Disclaimer: I own nothing; it all belongs to J.K.Rowling. I'm just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Harry tossed and turned fitfully within the darkness of his enclosed four-poster bed. He and Ron had talked briefly after he'd returned from speaking with Professor McGonagall, but after awhile, Harry couldn't bear to discuss the evening's events any longer so he'd retreated to the confines of his bed. He'd heard the bedsprings creaking on Ron's bed for awhile as Ron settled down, but now the steady drone of Ron's snores filled the room. Harry felt like it was one of the only constants he had left in his life.
He'd lain there and listened to the silence for a long time, noting the absence of Fawkes's song and hoping against hope that the phoenix would somehow start singing again. He'd managed to convince himself that if Fawkes would only sing, that everything would be all right and this whole night would be nothing more than a horrible dream.
But he wasn't really naive enough to believe that anymore.
He wondered where Fawkes could have gone. Did a phoenix just fly free after his familiars passed, waiting until he found another to bond with, or did he have only one human companion? Maybe that was how a phoenix finally died for real without rising again -- he died of a broken heart after losing his companion. Professor Dumbledore had said that love was the greatest power; maybe losing the love from Professor Dumbledore would make Fawkes finally cease to live.
Turning on his side to fluff his pillow futilely, he sighed and clenched his eyes tightly, trying to force sleep to come. He needed an escape from his tortured thoughts, but sleep remained elusive. He could hear the muffled sounds from the common room below and knew others were still awake and trying to make sense of it all.
Harry knew there was no sense to be found. He didn't want company, but he didn't want to be alone with his thoughts, either. He didn't know what he wanted and wished he could just find sleep. It would be so blissful to escape if his body would only cooperate.
How could he just be gone?
Harry muffled his snort in the pillow. What was he thinking? Of course he could just be gone. A bright flash of green light, and it was just like slipping through a Veil... How many times did he have to go through this before he could simply accept what was?
Harry's breathing became fast and erratic as he tried to slow the images that kept flashing in his mind. Small, brief moments in time, snatches of conversations, memories that he'd thought he'd long forgotten kept playing like a reel in his mind. He didn't want these memories. He didn't want to feel the tightness in his chest or the sensation that all the air was being compressed from his lungs -- he wanted that numbness to return.
For a while in the hospital wing, everything had seemed so surreal and faraway, as if it had been happening to someone else. He was able to talk about what had happened in a relatively calm voice. He'd felt detached...numb. He wanted that feeling back, not this desperate, cloying panic that was threatening to overwhelm him.
Harry froze as he heard the dormitory door creak open, his eyes staring wildly although he could make out nothing inside the darkness of his enclosed bed.
"Shhh, they've already turned in," Dean's voice whispered from near the door.
"Yeah. Weasley's snores are a dead giveaway," Seamus said without bothering to lower his voice. "They know something, but as usual they aren't sharing."
"Well, Potter's never been good about sharing his own things. It's only everyone else's he considers fair game," Dean grumbled.
Harry felt stung by this comment. What had he ever done to Dean to make him feel that way?
"Lay off it, Dean," Seamus replied, sounding irritated, as if he'd heard this argument many times. "Now isn't the time. Besides, you and Ginny had already broken up before they got together."
"We were just on a break," Dean mumbled.
"Come off it," Seamus said, groaning. "If she hadn't started dating Harry, you would have moved on and been long over it by now."
"What is wrong with you two?" a third voice hissed angrily from the doorway. It sounded like Colin Creevey. "They're saying that Professor Dumbledore is dead, and you're bickering over who's dating who."
"Go back to your own dorm, twerp" Seamus replied, disgruntled, and Harry heard the door slam shut. "It's not like they've told us anything. They just lock us up and let the rumors fly until they're ready to fill us in, and only Potter and his circle ever know what's really going on. Where is Neville, anyway?"
"I don't know. He disappeared after those old DA coins activated. What was that all about, anyway? The DA disbanded last year," said Dean.
