.  People like to read about emotions they can identify with in a setting that is unreal and much, much worse than their own.  It gives them a sense of comfort to know that their lives aren’t so bad, after all.  And Harry is the epitome of all that can go wrong in life:  an orphan with horrible guardians, who, at a very early age, lost his godfather, his mentor, and, presumably, his girlfriend in a war that he and he alone could end.  It’s no wonder he’s famous again.”

            I don’t care about his feelings about the bloody war!” Ron thundered, his face a shade of purple that traditionally belonged to an eggplant.  “We all went through it, we all survived, we all moved on.  Tell me where to find him so that I can knock some bloody sense into him and bring him back where he belongs!”

            “No, Ron.”  Ginny’s answer was quiet, obviously strained.

            “But you can’t honestly say that you don’t want him back!  I’m sure with a properly placed hex, he’ll see reason!”  Ron’s voice was now almost pleading, the blind rage gone.  Ginny knew that behind his anger was quiet desperation.  He wanted to see his friend, to know he was safe, to have his buddy around that always made him laugh, that always made him feel good about himself, and she agreed with him, but refused to hunt Harry down if he didn’t want to be found.


            “No, Ron,” she said again, gently.  “Obviously, he’s happy.  He doesn’t want to be found.  Believe me, I want to see him again more than you could ever possibly imagine.  I’ve never missed him so much as I do right now, knowing where he is and knowing that he just doesn’t want to come back, but we can’t make him do anything.  We just have to let him come to us if he wants to.”  But Ginny had no intention of waiting.  Tomorrow, she would go see him again.

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            Ginny flung open the door to her tiny cottage and slammed it behind her, not caring that it was past midnight or if old Mrs. Jerkins next door lost a minute or two of beauty sleep.  It had been a terrible night.  Her cottage, the best that her position as Coordinator of Charitable Affairs in the Ministry of Magic could afford, was a two-bedroom deal that she shared with her roommate, Sophia, in a tiny village just south of Hogsmeade. 

The village was comprised mostly of Muggles, but a large enough wizarding population existed there to provide a few well-hidden shops with the supplies all wizarding families needed.  For anything else one might desire, Hogsmeade was a short walk or even shorter trip by Floo powder. 

Though old, her small house had a homey, comfortable feel, thanks, most likely, to the feminine occupants.  A colorful garden surrounded the house with flowers of every kind, magical and otherwise.  The windows stayed open at all times during the summer, sending a cool breeze carrying the scent of daylilies or night-blooming jasmine, depending on the time. 

Sophia, Ginny’s roommate, was a short, snub-nosed girl with long black hair and an olive complexion.  She had been in Ginny’s year at Hogwarts, a Ravenclaw with an obsession for the boys.  Ginny often came home to find a hanger on Sophia’s doorknob and the deafening silence that came only from a noise-blocking charm.  She would just shake her head, turn on the WWN in her room, and read a book, often a Jameson.  Tonight was one such night, but Ginny didn’t feel like reading.  She got into bed, the same four-poster canopy bed that she had grown up with at The Burrow, taken from her room to furnish her new home.  For the longest time, she stared at the top of the canopy, remembering, just remembering.  So many times she had thought about Harry at night in this bed, when her family was asleep and her thoughts were her own. 

Since she was ten years old, she had loved him, and since then her love had grown and changed in many, many ways, but still burned strong just the same.  She and Harry had shared their first kiss on this bed, during the summer after her fourth year, his fifth.  They had made love for the first time on this bed the next summer, as the rest of the family had gone out to play or watch Quidditch.  Ginny had been sick at the time, and Harry had stayed to see if she “needed anything”.  The summer after that, he had left her on that bed, when times were at their worst. 

            With these thoughts, Ginny fell into an uneasy sleep and dreamt of him, the way he had touched her, how he smelled, how he kissed, how he looked at her in times that, even under the darkness of Voldemort’s reign, were the happiest of her life.  She tossed and turned in her bed as Harry’s loving gaze turned into a reproachful, hateful glare and the background became Harry’s broken-down shanty of an apartment.  He repeated those words, those terrible words, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.  I don’t know this Harry that you are speaking of.  Please, leave, miss.  This is very inappropriate.”  They swirled around and around, thickening the air about her, cutting into her like a knife.  She couldn’t breathe.  The scar on her temple started to tingle, to burn.  She sat straight up with a jerk, causing someone beside her to gasp in the dark.  Oh, God, there’s someone in my room! 

