Harry breathed an audible sigh of relief as he staggered through the portrait hole into the warm glow of the Gryffindor common room. His sweat drenched shirt clung to him like a second skin, and it had not taken him long during his return to Gryffindor tower to realize exactly how chilly the old stone castle became at night. Even with the last vestiges of summer still clinging to life in the surrounding countryside, it still felt as if ice water had been running though his veins, puckering his skin and setting every hair on end. The welcome heat from the common room fireplaces sank into him like sunlight, bringing a content smile to his previously exhausted expression. Quickly locating his friends, he limped over to them and sank, or more accurately fell, onto the empty seat next to Neville.
"Oh Harry," Hermione exclaimed, alarmed at his disheveled appearance, "not again?"
"Yeah mate," Ron contributed with a scowl, "I can't believe you're putting up with his shit. All this running around, it's indecent. You smell awful by the way."
"Thanks mate," Harry replied, rolling his eyes, "I really appreciate that."
"Sometimes the truth hurts," Neville threw in, and even Harry had to join in the quiet laughter that followed.
"Such wonderful friends I have," Harry said, rolling his eyes. "Sorry about the smell, I guess I had just gotten used to it and forgot. I can go take a shower first…" All three of them quickly shouted this idea down, insisting that he stay and tell them how things had gone with Moody. Harry turned surreptitiously, checking to see if anyone was close enough to overhear.
The only group that seemed to fit the bill was a small table of fifth years; all of them seemingly neck deep in complicated homework assignments, including Ginny. Briefly he considered asking her to join them, but he held himself back, just as he had done every night since his training had begun. No, he thought as he turned back to face the others, I'm not going to force her to be a part of this. I don't know why she's been ignoring me, but if that's what she wants then that's what I'll give her.
"It was intense," he said finally, "that's the only way I can describe it."
"That's it," Ron asked wryly, "intense? They're always intense! Details mate, we want details." Harry relented and spent the next several minutes recounting his latest experience with the former Auror captain, from start to finish. Though he had worked with Moody almost every day, and on Saturdays literally spent the entire day with the man, he seemed to have an endless supply of new exercises for Harry to run. They almost never did the same thing two days in a row. This explanation was hardly enough to satisfy Ron however. "Running," he said, sounding incredulous, "that's all you did was more running?"
"Not entirely. He taught me how to roll properly too."
"Yeah," Harry said, "roll. You can't just go for it and hope for the best you know; you're likely to tear something. So he showed me how to do it proper so you don't hurt anything and you always end up back on your feet with your balance intact and your wand ready. Should be dead useful."
"Maybe so," Ron conceded, "but you still spent more time running that doing anything else didn't you?" Harry nodded.
"That's bloody unbelievable that is. Here you are supposed to be training with the greatest Auror who ever lived, and the man's making you run in circles. What does he think you are, a centaur? It's bad enough the daft old coot has you waking up before the sun is even up, you'd think he could at least teach you some bloody magic the rest of the time."
"Ron, you know Harry still isn't allowed to do magic," Hermione reminded him, "Dumbledore hasn't given him permission yet."
"It's not really that bad once you get used to it Ron, "Harry offered with a shrug, "I don't really mind anymore. Besides, he says it's important; says that wizards as a whole are too soft for a real war."
"What do you mean soft?" Ron exclaimed, nearly rising out of his chair until Hemrione jerked him back down by his sleeve. "What does running have to do with learning to duel dark wizards?"
"Actually what he says makes a lot of sense," Harry admitted grudgingly, his features contemplative. "When I think back on everything that happened at the Ministry, and even my fight with Voldemort at the graveyard, I spent most of my time running. I didn't have much choice; we were outnumbered at the Ministry and I certainly was no match for Voldemort in a straight up fight. Running until we could turn the odds in our favor kept me, kept all of us, alive. I don't think that being able to do that better can be a bad thing." Harry smiled widely. "And besides, even if I'm wrong, the next time Voldemort tries to kill me I can just challenge him to a race."
