It's good to be back! My most sincere apologies for the tremendous wait for this chapter. If you check out my author profile, you'll find out the reasons for my absence.

This chapter isn't terribly long - I thought it was more important to just get an update out to you guys ASAP, since the next one will be considerably longer, I think.

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Disclaimer: see chapter 1

Chapter 21

Here Without You

The halls of Hogwarts were nearly always cold and dark at night, and the night that found Harry carefully wending his way through them was no exception.

It was dangerous for him to be there, but he simply couldn't take it any longer. It was nearing the end of November and he hadn't seen Ginny since that day on the beach.

Nearly a month and a half had passed since he and the Dumbledore had fought in the headmaster's office, but the school was still on high alert. Aurors were stationed at every entrance and extra wards had been cast.

He had had to come in outside the grounds and sneak in through the Forbidden Forest. Even so, the effort of maintaining the spell that concealed his magical signature from the castle was costing him a lot of effort and concentration, making it all the more difficult to make sure the Invisibility Cloak did not slip from his body and reveal him where he walked. He could not wait to finally reach Gryffindor Tower, where the multitude of people would confuse the wards and enable him to walk undetected without the signature-shield.

A very small sound reached his ears. Had he not had a spell placed upon himself to enhance his hearing, he would not have noticed. As it was, he identified the sound at once – the soft, padded footfalls of a cat. Mrs. Norris, he thought immediately. He froze at once and waited, silent.

I hate that cat; she nearly got me caught more than once while I was trying to get to Wormtail. You have no idea how tempting it was to chase her all around this castle as Padfoot. There was a distinct growl in Sirius's voice as he said it, and Harry could just picture the glare upon his godfather's face.

Oh, I think I know. Harry responded, just as the small, grey animal rounded the corner ahead of him.

She stopped just in front of where he stood, invisible, and sniffed the air suspiciously.

Carefully, and ever so slowly (all the while thanking Merlin he had put silencing charms on his feet), Harry stepped to the right and around the cat. Just as he was going to try to sneak off, he stopped. It was too perfect an opportunity. He was close enough to Gryffindor Tower that he could get inside in time, and Filch would just think it was a wandering student.

Watch this, Siri.

A moment later, Mrs. Norris was flying through the air, courtesy of Harry's shoe. He did not hit hard enough to injure, but certainly hard enough to send her a short distance and cause a respectable amount of pain.

Before the loud yowling that followed could attract any attention, Harry was gone at a dead run, choking back laughter all the way.

His godfather, however, had no need to remain quiet, and roared his approval with booming, hysterical laughter that echoed inside Harry's head.

Harry, you're my hero.

When he reached the portrait hole a few moments later, Harry had to check very carefully to make sure that no one was in the vicinity, then removed his invisibility cloak and stood tall before the Fat Lady.

"In the name of the Lord of this castle, I bid you open," he commanded, in as stern and lordly a voice as he could manage. He flashed a ring that had suddenly appeared on his right hand. It was heavy and covered in Celtic symbols, with a large Ruby cut into the shape of a Gryffin set into the top.

The Fat Lady gasped in surprise. "Lord Gryffindor!" She bowed low in her portrait. "At once, my Lord." A soft click followed, and the door swung open.

"Tell no one I have come here," Harry said, and he entered, swinging the cloak back over him once more. A faint, "Yes, my Lord," was heard just before the door swung shut behind him.

Better, but you still sound more like a muggle movie preview narrator than a lord.

Harry's only response was to shut his godfather out of his mind.

The common room was mostly dark at this time of night, the only light came from the glowing embers of a nearly-dead fire, and the sliver of a moon that cast a few rays through the windows.

As he passed one of the larger sofas, Harry saw something that made him stop in his tracks.

Ron and Hermione were lying stretched out on the couch, fast asleep in each other's arms. An open book lay on the ground next to them, looking as though it had been dropped when they both fell asleep. They must've been doing homework together.

Hermione's forehead creased just then, the way it always did when she was trying to solve something. She shifted slightly, restless. Ron's arm flexed instinctively, drawing her closer and holding her protectively. She relaxed at once, the creases in her forehead vanishing without a trace.

The scene brought a smile to Harry's lips. It seemed the inevitable had finally caught up to his two best friends, for judging by the position they were in, they'd been very . . . cozy when they were awake as well.

