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SIYE Time:13:50 on 23rd June 2018


The Seventh Horcrux
By melindaleo

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Category: Post-HBP
Characters:All
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, Fluff
Warnings: Death, Violence
Story is Complete
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 860
Summary: The hunt for the Horcruxes begins. Harry has to decide who to trust as he moves closer to fulfilling his destiny. Will he be able to find and destroy all the Horcruxes? And at what price? Will he be able to find the strength within himself "the Power the Dark Lord Knows Not" in order to succeed in vanquishing Voldemort? And, can he do it and still get the girl? Join Harry and his faithful friends on their quest to finally defeat a Dark Lord.
Hitcount: Story Total: 198931; Chapter Total: 8149
Awards: View Trophy Room






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Disclaimer: I own nothing; it all belongs to J.K.Rowling. I’m just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.



Chapter Thirty-Three


The Power He Knows Not



The Portkey deposited the five teenagers inside a grand and sweeping sitting room filled with an eclectic assortment of furniture and lacy curtains that fluttered in a lazy sea breeze. The cottage – more like a manor, Harry thought – was Grimmauld Place-like in size, although the décor couldn’t have been more different.


The walls were a light terra-cotta, housing both brightly cushioned wicker furniture, and antique treasures passed down from generation to generation. The lacy, green curtains allowed the afternoon sunshine to filter in, giving the room a warm and inviting feel.


Harry lay sprawled on a rough, colorfully-embroidered rug, and although it was clean, he could feel faint traces of sand. He still hadn’t managed landing on his feet after Portkey travel. He could hear Ron’s snickering beside him.


"Merlin’s beard! Are you all right?" a witch asked, rushing toward him and assisting him to his feet. "Why didn’t they put you in an assist-chair, as well?"


She had vibrant blue eyes and dark hair that she wore tightly pulled back. Her appearance was so familiar and yet so different that Harry had to take a step back. He knew without having to be introduced that this was Andromeda Tonks. She looked nothing like either of her sisters, but instead resembled a walking female version of Sirius.


She wore bulky robes covered in a loud, flowery print and a wreath of dried vines adorned her head. Perched on the tip of her nose was a pair of purple-tinted glasses. Uncle Vernon would have despised her on sight, whether witch or Muggle. Harry took to her immediately for the very reason.


"Don’t worry. That landing had nothing to do with his being injured. Harry’s always been Portkey-challenged," Ron said, smirking and still on his feet. "Maybe an assist-chair is the right idea, though."


Harry straightened his clothing and scowled at Ron. Draco sat beside them, strapped imperiously in a soft, cushioned chair that St. Mungo’s used to transport injured patients. Ginny and Hermione stood to the side of the boys, using their hands to cover their snickers.


"Are you certain that you’re all right, Harry?" Andromeda asked, and Harry had to turn away from the concern in her eyes.


He’d seen that identical expression on someone else in the past.


"I’m fine," he said. "Thanks for having us."


"It’s my pleasure," Andromeda said, although her smile never reached her eyes. "I wanted to do my part. My daughter was very fond of all of you."


"And we were of her," Ginny said, her eyes bright. "She saved our lives, of course, but she also was there with a ready smile when we needed to talk. I miss her very much."


Andromeda smiled wistfully. "Nymphadora always had a knack for mischief, and she liked her fun. She would have wanted you all to be safe, and I’m pleased to offer you accommodations. We’ve expanded a new wing on the second floor, and there’s a room for each of you. Tuggy will show you the way."


A small house-elf wrapped in a tiny beach towel appeared in the doorway, bowing low and beckoning them to follow. Harry was certain the elf was female, although she never said a word.


"You’ll notice that the cottage appears no different than any of the others on the island, although it has obviously been magically expanded inside. Still, it is completely outfitted with Muggle electricity and amenities. Tuggy knows how to use everything, so ask if you need assistance. We try very hard to leave most magical conveniences behind when we come to stay here," Andromeda said, her arms fluttering in the air.


"My husband was raised as a Muggle, and he liked to have a place where his own parents were comfortable when they were alive. We’ve since grown accustomed to it," she added. "It’s become a bit of an adventure for us."


"Do you mean to tell me that we’re expected to live here like Muggles?" Draco asked incredulously, spitting the last word as if he were swearing.


"That’s exactly what I’m telling you," Andromeda said, scowling at her nephew and dropping the singsong tone she’d used on Harry. "It’s my home and my rules. You’ll learn to live with them – it’s not your first time here."


"I beg your pardon?" Draco asked warily. He glanced around the room as if he’d just been sentenced to the gallows.


"You were here once before as a baby, before your mother and I lost touch completely," Andromeda said quickly, averting her eyes. "As I recall, your bottom burned quite badly after you’d removed your nappy. You’ll want to be certain to apply a full Sunblocking Charm."


Draco colored as Ron howled with glee. Harry could tell that Andromeda had already forever won a spot on Ron’s favorite people list.


"Everyone wore nappies at one point," Andromeda said, waving her hand in the air. "I’m off to my basket weaving group. You girls are welcome to join me anytime during your stay here. Tuggy will get you settled."


Ginny and Hermione nodded politely, but Harry could tell the idea of basket weaving didn’t appeal to Ginny at all.


"Hello, Tuggy," Hermione said, kneeling in front of the tiny elf. "How are you?"


The elf’s eyes widened immensely as if frightened by being directly addressed. She took several steps backward toward Andromeda.


"Tuggy is rather timid, but she’ll warm up to you all eventually," Andromeda said. "My husband, Ted, has gone fishing with some of the locals, but he’ll be here for dinner this evening. Tuggy, why don’t you show them all to their room where they can change and go explore the beach?"


