Disclaimer: All things recognizable belong to J.K. Rowling.
A/N: Many thanks to my beta, Mistral!
Ginny's stomach hurt. It was a familiar pain. The constant, dragging ache often pooled in her throat and scratched at her dry eyes. It consumed her, the pain, but she welcomed it. With her body sore and her mind numb, there was no room for the other agony. No energy for the grief. She could just lie there, just close her eyes and pretend. Here, in her tiny bedroom, there had been no battle. No curses, no sacrifices, no bodies. No.
Her breath hitched, and she rolled to her side, pressing her icy cheek to the cool pillow. The simple change left her exhausted. The pain was worse like this. She shouldn't have moved.
She could hear faint sounds from downstairs, beyond the closed door.
Ginny wasn't interested in the reality beyond the closed door.
Maybe if she weren't so tired, if her stomach didn't hurt so much, she could walk down there and join them. It could be just like it used to be.
But it wouldn't be like that at all. The world was different now. It wasn't what she remembered, and it wasn't what she wanted.
She wanted her mum.
A sob rose and shifted somewhere inside but never quite surfaced. She pressed her knuckles to her mouth and bit hard. More hurting, but no tears. Never any tears. She wanted to cry -- oh, Merlin, she needed to cry so badly. To feel wetness soak into the pillow beneath her face, to wash the grit from her eyes. It was wrong not to cry. It was all wrong.
This wasn't the way it was supposed to be. He was gone. After all the fear and all the evil, he was gone. It was supposed to be glorious and good and right. The end of the Terror and the beginning of Life -- that was what they'd promised.
There was no beginning. Just this...numbness. This nothingness.
Ginny remembered Bill telling her how happy they would be, once it was over. After the end.
She remembered Bill.
In her middle, through the cold, something flinched. But her eyes were still dry.
She widened them and stared straight ahead. There was a crack in the wall. One of Fred and George's exploding candies, a long time ago. Their mum had been livid; they'd tried to make her eat it.
She wondered when she'd last eaten. She didn't think she was hungry. Someone would come in soon with dinner. Or maybe breakfast. She didn't know if it was early or late. The light was pale. They'd try to make her go down there - to pretend that everything was the same. They'd smile, but she'd see the expression in their eyes. It used to be sadness; now, it was fear. For her. No one should have to feel afraid anymore. That was supposed to be over, too. But it was all wrong.
Footsteps in the hall. Usually, they slowed; sometimes, they stopped. Often, they'd recede again. Words were meaningless. Nobody knew what to say. She was hurting them. She knew it, but she was so tired. The feet had stopped. Gentle drumming on the door. Probably worried that she was asleep. She thought she slept a lot, but wasn't sure. Blackness -- oblivion -- instead of the hurting. It was easier.
The voice was muffled against the wood. She couldn't tell who it was. Hermione. Maybe Ron.
She hoped not Ron. It was hard to look into his eyes.
The door opened, and, just for a moment, she felt the panic rush through the opening. She couldn't let it thaw the cold. If she felt, she would feel everything. She wasn't ready.
She lay still and listened to the sound of her own breathing. Then, her eyes shifted to the tall figure. It was a dark-haired boy with a wide, comforting chest and deep, open eyes.
Deep, mature, familiar. A man's voice. He'd changed, too. She remembered him as a boy, awkward and unsure...and so beautiful inside, it had always amazed her so few people saw it.
Neville walked over to the bed, his stride unfaltering. He didn't speak again, didn't ask for permission or look at Ginny like she was a stranger. He just sat down beside her and picked up her hand.
No one had touched her for days.
To her surprise, another sob stirred. This one rose higher in her throat, and Neville tightened his clasp.
With his other hand, he stroked the hair from her forehead. His fingers remained there, unmoving, a comforting weight against her skin.
They existed in silence and stillness for long, long minutes. Ginny didn't know how much time passed before he met her gaze and said her name again. Just her name. She didn't need more. Words didn't seem to mean much.
Neville paused, hesitant for the first time.
"He's gone to the village with Hermione. He didn't want to. I think it was only the threat of a bat bogey hex," he said lightly, watching her, "that got him out of the house in the end."
Ginny said nothing.
