|SIYE Time:9:29 on 19th September 2017|
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Genres: Angst, Drama, Romance
Warnings: Mild Language
Story is Complete
Summary: When war left so much pain behind, was a victory really a victory at all?'
One shot. My take on what might be going through Harry and Ginny's heads the morning after the battle.
Hitcount: Story Total: 921
Disclaimer: Harry Potter Publishing Rights © J.K.R. Note the opinions in this story are my own and in no way represent the owners of this site. This story subject to copyright law under transformative use. No compensation is made for this work.
This is the first thing I've written with the intention that others might read it, so constructive criticism is welcome!
Obviously, everything belongs to JKR.
The thing Harry liked most about the Hogwarts grounds that morning, was the silence. Of all the grief and blood and destruction of the battle, the horror and pain and loss, the overwhelming memory of it all in his head was just noise. He longed, inexplicably, to be back in the quietness of their tent, just him, Ron and Hermione. Longed for the muted cocoon of canvas instead of jagged, smoking ruins.
He had not returned to Gryffindor tower after the battle. He'd meant to — had thought he'd wanted nothing more than to crawl into his four poster and pretend that he was back in first year, back home — but his feet had taken him up 7 flights of stairs and towards the room of requirement instead. He'd stayed there, in the folds of an abandoned hammock, trying to simultaneously remember and not remember the DA, and all they'd won and lost.
Hogwarts would never be his home again. The thought was an aching bruise inside of him. So much had been lost here, so many happy places defiled beyond recognition. How could he return, rejoice, be a child again, when the castle itself held a loss so profound that he couldn't breathe? His thoughts were like a slowly descending cloud, a mist that encompassed everything good so that the feeling of relief, of euphoria at finally being free, was a rotten, twisted thing. He couldn't close his eyes without seeing Fred and George, the same and now irrevocably not the same. Without seeing the prone forms of Tonks and Lupin and thinking of their baby son. Without seeing Dobby and Hedwig, Sirius and Cedric and Dumbledore. His parents, Mad-Eye, Colin Creevey. Snape. How do you start again, Harry thought, when everything was ashes and rubble around you? How do you banish the darkness from the light?
His head spun. His heart — so brave and bounding during his walk into the forest yesterday — was a sluggish weight inside his chest. He'd pretended to be asleep when others had returned to the room of requirement last night. He'd heard Ron and Hermione come looking for him, heard their whispered relief that he was safe, and had pretended that he hadn't. He'd lain there for hours whilst the castle groaned and hissed around him, magically supported walls settling onto thin air. He hadn't slept. How useless, he'd thought, to just lie there, unable to sleep, and remain lying there. As if there was nothing better he could do with his time. He should have been helping the clean up effort, helping tend to the injured, helping to shore up the defences from any rogue death eaters. He should be comforting, should be strong, should be the beacon of victory that they all looked to him as.
He couldn't do it. Seven years. He'd been fighting for seven years, and they still wanted more. Wanted interviews and words of wisdom, wanted to hail him as a hero and hold him up as their poster boy. He was distraught, when all he wanted was to sleep into oblivion, at how much more he had to do.
And yet, his feelings were pale in comparison to some. Andromeda Tonks had lost her entire family — husband, daughter, sister, son-in-law. All but her one tiny new-born grandson. Teddy had lost his parents without ever knowing them, another orphan of war. Dennis Creevey had lost his brother, countless other bodies lay in repose inside the castle. And George. Harry's chest tightened whenever he thought of George. It was unthinkable, abhorrent, that there should be one twin without the other. They were a team, Fred and George. A freckled, red-haired whirlwind of jokes and minor destruction. How could it have happened? How could one go on without the other?
How selfish he was, how childish, to complain of being held up as a hero when there was grief like George's in the world.
He sighed and looked out across the grounds. He'd walked as far as he could away from the devastation, but even here the school had not escaped undamaged. Chunks of masonry littered the grass, pieces of charred armour lay smoking in the watery sun. He'd stopped twice, on the way here, certain he was going to throw up. Once when he'd passed the pale, translucent body of the giant squid, which had dragged itself half out of the lake to defend its home, the body of one black-cloaked Death Eater still clutched in a long arm; once when he'd walked onto the Quidditch pitch to find the broken body of a unicorn foal, an ugly rope knotted about its beautiful head, its golden hair charred grey from the smouldering remains of the broomstick pyre it lay upon. He'd pitched forward onto the grass and heaved, but there was no food left for his stomach to give up.
