Ginny Weasley/Harry Potter
Ginny Weasley Harry Potter
Drama General
The Harry Potter at Hogwarts Years
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Order of the Phoenix
Published: 11/27/2004
Updated: 07/12/2005
Words: 244,604
Chapters: 33
Hits: 95,778

Harry Potter and the Curse of the Damned


Story Summary:
Seventh-year sequel to Power of Emotion. Harry is recovering from his captivity, but he's hiding how much it's affecting him. With his powers increasing, and Voldemort now aware of the prophecy, can Harry find the secret to destroying him before Voldemort discovers what's in the ancient texts?

Chapter 07

Chapter Summary:
Seventh year sequel to Power of Emotion. Harry is recovering from his captivity, but he’s hiding how much it’s effecting him. With his powers increasing, and Voldemort now aware of the prophecy, can Harry find the secret to destroying him before Voldemort learns of the existence of these ancient texts? Would this be HP fanfiction if it were that easy?
Author's Note:
Thanks, as always, to Mistral for all her hard work in beta reading this monstrosity. Also huge thanks to all of you take the time to review. I try and respond on the review thread in bold so you can go back and peek if you like.

Chapter Seven

Political Maneuvering

Professor Dumbledore entered the drawing room and took the offered seat next to Harry on the couch. Harry tensed and edged away slightly; he didn't think he wanted to hear whatever Professor Dumbledore was going to say. He was having a hard enough time controlling all the emotions stirring within him without adding to them.

"How are you feeling, Harry?" the headmaster asked softly, his voice sounding raw and scratchy to Harry's ears.

"I'm fine, sir," Harry said, keeping his gaze planted firmly ahead and refusing to look at him.

He felt, rather than saw, one of Professor Dumbledore's piercing stares trying to look right through him, causing him to shift uncomfortably. "I understand that Slicing Curse did a fair bit of damage."

Harry shrugged. "Aside from the Cruciatus, that's one of Bellatrix Lestrange's favorites," he said, shuddering at the memories from a cold, dark cell. Bellatrix Lestrange had been a frequent tormentor...she and Lucius Malfoy. His chest constricted, and his breathing became labored, as Lucius's sneer rang in his head. 'You'll be begging for the release of death when I'm through with you'. Don't think about that.

Professor Dumbledore laid a gentle hand on Harry's trembling arm, but Harry cringed at the contact. "I am truly sorry about everything that happened on Privet Drive, Harry. I wish we could have arrived in time to save the Dursleys. " Harry glanced up briefly; Professor Dumbledore looked old and rather frail. He'd been looking older and older over the past year, but now he looked positively ancient. For some reason, it angered Harry to see him this way. Dumbledore was supposed to be strong; he was supposed to have the answers even if he wouldn't always share them. It was his fault Harry had been stuck with the Dursleys so long; he wanted to rant and rail and not feel at all sympathetic.

"Why didn't you?" The angry words burst from Harry's raw throat, his anger rising to the surface like a great bubble. He pulled his arm away and scooted further up the couch. "I thought it was supposed to be safe. I thought that's why I always had to be trapped there every year. What good did it do? The Order was supposed to be on guard - where were they? Why couldn't they even save Dudley? They had arrived by the time he was killed! Why?" Harry's voice hitched. He was panting, not even certain from where this outburst was coming. He could feel traitorous wetness on his face, and he swiped furiously at it. He knew it wasn't Professor Dumbledore's fault, but he desperately wanted someone to blame, and Dumbledore was there. "Hogwarts is safe, Harry," he continued, hating the whine in voice but unable to stop it. "Privet Drive is safe, Harry. Grimmauld Place is safe, Harry. NONE OF THOSE PLACES WERE SAFE. What difference did any of it make?"

Professor Dumbledore kept his eyes cast downward, allowing Harry to continue his rant until he was spent. Harry could have sworn he saw the headmaster cringe at his furious words. Feeling defeated and weary, he shut his eyes and rested his head on the back of the couch, breathing heavily. I'm so very tired of this.

"I can understand your frustration, Harry and concede that nowhere is completely safe for you. We have added precautions in some spots, but that is the best we can do. Until this is over, you are a high risk target and always will be," Professor Dumbledore said, his voice filled with regret.

Harry sucked in his breath, the words ringing in his ears. Instead of the steady reassurances that he was safe, someone had finally acknowledged it out loud - nowhere would ever be safe for him until this battle was over, one way or another.