            “Ginny!”

            “Harry!”  Harry?  “But…how did you…what are you…God, Harry!  Is it really…?” 

            “Yeah,” he breathed.  All was black and dark except for a dim light coming from the tip of his wand.  She saw his silhouette sit down in the dim light, felt the bed compress.  Oh, God, he’s real.  He’s actually here.  Felt him cup her face in his hands.  “Yeah, it’s really me.” 

            “What are you doing here?  How did you know where to find me?” 

            “I just wanted to see you again.”  He traced her the tiny scar on her face with an agonizingly light finger; it tingled under his touch, for he was the one who put it there all those years ago.  She had gotten in the way of a curse meant for a Death Eater and had almost died for it.  He had never forgiven himself.  He must have been touching it as she slept; that had been no dream.  “You know, that was how I last saw you, lying unconscious in this bed with that gash down the side of your face.”  She could hear him swallow thickly in the dark.  “I thought you were dead.  I’m sorry.  I thought that I had killed you.  I’m so sorry.” His voice cracked and Ginny could feel, as she cupped her hands to his face, the tears that streamed from his eyes. 

            “It wasn’t your fault, Harry,” she whispered.  “It wasn’t.  And I’m here.  I’m right here.  I’m not dead.  I’ve been here, waiting for you.  Just you.”  She spoke as she would to a small child who had wandered off in the market, lost and scared and found again.  She could feel his breath coming in ragged gasps as he tried to control his emotions, emotions that he probably hadn’t shown in nine years. 

           

In the almost complete darkness, Ginny never saw, never even felt him move closer until his lips were on hers.  A feeling of warmth spread through her entire body.  This feeling, so wonderful, so familiar, and yet so completely alien, engulfed her.  For one, long, short, marvelous, terrible moment, the world stopped and everything but the two of them ceased to exist.  Finally, though all too soon, they broke off and Ginny smiled, truly smiled, for the first time in years.  This feeling lasted for all of two seconds.

            “But…Harry…what about-“ she almost hated to ask, to ruin the beautiful moment the two had just shared, but her conscience, as it all too often did, got the better of her.  “What about your girlfriend?”

            “My girlfriend?”  Harry’s bewilderment was so evident that, even in the darkness, Ginny could almost see it etched across his face.

            “The girl I saw you with at the café today.  The one you were joking around with.  She was your girlfriend, right?”

            Harry snorted.  “Her?  No.  Not in the least little bit.  She sat down across from me and proceeded, through no influence on my part, to try and persuade me that Evan Jameson belongs in a loony bin,” he snorted again.  “Honestly, I don’t think she ever had a brain in her head to begin with.  I think that I got your attention when I was laughing at her.  Then, when I saw you, I panicked, and just left with her.  She is nothing.  Nothing.”  He sighed, then kissed her on the nose, probably for reassurance.  Her warm, tingly feeling returned, this time with no guilt attached.  “Besides,” he added.  “Why would I want anyone when you are right here?”

            This question niggled something at the back of Ginny’s mind and a feeling of cold, hard anger crept into her heart.  The warmth that he provided only seconds ago vanished, and suddenly his lips held less interest for her in what they might do than what questions they might answer.  Her back stiffened, and she felt herself move away from him.  “I don’t know, Harry,” she said, a little more accusingly than she may have liked.  “Why would you?  Why would you leave?  Even if you thought I was dead, why didn’t you stay for the funeral?  Why didn’t you at least stay to say goodbye?  Why didn’t you stay and help Ron and Hermione?”  The tears started.  She couldn’t help it; they just did.  Ginny’s anger mounted with every word she said and all of the pain and rage she had felt towards him for all those years poured forth.   “They’re worried sick about you, you know.  They still are.  I told them that I saw you today.  I’m surprised Ron hasn’t beaten down your door yet.  Why did you pretend to not know me?  Why did you pretend not to care?  Why, Harry?  WHY?  After all these years, that is the only question I’ve ever wanted to ask you:  Why.”  She furiously wiped at the tears streaming down her face and hiccoughed.  “God, I am so sick of crying over you, Harry!  I’m sick of it!  So is everyone else!  Why can’t you just make up your mind?”  Strong arms enveloped her and she fell, helpless, into them.

