Ginny Weasley stood beside Fred's body, her mind numb with shock. Tears coursed down her cheeks unchecked, unnoticed. She'd wrapped her arms around her middle, and she hugged herself unconsciously as she rocked back and forth. She was only dimly aware of the presence of others around her.
She knew Tonks was lying next to Fred, just behind her mother and father, and Remus lay on the other side of Tonks. It seemed only moments ago that she'd been side-by-side with Tonks, sending spells through the broken-out window. Tonks had run off to find Remus, unable to stay away from the man she loved. Ginny had watched as Harry, Ron and Hermione disappeared into the Room of Requirement together, and thought that she understood only too well how Tonks must feel. She'd had to let Harry go too often, and she didn't know how she was going to get through the rest of this night without seeing him and knowing he was okay.
She felt as if her heart would literally break into pieces. Her brother was dead. Percy had returned to the family when it'd mattered most, but Fred couldn't come back as Percy had. She watched as her dad stroked her mum's hair. Mum would be going spare — her worst fear had been realized. Ginny couldn't even begin to imagine life without Fred, much less imagine George without Fred. Unlike many people outside the family, Ginny knew all too well how truly separate and distinct the twins were, but still — the idea of either without the other was incomprehensible.
A hand settled on her shoulder, and she looked round to see Hermione, much to her surprise. Hermione's face was streaked with dirt, blood and tears, and she was even dirtier and more dishevelled than Ginny was. But none of that mattered as Hermione's arms wound around Ginny, and they clung to each other as they sobbed together. After several moments, Ginny opened her eyes, looking round… Ron was standing by Bill and Fleur now, Percy's arm around his shoulders.
She raised her head from Hermione's shoulder and wiped her eyes with her hands as she looked more deliberately around the Great Hall. She hadn't missed him. He simply wasn't there. "Where's Harry?" she asked quietly, her voice rough from her tears.
Hermione wiped her own face and quickly scanned the room as well. "He was just here, with us—" She gestured towards the doorway to the Hall. Her eyes drifted past the Weasleys. "Oh God," she whispered, covering her mouth with her hand as she looked at Remus and Tonks. She looked around further, her eyes scanning the row of bodies, and the front of the Hall where the wounded were being tended. Ginny saw Hermione sway on her feet and quickly reached out to steady her friend.
"So many…" Hermione whispered. "So much…" She looked around again, her eyes widening even further. "Where did he go?" Hermione's brown eyes met Ginny's. "He wouldn't…" she began, but Ginny nodded, biting her lip to keep herself from screaming at the unfairness of it all.
Because, suddenly, she knew. She knew that he was going to give in to Voldemort's demand. It was the only possible reason for him not to have come to her, not to have come to her whole family. She'd let him go after Dumbledore's funeral because she'd known it was what he'd needed, but she'd known all along what both of their hearts wanted, in spite of the realities they'd both had to face. She had known what he would say then before he'd said it; known why he would say it because she knew him, and knew what he would require of himself. He couldn't sit back and let someone else fight for him; he had to do it for himself, and she would help him by being there for him when he returned, just like she was doing this night. What had mattered most was defeating Voldemort, once and for all, and she'd known that — whatever it was Harry'd been doing, he was doing his damnedest to make sure that happened, because somehow — somehow, it was Harry who was going to have to accomplish that task, no matter what it cost him.
Ginny mentally shook herself and forced her brain to start working again. She might not yet be able to process the death and despair of this night, but there were other things to think about, other duties to be attended to. She scrubbed at her face again, wiping away the tears. There would be time for tears later. Harry was still out there, and that meant that there were things she must do, too. She was letting him do what he had to do, and she would keep doing what she had to do.
She looked back to the doorway of the Great Hall just in time to see Neville helping Seamus carry Lavender Brown towards where Madam Pomfrey was tending to the wounded. "We need to help," she muttered, almost to herself, but Hermione nodded in agreement.
"Yes," Hermione answered as she wiped wearily at her own face. "We need to keep going."
Together, they turned towards the doorway to the Hall. A moment later, Ron joined them, his hands coming to rest on both Hermione's and Ginny's shoulders briefly. She reached an arm around his waist to hug him, and for a moment, the three of them held each other tightly.
"Harry's disappeared," Hermione choked out, her face pressed against Ron's shoulder. His arms tightened around both girls.
"We'll find him again," he said determinedly, but Ginny wasn't sure they would. She just didn't know how to say that aloud and have it make sense outside of her own mind.
They moved through the too-quiet castle towards the gaping front doors. It took only moments to find others who needed help and to be drawn back into the immediate concerns of getting the injured to care and the dead inside the Hall. She saw Neville moving again through the chaos and her heart swelled with pride at how he'd fought so valiantly all year long. Seamus and Dean were close behind him, and they all stalked over the grounds, searching. Ron and Hermione had disappeared from beside her, and she knew they were looking for Harry again. Once this was over, she was going to demand that they all tell her what the bloody hell they'd been doing this past year. She'd let Harry go when he'd needed her to do so, but once Tom Riddle was dead, she was going to reclaim her place in his life if she had to beat him over the head to do it.
Time was meaningless this night, and she had no idea how long she moved through the blackness outside the castle, back and forth towards the light from the Entry Hall, as she helped to locate the wounded and transport them into the castle.
She crouched beside an injured girl who was softly crying for her mother. Ginny murmured reassurances as she knelt next to her and took her hand, trying to offer comfort. She wasn't even sure of the girl's name, but her robes showed that she was a Hufflepuff.
"It's all right," Ginny was saying. "It's okay. We're going to get you inside."
"But I want to go home," whispered the girl. "I don't want to fight anymore!"
