A/N: Heartfelt thanks and squooshy hugs to magnoliamama for helping me make sense of the primordial goo that was this piece before first beta, and to katieay for the Brit-picking and for coming up with a simple-yet-brilliant solution to a sticky characterization problem. Thanks also to both of you for all of your support during the long, long dry spell. It feels wonderful to be writing again (even if I am a little rusty) and you are the best flister sisters anybody ever had.
Fred, her beloved protector and partner in childish mischief, was gone. Tonks, Remus — gone. A few minutes earlier, Voldemort’s high voice had echoed through the Great Hall, distorted in its evil and bragging that he’d killed Harry Potter. But it all sounded like a bluff, a strategic maneuver designed to demoralize his combatants. Ginny didn’t lend it any credence because it couldn’t be true. Others could and would fall. Fred. God, Fred…
But Harry always survived. Always. Unbidden, a memory surfaced that faded the Dark Wizard’s voice to white noise.
Harry’s face, inches from her own, as he realized what she had decided to offer him on his birthday; the way he’d looked at her, with such a potent combination of raw need and unbridled awe that her knees had gone weak. She kissed him then, pouring every last ounce of her soul into it, as though she could fill him with enough light and strength to defeat all the forces of darkness and still be home for supper.
He kissed her back, his mouth hot and demanding, his strong arms pulling her to him with uncharacteristic abandon. She felt a heady rush of ancient, feminine power when she realized that he was trembling all over, his hands stealing through her hair and sliding sensuously across her hip to the small of her back. Oh, he’d kissed her before, many times and with great enthusiasm, but never like this. So desperate, so searing in its intensity that she’d temporarily lost her bearings. She hadn’t known until that moment that he loved her as deeply as she loved him.
She would never forget the look of utter desolation on his face as reality reasserted itself with Ron’s lunk-headed interruption. It had nearly broken her in half, for it was a look riddled with guilt and sorrow, regret over nearly taking something so precious from her, when he knew all along what he was marked for…
“NO!” Professor McGonagall’s scream ripped through Ginny like a Sectumsempra curse. If Minerva McGonagall could lose her composure like that, it was the world coming to an end.
“No!” Ron’s voice was thick, hoarse with grief and rage.
“No!” Hermione’s voice was high, keening.
Ginny pushed her way through to Ron’s side and saw Hagrid, pale and quivering in the dim light. His face shone with tears, and he held Harry’s limp body to him as though he could never be brought to let him go.
“Harry! HARRY!” Ginny’s throat was raw and stinging from the scream that tore from her involuntarily.
“Harry! HARRY!” she’d screamed, laughing like a loon as he’d chased her around the old tree by the lake and caught her around the waist. They tumbled to the ground, and he laid his head in her lap after she rained playful kisses upon him. They talked about everything that day. Everything except the future, because Harry didn‘t discuss his life in terms of the future…
She couldn’t stop screaming Harry’s name. It was a nightmare from which she couldn’t awaken, and the sight of him dangling lifeless before her eyes kept her suspended in horrifying limbo, until with a loud bang, Voldemort demanded silence.
The dream-like state continued, Voldemort's voice drowned out by the rushing in Ginny’s ears as he strutted back and forth and spewed his lies. Then Neville rushed forward and she thought she had lost him, too, until he grabbed the glittering hilt of that shining sword, and with a single, powerful stroke killed that great, dirty snake.
Harry had killed a snake with that sword too, deep within the Chamber of Secrets, where he’d liberated her from the suffocating presence of Tom Riddle. They had been only children, but he’d nearly died to save her. His green eyes had looked at her with such concern that she’d burst into tears and told him her shocking secret, the words pouring out of her in a torrent. He’d been so kind to her, even though she’d made him clearly uncomfortable…
…just as he’d been uncomfortable with her presence here tonight. When she’d climbed through to the Room of Requirement, he’d gazed at her as though he wasn’t sure if he should kiss her senseless or shake her senseless. He’d settled for barking terse orders, all the while drinking in the sight of her as though he’d never be able to get his fill. He’d been so worried about her safety, and now he was…
All hell broke loose as the snake's body hit the ground. Ginny felt herself propelled back into the Great Hall by the tide of the newly-joined battle. Hermione had grabbed her elbow and whirled her around to face Bellatrix Lestrange, who was screeching with fury. Suddenly, Ginny was filled with uncontrolled rage, terrifying and powerful, and knew that she could and would curse to kill. Her face felt hot and tight with dried tears, burned away in the heat of her anger, and she wondered vaguely if she would ever be able to cry again.