"I need you to teach me; I need you to complete my training," Harry replied, keeping his voice very low and trying to control the tremble. "I want to end this; I don't want to live like this anymore. I want...more." He opened his eyes and glanced briefly at a spot in the doorway where Ginny had disappeared before turning his tired eyes to see Dumbledore's response.

"And I want more for you, Harry...so much more. I have made many decisions in my lifetime that I have come to regret, but none more than my decision on where to place you after your parents' deaths. At the time, it seemed the best solution. Once the course was set, there was no turning back, and I only had to move forward from there. Even knowing this does not make the decision, or consequences, any less bitter to swallow. It was never my intent to hurt you, Harry, nor see any harm come to you.

Harry nodded and tried to swallow the bludger-sized lump in his throat. "She...she said that I let them do it," Harry whispered brokenly, fighting to hold his composure.

"And you know in your heart that this is untrue. Miss Tonks informs me that she had to petrify you to keep you from running back, despite the fact that you were unable to perform any magic. It was a horrific event for all of you, Harry, but don't let her words, spoken in the heat of the conflict, overshadow what you know to be true. You know this isn't your fault; none of this has ever been your fault."

Harry shut his eyes tightly and gave the briefest of nods.

"Very well. I have a plan to step up your training. You are nearly ready now. We will begin with the physical training and add the magical when your resources are stronger. Bill, Emmeline, and Jacqueline are deciphering the texts as fast as they are able. I am certain the answer we seek rests in those books. Despite your grievous injuries last term, you managed to hurt Voldemort - really hurt him. That is more than anyone else has ever managed to do, and it alarmed him greatly. You have the power, Harry, and the strength comes from your love for those who surround you. He does not have that and never will."

Harry's mind traveled back to that last confrontation with Voldemort and the memories he had used against him. "You think my power comes from my feelings for Ginny?" he asked, his pale cheeks turning a rosy shade of pink.

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled brightly behind his spectacles for the first time since entering the room. "I think your power comes from the feeling you have for all those you hold dear. I do believe Ginny has a very important role in it. Romantic love is different from the love of family and friends, although they are equally important. She is one half of your whole; she gives you strength when you need it most. I am always very mindful never to underestimate that strong bond. Therefore, I want to include Miss Weasley and your other friends in my plans for your training."

Harry watched Dumbledore closely, surprised that he was conceding so readily. "When do we begin?"

"I have a plan that is almost in place. I do not want to give you, or anyone else, the details until everything is ready. There are several other matters we need to discuss in the meantime," Dumbledore said, his eyes losing their twinkle.

"Such as?" Harry asked.

"There was a funeral for the Dursleys while you were still unconscious. We saw to it that the appropriate Memory Charms were administered so that no one will recall your presence at the house this summer. The Muggle Authorities had wanted to speak with you; however, we think we have sidetracked them from that endeavor. They believe the attack was a random act of violence, although they are at a loss to explain the cause of death," Dumbledore said, watching Harry closely.

Harry's mind had gone numb after the word funeral. "A f-funeral. Who was there?" he asked, morbidly curious.

Professor Dumbledore again rested his hand on Harry's arm, but Harry was only vaguely aware it was there this time. A tight pressure was building within his chest, and he wished Dumbledore would stop talking. He didn't want to think about this. "Your Aunt Marge took care of the arrangements, as well as overseeing the dispersal of household goods."

Harry nodded. "There was nothing there of mine. I'm certain Aunt Marge didn't want me anywhere near the funeral, anyway." His voice sounded strangled even to his own ears.

A pained expression crossed Dumbledore's features before he covered it, and his neutral concern returned. "She has suffered a great shock; she was grieving, as well, Harry."

Harry rubbed his eyes tiredly. He appreciated the effort his headmaster was making to spare his feelings, but he was reasonably certain he knew how that conversation would have gone. "Is there anything else, sir?"

Dumbledore nodded gravely. "There is one more matter I would like to address. I am not certain if you are aware that an owl arrived at Arabella's regarding your use of underage magic on the night of the attack."

Harry's eyes flew open wide; no one had told him about that. His heart clenched; this was the third time he'd been warned. Would they try to throw him out of Hogwarts again? Did he have to go to another trial?

"Nothing to fear," Dumbledore said, perhaps sensing his panic. "Arthur Weasley went directly to the Ministry and straightened everything out. However, Cornelius Fudge has requested an audience with you to discuss the events that occurred that night. I have tried to circumvent it, but he is insistent. If you feel up to it, it might be the quickest way to put the matter to rest. I fear Cornelius is trying to show that he is, in fact, doing something and will no doubt inform the press of your meeting."