When had he last eaten? When was the last time he'd slept? He felt fuzzy with tiredness, blurred around the edges and sick with the thought that he couldn't stay secluded out here. He would have to return to the castle, have to help out. They would all be looking to him for leadership. They'd want to know everything that had happened while he'd been away. What should he tell them? Should he keep the horcruxes a secret? And what about Snape's role in it all? Harry found this the hardest thing to come to terms with. He'd been lied to, repeatedly, by Dumbledore. Had been labouring under the illusion that his hatred for Snape was justified. And was it, still? From the moment Harry had entered Hogwarts, Snape had made his life a misery, had gone out of his way to taunt and punish him. Harry was having a hard time reconciling those memories with the knowledge of what Snape had sacrificed to bring about Voldemort’s defeat. A hard time thinking of that lonely boy who had befriended and loved his mother as the bitter, sneering spectre that had haunted his teenage years.
But Snape had done what Dumbledore had asked. Had played the part so perfectly, that Harry knew he'd have a hard time convincing others of his innocence. He'd need to make sure people knew — make them understand — that Snape had been redeemable after all.
Harry stood up. He could feel his limbs trembling slightly, his whole body swaying as if he stood on the deck of a ship, but he felt newly determined. Snape, and countless others, had spent decades fighting Voldemort, fighting loss, and had died for it in the end. Harry would follow their example, and keep going. He kept his chin up, ignored the devastation around him, and picked his way slowly back to the castle.
The thing Ginny hated most about the Hogwarts grounds that morning, was the silence. She'd grown up in a house full of bodies, full of noise and mess and laughter, people and animals all crammed in together and tripping over each other. She’d gone straight from there to Hogwarts, which was hardly serene and never quiet. Ginny didn’t handle quietness well. It reminded her of her time in the chamber; the cold, damp stillness that pressed against her ears and stifled her sobs. It’d been years since she’d faced that horror, and she still couldn’t bear to sit in silence.
She’d come out here to look for Harry. She wasn’t worried, she told herself. Not really. She dodged broken pieces of crenellation and smoking timbers, skirted around patches of grass, soaked scarlet with blood. She didn't know where Harry might be, now that no part of the castle looked safe and familiar. Where would he choose to hide in a world of devastation?
She knew almost nothing of what Harry had gone through this last year. It had been torture, not knowing where he was, or how he was doing. Torture not to hear from Ron or Hermione. There had been a brief respite, when she had finally received a message from Bill that Ron was safe, that was swiftly followed by a rage so pure she’d almost choked on it. How could he have abandoned them? How could he have been so blinded by jealousy? Ginny wasn't a jealous person. She'd loved Harry for too long and from too far away to let jealousy eat her up. She was glad that Ron had finally seen sense and redeemed himself, both by finding Harry and Hermione and by letting Hermione know how he felt. She'd seen them together this morning, Ron's neck bent awkwardly to rest on Hermione's shoulder as they stood quietly in the wreckage of the Great Hall. It had cleaved her heart to see her taciturn older brother reduced to such misery. She was glad they had each other. They'd left not long before she had, after a furiously whispered conversation. She had a good idea what they'd left to look for.
The Golden Trio was down to two. Harry's absence that morning was a black hole, a whirling vortex that buzzed through her mind and set her heart racing with the memory of his limp body in Hagrid’s arms. She knew the barest details of what he’d had to do to defeat Voldemort. A snatch of a conversation last night with Hermione, when she’d been so desperate for confirmation that it was definitely over. What had Harry been through on that walk into the forest? What had he felt as he’d walked to his death, without fanfare, without goodbyes? She’d reassured herself for months that she’d know, somehow, if he’d been hurt; that she’d be able to feel it. The shock last night when she’d seen his body and known that she’d been oblivious to his fate was almost worse than the grief. She hadn’t had time to think before the battle had started. She'd just lifted her wand, blindly fired off curses through her tears. When he'd materialised among them, cloak cast aside, she'd felt a reprieve, like a prisoner saved from the executioner's block. She'd had to watch, agonised, as he faced off with Voldemort. There was no time, afterwards. She'd been comforting her parents, her brothers, been ignoring the yawning chasm of grief that threatened to pull her in and sweep her away. They hadn't had enough time. She’d spent the night in the Gryffindor common room, clutching her mother’s hand as they alternately sobbed and slept on the sofas.
