Summer of Recovery by PotterSloth



Summary: What comes after Voldemort’s defeat? A very, very difficult summer. The world moves on, and it’s much different than it was when Harry and Ginny first got together. The summer will be one of grief, but they’re ready to recover together after so long apart. The only question is: will the world finally let them?
Rating: R starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Post-DH/AB
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: Happier Every Day
Published: 2024.03.22
Updated: 2024.05.17


Index

Chapter 1: Promise Kept
Chapter 2: A New Morning
Chapter 3: Family Reunited
Chapter 4: Brave
Chapter 5: Blazing
Chapter 6: Falling
Chapter 7: The Return
Chapter 8: I'll Be There
Chapter 9: Honouring Friends
Chapter 10: A Restless Break
Chapter 11: Remembering the Date
Chapter 12: Assigning Blame
Chapter 13: Heroes
Chapter 14: Better Together
Chapter 15: No More Secrets
Chapter 16: Living in Love
Chapter 17: Panicking and Healing
Chapter 18: Memorial
Chapter 19: Setting the Record Straight
Chapter 20: A New Normal Weekend


Chapter 1: Promise Kept

Harry looked toward the forest and felt his mouth go dry as he saw her standing fifty feet in front of him, exactly where she’d been last night, when he thought he’d seen her for the last time.

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He turned away from the painted portraits, thinking now only of the four-poster bed lying waiting for him in Gryffindor Tower and wondering whether Kreacher might bring him a sandwich there, “I’ve had enough trouble for a lifetime.”


Harry walked out the door to the Headmaster’s Office and began down the winding staircase. He turned to Ron and Hermione as they passed the gargoyle statue, unsurprised to see them holding hands. Harry raised an eyebrow at them, causing Hermione to blush while Ron refused to look embarrassed, unconsciously puffing his chest out as if he’d done something nobody had thought possible.

“I’m heading up to the dorm. I guess people will be looking for me at some point if they aren’t already. I’ll be down later to deal with all that, but I- I just can’t right now. Besides, I think you two could use some alone time,” Harry suggested as his eyebrow raised again.

At this, even Ron blushed, and Hermione could only look down at the floor, although Harry could see a small smile playing on her lips. He turned to make his way to Gryffindor Tower before glancing back over his shoulder.

“Oh, and for the record? It’s about damn time.”

He walked away before he saw their reactions, but he heard an unusually girlish giggle coming from Hermione as he turned a corner and smiled to himself. The timing had been awful, but that fit with the rest of Ron and Hermione’s relationship. It took them years to see what everyone around them had known at least since they were third years. Even Harry had finally picked up on it a year or two ago, and he was as obtuse about feelings and relationships as a troll.

Of course, Harry did have a few weeks of experience with relationships, or rather, a relationship, but it felt like so much more than a few weeks. His mind wandered, as it often did when he was alone, to her. The time they’d shared a year ago had felt like someone else’s life, but that was when he still had a death sentence hanging over him. Could his life- his actual life- be like that? Those weeks of happiness had been the best of his life, but he’d never been foolish enough to imagine he could actually have that forever.

He found himself looking out a window over the Hogwarts grounds. Harry smiled slightly as he reminisced about all those walks and talks and snogs on the grounds. He was brought back to reality by the wounds in the usually pristine green grass. Sunlight sparkled on the Black Lake, but the dark stains and still smoking patches of grass scattered across the Hogwarts lawn seemed impervious to the sunlight. He grimaced, as some of the reality of the previous night settled on him again.

In a far less buoyant mood than he’d been in moments before, he began turning to finish the trek to his waiting bed and the nightmares he was likely to encounter, but something caught his eye. Drawn back to the window, he raised his eyes beyond the lawn to the dark, looming forest that swallowed up sunlight. For years, Harry had been warned not to go into the Forbidden Forest, but he seemed to find himself there fairly often. The forest usually unsettled him, and he’d encountered some terrifying things in there, but he’d never been as scared of the forest as he was only hours earlier.

With a start, Harry realised that he couldn’t go to his dorm. Not yet. He shook his head with disappointment at himself. He’d been so caught up in the relief of everything being over that he’d already forgotten what he’d learned about life as he made that walk. Every second was something to be treasured, and love was to be treasured above all else. Love- that indescribable thing that Harry’s mum had saved him with all those years ago. Love- the power the Dark Lord knew not, that had allowed Harry a second lease on life.

Harry began walking back in the direction he’d come from with a renewed sense of urgency. He pulled the Invisibility Cloak over himself, not wanting to be stopped by anyone, but it seemed that nobody had wanted to leave the Great Hall and wander the castle that had become a battlefield yet. Not that Harry could blame them. He focused on his destination, trying to ignore the rubble and red stains that littered the walls and floors of several corridors. He knew that he’d have to deal with those realities eventually, but for now, he had a promise to keep.

Still wearing the cloak, he stepped into the Great Hall. He looked around for the familiar mane of red hair and was almost trampled by Hagrid, who had clearly been indulging in his favourite mead since the battle ended.

“I jus’ knew it! There weren’ any way Harry Potter was gonna let that snake get ‘im!” Hagrid bellowed to nobody in particular. Harry winced, hearing this praise from Hagrid. He couldn’t imagine how difficult it had been for Hagrid to carry his body back to the castle. He resolved to talk to Hagrid once things had settled down and Harry had taken care of his other business.

Reminded of that business, Harry looked again for the Weasleys. He saw what must have been two hundred people scattered around the Hall- teachers, students, members of the Order of the Phoenix, and a surprising number of people Harry didn’t recognize- and then he finally spotted them in a far corner. But before he started walking towards them, he realised that she wasn’t there. Frowning, Harry started thinking about where she could have gone. Before he could stop himself, his eyes found both Dean Thomas and Michael Corner, neither of whom were accompanied by someone with red hair. Harry breathed a brief sigh of relief before rolling his eyes at himself. She wouldn’t have run off with either of them or any other bloke, not while her family was here and hurting. But that begged the question- if she wouldn’t have left her family for a boyfriend, what could have pulled her away?

Confused, Harry left the Great Hall before anybody accidentally bumped into him. There would be no escaping the crowd of people if he was revealed now. His mind was still on her, and he hadn’t noticed until he stepped on grass rather than stone that his feet had carried him outside, to the path that he’d taken to the forest last night. Blinking to adjust to the sunlight, Harry looked toward the forest and felt his mouth go dry as he saw her standing fifty feet in front of him, exactly where she’d been last night, when he thought he’d seen her for the last time.

Her back was to him, and he still had the cloak on. Somewhere deep inside his mind, he felt the temptation to run to his dormitory, pull the hangings around his four-poster bed, and sleep for a week. Yet again, Harry found himself rolling his eyes at himself. This terrified him, but he couldn’t run and hide from it. He couldn’t pretend that he didn’t understand just how close he’d come to never getting this chance. He’d dreamed about this moment for nine months, and he owed it to himself to see this through. More importantly, he owed it to her.

Steeling himself, he started walking up to her. Her hair glowed with specks of gold as the sun glinted off of it, making it look like she had a red halo around her. He was so close that he thought he could smell her flowery scent, even though it was probably his imagination.

As he started to remove the cloak, he was dumbfounded to hear her softly say, “I felt you, you know. Last night.”

Harry grimaced as he finished pulling the cloak off; he’d been afraid of that. He didn’t know how it was possible- the cloak was supposed to be impenetrable. But he’d known last night when he passed her that she knew. This was all the confirmation he’d needed. He hadn’t spared her anything, hadn’t saved her from any of the pain of knowing. Head down, he moved to stand beside her, not touching, but closer than he’d been in almost a year.

She turned to look at him, and suddenly, Harry felt like he couldn’t breathe. After everything that had happened, after the world falling apart and coming closer to death than ever before, the only thing that mattered was that she was alive and here, in front of him. He’d thought about her constantly for months, had even seen her last night, but he was still rendered speechless as he looked at her.

It took everything in him to breathe out, “Ginny.”

Her eyes blazed briefly at that, and Harry felt his knees tremble. That blazing look had had that effect on him for a long time. Slowly, the fire lessened. It was still there, but so was her hurt and sadness. Harry didn’t know how it was possible for eyes to carry so much emotion, but he felt like he could see exactly what she was feeling through the brown eyes he’d tried so hard to memorise before he left. She turned to look back at the forest, and Harry remembered with a jolt where they were and why she was here.

“I should be mad at you,” Ginny said matter-of-factly. She wasn’t going to get an argument from Harry there. He waited for her to say more but realised after a few seconds that she was waiting on him to say something.

Before he thought about the fact that now probably wasn’t the best time, he blurted out, “I’ve been worried you would be. Honestly, that scares me more than Voldemort.” He clapped his hand over his mouth because he knew then that it definitely wasn’t the time to say that, even though there was probably some truth in it.

To be honest, he liked seeing Ginny angry. He doubted many guys felt that way about girls, but she had this fire when she was mad that never failed to melt Harry. He wasn’t scared of her being angry; rather, he was scared that there would be nothing he could do to fix what he had done. Before he could think further on that, he saw her look at him out of the corner of her eye. He did his best, but Harry couldn’t fully suppress the sheepish grin that was now forcing its way onto his lips as he flushed with embarrassment at admitting that out loud.

Ginny snorted and shook her head in disbelief. Harry thought that was the most beautiful sound he’d ever heard. Maybe she wasn’t completely mad at him then. Ginny took a breath and turned to look at Harry once again, and once again, Harry felt his heart rate start to accelerate.

“There’s a lot I need to know, that I deserve to know,” Ginny said, emphasising that last part. Harry nodded his head, and he started trying to think of where even to begin. He’d wanted to confide in her about everything last year, more than he wanted to tell even Ron and Hermione. He couldn’t then, but he wasn’t going to miss the chance a second time. He opened his mouth to start his story when he was pleasantly surprised to feel Ginny’s fingers on his lips.

“I know you’ll tell me everything, but we don’t have to do that right now. I only have two questions for now. First, are there any more evil wizards that you have to run away to fight?” Ginny asked sternly, crossing her arms over her chest as she spoke.

Harry felt himself start to smile again, but he thought he’d better take this seriously, so he responded, “No. I don’t plan on running away to fight anyone for a very long time.”

“Good, because you’re not allowed to leave me again. If you ever have to fight someone like him again, I’m coming with you. I refuse to be left behind.” Ginny said forcefully, as if she’d been waiting for a long time to tell him this. Then again, Harry realised ruefully, she probably had been.

“I’ll never ask you to stay behind again. I don’t ever want to face another day without you, let alone another dark wizard. I can’t do it without you again,” Harry confessed, speaking what he’d felt since Dumbledore’s funeral. He started to wrap his arms around her, aching to feel her again, but she put her hand on his chest, stiffening her arm so he couldn’t get closer. Harry barely held back the whimper that wanted to escape, but he couldn’t hide his disappointment. He looked down at Ginny and saw her eyes sparkling as the corners of her mouth twitched.

“That’s very nice of you to say, Harry,” Ginny replied pleasantly as her eyes continued to sparkle. Harry started trying to form a protest in his mind at that. Nice? He’d told her that he couldn’t live another day without her and that was just nice? He must not have been keeping his feelings hidden very well because Ginny could no longer hold the smile back.

Harry blinked in a dazed stupor as he saw her smile for the first time since Bill and Fleur’s wedding. He almost missed her continued questioning when she asked, “Now for my second question. Did you meet any Veela while you were running around Britain?”

Now it was Harry’s turn to hold back a smile as he remembered the conversation they’d had on his birthday. He tapped his chin as if he was thinking before saying, “No, I didn’t run into any Veela. There were some very friendly witches in the Midlands that would probably love to see me again though.” Ginny couldn’t restrain herself, and she laughed, punching him on the shoulder harder than Harry was expecting. He didn’t mind though; he was still hearing her laughter in his mind, and even though it was close, her laughter sounded even more beautiful than her snorting.

Calm again but still smiling gently, Ginny put her hand over Harry’s heart and she looked back up into his eyes. “No Veela though?” she asked softly.

Harry shook his head. “No Veela. Never anyone else but you.”

Ginny smiled even more brightly and whispered, “There’s the silver lining I’ve been looking for.”

She grabbed the front of his jacket, yanking him down towards her, and his arms wrapped around her waist as their lips met. Harry’s world exploded. One of his hands was in the hair that he’d missed so much while the other pulled on her waist, trying to bring her as close as possible to him. Ginny’s hands ran over the sides of his face and through his hair frantically. Before today, the kiss they’d shared on his birthday had been the best of his life, but it didn’t hold a candle to this. Their last kiss had been a kiss of promise; this kiss was the roaring declaration that the promise had been kept.

Minutes or hours may have passed before they finally pulled apart, gasping for air and staring intensely at each other. Harry couldn’t take his eyes off of Ginny’s face. He gazed adoringly at all the freckles that he loved to count with kisses, the perfect lips, slightly puffy from that earth-shattering kiss, and her brown eyes that he lost himself in every time, blazing as furiously as they had the first time they’d kissed.

“I missed you,” Ginny mumbled, still staring at him, holding him as if she was afraid he was going to disappear.

Harry hugged her tighter, promising, “You’ll never have to miss me again. I’m not going anywhere.”

Ginny moaned slightly as Harry pressed a soft kiss to her lips before he pulled back again. She held tightly to him still, but Harry smiled at her and said, “I was thinking about taking a kip upstairs.” Ginny nodded as her eyes began to darken, looking like the exhaustion of the previous day had just hit her like it was hitting Harry.

He pulled the Invisibility Cloak over both of them, bent his head to her ear, and whispered, “Let’s go,” before planting a couple kisses on her ear and cheek. Ginny unwrapped her arms from around him, but he caught her hand as she pulled away, lacing his fingers through hers. He saw her smile softly again before she turned, and they started walking in silence back through the castle, just revelling in the feeling of touching each other again.

Taking every possible shortcut to make it to bed faster, they quickly reached the portrait of the Fat Lady. She appeared to be trying to single-handedly support a vineyard as she drank straight from a bottle of wine while several empty ones littered the floor around her. Harry realised he didn’t know the password, if she was even coherent enough to understand it. As if reading his mind, Ginny stepped out from under the cloak, causing the Fat Lady’s eyes to widen in shock.

“Lightning?” Ginny asked hesitantly, glancing at where she knew Harry was.

The Fat Lady giggled, “That’s an old password dear, but I’ll let it slide today!” The portrait swung open, and Ginny started to join Harry back under the cloak when the Fat Lady said, slurring her words slightly, “I’m sure if you’re here, Mister Potter isn’t far behind. When you see him, tell him he has the grat- gratit- gratititude of all the portraits of Hogwarts.”

Harry warmed a little as Ginny smiled back at the portrait. “I’ll make sure to let him know.” With that, she joined Harry back under the cloak, and they climbed through the portrait hole.

Harry stepped through first, turning to look back at Ginny. “Lightning?” Harry asked. Ginny chuckled quietly, but Harry didn’t miss her holding her hand out for help stepping into the common room, something she hadn’t done when they were together last year. He suspected it was more her just wanting to touch him and less about wanting help, but still, he mentally made a note of it. That was definitely something to think about later.

“Well, we couldn’t very well have our password be Harry Potter,” Ginny said pointedly, smirking at him as she talked.

“Oh,” Harry said, nodding his head as he realised. “That… wow, I’m a Gryffindor Tower password. That’s pretty cool.”

Ginny rolled her eyes even as she smirked again and remarked, “You don’t even know the half of it. I’ll tell you all about it soon. But don’t let this go to your head- it’s your scar that was the password, not you.”

Harry tried to look offended, but that only made Ginny laugh at him. Harry gave her a light shove before pulling her into a hug. “Whatever it took for you to remember me, I’ll take it.”

“I never stopped thinking about you,” Ginny whispered, looking up at him, and he could see the honesty in her eyes.

“Me neither,” he responded softly, pressing a kiss to her head and breathing in her scent once again. He’d never get tired of that. Pulling one hand free, he guided them up the stairs to his dorm room. Even though he hadn’t been there all year, when Harry opened the door, he felt at home.

They stumbled toward his bed and fell on top of the covers, not caring that they were both covered in all manner of blood, dirt, sweat, and tears. Harry pulled Ginny close, and she snuggled into him, pressing her head to his chest as her eyes closed and her breathing slowed to a regular, calm pace.

Fighting off sleep, Harry looked down at her once more, so grateful that he had the chance to come back to this. He hugged her tighter to his chest, and he knew as he fell asleep with a smile on his face that Ginny would feel his heart, which now only beat for her.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

A/N: Does anybody actually read Author’s Notes? I really have no idea, but I’m going to at least pretend because I’ve been excited to share all of this, including my thoughts on writing it, for a long time now. So indulge me, or feel free to skip ahead to the next chapter: A New Morning!

Either way, I want to thank you for taking the time to read through the first chapter of Summer of Recovery. I wrote this chapter nearly eight months ago to the day, and it’s probably been my least edited chapter. When I decided I wanted to write a canon-compliant, post war, Harry/Ginny fanfic, there were about eight moments that stood out in my head as the guiding points for it, and Harry seeing Ginny at the same place he saw her on his walk to the forest was the first one and probably the easiest one to write.

You’ll find out exactly what Harry’s promise was in a couple of chapters, but I don’t really want to give anything else away on that yet, but you’ll know it when you see it.

Honestly, I’m terrified to be posting this. I started writing this at the end of July 2023, and it’s been a total secret and place of refuge for me to throw all my creativity and love for the Wizarding World into. I’ve been looking forward to posting for a very long time, but even though it’s pretty anonymous, it’s still feels like I’m being really open and vulnerable, which isn’t always the easiest for me.

So I hope you enjoyed, thanks again for reading the first chapter, and I hope you continue to read on! And please please please leave comments and feedback! I’ve written literally hundreds of thousands of words that I could post all at once, but I wanted to release them separately to have a chance to interact with people who read it. So whatever feedback you have, I’m all ears!

Back to index


Chapter 2: A New Morning

“I owe you an explanation for everything.”

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Harry’s first conscious thought was that his nose tickled. He twitched his nose to no avail. As his senses slowly returned to him, he simultaneously felt the weight of someone pressed against him and smelled her hair once more. He smiled contentedly as he remembered where he was, and, more importantly, who he was in bed with. He slowly opened his eyes and looked down at the angelic vision in front of him. Her fire-red hair, splayed around her head on the pillow like a halo, had clumps of dirt in it and was singed on one side. She had a cut on her chin and a bruise on her cheek. She’d never looked more beautiful to him than in that moment, sleeping peacefully next to him. He’d dreamt of this often during the past year, but this surpassed all of his expectations because it was real. He could really see her, smell her, touch her…

Harry hadn’t noticed until now that Ginny’s body, regularly in good shape from Quidditch training, was even more toned than before. It was obvious in her arms and legs, and as he placed a hand on her stomach, he could feel the taut muscles there too. It also didn’t escape his attention that most of her extremities bore signs of battle but also faded bruises from weeks earlier. He felt anger bubbling up in him that someone would dare hurt her, but he calmed himself by looking at her tranquil face, a small smile indicating that she was in the middle of a good dream.

He could’ve watched her for hours, but a rumbling in his stomach reminded him that time didn’t actually stand still. Harry thought about calling Kreacher for food, but as he considered it, he became aware that, like Ginny, he was incredibly dirty. He rolled over softly to avoid waking her and checked the time on the watch that Ginny’s parents had given him for his birthday. It was ten in the morning. He and Ginny had slept for a full day, and Harry still felt like he could sleep longer.

Rubbing his eyes, he decided that he should get up and at least take a shower before going back to bed. He tried to rise slowly, but he quickly became aware of an aching pain throughout his body. Harry started limping gingerly to the shower when he realised he didn’t have any clothes to change into. All of his were with Hermione, and he wasn’t going to search for her right now. Not seeing another option, he whispered quietly, “Kreacher?”

Kreacher appeared with a pop, bowing low to the floor as he spoke, “Kreacher is pleased to see Master Harry is awake. Shall Kreacher bring him and Miss Weasley breakfast?”

Harry smiled a little at that but noticed Ginny had stirred slightly and rolled over in her sleep. “In a little bit Kreacher. First, I think Ginny and I are going to take showers. Could you bring us both clothes? I think I still have some stuff at Grimmauld Place, and Ginny may have left clothes in her dormitory. And try to be quiet. I’m gonna let Ginny sleep a bit longer if I can.”

Kreacher bowed again, “It would be Kreacher’s pleasure,” disappearing with another soft pop. He returned moments later with several clothing options for both Harry and Ginny.

“Does Master Harry require anything else?” Kreacher asked quietly.

“Could you go ahead and make breakfast for us? I’ll call you when it’s a good time to bring it up,” Harry requested.

Kreacher bowed humbly, but before he could disapparate again, Harry knelt down to his level and spoke gently, “Wait… Kreacher, I just wanted to say that you were brilliant yesterday. You definitely made Regulus and the entire Black family proud, and… you made me proud too.”

Harry could tell Kreacher was immensely pleased with this praise. He stood up straight, nodded his head, and croaked, “Thank you Master Harry. House elves is not used to wizards saying these things.” He paused for a moment as if considering how to phrase something. Finally, he said, “And I think you made Master Sirius very proud yesterday.”

Harry tried to smile, but he was holding back tears. He nodded slightly and whispered, “Thank you Kreacher. That- that means a lot.” Clearing his throat, he added, “I’ll see you soon. Thanks again.” With yet another bow, Kreacher disapparated, leaving Harry alone outside the bathroom.

Harry took a few deep breaths before he stopped feeling like he might cry. He supposed it would be like this for a while, everything being emotional, and even though he rarely cried, he expected that would change somewhat in the next few days and weeks. He hoped he could handle himself enough to be there for Ginny when she needed him. Shaking his head, he peeled the clothes off his body, trying to remember when the last time was that he had showered. He walked into the bathroom and started the water, but before he got in, his eyes bulged out as he caught a glance of himself in the mirror.

He was a wreck. His hair was typically messy and currently shoulder-length, but it also had what looked like dirt or ash in it. There was blood running down his forehead and the side of his face that had dried, as well as some under his nose. The stubble on his face was pronounced, and he had deep bags under his eyes, even after sleeping for an entire day. His face and arms had several cuts and bruises on them. Harry couldn’t even identify where most of them were from. He noticed a large red spot on his side and turned, grimacing as he saw a wide burn on his side stretching towards his back. He couldn’t even remember where that had come from. Facing the mirror again, he slowly looked at his chest. Harry saw the now familiar outline of Slytherin’s locket that had sealed itself to him in an attempt to murder him. Ron had severed it from Harry’s body, and it had left a faded purple mark, a reminder of that night in the Forest of Dean.

But now, that scar had a neighbour. For Harry looked to the side of the locket mark and paled slightly as he saw a fresh lightning bolt scar, identical to the one on his forehead, etched permanently above his heart. He felt sick to his stomach. That made it all too real. When he was a young child, he’d been told that his scar had been the result of a freak car accident. He’d never known what it truly meant to be marked like that. Nobody had ever had a scar like it before, and now, Harry had two.

After a moment, Harry regathered himself and stepped into the shower. The water was steaming hot, but it felt almost therapeutic on Harry’s sore muscles. He slowly cleaned himself, washing away the dirt and blood, trying to remind himself that it had passed, and the fact that he could cleanse himself of the marks of the battle meant that he had made it through. His lips tightened as he remembered there were some marks that couldn’t be removed, and he didn’t even want to think of the emotional damage yet.

Eventually, after washing thoroughly and shaving, Harry finished and stepped out of the shower. He wrapped a towel around his waist as he walked out to the dormitory to change.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

“Harry Potter is dead.”


Ginny shot upright, waking with a start as the words of Tom Riddle, the worst she’d ever heard, echoed in her head. She shook her head and closed her eyes, falling back on the pillow. She didn’t understand. She’d been pleasantly surprised throughout her slumber to find herself in good dreams, all of them involving Harry. As Ginny thought about it, she realised that Harry was no longer in bed with her, and for the briefest moment, a jolt of panic shot through her before she realised that there wasn’t anything to panic about. Now that she thought about it, she vaguely remembered waking and hearing Harry talking quietly, but she didn’t know how long ago that was. The nightmare must have come after that.

Groaning slightly, she slowly reopened her eyes as she acclimated to the light in the dormitory. She was greeted by the pleasant sight of Harry slipping jeans on with his back towards her, and she was lucky enough that he hadn’t put on a shirt yet. Maybe she could get him to keep the shirt off for a bit longer if she was persuasive.

“Harry…” Ginny whispered in a singsong voice. Harry stood upright quickly, turning towards her and holding his shirt in front of his chest. He smiled at her, and Ginny felt her heart melt all over again.

“Hey, Gin,” he said softly. Ginny grinned at the nickname she hated everyone but him using. Trying to look as alluring as possible, Ginny waggled her eyebrows and beckoned him forward with her finger. Harry seemed to be in a trance as he slowly stumbled towards her, but he snapped awake right before he reached the bed. Ginny watched, slightly confused as Harry pulled his shirt on quickly before jumping back in bed with her.

“I was thinking you could leave your shirt off,” Ginny whispered as Harry started nibbling on her earlobe. He pulled back and looked down at her.

“You’re beautiful.” He said it so plainly that it interrupted her entire train of thought. Ginny was positive that she looked awful, and she probably smelled worse, but Harry’s eyes were totally sincere. Merlin, those emerald green eyes had pierced her heart from the very first time she saw him on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. She’d missed those eyes that always conveyed his deepest feelings to her and her alone. Ginny had thought when she saw him yesterday that he’d never looked better, but she had to admit that he cleaned up rather nicely too. His face still bore cuts and bruises, but he looked more refreshed than he had yesterday. He also smelled better too, and she savoured the feeling of being enveloped in the woodsy scent she’d always associated with her boyfriend.

Ginny couldn’t help herself, didn’t want to help herself. She pulled him into a searing kiss before rolling out of bed. “You flatter me, but I’ll do my best to live up to your expectations after I shower. I just need to run and grab some clothes.”

“I had Kreacher bring you some stuff. I don’t know what all there is, but he brought more than I expected, so you don’t have to leave if you like any of the stuff on that bed,” Harry said, gesturing to the bed she assumed was Ron’s since it was closest to Harry’s. She picked out a top and a pair of jeans, blowing a kiss to him as she entered the bathroom.

The first thing Ginny did was survey the damage in the mirror. Several of the bruises on her arms were older, but she had a new one on the side of her face, not to mention some blood on her chin. She exhaled slowly as she examined the scorched hair. The only thing she could think of that could have done that was the jet of green light that had almost ended her life before her mother killed Bellatrix Lestrange. Ginny found herself trembling slightly as she opened her eyes and forced herself to remember that she had survived. It was arguably her closest brush with death ever, but she’d made it through, and now she was free to live the life she’d been dreaming of for years, the life that should have been hers and Harry’s much sooner if not for psychotic wizards and demented witches. Ginny exhaled once again, and finally feeling calmer, she undressed and stepped into the shower.

She alternated her shower between hot and cold, savouring the refreshing and soothing effects of the contrasting temperatures. Ginny cleaned the blood and dirt off herself quickly before washing her hair. As soon as she could, she finished, dried off, and dressed, giving herself one last look in the mirror. She still looked tired and had bruises; there wasn’t a lot to do about her hair right now either. But she did look better, and she felt better than she had in ages. Smiling, she opened the door to find Harry right where she’d left him, laying in bed, with his head propped up on his hands, watching the bathroom door. She was delighted to find a large tray of food on the bedside table. She locked eyes with Harry and then ran to him, peppering his face with kisses as she climbed over him and back into bed. She cuddled up next to him, and he pulled the tray of food in front of her.

“Thanks for waiting for me,” Ginny murmured before diving into the platter of eggs, toast, bacon, and sausage. She heard Harry chuckle as he poured her a goblet of pumpkin juice from a pitcher on the table.

“I shouldn’t have. I must’ve forgotten you’re a Weasley. There won’t be any food left for me,” Harry teased.

Ginny snorted with her mouth full, glancing over at him to see his eyes shining as he grinned and stole a piece of toast off the tray. Ginny sighed like she was making a massive sacrifice and moved the tray, so it was between them, allowing Harry to eat as much as he wanted. Merlin knew he needed it. Harry had always been skinny, but she couldn’t remember the last time he’d seemed this… malnourished was the only word to describe it. She knew from Bill that he’d been getting more food at Shell Cottage in the past few weeks, but she supposed that if Harry hadn’t been eating much at all for months beforehand, it would probably take a while for him to regain weight. Granted, he’d clearly built up more muscle since the last time Ginny had seen him. He just seemed so much stronger, so much older than he had been when they used to steal time together around the Hogwarts grounds a year ago.

Ginny blinked as she saw Harry looking at her in amusement, and she realised that she’d probably been staring at him for a while. “How long was I out?” Ginny asked.

“It’s eleven right now. We slept for about a day. And you were staring at me for about a minute before you woke up,” Harry added with a mischievous grin that made Ginny’s heart flutter.

“I wasn’t staring. I was just… thinking about my breakfast,” Ginny fumbled as she tried to think of a way to explain her staring.

Harry snorted and rolled his eyes, “I don’t judge. I’ll be honest, I watched you for about ten minutes before I got out of bed this morning.”

Hearing that made Ginny blush, but she couldn’t help but tease him a little. “Oh, did you like what you saw then?”

Harry looked at her so hungrily that Ginny felt like she might pass out from the intensity of it. “I always like what I see when I’m with you,” Harry almost growled. It took everything in Ginny not to pounce on him.

Instead, she leaned forward, her lips brushing his, and she whispered, “Ditto,” before kissing him.

Ginny started to deepen the kiss and was surprised when Harry slowly pulled away. She looked up at him, feeling a little hurt that he didn’t want her as badly as she wanted him. She tried to hide it but must not have done a very good job because Harry leaned forward again, gently kissing her nose.

“Believe me, I want to. So badly. I don’t think I would’ve survived this past year without the memory of that kiss on my birthday. I’m never gonna not want to kiss you. But I owe you so much. First, I owe you an explanation for everything. I promised you that there’d be no more secrets when all of this was over. If you want to hear it, I’ll tell you everything,” Harry said earnestly, and for the first time, Ginny felt almost like one of the Golden Trio, as some younger students in Hogwarts liked to call Harry, Ron, and Hermione. She knew Harry felt differently, much differently about her than his two best friends. But Dumbledore wouldn’t let him tell her anything, so there had always been a small part of Ginny that felt like she was missing out on a piece of Harry. And now here he was, freely offering that piece to her.

Ginny tried to contain her eagerness to learn more about this person she adored, saying, “I want to hear everything you’re comfortable talking about. It isn’t about what you owe me though. I do want to know everything, but only if you want to tell me.” She settled on a neutral response, knowing how Harry tended to put pressure on himself to live up to the expectations of others. She didn’t want him to feel like this was something he had to do for her to care for him. She wanted him to tell her because he trusted her and wanted to share this part of himself with her.

Harry nodded slowly, sipping on his goblet of pumpkin juice. The longer he took, the more Ginny wondered if he was going to change his mind. Finally, he spoke, “I’ve wanted to tell you everything from the beginning. I hated that I couldn’t tell you. I hated that I had to leave. I hated myself for what I did to you.”

At this, Ginny took his hand in hers and kissed it gently, unable to let him blame himself for all of this. “Harry, I won’t pretend that I wasn’t hurt by what happened. But it wasn’t because of you. I was hurt because of what I knew you were going to have to do, and I couldn’t do anything to help you. But don’t be angry at yourself for it. We’re exactly where we’re supposed to be. I mean, look at us, sharing a breakfast in bed, acting perfectly domestic. I couldn’t be happier than I am right now just being with you. We had a long road to get here, but now we don’t have to let go of this again.”

Harry smiled softly. “How is it that you always know exactly what to say?”

“Magic,” Ginny whispered as she grinned back at him before he kissed her lips gently again.

He pulled back, and Ginny thought he looked even more at peace than he had before, just with that confession that he hadn’t wanted to keep her in the dark. She waited for him to pick up with the story, not wanting to pressure him at all.

“Sorry, it’s just that it’s such a long and complicated story. I’m trying to figure out the best place to start,” Harry explained apologetically. Ginny waved her hand to indicate that she was happy to wait. “I guess… have you ever heard of a Horcrux?” Harry asked, looking at her with a mysterious veil over his eyes.

Ginny involuntarily shuddered. The word felt like it carried some disturbing definition that her body innately opposed. She shook her head, and Harry nodded, “I figured,” he began, “I didn’t know anything about them until I started my lessons with Dumbledore in sixth year. So… when someone commits murder, they fracture their soul. As I understand it, if someone wanted to, they could intentionally tear their soul into pieces. If someone wants to split their soul, there’s a process that Hermione read about once and swore to never talk about again that allows them to do that. A Horcrux is an object that holds that part of a person’s soul that they split off from the rest. The idea is that if the person is killed, they’re not actually dead because part of their soul is separated from their body. So it tethers them tighter to life than a normal person because all the parts of their soul have to be destroyed to actually kill them. Otherwise, they exist almost as a spirit, but they can come back again.”

Harry took a breath, and Ginny felt sick. She tried to wrap her head around what Harry was saying. Obviously, Harry was suggesting that this was how Riddle had come back again. So many questions flooded her mind, but the most important one was obvious.

“So Riddle had one of these Horcruxes, then? That’s how he was able to come back even though he should have died when you were a baby?”

Ginny saw Harry start to formulate in his head what to say next. He seemed like he was trying to be careful with how he explained things. “Sorry again,” he said, “I’m not trying to keep anything from you. It’s just hard to follow, so I’m trying to remember the order that I found things out in, and hopefully that’ll make the most sense. But yeah, Riddle made a Horcrux. Actually,” Harry paused slightly before seemingly steeling himself to finish the sentence, “He made six of them,” he almost whispered.

Ginny’s jaw dropped. “He made six Horcruxes?” Harry nodded, looking slightly paler than he did before. She continued, “So that means… the three of you had to find these six objects and somehow destroy them before he could be defeated.” Harry nodded again, and something clicked inside her mind at once. “That’s why you all were gone for so long. You had so many to find while still having to not get caught.”

Harry cleared his throat and started talking again, “Well, we actually had a little bit of a head start. Two of the Horcruxes had already been destroyed before we left, and we had a lead on a third.”

“What were they?” Ginny asked, curious to know what sorts of things a Horcrux could be since that would’ve determined just how difficult their quest would’ve been.

“Horcruxes can be anything really. Riddle was honestly stupid because he chose to make his Horcruxes things that were important to him. Personally, if I had to make one, I’d pick a grain of sand, drop it on a random beach somewhere in the world, and trust that there was no chance it would ever be found. But Riddle’s ego was much too big to do that, and he was just as egotistical as a teenager as he was an adult,” Harry paused again, giving her a meaningful glance, and Ginny’s mind started whirling when Harry mentioned Riddle as a teenager. As more pieces fell into place for Ginny, Harry spoke softly, “He made the first Horcrux when he was fifteen years old. It was””

“The diary!” Ginny blurted out as she realised that it now made complete sense how that diary had been sentient- it had had an actual piece of Riddle’s soul in it from the beginning. Yet again, Ginny felt sick. For years, Ginny had done everything she could to forget the torture that was her first year at Hogwarts. For an entire year, her soul had been covertly attacked by someone she thought was her friend, and it led to her almost losing her mind and her life. The only reason it hadn’t cost her everything was the man sitting next to her, who was looking at her with overwhelming concern. Ginny could see tears in his eyes, threatening to fall as he knew that she was remembering the horrors of that year.

Ginny squeezed Harry’s hand and nodded, letting him know that she was okay, and he could talk openly about it. Nodding, Harry continued, “Yeah, his diary was the first. He made it after he opened the Chamber and had the basilisk kill Moaning Myrtle. Ginny, you should know… Hermione told us once that she thought every time he made a Horcrux, he split his soul in half. By the time he made his last one, she reckons he only had about one percent of his soul still inside him. But if she’s right, and when is she ever wrong, that means that the diary had half of Riddle’s soul in it.”

Ginny felt a couple tears leak out as she shook her head. “I was so stupid, Harry. I can’t believe I willingly gave myself to that monster for a whole year.” She looked up and was surprised to see that he looked surprised.

“Ginny,” Harry said, “you were eleven and you fought against half of the soul of the darkest wizard to ever live for an entire year. He manipulated you like he manipulated people his whole life. That doesn’t make you stupid; it just makes him evil. Even before I knew about that, I thought you were a badass.” Ginny giggled as she wiped the tears from her eyes. “Hermione’s not around to judge me for swearing, so I have no problem saying that the fight you gave him, and the fact that you survived, just makes you even more of a badass,” Harry said with protective pride gleaming in his eyes.

Ginny looked up at him, adoring how fiercely he cared about her and wanted to protect her. He knew that she needed to be independent and stand up for herself too, but it felt good to have someone care so much about her that it was clearly written on his face. She pecked him on the cheek, and he blushed slightly even though they had already done more than that this morning.

“How do you always know exactly what to say?” Ginny asked.

Harry grinned, and she already knew the answer. “Magic, of course.” Ginny gave him another peck for that, and visibly emboldened, Harry returned to the story. “So yeah, the diary was the first one. When I stabbed it with the basilisk fang, that destroyed it. It turns out that basilisk venom is one of the only foolproof ways to destroy a Horcrux. I just got really lucky that I had a fresh supply there when I needed it. Dumbledore found the second one. It was a ring that had belonged to Riddle’s wizard grandfather, Marvolo Gaunt. He was this… crazy blood purist, and he also spoke Parseltongue since he was descended from Salazar Slytherin. His daughter, Merope, repressed her magic because her family was abusive towards her. But she gave a Muggle from the village they lived near a love potion, and that led to Tom Riddle being born. Dumbledore suspects that she was so in love with Tom Riddle Sr. that she thought he’d still love her if she stopped giving him the love potion. Instead, he returned to the village, saying he’d been tricked by her, and she died shortly after, having lost all will to live. Tom Riddle Jr. grew up in a Muggle orphanage before going to Hogwarts. The summer before his seventh year, he went to the village that his Riddle family lived in, and he killed his father and Muggle grandparents.”