Harry really didn't want to talk about that night, but he didn't want to put any more pressure on Dumbledore, either. He planned on telling Fudge in no uncertain terms that he would not be receiving Harry's support in his bid to keep the position of Minister of Magic. "Okay, I'll do it."

"I will arrange it, then. Is there anyone you would like to accompany you, aside from Arthur and myself?"

"Can Remus come, too?"

"Of course," Professor Dumbledore said, smiling. "I believe Cornelius will want this to be done quickly, probably in the next day or two. I will be in touch. Right now, I believe Molly Weasley has been waiting impatiently to speak with me."

Professor Dumbledore grimaced, and Harry had to suppress a grin - even Professor Dumbledore dreaded being on the receiving end of Mrs. Weasley's temper, Harry watched him leave and sank back down on the couch. It was always one thing after the other. For neither can live while the other survives.

The meeting with the Ministry was scheduled for two days later. Harry spent those two days thinking about what he'd like to say, his fury growing by leaps and bounds. This was an outlet for all the pent-up aggression he'd been experiencing all summer, and he planned to let it all loose on Fudge and his Ministry. It wasn't until that morning, when he was sitting at the breakfast table with Remus and Mr. Weasley, that a bit of his nervousness returned. He'd woken up feeling better physically than he had in a long time; it was his nerves that were finally catching up with him.

His stomach was doing flip-flops at the thought of what kind of questions they were going to ask. If they already knew the story about how the Dursleys had been murdered, what would they ask him? Would they make him recount the whole thing? Would they ask how he felt about them? Harry shuddered at the thought. He didn't want to talk about this. He began to wish he'd never agreed to it.

He kept raising his toast to his lips, but couldn't force himself to take a bite. He felt certain he would heave if he even tried. "How are we getting there?" he asked Mr. Weasley, who was sitting across from him, eating a plate of eggs and bacon.

"The Minister provided a special portkey; it will take us directly to his office. Professor Dumbledore has it; he should be arriving shortly," Mr. Weasley said, smiling at Harry in encouragement. "Chin up, son; this is going to go just fine."

Harry nodded absently, considering Mr. Weasley's words. The portkey was good; he wouldn't have to walk through the lobby and meet all the questioning stares. He suddenly felt very drained, as if all his energy was being sucked from him with a straw. He could feel the start of a tension headache throbbing in his temples.

"Are you all right, Harry?" Remus asked, looking at his pallor in concern. "Professor Dumbledore, Arthur, and I will be with you the whole time. I highly doubt this will even be a formal questioning, just more political posturing on Fudge's part than anything else. I wouldn't be at all surprised if there is a full press conference awaiting your arrival."

Harry started and looked up at Remus in alarm, the clenching in his stomach becoming painful. Press? He hadn't even considered that. Was he going to have to answer questions to the press? His luck with them hadn't been all that good in the past. Just the one interview Hermione had arranged had done some good, and that was arranged through blackmail. "D- D'you think the press will really be there?"

Remus winced in sympathy. "One step at a time, Harry; we'll just take one step at a time. If they are, a simple 'no comment' should suffice, and we'll move past them quickly. First thing is to get Fudge off our backs. By agreeing to this interview, we've given him what he wanted; hopefully, he'll return the favor."

Harry nodded resolutely. He'd given his word, and he was determined to go through with it. He could do this. No sense in letting his confidence be shaken now. He'd dealt with Fudge before; he knew what to expect. He was feeling healthy, he'd put on some of his new clothes, and he was ready.

The front door opened, and a moment later both Professor Dumbledore and Professor Snape entered the kitchen. Harry hadn't seen Snape since the Leaving Feast last term, but he remembered Remus's words about Snape being in hot water from suspicion about his involvement in Harry's escape. Harry's stomach clenched with guilt, and he met the Potion Master's eyes. He was surprised to see the anger burning there. He and Snape had come to some kind of guarded agreement at the end of term, or so he'd thought. Maybe he'd imagined it.

"Good morning," Dumbledore said. "I see we are all ready to go. Severus, I shall be returning as soon as possible, and we can continue on our way."

"Yes, Headmaster," Snape said, glaring at Harry.

"Professor Snape," Harry nodded, not about to take any of the man's rubbish. He was too on edge already today to put up with him.

"Potter," Snape snarled. "Do try and follow orders today, although I know how difficult that simple instruction seems to be for you. Try not to cause any more damage than you already have."

