The World I Leave Behind
Prologue: Restless Night
Ginny Weasley lay twisted in bed sheets, unmoving, her wide eyes staring aimlessly into the darkness of her room. Some nights she didn't cry; this night she did. Silent tears crept across freckles, dampening the pillow beneath her cheek. She lay there — listless, senseless — her mind stuck on the dream that had woken her, the one that haunted her nearly every night:
Celebration, joy, euphoria — her Gryffindor team had won the Quidditch cup! A childhood of feeling left out and left behind, of sneaking outside at night to fly her brothers' brooms, of fighting to prove that she could hold her own, had led to this wonderful moment.
And there he was. His emerald eyes blazed as they found her from across the room, and in them she saw reflected the fire that she'd held for him for years. She ran at him instinctively, without thought, threw her arms around him, and…he kissed her. With no hint that he had ever felt for her what she had for him, he was kissing her and something that had lain dormant and neglected inside of her burst to life and took flight.
The torment always came when Ginny woke up.
Harry Potter had been dead for a year.
* * * * * * *
Ron Weasley dropped into his seat at the kitchen table and bit into his sandwich. The house was eerily quiet in the middle of the night — being a notoriously sound sleeper, he wasn't used to the Burrow without plenty of lamps lit and redheads making noise. But then, he supposed, home hadn't been as lively as it once was. Not since everything had gone so wrong. Ron sighed and put down his snack; his appetite wasn't what it used to be.
He'd come a long way in the past many months, officially joining the Order of the Phoenix and training every day, pushing himself harder than he ever had at Hogwarts. He smiled wistfully as he imagined, for probably the hundredth time, how astonished Hermione would be if she saw how seriously he was now taking his studies. Since very few places were safe outside the Burrow, he could either work to be ready to fight when the time came or simply stare at the walls. But it certainly wasn't boredom that drove him. People that he loved had been murdered, and he — along with the rest of the Order — were the only ones left to avenge them and stop Voldemort from taking over for good. Ron knew how bad things looked, how much the odds were stacked against them, but he'd be damned if he stopped fighting. Fighting was all he had left.
Ron slumped back in his chair as another recurring thought returned: this is what it had been like for Harry, who had carried the fate of the wizarding world on his shoulders since he was a baby. Sure, Ron had seen his share of danger at Harry's side, but he had always been a follower, leaving it to others — Harry, Hermione, Dumbledore — to lead the way. Ron had decided that it was long past time to step forward and take on his full share of the responsibility.
And he owed it to Harry, who had put his trust in a poor nobody that no one else would have taken a second look at. Harry, his best mate. Harry…who he had failed. If only Ron had stayed with him during the battle…if he hadn't succumbed to his grief over Fred and had kept his head in the fight….
Well, he would soon have a chance at a measure of redemption. Thinking of what he had to do, Ron felt the familiar nervousness return, but also his resolve — he wouldn't let his family or the Order down. This was too important; the stakes were too high.
Standing up from the table, Ron ran a hand through his hair. If only Hermione were here. He would see her soon, though, for the mission. What a strange way to reconnect after almost a year apart…. What should he say to her? He wasn't sure how he would react, and that wasn't helping his anxiety about the job he had to do.
The creek of a stair pulled Ron from his thoughts the moment before Ginny appeared in the kitchen doorway. Her darkened eyes told him everything he needed to know. Wordlessly, he walked to his sister and placed her head on his shoulder.
His heart ached for her. Even after all this time, her wounds seemed so fresh. Nobody else, not even his mum, knew just how much Ginny was still hurting. She put up a tough front, but when it all became too much, when she was weak, she would turn to him. Having lost the love of her life, and he his best mate, had made them very close.
When she started dating Harry it had bothered him so much….
Now he'd give anything for her to have him back.