A deep, throbbing ache started somewhere in his stomach and rose to his chest. Oh how he missed them. They were his closest of friends, his brother and sister. And they were right there, so close he could reach out and touch them.

And yet so far away it was as though a great chasm separated them. He could not wake them, could not talk with them, could not reason with them. All his letters to them had gone unanswered, to which he could only conclude they believed Dumbledore. If he woke him now and they created a racket, he would be found and his purpose in coming there be for nothing.

A small tear slipped down his cheek, but he turned away. They needed time. Hermione would figure it out – she always did. That was just the way things worked. Eventually, she would work it out, and all would be right between them again.

One final obstacle stood between Harry and his goal now – the staircase to the girls' dorm. This time, it was Fred and George who had provided the means. Harry slipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out four small objects. One sole-shaped pad for each shoe, made out of what looked like ordinary rubber, and one glove for each hand, made out of the same material.

Ignoring the stairs themselves, Harry reached his gloved hand out and placed it on the wall, where it stuck without a sound. The material was marvelous. He was able to pull it off the wall with little trouble to move his limbs to the next hold, but it held like cement otherwise. Fred and George were truly brilliant.

Within moments, he was pocketing the climbing gear at the top of the stairs. He took a deep breath, and headed for the door with the sign that said "fifth years" on it.

Several weeks earlier . . .

"Hey, Potter, I think that Howler's headed for you."

The voice was that of Sergeant Charles Header, of the Magical Infantry Corps of the United States military.

After arriving in the States, Harry had been sent to a secret magical training grounds, somewhere deep within the Nevada desert. Almost all the base was hidden deep underground, with only a few nondescript buildings on the surface and a large runway space.

When he had first arrived, Harry had quickly learned that he would not simply be thrown in with the rest of the soldiers trained at the complex. The US government had a special agreement with the young wizard. They would give him the best, most advanced training available, and he would take care of Voldemort.

To that end, Harry had been tucked away into the most secluded corner of the underground complex, away from almost all of the personnel housed there. His teachers were his only real contacts, aside from the corporal that brought him his meals.

Header, a small, loud man of 25 with dark hair and skin that belied his Native American heritage, was one of these teachers. In addition to instruction in advanced transfiguration, magical history, combat spellcasting, wandless magic, muggle weapons and tactics, and some of the most powerful and dangerous spells in the world, Harry was learning more than he ever though possible about hand-to-hand combat.

That was Header's subject. Harry had thought he was fairly proficient at the Martial Arts skills he had gained. He was wrong. Minutes into his first lesson with Header proved that, as he lay on the floor panting, sweating profusely, and aching from numerous bruises and other small injuries all over his body. The sergeant hadn't even breathed hard.

Though Harry was determined to succeed in defeating the sergeant after that, the two became fast friends. They often shared their meals in Harry's small, cramped quarters, arguing good-naturedly about the differences between Quidditch and America's own magical sport – Quodpot.

It was on one such day, as they walked down one of the narrow, concrete-and-steel corridors just shortly after lunch in Harry's quarters when Header spotted a white, snowy owl heading towards them.

Harry's head snapped up at the sound of his friend's voice, his eyes widening suddenly in fear when he saw Hedwig. Sure enough, she had a smoking, red envelope clutched in her talons. She came to rest on his shoulder, a distinctly stern look on her face, as though she agreed with the letter-sender about whatever the howler was sent for.

Harry untied the letter from Hedwig's leg and stared at it apprehensively. The owl flew up to perch on a pipe that ran along the ceiling as Header laughed next to him. "You're better off if you just open it and get it over with."

A lump rose in his throat, but Harry gulped it down and, steeling himself for the worst, slit the envelope open with his finger.


It went on like that for several minutes, as Ginny laid out, in explicit detail, exactly what she thought of him and his meddling in her life like that. Her language became increasingly colorful as time went on as well, until even Sergeant Header, a veteran of swearing of all kinds, looked embarrassed.

Harry stood and took it, wincing occasionally in the face of the verbal beating by his girlfriend. Finally, after what seemed like hours, it came to the end:


And with that, the envelope burst into flames until all that remained was a pile of ashes.

Silence fell for a few moments, until Header finally chuckled, "You were right, that one does have a temper."