            “I’m sorry,” he whispered into her hair, kissing the top of her head.  To her chagrin, a tiny circle of pleasant electricity hummed where his lips had been.  Her tears soaked through his shirt and she hoped that he felt every one of them like acid on his chest.  “I was completely selfish.  I did say goodbye, Ginny…it was the most painful thing that I’ve ever done, but I did it and didn’t want to stick around and do it again at a funeral.  I regret more than ever that I didn’t.  As for Ron and Hermione, they had each other.  After you, I had no one.  Sirius, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Remus…all gone.  And then you…” he paused, swallowing; the memories cut into Ginny almost as much as they did him.  “You left and I had nothing.  If you had been there, I would have had the will to keep going, but without you I had nothing.”  He drew her more tightly into his arms; he seemed to need her as much as she needed him.

            Her breathing eased and she stopped crying, but so many questions burned in her mind, so much to say, so much to hear.  “But what about today?  What about…well, everything?  What about that?”

            She felt his head move back and forth on top of hers, shaking.  “I don’t know.  I think I was scared.  It really had been so long since I had last talked to someone, other than that tramp Debbie, that I didn’t know what to do.  You were supposed to be dead, remember?  And then I just went crazy.  It was like seeing a ghost, but much, much worse.  I think I thought I had forgotten how to love someone.” 

            “That’s not possible, Harry.”

            “I was afraid it might be.”  He drew a shuddering breath.  “But I was wrong, luckily.  I came to my senses in time.”  She could hear the smirk in his voice.  He kissed her on the head again.

            “OK, I’ll give you that,” she conceded, leaning into him, drawing strength from his comfort.  “But why now?  Why in the middle of the night?  In my room?  While I was sleeping?  While I looked like this?”  She was sure her hair looked a mess.

            “I couldn’t wait, I had to see you before I lost my nerve.  I lay in my crappy bed tonight, thinking about you, about the betrayal I had seen in your eyes, about how I had acted, and I couldn’t stand it.  I had to make things right, and if I waited until the morning, I knew that I would talk myself out of it.”  He laughed quietly.  “And I can’t exactly see you, can I?” 

With a flick of his wand, the room suddenly flooded with light.  They both winced, the brightness overwhelming.  Ginny rubbed her eyes.  Before her, on her powder blue bedspread with the ugly faded yellow flowers, sat Harry, the messy-haired, glasses-wearing, scar-bearing boy that she had fallen in love with eighteen years ago.  Now, he was a little older, a little more care-worn, and had a few more lines on his face, but he was still the impossibly scrawny boy who saved her from Voldemort God-knows-how-many-times.  With a trembling hand, he lightly touched the side of her cheek.  “You’re even more beautiful than I remembered.  I didn’t think that was possible,” he whispered.

            Ginny snorted.  “I was dead last time you saw me, remember?  There was so much room for improvement, I’m not surprised I look better.”

            “No,” he shook his head.  “No, when I remember you, I always remember you at the Yule Ball, in my sixth year.  That was the single most perfect night of my life.  You were so beautiful, so perfect.  I didn’t think that there was any room for improvement at all, but I was wrong.  Again.”  He kissed her on the lips so softly that she barely felt it; it was maddening.  “You keep doing that to me, don’t you?”

“Hmm?”  Words were no longer rational.  They had no place for her.  Harry had made amends and now she just wanted his lips on hers; now she just wanted to be with him, to begin making up for lost time.

“You keep proving me wrong,” he kissed her again.  “I was so stupid to go away, to stay away for so long.  I’m—“ he was silenced as Ginny kissed him firmly on the lips.

“Harry?”

“Yeah?”

“Shut up.  Apology accepted, just…just shut up.”  She kissed him long and deep and, with another flick of Harry’s wand, the lights switched off again.

