Four times I’ve left Ginny Weasley.
Four times I’ve headed out, on my own or with others, leaving her behind, whether she wanted me to or not.
At times I had no choice. But at other times it was a clear decision on my part to leave her behind, to save her from the forces of prophecy that surrounded me, to save her from me.
As I’ve grown older, grown less callow and more sure of myself, of my friends, of my life, it’s she who has made me whole, who took the broken pieces of me and put me back together again, who became the glue that held my life in a single piece.
And now? Now I just wish for that life, that whole, glued-together life, to be able to laugh, cry, love and most importantly, live with her without her having to keep me from falling to pieces once again.
The very first time I saw Ginny Weasley I was lost and alone.
Uncle Vernon dropped me off at Kings Cross to get the Hogwarts Express, and very plainly let me know that I was a lunatic, pointing out the obvious lack of any such thing as Platform nine and three quarters, before abandoning me there at the station, whatever good he thought that would do.
There she stood, surrounded by family, reminding her Mother what the platform number was, though why Mrs Weasley had such difficulty remembering it was a mystery that never even occurred to me at the time.
She begged her Mother to be allowed to go to Hogwarts, no doubt dreading the loneliness of The Burrow without her brothers, and then I interrupted and hoped beyond hope that this red-headed family might be able to help me find the platform.
The sights and sounds of Platform nine and three quarters overwhelmed me a little, and even Fred and George’s introductions as they loaded their luggage onto the train seemed a trifle overdone, but with such a show, I found myself interested in the family. I sat next to the window where I could watch them among the bustle of the platform. So many families hugging and wishing their children well as they set off on their great adventure – whether for the first time or the last – and I sighed wistfully at the thought of having family of my own to see me off.
Once the twins had told the rest of their family who I was, it was disconcerting to hear Ginny asking to get on the train to look at me – and I was mightily relieved that Mrs Weasley put an end to that idea – but as the train began to move away, I could see the tears of loneliness forming on Ginny’s face as she watched her brothers leave and she chased after the train, waving and laughing and crying all at once as the emotions overcame her. And I felt a little bit the same – the train moved around a corner and what I knew of life disappeared as swiftly as the view back towards Kings Cross, leaving nowhere else for me to go but forward, and with the uncertainty of not knowing what was around the next corner that would become a hallmark of my teenage years.
And that was the first time that I left Ginny behind. Too young to understand anything beyond the fact that she ran forlornly alongside the Hogwarts Express, and not knowing how closely our lives would become entwined as the years progressed, I put that memory behind me and moved on, only to be reminded of it twelve months later when I first arrived at The Burrow.
I often wondered about her year at home, more or less alone, and whether that created some of the insecurity that led to her confiding in Tom Riddle’s diary.
Or was it then that she developed the strength to fight him so hard?
Either way, losing his ‘servant’, Dobby, was the least repayment that Lucius Malfoy deserved for setting her up like that.
Leaving Ginny the second time was just as much out of my control as it had been the first time.
The second time was much more serious though, and it prompted my first realisation that there was something other than the Dursleys to look forward to every summer when school ended.
With Fawkes’s help and, as Professor McGonagall would no doubt have suggested, a large helping of "sheer dumb luck", I plucked her from the Chamber of Secrets and saved her from the memory of Tom Riddle.
That sounds so blasé. And it definitely eliminates the horror and anguish of it all, but then I’ve never been great at expressing my feelings.
On that day, I destroyed the first of Voldemort’s Horcruxes.
But more importantly, I saved Ginny Weasley and became her personal hero, not just the hero of the Wizarding World.
I became her knight in shining armour, delivering her from evil – and the kingdom, the power and the glory could have been mine for the taking with that knowledge, with the understanding that the Weasleys would have taken me in on a permanent basis.
But no. I was forced by Dumbledore to abandon the poor girl to the tender mercies of her Mother, and to let her out of my sight.
I didn’t know it at the time, but it wasn’t what either of us needed.
Ginny needed her Mother, sure, but what she needed more than anything else was her saviour there to protect her from the beast under her bed, in her closet, in her head, to banish her nightmares and to make her feel secure.
And me? I needed a home away from the Dursleys. I needed the love that a proper family could give, that I had been denied for so long. The sort of love that Ginny already knew from her parents and was able to cling on to in my absence when it got too much for her that summer – the knowledge that there was someone who would unconditionally give their life to save mine.
But I had no one who fitted that description.
I didn’t even dare hope that Dumbledore or anyone else could be my salvation.
And I returned to my personal home from hell, leaving Ginny again.
Years pass, and if it seems as though little changes, it’s hard to argue.
Hogwarts has stood for a full thousand years, so it’s not surprising that over the course of a few piffling months and years that the simple stone serenity lends itself to continuity.
And so it was until my sixth year.
