Harry Potter made his way down from Headmaster’s office slowly, with every step taking in the sights and sounds of the aftermath of the previous night’s battle.
It was confusing, overwhelming; Harry heard shouts of joy and laughter echoing throughout the corridors, interspersed with crying, sobbing, wailing, and the scratching of stone against stone as hands dug through rubble for survivors, or bodies.
At every turn, he saw the damage that had been done to the castle – to his home – shattered windows, great gaping holes in the walls; but also the signs of victory. Looking outside, Harry watched fireworks exploding in the morning sky, saw men and women and children hugging each other, dancing on the grounds. He saw, even, signs of repair; he was transfixed for a moment by the sight of a dozen animated suits of armor in the second-floor corridor.
One was trying, accompanied by a hideous scraping sound, to jam a torn-out arm back into place; a second was sitting over a third, hammering at it - beating dents out of its chest, Harry realized. And the rest were at work – they were picking up debris, doing their part to fix the damage throughout the castle. Harry wondered idly if they were acting under the control of Professor McGonagall or on their own initiative.
Harry shook his head and started off again, leaving the suits of armor to their work. As he went, his thoughts were as jumbled as the sights he witnessed; jubilant one moment, sorrowful the next. Voldemort was defeated; but Fred Weasley was dead, killed right in front of him. The terror of the Death Eaters had ended; but poor Teddy Lupin, not even a month old, was an orphan. His friends were safe; but thousands of people would live with the scars of Voldemort’s war forever. He imagined that it must have been like this sixteen years ago. How must Remus Lupin have felt that night, when he’d learned that Voldemort had been stopped, but that three of his best friends were dead, betrayed by the fourth? Probably just like I do, Harry guessed, except worse. His friends were all dead, he didn’t have anyone like Ron and Hermione…or Ginny.
He was heading for the Great Hall; Harry had intended to go straight to Gryffindor Tower and a soft, comfortable four-poster bed that he could crawl into, and sleep for the next few hours, or maybe days. He’d told himself that was where he was going, but something deep inside him had other ideas. Without any conscious choice, his legs were steering him downwards, to all those people, to one person in particular.
Ginny was always there. Even when he was on the run and she was nothing more than a dot on the Marauder’s Map, she was a part of him. And right now she was in the Great Hall. Not an hour ago, he’d seen her there, thought that there would be days and weeks and years to talk to her, to be with her, and he’d gone to the Headmaster’s office with Ron and Hermione, leaving Ginny with her family.
But he was part of her family, too. And he had made her wait for too long, made himself wait for too long.
There she is. Harry entered the Great Hall, but he didn’t hear the shouted congratulations and cheers, he didn’t see the victory salutes and raised fists. All that was visible to him was her hair, catching the morning sunlight; her amber eyes, moist with tears; her torn and tattered robes; and, as she saw him, her smile, a smile that was the only thing in the world he ever cared to see.
She ran to him, and he to her; she threw her arms around him, he held her tightly to him, and Harry couldn’t say whether he kissed her or she kissed him; all he knew was that they kissed for a very long time.
As they broke apart, Harry thought about the memory of Ginny that had come to him in the forest, just before…just before I thought I was going to die, he thought with a small shudder. There was so much he’d hidden from Ginny, so much he hadn’t told her – for her own safety, or on Dumbledore’s orders, or for so many other reasons that no longer made sense and maybe never had.
“Ginny, I’m…I’m sorry,” he said, weakly. He had raged against Dumbledore, against Ron and Hermione, against everyone who had kept secrets from him for his own good, and he’d done the same to the girl he loved.
There: It was and always had been true, he had known it for so long, but never before had he said the words, not even in the privacy of his own thoughts. I love Ginny. And I have to tell her…show her…give her something that proves it. So she knows it was always true. There was one thing – the only thing, he realized - that he could give her.
“You…you s-saved the world, and you’re apologizing?” Ginny was saying, in a voice that was somehow amused and annoyed and saddened and fiercely protective of him all at once.
“I-I’d like to show you something,” Harry replied, his own voice shaking, “There’s so much I want to tell you, but I want to show you first. Up in Dumble – the Headmaster’s office? Please?”
Ginny stared at him, that hard, blazing look on her face that he could never forget, and he didn’t need Legilimency to know what she was thinking; she was trying - and failing - to figure out what he was talking about. Finally, she disentangled herself from his embrace, took his hand in hers, and said simply, “Lead the way.”
“I still don’t know the password,” Harry said to the gargoyle guarding the Headmaster’s office, and for the second time that morning, it let him pass. He and Ginny rose up on the moving stairs into the office. Harry was surprised to see that it was occupied; Professor McGonagall rose from the desk to greet them.
“Mr. Potter, Miss Weasley, what are you doing in my – in here?”