Ginny gasped at that, in shock that even someone as twisted as Riddle could’ve committed patricide when he was as old as she was now. Harry nodded, obviously agreeing with that sentiment, and continued, “He used that murder to make the ring a Horcrux, and he hid it in Marvolo’s old house. When Dumbledore found it, it cursed him. That’s why his hand looked like that all last year. But he was able to destroy it using the Sword of Gryffindor.”

Ginny must have looked confused because Harry explained, “When I killed the basilisk with the sword, its venom somehow worked its way into the sword because it’s made of goblin metal. So we could use the sword to destroy Horcruxes too.” Ginny nodded in understanding, realising that they were getting to the point in the story where Harry, Ron, and Hermione had disappeared.

“The Horcrux we had a lead on was a locket that belonged to Salazar Slytherin. The night Dumbledore died-” Harry paused for a moment and took a deep breath before continuing “-he and I went to a cave where Riddle had tortured kids with his magic, even before he’d been to Hogwarts. In that cave, there were a lot of protections, including Inferi and a potion that had to be drunk and caused whoever was drinking it to relive their worst memories. Dumbledore was weak that night because he made me let him take it instead of me. We barely made it out of there alive, and after the fight that night, I looked at the locket. It wasn’t the real thing. It had been stolen by a former Death Eater with the initials R.A.B.”

Ginny interrupted, “R.A.B… I know those initials.” She thought for a moment before it hit her and she exclaimed “Regulus Arcturus Black!”

Harry looked stunned. “How on earth did you know that?”

Ginny smirked. “I pay attention, Potter. And I was cooped up in Grimmauld for a long time without hero business to occupy my time.”

Harry nodded, still looking very surprised. “Damn, I shouldn’t have listened to Dumbledore about not talking to you. We would’ve been a couple months ahead if we’d known that.”

Ginny smiled comfortingly, grateful he was finally realising that things were better when they were open with each other. “No more secrets,” she whispered.

“Never again,” Harry agreed affectionately. “Unlike you, we didn’t figure out R.A.B. until after the wedding. We disapparated to London when the Death Eaters showed up. Immediately, we triggered the Taboo and had to fight Rowle and Dolohov. After we took them out, we went to Grimmauld, hoping that the protections Moody had set up against Snape would work. They must have because we never saw him. After we got to Grimmauld, we realised who R.A.B. was, and because we were just so lucky, we realised that we’d seen that locket back when we were cleaning it out during fifth year. We asked Kreacher about it, and it turned out that Mundungus Fletcher had stolen it from the house after Sirius had died. Kreacher was able to track Dung down though, and he told us that he’d sold the locket to… wait for it… Dolores Umbridge.”

For what felt like the tenth time in the morning, Ginny’s jaw dropped, unable to believe that the pink toad had reared her ugly head again. Harry grimaced, evidently agreeing with her reaction.

“We spent weeks planning how to get into the Ministry to get the locket from her. Finally, at the beginning of September, we used Polyjuice Potion and knocked out three Ministry workers to get in. Umbridge was holding ‘trials’-” Harry emphasised this word with sarcastic air quotes “-for Muggle-borns, trying to determine how they stole their magic from a real witch or wizard.”

Ginny shook her head sadly, repulsed by how disgusting the discrimination towards non-pure bloods had been in the last year.

Harry continued, “I ended up in Umbridge’s office and found a file with your dad’s name on it. It said they were tracking your entire family because you all don’t hate Muggles, he was in the Order, and they expected that I’d try to contact someone in your family for help. I knew then, as much as I hated it, that we’d made the right decision leaving when we did. If the Ministry had found out that we were trying to get help from you, I can’t imagine what they would’ve done.”

Harry paused for a moment, lovingly caressing Ginny’s cheek before starting to run his hand through her hair. Ginny felt her whole body tingle at the contact. Last year, she and Harry had passed hours talking as he ran his hands through her hair, seemingly never tiring of it. She wiggled even closer to him and looked back up into those piercing green eyes, squeezing his other hand that she hadn’t let go of since he started talking.

“We found her interrogating a witch in one of the courtrooms. She was wearing the locket, so I stunned her and Yaxley to take it off her. We barely escaped the Ministry; we were chased by dementors and Yaxley caught back up to us as we were disapparating to Grimmauld. As soon as we landed, Hermione disapparated again because Yaxley had made it there with us, so it wasn’t going to be safe at Grimmauld any longer. She took us to the forest where they had the Quidditch World Cup, but Ron got splinched.”

Harry had been getting more animated as he told the story of the Ministry infiltration, but he paled as he was clearly remembering how Ron had been injured. Ginny winced, knowing that splinching was supposed to be incredibly painful. Every year when sixth-years had their apparition lessons, at least one student would end up in the hospital wing with some part of themself missing. The pain and recovery process was said to be horrible. Apparition lessons had been cancelled this year, so there weren’t any new splinching stories, but everyone knew how bad it was.

“Luckily,” Harry resumed, “Hermione was able to heal him as best as she could, but it still took a while for him to get back to normal. So we had the locket, but we didn’t have any way of destroying it. Dumbledore had tried giving me the Sword of Gryffindor in his will, but Scrimgeour refused to pass it on.”

Feeling convicted, Ginny nodded, knowing where the sword had been. This was part of the story that she knew she’d had an impact on, and she’d have to tell Harry about it at some point. For now, it was enough to know that she’d been right that the sword was important to Harry when she’d tried to steal it at the start of the year.

“We spent months not knowing what to do. That was the darkest time for us. We were on the run, changing locations every couple of days. We had the locket but no way to destroy it. We had suspicions about what some of the other Horcruxes could’ve been, but we didn’t know where they could’ve been. We barely even had enough food to eat because we couldn’t risk going into towns to get any. It just- it looked so hopeless, Gin. Finally, we decided to go to Godric’s Hollow. I- I wanted to go see my parents, and we thought it was possible that Riddle may have hidden a Horcrux in a place that mattered to Godric Gryffindor because he was obsessed with wizarding history. We didn’t realise until we got there, but it was Christmas Eve.”

Ginny felt as hopeless as Harry sounded talking about those months. She didn’t realise just how difficult their hunt had been. Of course it would’ve been difficult being on the run for that long, but not knowing what to do for months on end must have been torture for them. She thought back to Christmas. It had been her first reprieve from the horrors in Hogwarts, but it wasn’t a festive time at all. Every hand on the Weasley clock pointed to mortal peril, and the house felt empty with the three of them not there, plus Percy was still staying away and Charlie hadn’t yet come back from Romania. They’d gone months without any update about the trio, not since Professor Lupin had told them that he knew where they were and that they were safe in the middle of August. Ginny didn’t want to admit it because she tried to be strong and brave for everyone else, but she’d cried herself to sleep most nights during that Christmas holiday, wondering where they were, if they were okay, and if the war would ever end.

Realising Harry was remembering a really difficult moment, Ginny rubbed her hand over his forearm, willing her strength into him to continue reliving the events that undoubtedly left emotional scars on him. Taking a deep breath, Harry spoke again.

“When we got to Godric’s Hollow, we went to the church and found my parents’ graves. Then we found the- our old house. It was surreal, being there, seeing the damage. Nobody’s ever done anything with the house, but there were loads of messages written on the fence outside. I think one day, I’ll want to go back there with you. I need to go back again eventually, but I- I can’t go through it again without you.” Ginny warmed inside as Harry ran his thumb over the back of her hand, so thankful that he’d want to share that vulnerable part of himself with her.

Harry spoke again, “While we were outside the house, we noticed an old woman watching us. We realised when we got closer to her that it was Bathilda Bagshot. I’d wanted to talk to her since I’d heard about Rita Skeeter’s book on Dumbledore. Bathilda knew him when he was younger, and she also knew my parents. I was hoping she’d be able to tell us about all of them. She took us back to her house, but something was off. She only wanted to talk to me, so she took me upstairs. She asked if I was Harry Potter, and when I told her I was, I felt Riddle become really excited. Then Bathilda… she turned into his snake, Nagini.”

Ginny gasped as Harry winced again, struggling with this memory. “Riddle told her to hold me there until he arrived. Hermione heard me fighting and ran upstairs. She got the snake off of me, but Riddle was already there. Hermione and I jumped out of the window, and she disapparated us away right as Riddle entered the room. He was so angry, Gin. And I saw… I saw his memory of the night he killed my parents.”

Harry’s voice shook, and Ginny raised up, cupping his cheek in her hand and using her thumb to wipe the tears that had finally escaped from Harry’s closed eyes. She leaned forward, kissing the tear trails from his cheeks. He slowly opened his eyes and looked at her with unabashed adoration.

“Sorry,” he said softly. “I’ve just tried to not think about it since it happened. I know there’s a lot to cry about now, and they’ve been gone for so long that it’s silly to still be crying about it, but-”

“No,” Ginny spoke forcefully, “Harry, you’re the strongest person I know. It isn’t silly at all to cry about it. I can’t imagine having to live that memory. You, more than anyone, have the right to mourn and feel whatever you feel. Don’t ever apologise for who you are or what you care about.”

Ginny realised she was breathing heavily and was surprised to hear Harry chuckle. “You know when you’re fired up about something, your face gets as red as your hair?”

Ginny blushed and shyly looked down. Harry put his finger on her chin and pulled her head back up to look at him. “Honestly, I think it’s pretty hot,” he whispered, taking her breath away as he pulled her into a deep kiss.

It took several moments for Ginny to regain full awareness after he pulled back. He looked as flushed as she felt. They sat in silence, just smiling at each other and enjoying each other’s company. Something was eating at the back of Ginny’s mind though. She thought for a moment about what they’d been talking about before that kiss when she realised what was bothering her.

“Harry?” she mumbled.

“Hmm?” He looked at her and seemed so peaceful that she almost didn’t want to ask any questions of him now. But he told her they weren’t keeping secrets, and it had been his idea to start talking to her today, so she decided she wasn’t going to hold back anything either.

“You said Hermione got the snake off of you, and the two of you disapparated away when Riddle got there. Where was Ron?”

Harry’s eyes widened, and Ginny knew she’d asked a question he didn’t really want to answer. Harry began tripping over his words, trying to explain why her brother hadn’t been at Godric’s Hollow on Christmas Eve with Harry and Hermione.

“He- well, he wasn’t with us- because…” Harry trailed off looking down at their hands, still entangled together, not wanting to look Ginny in the eye.

“Harry?” Ginny asked again.

Harry closed his eyes, opening his mouth to speak again, but both were surprised as a new voice interrupted their silence.

“I left.”

Ginny felt Harry stiffen next to her as she spun in bed to see Ron standing in the doorway of the dormitory.

“Hey mate,” Harry said casually, acting like the tension in the room didn’t exist. “How long have you been there?”

Ron cleared his throat. “A few minutes. Probably should’ve said something sooner, but I didn’t wanna interrupt. Don’t worry though, I’m just gonna pretend I didn’t see that kiss.”

Ginny could feel Harry blushing next to her, but she couldn’t even make a biting response back like she would’ve a year ago. She was just confused.

“What do you mean you left?” Ginny asked with an edge creeping into her voice.

Ron looked down at the floor and spoke softer now. “In- in the middle of October. I left them.”

Harry tensed again. Ginny felt anger coursing through her veins because how dare he? How dare he! After everything Harry and Hermione had done for him, he left them?

Harry tightened his grip on Ginny’s hand. Testily, she choked out the only question she could form amid the rage clouding her brain. “Why?”

Ron didn’t look up. “I don’t know. I regretted it as soon as I left. We’d been wearing the locket around our neck for weeks. It made me so angry, all the time. I was worried, not hearing any news about any of you, and we had no clue what we were doing. We didn’t know where any of the other Horcruxes were or even how to destroy the locket. We hadn’t eaten a real meal in more than a month-”

“Ronald Weasley! You left your friends because you were hungry?” Ginny shouted as she launched herself at him, propelled by the white hot fury within her, intending to beat him senseless for the betrayal of his friends. Ron recoiled as Ginny felt herself being yanked back onto the bed by Harry, who still hadn’t let go of her hand.

“Ginny-” Harry started to say, but Ginny didn’t want to listen. How dare he?

Ginny practically screeched, “Harry, don’t you try and defend him now! You know as well as I do that that’s a bloody awful excuse for betraying your best friends!” She tried to throw herself at Ron again, who looked so ashamed that Ginny almost would’ve felt bad for him if he didn’t deserve every bit of it.

Before she could make it to Ron, Harry leapt between the two siblings and put his arms on her shoulders, not holding her tightly, but stopping her from making it to her target.

“Harry Potter, if you don’t let me go, I swear I’ll-” Ginny began to threaten him, but she was interrupted by Harry, who still looked at her like he loved seeing her when she was angry.

“He saved my life, Gin. I would’ve been dead if he hadn’t come back when he did,” Harry said earnestly, almost begging her to listen.

Ginny was still furious, but she took a couple breaths, deciding to hear him out before she attacked her brother. “Fine. When did this idiot finally come back, and how the hell did he save your life?”

Harry kept his hands on her shoulders, but she could see him relax now that he knew she wasn’t going to try and fight him to get to Ron yet. “It was the day after Christmas. I was keeping watch when I saw a Patronus, a silver doe. I felt like I had to follow it. It didn’t make sense for it to be there, nobody knew where we were. I followed it to a frozen over pond, and it disappeared. When I looked in, I saw the Sword of Gryffindor. I didn’t stop to think about why it was there or if it was a trap. I just dove in. As soon as I grabbed the sword, the locket started strangling me. I couldn’t get it off, and I couldn’t get out of the water. I almost blacked out when Ron pulled me out of the water and cut the locket off. If he’d gotten there a few seconds later, I wouldn’t have made it.”

Ginny realised that her hands had clammed up and she stared in horror, hearing how close Harry had come to death. She pushed forward against Harry again, and he didn’t resist her as she wrapped her arms tightly around his waist. Harry nuzzled his nose into her hair, and she warmed, feeling his lips on her head.

She heard Ron clear his throat again, and she pulled back from Harry enough to see Ron. “Believe me, Ginny. I feel worse about it than you could imagine. I went back almost as soon as I left, but they’d already gone, and I couldn’t find them until Christmas. I don’t know how they forgave me, but I’ve done everything I could to make up for it since.”

“Mate, you made up for it as soon as you came back. You saved me and destroyed the locket. At least- well, we were good right away. It took Hermione a little longer to forgive you though,” Harry said, grinning a little at his best friend.

Ron chuckled and looked back up at them. “Yeah, she was right scary for a while after I came back. But she finally came around.” He locked eyes with Ginny. “I messed up, sis. I know you made me promise to stay with him, and I failed. I’m sorry.”

Harry looked at her curiously, and Ginny’s mind flashed back to a conversation she’d had with Ron last summer. She peered up at Harry and admitted, “I told him he had to stay with you since I couldn’t be there. I made him promise to protect you for me.”

Harry blinked and Ginny could see the emotions running behind his eyes even though he refused to cry again now. She knew he wasn’t used to having people who cared about him, and she counted herself lucky that she got to be the one to make him feel that.

“Oh… thanks, Gin. That- that means a ton,” Harry said with a slightly scratchy voice.

She smiled gently up at him and kissed his cheek and then his lips. Then, he moved aside, and she looked at her brother, who still looked a little scared that she was going to attack him. She strode right up to him, and she took a little pleasure in seeing him tense, but he held his ground. Ginny raised her hands, and when Ron raised his slightly as if to defend himself, Ginny wrapped him in a tight hug. After a moment, she felt Ron relax and wrap his arms around her.

“You stupid git. You definitely messed up, but you still kept him safe. Thank you,” Ginny whispered before she pulled back from him. Ron looked surprised but pleased at this unusual show of affection from his younger sister. Then, as if remembering why he came to the dormitory in the first place, he looked at both of them again.

“Mum sent me up here to see if you two were awake. We weren’t allowed to come up here yesterday, but I reckon she’ll want to talk to you at some point about your sleeping arrangements,” Ron said, smirking at Ginny.

Ginny looked at him sharply. “Really, Ron? And I suppose you were sleeping alone last night then?”

Ron flushed and he looked at Harry, who merely shrugged. Ron looked back at Ginny, who rolled her eyes and said, “Honestly, you thought I wouldn’t notice the way the two of you were looking at each other yesterday morning? It was rather disgusting.”

Ron grinned slightly and responded, “Think how I felt seeing the two of you in bed kissing like it was your only source of air. But… I will say it’s good to see that you two are finally together again.”

Ginny grinned right back at him. She looked at Harry and saw he looked a little surprised. Ginny caught his eye, and he blinked owlishly.

“Are we… you know… together?” Harry asked quietly.

Ron laughed loudly at this. “Honestly mate, it’s good that she’s as mad for you as you are for her because nobody else would put up with how thick you are.”

Harry blushed a little, smiling at Ginny as she nodded when Ron said she was mad for Harry.

Ginny wanted so badly to mess with Harry, but she couldn’t. Not while he was looking at her like she was the only thing in the world that mattered. Instead, she settled for saying what she really felt.

“I didn’t wait for a year to not be with you, Potter. You said you didn’t have any Veela waiting on you, and I’ll hex any other witch who thinks she might have a chance with you. You. Are. Mine,” she declared emphatically.

Harry just grinned widely at her aggressive statement of possession. “I wouldn’t ever want to be anybody else’s. It just feels really good to hear someone say we’re together.”

Ginny smiled brightly at Harry, thinking he looked extremely kissable right now, but Ron must have seen what was coming next because he started talking again. “Merlin, please don’t start kissing again right now. I’m supposed to bring you both down for lunch since you’re awake. Seems like you two already ate-” he gestured towards the now empty tray on the bed “- but I’m pretty sure Mum will still want to see you both.”

Ginny nodded and reached her hand out to Harry to go downstairs with him. When he didn’t grab her hand, she looked at him and saw that he’d paled considerably. She stepped towards him, wondering what was bothering him when she felt a wave of recollection that had been building all morning sweep over her.

She swayed as her feet stopped moving. Harry instinctively reached out to steady her, but she didn’t notice. She only had one thing on her mind.

Fred.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

A/N: I know, I tricked you with the first chapter being shorter. This is more the average length of chapter that you can expect from the book. I’ve found that I personally prefer longer chapters rather than three times as many shorter chapters, so that’s how I’ve structured the book moving forward.

This chapter was really cool for me to write because it’s the first time I explored Ginny’s POV. Generally, every chapter is going to have roughly equal parts Harry and Ginny POVs, with some elements unique to both of their sides to the story, and it was fun getting into her shoes for the first time.

The disclaimer I have for this chapter and the next few is that there is quite a bit of retelling of information that we already know for the benefit of the characters. I wasn’t going to say that “Harry told Ginny all about the hunt for the Horcruxes, and she felt xyz about it” and leave it there. It’s really important for the development of both Harry and Ginny’s characters to see how the story is told and how they move on from it all together. Plus, I tried to put in a lot more into it beyond just retelling the story, specifically because it’s interesting to me to hear Ginny’s internal thoughts on it all.

Another thing I wanted to mention is that I know there’s some disagreement on what caused Harry’s lightning bolt scar in the first place. Some people think it’s a mark of the failed Killing Curse, while others think it’s a mark of Lily’s sacrificial love protection. It’ll be discussed more several chapters from now, but my take has always been that it’s the mark of a failed Killing Curse, so that’s why Harry’s got another one on his chest now.

Again, please let me know your thoughts on the chapter, and I hope you enjoy the next chapter: Family Reunited!

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Chapter 3: Family Reunited

It all felt unreal, like at any moment, Fred would walk in and make fun of them for being so sad.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

Ginny felt like she couldn’t breathe, like an invisible hand had gripped her throat so tightly that she saw spots. Harry wrapped his arms around her, obviously knowing that the horrors of the battle were hitting her, but that did nothing to wipe the image of Fred’s lifeless body from her mind. The tears were falling before she knew it, and she leaned weakly into Harry’s warm embrace because there was nothing else she could do. There was no bringing him back.

Harry held her while she cried for Merlin knew how long. Finally, she felt the tears start to slow and she let out a shaky breath.

“I miss him,” Ginny whispered.

Harry’s head was in her hair again, and he responded, “I know. I miss him too. I miss all of them.”

Ginny grimaced against his chest as more images flashed through her mind. Colin. Lupin. Tonks. Friends she wouldn’t ever get to laugh with again. Ginny’s heart ached as she realised she had lost two siblings that night. For the past couple years, Tonks had been the sister she’d always wanted. Nobody made it easier to talk about boys than Tonks. Nobody made her laugh more than Tonks and the twins.

George. Ginny let out another sob, unable to imagine the pain George must be in. Her whole life, it had always been FredandGeorge, not Fred and George. It was like they were two halves of the same person. He must be so lost without his other half. She breathed shakily again as the tears faded once more. She was hurting deeply. But her family needed her. They needed to be together.

Harry hadn’t let her go even though they’d surely been standing like that for twenty minutes. Slowly, she stepped back from him, and he tenderly let her go. She turned to look for Ron, but not finding him, she looked back at Harry.

He looked at her with as much pain in his eyes as she felt in her heart, and she saw the lines made by tears running down his cheeks. Ginny hadn’t even realised he’d been crying, he’d been so quiet. “Ron wanted to give us some privacy,” he offered.

Ginny nodded before going to wash her face in the sink. Her eyes were red and puffy, she saw in the mirror, but she supposed everyone’s would be today. Harry washed his face after her, and they met at the door to the dormitory.

She reached her hand out to him, and he took it, lacing their fingers together again while leaning over to press another kiss to her forehead. They walked down the stairs together, and Ginny was surprised to find that there wasn’t anyone in the common room.

She looked at Harry, who shrugged. “I suppose everyone’s eating lunch.”

Ginny nodded, agreeing that that made sense. She doubted many people would want to be alone or away from a group today anyways. They stepped out of the common room and turned, expecting to see the Fat Lady, but she must have been visiting another portrait in the castle because hers was empty.

She felt Harry breathe a small sigh of relief, knowing there was one less person that he’d have to talk to today. Sometimes her boyfriend- it felt so good thinking of him like that again- confused her. He had just defeated the darkest wizard ever, and he seemed terrified at the prospect of being thanked for it by people who loved him. Ginny couldn’t deny it- she’d always loved being the centre of attention. She didn’t think of herself as being prideful, but growing up with six older brothers meant that a lot of attention wasn’t on her when she was younger. Not that she was ever deprived of love or anything; on the contrary, she’d had the happiest childhood imaginable. But at Hogwarts, particularly after her first year, she was able to flourish into her own unique person, and people had been drawn to her for it. Ginny enjoyed that feeling, but she liked the way that Harry seemed drawn to her for more than just her popularity or her Quidditch skills. Nobody had ever looked at her the way he did, and she never wanted anybody else to look at her like that. So even though she didn’t always understand why he was afraid of attention, she wasn’t going to think for a moment that he was wrong. He’d gone through enough to be treated the way he wanted.

Ginny and Harry reached the corridor outside the Great Hall without seeing anybody. Once they came near the doors though, Harry stiffened and his feet stopped moving. Ginny turned to face him. He was staring at the doors like he was petrified. Hearing the din of a large crowd of people, she honestly couldn’t blame him, especially given his predisposed tendency to avoid attention. People had piled onto him immediately after the battle, but he’d broken away rather quickly, and she guessed that a lot of people would want to speak with him today.

Ginny stood on her toes to kiss his cheek. Some colour returned to his face, and he looked at her. “Stay with me,” he whispered.

“Always,” she responded, brushing her lips over his before turning to walk with him. They reached the doors, and Harry took a deep breath. Ginny squeezed his hand tightly, and he pushed open the door to the Great Hall.

Ginny nearly gasped seeing how many people were there. There must have been a couple hundred students, teachers, members of the Order, Hogsmeade villagers, and other wizards and witches she didn’t recognize. There wasn’t any order to where people were sitting. The four house tables were packed, and Hogwarts banners decorated the room rather than the usual house banners. The din she’d heard in the corridor quieted rapidly. It became so quiet in the hall that one could have heard a quill scratch.

Suddenly, the room erupted in raucous applause. Harry flinched violently, and she squeezed his hand, trying to reassure him. He blinked and took a deep breath before trying his best to smile at the crowd, but it looked more like a grimace to her.

Ginny stood on her toes and whispered in his ear, “What you wouldn’t give for another duel in here instead, huh?”

Pleased with herself, she saw Harry smile for real as a chuckle escaped his lips. She squeezed his hand again and started pulling him to the end of the Gryffindor table, where she could see her family had gathered.

Along the way, a few people stood up to thank Harry with a handshake or brief hug, but Ginny was thankful that for some reason, most everyone had decided to respect him and not bother him right now. As they neared her family and saw the sorrow etched on their faces, she felt another wave of despair as she realised that although people were happy to see Harry today, everyone was mourning somebody they had lost too. Her emotions seemed to be oscillating uncontrollably between joy at being with him and crippling despair at the loss of loved ones, and she had no idea how to respond to it.

Her mum stood up and pulled both Ginny and Harry into a bone-crushing hug. Ginny felt herself begin to cry again as she leaned into her mother’s embrace, and when she finally let go, Ginny could see that she was crying as well.

Ginny and Harry sat down next to Ron and Hermione, and Ginny saw that Harry’s eyes were shining with unshed tears. Keeping his hand locked in hers, she hooked her foot around his and rubbed his thigh with her free hand. Harry glanced at her gratefully out of the corner of his eye but didn’t say anything.

Turning from Harry, Ginny surveyed the rest of her family. Bill and Fleur sat across from her and Harry, and they were holding each other much like Ginny and Harry had been upstairs in the dormitory. Next to them were Charlie and Percy, both of whom looked like they’d been crying for hours. Hermione was next to Ginny, and Ginny could see the puffiness of her eyes clearly. Ron looked much sadder than he had when he was upstairs. Next to him was George, and her parents sat across from him. All three of them had blank looks on their faces, although her mum’s eyes clearly bore signs of weeping. The expressions on their faces broke Ginny’s heart once again. They looked lost, like they had no clue how to even begin to process the tragedy they were living in. It all felt unreal, like at any moment, Fred would walk in and make fun of them for being so sad.

Everyone had a plate of food in front of them, but it didn’t look like anybody had eaten much. If Ginny needed any more confirmation that everyone was hurting deeply, this was it. Weasleys never failed to empty their plates. Ginny wanted to say something that would make things go back to normal, but she couldn’t think of anything that would get her family talking. Luckily, she didn’t have to.

Charlie, who spent more time with dragons than people and probably wasn’t as used to having to be sensitive to people’s emotions, looked at the four people sitting across from him, and he surprised Ginny when he cleared his throat and asked gruffly, “Did you three really ride a dragon out of Gringotts?”

The entire Weasley clan looked surprised for a moment that anyone had spoken at all. Ginny looked at Harry, who nodded while still looking at a spot on the table that he hadn’t yet taken his eyes off of. Ginny had heard the story just two days ago, before the battle, but she figured it was an exaggeration if not an outright fairy tale. Her eyes widened at Harry’s affirmation, and she turned to look at Hermione and Ron. Hermione nodded as well.

Ron snorted. “Yeah, we were on it for most of the day before we could finally jump off into a lake and apparate to Hogsmeade.”

It was like the family needed something to focus on instead of their grief. Bill and Fleur grinned proudly at the admission. Percy looked appalled, Arthur smiled slightly, and Molly covered her mouth with her hands. Ginny could tell she was trying to not say anything about how dangerous that was. More concerning though was that George didn’t react at all.

Charlie shook his head and whistled softly, “Merlin, I used to think the stories you’d tell me in those letters were exaggerations, Ron.”

“I wish,” Ron shot back. “I would’ve loved to have been a normal student hearing the rumours and thinking they were all made up rather than living through all the problems that come with being a hero.”

Bill, Charlie, and surprisingly, her dad, laughed a little as Ginny rolled her eyes. Leave it to her brother to say something barmy like that. Hermione gasped and pushed him, but he laughed and wrapped an arm around her, leaning down to whisper into her ear. After a moment, she looked satisfied and leaned into Ron, smiling softly.

For some reason, that seemed to loosen up most of the family, and all the Weasley kids but George started talking about different things, about nothing really, just trying to act like everything was normal. Her parents didn’t say anything, but they did look relieved that their family was talking again. Or most of it anyways.

Ginny had noticed that Harry hadn’t said anything since they sat down, and she turned to try and bring him into the conversation again, but he was still looking at that same knot of wood on the table.

Ginny squeezed his hand, and he squeezed it back, but he still didn’t look up. Frowning and confused, Ginny turned back to the conversation and saw Bill looking intently at Harry.

After a minute, Bill said, “Harry? Can I talk to you outside for a minute?”

The conversation at the table quieted, and Harry jerked his head up for the first time, looking surprised. He looked at Bill for a moment, then turned to look at Ginny. She nodded, saying, “Go ahead. I can let you out of my sight for a few minutes.”

Ginny was pleased to see that, once again, she was the person who could get Harry to smile, even if it was only for a second. Harry nodded at her, kissed her cheek, and stood up, following Bill out of the Great Hall.

Everyone on the other side of the table stared at her before Charlie, who seemed to be racing Ron for the title of bluntest Weasley, blurted, “Merlin sis, you couldn’t settle for anyone less than The Chosen One?”

Ginny laughed at him before Percy said, “You’ve had a crush on him your whole life. That’s- you didn’t use a love potion, did you?”

Ginny blinked, surprised at Percy. “Did you just make a joke?”

Percy grimaced slightly before nodding. “I thought it was a new thing I’d try.”

Ginny smiled. “I’m glad. But you need some practice. If anybody would’ve needed to use a love potion, it’s him. Have you seen me?” Ginny joked back.

Everyone actually laughed at that, and Ginny thought she saw the shadow of a smile on George’s face for a moment.

“We always did say she deserved the best,” her dad said, smiling at Ginny as she felt herself blushing at his approval.

“Maybe he’ll finally accept that he’s part of the family now,” her mother added, looking extremely happy for her daughter. “Although we do need to have a conversation about sleeping arrangements at some point.”

Ron snorted, and Ginny glared daggers at him before looking at Hermione, who was a bright shade of pink and steadfastly avoiding eye contact with Ginny.

“I am so 'appy for zem both. When I look at zem, I see a reflection of myself and Bill. Ze young love, eet eez just so beautiful, no?” Fleur interjected, looking kindly at Ginny, who barely stopped herself from gaping at the woman who usually annoyed her so much. Maybe there was more there that Ginny should investigate. Instead of looking shocked, she smiled at Fleur, nodded her head in thanks, and turned to her mother, ignoring Charlie and Percy, who were both looking a little red and protective at the mention of young love and sleeping arrangements.

“Thank you, Fleur. I’m happy with the sleeping arrangements though, Mum, so you don’t have to worry about it,” Ginny said sweetly.

Molly started to open her mouth, but Arthur leaned over to whisper in her ear and after a moment, she just nodded at Ginny and started looking at George in a concerned manner.

Ginny turned to smirk at her brothers. Charlie shook his head yet again. “Never let it be said that Ginny Weasley doesn’t always get what she wants.”

Ginny smiled as sweetly and innocently as she could, and Charlie rolled his eyes, chuckling. The family slowly resumed separate conversations, and Ginny’s mind went to Harry, wondering what Bill was talking to him about.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Harry was so grateful that he’d been finding it so easy to tell Ginny about all the difficulties of the last year. He couldn’t have dreamed of talking this openly about how much he’d struggled, how lost and hopeless he’d felt. This had been the best morning of his life, waking up with her and finally getting to tell her secrets he’d hated having to keep for the past year.

He’d been so happy that he’d almost forgotten that they’d cocooned themselves in from the outside world, but when Ron had come in and told them that the Weasleys wanted to see them, it all came rushing back to him. All the bodies in the Great Hall- Colin, Tonks, Lupin, Fred. He did his best to be strong for Ginny, but he couldn’t keep the tears from falling as he remembered.

When they finally made it to the Great Hall, he’d been hit with two jolts of fear. The first, one he was used to after many years, was that everyone in there would probably want to talk to him. The second, a fear he’d have to talk to Ginny about eventually, was that both of them had nearly died in this room just a day earlier. Harry, who had spent a year singularly focused on defeating Riddle, had allowed himself to be diverted for the first time when he saw a green jet of light miss Ginny’s head by centimetres. Thankfully, Mrs. Weasley had been there to protect her, but nothing, not even facing Riddle in the forest, had scared Harry as much as that moment. But when Ginny kissed him, he was brought back to the present, and he was just so happy to be with her that he pushed those fears aside and stepped into the Great Hall, where they were greeted with applause so loud it sounded like a herd of centaurs was galloping around the room.

Harry flinched, brought back to the sounds of the battle, but as always, it was Ginny who knew the right thing to say to make him happy and give him the strength to face the crowd. Mercifully, not many people stopped him on the way to the Weasleys, and Ginny never let go of his hand. As they reached the Weasleys though, Harry felt sick to his stomach as he saw how grief-stricken they all were. He didn’t even realise until he felt it that Mrs. Weasley was pulling them into a tight hug. He felt a little uncomfortable admitting it, but he loved her hugs, even if he couldn’t understand why she’d be hugging him like her own son when he was the reason she had one less.

As that thought sunk in to Harry, he sat down with Ginny, staring at the table in front of him, trying to push the thoughts of all the bodies out of his head. He held onto Ginny’s hand desperately, feeling like at any moment, the family would remember that this was all his fault and not want anything to do with him. He didn’t know how long he’d been sitting like that when he heard a voice saying his name, pulling him out of his thoughts.

He looked up and saw Bill looking at him expectantly. “Can I talk to you outside for a minute?”

Surprised, Harry looked down at Ginny, who nodded at him with a small smile, even though he could see sadness and confusion in her big brown eyes. “Go ahead,” she said, “I can let you out of my sight for a few minutes.”

Harry smiled briefly at that, bending down to kiss her cheek and giving her hand one last squeeze before standing up. Harry looked over at Bill, who was now also standing, and followed him when he nodded his head toward the door.

Bill led Harry through the corridor outside the Great Hall and into an empty classroom off of the next corridor. He closed the door behind them, locking and placing a silencing charm on it.

Harry began to feel a little uneasy as Bill turned to look at him with a hard-to-read expression on his face. Bill sat down at one of the chairs in the classroom, and Harry followed his lead, sitting across from him.

After a few moments of silence, Bill spoke. “Harry, how are you feeling?”

Harry was a little surprised, but he tried to form a coherent answer to that difficult question. “What do you mean how am I feeling? I don’t even know how to answer that. I’m thankful that it’s over. I’m so happy that I’m with Ginny again. I feel like I can’t breathe thinking about everyone who died,” he finished exasperatedly.

Bill nodded. “You didn’t say a word in there, and you were just staring at the table. You can hardly look at me or anyone but Ginny, and you weren’t even looking at her for a while in there. I know we’re still getting to know each other better, Harry, but if I know one thing about you based on how I saw you acting last summer, you cannot keep your eyes off my sister.” Harry blushed slightly at that but unconsciously couldn’t make eye contact with Bill.

Bill continued, “See, you’re still not looking at me and I just basically accused you of ogling my little sister in front of me.” Harry blushed further, and finally he made eye contact with Bill, doing his best to hide the grimace he felt creeping onto his face.

“Harry,” Bill said, “We’re all grieving. We lost Fred, Remus, Tonks, and… a lot more. But… I think something else is bothering you.”

Harry had looked away again as Bill listed people who had died. Did he think Harry didn’t know who was dead? That he hadn’t seen their bodies in the Great Hall? Harry remembered the words Riddle had said, and without thinking, he murmured what had haunted him the night of the battle and what had been haunting him since he saw the Weasleys again.

“You have permitted your friends to die for you.”

Bill looked sharply at Harry. “Did you just say-”

Harry nodded. “I know you heard him say it too. I never wanted anybody to sacrifice anything for me. But so many people are dead, so many people have lost family, and it’s because of me. When I saw all of you and thought of Fred, I remembered what he said. By the time I gave myself up to him, I’d already let so many people die, so many people I cared about. I figured it was only a matter of time before you all realised that it was my fault that you had one less brother.”

He was so caught up in his downward-spiralling train of thought that he didn’t notice Bill standing up, until he felt Bill pulling him up and wrapping him in a tight hug. This wasn’t anything like his hugs from Ginny or from Mrs. Weasley. The only thing Harry could think to compare it to was Sirius’ hugs. It felt protective and brotherly at the same time.

A moment passed, and Bill let Harry go, sitting down closer to him this time. “Harry, you’re our brother too. You’ve been a part of this family pretty much since the day you met my brother. Our family would be much smaller if it wasn’t for you with how many of our lives you’ve saved. But that’s not why you’re part of our family. You’re part of our family because of how much we care about you and how much you obviously care about us, even though you don’t like to talk about feelings. You fit perfectly into our family, and it wouldn’t be the same without you.”

Harry warmed inside. He started to thank Bill, but Bill continued speaking, “Nothing that happened yesterday was your fault.”

Harry opened his mouth to protest, but Bill held up his hand. “Harry, do you think it was Ginny’s fault that the Chamber was opened and people almost died?”

Harry shook his head profusely. “Of course not, she was possessed by him. She did everything she could to fight it, and nobody died. If I’d just given myself up sooner, maybe less people-”

“Stop, Harry. Look- I’m going to tell you something that I’ve only talked to Fleur about because I think it may help. Just- just listen until I’m done talking.”

Harry nodded, slightly perplexed at the direction the conversation was going in.

Bill took a deep breath and began, “A few years ago, when I was working in Egypt, my team was in a wizard tomb we’d just discovered. We were responsible for breaking the curses and taking down the wards that were protecting the goblin treasures inside. Things started out smoothly, like any routine job. I thought I’d taken care of all the curses on the interior of the tomb, so I said it was all clear, and my team was ready to check it out. I was at the back of the group going in. After the first few people made it inside… there was a bright purple flash and the tomb started collapsing around us. I barely made it out. When I turned around… the entire structure had caved in, and I was the only one standing outside of it. I called for help and started removing as much debris as I could. We finally cleared all the rubble, and I saw three of my colleagues, my friends, dead. Two more had been hurt so badly that they could no longer walk. I was the only person who survived unscathed.

“My boss told me later that they’d had a more senior team investigate the incident, and there wasn’t anything I could’ve done. It was a curse we’d never seen before, so well-hidden that he didn’t think even he would have found it if he’d been in my position. It didn’t matter. I was the one who was responsible for clearing the area, and it was my fault that they all got hurt and killed.”