Lessons came and went; tragedy seemed to follow every June, whether it was the events in the Shrieking Shack that turned my life upside down, the Tri-wizard Tournament and Cedric Diggory’s murder, or Sirius’s death at the Department of Mysteries.
And you know, it’s easy to grow numb.
I had Ron and Hermione to help me, of course, and as I grew older and understood that life and friendship was about more than who I shared my classes with, I discovered that Ginny had become my friend, too.
It wasn’t a sudden, shocking revelation, more a dawning comprehension over a number of weeks and months of sharing a common room, Grimmauld Place and time at The Burrow.
Not to mention her capacity for dragging me out of a funk – she was quite forceful in reminding me, that one time at Grimmauld Place, that not all the world’s woes were mine, no matter how much it might feel like it.
Watching her with Dean was torture. The growling animal in my chest that awakened when I saw them together was the sign that I was finally starting to understand what was in front of me.
And then it all came together one glorious afternoon in my sixth year after a stay in the Hospital Wing, and a Gryffindor Quidditch victory. We really began to explore the bond between us that had been forged, however lightly, at eleven years old, and significantly strengthened in the Chamber.
And we both knew that something had changed for us.
They say that breaking up is hard to do.
With Ginny that was certainly true.
I couldn’t believe how much I’d taken solace in her presence when we started "seeing each other". How much, in fact, she really meant to me.
It wasn’t even just the physical relationship that, for such a wonderful, but drastically short time, took my mind off so many other problems. We really felt like this was it – we’d known so much about each other for so long that, even though we’d come close to blows in the past, we simply accepted each others flaws and foibles for the humanity that it emphasised in us.
It was so difficult to give up, but I knew I had to.
I couldn’t stand deliberately putting her in the way of danger by taking her with me when I sought out the remaining Horcruxes.
I hoped beyond all hope that she would wait for me, that when I returned I would find that our bond had strengthened for the break, but I couldn’t expect her to wait, and equally I feared that she wouldn’t.
She was so calm when I explained that we needed to split up, and even after I’d been back at the Burrow and we delicately danced around the issue for days on end we simply revelled in the last vestiges of each other’s company rather than reproach ourselves with recriminations.
But when Ron, Hermione and I snuck out one warm night, to spare everyone the distress of extended goodbyes, I knew that I was leaving a piece of me behind, that given a real choice I would have stayed – just to be with her.
I understand that when she realised we’d gone, the Lovegoods heard her screaming at her parents from the other side of Ottery St Catchpole.
Coming back to Hogwarts after our Horcrux hunt was a revelation.
Out in the wilds of uncivilised Australian outback, up in the rough and ragged Afghan Mountains, and across the harsh Siberian steppes, I’d thought I’d missed her so much.
When I returned, that was nothing to the relief of our reconciliation.
Suddenly I didn’t know how I had coped out there in the back of beyond without her, even without considering the harsh conditions and numerous traps we’d come across.
Ron and Hermione had each other, and even with their bickering they held each other close every night.
Meanwhile I waited and waited, willing our hunt to completion so I could return to the simple pleasure of my Ginny’s company.
And eventually we did it – we destroyed all the Horcruxes and were free to return to Britain, to see to Hogwarts’ defences with all the knowledge we’d accumulated and ultimately for me to finally meet my destiny face to face.
But the price was high. The locket, recovered from a Maori settlement where it had been despatched after Mundungus Fletcher had stolen it, was the closest of our escapes, and as payback, we left him for Voldemort to deal with later when we snuck into one of his little hide-outs that he’d dug out of the mountains on the Afghan/Pakistani border.
Ron nearly died that day, simply because Fletcher had greedily purloined half of the Black family heirlooms and found himself a good international fence.
It was a close escape from Voldemort’s hired goons that day, and it took St Mungo’s a good week to patch Ron up again.
And then that destiny finally called, and I had to leave Ginny for the fourth time, knowing that it may be the last, one way or another.
We’d spent weeks planning the defence of Hogwarts, because we knew that the attack would come. Ginny had taken the lead, along with Neville, in ensuring that the DA had continued, and she led the fight back from the battlements.
We thought we’d destroyed all the Horcruxes. We were wrong.
Voldemort had split his soul one more time, and we knew nothing of it until right before the end when, so sure of victory, he spilled all his dastardly plans like a stereotypical adventure book or cartoon villain. I’ll never be able to read Enid Blyton books again without thinking of him – a horrible brush with which to tar a children’s author.
So there I was. I’d just Apparated to the expected site, the graveyard in Little Hangleton – you’d think he’d have picked somewhere a little less obvious – and I was one-on-one, mano-a-mano, with the most powerful Dark Lord in a hundred years, and he’s just told me he’s effectively still immortal, despite my best efforts to rectify that situation.
I wasn’t about to let him win easily though.