"I know," said Ginny, and her voice broke. "It's going to be all right."
She paused, her breath catching in her throat, and looked around instinctively. Harry! she cried mentally. He was nearby, somehow. She knew it. She'd learned to sense his presence so well over the years, and she knew she wasn't imagining his nearness. Her eyes probed the darkness, searching for some further hint… but then, the feeling passed. He was gone. She felt the girl's fingers move against her hand, and she looked back down. "It's all right," she repeated, willing it to be true. She groped in her pocket for her wand and quickly shot off sparks. Oliver Wood appeared out of the darkness within moments, and he scooped the girl into his arms and carried her back towards the castle.
Ginny didn't move from where she knelt on the chilled, damp grass. Harry had passed by here, and he hadn't stopped, hadn't spoken to her. She knew, without a doubt, that he was going to meet Voldemort now. Tom Riddle had demanded Harry's presence, and she knew Harry would go to meet him. She just hoped he had a plan to get himself out of the encounter in one piece. "So help me, Harry Potter," she whispered to herself, "if you let him take you from me, I'll follow you straight to the gates of Hell if I have to, just so I can kick your arse."
She forced herself to her feet and continued through the grounds, trying to keep herself from thinking, from feeling. If she let herself be still, she knew her defences around her emotions would come crashing down, and she couldn't do that yet. Later. There'd be time to deal with it all later.
She moved on, not even attempting to keep track of all the people she saw, only offering comfort and help as best she could.
She was scanning the grounds for more injured when the great doors of the castle opened fully, spilling light even further onto the grounds. "Everyone inside!" Professor McGonagall's voice called. "The hour is up, we need you all in the castle!"
Ginny wiped the perspiration from her forehead with the back of her hand and moved towards the castle doors. Others moved beside her, and someone squeezed her shoulder. She looked up wearily into Neville's determined face. "We'll beat him yet, Ginny. Just hang on," he murmured.
She nodded. "Thanks, Neville," she answered, reaching up to squeeze his hand.
People began to fan out, some wending along the corridors, moving towards positions from which they could again defend the castle.
Ginny saw Ron and Hermione struggling against the flow of the crowd in her direction. She waved to let them know she'd seen them and began moving towards them. She didn't have to ask. She could tell by their expressions that they hadn't found Harry either. "Ginny…" Ron began.
"I know," she said quietly. "He—"
Before she could begin to explain, a scream cut through the air. "NO!!"
An icy fist squeezed her heart. She knew… she knew…
She bolted back towards the front doors. Professor McGonagall stood in front of them, her hand at her throat, and Ginny knew without a doubt that it had been she who'd screamed that horrible sound.
Another sound, just as horrible, reached her ears. The sound of that demented Lestrange woman. She'd never forgotten the sound of Bellatrix's laughter at the Ministry the night Sirius died, and the sound only made her blood colder.
She heard Ron's and Hermione's voices, and felt her own scream tear through her throat, but she didn't even know which of them had said what. Her heart had indeed stopped, because there was no way she could bear the sight that met her eyes.
Hagrid was holding Harry, and tears coursed down the half-giant's battered face into his beard. Harry was so still… there was blood on his face, and his robes were even more tattered than when she'd last seen him, outside the Room of Requirement, so very long ago now.
"SILENCE!" cried Voldemort, and there was a bang and a flash of bright light, and silence was forced upon them all. "It is over! Set him down, Hagrid, at my feet, where he belongs!"
Ginny swayed on her feet, and felt strong hands on her shoulders. Ron. It had to be Ron. No, no, no, no, no…Harry can't be dead, he can't be gone… Tom can't have won. He isn't. He won't. Harry — don't be dead — please don't be dead… Harry, please wake up… Nothing else mattered but that Harry was somehow alive, in spite of what she was seeing. Surely this was some ruse of Voldemort's… surely this wasn't truly happening…
"You see?" said Voldemort, as he strode backwards and forwards right beside the place where Harry lay. "Harry Potter is dead! Do you understand now, deluded ones? He was nothing, ever, but a boy who relied on others to sacrifice themselves for him!"
"He beat you!" Ron bellowed, and the cries of all those in the castle added to his voice.
"He was killed while trying to sneak out of the castle grounds," said Voldemort, and there was relish in his voice as he spoke, "killed while trying to save himself—"
There was suddenly a yell, a flash of light… Ginny looked around wildly, trying to see what was happening. She saw Neville, Disarmed, now lying near Harry, but already struggling to his feet. Oh, Neville… you brave, wonderful boy! she thought through her panic, suddenly realizing that she had her wand in her hand. She glanced around her rapidly. Wands were out all around her, and the looks on the faces of the Hogwarts' survivors showed that none had given up hope or determination. She looked along the ranks of the Death Eaters as she listened to Voldemort inquiring about Neville being a pureblood; the Lestrange woman's voice again, chiming in about who Neville was; Voldemort taunting Neville about how he would be a valuable addition to the ranks of his Dark followers. She wished she could tell Voldemort just how idiotic a thing that was to say: she knew Neville, knew he'd die a thousand deaths before he even considered the possibility. She heard Neville's voice as she looked at the ranks before her — her senses automatically identifying those who might be most easily hit by spell-fire: those who seemed to be slightly less attentive, ones who seemed to move more slowly. She'd learned so much this past year, and she knew all too well how to size up opponents.
As Voldemort placed the Sorting Hat on Neville's head, she glanced around her again, rapidly scanning the assembled survivors. She located most of her family and many members of the DA and the Order — most of them seemed to be in the front rows of the Hogwarts contingent.