The five teens thanked Andromeda and followed the house-elf up the stairs. Draco scolded them not to jostle him as his chair hovered gracefully above the stairs. Tuggy directed them all toward various rooms in a single hallway. Harry noticed that, although Draco’s room was the same size as the others, it was furnished more plainly. After Tuggy left them, Draco shut his own door while the other four congregated in Harry’s room.


It was spacious and airy yet masculine. The beautiful mahogany furnishings were covered in navy and gold fabrics with a nautical theme, a heady arrangement of tropical plants resting on the dresser. Ginny plopped down on his bed and leaned back with her arms opened wide.


"I can’t believe we’re finally here. I didn’t think Mum would ever stop saying goodbye," she said, running her hands over the rich fabric.


Although Mrs. Weasley had liked the idea of having the four of them safely tucked away until the Death Eater trials commenced, she’d worried and fretted much as she did each year on the train platform.


"I know," Ron said. "And did you catch the envious looks we were getting from Fred and George? It was killing them that we were getting a holiday while they had to stay behind for the cleanup. Anyway, we’re here and on our own now, so let’s make the most of it. Who wants to go swimming?"


Harry glanced out the window at the wide expanse of white sandy beach. Deep blue water stretched as far as his eye could see. "I do. It looks amazing," he said.


His arm was still in a sling, although the tingling sensation was now constant, but at least he was able to move his fingers at will. A Healer was scheduled to travel to the house each week to continue his treatments. They suspected he’d have full use of his arm by the end of the summer. They’d given him a list of exercises he was supposed to practice each night to strengthen it, although Harry had told Ginny he preferred her therapy better. Ginny had swatted him on the head.


"It is," Hermione said, ducking her head as she colored brightly.


"Hermione," Ron said, frowning. "You’ve blushed like that every time someone mentions Formentera. What gives?"


If possible, Hermione blushed an even deeper shade of red. "Well…it’s just…I’ve been here before while traveling with my parents. Some of the beaches are…interesting."


"Interesting how?" Ron asked, cocking his head to the side.


Harry and Ginny stared at Hermione with puzzled expressions. She was obviously struggling with something, and they leaned forward, waiting for her explanation.


"A lot of the Muggle beaches here are clothing optional," she said very quickly, needlessly straightening some of the items on the desk.


"You mean they go sun bathing starkers?" Ron asked, horrified.


Ginny threw her head back and laughed uproariously while Ron fidgeted, and Hermione continued to blush. Harry shifted uncomfortably – certain body parts just weren’t meant to be sunburned.


"Well, yes," Hermione said, clearing her throat. "Some of the Muggles enjoy that."


Ginny, who was still flopped on her back, rose on her elbows and smiled mischievously. Harry worried that she was considering going to that beach. He wouldn’t put it past her, but he wasn’t certain he was that brave.


"Exactly how do you know about these beaches, Hermione?" Ginny asked, raising her eyebrow.


Harry’s eyes fly open wide, staring incredulously at Hermione. Ginny was right! How did Hermione know?


"I told you, I’ve been here before," Hermione said, her hands fluttering nervously as she pointed toward the window. "They’re wearing swimming costumes on that beach, so why don’t we change so we can get out there? The Healers said Harry needed some rest and relaxation."


She left the room without a backward glance. Ron stared after her with an odd mixture of horror and intrigue while Harry smirked. He’d actually asked one of the Healers to recommend rest and relaxation in front of Hermione so that she wouldn’t pester him about doing any seventh-year revising while they were on holiday.


Ginny giggled and bounced out the door after her. "Last one ready has to carry the beach stuff," she called merrily.


Ron stared for a moment before muttering, "Bloody hell," and following her from the room.


Harry stood and moved to find his own trunks. He paused a moment before closing his door, staring at Draco’s closed room. He twisted his lips to the side, debating. The Slytherin would most likely sneer and close the door in his face, but he supposed it was up to him to make the first move. Squaring his shoulders, he strode purposefully across the hall and rapped on the door.


He heard the rustle of parchment before the door swung open wide. Draco paused, swallowing his snarl but narrowing his eyes.


"What do you want?" he asked, watching Harry closely.


"Er…we’re going to go down and take a look at the beach," he said, stuffing his hands in his pockets.


"And exactly how does this concern me?" Draco asked, raising an eyebrow.


Harry shrugged. "It doesn’t, but if you want to come with us, that’s where we’ll be," he said, moving back toward his own room.


Draco’s eyes widened in surprise. He silently watched as Harry returned to his room. "I might be down later," he said, grimacing as if it pained him to say the words. "I have some correspondence with my solicitors I need to sift through first."


Harry nodded, rubbing the back of his neck. "They’re trying to sort out your family affairs?" he asked.


"What’s left of them," Draco replied, scowling. "I have a letter here from your cousin, too."


"Dudley?" Harry asked, stunned.


"Yeah. He might come and stay with me for awhile when I’m able to return to Malfoy Manor," Draco replied.


Harry shook his head, at a loss for words. "Er…that’s great," he said, running his hand through his hair. His mind had been gradually dealing with the end of Voldemort, but he still fond the idea of a magical Dudley Dursley as unfathomable. Never mind a magical Dudley Dursley who corresponded with Draco Malfoy.


"See you on the beach," Draco said, shutting the door before Harry could respond.


"Right," Harry said, shaking his head. Perhaps hell had frozen over.



