The red-and-gold banners had been knocked from the walls during the battle, and the windows blown out. What looked to be a thousand years’ worth of soot had spilled from the hearth onto the floor and rugs.
Even so, as Ron and Hermione led him, exhausted, drained, through the portrait hole, Harry felt more at home than he had done in more than a year. Than he had done in his whole life.
The sight of Ginny sitting in the otherwise empty common room, very small and quiet at the foot of the stairs leading up to the boys’ dormitories, made him feel all the more at home, even as it filled him with a sense of fluttering fear and anticipation that he wouldn’t have thought he had the energy for. The vanquisher of Voldemort, the master of the Elder Wand, nervous to speak to his girlfriend?
“Luna told me she helped you leave. Thought you might sneak up here,” she said, and Harry could see a long, jagged cut running along her cheek that looked to have been hastily healed. He wanted to run over to her and touch her, to kiss her, to make sure that she was okay, that she was real…
“We were dog tired, Ginny,” said Ron, a yawn confirming his statement. “Definitely ready for a kip. I mean, since we last slept, we broke into Gringotts, flew out on a dragon, destroyed a bunch of powerful artifacts, fought, ran, fought again, helped defeat a bunch of Death Eaters… Oh, and Harry here apparently got killed and came back again. Brings new meaning to the words dead tired.”
“Ron!” squawked Hermione, swatting him with her hand.
“Guys?” Harry said, his eyes never leaving the bright brown ones on the other side of the room.
“What?” his friends asked, derailed momentarily.
“Remember what you said before we went into the Room of Requirement about… Now or never?”
Ron scowled, clearly trying to bring up the memory through the awful fog of the last night and the giddy morning.
“Ron,” said Hermione, far more coquettishly than Harry had ever seen her behave, “did you know that there’s a way for you to come up the stairs to the girls’ rooms without setting off the alarms? There are some tapestries up in the fourth-year dormitories that I would love to show you—” Executing an intricate series of passes with her wand, she dragged a bewildered Ron up the stairs opposite Ginny.
She did not run to him this time. Her look was not blazing, but more like a fire that’s been banked, the embers barely showing, but the heat there nonetheless. She sat and waited, as he’d asked her to do nearly a year before.
“Ginny,” Harry said, walking toward her. He couldn’t say much more.
“Harry,” she answered, and raised her chin, challenging.
He sat beside her, and longed to finish the kiss that she had begun what felt like a lifetime ago in her room on his birthday—the best birthday present he had ever received, and he’d never even got the whole thing…
But there were words that had to be spoken first.
They sat there silently for a long moment or ten, and just as Harry felt what little bit of courage was left to him finally rising, she opened her mouth. Gently, he laid a finger over her lips.
“I want to hear what you have to say. All of it. I’ve wanted to talk to you…. To hear what’s been happening to you, everything. What’s happened. How you… How you are. How you feel.” Her eyes narrowed slightly, but she nodded. Harry removed his finger from her chapped, warm mouth, though it was probably the last thing that he wanted to do. “But there are some things I need to tell you too, that I should have told you a long time ago, and maybe you knew, but I’ve needed to say them anyway.”
She sat back, leaning against the wall, threading her fingers together at the front of her shins.
He took in a deep breath and let it out. “You’re… a lot smarter than me. You probably know most of this stuff, but it’s taken me nearly a year of wandering around with people trying to kill me, to realize what I really care about. And it’s you.”
She blinked, but didn’t speak.
“Tonight—last night, going off into the woods, I knew I was going to die. I meant to die—to let him kill me.”
“Harry?” Ginny’s eyes, tired and tear-streaked, flew wide. She put her hand to her own mouth. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s…” Again, he almost kissed her. But no, not yet. “I walked out there to where he was, thinking about dying and… There was a ring. A stone. The…” He wasn’t sure that he should tell her about the Hallows—they seemed so silly in the light of day, and his decision to bury them forever seemed almost as silly.
“The Resurrection Stone?” she prompted. When he couldn’t speak, she said, “Like in The Tale of the Three Brothers?”
Slowly he nodded. “How did you know?”
“Because Tom talked about his wand being the Elder Wand. And there’s your Cloak. And so when you said there was a stone—”
“So… You’re the master of the Elder Wand?” Ginny said, her face neutral but her eyes constricted in concern.
“I’m burying it. With Dumbledore again. That’s where it belongs, and it’s meant nothing but misery to anyone who’s held it.”
Ginny nodded gravely. “And the Stone?”
“Hidden away again forever.”
“Good,” Ginny said with a certainty that reminded him why— “I’m sorry. I interrupted. You were walking into the woods?”
