Harry sighed dejectedly as he sat up in his bed and grabbed a jumper he had started keeping by his bedside for nights like these. It had started the first night of the holidays, when he returned back to the joyless hellhole that was Privet Drive. The first night of the holidays, when he laid down on what barely qualified as a bed and realized that he couldn’t even close his eyes without seeing everything.
The nightmares from the previous summer – watching Cedric’s body land spread-eagled on the grass and reliving the agony of the Cruciatus Curse – still persisted, but they were no longer alone. Every night, without fail, he saw the laughter still lingering on his godfather's face just before he fell backwards, into the veil that wasn’t just a veil. He saw himself – as if in the third person of his own memories – standing uselessly as he watched the last trace of his family die right in front of him.
He couldn’t even think his name without feeling his eyes sting, his heart clenching.
And because fate never took it easy on Harry Potter, it didn’t stop there.
Because after reliving those god-awful memories, after watching Cedric and Sirius – two people who were only in danger because of him – die over and over, he saw her.
These days, her name was the only name that rivaled his godfather’s when it came to making him feel so demoralized, so empty, so overwhelmingly guilty. It was the summer before his second year all over again, where thinking about how she hadn’t written him a single letter was physically painful.
Every night without fail, his nightmares ended with watching his best friend get hit with Dolohov’s purple flame, watching her crumple like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Watching her come to within an inch of death, because of him.
He frantically rubbed at his eyes, as if he were trying to scrub those heart-wrenching visions away from his memory. It didn’t work.
Nothing worked these days.
Not even seeing her a few days ago for the first time since King’s Cross had worked. Sure, it had been nice when she sprinted across the kitchen of the Burrow to hug him as soon as she laid eyes on him. And sure, it had felt good to think about how the daughter of two dentists had paused brushing her teeth in order to greet him. And, yes, the sight of her beaming at him when he sheepishly admitted to her that he had scored an Outstanding on his Defense O.W.L. made him smile every time he thought about it.
But when she wasn’t in the same room as him, when he was back here in Ron’s bedroom camped out on the cot Mrs. Weasley had conjured and trying to sleep peacefully, he would keep seeing her fall. He would keep hearing the little “Oh!” that had escaped her lips before she hit the floor. He would keep hearing the same whine of panic that prevented him from thinking straight back in the Department of Mysteries.
Swearing quietly again, he finished pulling on his jumper and crept out of bed, grabbing his Firebolt on the way towards the door. He froze as his foot pressed down on a particularly creaky floorboard, but Ron’s snores were deafening in comparison and the redhead continued to slumber peacefully.
He made his way down the stairs with ease, hesitating as he reached the door to Ginny’s bedroom. He thought he heard a soft creak of a floorboard from within, but it had been so quiet he could have just as easily imagined it, perhaps as a bit of wishful thinking, thinking that she might be awake.
Ultimately, he didn’t enter. Like he had all summer, he didn’t initiate anything with her. It was as if he suddenly didn’t know how to. Conversation used to flow between the two of them without the slightest inhibition, but now every interaction between them felt as if it were filled with this sort of tension that only the two of them could feel.
He knew she could feel it. Although he couldn’t read her nearly as well as she could read him, he could tell she felt whatever inexplicable shift had occurred between the two of them since the Department of Mysteries. He could see when she bit her lip whenever she walked into a room and saw him reading or playing chess with Ron. He could feel it when she would stare at him when she thought he wouldn’t notice. He could sense it when she would throw subtle glances in his direction whenever they ended up sitting next to one another at meals – which was happening more frequently than he could ever recall. Or maybe he had simply never noticed it before.
He knew she wanted to talk about…this. Whatever this bubble of tension was, she wanted to cut to the chase and pop it. She never had been one for dawdling, for procrastinating and letting discomfort fester.
But Harry didn’t want to pop the bubble, he thought stubbornly to himself as he creeped through the screen door in the kitchen and into the backyard. He didn’t even want to acknowledge the bubble, since he didn’t understand it in the slightest. He didn’t know why things suddenly felt so different with her. He didn’t know why his breath hitched when she tucked her untamable curls behind both ears at once and why he found himself choosing to spend more time reading with her under a tree than playing Quidditch with the Weasleys.
All he did know was that his world had stopped when she had been hit with Dolohov’s curse in the Department of Mysteries, and that even though she was alive and had recovered, his world still was not back to normal.
Giving himself a little shake to clear his head, he mounted his Firebolt and took off into the air, allowing the exhilaration of flying to take his mind away from the jumble of thoughts he could never truly escape. As he twisted and twirled and dove and rose, he felt himself grow calm, even relaxed as the wind whipped through his hair. After what felt like only a few minutes but was probably closer to a half hour, he decided he had cleared his head enough and landed back on the dewy grass that encompassed the Burrow’s backyard, pausing for a moment to admire how the scenery looked in the moonlight.
The silence of the night was interrupted by the familiar sound of the kitchen’s screen door opening and closing. He whipped his head towards the house, figuring Ron had woken up and come looking for him or that Fleur – who had still been awake one night when he snuck out to fly – had come to check if he was out yet again.
Thus, he nearly dropped his Firebolt in surprise when he saw a familiar head of untamable brown curls marching towards him, accompanied by a body wrapped tightly in a periwinkle bathrobe. He managed to keep his composure, thankfully, resting the twig end of his broom on the ground and leaning on it like a walking stick as he waited for her to come towards him.
She stopped much closer than he anticipated, close enough for the fog of her breath to mingle with his. He offered her a half-smile, shifting his weight slightly as he waited for her to break the silence.