**--**--



Harry awoke with a start, drenched in sweat, and his heart thudding painfully. Scattered, terrifying images of a dream swirled in his head as he clutched the sheet, gulping for air. It took him a moment to recognize the room where he slept.


He and his friends had been at the beach for a fortnight, and Harry had often been plagued by nightmares. He’d used a Dreamless Sleep Potion each night while in hospital, but he had to leave it behind when he’d been released. The Healers didn’t recommend using it without the supervision of medical professionals, and Harry had been so desperate to leave he hadn’t cared. He’d survived nightmares before, he’d get through these, as well.


"All right, Harry?" Ginny asked softly, and he felt her soft, warm presence curled up by his side. He’d often found her beside him when he woke from a dream, and although he enjoyed finding her with him, he didn’t like the thought that he’d been loud enough to wake her in her own room.


If they’d heard him, as well, Ron and Hermione had been kind enough not to mention it, and although Draco had grumbled a bit about being unable to get a decent night’s rest, even he hadn’t been obnoxious about it.


Their days at the beach house had been filled with swimming, sunning, and fun on the beach. The Tonkses owned a pair of jet skis that were nearly as fun as flying, and they’d all taken turns on them. They’d played games and gone body surfing, as well as built castles in the sand while their skin turned brown (although Ron and Ginny just freckled) under the blazing sun. They took long walks on the beach and saw a variety of sea life. Harry was thoroughly enjoying his stay.


Draco’s presence among them had been awkward at first. It wasn’t as if they had ever been friends, but after everything that had happened at the Department of Mysteries, it wasn’t as if they could be enemies anymore, either. After sharing something as big as the downfall of a Dark lord, they were somehow forever bonded. Harry also knew how it felt to be alone and the outsider, and he didn’t want to make anyone else feel that way – not even Draco Malfoy.


As the long, lazy days passed, everything had worked itself out, anyway. Draco kept himself busy planning and plotting his takeover of his family estate, so he tended to avoid the hot afternoon sun. This gave the two couples plenty of time to be on their own. Like Ron and Harry, Draco also enjoyed the jet skis and would join the others in the evenings for meals and an occasional game of chess. He and Ron were actually much better matched than Harry and Ron had ever been, although Harry knew Ron enjoyed playing Harry more.


Andromeda prepared lavish meals each night, and they would all gather to share tales of their days. Ted Tonks was a friendly, talkative bloke with a fascination for the sea. According to him, there was no better place to be, and he insisted it would always be his mistress. Andromeda wasn’t bothered by this in the least, and continued merrily on her way. They were like two separate ships passing occasionally, but their fondness for one another was blatantly apparent.


Andromeda had said that Ted took their daughter’s death very hard, and he hadn’t quite been the same since. This was readily apparent by Ted’s refusal to address Draco. He wasn’t rude or unpleasant, simply indifferent – as if Draco wasn’t there at all.


Other than the group dinners, Harry’s time was his own for the first time he could ever remember. He and Ginny took long, romantic strolls along the beach, and he enjoyed waking up each morning knowing that she would there. They’d formed the habit of meeting for breakfast so they could plan their day together. Harry couldn’t ever remember being so carefree. Even his occasional stays at the Burrow had been marred with the threat of war or depressing thoughts about the Dursleys.


To Harry, this time at the beach was the first time he’d ever truly been free – and freedom was something he could definitely get used to having.


One of Ted Tonks’ favorite leisure time activities was fishing. The village where they stayed was an active fishing community, and Ted usually partook when he visited. Both Ron and Draco had taken to the sport, as well. They’d all gone out on several occasions, but Harry found he didn’t have the patience for it. He hated having to sit still for so long and instead preferred to dive off the side of the boat and take a swim. Those fishing, of course, frowned on such behavior since it scared the fish away.


Although Ginny had more patience for it, she didn’t really enjoy it, either, and Hermione felt horrible for the live bait. She kept trying to convince the other fishers to switch to non-live bait to no avail. Finally giving up, she spent her time sunning on the deck while reading a book.


The odd relationship that had developed between Ron and Draco as a result of the fishing was amusing to watch. Neither was what could be considered as friendly, but they both enjoyed competing over who could catch the larger fish. Their barbs and jabs at one another were harsh and caused several passersby to stare as if expecting a fight, but the usual venom behind the words was missing. It was just old habits dying hard. Harry had seen the flask of Firewhisky that Draco kept stashed in his pocket and knew that on some days, the only thing Ron and Draco were catching was a good buzz.


Since they bypassed these outings, Harry and Ginny spent the days together on the beach. Harry was secretly glad he didn’t like fishing because it gave him the opportunity to be alone with Ginny.


This was just such a day, and although he’d been awoken by the nightmare fairly early in the morning, he knew the fishing boat would have already left for the day.


"Was it a bad one?" Ginny asked, wiping the sweat from his brow with a damp cloth.


Harry shook his head, the terrifying visions rapidly dissolving. "Just scattered memories," he said. "What are we doing today?"


"I thought we could pack a picnic lunch and take it to that spot down the beach where the waves are stronger. Do you think your arm feels up for that?" Ginny asked.


He stretched it out a few times. "I think I might need a little more therapy," he said, grinning.


"Do you, now?" Ginny asked, raising her eyebrow. "Shall I go fetch a few potions or Floo a Healer?"


"No," Harry said, shaking his head and trying to keep a straight face. He waggled his eyebrows and leered at her. "I think your brand of therapy will do the trick."


Ginny giggled and kissed him quickly on the lips. "No. We’re actually going to get out of here at a decent hour today," she said, placing her hands on her hips. "Go have your shower, and I’ll meet you in the kitchen."