With dark satisfaction, she gave in to her anger and stood shoulder-to-shoulder, wands drawn, with Hermione and Luna. Together, they took aim at that hag Lestrange. Lestrange, who had gleefully killed Tonks. Hermione looked desperate, as though she might be skating the edge of panic, but she looked determined as well. Luna looked serene as always, but the tears tracking down her face gave that serenity a resigned, sinister quality. These were her friends, powerful witches, and together, they would avenge their friends and loved ones or die trying. Their warmth on either side of her gave her courage, and with a banshee-like howl, Ginny struck.
Bellatrix raised her wand just in time to block a blindingly bright Bludgeoning Spell, and began to hurl Killing Curses wildly. Driven by something outside herself, Ginny ducked, rolled, and fired curse after curse. She could feel her partners’ collective frustration building with her own as they dueled as hard as they could, but failed to bring Voldemort’s pet fruit bat down. Ginny’s muscles screamed with fatigue, and her spells seemed to be losing potency.
“God, how I hate that filthy whore,” said Ginny to Hermione through gritted teeth.
“Ginny, watch out!” shrieked Hermione.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a jet of green light sizzled passed her left ear, causing it to tingle slightly, and before she could regain her bearings, she heard a thunderous shout.
“NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!”
She knew that voice far too well, and knew on a gut level that Bellatrix Lestrange did not have long to live.
“OUT OF MY WAY!” Mum shouldered her way past the girls and began to duel with the power and fury of a warrior goddess. Ginny, filled with an unreasoning terror, instinctively moved forward to help.
“No! Get back! Get back! She is mine!” For a split second, Mum’s eyes met Ginny's. She appeared to be soaking up the sight of her daughter with a blazing look that filled Ginny’s heart with a mad rush of mingled love, pride and fear. Could Mum do it?
Her mother had told her once, as they’d discussed Ginny’s fifth year career advice over a basket of socks to be sorted, that she herself had considered becoming an Auror, then chuckled at Ginny’s gobsmacked stare.
“I did have a life before you kids, you know!” Her eyes sparkled as she laughed her full, rich laugh, while Ginny continued to stare at her, mouth open. “Didn’t I ever tell you that I was the Hogwarts dueling champion in both my sixth and seventh years?” She gently closed Ginny’s mouth with a soft click, and patted her saucily on the cheek. “My brothers Fabian and Gideon were already very fine Aurors, and they taught me everything they knew.” Mum looked suddenly wistful. “I still miss them. They were so brave, and so much fun. You would have liked them, Ginny, especially your Uncle Fabian. He helped me prepare for the entrance exams.”
“Mum, why the hell did you give all that up?”
“Oh, I did what a lot of girls do at that age, and fell in love. I knew that if I went to the Academy I’d have missed your father so dreadfully. Times were desperate then, and when he asked me to run away with him and get married, there didn’t seem to be much point in waiting. I always thought there would be time later, you see. Plenty of married people were in the training program, but then Billy came along, and I couldn’t bring myself to leave him with someone else.” Mum unconsciously caressed one of Dad’s woolen socks. “Daddy felt very badly about it for me, but I’ve told him many times that I wouldn’t even want to be the Head Auror if it meant living a life without him or any of you kids. I’ve often felt guilty myself, because we would certainly be in better financial shape if I was out there drawing an Auror’s wages, but who’s to say I would have survived to raise all of you. After all, if my brothers…”
She broke off absently, looking very far away, and Ginny knew that she was thinking of things well beyond Ginny’s knowledge and experience. Mum came back to herself with a brusque little gesture and a small smile. “Well, let’s just say that I like being your mum better than running around casting curses and kicking my knickers up all the time. It was my choice, and Daddy understands that. Besides, Dora keeps me filled in, and I don't think I have the right temper for the politics these days.” Ginny had rolled her eyes in agreement, and Molly chuckled softly, then sobered.
“The point is, and listen to me carefully, Ginevra Weasley—that you can be anything you want to be. Don’t let anyone tell you what your place is, even me.” Mum smiled ruefully and shook her head with a little “huh” sound. “Especially me.” She put down the sock and took Ginny’s hand in her own work-roughened one. “I know you’re in love, Ginny.” She placed a finger gently at Ginny’s lips as she began to protest. “I also know that you’ll be smart about it, and so will Harry. Be sure that whatever you do, that it makes you happy. Always be our Ginny, and your heart will tell you which road to take. If he‘s a good man and he really loves you too, he will support you, whatever you choose. Mum’s face was set in now familiar stern lines. “You're both very young right now, and staying safe comes first.” Her expression softened again. “But time will tell. Just be patient, love.”
Ginny had impulsively hugged her mother, loving her deeply, but secretly chafing at the whole safety thing, and wondering a little sadly if Mum wasn’t a prime example of wisdom and talent gone to waste. Now she watched in horrified fascination as Molly, in a sort of surreal melodrama, dueled to the death with Bellatrix Lestrange. Skills or not, Mum was in way over her head, wasn't she?