She needed to find Harry. She felt like she couldn’t breathe without him. She imagined her pale complexion like a porcelain doll; cracks running everywhere, getting bigger, threatening to split her apart. Her heart raced and her hands shook. She needed Harry, to touch him and prove that he was real and warm and living. She couldn't do that if she couldn’t find him.
Ginny gritted her teeth and kept searching through the silent grounds.
The sounds of slowly shifting masonry reached Harry as he approached the castle. Professor Flitwick was outside, wrinkled face grave as he set about magically clearing the path to the front doors. Harry dodged around behind him, stiff muscles protesting as he scaled a large chunk of the astronomy tower and stumbled into the empty entrance hall.
He stood and watched the slow hum of activity in the Great Hall for a moment. Leftover breakfast lay across two of the remaining house tables and Harry felt his stomach rumble in response. He wondered how many of the house elves had survived and if anyone had checked on them. His feet turned towards the dungeon corridor that lead towards the kitchen when the thought of visiting, without Dobby’s smiling face to greet him, stopped him in his tracks. A fresh wave of nausea and grief rolled over him, and he crouched down among the ruins of the house hour-glasses, fists clenched, as he waited for it to pass.
Later. He would visit them later, would find Kreacher and thank him, thank them all. He added it onto the long list of speeches he'd have to bumble his way through and straightened back up.
He could just glimpse Professor McGonagall talking to Neville inside the Great Hall. Neville's thin, bruised face looked sombre as he nodded once at her and shuffled off to speak with Dean and Seamus. Cho Chang and Ernie Macmillan sat talking to Luna Lovegood at the table nearest to him, looking equal parts amused and horrified by whatever the younger girl was telling them. On the staff table, which had been set up in its usual place, sat several Aurors and grim-faced Ministry officials, their conversations frequently punctuated by loud, trembling sobs from Hagrid. The hall was a weird parody of its usual noise and laughter; students and adults alike limped between groups, ran to greet and hug survivors, sobbed and consoled each other. And through it all showed flashes of red, that unmistakeable Weasley hair that taunted him.
He should go in and speak to them, but he had no idea what to say. Voldemort was defeated, but it didn't feel like it. When war left so much pain behind, was a victory really a victory at all? He'd been hurtling towards this point for so long that he didn't know what to do. Didn't know how to find his footing again when everything had come to a jarring halt.
A noise behind him stunned him out of his reverie. He spun around, wand pointed at Arthur Weasley's chest before he'd fully comprehended what he was doing or who it was. He dropped his hand, face burning with shame.
"Mr Weasley! I'm so sorry, I-"
"It's all right Harry". Mr Weasley gave him a sad, tired smile. "Perfectly understandable". Molly Weasley stood just behind her husband, her hands over her mouth and tears in her eyes.
Harry still felt his face flaming as he shuffled awkwardly. Their son had died. Their son. And here Harry was, pulling a wand out on them. He could barely raise his head to look at them as he stuffed his hands back into his pockets.
"I'm so sorry" he whispered hoarsely.
"Oh Harry!" Mrs Weasley pushed past her husband and enveloped him in her arms, his head pulled down onto her shoulder as she gripped him tightly. When had he gotten so much taller than her? Mrs Weasley's muffled voice came in bursts as she sobbed onto Harry's neck.
"I'm so glad you're alright! We've been so worried! When we saw you last night, and Hagrid had you — couldn't lose another of my children — you'd been all alone when you... Why? Why would you just go? Don't you ever do that again! I don't care if Grindelwald and Voldemort both come back from the dead and threaten you...not worth it...oh Harry!"
