Chapter 4. Promises (May 2, 1998)
Harry rose through the trap door just in time to glimpse the tip of a massive snake tail slithering out of view.
Biting back a cry, he saw immediately that he'd arrived at the Shrieking Shack too late. Even in the low light afforded only by distant street lamps shining through a window, Harry could read pain and anguish on the face of a mortally wounded Severus Snape. Rushing to the side of the man Harry had long considered a nemesis, he saw Snape's eyes open in recognition. Harry was amazed that the man was still alive, given the massive dark stains spreading from his torso.
Reaching into his survival kit, Harry withdrew a vial. Holding it up to the faint light, he winced. The vial held the remnant of a complex, extraordinarily potent healing potion that Ginny had made in April from his mother's instructions (via the scroll). In suitable quantity, the substance might have given him a chance to save Snape, but they'd needed two ounces of the precious distillate to stabilise Fred's wounds just an hour ago, and the half ounce remaining was unlikely to…
Snape's trembling hand seized Harry's wrist; his eyes locked onto Harry's.
Harry glanced from face to wound and back again. “Stay still sir. I'm going to try…”
The professor shook his head. Agony softening to an unusual expression (Regret? Sadness??), Snape's eyes glanced meaningfully at Harry's wand.
Puzzled, Harry drew his wand closer. And closer. It was six inches from Snape's face when Harry suddenly spied the faint filaments of glowing diaphanous vapour streaming from the former Potions Master's eyes and mouth. Gasping in sudden recognition, Harry began sweeping the tip of his wand about, siphoning up the tendrils of magical memory.
Casting about for a vessel in which to store the final testament of Severus Snape, Harry's eyes settled upon the nearly empty medical vial.
Biting his lip, Harry made his decision. Lifting the cork, he tipped the final aliquot of precious potion carefully onto Snape's chest — not enough to save the wizard, but perhaps offer the man some comfort in the final moments of a painful, tragic life.
As Harry deposited the memories into the now-empty bottle, he chanced one final glance at the perennially dour face and saw the faintest hint of a smile? Harry wondered if, in his dying breath, Severus Snape might be recognising and cherishing the unmistakable grace of a Lily Evans potion recipe…
Placing the capped bottle in an inside pocket, Harry stifled a sob. Reaching down for the lifeless hand, he was just preparing to cover the body, when…
“Oi! Boys, in here!” The juvenile bark rang out like a demented seal. “Confringo!”
“Protego!” Harry, whipped around, deflecting the hex into a nearby wall, exploding it into sparks, splinters and plaster dust.
Wobbling in a nearby alcove was the pudgy, bug-eyed, deliriously excited face of Vincent Crabbe. “Oi!! I found Potter! 'Ee's with Snape!”
Rising to a wary crouch, Harry advanced slowly on the Slytherin student, and flicked his wand. “Go home with the rest of your mates, Crabbe. This is no place for children.”
“Naff off!” Crabbe's face pinched peevishly. “Look at li'l Potter-no-mates! C'mon boys, let's bring li'l Potter-no-mates to see the boss!”
There was no response.
A bit of distant light glinted off beads of sweat on the Crabbe's forehead. “Eh, boys??”
Beyond Crabbe's laboured breathing, all was silent…
Then Harry lashed sharply to Crabbe's right. “Stupefy!”
In the dark adjacent corridor, one shape thudded hard onto the clattery planks. Another yelped, leapt to the side in a telltale flash of silver-blond hair, and whipped out a wand. “Stupefy!”
“Protego!” Harry batted Draco Malfoy's stunner to the side, stumbled a bit, then looked across in horror…
Vincent Crabbe was prancing — wide-eyed; delirious. Wand pointing straight up, a crazed grin spread across his greasy features. He snorted, sniggered, then erupted into uncontrolled giggling as he unleashed a viscous, sulphurous flame from his wand.
“Should've come while 'e had the chance, li'l Potter-no-mates!” Crabbe waved his wand drunkenly, spraying the fierce, cloying flames about like a child's streamers.