"Severus," Dumbledore said, narrowing his eyes in warning.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Harry asked, feeling his temper rise.

"At the end of term, both you and the Dark Lord were in the same position, each weakened considerably. You were both told that in order to recover, you had to conserve your magical energy. The Dark Lord hid his weakness by issuing orders and not revealing himself. You, on the other hand, used underage magic and depleted your resources again. The Dark Lord is nearly at full strength, and you are back to the start of your recovery. Foolish boy, you never think."

Harry was livid. He jumped to his feet, his chair crashing to the floor behind him. "Exactly what was I supposed to do? Stand there and do nothing while they killed them?" he demanded. He was startled to realize that his angry professor wasn't towering over him as much as he usually did, when did that happen? He didn't feel any taller when he looked at himself in the mirror.

"It seems to me that wasting your magical energy and ruining your recovery didn't make a difference, anyway," Snape said silkily, brushing a non-existent piece of lint from his robes.

Harry paled visibly, and Remus grabbed his arm and pulled him back. "That's enough, Severus. That was uncalled for. No one could have expected Harry to stand by and watch what happened without even trying to stop them."

"Severus, you can wait for me in the drawing room," Dumbledore said, frowning at Professor Snape. Snape turned on his heel and left the kitchen without another word to anyone. Professor Dumbledore turned to the others. "We need to get moving. Just put a finger on the portkey."

In an instant, they were transported to the finely furnished waiting room of the Minister of Magic. Several flashbulbs burst in Harry's eyes, causing him to step back in alarm. He was still rattled from the encounter with Snape, and the feeling of being trapped began to overwhelm him. His eyes started darting to and fro as he sought an escape route from the crowded room. There were too many people in here; he couldn't breathe.

The reporters rapidly fired questions, while Remus and Mr. Weasley tried to shield him on either side and usher him into Fudge's office.

"Mr. Potter, can you tell us what happened the night your relatives were attacked?"

"Were you in the house at the time, Mr. Potter?"

"How did you feel when you first saw your relatives being struck down?"

"Tell us about your relationship with your cousin, Harry; we know so little about your Muggle relations."

"Was You-Know-Who there? How did you react when you saw him?"

Harry's heart beat in a furious rhythm, as if determined to thump out of his chest. He didn't want to be here; he didn't want to do this. Why had he ever agreed to this? Professor Dumbledore firmly closed the door on the reporters, ceasing their questions. Harry leaned on the back of a chair and tried to collect himself, while Remus waited patiently by his side. "All right, Harry?" he finally asked.

Harry nodded. "I'm fine."

"Hello, Harry," Cornelius Fudge said from across the room. His tone was condescending and sickly sweet. "Please come in and have a seat; this should only take a moment."

Harry turned to see him sitting behind his desk; a number of chairs had been placed in a row in front, as if looking up at a judge's bench. Percy Weasley stood to the Minister's left, while two bodyguards, or Aurors, or whatever they were, stood behind him. Harry was incensed to see Percy avoiding his own father's eyes. Mr. Weasley stared ahead, unblinking, but Harry could see the pain in his eyes.

Harry took a seat at the very end, as far away from Fudge as he could get. Remus and Mr. Weasley took the chairs in the middle while Professor Dumbledore transfigured his seat into a squishy purple armchair, complete with a cupholder containing a butterbeer. Harry hid his smirk, cheering for Dumbledore in his head.

"The Minister has asked you here today--" Percy began in a pompous fashion.

"What can Harry do for you, Minister Fudge?" Remus interrupted, keeping his voice polite but dismissing Percy altogether. Harry was grateful to him for taking the lead.

Fudge looked down his nose at Remus. "Lupin, isn't it? Exactly what is your status in regards to the minor? I wasn't aware that you would be here."

"Harry's father and I were dear friends. I'm watching out for his interests in his father's place," Remus answered mildly, a pleasant smile on his face despite his clenched jaw.

"Dangerous magical creatures are not permitted to have legal guardianship over a minor," Fudge said disdainfully, looking down his nose at Remus.

"He's my friend, and I asked him to be here," Harry snapped.

Fudge turned to Harry with a condescending smile. "Now, Harry, you're still too young and sheltered to fully appreciate all the nuances of our world. I'm here to help guide you. The question at hand is your importance to the wizarding world. We can't afford to have any harm come to you now, can we?"