“Can’t sleep?” She asked in a soft voice. He shook his head. “How long?”
“I haven’t been out here for too long,” He shrugged, averting his eyes.
“You know that’s not what I meant.”
He could never quite grasp how her voice could be so comforting and yet so firm that any resolve he had to shield himself from her dissipated.
“Since that night,” He whispered, keeping his eyes focused on his trainers. It was easier that way, skirting around eye contact with her. Just like it was easier to skirt around the enigmatic tension that had manifested between them.
“Nightmares?” She asked, and he reluctantly nodded. “Sirius?”
“Sometimes,” He sighed. He closed his eyes, only to be assaulted with visions of the girl in front of him lying motionless on the floor, with Dolohov standing over her with a sadistic sort of pride.
“What else?” She took his hand, and his eyes fluttered open at the touch. He looked down, watching her wrap both her hands around one of his as she tried to coax as much out of him as she could. When he remained silent, she took to rubbing slow, gentle circles across the back of his hand that calmed him down almost as much as flying did.
But still not enough for him to answer that question.
“What else, Harry?” She asked in a pleading voice. Instinctively, he shook his head, still refusing to look up and meet her eye. “Harry,” She whispered. “Talk to me.”
And then she was pulling one of her hands away, only to place it on his cheek and gently guide his head up until he was looking her in the eye.
“Please, Harry,” She whispered, the concern in her voice so sincere it felt as if she wanted nothing more than to make sure that he was alright.
He tried to look away once again, but she shifted the hand on his cheek and forced him to maintain eye contact. Still, he said nothing, unable to bring himself to lie to her and finding it even more difficult to tell the truth.
But something in his expression, in his eyes, must have given away the truth without the use of words, because suddenly she was flinging her arms around him and pulling him into one of her fierce hugs that she seemed to reserve only for him. He had grown too much over the summer for her to bury her face in the crook of his neck like she usually did, instead burrowing into his chest as much as she could and tightening her embrace around his torso until he wrapped his arms around her, tentatively resting his cheek atop her soft curls.
“Oh, Harry…” She murmured, showing no signs of letting go. “How…” She inhaled, still keeping her cheek pressed to his chest. “How often do you…do you see…”
“Every night,” He sighed, rubbing her back as he inhaled her scent, along with the flowery aroma of the Burrow’s backyard. “It’s always last. I always wake up and think…” He stopped, his throat constricting painfully as the corners of his eyes began to sting.
“I’m still here,” She reassured him, somehow hugging him even tighter.
“I know,” He whispered. “But it's my fault you were ever –”
“Don’t,” She pulled back just enough to glare at him, keeping her hands on his sides.
“Don’t you dare try and take the blame for what happened to me,” She said sternly.
“I’m the reason you –”
“Don’t!” She repeated emphatically, placing a finger on his lips. “I’m serious, Harry, I don’t want to hear it.”
Harry stubbornly pushed her hand away. “But you wouldn’t have – mmph!”
She cut him off once again, but instead of using words, or her hand, she grabbed the collar of his jumper and pulled him down towards her with a determined glint in her eye. Their lips collided uncomfortably and they both gasped before they each found themselves relaxing into the kiss.
Far sooner than Harry would have preferred, they separated, leaving him stunned silent.
“I would do it all again,” She said breathlessly, capitalizing on the fact that he was far too taken aback by the kiss to interrupt her. “I would go to hell and back if it meant I would be by your side, Harry Potter, because you mean so much more to me than I can even begin to describe. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for you, Harry, alright? Nothing! I don’t regret going into the Ministry, I don’t regret trying to save Sirius." She paused, panting slightly. "Do you know what this is?” She shifted her bathrobe and lifted up the sleeping shirt she was wearing underneath it to reveal a faint red scar along her torso where Dolohov’s spell had hit her. “This is a badge of honor to me. It is a testament to exactly what I would do to – MMPH!”
Twenty Years Later
“I have to say, Rose, I’m surprised you still want to hear that story,” Harry chuckled as he took a seat across from his fourteen-year-old daughter in the Potter family library. “Your mum and I have been telling you that story since you were six. Didn’t I just tell it to you a couple weeks ago?”
“I know,” Rose Potter shrugged, smiling brightly. “I just wanted to see if there was anything different this time around.”
“I wouldn’t change a thing about that night,” Harry winked, leaning back in his chair.
“And Mum still doesn’t know what woke her up that night?”
“Nope,” Harry shrugged. “She says when she woke up she felt like she feels whenever someone uses the Ennervate spell on her, but there was nobody in the room besides your Aunt Ginny and she was snoring like crazy. She says she thinks it was fate that woke her up – which is very unlike her, but I’m not complaining about the results.”
“Interesting,” Rose smiled down at her lap before pushing herself out of her chair. “Mind if I go write a letter?”
“Go for it,” Harry shrugged. “But use Athena. Hedwig just came back from the Burrow and looked a bit knackered from the journey.”
“Got it,” Rose beamed, humming to herself as she exited the library. Once she was in the privacy of her own room, she fished out the gold chain she had surreptitiously kept tucked under her clothes ever since she had stolen it off of her mother’s desk at work a week prior. Making sure not to turn the hourglass in the process, she removed the necklace and placed it on her desk as she grabbed a quill and parchment.
“’Dear Uncle Ron,’” She began with a smile, “’Remember when you had one too many Butterbeers at my dad’s birthday party and told me about my mum’s secret Time-Turner?’”