A scream brought her eyes back towards Neville and Voldemort, and her heart leapt to her throat: Neville was on fire. She heard several cries of spells — all aimed at extinguishing the flames. And suddenly, it seemed as if the world exploded with sound and action.
People came pouring across the grounds of Hogwarts in the red light of the new dawn. Grawp appeared, bellowing, "HAGGER!", only to be met by Voldemort's giants rushing at him like charging Erumpents. The thundering of hooves came from the Forest, and suddenly the air was full of arrows falling amongst the Death Eaters.
Ginny could scarcely take it all in, and her eyes left Neville for only a split-second. But in that blink of an eye, he suddenly broke free of the Bind upon him, and he drew from within the Sorting Hat an all-too-familiar, jewelled sword. Ginny gasped in shock as he spun, the sword slashing through the air, instantly severing the head of Voldemort's great snake. Her eyes followed the snake through the air as it spun towards the ground near Voldemort's feet… where Harry had lain only moments before.
Only… Harry wasn't there. She choked out a gasp of shock so profound, she thought her heart had literally stopped, and she pressed her hand to her chest instinctively, almost as though to check its beating. Hagrid's voice cut through the sudden melee of sound: "HARRY! HARRY — WHERE'S HARRY?"
If Harry wasn't where Hagrid had laid him, then… before her mind could fully process that thought, she'd reacted instinctively, sending a Cutting Hex in the direction of the Stunner that had just flashed past her. There wasn't time to dwell on Harry, or anyone else. There was only action. Cast, spin, dodge, fire, duck… her body moved on instinct, and her brain processed information too quickly for conscious thought. She weaved and spun and fired. The wave of Death Eaters swept into the castle, and the Hogwartians moved with them. Spell-fire was thick in the air, and somehow, the battle moved directly into the Great Hall itself.
House-elves suddenly swarmed into the battle, with Kreacher in the lead, just as several centaurs clattered into the Hall. Ginny's eyes darted through the crowds as she avoided another spell, unsure even whether friend or foe had cast it. There was still no raven-headed wizard visible, but she knew now that he was there. She could feel him in her heart, even if she had no idea where he was. That thought was uppermost in her mind as she fought her way into the Hall — she would be there with him when it all ended.
She saw several of her brothers and her father battling Death Eaters, who were falling beneath the onslaught.
Voldemort was in the Hall now, screaming orders to his followers, who didn't seem to be actually attempting to obey so much as survive. Bellatrix was near him, and she was firing spells as rapidly as he was. Ginny snarled fiercely and moved towards the hateful pair without conscious thought. She didn't know where the certainty came from, but she knew those two would not leave the Hall alive. The Light was going to prevail here today, and she was going to help ensure the victory.
Just as she got within striking distance of Bella, she realized that Hermione and Luna were right beside her. Their eyes flickered to one another for less than a heartbeat, but in that silent communication, everything that needed to be said was conveyed. As one, they began the attack on Bellatrix Lestrange.
She was their equal, and the spells that flew between all four women were furious and too fast for anyone to track. Ginny knew that the Shield Charms that she, Hermione and Luna kept in place would hold against most of the aggressive spells coming from Bellatrix — Harry had made sure they'd known them, and this year had only solidified their knowledge and experience.
A sickly green spell flew past Ginny, and while one part of her mind acknowledged what she had just escaped, the dominant part of her brain had already moved on to the next spell, and the next…
"NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!" Mum's voice cut through the chaos, and Bella had suddenly turned from the three surprised girls towards Molly Weasley, who was throwing off her cloak as she stalked towards the Death Eater. As Bellatrix laughed insanely, Molly shouted again: "OUT OF MY WAY!" She wasted no time — her wand slashed through the air, and Bellatrix had to duel to keep up with Molly's wrath.
Ginny had never seen her mother fight like this, never known she could. She hung back, but stayed ready to help, and could sense that others around her were tensed to join the fray again at any moment. "No! Get back! She's mine!" Mum's voice was not to be disobeyed.
Ginny's eyes swept the room in one swift glance.
Hundreds of people now lined the walls, watching the two fights: Voldemort battling McGonagall, Kingsley and Slughorn; Bellatrix and Molly…
"What will happen to your children when I've killed you?" taunted Bellatrix, as mad as her master, capering as Molly's curses danced around her. "When Mummy's gone the same way as Freddie?"
"You — will — never — touch — our — children — again!" screamed her mum.
Bellatrix laughed again, and Ginny suddenly knew what would happen. Harry had told her how Sirius had laughed just before Bellatrix's spell hit him, and she knew…
Molly's curse soared beneath Bellatrix's outstretched arm and hit her squarely in the chest, directly over her heart.
Bellatrix's gloating smile froze, her eyes seemed to bulge. For the tiniest space of time she knew what had happened, and then she toppled, and the watching crowd roared, and Voldemort screamed.
Everything seemed to happen at once: McGonagall, Kingsley, and Slughorn were blasted backward, flailing and writhing through the air, as Voldemort's fury exploded with the force of a bomb. Voldemort raised his wand and directed it at Molly Weasley.
But before Voldemort could cast a spell, a voice roared, "Protego!" and a Shield Charm expanded in the middle of the Hall, and Voldemort stared around for the source… as Harry pulled off his Invisibility Cloak.
The yell of shock, the cheers, the screams on every side of "Harry!" "HE'S ALIVE!" were stifled at once. The crowd was afraid, and silence fell abruptly and completely as Voldemort and Harry looked at each other, and began, at the same moment, to circle each other.
Ginny gaped at Harry. She had been through such a roller-coaster of emotions this night, and she hadn't quite been able to believe that he was really dead… but to see him appear, as though from thin air… he took her breath away yet again.