"Ginny...he sits outside your room all day. I know you know that. Ron says he even sleeps out there. If he sleeps...which I doubt, by the look of him. You need to let him see you. He needs to see you, Gin."
Memories. Memories flooding back. She'd tried so hard to suppress everything. Messy black hair, frame still on the skinny side despite years of Quidditch and training. Big hands with blunt fingers and green eyes filled with a love she'd given up hoping for -- the depth of which she'd never dared dream. She remembered it, but she couldn't feel it. She was too numb.
"He's desperate," Neville said forcefully, gaze intent on hers. "He's desperate, and he doesn't know what to do. Let him help you, Ginny, please. I think he's the only one who can help you. And he needs you so badly."
More ice cracking. She closed her eyes quickly, squeezed them tight. She could feel it. The grief penetrating the emptiness. Too soon; it was too soon.
Neville's voice was thick with the tears she couldn't shed. "I know it hurts, Ginny. And I know how much easier it is to deny it all. But your mum, Bill, Fred, they wouldn't have wanted you to deny yourself life. We can't change what's happened, but we have a duty to live properly and fully. Or we fought for nothing."
Don't say their names! Please...Merlin, please.
"Everyone's worried sick, Gin. You can't stay like this. You've got to be brave now. It's killing Harry. It's killing him. You need to let yourself be sad. Be angry -- be bloody furious if you want. But let it out." Neville wrapped his other hand around hers. "The pain won't go away until you let it out. I know how strong you are, so prove it. Let yourself grieve. It's been weeks, and you haven't even had a good cry."
"I can't. I can't cry."
The voice was shattered and rusty from lack of use. It took several deep breaths before Ginny recognised it as her own.
"Why not? Why can't you cry?" He rubbed her fingers, eyes never leaving hers.
Because I'm afraid if I start, I'll never be able to stop.
She just shook her head mutely.
"Your family has already suffered enough losses. Everyone has. They need you back. We all do," Neville said, face set with determination and sorrow. Despite its youthfulness, it was a face that belonged to an older man. They all knew too much, had seen too much. "People love you whole bunches, Ginny Weasley. And we need to stand strong together, or we'll never get through this."
A sound left her throat, tormented, somewhere between a cry and a hiccup.
Neville didn't hesitate. She was pulled to a sitting position and was in his arms when the tears finally -- finally -- began to fall.
She gathered handfuls of his shirt, clenching her knuckles till they bled white.
"It wasn't supposed to be like this!" The words burst from her in an anguished wail. She couldn't control her voice or her sobs. Everything was beyond her now.
"I know." The response was tight and strangled. His eyes were wet against her temple.
"I want them so b-b-badly. Everything hurts. It hurts." Ginny pressed her forehead against Neville's neck, struggling for air. She was choking. The void was leaving her, it was melting, and she was going to drown in her tears.
"I know," he said again, rubbing her back.
His arms were strong, holding her up. He was Neville, and he was her friend, and he loved her.
But she needed Harry.
She'd always needed Harry.
Neville pulled away slightly, gently, and fumbled in his pocket. Something cool and soft was pressed into her hand, and she looked down at the handkerchief. It was clean linen, carefully embroidered with the words 'Neville Longbottom-Weasley'.
It had been Fred and George's idea, to present them to Harry, Hermione and Neville last Christmas. They had probably been the twins' first ever non-prank gifts. Of course, they'd come wrapped around sugar quills that made a person's eyeballs glow in the dark, but still...
Ginny smiled. Even as she cried harder, she smiled.
Neville took her hand again, holding on as she scrubbed fruitlessly at her face.
"I know the person you are," he said quietly. "I've known for years. He couldn't have done it without you; we all know that. And you're strong enough to face this, however hard it may be."
A noise at the door, just a quiet intake of breath, but Ginny turned. A sob caught and broke.
Harry stood there, gripping the door handle in one taut fist. He looked exhausted; his skin was grey and blotched purple beneath his lashes. He was so pale, so drawn and terrified, that Ginny was almost overwhelmed by the shame that joined her grief.
She'd done this to him.
Nobody moved at first. Ginny and Neville sat on the bed, tear-streaked and sniffling, while Harry's gaze never left Ginny...a silent tableau of anguish.
Then Neville pressed Ginny's arm in silent comfort and got to his feet.
