Harry had no idea how long he stayed there on the steps of Hogwarts in Ginny’s arms. He stayed long after his tears had all dried up and he felt like a wrung out wet rag, listless and unable to move. The whole time, Ginny held him, soothing and comforting. After a long time— it could have been hours, he had no idea, he’d lost track of the time — he slowly sat up. Taking his glasses from his face, he examined the salty tear spots that streaked the lenses and slowly cleaned them on the hem of his shirt. When he put them back on, his eyes found Ginny’s. She was looking at him with a small smile on her lips.
“Hi,” she whispered.
“Hi,” Harry whispered back. “I was going to come looking for you. I got a bit waylaid by your brothers and then your dad—” Harry broke off and turned to stare out over the grounds, looking at the pockets of devastation that still marked the battle that had been fought. He felt Ginny entwine her small fingers with his larger ones and softly caress his hand and he looked down at his hand and hers, joined together.
“I don’t have anything to do alone anymore,” he said. “No one’s trying to get to me. We can be together, if you want to be.” Harry looked up at her face and Ginny smiled softly.
“I’d like that, Harry,” she whispered, and without thinking about it, Harry leaned over and captured her lips in a kiss. He felt her hands slide up his arms and sneak into his hair and as he deepened the kiss, he slid his own hands down her sides and his arms around her waist, pulling her closer to him, sliding one hand up into her hair and caressing her neck. The sensation of being in her arms and kissing her again made him feel just a little bit giddy but he didn’t want to stop. He wanted it to go on forever. Some of the pain and despair seemed to melt away as he lost himself in her embrace and the good memories and the happy feelings overshadowed the despair he had been feeling earlier.
“Oi!” Harry dragged his lips away from Ginny and gave her a little crooked grin. Then he turned to look at Ron who had just stepped out of the now-closed doors and was glaring daggers at him. Harry just smiled benignly at him before standing up and looking down at Ginny.
“Want to go for a walk?” he asked. Ginny nodded and turned to Ron and gave him a little wave as she rose to her feet. Clasping her hand, Harry tugged her down the steps and they headed off into the sunshine.
“Don’t think I’m not going to tell George!” Ron muttered as they left. Harry just laughed; it felt good to laugh but suddenly all wrong and he stopped abruptly.
“What does that mean?” Ginny was saying. “Who cares what he tells George? It’s not like what I do is any of his business.” She stopped as Harry pulled her closer to his side.
“What am I going to do now, Ginny? There’s so much left to do. There are so many lives that have been ruined. So many people have died,” Harry’s voice cracked on the last word and he stumbled over his next thought. “How do we start to rebuild from here? What do I need to do now?”
“Harry, listen to me,” Ginny said as she stopped and turned him to face her. “We don’t have to know all the answers now. We don’t have to make all our plans now. You don’t have to be the grown up now. Let the Ministry figure out how to rebuild; let the adults do it. They’ve done it before; you can help them. They don’t need to help you anymore. You said you don’t have anything to do alone now. Let someone else do it.” She suddenly looked very small and it seemed as though a veil of sadness had suddenly been drawn over her face.
“If anyone’s got a right to mourn, Harry, it’s you. I don’t think you’ve ever really done that, not properly.” Tears began to cascade down Ginny’s cheeks. “It’s not fair that you haven’t had a chance to do that before. Because it hurts so badly and you just need so much to – to say, say goodbye.” And then Harry was gathering her to him and stroking her hair and whispering words of comfort into her ear as she cried into his shirt. Before long the tears were falling from his own eyes again and the two of them stood together and cried.
Harry and Ginny sat, tangled together under a beech tree by the side of the lake. Harry had told her, haltingly, when she insisted, about Fred’s death and held her as she cried, his own grief dripping tears that mingled with her own.
“Do you think it’s wrong,” whispered Ginny, “that when I saw Fred I felt … sad, unbelievable sadness and grief but that when I saw Hagrid with – with you it was like someone had completely ripped out my heart?” Harry swallowed the lump that had risen in his throat.
“I don’t know, Ginny. I don’t think there is a right way to express grief,” Harry said caressing her face and wiping away the tears.
“It was terrifying,” she whispered. “And it hurt so much.” Harry watched her struggle not to cry and pulled her to him. She buried her face in his chest and clung to him and not for the first time that afternoon Harry bent his head to kiss her. Ginny’s fingers dug into his shoulders and a sob escaped her throat as he tilted her face up and covered her lips with his own. She responded to his kiss frantically, desperately. He pulled away breathlessly, watching her take the same gasping breaths he was as she tried to control her grief. Her eyes were closed and there were tear drops clinging to her eyelashes.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” whispered Harry in between the kisses he trailed down her neck. His worst fear had been not having Ginny to come back to. If he had even thought that had come true it would have destroyed him. He could only imagine the torture Ginny must have felt as she saw him, apparently dead, in Hagrid’s arms.