She watched in fear and fascination as he and Voldemort circled each other, Harry playing on Voldemort's curiosity, telling him how Dumbledore had out-witted him, how Snape had never belonged to Voldemort, and how he, Harry, knew even more than Voldemort about who was the master of the Elder Wand. She'd heard of the Elder Wand in the bed-time tales her parents had read to them when they were children, but for Harry to be talking of it now… It was too much. Everything and nothing made sense. Harry had been working to bring about Voldemort's downfall all year, as she'd always known in her heart that he would do. And now… now was the battle of this age. She was suddenly, keenly aware that she was witnessing the downfall of one of the greatest of Dark wizards. It seemed as if everything were happening in slow motion, and yet too quickly for comprehension.
And then… almost without warning, they both moved, lightning-quick.
A cannon-blast of sound, a body falling to the floor with a finality that was quite anti-climactic, really. And Harry, victorious… holding two wands, looking down at the body of Tom Riddle.
A heartbeat of silence, and then there was a roar of exultation that threatened to raise the rafters, even on the enchanted ceiling. The crowd surged towards him, and Ron and Hermione caught him first, but Ginny was only a step behind them. His arms wrapped around her, and he murmured her name, his face pressed against her hair as she clung to him. But only a moment later, she felt him sway in the tide of the crowd. He was pulled from her embrace into the arms of others, one after another, again and again, as he was swept along and away from her. She was buffeted along with the tide as well, but gradually, slowly, she was able to withdraw from the throng.
She moved towards the edge of the Hall, where she could watch him to her heart's content. It had been so long since she'd seen him, before today. Bill had told her when Ron, Hermione and Harry had shown up at Shell Cottage, but even knowing that he was safe — for that moment — wasn't the same as seeing him herself. When he'd appeared in the Room of Requirement earlier, there was no time, no way to talk to him.
But now… she leaned against the still-sturdy, familiar wall and hugged herself. So much had happened… such heartbreak, such grief, such elation, such relief… She allowed herself to think about Fred, Tonks, Remus and Colin (brave, devoted Colin!) for a moment, and realized suddenly that her cheeks were already wet with tears. Now that the battle was ended, the fatigue and the reality of all that was left to sort out were beginning to sink in. She longed to curl into a corner and cry until her exhaustion claimed her, but even in her grief, she couldn't tear her eyes away from the scene around her. Harry, Ron and Hermione, alive and whole and back where they belonged. Percy, returned from self-appointed exile. Charlie, leading the reinforcements that came with the sun. The Death Eaters were done, almost all of them captured or dead — there would be no one to long for Voldemort's return, not this time.
She didn't know how long she lingered there before changes slowly began to occur. McGonagall returned the House tables to the Hall, and people gradually began to sit around them. Food appeared on the tables, news began to drift in from the rest of the wizarding world. Kingsley was now Minister for Magic, at least temporarily; the Ministry was releasing the innocent from Azkaban… and around her, people sat without regard for Houses or status as the centaurs and house-elves mingled freely with the witches and wizards of all ages and positions. Ginny felt a ghost of a smile tug at her mouth. This was what it was all about, she thought to herself. This is what's worth fighting for.
She felt a hand on her arm and looked round. Her mother was beside her, tears visible on her cheeks as well. Wordlessly, they embraced, just holding each other for long moments before finally separating, each wiping away fresh tears. "Let's sit," her mum suggested, nodding towards the closest table. Ginny nodded and let herself be led to a seat. Molly began filling a plate in front of Ginny. "You need to eat something, dear… it's been a long night," her mum prompted.
Ginny raised an eyebrow. "For you, too, Mum. You ought to eat, too."
Molly smiled briefly, but nodded. "All right, dear. I'll do so if you will."
Ginny nodded, and they ate together, listening to the voices around them. Ginny's eyes continually sought Harry as he was pulled from one group to another. Everyone seemed to want to touch him, to clasp his hand, to talk to him. She could tell from his reactions that some of them were thanking him, others telling him of news, some sharing grief. She understood their desires: she wanted to go to him, too, but she knew it wasn't yet time. When they would have the time together that they needed, she wasn't completely sure, but she knew it would come. "He's exhausted," she murmured absent-mindedly, never taking her eyes from him. She could see the tiredness in his posture, his face.
Her mother put an arm about her shoulders, drew her closer. "He's the hero. They can't get enough of him," she answered, just as quietly. Ginny turned to look at her mother, thinking of how hard her mum had always struggled against her children — including Harry — growing up too quickly, and wondering how her mum would react to such a fact.
Molly met her eyes bleakly, and seemed to have read her daughter's mind. "It seems…" her mother paused and took a deep breath, "it seems that you've all grown up, whether it's what I was ready for or not. No one but Harry could have done what he did. I just never—" Her voice broke, but she met Ginny's gaze once more with steel in her eyes. "I never wanted you all to live through a war, and here each of you have been heroes and heroines right under my nose. I can't deny what each of you have done — you included, Ginny. You fought bravely and well, all of you."
"Thank you, Mum," Ginny said quietly, gripping Molly's hand and squeezing it. "You were incredible." She sighed and leaned her head against her mother's shoulder. "I wish none of it had been necessary, too." She looked back to Harry and knew her mother would understand when she said, "He's been through so much, more than we know yet, I'm sure of it." She swept the Hall with her gaze and located Ron and Hermione sitting near the end of one of the tables, nearer to the doorway of the Hall. They were being besieged by others, too, but were at least managing to get some food in between talking to everyone. She smiled tiredly as Ron filled his mouth to overflowing, even as he tried to talk to an older Ravenclaw who'd approached them. Some things will never change, she thought, and was suddenly overwhelmingly grateful to know that was true.