The joke was a weak one, and it fell on deaf ears as Harry stared at the pile of ashes mournfully. "I've got to see her," he whispered to himself.

What? Demanded Sirius.

The sergeant heard him and his face paled. "No, Harry, don't try it. You're not supposed to go back to England yet, remember? It's part of the agreement." He placed his hands on Harry's shoulders, forcing the younger man to look at him. "They've agreed to let you stay in this country, despite the fact that you're a wanted man. In return, you're not allowed to leave. I've covered for you once when you went to talk to that headmaster guy, we won't get away with it again. They suspect me."

It's a bad idea, Harry.

Harry's emerald-green eyes locked onto his friend's face, but his expression was far from that lonely corridor. "I've got to see her, Sarge. I've got to." His voiced was determined, a voice both Header and Sirius had heard before. It meant that what Harry said would be done, no matter what it took to accomplish it.

A sigh escaped his lips, but the sergeant acquiesced nonetheless. "Alright, Harry, I'll help you. But we're doing this my way. It'll be a while before we can try, they're watching you right now. You leave when I say it's okay, not before, got it?"

Harry allowed himself to be hauled to his feet, and Hedwig flew down to rest on his shoulder again. "Alright, Sarge," he agreed, and they shook hands on it. "It's a deal."

Looking back at that day, Harry had to laugh. Ginny certainly did have a nasty temper. In retrospect, he knew he should've told her about Dobby. He'd just been so afraid she wouldn't like it and do something foolish, such as try to lose the house-elves, that he tried to hide it. She was so independent sometimes. She didn't like to be thought of as defenseless and in need of protection.

But the simple fact was that she couldn't protect herself against everything, and Harry would do anything to keep her safe. She had to understand that.

The door of the fifth year girls' dorm opened silently, and Harry slipped inside, invisible.

It looked remarkably similar to his own dorm room, with some notable exceptions. There was a large, clean-looking bathroom just off to the right, complete with five separate sinks. There was also more furniture around the room (it must be larger than the boys' version, he realized), including desks with large vanity mirrors, several wardrobes, and a small round table in the center.

A soft light emanated from behind the drawn curtains of one of the beds – the farthest one from the door and the nearest to the window. Judging by the pictures of various redheads scattered around the desk next to it, Harry knew to whom it belonged.

He approached silently, wondering why she was up at this ungodly hour (for it was fully 3 o'clock in the morning).

A small sliver between the curtains allowed him to peek into her bed, and he watched silently for a moment. She was propped up against the headboard of her bed, just . . . sitting there. Her eyes had a blank, glazed-over look about them, despite the fact that they were bloodshot. She stared at the foot of her bed. Her lit wand lay in front of her on the bedcover, its dim light casting ghostly shadows all around her.

"Ginny," Harry finally whispered, unable to let her sit like that any longer. She did not answer, didn't even move or make a sound. "Ginny," he hissed again, slightly louder.

She blinked, once, and her forehead creased as her head turned to look in his direction, but of course she saw nothing.

Cursing under his breath, Harry drew aside the drapes and climbed onto the bed opposite her. Once safely out of sight of prying eyes, he swept the cloak off himself and stated, rather unnecessarily, "It's me."

This must've finally broken Ginny out of her stupor, for her eyes lit up and she squealed out his name as she flung herself at him.

Harry suddenly found himself knocked backwards on the bed and snogged enthusiastically by his girlfriend. Of course, he wasn't complaining.

After a moment or two of this, Ginny abruptly pulled back, her face flushed in embarrassment. She tried to roll off him but Harry grabbed her arms and held her there, her face a few inches above his own.

"Sorry," she whispered, as her blush spread down her neck and her shoulders to the edges of her suddenly far too low-cut nightgown.

"I'm not," Harry muttered, and her blush deepened, prompting him to wonder if she blushed all over.

Whoa! Bad Harry, bad Harry, he thought, as a blush spread over his own cheeks. Now's not the time for thoughts like that.

He finally let go of her arms, and she backed up slowly, until they were both sitting opposite each other once again. "Not quite the reaction I expected," he said, straightening his t-shirt as he tried to fight down his own blush. Ginny ducked her head.