The raucous laughter issuing from Ron and Neville and Hermione's polite giggles did not even begin to drown out the sound of a text book slamming closed behind them. Harry turned and saw Ginny angrily throwing her things into her bag before she turned and stormed off towards the portrait hole. Waving for the others to stay where they were, he stood and hurried after her, ignoring the slight shake in his tired legs as he ran.
"Ginny wait," he called, stopping her just short of the exit, "what's wrong?"
"Nothing," she replied, not turning to face him as she spoke.
"Well obviously there's something wrong," he insisted, "you look ready to explode."
"I said it was nothing," she insisted, her fists clenching violently.
"It's not nothing," he growled, starting to grow angry himself. "You haven't said a word to me in two weeks; there is something going on, just tell me."
"Just mind you own business Potter."
"Damn it Ginny, just tell me what's wrong, I want to help you!"
"Well maybe I don't want your help," she screamed at him, whirling around to face him for the first time and revealing the silent tears streaking down her anger reddened cheeks. The whole common room had fallen into a dead silence, watching the confrontation with baited breath. "I know it may not be possible for you to grasp the concept," Ginny continued, "but not everyone in the world needs you to come rescue them. You can't solve the whole world's problems on your own Potter, and maybe if you'd pull your head out of your own arse for five minutes you'd see that." Her lower lip was trembling horribly as she tried, desperately and futilely, to keep her emotions from reaching her face. Harry felt all of the anger and fight drain out of him as he finally realized what it was she was trying to hide from him. It was fear.
I get it now, he thought to himself bitterly, now that she's heard everything; about me, the prophecy, and Voldemort she's terrified. She told me that the prophecy didn't matter to her because that's what she thought she should say, but she doesn't want to get pulled into this. I can hardly blame her. After what she went through in her first year she deserves a chance to be normal. And that can never happen as long as she hangs around me.
"I understand," he whispered softly, where he knew only she would be able to hear. Her eyes widened slightly and sparkled with a faint glimmer of hope. "I told all of you the other day that I wouldn't blame any of you for wanting to stay away from me; that hasn't changed. You deserve a chance to be happy Ginny and I don't want to take that away from you. I won't bother you any more, alright?"
The hope he had seen born in her eyes died violently and brought the tempestuous fire roaring back to the forefront. Her hand leapt out before he could even react, catching him full across the cheek in an open handed slap that spun his head forcibly to the right. The hot sting on his cheek and the ringing in his hears didn't faze him nearly as much as the tortured look on her face. Without another word she turned, opened the portrait, and stepped out into the corridor. The general buzz of the common room slowly resumed, although somewhat more subdued. Harry heard none of it. He stood rooted in place, trying desperately to understand exactly what had just happened. It took Hermione's gentle hand on his shoulder to finally break him from his reverie as he turned questioningly to his female best friend.
"What did you say," she asked gently.
"I told her that I didn't blame her for not wanting to be my friend anymore. That I would leave her alone so she could be happy."
"Oh Harry," Hermione moaned, "you didn't…"
"She was terrified Hermione, I could see it in her eyes. She just didn't want to hurt me by saying it to my face."
"Harry…you couldn't be more wrong. You need to go talk to her." She shoved his forgotten school bag into his hands. "Use the map and the cloak. I'll handle Ron, just go." Harry met her worried eyes with his own and nodded his thanks before he turned and followed Ginny through the portrait hole and into the slumbering halls of Hogwarts.
Ginny shivered softly in the cool breeze, silently promising herself that the next time she stormed out of a room, she would remember to bring a damn coat. She leaned forward, moving her back away from the chilled stone against which she sat in favor of wrapping her arms tightly around her own legs for warmth as she stared out over the side of the Astronomy tower battlements onto the darkened, sweeping grounds of Hogwarts and the Forbidden Forest beyond. From her very first night of Astronomy she had been in love with this place; while Professor Sinistra kept telling them all to look towards the heavens, she couldn't seem to tear her eyes away from the alluring landscape spread out all around her.
At first she had been afraid to sneak up here alone, afraid that she would be caught and disciplined for being out past curfew or being out of bounds. Until that is the first time she had blacked out from writing in her diary. After that she had spent more time here than she cared to remember trying desperately to pretend that everything was ok; or later, when things became even worse, trying to convince herself not to jump. But that year had come and gone and still she had felt drawn to this place. Now, despite the memories it held for her there was no place better when she needed to get away from everything to think.
