Two years of attacks and politely worded announcements of deaths and disappearances culminated in a second battle at the Ministry of Magic. The Order of the Phoenix, and a small group of students who considered themselves junior members, did their best to draw the Death Eaters to less occupied areas so the noncombatants would have a chance to get out. They'd ended up in the Death Chamber once again.
Voldemort's forces had allowed that, probably reasoning that the "emotional fools" would be thrown off their game by returning to the place where one of their number had died. Instead, they had fought harder than ever. The room was filled with spell sparks and so many yelled incantations it was impossible to distinguish between them. There was a smell like burnt feathers, and Ginny realized, in a vague way, that a chunk of her hair had been singed off when she'd dodged that last curse.
There was too much going on to keep track of all of it. Ron and Hermione were together, she saw, working almost as well in tandem as Harry and Dumbledore, who were going up against Voldemort himself. She aimed a Stunner at a Death Eater sneaking toward Neville, then saw Dumbledore keel over, hit by a sinister green light she recognized all too well.
Harry grabbed at him, slowing the fall and giving his mentor the small dignity of sparing his body further injury. "Oh, Merlin…"
But there was no time to even finish the thought. She sensed someone moving in her peripheral vision – "not friendly" her instincts screamed – and sent off another Stunner. Hermione was down now too, she saw, with Ron positioning himself between her and the nearest threat. That he hadn't snapped convinced Ginny that Hermione was still alive.
Then there came an intense pain, far beyond any she'd suffered before. Bludger hits were nothing. Falling off a broom was nothing. It eased after an eternity that was probably no longer than a few seconds, and she found she was almost kneeling. Harry was taking on Voldemort on his own, and let loose a final spell that sent the Dark Lord staggering backwards through the Veil.
Instead of the battle din there was - nothing. A hot burst of power, like that from a small, dark star going out slammed Ginny hard into the steps. She was better off though than those who'd been standing. They were sent flying.
Recovering more quickly than they would, she got her unsteady legs under her and gripped her wand tightly. She spotted Harry lying sprawled on the ground about a body length from the Veil platform and scrambled towards him, afraid that whatever he'd done to defeat Voldemort had taken his life too. He was a mess, covered in dirt, sweat, bruises, and torn clothes, and his left shoulder was at an odd angle, but he was breathing. She wanted to collapse in relief, but held herself to placing her hand over his.
His eyes opened and focused on her, but fuzzily. She wasn't sure how coherent he was, but decided a reassuring voice couldn't do any harm. "Harry, Voldemort went through… he's gone…"
He blinked slowly, and said just one word. "Thanks." Then his eyes rolled back, and he passed out entirely. Kind hands lifted her up and tried to guide her away, but she swatted them aside until Harry was ready to be moved too.
* * *
The light coming through the windows was still tinged silver when a girl of seventeen wrapped in a faded print dressing gown descended an uneven wooden staircase. She had a beauty, mostly from expressive brown eyes and vivid red hair that fell short of stunning but was far more approachable.
The girl wandered into the living room, a space dominated by comfortable clutter. Just when she had started toward the bookshelf, a large ginger cat trotted out from under a chair and sat at her feet with an expectant look on his pug-like face. She gave a smile and picked him up, then made her way over to the sofa where she nestled into the corner with the cat on her lap, petting him absently.
Ginny had agreed to keep the cat until Hermione was released from St. Mungo's, but not without some trepidation. It was true the arrangement made sense, with Hermione in the hospital and her parents in a hotel that didn't allow pets, but she'd been concerned that Crookshanks would take the separation from his mistress hard. So far though he'd confined himself to pining at night, which Ginny could ease with a well-placed scratch behind the ears. She reassured herself that Hermione was going to be fine, given a little time.
A week after the battle, she was still unsure what Harry's "thanks" had meant. She was curious, of course, but… perhaps it had been just the delirium of someone about to lose consciousness and hadn't actually meant anything at all. Harry certainly hadn't brought it up, not while he was in the hospital or during the two days he'd spent so far at the Burrow.
Of course, he was reluctant to talk about the battle in general. Ginny could understand that; it hadn't been a pleasant experience for anyone. In that silence, however, she was concerned that he might be slipping back into old habits -- namely, thinking he was responsible for any negative occurrence down to late trains in Leeds.
"Good morning, Ginny."