She glanced back at Harry. He was sitting now on a bench beside Luna. They spoke together for a few moments, and Luna suddenly pointed at a window and gave a cry — Ginny couldn't understand her words from that distance — and then Harry vanished from sight. "Finally," she murmured. She again swept the Hall with her gaze, and saw Ron and Hermione silently get up from their seats and leave the Great Hall. Ginny smiled to herself and let her eyes close. The danger was past. She could rest for a bit while the three of them went off once more to do who knew what.
Later, she told herself. Later, there'll be time for so many things.
She felt her mother shift beneath her, and she lifted her head, staring around her blearily. She must have dozed off, she realized. She rubbed her eyes and looked around. There was no sign of Harry, Ron or Hermione.
"Mum? What will we do now?" she asked, turning to focus on her mother.
Molly looked a bit surprised as she met Ginny's gaze. "What do you mean, dear?"
"Will we be staying at Hogwarts for a while, or can we go home soon?"
"I expect…" Molly paused and looked around. Arthur was talking to Kingsley, and Percy, Charlie and George were huddled together with Bill and Fleur at the table just behind them. "I expect we'll need to stay here for a while and help sort out some things. But then… yes, I think we should go home to The Burrow."
Ginny nodded. "Is there… is there anything I should do?"
Molly gave her a small, sad smile that didn't ease the sadness in her eyes. She patted Ginny's hand gently. "No, dear, I don't think so."
One part of Ginny's brain wondered if her mother was just coddling her, in spite of her earlier words, but she decided not to question the response, since it was what she'd been hoping for. "Then I think I'd like to go to the Tower and try to sleep a while. Is that all right?"
Molly gave her a rather knowing look, but nodded. "I think that'll be fine, Ginny-girl," she responded, using one of Ginny's childhood nicknames. Then her mother's lips twitched ever so slightly as she added, "And if you happen to see any… extra family members along the way, make sure they try to rest, too, won't you?"
Ginny smirked unrepentantly and tossed her ponytail over shoulder. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Mum," she replied in a similar tone.
"Just make sure you all remain proper about things, Ginny. This is still a school, and it's not the right time for… a lot of other things," Molly said quietly, her expression completely sombre again.
"I know, Mum. Don't worry. I promise… I just want to know everyone's okay and get some rest. And if any of those extra family members are as tired as they looked, they're probably thinking the same thing."
Molly nodded and patted her again. "Thank you, dear. I knew I could count on you." Molly stood as Ginny did. "I think I'll join your father and see what we need to do now, too." Ginny nodded and gave her mother a quick hug, then hurried out of the Hall.
The destruction in the corridors, the bloodstains on the floor — it was enough to bring the tears to her eyes yet again. So much had changed, both for good and bad, and she wondered what life was going to be like from now on. She allowed her thoughts to wander as she climbed the stairs, which were, at least, mercifully still now.
The idea of Voldemort had been in the shadows of her consciousness for as long as she could remember. Hearing the stories of his previous reign of terror when she was a child, her encounter with his memory her first year… the things that Harry had been through each year… everything had pointed towards the inevitable conclusion. She was just glad that Harry was the person she'd always known he was — brave and unselfish and unwilling to back down from what he knew was the right thing to do. She thought again of those who'd fought as she passed classrooms and thought of the other, better days in these halls.
Almost before she realized it, she was outside of Gryffindor Tower, and the Fat Lady's portrait was looking down on her expectantly. The Fat Lady wasn't alone, however; her friend Violet was with her, and they looked to have been celebrating again with the wine from some of the other portraits. "Password?" the Fat Lady giggled, and Violet went off in peals of hiccupping laughter behind her, snorting into her goblet as Ginny stared at them both.
"I haven't a clue," Ginny said tiredly, not in the mood for their frivolity. "I wasn't able to return to school recently…" she began, but the Fat Lady waved a pudgy, jewelled hand at her.
"Oh tosh," she muttered. "Tell me who rules, and I'll let you pass."
"Who… rules?" Ginny repeated, dumbfounded. "Erm, I don't—" she began, then suddenly grinned in spite of herself. "Harry Potter rules," she declared, drawing herself upright. "Dumbledore's Army. The Order of the Phoenix. Take your pick."
That set Violet into spasms of laughter again, and the Fat Lady crooked an eyebrow at Ginny. "You're definitely a Gryffindor, young lady. All right, in with you, then." And she swung forwards to admit Ginny to the common room.
Ginny scrambled through. The common room was covered in dust and broken glass, the furniture overturned, and disarray everywhere. She shook her head and began flicking her wand repeatedly, righting the furnishings, repairing the glass and Vanishing the dust and debris. She lit a fire in the fireplace and then happened to catch sight of herself in the repaired mirror above one of the tables. She looked as bad as the room had looked! She quickly cast a few cleaning and freshening charms on herself, conjured a hairbrush and straightened her hair. It wasn't as good as a proper bath, but since she had no clean clothing at the castle anyway, it would have to do.
She decided to check the dormitories while she was at it — no one else seemed to have arrived here yet, but she had a feeling she wouldn't be the only Gryffindor seeking sanctuary here. She'd started up the stairs to the girls' dormitories when a thought struck her. She stopped and stepped back onto the landing. "Kreacher?" she called softly. "Harry Potter's elf Kreacher?" She felt a bit foolish calling him that way, but she had no idea what else one might do to call an elf that belonged to someone else.
There was a loud pop, and Kreacher appeared in front of her, looking at her a bit sceptically. "Yes, Miss?" he responded, as obviously uncertain of her as she was of him.