Harry watched as a tear slid down Bill’s scarred cheek and was surprised to find himself tearing up as well, empathising deeply with Bill’s story.

Bill continued, “I still have nightmares sometimes. Or I find myself in a daydream where I feel like I missed something that day. That there was more I could’ve done. I don’t expect that guilt will ever go away. Every single one of their families thanked me for being there for their loved ones and told me not to blame myself. I wish that made me feel better, but it made me feel worse knowing that these wonderful people had lost someone they loved. Logically, when I think about everything I did, I know there wasn’t anything I could’ve done differently. It wasn’t actually my fault, but I still carry some of that guilt.

“I know it’s not exactly the same, but I do know a little bit of what you’re going through. It wasn’t your fault that evil people decided to kill a lot of our friends last night. His followers have been killing for fun since before either of us were born. A lot of people love you, but you weren’t the reason people were here yesterday. Every person who fought here wasn’t fighting just to protect you. They were fighting to protect themselves, to protect their families and their friends from what Voldemort was threatening to do. We were fighting for our way of life, for our freedom and ability to do what we want with our lives without having to worry about what some psychopathic, murderous dictator thinks of it. Fred died last night, but he didn’t die just for you. He died for all of his family, for all his friends. You know Fred. He died laughing, fighting for the ability to make jokes that would spread happiness. And he won. Because we get to carry on his legacy and continue spreading happiness and love without fearing a dark overlord.

“I know that doesn’t help much. Believe me, I know it doesn’t. But none of the people who died yesterday would blame you at all. And even though it’s hard to wrap your head around, don’t forget that you saved hundreds, maybe thousands of lives, or more yesterday.”

Harry didn’t know when he’d started, but tears were flowing down his cheeks for the second time today, and he saw that Bill was also crying openly. They sat like that for a while, silently keeping each other company while Harry tried to process what Bill said. Bill was right- it didn’t take away the guilt Harry felt. But it did make him feel slightly less tense and worried about what the Weasleys thought of him now. He supposed this was what it was like getting used to being part of a family. He liked the feeling that they were there for him, that they wanted him, and that they didn’t blame him, even if he blamed himself. It still hurt, but feeling just a little better was enough for today. A little more comforted, Harry nodded slowly, indicating to himself that he was accepting what Bill had said and the love the Weasleys wanted to give him.

Finally, Bill spoke again. “You said you gave yourself up. I have to ask because it’s the only thing I can think of related to that… what happened in the forest yesterday?”

Harry stiffened, and Bill started to apologise for asking, but Harry shook his head. He could trust Bill. He needed somebody other than Ginny, Ron, and Hermione that he could confide in. And after what Bill had just told him, he knew that Bill wouldn’t have a problem being there as a confidant and friend.

“Erm… well, I…” Harry began tentatively. “You can’t tell anyone this, especially Ginny.” Seeing Bill look at him questioningly and realising what it sounded like, Harry quickly added, “I’m not hiding anything from her. I’m telling her everything, don’t worry. It’s just that I started from the beginning, and there’s a lot to tell, so I haven’t gotten the chance to tell her about this yet. But I have to be the one to tell her.”

Bill nodded, looking grateful that Harry was confiding in him, and Harry grabbed the bottom of his shirt. He looked at Bill, who appeared very confused and maybe slightly alarmed now.

“Trust me, this is probably the easiest way to explain it,” Harry said.

He removed his shirt, and Bill’s eyes widened like saucers when he saw the newly formed lightning bolt scar on Harry’s chest. Satisfied, Harry quickly put his shirt back on.

Bill’s eyes darted from where Harry’s scar was under his shirt to his forehead. Eventually, he managed to say, “You- you survived the Killing Curse… again?”

Harry nodded grimly.

“So you were knocked unconscious, and he thought you died, so when you woke up, he had no idea,” Bill assumed.

“Erm… kind of,” Harry responded, wondering if this was the best idea now.

“Kind of?”

Harry hesitated, finally deciding that Bill could handle it. “You’re a curse breaker, so I’m guessing you have a lot of experience with the Dark Arts. Do you know what a Horcrux is?”

Bill nodded, looking a little lost before his eyes widened again. “Are you saying he made a Horcrux?”

“He made seven. And… I was the one he never meant to create.” Harry let the confession hang in the air. He hadn’t even told Ron and Hermione this yet, he realised.

Bill closed his eyes, rubbing them and shaking his head. After a moment, he looked back at Harry.

“So that’s where you all were this past year. You were looking for his Horcruxes.”

“Yeah. Two of them had already been destroyed before we left your wedding. We found one in the Ministry last September, and we found the fourth in Gringotts a couple days ago. The fifth was here, in Hogwarts, his snake was the sixth, and I was the seventh.”

“Bloody hell, Harry,” Bill swore. “So that’s how you survived then? He killed the part of his soul inside of you instead of you?”

Steeling himself for what was probably the biggest confession he’d have to make, Harry answered, “Yeah, he killed that part of himself. But, he killed me too, at least for a couple minutes, I think.”

Bill looked shocked and confused. Harry tried to figure out how to explain it.

“The only reason I had the possibility of surviving was because he used my blood to bring himself back to life. That transferred my mother’s protection to him, so even though he took my blood when he came back to try and get around it, her protection over me stayed alive in him. He couldn’t kill me as long as he was alive because I’d still have that protection. When he hit me with the curse, he killed that part of his soul, and I died briefly. I was… given the option of coming back or moving on.”

Harry could tell Bill’s mind was still reeling, but he nodded, rubbing his chin with his hand. After some contemplation, Bill spoke, “So then you knew, when you were going to the forest, that he couldn’t kill you?”

Harry shook his head, confessing, “I had no idea. I knew I was a Horcrux, and that I’d have to die for it to be possible to kill him. I figured it all out while I was in that limbo trying to decide whether to move on or stay. I realised that I could come back and end it all. And if I had a chance, I wasn’t going to leave Ginny.”

“Bloody hell,” Bill swore again, but then he grinned. “Make sure to mention that when you tell her about this.” Harry smiled a little, glad that he’d at least kept the last thing he saw before he died a secret for now.

“Harry,” Bill continued, looking a little more serious now, “I’m not going to be the last person to tell you this, especially when you do finally tell people about it all. You’re the bravest person I’ve ever met. I- I can’t imagine the strength it took to willingly walk to your death. I’m sure this will make you uncomfortable, so I’ll only say it once. Thank you for what you did, and… thanks for coming back for Ginny.”

Harry flushed, a little embarrassed at the praise Bill had given him. Harry stood when he heard Bill stand, and he was surprised yet again to be pulled into another protective hug.

Bill must have felt Harry stiffen a little because he said, without letting go, “Weasleys hug, Harry. You’re gonna have to get used to it sooner or later.”

Harry laughed and relaxed a bit before pulling back, looking at Bill gratefully. Bill grinned at Harry before turning to open the door, but he stopped and faced Harry again.

Harry raised his eyebrows, but Bill put his hand up. “Last thing, I promise. Then I’ll get you back to your girlfriend,” he said with a suggestively raised eyebrow. “I’m sure one or more of my brothers will give you hell for it, but I feel like it’s my responsibility to say what we all really think since you probably won’t hear it from any of them. We couldn’t be happier that you and Ginny are together, even though it seems like you two have been together for some time now. We’ve always said that Ginny deserves the very best. Frankly, based on what we’ve just talked about and how I’ve seen you act when she’s around, I know there isn’t a better person for her to be with.”

As usual, Harry felt himself blushing, but he also smiled proudly at Bill, grateful that he had the approval of Ginny’s oldest brother, a man who was also becoming increasingly important in his own life.

Bill clapped him on the shoulder before opening the door and casually said, “Don’t let it go to your head. We all think that, but if you ever hurt Ginny like she was hurt this past year, we will find a way to kill you even though Voldemort couldn’t figure it out.”

Harry gulped and must have looked terrified, wondering what he’d been thinking, dating a girl with so many older brothers. Bill chuckled and stepped out of the room, waiting for Harry to join him.

He slung a brotherly arm over Harry’s shoulders, and as he guided him back to the Great Hall where the Weasleys were waiting, he remarked, “I don’t think you have anything to worry about from us honestly. You’re clearly head over heels for her. And besides, I’m pretty sure if you did hurt her, you’d have to deal with her first.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right about that,” Harry said absently, imagining the blazing look on Ginny’s face when she’s angry and wondering how quickly he could get her back up to the dormitory.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

A/N: And now we get into the sad realities of the aftermath of the war. I’ll be honest, I think I’m much better at writing happy, fun stuff than the more melancholy and sad stuff that’s necessary for this part of the book, so I hope I did a good job with it. I want to be clear that everyone’s still in a lot of shock at this point, searching for something to make everything feel more normal after the death of Fred, but there’s definitely more hard times ahead for everyone dealing with it.

Bill is going to be a really important character in this story, starting with this first interaction with Harry. I know it’s probably a little frustrating that Harry told Bill everything before anyone else, but it sort of sets the stage for how they’re going to interact moving forward as well. Bill’s backstory was something I came up with really early on in conceptualising the story as something that would bond him and Harry, and it also felt like something that would be totally realistic in his line of work. Also, it hasn’t come up in anything I’ve written so far, but my headcanon is that the summer the Weasleys went to Egypt after winning the lottery was right after that had happened with Bill, and he and Ginny bonded over traumatic things happening to both of them recently. Now that I’m writing it out, I’m making a note in my plans for Book 3 to try and work that in. Even when I’m taking a break from writing, I can’t help but be thinking of new ideas!

As always, hope you’re enjoying, and I can’t wait for you to read the last chapter of this initial release: Brave!

Back to index


Chapter 4: Brave

Harry didn’t even have time to react when Ginny turned and sprinted away from him.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

As Harry and Bill neared the Great Hall, Harry noticed the shadow of a very large person rounding the corner of the corridor. He remembered that he’d promised himself he’d talk to Hagrid as soon as he could, and now seemed like a good time to keep that promise.

He looked at Bill, saying, “I just saw Hagrid. I need to see him after everything that happened…” Harry trailed off. Bill nodded in understanding.

“Take your time. I’ll let Ginny know where you are,” Bill responded as he peeled off, heading back into the Great Hall while Harry began walking quickly in the direction he’d seen Hagrid’s shadow moving.

Rounding the corner, he saw Hagrid at the end of the corridor. He started to jog but winced in pain as he was reminded of the aching in his muscles that he’d noticed when he woke up this morning.

“Hagrid!” Harry called out, resigned to walking to catch up to his friend.

Hagrid turned around and beamed when he saw Harry. Harry wasn’t sure that he’d ever seen Hagrid actually run before, and it made for a terrifying sight as the much larger man barreled towards him, sweeping Harry up in a tight hug. Gasping for air, Harry grabbed Hagrid’s shoulders since that was as far as he could reach. Hagrid must have heard Harry sputtering because he looked down at him, still beaming, and set Harry back down, supporting him while he crouched over, trying to fill his lungs again.

“Sorry ‘bout that Harry,” Hagrid said, lightly patting Harry’s back, “Got a bit carried away there. I’m jus’ so happy ter see yeh after… ev’rythin’.”

Harry looked back up at Hagrid, who wasn’t trying to hide the tears running down his face, even as he still smiled affectionately at Harry. Sniffling, Hagrid took out a pink handkerchief the size of a small tablecloth and blew his nose into it. The trumpeting echoed throughout the corridor, and Harry winced. He wouldn’t have been surprised if some people in the Great Hall thought Hogwarts was now under attack from an elephant army.

Hagrid stumbled to the wall, now dabbing his eyes, and he sat down against it, causing a small tremor in the floor around him. Harry followed his lead, sitting next to his friend, trying to think of what to say. Hearing Hagrid sniffling again, Harry reached out and patted Hagrid’s forearm.

Harry fumbled with his words as he tried to apologise. “Hagrid, I’m so sorry for- you know- what happened. Yesterday, I mean. I didn’t think- didn’t want anyone to see me in the forest. I can’t imagine how you felt seeing that and then- having to carry me back to the castle. Merlin, Hagrid, I hate him for making you do that. I’m sorry I put you through that.”

Harry looked back at Hagrid, who was shaking his head at Harry. “Wasn’ yer faul’ Harry. Yeh did wha’ yeh had ter do. Blimey, it was the wors’ thin’ I’ve ever seen, but s’alright. I- I was glad it wasn’… anybody else bringin’ yeh back, if someone had ter. I reckon you had a good reason fer goin’ inter the fores’ yesterday. All tha’ matters is yer still here.”

Harry nodded, wondering how he’d gotten so lucky as to have so many people who cared this much about him.

Hagrid smiled at him then. “But don’ ever make me need ter do tha’ again. Yer a lot heavier than when you were a baby,” he joked, chuckling at Harry’s incredulous expression.

“Sorry Hagrid, I’ll make sure to diet and exercise if I ever need you to carry me again,” he joked back with his first wizard friend.

They shared a laugh before sitting in silence for a few moments. Then Hagrid clapped his knees and stood, reaching down to help Harry up.

“Jus’ so you know, I knew you were special since the firs’ time I saw yeh. I ‘spect lots o’ folks will think yer even more special now. But don’ forget, you were special ‘fore yeh even knew a thing ‘bout magic,” Hagrid said, a little huskily as he got choked up, looking at Harry.

Harry didn’t really know any way to respond to that other than to hug Hagrid again. He’d never forget that Hagrid was the one who changed his life when he told Harry, all those years ago, that he was a wizard. And even though he wouldn’t bring it up to Hagrid, Harry would never forget that in the midst of the battle, Hagrid’s only concern was protecting his body. For the second time in a matter of minutes, Harry found himself wondering how so many people could care that much for him.

Finally, he pulled back from Hagrid, smiling up at the gamekeeper, whose eyes were teary once more.

“Thanks, Hagrid. That- that means more than you know,” Harry told him honestly. “I’ve got to get back to the Great Hall now, but I’ll make sure to come down and see you before I leave in a day or two.”

Hagrid nodded. “No problem, Harry. I’ve gotta go see ‘bout my house, an’ I reckon there’ll be some folks startin’ ter clean up. I’ll see yeh, an’ make sure ter say hi to Ginny fer me,” Hagrid added with a wink, turning and walking away, leaving Harry surprised at just how quickly news spread throughout Hogwarts.

Shrugging, he decided he’d ask Hagrid how he knew the next time he saw him. For now, Harry had to return to the Great Hall; it had been far too long since the last time he’d seen Ginny.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Ginny marvelled at how easy she was finding it to talk to Fleur. Had Fleur changed? Or had Ginny? Deep down, Ginny knew that she’d been immature in how she treated Fleur, but she also suspected that Fleur had been defensively prideful when she first started getting to know the Weasleys, and she might now be shedding some of that as well. Regardless, Ginny was intrigued at the possibility of having a friendly relationship with Fleur.

“Anyways, at Beauxbatons, our 'ouses are much less- 'ow you say… intense zan zey are 'ere. And we don't sort until ze third year. Eet gives more time for ze minds to be fully baked, you see?”

Ginny nodded, very interested in how different Beauxbatons was from Hogwarts. It sounded beautiful, and honestly, it made some sense to her to give a couple years before sorting.

Ginny admitted, “I’d never thought about that, the possibility of being sorted later. It does seem almost unfair to tell eleven year olds who they’ll be for the rest of their life. And people change a lot, especially in the first few years at Hogwarts.” Ginny ignored the creeping feeling that she’d changed more than most in her first couple years, for reasons nobody else dealt with.

“Oui, exactly! Eleven eez much too young to be told who you're supposed to be. To me, eet eez much better to wait and see who ze children are becoming, rather zan who zey started as,” Fleur responded, almost as enthusiastic as Ginny had ever seen her other than when she was with Bill.

At that moment, the door to the Great Hall opened, and Bill walked in, but Ginny was surprised to see that he was alone. When Bill sat down next to Fleur, he immediately answered her unasked question.

“Harry saw Hagrid and needed to talk to him about yesterday. He’ll be back soon.”

Nodding slowly, Ginny realised that Harry must have been talking to Hagrid about what had happened in the forest. Glancing back up at Bill, who had an arm wrapped tightly around Fleur, she asked, “What did you talk to Harry about?”

Bill shook his head. “I think if Harry wants to talk about it, you’d be the first person he’d go to. It’s just- well, he’s dealing with a lot right now, Ginny. He really needs you to be there for him.”

Ginny had been worried that there was something bothering Harry. The way he’d acted earlier made that obvious, although she wondered why Harry was talking to Bill about it and not her.

Clearly seeing her furrowed brow and frown, Bill interrupted her thoughts, “I had to ask him what was going on, Ginny. He trusts you, and he’ll tell you when he’s ready to talk about it freely.” Bill smiled comfortingly at her. “If it makes you feel any better, he’s totally barmy for you. All I’ll say is that if you don’t already love him, you will when he does tell you about it all.”

Ginny blushed deeply and looked down at the table with a small smile on her lips. She wasn’t used to being so embarrassed, but what Bill said really affected her. Love? They’d been together again for a day, and Bill was talking about love? Of course she cared deeply for Harry, and she’d be lying if she said she hadn’t had dreams where she married him.

Laughing internally, she realised she was being stupid. Of course she loved Harry. If she really thought about it, she’d probably loved Harry for much longer than she realised. But she didn’t want to scare him off- what if he wasn’t ready for that yet? There was a lot of change that was happening around them. Would he want one more thing added to his plate? And what was it that Harry said that made Bill so sure that Ginny would love Harry for it?

Blinking, she realised her mind had been running so rapidly that she didn’t notice that both Bill and Fleur were grinning at her, although Bill’s smile did have a hint of a smirk to it. Suddenly curious, Ginny asked the first thing that came into her mind, what she’d been wanting to know about since she first saw Harry after the battle.

“Did he talk to you about the forest?” she asked quietly.

She felt Hermione stiffen next to her as Bill’s eyebrows raised and he paled slightly. She could see him trying to decide how to respond to her, which told her all she needed to know. Eventually, he sighed, seemingly making up his mind.

“Yeah. He told me enough. More than I was expecting, honestly.”

Ginny let out a breath she realised she’d been holding in. Now a second person knew what had happened, and it wasn’t her. She wanted Harry to feel comfortable talking to her, and he was clearly telling her a much more detailed story than Bill heard, but Ginny couldn’t deny that she didn’t like her brother knowing something about her boyfriend that she didn’t. Opening her mouth, unsure what she was going to say, she was saved by Bill talking again.

“He’s going to tell you everything, Ginny. He made me promise not to tell you because he wants to be the one to do it. He said he’s telling you the whole story of it all, so it’s taking a long time to explain, but he does want to tell you about it.”

Ginny felt a little satisfied with that, knowing that Harry did want to talk to her, and he wanted to make sure she had the full version, not just the small part that Bill got. Still, she was looking forward to Harry continuing to show his trust in her when he did eventually tell her the rest of the story.

Glancing over at Hermione, Ginny saw her pretending to not eavesdrop. Nudging Hermione, Ginny asked, “Has Harry said anything to you and Ron about it yet?”

Frowning, Hermione shook her head. Ginny was surprised; she thought they would’ve talked about it yesterday morning after the battle when the three of them disappeared. Realising her friend looked worried about Harry, Ginny patted her hand softly.

“He’ll probably tell you two before I find out about it. You both know the rest of the story leading up to yesterday, so it’ll be easier to tell you.”

Hermione chewed the inside of her cheek, clearly pondering what could’ve happened in the forest. She focused her eyes back on Ginny. “I wish we could fill in those gaps for you, but like Bill said, Harry wants to be the one to tell you everything. He missed you so much, and I think he’s been looking forward to explaining it all to you for a while.”

Even more pleased, Ginny smiled, deciding that she could wait for Harry to tell her everything. He would definitely make it worth the wait.

“Hey, mate,” Ginny heard Ron say. She leaned back to look around Hermione and saw Harry coming back, looking much better than he had an hour ago.

Ginny was surprised when he sat next to her and pulled her into a tender kiss, lacing his fingers through hers in a move he was rapidly refamiliarizing himself with. When he pulled back, she couldn’t stop herself from leaning towards him slightly before opening her eyes, peering up at him longingly, not caring that her family was probably staring.

“Sorry I took so long,” Harry whispered to her.

Ginny smiled and whispered back, “It’s okay, this time. Just make sure to ask if you’re going to be out of my sight for more than thirty minutes in the future.”

That got a laugh out of Harry, who pulled her into a tight hug, and Ginny closed her eyes, savouring the strangely spiced, woodsy scent that was just so Harry.

Harry was a much more active participant in conversation now, easily talking to Bill, Fleur, Ron, Hermione, and even Percy. Ginny considered herself lucky that Charlie had gone to the Owlery, looking to make some inquiries about the dragon from Gringotts and saving her from a lot of embarrassment. Personally, that was another part of the story Ginny couldn’t wait to hear, but as she locked eyes with Harry while he was laughing at something Bill had said, she knew that she’d do anything for him, including waiting. Merlin, she didn’t think she’d ever get over how his green eyes seemed to sparkle and glow for her alone. It was one of the things she loved most about him.

There was that word again. Love. Realistically, Ginny knew that he probably felt the same way, but she was still worried that she’d complicate things for him if she was the first one to say it. She’d just have to be as lovable as possible until Harry couldn’t take it anymore and told her how he felt. Smiling to herself, she decided that she could definitely be lovable for him.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Harry felt better after talking with Bill and Hagrid. It had been much easier to talk to the Weasleys when he came back to the Great Hall, but he still craved more time alone with Ginny. Always keeping one eye on her, Harry noticed her looking at him strangely as he laughed at a joke Bill had just told about a goblin, a hippogriff, and a hag. He looked at her for a moment, but she seemed to be lost in her thoughts.

He leaned close to her, squeezing her hand while whispering, “Do you want to go for a walk?”

Harry was pleased to see Ginny nod enthusiastically, so they stood up and said goodbye to her family for now.

Exiting the Great Hall, they almost ran right into Neville, who was walking in. Immediately, Ginny gave the taller boy a hug and kissed him on the cheek. Neville was still blushing furiously as Harry started to give him a handshake before pulling him into a hug that involved some poundings on the back.

Harry pulled back, getting his first good look at Neville since before the battle had even started. He’d seen glimpses of him here and there, even spoke to him briefly yesterday, but Harry had forgotten just how bad Neville had looked when he’d met them in The Hog’s Head. Both of his eyes were swollen, he had cuts all over his face and arms, his nose looked like it might have been broken, and one of his lips was puffy. He looked heroic to Harry.

“Neville, you were incredible yesterday, mate. We wouldn’t have won without you and that brilliant sword fighting,” Harry said, smiling at his friend appreciatively. The truth was that he hoped Neville never found out just how important what he did was. The less people that knew about Horcruxes, the better, and Harry saw no need to burden Neville with that.

Neville grinned back at him, “Thanks Harry. I spent all year trying to do what you would do. Guess I kept doing that when I did the stupidest thing imaginable and ran at You-Know-Who with a sword.”

Harry and Ginny both laughed at that. “I mean my first thought would’ve been to go with a wand, but the sword definitely did the job,” Harry joked with Neville.

Neville laughed and shrugged, “You always had a flair for the dramatic, Harry. I didn’t want to disappoint and ruin a good show.” With that he clapped Harry on the shoulder again, gave Ginny another hug, and let them exit the Great Hall, still laughing at Neville’s joke.

As they started walking hand in hand through a corridor, Harry thought aloud, “Neville looks like a wreck. At first, I thought that was from the battle, but I just remembered he looked almost as bad when we saw him before.”

Ginny responded, almost absentmindedly as if it was a known fact. “Neville’s looked like that for most of the year.” Harry noticed as her face darkened slightly, and she whispered, so quietly that he almost didn’t catch it, “He’s not the only one.”

It took Harry a moment to process that, but when he realised what she was saying, he stopped walking. Ginny turned to look at him, but Harry couldn’t think straight. Neville looked like that because of the Carrows, but if he wasn’t the only one, then who else…? Realisation clicked in Harry’s mind as he thought about the faded bruises he’d noticed on Ginny’s arms and legs this morning. He looked at her, feeling his eyes narrowing slightly as he tried to control his anger at the people who had caused all this pain.

“What happened here this year?” Harry asked.

Ginny closed her eyes as her face shuttered, looking like she was trying to make herself as expressionless as possible. He noticed that she’d stiffened and her fists were clenched because she’d let go of his hand.

She took a couple breaths and opened her eyes, and her face was devoid of emotion. “Nothing,” Ginny let out impassively, steadfastly refusing to make eye contact with Harry.

It was almost convincing, but Harry knew her too well, knew her eyes that flashed emotions so powerfully that he often found himself mesmerised looking into them. Right now, he saw everything she was trying to hide in her eyes. He saw the hurt and fear and traumatic memories and why the hell was he opening his mouth again?

“Gin… I’m here. You can tell me anything,” he said, softer than he’d spoken before. That didn’t seem to have any effect on her. She squeezed her eyes shut again, and when she opened them, a tear leaked out of one of them. Harry reached up to cup her cheek when she recoiled. Harry stared at her, almost stunned at how she seemed afraid of his touch now.

“Harry-” Ginny began with the pain now clear on her face. Harry didn’t even have time to react when Ginny turned and sprinted away from him, flying down the corridor and around the corner before his brain had processed that she was running away from him.

He felt his heart in his throat as he suddenly found it very difficult to breathe. He couldn’t let her be by herself when she was hurting this badly. Even if she didn’t want to talk about it, she still needed him. Thinking of nothing else, Harry ran after her, ignoring the pain he felt shooting through both of his legs. When he reached the corner she had turned and looked into the next corridor, she was already gone.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

“Crucio!”

Even though she’d known it was coming, Ginny could do nothing to prepare or defend herself as her body erupted in pain. She tried to scream but all of her energy was focused on keeping herself conscious. After what felt like hours, the intense pain subsided, replaced with a throbbing ache across her whole body.

She opened one eye to see Amycus Carrow standing over her, gleefully grinning. Seeing that she was looking at him, he kneeled down in front of her.

“I’ll ask again. Who put those pictures of your boyfriend in the Great Hall?” he asked, bending so close to her that Ginny almost retched looking at the leering face in front of her. They could do whatever they wanted to her; they weren’t going to get any of the others.

She spat in his face.

He recoiled, cursing and aiming a kick at Ginny’s stomach. Ginny felt the wind being knocked out of her, but she acted unfazed. Alecto took her brother’s place, standing over Ginny and smiling sadistically as an idea for a punishment seemed to enter her mind.

Alecto sneered down at Ginny. “Maybe you hope he’ll come back for you if he hears about this. Maybe he’ll miss his pretty girlfriend so much that he runs back in here to save you. I think he’d be surprised if he found his girlfriend to be much uglier than when he left, don’t you Amycus?”

Amycus nodded stupidly, as if he knew what direction Alecto was taking this in. As if he understood anything more than causing physical pain with the Cruciatus.

Alecto continued, “One more chance, girl. Tell us who put Potter’s pictures up, or the next time he sees you, he’ll leave your ugly arse for someone else.”

Ginny wasn’t vain. She knew she was attractive, but she never let her looks define her. There were things that mattered more to her than looks, and she hoped that, as much as Harry liked her looks, he felt the same. ‘I’m sorry, Harry. I hope you’ll forgive me,’ Ginny thought before opening her mouth.

“Go to hell,” she spat out defiantly.

Alecto’s sneer widened into an ugly grin. “I’m gonna enjoy this.”

The last thing Ginny saw before she blacked out was Alecto’s boot flying towards her face.


Ginny didn’t know how long she’d been running, didn’t really have any conscious thoughts in her head at all actually. She wasn’t even entirely sure what she was running from. When she finally stopped running, she was outside, and she sat down against a large birch tree by the Black Lake. As her breathing slowed, her mind began to piece together what had just happened.

Harry, Ginny thought, groaning as she put her head in her hands. She was surprised to find that her cheeks were wet. Wiping her eyes, Ginny realised she must’ve been crying while she was running even though she had no memory of it. The last thing she remembered was the look on Harry’s face right before she turned and fled from him and his impossible question.

How could she tell him what had happened? He left her, rather stupidly but nobly in her opinion, thinking she’d be safer without him around, without being in a relationship with him. It’d been really stupid of him to break up with her privately after they’d dated so publicly. Nobody believed her when she said they’d broken up, and even if they did, there certainly wasn’t anyone who believed Ginny was over Harry.

It didn’t even matter that she had dated him. Sure, that was why the Carrows started with her. Well, that and her family’s aversion to killing Muggles. But by the time Ginny left Hogwarts for the Easter holiday, she was a target for so much more.

She didn’t know that Harry would believe that, if she even had the courage to tell him. For the past month, she’d avoided as many of her family’s questions about what had happened as she could and tried to forget it all. It was only when Harry, the boy she could never lie to, asked her that she snapped as the memories resurfaced in her mind. It wasn’t just the fear of reliving it as she talked about it that scared her. She worried that Harry would be disappointed in her. Disappointed in her for not being safer. Disappointed in her for taking risks. Disappointed in her for not being stronger, for not doing more, for not being braver.

She wasn’t a fool. She may not know the details of what had happened in the forest yet, but she knew that Harry had walked into the forest to Riddle alone and somehow convinced Riddle that he’d won. And then he duelled with Riddle in front of everyone, defeating the darkest wizard ever. Yesterday was only the culmination of years of Harry being brave when others wouldn’t have been. Who else could’ve fought Riddle as many times as he had and still been willing to do it again? Who else could’ve won the Triwizard Tournament and survived a fully powerful Riddle as a 14-year old? Or, as a 12-year old, entered the Chamber of-

Ginny was trembling, out of control of the involuntary movements of her body. She felt like the same scared first year lying on the floor of the Chamber, watching helplessly as Harry had almost died in front of her after saving her life. What would her Harry, the grown up Harry, think of her? He’d always been so brave. That was one of the many things she loved about him, even though it infuriated her sometimes. Ginny had done her best this year to be brave, but she felt like it paled in comparison to what Harry, Hermione, and even Ron had done, and she didn’t even know the full story yet. All she knew was that despite her efforts, people, her friends, had been hurt over and over again at Hogwarts. She’d failed miserably, and that’s why she was so scared to talk to Harry about what happened. Because as much as she wanted him to talk to her about everything he’d been through, she knew that he succeeded, and she couldn’t bear to disappoint him if he thought she could’ve done more or should’ve done less.

Not that it mattered, she realised sadly, fighting to blink away the stinging in her eyes and swallow the lump in her throat. She’d seen the look on his face as she pulled back from his comforting touch. He’d been hurt, and it was Ginny’s fault. Once again, she wasn’t brave enough. Not brave enough to be a Gryffindor, and certainly not brave enough to be the girlfriend of The Chosen One. Surely he wouldn’t be looking for her after what she did. He’d have his selection of witches much braver than she.

She usually put the facade on of a perfectly courageous Gryffindor, but for years after the Chamber, she’d wondered how she’d been sorted into Gryffindor when she’d been so cowardly and caused so much harm. She’d started getting over that feeling when she joined Dumbledore’s Army and started feeling like the things she was doing made a difference, especially at the Department of Mysteries. But now she felt like she was back to square one. Like nothing was different than when Tom Riddle had nearly stolen her life and left her with scars she was still dealing with.

That was when she felt Harry near her, and she unconsciously stiffened. She didn’t know how long she’d been sitting there, wallowing in her thoughts of despair, and she certainly didn’t know how she could sense when he was nearby, just like she had when he walked past her into the forest. Whatever the reason, she knew he was close, and he was looking at her.

Ginny wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, not looking at Harry even though she was sure he’d seen the change in her posture. He didn’t say anything at first. He just sat down against the tree next to her, looking over the Black Lake that was shining under the slowly setting sun. Not close enough that he was crowding her, but if she wanted, she could reach out and hold him. If he wanted.

“I hoped you’d be here,” Harry broke the silence after a while, speaking in a rather calm tone, considering the hysteria Ginny had been in.

It was only then that she realised where ‘here’ was. Their tree. She’d been so caught up in her thoughts and it had been so long that she hadn’t even noticed. Any time either of them needed to get away from the castle or just wanted to spend some time together, they’d come down here. Almost like magic, the other would be there within minutes. It was their tree.

Without looking at him, she asked, her voice raw from her crying, “Do you remember the last time we were here?”

“Like it was yesterday,” he responded immediately, and Ginny felt her memories pulling her to a simpler time, before Dumbledore had died and the world as she knew it had come crashing down.

“Let’s take a break from studying,” Ginny whined playfully.

Harry tried his best to put on a stern face. “Your O.W.L.s may influence your future for
many years to come,” he lectured.

Ginny gaped at him. “Did you memorise that from an O.W.L. pamphlet?”

Dropping the act, Harry grinned and shook his head. “Memorised it from Flitwick at the beginning of last year. Always thought it was funny, me thinking that some tests would determine my future and not Voldemort,” he joked, clearly not thinking about how it sounded because Ginny stared at him in shock.

Harry quickly noticed the look on her face and put his arm around her. “Merlin, Gin. I’m- I’m sorry I said that, I wasn’t thinking.”

Ginny shook her head, looking up at him. “I think that’s what you’re always thinking. You just don’t want people to know it.”

“It’s not what I’m always thinking,” he corrected her. When she raised an eyebrow as if she didn’t believe him, he continued earnestly. “When I’m with you, I’m not thinking about him or what he may do to my future. When I’m with you, it’s like nothing else matters. It’s just you.”

Ginny exhaled deeply as Harry looked at her, blushing a little but refusing to look away. She smiled a little. “So let’s say your future doesn’t involve any raving, violent lunatics. What does it look like instead?”

Harry’s brow furrowed, and he looked deep in thought. After a moment, he looked like he might have an answer, but then he gave her a smug look. “You first.”

Ginny almost said that she asked first so he should go first, but she already knew what her answer was. Even though she’d never actually admitted this before. “I want to play Quidditch.”

There it was. She looked down momentarily, knowing that her family would think it was ridiculous. When she looked back up at Harry, she blinked as if to confirm that he was grinning at her.

“Professionally? You’d be brilliant!” Harry exclaimed. “And my girlfriend would be a world-famous Quidditch player, the best Chaser in the league!”

She laughed, giving him a kiss for that answer. She leaned back, and Harry smiled contentedly. “What was that for?” he asked. “Not that I’m complaining.”

She shook her head and pecked him again. “I’ve never told anyone that before. I always worried that it would sound silly. But that was the perfect response, even if I won’t be the best Chaser in the league… at least right away,” Ginny grinned mischievously.

“I don’t think it sounds silly at all. You’re the best Chaser I’ve ever seen. You’re gonna be great, and I can’t wait to see it,” Harry said fondly, running his hands through her hair like he loved to do.

“I’ll make sure you have a ticket for my first game. But it might be tough to get more for other games. They’ll all be sold out, you know. Every witch and wizard in Europe will be trying to come see me,” Ginny joked with him, not bothering to hold back her beaming adoration of her boyfriend.

Harry laughed and pulled her into a tight hug. She snuggled up against him, loving how safe she felt in his arms. But then she remembered and pulled away quickly, surprising Harry.

“You’re not getting off the hook that easily, Potter. You’ve gotta answer the question too,” she said sternly, wagging a finger at him for emphasis.

Harry’s brow furrowed again momentarily. “I don’t really know about my career ambitions,” he began. “I suppose a lot of people would expect me to want to be an Auror, and that does sound really interesting, but I think in this future, I’d be tired of fighting dark wizards for a while. I liked teaching enough in the D.A. even though I didn’t feel qualified. Maybe I’ll become a teacher.” He chuckled a little, “And Snape could spend even more time with me without being able to give me detention.”

Ginny laughed with him, even though she was a little surprised that he was talking about teaching. She’d always expected, like everyone else, that Harry Potter would of course be an Auror. Pleased that she’d thought to ask him about this, she was surprised when he continued.

“I hadn’t really thought about it before, but Quidditch does sound like a lot of fun. Maybe we could even be on the same team!” he realised, grinning at her matching smile. “Honestly though, Gin? I have no idea what I want from my future yet. Other than I want you to be in it.”

He looked at her with such intensity as he spoke that Ginny thought she might faint. He was always intense, but those green eyes had a special intensity for the things he cared about, namely her. And that look, as he told her she was his future, was what sent Ginny over the edge. She’d never stop adoring him.

Very pleased with that answer, she pulled him into a deep kiss that lasted for several minutes, and when she finally did pull away, she whispered, “I like the sound of that future. We should write it down in case we forget it.”

Harry pulled out his wand and pointed it at the trunk of their tree. He carved ‘H+G’ with a heart around it. It was so bloody cheesy that it would’ve made Ginny sick if she’d seen anyone else do that. But with Harry, it felt so happy and special and right.

“Forever,” she whispered to him before kissing her fingers and placing them against this promise of their future together.


Ginny realised that her hand had found its way to that same spot as she’d relived one of her favourite memories in the blink of an eye. She still wasn’t sure what to say to Harry, but she knew she wanted to talk to him. Before she could say anything, he placed his hand gently on top of hers against the tree. And now she was looking up at him because how could she not after remembering that? His eyes pierced her own with the same intensity they’d had when he had made the carving for them.

“I thought about it every day. When I couldn’t see an end to any of it, when I thought for sure that I wouldn’t make it, I thought about your face when I told you about the future I wanted. That one word you said to me got me through the hardest days of the last year,” Harry spoke, eyes never leaving hers even though tears were running down both of their cheeks. “You said-”

“Forever,” Ginny whispered, kissing him and putting her hands in his hair as he hugged her into his body. Far too soon for her liking, Harry pulled back and looked down at her.

“Gin… I’m sorry if I pushed you. You don’t have to tell me about anything you don’t want to. I never want to hurt you or make you feel uncomfortable. I’m always here if you want to talk to me, but don’t feel like you have to. I’m happy just being here with you.”

Ginny felt the pain in her chest fading at that simple statement. He just wanted to be there for her. How could she have ever run away from him?

“It wasn’t your fault, Harry. I just wasn’t expecting it, and it brought back a lot of memories and feelings that I’d tried not to think about since I left. It’s not that I don’t want to tell you because I do. I’m just- I convinced myself when I left that you’d be disappointed in me if you’d known what happened here,” she blurted out, clearly catching Harry off guard because his eyes widened in confusion.