Then a spark caught the Slytherin student's sleeve.
In the glare of the leaping inferno, Harry glanced down the corridor… at the horrified face of Draco Malfoy hovering over the stunned body of Gregory Goyle.
“Run Draco!” Harry gestured toward a distant window, still free of the flames.
Draco just stared, mesmerised by the ghastly blistering dance of death…
Harry's gaze darted to the alcove where Crabbe had been, but saw nothing there now but flames. Biting his lip, he recognised his only viable remaining action. “Repulso! ” Harry's spell punched Draco and the stupefied Goyle straight out the dilapidated window, and down into the brambly thicket that lined the outskirts of Hogsmeade.
With a final scan of the room (an impromptu funeral pyre for Severus Snape; an adventitious death trap for the murderous snake now writhing among the rafters like an igneous bullwhip) Harry twisted to Disapparate.
And nothing happened.
Vaguely recalling rumours of a Disapparition jinx being placed on Hogsmeade, Harry glanced around at the walls of encroaching flame, wracking his brain for some way to escape.
Harry felt his whole body lurch backwards. Hastily raising a shield to repel the ravening flames, he skidded through some debris, tripped, and found himself plunging headlong through the trap door, straight toward… Ginny!
As Harry's petite girlfriend grabbed for him, he kicked at the stone wall — just enough to pivot them both. An instant later, they tumbled onto the loose scree of the Hogsmeade passageway; Harry on his back; Ginny on top.
Harry barely noticed the snapping sensations in his chest (a few additions to his lifetime collection of broken ribs), and instead attended to his frantic rescuer.
“Harry are you all right? You've no sparks on you, yeah? What in Merlin's name was that idiot thinking?? And blast it — the Trace Harry! They'll be onto us in minutes! I'm so sorry, but I didn't think. I just pulled my wand out and was casting Accio before I knew…”
“Gin'?” Harry raised a single grimy finger. “Can I say two things?”
Ginny nodded breathlessly.
“First of all, sod the trace, okay? If the fire hasn't tipped off our location, then Draco will probably rat on us anyway.”
Ginny took a quick breath as she processed the statement.
“Secondly, we need to run a few hundred feet that way.” Harry gestured down the dark tunnel. “Once we're past the Disapparition jinx, we'll side-along out of here.”
Ginny nodded. She leaped to her feet, ready to run, except for Harry's grip about her wrist.
Ginny looked at him questioningly.
Harry grinned. “Third, the snake's dead. And fourth…” Harry leaned in to kiss her forehead. “Thank you for saving my life.”
Willfully disregarding the pain in his ribs, Harry allowed himself to be pulled into a quick but fierce embrace, before disengaging to race down the narrow passage.
A minute later, Harry and Ginny had Apparated to a quiet copse on the outskirts of the Forbidden Forest. Tucked within a low stand of juniper, Ginny expanded the trunk while Harry cast several privacy and disillusionment spells.
Ginny had just reached the bottom step, and Harry was about to swing his leg down into the trunk, when a terrible voice — hard, nasal and shrill — echoed through the hills.
“Friends and worthy opponents! I come to you in peace.
I come to rid our world of the cowardly menace you all know as Harry Potter.”
“For months, the scurrilous Potter has marauded about the British countryside, waging his personal war of terror upon our peaceable citizens.”
Harry quirked an eyebrow, detecting an unexpected quiver in Voldemort's voice. Was that a note of anger? Or fear?
“My friends, he is a criminal and a killer, and has killed again tonight.
He lurks in our midst. He was just seen in Hogsmeade, and has likely infiltrated Hogwarts to threaten our Wizarding children.
Dear witches, wizards; students and professors — do not be fooled by Potter's lies and treachery! Bring him to me, here in the Forbidden Forest, and I shall rid you of him.
If you do not deliver the criminal into my hands WITHIN ONE HOUR, I shall enter the castle myself to personally remove him!”