"Oh!" She looked up, surprised anyone else was up and about so early. It was Harry, clad in a t-shirt and pajama trousers that were both too big on him. He'd grown taller over the last few years and broadened a bit through the chest and shoulders, but overall he retained the slim build of a Seeker, which Ginny much preferred to the overly muscular look. His left arm was held stiff at his side; while he refused to wear a sling it was obvious his shoulder pained him. "Did you sleep all right?"
"Well enough." He gave an odd, one-shouldered shrug. "Crookshanks looks comfy."
Ginny accepted the change of subject, glancing down at the cat (who gave an imperious meow) then back up at Harry. "Yes. He misses his Hermione though. I was just trying to decide how to sneak him in to see her." She smirked.
Harry gave a subdued grin back and took a seat on the sofa beside her. "Using a Silencing Charm, for one."
"Of course," she said, taking mock offense at being spoken to as though she was still an amateur at rule breaking. She'd got her full credentials through Fred and George while still practically a toddler. "I was thinking I'd use that charm we did on our trunks, the one to make more room in them, on my handbag and carry him in that."
Harry chuckled, and then gave a true laugh. It was the first one she'd heard out of him since the battle.
* * *
Whatever plans she might have cooked up Ginny hadn't, so far as Harry knew, smuggled Crookshanks into St. Mungo's. Yet, anyway. Ron, on the other hand, had slipped out into the garden at some point and cut a bouquet for Hermione, which she'd accepted with a smile and a brief kiss. His cheeks had pinked, more at the presence of other people than the kiss itself Harry thought. Surely after two months together Ron didn't blush every time they kissed.
"I've felt worse, really," Hermione said, about half an hour into their visit. "Have our N.E.W.T. letters come yet?"
Ron and Harry, who'd half expected the question from the former Head Girl, shook their heads. "There was a notice yesterday they'd be a bit late. Something about the Ministry still being busy with the war…" Ron said.
Hermione shot him a mild glare. "We won't be able to start looking for jobs until we've got them."
"You're still in the hospital, dear!" said Mrs. Granger, distress in her voice. "That's one of the last things you need to concern yourself with now."
Harry had never been sure how much Hermione had told her parents about their adventures, but even the most innocuous version would be enough to worry any decent parents, which the Grangers more than qualified as. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had worried too, but they'd also known very well, having lived through the first war against Voldemort, just what was at stake.
"You're right." She sighed. "It's only that it's so dull here. I'm not even allowed out of bed except to use the loo."
"Would you like some of your books? I could get into your school trunk," Ginny said.
"That would help… thank you." Hermione gave her a grateful look.
"You're welcome. I'll bring them tomorrow." Ginny said, fussing at her newly shortened hair and finally tucking it behind her ears.
Hermione had so many visitors that they hardly fit around the bed, but Harry knew of another patient who was, most likely, alone. "I'm going to see Remus," he announced.
"Of course… tell him hello from me," Hermione said.
That was followed by a chorus of ‘And me's from Ginny and Ron, and a ‘And from us' from Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.
"I'll come by soon, too," Ginny added as Harry stepped away from the group.
Remus, who Harry had come to see as a kind of honorary uncle, had been placed on the same level as Hermione but in the men's secure ward. Harry had no real trouble making his way there, having done so several times in the last week, and found his former professor sitting up and chatting quietly with the man in the next bed. He looked a little stronger than he had the day before – the fact he still had a week to go before his next transformation probably helped - but he'd been cut with a silver knife in the battle. The wound would take time to heal properly, if it did at all.
"Ah, Harry…" Remus greeted him pleasantly. "Here with the Weasleys, I assume?"
Harry nodded. "Everyone else is with Hermione right now, but Ginny said she'd be along soon."
"I've had only a few students who are truly naturals at Defence Against The Dark Arts. You're one, and Ginny Weasley is another," Remus said. "Sirius was rather impressed with her."
Even after two years and other losses, Harry still felt his chest clench at the mention of Sirius. There were many in the Order who'd liked Sirius once they knew of his innocence, but Harry was fairly confident that he and Remus were the ones who'd loved him. Harry drew closer.
"I wish he'd lived to see this… to see Voldemort gone."
"As do I." Remus folded his hands on his lap. "He never doubted you would fulfill your destiny, but he was concerned about what that might do to you."
Like make him a killer. A small shudder worked its way through his body at the unwelcome word, leaving him sick to his stomach. He couldn't quite term what he'd done murder – Voldemort would have happily killed him and everyone he cared for if given the chance – but he'd intentionally taken a life. He wasn't even eighteen yet, though exactly why that should matter eluded him. Harry suppressed those thoughts, and straightened up. "Yes, well, I made it through."