Ginny continued before he could say anything. “I know that’s probably not the case, but I’d gone months without talking to you. I had no idea where the three of you were or how you were doing. Things were… really bad here. At first, I thought about what you would do and wanted to live up to your reputation for bravery, but then it became necessary for survival. And a lot of people got hurt. I got hurt. After I left, I felt like I’d failed, that you would’ve done so much better. I was ashamed that I couldn’t do more for you or for Hogwarts. It had been so long without seeing you that I thought if you knew, you’d want nothing to do with me.” Ginny let out a deep breath, amazed at what she’d just admitted to him.

Harry just held her hand over their carving, looking at her with so much concern and affection that she wondered if he could’ve possibly understood because if he did, he wouldn’t be looking at her like that.

“I could never be disappointed in you, Gin. And I’m not going anywhere, so you can get that idea out of your head right now. You’re stuck with me. Forever,” Harry whispered, resting his forehead against hers.

Ginny felt everything from her head to her toes tingling. She kissed Harry on his nose, grateful that he was still there, but she’d already started, so she might as well see this through. She moved until she was sitting between his legs and leaned back against him, inviting him to brush her hair with his hands. She enjoyed the contact and intimate feeling of his hands in her hair as much as he did.

Bracing herself slightly, she began to recount her memories. “I used to come to this tree every time it felt like it was too much in the castle. I’d spend hours out here wondering where you were and hoping that somehow, the problems in the castle wouldn’t be there when I went back inside. Then they closed the grounds to students in March, so I started pretending I was here when I was in my bed. I felt like you were somehow with me or watching over me sometimes, and that would make it a little easier to sleep without waking up from nightmares every couple hours.

“It started pretty early on. There were ‘Ministry officials’ on the train and at the castle the first couple days, as if they expected you to just walk in to go to Charms or something. The Carrows were in charge of discipline, and they got to make up the crimes too. They reformed Umbridge’s Inquisitorial Squad into something that made the original look like a poffle of Pygmy Puffs. They wanted everyone to learn how to use the Cruciatus Curse and to practise it on students in detention. If you refused, someone got some extra practice with you.”

Harry stiffened as his hands stilled in her hair. She rubbed his leg. “Harry, I’m just warning you, this story doesn’t get any easier. I’m gonna keep talking, and you’re going to hear a lot of things you don’t like. If you want me to stop, let me know, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

She warmed as he started stroking her hair again, and she felt his face in her hair as he kissed her head, whispering, “I’m not going anywhere.”

Emboldened, Ginny continued, “The Carrows took a special interest in me as a blood traitor and girlfriend of Undesirable Number One.” Patting his leg again, she looked back at him. “Nobody really believed we were broken up. You have to admit now, it was kind of daft of you to break up with me in private.”

Harry looked like he’d never thought about the possibility that people wouldn’t believe it. He opened his mouth to say something, appearing extremely distressed, when Ginny placed two fingers on his lips.

“They were only interested in me for a little bit because of you, Harry. I became such a pain in the arse for them that they only wanted me for that. But that happened later. I tried to keep a low profile in September, but I knew the Carrows and their Squad were watching everything I did. Eventually, I couldn’t sit on my hands waiting for something to happen anymore. I remembered hearing the three of you talking about the Sword of Gryffindor while you were still at the Burrow. I didn’t know how I could get it to you, but I knew you needed it. I hatched a plan with Neville and Luna to get into Snape’s office and steal the sword. Neville set off a bunch of Wheezes stuff in the Great Hall during dinner while Luna and I snuck into Snape’s office. We got the sword out of the case, but somehow, Snape must’ve known what we were doing because he made it back just as we reached the bottom of the stairs. I thought for sure that we were finished, but he only gave the three of us detention with Hagrid.

“It hadn’t gone like we wanted, but we’d proven that we could work together to do something here, if we had more help. In our detention, which ended up just being us weeding Hagrid’s garden and taking a walk through the forest with him, we decided that we were gonna start Dumbledore’s Army again. Luna was able to charm some more Galleons like Hermione did, and we started recruiting. One of the first things we did was cover the clock tower with a massive, glowing ‘D.A.’ banner and a sticking charm that took the Carrows ages to undo because none of the other professors would help them. The Carrows didn’t know what the D.A. was or who was responsible, but we had about fifteen people from the old D.A. let us know they wanted back in. They started recruiting the people they could trust, and pretty soon, we had thirty people. We started meeting in the Room of Requirement, and we discovered a quirk that we didn’t know the first time around. When you’re asking the room for a place to go, you can ask it to not let anyone in that you don’t want coming around, and it can open up doors in other places in the castle too, in case they ever figured out where we were meeting and we needed another way out.

“The next big thing we did was in November. We put pictures of you, actually, all over the Great Hall so they were there for breakfast. Above the Headmaster’s chair, we painted ‘We Stand with Harry Potter’. Unfortunately, Snape helped the Carrows deal with that, and the whole thing was done pretty quickly. He must have told the Carrows that we’d broken into his office because they interrogated me. That was the first real punishment I’d gotten from them. Amycus just wanted to make me hurt, so he cast the Cruciatus on me a couple times, trying to get me to give them the names of everyone involved. But… when I didn’t talk, Alecto got a new idea. She thought I might have been hoping you’d come back if you found out about it. So she decided a better punishment would be to make me less pretty, so you wouldn’t be interested even if you did come back.”

Ginny felt Harry’s hands leave her hair, and she worried for a moment that he was going to leave because he blamed himself. Instead, he wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly but not speaking at all. She marvelled at how safe she felt in his arms, even though she was telling some of her worst memories to him.

“She broke my nose and knocked a few teeth out. Then she had Amycus shave my head. They wanted me to be an example to the school. Instead, more people joined the D.A. even though they saw what the consequences could be. Slughorn helped me brew a Hair Growth Potion to take when I went home for Christmas, and Madam Pomfrey helped me with my teeth and nose right before the holiday since she wasn’t supposed to treat their victims. I couldn’t let my family know because they wouldn’t let me come back, and we had big plans for the new term.

“Luna was taken right off the train when we were going back for the Christmas hols. Now, we had someone new that we were fighting for, so we went way beyond some simple graffiti. We started messing up their Dark Arts and Muggle Studies classes. It was different stuff every day. One day, Alecto’s Muggle Studies classroom was covered with pictures of famous Muggles from the old textbook, all with captions making fun of her. Another day, all the books in Amycus’ classroom attacked him. Seamus had the brilliant idea to transfigure all the desks in their classroom into dogs. The problem was that they were punishing anybody they thought might have been associated with it. A lot of people got hurt. We had to learn how to perform some type of healing magic in the D.A., and the Room of Requirement turned into a kind of field hospital for the victims of the day. The Carrows had moved beyond just casting the Cruciatus. They were starving people in the dungeons for days, coming in only to remind them of the pain they could cause as well.

“At the beginning of March, it got worse. A fourth year named Sam Collins snuck into Amycus’ office while I was in his class and released one of the twins’ swamps. He almost got away, but Crabbe saw him and interrupted class to report him to Amycus. I think that was the last straw because Amycus almost turned feral and started ranting about killing him. He ran out of the room, and I immediately ran to the Room of Requirement. Sam was in there laughing about his prank. I asked the room for a way out of the castle, and it made the tunnel to The Hog’s Head. He made it out, but Amycus suspected that I had something to do with it. I spent three days in the dungeons before they finally let me out. It turned into a cat and mouse game. I’m not sure why they never tried to kill me, but they seemed to enjoy hurting me more. Every few days, we’d get wind of the Carrows hunting someone else down and get them out before they could find them.

“Except… at the end of March, we- I didn’t find out fast enough. Chloe Williams, a second year Hufflepuff, was overheard by someone in the Inquisitorial Squad talking about how she wanted to join Dumbledore’s Army because the Carrows were evil. By the time word got to us, we were too late. I don’t know what they did with her, but nobody saw her again.”

Ginny had been so caught up in her story that she barely registered that she started crying as she thought about poor Chloe, who just wanted more good in the world and didn’t deserve what happened to her. Harry kissed her head again but remained silent, knowing that her story wasn’t quite over yet. Taking a breath, Ginny resumed her story with a slightly shakier voice.

“I’d run to the Hufflepuff dorms to see if we could get her out, but the Carrows had gotten there way earlier, and Alecto stuck around to see if she could catch whoever had been breaking people out of Hogwarts. I ran right into her trap. Instead of the dungeons, she put me in an empty classroom with Crabbe and Goyle and told them to let her know when they were done. I couldn’t even count how many times they cast the Cruciatus on me, and in between, they’d take turns punching me in the face or yanking on my hair. Frankly, I was expecting them to be… a little more touchy, but my one bit of luck was that they didn’t seem interested in that. They let me go finally, and I was in the Room of Requirement recovering until I went home for the Easter hols a couple days later, barely able to walk.

“A few days in, Bill sent us a Patronus telling us to go into hiding because Ron had been seen with you, and the Death Eaters would know that we’d lied about him having spattergroit. We made it to Aunt Muriel’s house, and Bill told us that all of you were safe, but we couldn’t see you. I was so mad because you were so close but still so far away, and I was terrified that I wasn’t at Hogwarts to try to protect as many people as I could. Those were the longest weeks of my life, wanting some sort of update about what was happening at Shell Cottage and here. Bill never told us anything more about you three other than that you all had been talking to Ollivander and a goblin. Then a couple days ago, we heard on Potterwatch that the three of you had broken into Gringotts, and that night, the D.A. Galleons burned again, letting us know that you were at Hogwarts and needed help.”

Ginny finally stopped talking, breathing deeply as her story reached the point where Harry entered. She felt slightly relieved that she’d made it through, but the longer Harry went without talking, the more uneasy Ginny felt that maybe she’d been right in debating whether to tell him. When she couldn’t take it any longer, she turned around to look at him.

He stared at her, his cheeks wet with a flood of silently shed tears. His eyes, normally so bright and vibrant, were dark and mournful, and he looked at her with nothing but sadness and concern. When he didn’t move, Ginny wrapped her arms around him, and they cried together.

It was Harry who finally untangled himself from the embrace enough to look at her. “Gin,” he croaked, his voice cracking with emotion, “I’m- I’m so sorry. I wish I could’ve protected you. I wish you’d never had to go through any of that. I- you never deserved any of that. You were so brave, Gin. I hid in a tent for most of the past nine months. You fought every day, and you saved a lot of lives. I’m- words can’t even express how proud I am of what you did. You’re so amazing. Honestly… if anyone should be disappointed, it’s you. I should’ve finished this sooner. Maybe that would’ve kept you from getting so hurt. Maybe-”

Ginny shook her head in disbelief at him. “How on earth could I be disappointed in you? After everything you’ve done since I met you? You’re the bravest person I know. I’m the one who couldn’t save Chloe,” she argued, almost a little angry that he was so dismissive of himself. She still didn’t understand how he could act like she hadn’t messed up, like she couldn’t have done more.

Harry reached up and wiped a tear from her eye. “When I talked with Bill earlier, he told me that we can honour the people who died by living the lives they wanted to live. I told him- I feel so guilty about all the people who died yesterday. I feel like it was my fault that they were here. Bill said people were here fighting for their freedom and their right to live like they wanted, not to defend me. It doesn’t make the guilt go away, but… I think it’s making it a little more bearable. Chloe wanted to fight for good; she wanted to be like you. It’s not fair that the Carrows got to her first, but you have to keep living like you did. Keep being the person Chloe wanted to be like.”

Tearing up again, she smiled softly at Harry, “I don’t know how you think you aren’t good with words. You always know what to say to me.”

Harry smiled a little back at her. “It’s magic.”

They held each other for a while before Harry spoke again. “By the way, I want you to know something.”

Ginny leaned back to look up at him. He was looking at her with that familiar intensity, his eyes brighter than they had been a few moments ago.

“You are really hot-” Harry said, ignoring Ginny’s snort “- and cute, beautiful, and altogether gorgeous. But…”

Ginny raised a challenging eyebrow at him even though she was blushing, “But…?”

“I’m not with you because of that. It’s a nice perk, but I’m with you because of so many things about who you are, not what you look like.”

Ginny blushed even deeper, trying to remember how to breathe as she felt like she had in that moment under this tree a year ago. Smiling sweetly at Harry, she decided to see where she could go with this. “Are you keeping a list then? Of reasons you’re with me?”

Harry chuckled. “Wouldn’t you like to know? Maybe someday I’ll share it with you. But I don’t need a list. Every second I’m with you makes me more sure that you’re the only person I want. Even if you looked like a troll.”

Ginny wrinkled her nose. “That’s sweet, Harry. I wish I could say the same, but I’m really only with you for your looks. Well, that and your impressive kissing ability.”

Harry couldn’t help but laugh loudly. “I know that’s not true. If you were after looks, I don’t think you’d be with me.”

Ginny realised he was serious, and it only made him cuter knowing that he had no idea what his looks alone did to her. Grinning, she leaned closer to him, “You’d be surprised. Besides, you really are a marvellous kisser.”

Seemingly determined to prove her right, Harry closed the gap between them and brought her into an intense kiss. A small moan escaped her lips as Harry worked his tongue against hers, his hands caressing her back and hair, pulling her deeper into a kiss she never wanted to end.

Unfortunately, they both did still have to breathe. They pulled away slightly, breathing heavily. Harry was incredibly red, and Ginny noticed that he couldn’t take his eyes off her lips, which she could tell were swollen from that rather spectacular snog. Not that she could judge him. She knew she was looking just as hungrily at his lips.

Harry abruptly stood up, holding a hand out to help a surprised Ginny to her feet. He laced his fingers through hers and pulled her into walking beside him.

“Where are we going?” Ginny asked breathlessly.

“I know exactly what we need right now,” Harry responded, looking very excited now.

Ginny was puzzled, not sure where they could possibly be going. They walked away from the lake but not towards the castle. She suddenly realised where they were headed, but didn’t want to ruin Harry’s surprise. Instead, she decided to distract him.

“So… when am I gonna get that list?”

“Hmm?”

“The list of the reasons you’re with me.”

Harry laughed, “I think I’ll tell you pieces of it randomly so you can keep being surprised. It’s not like I’ll run out anytime soon.”

Ginny squeezed his hand at this genuinely adorable compliment that Harry didn’t even seem to realise he made. He was just honestly saying that there were so many things about her that made him want to be with her. The thought warmed her so much, and she wondered again at how she could have worried that he’d reject her if he knew about this year.

“First,” Harry interrupted her thoughts as the stadium came into view, “I’m with you because you love Quidditch, and you’re so amazing at it.”

Ginny smiled at him and kissed him softly.

“If that’s the reward for every item on the list, I might just tell you the whole thing later. But first, we really need to fly together.”

Ginny grinned widely, “I think that sounds perfect.”

Taking a couple brooms from the school supply, they made their way onto the pitch. Harry kicked off first, and Ginny followed right behind, looping up and over him as he shot around the pitch. They soared high above the ground, enjoying every moment of being alone together, but before long, they were back to speeding around the stadium. Ginny smiled in a moment of clarity as she looked over at Harry flying rapidly beside her. Because surely this, the wind in her hair, the smell of the broomstick, and Harry next to her, was the freedom they’d fought so hard for.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

A/N: Yeah, I know, both Harry and Ginny have a lot of problems they’re dealing with. This was another really special chapter for me because it’s the first time that we see a memory of Ginny’s. I wanted to use her memories as a storytelling device to fill in a lot of gaps in her life and character that don’t really have answers. Some of those memories are going to be of the rough things in her life, like being abused by the Carrows, but a lot of them are going to be much happier, like their first talk under their tree. And by the way, yes, the promise they made to each other was forever. And it’s gonna come up a lot.

This chapter was also presented the interesting challenge of being my first real exercise in matching up the existing canon with my additional stories in the form of memories and Ginny’s retelling of the past year at Hogwarts. It took a while to make sure all the timelines matched up right, but I definitely got better at it as I continued writing and basically memorised every single story beat that Ginny has in the books. (There’s more than you think).

It was also one of my first real chances to show how Harry and Ginny handle and express emotions with each other, even though it’s going to continue being explored in future chapters. They both have a lot of room to grow, but they’re doing it together, and that’s the beautiful thing about their relationship to me.

So that’ll do it for the first release of Summer of Recovery. Moving forward, I plan on releasing chapters on Tuesdays and Fridays, generally in the afternoon (US time), but no promises on an exact time because my schedule as a college student seems to change every week. But please, let me know your thoughts so far! I’d love to hear from anyone who’s reading this!
And be sure to subscribe or follow along so you don’t miss out on the Tuesday release! Like I have a quote from the text at the start of every chapter, I’m going to include that quote and the title of the next chapter at the end of every A/N as a teaser!

Coming Tuesday: Blazing- He supposed he should’ve been grateful that they had given him a day before they started asking questions, but honestly, he was just annoyed.

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Chapter 5: Blazing

He supposed he should’ve been grateful that they had given him a day before they started asking questions, but honestly, he was just annoyed.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

For the second morning in a row, Harry woke up with his head in Ginny’s hair. They were lying on their sides in his four-poster bed. She lay pressed against him, and his arm was draped over her, holding her while she slept. Thankfully, they had remembered to close the hangings on the bed this time, and Harry had no idea if they were alone in the room, nor did he really care. His attention was focused, as it usually was, on Ginny.

Running his hand up and down her pale arm, making a point to touch every freckle individually, Harry thought back to their talk by the Black Lake. He’d wanted to react angrily as Ginny told him about the horrors of her torture at Hogwarts this past year. She hadn’t even gone into detail on everything that happened to her, only mentioning a few of the notable punishments. He suspected her detentions had happened so often that she couldn’t even begin to describe them all. The thought of one of those vile pigs hurting her made him almost shake with rage. But Ginny’s need for him had trumped that feeling. Harry wasn’t used to having something to counteract his anger. For the last few years, as more and more difficult things happened to him, he’d become accustomed to flying off the handle. Ginny’s ability to help him stay at least somewhat calm was another thing to add to the ever-growing list of reasons he wanted her.

Instead of reacting angrily, Harry sobbed silently, listening to her tell him about how she’d been hurt because she’d been his girlfriend, and then how she’d been hurt because she’d been a hero at Hogwarts. He empathised so deeply with her feeling of guilt that she hadn’t been able to save everyone. Somehow, it was easier to comfort her when she was feeling the same thing he was than it was to let himself be comforted with the same words. He knew nothing he’d say would help much. But he wanted- needed- her to know he was there. Even though she’d joked yesterday about not letting Harry out of her sight, he suspected that she really did grow anxious when he wasn’t with her, like she was being thrust back into the lonely feeling of him leaving her a year ago. Because he felt the same when he wasn’t with her. Now that they’d gotten back together, even though it had only been two days, Harry wondered how he’d ever made it through the Horcrux hunt without her. She felt like a part of him, and he didn’t think he felt complete if she wasn’t around.

Harry wasn’t sure if that was normal in relationships. He didn’t have a lot of experience to draw on. His relationship, although that term was a little generous, with Cho had lasted a little more than a month but didn’t even survive one full date. And he was usually uncomfortable when he was around her, feeling more at ease when they weren’t together. His relationship with Ginny last year had barely lasted longer than that. Ginny had more relationship experience, and she’d probably know if what he was feeling was normal or not. But he didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable if she wasn’t feeling the same way. He didn’t even know what exactly he was feeling, and it’s not like he had anyone to talk to about it. Ron was his best mate, but it was just weird thinking about talking to him about dating his sister. Hermione might have given useful advice, but she was a close friend of Ginny’s too. The problem was that everyone in Harry’s life that he could talk to about this was also inextricably linked to Ginny as much as him. He loved that the majority of the time; it made him feel like he was part of a very large family. But right now, he could use the advice of someone who wouldn’t make him feel weird talking about his relationship with Ginny. He realised, sadly, that he really would love to talk to Sirius about this.

Closing his eyes, Harry tried to imagine what Sirius would say to him. ‘You told her she was your future? You died thinking of her and came back to life because of her? You’ve got it bad, kid. Although it runs in the family, I guess. Your dad was the same way with Lily. So in love that there wasn’t any coming back from it.’

Harry’s eyes bolted open as his own imagination surprised himself. Love? He didn’t know the first thing about love. Not really. He’d had what felt like a profound moment of clarity before he saw Ginny for the first time after the battle, where he remembered the power of love and how important it was, but he had been in a sleep-deprived, battle-worn state. Now that he was well-rested, he felt just as confused about it as he usually did. What did he know about love? It was what let him defeat Riddle while surviving. It was something Dumbledore had talked about endlessly. But Harry felt clueless about love on a personal level.

He’d never told anyone he loved them, he realised. Then again, nobody had ever said that to him either. Harry supposed that his parents would’ve told him that quite often, but he couldn’t remember it. He couldn’t begin to imagine what love actually felt like. Was what he felt for Ginny love? Or was it just him being so happy to see her again that he couldn’t bear to leave her? Was there a difference?

Harry wasn’t going to get any of the answers to these questions by himself, he knew. Hopefully he’d figure out who he could ask about it without it being too weird.

He was brought out of his deep thinking when he felt Ginny shift, pushing herself further back into him. That definitely got his attention. She sighed and turned her head slightly so he could clearly see her sleeping face. Harry was still furious, he could admit to himself, that she’d had to deal with so much at Hogwarts. She was the last person in the world who deserved to know what the Cruciatus Curse felt like. He was furious that he couldn’t be there for her. He’d wanted to protect her, and he hated that he hadn’t helped at all.

But despite all that, here she was. Vulnerable, without a doubt, especially now, but she had an obvious strength about her that had grown significantly in the past year. They weren’t the same people who had dated a year ago. Most of the parts that mattered were unchanged, but they’d both dealt with trauma beyond their years. Both had dealt with loss and loneliness and fear, but they’d found their way back to each other. If Ginny still wanted Harry, as haunted and damaged as he was, it was the least he could do to be there when she needed him, even if it meant learning how to control his temper.

Plus, controlling his temper had some really nice benefits. He and Ginny had enjoyed a long flight into the night at the pitch, then snuck back up to the castle and ate a private dinner in the Gryffindor common room, catered by Kreacher, before falling asleep talking in the bed they were still in. Warming inside at the memory of their first date, if he could call it that, since they’d gotten back together, Harry decided that it had been too long since he’d seen Ginny’s eyes and heard her voice.

Leaning down to her, he kissed her softly, happy to find that even in her sleep, she instinctively kissed him back. She whimpered when he pulled back, a sound she never would’ve made if she’d been fully awake, but smiled slightly when Harry kissed her forehead, running one hand through her hair while continuing to move the other hand along her arm.

She opened her eyes slowly, looking up at him through her long red eyelashes. Harry felt his insides melt a little just seeing her eyes, still glazed over with sleep, but gazing adoringly at him, as if he were the only thing she would’ve wanted to wake up and see.

“Morning,” Harry whispered, planting a kiss on her nose.

Ginny smiled. “Good morning, dear,” she responded, yawning as she did.

Harry raised an eyebrow at her. “Dear?”

Ginny laughed at his expression, rolling over to face him fully. “Just trying it out. I’ll probably try some others and see what sticks. If we’re going to be a real, domestic couple, I want pet names,” she said seriously, as if she’d given great thought to it.

“I never took you to be one for pet names if I’m being honest,” Harry commented.

She laughed again. “I’ve never wanted one before, but I suppose being with you makes me feel differently than I’m used to. You make me wanna do irrational things,” she said, looking at him suggestively.

Liking where this conversation was going, Harry countered, “Oh really? Like what?”

“Let me show you,” Ginny practically growled, climbing on top of Harry and pinning him to the bed. She caught his lips with hers, dominating the kiss as her tongue battled his for control.

Harry gasped as she tore away from his lips and started kissing along his jawline before settling on a spot on his neck, just below his ear. He fervently ran his hands through her hair, reverently whispering, “Ginny… Merlin, Gin.”

She worked her way down his neck and started nibbling at his shoulder, causing a whole new sensation to flood through his body. But suddenly, she was pulling at his shirt, and Harry forgot all about how good she was making him feel and focused on not letting her see his scars. Doing the only thing he could think of, he flipped her over onto her back and returned the favour, slowly and methodically tasting the skin of her neck, loving the feeling of her hands tangled in his hair as she whispered his name with so much emotion that it made his heart ache.

He wanted to kiss more of her, to let her kiss more of him, but deep down, Harry didn’t feel right doing anything more while she still didn’t know the whole story. He didn’t think any of it would change her view of him, but she deserved to know exactly who she was dating and the baggage he brought before things went any further.

With great effort, he pulled his lips away from her neck and hovered just inches above her face, getting momentarily lost in the chocolate pools of her eyes. He came to his senses when she blinked, looking up at him slightly amused, very flushed, and ridiculously sexy.

“You’re perfect,” he said, so quietly that he wasn’t sure if he’d even spoken it aloud. But he must have because Ginny was beaming so brightly that Harry had no choice but to smile back at her.

“Not hardly,” Ginny chuckled, still smiling widely, “Not nearly as perfect as you,” she said, tilting her head up to quickly kiss him again.

Harry laughed as she kissed him. “You must be right about me making you feel irrationally because I’m pretty sure perfect is the last thing most people think of when they see me.”

Ginny’s smile briefly faltered, turning into a more serious look, making Harry wonder what he’d said.

“I think you’re perfect. Do you have problems? Sure. Doesn’t make you less perfect to me. I don’t care what anybody else thinks. They can all go to blazes for all I care. I only care about what you think,” she finished conclusively, and Harry stared in awe at the fiery woman below him who raged against anyone who dared to speak ill of him.

After a moment, Harry smiled. “You refuse to let anyone, including me, say anything bad about me. That’s the next thing on the list.”

He was rewarded with a soft kiss as Ginny blushed at his reminder of the list he was keeping in his head before they lay back down on the bed together, holding each other tightly.

“By the way,” Harry said, “You just came up with your pet name.”

Ginny looked at him, clearly trying to remember what she’d said recently.

“Blaze,” Harry whispered, hoping that she liked it as much as he did.

“Blaze?” Ginny asked probingly.

“Yeah, Blaze. I think it’s perfect. You just said everyone other than me can go to blazes. You have gorgeous, fire-red hair. You’re so fiery when you’re doing things you care about, even if it’s defending me. When you get mad, you explode like a volcano and your face gets as red as your hair and it’s honestly so adorable that it’s unfair. And most of all, when I think of blaze, I think of that look you get when you’re… passionate about something. It’s the look you gave me when we kissed for the first time in the common room, and the look you gave me when we kissed for the first time again, two days ago.”

Ginny stared at him with her mouth open in shock. Harry grinned affectionately at her, knowing that he’d hit the mark with his pet name.

“Bloody hell, Potter. I never took you for being so romantic,” Ginny finally managed to get out.

“I know. It’s disgusting, isn’t it? What can I say, you make me do irrational things too, I guess. It’s almost like magic,” Harry replied, still smiling widely at her.

“Blaze,” Ginny tried out. “You know, I thought you were going to stick with Gin. I don’t let anyone else call me that anyways. But I’ve gotta admit, Blaze is nice.”

“Oh don’t worry, as much as I like Blaze, my favourite name will always be your real name. Ginny, Gin, Ginevra. You’re Blaze too, and you’ll probably be babe or something else eventually, but Ginny in all its forms will always be my favourite name for you.”

Harry chuckled as Ginny stared at him again. He liked being able to surprise her like this. He would’ve thought being romantic didn’t come naturally to him, but everything seemed different with her, he was finding.

Eventually, Ginny said, “This isn’t fair. You’re setting way too high a bar for my pet name for you. Don’t you ever call me Ginevra though, or I will hex you into next week.”

Harry almost laughed as he saw that blazing look in her eyes yet again. “Sure thing, Blaze,” he whispered, pleased to see Ginny smile at that.

After a moment, Ginny narrowed her eyes and asked, “Wait… what time is it? I don’t want my family to send Ron up here again.”

Harry laughed, agreeing with her, and checked the watch that was on his bedside table. “It’s only nine. I bet we can still make it down for breakfast.”

Ginny nodded. “Sounds like a plan. Just one more thing though…”

She pulled Harry back down into another deep kiss, and Harry knew that he’d skip any number of meals if this was the alternative.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Ginny had to admit that despite spending her entire life sleeping alone, she didn’t think she’d ever be able to go back after sharing a bed with Harry the past two nights. Being with him seemed to chase nightmares away, and nothing could beat him waking her up with kisses. She’d never considered herself a morning person, usually preferring to sleep in and being rather grumpy when she did have to get up early. But if this was how every morning would be, she would become a very enthusiastic early riser.

Blaze. Merlin, the things this boy did to her, and he didn’t even seem to realise it. How on earth was it fair that he came up with a nickname so sweet and romantic and perfect for her and then said that Ginny would always be his favourite name? She was starting to get antsy. They’d only been together again for two days, and Ginny was already finding it incredibly difficult to not tell him that she loved him. Everything he said made it that much harder as she continued falling further and further into her feelings, feeling the bubbling emotions in her stomach more and more by the minute. Blaze. It was just so perfect, proof that Harry knew her better than anyone, even after spending a year apart.

There was one thing that was bugging her slightly though, she thought as she dressed in the bathroom. Harry hadn’t wanted her to take his shirt off. Granted, they hadn’t ever taken anything that far in the limited privacy of their relationship last year, and he had covered rather nicely for it by lavishing attention on her, which she realised, with a grin, left some very visible marks that she had to cover with a concealing charm. She didn’t judge him at all if he wanted to take things slower, but she was curious about why he didn’t just tell her if that was how he felt.

Ginny stepped out of the bathroom just as Harry finished pulling his shirt on. She cleared her mind of thoughts of Harry shirtless, as tempting and inviting as they were. There would be time to think about that later, but her stomach grumbling reminded her of what her priorities should be right now. Grinning at the sound, Harry took her hand in his, and they exited the empty dormitory.

Her family was already in the Great Hall when they entered, sitting in the same places they were yesterday. Ginny and Harry greeted the Weasleys, and surprisingly, nobody said anything about them obviously still sleeping in the same bed. Sitting down, they tucked into the breakfast in front of them, appetites a little stronger this morning than the previous one.

Well, nobody in her family said anything right away. Ginny was eating so heartily that she didn’t notice the devilish gleam in Charlie’s eye as he said, loud enough for her entire family to hear, “So Harry, how’d you sleep last night?”

She heard a strangled sound next to her as Harry choked on his toast. Ginny looked at Harry, who had gone incredibly red and was staring at the table, before turning to Charlie, who was grinning in a self-congratulatory manner, clearly proud of himself for the question. The rest of the family was silent, although Ginny saw Fleur glaring daggers at Charlie while Bill studied her and Harry. Percy looked away, Hermione was whispering to Ron, and her dad was actually doing the same to her mum.

Ready to chew Charlie out for that, she was interrupted by arguably the most surprising sound she’d heard in a while- George started chuckling, but it quickly grew into a loud belly laugh as the rest of the family joined in, slightly less enthusiastically but still appreciating George’s first real show of emotion since the battle.

Resigned, Ginny realised she couldn’t very well lay into Charlie now, so she’d have to do it later. George finally stopped laughing, wiping tears from his eyes as he looked down the table to her and Harry.

“Oi! You doing alright, Potter? You look like you’ve eaten some Fever Fudge. I don’t want you near my sister if you’re going to be sick. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t know if I want you near my sister anyways…” George loudly informed Harry, who looked as if he was trying to melt into the bench under him.

This got the rest of the family laughing, especially Charlie and Ron. Her mum tried giving George a stern look, but even she couldn’t hide how delighted she was that he was talking, even if it was just for a moment. Ginny was very pleased too, but the George she knew wouldn’t have dished it out without being willing to take it, and both he and Charlie deserved some revenge for the embarrassed look on Harry’s face.

Ginny stood up so she could see them both. “Laugh it up you two, you’re soooo funny. You seem to forget though that at least Harry’s getting some action,” Ginny said bravely, ignoring the mortified look on Harry’s face. “I mean George, you’ve spent so much time with your mouth on the radio transmitter in the last couple months that I wonder if you’ve forgotten what a kiss actually feels like. And Charlie, when was the last time you kissed a girl and she didn’t try to breathe fire on you? In case you’ve forgotten, this is what a real kiss looks like,” Ginny said brazenly as she sat down, turned Harry’s shocked face towards her, and planted a searing kiss on his lips.

At this, Bill, Fleur, Hermione, and even her parents lost it, laughing so hard that people nearby started to look at them. Ginny may have imagined it, but she even thought that she saw a smile on Percy’s face for a moment. That was an achievement itself, but nothing felt better than seeing the stunned expressions on Charlie and George’s faces.

Putting his hands up, Charlie interrupted the laughter. “You got me there, sis. Just don’t forget that we’re your big brothers, and it’s our job to protect you. And,” he continued, pointedly looking at Harry, “as you so kindly pointed out, I do deal with dragons every day, so I can definitely deal with a scrawny teenage boy.”

Crossing her arms and rolling her eyes, Ginny responded, “Fine, as long as you don’t forget that if you want to come after my boyfriend, you’ll have to go through me.”

“Merlin’s balls,” George moaned despondently, running a hand over his face. “She sure does know how to take all the fun out of sibling traditions.”

Ginny stuck her tongue out at him and was pleased to see that he responded with a subtle one-finger salute when their mom wasn’t looking. Maybe George would be okay, after all, even if it meant taking the piss out of her and Harry. At that thought, she turned to look at her boyfriend, very happy to see him grinning at her defensive display.

He leaned down to whisper in her ear, “Like I said, Blaze, you refuse to let anyone say anything bad about me. Definitely high on the list.”

Beaming, Ginny kissed Harry once more before turning back to her food and conversation with her family that thankfully did not include any more mentions of sleeping arrangements. As they finished breakfast, Ginny noticed Professor McGonagall and Kingsley walking towards them. They greeted the whole family, but, based on Harry’s tense stature, she suspected they were there for more than catching up.

Quickly, her suspicions were proven correctly when McGonagall spoke to Harry. “Potter, would you mind speaking to us in my office?”

Harry’s brow furrowed. “About what?”

Kingsley interjected, “We just have some questions about everything that’s happened in the last year… particularly concerning the defeat of Voldemort.”

Ginny felt Harry’s grip on her hand tighten slightly, and she returned the pressure, reminding him that she was there.

She looked up at the newly appointed Minister for Magic. “Tom Riddle, you mean?”

Kingsley looked confused, and Percy looked shocked that she spoke directly and without preamble to the Minister. “I’m sorry?” Kingsley asked.

“Before he was Lord Voldemort, Tom Riddle was a student at Hogwarts who hated his name. He wanted a name that people would fear, and it worked. If we continue referring to him as Voldemort, we give him the gift of the name he wanted, not the name that belonged to him. Personally, I think it would piss him off quite a bit to know that he was ultimately remembered by his real name, the one he despised- Tom Riddle.”

Harry squeezed her hand, and Ginny knew that he agreed with her. Kingsley nodded, looking contemplative. “That’s a very wise sentiment, Ginny. I think you’re right, and I apologise for not thinking about it sooner. Harry, we’d like to talk to you about Tom Riddle.”

Harry sighed, looking like he’d rather do anything else in the world than talk about it with them. But finally, he looked back at Kingsley, “Ron and Hermione have to come with me, then. They were there for all of it, it wasn’t just me.”

That was her boyfriend, Ginny thought, ever the model of humility. Of course Ron and Hermione had been there for everything, but in the end, it had only been Harry fighting Riddle.

Kingsley nodded, “Of course, they’re welcome to join us.”

Harry looked at her, and Ginny smiled encouragingly. “You can go. Just come back as soon as you can.”

Harry smiled back even though he still looked a little nervous at the thought of talking to McGonagall and Kingsley. He looked like he wanted to say something to her, but he settled for kissing her quickly before standing up and walking out the Great Hall with Ron, Hermione, Kingsley, and McGonagall.

When they left, Bill got her attention. “You really aren’t afraid of anything, are you, little sis? Correcting the Minister for Magic like that? That’s pretty impressive.”

Ginny smirked, seeing Charlie nodding in agreement. Percy didn’t make eye contact with her, looking mostly appalled, but once again, Ginny thought she saw his small smile for a moment.

The Weasleys didn’t linger for long after that, going their own separate ways for the day. They would be returning to the Burrow tomorrow, but they wanted to do what they could to help at the castle today. George had gone back to not really talking, but Ginny could tell the whole family was encouraged that he did still have his sense of humour somewhere underneath all the grief. Trying to find something to do, Ginny was about to head outside and see if she could help Hagrid when a flash of orange and pink caught her eye. That colour combination made no sense on almost anyone, but it seemed perfectly suited to the fashion tastes of Luna Lovegood, one of Ginny’s best friends. Ginny ran up to her friend, pulling her into a tight hug.

“Oh, hello Ginny,” Luna said dreamily, “I was wondering when you’d come over and talk to me.”

“You saw me and waited for me to come over to you?” Ginny asked, slightly amused.

“Yes. I knew you’d want to talk to me, and you seemed so excited that I’m glad I didn’t come over first.”

“And what do I want to talk to you about?”

“Probably about how you’re dating Harry again. Have you noticed the Erosprites floating around his head? Oh, look at that. They’re all around you too,” Luna stated like it was incredibly obvious.

“Erosprites?”

“Yes, Erosprites. You know, they only appear when someone is in love. It must be rather awkward if one person in a relationship doesn’t have any Erosprites, but don’t worry, they seem very attached to both you and Harry.”

Surprised, Ginny stared open-mouthed at her friend. She didn’t think Erosprites were real- almost every creature Luna mentioned was mythical at best. But for some reason, Luna clearly thought she knew something about love.

“Luna, are you saying Harry loves me?” Ginny asked, trying not to sound too hopeful or desperate.

Luna blinked at her. “The Erosprites are never wrong. I suppose he could be in love with someone else, but he looks at you differently than I’ve seen him look at anyone else, so it would make sense. I have heard rumours that he, Ron, and Hermione are in some sort of relationship, but Harry seems much more interested in you. He’s much happier now than he was at your brother’s house, and he was with Ron and Hermione then too. I can’t think of anything else that’s changed other than him being with you.”

Ginny did her best not to gag at the ludicrous rumour Luna had so casually mentioned while also attempting to not laugh as Luna acted like Harry being around her was the only thing that had changed in the last few days. But then she realised that she’d forgotten that Luna had been with Harry and the others at Shell Cottage.

