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Taking the Train
By lilyevans_Jan30

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Category: Alternate Universe, Post-HBP, Post-DH/AB
Characters:None
Genres: Angst, Drama, Romance
Warnings: Death, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Sexual Situations
Story is Complete
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 154
Summary: While talking with Dumbledore at King's Cross, Harry comes to a different decision about his future, a decision that puts his relationship with Ginny in grave peril. Can he find a way to fix things before it's too late?
Hitcount: Story Total: 49913; Chapter Total: 5942





Author's Notes:
I hope this chapter answers some of the questions of those of you who left reviews - thanks for those! When I started this story, the plan was that this chapter would reveal a bit more information than I actually ended up providing. I didn't intend to create a cliffhanger, but the stopping point was just too good, so you will have to wait to find out exactly what Harry saw in the mirror. I bet astute readers will figure it out though.




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Taking the Train

Chapter 2 Aboard the Hogwarts Express

Harry stumbled as the train began to move, but quickly righted himself. He did not know if this was the actual Hogwarts Express, but if it was not, the resemblance was uncanny. All that was missing was the noise of hundreds of excited students and their various owls, rats, spiders, and, in Neville’s case, Trevor the toad. This train was completely silent. Even the wheels on the tracks below did not make the familiar click clack sound that Harry associated with the start of term. “Where were his parents?” he wondered. He had expected to see them straightaway, to be able to begin making up for all they had missed over the past 17 years. This empty, creepy train was not what he had anticipated when he walked onto Platform 9 . Dumbledore had seemed so serene at King’s Cross, and his parents and Sirius and Remus too, as he met them in the forest. But Harry was beginning to feel a bit panicked. He had made his decision and he wanted his next great adventure to start. Now.

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

Yelling triumphantly, the Death Eaters made their way through the forest, Hagrid in their midst, raining tears upon Harry’s broken body. The strange events in the clearing, when both Harry and Voldemort fell to the ground after the Killing Curse hit, were apparently forgotten. Voldemort walked imperiously at the head of the group, his red eyes gleaming in the light of dozens of lit wands and torches. Bellatrix stepped regally just behind him; occasionally allowing her gaze to rest adoringly on her master’s face.

Up at the school, the throngs that had remained behind to fight heard Voldemort’s voice as he projected it over the grounds, proclaiming the death of Harry Potter. People began to stream out of the front hall and fill the grounds, unwilling to believe. “Surely, it must be a trick of some kind,” they muttered to one another. “A way to get us to let our guards down before the next attack.”

One figure stood alone at the top of the steps. Her face was smudged with dirt, sweat and tears, and the long strands of red hair that escaped her messy ponytail lay plastered against her cheeks. She gazed without expression over the crowd; her hands, clenched tightly into fists at her sides, were the only outward sign of the turmoil going on beneath the surface of her stoic face. As the chants and jeers of the approaching Death Eaters got louder, repeating over and over, “He’s dead! He’s dead!,” her resolve broke for a moment. She glanced up into the starry night, then back towards the forest. “Don’t you dare . . .” she whispered, so softly it might have been mistaken for the breeze. “I can’t . . . you’re not . . . don’t you dare . . .” The chanting grew even louder and the fighters on the steps tensed. The red-haired figure looked into the sky again, her almost silent murmurs flowing into a kind of chant: “don’t you dare . . . don’t you dare . . . I waited for you . . . I waited . . . don’t you dare be dead . . . Harry Potter.”

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

Harry was aware of none of this, however. He had begun walking through the carriage, peering into each empty compartment as he passed. In the fourth carriage, just as he had begun to accept the fact that he was not going to see his parents until he arrived at the “destination” Dumbledore had mentioned, there they were. They were sitting with Sirius and Remus and Tonks in a compartment, laughing, drinking butterbeer and . . . playing exploding snap? All of them looked up in surprise as Harry pushed the door open.

“Harry?” His father said, standing quickly. “How did you get here?”

“Voldemort hit me with the Killing Curse . . . Dumbledore was there . . . he said . . . I saw . . . I don’t know. I’m just here. To be with you and Mum.” This last bit came out in a rush, so overwhelmed was Harry to finally see them, and he stood there confused for a moment, wondering why they had not been expecting him. But then his dad grabbed him in a hug, and him mum was right behind, looking into his eyes and crying and laughing and touching his face. Harry did not notice Remus and Sirius exchanging glances at the exchange or Tonks suddenly look out the window as if to try to gauge where they were in the mist.

“You were gone so long after we left you in the forest,” explained his dad, “we didn’t think you were coming. We thought you went back.”

As his mother opened her mouth to speak, Remus interrupted, “What about Voldemort? Is he gone too?”

“I’m not sure,” said Harry. “But I don’t think he can be, yet. There is still one more Horcrux to destroy.”