“What will happen to your children when I’ve killed you? When Mummy’s gone the same way as Freddie?” sneered Bellatrix, as she bobbed and weaved, taunting Mum unmercifully.
The temperature in the room seemed to spike, and Ginny felt the hair at the nape of her neck stand up as her mother’s face drained of color and her normally warm, brown eyes darkened with dangerous fury. She stood stock still, and the air around her seemed to crackle with fiery energy.
“You —will —never —touch —our —children —again!” she screamed.
Bellatrix pointed her wand mockingly, as though to say, “Would you get a load of this?” and threw back her head to laugh.
Mum moved so quickly, that her arm was a blur and her wand gave a low whistle, as she seemed to gather all of her grief for Remus, Tonks, Harry, and especially Fred into the deadly spell. It soared beneath Bellatrix’s arm, still raised in sarcastic salute, and hit her squarely in the chest. For an endless moment, Bellatrix hung in suspended animation, the smirk frozen on her face. Her eyes widened in surprise, then emptied of life as she slowly arced toward the floor.
Events sped up again. Voldemort was screaming, and the crowd cheered wildly until a great explosion rocked the Hall. Ginny felt all of the air sucked from her lungs as Voldemort, in a towering fury, turned his demonic face toward her brave, mad, remarkable mum, then brought up his wand.
For one nauseating moment, Ginny thought she might faint. There was no sound in her world, save the wild thumping of her heart, as the Shield Charm blossomed over her mother, and the air at its edge shimmered to reveal...
….and looking every inch the hero.
Gasps, screams and cheers exploded on all sides, but Ginny, who was rooted to the spot, couldn’t speak. If she spoke, if she cried out his name, the dream might end. Harry would disappear again, taking with him any hope of living a future of her choosing.
As Harry and Voldemort began to circle one another, Ginny felt a crazy elation sweep through her, followed closely by white-hot anger at Harry. The phony arsehole! How could he do that to all of them? To her? Her, who he’d cast aside “for her own safety” like a used Droobles wrapper, just so he could ignore his own advice and get himself killed. Well, if not killed, then convincingly dead-looking. If they survived this whole mess, she thought wildly, she’d hex him into the Middle Ages, where he could present Godric Gryffindor himself with that ruby sword, shoved squarely up his…
All thoughts were wiped away as fear, sharp and metallic, choked her, making it difficult to breathe or swallow. Harry was actually taunting Voldemort, with the air of a man who had nothing left to lose.
“So it all comes down to this, doesn’t it?” whispered Harry.
At that moment dawn broke, and the enchanted ceiling burst into shades of red and gold, the colors of Gryffindor bravery, as Harry, her hero and would-be lover, looked his lifelong enemy in the eye. When the end came, it happened with mind-numbing speed. The Great Hall echoed and thrummed with the power of the blast. The spells collided with the brilliance of a supernova, then time stood still as Voldemort’s wand sailed upward, then fell, spinning end over end, into Harry’s outstretched hand. He looked at it in stunned disbelief, then at Voldemort, who had toppled unceremoniously backward and lay dead, splayed out and undignified.
Shock and awe rendered the room silent, broken of course, by Ron, who bellowed, “Harry, you crazy bastard, you DID IT!”
Chaos broke out, as everyone closed in on Harry. Ron and Hermione got there first, and the three best friends clung to each other with all of the love that seven years of inseparable comradeship could hold. Ron, his eyes filled with tears, watched Ginny approach on legs she could not feel. With great tenderness, he kissed her cheek, then moved aside so that Harry could see her. Harry’s eyes locked with hers, and unconscious of what he was doing, she was sure, he lifted her into his arms and crushed his lips to hers. Her hands moved through his hair, and as the kiss broke, she took his face in her hands.
“I love you, Harry Potter,” she whispered fiercely.
He looked dazed, and before he could reply, he was swept away by Neville and Luna, then everyone else. Ginny suddenly felt her legs again, and moved off to find a seat before they gave way altogether. She tore her gaze from Harry and caught sight of her dad, overseeing the removal of Voldemort and his followers bodies from what had now become hallowed ground. He looked like an old man as he knelt momentarily by Remus, laid his hand on his friend’s heart and bowed his head in an attitude of deep thought or prayer. He caressed Tonks’ cold, alabaster cheek, then stood up and grabbed Dolohov’s feet. His face was a study in cold fury as he motioned for Neville to help him drag the Death Eater’s body into the anteroom off the Hall.
Her gaze shifted, and she saw her mother, sitting on a bench with her back to the table as her eyes followed her husband. There was something unspeakably sad in the slope of her shoulders. Her face was pale and drawn, and Ginny noted inanely that she was still wearing her apron as she stared into the space Dad had just left. A small house-elf, wearing a smart little suit that was torn and dirtied, approached her and kindly offered her a cup of tea. Mum closed her eyes as she brought the cup to her lips and took a grateful sip. She placed the cup absently back into its saucer and let the rest of it sit there in her lap, untouched.