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            Light broke over the east, lighting up the gardens and bathing the countryside in pure, clean, golden light.  Every flower petal was illuminated like sun through stained glass, and dewdrops sparkled like tiny diamonds on the tips of every grass blade.  It was a glorious morning and Harry and Ginny were up to enjoy it.  They strolled calmly around the house grounds, through the woods that bordered Ginny’s tiny cottage and up the street through the small, sleepy village, their hands clasped together with no thought of breaking any time soon.  There was still so much to say, but for now, they were just happy to be together, walking side by side.  Every now and then, with his other hand, Harry would take out his wand and perform simple spells; transfiguring a beetle into a button here, charming a rabbit’s fur yellow there. 

He twirled his wand and looked at it incredulously as sparks flew from the tip.  “I can’t believe I can still remember how to use this thing,” he marveled.

“Like riding a broomstick, I guess.  You never forget once you learn.”  A thought suddenly occurred to Ginny.  “Why?  Didn’t you ever use magic in the Muggle world?  You were allowed to, you know.”

“No—the only wooden stick Evan Jameson used was a pencil.  I gave it all up cold turkey.  It wasn’t pleasant, I can tell you,” he laughed.  “I didn’t remember how to cook for ages.  Lived off of cold cereal and the like for months.” 

They laughed and walked in companionable silence for a few moments.  “So,” Ginny began, wondering how best to broach the subject.  “How was your fishing trip, then?”

“You mean, what have I been doing with myself this whole time?”

“I guess.  Why fishing, though?  I’ve always wondered that.”

She felt him hesitate slightly before heaving a sigh and beginning to speak.  “Sirius promised me, a few days before he was killed, that once the war was over, we’d go fishing.  Just me and him, the way fathers and sons were supposed to.”  A small, sad smile crept across his face, and Harry began to speak as though he were reliving it for himself, not for her.  “I don’t think he knew how to fish or anything, but I had mentioned that a lot of Muggle families did it.  That, when I was little, I had always fantasized about a fishing trip with just me and my dad, the way Dudley and Uncle Vernon used to.  We wouldn’t do much on the trip—we’d just sit there on the lake and talk about stupid stuff like girls and share stories about the adventures we had with our friends at school and maybe, if we were lucky, we’d catch something…but that wasn’t important.  Sirius promised me that he would be there for me when my dad couldn’t, to fulfill his godfatherly duties, but he never got a chance to.  So I went alone.  I sat on that lake for three weeks straight and just remembered.  I remembered everything—every conversation, every adventure, every misadventure I’d had since starting Hogwarts.  And I pretended that Sirius and my dad were there, like they were supposed to be.  I think that, on some level, they were.” 

Ginny squeezed his hand and smiled encouragingly.  “They were, Harry.  They always are.”

He squeezed gently back to let her know that he was all right.  “Anyway, after that, I knew that I couldn’t go back and face the world again, at least for a while.  So I got a job as a night janitor at a law firm in London and rented that hideous flat that you saw with the few Galleons I had changed to Muggle money.  During the day, I would sleep, and when I wasn’t sleeping, I would lay there and just think about all of the horrible things.  I would read some, but had a hard time finding anything that didn’t remind me in some way or another of my past,” he sighed, lost completely in the memory. 

“Then, one day about a year or so after everything, I was talking to the other janitor on duty, Marcus.  I told him that I couldn’t sleep because of some bad memories.  He told me to write everything down in a notebook, on a napkin, anywhere.  ‘Just get them out,’ he said.  ‘Once you get those thoughts down, your mind will be free for other things.’  Sort of like Dumbledore’s Pensieve, I guess.  So I did it.  I wrote down everything I could remember from the war, from our school days, from stories that other people had told me, everywhere. 

“I think I started to go crazy at that point and began to imagine them as if they hadn’t happened to me, but to someone else in a completely different situation.  I think that I wanted to believe that it was my imagination, not something that actually happened.  Anyway, that’s where my first novel came from.  I’ll never know exactly why, I sent it to a publisher and they loved it.  After a while, I quit the janitor job and wrote full time, publishing under the name Evan Jameson. 

“I let the whole mystery run wild because, not only was it good for my career, but it threw everyone off.  Those rumors started up, and I just let them spread.  If everyone thought I was crazy, not many would come looking for me.  I mean, everyone in the wizarding world knew who I was and that I’d disappeared.  Even if Hermione was the only one, I knew someone would read one of my books and see my picture, or they would be in the book store while I was doing a signing or something, so I just didn’t do any of it.  I’m actually really surprised that Hermione didn’t get it before now and come looking for me.  I half-expected her or you or Ron to turn up at my doorstep every day for the longest time.”