* * * * * * *
Hermione Granger awoke to find that she'd fallen asleep at her desk again, her head resting between pages 814 and 815 of Working with Wards: Building Them Up and Breaking Them Down, which was stacked on top of her well-worn copy of Hogwarts: A History. She sat up slowly and rubbed at a crick in her neck. The clock on the wall read 1:42 AM; her parents, always early to bed, had surely been asleep for hours.
She went to the kitchen to put on a fresh pot of coffee; despite the fact that her body ached for sleep, her work tonight wasn't done. Even after weeks of research, Bill still needed her to help track down a few key pieces of information, and she was almost out of time. Soon she would take her findings back to the magical world, which she had left behind nearly a year ago upon returning to her family home. Her role in the upcoming mission would also take her back to the place that once felt like home, but now haunted her nightmares — Hogwarts. She could still picture the horrible scenes as if the battle had happened yesterday; could still feel the castle rumble as it finally gave way to hordes of invading Death Eaters; could still hear Ron's outrage and Ginny's desperate cries as they were forced to escape through the Room of Requirement to The Hog's Head, not knowing what had become of Harry.
Sitting back at her desk, Hermione wiped an eye and took a sip from her warm mug. Truth be told, if she could trust anyone else to find the answers that Bill needed in time, she would have stayed far away from this mission. She had run simple reference checks, brewed a few potions, and helped the Order in other ways, but this would take her back into the thick of things. With Professor McGonagall in the hands of the Death Eaters, however, Hermione knew more about Hogwarts and its history than anyone else available. It was protected by centuries of magic put in place by some of the best witches and wizards of every age. At first the idea of breaking through its protections had seemed laughable, but months of research had given her some hope. Plus, Bill Weasley was no average curse-breaker.
The name "Weasley" stuck in Hermione's head. She pulled a picture frame from a desk drawer and sighed as she ran her fingers over the moving photo that Colin had taken near the end of her sixth year. Harry sat cuddled with Ginny by the fire in the Gryffindor common room, and — oblivious to the photo being taken — whispered in her ear, causing her to giggle. Ron, who was playing chess nearby, rolled his eyes from the couple to Hermione, then blushed and turned back to his game when she returned his look with a smile.
Hermione placed the frame back in the drawer, on top of several unopened letters addressed to her in Ron's handwriting. She didn't like to think of the people she'd left behind, especially Ron. She missed him more than he could possibly know, and she absently wondered if he felt the same. She cringed at the realization that she hoped their parting still hurt him as much as it did her. What a horrible, selfish witch she was. She was the one that left, leaving behind a very hurt and confused Ron. What would Harry have thought of her? She closed her book and rested her head in her hands.
Nobody could possibly understand what she had been through; where her mind was at…they weren't there. They didn't see what she had seen. To have that kind of shock so soon after the battle at Hogwarts, which had already shaken her to the core….
But she knew they deserved better from her. Ron…and Ginny, who had thought of her as a sister. Merlin, Ginny…. A fresh wave of guilt swept across Hermione as she remembered the girl's heartbreaking reaction to the news that Harry had been killed — it had destroyed her. The free-spirited, mischievous, defiant Ginny she knew had become an empty shell, hardly ever leaving her room, eating, or speaking. And when she needed help the most, Hermione ran away. Some "sister." Even if Harry could have forgiven her for hurting Ron, surely he wouldn't have let her off the hook for abandoning Ginny.
Shaking her head, Hermione forced her thoughts back to the job at hand. If they were somehow able to pull this plan off, it would give the Order something to rally around and revitalize the resistance. Would she fully return to the wizarding world then? She had never intended to stay away for good, just long enough to get her head straight. And if she went back, what about her parents? Hermione knew that she had been selfish in restoring their memories and bringing them home — they had been safer far away in Australia without the knowledge that they had a daughter who was hunted by an army of dark wizards. But like a child, she needed her mum and dad to make her feel safe and normal. Just as it was when it came to everyone else she supposedly cared for, her own needs were the only ones that mattered.
Her face screwed up, Hermione threw her book and it banged hard against the wall, bringing the clock down with it. She was no Gryffindor.