"I'm going to have a cup of tea, I think," he said carefully. "But I'll say goodbye before I leave, Gin."
She nodded, her neck feeling stiff. She couldn't speak. There were no words for what Neville had just done.
The door closed softly behind him, and Ginny shifted noiselessly. She could hear the rough rasp of Harry's breathing, feel the heat of his eyes on her, but she couldn't look at him yet.
There had been a time, several months ago, when he wouldn't have hesitated to approach her. If he'd seen her in tears, he would have been at her side in an instant. But she'd done her best to push him away now. Made it clear that she didn't want anyone around her, reminding her... Not even him.
Ironic, really, considering the way she'd forced him out of solitude after Sirius' death. The realization of her selfishness...towards him...towards everyone...hit her hard, but was still muffled by the sense of unreality she couldn't shake. She felt raw and shaky, her nerve endings exposed. It was too much, too soon.
Ginny jumped violently at the sudden outburst. Harry took a few steps towards her, his hands clenching and unclenching repeatedly. Two spots of red appeared in his cheeks.
"Why could you talk to Neville and not to me?"
Ginny was frozen. The depth of pain in Harry's voice was impossible to disguise and sheer hurt radiated from his glare. He was furiously, vehemently bitter.
"I tried to talk to you, and you pushed me away. I wanted to help you, and you wouldn't let me. Do you know what it's like to have lost so many people you care about and then think you're going to lose the person you love most in the world, as well? Do you, Ginny? Do you know what it's like to love someone that hard, and have to watch them going through hell, and feel absolutely bloody useless ? I can't lose you, too, Ginny, I can't. I can't ," he repeated, almost incoherent in his desperation. "You can't just shut down and shut me out. I know how much you're hurting, but we all are, and we need each other, and it's ruddy selfish!"
"I know," she forced out.
The quiet words stopped Harry in mid-tirade. He stood still a moment, chest rising and falling rapidly, searching her face. His own was intense and unhappy.
Then, he was on the bed beside her, reaching out with urgent hands. And for the first time in weeks, she found herself in Harry Potter's arms, wrapped in his warmth and familiar scent, his body solid and reassuring.
And for the first time in weeks, she felt safe.
One hand burrowed into her hair, and he exhaled against her neck, a deep sigh of release. His lips gently nuzzled the sensitive skin there, and a fresh rush of tears filled Ginny's eyes. Finally, something felt right. The relief of it lessened the ball of misery in her stomach -- not much, but a little. She held him tighter.
Harry shifted, his rough cheek sliding along her softer one. A large hand came up to cup her jaw.
"I love you so much, Ginny Weasley," he stated clearly into her ear. His breath tickled her, and she shivered. "Don't you dare push me away again."
"I'm sorry," she whispered, pressing her face closer to his. She was still crying, though less uncontrollably, and he was getting rather damp. Harry's only response was to lift her carefully across his knees and into his lap. He rested his chin on her shoulder and slid his fingers between hers. She closed her eyes.
The wall clock was ticking loudly. She hadn't noticed it earlier.
"We're going to get through this, Gin; I promise," Harry said huskily.
She wanted so badly to believe him.
Unconsciously gripping his hand, she looked down.
"I don't know how to go on from here, Harry. I don't know how to live my life without them."
"I know, love." He swallowed hard, his other hand spreading over her stomach in a gesture that was innately protective. "But we have to try. We owe them that."
"And what about when it hurts so bad I can't breathe?" Ginny's voice was croaky, and she could taste the salt of her tears...and Harry's.
When he eventually spoke, his words were unsteady but firm. "When it hurts to breathe, you think about Fred and the time he turned Snape Gryffindor red and gold, and you think about the way Bill used to slip you his pudding when the others weren't looking. And you remember how much your mum loved you and how proud she was of you." Harry tried to clear his throat, but failed. Ginny's vision was too blurry to see him, but she could hear his struggle to speak. "And then you grab my hand, and you squeeze it as hard as you can."
"What if you're not there?"
"I'll be there." It was more than a statement; it was a vow.
"I love you, Harry Potter."
"I know you do. And we're going to be all right."
Ginny turned in his embrace, hugged him fiercely about the neck and let the last of the numbness slip away. His mouth sought hers as the sorrow took hold.