After a fleeting glance at the castle, Harry gazed toward the depths of the forest. His jaw set, Harry took a deep breath and lowered himself into the trunk.
He'd have preferred more time with Ginny to examine Snape's memories in his parents' Pensieve… but they'd have to make do with a half hour.
After Harry and Ginny withdrew from the Pensieve, they sat in silence, facing each other, cross-legged on the library floor.
Harry opened his mouth, took in a quick breath… then trailed away without speaking. A short while later, Ginny did the same. Finally, they both spoke. Simultaneously.
“Harry, Professor Dumbledore was setting you up to be sacr… ?!”
“Blimey! Mum was right about Snape! I wish he…”
They stared at each other. The statements fell away, unfinished; unrepeated; unanswered.
Snape's memories had shaken some core convictions, yet opened their eyes to other truths that neither might ever have considered. For all the unresolved angst that both quietly hoped to someday conquer together, the Pensieve had delivered some crucial clarity.
Harry reached for Ginny's hand. “We have less than thirty minutes left to respond to Riddle's ultimatum.”
“Gin'…” Harry fixed his gaze on her graceful fingers. “You know that I have to go into the forest?”
“Yes.” Ginny's gaze slowly tracked upwards from the floor, to Harry's chest, and finally to his eyes. “Are you going to tell people at the castle?”
“Ugh.” Harry ran a hand through his hair. “Hermione, Ron, McGonagall and Kingsley — every single one of them would try to talk me out of this.”
“Probably.” Ginny blew a lock of hair out of her face, and fleetingly caught Harry's eye. “But you should still let them know.”
Hedwig swooped across from the corner of the library, carrying a quill and blank parchment. “Who.”
Harry huffed, the corner of his mouth twitching. “Why do I get the feeling you two are ganging up on me again?”
Ginny raised an eyebrow.
Hedwig puffed out her chest. “Who!”
Harry got to his feet and accepted the writing materials from his owl. Ginny and Hedwig followed him into the study carrel and read over his shoulder as he wrote.
Dear Ron and Hermione,
By the time this reaches you, I will have gone into the forest to face Riddle.
I know exactly what I am doing. This is the only way.
Take good care of everyone — please keep them safe in the castle until the darkness is past.
Harry fastened the parchment to Hedwig's leg. “Can you wait a half hour before delivering this?”
“Who.” Hedwig hopped onto the table. “Who?”
“Will you see me again?” Harry smiled fondly at his owl. “Yes, of course.”
Harry did not specify when or where they might ever meet again, but Hedwig accepted his promise. She nibbled gently on his chin then took to the air, flying up from the trunk, and out into the night.
Ginny watched the proceedings reflectively. She scuffed her trainer against the floor, then reached for Harry's arm.
“Is all that true, Harry? You know exactly what you're doing?” She paused. “You know how you'll face Tom? You know how you'll evade his traps?”
“Errr...” Harry took her hand and pulled her close. “Okay, you and I both know I'm kind of winging it. I chose those words to placate Hermione.”
In simpler situations, Ginny would have delivered a smart remark, but tonight she merely nodded.
“About those traps though.” Harry met her eye. “Sure he'll play dirty, but who do you think he's going to snare?”
Ginny frowned. “He aims to snare you, Harry. To him, the Prophecy means 'kill or be killed', so he'd like nothing better than to eliminate you.”
“Right!” Harry nodded eagerly. “But he's wrong about the Prophecy.”
Ginny raised an eyebrow, but Harry continued undaunted. “The Prophecy goes to great lengths to avoid saying the word kill. There's live and die, vanquish and survive, but never 'kill'.”
“In all of these crazy adventures, however unfair things may seem at times, fate never rewards the killer.” Harry's voice was a bare whisper. “Riddle is obsessed with death and killing, and I'm convinced his obsession will be his undoing. I just have to go spring the trap, Gin'.”
“So you're just going to blindly do Dumbledore's bidding?” Ginny bit her lip. “You're going to sacrifice yourself?”
