A/N: I own nothing. The purpose of this fic is pure pleasure for the writer, and hopefully, for the readers.
Ghosts of the Past
Hermione Granger sat on a small chair, staring at the roaring fire. It reminded her irresistibly of a certain dark-haired, green-eyed someone. Someone she had once counted as a friend. She cradled her head in her arms as she strove not to think of that terrible, tragic day – the day they had that horrible "conversation", hours after Dumbledore's death – the day everything had gone so awry. No, she must not think of it. She had to go the Headquarters at eight. She looked at the clock. Seven thirty.Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock…
She couldn't bear it.
She went up to the window and stretched. She stuck her head out. The cold breeze hit her face, and she revelled at the sight of a calm, cool morning in New York City. Yes, she thought, the States was an ideal place for her parents – far away from the horrors of war, far away from fighting him.
She went back to the chair. She looked at the clock again. Seven thirty-five. She sighed. This was going to be a long wait. And just as she strove to avoid the memory, it returned to the forefront of her mind.
Harry had entered the Gryffindor Dormitory. His face was oddly set. Hermione looked at him. Ron, who was fastening a lock on his trunk, looked up as well. "Harry?" Hermione asked tentatively.
"I broke up with Ginny," Harry muttered.
Ron spluttered. "But, why?"
Harry gave Ron a cold, appraising gaze, a look Hermione had never before seen on Harry's face before. It did not bode well. "She wasn't my type," Harry said quietly.
Lavender, Katie and Romilda were in the room. They both looked up, apparently drinking in every word of the uncomfortable conversation.
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked quickly.
Harry laughed – a high, harsh laughter, which did not suit him.
"She was looking at Dean, half the time at the funeral. I should have guessed. She is… after all… a scarlet woman."
Hermione looked at Ron. His ears were steadily growing redder. "Harry…" she pleaded.
Harry laughed coldly again. "What? She is – and it's a fact. I told her stuff and nonsense about me not wanting to hurt her, but the truth's there for all to see – she's a scarlet woman… or maybe not… she's too young for a woman… a scarlet girl then."
Katie and Lavender were looking at Ron, who had turned a deep shade of red. "Harry," he said in a dangerously calm voice, "That's my little sister you're talking about…"
Harry laughed as he fastened the lock on his trunk. "What, Ron? Does the truth hurt? Because that is exactly what your innocent little sister is."
Ron jumped at Harry knocking him down. "DON'T YOU DARE…"
"YOU…" Ron drew his hand backwards, pinning Harry to the floor with the other.
There was a flash of red light, and Ron was hanging upside down in mid-air.
Harry gave a sneer worthy of Malfoy. "So… tell me Ron… wasn't it true after all? Isn't it true you're my best mate just because of my fame and money, you jealous little freak?"
All the girls in the room gasped.
Hermione shook her head. Something had gone wrong that day, dead wrong. No one had been thinking clearly that day. "Why, Harry?" she whispered into the night. She looked up at the clock. Five to eight. She opened the door quietly, locked it behind her, turned on the spot and disappeared.
Halfway across the globe, Ronald Bilius Weasley sat brooding on a chair in Grimmauld Place, London. A fire was blazing in the ancient hearth. "Why, Harry?" he echoed. He shook his head to clear the thoughts that plagued his brain.
Ron gasped as he tried to untangle the robes that had wrapped around him, as he hung in mid-air.
"LET ME DOWN!" he shouted angrily.
"Why, Ron?" Harry taunted, "So you can kiss your long-molared, bushy-haired, Little-Miss-Know-it-all girlfriend?"
There was a noise as if a whip had just cracked on a horse's back, and Ron crumpled in a heap to the ground. He looked up quickly. Harry was clutching his cheek. Hermione stood in front of him, eyes blazing. Harry staggered backwards and tripped against someone. Harry turned around to find himself face to face with Ginny Weasley. Harry's eyes widened as he saw Ginny standing there, white-faced, her hands shaking in fury. Harry regained his composure, picked up Ron's wand, which had been lying on the floor, and thrust it at Ginny. "At least that's brand new in your family," he said in a horrible, sarcastic voice. His next words stayed etched in Ron's memory to this day.
"Everything else is second hand, isn't it? Even you," Harry said eyeing Ginny up and down in evident contempt. Ginny reared back and punched him in the face. Ron gaped. Harry staggered backwards, his face contorted in cold fury. He turned on his heels, picked up his trunk, and stormed away towards the Hogwarts carriages, which were to cart them off to the Hogwarts Express.
Harry did not speak to them on the Express. Neither did he even look at the Weasleys as he trudged across the platform to meet his podgy uncle.
Ron shook his head wearily. He buried his face in his hands. Hermione was right. Harry… something had gone wrong that day. But all that had been a year ago.
Suddenly there was a soft tap on the door. Ron went to the door, his wand held aloft. "Hermione?" he whispered.
"What's my favourite colour?"
Ron chuckled. "Right in one 'Mione." He unlocked the door.
Hermione stepped into the room and hugged Ron tightly. "It's been too long, Ron," she whispered. They tiptoed across the room where Sirius' old mother resided in a damned portrait.
"Has the meeting started?" Hermione asked Ron, after they crossed the room.
"No," Ron said as he tapped on a door thrice, "We were waiting for you."
"Enter," a stern voice said from the other side of the door.
Ron and Hermione entered the room, and the door snapped shut behind them.