Her grip on him became painfully tight as she sobbed into his shirt. Harry, embarrassed and horrified, patted her awkwardly on the back and made some rather feeble 'shushing' sounds before Mr Weasley came to his rescue.
"Come on Molly dear," he said quietly. He gently disentangled her from Harry and steered her, still quietly sobbing, away into the Great Hall. He looked back at the threshold and gave Harry a nod, and Harry wondered how one short motion could possibly convey the depth of information it did. Thank you. We are so proud of you. We're here when you need us. A lump rose in his throat as he blinked away tears. They'd lost so much, the Weasleys. They could so easily have cursed the unrelated boy who'd lived instead of their son, but they didn't, because they made no distinction. They were just grateful, in spite of their losses, that he had survived. What had he done to deserve a family like that?
Ginny. The thought glowed inside his head like a sliver of light. Where was Ginny? Suddenly, being alone felt terrifying, like he'd plunged into a dark tunnel with no way of getting out. Why hadn't he thought about her? Why was he not with her, after all these months? All at once, she was all he could think about, a lit fuse that burnt the darkness away. She'd have been looking for him; what would she think when she couldn't find him? How stupid, how wasteful, not to have held her last night, not to have found her already and made sure she was ok.
Harry was torn. He was sure Ginny would be looking for him. Should he wait here, or go looking for her? He wanted to save her from seeing the devastation of the grounds — stupid, stupid, not to have found her first — but if he moved they might keep missing each other. Harry rubbed his hand through his hair in frustration. If I was Ginny, he thought, looking for Harry, where would I go?
Ginny was getting desperate. She knew that Harry wouldn't have done anything stupid. She was sure he was just hiding somewhere, or she kept missing him as she searched the castle and grounds. But a sly voice in her head — the one that spoke in her darkest moments in the voice of Tom Riddle — kept whispering that she'd felt so certain last night that she'd know if something had happened to him, and she'd been wrong. Images of his dead body kept flashing through her mind, looking limp and broken and so, so small in Hagrid's arms. Not dead, not dead, not dead she kept chanting to herself. It was over. Voldemort was defeated. Merlin, please let it really be over...
She was almost sobbing by the time she approached the front doors. She felt like she was falling apart, shaken by grief. She'd kept up her spirits the whole way around the grounds, muttering furiously about how she was going to kill Harry James Potter when she found him. About how Voldemort had nothing on her, how he better be bloody sorry, had better grovel before her if he expected her not to bat-bogey him into next year.
It hadn't worked. Her anger had turned to rising panic, a pool of fear that bubbled up in her chest as she got closer to the castle. If he wasn't in there...no. He had to be in there. He would be. He wouldn't leave them twice. She knew why he'd hidden that morning, knew why he'd run away from them all, but the doubts still surfaced. She found she'd stopped caring about his reasons for hiding, stopped caring about his pain and exhaustion and desolation, in light of her own feelings. How selfish she was to need to see him, to hold and be held, just to keep her own grief at bay.
Dumbledore's office. It was her last shot. She'd already checked everywhere she thought Harry would go: the Room of Requirement, Gryffindor Tower, the owlery. Hagrid's hut, the quidditch pitch with it's hideous remains, the beech tree they'd snatched moments under during her fifth year. Dumbledore's office was the only place left that she thought might call to him.
She heard her mother sobbing as she ran past Professor Flitwick and up the steps to the front door. No, please no...her whole body constricted in terror, her heart in a dread grip as she imagined what more could have gone wrong. She spotted her father first, his back to her, head bowed as he watched his wife sobbing into the arms of...
Relief. Glorious waves of relief crashed over her. He was here. He was alive. He was currently being strangled by her mother as she wailed reprimands into his chest. Ginny wanted to laugh, suddenly, at her stupidity. Of course he was here. Of course he was safe. He was Harry. He would run and hide or stand and fight, rage or mutter or refuse to engage, but he was loyal to a fault. Of course he wouldn't leave them when they were finally free. She leaned weakly against the nearest suit of armour — missing its arms but otherwise miraculously unharmed on its plinth — as she watched her dad drag her mother off Harry and into the Great Hall. Harry looked mortified. He clenched his fists and took a visibly calming breath as the Weasley patriarch gave him an encouraging nod. She knew those nods. The best kind of medicine.
