Harry stared moodily into the fireplace of the room he shared with Ron. They had started for Godric's Hollow much later than he had planned. Voldemort and his Death Eaters had struck unexpectedly at Bill and Fleur's wedding, sending everyone into hiding for two months now. Finally, he could stand it no longer, so he, Ron, and Hermione left for Godric's Hollow to begin their search.
They arrived at a little Muggle hotel called The Roaring Lion three nights before and taken two rooms upstairs. They had been exhausted, immediately collapsing on their beds.
The next morning, Harry visited his parents' graves.
They were buried together under one large, marble headstone covered in moss. Large, graceful letters carved in the stone gave their names, births and death dates. The only other marking on the grave was a simple inscription:
"Greater love hath no one than they that lay down their lives for those they care for."
That inscription and the lifeless cold of the graveyard had plunged Harry into a brooding depression that lasted for two days and showed no signs of abating. He worried, haunted by the thought that he could be burying Ron, Hermione, or Ginny under an inscription like that soon. But he didn't know what to do about it. He couldn't stop Ron or Hermione from coming with him on his search for the Horcruxes. They had been forced to leave in secret to keep Ginny from coming as well, and Harry kept wondering if he had done the right thing by leaving her.
He shook his head violently.
"She's better safe, away from me, not matter how much I miss her," he told himself firmly.
There was a hesitant knock on the door.
"Harry?" Harry ignored Hermione's voice, hoping that she would just go away. But no such luck. He heard snatches of a whispered conversation behind the door, and it was suddenly pushed open as Ron and Hermione burst into the room. He looked up, clutching his wand, but was taken aback by the huge grins on both their faces.
"Harry, we have a surprise for you," said Hermione.
Harry frowned in confusion and opened his mouth, but at that moment, Ginny walked through the door. He jumped to his feet and hugged her tightly before he even realized what he was doing. He buried his face in the juncture between her neck and shoulder as she stroked his back.
"It's good to see you too, Harry," she said softly. He pulled back, held her at arms length, and stared hard, almost hungrily at her, drinking in the sight of her.
"You shouldn't have come. I…I mean…I missed you terribly, but…Not that I'm not glad to see you…why are you here? Why did you risk coming?"
Beside him, Hermione shuffled her feet uncomfortably.
"I asked her to come, Harry," Hermione said softly. "We didn't know what else to do. It's like…it's like seeing your parents' grave drained your…oh, spirit, or something. I thought maybe…seeing Ginny would…maybe, snap you out of it."
Harry wrapped an arm around Ginny and pulled her close, unwilling to let her go.
"You really shouldn't have," he whispered, "but thank you. I just…when I read that inscription…I kept thinking of how unbearable it would be if it were any of you buried there and…"
"I understand, Harry," Hermione said gently, as his voice fell into silence. "Ron and I thought the same thing about you when we read that. What with the Prophecy and everything, it's more likely it'll be US looking down at YOUR grave."
Ginny hugged Harry tightly and glared at Hermione.
"Don't say that!"
"Oh, Ginny," she said wearily, "I didn't mean it like…I believe in Harry, I do. It's just…"
"It's just like him to do something noble and sacrifice himself for his mates, so we're a bit worried he might actually DO that," Ron broke in.
Hermione nodded, and went on, "But anyway, we didn't ask Ginny to come to join our search for Horcruxes. We were thinking…it's the twenty-second of December today. Why don't we go back to the Burrow for it? We don't have to stay the whole time," she added hastily, seeing the frown on Harry's face. "Just…for the day…cheer us all up."
Harry was silent.
"Come on, Harry, you can't be noble and self-sacrificing all the time," Ginny teased gently, tugging his arm. He smiled down at her.
"It's not that, I just want to make sure we find everything we can before we leave here."
"Well, why don't we keep the Burrow an open option?" she suggested. "That way if we're not done by Christmas, we can stay here and keep looking."
He looked down at her, frowning. "Even if I can't go back for Christmas, I still want YOU to, Ginny. You really shouldn't even be here."
She looked mutinous, then shrugged and said, "We'll see."
They stood in silence for a moment. Ginny looked at Hermione, who nodded and grabbed Harry's arm as she and Ginny started pulling him towards the door.