“Yes.” Harry nodded slowly. “And I'm not afraid.”
Ginny scanned his face for a moment, then looked away. “You're not afraid to die.”
“Not anymore. How many times in the past year have we stared death in the eye?” Harry shrugged. “Death is practically an old friend now. Trust me, Gin', there are things that I still fear, but death isn't one of them.”
“So, what are you afraid of?”
Harry ran his thumb over the soft skin of her hand. “Right now, I can only think of two things.”
Ginny waited silently, expectantly.
“I'm afraid of a world where Riddle is never stopped, and…” Staring vacantly at the dormant Pensieve, Harry bit down on his lower lip. “I'm afraid of losing you.”
Ginny stood quietly for a moment, then turned back to Harry. She reached up and gently raised his chin. “Harry, you can scrap that last fear.”
Harry turned quizzically to look at her.
“You're never going to lose me.” A spark had ignited in Ginny's eyes. Her hand softly pressed his cheek. “Three years ago we promised to stick together, and I'm not about to break that promise.”
“But…” Harry stared at her, uncomprehending.
“Just take it on faith, okay?” She somehow managed to smile. “We're strongest when we're together. We're not going to lose each other.”
“Okay…” Harry nodded in blind affirmation.
“Good.” Ginny lowered her hand to grasp his. “So if we stick together, then I'm going into the forest with you.”
Harry's eyes widened.
Her statement was perfectly justifiable. He was being impetuous in this, so why couldn't she? Anyone who had followed him with such unquestioning loyalty through months of peril and exile had every right to follow him another hour; another quarter mile.
Harry knew of only one remaining argument. He sighed. “Gin', the Prophecy is mine to bear. Mine alone.”
“Not the way I see it.” Ginny shook her head. “The Prophecy said you had a power that he knows not.”
“Er, yes?” Harry raised an inquiring eyebrow.
“You have the power of a REALLY stubborn girlfriend. Tom may underestimate it, but you'd better not!” Ginny smirked fleetingly, then sobered again. “You and I are going into the forest together and, live or die, we'll make sure that Tom is stopped.”
“No more fears, right?” Ginny offered him a soft, hopeful smile.
Harry took a long, deep breath. “No more fears. Live or die. Together it is.” Then he smiled, content to be bested (once again) by an irrepressible young woman.
Silence fell about them. Arms reached out; two hearts pressed close and synchronised; unspoken promises silently intertwined.
They gazed for a moment about this sombre, studious yet greatly cherished chamber that James and Lily had bequeathed to their son. In those dark final days, the Potters had hoped (almost against hope) that their gift could bring knowledge, strength, and the power of love.
From the wisdom, strength and love manifest in the pair standing now within the trunk, it was clear that the Potters' wishes had been met.
Without shame, grateful tears began to track silently down Harry's and Ginny's faces, speaking so many soft, tender, eloquent things that words could not. Finally, they clasped hands, and made their way up into the darkest hour of night, prepared for one more journey together, uncertain whether it might be their last.
In deep shadow, behind one of the giant mossy oaks that the Forbidden Forest was famous for, Harry's fingers graced those of a young woman upon whose hand he had so often relied.
As with two people who have grown so close, the fleeting touch was no faint gesture. It was a whole, rich dialogue. The touch declared that Harry was ready to leave the Invisibility Cloak and reveal himself; that Ginny would hold current position and provide cover; that Harry remembered all of their well-rehearsed intervention signals; that Ginny would see or hear anything he did not.
That he loved her.
That she loved him.
Fingers slipped away, and Harry was gone — moving silently from the tree toward a circle of torches borne by an increasingly agitated group of Death Eaters, clamouring about their erstwhile immortal leader,
“Silence!” Voldemort raised his hand imperiously, quelling the din. He glared about the assembly. “Since the cowardly Potter has refused to honour us with his pres-”
“Are you blind, Tom?” Harry stepped into the light. “I'm here and waiting.”