“Then he won?” asked Tonks.

“No — he didn’t, he won’t . . .” said Harry, a little more forcefully than he intended. “Ron and Hermione are there, and Neville knows what to do now, too. They will finish it. I know they will.”

The occupants of the compartment looked at him calmly. Despite their initial surprise, they all seemed quite happy to see him, and not terribly disturbed by the thought of the war still waging back “there.” Harry wished he could share some of their peace. The thought of the war continuing without him made him anxious all of a sudden; the things he had left unfinished swirled before him, leaving him with a faint feeling of helplessness. Maybe the calm feeling would grow as he approached his destination. After all, hadn’t Sirius said that dying was quicker and easier than falling asleep? Harry pushed down the feeling of disquiet in his stomach and focused on the five figures in front of him. There was so much to discuss. So much he wanted to share . . .

Harry grinned at his dad, and Sirius and Remus as he sat down on the seat. “So, the Marauders together again. The ones that matter, anyway. Done any good pranks lately?”

“Oho!” cried Sirius. “Have we ever! You would not believe what James and I did to Wormtail when he got here . . . “

“Ahem,” interrupted Lupin. “I am not sure you should be telling stories of your times here to Harry yet. After all, he has not really . . . arrived, so to speak.”

James frowned for a second, dropping his hand from where he had clamped it around Harry’s shoulder. “He’s not here yet?”

“Not quite, I don’t think,” answered Lupin. “Don’t you agree Dora?”

“I do,” said Tonks, smiling at Remus and slipping her hand into his as she leaned into him, her hair turning a vivid shade of pink as she did so. “When I was hit during the battle, it took me longer to die than you, and for a little while, you said it just didn’t seem . . . right, or something, to have me here. That is what I am feeling with Harry. Maybe later.” She turned to Remus and kissed him softly on the lips, her contribution to the conversation over.

“Well, I guess we just have to wait a bit,” said James, smiling at Harry. “So tell us what you have been up to. Do you have a girlfriend?” James sat back down next to Lily, running his hand gently through her hair almost unconsciously.

“Yes, well, no, not anymore . . . I broke up with her before . . . and well anyway, I am dead now, right? So what does it matter?” Harry had expected that being dead would be easier than this. He hadn’t felt this agitated in King’s Cross, talking to Dumbledore. It was only now, sitting with his parents, the two people he had always wanted more than anything in the world to be able to talk to, that he felt, somehow, that something was not right.

“So what is her name? Is she as pretty as your mother? Does she play Quidditch?” James seemed quite interested in the facts of Harry’s love life, and Lily too, sat up and gazed at Harry.

“Don’t you know? I mean, haven’t you been able to watch me all this time? When you came to me in the forest you knew exactly what was going on,” Harry stammered, confused by the way the lines between life and death seemed to blur and shift.

“Sometimes the connection is better than at others.” Lily spoke to him for the first time. “When the magic around you is particularly strong, or something important is happening. There are times when we are completely aware of what you are experiencing and how it is making you feel, and other times that we get only impressions or ideas. To some extent, we are with you all the time, but often the connection comes from you. When you think about us, or hear stories, or look at photographs, you are more real to us, because we are more real to you.”

“And unfortunately,” broke in Sirius, “a clear view into your love life doesn’t happen for us very often.”

“You and me both,” said Harry wryly, earning grins from his dad and Sirius and Lupin and sympathetic looks from Lily and Tonks.

“Well,” thought Harry to himself, “I guess a talk about girls is as good of a place as any to start. We’ll have plenty of time to catch up on everything else later.” He took a deep breath while he collected his thoughts about the best way to convey to his parents everything that Ginny was. Sirius and Remus and Tonks knew her, of course, but as far as Harry was concerned, they knew nothing about the things that made her so much more than just the youngest Weasley or the only girl: her ability to listen to him for hours without judging or patronizing, her refusal to let him feel sorry for himself, her capacity for understanding and compassion, her biting wit and laughter and her fabulous talent on a broom, not to mention the way she looked into his eyes when they were alone, making Harry feel like she had never really looked at anyone before him. And the feel of her lips on his . . . and her hair slipping silkily through his fingers . . . All these things he wanted to convey to them, and for a minute, he was acutely aware that words and memories were all he had left of Ginny; he would never experience them again.

Shaking away these thoughts, Harry began, “Well, her name is . . .” when he was suddenly interrupted by a cheerfully falsetto voice in the corridor sing-songing, “Something off the cart dearies?”

The food trolley rolled into view, pushed by a young man who peered at the occupants of the compartment with a mischievous grin, giving a start when he saw Harry sitting among them.

“Hey! Shouldn’t you be in a broom closet somewhere snogging my sister?”

“Fred?”

“The one and only, around here at least.” He plopped down on the seat next to Harry. “But you didn’t answer my question. Aren’t you supposed to be off saving the world and getting the girl?”