“I’m so glad you’re not dead,” she sobbed, losing control of her emotions. “I feel like I shouldn’t be glad because so many people are dead and I’m just glad it’s them and not you.” They held each other close under the beech tree as the sun moved lower in the sky.
“Teddy needs me you know,” Harry said much later as he stared out across the lake. “I can’t afford to fall apart like I did today. He needs me so much.”
“It’s okay that you cried, Harry,” Ginny replied. “You can’t ignore how you feel.”
“But I can’t let him down,” whispered Harry desperately. “Who will tell him that they love him and about his parents and be there for him?”
“We all will, Harry,” reassured Ginny. “And he’s got his grandmother. He won’t be alone.” Harry shook his head.
“I know all that’s important, but he needs me,” he fiercely. “No one else knows what it is like … except maybe Neville.” Harry closed his eyes as tears he didn’t think he had left threatened to fall again.
“But that doesn’t mean you can’t cry, Harry,” Ginny said softly as she stroked his arm. “Being there for him doesn’t mean you have to be … stoic. It just means you have to be there.” They sat in silence for a few moments.
“I’m going to buy him his first broomstick,” said Harry eventually. “Sirius bought me my first broomstick, did you know that?” He searched the pouch around his neck and pulled out the torn photograph of himself as a baby.
“Oh ,you were so cute,” exclaimed Ginny. Harry shook his head in mild amusement.
“He taught me to ride it too,” he said, “before he wasn’t there anymore; before he couldn’t buy me any more broomsticks. I have to be there for Teddy.” His voice broke — thinking about the Firebolt Sirius had bought him when he was thirteen, the one that made up for twelve years of Christmas and birthday presents. Ginny looked up from the photograph, understanding dawning in her eyes. She reached out a hand to stroke his cheek.
“You are nothing like Sirius, Harry.”
“I am, I’m impulsive and reckless and I do things without thinking—”
“You are going to be there for Teddy,” she interrupted firmly. “We all will. He’ll have so much love he won’t know what to do with it.” There were tears threatening to cascade down her cheeks and Harry wiped them away with trembling fingers.
“I want him to know how much they loved him,” he whispered. “That they died to protect him; all that stuff I never knew when I was little. I want him to have a happy childhood.” It struck him anew that not only had he been denied his magical heritage and treated rather poorly, to put it mildly, for ten years, but that any remaining vestiges of his childhood had fled by the end of his first year at Hogwarts. If he tried, he could catch flashes of it here and there but they were transparent, ethereal and too hard to grasp.
As the sun began to set, Harry was exhausted and spent of his energy, too tired to move from under the beech tree. Too tired to wonder if Ron had told George anything; too tired to go back inside to eat. Yet he felt strangely lighter than he had been that morning.
“Thank you,” he whispered, because talking seemed too loud in such a peaceful climate. “Thank you for listening, for being here. I couldn’t do this without you, Ginny. I don’t want to do this without you. It’s been agony to be away from you, not knowing how you are, hearing only snippets of what’s happening to you. I don’t want to be away from you again. I couldn’t bear it.” Ginny nodded and reached a hand up to cup his face.
“I know,” she said. “It’s been awful.” She leaned in to kiss him soundly and not for the first time since they’d taken a seat under that tree did they lose themselves in a searing kiss filled with promises and passion and yearning. And that’s why Harry didn’t see Charlie approaching or hear Ron grumbling about being late to the evening meal because parents wanted them to locate errant siblings. That’s why Ginny didn’t realise Bill and Percy were calling her name and why they sprang apart suddenly when George, apparently from quite nearby, groaned.
“Oh no! This cannot be happening,” he cried. “I cannot be seeing what I think I am seeing, no wonder she never told us anything! Such rich opportunities for taking the mickey; completely wasted!” Ginny glared up at him.
“What on earth is that supposed to mean?” she demanded. Harry decided to keep very still and very quiet.
“Well, we – I,” George faltered. “I – I can’t give you a serve now. Before he saved the world, yeah, we could have completely taken the mickey out of you, trussed him up and put him in enclosed spaces. But not now! Now, now I have to all but ignore the fact that ickle Ginny’s got a bloke dangling from her little finger and wrapped around it! How do I possibly mock and intimidate him now?”