“Thanks for letting me know Luna, I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for the Erosprites. But I was actually coming over to see how you’re doing. We were all so scared when you were taken off the train. We didn’t hear anything more until Bill told us that you’d made it to Shell Cottage,” Ginny said, remembering the fear she’d felt when Luna had been abducted before Christmas.

“Oh. Yes, that was scary. But I made friends with Mister Ollivander, Griphook the Goblin, and Dean Thomas in a cellar, and then Harry, Ron, Hermione, and a house elf rescued us,” Luna said plainly before beginning to hum a tune only she could hear.

Ginny marvelled at how her friend had likely glossed over the torture she’d endured, not to mention that she spent more than three months trapped in a prison cell. Ginny remembered Bill telling her about how Dobby had died when they escaped. She imagined that that had affected Harry a great deal, and she made a mental note to find out where Dobby was buried so she could thank him for saving her friends.

Ginny sat with Luna for about an hour, catching up and talking about anything that they could think of. Their conversation ended when Luna abruptly stood up and started to walk away.

“Where are you going?” Ginny asked, slightly confused but not surprised at this wasn’t the first time Luna had ended a conversation like this.

Luna looked back at her like she didn’t understand what Ginny was missing. “Harry will be here in a moment. I assumed you’d want to spend some time with him.”

Luna turned and walked away, leaving Ginny shaking her head at how her friend could be so bizarre sometimes, but she was often right, Ginny laughed to herself as the doors to the Great Hall opened and Harry, Ron, and Hermione walked back in.

She rose to meet them but faltered when she saw the pale, distressed expressions on Ron and Hermione’s faces.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Harry had known that this was coming. He supposed he should’ve been grateful that they had given him a day before they started asking questions, but honestly, he was just annoyed. He liked Kingsley, quite a bit actually, but once Harry had learned that Kingsley had been named the temporary Minister for Magic, he knew Kingsley would want to talk to him.

It wasn’t that he had anything to hide, really. He’d just always hated talking about himself and the things he’d done. He wasn’t naive. He knew that he’d done some dangerous things, including helping to end Riddle’s reign of terror, but he hadn’t had any other choice. The prophecy in the Department of Mysteries had destined that Harry would fight Riddle until one of them was dead. People had always gawked at him, just for a scar on his head. After everything that had happened in the past few days, the attention would only become more obvious and intense. Harry didn’t want anyone to tell him that he’d done something heroic when he really felt like he’d failed so many people. Telling Ginny was different because he felt comfortable talking about his true feelings with her. She understood and was so quick to say the right thing. He suspected it would be a little different with the Minister.

Harry also wasn’t expecting Kingsley to pull Professor McGonagall into it. He hadn’t realised that he’d have to tell both of them about what had happened. He felt extremely uncomfortable at the look she was giving him. She usually appeared so calm and pulled together, completely in control, but right now, she was looking at him with an expression that confused him, and he wasn’t sure why.

He knew he didn’t really have a choice. He at least had to give answers to these two influential members of the wizarding community who hadn’t ever given Harry a reason not to trust them. Reluctantly, he went with them, but he refused to go without Ron and Hermione. He really wanted Ginny with him, but she didn’t know the full story yet, and Harry expected that he’d be a lot more blunt about what he said without her there. Besides, this was really something he needed to do with his two best friends.

Harry was surprised when they entered the Headmaster’s, or rather, Headmistress’ Office, and found it practically empty aside from some furniture and the portraits on the walls. He supposed that McGonagall had just moved in and hadn’t had time to decorate with all her other responsibilities. McGonagall conjured an extra chair for Kingsley next to hers behind her desk, and the three teenagers sat opposite them. Harry glanced up at Professor Dumbledore, who was smiling encouragingly from his portrait. Harry tried to smile, but he suspected it looked more like a grimace considering how he was feeling. They all sat looking at each other, seemingly expecting that someone would start the conversation. Harry was willing to be cooperative, but he wasn’t going to encourage any of this. He remained silent, waiting for someone else to begin.

Finally, Kingsley cleared his throat. “I’m sure that you three understand why we have some questions that need to be answered. We have tremendous respect and gratitude for what the three of you managed to do, but… we honestly don’t know anything about what you did other than disappearing for a year and then reappearing at Hogwarts a few days ago. There are some things that Minerva and I have heard that… concern us greatly. I’m going to be doing my best to rebuild the Ministry, while Minerva rebuilds Hogwarts. We realise that you don’t owe us anything, but we want to learn from everything that’s happened, to avoid the mistakes of the past, if you’ll trust us with the answers to some difficult questions.”

The trio looked at each other, wordlessly having an intense conversation. They should’ve planned, Harry thought, what they would say and what secrets needed to be kept. Ron looked concerned with the idea of talking about anything, while Hermione looked slightly more open to the idea of trusting them. Hermione had always been more trusting of authority figures, and even though the last couple years had jaded her, she still appeared to be willing to trust Kingsley and McGonagall. Realising that they would both defer to his judgement, Harry was mildly surprised to find himself agreeing with her. Aside from the Weasleys and Hagrid, Kingsley and McGonagall were two of the adults he trusted the most.

Ending their wordless exchange, Harry looked back up at the two of them, who were patiently waiting for their answer. Harry nodded slowly. “It’s not gonna be easy to talk about, but we do trust you. We’ll do our best to be as open as we can, but we need to know that you’ll ask us before sharing anything we’ve talked about. There are… secrets about Riddle that’ll only cause more problems if they come out.”

McGonagall’s lips tightened as Kingsley nodded solemnly. “I think we can manage that. We owe the three of you that much, at least,” he said. “The first question we wanted to ask is one we’ve already asked Dumbledore, but he said it was your story to tell. You said last summer that Dumbledore gave you a mission. What was that mission, and is that what the three of you were doing for the last year?”

Harry let out a breath. They were already asking a tough question. “This is one of Riddle’s secrets, really the biggest one, that I don’t think needs to be shared with the public. Do the two of you know anything about-”

“Wait!” Ron interjected. “What about them?” he questioned, gesturing at the portraits on the walls.

Harry hadn’t even thought about the portraits. In theory, they represented dozens more people who put the secrets Harry, Ron, and Hermione were about to share at risk. He knew that these people were all former Headmasters and Headmistresses of Hogwarts, but the idea of even more people knowing made him incredibly uncomfortable. For their part, the portraits had assumed a range of reactions, most looking offended or impressed that someone had finally noticed that they could eavesdrop on conversations in this office.

“Weasley, these are portraits of people who gave their lives to Hogwarts and the education of young witches and wizards. Surely they can be trusted to exercise discretion, particularly when the safety of Hogwarts students may be concerned?” McGonagall reasoned.

Ron shrugged. “It’s up to Harry, I guess. Just seemed like something I ought to mention, especially since I know Black was trying to spy on us for Snape this year.”

Both McGonagall and Kingsley turned to look at the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black. He looked nonplussed, lounging in his chair. “It wasn’t easy with the Muggle-born blinding me every time I entered the other portrait,” he commented as if that was the only issue. Hermione sat up straighter in her chair, looking pleased with herself but slightly worried about the topic at hand.

McGonagall’s eyes narrowed as she glared at the former headmaster, but Harry knew why Professor Black had done it, now. If he needed any confirmation, he found it when he looked back at Professor Dumbledore, who smiled slightly while nodding, spreading his arms as if to indicate that the portraits were trustworthy. Harry realised that he and Dumbledore had discussed Horcruxes several times in this office, and Dumbledore hadn’t ever seemed concerned about the portraits eavesdropping.

“It’s okay,” Harry said. “I’m sure they’ve heard plenty of secrets over the years, and every person who sits in that seat-” he indicated the grand chair McGonagall currently occupied “-has trusted them, otherwise they wouldn’t still be in here. That’s good enough for me.”

Ron and Hermione both still looked concerned, but Kingsley and McGonagall had returned their attention to the conversation they had abandoned.

Harry continued from where he had left off. “I was going to ask both of you- have you ever heard of Horcruxes?”

Kingsley frowned but nodded. McGonagall shook her head, surprising Harry. He glanced at Hermione, hoping she could explain Horcruxes better than he could. He’d had a hard enough time explaining them to Ginny. Getting the hint, Hermione began, “A Horcrux is a container that holds a piece of a broken soul. Someone seeking immortality can damage their soul by committing murder. Then, there’s a foul process they have to undergo to actually rip a piece of their soul apart from the rest to place into the container they’ve chosen. Once their soul is split, the person in question cannot die until every piece of their soul has been destroyed. Horcruxes are nearly impossible to destroy without something even more destructive, like basilisk venom or Fiendfyre. That’s how Vol- Tom Riddle survived even after he should’ve died when he attacked Harry as a baby.”

McGonagall’s usually steely composure had completely dissolved as she now looked extremely distressed. Kingsley’s expression hadn’t really changed other than his eyes narrowing as he considered what Hermione said.

“So then he… made one of these- these Horcruxes?” McGonagall asked gingerly.

Ron snorted. “I wish. One would’ve been easy. No, that bastard made six.”

McGonagall gasped and Kingsley’s eyes widened. Even he hadn’t been expecting that apparently. Harry decided it best not to correct Ron’s count for the moment. There was already enough that the two adults were trying to wrap their heads around.

“What can you tell us about his Horcruxes?” Kingsley asked after a moment of silence.

Harry could answer this question. “He made his first Horcrux when he was fifteen and opened the Chamber of Secrets. He used the murder of Moaning Myrtle to turn his diary into a Horcrux, which later attempted to open the Chamber again through Ginny. He made his second Horcrux when he murdered his Muggle father when he was sixteen. Riddle turned a ring of his wizard grandfather’s into a Horcrux and hid it in his grandfather’s old house. I destroyed the diary in my second year, and Professor Dumbledore destroyed the ring two summers ago.

“His third Horcrux was a locket that had belonged to Salazar Slytherin, and his fourth was a cup that belonged to Helga Hufflepuff. He stole both of those from a witch named Hepzibah Smith while he was working at Borgin and Burkes. He killed her to make one of them, but I don’t know who he killed to make the other. The fifth Horcrux he made was the Lost Diadem of Ravenclaw, which he found where Helena Ravenclaw hid it in Albania. Those were all the Horcruxes he had when he murdered my parents. The year before he came back, he killed Bertha Jorkins and made his snake, Nagini, into a Horcrux.”

McGonagall still looked sort of shocked with everything, so Kingsley continued taking the lead. “It seems to me that he was foolish to make all these Horcruxes things that could actually be identified, although I’m sure they weren’t easy to find. You already explained where you found the first two, and we all saw Mister Longbottom kill the snake. Where did you find the others?”

“The locket had originally been hidden in a cave that Riddle had visited as a child,” Harry began. “Dumbledore and I were there the night he was killed, but the locket we found was a fake. The actual locket had been stolen by Regulus Black, who defected from the Death Eaters when he learned that Voldemort was creating Horcruxes. He had Kreacher hide it in Grimmauld Place, where it remained until Sirius died. Mundungus Fletcher sacked the place after he died, and he sold the locket to Dolores Umbridge. We got it from her at the Ministry in September.”

Kingsley smiled slightly at this. “There had been rumours that the three of you broke into the Ministry. I wasn’t sure if it was true or not, but I have to say, I’m quite impressed.”

“You should be. It wasn’t bloody easy, especially considering every person in the place was looking for Undesirable Number One,” Ron said grimly, pointing a thumb at Harry. “Although Gringotts made breaking into the Ministry feel as easy as flying a broom.”

Kingsley raised an eyebrow, and Hermione jumped in. “Hufflepuff’s Cup was hidden in Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault at Gringotts. I used Polyjuice Potion to take on Bellatrix’s appearance, and a goblin named Griphook helped us break in.”

“And the dragon?” McGonagall spoke for the first time, having regained her composure somewhat, although she still looked slightly incredulous about the entire story.

“Yeah, we rode a dragon out of Gringotts. We rode for pretty much the whole day before we could finally jump off,” Ron answered, far more casually than the situation warranted.

McGonagall’s eyes widened slightly as Kingsley said, “We did hear from some goblins that there’d been a break-in, and they accused the three of you of doing it. I was wondering how much of that was true. They’re very upset that someone managed to break in, and I think they’d like me to arrest you for it. However, that wouldn’t be the best thing for me to do on my third day on the job, and besides, I think they’ll see some reason after I explain to them what the punishment for illegally keeping a dragon would be, should the Ministry choose to investigate. We will need someone to try and find the dragon though before it starts causing problems in the Muggle world.”

Kingsley was already playing a rather shrewd political game in Harry’s opinion. He appeared to take to the role of Minister quite well, and it seemed that he had much more backbone than Cornelius Fudge had ever displayed.

“I think Charlie’s already started talking to people about finding it, so you may wanna talk to him about that,” Ron offered helpfully.

“If it helps at all, the dragon that they were keeping was also terribly abused,” Hermione added sharply, looking disgusted as she remembered the condition that the dragon was in.

Kingsley nodded. “Thank you for letting me know. I’ll be sure to mention that we have knowledge of that as well, and hopefully the goblins won’t give us or you three any problems.”

“How did you get hair from Bellatrix Lestrange to use Polyjuice Potion?” McGonagall asked, frowning.

Hermione paled discernibly at this, while Ron clenched his fists as his face turned slightly red. Both of his friends had been affected tremendously by the events that had led to getting that hair, Harry knew, so he decided to tell this part.

“Around Easter, I accidentally triggered the Taboo on Riddle’s name. We were picked up almost immediately by Snatchers, and Hermione cast some spell to mess my face up so I wouldn’t be recognized.”

“Stinging Jinx,” Hermione whispered to no one, still looking distressed with her memories of this day.

Harry continued, “They took us to Malfoy Manor. They asked Draco to identify us, but he said he couldn’t tell if it was me or not. He identified Ron and Hermione though, and they thought that was enough to call Riddle. They were about to do it when Bellatrix went mad because she saw the Sword of Gryffindor that the Snatchers had taken from our tent. There was a copy of it in her vault at Gringotts. She thought it was the real thing, so she thought we’d been there and stolen it. How she reacted told us that Riddle must have entrusted something incredibly important, like one of his Horcruxes, to her to hide in her vault.

“She- she tortured Hermione while Ron and I were in the cellar with the other prisoners- Luna Lovegood, Dean Thomas, Mister Ollivander, and Griphook, a goblin. We were rescued because Aberforth Dumbledore had the other half of a two-way mirror Sirius had given me, and I called for help. He sent Dobby, the Malfoy’s former house-elf, who was able to get us out of the cellar, and we fought to get our wands, the sword, and Hermione before disapparating away. Dobby- he died saving us.”

Harry looked down at his hands then, saddened by the reminder of Dobby’s death. Hermione sniffled next to him while Ron hadn’t moved an inch since Harry started talking.

“She left some hair on my clothes-” Hermione whispered yet again “-so we used that to make the Polyjuice.”

Harry looked back at the two adults. Kingsley was rubbing his forehead with his thumb and forefinger. McGonagall was looking at them with the look that had made Harry uneasy earlier. He still couldn’t figure out what that look meant.

“I’m sorry for all the memories these questions are bringing up, and I’m even more sorry that you had to go through that, Hermione,” Kingsley said ruefully. Hermione nodded, wiping her eyes before looking at the Minister. They all sat in silence for a moment, unsure how to resume the conversation.

Finally, McGonagall broke the ice. “Where did you find the diadem? It hadn’t been seen for centuries.”

“Riddle convinced the ghost of Helena Ravenclaw to tell him where she’d hidden it after she stole it from her mother. After he made it a Horcrux, he hid it here, in the Room of Requirement. It was destroyed when Vincent Crabbe cast Fiendfyre in the room. He and Gregory Goyle found us, along with Draco Malfoy, when we were looking for the diadem,” Harry said. “Crabbe was trying to murder us. Goyle… well, Goyle didn’t really do anything, and Malfoy was trying to keep Crabbe from killing us because Riddle wanted us.”

McGonagall shook her head, angry at the threat on the lives of her students in her school.

“Thank you for that explanation,” Kingsley began. “I think it’s safe to say that we both agree with you. The knowledge of Horcruxes shouldn’t be spread publicly. If there comes a point where the three of you need to publicly discuss what happened this year, we’ll come up with a plan to explain what you were doing without mentioning them.”

“Professor-” Hermione interrupted, looking at McGonagall like she’d remembered something “- Professor Dumbledore told Harry that Riddle learned about Horcruxes from books in the library. He said he removed all those books once he became headmaster. I don’t know if you know where they might be, but they don’t ever need to be available to students again.”

“I agree with you, Granger. I’ll see to it that those books remain safely hidden,” McGonagall responded.

Kingsley looked back at Harry. “The second question we have involved something you said to Riddle when you were in the Great Hall. You mentioned the Elder Wand several times. Can you explain that?”

Honestly, Harry had almost completely blacked out during the fight with Riddle. He had next to no idea what he’d said to Riddle that morning, so he was taken aback when Kingsley mentioned the wand. He wouldn’t be able to come up with a convincing enough lie, so he decided that he’d have to trust them with yet another secret.

Reluctantly, he spoke. “In The Tales of Beedle the Bard, there’s a story about three brothers who cheated death and received gifts of the most powerful wand in existence, a stone that could bring back the dead, and an invisibility cloak. The story was passed down as a fairy tale, but it’s based on a true story. The brothers were the Peverells, and the objects, the three pieces of the Deathly Hallows, are very real.”

Harry took a moment as he could see that both Kingsley and McGonagall were quite surprised by this. Then he continued, “The Elder Wand is the most powerful wand ever, but it’s also very disloyal to its master. If I was disarmed, my wand would likely still be loyal to me. But if the Elder Wand’s master is disarmed or killed, it immediately changes loyalty to whoever defeated its previous master. Professor Dumbledore won the wand from Grindelwald after their famous duel. He kept it until…”

“Snape killed him,” McGonagall interrupted, not bothering to hide her disdain. Harry would explain that eventually, but he decided that telling one story at a time was hard enough.

“Almost,” Harry corrected. “Professor Dumbledore had already been disarmed by Malfoy before Snape killed him. Without knowing it, Malfoy became the master of the Elder Wand. Dumbledore’s wand was buried with him, but Riddle stole it from his grave. Our wands shared twin cores, two phoenix feathers from Dumbledore’s phoenix, Fawkes. Every time we faced each other, our wands refused to harm the other. He tried using someone else’s wand, but it still didn’t work. He decided he needed something even stronger, so he investigated and learned that Dumbledore had been the last master of the Elder Wand. He didn’t understand how wand mastery worked, so he thought that just having it would be enough. But the wand didn’t do anything special for him because it still had allegiance to Malfoy.

“Until-” Harry continued, pulling out his mokeskin pouch from his pocket “- I disarmed him at Malfoy Manor. The Elder Wand wouldn’t work properly against me after that because- because I’m the new master of the Elder Wand,” Harry said, withdrawing the long wand from the pouch to show to Kingsley and McGonagall.

Both of their mouths were gaping at Harry. Maybe Neville was right, he did have a flair for the dramatic sometimes because asking Hermione to add an Undetectable Extension Charm to his pouch had been worth it for this alone. Harry set the wand down on the desk in front of him and knew five pairs of eyes, plus several dozen more painted eyes, were looking at it. Nobody was speaking, so Harry decided to tell them what he needed. “I don’t want it. I’ve always been happy with my wand, and this wand has caused so much trouble that I’d be in constant danger with it. I want to put it back in Dumbledore’s tomb. If I die without being defeated, the wand’s power dies with me. I need help putting it back, sealing the tomb, and placing as strong wards as possible over it.”

Kingsley composed himself, looking a little impressed. “That’s very noble of you, Harry. I must admit, I’m very surprised, but I think you’re making a wise decision. Although… have you considered that many people have heard what you said about the Elder Wand in the Great Hall?”

Harry honestly hadn’t thought about this. He thought out loud, “I mean, most people think it’s a myth anyways. If I’m asked, I’ll… figure something out I guess. It’s not like I can undo anything I said.”

“You could always tell them You-Know-Who was off his rocker and thought he had the Elder Wand. You threw him off his game by taunting him with it,” Ron suggested half-jokingly.

“That actually could work,” Hermione mused, sounding a little impressed at Ron’s idea. “If we have a good story to make that convincing, I think most people would believe it. And even if some people don’t, who would dare come after the Master of the Elder Wand and Conqueror of the Dark Lord?” she asked, grinning at Harry in a rare joke as Harry rolled his eyes.

Kingsley chuckled deeply. “You may be right about that. Ron, I do like that idea. I’ll think more about how we can best explain that, and hopefully we’ll have a chance to talk further about it before Harry’s asked about it.”

“We had one more question,” McGonagall said, looking at Harry again with that odd look he’d noticed earlier. “What happened in the forest during the ceasefire?”

Harry almost felt the wind had gotten knocked out of him. This was the question he’d been dreading answering. It had been one thing to tell Bill about it. Bill was like a cool older brother or uncle, not really an authority figure or anything intimidating. Bill was one of the only people older than Harry who treated Harry like an equal. It hadn’t been easy to tell Bill, but it was way different to tell not only Kingsley and McGonagall, but also Ron and Hermione, who were looking at Harry with unconcealed interest in what he had to say. Harry started feeling guilty. How could he tell them, his two best friends, that he’d left, intending to die, without saying goodbye? Somewhere further in the back of his mind, he realised that as hard as it would be to tell them this, it would be so much harder admitting it to Ginny.

There was no getting away from this question, Harry acknowledged as he looked back at the expectant faces of the Minister and Headmistress. He steadied himself, knowing he had to share someone else’s secret first for it all to make sense.

“We- the diadem was destroyed as the battle started. That just left the snake, and Riddle was keeping her with him. We found out he was in the Shrieking Shack, away from the battle. We snuck into the Shack using the tunnel underneath the Whomping Willow. We got there when Riddle was talking to Professor Snape. He was going on about not being able to get the Elder Wand to work properly. He believed that Snape was the master of the Elder Wand because he killed Dumbledore. He- he had Nagini kill Professor Snape.”

Harry looked at the adults for the first time since he’d started talking and saw Kingsley’s frowning expression and McGonagall’s barely concealed horror at the manner of death Snape endured. It was a testament to their humanity, Harry thought, that they felt this way even about someone they still believed to be a traitor.

“I don’t know why, but I felt like I needed to see if there was anything I could do. Snape was seconds away from death, and he gave me his memories. They poured out of him, and we collected them into a flask. After he died, Riddle called for the truce. You all heard that. He said I permitted my friends to die for myself. He-” Harry’s voice faltered as he remembered that feeling, hearing Riddle taunt him like that, coming into the Great Hall and seeing those dead friends, dead because Harry had come to Hogwarts that night. They may have been fighting for things other than him, but the reason the fight was there at all was because of him.

Wordlessly, Hermione placed her hand gently over his, which was gripping the arm of the chair he sat in so tightly that his knuckles were white and the scar from detentions with Umbridge stood out vividly. On his other side, Ron, usually the last to notice anything related to emotions, patted him comfortingly on his shoulder. How was it that after all they’d been through, after all that being friends with Harry had put them through, they were still this supportive? His friends were slightly mental, he realised, but they also cared about him more than anyone had before he’d met them.

Harry felt reassured, but he knew the hardest part was still to come. This was the part of the story that not even Ron and Hermione were there for. He took one more steadying breath, then picked up his story again.

“I brought the memories up here, to Dumbledore’s Pensieve. We’d used it last year when he was teaching me about Riddle’s background and Horcruxes. Snape’s memories started with him meeting my mother. They met, and they were friends before they even came to Hogwarts. My mum- she disagreed, strongly, with Snape being friends with people using Dark Magic. He was jealous of my dad and his friends, and he hated that they got to be in the same house as her. She didn’t like them, not then, but it didn’t make Snape less jealous. In his fifth year, he called her- he called her a Mudblood, and she never forgave him for it.”

Harry saw Hermione’s eyes darken at this, knowing she empathised deeply with the pain that slur caused, having felt it herself.

“Professor Trelawney made the prophecy about me to Dumbledore. I don’t know if Dumbledore ever told you two what it said?” Harry asked Kingsley and McGonagall. Both shook their heads. That had been a secret for Harry and the people he told then.

“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives… the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…”

Both Kingsley and McGonagall’s eyes widened at this, hearing the prophecy for the first time. It was still disturbing, even now that it had been fulfilled.

“Snape had become a Death Eater, and he overheard the first part of the prophecy, that one who could destroy Riddle would be born in July to a couple who defied him three times. Snape told Riddle, but what he didn’t know was that meant Riddle would be targeting me and my parents. When he found out, he came to Dumbledore and told him everything, begging him to do what he could to protect us. Snape- he was in love with my mother. He’d asked Riddle to spare her when he hunted me down, but he didn’t know if that would work. Dumbledore told him that he was disgusted that Snape was willing to let me and my dad die so he could be with my mum. He did what he could to keep them safe, but when they were betrayed by Pettigrew, there wasn’t anything they could do. Dumbledore told Snape afterwards that if he really loved my mum, he’d do everything he could to keep me safe.

“Snape hated me because I reminded him of my father, but he did try to protect me from Quirrell my first year, and he did what he could to help us in secret this year too. Two summers ago, when Dumbledore found the ring, his hand was cursed. That’s why it looked burned that whole year. Snape managed to contain the curse, but it was still killing Dumbledore. Riddle gave Draco Malfoy the task of killing Dumbledore, but he expected that Snape would do it if Malfoy failed. Dumbledore told Snape that Snape would have to be the one to kill him so that Malfoy’s soul would remain unharmed. He wanted Snape to kill him, and since it would’ve been planned, Dumbledore would’ve died undefeated, and the power of the Elder Wand would’ve died with him. And even if the Elder Wand still saw it as a defeat, Snape would’ve been the Elder Wand’s master. Malfoy messed that plan up when he disarmed Dumbledore that night in the Astronomy Tower.”

Wide eyes on all sides were still aimed at Harry, riveted by his story. Now for the hard part.

“Dumbledore told Snape, not long before he died, that when Riddle became very protective of his snake and kept her with him everywhere, Snape had to deliver a message to me. The night that Riddle killed my parents and tried to kill me, his soul was incredibly fragile from already creating five Horcruxes. My mother’s sacrifice gave me a blood protection that kept Riddle from hurting me. When the Killing Curse he cast on me rebounded, his soul broke in two. And although the majority of his soul fled to Albania, a- a small part of it latched itself onto the only living thing left in the room… me. I was… the seventh Horcrux- the one he never meant to make.”

Hermione and McGonagall both gasped, while Ron’s jaw dropped and Kingsley stared intently at Harry with wide eyes. Harry swallowed down a lump in his throat before speaking again.

“That meant… well, even if we destroyed all the other Horcruxes, he still couldn’t be killed. Dumbledore told Snape that when the time was right, Riddle would have to kill me. Otherwise, he couldn’t ever die. There wasn’t really another choice. Ron and Hermione knew that the snake would have to be killed. I told Neville too, just in case. But if I didn’t go to Riddle during the truce, he would’ve come into Hogwarts and killed everyone. So I snuck out the castle and into the forest. I found their camp as Riddle was saying he was surprised I hadn’t come. I revealed myself, and… well, he cast Avada Kedavra on me.”

Again in unison, Hermione and McGonagall gasped, while Hermione gripped Harry’s wrist tightly. “Shit,” Ron muttered, ignorant of the adults in the room. He looked like he was going to be sick, but his grip on Harry’s shoulder rivalled Hermione’s for strength. Kingsley lost his strong composure, rubbing his chin while his eyes somehow widened further as if in disbelief. Harry knew none of them would speak until he finished his story, so he continued.

“I was dead for a few moments, I think. I was in some sort of limbo, like a- a gateway to… whatever’s next. That’s- that’s the only way I can think of to explain it. I was… presented with the choice of coming back or… moving on. While I was there, I realised why I had that choice at all. When Riddle came back, he used my blood. The same blood that was in his veins is in mine. That meant that my mother’s blood protection was kept alive in him, even though he tried to get around it by using my blood to take a physical body. In all his arrogance, Riddle had given me the advantage. He couldn’t be the one to kill me, and for years, he’d commanded his Death Eaters to let him be the one to kill me. I realised that if I came back, there wouldn’t be a better chance to beat him, with the blood protection and the Elder Wand belonging to me. He’d destroyed the Horcrux in me, so it was just Nagini left. And I- I decided to come back and finish it once and for all.

“When I woke up, I pretended to be dead so that he’d bring me back to the castle. I knew if I moved, I’d get hit with another Killing Curse, and even though I trusted the blood protection, I really didn’t know, and still don’t know, if I’d get another choice in limbo, and I could’ve been hit by any of the other Death Eaters there. But he had Narcissa Malfoy check to find out if I was alive. When she knelt over me, she could tell I was breathing. She asked me if Draco was alive, and when I told her he was, she lied and said I was dead so that she could come up to the castle and find him. Riddle had Hagrid carry me up, Neville killed the snake, and you all saw the last fight in the Great Hall.”

Harry finished his story simply, as if the whole thing made perfect sense and wasn’t a discussion of literal life and death. He’d left out some details that he didn’t think were important from his story. None of them needed to know that Neville was almost the Chosen One or that Harry had talked to Dumbledore in limbo. And even Kingsley and McGonagall didn’t need to know about the Resurrection Stone, although Harry planned on telling Ron and Hermione about it.

The silence was broken by Kingsley clearing his throat. “I just want to be sure I understand. When you went to the forest, you had no idea that you had this protection? And you didn’t try to fight him there, you just gave yourself up?”

Harry shook his head. “I- that walk to the forest is something I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about,” he confessed. “I was terrified. I- like I’m almost shaking, just thinking about it. I don’t know how I made it. I put my wand in my jacket so I wouldn’t be tempted to defend myself. I had no clue that I’d have a chance at surviving. I just knew that he wouldn’t stop killing my friends until he was dead, and I had to die for that to happen. So when I went out to the forest, I knew I wasn’t coming back.”

Harry said this with such finality that he closed his eyes, trying to will away the feeling that he was back in the forest, heading toward his inevitable demise. Hermione let out a strangled sob next to him, and Harry opened his eyes, looking at her crying before turning, surprised to see tears running down Ron’s face as well. At that moment, he heard what sounded like light raindrops on a window. Harry almost didn’t register it until it grew so loud that he couldn’t ignore it, sounding like a raging thunderstorm. But it was still sunny outside.

Harry looked toward McGonagall and Kingsley, and only then did he realise that he’d heard this sound before, a couple days ago when he’d been in this very office. The Headmasters and Headmistresses of Hogwarts were applauding him for the second time in a matter of days. The first time, it had been for defeating Voldemort. Today, it was for the sacrifice that Harry had described. Just like before, he didn’t know how to react, so he sought out Dumbledore, who was openly weeping in his portrait. Harry wanted to talk with him, but he knew he’d have the opportunity soon.

He refocused his attention on Kingsley and McGonagall, both of whom had that look that had been bothering Harry since they met him this morning. He suddenly realised where he’d seen that look before. It was a mixture of the look Mrs. Weasley had for him the summer after Sirius died and… the look the Dumbledore he’d seen in the forest had given him when they first met. It was concern and care, but there was also pride and… admiration? Was that possible? He thought back to what Dumbledore had said to him when he’d given Harry that look. ‘You wonderful boy. You brave, brave man.’

Why the hell did they insist on being proud of him? Did they not see the damage that had been caused? He could’ve done more. If he’d been faster, stronger, maybe none of this would’ve happened!

‘You’re part of our family.’ Bill had told him that. Harry felt his breathing slow, evening out as he remembered the people who cared about him, despite everything that had happened. He still felt guilty, but remembering what Bill had told him made it a little more manageable.

Hearing the applause subsiding, Harry blinked and realised that Professor McGonagall was crying. His eyes widened, and she chuckled gravely through her tears. He’d never seen that visible an emotion on her before. Then again, Harry realised that he’d forgotten that she was the first person to scream when they’d all seen his body. She’d sounded like she was being wrenched apart by grief, and he could tell that she was remembering that too.

“Potter, I may be an old woman, but I do still have feelings from time to time. Forgive me for shattering your image of a perfectly stoic professor,” McGonagall said pointedly. Harry exhaled sharply and smiled a little as McGonagall wiped her eyes, clearly trying to break the tension that had gripped the room as the applause had been replaced with silence.

“Harry,” Kingsley said, “thank you for trusting us with this. You’re a braver man than I am.” Harry flushed as Kingsley continued, “I don’t think many people could’ve done most of what you’ve done throughout your life, but the sacrifice you willingly made goes beyond that. That’s a sacrifice I wouldn’t expect the best Aurors to make. I truly don’t know how I would’ve handled that. I know you detest any sort of praise, but… you’re going to be hearing this often, so you should get used to it. You are a hero, and I will personally be advocating for you to receive the Order of Merlin.”

McGonagall added, “We will also be giving you a Special Award for Services to the School, although I’ll be trying to think of something more I can do. The Minister is right, Harry. I may still see a boy who struggled to transfigure a matchstick into a needle and spent so much time out after curfew that you rivalled your father, but you have grown into an exceptional man. I’m proud to have been your teacher and to have watched you grow into the wonderful, brave person you are today.”

Harry swallowed, nervously looking around and avoiding eye contact with anyone. He hadn’t done any of this for praise or attention or awards. He was used to people staring at him, but he wasn’t used to them saying things like this. He knew they meant well, but it made him so uncomfortable. He just wanted to be able to live a normal life. Why did he have to get singled out like that? He wasn’t the only one who did something to fight Voldemort. He wasn’t even the only person to destroy Horcruxes. Ron and Hermione both did so much to help”

Harry knew then what to say. “I- I honestly don’t really know how to respond to that. I’m not really one for- for compliments or anything, much less awards. But if I’m getting any awards, Ron and Hermione deserve them too. I would’ve been dead long before we made it here if not for them. Both of them saved my life, destroyed a Horcrux, and fought just as hard as I did.”

Hermione squeezed his hand, tears still leaking out her eyes. Ron sat up slightly, but Harry could see his mate was blushing profusely as Harry directed praise towards them. But Harry wasn’t quite done.

“I don’t know how much you know about the rebellion that took place here this year. But I’d suggest you look into it. Based on what I’ve heard, Neville, Ginny, and Luna also deserve awards for everything they did to keep students here safe.”

Both of his friends looked a little perplexed. Harry supposed they hadn’t heard anything about the activities of the D.A. from this past year. Granted, he didn’t blame any of the members for not wanting to talk openly about it. The only reason he knew about it was because of Ginny, and that had been incredibly difficult for her to talk about.

Kingsley nodded, “You’re absolutely right Harry. I’ll be advocating for all three of you, and I’ll also look into this rebellion and advocate to the Wizengamot for its leaders.”

“All six of you will be receiving Special Awards for Services to the School,” McGonagall agreed. “I’m somewhat familiar with this rebellion, although I suspect there is much that I have yet to learn about.”

“Speaking of those Special Awards,” Ron commented, “I remember cleaning an award for Tom Riddle in my second year. Any chance that one gets removed?”

“Immediately,” McGonagall responded, looking at Ron with a kind of surprised respect.

“I realise we’ve been the ones asking you all the questions, and I apologise for taking up so much of your time. I don’t believe Minerva and I have any more to add at the moment. But before you go, I wanted to know if we could answer any questions for you,” Kingsley offered.

Harry hadn’t even thought about what he didn’t know. Most of the questions he had were things that he’d want Ginny to answer. But as always, Hermione was ready with a question Harry hadn’t even thought to wonder about.

“What happened to Riddle’s body?” she asked.

“We took a page out of Barty Crouch’s book. His body was transfigured into a bone that we burned. The ashes were vanished away. There won’t be any grave or rallying point for anyone seeking to continue his work,” Kingsley assured.

That triggered something in the back of Harry’s mind. “Wait… how many Death Eaters got away?”

Kingsley pressed his lips together into a tight line, and Harry could tell he wouldn’t like the answer. “We don’t have an exact number yet. There are some Death Eaters who may have died in the months leading up to the battle that we don’t know about. Right now, we’re estimating that around twelve to fifteen escaped though.”

Harry exhaled slowly, trying to remain calm as he worried about the potential ramifications of this.

Kingsley interrupted his quickly derailing train of thought. “They’re disorganised and in despair after losing their leader and the majority of their allies. Our entire team of Aurors is trying to track them down before any trails run cold. I will let you know personally when we catch more. I should also mention that there will be trials, beginning at some point this summer, for the Death Eaters and anyone else who got away with crimes under the previous Minister’s regime. You will have the opportunity to testify at any trials if you choose, but I won’t allow the courts to compel you to come in as a witness for those trials if you do not wish to.”

Harry nodded. One more thing to worry about. There would be more pressing matters to deal with in the immediate future though, and besides, they’d surely have enough evidence to get all the Death Eaters convicted without his testimony.

After a moment, Kingsley spoke again. “If there’s nothing else we can help with right now, we have taken up more than enough of your time.”

“Could I meet with you tomorrow morning before I leave?” Harry asked. “Both of you actually, if possible. I need to put the Elder Wand back before I leave, and I don’t want to ask anybody else to help with the wards.”

They both nodded. “We’ll meet you whenever you’re ready,” McGonagall confirmed.

“Thanks. I’ll be at the tomb before nine tomorrow morning. And… I also wanted to ask if it’d be possible for me to speak to Professor Dumbledore, privately?” Harry asked.

McGonagall gave him an understanding look, and she and Kingsley stood up. Kingsley shook Harry’s hand firmly before pulling him into a brief but strong hug. While Kingsley was shaking Ron and Hermione’s hands, McGonagall surveyed Harry briefly, and Harry thought he could see tears in her eyes again. Then she did the last thing he ever thought the stern professor would do. She brought him into a tight hug. It wasn’t even entirely unpleasant, Harry realised. Then she surprised him further by hugging both Ron and Hermione.

“Can you two wait for me outside?” Harry asked after Kingsley and McGonagall had left. “I’ll just be a moment, and there’s something else I need to tell you about.”

They looked at each other and back at him, nodding. They exited the office holding hands. Harry turned back to the portraits, walking until he was close enough to talk to Dumbledore.