He smirked again and leaned back, stretching his arms across the top of the seat and looking at Harry suggestively.

Harry was struck by the contrast between Fred, sitting here dead, but seemingly quite content, and the last glimpses he had had of George, weeping over Fred’s body in the Great Hall before Harry had left for the forest. “Are you okay? Fred, I am so sorry about . . . everything. And George, and your family, have you seen them?”

A small frown creased Fred’s head for just a moment as he sighed and looked at Harry. “That was the only bad part,” he said. “Leaving him to be the chief mischief maker back at home. We did have a lot of fun, didn’t we? It won’t be as easy for him going solo, but hey, he’s Forge. If I know him, and I think you will have to agree that I do, he is going to be okay. Something tells me that with a little unearthly nudge from his new “spiritual advisor”, George is going to be inspired to honor my memory as a master prankster and invent like never before . . . Hmmm, I wonder if Angelina is seeing anyone right now? She always used to say she thought George was the more charming twin. As if! Still, now that his biggest competition is gone, it can’t hurt to work on a love connection for him as well. After all, he has our reputation to uphold!” Fred finished this speech with a flourish, Harry almost felt as if he should applaud. Obviously, being dead suited Fred. In fact, it seemed to suit all his traveling companions.

Harry glanced at his parents, who were sitting close together, watching him, and stealing little kisses with each other. “So Harry, your girlfriend, she’s Fred’s sister?” Lily asked him gently.

“Yes,” said Harry. “Ginny Weasley. But I broke it off with her last year before Ron and Hermione and I went off on the Horcrux hunt. I wanted to keep her safe. Everyone I have ever been close to has, well, died.” He looked pointedly at his companions.

“None of which was your fault,” said Sirius firmly. “I know, I know,” he cut off Harry’s protests to the contrary before they could start. “But the wizarding world has been at war since before you were born. Things happen in war that wouldn’t happen otherwise. People have to make instantaneous decisions based on incomplete information and gut reactions. You think I didn’t spend 13 years in Azkaban feeling that it was my fault your parents died? I should have seen Peter for what he was. I should have been their secret keeper. But we all did what seemed to make sense at the time. And people died. But the world also got 13 years of relative peace in the bargain.”

“But if I had only . . .” Harry began.

“Only what?” James interjected. “Only realized that Voldemort was planting visions in your head and so you had not gone to the Ministry? Yes, there is the possibility that Sirius might still be alive, but by going, you forced Voldemort into the open much sooner than he wished. People knew he was back. And the war to finish him off could properly begin.”

“Not to mention the fact that it got me out of Grimmauld Place for good,” said Sirius. “I was dying in there anyway. Other than having to leave you, I’m much better off here.”

“Do you think that by distancing yourself, by dying, you are keeping Ginny safe?” his mother asked.

“Leave it to the female to bring things back to relationships,” laughed Remus.

Harry frowned. He had separated his thoughts of leaving Ginny from the anticipation of being with his parents again, putting all his trust in the mirror to let him know which path to take. Would his dying protect her? He was sure, at least he hoped he was sure, that staying the hell away from her this past year was the reason she was still alive. But now what would happen when he was dead?

“I . . I don’t know. She . . . she will be okay, I think . . . eventually.” He realized he really didn’t know what to say about her to his family. He had thought about his parents almost every day of his life, but really, they were still strangers to him when it came to personal, every day matters. It would even be easier to talk about Ginny with Ron, now that his emotional range had apparently expanded from teaspoon-size to something with more capacity, or Hermione, with those knowing looks she used to give him every time she caught him staring at Ginny in the common room. They already knew about him and Ginny. He didn’t have to start from the beginning with them and try to make them understand something that was so obvious to him. Frustrated, Harry ran his hand through the back of his hair, earning him a grin from his father and look of maternal affection from his mum. They did seem to want him here. It was just . . . different than Harry had imagined. Having his family and godfather around him, still felt kind of like he was sitting with ghosts.

“Do you want to see her?” asked Fred suddenly.

“Huh, w-w-what?”

“Ginny. Do you want to see Ginny? With the battle going on, I imagine the magic will be strong enough to give you a good, clear view,” said Fred.

“I’d like to see her too,” remarked Lily.

“Oh, she is a spitfire, that’s for sure,” grinned Sirius. “Has the best Bat Bogey hex I have ever seen. You know how it is with those redheads.”

“She has red hair?” asked James with interest.

“Oh yeah,” said Tonks. “Beautiful red hair, and freckles, and big brown eyes.” She obligingly screwed up her own eyes in concentration, and a second later, had transformed herself into the vision of Ginny’s older sister that Harry had once seen back at Grimmauld Place.

Seeing Tonks like that, Harry was overcome with the desire to see Ginny again . . . “One last time,” he told himself.