“Yeah, because Mum would have made that possible before,” said Ron. “At least you lot haven’t had to put up with it, and the mooning and the sighing. He has been mooning and sighing for a YEAR.”
“She’s been moping,” retorted Charlie. “Moping and slouching from one room to the next.” Harry was alternating between sinking through the earth in embarrassment and wonderment that his punishment at the hands for Ginny’s brothers, protectors of her virtue, had not been more severe.
“You wouldn’t do anything to Harry!” scoffed Ginny. “I think sometimes you lot think more of him than you do of me!”
Bill looked stunned. “Oh, Ginny, that is not true!” Ginny stuck out her bottom lip. It quivered.
“Ginevra, really, I think that is taking things rather far. I should say that it’s not a competition as to who should receive affection; after all, as a parent can love more than one child equally, so too can sibling love be equally as distributed.” Ginny turned on Percy with big soulful eyes.
“Oh don’t give him that look, Ginny!” George protested. “Of course we don’t love him more than you. You’re … you’re our favourite sister! Who’s going to go higher than that in our affections? Oh no, don’t you turn those big puppy dog eyes on me!” Ginny stared balefully at George as he squirmed. Harry thought that if this went on much longer he’d see big fat crocodile tears come leaking out of those big brown eyes. To keep more still and more quiet he would have to stop breathing.
“George, I think we have to face it, our plans may just have to be scrapped,” said Charlie.
“Plans? What plans? Do you know about these plans?” Ginny turned on Ron, fixing him with a beady stare reminiscent of Mrs Weasley.
“I don’t have any plans,” Ron shrugged. “They might have plans. Not me, I have no plans, no plans at all.” Harry snorted, immediately regretting it as all eyes then turned to him. He figured he may as well go for broke, having called attention to himself.
“Oh, you have plans alright. I just think they are different plans to the string-Ginny’s-boyfriend-up-by-the-ears plans! Oh yeah, you’ve got plans!” chortled Harry. “But I bet none of your plans involve discussing house-elf rights!” The tips of Ron’s ears began to turn red and he growled at Harry.
“Nice try with the distraction there, Harry,” said Bill, “but getting back to the issue at hand—”
“Issue at hand?” said Ginny. “What issue can you possibly have?”
“Absolutely none, Gin. And where’s the fun in that?” questioned George. “What brother in their right mind is going to try and scare off, tease or otherwise torment your boyfriend when he is actually The Chosen Saviour of all Wizardkind Who Lived?” Harry rolled his eyes at his new nickname.
“You could take the mickey out of Ron. He kissed Hermione!” he blurted and then, seeing Ron’s face as he did so, he got up and ran, Ron chasing after him, bellowing.
The others were laughing as the two of them raced towards the castle doors, Harry easily ducking Ron’s swinging arms. As the two of them reached the steps, Hermione stepped out of the front doors and Harry darted behind her.
“That’s sneaky, Potter,” said Ron, breathing heavily as he rested his hands on his knees. Harry just grinned at him from behind Hermione while she huffed at the two of them. The three of them stood there on the steps for a few minutes as Ron caught his breath before turning to watch Ginny and her brothers as they ambled up from the lake shore. As his siblings grew closer Ron reached an arm around Hermione and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, looking defiantly back at them. Harry made a face and gagging sounds and was rewarded with a shove for his efforts.
Ginny darted forward and ran squealing to Hermione, and they began whispering and giggling, apparently completing some sort of female ritual that Harry was sure he’d never understand. He paid no attention to Ginny’s brothers as they reached the steps, boldly sliding his hands around Ginny’s waist from behind and resting his chin on her shoulder. As he did so, he caught the tail end of the conversation Bill, George, Charlie and Percy were having.
“Really, well, Mum wouldn’t have let us get away with much anyway.”
“Yeah, probably planning the wedding within a week, I reckon.”
“There’s potential for ribbing with young Ron though. He can’t do a Bat-Bogey Hex.”
“Really, if we were to choose someone for Ginevra ourselves, we couldn’t do much better, after all.”
Harry smiled as Ron tugged Hermione’s hand and whined that it was time to eat, pulling her in the direction of the Great Hall. Bill caught up to Harry, squeezed his shoulder and nodded.
“Let’s go eat, hey?” He slung an arm around George and led the others inside. Harry, not quite willing to relinquish his hold on Ginny just yet, stepped awkwardly inside behind her, his arms still around her waist, his chin resting on her shoulder and breathing in the scent of her sweet-smelling hair.