Harry hadn’t thought about it, but it was obvious – who else would take over as Headmaster, or, he corrected himself, Headmistress?
“There’s…uh…I need to show Ginny something,” he answered, nodding at the Pensieve, still sitting on the desk where he’d left it last night.
“Oh…oh!” McGonagall said, suddenly understanding. “I see. And you’ll be wanting privacy, I suppose?”
The new Headmistress didn’t wait for an answer; she gathered herself up and headed for the stairs. “Students these days! Oh, the cheek, it’s simply incredible,” she said as she descended; but Harry knew from the lightness of her tone that there was a grin – well, the hint of a grin, it was Professor McGonagall, after all – on her face as she went.
“All the rest of you, please?” Harry said to the portraits covering the walls, and with only a grunt or two (Harry was certain that one of them came from Phineas Nigellus), the former Headmasters and Headmistresses left; all except one.
Ginny looked at Harry questioningly; he said, very quietly, “You’ll see…I promise,” and then, in a normal voice, he addressed the portrait of Albus Dumbledore: “Professor, I know I didn’t ask permission last night, but it was…well…”
“I quite understand, Harry,” Dumbledore replied. “You were in a bit of a stressful situation, and any lapse in courtesy is quite understandable, and easily forgiven.”
“Thank you,” Harry said, and then sighed. “So can I…may I…use it again?”
“Harry, of course you may use my Pensieve,” the portrait said, and Ginny’s eyes went wide. She walked over to the desk, touched the stone basin gently, reverently.
“That’s a Pensieve? I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen one before,” she breathed.
“It is indeed, Miss Weasley. Harry is, of course, well acquainted with it by now. I presume, even though, as you say, you’ve never seen one, that you know what it does?”
“Yes,” she whispered, the realization of what Harry meant to show her suddenly dawning.
“There’s just one thing, Professor,” Harry said, “I was hoping you could tell me, how…”
Dumbledore smiled and shook his head. “How to extract your own thoughts and memories? I believe that you’ll find that you already know. You’ve seen it done many times. I would only advise you to be sure you concentrate on the memories you wish to let Miss Weasley see most carefully.”
Harry turned to Ginny, saw the surprise and the wonder in her eyes, and answered her rather than Dumbledore. “There’s nothing that Ginny can’t see, if she wants to.” She hugged him to her, hugged him so closely that he could barely breathe, but he found that he didn’t mind at all.
“You really mean that,” Ginny said, finally. It wasn’t a question.
“Yes,” Harry answered, never more sure of anything in his life. “You can see everything. But there’s something I need you to see, right now. Something that’s…I don’t know how to put it into words. Just, please, let me show you?”
Ginny nodded and stepped back from Harry. He turned away from her, lost in concentration, focusing, clearing his mind of everything except one memory.
He pulled out his wand, and slowly, deliberately raised it to his temple, gently touched it to his head, and then, as he pulled it away, a misty silver thread came with it, floating on the tip. Harry carefully deposited the mist into the Pensieve, watching as it swirled in the stone basin.
Dumbledore smiled. “Now I will leave you two to yourselves,” and he was gone from the portrait.
“Ginny,” Harry whispered, “are you ready?”
In answer, she took his hand, squeezed it, and let him lead her to the Pensieve. Together, they leaned into the basin, and…
It was one of the oddest sensations Ginny had ever felt. As a witch, she was used to all manner of strange feelings, things that took some (or a lot of) getting used to: Portkeys, traveling by the Floo Network, Apparition just off the top of her head. But none of them were like this, this spinning and falling upward and yet downward at the same time, this feeling of traveling and yet not moving an inch.
And then it was passed and she was on her hands and knees on the cool grass, and a hand was reaching out to her, helping her up, Harry’s hand, and she recognized her surroundings. They were outside the castle, and it was…there was…
There I am!
She and Harry stood, apparently unnoticed by anyone, in the midst of the chaos of a few hours before.
“This was just before dawn. Voldemort had called off the Death Eaters, and he said…he said…”
Ginny finished the sentence for Harry. “He would spare us if we gave you to him. I remember,” she said softly. “I didn’t…none of us knew where you were. I was…”
Ginny watched herself, trying to console a girl, a second-year from Ravenclaw, Maura something-or-other. She had got left behind when the underage students had been evacuated, and Ginny had been doing what she could to calm the girl.
“I felt something, I remember,” she said. “It was you. You were there. You walked right by me,” Ginny said, anger creeping into her voice.
“Yes,” Harry nodded. “I’m under the Invisibility Cloak…that’s why everything looks a little hazy, I guess.”
Ginny looked from the memory of herself back to Harry. He didn’t say goodbye. He’d just left her. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“You know why, Ginny. Look at yourself over there. Can’t you tell? You’re the only one in focus. You were the only one I saw. All I could think of was you, and…”
Harry was right. Ginny could see it clearly, now that he had said it. The memory of her was sharper and brighter than anything else. “What were you thinking, Harry?”