“Okay,” he told the group. “How?”

A minute later, Harry found himself standing in the space between the gently swaying carriages, looking out over the Hogwarts Grounds. It was almost as if he was viewing memories in a Pensieve, but instead of being directly in the proceedings, he hovered just slightly above them, and was able to move about the scene fairly easily to see different perspectives.

The Death Eaters and Hagrid had made their way out of the forest, and Harry heard the shocked and horrified screams of his friends and classmates, as they gazed upon his body, lying in Hagrid’s arms.

And then one scream, more terrible than the rest, pierced his heart. And then he saw her. She was still standing at the top of the steps to the castle, her hand over her mouth as if trying to keep back the torrent of emotion that was pouring out, her chocolate eyes wide with shock and grief.
Ginny wailed a keening cry as she fell to her knees, the words slipping out of her mouth almost involuntarily, “No . . . no . . . no . . . oh, please . . . no.” Then Ron and Hermione were by her side, each surrounding her with their arms as she sobbed, their own tears and grief mixing with hers, ignoring, for a minute, the drama unfolding below on the lawn.

It was much worse than Harry could have imagined. Even in her devastation, Ginny was more beautiful and powerful than anyone Harry had ever seen. As he hovered close to her, he was filled with the memories of their times together, of those brief moments by the lake when their world had shrunk to the size of a patch of grass and a shady tree, when nothing could intrude on their just being them. He told her things, during those stolen moments. Things he had never told anyone else, things he wanted her to know because they made her more a part of him. And she told him things too. But thinking about those times now, as he watched her mourning him, was too hard. It made the fact that they would never be like that together again all the more difficult to bear, and a feeling very close to regret poured through Harry without warning.

He sensed as much as he heard her next words, more painful because they were uttered not as an inconsolable cry, but in a whisper, “I can’t be here without you, Harry . . . I can’t . . .oh please . . . no . . .you are . . . you were . . . you are . . . the only one . . . I love you . . . I LOVED YOU!” This last was stated as a scream as Ginny crumpled in Ron’s arms, sobbing.

Hearing it stated in the past tense was more than Harry could take. He started towards Ginny, intent on comforting her, of erasing the look of pain that wracked her face, the sound of her cries from his ears. If he could just touch her for a minute, let her know he was there, that he cared for her, then it would be all right. Then maybe he could go on and continue his journey, and join his parents for good. Maybe the ache that had been growing in his heart and the tears that prickled his eyes would finally go away, and he could enjoy the peace that permeated his parents, and Sirius, Remus and Tonks, and Fred. Because right now, Harry’s emotions were much closer to those of George and Ginny, living with loss on the ground, than the serenity of those around him on the train.

But he could not get close enough to touch her. Every time he approached, an invisible barrier seemed to push him back into the air, to hover uselessly above, watching.

Frustrated, Harry backed away for a moment, and found himself back on the train, peering at the unfolding scene from a window. His body was on the ground now, and Voldemort seemed to be talking to the crowd, but Harry did not want to listen. Seeing Ginny like that was tearing him up inside and he was powerless to put an end to the turmoil, either his or hers.

His father’s voice broke through his thoughts. “Merlin, she’s cute, Harry. And you willingly left her to come hang out with us old fogeys?” In a voice that held the hint of suggestion, he added, “Maybe you were not supposed to be here yet?”

“No!” yelled Harry. “I am here! I chose to come be with you all! It’s my time — the mirror said so!”

How could he make them understand when he didn’t yet understand himself? If he was supposed to be here, why was it so difficult? Why was he feeling irrational jealousy watching his parents snuggled up against each other, envious that they got spend eternity together, when he was here feeling more alone than he ever had before? Why had the mirror shown him what it had? If his heart’s desire was to be with his parents, why did his heart feel so empty?

In his frustration, he backed away from his father and tripped over a . . . box of lemon drops? Looking out into the corridor, Harry saw a number of Acid Pops floating gently in the air, and beyond them, a Fizzing Whizzbee. “Excuse me,” he muttered, leaving the compartment. As he left, he saw Fred pick up the box of lemon drops and begin throwing them at Sirius, who tried to catch them in his mouth.

Halfway down the carriage, the trail of sweets stopped. Ahead of him at the end of the corridor, Harry saw with a start, stood the Mirror of Erised again, still reflecting the images of his parents. Harry was confused. He was with his parents now. So why should they still be his heart’s desire? He approached cautiously, watching as his mother turned her back on him to speak, no, to scold, it looked like, someone in the background. It was when she turned back around and faced Harry properly, that he felt his heart fall into his stomach, and his vision blur.

“Oh sweet Merlin, no . . . no . . . It’s wrong . . . I did it wrong . . . Oh please, I have to get off . . . I have to get back . . . Someone, please! Stop the train!!!!"
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