It was all Harry could do not to fly out of bed and give his roommates a well-deserved telling off. He welcomed the anger, because it drowned out his grief and gave him something else upon which to focus. How dare Dean talk about Ginny as if she were a possession? When he'd kissed Ginny, it was after she and Dean had broken it off, and Hermione had said they were rocky for ages before that. And how dare they fault him for knowing what was really going on when he'd give anything not to know?
Harry clenched his eyes again and tried to control his breathing. Everyone was on edge and wound tight tonight. From the sounds of it, he wasn't the only one spoiling for a fight. They all needed a way to relieve the tension that permeated the walls of the castle. He could ignore Seamus and Dean's pettiness. Hell, he'd spent an entire lifetime before coming to Hogwarts learning not to let petty barbs and jabs get to him.
As his mind drifted back to Privet Drive, he recalled the looks on his aunt and uncle's faces as the glasses Professor Dumbledore had conjured repeatedly struck them in the head while they refused to drink the contents. Professor Dumbledore had scolded them for the way they'd always treated Harry.
He'd actually stood up for him to the Dursleys. Harry had waited so long when he was small for someone to do that.
Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia would sooner be scalded with burning water than touch whatever those magically conjured glasses held. Harry wondered if he'd return to Privet Drive to find all the cups in the house secured with small strings to the tabletops.
He tried to suppress a snort of laughter that sounded more like a strangled sob.
Professor Dumbledore had stood up for him, and one of Harry's last memories of him was forcing him to drink that horrible potion. He'd made him drink it, and Professor Dumbledore had begged him to stop.
He'd begged Snape, too.
Harry had to bite his lip to keep from crying out. He was not going to cry. He didn't want to think about this anymore right now. Harry felt as if the curtains on his bed were closing in and crushing him.
What had been in that liquid? What had he done? But he'd promised! Professor Dumbledore made him promise to keep going, to keep making him drink it, no matter what happened. Did that really matter in the end? Was that the last thing the headmaster had remembered about Harry?
Harry needed to escape from this room. The confines of his four-poster felt more like a prison than a sanctuary right now. He strained his ears into the silence of the room, wanting to be certain the others were asleep before he could flee to the common room.
He wanted to sit by the warmth of the fire. He didn't know why it was suddenly so cold on this June night, but his entire body was trembling, and he couldn't seem to stop it. All was quiet downstairs; the other members of Gryffindor house must have finally moved their conversations and speculations to the confines of the dormitories at this late hour. Harry didn't know how any of them could really be sleeping.
He wanted to scream and rage at the world. Even if he could face Voldemort right here and now, he didn't think it would be enough to satisfy his fury. He wanted to kill him...and Snape, too.
He also wanted to cower and hide like a frightened child. He'd always imagined that Professor Dumbledore would be right alongside him at the end, and the idea of having to go on alone made him feel quite small and vulnerable.
His emotions raged within him, battling each other and leaving him desperate and confused.
Professor Dumbledore was dead. He was never coming back, and Hogwarts could never be the haven it once was.
Harry silently slipped out of bed, grabbed his dressing gown and tiptoed out of the room as quickly as possible. He needed to get out of here. He wished he had his Invisibility Cloak, but he assumed it was still crumpled in a heap on top of the Astronomy tower, and he couldn't bear to go up there right now.
He wrapped the dressing gown around him like a shield and dashed down the stairs into the common room, panting heavily. He'd changed into his pajamas earlier while desperately hoping that sleep would come, but now wished he hadn't. He was cold and couldn't stop his teeth from chattering.
He sat on lumpy chair in front of the fire and drew his knees up to his chest. Turning his head to the side, he rested his cheek on one knee and stared forlornly into the flames of the still-blazing fire. The warmth wouldn't penetrate his frozen exterior, and his trembling continued.
Unbidden, images of Dumbledore falling head over heels from the Astronomy tower kept running through his mind. He shook his head, trying to clear it, but the images remained. They weren't real memories; he'd been on the other side of the parapet, and the wall had blocked his view.