Harry didn’t answer. He looked all around, anywhere but at Ginny. She realized that even in the middle of his memories, even now that it was all finished, he still couldn’t talk to her. “What were you thinking?”
“You know,” Harry repeated, finally.
Ginny was focusing entirely on Harry now, paying no attention to the memory all around her. What possible explanation could he have for ignoring her, walking past her, not saying…goodbye?
There it was. That was the answer. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to say goodbye. She understood it all now. He was afraid that if he talked to her, he wouldn’t have been able to go at all. He knew he was walking off to give himself up, to die. And he didn’t want me to talk him out of it, she thought. Oh, Harry!
Ginny knew it was true, knew it absolutely, but that wasn’t enough. “I know, but I want to hear you say it. I need to. And I think you need to hear yourself say it too.”
Now he looked at her, and she saw the tear in the corner of his eye, and wondered how he had managed to hold the tears back as long as he had. “I-I couldn’t say goodbye. If I stopped, if I stayed with you, I couldn’t have gone on. And…”
“And the battle would have continued, and more people would have died. And You-Kn – oh, blast! He’s dead now, I can bloody well say it! Voldemort! Voldemort would still be out there. And you think…” No, he knows. He knowsI would have stopped him, I would have fought him, hexed him if it came to that.
“You would have stopped me. Wouldn’t you?”
If Harry could bare his soul, then, Ginny decided, she could do no less. “Yes.”
“I would have stopped you, if our places were switched,” Harry said. “If it was a choice between saving you and saving the whole world? That’s the easiest choice I can think of.”
Ginny was speechless. She stared into Harry’s teary eyes and felt the tears in her own. He pulled her to him, and for a moment, or an hour, they stood in each other’s arms.
“There’s more,” Harry said softly after a while, taking her hand and leading her across the grounds and into the forest. “I want you to see.”
They caught up to the memory of Harry just as he was holding a Golden Snitch up to his lips, whispering to it. Ginny could just, barely, hear him. “I am about to die,” he said, and she watched through her tears, through the sudden sharp pain all through her body; and something deep inside her, heart or soul or both, she didn’t know and didn’t care, started to crack.
Ginny thought she had got used to that kind of pain. A year ago, on Harry’s birthday, the hurt and the anger she’d felt when Ron and Hermione had burst into her room – the way they’d ruined everything – had burned like nothing she’d ever felt before. She had thought she couldn’t possibly feel a worse pain. But of course she had, the very next day. After the chaos of Bill’s wedding, when it hit home that Harry, and Ron and Hermione were gone, probably never to return. She had cried for hours. The boy – no, the man – she loved, and the girl who was like a sister, and the brother who – infuriating as he often was – she would do anything for: all of them had gone and left her behind. She couldn’t imagine there was anything worse.
She thought that right up until last night, when she learned there were whole new realms of pain to experience, looking at the body of her brother. Fred, so full of life, always ready with a joke, forever pulling pranks. What could hurt even more than that?
Seeing Harry’s body, hearing Voldemort’s words of triumph.
But this, watching Harry walking alone to his death, knowing it was his death, knowing there was no choice and no chance, it was impossible that there could ever be anything more painful.
She watched as the Snitch opened up, and a small black stone fell out, into the waiting hand of the memory-Harry. She watched as he looked at the stone, turned it over in his hand, and then…
“Mum!” the real Harry gasped, as though seeing it for the first time, as though he hadn’t been in the forest and living this memory just hours ago. “Dad!”
There were so many questions Ginny wanted to ask, but none of them mattered at this moment. She knew the most important answer already. There was no need for words now. He really believed he was going to die. And they were coming to take him with them. To bring him home.
The memory-Harry and the real one both looked at his mother, taking every inch of her in, as though she were the most beautiful, most perfect woman in the world. Which, in Harry’s eyes, Ginny knew, she was.
Ginny tried not to listen; even though Harry had brought her here, given this gift to her, she felt that it was something for him and him alone. She walked alongside the real Harry silently, only squeezing his hand as he followed himself to the end.
It came quickly; Death Eaters appeared, and the memory-Harry followed, and arrived in a clearing, and the black stone fell out of his hand, and his parents vanished. She watched as he threw off the Invisibility Cloak and stared at Voldemort, the Dark Lord’s red eyes staring back; watched as Hagrid, bound to a tree, shouted out; looked on as the Death Eaters all around glared malevolently at Harry.