Voldemort gaped at him for a moment, then quelled his surprise, twisting a pair of semi-human lips into a lurid grin. “Well, well! I see you've lost none of your penchant for dramatic appearances, have you, young Har-?”
“If your plan is to talk me to death, it won't work.” Harry raised his wand to a casual oblique level. “I'm here as a courtesy to you. In return, I expect the courtesy of you getting this over with.”
Voldemort's eyes flashed — embers scowling like a cat deprived of a favourite plaything. He stalled for a minute, perhaps wracking his brain for a cutting reply. In this he failed, managing only a feral snarl. “So be it, sniveling child. I challenge you to a duel to the death! No running away; no hiding behind your friends!”
“Sure. I won't if you won't, Tommy.” Harry gave a wry glance at Bellatrix Lestrange — dogging her master's heels; wand twitching excitedly.
Catching Harry's glance, Voldemort glared at his acolyte. “Stay back, Bella. The boy is mine and mine alone. I'll get you some playmates later.”
Affronted, Bellatrix gave Harry a loathsome sneer, then slinked away. Harry rolled his eyes, then turned impassively back to Voldemort who was watching him with a conflicted blend of stark hunger and half-suppressed anxiety.
Silent and unmoving, as the earliest fringe of twilight began to colour the eastern skies, a young man and an ageless fiend faced each other across the forest glade.
Somewhere in the distance, a chaffinch began to sing — a sweetness that pained the dark wizard's ears. He twitched and scowled. Then, as if enraged by the very innocence of nature, Voldemort's wand speared the air, lashing out at his young adversary. “AVADA KEDAVRA!! ”
In the time that it took for Elder Wand to summon pulsing boils of Unforgivable green filth, Harry rose tall… and set his arms to rest at his side.
As the heinous curse tore across the glade, Voldemort noticed the placid expression on his victim's face. He gaped in surprise; in sudden deep trepidation.
Before the distant songbird had cast its final dulcet note, Harry's mind was not on the killing curse or what might follow; not on a world whose fate hung in quivering irresolution.
Harry thought only of love. And promises.
Cool night air thrilled through his hair. The crisp sky, although still dark and starry, was beginning to lighten to a rich Phthalo blue on the eastern horizon far below.
Far FAR below.
“Wow!” Harry's grip tensed on his broomstick. “We're flying high!”
“Yes we are.”
Harry's head spun to the side, and gaped at his smiling companion. “Ginny!” He blinked and stared. “I-I… wasn't expecting you.”
“Why not?” She raised an eyebrow. “Since when do you ever go night flying alone?”
“Ha! Too true!” Harry chuckled, then trailed off, a bit disoriented. He glanced again at the girl flying beside him. “Ginny, is that really you?”
Harry gazed at her — the delicate features of her face seeming to capture soft luminescence from some unknown source; hair streaming out behind her; the ghost of a smile still decorating her lips.
He looked around at the huge dark sky above, and the distant, nondescript ground below. It was a view unlike any he had ever seen. It was surreal…
A faint pang arose in his chest… “Ginny, are we dead?”
She shook her head, sending luxuriant hair into delicate ripples that danced on the breeze for a moment before straightening.
“Oh?” Still mystified, Harry tried a subtle variation. “Then, am I dying?”
“I don't know, Harry.” Ginny's expression was serene and solemn. “I assume that's for you figure to out. When you do, please let me know."
“Well, I, uhh…” Harry frowned. “That might mean that… I have a choice? In dying?”
Ginny shrugged again.
As Ginny drifted silently closer, Harry studied her face for clues. “If I die, will Riddle be defeated?”
“Yes.” Ginny's tone was clear yet inscrutable. “You were brilliant, Harry. By refusing to defend yourself, you brought him to a ruin of his own creation. Magic may still bind his flesh and bones, but in all other ways he's bankrupt — clinging to a feeble shred of soul. Any challenge mounted with real courage or conviction will strip away his last pretences."
Harry gazed at her, not needing to ask whose courage and conviction would complete that task.