A lot of possible scenarios had entered his mind as to what would happen when he saw Ginny again. She throwing herself at him and snogging him silly was not among them. In fact, most of them ended in him decapitated in some particularly gruesome fashion. All indications were that she had been furious with him.

"So aren't you angry with me?" he asked. She looked up at him and contemplated it for a moment.

"Sort of," she said slowly, then hastily added, "But not as much as at first. I talked with Neville about everything and he . . . helped me understand some things."

Harry made a mental note to buy Neville an entire library of Herbology books.

"Oh," he said out loud, and they fell into an uncomfortable silence. Eventually, Harry could stand it no longer and shifted up to the head of the bed with her and leaned back against it, placing one arm around Ginny as he did so.

"I'm sorry about not telling you," he said, and pulled her closer. "I promise, no more secrets."

She turned into him and snuggled close, her eyes drifting closed, a soft murmur escaped her lips. "Okay."

"Gin?" Harry asked quietly, his hand running slowly up and down her back. A soft "Mmmm" came from against his chest. "What were you doing when I got here?"

Her head lifted slightly and she squinted up at him. "Thinking," she said.

"Thinking?" he laughed. "At three in the morning? Shouldn't you have been sleeping?"

"I can't sleep," she answered simply, and put her head back on his chest again, this time turned so she looked toward the end of the bed.

"Wha-" Harry opened his mouth and closed it again at her odd choice of words. She didn't say she couldn't sleep, as in just for that night. She said she can't sleep.

A frown found it's way onto his face. "What do you mean you can't sleep?"

She shrugged against him. "I haven't been able to sleep much since I got here. Dobby won't let me go anywhere any more at night, so I sit here and think."

When he said nothing for several moments, she elaborated further. "I usually just doze during the day, but only when I'm not thinking about it. The rest of the time I'm really restless, especially at night. The only way I can keep from pacing is to just sit and concentrate very hard on . . ."

She trailed off then, and he looked down to find her blushing again. "On what?" he prompted. She mumbled incoherently in reply, but he thought he heard the word "You" somewhere. He let it go.

"And you say this has been happening since you got to Hogwarts?" he asked. She did look it, now that his head was cleared of the effects of snogging. Her beautiful brown eyes were bloodshot and had large, purple bags underneath them, and her shoulders sagged a little, as if the very earth itself was dragging her down.

A few moments passed as she thought back on it, and she finally said, "Before that, right after I got out of the Hospital Wing after Malfoy Manor."

Harry stroked her hair thoughtfully as he pondered this. Though he said nothing more about it to Ginny, he tucked the information away in the back of his mind. This called for him to take a leaf out of Hermione's book and do some research.

The subject changed after that, as Ginny asked about his adventures in America. He told her everything, from meeting the President ("A good man," he told her, "But a little too caught up in trying to please everyone.") and striking a deal with him, to his training in Nevada.

He talked for quite a long time, until he noticed that she had somehow drifted off in his arms. He blinked. Hadn't she just said she hadn't been able to sleep? He pushed away the thought and checked his watch. It was nearly five o'clock, and that meant his time was up.

Straining silently, Harry eased himself out from under his girlfriend and laid her gently on the bed. She frowned in her sleep, but a gentle kiss on her forehead was enough to make it vanish at once.

"Good-bye, my love," he whispered, and with a swish of his cloak, he was gone.


So what'd you think? Please drop me a review, no matter what your thoughts. Even just to tell me you read it.

1) Just to clarify,the president mentioned in this story is NOT George W. Bush or Bill Clinton. He's a made-up man that I haven't even named yet.

2) Yes I do realize I haven't said how he found out he's the heir of Gryffindor yet. Be patient

3) Next chapter is when we first meet Katherine!

Review responses are found on my own personal site. You can find them by going to my author profile, then clicking the "homepage" button. After that, just click "Review Responses" on the site that comes up!

Lastly, there's something I'd like to request everyone's help with. I have played an online game called Kings of Chaos for nearly two years now. At one point, I was ranked in the top 50 players out of nearly 150,000 worldwide. My rank has dropped because I had to quit the game for a while, but now I'm back and trying to regain my spot. I request all of you guys to help me with this. You can read more either in my author profile, or on my site in the section entitlted "Kings of Chaos"

Thanks everyone, and look for another update very soon!