The Sugar Quill
Author: Firebird (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: From the Ashes  Chapter: Chapter 1, "The Life His Parents Should Have Had"
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Concentrating with all his might, Harry kept his eyes glued to the willowy back and silver-blonde hair of Fleur Delacour

Concentrating with all his might, Harry kept his eyes glued to the willowy back and silver-blonde hair of Fleur Delacour. I must be mad, he thought ruefully. There can’t be more than a handful of men in the entire world who would have to force themselves to look at Fleur – to keep from looking at another woman.

 

Of course, it didn’t help that Ginny’s luxuriant red mane kept intruding into his field of vision, blazing like an insistent beacon, just beyond the paler flames that were Fleur and her little sister, Gabrielle.

 

Wrenching his eyes back to the happy bride and groom, Harry tried to concentrate on the words that the odd, wizened little wizard in the midnight blue robes was intoning. But that proved no better. Words that only a few short months ago would have washed over Harry like so much meaningless babble, words about love and commitment and constancy, suddenly raised a lump in his throat and cinched his chest with an iron band. Unbidden rose an image of himself and Ginny, standing as Bill and Fleur were standing now, hands linked, gazing rapturously into each other’s eyes …

 

Stop! He commanded himself harshly. You can’t do this. You can’t go there. You can’t ask her to go there. Besides, the internal scold continued – perhaps taking its cue from Hermione, who stood by his side, shooting him covert looks of concern – neither of you is even of age yet. You’re too young to know what true love means. You’re too young to think about a lifetime commitment. Hell, you may not have much of a lifetime left to offer …

 

Yeah, argued back a stubborn voice that seemed to emanate from his gut rather than his brain, but I’m old enough to be the Chosen One, old enough to have faced Voldemort, old enough to go hunting for him. And it’s not like she’s just some schoolgirl. She fought with us at the ministry. And if there’s one thing I know in all the world, other than that I hate Voldemort, it’s that I …

 

“Harry?” Hermione’s voice shook him out of his reverie. He realized with a jolt that the ceremony was over. Bill and Fleur were just emerging from a rousing kiss, turning to bestow brilliant smiles on the clapping throng as Mr. Weasley nodded his pleasure and Mrs. Weasley dabbed at her streaming eyes.

 

“Harry,” Hermione repeated. “Are you alright?”

 

“Huh? Oh, sure,” he lied, wrenching his eyes from Ginny’s face. She was smiling at Bill and Fleur in a way that made her look both unbelievably beautiful and terribly, terribly sad.

 

“It’s not too late, Harry,” Hermione ventured in a small voice, trying to catch his eye.

 

Angrily, he rounded on her, the words spilling out before he could stop them.

 

“No! I can’t drag her where I’m going. I won’t.” He dug viciously at the grass with his toe. “I thought you, of all people, would understand. You know what he’s like. You know what we’re up against.”

 

She regarded him for a moment, her brow furrowed and her lip trembling. “Yes,” she said. “But, oh Harry, it’s so unfair.”

 

His laugh was rough, bitter in a way he didn’t like. “Since when has life -- when it comes to Voldemort -- ever been fair?”

 

Hermione, looking stung, was, for once, without an answer. Feeling guilty for his outburst, Harry stared at the ground. The silence stretched awkwardly until Ron broke away from the family hug-fest that had enveloped Bill and Fleur and came to slip an arm around Hermione’s waist. “Well, that was something, wasn’t it,” he said with a grin.

 

For the merest instant, Hermione looked as though she might make some tart retort about Ron’s continuing enthusiasm for anything involving Fleur, but she softened and merely said, “Yes, Ron, it was lovely. I hope they’ll be very, very happy.” Slipping her arm around him in return, she laid her cheek lightly against his shoulder.

 

Another pang went through Harry, causing him to berate himself afresh. Nothing, nothing could make him happier than the happiness of his two best friends, he told himself sternly, trying to shake off his envy. Nothing but …

 

Against his will, he glanced again at the spot where Ginny had been. She had vanished, to his mingled relief and disappointment. Crossing his arms and hugging them to his chest, he wondered how long he needed to hang around before he could decently sneak off to the solitude of his room. His next thought was to wonder where the tubs of butterbeer might be.

 

An hour and a half later, the party was in full swing. Night had fallen, and the yard was alight with the glow of colored lanterns encircled by swarms of live fairies. Aware that the butterbeer was in danger of making him morose, in spite of Fred and George’s non-stop comedy routine, Harry faked a yawn and murmured something indistinct about turning in. It wasn’t hard to steal away, really, everybody was having much too good a time to care.