He nodded. “Yeah. And I was getting ready. I put on the Ring and… Spirits came to me.” When her eyes widened in alarm once again, he added, “It was okay, I didn’t want them back, I just wanted… I needed some, you know, company. From someone who couldn’t die.”
She smiled grimly and nodded. “I bet it was your parents.”
“Yeah,” he answered, knowing his answering grin was as battle-worn as hers. “And Sirius and Remus. And they helped, a lot. And when I got there, I was ready. I let him.”
For a moment her face melted, became the frightened face of the little girl he had found down in the Chamber of Secrets. Without thinking, he pulled her against him; her arms wrapped themselves around his chest. Into her hair he whispered, “When that flash of green light was headed at me, do you know what I was thinking about?”
She shook her head beneath his chin.
“Your face. Coming at me across this room. The first time we kissed.”
She gave an explosive exhalation that felt like a laugh, but didn’t sound like one.
“So…” he murmured, struggling to say what else needed to be said when she was here, in his arms. She sat back and stared at him. “That. And… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry about Fred, and sorry about Colin, I know he was your friend, and I’m so, so sorry about pushing you away for a whole year and I—”
Now it was her turn to stop his mouth with a gentle finger. Uncertain, he pursed his lips against it and nodded. Her voice husky, she said, “I’m not. Oh, I mean, Fred dying is just awful, and poor Colin. But Harry, they only did what you did. What we all did. They fought because it needed to be done. And it’s horrible, but it could have been so much worse, and that’s all that I can think just now.”
He nodded and the finger stayed in place, warm and dry.
“And I’m not sorry that we stayed apart this last year.”
Suddenly Harry’s stomach felt thick and cold and heavy. She’s found someone else. She’s finally moved on. I waited too—
“With the Trace on my wand, if I’d tried to go with you and Ron and Hermione, I’d have been totally useless, or worse. I stayed here where I could actually do magic, and where I knew I wasn’t just going to make you worry, and Luna and Neville and I started the DA back up, and that was so good, because without you three here, we had to do all of it ourselves. We kept the fight going here, so that the Carrows and Snape couldn’t just walk over everyone. I’ve spent my whole life fighting against being the baby, being taken care of, and it was great having to actually be the one—or one of the ones—in charge. Doing things. Taking responsibility. So even though I missed you every day, and thought and dreamt…” She pinkened slightly and smiled. “Well, I told you I never gave up on you, Harry, and it’s still true.” She lowered her hand, but her warmth still seemed to flow through him. “And what I learned is that I really can take care of myself. So here’s the bargain: you asked this of me, and I did it, and it was the right thing to do. But no more. If you want me, you get me. All of me. No more putting me on the shelf when things get icky. No more hanging out at home while you go off and do things. You still want to be an Auror?”
Harry shrugged. He hadn’t thought about what he was going to do next at all.
“Well, if you join the Aurors, then I join the Aurors. And maybe if we have kids we arrange things—”
It was the kids bit that did it, really. Harry felt as if he’d been hit with some sort of reverse Killing Curse, and possibilities suddenly flooded his mind: babies, a house, a bed, teaching them to fly, taking them to King’s Cross… “Yes,” he said, “yes, I will, yes, please, I never—”
The blazing look was back, and her lips found his and stopped the words but not the incredible feeling: Harry was alive. He and Ginny would have a life. A family. No destiny more pressing than this…
After some time, Ginny backed up just enough to straighten his glasses and smile wickedly into his face. “I’m surprised at you, Harry. I could’ve told you that there’s a time for words, and a time for action.”
Tired and sore, Harry had never felt so good in his life. His whole body was laughing. “Knew there was a reason I loved you so much.”
Suddenly her face seemed to shrink in on itself. “What?”
He grinned. “I said, I knew there was a reason—”
She didn’t need to hear it again. She kissed him hard—they kissed, and they continued to do so for a good, long time.
They finally broke apart when the portrait hole opened, admitting Dean, Luna, Neville and Ernie Macmillan. “There you are,” Luna sighed. “Please don’t let us interrupt you.” On her neck was a bright, lens-shaped bruise that hadn’t been there at the end of the battle.
“Erm,” Dean said, clutching Luna’s hand, “we just wanted to show Luna and Ernie the Tower.”
“Actually, we were particularly interested in visiting the bedrooms,” said Luna, causing Dean to splutter; Ernie, who was standing with a laughing Neville, hid his face in his hands.
“Right up these stairs,” said Harry with a grin, pointing behind him.
“Oh, and Harry,” Ginny said, pulling him to his feet, “there are some lovely tapestries in the sixth-year dormitories. Want to see them?” Her smile was all sweetness and innocence, but her eyes were not. After waving to his friends, it was those eyes that enticed him up to the girls’ dormitories and to the life that she offered.