Harry scowled, pulling himself out of the bed. "I think I might need help reaching my back," he said, pouting.


"You’ll manage. Besides, I didn’t say we couldn’t do our snogging down on the beach," she said before sprinting from the room, her laughter brightening the hallway.


After a quick shower and change, Harry met Ginny in the kitchen where they took the lunch Tuggy had prepared for them and brought it outside. The section of beach where they wanted to go was further down the road than their usual spot. Harry tied the picnic basket on the back of a worn old bicycle that was kept at the house. Ginny perched precariously on the handlebars while Harry pedaled down the lane. His arm really wasn’t strong enough to support them, but he quietly cast both a Balancing Charm and a Motion Spell that allowed him to ride with very little effort.


Harry had been very wary about using any magic when he’d first arrived. He liked both Ted and Andromeda very much and wanted to stick to their rules. After the first few days, Andromeda had pulled him aside and basically told him not to be an idiot. She said not to do anything blatant in front of Muggles but to definitely use any spell to ease his comfort during his recovery. ‘What’s the use in having magic if you don’t use it when you need it?’ she’d asked. Harry thought it was rather rich coming from her since she was the one who’d told him not to use it the first place.


After the spells were cast, he and Ginny began their trek to the beach. He enjoyed their ride and could have spent the entire day just pedaling around – and that had nothing to do with the magic eliminating the work. He liked the way the sun warmed his skin, the carefree laughter he and Ginny shared, and the complete lack of aim or purpose. They’d get there when they got there, and it didn’t really matter when. Harry thrilled at that newfound freedom.


It was later in the day while they were eating the elaborate meal that Tuggy had packed for them that a stray memory worked its way into his thoughts. He and Ginny had spread a blanket on the sand, and Ginny was digging through the basket as if she’d found a pirate’s treasure. As Harry was well aware, all Weasleys liked to eat.


Ginny was wearing a very small – very sexy – black bikini that he knew wasn’t on Mrs. Weasley’s list of approved beachwear. His mouth had hung open, and he’d stood there gaping like a fish when she’d first removed the shorts and t-shirt she’d worn for their ride. The supremely satisfied smile on Ginny’s face told him she appreciated his reaction.


He was exceedingly happy that Ginny was sneaky enough to keep the tiny bikini well hidden from both her mother and Ron, because Harry was enjoying watching her wear it immensely. When she pulled some chilled Pumpkin juice out of the basket and proceeded to pour it into gold-plated mugs, a shiver ran down Harry’s spine. He shifted uncomfortably as stray thoughts and images flashed in his mind, making him feel dizzy as he tried to piece them together.


"All right, Harry?" Ginny asked, dropping one of the mugs so its contents spilled everywhere. Ignoring the spill, she moved to sit next to him, watching him closely. "What’s wrong? You’ve lost all your color."


"Those mugs," he said, still staring at the gold while trying to make sense of his memories. Images flitted rapidly through his mind, making his head spin.


"What about them?" Ginny asked, staring intently at the mugs as if trying to decipher the problem. "They look like the ones at Hogwarts. What’s wrong?"


"I…I remember," he said, feeling dazed. The air seemed to still around him and the crashing of the waves sounded distant and out of place.


Ginny frowned. "Remember?" she asked, holding her palms up in question. "What do you remember? You’ve lost me."


Harry swallowed, searching her eyes – for what he wasn’t certain – but he knew that he needed to tell her. In the past, she’d always helped him to feel better and set things to rights. Ginny would never laugh at him, or call him mad, or tell him it was impossible.


"After I kil-" he paused, "After it was over, at the Ministry, I went into that locked room."


"What locked room?" she asked, clearly confused. "What are you on about? You didn’t go anywhere, Harry. I was right with you, and you didn’t leave that room until we brought you to St. Mungo’s."


Harry shook his head. "No. I remember seeing you on the floor with me, and I saw Hermione and Ron, too. It was like I was floating and watching you all," Harry said, struggling to get the words out.


Ginny’s eyes flew open wide, her irises expanding so much that the brown was barely visible. "You were in the in-between?"


"The in-between?" Harry asked warily.


"It’s the place in-between life and death. Bill says that many people have hovered there after a life-threatening experience. Those who weren’t killed instantly and managed to recover from their injuries have told about it," Ginny said, awestruck.


"I suppose," Harry said, not wanting to accept any more oddities in his life. "Anyway, there’s this secret locked room in the Department of Mysteries. Professor Dumbledore told me about it before he died. I went in that room that night – and he was there, too," Harry said, tensing as he awaited her reaction.


Ginny swallowed. "Who was there?"


"Professor Dumbledore. He was waiting for me, and he said the only way to get inside the locked room is within your mind," Harry said, reaching out and grabbing Ginny’s hand. She turned her palm upward and clutched fiercely.


"That makes sense. The Unspeakables study all sorts of unanswered things there," she said with a tremor.


"He said that we were inside my mind, and I’d called him because he was the one who usually explained stuff to me that I didn’t understand," Harry said, not wanting to delve into the fact that his mind had been so barren at the time.


"Did he help you?" Ginny asked quietly. Her eyes were so wide – so caring – that he thought he could fall into their depths. It strengthened him, somehow.


"I couldn’t understand how I’d managed to do it," Harry said, his throat raw and scratchy. "He said the voices behind the Veil helped me. He said some of them were people who’d loved me."


Ginny rested her other hand on Harry’s knee, squeezing it gently and waiting for him to gather his voice to continue.


It took him a few moments before he could. "He wasn’t the only one I saw," he said, a small tic working in his jaw.


"Oh?" Ginny asked, keeping the solid pressure on his knee.