We duelled back and forth for over an hour, his frustration increasing by the minute as I refused his demands to submit, threw off the Imperius Curse, and made his life as damned difficult as I possibly could, and he finally got the better of me.
My body could barely support me with the wounds he’d inflicted. My ribs were completely shattered and I was sure that the internal injuries were worse still.
I couldn’t believe his stupidity as he reached out to finish me off though.
He approached my prone form, wielding a crystal-tipped staff and took his time explaining that Snape had created it for him to use especially against me – that it had blood magic deep within it that would cancel out any remaining protection that my Mother's sacrifice gave me.
He told me too that this was also his final Horcrux, the last that he could create, and that despite all my efforts it was all over and I was defeated.
I’m still not sure whether he was so sure of himself that my next act threw him totally off, or whether he really was that dumb.
As a last resort, my final, desperate, last ploy, I just shouted one word and pointed over his shoulder.
"Dumbledoooooore!" I screamed.
In the time it took for Voldemort to look over his shoulder, then look back at me and realise he’d been duped by one of the oldest tricks in the book, I had time to roll my eyes before pulling my leg back and kicking him hard in the testicles.
It could have been a complete disaster, and I curse my foolishness for not thinking of it at the time – what if he’d protected himself there?
But he hadn’t.
And as he doubled over in pain and reached for his wand, I yanked the staff from his hands and brained him with it.
He disappeared in the typically dramatic puff of smoke you’d expect from such a charlatan, but then I realised that smiting him with his own Horcrux was probably a bit of a mistake.
I screamed as the crystal burst into life, burning with fire and blinding me, the light searing into my skull as I shrieked with the pain of eyeballs aflame.
My instincts told me just one thing – get to my Ginny!
So I lie here.
I’ve no idea how I managed to get here, wherever "here" is. I’m assuming it’s Hogwarts.
I can sense a rhythmic, dual pulsing, two opposing life forces fighting to regain their strength and return to the land of the living, and I recognise them both, for both have been with me for years.
One is my own magic, which I assume sustains my body as I heal; the other – the writhing teeming darkness of Voldemort’s soul – is the Horcrux that I transported here with me.
The difference between them though, is that my own life force has grown stronger, feeding off something unknown, yet vaguely familiar and reassuring nearby, whilst Voldemort’s is just a steady, throbbing pulse, no stronger or weaker than the moment we returned.
Slowly, over days, weeks perhaps – I have no idea how much time has passed, just the pulsing of the magic, beat after beat, throbbing along - I start to regain a sense of self, a re-connection with my physical body – and boy does it hurt! I know Madam Pomfrey’s a whiz at healing, but does it have to be so painful? I bet Snape provides all the remedies.
As I regain my awareness, I begin to sense other life forces, mostly familiar, but ones I cannot yet put a name to; but there’s one that’s instantly recognisable. I feel her nearby and I grow stronger. My source of strength and comfort. My Ginny.
How I long to hold her; to be able to open my eyes and see her bright red hair shimmering in the sunlight, or sense the mischief in those chocolate-brown eyes that gently mock me when I so deserve it.
How I long to let her know that I’m still here and it’s she who has brought me back – this time for good!
But I cannot respond. I can’t even move.
I can sense her frustration, her desperation to know that I’m truly here within this still body, and her curiosity about what happened.
That she’s here by my side must mean that they drove off the Death Eaters, that she drove off the Death Eaters. I’m so proud of her, and of all those who did the right thing, who helped drive the evil away.
I wonder idly how the Ministry and the Daily Prophet have reported it all – am I a hero? Again? I hope all those who fought get the credit they deserve.
I wonder if I’ve missed all the parties. Again.
To be honest, it’s not important.
All I want is to be able to return to her, the way she’s allowed me to return before with impunity.
I yearn to hold her, knowing that my destiny is fulfilled, for her to know that I’ve done my part to rid the world of evil, and that anything more is someone else’s job.
A couple of years ago I allowed my frustration and anger to guide me, knowing that I’d been placed in an unenviable predicament – and that was even before I knew the prophecy.
Now, not knowing what the next move is in this strange game, I metaphorically hold out my hands and say: "Here – please take this burden. I believe my part in this is complete."
And if they hand it back to me, with a note saying "We are not truly free – it is your responsibility to protect us," then I’ll remind them that my destiny is complete as far as they are concerned.
I no longer want this hanging over me – this staff can be someone else’s burden, for a burden it is.
No. What I want, what I lie here waiting for, what I long for, is to hear her, see her, feel her and know she’s here.
I’m prepared to wait for that true purpose in my life – not the destiny thrust upon me unknowing as a babe, but the destiny I choose for myself.
Someone by the name of Kitson once said: "Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice."
My choice of destiny is to live; to be with her.
She is my destiny.
And now… now I feel something through the pain…
Damn it! This time I’m not leaving Ginny!
I need her.