“Harry,” Dumbledore began before Harry could say anything, “I am so sorry for what you’ve had to go through. Nobody, let alone someone as young as you, should have had to deal with as much as you have. I am so incredibly proud of you. You are a far greater man than I ever was, and I’m so thankful that you have the chance to live the life you deserve now. I just hope that someday, you can forgive me, a foolish old man who didn’t make your life any easier despite my best efforts.”

Harry felt the sting of tears in his eyes. It was like he was mourning Dumbledore all over again. This was the first time he’d really talked to him in a year, other than the few words they’d said to each other the morning after the battle and when he lay dead in the Forbidden Forest, and Harry wasn’t sure how real that actually was. This was much more real- the tears sliding down Dumbledore’s face in the portrait were enough evidence.

His voice raw, Harry said, “Thank- thank you Professor. For… saying that, and for everything. I won’t lie. It was really hard, and there were times I was so angry at you for not telling me more. But… I couldn’t have done it all if I’d known I’d have to walk to my death at the end regardless. I may not have agreed with it all the time, but I understand why you did what you did. I have nothing to forgive you for. You knew all along that I’d have a chance at survival, and that was better than what I’d have had otherwise. Thank you for training me and mentoring me. It means so much, honestly, that you’re proud of me. I only wish you were really here,” Harry confessed.

Dumbledore smiled sadly at him. “I’m sure we’d be having a cracking party right now if I was there, but I’m currently exploring another adventure. Besides, I’ll always be here anytime you want to entertain an elderly wizard, and I’d very much like to talk to you and Miss Weasley,” he said with a knowing smile.

Harry just gaped at the man, surprised at how much he knew, even in death. “We’ll be sure to visit. Thanks again, Professor, for everything.” Dumbledore nodded, still smiling at Harry, and his eyes were twinkling as they did when he was alive.

Harry turned to go, but Dumbledore called him, “Harry!”

Harry looked back at Dumbledore, whose expression had grown sadder. “You’ve made it through the toughest part of the fight, but I fear that what comes next will be very difficult as well. Your ability to love is what makes you special, but it also means that loss hurts. There will be a lot of pain, but that’s not weakness. It’s your strength. No matter how dark things seem, you proved with Tom that love will triumph. But in the darkness, never forget- happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

Harry choked up, feeling a surge of affection for his mentor. Unable to say anything, he nodded, trying to express his gratitude without words. Dumbledore’s placid smile showed that he understood. Harry turned and walked out the office, trying to compose himself before he met Ron and Hermione by the broken gargoyle. Neither of them had been talking, but both looked up when he approached. They were both pale and seemingly struggling to make eye contact with him.

“Look, mate,” Ron started, “I- that is, we- we’re really glad you’re not dead. I dunno what we would’ve done without you.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Honestly, what is it with boys? Harry, you’re our best friend. The few minutes we thought you were dead were the worst in our lives. We’re so happy that you got to come back because we would’ve killed you again for not saying goodbye.” She emphasised her point by swatting him on the chest, but Harry could tell that she wasn’t upset, really.

“Believe me, I’m glad I got to come back too. I would’ve done anything to tell you bye, but I wouldn’t have been able to leave if I’d done it. I almost broke down and forgot about everything when I walked past Ginny heading towards the forest, and I didn’t even talk to her. I couldn’t have handled any goodbyes,” Harry admitted.

Hermione teared up again, and without words, she pulled both of her boys into a tight hug. Neither of them resisted at all. Instead, they were holding each other just as tightly, saying without words that the feeling was mutual.

“I’m so sorry you had to do that, Harry,” Hermione murmured. Harry just nodded against her shoulder, unable to find words again as he became choked up holding his two best friends.

After a couple minutes, they slowly untangled themselves from the hug and began walking back towards the Great Hall. Ron and Hermione both looked slightly pale still, but they seemed to be in better moods.

Harry didn’t know when he’d get them alone again, and he had to tell them another secret. “There’s something I didn’t mention up there, but I wanted the two of you to know.” They both looked at him, obviously interested in what secret he’d kept from the Minister for Magic and the Headmistress of Hogwarts.

“I realised, when I was walking to Riddle, what it meant on the Snitch Dumbledore gave me. I open at the close. I told it I was about to die, and it opened. I was right. He put the Resurrection Stone in the Snitch. I saw my parents, Sirius, and Remus.”

Hermione clapped her hand over her mouth and Ron’s eyes widened. Harry was sure that they were realising what he’d realised some time after he had the Elder Wand in his possession. He may have been the only person to ever rightfully possess all three Hallows, and he was as close as anyone had ever been to becoming the fabled Master of Death, as ironic as that title was considering what Harry had been through recently.

“They stayed with me as I walked to Riddle. Right before I met him, I dropped it. It’s somewhere in the Forbidden Forest, but I doubt I could find it again if I wanted to. But the thing is… I don’t want to. As destructive as the Elder Wand has the potential to be, the Resurrection Stone is so much more dangerous. It makes the people you’re bringing back uncomfortable after a while, but it’s so… seductive, I guess, seeing the people you’ve lost like they’re really there. It’s honestly not surprising that the brother in the story killed himself. The Stone could drive someone mad. I hope that it stays hidden in the forest forever.”

Hermione nodded. “I think that’s an excellent idea, Harry.”

Ron nodded slowly too, but he bluntly said what everyone had already thought. “Yeah that’s probably for the best. But- bloody hell, mate… you already have the Elder Wand and the Invisibility Cloak. You’re the only one who could find the Stone… you’re basically the Master of Death.” He almost whispered that last bit.

Hermione looked sharply at Ron, but Harry just chuckled, shaking his head. “I’m not keeping the Elder Wand. Anyways, I reckon the whole Master of Death thing is just a part of the legend, and I’m not concerned with that. Besides,” Harry said with a sly grin, “I’ve survived the Killing Curse twice. I think that makes me the Master of Death way more than a rock.”

Hermione swatted Harry again, this time on the shoulder. Harry winced in mock pain.

“Kidding, Hermione. Although, that does remind me, I do have something to show you two before we get back.”

Harry pulled them into an alcove around the corner from the entrance to the Great Hall. Looking around to make sure nobody else was nearby, Harry tugged the collar of his shirt down until it exposed the skin of his chest. And there, above his heart, was etched the familiar lightning bolt scar, still red from its newness.

Yet again, Hermione and Ron paled. Ron let out a very uncharacteristic chirp of surprise, and Hermione swore under her breath, something she never did. Satisfied that they’d seen enough, Harry straightened his shirt back out.

“I didn’t really want to tell Kingsley and McGonagall about that. People already stare at the scar on my head. Last thing I need is them trying to get my shirt off for a look at the matching one,” Harry tried to joke, but both Ron and Hermione remained quiet, looking quite ill. Harry remembered how he’d felt when he saw the scar for the first time. It had made everything that happened feel very real, and he supposed that’s what was happening with Ron and Hermione right now.

Harry stepped out from the alcove, and Ron and Hermione followed him, still silent. They entered the Great Hall, and Harry beamed as he saw Ginny coming towards them. It had been far too long since he’d seen her, even though it had only been about an hour or so. She smiled right back at him, but he was surprised to see that smile fade when she got closer.

Now, she was peering at the three of them with a very concerned look on her face. Harry mentally slapped himself. Ron and Hermione looked like they’d just seen death, literally. Of course Ginny would be worried.

She looked back into his eyes, and he felt time stand still as her concern and worry became his. He was falling deeply into her brown eyes, and the only thing that caught him was the slightest hint of fear forming at the edge of those eyes. She’d been through so much, Harry knew, that seeing her friends and him looking like this was very difficult. But she was holding herself together, as much for him as for herself. Ron and Hermione would be okay- they had each other. Harry needed to be with Ginny now.

He held out his hand to Ginny. “Come with me,” he said softly. Without hesitation, she grabbed his hand, tightly as if to make sure he wasn’t leaving. Harry looked at Ron and Hermione, who both nodded at him, understanding why he had to go. Grateful to his friends and vowing to thank them properly for everything they’d done later, Harry led his girlfriend out of the Great Hall, hoping they could steal a few hours walking around the grounds together.
/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

A/N: First, I wanted to acknowledge that this chapter contains my only conscious divergence from canon in the two books I’ve written so far. At the end of Deathly Hallows, one sentence states that Harry explained everything that happened with the Pensieve and in the forest to Ron and Hermione. I felt like their friendship and the emotions of what they were going through deserved more than a single sentence, so I decided that in the canon of this universe, Harry didn’t talk about the forest with them until now.
Funny story about the Blaze nickname… I knew I wanted Harry to give Ginny a nickname, but I had absolutely no idea what it could be that didn’t feel super corny. So, well-prepared author that I am, I wrote out almost the entire scene up until the point where he gave her the nickname, reread it, and got really lucky when Blaze stuck out to me. And Harry’s justification for it was exactly my thought process for choosing it. Honestly, I stumbled into things accidentally working out pretty well in the writing of this quite a bit.
I know there was a lot more recap stuff in this chapter, but I do promise that it’s going to slowly stop being so prevalent, and, again, I think I at least mixed it up enough with Ron, Hermione, McGonagall, and Kingsley being involved in the retelling of it all.
I also should’ve mentioned it in Chapter 3, but my interpretation, and therefore the ‘canonical’ interpretation for this series, of what happened in the forest is that when Harry was in limbo, he was actually dead. It obviously all still happened in his head, but I’ve always thought he was dead for a brief second. Also, it is a lot more complicated than it seems to try to figure out all the layers of protection stuff with Harry, the sacrificial love protection, his blood in Voldemort, and the Elder Wand. Literally, I’ve rewritten the explanation of how he survived so many times, but I think I’ve finally got it, so I hope it made sense.
And, in case anyone didn’t notice, what Dumbledore says to Harry about turning on the light is blatantly stolen from the Prisoner of Azkaban movie because it’s a fantastic line that I wanted to be part of this world.
Two more tiny notes about this chapter: Erosprites are my invention, based on the sorts of things Luna believes in. Also, it’s sort of funny to me to be posting the fifth chapter of book 1, which I refer to as 1.5 in my personal notes, when I was closing up a tiny plot hole that I noticed all the way in 2.5 yesterday. Kind of crazy to me to see how different the lives of everyone will be by the time we get to the fifth chapter of the second book, but we’ve still got a long way to go before then!
Thanks for reading another chapter, and please feel free to leave any feedback!
Coming Friday: Falling- Ginny pressed her lips together. “We need to take you to see Madam Pomfrey.”

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Chapter 6: Falling

Ginny pressed her lips together. “We need to take you to see Madam Pomfrey.”

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

She was holding Harry’s hand. She was holding Harry’s hand! She… had they… Merlin’s beard, had they really just kissed in front of everyone? In the middle of the Gryffindor common room? Suddenly, they were outside, and she blinked to adjust to the light. When her eyes refocused, she saw Harry’s nervous grin, and there was no question in her mind now. They had definitely kissed, and everyone had seen.

It was about damn time, Ginny knew. She’d had a crush on the idea of Harry since she was a little girl and he was a bedtime story her parents told her. That crush had turned into full on fancying when she saw him for the first time, and ever since he saved her in the Chamber of Secrets, she knew that she would always want to be with him. Of course, Harry hadn’t really paid her much attention after that. She finally decided, with some help from Hermione, that if Harry was going to moon over Cho Chang, she could date other guys. She had more than her fair share to choose from, truthfully. Michael Corner had been her first boyfriend, but he ended up being much too whiny and high maintenance for her. When she first started dating Dean Thomas, she thought that there could be something special there. He was sweet and caring and an altogether lovely boyfriend most of the time. The problem was, Ginny had realised as she slowly started noticing Harry looking at her differently than he ever had before, that Dean just wasn’t Harry. And as much as Ginny had tried to move on or forget about him, she couldn’t.

Hermione had nagged her for months, telling her that she was certain that Harry fancied her now. Ginny finally did break up with Dean because the boy tried so hard to be the perfect boyfriend that it became overbearing and suffocating. Despite Hermione’s comments, Ginny refused to get her hopes up that Harry would ask her out. Several other boys had, but she turned them all down. She couldn’t keep the charade up any longer. Maybe it was what Hermione had said. More likely, it was that for more than a year now, Harry had seemed to treat her like an equal, like a friend, not just his mate’s little sister. Ginny had tried suppressing her feelings, but with every glance she saw Harry give her, every joke they shared, and every conversation they had, she became more convinced that she wouldn’t be happy if she was with someone other than him. So even though she tried not to get her hopes up, she knew that she would wait until Harry realised what she’d known for a long time- they belonged together.

Of course, Ginny wasn’t expecting him to realise it in such public fashion. She’d thought maybe he’d ask her to talk after a Quidditch practice and confess his feelings, especially since she’d given him several opportunities. She’d been watching him even closer than usual since she’d broken up with Dean, and even she had to admit that he did exhibit all the symptoms of fancying a girl when he was around her. He just couldn’t seem to get past the last obstacle of actually telling her. And as much as Ginny wanted to be with him, he needed to figure it out for himself. Besides, she owed it to her younger self, the eleven year old who had stuck her elbow in the butter dish because of how much she fancied him, to make Harry be the one to make the first move after she’d been so obvious for so long about her feelings for him. And when he finally did make that move, just minutes ago, it had certainly been worth the wait.

Ginny blinked again, blushing as she realised Harry was staring at her because she’d been staring at him. She squeezed his hand, and it was his turn to blink, shaking his head as if waking up from a daydream. Ginny looked up at him expectantly, and he seemed to realise that he should probably say something.

“Er- so we… just did that. In the common room,” he stammered.

“In front of everyone,” Ginny added helpfully.

He nodded, turning red as it sunk in to him, and Ginny worried for a second that he regretted it.

“Right. Yeah… in front of everyone. Sorry for- I- I should’ve asked first.”

Ginny decided he was being a tad stupid, and he deserved a little bit of teasing, even though he was so frustratingly cute when he was nervous like this.

“Should’ve asked me what?” Ginny asked innocently.

Harry rubbed the back of his neck, looking down at the ground. “I should’ve asked if I could kiss you. Actually-” Harry looked up at Ginny, making eye contact with her for the first time since they began this awkward conversation, and Ginny breathed in sharply as his eyes had chased away his nervousness, replacing it with a confident intensity. “I should’ve asked you what I’ve wanted to ask you for a long time. I should’ve asked if you would go out on a date with me. Well, actually what I really wanted to ask was if you’d be my girlfriend, but a date seemed like a good place to start. Definitely less forward than kissing you in front of the entire house.” Harry blushed a little, but his eyes didn’t lose any of that intensity.

Ginny couldn’t help herself. She wrapped her hands around Harry’s head, pulling him down to meet her lips in their second kiss. This kiss was just as electric and heart-pounding as the first one, and Harry was just as eager as she was. He wrapped one hand around her waist while the other found its way into her hair. Breathless, she pulled away after several moments. A couple people on the grounds were staring at them, but Ginny didn’t care. She only cared about the boy staring down at her like she was the only person in the world.

“Harry, you’re kind of an idiot,” Ginny began, and Harry raised his eyebrows at her. “A very cute idiot, but still slightly idiotic. You don’t need to apologise to me, I was the one who threw myself at you up there, and I was very glad that you kissed me. I’d been waiting for so long for you that I thought you’d just keep me waiting forever.”

Harry smiled at her. “I think we can take equal responsibility for the kiss then. I was planning on finding you when I got to the common room to tell you how I felt anyways. I am sorry it took me so long to realise it though; not all of us are sure what we want when we’re eleven years old.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. My feelings are very new.” Harry chuckled, and Ginny smiled. “Okay, maybe I wasn’t exactly subtle, but that’s not really what I meant. I’ve been waiting for you to ask me out for almost a month now, although I wouldn’t have complained if you’d done it much sooner.”

“I’ve wanted to for a long time, Ginny. I just… things are so complicated with me. I wanted to be sure, and then when I finally was sure, as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t say anything while you were with Dean. I know I’ve had a couple weeks, but I- I was just too cowardly to do anything about it until- well I thought if Gryffindor won, you might get back together with him or something, and I just knew that I’d lose my chance if I didn’t say something now.”

He really was about the most modest person she’d ever met. “Harry, you’re a lot of things, but cowardly isn’t one of them.” Ginny cupped his cheek in her hand and his eyes almost closed, savouring that contact. “It doesn’t matter how long it took, I’m just glad that we both finally figured it out.” She kissed him again, to emphasise her point. When they broke apart, he looked at her like he’d remembered something.

“Er- a minute ago… you said I was a cute idiot. D’you- you think I’m cute?”

Merlin, his cluelessness made him even more attractive. She wanted to make another joke, but he seemed so genuinely surprised that she didn’t have the heart to take the mickey right at this moment.

“I said you were a very cute idiot, and I definitely meant it,” Ginny affirmed, and Harry’s blushing grin told her how happy that made him. He took her hand in his, and they slowly started walking the grounds, absently heading towards the Black Lake. Ginny looked back at him and saw that the grin hadn’t left his face. Then again, she didn’t think she’d stopped smiling since they’d kissed for the first time.

“Harry, you said you wanted to tell me how you felt when you came up to the common room. How exactly do you feel?”

They entered the shade of a tree by the lake, and Harry stopped walking, turning to face her. His eyes were still intense, Ginny noticed, but they also held a kind of honesty, a trust he was placing in her. She knew that whatever he said next, he’d be telling the truth.

“I hadn’t exactly planned out what I was going to say. There were a lot of things I wanted to say though. I- I don’t know what Ron will think of my feelings, and he’s still my best mate. Actually, I don’t know how anybody in your family would react, and they’re basically the only family I’ve got. And I know I can’t be easy to be with. I’ve got a bad habit of almost dying at least once a year, and there’s this whole… thing,” he said, waving vaguely at his scar.

“Harry-" Ginny cut him off, realising that these were all the reasons that he had been afraid to tell her. “I didn’t ask what you were going to say. Clearly you’ve given this a lot of thought, but despite all that, you still wanted to tell me. How do you feel?”

Harry looked at her almost confused, as if that was completely obvious. “Oh, I thought you knew. I like you, Ginny. A- a lot, actually. I’ve known for a long time that you’re hilarious, and for the past year or two, it’s been so easy to talk to you about stuff I don’t like talking about with anyone. And obviously, you’re like the most beautiful girl at Hogwarts. I dunno… I- I think I started feeling something more for you this summer, but I didn’t realise it. You were so brave at the Department of Mysteries, and you were there doing everything you could to protect me, as stubborn as I’d been about everything. And you’re better than me at Quidditch, which is apparently a major turn on for-” Harry clapped his hand over his mouth as his eyes bulged, and Ginny couldn’t help herself from laughing. By the time she’d calmed herself, Harry was a very bright shade of red that almost matched her hair.

Ginny took both of his hands in hers. As funny as his reaction to what he said was, she was taken aback by how easily he’d taken her heart and made it his. With just a few sentences, Harry had made her feel so seen, so appreciated, and so cared for that she knew that she was his for as long as he wanted. But he liked her sense of humour too, and Ginny felt that it would be cruel to deprive him of a very funny moment she was plotting in her mind.

“That’s… wow, Harry. If I’d known kicking your arse at Quidditch was all it would take for you to notice me, I would’ve tried out for the team three years ago.”

Harry was still blushing, but he chuckled at her joke.

“Truthfully though,” Ginny whispered conspiratorially, “I was waiting until you made Quidditch Captain. You see, there’s something about listening to a captain lecturing about strategies that really turns me on, so I guess it’s lucky for you that I didn’t join the team when Oliver was captain.”

Harry couldn’t hold in his laughter at that, and Ginny laughed with him, pleased that she was able to make him feel comfortable so quickly even though he’d been embarrassed at what he’d said.

“Merlin, Gin… I know you’re the twins’ sister, but I think you’d give them a run for their Galleons for funniest in the family,” Harry complimented her, still chuckling at her joke.

“Gin?” she asked, looking at him curiously.

“Yeah, Gin… unless, if you don’t like that, I’m more than happy to keep calling you Ginny,” Harry reassured her, looking nervous that he’d said something wrong.

Ginny smiled a little. She’d always hated people calling her anything but Ginny. Ginevra was much too old-fashioned and formal, and Gin had always felt so dismissive, like it wasn’t even worth their time to say the second syllable. But when Harry said it, there had been just as much care and feeling as when he said Ginny, and there was an air of familiarity and intimacy, as if there was a part of her, the ‘Gin’ part, that was reserved for only him to know. And Ginny really liked the sound of that.

“No… I actually really like it,” she confessed with a smile. “I’m just not used to it. I guess… just like you surprised me, a lot, with what you said you were feeling. I guess I’m not quite used to not being just Ron’s little sister with you.”

The intensity in Harry’s eyes, which hadn’t ever left, somehow caught her by surprise yet again. “You’re so much more than Ron’s little sister. You’ve been way more than that to me for a long time. And Gin, if you want… I’d really love for you to be my girlfriend.”

Ginny answered his implied question with another deep kiss, and they spent the rest of the day beneath that tree by the lake, enjoying their first afternoon together as a couple.


Today felt so similar to their first day together that Ginny struggled to bring herself back to reality. She walked hand in hand with Harry outside, just like she had that day a year ago, and as was becoming an odd new habit, she relived one of her favourite memories with Harry in the blink of an eye. As she blinked again though, she saw what had changed. The grounds were nowhere near as well-manicured as they had been. Burns and faint blood stains tarnished the green carpet. The castle behind her was scarred, with holes and crumbling stones littering its exterior. And most notably to her, the man holding her hand was not the boy she’d kissed in the Gryffindor common room. The most important parts of him- his kindness, selflessness, and bravery- were still intact, but he seemed so much older and wiser, though Ginny didn’t know how she could tell that just by looking at him. And, she realised, flushing slightly, the boy she had kissed then had been very cute and handsome, but the man she was with now was striking and, if she was being honest, incredibly desirable.

She expected him to lead her to their tree, but instead, they just walked around the grounds. But her mind, focussed again after her brief daydream, was begging to know what had happened with Kingsley and McGonagall to make Ron and Hermione look so distressed and Harry look so worn out. As if sensing the question burning in her head, Harry looked at her.

“Kingsley and McGonagall wanted to know about what had happened, how we defeated Riddle. Ron and Hermione… they’re okay,” Harry assured her.

Ginny raised an eyebrow at him and he tried his best to maintain eye contact with her, but he broke, raising the hand not holding hers, gesturing for a truce. “Okay, maybe they’re not okay right now… I know they looked kind of rough when you saw them, but they’re going to be fine.”

Ginny snorted. “A little rough? They looked like they’d seen death for Merlin’s sake.”

Harry grimaced, and Ginny frowned, puzzled at his reaction. Before she could think too long about it, Harry said, “I- I want to tell you exactly what made them look like that, but I want you to know the whole story first. I’m sure it’s driving you crazy, knowing that I’ve had to tell other people, and I am sorry. I wanted you to be the first to know everything, but things haven’t exactly worked out like that.”

Ginny shook her head. “I do want to know, Harry. But I know why you’ve had to tell the people you’ve told, and I do appreciate that you’re telling me everything. Just… don’t make me wait forever. This year has clearly shown that I’ll wait for you, but I also want us to be able to put this behind us and start living our lives as a couple, not just two people sharing stories about their time apart.”

Harry gazed at her affectionately. “I want that too, Gin. I really do. And you’re right, I don’t want to make you wait longer than I have to. So I’ll get back to it right now.”

Surprised, Ginny smiled at Harry’s willingness to talk to her even though he’d just spent an hour recounting a briefer version of the events of the past year. She was even more surprised and pleased when Harry leaned down to kiss her, his lips just barely brushing her smiling ones before he pulled away, smiling at her and starting his story again as they walked across the castle grounds.

“After Ron found us, we decided to go to see Xenophilius Lovegood, Luna’s dad,” Harry said. Ginny stared at him, very confused about why they would need to see him. “Dumbledore left Hermione his personal copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard. There was a rune that was drawn in it that Hermione had never seen before. It was a rune that Mister Lovegood had worn around his neck at Bill and Fleur’s wedding. I remembered it because Viktor Krum was angry about it. He’d called it Grindelwald’s mark. We’d also seen it on the grave of a man named Ignotus Peverell when we were in Godric’s Hollow. Ron and Hermione were convinced that it was something important, and Mister Lovegood was the only person we could think of to ask about it.

“When we got there, he told us that mark was the symbol of the Deathly Hallows. We had no idea what that meant, so he told us the story from Beedle that the mark had been drawn on. I know Ron remembered the story, so you may too… it’s The Tale of the Three Brothers.”

Ginny nodded, remembering the story that had always confused and frightened her slightly, imagining coming face to face with Death himself. She’d preferred Babbitty Rabbitty and the Cackling Stump as a child, personally.

“So in the story, Death gives the three brothers gifts for besting him. He gave the first brother the most powerful wand ever, the Elder Wand. He gave the second brother the Resurrection Stone, capable of bringing those who have died back to our world. And the third brother received a true Invisibility Cloak.” Harry raised Ginny’s hand, opening it so that the palm faced up. On it, he traced a straight line, making her skin tingle. “Elder Wand,” he said. Then he traced a circle around the bottom half of the imaginary line. “Resurrection Stone.” Finally, he traced a triangle around his first two tracings. “Invisibility Cloak.”

“The story’s true,” Harry said plainly. Ginny blinked, furrowing her brow, certain that she’d misheard him.

Seeing her expression, Harry clarified, “I don’t know about the whole meeting Death thing. It’s probably more likely that the brothers were powerful wizards who created the objects themselves, but other than that… yeah. The brothers were real, the Peverell brothers, and the Deathly Hallows are definitely real too.”

Ginny was dumbfounded. This was a children’s fairy tale, what on earth did it have to do with any of this? And was Harry being serious? One look at his face told her that, as usual, he was being completely honest with her.

“I know it’s hard to believe… but you’ve seen me use one of the Hallows several times,” he said, looking at her meaningfully. Ginny’s jaw dropped as she realised what he meant.

“But Harry… there are lots of people with Invisibility Cloaks like yours,” she reasoned, sure there was some other explanation.

Harry shook his head. “Not like mine. Other cloaks fade or have charms on them that need to be renewed. My dad had the cloak when he was my age. It hasn’t faded, and I’ve never had to renew any charms. And my cloak can’t have spells cast on it. A Death Eater tried to summon it a few days ago and it didn’t work. No other cloak is like that. My dad was descended from Ignotus Peverell, the third brother. His grave was near my parents’ in Godric’s Hollow, and the cloak was passed through the family.”

Ginny was stunned, and still a little confused. Even if the Deathly Hallows were real and Harry owned one of them, how did that relate to what had happened this year?

Recognising her confusion, Harry spoke again. “I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s really important. Riddle was after the Elder Wand.” Ginny’s eyes widened as the story Harry had been telling reconverged with the one she’d expected. “He’d been after a new wand ever since the night I left Privet Drive. Our wands were connected because their cores came from Fawkes, Dumbledore’s phoenix. Ollivander told me once that they were twins. Every time we fought each other, it was like our wands refused to hurt the other. In the graveyard when Riddle came back, they connected. When Riddle chased me that night I left the Dursley’s, he had a clear shot at me, but my wand acted on its own somehow, connecting with his again and breaking the wand he was using, even though it wasn’t his phoenix feather wand. I don’t really know why that happened honestly, but he was convinced that he needed a stronger wand. He started trying to find out what happened to the Elder Wand.

“Hermione told us that throughout history, there were stories of extra powerful wands. All those wands were the same wand under different names. They were all the Elder Wand. Riddle was able to trace the wand to a wandmaker named Gregorovitch. He found Gregorovitch, who told him that Grindelwald had stolen it a long time ago. Grindelwald became extremely powerful with it, until he was defeated by Dumbledore, who took the Elder Wand for himself.”

Ginny gasped, realising just how close this story was now hitting to home. Then she started working things out in her mind. “But if the wand changes hands when its previous master is defeated… that means that Snape was the master of the Elder Wand since he killed Dumbledore?”

She was surprised to see Harry shake his head. “Before Snape killed Dumbledore, Malfoy disarmed him. To the wand, that counts as its previous master being defeated, and even though nobody knew it, Malfoy had become the master of the Elder Wand.”

Ginny’s jaw dropped again, shocked that Malfoy, of all people, had managed that. Harry nodded, clearly agreeing with her. “The thing is, Riddle didn’t understand how the wand worked. He thought that if he had the wand, it would be his. So he stole the wand from Dumbledore’s tomb.” Ginny frowned, disturbed but not surprised that Riddle would rob graves to get what he wanted.

“Luna had been kidnapped by the Death Eaters,” Harry continued, “And Mister Lovegood was desperate to get her back. He notified them while we were at his house, and we barely escaped without the Death Eaters seeing Ron or killing us. Hermione was smart enough to remember that Ron was supposed to be in bed with spattergroit since your family would’ve been in danger if he’d been seen.”

Ginny could hardly believe that Luna’s dad had tried to sell the three of them out. He’d always seemed so supportive of Harry. Even if he missed Luna, she wouldn’t have wanted him to do that for her. She cared too much about her friends.

“We spent months looking everywhere we could think of for Horcruxes. Diagon Alley, Borgin and Burkes, his old orphanage. We even talked about going to Albania. Eventually, we were looking in Wizarding places that had nothing to do with Riddle that we knew of. We were so lost, constantly paranoid, and on the run from Snatchers. We had no idea what was going on in the world until we were able to tune into Lee’s radio show one night near Easter. After the show was over, we were talking, and I slipped up. I said Voldemort, and Snatchers were there immediately. Hermione disguised my face with a Stinging Jinx, but they realised who Ron and Hermione were and took the three of us to Malfoy Manor.”

Ginny shuddered, having some idea of where this story was going. But even though she knew, it didn’t make hearing it any easier, especially considering Harry’s eyes had narrowed as he remembered what had happened there, and she knew this was probably one more thing he blamed himself for. Ginny suddenly realised that they were near their tree, so she tugged on Harry’s hand, pulling him into the shade. They leaned back, side by side, against the tree, and Ginny absently caressed the engraving Harry had made as he began talking again.

“They wanted to call Riddle, but they were afraid he’d be angry if they were wrong. They asked Draco if he could identify us, but he said he wasn’t sure if it was me. It didn’t matter. They’d decided to summon him anyway since Ron and Hermione were there and I still looked somewhat like me. Just before they did though, Bellatrix saw the Sword of Gryffindor. One of the Snatchers had taken it from our tent. She went mad, stunning all of them. The sword was supposed to be in her vault at Gringotts, but it was a fake. We’d overheard a goblin telling some wizards on the run that the goblins knew it was a fake but didn’t say anything since she never asked. Bellatrix was panicked that if Riddle found out that someone had been in her vault, he’d kill her. She needed answers so she sent Ron and I to the cellar while she- she tortured Hermione.”

Ginny exhaled sharply, squeezing Harry’s hand and trying not to imagine the pain Hermione dealt with being tortured by that evil bitch. Harry squeezed her hand just as tightly before continuing.

“Ollivander, Luna, Dean, and the goblin we’d overheard, Griphook, were all in the cellar. Ron was throwing himself at the walls, trying to get to her. They’d taken all our wands, and I was looking for anything I could do to get help. I don’t know why I did it, but I found the fragment of the two-way mirror Sirius had given me. I’d never used it, but it was supposed to let us talk to each other like the other one was in the mirror. I thought I saw Dumbledore in it for a moment, so I told him where we were and that we needed help. Almost immediately, Dobby apparated into the cellar. He took Ollivander, Luna, and Dean to Shell Cottage, but Bellatrix had started interrogating Griphook too.

“They heard Dobby apparating from upstairs, so they sent Peter Pettigrew to see what was going on. Ron and I jumped him, but he started choking me with his metal hand. I reminded him that I’d saved his life the night Sirius and Remus wanted to kill him in third year and asked if that was how he was going to repay me. He released me, and the hand strangled him instead… I think because he showed me mercy. Ron and I went upstairs, right as Griphook had assured Bellatrix that the one she was holding was the fake and the real one was in her vault. That satisfied her, so she called Riddle and told Fenrir Greyback that he could have Hermione. Ron disarmed Bellatrix and I stunned Lucius Malfoy, but then Bellatrix had a knife and was holding it to Hermione’s neck. We gave up our wands, and Riddle was on his way.

“Suddenly, the chandelier fell. Bellatrix jumped out of the way and it fell on Hermione and Griphook. Dobby had done it to cause a distraction. Everyone was so surprised, I took the chance to pull the wands Draco had taken out of his hands and stunned Greyback. We all disapparated right before Riddle arrived. But…” Harry’s voice quivered and Ginny pressed herself into an embrace under his arm, trying to comfort him as much as she could, knowing that he was about to tell her what had happened to Dobby.

Harry took a breath, still holding Ginny tightly to him. “Bellatrix threw the knife at us as we disapparated, and she hit Dobby. He- he died in my arms at Shell Cottage.”

Ginny saw a tear run down his face. Even after he’d lived through so much death around him, he still was so affected by it, even when it was a house elf who died. There were so many witches and wizards who wouldn’t have been bothered by that, but not Harry. The man she loved was so deeply compassionate that he couldn’t fail to be affected by death. She pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek, sitting with him in silence until he was ready to continue talking.

After a few moments, Harry said in a trembling voice, “We buried him near the cottage. Bill told us that they’d gotten your family into hiding after Ron had been seen with me, and at least that was one small bit of good news, but we needed to talk to Ollivander and Griphook. Ollivander tried to explain to us how wand loyalty worked, but it still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. He said that he felt that the wands we had stolen would be loyal to us. I guess I forgot to mention that when we escaped from Godric’s Hollow at Christmas, one of Hermione’s curses ricocheted off the snake and destroyed my wand. We tried to fix it, but there wasn’t anything we could do, at least until a couple days ago. I’d been using a wand Ron had stolen off a Snatcher when he was separated from us, but we’d left that one and Hermione’s at Malfoy Manor and needed new ones to use. Anyways, Ollivander confirmed our suspicions about Riddle looking for the Elder Wand and taking it from Dumbledore’s tomb.

“We also needed to get into Gringotts. After seeing how Bellatrix had reacted to the idea of someone being in her vault, I started thinking more about it. I realised that when I first found out I was a wizard, one of the things that signified that I belonged was that I had a vault at Gringotts. Riddle never had one of those, and I think he would’ve really wanted one when he was young. Besides, it’s the safest place in the world, so what better place to hide a piece of his soul? We convinced Griphook to help us break in in exchange for us giving him the Sword of Gryffindor.”

Harry paused, looking at something on the other side of Ginny. She turned around and saw Hagrid walking back to his house.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you… Hagrid wanted to see both of us before we left tomorrow,” Harry said a little sheepishly.

Ginny sat up. “Why didn’t you say so? Honestly Potter, it’s like your priorities are all confused,” she said, shaking her head disappointedly. She knew he’d tell her more of the story when he could, and she was very interested to hear how they’d managed to fly on a dragon out of Gringotts.

Harry grinned at her. “Sorry Blaze, but I disagree. I know exactly what my top priority is.” Before Ginny could respond, he was kissing her, caressing her side as she leaned up into him to deepen the kiss. She ran her hand along his stomach, feeling the toned muscles underneath his shirt, wondering somewhere in her mind when the scrawny first year she’d seen at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters had turned into a man.

Before she could answer that question, Harry pulled back, and Ginny remembered what he’d said before he kissed her. “So… what’s your top priority?” Ginny asked breathlessly.

“Oh, well that’s not a secret. It’s Hagrid. That’s why we have to go see him!”

Ginny gaped at him, shocked that he’d been the one to make a joke in a really romantic moment instead of her. He laughed at her reaction but took pity on her because he leaned close to her ear and goose pimples ran up her arms. “It’s you, Gin. It’ll always be you,” he whispered before kissing that spot right underneath her ear that he was getting very good at finding.

She loved him. That was irrefutable. Every word he said, every look he gave, every thing he did confirmed that. She thought he loved her too, but much like when she waited for him to ask her out last year, he needed to be the one to say it first. She was sure of her feelings, and she wasn’t keeping it from him because she felt like she owed it to herself to make Harry say it first. She just wanted the relationship to move on his time. After everything he’d been through in his life, losing so many people that he’d loved, he deserved to be the one to decide when the right moment was. He’d tell her when he was ready, and she could wait. She did have a lot of practice, after all. She’d wait until he told her he loved her, and she’d be ready to say it back and say it forever.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Honestly, Harry was grateful for the distraction that was provided when he remembered that Hagrid wanted to see him and Ginny. He still found it very easy to talk to Ginny about what he’d done in the last year. Even when he told her about Dobby, she made the pain of the memories bearable. Despite that, Harry knew the story was getting into even more uncomfortable territory, as he’d soon be telling her about Gringotts, how they ended up at Hogwarts, and what had happened that led him to the Forbidden Forest. As much as he trusted her, he worried that she’d be upset or angry that he’d walked to his death without telling her bye. He wouldn’t have hid it anyways, but it didn’t make things easier knowing that she knew Harry had walked past her that night.

That was a problem for another day though. To this point, Ginny had been unfailingly supportive, and Harry would have to continue trusting that. If he couldn’t, what was the point of any of it? Besides, the way Ginny was gasping as he kissed her neck was enough proof that she didn’t want to be anywhere else, regardless of everything Harry had told her to this point.

Giving her ear a final nibble, he raised his head up so he was looking down at her again. Her eyes remained closed for a couple more seconds before slowly fluttering open and gazing warmly at him. She smiled dreamily at him, and Harry was seized with the urge to forget about going to Hagrid’s because really, what could be more important than this?

Before he could act on that impulse, Ginny whispered, “Hagrid is definitely my top priority too.” Her smile widened into an impish grin and she kissed Harry’s nose before she sat up. Harry grinned too, staring back at her, wondering for the thousandth time how he’d gotten so lucky.

After a moment, Ginny raised an eyebrow at him, jerking him back to reality. “Oh, right. Hagrid… we should definitely go see Hagrid,” Harry said, trying his best to act like he wouldn’t rather stay here with her.

He was pretty sure Ginny could read his mind when she said, “Yes we should… but let’s come back here tonight after dinner. We’re leaving tomorrow, and I could do with another good memory at our tree before we leave.”

Harry’s mind wandered as he imagined what kinds of good memories they could make under their tree. Ginny suddenly kissed him quickly, and he leaned forward as she moved back from him, not letting him continue the kiss. He groaned and opened his eyes, trying his best to look annoyed.