Harry blinked rapidly. "Sirius arrived first. He missed the whole final battle because he was chatting up some witch," he said, chuckling a little as he swiped at his nose.


Ginny smiled softly. "That really doesn’t surprise me.


"It…- it was good to see him again. I mean, it was good to see him that way. It made it easier somehow," Harry said, clearing his throat.


"Who else did you see?" Ginny asked.


"Remus and Tonks," Harry said, swallowing again. "Remus looked better – healthier than I’ve ever seen him. Strange since he’s dead, huh?" Harry asked.


Ginny blinked hard. "No, not strange at all," she whispered, her voice strained. "Did you get to see your mum and dad, Harry?"


Harry paused again, running his fingers through the sand. Ginny kept a firm grip on his hand while she leaned over to kiss the corner of his eye. He was surprised to feel the moisture there.


"It took me awhile to call them. I know that’s strange since it’s what I’d always wanted. I don’t know what was wrong with me," he said gruffly.


"What was it like?" Ginny whispered, sniffling.


"Amazing," Harry breathed. "It – it was amazing. They like you. My mum said to treat you well."


"I like your mum," Ginny said, laughing and wiping the tears from her eyes.


"I got to talk about Quidditch with my dad. He was going to build a pitch in our garden, like at the Burrow. I really would have liked that," Harry said, excited over the mere thought of it.


"We’ll have to have our own pitch one day," Ginny said before her eyes flew open wide and bright color suffused her face. She looked as if she wanted a hole to open up and swallow her right there. She began playing with the sand, refusing to meet his eyes.


"Yeah?" Harry asked, swallowing heavily. "I’d like that. Sort of a Weasley-Potter tradition, you know?" He looked back at the sand, feeling very exposed. He risked a glance up through his fringe and noticed she was still blushing, but also wearing a very self-satisfied smirk.


"They all said they wanted me to return to school for my last year," he said. "They wanted me to have one carefree year."


"Then you should do it," Ginny said, squeezing his fingers. She raised her eyes to meet his. "You deserve that chance. It’s what I want, too. Is it what you want?"


"Yeah," he said, the answer suddenly very clear. "I do want to go back. It’ll give me time to get my head on straight, and we’ll get to be together for our last year with Ron and Hermione."


He knew he still wanted to be an Auror – that ambition hadn’t changed since he’d first heard about it as a fourth-year, but they would still need Aurors in another year. Waiting a year for all the furor over Voldemort’s demise to die down a bit might be a good thing. If he completed his NEWTs, at least he could assure himself that he got into the program on his own merit. Ron kept saying that they’d have to take him; he’d already proved himself. To him, however, this would feel like walking in on his own terms.


"I’d like that," Ginny said, obviously delighted. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him soundly. "This is going to be the best year ever."


They enjoyed the rest of their lunch and spent their day splashing in the waves. Harry’s thoughts would occasionally drift back to some of the conversations he’d had with his lost loved ones. It all seemed so very real – much more solid than a dream. Every once in a while, he’d catch Ginny wearing a glazed expression and knew she was pondering, as well.


The sun had lost its heavy mid-afternoon heat, and they decided it was time to return so they could shower before dinner. As they were packing to leave, Harry asked, "D’you think I dreamed it?"


Ginny paused for a moment, pursing her lips. When she answered him, he wasn’t surprised to find that she knew exactly what he’d meant without needing him to clarify. "No. If anyone deserved that chance, it was you. After all you’ve lost, and all you’ve given, it seems right that you’d be allowed the chance to make peace before you really started to live," she said slowly, as if carefully choosing each word.


Harry blinked and pulled her into an embrace. "I love you," he whispered.


"I love you, too," she said.


The soft, husky quality in her voice sent shivers down his spine. He wrapped his arms around her more tightly and lowered his head. Their kisses were soft and tentative at first, but they gradually grew stronger and more impassioned. He could taste the faint hint of chocolate as he kissed her.


Despite the fact they were still standing on the beach and not nearly as secluded as he would have preferred, he allowed his hands to roam where they’d wanted to go all day. The skimpy lines of her bathing suit were driving him mad. She melded into him, pressing herself so close that he knew she could feel his desire.


He’d always tried to pull back from her when this happened, to maintain that level of control, but now, his body hummed as her hands traced feather-light caresses along his chest, and his need seemed overwhelming. He didn’t want to wait anymore. Voldemort was gone, and there was no longer any need to allow him to affect Harry’s choices.


He knew Ron had been entering Hermione’s room each night on the pretext of saying goodnight, and that he would always stay to say good morning, too, but Harry and Ginny had yet to take that step. He looked into her deep, brown eyes and saw only love and acceptance there, surrounded by the heat of desire.


"Ginny," he said, moving her hair back and tracing his fingers along her scar. She was driving him mad, and he could barely think straight here on the beach, never mind back at the house. He wanted to be certain she felt as ready as he did.


"Why don’t you come in and say goodnight to me when we retire tonight, Harry?" she whispered, her voice low and throaty.


Harry thought his knees might buckle. "I can do that," he replied, his voice cracking like it hadn’t done since he was thirteen.


He ran his hands through her hair, over her shoulders and down her back as he leaned over to kiss her once again. Her hands continued to explore as she opened her mouth to deepen the kiss.


The fabric of her bikini was soft, but her skin felt softer and the simple fact there was so much of it exposed aroused him further.


Panting, he finally had to pull back, knowing it would take a while before he was able to ride the bike home.


"Ginny…" he said.


"Tonight," she whispered, lightly kissing his nose.