Ginny nodded slightly; her expression somehow both dreamlike and strong. She gazed off toward the horizon. “Tom hasn't quite realised it yet, but he completely squandered his life. He never had anything but delusions of immortality and dominion. Now he has nothing at all.”
“Ah. Poor him.” Harry stared into the deep starry sky. “I wonder what will happen to me? When I die, that is.”
“A lot of flying, maybe?” Ginny swept an arm through the night air. “If you get weary of that, I'm sure you'll find other inspirations.”
Harry's inquiring eyes riveted to Ginny. “With you?”
“Of course. I promised you.”
Harry couldn't tell if Ginny's faint smile conveyed encouragement, or sadness. He took a deep breath, feeling a weight of responsibility. “What will happen if I live?”
“Pleasure and pain? Sunshine and rain?” Ginny shrugged one final time. “A lot depends, my love, on why and how you live.”
“Of course it does.” Sighing, Harry closed his eyes, meditating on his choices.
Death would mean victory, freedom and bliss.
Life was a resumption of responsibility; acceptance of the unknown.
Harry descended into quiet inner solitude, wrestling between the temptation of a painless reward, and a conscience inured to forswearing all simple paths.
After some immeasurable time, still at an impasse, Harry felt Ginny lay her hand on his. He opened his eyes to see her smiling; to see the morning mist clearing away for a perfect summer day. Their brooms had drifted far lower; their toes nearly skimming the full-leafed upper branches of woodlands graced with merry birdsong.
“Come with me.” She winked. Withdrawing her hand, she sped away.
He watched uncomprehending for a moment, then grinned. Leaning hard on his broom, he dashed after her, and found himself in merry chase, speeding around a stand of tall aspens that looked… very familiar.
They pulled sharply to right and Harry saw it — the Burrow!
The Weasley home stood rickety as always, but with paint of fresh vibrant colours such as he couldn't recall having seen on the Burrow in years — well before all of the wartime privations.
They touched down in the back yard, laid their brooms against a post, then hurried onto the porch and through the kitchen door, arriving just in time to be startled by a loud DING!
Into the kitchen raced a girl in a pretty summer dress. Not paying them the slightest heed, she scurried to the old range.
Harry blinked... then laughed. “That's you!” He turned to his companion who was standing at his side, smiling absently. “That's you when you were, what? Maybe ten?”
Companion Ginny winked. “Very nearly eleven.”
Meanwhile, Little Ginny clambered up onto a stool to reach a pair of oven mitts hanging from a beam. “Mum, the biscuits are ready! May I take them out?”
“Yes dear, please do! I'll be down in a minute to help.”
The kitchen filled with a heavenly aroma as the girl carefully pulled the tray from the oven, setting out a batch of delectably golden biscuits to cool. As the young girl searched in a drawer for a spatula, Molly (a younger Molly, bearing noticeably fewer worry lines than Harry had now grown accustomed to) entered the kitchen with a gift box and some baking parchment.
Molly inhaled the kitchen's scents. “Perfect, dear! Pretty soon you'll bake me straight out of a job!”
Little Ginny scoffed. “Not likely, Mum!” She began carefully prying the biscuits from the tray; transferring them onto parchment Molly had set into the bottom of the box.
Molly smiled. “We should save a few for your brothers. And for yourself, of course.”
Little Ginny shook her head. “One for each of the boys, but none for me. I want to make sure he has enough!”
“Well, I'm sure he'll appreciate that!” Molly ruffled the girl's hair.
After Little Ginny had packed the last of the biscuits, Molly charmed the lid of the box in place, and reached into the deep pocket of her apron. “Would you like to tie it up dear?”
Nodding eagerly, the young girl accepted a ribbon...
A red and green striped cloth ribbon.
Harry choked. With tears prickling in his eyes, Harry fumbled for the inner pocket of his cloak, pulling out a tattered strip of cloth he had carried with him everywhere for the past nearly six years. He turned to the young woman at his side. “I knew it had to have been you.” He grinned moistly. “Nobody else would ever be so kind to me.”