“That’s just a preview,” Ginny whispered wickedly. “If you want the rest, you’re going to have to beat me to Hagrid’s!” She sprung up and started running down to the gamekeeper’s hut. She looked so cheerful with that childish grin on her face and her hair streaming behind her that Harry almost forgot to chase her. Even though she had a head start, Harry’s legs were longer, and he caught up to her just feet before the door to Hagrid’s hut. He stretched his hand out as if reaching for a Snitch and touched the door an instant before her.

“Easy,” Harry managed to get out in between gasps. Ginny folded her arms and tried to look agitated that she’d lost, but Harry couldn’t help noticing how sexy she looked with her face glowing a bright red and sweat beading around her hairline. Her hair had become messy and windswept and with her arms crossed, the curves of her chest swelled and moved in time with her heavy breathing. Mesmerised, Harry looked back at her eyes, which were blazing even as she smirked at him, and Harry knew that he’d been staring.

“My eyes are up here, Potter,” she said as if she was offended, but the way she was looking at Harry told him that she also liked the way he looked right now, even if Harry didn’t understand how. Her eyes were blazing with that passion and desire that excited Harry so much that he almost couldn’t breathe.

The only thing he could think to say was “You’re so beautiful, Gin.”

“I know that’s so not true right now,” Ginny chuckled, but she slowly stopped smiling as Harry’s expression hadn’t changed. He thought she looked perfect right now. “Wait, you’re serious?” Ginny asked, looking at him like she was surprised that he thought that.

Harry was a little confused. “Well yeah, I mean… you’re always beautiful. But- I dunno, you just look really good right now too,” he explained lamely, in his opinion.

Ginny slowly beamed at him. “You really are good with compliments, you know? Even if you don’t always realise it.”

Relieved, Harry smiled back at her, thankful that he’d said the right thing to show her how he felt. “What can I say, I’m magic,” he whispered, taking a step towards her to give her a kiss.

That progress was stopped as his knee buckled and he collapsed. The pain in his legs that he’d been ignoring seemed to have caught up to him after that run, and they refused to hold him any longer. He fell face first in front of Ginny, catching himself on his elbows. Shit. That hurt.

Ginny gasped and knelt down next to Harry, rolling him over so she could look at him. With the sun right over her head, Harry thought she looked like an angel, and for a moment, he wondered if he was dreaming. Then he tried to move, and the pain in his legs reminded him that he was definitely still awake.

“Harry… Harry! Are you okay?” Ginny asked frantically as she checked him for injuries.

“Fine, Gin,” Harry said tightly. “A little wobbly is all. I’ll be fine, just need to get back up- damn!” He exclaimed as Ginny touched one of his newly scraped elbows. Ginny looked back at him with concern evident on her face and Harry realised that she was probably terrified for him.

He took a deep breath and took her hand in his. “Okay, I’m not fine,” he admitted. “My legs have been bothering me since I woke up yesterday, but I thought they’d start feeling better soon. And now my arms hurt after falling like that.”

Ginny pressed her lips together. “We need to take you to see Madam Pomfrey.”

“She’s probably dealing with a lot of people who were injured in the battle. I just have an ache in my legs, I don’t need to bother her right now.”

“You stubborn berk, your health matters too!” Ginny almost shouted at him. Harry’s eyes widened and Ginny clapped her hand over her mouth.

“Harry, I-” Ginny began but Harry squeezed her hand, shaking his head.

“No, you’re right,” he said quietly, knowing that she was likely having visions of his body lying at Voldemort’s feet when he collapsed. “I can be a stubborn berk, more often than anyone calls me out on it. I need to remember that- well, I guess… if I can’t take care of myself for me, I want to do it for you. After everything… I can do that.”

Ginny’s breathing evened, and she bent down, kissing Harry softly on his forehead. “Thank you,” she whispered.

Harry smiled up at her. “Anything for you, Gin.”

Hagrid’s door swung open loudly, causing both Harry and Ginny to start, looking to see the source of the loud thump. Hagrid stood over them, looking curiously down at them. Slowly, he started grinning and chuckling to himself. Harry looked at Ginny, bewildered at what could be tickling Hagrid this much. She shrugged at him, clearly confused as well.

Hagrid’s rumbling laughter slowly subsided and, wiping tears from his eyes, he said, “Y’know, there’s loads o’ more private places up in the castle than on my doorstep.”

Harry blushed, but Ginny gaped. “Hagrid! We weren’t doing anything! We were coming to see you, but Harry’s hurt.”

“Wha’ d’you mean he’s hurt?” Hagrid asked, at once looking very concerned.

“It’s not a big deal, Hagrid,” Harry assured him, but seeing Ginny glaring at him, he quickly amended his statement. “I’m just having some trouble standing. Just- just carry me inside and we’ll visit with you for a while, and then I promise I’ll go see Madam Pomfrey,” he said, looking at Ginny. Ginny hesitated for a moment before nodding reluctantly.

“If yeh say so,” Hagrid said, bending down to pick up Harry. Harry was suddenly very aware of the fact that Hagrid had carried him almost exactly like this just a few days earlier, and judging by Ginny’s face, that hadn’t escaped her either. Hagrid carried Harry inside, setting him down in one of the large wooden chairs in the middle of the room. Ginny sat down next to him, and Harry took her hand in his, squeezing it while smiling at her comfortingly.

“I’m right here,” he whispered to her. Ginny nodded, still looking a little upset but better than she had a moment earlier.

Harry turned to look at Hagrid and saw him smiling widely at the two of them. “‘Bout time the two o’ yeh got back together,” he said affectionately.

Ginny smiled softly, glancing at Harry. Harry smiled at her. “I did my best to get back together with her as soon as possible, Hagrid.”

“Oh I know tha’... I’m jus’ sayin’ you two look a mighty sight better together’n yeh did apar’.”

Visibly pleased, Ginny asked, “How did you know we were back together anyways, Hagrid?”

Hagrid chucked. “It may be a battlefiel’ now, but Hogwarts still has a fair bit o’ gossip. And you're both pretty popular ‘round here. Professor McGonagall saw the two o’ you after the battle. Said yeh both seemed right glad ter be… well, she said in snoggin’ range.”

Harry’s eyes widened as his jaw dropped. “McGonagall said that?”

Hagrid laughed loudly seeing their shocked reactions. “Surprised me too. I reckon she was in a bit o’ a state after ev’rythin’ and it slipped out. She did seem pleased ‘bout it though.”

“So Professor McGonagall was happy to see us snogging after the battle?” Ginny asked incredulously.

“Well, I wouldn’ say it like tha’. I reckon she’s jus’ thinkin’ what ev’ryone who knows you two is. You kids have deal’ with so much, yeh deserve ter be happy,” Hagrid responded, smiling at both of them again.

Ginny grinned at Harry, who grinned right back. “Well I’m very happy,” he said, not taking his eyes off her.

“Not as happy as me,” Ginny said with a wink to him.

Hagrid chuckled. “Tell yeh what though. Wish I could go back ter tell li’l Ginny Weasley that she’d end up with the boy she couldn’ stop talkin’ ‘bout ev’ry time she’d come ter visit me.”

Harry’s eyebrows raised as Ginny blushed considerably. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Hagrid,” she said, growing redder by the second.

“‘s not like it was ever a secret Ginny. Dunno a girl who was more obvious ‘bout what she wanted. And it worked out fer yeh didn’ it? Anyways, I was happy to spen’ the time with you, even if I coulda gone without hearin’ so much ‘bout how handsome and brave Harry was,'' Hagrid chuckled again.

Harry didn’t know how it was possible, but Ginny’s face got even redder. Harry squeezed her hand but couldn’t resist. “So… handsome and brave, huh?” he asked with a grin.

She shot a look over at him that likely would’ve withered any of her brothers but only added fuel to Harry’s fire for her. “Shut it Potter, or you won’t have any legs for Madam Pomfrey to check.”

Harry widened his eyes in mock fear, miming zipping his lips before winking at her. She snorted and rolled her eyes, but the red in her face slowly started fading away. Satisfied, Harry turned to look at Hagrid, who was smiling at them again.

“You’re one to talk about Ginny being obsessed with me, Hagrid. I seem to remember hearing something on the radio in March about you having a ‘Support Harry Potter’ party. Know anything about that?” Harry asked, raising an eyebrow even as he grinned at his friend.

Hagrid looked surprised that Harry had heard about that. Hagrid’s eyes shifted quickly towards Ginny, but Ginny just shrugged and nodded slightly, seemingly making a point to not look quite in Harry’s direction.

“Hagrid?” Harry asked, more seriously this time, wondering what that exchange had been about.

Hagrid thought for a moment before responding. “Sorry ter disappoin’ yeh Harry, but I was only part o’ the plan for tha’ party. Course, I took the blame when the Carrows found out ‘bout it, spent two months hidin’ with Grawpy up in a cave. But it wasn’ jus me tha’ put it together.”

“Oh… well then who-” Harry stopped as he realised who would’ve really been behind it, even if she still wasn’t really looking at him.

“Well, Ginny came ter me ‘round the middle o’ February an’ said she thought we should do summat to keep spirits ‘round here up. It was righ’ gloomy here the whole year, an’ I reckoned she was righ’ abou’ needin’ ter do summat. We figured we’d throw a party ter remind folks tha’ you were still out there, tha’ yeh hadn’ been caught, tha’ we were still fightin’ for summat.”

Ginny finally looked at Harry with glassy eyes, but her expression was resolute. She sat up straight and raised her head, and Harry realised that she was broken inside, much like him, but despite that, she was still the strong girl he’d fallen so hard for a year ago. Her strength had matured, like she understood the consequences demanded by true strength and bravery, and even though it left emotional damage, she was still proud and strong. He was very glad that some things hadn’t changed.

“I see…” Harry said cautiously, not taking his eyes off Ginny but doing his best not to make her feel like she had to say anything.

“It’d been six months since Remus had told us the three of you were safe,” Ginny said slowly, seemingly considering her words carefully. “There’d been rumours after that. A lot of people thought you broke into the Ministry in September, some people swore they’d seen a glimpse of you in Diagon Alley or another wizarding village, and there were even more people that were convinced that you’d fled the country with Hermione.”

Harry started to open his mouth to protest this ridiculous rumour that he was sure had been thrown in Ginny’s face in the past year, but she just shook her head.

“I knew that was the furthest thing from the truth, and so did everyone who actually knew you. But there wasn’t anything for us to go on. Things were getting worse here, and we needed something to bring spirits up. I spent quite a bit of time with Hagrid this year when I wasn’t with the D.A. and the grounds were open. They’d close the grounds for weeks at a time as punishment after our D.A. stunts. They’d cancelled the previous Hogsmeade weekends, but for some reason, they gave us the one in the middle of February, but I just… didn’t want to go to Hogsmeade, so I came down to Hagrid’s, and we made a plan to have a party a couple weeks later.”

“It was a brillian’ party too,” Hagrid added on. “I prob’ly wasn’ the bes’ example, but the kids deserved it. Rosmerta helped me smuggle in plenty of Butterbeer, and I set it all up in here. Tha’ house-elf tha’ took a likin’ ter yeh, Harry… Dobby? He even had a bunch o’ balls with yer face on ‘em, so we hung those up all ‘round here ter celebrate. We musta had almos’ fifty students packed in here!” Hagrid beamed proudly, as if he didn’t almost die for hosting this party.

The mention of Dobby made Harry smile slightly, even if he was saddened as he remembered how his friend had been so excited to decorate the D.A. room for Christmas a couple years ago. Of course Dobby had done a great job decorating for a Harry Potter-themed party. Something else was bothering Harry, but he put it aside for now. “How did you get caught then?”

“After the party, the castle felt alive for the first time this year. We’d lowered the age to third years for the D.A. out of necessity, so the younger students had been left out of the D.A. and now the party. The kids and the teachers could tell that something had happened, but they didn’t know what it was since there wasn’t an obvious thing the D.A. had done. I don’t know why, but a third year Ravenclaw thought he’d gloat over his younger brother that he’d gotten to go to the only party at Hogwarts this year. His brother told everyone in his dormitory about the party, and everyone who didn’t know found out within a day, including the Carrows.” Ginny’s face darkened as she said this.

“I caught wind o’ folks talkin’ ‘bout the party, so I told the firs’ years I heard talkin’ tha’ it was a party I’d done meself. I hoped the Carrows would hear tha’ an’ jus’ blame me fer it. When they heard, they tried ter attack me, but I got away and went up ter the mountains with Grawpy. Came back when we heard You-Know-Who at Hogwarts the other day,” Hagrid explained.

“That was really brave, Hagrid,” Harry said honestly, thankful that his friend had done what he could to protect Ginny and the other students of the D.A. Hagrid turned a little red at this but nodded. Harry turned to look at Ginny, who’d started looking into Hagrid’s flickering fire. Probably best not to say anything more about it now, Harry decided.

“Blimey, I can’ believe I never even offered the two o’ yeh summat to eat!” Hagrid exclaimed. He stood up quickly to get them some of his even-more-stale-than-usual rock cakes. While he was gathering them, Harry smiled a little at Ginny, and she raised an eyebrow at him, glancing at his legs. He patted them both as if to emphasise that they were still attached, and she rolled her eyes at him. But when he grinned at her, she finally smiled back.

Harry and Ginny spent a couple of hours with Hagrid, reminiscing about simpler times when they were younger. Harry was disappointed that Ginny refused to allow Hagrid to mention anything more about her childhood crush, but he had to admit that it felt great to be doing something like this that felt normal. Eventually though, Harry caught sight of the time and realised they’d be needing to get up to the castle soon for dinner. After some crushing hugs, they told Hagrid goodbye and promised that they’d be visiting over the summer. Then, they left the gamekeeper’s hut and began on the pathway back to Hogwarts.

Harry still felt the pain in his legs, but he could manage to walk, although Ginny insisted on supporting some of his weight, pulling one of Harry’s arms over her shoulders. She was definitely much stronger than her small size suggested, he knew, so he willingly let her help him, knowing that it would make her feel better too.

“Did Hagrid’s plan work?” Harry asked as they started walking.

“Hmmm?” Ginny looked over at him, unsure what he meant.

“About keeping everyone out of trouble by taking the blame for the party. Did it work?”

Ginny opened her mouth, then closed it again. She sighed. “Kind of. They probably would’ve been more thorough with investigations and punishments if Hagrid hadn’t done what he did. But… well it wasn’t a secret that the party was about you. The Carrows figured I must’ve had something to do with it. I got off lighter than I could’ve though. A couple rounds of the Cruciatus and a night in the dungeons. And Alecto cut my hair again. This time, I didn’t get the hair growth potion until I got home for Easter, so my family found out about some of what was going on. I tried to lie about how bad it was, but I don’t know that they would’ve let me come back even if we didn’t have to go into hiding. But that party was the last straw for the Carrows. The thing with Amycus and Sam Collins happened a few days after Hagrid left, and that was when they snapped and started trying to kill the people who crossed them.”

Harry wanted to hit something, or more specifically, someone. The Cruciatus he’d cast on Amycus Carrow didn’t seem like anywhere near punishment enough as he learned more about the Carrows’ reign of terror in Hogwarts. And although Ginny had glossed over it, it hadn’t escaped Harry’s attention that she was punished for being his girlfriend all year, even though she’d made it sound earlier like her activities with the D.A. were what got her in trouble most of the year. It made him feel awful, but he knew that expressing that wouldn’t make anything better. They were together now; that was all that mattered. Although, there was still something else that he was wondering about.

“That Hogsmeade weekend you skipped… it was over Valentine’s Day wasn’t it?” Harry asked, glancing over at her to see her eyes narrow and lips tighten.

“Erm… yeah I think it was,” Ginny said casually.

Harry nodded. “I spent the entire day alone. I told Ron and Hermione to quit talking about bloody Horcruxes for once and bugger off for the day. I think Ron was pretty pissed off at me, but Hermione calmed him down. She understood. I wish we hadn’t even known what day it was, but after Godric’s Hollow, we made a calendar so we wouldn’t lose track again. So I spent the day alternating between brooding in bed and practising duelling imaginary Death Eaters in a clearing we’d camped in while they just kept their distance. The next day, Hermione told me that Ron had figured out why I’d been like that, and even though he wasn’t going to say anything about it, we were okay. Apparently I’d been… saying some girl’s name in my sleep that whole night or something barmy like that, and he finally understood why the fourteenth of February set me off like that,” Harry confessed, not even embarrassed at all because he knew that she understood.

He hadn’t even realised they’d stopped walking, but Ginny was now facing him, peering up at him through sad, brown eyes. There weren’t any tears in them though, and as Ginny pulled him into a tight hug, he knew it was because they were together now, and just like he’d remembered moments earlier, that was what mattered.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

“We never even had a Valentine’s together. Or anything really. After the first few months you were gone, I’d start having dreams that I’d imagined the whole thing because it had happened so quickly. But when I’d wake up, I’d know that it was the realest thing I had in my life. But Valentine’s Day was too hard. That was one of the only times that I felt like it hadn’t been real when I was awake. Because that should’ve been our first Valentine’s Day as a couple, and this should’ve been our first year together. Hagrid understood why I was at his hut, without me ever mentioning what day it was. He spent a lot of time trying to cheer me up, telling me funny stories about you. When he told me that you’d been happier those weeks we were together than he’d ever seen you, I said I wished you could be here. Everyone would’ve been so uplifted and excited to see you, especially me. It was Hagrid’s idea to have the party since that was the next best thing.”

Now it was Harry’s turn to pull her into a hug, which Ginny gratefully accepted, always feeling safer in his arms. She looked up at him, and he was smiling down at her.

“I really wish we could’ve had this past year, that things could’ve been different and easier. But I’m just so happy to be with you finally that it almost doesn’t matter. It’s like I- I finally get a chance to live life the way I want, and you’re at the centre of it,” he said, gazing at her adoringly.

Ginny just had to reward that. She pulled him down into a deep kiss that was only interrupted when Professor Sprout coughed loudly as she passed them, walking up to the castle from the greenhouses. Pulling apart, Ginny smiled back up at Harry.

“So… what was the name of this girl you were dreaming about on Valentine’s Day, Mister Potter?” Ginny asked seriously.

Harry pondered her question. “I can’t remember… it was something like Jennifer or Jenna or… oh! Jenny! It was definitely Jenny!”

Ginny punched him in the shoulder. “You’re a real arsehole sometimes. Let’s see if this Jenny can help you walk up to the castle then.”

She made like she was going to step away from Harry, but he pulled her tightly to him. “Nah, she’s imaginary so she wouldn’t be a lot of help. I definitely prefer a woman with real hands, real arms, a real back…” Harry’s hands started drifting down her back suggestively, and Ginny had to laugh now.

“If you’re suggesting that the only reason you’re with me is because my bum is real and Jenny’s isn’t, I’m slightly insulted. But I am rather proud of my bum, so I can’t blame you too much, I suppose.”

“You should be, it’s fantastic,” Harry commented, grinning as he pinched her there quickly. Ginny rolled her eyes but laughed with him again, honestly a little impressed by his boldness. “Really though,” Harry continued as they finished their walk to the castle, “Jenny’s way too selfish. She’d never drag me to the Hospital Wing because she was worried about my health.”

Ginny grinned. “Then I guess I’ll be grateful that Jenny would be a terrible girlfriend for you because you get hurt so often, you need a girlfriend willing to spend time in the hospital.”

Harry snorted, “That was actually the first requirement in the job description. I realised you’d be a good candidate when I saw how much time you spent in the Hospital Wing after the Department of Mysteries.”

Ginny gaped at him, almost forgetting their banter. “That better not be the first time you realised you had feelings for me, Potter.”

Harry laughed yet again. “I was just joking, Gin. Maybe I’ll tell you the real story one day,” he thought aloud. Ginny raised her eyebrows at him, but he just shook his head. “One day, I promise. It’ll definitely disappoint you though, just so you’re warned. But we’re here now, so let’s get this over with.” He gestured at the door for emphasis, and Ginny sighed, annoyed but resigned to not knowing just yet that tidbit of information that Harry had dangled in front of her.

They entered the Hospital Wing but were surprised to find that there weren’t any patients in the room. Madam Pomfrey walked out from her office when they entered, and she shook her head when she saw Ginny supporting Harry.

“I should’ve expected this just after I sent the last of the patients to St. Mungo’s. What’s happened to you now?” Pomfrey asked sternly while gesturing over to a bed.

Ginny walked him over to the bed, and as he sat down on it, he responded, “Honestly, it’s not anything nearly as bad as what I’m usually in here for. I’ve just been having pain in my legs for the past couple days, and I collapsed earlier today.”

Madam Pomfrey clucked her tongue as she began examining him. She used her wand to cast a diagnostic spell while she felt both of his legs, testing their reflexes and feeling for any obvious abnormalities. When her diagnostics concluded, her wand projected a display of runes and numbers that Ginny couldn’t make any sense out of. Granted, she’d never taken Ancient Runes. She did notice the confused look on Madam Pomfrey’s face though, but she suspected that didn’t have anything to do with translation issues.

Surprisingly, Pomfrey turned and spoke to Ginny instead of Harry. “I’m sorry, but could you wait outside for a moment?”

Ginny narrowed her eyes, angered at the matron for suggesting that she shouldn’t be here for something like this. Harry clearly agreed with her, and he started to protest, but Madam Pomfrey interrupted him. “Mister Potter, as romantically involved as the two of you are, she is not your legal family, and I have sensitive medical issues to discuss with you. You are free to share them with her after we conclude if you wish, but for now, it must be just you.”

Harry looked at Ginny, who nodded reluctantly, not seeing a way around Pomfrey. That didn’t make her any less angry though. “I’ll be right outside. Come get me as soon as you’re done,” she said impatiently to Pomfrey. Ginny squeezed Harry’s hand before standing up and exiting the Hospital Wing, standing just outside the doors.

One day, things wouldn’t be this difficult, she knew. It was annoying, and a little insulting if she was being honest, but there wasn’t much they could do about it now. Ginny waited for about fifteen minutes, passing the time by impatiently pacing back and forth until the large wooden door creaked open. Pomfrey stood there, holding it open, and, Ginny noticed, looking considerably paler than she had before.

Ginny sat next to Harry, who was now laying in his bed. “What’s going on?” she asked.

Harry rolled his eyes. “She’s making me stay here overnight, and she’s gonna give me some potion that should keep the pain from coming back.”

“But what’s making your legs like this?” Ginny pressed.

“Pomfrey thinks it’s a combination of things. I didn’t tell her about the Horcruxes or anything, but she can tell that my body’s been exposed to some Dark Magic. Apparently that’s affecting my nervous system, and my body’s supposedly starting to catch up to the fact that it’s not in constant danger anymore. She thinks I’m starting to feel a lot of pain that my body’s covered up for the past year that we’ve been on the run, if not longer. The only reason that my legs are the only place the pain is in right now is I just use my legs more than my arms or other parts of my body, but if it didn’t get treated, she said the pain would’ve eventually gone everywhere. So I have you to thank for saving me from that.”

Ginny smiled softly at him, pleased that he saw at least some of the benefit of taking care of himself, and she was even more pleased that he was thankful for her. It felt childlike almost. Of course he was thankful for her- she was his girlfriend for Merlin’s sake. But that didn’t make it feel any less special when he actually did say it.

Pomfrey walked in with a goblet full of steaming orange potion. “As we discussed, Mister Potter. Drink this immediately, and it should start repairing your nerves so you don’t experience any more of the pain.”

Harry took the goblet and drained the potion, gagging as he finished what was surely a foul-tasting concoction. It was a shame, Ginny thought, that all the most effective potions tended to taste horrendously.

“Will the potion make him fall asleep?” she asked the matron.

“It should start making him drowsy in about an hour,” Pomfrey responded.

Ginny nodded, looking down at Harry. “I’m gonna go to the Great Hall and make a plate of food for you then, so you can eat before you fall asleep. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Harry must’ve been feeling worse than he’d been letting on, which wouldn’t be any surprise knowing him, because he didn’t even suggest that he didn’t need her to do that from him. He just leaned into her as she kissed his forehead before she left, hurrying down to the Great Hall.

Her family was already there, so she sat down next to Hermione, filling two plates with roast chicken and potatoes. She made sure to give Harry two helpings of treacle tart, while she took a Honeydukes chocolate bar for herself, surprised to see the product in Hogwarts when she’d never seen it at a dinner here before.

“Ginny, dear, where’s Harry?” her mum called across the table. Immediately, every member of the Weasleys was looking at her.

“Oh, um… well, I’m bringing him dinner because he’s- he’s in the Hospital Wing,” she said as calmly as she could.

Naturally, everyone started panicking, standing up to go check on him. Exasperated with her overprotective family, Ginny jumped on top of the bench.

“Oi!” she shouted. That got her family’s attention. Actually, that got the attention of most of the Great Hall, Ginny realised as the room quietened substantially. Looking back at her family, she stepped off the bench and started talking to them as the noise levels gradually rose again in the hall.

“Harry’s okay. He’d been having pains in his legs for the past couple days, and he collapsed a few hours ago because his legs couldn’t support him anymore. Pomfrey’s already given him a potion. She said that his body has been dealing with a lot of exhaustion and strain for the past year and even longer, and it’s all catching up to him now that he’s not running from or fighting anything. She also said that Harry had been exposed to some of Riddle’s Dark Magic, which didn’t help anything with his legs. It’s a good thing I got him to go when he did though; she said the pain would’ve continued spreading if he’d waited much longer.”

Ginny pretended not to notice the distressed expression on Bill’s face when she mentioned Dark Magic or the look Ron and Hermione had exchanged. Probably something else she was still in the dark on, for now at least.

Ginny continued, “The potion’s gonna make him fall asleep in like… forty-five minutes. If you lot stampede up there, he’s not going to have time to eat and relax before it kicks in. I’ll let him know you’re all worried about him, and you can come check on him later, after he falls asleep, if you have to. Otherwise, he should be better in the morning.”

“Damn sis, when did you become such a domestic girlfriend? You sound like his nurse,” Charlie asked as the family sat down, appeased for now.

“When did you start caring enough about my boyfriend to want to run up to the Hospital Wing to check on him?” Ginny countered.

Charlie grinned. “Hey, there’s only one Chosen One. The thing he was chosen for may be over now, but who knows when he could come in handy again? Gotta make sure nothing happens to The Boy Who Lived, y’know?”

“Technically, I believe there’s still a ten thousand Galleon bounty on his head,” Percy mused. “I doubt the Ministry’s gotten around to doing the paperwork to remove it.”

“Ten thousand Galleons? Bloody hell Ginny, you could buy a much more attractive boyfriend with that kind of money,” George said. The family was surprised once again that he was talking. It seemed that he’d only talk when Harry or Ginny was around for some reason, and it clearly was bothering her mother.

“I’d rather just have the ten thousand Galleons in Gringotts if I was collecting the reward. But I have to admit that I’m quite satisfied with the attractiveness of my current boyfriend, scar and all,” Ginny joked back to her older brother.

Ron looked up curiously at her. “Wait… d’you know-”

Bill cut him off, “Of course she knows that he’s a regular visitor to the Hospital Wing. Probably hoping someone will finish him off and he’ll leave her his Gringotts vault,” he said, winking at Ginny.

She rolled her eyes, but she didn’t miss the meaningful look Bill gave Ron. She didn’t have time to stay with her family longer though; Harry would be wondering where she was.

“Speaking of, I need to get back up there and make sure no other witch has tried to take my spot in the will,” she joked as she levitated the plates and two bottles of butterbeer in front of her. She started walking away when her father called her.

“Sweetheart? Make sure Harry knows that we hope he feels better soon.”

Ginny smiled at him and nodded. “Definitely.”

Then she turned and made her way back up to the Hospital Wing, where Harry was sitting in the same bed as he had been before, absently changing the colour of objects in the room.

Ginny handed him a tray with his plate and butterbeer on it before sitting in the now emerald green chair next to the bed. “Nice colour,” she commented.

“I thought it’d look good with your hair,” he answered, then narrowed his eyes as if confused about why he’d notice something like that.

Ginny chuckled at him, turning the chair so he could see her hair up against the chair. He nodded, “Yep, I was right. Don’t know how I knew that though.”

“It’s sweet, Harry,” Ginny assured him. “Although it’s a little funny, this chair is the exact same colour as your eyes.”

“Wait, really?” Harry asked between mouthfuls of chicken, looking surprised.

Ginny laughed, “Yeah, it definitely is. Believe me, I’d know.”

“Huh, I dunno how I did that.”

“Red hair and green eyes. What a great combination,” Ginny said, giving Harry a big smile.

He grinned back at her. “They clearly go perfectly together.”

They ate quickly, running out of time before Harry would start feeling drowsy. As they finished eating, she could see that his eyelids were drooping, and he was talking less. She took the tray from him so that he could lay more comfortably. Ginny sat back in the chair, but Harry sat up and looked at her.

“D’you- I feel weird sleeping without you next to me now,” Harry admitted.

Ginny smiled at him. “Why didn’t you say so?” She climbed in the narrow bed with him. There was barely enough room for both of them without falling out of the bed. But Harry wrapped his arms around her, and Ginny knew he wouldn’t let her fall, just like she wouldn’t let him fall when she brought him back to the castle earlier.

Harry started falling asleep when Ginny remembered the promise she made to her dad. “My family was really worried about you. It was all I could do to keep them from coming up here to see you, but they wanted you to know they hope you feel better soon.”

Harry was clearly dozing off, but he still smiled slightly, nuzzling her hair and whispering as sleep claimed him, “That’s nice of them. Your family is great, I love them. And I love-”

His sentence was interrupted by his deep breathing as he fell asleep. Ginny couldn’t believe the bad luck that had robbed her of what she expected to be Harry’s confession of loving her, but she had to admit that she’d prefer that he remember when he said it for the first time. That would definitely make the wait worth it.

Ginny hadn’t thought she was tired at all, but suddenly, she couldn’t keep her eyes open. The warmth of the Hospital Wing and Harry pressed closely against her made sleep all the more inviting. As she gave herself up to her dreams, she realised that if there was any doubt what Harry was going to say, the way he held her, even in his sleep, like she was his source of life, was all the proof she needed that he loved her.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

A/N: I know I’m biassed, but I love this chapter. It was really exciting to write the immediate aftermath of Harry and Ginny’s first kiss since canon shows the kiss and then fast forwards literally a month. One of my favourite things about this story I’ve written is getting to explore all of that empty time, and I’m happy to promise that there are plenty more memories on the way from that time in their relationship.

Ginny’s year alone at Hogwarts will continue being explored too. I really thought it was important for us to see that she was thinking of Harry just as much as he was thinking of her while they were apart. The whole ‘Support Harry Potter’ party was another thing that needed to be carefully placed in order to line up with canon, but the times do technically work, at least as far as I can tell, especially when considering that Potterwatch likely would’ve gotten news about goings-on at Hogwarts at somewhat of a delay.

I also created Harry’s story of that Valentine’s Day from his perspective because Deathly Hallows completely skips from the end of December to roughly the beginning of April, and I wanted Harry’s experience on Valentine’s to be similarly painful to Ginny’s, which I think makes sense based on how much he thinks about her during his time on the run.

I feel like it’s also worth mentioning that 14 February, 1998 was on a Saturday, so it definitely is plausible for a Hogsmeade weekend. Something I learned while writing this was that JK Rowling was very lax when it came to matching up dates to days, such as 1 September always being a Sunday and Valentine’s in OOTP being on a Hogsmeade weekend when it really would’ve been a Wednesday. I found that it was easier for me if I followed the dates precisely, so I actually have dates in my notes for every chapter and kept a calendar open while I was writing. For example, this chapter takes place on Monday, 4 May, 1998, two days after the Battle of Hogwarts. It might be a little overkill, but it helped a lot with things like birthdays and other special events as well as weekends in general.

Harry’s medical issues will sort of be explained more later, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself with talking too much about it. I’m just gonna ask you to trust that, even though I’m not a doctor, there is a logic behind Harry having this pain in his legs that will eventually come up again.

As a tiny aside, Ginny’s favourite Beedle story is Babbity Rabbity solely because Bonnie Wright, Ginny’s actress in the movies, narrated Babbity Rabbity in the 2020 audiobook of The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

And that’ll do it for Chapter 6 and the immediate aftermath of the Battle that happens at Hogwarts! Things are about to change a lot for Harry, Ginny, and the rest of the Weasleys…

Coming Tuesday: The Return- Adjusting himself to the surroundings, Harry looked around for the Burrow, spotting it the moment Ginny gasped.

Back to index


Chapter 7: The Return

Adjusting himself to the surroundings, Harry looked around for the Burrow, spotting it the moment Ginny gasped.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

Harry felt like he was wrapped in cotton wool. He woke slowly, trying and failing to move any of his limbs. He cracked his eyes open, but all he saw was a lot of red. Blinking, he managed to lean backwards and remembered he was in a hospital bed with Ginny. She was still sleeping peacefully, her head nestled into his chest. Harry blinked a few more times and testily moved his legs. Thankfully, it seemed that the aching pain that had been in his legs for the last couple of days had finally gone away. It had definitely been worse than he’d let on, and he was incredibly grateful now that Ginny made him visit Madam Pomfrey yesterday. Even though she was asleep, he kissed her head to thank her once again.

He finally looked up from his sleeping girlfriend and his eyes landed on arguably the most terrifying sight imaginable for someone in his position- Arthur Weasley was sitting in the chair next to the bed, looking at him with a smile and an expectant expression on his face. Harry’s eyes widened and he tried to separate himself from Ginny, but she moved in her sleep with him, not giving him an inch of room. Arthur’s eyes twinkled as Harry looked at him, unfathomably uncomfortable.

“Er- good morning, Mister Weasley,” Harry stammered.

“Good morning, Harry,” Mr. Weasley responded pleasantly. “How are you feeling?”

Harry blushed a little because what he was feeling at the moment was Mr. Weasley’s daughter pressed very closely to his own body. “Fine, sir… better than I was yesterday.”

Mr. Weasley nodded. “That’s good to hear. Ginny told us what was going on. I’m glad that Madam Pomfrey was able to help you get on the mend… without you and Ginny having to be separated.”

Harry blushed again, realising that this bed was much too small for two people to be sleeping in together.

“Harry, there’s no need to panic. You do know that I’m very aware where Ginny has spent the last few nights, right?” Mr. Weasley asked, his eyes still twinking a little as his expression shifted into something slightly mischievous that reminded Harry of the twins.

“Ummm… Mister Weasley, about that- we weren’t doing anything, it’s just we really missed each other, and I know we never told any of you, but we were together last year before I had to leave and… erm, yeah,” Harry fumbled desperately for a way to explain the situation.

Mr. Weasley chuckled. “Harry, you don’t need to explain yourself to me. Molly and I could tell there was something between the two of you last summer. Ginny explained some of it after the three of you left in August, and Ron told us two days ago where Ginny was when he found the two of you in the dormitory after everything. Believe me, if I had a problem with who Ginny was spending her time with, you wouldn’t still be in that bed with her right now.” Harry gulped as he was reminded that Mr. Weasley was a very competent wizard who undoubtedly would protect his daughter very fiercely if he felt she was threatened.

He continued, “I can’t speak for her brothers or for Molly, but I know how hard this year was for Ginny, being separated from you. She needs you, and I can’t think of a better man for her to have chosen.” His expression turned more serious. “You’ve been a part of the family for years, Harry. I’d trust you with any of my children’s lives. Actually, I basically have at this point. I won’t pretend to understand everything that’s happened recently, but I’m so proud of you. I know how much you care about Ginny and all of our family. After everything you’ve been through, I won’t be an obstacle to your happiness.”

Harry felt a surge of affection for this man who was as close to a father as he could ever remember having. “Thank you, Mister Weasley. I promise I won’t make you regret trusting me.”

Mr. Weasley smiled at him. “I know Harry. And for Merlin’s sake, you’re an adult and you’ve known me for long enough. Don’t you think it’s about time you call me something other than Mister Weasley?”

Harry was surprised- he really wasn’t expecting the conversation to go like this when he first woke up and saw Mr. Weasley. “I guess you’re right… Arthur?” Harry tried tentatively.

“Much better,” Arthur nodded. “Although Harry, I do have to say that even though I won’t keep you two from being happy, I am still a father, and it isn’t the easiest thing seeing my daughter in bed with her boyfriend. I’d ask that you two be discreet when we return to the Burrow, especially with Ginny’s brothers around.”

Harry winced. “Yeah, you’re probably right. Ron came in when we were talking in bed the other day, and that wasn’t exactly comfortable either. We’ll be more mindful of it, I promise. And Arthur… your approval really does mean everything to me,” Harry said a little bashfully.

Arthur just smiled at him, and they sat in silence for a few moments before Harry remembered there was something he was supposed to do this morning.

“Mister Weas- Arthur? What time is it?” he asked.

Arthur checked his watch. “Half past eight,” he informed Harry.

Harry groaned, running a hand over his face. “I have something I have to do with McGonagall and Kingsley before nine. If Ginny wakes up before I get back, can you tell her I’ll be by the lake?”

“Sure. Do I want to know what this thing you’re doing is?” Arthur asked.

Harry hesitated. “Probably not,” he answered truthfully.

“Then I won’t ask,” Arthur said easily. “Will Ginny know what you’re doing?”

“I haven’t told her yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she figured it out before I explained.”

Arthur chuckled, “She’s made finding out secrets a habit of hers since she was a little girl. Probably best you get used to it sooner rather than later.”

Harry grinned while disentangling himself from Ginny and standing up. “I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks again, for everything, Arthur,” he said, shaking Arthur’s hand.

“Of course, son,” Arthur responded, pulling Harry into a brief but tight fatherly hug. Harry smiled, but, not knowing what to say to express his gratitude for a simple hug, nodded and left father and daughter alone in the Hospital Wing. He stopped in Gryffindor Tower to change out of his clothes from yesterday, and he was only held up briefly by the Fat Lady asking some very odd questions about his and Ginny’s relationship.

Finally getting away, Harry made his way quickly to Dumbledore’s tomb, not bothered by his legs at all anymore. When he arrived, he found McGonagall and Kingsley waiting for him. “Sorry I was almost late-” Harry started, but McGonagall waved her hand dismissively.

“Poppy told me that you had to stay in the Hospital Wing last night. I trust you’re feeling better now?” she asked.