Getting through dinner that evening was nearly unbearable.



**--**--



Harry awoke slowly, leisurely, feeling the gentle ocean breeze drifting in from the open window. A wispy tickle beneath his nose caused him to raise his hand to rub it. His hand encountered silky soft tendrils of hair beneath his nose and continuing downward so they were splayed across his chest.


His eyes flew open wide to find a sleeping Ginny nestled snugly beneath his shoulder. Her bare arm was draped casually across his hips, and the warmth of her skin eagerly awoke other parts of his anatomy. Memories of the previous evening filled his heart and mind, and a lazy smile drifted across his face. He lay there for a moment, taking the time to fully awaken while he twined a piece of her hair between his fingers.


Last night had been the most amazing night of his life. Despite the fact he hadn’t known the first thing about what he was doing, it had turned out bloody brilliantly. Well…for him, anyway. He wasn’t certain it had been the highlight of Ginny’s life, but he delighted in the knowledge that he now had all the time in the world to practice until he got it right for her. In fact, his diligence would make Hermione’s dedication to her studies pale in comparison.


Grinning daftly, he extricated himself from Ginny’s embrace and searched the floor for his jeans. He dressed quickly, although he had some difficulty due to certain uncooperative parts of his body. Giving a cursory glance around Ginny’s room to ensure that he hadn’t left anything incriminating behind, he realized for the first time how Ginny had made this room her own. Although far from frilly, it was definitely bright and, well…girlish.


The candles she had lit were still burning on her dresser, giving off a sweet, flowery scent that reminded him very much of Ginny. Gardenia, she had called it, although he’d barely been listening at the time.


Snot sat on the other end of the dresser with his back facing the room. Harry distinctly remembered turning him around the previous evening. Somehow, he just couldn’t have his way with Ginny with that stupid bear that she’d had since she was a little girl watching him. Ginny had giggled, finding his discomfort extremely amusing.


Shaking his head to clear the memory, he gently kissed Ginny’s forehead before slipping from the room. Although he had no regrets about the previous evening, he didn’t want to face an irate Ron first thing after discovering the wonder he and Ginny had shared.


He knew Ron would most likely still be asleep in Hermione’s room, but Harry opened Ron’s door very cautiously anyway. Finding it empty, he slipped inside and opened the bottom drawer of Ron’s dresser, knowing exactly where Ron would have hidden the item Harry sought. He found the book hidden inside the only neatly folded pair of jeans in the drawer. Sitting on the floor, he haphazardly flipped through the pages of What Every Wizard Needs to Know About Pleasing His Witch.


Fred had given the book to Harry as a joke back in fifth year after Harry’s failed date with Cho Chang. It had embarrassed Harry enormously, which of course had been Fred’s intent. Harry and Ron had eventually shared a few laughs over it. In truth, it was really the only formal education that Harry had ever received on the matter – other than Ron’s awkward repetition of what his dad had told him.


Harry hadn’t seen the book again until he’d caught Ron reading it after Ron had started dating Lavender. Other than a few good-natured barbs at his mate, Harry had again let it slip his mind. Now, he found it extremely ironic that the ultimate joke was on Fred since Harry would use the knowledge he gained from the book on Fred’s own sister. Life was funny sometimes.


He carried the book back to his own room and snuggled down inside his bedcovers. He read for quite awhile until his eyes grew too heavy to keep them open anymore. He really hadn’t got much sleep the previous evening. He hid the book under his mattress and rolled over for a kip.



**--**--



The mid-morning sun was blazing high in the sky when a pounding on his door startled Harry awake. He sat up straight, clutching the sheet to his chest and fumbling for his glasses as Ron burst into the room.


"What’s wrong with you?" Ron asked. "Are you going to sleep the day away?"


Unless there was a fishing expedition planned for the day, it was rare for Ron to be awake before Harry.


"Wha-" Harry asked groggily, wiping his face.


Hermione and Ginny followed Ron into the room, both giggling at Harry’s dazed expression. Ginny colored brightly when he caught her eye, and she looked down at the floor. Harry felt that mad grin returning to his face despite his nervousness. He was tongue-tied and didn’t have the faintest idea what he should say.


He really wished Ron and Hermione weren’t there. Was there some way they could tell what happened? Would they know? Ron would pound him, and he couldn’t bear to see that knowing twinkle in Hermione’s eye. He really wanted to talk with Ginny alone rather than just sit here smiling at her…


"You missed breakfast, and it’s nearly lunch. What did you two end up doing yesterday that’s got you so knackered?" Ron asked, breaking into Harry’s rambling thoughts.


"Er," Harry said, faltering and feeling thoroughly trapped.


Ginny’s eyes flew open wide, panicked. She imperceptibly shook her head – as if he’d needed her warning not to tell Ron what they’d really been doing.


"Er," he repeated, his voice cracking humiliatingly.


"We went to the beach. You know - down to that part where the waves are really big," Ginny said, speaking very fast. "We rode the bike there. Harry used some Charms so he didn’t hurt his arm. It’s doing much better. We brought a picnic lunch. Tuggy packed chicken and some lovely bread, and she gave us this wonderful chocolate tart for pudding."


Hermione’s eyes sharpened as she glanced back and forth between Harry and Ginny. That knowing twinkle that Harry had feared lit her face, and she stared pointedly at Ginny’s impersonation of Colin Creevey. Harry flushed and had to look away.


Fortunately, Ginny’s talking about food had distracted Ron from her rambling.


"I’m hungry," Ron said. "Let’s ask Tuggy to prepare a basket for us, and we can eat it before we go out on the jet skis. I’m not going fishing today, so I’d like to have a go."