The sound of a door creaking open behind her came as no surprise, and she did not even bother to turn to see who it was.
"Go away Mione. I know you just want to help but just…not tonight ok?"
"Er, sorry. Wrong friend." The sound of Harry's voice made her stiffen, but she refused to let herself show any other reaction. "What do you want Potter?"
"Mostly just to say I'm sorry," he replied with a shrug. Her jaw dropped in disbelief as she swung to face him. "I don't know what I did to make you so angry with me Ginny, but it wasn't on purpose."
"You're apologizing to me for me slapping you and storming off," she said, unable to hide the incredulity from her voice. "Really?" He winced at the memory.
"Well not the slapping specifically, no. But whatever I did to make you angry enough to do it…yeah, I'm sorry." Her shoulders sagged slightly and he slowly closer to her before finally laying a hand on her shoulder. "Ginny, it's ok that you're scared. I know I am. I promised all of you when I told you the prophecy that I wouldn't hold it against you if you wanted to back away and I meant it. It's ok."
"You couldn't be more wrong Harry." She said it flatly, trying to hide any hint of emotion in her voice but she could feel the fire that had been burning inside of her for the last two weeks screaming at her, aching to be released. Her shoulders began to shake slightly from the effort and she clenched her fists as tightly as she could.
Harry must have felt her shaking because he suddenly leaned closer to her and whispered, "Aww, Ginny, don't cry…"
"I am not crying you git!" Her shout echoed off the stone battlements as she whirled around, throwing Harry's comforting hand off of her as she stood and leapt down from her perch to the stone floor. She began to stalk towards Harry, taking one measured step at a time as the increasingly nervous looking boy backed away slowly.
"I am not sad, I do not feel guilty, and I damn well am not afraid! I am angry!" Harry's eyebrows scrunched together in confusion but she didn't relent. "I hate this stupid prophecy; in fact I hate the whole notion that none of us are in charge of our own lives. The very idea that nothing I do really matters because I was always destined to do it just pisses me off. I hate Tom for being such a gullible wanker that he believes in the damn thing and is determined to make it come true no matter what. I hate that Dumbledore took so damn long to even tell you any of this. I hate that Ron and Hermione are so calm about the whole thing. But the thing I hate more than anything is that you are such a great stupid prat that you're going to try and do this whole damn thing alone and not let any of us help you because you're too damned noble to realize that we have just as much right to try and protect our friend as you do to try and protect us."
During her explosive tirade, Ginny had been inching closer and closer to the speechless Harry, who had long since run out of room to back up and was now mere inches away from him. She leaned in close, looking deeply into his eyes.
"We don't want to lose you either Harry. Maybe next time you start to get all self loathing about how you're just trying to protect us, you'll remember that."
Ginny finally rocked back onto her heels, her fury spent. She reeled away from Harry, unable to bring herself to look him in the eye any longer, and made her way back to her perch on the battlements, this time hanging her feet over the edge to dangle in the empty air hundreds of feet above the grounds below.
Mortified, she realized; that was the word she was looking for to describe how she felt right now. She honestly had expected Hermione to come after her, not Harry and had been completely unprepared to face him. There wasn't any time to bottle back up the anger she had been building up inside of her for weeks and once he set her off there was no stopping it. A single tear rolled down her cheek but she was determined not to wipe at it; not to show any weakness. A hand reached out from behind her and wiped the solitary drop away before she felt Harry ease himself onto the ledge beside her.
"Long way down," he commented, leaning over to peer down into the darkness below. "Aren't you worried about falling?"
"No," she replied quietly, "I've been coming up here ever since my first year when I needed to think. Ever since…you know. I'm used to it by now."
He nodded his understanding and they both sat for several long minutes staring out at the darkened grounds, neither saying a word until he spoke again.
"You said that already," she said, unable to help a small smile.