Ginny sat on her bed in her dark, damp room in Grimmauld Place, her face buried in her hands, her body rocking forward and backwards in rhythm with her sobs. She did not know why she had lost control so suddenly. This happened every time she looked at the letter she had received fifteen months ago. She remembered how Hedwig had swooped through the Entrance Hall, dropping this letter right into her pumpkin juice, just five minutes after she had patched up with Dean.Dearest Ginny,
I have no one else to call my own now, except you. I'm sorry for whatever I said. I did what Dumbledore told me to. He left me several things. I'm sorry. I did what I had to. I'll let you know that whatever I said that day was false. I didn't mean any of it. I'm sorry. I love you… you and no one else. I'm sorry.
I'll wait for you. Will you wait for me?
PS Take care of Hedwig for me.
Ginny looked up at the cage. Hedwig had gone hunting. She buried her face in her hands again. Outside the confines of her room, she had six brothers. She couldn't afford to show a weakness to any of them. But inside, it was a different matter. Inside these walls in Grimmauld Place, she was a little girl again; outside, she was hard, defiant and calm Ginny Weasley."Wait for me"…
She was overcome by guilt. She hadn't waited for him. Somehow, she could not swallow her pride; she could not forget herself. She had not shown the letter to anyone else, not even Hermione. She did not know why she hadn't shown it to them – all she knew at the moment was her pride – her selfish pride. She loved Harry… but somehow, she could not forgive him for leaving her behind. She shook her head. She was feeling guilty again. She had gone out with Dean, throughout her sixth year. She had betrayed Harry.
The door to her room creaked open. Ginny quickly wiped her tears. Her mother stepped into the dark room. "Ginny," she whispered, "the meeting's about to start."
Ginny got up, straightened her dress and looked at her mother. "Let's go."
A few thousand miles to the south, Harry Potter stood on top of a small mound in the midst of a dark forest. The Transylvanians called it the Valley of Blood. It was a cursed place. Harry chuckled. "Maybe that's why I'm here," he said to himself.
He frowned. He flicked his wand. A serpentine throne appeared from thin air on top of the hill. Harry sat wearily on the throne and ran his hand across the cold metal, softly tracing the contours of the majestic throne, he had conjured. The throne was solid silver, with serpents carved at regular intervals along the armrests. The back of the throne resembled a giant serpent, spreading its hood over the dark-haired boy who was seated upon it, brooding over the past year.
For him, the year had been the most terrible of all the years of his life.
Terrible and great.
Terrible and crucial.
Terrible and forbidden.
The paths he had trod, the people he had tortured, the creatures he had coaxed, the men and beasts he had killed… no he must not think of them. Their ghosts always returned to haunt him. Sometimes he wondered how close he was to being another Voldemort.
And throughout his suffering, throughout this terrible year, it had been the thought of a certain red-haired girl that had kept him alive. His love for the girl he had dated only for half a year was what had pulled him through. He cast his mind back to the beginning of this terrible year.
Harry trudged up to McGonagall's office wearily. That was the second time that day she had summoned him to her office. If she wanted him to reveal Dumbledore's confidential secrets about Voldemort, there was no chance he'd tell her. He opened the door to the Head's Office. He chanced a glance at Dumbledore's portrait, but it was still asleep. He sighed and proceeded to McGonagall who was studying an envelope on her table.
She looked up at him. "Dumbledore's portrait reminded me to hand this over to you." She looked up at Dumbledore's portrait, annoyed. "He's gone to sleep again I see. He wouldn't tell me what it was about. Apparently, only you can open this envelope. And he insisted you open it at once."
Harry went wearily up to the table and tore the envelope open. He read it quickly.
Read this letter quickly, but carefully. If you are reading this letter it means I have failed in my duty to protect you. Forgive me for this lapse.
The letter will self-destruct as soon as you finish reading. I have left you my Pensieve and a few memories. I suggest you view the first memory as soon as possible. If convenient, I suggest you view it in the Headmistress' Room now.
Albus Percival Brian Wulfric Dumbledore.
Harry looked at the cabinet in the corner. McGonagall followed his gaze. The letter in Harry's hand burnt to ashes. She gazed at the cabinet and the Pensieve within. Harry looked at her uncertainly. She nodded. "He left me a letter as well. He asked me to allow you to look into the Pensieve for some reason. You may do so."
Harry blinked. McGonagall took a few files from her desk and started surveying them. Harry forced his gaze towards the Pensieve. He edged towards the cabinet. He saw several memories. He picked up the memory marked "1" and emptied the silver substance into the Pensieve. He took a deep breath and plunged his face into the Pensieve.
Things had gone downhill after that. "I have a journey for you to make…" Dumbledore had said. Suddenly bits and pieces from Dumbledore's memories swam to the front of his mind. He shrank away from them, but they plagued him.
"Suspend your friendship and your relations Harry…"
"They cannot help you Harry"…
"Give up your friendship at once, no matter how painful it may seem"…
"Harry I need you to look at this memory carefully"…
"Harry, concentrate on this place and apparate there for the first stage of your training"…
And Harry had followed Dumbledore's instructions. He had consorted with the best and the worst in the magical world. He had learnt several things – terrible and great. Terrible and forbidden. He shuddered as the thought of his journeys drove down upon him. They always returned at night.
He sat up straight on the throne on the hillock. He brandished his wand. A mirror appeared in front of him. He looked into it and whispered, "Am I so very changed, Dumbledore?"
There was a flash of lightning across the sky. A gaunt, drawn and terrible face looked back at him from the mirror. He had suffered and the suffering had taken its due. No one would now recognise him as the Harry who had disappeared a year ago without a trace, no one. Not even Ron and Hermione. Not even Ginny.
"Why, Dumbledore? Why me?" he rasped into the dreary darkness of the Valley of Blood. No one answered.