"Why don’t we all go and put our swimming costumes on?" Hermione said sweetly, tugging on Ginny’s arm.


"Right. Meet you in the kitchen," Ron said, hurrying for his room.


"Ginny, can I have a word?" Harry asked, clearing his throat. He still refused to meet Hermione’s eyes and could feel the heat radiating from his skin.


"You’d best let me do your Sunblock Charm today, Harry," Hermione said, smirking. "You must’ve done a poor job yesterday; you’re horribly red."


If possible, Harry knew he flushed even deeper. Hermione giggled as she pranced down the hallway to her own room.


"Hey," Ginny said after Hermione had shut her door. Her cheeks were bright, and she repeatedly scuffed her toe on the floor.


"Hey," Harry said, not understanding why he felt so wrong-footed. Why was it suddenly so hard to talk with her? It was as if they’d both been transported back to his first summer at the Burrow.


"You said you needed to have a word?" Ginny asked, and there was a distinct clipped tone to her voice.


Harry glanced up quickly to find her arms folded across her chest and a faint frown on her face. He knew her well enough to know she was upset about something, and his stomach dropped, realizing that she must have decided last night was a mistake.


"Er," he said, feeling lost. What could he say? It wasn’t as if it could be undone? How was he supposed to fix this?


"You’re very eloquent this morning, Harry," she said drolly, never dropping her rigid posture. "Look, if there’s something you want to say, just say it."


Harry ran a hand through his hair, feeling things slipping further from his control. "I’m sorry," he said.


"Yeah, I picked up on that," Ginny said tartly.


Harry blinked, completely nettled. "I love you," he said, blurting the first thing that came to his mind. He did love her, and he hoped that she enjoyed hearing him say it as much as he enjoyed hearing it from her.


Ginny stared at him, and for the first time, he noticed the thin sheen to her eyes. "I’m glad," she whispered, resting her back against the wall. "I was surprised to wake up alone."


Harry’s eyes widened in comprehension. She thought he’d run away! He jumped from the bed and quickly crossed the room towards her.


"No! I left because I didn’t want Ron to find me there. I didn’t want to start off with a row," he said quickly, brushing a single tear from the corner of her eye.


"You’re not sorry then?" she asked, barely breathing.


"Never. I’ll never be sorry about what we did. I love what we did. I want to do it again," Harry said fervently.


A tremulous smile crossed Ginny’s face. "Good," she whispered, blushing furiously.


"Last night was amazing, Ginny. I’ve never been so happy in my entire life. I know it wasn’t as perfect for you, but I’ll get better, I swear," Harry said, speaking very fast.


"You were fine," Ginny said, giggling and covering his mouth with her fingers.


"No, really. I’ve learned a few things," Harry said earnestly. "It’ll get better, I promise."


"Learned a few things? In the past few hours? How?" Ginny asked, furrowing her brow.


"Trust me, okay?" Harry asked, feeling so hot he thought he’d explode. He really didn’t want to have to admit anything about the book to her just then. This intimacy between them was new, and it would take him awhile to get used to it.


"Okay," Ginny said, giggling, "but you’re really being too hard on yourself. I was nervous, too. We’re both new at this, so we’ll learn together."


"We just need practice," Harry said, waggling his eyebrows.


"Yeah," Ginny said, chuckling. "It’s going to be a nightmare on the beach with Ron and Hermione. I don’t think I’ll be able to stop giggling."


"And I just want to touch you," Harry said honestly. "It’ll be hard to control myself around Ron. Hermione knows."


"Yeah. I caught that," Ginny said. "Don’t worry, I’ll tell her to leave you alone. I’m certain she’s waiting for me back in my room."


"What are you going to say?" Harry asked warily.


"Everything," Ginny replied brightly.


"Everything?" he asked, swallowing hard.


"Oh, Harry," Ginny said, rolling her eyes. "The one thing you blokes never seem to understand about girls is the easiest thing of all. We talk. You know when blokes get to that sticky, emotional part of a conversation where they slap each other on the back and pretend it didn’t happen? That’s where girls start a conversation. We like details, and we talk. How do you suppose it is that I knew all about Hermione and Viktor while you and Ron didn’t?"


"I suppose," Harry said, scratching his neck. He still felt uncomfortable wondering what Ginny would say to Hermione.


"Just don’t think about it," Ginny said, laughing. "How do you think I feel knowing that if you’re going to share anything it’ll be with my brother?"


Harry snorted. "That’s just the thing, I can’t even tell Ron!"


"It’ll get easier as we all get used to it," Ginny said sagely. "You’ll see."


Harry nodded, hoping she was right. Ginny returned to her own room, and he put on some trunks to go to the beach.



**--**--



The rest of the summer passed in a haze of sunny days on the beach, moonlit strolls, and nights filled with wonder and discovery. Both Harry and Ginny’s birthdays passed and before they knew it, it was time to return to the real world.


Harry had sent notes with Hedwig to Professor McGonagall and Mrs. Weasley, informing them of his plans to return to school. The four friends had arranged to go back to the Burrow three days before the start of term in order to give them time to collect their books, and for Ginny to visit the Ministry to take the test to get her License to Apparate.


After long and heartfelt goodbyes to Andromeda and Ted, the four teens Flooed back to the Burrow. Draco had been waiting by the fireplace to see them off and told them that he’d see them at Hogwarts. Although still moving very slowly, he was recovering as well, and had also decided to complete his last year of schooling.


It would make for a year full of surprises.