"Yeah, but then I was just apologizing for making you upset; I had no idea what the reason was. Now I do. I'm sorry for assuming I knew what you were upset about. I'm sorry that I spent so much time thinking about what the prophecy meant to me and how much I hated it to even think about how the rest of you might feel. And mostly I'm sorry that you've all been dragged into this mess with me."
There was another brief pause before Ginny finally whispered, "I lied you know." He turned his head to watch her, but didn't say anything. She thought maybe he could sense how difficult it was for her to admit this, and she was grateful for that. "When I said that I wasn't afraid. I am afraid. But not of Death Eaters, or dementors, or even Tom. I'm afraid that I'm going to lose you Harry. Or Ron," she continued, blushing, "or Hermione, or even mum and dad. I'm afraid that one of you is going to get hurt in this fight. Because if that happens Harry, and I've been forced to sit on the sidelines by my parents or," she shot him a knowing look, "anyone else for that matter then I am going to have to spend the rest of my life wondering if I could have made a difference. Agonizing over whether I could have saved them had I been there. And that is my deepest fear; to lose everyone I love while I'm locked away in a cage. I can't spend the rest of my life wondering if I could have made a difference; I won't."
Harry didn't respond to that, merely staring out over the darkened grounds while Ginny swung her feet absentmindedly. Ginny wondered if she had struck a nerve with him when she shared this. She knew that he still had trouble with Cedric and Sirius' deaths, always wondering if there was anything that more he could have done to save them. Eventually though he reached out a hand tentatively to grasp her own, squeezing it as he turned to face her.
"No more running," he said, managing to make it both a question and a statement at the same time. She nodded her understanding as she squeezed his hand in return.
"No more trying to do this alone." She knew what she was asking of him was hard, and she could see the indecision warring on his face. On the one hand she was fairly certain he had taken her point about not wanting to be the only one left out of the fighting to heart, but on the other…he was Harry. But finally he nodded his assent.
"I'm supposed to go running with Moody in the morning," he said offhandedly as they both turned and looked back out over the darkened grounds, "I should probably get some sleep."
"Yeah," she agreed, "probably." But neither of them stood to leave. Instead they continued to sit together silently staring out into the night, their hands still clasped together.
Harry rubbed his eyes sleepily as he hurried his way across the cool damp lawn towards the lake where he knew that Moody waited. It had been in the early hours of the morning when he and Ginny had finally made their way back to Gryffindor tower and staggered exhaustedly up to their respective rooms, and the lack of sleep definitely showed. He had been sorely tempted to head for the kitchens before meeting Moody, but decided that even that small detour was not worth the possibility of being late. Only once had he been late for a morning run, and he had resolved then and there to never do it again. His stomach twisted in knots at the painful memories even as he skidded to a halt a few feet away from a scowling Moody.
"Hey, don't give me that look," Harry protested through labored breath, "I'm not late."
"Well bugger me with a broomstick, isn't that lovely. I know you're not late; if you were you'd already be on the ground doing pushups until your tits bleed." Harry's brow furrowed in confusion. Moody was often rude and irritable during their time together, but today seemed different. He almost seemed somewhat…flustered.
"Then what is it? Obviously something has your knickers in a twist."
Moody's eyes narrowed.
"Perceptive today, aren't we Potter? Good, it means we're making progress. Very well; I was hoping you could explain that." As he spoke he turned and jabbed his thumb over his shoulder, motioning towards the edge of the lake. Harry leaned around him to follow his gesture and froze, his eyes widening. There, by the edge of the lake stood Ginny, dressed in what was in his opinion the smallest shorts and tank top ever conceived of by man. And currently she was stretching her arms skyward as she yawned loudly, her shirt riding higher and higher and revealing more soft pale skin with each second. Harry blinked repeatedly as he tore his gaze away and back to the still scowling Auror before him.
Harry shook his head, bewildered.
"No clue; why don't you just ask her?"
"I did," Moody drawled, though he did not elaborate. "Girl!" Ginny's head jerked in their direction and she smiled deviously as she saw Harry standing there before she quickly jogged over to join them.
"I have a name you know," she said, spitting Moody with a furious glare, "it's Ginny."
"Isn't that nice for you dear," he sneered back. Her narrowed eyes had Harry backing away from the two slowly.