She took a tentative step forward. Harry's head jerked up, hand already raising his wand before his whole body stilled at the sight of her. He looked exhausted. Even his messy hair seemed limp with tiredness. His green eyes, fixed on hers, looked fevered, standing out starkly against the deep smudges underneath them.
He'd been through so much. He’d looked so pale when she’d stumbled through the tunnel into the Room of Requirement last night. So pale and tired and thin, and the look he’d given her — shock and awe and desperation — had made her heart spin and her head pound. The look he gave her now made everything stop, like a tornado that's suddenly silenced, that descendance of calm when you close the door on the storm outside.
She took another step towards him, hesitant, and he was suddenly moving. For all his slightness, he met her half-way across the hall as a solid wall of muscle and bone that took her breath away, enveloping her in smoky clothing and a blur of green eyes. She clung on, her face fitting perfectly into the gap between his head and shoulder. His hands were tight around her, and she could feel their hearts crashing together, as if they, too, were overjoyed to finally be reunited.
She felt safe, for the first time in months. In many ways, it could be argued that Harry was not the man to choose if you wanted a safe life, but Ginny had never had such a feeling of completeness, of warmth and calm and peace, as she did when in his arms. He was the only person who could bring silence with him and she wouldn't mind.
He was trembling slightly — or was that her? His hands shook as they found her waist, stroked up her arms, burrowed into her hair. She felt her breath hitch as he rested his forehead against hers, an agonising stillness of expectation as their breaths mingled and they didn't kiss.
Why didn't they kiss?
Harry was drowning. So many months of living in black and white, in dull, hopeless misery, and he had been thrust into colour. Thrust into light so bright that he couldn't breathe, that washed over him and set him adrift. He clung onto Ginny like a life-rope, his hands tight around her waist, gripping her arms, threading through her hair. This was what it was for. He'd die, again and again, for this moment right here. He was shaking, they were both shaking, as he pillowed his head against hers and tried to catch his breath. They stood there for a small eternity of time before he really became aware that his lips were electrifyingly close to hers. How stupid, how wasteful, to be this close and not kiss her. All those agonising nights watching her on the Marauders map came back to him, when he'd wished and hoped and prayed so hard that she'd be ok, that she'd come through this unharmed and here she was, safe at last and in his arms. Why wasn't he kissing her? What was wrong with him?
Harry caught her lips at the same time as she reached for him, so that they clashed together in an ungainly tangle. He didn't care. She smelled of brick dust and smoke, her lips were dry and rough and her hair a tangled mess and he absolutely didn't care. He was flying, soaring, and it was all for her. He was Harry Potter, he was alive, and he was home.
"I'm sorry". He whispered into her mouth. She made a noise in the back of her throat but kept kissing him. He removed his lips from hers only long enough to mutter out a few words as they kept kissing.
"I just...wanted...some time...I'm sorry, so stupid!...Gin...mmurgmm..."
He gave up. Kissing was better than words anyway. The sense of desolation, of bewilderment and loss that he'd dealt with for hours, had lessened. He felt suddenly stronger, suddenly more resilient. When he finally pulled away, he saw Ginny's brown eyes shining as she looped her arms around his neck and rested her head on his chest. He held her in the quiet of the entrance hall, and the thought of all the speeches he'd have to make, the endless information he'd have to recount and the interviews he'd need to give, didn't seem so daunting any more. Victory was still victory. What good was the fighting, the sacrifices made, if you didn't live on in spite of your losses?
He looked down at the top of Ginny's head, red hair flaming as it tumbled through his hands. He'd thought so often of this moment; wondered if he'd have to explain things to her, or give her a chance to love him again. Wondered if she'd be angry at him, hardened by war. Wondered what he could say to make her understand how much he'd missed her. He'd rehearsed it so many times, the little speech he'd make if he ever saw her again, yet here they were, finally, and he found that it didn't matter. They didn't need words when they had silence.
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