"I don't know if you remember me," she said, crouching down to be able to look him in the face. "I'm Ginny — Ginny Weasley. I saw you earlier, leading Hogwarts' elves. You said they should fight for your master. Did you mean Harry Potter?"
"Yes, Miss. My Master, the brave and noble Harry Potter, and my former master, the brave Regulus Black. They both fought the Dark Lord!" Kreacher answered proudly, drawing himself up to his full height and puffing out his chest. A golden locket shone on his chest, and Ginny wanted to ask about it, but she needed to know other things more urgently.
"Would you like to help Harry Potter?" she asked, watching the elf's expression closely.
"Oh yes, Miss. How can Kreacher help Master Harry? Master Harry left the Hall, and Kreacher hasn't seen him," Kreacher responded eagerly.
"I'm a friend of his. My brother, Ron — he's been with Harry the last year, do you know him?" Kreacher nodded, his eyes wide. "I think Harry will be coming back here to sleep before long, and I'm sure the dormitories are a mess, like the common room was. Can you help me straighten the dormitories and maybe bring Harry something to eat?"
"Yes, Miss, Kreacher can do that," the elf croaked. "Is that all?"
"That's enough for now. I'll be sure to tell Harry you helped," she offered, and the elf bowed his head.
"Thank you, Miss," he muttered, his croaking voice even lower. With a loud crack he disappeared. She heard another crack from the boys' stairway, and she grinned to herself as she hurried up the stairs to the girls' dormitories. Only the top two dormitories would need help now — the younger girls had all been sent home.
It didn't take long to set the dormitories to rights, and when Ginny came back down the stairs, Kreacher was waiting in front of the sofas near the fire. Two trays full of food and two pitchers full of pumpkin juice sat on the table between the sofas.
"Thank you, Kreacher," she said gratefully as she dropped onto the sofa. Kreacher poured a glass of juice and offered it to her. "Thank you," she said again. Kreacher inclined his head in a sort of half-bow. Before she could say anything further, though, the portrait hole opened, and she looked up hopefully.
Harry stumbled through the portrait hole, followed by Ron and Hermione. Harry looked to be almost asleep on his feet, but his expression brightened when he saw her. "Ginny," he murmured, moving rather clumsily towards her.
"Harry," she gasped, leaping to her feet. She caught him as he half-stumbled again and led him to the sofa, where he collapsed in a heap, pulling her down beside him. He leaned his head against the back of the sofa, his eyes barely half-open. She looked at Ron and Hermione as they dropped onto the sofa across the table from them. "Are you all right? Are any of you hurt?" she asked.
Ron and Hermione shook their heads tiredly as Ron leaned forwards to snatch up a sandwich. "Kreacher brought us food, and he helped repair the dormitories," Ginny told them as Hermione poured juice for the three of them.
Harry moved his head slowly but deliberately, turning towards Kreacher. "Thank you, Kreacher. Thank you for all you've done," he said slowly, as though he was concentrating very hard just to talk.
Kreacher bowed low. "Kreacher is proud to serve Master Harry any way he can."
"Thank you," Harry said again. "You can go now — I'm sure you need rest, too."
Kreacher bowed again. "Master Harry is too kind. If Master needs anything, Kreacher will be happy to serve him." Another loud crack and Kreacher had disappeared, leaving the four of them alone.
Ginny leaned forwards, picked up a sandwich and pushed it towards Harry. "Eat," she ordered. "I don't think you had even a bite down in the Hall."
He opened his eyes a bit wider and struggled to sit up a bit straighter. "How do you know?" he challenged, but he took a bite of the sandwich anyway.
"I was watching you, of course. Someone has to watch out for you, you know," she answered, the corner of her mouth quirking as she teased him. "You obviously get into far too much trouble if you're left on your own."
Ron snorted quietly as he reached towards the food again. He handed a sandwich to Hermione, and then picked up another for himself. "You got that right. Bloody prat went off alone and practically asked to be Avada Kedavra'ed—" He cut off as Hermione elbowed him, but Harry waved a hand tiredly.
"'S okay, Hermione," he mumbled around his mouthful of sandwich. "Ginny can know all of it now. It's over, thank God."
"Good," Ginny said, before Hermione could answer. She picked up a glass of juice and handed it to Harry, watching him carefully as he drank with his eyes still more closed than open. "Because I want to know every bloody thing the three of you have been up to all year. And then maybe I'll tell you what it's been like here. And how the DA did more than anyone outside the school could possibly know."
Harry raised an eyebrow at her again. "I want to know," he said slowly, reaching forwards to set down his glass. Ginny grabbed it before he could release it, since he'd not got it anywhere close to the table. "Sorry," he mumbled, yawning. "But I think I'd better sleep before we talk, or I may not make sense of anything."
"I think that goes for all of us, mate," Ron put in, yawning himself. Hermione's head was resting on his shoulder, and she looked to be almost half-asleep as well.
"The beds are made in the dormitories," Ginny said, nodding towards the stairs. "Kreacher helped me straighten things up there, too."
"That sounds good," Hermione muttered. She stood slowly as Ron stretched and yawned widely behind her.
"Erm… all of you are pretty… well, grimy. I did a few cleaning charms earlier — want me to do them for you?" Ginny offered, thinking of how much she hated the idea of sleeping when she felt that disgusting.
"I can manage, thanks," Hermione answered. She grinned at Ginny and nodded towards Harry, whose head was lolling against the back of the sofa, his mouth hanging open slightly. "I think you might need to do them for him, though — he may remove more than dirt."