A chill ran down Harry's spine, causing the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end. He noticed both Remus and Mr. Weasley start and look more attentive, as well. Percy stood up straighter, glaring imperiously down his nose at the gathering. Only Dumbledore appeared unruffled, his calm yet icy blue eyes piercing into the Minister, who squirmed under the intense gaze.

"Cornelius, I was under the impression we were here to discuss the situation involving Harry's relatives," Professor Dumbledore said, smiling benignly although Harry saw the alertness in his eyes.

"Yes...well." Fudge fumbled momentarily. "It all ties in together now, doesn't it? An interesting detail has come to my attention, one that you have failed to mention to me, Albus. It concerns a prophecy made some time ago, relating to the destruction of the Dark Lord."

Harry's breath caught in his throat as an icy tendril of fear wrapped around his heart. He knows about the prophecy - he knows. How? Who told him? Is he a Death Eater? Did Voldemort tell him? His heart beat so fast he couldn't get the words to form. His headache began pounding with renewed intensity and suddenly the scar along his side seemed to pinch and sear painfully.

"What are you getting at, Cornelius?" Dumbledore asked, his voice radiating that raw power Harry had witnessed on several occasions.

"Obviously, this prophecy is the answer to all our problems. Now that Harry is a ward of the Ministry, I shall take it upon myself to see that he is prepared, and we can arrange a dual to end this thing as quickly as possible," Fudge stated pompously.

Harry was incredulous; did he honestly think it would be as simple as that? Here you go, Harry - kill him for me, please?

Remus was on his feet in an instant. "Ward of the Ministry? What is this all about?"

"You can't be serious, Minister." Mr. Weasley had also stood up to loudly voice his opposition.

"Sit down," Percy said. "Kindly retake your seats and control your tempers, or I shall be forced to remove you from the premises."

Fudge was obviously taken aback. "I most certainly am serious." His tone and manner dismissed Remus and Mr. Weasley as quickly as he addressed them. He never spared Harry so much as a glance. Turning back to Dumbledore, he said, "Harry is not yet seventeen; therefore, the Ministry will take control of his guardianship. Even when he does reach adulthood, the Statute on the Continued Prosperity of the Wizarding World clearly allows for the subject of a critical prophecy concerning the well-being of others to be detained until he fulfills the requirements. I intend to see this thing finished, once and for all. I will be taking Harry into Ministry custody."

"And what if in your haste to be 'done with this', you get Harry killed? Exactly how are your precious voters going to take that?" Mr. Weasley demanded angrily. Harry had never seen Mr. Weasley lose his temper, and it momentarily stunned him from his panic. For the first time, he could see how Mr. Weasley could be the head of a house full of unruly boys and still keep the peace.

"I plan to have the finest Ministry Hit Wizards training him. The boy allowed the Death Eaters to storm in and kill his family; obviously, the training you are providing isn't enough. I want this all dealt with quickly and concisely, so we can go on with more important work. I will have an end to this before the summer is out." Fudge's coloring had turned a beet red, and he puffed out his chest as he spoke.

"Before the call for any elections rises again, you mean? Tell me, how will your voters take it when we inform them that in your haste to see this dealt with, you lost them their only hope?" Remus snapped, losing all traces of his calm demeanor.

Harry had had enough of sitting there while they discussed him as if he were merely a tool. His mind spun at such a dizzying pace that he had to fight to focus on what was being said. He wondered what would happen if he simply stood up and walked away, just disappeared altogether to let them figure this out on their own, without their weapon. Even as the thought occurred to him, he discounted it nearly instantaneously. He could never just abandon them to the fate Voldemort had in store for them. His conscience would never allow it.

He knew the Weasleys and the rest of the Order would continue to resist, and most likely be killed off one by one. No. He wouldn't abandon them; he wanted more for them, and he wanted more for his own life. He and Ginny had a future ahead of them, and he wanted to be able to enjoy it with her. He would stay and face his destiny. But he wasn't going to be used, and he wasn't about to trust his fate to Fudge. He stood up and walked shakily towards the door without saying a word. He held his hand to his aching side, as if trying to hold it from splitting open.

"Where do you think you are going?" Percy snapped, finally noticing his retreat.

"I'm leaving. I've heard enough. I will take on Voldemort, and I'll do my best to win, but on my own terms. I'm not staying here with you, and, unless you plan to hold me in Azkaban, there is nothing you can do to stop me. If you want my cooperation, we're going to do this my way. I'm done being used as a pawn by all of you." He turned on his heel and walked out smack into all the reporters who had been waiting for him on the other side of the door.