“Nobody else?” Ginny's grin contained a mysterious glimmer of mischief.
Puzzled, Harry studied his companion, trying to parse her meaning.
Catching his eye, she gestured over his shoulder.
Harry swiveled back toward the pleasant domestic scene… and gaped.
The Burrow's joyously chaotic clutter had vanished. Magically, they found they'd been transported to a spacious modern kitchen. The marble and steel formality was happily offset with books, oddments, lots of silly pictures, and a jumble of mismatched sets and implements — all conspiring to capture something of that same homey character of the only kitchen that Harry had ever loved.
There was still a little girl carefully tying a ribbon; she was still lively and thin, with gleaming red hair, but she was no longer Ginny.
The late-thirtyish mother, whose patient finger anchored the girl's ribbon, was clearly not Molly.
Harry shifted his vantage to glimpse the woman's face. He stared for a moment, then chuckled.
“Ahem. Yes?” Harry's own teenaged companion placed hands on her hips. “Is something funny?”
Still wide-eyed, Harry gestured toward the lithe woman. “You're still just as beautiful, decades from now.”
“Perhaps.” Teenaged Ginny's eyebrow arched. “So apparently you find this… amusing?”
Harry carefully wiped the smirk from his face. “Sorry. It's just that you'll still have the exact same little pattern of pretty freckles about your nose and I, um love them!”
It was Teenaged Ginny's turn to smirk. “Good save, Potter.”
On the counter was a hand-written card that the little girl hadn't yet had the chance to affix to the package. Teenaged Ginny picked it up and handed it to Harry.
Tomorrow is your birthday! I'm so excited!
I hope you like these biscuits, but Mum says you will. She even thinks you'll like them even more than treacle tart. Is that really possible?
Mum promised me that she'll wake me up tonight at 12:01 a.m., so that I can give you the present then. That way, you won't have to wait.
Mum said that, once upon a time, you had to wait a long long time (years!) for biscuits like these. Is there a good story in there somewhere? I hope you can tell me about it some day.
Harry placed the card carefully back onto the kitchen counter next to the little girl. Gazing wide-eyed, about the scene, he choked back a sob.
Companion Ginny took his hand.
“This is what…” Harry looked into her smiling eyes. “I mean, if I ever want to have…?”
His companion nodded.
“This is why I have to live.” He took a deep breath. “This is why I've got to go back to the forest…”
“Yes.” Her eyes moist, Companion Ginny nodded. “Otherwise no ginger and pralines for you, Harry.”
Tears running freely down his face, Harry embraced the only person who (quietly, through dozens of wild adventures) had always sincerely wished he might someday find simple, normal happiness. He held on for dear life.
Without leaving the comfort of her arms, he withdrew into his thoughts, mapping out what he needed to do. Then he stepped back and gazed upon his eternal companion — the girl of the ribbon and the trunk; commiserator of the diary and cup; loyal confederate through perils past; soul mate for joys to come.
Harry took a deep breath. “There is only one thing still standing in the way of those biscuits.”
“Right.” Shining with strength and dedication, Ginny's eyes met his and she nodded. “I'll meet you back in the forest — don't start without me!”
Smiling, Harry closed his eyes and felt the beautiful vision recede back from a night he had never left.
He found himself lying somewhere. His senses tingled, acute and ready — a sensation of moist earth and tree roots around his back and limbs… coarse voices muttering and whispering… a flicker of torches illuminating a leafy canopy high above…
Was it time?
His every limb pulsed with spring-loaded adrenaline. Harry Potter was more alive than he had ever been in his life.
A sudden burst of Death Eater clamour told Harry that his partner had just fulfilled another promise, which meant…
It WAS time!
Harry rose to his feet, sparking a second wild quake of confusion and dismay… that quenched to utter silence the instant he raised his wand.
And, though Voldemort was already casting a desperate curse, this story could only ever have one ending.