"Seven years of fighting to merely ‘make it through'." Remus paused. "You're of age and have left school; you no longer need an official guardian -"
"No, but I do need my family. You're as much a part of that as the Weasleys," Harry said.
"Joke shop owners, people who search out cursed tombs, now werewolves… you have interesting taste in family members, Harry." Remus gave a small but genuine smile.
Harry returned it. "True, but it's worked out well so far."
"I don't think Mum's as concerned about the werewolf or the curse-breaker as she is about the joke shop owners," Ginny's amused voice came from behind him, and a moment later she appeared at his side.
"They must've been a real handful even as babies," Harry said.
"No, actually," Ginny said, getting surprised looks from both Remus and Harry. "According to family stories the twins were the easiest, most docile of all of us till they were two or three. Then one day they decided they had to make up for it."
"That explains quite a bit…" Remus muttered.
* * *
Mr. Weasley chuckled, winding up an after-dinner story that had involved Mrs. Norris, a suit of armor, and his last year at Hogwarts and his future wife's sixth. "So, you see, it was inevitable that Molly and I would end up together after that. Mr. Filch remembered the incident years later when Bill went – Mrs. Norris had been frightened almost out of her wits. He yelled at the boy, and was about to give him detention when the Head Boy and Girl showed up." He paused a moment in thought. "I believe they were your parents, actually, Harry. I'm sorry to say I didn't know much more than their names."
Harry wouldn't have expected otherwise; it wasn't as though parents regularly spent time at Hogwarts. "That's all right. I hadn't realized Bill was at Hogwarts with them; maybe I'll ask him what he remembers when he and Fleur visit." The couple had been living in Paris, and were expecting their first child at the end of the summer.
"Absolutely," Mrs. Weasley said. "I'm sure he'd be happy to talk about them."
"Is your shoulder doing any better, Harry?" Ron asked.
Harry made a small, experimental movement of the joint and winced. The sharp pains weren't as intense as before, but his shoulder was going to ache for a while. "A little. I'm supposed to start doing some of those exercises the Healers gave me tomorrow."
"Good. You don't want to let it heal too tight, mate," Ron said. He'd learned the basics of sport medicine while acting as Quidditch captain their last year, mildly impressing Madam Pomfrey.
"I know…" Harry said, accepting his friend's concern, and drank the last of his pumpkin juice. "Still, for that kind of Severing Charm I got off lucky." As it was, it had taken close to a day for the Healers to reattach the ligaments and tendons.
"We all did, mostly," Ginny said soberly, "but I still hate that people died."
They were silent for a long moment. Names started going through Harry's head like a litany… Cedric, Sirius, Dumbledore, Snape, Percy, Katie Bell… so many others. Ron said, finally, "We all do, Ginny. It could have been loads worse though."
It was the stark truth. Voldemort was gone and the top Death Eaters were back in Azkaban. He couldn't celebrate though, like most of the wizarding world was, and it was comforting that his friends seemed to feel the same way. "Right." He glanced briefly at Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, confirming that they were occupied with their own conversation. "I think there are some things we ought to talk about, Ginny."
The three teenagers excused themselves from the table, and after the dishes were put in the sink went out into the garden. It was well within the wards, and more private than anywhere in the house. Ron had followed, and as Ginny made no move to stop him Harry didn't either. It would save having to tell it again.
The night air was cool, despite the fact it was almost July, and carried the scent of flowers.
"So… what is it, Harry?" Ginny asked, putting her hands in her jeans pockets.
Harry started to speak, then stopped. He had to get things in some kind of order. "A lot of people had a part in Voldemort's defeat. I wouldn't have even survived our first year without your help, Ron, and Hermione's. It could have all ended there, forget about the last battle." He met his best friend's eyes, then looked back at Ginny. "But you… you had a very important part, Ginny."
"What do you mean?" Her face had gone pale as the moon above them.
"That session looking at the memories Tom Riddle left behind wasn't useless… but I promise I didn't put it all together till we were in the battle –"
"You couldn't have mentioned this sooner?!" Ron was furious, and Harry found his own temper rising to match.
"Such as when I was in the hospital where one of those reporters might have got wind of it?" Harry shot back. "Or, better yet, a bloody Death Eater? All they'd have to do is read the Daily Prophet."
Ron swore under his breath.