The feeling of being trapped overwhelmed him again. His breathing hitched as his eyes scanned wildly for an escape route. He bolted from the room and sprinted down the hallway, jumping into a lift just as the doors closed behind him, cutting off the frenzied questions from the reporters. Harry panted and leaned against the wall for support. He didn't know if he wanted to curl up and hide or hit something repeatedly; he just knew he had to get out of here. It felt like the walls were closing in on him.

When the lift stopped, he stepped out into the ornate lobby of the Ministry of Magic. He was assailed with memories and voices from his painful past.

"Blood of the enemy...forcibly taken...you will...resurrect your foe."

"Bow to death, Harry."

"If death is nothing, Dumbledore, kill the boy."

"You'll be begging for the release of death when I'm through with you."

He'd battled with Voldemort here, in this very room. He'd been possessed here. Sirius had died downstairs, in that room with the strange veil. Harry's heart beat uncontrollably fast as his mind spun with visions of that veil. It would be so easy... so easy simply to walk into that room and stand before that veil. He'd hear those voices calling to him, enticing him...Sirius would be there. It would be over, no more games, plans or schemes...it would be such a release.

Then, the faces of Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Remus, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley swam in his vision. He couldn't do that to them. They loved him, despite all the turmoil and danger he brought. No matter what the risk, they always stood by him. He couldn't let them down. No, he wouldn't be free until this was all over. He couldn't leave them to face this without a chance, however slim that chance was. He wouldn't take the coward's way out. He had to give them a fighting chance.

Professor Dumbledore, Mr. Weasley, and Remus caught up to him as he stood in a daze, facing the corridor that would take him to the Department of Mysteries. Remus seemed to sense where his thoughts were, for he laid a gentle, comforting hand on Harry's shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Harry," Professor Dumbledore said. "I did not see that coming; Minister Fudge gave no indication as to what he was planning. We need to get out of here quickly and put our own plans in place." Lifting a discarded gum wrapper from the floor, he muttered, "Portus."

They all put a finger to the wrapper and found themselves back in the entrance hall at Grimmauld Place. Mr. Weasley bolted for the kitchen, and Dumbledore turned to Harry. "I have made some summer arrangements for you, Harry. The plan was to have you leave in a few days, but the situation with the Ministry forces us to speed up our plans. I would like to have you removed from anywhere the Minister can get his hands on you until after your birthday. I've made arrangements with my brother, Aberforth, for you and your friends to spend some time in his holiday home by the sea. It is my understanding you've always wished for a seaside holiday, and I hope that you will find some enjoyment there.

"Ms. Granger will be sent for, and you will all be leaving as soon as possible. Please have your things packed and ready to go at a moment's notice. Remus, I'm assuming you and Ms. Tonks will be going with Harry, as well?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very well. I will inform Aberforth of your impending arrival. While you are away, I shall attempt to smooth things over with Cornelius and get him to see reason. Hopefully, with the political pressure I plan to apply, he will have backed down before the start of term."

"Yes, sir," Harry replied numbly. The idea of a seaside holiday had briefly intrigued him before the veil of numbness resettled over his mind. Fudge knew about the prophecy, and, come to think of it, Mr. Weasley never flinched. Does everyone know?

Despite the fact that he'd only had a few bites of toast for breakfast, he felt them sitting just behind his throat and fighting to come up. He bolted up the stairs and threw himself on his bed, trying to restore some sense of order within his mind. He didn't know how long he lay there before the door opened, and Ginny entered. She sat beside him and gently ran her fingers through his hair. "Dad told us what happened, and Bill mentioned your run-in with Snape this morning. You just haven't had a very good day, have you? Are you all right, Harry?"

"No," he said, still lying on his stomach with his head resting in the crook of his arm. He bit his lip hard for letting the truth escape, but he couldn't lie - not to her.

"I'm so sorry, luv. What can I do to help?" Ginny asked, forcing him to turn over and look at her.

The light from the doorway behind her created the illusion that her hair was glowing around her face, making her look almost like an angel. Yet again, she proved to be his beacon from the darkness within his soul. "Promise me something, Ginny."

"Anything, Harry."

"Promise me you won't die. No matter what, promise me," he pleaded, and the desperate tone of his voice tore at her heart.

She shut her eyes tightly, forcing back the tears. Taking him in her arms and wrapping him firmly in her embrace, she said, "I can't promise that, Harry. No one can. But I do promise to do my damnedest to outlive you. That's the best I can offer."