"Yes it's a lovely name, I'm sure we can all agree on that," she hissed coldly, "now can you start using it or are we going to have a problem?" She actually pulled her wand at this point, and Harry knew from experience that Moody's was never far from his hand. This was getting out of hand very quickly. But rather than hex her, Moody simply stared, his one real eye narrowing as he took stock of the angry redhead currently staring him down. Finally, after what seemed to harry to be hours, the ever irate Auror captain cracked a hideous smile.
And then, before Harry could even breathe a sigh of relief, Moody's attention was back on him, his face returned to its usual glare.
"Ginny, what was is you said to me when I asked you why you were here?" Ginny folded her arms and smiled sweetly.
"Why, I told you that Harry said I could join you."
"Yes of course," he drawled, "now I remember. Of course I knew that couldn't be the case, because I know I never told you could invite anyone to our little party, and I know that you didn't think you could just do whatever the hell you wanted without consulting me."
Harry shook his head rapidly, stuttering, "But I didn't, I don't, it wasn't…"
"Don't try to call me a liar Potter," Ginny hissed, crossing her arms. "When we talked last night you agreed that you would stop trying to do everything on your own. And then you told me about having to meet Moody this morning. Sounds like an invitation to me."
"Well it wasn't!" he snapped back, bristling at her accusation, "and I didn't call you a liar. This just isn't what I meant when I said that and you know it Gin. I meant that I would stop trying to push you all away, not that you should join me in doing all of this."
"Well then maybe you should try saying what you mean." Harry looked to Moody for support but received only a small shrug.
"Don't look at me; I happen to agree with her on this one. Words have power, and if you don't want others to twist them for their own purposes, you should be more careful what you say."
"But I didn't actually tell her she could come! She assumed!"
"Not my problem Potter. But still," he mused, running a hand across his stubbled chin, "the question remains. Why should I let you stay? I don't exactly like kids you know."
She didn't say anything at first, but just stood quietly as she stared out over the calm waters to where the giant squid was carving a slow gentle path along the surface of the lake.
"Harry," she finally spoke, "would you mind giving us a minute."
Harry tried to object, but the protest died before he could ever voice it with a single glower from Moody, who merely jerked a thumb over one shoulder. Fuming slightly at being dismissed so, Harry shuffled away towards the edge of the lake.
Ginny waited until he was out of hearing range before she spoke again, but this time there was a note of steel in her voice that had not been there previously.
"You should let me join you because you can't stop me."
Moody's scowl twisted into a smirk.
"Oh really? How d'you figure that?"
"Oh you can certainly stop me from joining these little training sessions of yours," she ceded, "but you can't stop me from fighting with Harry when the time comes. We all know that there's a war coming. My parents, the other professors, and even Dumbledore can say whatever they want about how safe we'll all be at Hogwarts and how we shouldn't worry, but I know better and so do you. That's why you agreed to teach this year, isn't it? Because you saw how everything Voldemort does seems to be centered around Harry." Moody said nothing, but a subtle shifting of his shoulders gave away his answer.
"Now personally I don't set any stock in prophecy. I wish that stupid drunken bint had fallen down the stairs before she ever uttered a word to Dumbledore. But that doesn't change the fact that as long as Voldemort believes it, he'll never stop coming after him. You've accepted that Harry will have to fight, so you're willing to teach him as much as you can to give him the best chance at winning. What you also need to accept is that when the time comes his friends aren't going to sit quietly on the sidelines and hope for the best whether Harry likes it or not. Maybe you've forgotten that I've been possessed by the memory of that evil bastard. I know more than most exactly how far he's willing to go to gain himself a bit of power, and if you think that any of us are going to sit here and wait like good little children and let the grownups handle things while Harry fights for his life, then you've got another thing coming."
By this point Moody was gently rubbing the bridge of his nose. He knew that if she was anything like her mother, the girl would build up a head of steam and be at it for hours, and the last thing he needed to deal with right now was a Molly Weasley sized rant. I'd rather cut off my other leg and ask Lucius Malfoy to bugger me with it, he thought grimly.
"Fine, you're in."