Ginny grinned and nodded as Hermione flicked her wand, setting food-preservation spells around the trays on the table. "Someone else may come up eventually," she explained, then waved her wand at herself. She was visibly cleaner and fresher when the spells vanished around her. "Want me to do them for you, Ron?" she asked, and he nodded and staggered to his feet.
While Hermione spelled Ron cleaner, Ginny pointed her wand at Harry. The moment the spell touched him, however, he shot to his feet, his wand drawn, his eyes wild. Ginny and Hermione both gave startled squeaks as Ron swore in surprise.
"Harry… it's okay," Ginny said softly, reaching a hand towards him slowly as Ron caught Harry's arm and gently pushed his hand downward.
"Easy, mate," Ron murmured, catching Harry's shoulders as Harry swayed on his feet.
"Wh-what happened?" Harry croaked, attempting to stand up straighter, straightening his glasses with his free hand.
"I'm so sorry," Ginny said softly, her heart thudding in her chest. "I was trying to clean you up a bit, but the spell startled you. I'm sorry," she repeated, squeezing his arm.
Harry shook his head as if trying to clear it. "'S okay," he muttered, running a shaking hand through his long hair. "S-sorry. I didn't mean to—" he began, but Ginny cut him off.
"It's not your fault. I should have thought," she murmured, stepping closer to him and sliding her arm around his waist. "Come on, let's get you to bed, and I'll clean you up while you're still awake, okay?"
Harry nodded, leaning against her as she guided him towards the stairs.
"Erm — Ginny, those are the boys' stairs, you know," Ron said from just behind her.
"Shut it, you," she hissed. "If you want to take your chances on the girls' stairs, be my guest." She heard Hermione stifle a laugh, but she could tell the pair of them were right behind her and Harry. "Besides, I don't see you objecting to Hermione coming up," she added.
"We're prefects," Ron answered, and she could hear the grin in his voice. "We're just going to make sure you two stick to the rules."
Beside her, Harry snorted. "Right. Whose rules, mate?" he asked as Ginny nudged open the door to the seventh-years' dormitory and they stumbled inside.
"The ones that say we're all innocent because we all have chaperones," Ron answered as he collapsed onto his bed and pulled Hermione down beside him.
"Ron!" she squealed in protest, smacking him in the chest as Harry tumbled onto the bed he'd always occupied. Ginny sat down beside him as Ron flicked his wand, shutting the curtains around his own bed. "Ron Weasley, if you think…" Hermione began again, but then a muffled "mmph" cut off the sound of her voice. A moment later, no sound at all could be heard from the other bed, and Harry grinned tiredly at Ginny as she pulled her wand from her pocket.
"You going to hex me now?" he asked, his grin vanishing as he looked rather worried instead.
"Hex you? Why on earth would I hex you?" she asked, puzzled.
"Because I — I owe you an apology, Ginny," Harry said quietly as he reached for her hands and turned to face her on the bed. "I know we said we'd wait to talk about everything, but I have to tell you — I'm sorry I couldn't tell you about everything sooner. I'm sorry I couldn't have you with me, and I'm so, so sorry about Fred…" He trailed off as his eyes suddenly glimmered with tears. He swallowed thickly. "I'm so sorry about leaving you and…" his voice broke, and she threw her arms around him and held him as he trembled in her embrace.
"Hush, Harry. You don't have to apologize for anything. I understand," she murmured against his hair, her own voice catching as tears slid from her eyes, and her heart ached for him and all he'd been through. "I knew when you left me why you were doing it, and I know you couldn't have had me along, not when I'd give you away the first time I used magic. And Fred is not your fault. None of those horrible things are your fault. They're his fault, and you did more than anyone should have ever asked of you."
"I missed you so much," he whispered, his cheek resting on top of her hair. "I thought about you all the time. I kept watching your dot on the Map, just to try to know what you were doing… I—Ginny, I—" He paused, took a deep breath and pulled back slightly to look at her. "I went out to that forest thinking he would really kill me. I wanted to talk to you, but I knew if I did, I wouldn't have the guts to go on and do what I had to do. But — you were the only thing I could think of when he was pointing his wand at me."
She met his eyes, saw herself reflected in their depths, and saw everything she'd longed to know while they were apart. Just as her love and longing for him had never dimmed, she knew his hadn't either. She'd told herself that was all true, over the long months apart, but it was thrilling to see it in those beautiful green eyes. "I missed you, too, Harry. I don't know that I'll ever be able to tell you how much."
"There's so much I want to tell you, so much I want to hear about… I'm so sorry I couldn't tell you before—" he began as fresh tears slid down his cheeks, but she placed a finger on his lips to silence him.
"No apology necessary," she said quietly, not acknowledging her own tears, either. "I know you told Bill and Mum that Dumbledore asked you to do this, and to not tell anyone. And I know you keep your promises. I want to hear everything, and I want to tell you everything… but we have time for all that now. We've got all the time in the world for us, now."
Harry gave a tremulous smile as he nodded. "Time," he murmured. "We've got loads of time." And then he pulled her into his arms again, holding her close.
They clung together for long moments before he finally pulled back, only to cup her face with his hands and look into her eyes. "How did I ever manage without you?" he whispered hoarsely, and she smiled at him as she reached up to wipe the last of his tears from his cheeks.
"You didn't, Harry. You just didn't know it at the time," she answered cheekily, and was gratified when he smiled crookedly at her.
"You're incredible," he murmured, and she shook her head.
"No, Harry, you're incredible. And amazing." She smiled at him more fully as she plucked his glasses from his face and leaned forwards to set them on the table behind him, his hands sliding down to her arms as she did so. "And you're also exhausted. Let me clean you up, and you can get some rest."