He held her tightly, clutching her to his body. He knew he was asking the impossible from her, yet he was determined nonetheless to see that she remained healthy and whole and a part of his life forever.

"Come on, I'll help you get packed," Ginny said, squaring her shoulders as if going into battle.

Harry didn't have the energy to climb off the bed, but he forced himself to stand and immediately swayed on his feet once he did. Ginny caught him before he toppled over.

"Whoa, steady there, luv. You sit back down," she said, patting a spot on his bed, "and I'll just tidy this up for you. Don't you dare go getting used to this, Mr. Potter. You're certainly capable of packing your own things, and I won't be doing this for you every time. Next time you can pack for me. Goodness knows my mum packed for Bill and Charlie way too long, and now, neither one of them can properly pack a trunk. I think she learned her lesson by the time Ron came along..."

Ginny continued to chatter about her mum, and Harry listened with half an ear. He was so tired; he was having trouble keeping his eyes open. He'd actually felt somewhat better this morning, but now...everything just hurt. He closed his eyes for a moment and felt himself drifting. He thought he detected a soft kiss upon his forehead, but he was just too tired to open his eyes...

Hermione arrived at Grimmauld Place shortly after dinner that same evening. She'd been enjoying the last days of her summer holiday with her parents when Tonks and Charlie Weasley arrived. They'd told her how the Ministry was trying to interfere with Harry's guardianship, so that he was going to have to go into hiding for a while. Hermione desperately wanted to be with her friends, so she convinced her parents to let her leave. It was only two days early.

Tonks and Charlie had helped her pack and stayed with her while they got her family settled. Her parents were living under a Fidelius Charm, and she didn't even know who their Secret Keeper was. Professor Dumbledore felt it was safer that way, but Hermione hated not knowing.

During the course of the day, Hermione had been taken aback by how friendly Tonks and Charlie were. They had an easy rapport with each other and teased one another unmercifully. It was only when she'd had a moment alone with Tonks that the older woman revealed that she and Charlie had been quite friendly while attending Hogwarts together. They'd been seeing each other when Charlie got the offer to go to Romania and work with the dragons. He chose to leave during his seventh year, leaving both Hogwarts and Tonks behind to follow his dreams.

After she learned this, Hermione observed Charlie closely. She knew him least of all of Ron's brothers, but thought they actually might be the most alike. He watched Tonks when she wasn't looking, and Hermione wondered if he sometimes regretted his decision to leave.

Hermione bade a tearful good-bye to her parents. It was difficult to leave them again after finally getting to spend some time together. She and her mother had long, quiet talks about the future and what Hermione wanted to do with hers. She couldn't imagine a future without Ron or Harry in it. She knew they assumed she'd be going to Auror training with them, but she was beginning to realize she wanted a different path. Harry had always wanted to be an Auror, and it was something he certainly seemed to have a knack for doing. Ron wanted to be an Auror, too. Even though he didn't get into Snape's Potions class, he hadn't given up that desire. He planned on sticking with Harry until the end of Voldemort, as did Hermione, and after that happened, Ron didn't think the Initiation Board would have a problem with the fact that he didn't take NEWT level Potions.

Hermione thought there were other careers Ron might be better suited for, but had, as yet, held her tongue. For her, the research she had been doing on Old Magic fascinated her. She'd learned so much and felt she was quite good at organizing all the information. Professor McGonagall had given her some pamphlets on a wizard version of a think tank called the Institute. The Institute studied and created new spells, and worked out counter-curses for some of the old ones. Hermione thought she might like to join the Institute, but so far hadn't mentioned it to anyone but her mother.

Professor Dumbledore arrived to initiate the wards and bring her back to Grimmauld Place. He filled her in on what happened at the Ministry and the plans he'd made for the remainder of the summer. He said that Harry was dealing with too much loss; he was reeling from it and needed a reprieve. Ginny had told him of Harry's desire to spend some time at the beach, so it had been arranged. Hermione hadn't known that about Harry, but it seemed to fit him, and she hoped he could relax enough to allow himself to heal.

She'd done a lot of research in the Muggle library since the end of term on post-traumatic stress. She'd been trying to find a way to help Ron and better understand what he was going through. She'd felt stunned and somewhat guilty to realize that Harry's entire fifth year persona read like an information booklet on the disorder. It saddened her to realize that no one had paid enough attention to how much the events in the graveyard had affected him. It had been another startling revelation to her that the adults in her life didn't hold all the answers. Hermione didn't know why she should be surprised; that fact had been in front of her for so long now, but she hadn't wanted to see it. After everything that had happened with Diana Trent last year...Hermione had been so certain she could trust her, and look what happened.