His sudden accession to her request left her slightly stunned and, to Moody's relief, silent.
"Oh…well then." Her eyebrows drew tightly together as she tried to decide if she was pushing her luck. "Why?"
"If you aren't interested anymore little miss, then that's fine," he sneered. "You know where the castle is, feel free to go back inside and get your beauty sleep." Ginny shook her head wildly.
"No, no, I didn't mean it like that," she assured him, raising her hands placatingly, "I'm glad that you said yes, and it's not like I don't appreciate it, but I guess I just want to understand why you gave in so quickly. You know when my mother finds out she's going to give you holy hell over it, and you don't even know me…so why are you bothering?"
Moody nearly snarled at her in frustration as he wished for the hundredth time since the term had started for a smoke. In the nearly two decades since he had first decided to give up his beloved pipe, there had been only a handful of cases brutal and heart wrenching enough to tempt him off of the wagon. Since he had started dealing with hormonal, insecure teenagers everyday however, such urges were a daily occurrence.
"Ms. Weasley," he began calmly, "since you were so annoyingly, brutally honest with me, let me do you the same courtesy. I am not doing this for you. I am doing it for him." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the direction Harry had gone. "I was barely older than that boy when I first went to war young lady. And let me tell you something; as terrible as that bloody tosser Voldemort is, he is absolutely nothing compared to watching the entire world burn around you. Voldemort kills a few muggleborn families here and there, makes an example of a few Purebloods who won't fall in line, boohoo. Entire nations fell, entire races were massacred and more people lost their lives than exist in the entirety of wizarding Britain today. And it was all because of the machinations of a single man. So trust me when I tell you I've learned a great deal about battling so called dark lords. Do you know what the single most valuable thing I learned in that conflict was Ms. Weasley?" She shook her head.
"Any wizard, no matter how great, is weakest when he fights alone. Even at the end when he fell, Grindelwald commanded an army of hundreds of dark wizards, thousands of dark creatures, and thousands upon thousands of Muggles through his puppet, Hitler. If he had fought alongside them…well let us just say that the fight could have ended very differently. Instead he allowed himself to be cornered with only a small guard, believing himself untouchable. And that arrogance cost him dearly."
"This is a lesson Harry must learn before I even think about letting him into a combat situation. I know all about the boy's antics since he's been here, and while no doubt heroic, they showcase his fatal flaw. He won't accept help. He is so determined to keep you all safe that he sees everyone as a target to shield instead of a potential ally to stand with him. That has to stop. I had always intended for his little merry band to join him in his training eventually; that may be the only way he'll see that the best way he can keep you all safe is to make sure that you can take care of yourselves. I had hoped he would realize that himself by now after everything I've told him, but obviously he's too thick headed to get it on his own. So what do you say; you in?"
He extended a gnarled hand and after a moment's hesitation she clasped it with her own, a confident smile on her face.
Ginny fell in a heap at Moody's feet, unconscious as the veteran Auror shook his head ruefully.
"Merlin's saggy balls girl, it wasn't even silent." Oh well, he mused as he turned to watch Harry sprinting towards them, wand held at the ready, she'll learn soon enough.
A/N – Writing as fast as I can at the moment, but doubt I'll get another out in the near future. Mid terms in just a couple of weeks and even more tests in between. As always, please feel free to let me know what you think about the story in the form of a review. I do actually enjoy discussing the story with people, so I've been trying to get into the habit of responding to each review. Im already editing this in response to a flame, lol. Does anyone know how to disable the damn anonymous reviews? Ever since they added the stupid review mod thing I'm having to individually delete the stupid things. Ill actually respond to this one though. I neglect to see, Mr. Anonymous, how a single tender moment between two friends, without a single mention of the word love or even date, in 18 chapters qualifys this story as a bunch of school romance emo fluff as you put it. But if you have such a problem with even the possibllity or foreshadowing of romance, then i suggest you not read stories clearly marked with a pairing and as romance. Next time try signing in before spouting off nonsensical trash talk; it's the grown up thing to do. Also, this chapter was not proofread nearly as much as I prefer before posting, so any mistakes please let me know so I can correct them.