And then she finally saw what he must have meant her to see; when Voldemort aimed his wand at Harry and spoke almost in a whisper, “Harry Potter. The Boy Who Lived,” someone else appeared in the clearing, a girl with red hair and blazing eyes, and she was kissing the memory-Harry, just for a moment, but for that moment she was more real than Voldemort or all the Death Eaters in the clearing or the war or anything else, more real than Harry himself, even though it was his own memory. And then, at last, a jet of green light…
Without warning, Harry and Ginny were back in the Headmistress’s office, Harry again helping Ginny up.
Ginny had tears in her eyes; Harry remembered thinking, a year ago, that one of the things he liked best about Ginny was that she was rarely weepy, but here and now, it was impossible not to weep.
It took Ginny a few moments to find her voice. “Wh-why did you show me that?”
“Because…” The words were there, but it was so hard to get them out. “I wanted you to have something that…that…”
Somehow, despite his inability to say it, Ginny must have understood exactly what he meant. “Something that you could share with me. With…only me?”
It was another trait he liked about her; she knew what he was thinking without him having – or being able to – speak the words. “Something for us to share. And something that’s mine to give, that nobody else can ever have but you. That’s what you wanted to give me last year, for my birthday, isn’t it? You deserve the same.”
Ginny blushed at that, her face nearly as red as her hair. Despite the tears, despite everything that had happened, Harry smiled at the sight of it; if she could blush, and he could smile, there was hope for both of them yet.
But as quickly as that moment came, it was gone, and Ginny looked at Harry searchingly, her eyes finally resting on his scar. “I still don’t understand. You thought you were going to die, but why did you go in the first place? Just because Voldemort demanded it? Just because he threatened all of us?”
A little cough from Dumbledore’s portrait stopped Ginny in her tracks. “I believe you should have shown Miss Weasley the memory Professor Snape gave you, Harry. I think that would answer her question.”
Ginny looked from the portrait to Harry in shock; he knew all the questions that were bursting out of her. But for this at least, he had an answer. “I told it backwards. I wasn’t really thinking logically, I guess. Maybe it would have made sense to show her that. But I’m not going to.”
Dumbledore and Ginny both stared at him questioningly. Harry continued, “I know I said you could see anything, Ginny. You can see anything that’s mine. But he’s talking about something else,” Harry waved towards the portrait, still holding Ginny’s gaze. “I can’t show Professor Snape’s memories to you because they’re not mine to share. Or,” and now he addressed Dumbledore, “anyone else’s. I don’t have the right, and he didn’t want anyone to see them, and I’m going to respect that.”
Dumbledore looked shocked; Harry couldn’t recall ever seeing that particular expression in all his years at Hogwarts. “You amaze me again, Harry. I would not have expected you to feel that way. Not after all the years of animosity.”
“I hated him, Professor. And even with what I saw, I don’t know if I can forgive him. But he gave…he did…he’s got the right to his privacy. I’d feel the same way,” Harry replied, and then turned back to Ginny. “I’ll tell you about it. Everything I learned from Snape. But the actual memories aren’t mine to give you. I hope you understand,” he finished.
Ginny pulled him to her, kissed him, and Harry could only assume that meant she did.
Later, after all the explanations were done, and after lots of crying, and just as much kissing and hugging, Harry and Ginny were ready to leave the Headmistress’s office.
“I’ve just got one more question, Professor,” Harry addressed Dumbledore’s portrait. “And I need the whole truth.”
“I promise you will get it,” Dumbledore replied, with a hint of a smile.
“I think I’ve worked it all out. You knew I would live…but only if I walked up to Voldemort and I really and truly believed I would die.” Dumbledore nodded, and Harry went on. “For my Mum’s protection to keep working, I had to be totally convinced that I was going to die. You had to lie to me, and to Professor Snape. Am I right?”
At that, Dumbledore himself was nearly reduced to tears. Just a single one escaped from the corner of his eye. “You’re almost right, Harry. I didn’t know for certain, but I believed it wholeheartedly. I was convinced it was the only chance to end this war, to finish Tom Riddle off and leave you alive. But I did not know.”
Dumbledore shook his head. “I am not proud of putting you and your friends and loved ones,” and here he glanced, just for a moment, at Ginny, “through the torment that I did. But I believed it was the only way. It was the only hope I saw for you.”
“Thank you,” Harry said softly.
“As you know,” Dumbledore said, “I have never had children, but what I felt when I lied to you is, I imagine, akin to what a parent must feel when he tells his child that the medicine will not taste bad. I imagine you’ll find out for yourselves when you have children someday.”
Harry and Ginny looked at each other, speaking at the same time, with precisely the same expression on their faces, “Have children? We’re not…”
And then, in the next moment, they had the same realization, that a piece of their future had just been foretold, and, more, that they had already known it before the words were ever said.
Harry knew then that he’d been right earlier; there would be hours and days and years for him and Ginny, a whole life with her. Together, hand in hand, they took their leave of Dumbledore and went to find the rest of her family – no, Harry corrected himself. Our family.