"Wha – ?"
"Harry, I know we have a mission to complete, but we need to get out and do something first," Hermione said firmly.
"No buts! You might be the Chosen One, but you're also a seventeen-year-old boy. Let's go outside and have some fun for a couple of hours! You can allow it, just this once. Besides, today's the shortest day of the year, so we won't be out that long anyway."
"Yeah, mate, come on, it'll be fun," urged Ron.
Harry smiled reluctantly. "Okay, but only for a couple of hours. Then we really do have to start searching for the Horcruxes."
Hermione nodded and she and Ginny left the room to get their coats. A few minutes later, Ron and Harry heard their laughter and the bang of the hotel door as they ran outside. The two boys followed slowly, shaking their heads.
It was a beautiful winter day. The sun was shining, and snow had fallen during the night, covering everything with piles of pure white snow.
"Blimey, it's cold!" said Ron, pulling his hat further down over his ears as he stepped out of the doorway.
Harry nodded silently, hands shoved in his pockets, still thinking about his parents. He walked forward a few steps, looking around for Hermione and Ginny. A moment later, he felt something wet and cold hit him on the back of the head.
He spun around to see Ginny grinning at him, packing another snowball in her hands. As he watched, Hermione took aim and threw her snowball at Ron, but missed. Harry laughed.
"And that is why you're so lousy at Quidditch!" he teased. She turned red, made another snowball, and threw it at Harry, who twisted out of the way.
"Alright you two, this means war!" Harry shouted happily, packing his own snowball as he ran towards them. They squealed, and took off in opposite directions.
"I'll go after Hermione, you get Ginny!" yelled Ron, scooping up handfuls of snow as he went. Harry nodded and took off after Ginny, who had run into the woods surrounding the village.
They dodged in and out of the trees, occasionally hitting each other, until they came to a clearing. Ginny made to dart across it, but stopped short right outside it next to a lightning-scarred tree, staring. Harry, who was right behind her, barreled into her. He grabbed her around the waist to try and prevent himself from falling, but fell anyway, pulling her to the ground with him.
They rolled as they hit the ground, Harry ending up on top of Ginny. She laughed and squirmed underneath him, trying to push him off of her.
"Get OFF, Harry! You're heavy!"
He grinned and shook his head, trying to keep her pinned down. He managed to grab her wrists and held them over her head. A second later it suddenly became very hard for him to breathe as he realized that their faces were only inches apart. Ginny became still under him, and he slowly lowered his lips to her, brushing them lightly across her cheeks before pressing them to her mouth. He let go of her wrists and propped himself up on one hand, using the other to cup the back of her head as she pulled him closer and deepened the kiss. After what seemed like hours but was really only a few short minutes, Harry raised his face and stared at her. Ginny opened her eyes, dazed, and he ran a finger gently down her cheek. She smiled at him and sighed, breaking the spell.
He suddenly felt very awkward, and clambered off Ginny as quickly as he could, pulling her to her feet. He ran a hand through his already messy hair.
"Why did you stop like that?"
"I dunno, I just saw…those." She turned pointed into the clearing ahead of them. "What do you think they are?"
Harry looked, and his eyes widened. There in front of them was a circle of standing stones. It looked very old; some of the stones had fallen on their sides, while others leaned tipsily against their neighbors. One pair of still remained upright, joined together by a capstone, making an archway that was just big enough for two people, if they were relatively skinny.
They stepped slowly into the clearing.
The woods suddenly became very quiet. It was as if every living thing was holding its breath, waiting. Harry looked around uneasily, and Ginny grabbed his hand. He looked down, surprised, then squeezed her fingers. She smiled faintly.
"Do you think…we should go?" she asked timidly. Harry hesitated. Though it was in ruins, the circle still seemed to exude an aura of timelessness, of power. It tugged and pulled at him, and he knew he wouldn't be satisfied until he knew more about it.
"Let's look in the circle first, then we'll go. But let's have our wands out, just to be sure."
Ginny nodded, and they drew their wands out of their pockets with their free hands.
They stepped through the archway. Suddenly everything started spinning. Harry grabbed onto Ginny and held her as tightly as he could. There was a brilliant flash of white light, and he suddenly felt weightless.
A moment later, the stone circle was empty.