His subconscious didn't appear to care, as the vision played relentlessly in Harry's mind.
His chest burned, and he couldn't breathe because all the air in his lungs had constricted painfully. Finally, unable to hold the air any longer, he let it out with a shuddering gasp.
A slight noise from the girls' staircase startled him, and he froze in his spot. He didn't want anyone to see him this way, so close to losing control. He fervently hoped it wouldn't be Hermione as he didn't think he could bear to answer any of her questions right now. Taking a deep, ragged breath, he bit his lip. She deserved the full story, just not right now.
He was not going to cry.
He heard a slight keening wail echoing in the silent room but didn't even recognize the sound as coming from himself, as he continued to stare at the girls' stairway, willing whoever it was to go away. Who was he kidding? There was one person he really wanted it to be.
He needed her.
He'd give almost anything to have her come down those stairs and sit with him right now. He wasn't certain how or just when it was that she'd become so important, but she had. She was a bright spot in all the darkness that constantly surrounded his life -- his anchor in rough seas -- and he needed her. He shook his head, trying to force the unpleasant thought that kept preying on his mind to dissipate. He didn't want to think about that right now. He knew what he had to do, but it was too hard to face it in the cold dark emptiness that he felt from Dumbledore's loss.
A brief flash of movement caught his eye, and he looked up to see her standing there. He'd needed her, and she'd come. A tiny flicker of warmth ignited in his belly despite the emptiness and loss that was filling his soul. It would be so hard to lose her, too.
He averted his eyes quickly and steadfastly avoided making eye contact, since he just couldn't bear to discuss what was on his mind. He was afraid she'd see it before he could even face it. He began pulling at a stray thread on the arm of his chair.
She moved from the stairway towards him and perched on the opposite arm of his chair, silently putting her arms around him. His chest constricted, and he had to bite his lower lip to stop it from trembling.
He was not going to cry in front of her.
"Harry," she whispered.
"Hi, Ginny," he replied, hating how raspy his voice sounded.
"I couldn't sleep, either," she said, and he turned his head quickly to look at her for the first time. Her eyes were red-rimmed -- she was having a hard time, too.
He raised his arm and let her snuggle against his side. Wrapping his arm around her, he was amazed at how comforting her mere presence was against his side. She was warm and alive and such a direct contrast to everything else he'd experienced that night. He hugged her tightly for a moment, breathing in that sweet, flowery scent he always now associated with her
"I can't believe he's gone," he whispered.
"I know," Ginny said, absently tracing small circles on his chest with her fingertip. Her voice sounded so sad that it made Harry's throat ache.
He snuggled deeper into the chair with her. "I tried to sleep, but my mind won't stop racing. I keep going over everything that happened tonight and trying to work out if I could have done anything differently."
"It wasn't your fault, Harry. None of this is your fault."
"My head is even imagining the parts that I didn't see."
"You're overloaded and in shock. You need to sleep, Harry. It probably won't be better in the morning, but it'll be clearer," Ginny said. "I know how you feel, though. The entire battle seems like it was something that happened to somebody else, not to me. It's like I was only watching it, not actually there."
"Yes!" Harry exclaimed, so glad to have her put into words exactly what he was feeling. "I keep running over that scene on the Astronomy tower when Malfoy arrived."
"It must have been terribly frightening."
"It happened so fast. I didn't even know what was happening at first. Professor Dumbledore immobilized me. I couldn't move -- I couldn't help. If he hadn't done that I might have been able to stun Malfoy, and we could have got out of there before the others arrived or...something," Harry said, shrugging helplessly. The weight on his chest was nearly unbearable.
"You don't know that, Harry. He wanted to protect you; he didn't want you to be hurt," Ginny said, her voice muffled in his pajamas.
"Well, I don't want to be protected," Harry said fiercely, a self-righteous rage burning within his heart. "I'm so sick of people trying to protect me when they just end up leaving me al..." Harry broke off with a sharp gasp. He struggled to control the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him.