"Shut up, both of you! I'm standing right here." Ginny was still white, but her eyes were flashing dangerously. "I have one question to ask Harry, and then I'm going up to my room and don't want to see either of you till morning."
Neither Ron or Harry dared argue with her.
"I want to know what -," she swallowed, "- what we did."
Only the truth would do. "There was a time in those memories he was reading a book. I don't know that it even exists anymore; it was falling apart sixty years ago. There was a spell in it called Oculi Ex Victimae that was supposed to make the target ‘see with the eyes of his victims'. The caster would be very weak afterward and the target had to have done intentional evil. Not all that useful to him, and he was getting a bit testy, so he tore the page out. Threw it in his dormitory's fireplace, in fact, and didn't think of it again."
"But you used it, didn't you." It wasn't a question.
Harry nodded, grimly. "It didn't really come together till Dumbledore died. I made Voldemort feel every bit of torture he did, every killing, as though it was being done to him… just kept channeling all that into him. I can't remember if that made him stumble back through the Veil on its own, or if it just distracted him enough I was able to let off some other spell to knock him through. But, either way, it worked."
Ron's jaw was set. "Good. He deserved every bit of it, Harry."
"Yes, very fitting," Ginny said quietly. Then she turned neatly on her heel and strode toward the house without looking back at them. Harry could only watch her go, and wonder if things would ever be quite the same between them.
* * *
It was well past midnight, and Ginny still had her bedside candle lit. Ron was right, Voldemort deserved it! she thought, angrily wiping at her tired eyes. None of it'd had to happen at all. Hundreds of people could be alive and happy, but weren't, just because he'd decided to cause trouble.
Another voice said, coolly, Take some responsibility, little girl... it might not've been your hand on the wand but it was your spell. Still having fun?
Not really, no. She punched her pillow, and found satisfaction in the fact that she'd managed to dislodge some feathers. She tried to think about the situation logically, though that would never be as natural for her as it was for Hermione.
Yes, she had provided the spell so she was as responsible for Voldemort's destruction as Harry.
Voldemort would have killed them all if given the chance, and done a jig over their bodies to celebrate. He'd had to be stopped.
He'd had to be stopped.
It was by no means a new thought, but it threw the situation into sharp focus. Without the spell, both the wizarding and Muggle worlds would still be under attack with the dubious benefit of… what, preserving her relative peace of mind until she lost a second brother, or a parent? She didn't bother to check the tears that came when she thought of Percy. He'd been a clandestine member of the Order, but neither she nor Ron had been told until his death and to her shame they'd treated him terribly. He'd been a git at times, but she also remembered him patiently teaching her to ride a broom when she was five and how he'd kept an eye out for her during her horrible first year.
When the tears finally stopped she felt calmer, if not all right, and completely exhausted. She sighed and pulled the covers tighter around her, then blew out the candle.
* * *
Meanwhile, in a large home on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, a businesslike short-eared owl flew through an open ground-floor window and perched on a table, then hooted to catch the occupants' attention.
A small girl of six with black hair and café-au-lait skin ran over to it, and carefully untied the letter from its leg. The bird paid her little mind, except to blink at her when she was done, then took off again.
"Who is it for, sweetheart?" her mother asked from the chair near the fireplace.
"Not me," the girl replied, and came to hand the letter over. She was tugged onto her mother's lap, in preparation for a small lesson.
"This is my name… D – E – B – O – R – A – H. Deborah."
The little girl looked perplexed. "Then why do I call you Mommy?"
"Because I am your mommy, and your brother's. But Deborah's my name, just like yours is Ari."
Deborah turned the letter over, and saw, impressed in red wax, a seal she hadn't seen in many years – that of a bee superimposed over a phoenix. "Ari, please go play in your room for a while."
"Because I told you to," Deborah said, more forcefully than intended. "Just… please go," this gentler.
Ari slid off her mother's lap and dashed out of the living room, with a glance back to her at the door.
Deborah cracked the seal and skimmed through the letter's contents, and felt her chest clench with all the old grief. It was as though there was no separation between this day and the one seventeen years before, when she'd left England carrying just a trunk of necessities and her bank key.
Damn you, Dumbledore, for bringing me back in. And damn me for letting you.
Author's Notes: I'd like to thank my partner in crime Rebecca for helping me develop the Oculi Ex Victimae spell. Thanks also go to my pre-beta, Hollow Godric, and my beta, LadyChi, who have given this a polish it would never have had on its own.