“Would that have been so bad?”

“I don’t know anymore.”  They walked in silence for a while.  The dusty road through the village ended, becoming little more than a trail and then just wide grass land; residential cottages became farther spaced apart until they, too ceased to exist.  Wild woodland gradually began to take over and trees—oak, beech, and willow—became much more frequent.  By now, the sun had fully risen and the day began to warm into the late summer heat that they were accustomed to. 

Ginny grinned to herself, a thought suddenly occurring to her.  “You’re one of my favorite authors, you know,” she squeezed his hand, and he smiled softly.

“Really?  I remember that I saw you reading my book in the coffee shop.  I was actually thinking of going over and talking to you when Debbie,” he said her name with a sarcastic flair, “showed up.”

Ginny grinned.  “Yeah?  That could have been interesting.  You know, your writing style always reminded me of you…always condescending towards the main character, even though he was the hero.  I would read your books at night when I couldn’t stop thinking about you.  They made me feel like you were right there, talking to me.”  She snorted.  “Forget Hermione, I’m surprised I didn’t figure it out sooner.” 

Silence again.  The day was beautiful; sun shone through the leaves of trees heavy with foliage—the season would soon turn to autumn and those leaves would turn beautiful colors and fall, carpeting the dense forest floor.  She loved it here in autumn, and suddenly found herself hoping that Harry would be here to experience it with her.  Harry kicked at a pinecone that lay, abandoned, on the forest floor.  “So, Ron and Hermione are married, then?”

Ginny nodded.  “Yeah.  Four years, now.  It was beautiful,” she smiled broadly at the memory.  “Those two…I swear, they were in the middle of an argument at the alter over the color of his robes or some foolish nonsense, when the music started.  They just looked deep in each other’s eyes and you could see how madly in love they were.  I think that they’re the happiest when they’re arguing.  It gives them plenty of chances to make up.”  She cast her eyes to the ground, finding her own pinecone to kick at.  “You were supposed to be the best man, you know.  They waited for five years for you to come back just so that you could be at the wedding, to celebrate with us.  Hermione was heartbroken, and that was nothing compared to Ron.” 

“I’m sorry,” Harry mumbled softly, though resolutely.  Those words, coming from anyone else, would be meaningless, but when Ginny looked at his face, twisted with internal agony, she realized that his simple words were meant to convey the fact that he had no words to describe how deeply sorry he felt for missing the wedding, for missing everything. 

She sighed again and watched the sun filter through the trees for a moment or two before she brought up the inevitable.  “So, what now?”

“What do you mean?”  He knew exactly what she meant, and she knew it.

“Well, as much as I would like this to last forever—just you and me, with nobody else in the world knowing that you exist—we have to tell somebody.  We have to tell Ron and Hermione.  They at least still know you’re somewhere out there, and after last night, Ron’s going crazy.  You know how he is.”

 

            “Yeah, I know how he is.”  A slow smile spread across his face.  “God, I miss him.  And Hermione.  You know, yesterday I thought that I would never be able to come back, but now I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again, to returning.  For good, this time, I think.”

            “Are you sure?”

            “Yeah.  Yeah, I am.”

            “You might not be in a couple hours.”

            “Oh?”

            “We have a family dinner tonight at The Burrow, and you’re invited.”

            “But-“

           

            “You’re going.”

            “Oh, Christ…”

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

The world was spinning, forever spinning as Harry shot past one grate after another, gradually speeding up until everything became a blur and he could no longer discern any space between the grates.  He quickly tucked his elbow back in as it scraped against the wall beside him, which was rapidly passing him by.  Harry’s late breakfast heaved about in his stomach and threatened to spill out in a combination of nerves and motion sickness.  As suddenly as it began, the spinning lurched to a violent stop and Harry was thrown out of the fireplace, landing unceremoniously at Ginny’s feet.  One thing I never missed about the wizarding world, Harry thought, and that’s traveling by Floo powder. 