He was not going to cry in front of her.
"You'll never be alone, Harry," Ginny said, sniffling a little and causing Harry to start. He pulled back slightly to try to see her face, but she wouldn't lift it from where she'd buried it beside his shoulder. Was Ginny crying?
"Ginny," he said tentatively. He gently brushed a strand of hair from her face and ran his hand down the length of it. It was so soft, he felt as if he were stroking a feather.
She didn't answer him but sniffled instead.
A fierce protectiveness swelled within Harry's heart. No matter how badly his own heart was aching for the loss of his beloved headmaster, he didn't want Ginny to be feeling that kind of pain. He'd do anything to protect her from that. He never wanted Ginny to suffer again, and the monster in his chest snarled in fury that she was hurting now. Her smile could light a room for him, and, in turn, her tears were enough to shroud the sun.
"Shh, Ginny," he whispered, pulling her slight body closer to his own and wrapping his other arm around her. "Don't cry. It'll be all right."
"I'm sorry, Harry," she sniffled. "I don't mean to cry. I know you don't like that-"
"No," he said, interrupting her. "Don't be silly, Ginny. You have every right to be upset. I just wish I could make it better for you. I wish I could make certain that no part of this war ever touched you again."
"You're sweet, Harry, but none of us are safe from this. I'm usually made of stronger stuff, but I was so frightened tonight. It happened so fast and was so confusing. I was terrified for you; I didn't know where you were. My whole family was here fighting, and then Bill got hurt...and Professor Dumbledore is gone," she said, her voice breaking on the last word.
Harry pulled her closer and blinked furiously.
"Did you know he came to see me in the hospital wing after everything that had happened in the Chamber? Just stopped by and gave me a Chocolate Frog and reminded me that it wasn't my fault. He didn't have to do that, but he always cared so much," Ginny said, sniffling.
"Yeah...he did. He told the Dursleys off when he picked me up last summer. Did I tell you that? And he made certain Sirius was there with me when I had to tell him about what happened the night of the Third Task." Harry wasn't aware when the big, heavy teardrops had begun to leak from his eyes, but found he no longer cared. He wasn't crying in front of Ginny...he was crying with her. Somehow, sharing the grief was making both of them feel better.
He wasn't certain how long they sat there together, crying softly on each other's shoulders. There was something so warm and comforting about having her presence beside him. He gradually felt the trembling within his body ease as his body relaxed. He knew they should probably go upstairs to their own dorms, but he couldn't bear to let go of this peaceful, blissful feeling yet.
"Feel better?" Ginny asked, her voice scratchy with drowsiness.
"Yeah, I do, actually," he replied. "Thanks, Ginny. I didn't really want to be alone just now."
"Me, either, but I didn't much want to talk, either."
Harry leaned over and kissed her softly on the lips. It was a gentle kiss with all the promises of tomorrow that warmed him from within. He pulled her body closer and stared back into the fire, watching how the flickering of the flames highlighted the lighter strands in Ginny's hair.
He heard her breathing deepen as she sighed with contentment. He snuggled down deeper into the softness of the chair and rested his chin on her head, marveling at how well she fit against him. For the first time that night, the constriction in his chest eased.
The gentle tides of sleep finally washed over him as he held onto Ginny in front of the fire in the common room. He knew things couldn't stay like this. He knew what he had to do, and a plan was slowly forming and taking shape within his mind, but for now...for tonight...he wanted this. Nothing was going to take him from her side.
A/N: Did you get my Friends reference in there? That always cracked me up. In HBP, Harry referred to Ginny as "his greatest source of comfort", which leads me to believe there had to have been some moments like this. I hope you enjoyed it.
Thanks, as always to my wonderful beta, Mistral, who always catches those "sures" that I miss. I'd also like to say thanks to my wonderfully supportive pre-betas, KEDme and Dianne. You three rock!