 

He wondered vaguely where Ron and Hermione had got to. He hadn’t seen either one of them in ages. Wherever they were, he thought with the ghost of a smile, he hoped they were enjoying themselves thoroughly.

 

He was nearly back to the house when Ginny materialized right in front of him, seemingly out of nowhere. She had changed out of her filmy gold bridesmaid dress into a pair of jeans and a well worn t-shirt. But a delicate wreath of fragrant white blossoms still perched in her glorious hair. She had never looked more beautiful, and every fiber in Harry’s body ached for her.

 

“Hi, Harry,” she said seriously.

 

“Hi, Ginny,” he murmured, wanting to look away but utterly powerless to.

 

She bit her lip. “Harry, I want to ask you some things,” she said, “some things I think I have a right to know. Not just because …” for the first time, her voice faltered, “ … I … am … was … your girlfriend, but because I was with you at the ministry. Because we’re on the same side, and I want the same thing you want – maybe even as much as you want it.”

 

Torn, unsure what to do, Harry stood in stubborn silence. She was right, he reflected: He owed her this much at least. But he didn’t know how long he could look at her, be near her, and keep his resolve.

 

“Ginny, I …” he muttered.

 

“Don’t worry,” she said with a twisted little smile. “I won’t try to seduce you. … Not that I don’t want to,” she continued with a hint of her old, impish grin. “But, really. I’ll be good.

 

“I respect you, Harry. I respect what you’ve got to do. I just want to understand more about what that involves, exactly. I want to know if there’s any way I can be a part of it. Not necessarily by your side,” she added hastily, seeing the objection rise in his throat. “But in my own way.”

 

She paused, frowning at the ground. When she raised her eyes, he saw a flash of her old, blazing determination, and a hint of defiance, too. “This is my fight, too, Harry,” she said firmly. “Even if I didn’t have my own reasons to hate him, it would be my fight now – because of you.” She squared her shoulders. “Let’s not forget, though, that I have a little score of my own to settle with Tom Marvolo Riddle. Right?”

 

Desperately, Harry’s mind searched for an excuse, any reasonable excuse, to deny her request and flee to his room. He could find none. “Okay,” he said reluctantly. “I don’t know how well I can explain it, but I’ll try.”

 

Silently, she turned and strode into the deserted house with him on her heels. Making her way to a remote corner of the darkened living room, she settled herself on the edge of a faded armchair. He sat facing her on a battered ottoman, wrapping his arms across his chest once more.

 

He took a deep breath. “What do you want to know?”

 

“Well, everything,” she said, “but start with the prophecy. There actually was a prophecy, wasn’t there?”

 

And so he told her – about the prophecy, about Snape’s betrayal of Lily and James, about the horcruxes and his final, disastrous journey with Dumbledore. About the tasks that lay ahead.

 

When he got to the part about the fake horcrux and the note inside it, he looked up to see her frowning slightly, chewing again on her lip.

 

“What?” he asked.

 

“That locket – the real one, the one you saw in the memory about that old lady Voldemort stole it from – what did you say the markings on it looked like?” As he described again the serpentine “S” that was Salazar Slytherin’s mark, she shook her head impatiently, as though trying to clear it.

 

“I’ve seen that somewhere,” she said.

 

“You can’t have,” Harry said dully. “Voldemort made the horcrux and hid it in the cave before either you or I were born.”

 

“I know,” she said, “but it still seems familiar somehow …”

 

Then, suddenly, she brought her fist down on the arm of her chair with a vehemence that set her hair dancing. “I hate this,” she said angrily. “I hate Voldemort. I hate that anyone has to face him, and I especially hate that it’s you.” Tears spilled from her eyes, but she paid no attention.

 

“I hate it and …” she laughed ruefully, “Harry, I’m so glad it’s you. I know you can do it, and I’m so pleased that you’ll get the chance. I’m proud of you.

 

“Oh, listen to me,” she said, laughing again. “I’m a certifiable basket case.”

 

“Ginny,” he choked, “I … I … I …”

 

She looked at him straight on, and he knew he didn’t have to say it. But he drew a great shuddering breath, steadied himself and said very slowly, very clearly and very deliberately, “Ginny, I love you.”

 

“And I love you, Harry,” she said with equal seriousness. “Now, explain to me why I can’t come fight with you, even though Ron and Hermione can.

 

“I’m not going to be a pain about this,” she assured him, seeing the recoil in his eyes. “But I want to understand.”