At the Burrow, Harry was the last to emerge from the fireplace, stepping into the newly-renovated Weasley kitchen. It was both familiar and not so familiar with all the changes and bright, new additions. The long wooden table was still in the center of the room, but the wood was new, shiny, and unmarred. The kitchen still smelled fantastic, and the aroma of all of Harry’s favorite foods assaulted his senses first thing.


"Harry! You landed on your feet," Ron said, amazed. The blue of his eyes shone clearly. Ron might never admit it, but he was happy to be home.


Harry blinked, staring back at the fireplace for a moment. "So I did," he said, grinning. "Maybe I’ve finally grown up."


"How are you, Harry?" Fred asked, slapping him on the back.


Harry shook his hand, grinning. "I’m good. The beach was fantastic."


"Just look at how tanned and healthy you all look," Mrs. Weasley said tearfully. She let go of Hermione to give Harry one of her bone-crushing hugs. "Welcome home."


Harry hugged her back tightly, delighting in the embrace. "It’s good to be home," he said, meaning it.


"Ginny, look at all those new freckles! Did you remember to wear your hat?" Mrs. Weasley fussed, reaching out to touch Ginny’s face.


"I always have freckles, Mum," Ginny said, rolling her eyes.


"What’s for dinner? I’m starving," Ron asked.


"How was Andromeda?" Bill asked. "I’ve met her several times through Gringotts, but I haven’t seen her since we lost Tonks."


"She’s doing well," Harry replied. "A bit eccentric, but I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything else."


"Ze ‘oliday agreed with you, ‘Arry," Fleur said, leaning over to kiss both cheeks. "You look very good."


"Thanks," Harry replied, blushing. He looked down and noticed the slight bulge on Fleur’s belly. "How are you feeling?"


"I am as well as I can be. I do not like zees morning sickness zat lasts all day," she said, frowning.


"Right," Harry replied, running a hand through his hair.


As Bill moved away to talk to Ron, Fleur leaned over and whispered in Harry’s ear, "I think it is ze medicine of love zat has healed you better zan ze sea, no?" Her eyes twinkled merrily as she shot a pointed glance toward Ginny.


Ginny stood chatting with her father, but she smiled when she noticed Harry’s gaze and gave him a wink. Harry smiled back, and Fleur nodded, pleased.


"Harry!" George said, slapping him on the back. He’d walked over without the slightest hint of a limp. "How are you, mate?"


"Hi, Harry," Shannon said.


"Hi!" Harry replied. "How are you?"


"Good as new," George replied, beaming. "Business is booming. Fred, Shannon and I have barely managed to get a day off. We closed early today so we could all be here for dinner."


Shannon and George’s hands were clasped together, and they appeared very comfortable with one another. Harry could see Iris in the far end of the room helping Mrs. Weasley place the food on the table.


Charlie was also home and had brought his Romanian girlfriend, Ekaterina. Harry remembered her from Bill’s wedding. They were both sitting at the table and chatting with Hermione.


A warm, pleasant feeling washed over Harry. It felt good to be home and surrounded by his favorite people. The Weasley kitchen was as hectic and full of activity as it always been, and it was dizzying to try and keep up with the scattered conversations.


They were all putting their lives back together and building a future, but they still took the time to regroup and simply enjoy one another’s company. Harry was no longer that little boy stuffed, unwanted, inside a cupboard; instead he was an integral part of a warm and loving family. Through all the hell and destruction Voldemort had wrought in his life, in the end Harry had ended up with exactly what he’d always wanted.


As Mrs. Weasley placed the food on the table and the feeding frenzy began, Ginny took the chair beside his, clasping his hand beneath the table. Her eyes sparkled happily, filling his belly with warmth.


He sat back before filling his own plate, quietly observing the others. Ron and Hermione sat across from him, Ron filling his plate to overflowing and slopping more onto Hermione’s plate, as well. The scar on Mr. Weasley’s wrist peeked from the sleeve of his robe as he reached for some potatoes. He could see Fleur’s scar as she pushed her hair behind her ear and knew Ginny’s was visible beneath her hairline.


Each and every one of them had been marred by the war in one way or another. Perhaps the reason he truly felt so at home here was that he knew the mark on his own forehead was truly just another scar.



 


Fin.



 


A/N: Oh, my goodness! There it is. I debated long and hard over whether to include Harry and Ginny becoming intimate in this story. I’ve always thought it was the one thing I’d be really embarrassed about if JKR ever saw this story. Snort! In the end though, I thought it worked for the story, and Harry deserved his reward. I had the impression from HBP that both Harry and Ginny are passionate people, and they’re certainly older than their years.


It’s such a bittersweet feeling to finish up. I’ve really had a ball with this story, despite the occasional frustrations. There will still be an epilogue to come, but I want to thank all of you wonderful readers who’ve stuck with me and encouraged me on along the way. I REALLY appreciate you, and you’ve all given me the self-confidence to try something original. Thanks from the bottom of my heart for that. Those of you who've nominated and voted in the DSTA blow my mind, and you really make my day.


I also need to thank my wonderful beta, Sherylyn, for stepping in around chapter 6 when my real life waylaid my old beta. She’s been a delight to work with, and her comments hidden within the next always make me chuckle. She’s the reason I’ve made my updates, so give all the kudos to her.


Thanks also to my wonderful pre-beta team, KEDme, Dianne, and GhostWriter. This story would be nothing without their slight pushes, revisions, suggestions and enthusiasm. Thanks, guys!


One last thank you goes to Parakletos for all his Brit-picking help. Despite the fact I can’t re-read this chapter without giggling at the mention of a swimming costume, lol. You’ve been great, and I appreciate it.



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