She was a coward.
* * * * * * *
The halls of Hogwarts were deathly silent, as all of the castle's students lay asleep in their beds.
All, except for one.
Far below, in an underground chamber that was secret to but a few, a shriek of raw agony rent the air. Then another. And another. Until finally, a high, cold voice echoed throughout the cavernous depths, cursing in frustration. Then a second voice spoke, quiet and strained.
"Still can't get it…worked out…Tom?" Harry huffed between shaky breaths as he struggled to sit up. "Are you sure that…both your parents weren't muggles?"
Lord Voldemort, who had stormed away in anger, slowly turned his head to face the enemy he hated so much; the thorn in his side that he simply could not remove. His red, slit eyes bored into Harry with purest loathing.
"Or maybe your mother was a squib…that might explain it," Harry said, before turning to cough up blood.
"You tempt me, boy," hissed the Dark Lord, "but Lord Voldemort will not be tricked into rash actions. Until I succeed in reclaiming the piece of my soul that was erroneously placed in you, I shall simply take whatever enjoyment I can from our…experiments."
He knelt before Harry, who turned away from the snake-like face as it spat its venomous words.
"But I can still hurt and kill others, can't I, Harry? The Mudbloods and blood-traitors who foolishly stood with you against the greatest wizard that has ever lived."
"Well," he added with a sneer, "the ones you haven't already gotten killed, anyway." Harry shook with rage, but did not respond.
"Like the Weasley girl…. Yes, she could provide an enjoyable…distraction. A blood traitor like her could still serve a purpose for her master…."
Voldemort leaned closer to whisper into Harry's ear: "Perhaps she already has."
Harry snapped his head around to glare at his captor's smug, satisfied face. He tried to control his emotions, but knew that Riddle had gotten the reaction he wanted. Without another word, Voldemort stood and swept from the Chamber, hissing at the exit to seal itself shut behind him.
A held breath escaped Harry as he finally gave in to his wrecked body, sputtering coughs and falling to the floor in agony. After several moments he pushed himself to his knees and crawled to a nearby corner. In the chamber's eerie, eternal green glow, he sifted through the rubble that lay there until he settled on a cracked black stone. With trembling hands, he turned the stone over three times.
Dumbledore's voice was soft and his face full of concern as his shimmering form knelt to inspect his former student.
"Is perfectly fine, warm in her bed at The Burrow. The protections have not been disturbed. I asked Fred Weasley to check as soon as I heard the despicable threat leave Tom's vile lips."
Harry relaxed onto his back, looking up in relief at the comforting blue eyes that surveyed him over half-moon spectacles. After taking a slow, steadying breath, Harry spoke in a weak voice. "Ask Fred to…keep an eye on her, will you? And everyone else?"
Dumbledore gave a faint smile. "Of course, Harry. But I doubt we will be asking him to perform any task that he has not already undertaken. Now, your wounds —"
"I'm too weak…it'll have to wait." Harry's eyelids began to fall as darkness closed in around him. "Just…just tell Fred…." And then he was still.
Dumbledore's sad smile faded away, and then, so did he.
* * * * * * *
The Boy Who Lived still lived, and the key to changing the course of the war and finishing Voldemort once and for all was contained within him.
But after a year of captivity, he remained trapped with no hope of escape or rescue.
Nobody even knew he was alive.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Just over one year ago, Harry Potter went into the forbidden forest to face Lord Voldemort alone, ready to die. How did he survive? How did he come to be in the Chamber of Secrets? And how did he regain the Resurrection Stone? Questions are answered and secrets are revealed as Harry recalls the hellish days that followed the Battle of Hogwarts.
Coming soon, the first chapter of The World I Leave Behind, "The Secret in the Chamber."
"You've thrown in with the wrong side, you must see that now."
"I OWE YOU?"
"Harry Potter likes me."
"I wonder…of the two of us, who won in the end?"
"You wish to die."
"Never speak of what happened here…not even to me."