 

He thought hard for several moments. She watched him, perfectly still.

 

“Well,” he said at last. “It’s not to protect you – or not just to protect you. I’ve thought a lot about that.

 

“I can’t lie; I’d give anything to know that you’re safe. But the truth is, I don’t have the power to keep you safe, no matter where you are. And I know I owe it to you to take you seriously as a … what? … a warrior, I guess, just like Ron and Hermione. And I do. You’ve got more fight in you and more magic and more guts that either one of them, truth be told.

 

“So it’s not you I’m trying to protect. It’s me.” He paused and looked at her to see if any of this was making sense. Her eyes were narrowed in concentration, and she was nodding ever so slightly.

 

“If the worst happens, if we’re face-to-face with Voldemort, and he grabs one of them, and I have to choose between seeing them killed and … and … failing,” he shuddered involuntarily, “I know I can make the right choice. It will tear me apart; it will almost kill me; but I can do it. And if our positions are reversed, I believe they’ll do the same.

 

“But you,” his voice cracked. “Ginny, much as I would want to, much as I would know that the future of the whole wizarding world was at stake, much as I would know that it’s what you would want me to do …” (she nodded vehemently) “Ginny, I couldn’t. There is no way on this earth I could sacrifice you. There is no way I could knowingly be responsible for your death.

 

“Do you understand?”

 

She didn’t answer immediately. Instead, she pursed her lips, and he saw her gaze turn inward. He could almost visualize her playing out for herself the scenario he had traced – her, faced with the decision to sacrifice Hermione (her face paled) … to sacrifice Ron (she began to tremble) … to sacrifice him (her eyes closed and she shook her head with a tiny sob).

 

At that moment, he wanted her with a ferocity that left him breathless, more than he had ever wanted anything, more than he had imagined it was possible to want anything.

 

He wanted her luscious body, wanted to bury himself inside her, wanted to merge into one ecstatic flesh. But more than that, he wanted to honor her, give her all of him, heart, mind and soul, wanted to love her down a long, long parade of years, to have the life with her that his parents should have had.

 

Somehow, all of that must have showed in his face, because when she opened her eyes she gasped and raised a hand to her mouth. “Oh, Harry,” she cried. And suddenly, he was on his knees in front of her, holding her trembling body to him and stroking her hair.

 

“Ginny,” he murmured. “Ginny, Ginny …”

 

They had been that way a long time when a tiny thump and a suppressed giggle caused him to look up and see Ron and Hermione, sneaking hand-in-hand down the stairs. They stopped when they saw him, but he didn’t move. He felt no embarrassment, and neither, apparently, did they, for they merely gazed for a moment and then moved on, Ron with a faint smirk and Hermione with a tender smile.

 

He didn’t want to loose his hold on Ginny, but his knees were beginning to ache. So at length he stood, pulling her up with him. Then, in one fluid motion, he swung her into his arms and sat the armchair, settling her across his lap, where she nestled with her head on his chest. He kissed the top of her head, but that was all. His desire was keen, but this was not the time or the place, and he found himself deeply content merely to hold her.

 

After a while, they began to talk of inconsequential things, of the wedding and how sweet it was to watch Ron and Hermione acknowledge their love for one another.

 

“She deserves a gold medal for patience, that girl,” Ginny said with a snort. “If I didn’t know Ron was crazy about her, I would advise her to find someone a bit more in touch with his feelings.”

 

“Well, you don’t have that much room to talk,” Harry teased. “I didn’t exactly rush to declare my love, did I?”

 

“No, and in one way, Hermione’s got it much better than me,” Ginny said darkly. “She can be with Ron, whatever happens. She doesn’t have to wait behind …” She broke off contritely, seeing the stricken look on his face.

 

“It’s okay,” she assured him. “Really. I do understand. I couldn’t stand by and watch you tortured or killed, either. If it came to you or the world, I would choose you.”

 

They started at each other for a long moment.

 

“And I’m not going to make a big, weepy production of vowing to wait for you, either,” she said, “because you don’t need that weighing on your mind. The point is, we understand each other, and even if we can’t be together physically, we’re about the same business. We’re joined in that way.”

 

“Right,” croaked Harry, more grateful than he could say.

 

“Now, about that locket,” she said thoughtfully, “what were the initials on the note?”

 

He repeated them to her.

 

“R.A.B,” she said, twirling a lock of her hair absentmindedly around her finger and starting to chew on the end. “R.A.B….”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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