She shook her head to get away from those troubling thoughts. Harry...she'd been thinking about Harry. He'd seemed to get better for a while last year after revealing the prophecy to them, but after what happened at Malfoy Manor... She'd read that captivity does strange things to a person's psyche, the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness would overwhelm a victim unexpectedly at seemingly random, unrelated times. She'd been seeing episodes of this with both Ron and Harry, and she was determined to help.

She peeked into the drawing room when she first arrived and saw Harry and Ginny sitting on the couch and talking quietly. Ginny was holding Harry's hand, and it looked like they were having a rather serious discussion. Harry's eyes looked so completely lost and forlorn. He was terribly pale, and it made the bruising on his face stand out vividly. Hermione was worried that the Dursley's deaths would affect him badly. It looked like Ginny had the situation in control, however, and she wanted to see Ron.

She ran up to the room he shared with Harry and found him there, struggling to pack the clutter of stuff piled on his bed into his trunk. He looked good; his hair was longer and curling adorably around his ears. It made her itch to put her fingers in it. She'd missed him, she knew she had, but was surprised by the intensity of it upon seeing him again. Hermione didn't like being unsure with herself, and it was somehow Ron who always made her feel that way. He'd been distant all summer, his letters lacking any real substance.

She was determined to put things back to rights. They'd waited so long to get together; she wasn't about to let Malfoy's death be the thing that tore them apart.

"Bloody Hell," Ron said, kicking at the overstuffed trunk. His bed was still piled high with more stuff that needed to be added to the trunk.

"Here, let me help you with that, Ron," she said, gliding into the room and removing everything he'd already stuffed into the trunk with quick efficiency.

"Hermione!" Ron yelped in obvious pleasure before that infuriating mask of indifference resettled upon his face. "When did you get here, then?"

Hermione turned and briefly pecked him on the cheek. "Hello, Ron. It's nice to see you, too. My summer was lovely, thank you. How have you been?"

Ron ignored her sarcasm, his ears turning slightly pink. "There is no way all this stuff is going to fit in this trunk. We're only going to the beach; all I really need are some swim trunks. I don't know why Mum put all this stuff here."

Hermione continued neatly packing his trunk, organizing it as she went. She felt his eyes upon her, and a warm flush filled her insides. She knew she looked fairly decent; the summer had been good to her. She was deeply tanned, and her hair was streaked with blonde strands from all her time in the sun. She was looking forward to swimming in the ocean with Ron; it should be a great trip. She was also very eager to meet Professor Dumbledore's brother, Aberforth. It was a great honor for her to be staying with him, and she hoped his home would have a decent library.

"There," she said, closing the trunk with a snap. "All set, and everything fits. Do you know when we're leaving?"

Ron stared at the trunk and his bed, now devoid of all clothing. "You truly are amazing," he said, taking her in his arms and kissing her hard.

Hermione flushed with pleasure at his words and returned the kiss with delight.

"Hem, hem," came a coughing voice from the doorway. Ron and Hermione pulled apart to see Mrs. Weasley standing there with her hands on her hips. "Hello, Hermione, dear. I'm so happy you could make it. Ron, I see Hermione helped you with your trunk. I don't know what he'd do without you, Hermione. Professor Dumbledore called and said he didn't think it was safe to travel at night, so we'll be off bright and early tomorrow morning. I want you all to get a good night's sleep."

She bustled off down the hall, and Ron watched her go with a scowl. "No doubt she'll enjoy getting us up at the crack of dawn, as well," he grumbled.

Hermione smiled; Ron never had been an early riser. "I saw Harry and Ginny downstairs. Want to go say hello with me?"

"Okay. Harry's not doing so good; he's even snapping at Ginny."

"He's been through too much. I think this time away will be good for him. Have you ever been to the sea?" she asked.

"Yeah. When we were kids my grandparents lived on the coast. I haven't been since before I started Hogwarts, though."

"We've never all had a real holiday together before; this should be fun."

Author notes: Hope you enjoyed, I had a lot of fun with this chapter, actually. I have to give a nod to one of my favorite fanfics of all time, After the End by Arabella and Zsenya for the scene where Ginny promises to try and outlive Harry. They did a similar scene and it’s always ranked as my favorite moment between the two.

Let me know what you think…