Ginny rose and went to her, tears prickling at the back of her eyes. Funny how just a little while ago, she had thought she would never be able to weep again. She knelt in front of her mother and covered the hands that held the teacup with her own.
Mum started a bit and looked down at Ginny, her eyes shining with sudden tears.
“Oh, Ginny, my darling girl!” She set the teacup aside and opened her arms. Ginny laid her head on the warmth and softness of her mother’s breast, feeling safe again for the first time in months, as Mum stroked her hair and rocked her to and fro like a small child. Eventually, the pounding of her heart slowed and she slid up to sit at her mother’s side.
“Mum, I was so proud of you!”
“Yes —well,” said Mum, in a rather sheepish voice. “I quite lost my temper, didn’t I?”
Ginny snickered and said saucily, “That would be the understatement of the year. Remind me not to get on your bad side.”
“Speaking of getting on my bad side,” Mum cocked her head to the side and studied her daughter shrewdly. “I thought I told you to stay out of the battle, young lady. And there you were, taking on that…that…”
“I believe the word was ‘bitch,’ Mum.”
Mum stared at her for a blank second or two, then snorted and began to laugh. Ginny joined her, and when they’d quieted, she laid her head on her mother’s shoulder. Her gaze tracked pointedly to Harry, inviting her mother to follow.
“Can you understand, Mum, why I had to be here?”
Mum watched with her as Harry spoke quietly with Professor McGonagall, who seemed to address him with unconscious respect. When the conversation concluded, he gathered her into his arms and whispered something in her ear. Two spots of red adorned her high cheekbones, and she turned away from him, blowing her nose into a large, tartan handkerchief. An Auror hurried up to him bringing a dispatch, and Harry nodded his acknowledgement, even as he turned to receive a congratulatory clap on the shoulder from Seamus Finnigan. It was readily apparent that Harry had shouldered the mantle of leadership, and wore it well.
“My goodness, he looks every bit the hero, doesn’t he?” Mum said, echoing Ginny’s earlier thoughts, then heaved a little sigh. “To me, he’ll always be that skinny little waif we met at the train all those years ago.”
Ginny took her mother’s hand in hers, and lifted her head to look her in the eye, woman to woman. “Well, Mum, he’s always looked just like that to me,” and she nodded toward Harry, who stood tall, strong and handsome in the bright, sunlit center of the hall, despite his obvious fatigue.
Her eyes locked again with Ginny's in a long, searching look, then she smiled just a little sadly. “Yes, Ginny. I understand. Just remember what I said about choosing your own future. If he loves you, he’ll give you room to grow. You already seem to understand that about him, and he owes you the same, love. There’s time. Things will be better now. Yes. Better….” Mum’s voice trailed off, sounding as though she’d tried and failed to justify the cost of “better.” Ginny laid her head back on her mother’s shoulder.
They sat wearily, numbly, and watched as Harry moved through the crowd with the confidence of a born leader. Gone was the shy, awkward young teen, replaced by a man of extraordinary kindness and compassion. He seated himself, taking in the scene around him as though carefully cataloging the memory. Then his glance fell upon her and Mum. The shadow of a beard crept along his jaw, and his face was white with grief and fatigue, but Ginny stayed where she was, oddly reticent to go to him. She’d always known when to give him space, and she could see that every fiber in his being was crying out for seclusion and quietude. He loved her, she knew that now. He would seek her out when he was ready. There would be plenty of time to talk about it all, punctuated by soft kisses and tender looks. Soon she would make good on all the promise that birthday kiss had held. But right now Mum needed her more, and she was sure he understood that.
Luna, bless her, sat down next to him and said a few quiet words that made him smile faintly. Suddenly, she called out in a loud voice and pointed toward the ceiling in an obvious effort to distract onlookers. The air around Harry shimmered as he disappeared from view, and Ginny wondered distractedly if his miraculous appearance in the midst of the battle had been a dream.
No. It was real. Just as real as her mother’s work-roughened hand in her own. As real as the dazzling brightness of the late morning sun that bathed the Great Hall, while the sounds of the crowd pressed in upon her.
Despite her exhaustion, her body felt suddenly light as it pulsed with something indefinable that could only be described as life. She was alive, grown to womanhood literally overnight, and in love with an extraordinary man who'd had her heart from the time she was ten years old. Ginny took a deep breath, and savored the sweet taste of freedom as myriad possible futures spun out before her like gossamer threads, shining with possibility. Uncharacteristically heeding Mum’s advice, she gathered them to her and examined each of them, particularly the ones that featured Harry. Then, with joy tempered by sorrow, and surrounded by the rubble of her girlhood, she began weaving them through to the center of her heart like a Chaser speeds a Quaffle to the hoops.