He nodded, and she lifted her wand with a deliberate movement. "You're never going to let me forget that, are you?" he asked as she waved her wand over him.
She chuckled. "Oh, maybe sometime next decade. But right now, I think we'd both better be safe than sorry." She stood up and removed her robes, tossing them across the end of the bed as she toed off her shoes. "Get comfortable, Harry. You need some sleep." He nodded and followed her example, leaving them both in jeans and t-shirts.
She pulled back the covers on his bed, then flicked her wand again and duplicated his pillows. He raised his eyebrows at her, and she just nodded her head towards the bed. He shuffled across the mattress, sliding over and leaning back against the pillows. She climbed into bed beside him, drawing up the covers over them both. He lifted his wand and flicked it, drawing his curtains and then casting a Silencing Charm over them as well. When she looked at him questioningly, he grinned. "I don't know about you, but I don't want to wake up to the sound of Ron and Hermione snogging."
She giggled as she snuggled in beside him and laid her head on his shoulder. His arm wrapped around her as he settled in next to her. She lifted her hand to his cheek, feeling the stubble there that was much rougher than it'd been last year. She stroked her thumb along his cheekbone, avoiding the gash there and along his temple. "Are you sure you didn't need to see Madam Pomfrey?" she asked quietly.
He nodded. "I'm okay. She has enough to do for now."
She leaned closer, intending to kiss him, but he hissed in pain before she could do so. "What hurts?" she asked immediately.
"I'm okay," he grunted. "Just sore." She gave him a disbelieving look, but leaned in again, slowly. He managed not to make any noise that time, but she could see him wince as she shifted position.
"Harry…" she began.
"I'm all right, I swear. Just… tender in a few places." She snorted, but before she could reply, he added hopefully, "You could kiss it better, if you want?"
She shifted so that she was propped up on her elbow, carefully not touching him. "I was trying to, but that's a little difficult if everything I touch hurts you."
For a moment, he looked so like a lost puppy that she laughed out loud and instinctively drew back a hand to smack him playfully before she caught herself and lowered her hand to rest it lightly on his chest instead. "Okay, Mr. Hero. So where does it not hurt?"
"Um…" he thought for a moment, then pointed to his nose, a rather defensive expression on his face.
She grinned, leaned in and kissed the tip of his nose. He was almost cross-eyed when she drew back, and she giggled, then reached up to touch his chin. "Here?" she asked.
He nodded, and she leaned in again to plant a soft kiss on his chin. "Here?" She touched his earlobe. He nodded again, his breath hitching slightly as she kissed his ear very slowly, letting the tip of her tongue caress it, just as she knew he liked so well. He groaned, his hands coming up to grip her shoulders, pulling her towards him, but she resisted. "Uh-uh, Mr. Injured Hero. We don't want to hurt anything Madam Pomfrey can't heal," she teased.
He growled, and his hands tightened on her shoulders. "Sod the injuries, Ginny. It's been almost a year since we kissed, and Ron interrupted then. Just kiss me so I can sleep happy, will you?"
Her laughter was cut off as he pulled her against his chest and kissed her deeply, his hands skimming over her back and into her hair, holding her against him. She moaned softly, her hands clinging to his shoulders, sliding into his hair. This was so right, so perfect… This was what she'd needed for so long, and she had a feeling that Harry'd needed it, too.
After several moments, though, she noticed that his mouth was no longer moving against hers. She drew back slightly, wondering… and his hand fell limply away from her hair. He'd fallen asleep kissing her.
She chuckled to herself and slid down beside him, pulling the covers up around them both as she did. She wrapped an arm around his middle as she snuggled against his shoulder, and his hand slid over her back to rest at her waist as he settled into the pillows.
"Sleep well, Harry," she murmured and kissed his shoulder. She yawned as she nestled closer. "You deserve it." She could feel Harry's heart beating beneath her hand, and she thought again of Hagrid carrying him to the castle… and then deliberately pushed that thought aside for the moment. There would be time later to talk everything through, and to feel everything that had happened. For now… they were here, together, and it was enough. This is what matters most, she thought tiredly. She let her eyes close and joined him in welcome slumber.
A/N: Thanks so much to several people who really helped bring this piece to fruition. First, thanks to St.Margaret's for her always-unfailing support and encouragement. Thanks also to Sovran, Parakletos and Aggiebell, who all helped to beta this in various stages, and provided much-needed input and encouragement as well.
Obviously, there are a few passages quoted from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, chapter 36, "The Flaw in the Plan" (I decided not to italicize them within the text because so many of them had to be tweaked just slightly for Ginny's POV). And just as obviously, none of us would be here without JKR's fabulous world to share.
While trying to figure out some of the parts of Ginny's character that I really wanted to emphasise, one thing that nailed it for me more than anything is this bit from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, chapter 30, "The White Tomb":
…Ginny was no longer crying. She met Harry's gaze with the same hard, blazing look that he had seen when she had hugged him after winning the Quidditch Cup in his absence, and he knew that at that moment they understood each other perfectly, and that when he told her what he was going to do now, she would not say 'Be careful', or 'Don't do it', but accept his decision, because she would not have expected anything less of him. And so he steeled himself to say what he had known he must say ever since Dumbledore had died. (emphasis mine)
Me thinks that these two young people knew what they were both doing just fine, thankyouveddymuch ;-)
And if any of you are possibly wondering about Hearts Afire… I haven't forgotten it, I promise! After being unable to find time to write for WAY too long, I just finally thought that maybe doing something from a POV other than Harry's might actually get my muse in gear for that story, too. Let's hope that's a successful idea ;-)