            The Burrow was the same as it had ever been; even with the appointment of Arthur Weasley as Minister of Magic after the war and an exponential increase in salary, the living room had remained modest and friendly.  The only telltale sign of their increased standard of living was, perhaps, a new rug where the old one had been faded and threadbare.  The room itself was mercifully empty, but a raucous noise was coming from the kitchen.  They were late.  Everyone was already there.

             “All right there, Harry?” Ginny asked quietly, her face looking as anxious as Harry felt.  Words momentarily failed him, so he simply nodded, the back of his throat feeling as though he had collectively swallowed every house’s soot on the journey over.  “Right, then,” she offered her arm in the manner of an escort, “Let’s go.”  Leaning almost completely on Ginny for support, Harry entered the kitchen.  Everyone was there, plus a few people who had apparently been added over the years.  Ron, the twins, and Charlie were involved in a lively discussion in which Harry, to his delight, could plainly discern the words, ‘Bludger’, ‘Snitch’, and ‘Chudley Cannons’.  Bill and Hermione were locked in a conversation with Mrs. Weasley, while Arthur and a chestnut-haired woman sitting next to Bill fussed over three little red-headed children who, Harry guessed, belonged to Percy and Penelope, sitting towards the end of the impossibly long table.  The din was so incredible; it wasn’t surprising that the two weren’t heard coming in.  Ginny took a deep breath, squeezed Harry’s hand, and yelled over the noise, “Is there room for two more?”

            Heads snapped up, mouths dropped open, and utter silence descended upon the kitchen.  Harry looked at the ceiling, the floor, the clock (which had four new golden hands), anywhere other than the table, shuffling from foot to foot.  He was sure that everyone could hear his heart beating.  The children looked bewildered, probably at the reaction caused by the strange man standing in the doorway with Aunt Ginny.  A deafening hush reigned for an interminable two minutes.  Then, with a loud scrape of his chair in the throbbing silence, Ron slowly rose from his seat and walked purposefully towards Harry and Ginny.  Harry glanced at Ginny in a blind panic; Ron’s face was unreadable.  What is he going to do?  I don’t like this.  I don’t like this one bit.  The tall redheaded man was now standing directly in front of him with a funny, almost pensive look on his face.  What happened next happened so fast, Harry could barely register it before it was over. 

Ron pulled his arm back and swung at Harry, his fist connecting with a sickening crunch to Harry’s face.  Pain shot through his head, splitting his skull.  Ginny screamed.  Hermione leapt from the table, yelling Ron’s name.  Harry slumped to the floor, reeling from pain and shock.  He didn’t have to touch his hand to his throbbing nose to know that there was a stream of blood trickling from it, or that it was probably broken.  He looked dizzily up, wondering why there were suddenly two Rons hulking over him instead of just one. 

            Slowly, very slowly, the two fuzzy Rons stopped spinning and focused into only one, though this one was just as large, just as frightening as the others.  Ron was breathing hard from his nose, glaring at Harry with hatred, anger seething from every pore.  That’s it.  He’s going to kill me, thought Harry, staring up groggily from his position on the floor.  Of all the times I imagined him doing this, I never actually expected it to happen.  Of everything I’ve been through, I’m going to be finished off by my best mate. 

Ron moved forward, as if in slow motion, bending down to reach Harry with the rest of the family standing shocked into place behind him.  He grabbed Harry around the shoulders and stood him up, firmly supporting his back so he couldn’t fall, couldn’t move.  Couldn’t run.  He looked deep into Harry’s eyes and, to his amazement, there was understanding there.  Ron’s face suddenly broke into a wide grin and he laughed. 

“Blimey, it’s good to see you again, Harry!”  Ron reached around with the arm that wasn’t helping to hold him up and embraced him, thumping him on the back.  “Sorry about that.  I’ve just been promising myself since the day you left that I would sock you the next time I saw you,” he said when he released Harry, gesturing to his face.  “No hard feelings, I hope?  Mum’ll fix you right up, or Hermione.  But you can’t say you didn’t deserve it, eh?  You bloody git.”  He grinned again.  “Come on, say hullo to everyone, why don’t you?”

He led Harry into the kitchen and he passed through in a surreal haze.  It might have been the blood loss along with the head wound, but he suddenly began to feel warm and fuzzy all over.  As Ron began to introduce him to all of the new family members, and all of the old ones lined up to tearfully hug him, Harry could only think one thing:  I’m home.

//
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