Harry nodded, “Much better. I’m ready to do this. But… I’ve been thinking. I don’t really feel like we should open the tomb up again. It- it feels wrong, even if we’re putting something back that was stolen.”

McGonagall raised an eyebrow, but Kingsley nodded. “I understand. Let the dead rest in peace. We could make a space for it on the base of the tomb, without opening the tomb itself.”

“Yeah, I think that would be better,” Harry agreed.

McGonagall looked at Harry carefully. “He’d be proud of you,” she said.

Harry warmed at that sentiment. “Thank you, Professor. That means a lot.”

She nodded, pressing her lips together in a brief, thin smile before raising her wand. She cut a narrow opening in the base of the tomb, just large enough for the Elder Wand. Harry gently set the wand in its final resting place, and McGonagall covered it with white marble identical to the rest of the tomb. Harry stepped forward once again, raising his wand over the new marble. Like he did on his and Ginny’s tree, he began writing, and when he stepped back, the spot where the Elder Wand lay was marked with ‘The Next Great Adventure’.

Kingsley and McGonagall looked at Harry, who shrugged his shoulders. “Professor Dumbledore told me once that death is just the next great adventure. Seemed appropriate.”

Kingsley nodded. “I think Albus would’ve liked that.” Then he and McGonagall began a series of complicated wand movements, murmuring spells quietly. The marble glowed, first red, then green before returning to its original state as they finished casting the wards.

“We can’t do anything to keep out its master,” Kingsley explained. “But anybody other than you will have a rather difficult and painful time trying to get it out of there.”

“This is the best we can do, but if your plan works, it won’t matter, and you’ll be the last master of the Elder Wand,” McGonagall stated.

Harry nodded, hopeful that this Hallow wouldn’t ever haunt him again. He thanked them for their help and they set off on their separate ways. Harry was heading back up to the castle, but McGonagall was walking Kingsley to the gates so he could Apparate back to the Ministry.

Walking away from the Black Lake, Harry grinned as he saw a beautiful redheaded witch sitting under his favourite tree at Hogwarts, waiting for him.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Ginny woke when she realised that she was alone in the bed. Rubbing her eyes, she looked at the spot Harry should’ve been in. It was still warm, but he was nowhere to be seen. Rolling over, Ginny looked for him throughout the rest of the room, but she was very surprised to find her father sitting next to the hospital bed, reading the Daily Prophet. He looked up when he heard her moving and smiled at her.

“Good morning, sweetheart. How’d you sleep?” her dad said, smiling calmly at her.

Ginny realised that he must have known she’d been in bed with Harry. “Ummm… I slept good, Dad,” she answered.

“I’m glad. I know these beds aren’t always the most comfortable. I’d imagine they’re even less comfortable when there’s two people in the bed,” he commented offhandedly, as if the thought had just occurred to him.

So he did know! Ginny blushed slightly, unsure how her father would handle this sort of thing. He’d always been very calm and respectful of her independence, but she didn’t imagine it was easy for him staying like that right now.

“Harry left about ten minutes ago, if you were wondering,” he told her.

“Ah… do you know where he went?” she asked, still uneasy with the current situation.

“He told me that he had something to do with Minerva and Kingsley by the lake. He said he’d be up here soon but to tell you where he was if you woke up before he got back.”

Ginny nodded, wondering what sort of business her boyfriend had with the Headmistress and Minister by the lake. Then she realised that if Harry told her dad this, her dad may have talked to him about more than just his plan for the day.

“Did you… talk to Harry about anything else?” Ginny asked probingly.

“Don’t worry, dear. I made sure he understands that if he touches you again, I’ll kill him,” Arthur said with a sneaky smile.

Ginny laughed. “You did not,” she accused.

Arthur laughed with her. “Of course not. We both know that Harry’s as much a part of the family as any of us.” Ginny nodded in total agreement. Arthur continued, “I actually told Harry that I was proud of him and trusted him. There’s not anybody better I could’ve chosen to be with my baby girl.”

Ginny smiled widely at her dad, grateful that he agreed with her that Harry was the best person for her. “He really is the best, isn’t he?”

Arthur chuckled. “Even if he wasn’t ‘The Saviour of the Wizarding World,’ he’d still be the best person for you. Although, I did warn him that the two of you will need to be a little more careful when we go home; I don’t imagine he’d like it very much if it was George or Charlie that was sitting here instead of me this morning,” he said with a smile.

Ginny shuddered. “No, he definitely wouldn’t. I doubt he liked you being there very much either to be honest, but you’re definitely the safest option. We’ll make sure not to be caught by anyone… not that we’re doing anything wrong anyways,” she finished quietly.

“I never thought you were. But the two of you are young and clearly in love, so it would only be natural-”

“Dad!” Ginny cut him off, blushing furiously at what her father was suggesting.

Arthur put his hands up in surrender, but he was smiling at the expression on his daughter’s face.

“Do you- you really think we’re in love?” Ginny asked.

“Do you love him?” Arthur asked back.

Ginny hesitated a moment before nodding. “For almost a year,” she confessed out loud for the first time.

“Have you told him?”

“I- he’s had to go through so much, Dad. It seems like every person he loves has ended up dead. I didn’t want to scare him off or move things too quickly until he was ready.”

“I see. So he hasn’t told you that he loves you either?”

Ginny shook her head, looking down at the blanket covering her.

“I can’t speak for Harry, Ginny. But from my point of view and what I’ve heard from your brothers, especially Ron, he seems like someone who is definitely in love but isn’t sure how to express it. You have to remember that love is still a very new thing to Harry. We don’t know a lot about where he grew up, but there clearly wasn’t a lot of love lost between him and his Muggle family. I think you’re doing the right thing, and I’m sure Harry will sort his feelings out soon.”

Very pleased with her father’s confidence that Harry loved her and she was doing the right thing by waiting, she got out of bed to hug her dad. “Thanks, Daddy,” she whispered.

He smiled at her as she pulled away, but Ginny was now looking at the cover of the Daily Prophet. There was a picture of Harry on it, with the headline ‘You-Know-Who Defeated in Battle at Hogwarts!’ The subheadline read ‘Harry Potter: The Saviour of Wizarding World!’

“Bloody hell,” Ginny swore in front of her dad. “He’s gonna hate that.”

“Probably,” Arthur agreed. “But he does need to know what they’re saying about him. He’ll be okay as long as you’re with him.”

Ginny nodded. “I’m going to meet him before he gets back to the castle, then. I’ll see you at breakfast.”

“Your mother and I are leaving now with Bill and Fleur to start trying to clean the house and take care of any curses Death Eaters may have left for us. But we will see you at the Burrow soon,” her father told her.

“I’ll see you there,” Ginny replied, hugging her dad once more before leaving the Hospital Wing, going in the opposite direction her dad was going in. Harry was down by the lake for some reason. Ginny decided to wait under their tree for him to come back towards the castle. When she reached the tree, she could make out the figures of Harry, McGonagall, and Kingsley, all standing by… Dumbledore’s tomb? Why would they be out there?

Ginny sat down to ponder this question, watching as the three talked to each other before Harry bent down and placed something in an opening at the base of the tomb. After he finished, Kingsley and McGonagall seemed to be performing a series of spells around the tomb. Ginny suddenly realised that she knew, or thought she knew, what they were doing at Dumbledore’s tomb. A few moments later, the three of them walked away from the tomb, and when Harry saw her, he smiled widely and ran up towards her. Ginny loved how eager he seemed to be near her, even though they’d only been separated for about thirty minutes.

“Morning, Gin!” Harry said when he reached her. He bent down to kiss her gently, but he pulled back far too quickly for Ginny’s taste. He straightened back up and reached his hand out to help her up. “Ready to go to breakfast?”

Ginny took his hand, but instead of letting him pull her up, she pulled him down to her. Harry stumbled and fell, falling on his knees in front of her. “I promised you one more good memory under this tree. This is your last chance to get it, unless- if you don’t want to…” Ginny trailed off, looking up very suggestively at him.

Harry stared at her, very clearly interested in the offer. “If I ever turn something like this down, you have my full permission to hex me until I remember how lucky I am to kiss the most beautiful witch in the world.”

Ginny blushed, extremely flattered, but she didn’t really trust Harry’s judgement as he looked at her hungrily. “Well, I don’t know about the most beautiful, but-” she gasped as Harry leaned forward, kissing where her shoulder connected to her neck.

Harry slowly made a trail of kisses up her neck. “The… most… beautiful… witch… in… the… world.” He punctuated each word with another loving and hungry kiss, before reaching her lips on the last word. He took full control of the kiss, and Ginny felt herself melting as Harry pressed himself into her, tangling a hand in her hair while the other hand ran along her back and side. His tongue was plundering her mouth, swirling around her own tongue in a way that was both gentle and controlling. Ginny moaned into his mouth, which only seemed to encourage him more. She gasped as Harry’s thumb brushed the bottom of her breast while wrapping a hand around her side to pull her closer to him.

Startled, Harry pulled back, looking curiously down at her. A moment later, he realised where his hand was and shifted it down. “Sorry,” he said, blushing a little. “Guess I got a little carried away. Probably should’ve asked.”

This felt very similar to what he said after they kissed for the first time, and Ginny knew she needed to set him straight. “Harry, you know I’m fully capable of taking care of myself. If I didn’t want you to do something, you’d know. This-” she gestured to her flushed face and messy hair “- is not the look of someone who was upset at all with what you were doing. I rather enjoyed it, actually. If we’re trying new things, it’s okay to ask, but don’t apologise when I’m clearly enjoying the things you do to me.”

Harry smiled at her. “You’re the best, Blaze. And definitely the most beautiful witch in the world.”

Ginny grinned. “I guess you’ve convinced me for now, but I might need more convincing later,” she said suggestively.

Harry stood up, holding his hand out to her again. She took it, and this time, she let Harry help her up instead of pulling him down.

“I’ll convince you anytime you want,” he said, kissing her softly before winding his fingers between hers. They walked together to the Great Hall, which was much emptier than it had been the previous two days.

“I guess most people have already left,” Ginny said. “Mum, Dad, Bill, and Fleur already left to get the Burrow ready.”

“Are we still meeting them there after breakfast?” Harry asked.

“Last I heard, that was the plan,” Ginny said as they sat down in their usual spot. George had moved across the table from them, sitting where Bill and Fleur had been sitting.

“How are you feeling, Harry?” Hermione asked, looking with concern at her best friend.

“Better now, Hermione,” Harry assured her as he and Ginny began eating.

“Good,” Charlie said. “Wouldn’t want ‘The Saviour of the Wizarding World’ to be out of commission for long.”

Harry’s brow furrowed. “What?”

“It’s nothing, Harry,” Hermione said, but Ginny shook her head, taking the Daily Prophet that Hermione had laying flat on the table and pulling it in front of Harry.

“Ginny…” Hermione said testily.

“It’s fine, Hermione. He needs to know,” Ginny responded, challenging Hermione to tell her she knew what was best for Harry. Hermione sighed and threw her hands in the air, conceding for now.

“Needs to know what?” Harry asked, obviously getting annoyed at everyone talking like he wasn’t there.

Wordlessly, Ginny closed the paper so the front page was facing Harry, who was looking back into his own eyes in print.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

YOU-KNOW-WHO DEFEATED IN BATTLE AT HOGWARTS!
HARRY POTTER: THE SAVIOUR OF WIZARDING WORLD!

In the early hours of Saturday, the second of May, You-Know-Who and his followers, known as Death Eaters, launched an attack on Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The attack was repelled by a defensive force of students, teachers, and members of the vigilante group known only as the Order of the Phoenix.
The conflict lasted several hours, but in the end, Harry Potter, otherwise known as The Boy Who Lived and The Chosen One, defeated You-Know-Who in a duel. Unconfirmed rumours suggest that at some point before this duel, You-Know-Who believed he had killed Potter. Several witnesses claim to have seen Potter’s dead body, but when pressed for specifics, nobody could explain how this could be. Regardless of the details, Harry Potter defeated You-Know-Who, saving the Wizarding World from his reign of terror.
When asked for comment, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Temporary Minister for Magic, said, “The Wizarding World owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to all who fought in this war against [You-Know-Who], especially those who were at Hogwarts on the second of May. We celebrate with the living, but we also mourn the tragic loss of life. I extend my heartfelt sympathies to all those who lost loved ones in the battle, and I promise the Ministry is doing everything it can to help these families while prosecuting the perpetrators and apprehending those who escaped.”
For more information on the Death Eaters still on the loose, see Page 5.
There were numerous casualties in the Battle of Hogwarts, as some have taken to calling this conflict. A list of the known deceased can be found on Page 8…


Harry looked up from the paper, shaking his head. “They’ve gotten it all wrong, as usual.”

“What exactly did the article get wrong?” Percy asked him with a curious expression.

“I mean, they acted like I was some sort of hero and completely glossed over who all was here fighting,” Harry began.

“Merlin, you’re daft,” Charlie said. Harry looked at him, surprised, and he could feel Ginny glaring at her brother too. Charlie continued, “People need a hero sometimes. You were the one who finished him, in the end, and based on what I’ve heard about you even before now, you make for a pretty convincing hero.”

George snorted, “Pretty convincing until you see him falling off a broom.”

Harry opened his mouth to defend himself, but seeing that everyone was waiting to see how he reacted, he decided to show George some mercy. He rolled his eyes and chuckled. Feeling a collective exhale around the table, everyone else laughed at George’s joke, although Ginny still looked a little annoyed with her brothers.

Harry nudged her. ‘It’s okay,’ he mouthed to her. She nodded, squeezing his hand.

“Anyways, they should’ve had the names of the deceased on the front instead of this picture of me. They deserve that,” Harry said.

“I dunno Harry… I’m sure Fred would definitely prefer your specky face get even more time on the front page than it already has,” George said, trying to joke, but nobody around him laughed at that. It seemed that they were all realising how different things were going to be when they got back to the Burrow.

They finished breakfast in silence, before going their separate ways, agreeing to meet at the gate in half an hour. Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione went up to the Common Room. Harry was surprised when Ron and Hermione started heading towards the girls’ dormitory.

“Ron, don’t the stairs turn into a slide when you go on them?” he asked.

Ron turned a little red. “I don’t actually go on the stairs.”

“How do you get up there then?”

Hermione answered that question with a swish and flick of her wand. “Wingardium Leviosa!

Ron slowly rose in the air, spinning lazily, and Hermione levitated him up the stairs as Harry and Ginny howled with laughter at the ridiculous sight. When they finally collected themselves, they went to the boys’ dormitory and quickly packed their things, meeting Ron and Hermione back in the Common Room.

They walked together to the gate, where Charlie, Percy, and George were waiting for them. Harry pulled Ginny close to Side-Apparate her, ignoring the looks he was getting from Charlie and Percy.

“Ready?” Harry asked, looking down at Ginny. She nodded wordlessly.

Harry spun on his heel and felt the familiar sensation of his body being condensed and expanded very quickly as he and Ginny landed in Devon. Adjusting himself to the surroundings, Harry looked around for the Burrow, spotting it the moment Ginny gasped.

Harry had to agree with her reaction. The typically dishevelled and worn down exterior that he was familiar with had been covered with all manner of scorched burn marks. Even from a hundred feet away, Harry could see that at least some of the windows had been broken. Grimacing, he took Ginny’s hand, and they walked apprehensively towards the Burrow. As they neared, Harry felt an odd sensation, almost like he was wading through air as thick as gelatin, but as soon as he felt it, it was gone. Glancing over to Ginny, her surprised expression told him that she felt it too.

Dark Marks were glowing green on several spots along the walls of the Burrow, Harry noticed as they neared the front door. The Death Eaters had clearly wanted to send a message once it was discovered that Ron had been helping Harry. Thankfully, the Weasleys had been gone long before any Death Eaters had arrived.

They neared the front door when it swung open, and Bill walked out, followed closely by Fleur, Molly, and Arthur. “Thank goodness you all made it safely,” Molly said gratefully, looking shaken up by the current state of her house. Harry turned and saw that she was referring to the entire Weasley family. Everyone he and Ginny had been with earlier at Hogwarts was standing behind them, with similar shocked expressions on their faces.

“There were a few curses and jinxes left behind for us by the Death Eaters, but we’ve already taken care of it,” Bill told the family that had just arrived. “When you walked up, you felt yourselves go through the wards I set up. Nobody can enter the wards without being a Weasley, Harry, or Hermione. We thought that was the best precaution for now, since nobody actually knows where the remaining Death Eaters are. We can still invite people over, but they’ll have to walk through with one of us to get in.”

“The rooms are all a mess,” Arthur added. “We’ve only just finished clearing the house of curses, so we’ll be spending the day fixing and cleaning everything. We shouldn’t run into anything else that’s dangerous, but if you’re unsure about something, ask Bill to look at it.”

The family followed Arthur, who turned and walked back into the house. He wasn’t joking, Harry saw. The living room looked awful. Items littered the floor, there were gashes in the walls, the couch had been shredded, and, as with the exterior of the house, there were several scorch marks on the wood floor and walls.

“Right, everyone take a room,” Bill said, seeing his siblings’ apprehension. The family slowly filed out, most heading to their own bedroom. Harry remained downstairs with Bill and Molly.

Reparo,” Harry said, intending to repair the couch. To his surprise though, the gashes in the wall also mended themselves. Bill looked at him curiously, but Harry just shrugged, unsure how that had happened.

“Bill?” Ginny stood at the top of the stairs. “Could you look at this thing in my room? I don’t think it’s cursed, but I just want to be sure.”

“Sure thing, sis. You okay down here, Harry?” he asked.

Harry nodded, and Bill went up the stairs to Ginny’s room. Harry turned his attention to the burns on the wall. “Restituo,” he cast, hoping that a charm to restore an object to its original state would remove the burn from the wood. To his surprise, it worked, and the burn marks faded from the walls. Harry stacked the clutter on the floor but, unsure where the items should go, left them against the wall.

Harry went back out the door, surveying the damage on the exterior of the house again. Casting the same spell as he had indoors, he was glad to see the burns disappearing, although the Dark Marks were still there. “Scourgify,” Harry tried, but the marks still remained. Shaking his head, he went back inside, knowing he’d have to ask Bill about it. He was about to go to the kitchen and see if he could help Molly when Bill came back down the stairs, looking a little concerned.

“Everything okay in Ginny’s room?” Harry asked.

“Yeah, there’s nothing cursed up there. I think she could use some help from you though,” Bill suggested.

Surprised, Harry nodded, not needing a second invitation to be with his girlfriend. “You might want to take a look at the Dark Marks outside,” he told Bill from the base of the stairs. “I was able to clear the burns, but those marks are much more stubborn.”

Bill nodded as Harry turned and went up the stairs, but he hesitated as he reached the landing outside Ginny’s room. He’d only been in this room one other time, and that had been one of the best moments of his life, as brief as it had been. But he wasn’t actually sure if he was supposed to be in there. Then again, Arthur and Charlie had made it extremely clear that everyone knew where Ginny had been sleeping at Hogwarts, and none of them had tried to kill him yet. Convinced, Harry raised his hand to knock and was surprised when Ginny opened the door before his knuckles met wood.

“How long were you planning on standing out here?” Ginny asked with a small smile.

“How’d you know I was out here?” Harry responded, bewildered.

Ginny shrugged. “Sometimes I feel when you’re close. No idea why.”

Harry furrowed his brow, searching for an explanation, when Ginny turned and walked back into her room, leaving the door ajar. When Harry didn’t immediately follow, she turned back and said, still smiling, “I don’t know how much clearer I can make the invitation, Harry.”

Harry chuckled, shaking his head, and walked into Ginny’s room.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Ginny had expected that there would be some damage. She hadn’t expected the house to look like an arsonist’s playground. And she really hadn’t expected what she found in her room.

Unlike everything else she’d seen in the house, her room was exactly like it had been when she’d left it. A little messy from leaving so quickly, but nothing like what the living room had been like. It didn’t seem possible that the Death Eaters could’ve missed out on destroying her room, she thought. Her suspicions were confirmed as she closed the door behind her and saw a copy of the Daily Prophet hanging on her wall. This wasn’t an issue she could remember seeing, and as she got closer to it, she clapped her hand over her mouth and realised why.

The picture was Harry, but he was in prison robes, standing behind bars. Ginny realised that this picture looked a lot like the few pictures she’d seen of Azkaban prisoners. The headline above the picture read, ‘Harry Potter Captured Trying to Rescue Girlfriend!’ The subheadline continued, ‘Potter to Receive Dementor’s Kiss!’

Shaken, Ginny tried to rip the paper off the wall, but it was completely stuck to the wall. Recognising a Permanent Sticking Charm, Ginny exhaled, exasperated. Wasn’t it enough that they’d tortured her in school? They wanted her to be psychologically tortured if she ever returned home too? Reluctantly, she went to the edge of the stairs and called for Bill, hoping that he’d be able to figure out how to get rid of the paper.

When he reached her at the landing, he asked, “What’s up?”

“There’s not a curse or anything. It’s just, I can’t figure out how to get rid of this thing they left in my room,” she said as she led Bill into the room. Closing the door, she gestured towards the paper on the wall. Bill looked confused until he moved closer, eyes widening as he read what was on it.

Like Ginny, he tried to pull it off the wall, but it wouldn’t budge. “Permanent Sticking Charm,” he grumbled. Ginny nodded as Bill started trying to think of a way to resolve the issue. He snapped his fingers, turning to face Ginny.

“We can’t remove the wall and replace it, since this wall is foundational to the rest of the house. But… I can burn the paper, and then we can cover it with something,” Bill offered. That sounded better than nothing, Ginny thought, looking for something she could cover the remains with, but she couldn’t find anything.

“Just burn it. I’ll figure something out later”

Bill nodded. “Incendio,” he said, as flames burst out of his wand, engulfing the fake Daily Prophet. In seconds, the paper was reduced to ash. “Do you want me to keep Harry away from here until you find something?”

Ginny shook her head. “It’s okay. If he wants to come up, he can. I’m not keeping any secrets from him.”

“And you’re okay? With what was on that?” Bill asked his younger sister.

Ginny shrugged. “Not really, but it wasn’t real. They wanted to get to me, and I can’t give any of them that satisfaction.”

Ginny was slightly surprised as he pulled her into a quick but tight hug. “You’re pretty damn strong, you know?” Bill asked as he pulled back.

Ginny rolled her eyes but smiled at her brother. “Don’t sound too surprised.”

Bill chuckled. “I’m not surprised at all. It’s just impressive, after everything we’ve been through the past few days. I’m proud of you, sis,” he said, giving her another quick smile before leaving Ginny alone in her room.

Was she okay? Not really, but then again, she didn’t expect that she would be for a long time. She knew exactly why that paper was there, and it didn’t bother her too much, but it was another reminder about the war and her time at Hogwarts that she didn’t need, especially now.

She was lost in her thoughts, staring at the black rectangle on her wall and trying to think of what she could do to cover it when she felt Harry. She couldn’t explain it, but she knew that the feeling was real. She knew he was on the landing outside her room, just like she knew he’d walked up to her when she’d been under the tree a few days earlier, just like she knew that he’d walked past her- she certainly didn’t want to think about that right now, not with Harry about to enter her room for the first time since his birthday last year.

He sure was taking his time though, and Ginny suspected he was nervous, which was a little ridiculous considering they’d slept in the same bed the past three nights, but it was a little cute too, she had to admit. Unable to wait any longer, Ginny opened the door to her room as Harry’s fist moved forward to knock on the door.

“How long were you planning on standing out here?” she asked, smiling at his confused expression.

“How’d you know I was out here?” Harry responded, clearly very surprised at her awareness of his presence.

Unable to explain how she could feel him, Ginny just shrugged. “Sometimes I feel when you’re close. No idea why.”

That didn’t change his expression at all, and his eyes shifted back and forth. Ginny could practically hear him thinking about how that was possible, and she knew she’d have to pull him out of it. She turned and walked back into her room, intentionally leaving the door open enough for Harry to see her. She was surprised that she couldn’t hear him following. She turned back around and saw him still standing there, looking at her as if he was waiting to be asked in.

Ginny smiled at her boyfriend’s innocence and chivalrous attitude, but he needed some encouragement apparently. “I don’t know how much clearer I can make the invitation, Harry,” Ginny said, sitting on her bed as Harry chuckled and walked into the room.

Harry looked at the walls behind her and out the window by her bed. “Looks the same as it did last summer. You cleaned up quickly,” he commended her, but Ginny shook her head.

“The Death Eaters left me a special present that Bill took care of.”

Harry’s eyebrows raised. “A curse?” he asked.

“Worse,” Ginny whispered gravely. “A copy of the Daily Prophet.”

Harry’s brow furrowed and his mouth slowly started tweaking into a smile, thinking that she was just taking a jab at the rag. “I’m serious,” she told him, and his expression returned to its contemplative state, waiting for her to explain. “But it wasn’t a real copy of the Prophet. It was a fake one they made, announcing that you’d been arrested looking for me and were going to receive the Dementor’s Kiss.”

Harry looked concerned, sitting down next to her and wrapping an arm around her. Ginny felt herself calming for the first time since she’d seen the Burrow, continually marvelling at how safe she felt near Harry.

“They were just trying to get in my head, like they did at Hogwarts,” she said, leaning against him. “But that would’ve scared me a lot more if I’d seen it while you were still on the run. It’s gone now though, Bill burned it. Now I just need something to cover up that.” She gestured to the large black rectangle on her wall.

“You know I’m here now. I’m not letting anything get in the way of us ever again.” Harry assured her.

“You have no idea how good it feels to hear you say that,” Ginny said, kissing his cheek.

Harry grinned down at her. “Believe me, I do. I dreamed about saying it pretty much since the day I broke up with you until after the battle.”

“We weren’t broken up,” Ginny said, voicing her opinion on what had happened after Dumbledore’s funeral. Harry looked at her, puzzled at what she meant by that. “Not really, I mean. Were you looking for other girls after the funeral?” she asked him. Harry shook his head. “Well I certainly wasn’t looking for a new boyfriend after it. We were just waiting on each other,” Ginny said.

Harry smiled. “You know, there were times this year that I thought you would’ve moved on. I was sure that there’d be plenty of people who would’ve wanted to date you, and I thought you’d be so mad that I’d left and you hadn’t heard from me that you wouldn’t want anything to do with me even if I did come back.”

Now it was Ginny’s turn to shake her head. “There’s never been anybody other than you, Harry. Not really. I dated some before you, but never anything as serious or real as what we had… even for how little we were actually together. A few people did ask me out, but even if we hadn’t been dealing with hell at Hogwarts, I would’ve said no. I couldn’t go back to anything less real than what we had. Besides, once I had a taste of The Chosen One, I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied with anything else,” Ginny said wickedly, leering at Harry, who started laughing hysterically.

Once he finally calmed himself down, Harry looked at her with his eyes gleaming. “Any chance you need another taste?” he asked.

“I’ll always need another taste,” Ginny growled, throwing herself onto her boyfriend’s lap and beginning to snog the daylights out of him. It was like their kiss in this very room a year ago, but with even more passion and desire behind it, with none of the mortal fear or terror that had been hanging over their heads. They’d grown so much as a couple, even in the past couple days, and their kisses were reflecting that experience, becoming more familiar and passionate every time. Ginny ran her hands along Harry’s strong shoulders and back, pulling herself closer to him. For his part, Harry was exploring her hair and back with his hands, but slowly, one of his hands started snaking down to her lower back, moving further south. Ginny was dimly aware that she was ecstatic at him taking initiative without asking.

BAM! Her door slammed open, with an incredibly red-faced Ron and Hermione peering in at them. “Oi! Get your hands off my sister!” Ron shouted, coming into the room.

Harry had flinched violently and turned incredibly red, looking embarrassed, which made Ginny even more irate than she already was. Harry shifted to try and move out from underneath Ginny but she grabbed his shoulders, refusing to let him move. She gave him a look before turning to look at her brother, deciding to give Ron one chance before she exploded at him.

“What happened to you saying it was good to see us back together the other day?” she asked testily.

Ron looked flustered. “Well- I- it is good that you’re both happy, I just don’t want to see it happening right in front of me,” he tried to explain. Ginny tensed on top of Harry, and she knew that Harry could tell she didn’t like that answer. He took her hand, rubbing it gently, but as good as that felt, it wasn’t going to stop Ginny from giving her brother a piece of her mind.

“Hermione, would you please close the door and… make sure nobody can hear us?” Ginny asked sweetly.

Hermione looked very nervous, but she closed the door. “Indicens,” she whispered, casting an Imperturbable Charm on the door, guaranteeing that they would not be disturbed until Ginny was finished.

“You sanctimonious- fucking- bastard- Ronald Weasley!” Ginny screamed, jumping off Harry’s lap to get in Ron’s face. Despite him being more than a head taller than her, he cowered as she continued yelling. “How dare you come into my room and lecture me about what I should and shouldn’t be doing with my boyfriend? How dare you act like what we’re doing is any different than what you do with Hermione? I couldn’t give a fucking rat’s arse what your opinion of our relationship is, but I refuse to allow you to embarrass Harry or act like we’re doing something that we should be ashamed of! Harry and I are very happy, and we’ll do whatever we like, with or without your approval! And if you insist on barging through closed doors, I won’t apologise for what you find! Honestly, have the decency to show some respect to your sister and your best friend,” she finished, shaking her head disappointedly and breathing heavily, but not moving away from where she had Ron cornered.

“Mmm… srr-” Ron mumbled.

“What was that?” Ginny asked forcefully.

“I’m sorry,” he responded, looking down at his shoes.

“Sorry for what?”

Ron sighed, looking up at her. “I’m sorry for losing my mind when I saw you two kissing. I- I know you’re good together, and I want you both to be happy… really. We didn’t mean to barge in on anything. Mum’s been calling you and you weren’t answering, so we said we’d get you. It’s just… habit, I guess. It’s been a year since I’ve had to see all of that regularly, and he had his hands on your bum, and I freaked out.”

Ginny shook her head. “You’re gonna have to figure that out on your own. But if you ever do anything like that again to me or Harry, you will be attacked by your own flying bogeys for days,” she threatened menacingly. Then she walked back to the bed and sat down next to Harry again, not taking her eyes off Ron as she formed a devilish plan for revenge.

“And don’t barge in again if you don’t want to see something you won’t like. I don’t need your protection from my boyfriend, Ron. Harry’s allowed to touch me wherever he likes, see?” Ginny said, grabbing Harry’s hands and pressing them to her chest. Ron’s eyes bugged out, but Ginny saw Hermione trying not to laugh as she watched this scene play out. “Get him out of here, Hermione,” Ginny said. “I’m not quite finished with my boyfriend yet.”

Without waiting to see that they’d left, Ginny turned to Harry, taking in his still blushing but hungry look before she pulled him into another deep kiss. She was thrilled that Harry hadn’t taken his hands away from her chest since she took her hands off his. In fact, he seemed to be growing confident as he explored this new place with his tender touches and caresses. After some time, Ginny wasn’t sure how long, she pulled away, and Harry reluctantly dropped his hands, but Ginny caught them with hers.

“Sorry if you were embarrassed by that,” Ginny said earnestly, staring into Harry’s eyes and trying to decipher that look in them.

Harry shook his head. “I mean I was a little embarrassed when they came in, but the way you went after him, and then that kiss… holy shit, Blaze, that was incredible.”

Ginny grinned. “I’m glad you liked it.”

“Liked it doesn’t even begin to describe that. That was so damn sexy-” Harry said before he cut himself off, like this topic of conversation wasn’t one he knew how to talk about.

Ginny squeezed his hands. “I’m glad you thought so. And for the record, a girl likes being told when their boyfriend thinks they’re sexy, so don’t bother hiding that from me.”

Harry blushed. “Then you’ll be hearing about it a lot… pretty much all the time, actually.”

Ginny beamed at him. “I think you’re pretty damn sexy too, Harry,” she whispered, kissing him softly before standing up. “I do think we’re supposed to go see what Mum wanted though.”

Harry nodded and started to stand up before sitting back down. Ginny looked at him, confused, and Harry put a finger up. “Just one second. Probably not the best idea for me to go down until I’ve calmed down from… you know.”

Ginny’s eyes narrowed before widening in realisation. Oh, that’s why he didn’t want to get up yet. Ginny felt herself blushing as she comprehended the effect she’d had on him. Harry was blushing at her too, but he didn’t look too embarrassed.

“Like I said, Gin… most beautiful witch in the world. I can’t help but get excited when you kiss me.”

Ginny smiled. “Take all the time you need, but saying stuff like that will definitely get you more kisses in the future.”

Harry chuckled. “I can’t wait,” he said, standing up, apparently comfortable enough to go downstairs.

Ginny stretched her hand out to him and he took it, leading her down the stairs. In the living room, Ron and Hermione were on the couch, very carefully avoiding looking at Ginny and Harry. Ginny smirked, pleased that her stunt had worked. They walked past, heading into the kitchen, where they found her mum washing some recently repaired dishes.

“Sorry we didn’t hear you, Mum. What did you want us for?” Ginny asked.

“Oh, that’s no problem dear,” Molly said. “I just wanted the two of you to know that Andromeda Tonks would be coming over tomorrow. She said that she wanted to speak with you both about the funeral.”

Ginny’s heart sank. Remus and Tonks’ funeral would be the first they attended, the day after tomorrow. For the past few days, even though there had been reminders of the realities of the aftermath of the battle, they’d been able to ignore a lot of it. They didn’t have that luxury anymore, as they would all be attending several funerals over the next week, and coming home had been a further reminder that they were missing a member of their family. Looking over at Harry, she could see that realisation hitting him too.

“Thanks for letting us know, Mrs. Weasley,” Harry said. Molly nodded, going back to her dishes as Ginny pulled Harry out the back door. She didn’t know where they were going, just that she suddenly really needed to get away from the Burrow. They aimlessly walked around the orchard and by the stream, talking absently from time to time. For the most part though, they walked in silence, trying to deal with their feelings with the comforting presence of each other nearby.

They finally returned to the Burrow in time for dinner, a simple stew that Molly had made. As usual with her mother though, Ginny was very satisfied with how it tasted, despite her mum insisting that she wished she had more time, but she had to get her kitchen in order first. Everyone was crowded around the table, not really talking much. Everyone except George, that is, something Harry noticed even before Ginny did.

“Where’s George?” he asked.

“My room,” Percy answered. “We’re sharing since he- well, nobody wants to go in his room right now.”

“All three of us… gonna be some tight quarters. But it’s still worth it to be home,” Charlie commented.

Harry nodded solemnly and Ginny felt a pang of empathy for George. It had been hard enough for her to come back and see the destruction that the Death Eaters had caused and the taunting that had been left in her room. Despite that, her room still felt like a safe space, especially once the paper had been destroyed. She couldn’t imagine how much more difficult it was for George, whose safe space constantly haunted him with memories of his lost twin. No wonder he didn’t want to be around people right now. Ginny wasn’t sure how he’d managed it at Hogwarts, but clearly coming back to the Burrow was too much for him to handle. Hopefully George would start feeling better in the coming days and weeks, but she imagined that with the funeral about a week away, things would get worse before they got better.

By the time everyone finished eating, it was obvious they were all still exhausted. The family quickly said their good nights, heading single-file up the stairs, peeling off as each person reached the floor of their bedroom. Ginny and Harry stopped on the landing outside of her room; Ron and Hermione had stayed downstairs to tell each other good night.

“I’m sorry,” Harry began, “But your dad said we needed to be discreet, and I don’t know how much the rest of your family would like us sharing a bed in this house.”

“I know,” Ginny answered. “It’s okay- well, it’s actually not okay because I sleep better with you than I have by myself in a long time, but I get it. It’ll get easier.”

Harry pulled her into a tight hug before bending down to kiss her gently. After a moment, they separated.

“Good night, Harry,” Ginny said, squeezing his hands before letting go.

“Night, Gin,” he responded, quickly kissing her hair before going up the steps to Ron’s room. Ginny went into her room and finished getting ready for bed. Hermione walked in as Ginny was getting in bed.

“Hey, Hermione,” Ginny said while her friend was conjuring a bed. “I- I just wanted to apologise if you were uncomfortable this afternoon. I didn’t mean to put you in the middle of us, I just couldn’t let it go.”

Hermione snorted and turned toward Ginny. “I understand, and you were right. He can be… sanctimonious sometimes, especially with the two of you. I think you yelling at him knocked some sense into him though, or at least I hope so. He does mean well, it’s just hard for him sometimes.” Ginny nodded, glad now that they’d gotten this out of the way early. Hermione looked at her with a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Besides, it seemed like Harry enjoyed that display,” she said with a grin.

Ginny laughed. “He certainly made sure I knew how much he enjoyed it.” Hermione groaned as Ginny held her head high, refusing to be embarrassed.

“I take it back,” Hermione said. “Ron was right, you two are disgusting.”

Ginny rolled her eyes and threw a pillow at Hermione, who didn’t have fast enough reflexes to block it. Ginny giggled as Hermione pulled the hair out of her face.

“You should know, Harry’s the closest thing I have to a brother,” Hermione said, looking more serious now. “I might not be as psychotic about it as Ron, but I am extremely protective of him.” Ginny started feeling wary that Hermione might in fact be just as bad as Ron, but she was reassured quickly as Hermione continued, “But you’re also one of my best friends, and I don’t want things to be more difficult than they already will be for you two being together. I know neither of you will do anything to hurt the other, and I’m just so happy to see you both this happy. I’ll do my best to keep Ron out of your business, and… hopefully, you’ll do the same for us,” she finished, blushing even as she smiled a little.

Now Ginny was the one to mime gagging. “That is so disgusting, I’m going to pretend I have no idea what you’re talking about and we’ll leave it at that.” Hermione laughed and threw the pillow back at Ginny, who caught it with ease.

Hermione turned the lights out, and they both lay down in their beds. “Sorry it’s not as comfortable as the sleeping situation at Hogwarts,” Ginny said into the darkness.

Hermione chuckled ironically. “At least we’re both sharing in the suffering.”

“True,” Ginny answered. “Well… good night Hermione.”

“Night Ginny,” Hermione answered.

Ginny lay awake, unable to really feel tired enough to bother trying to sleep. How was it possible that after sharing a bed with Harry for just three nights, she felt so uncomfortable in her own bed at home by herself? Ginny wasn’t sure how long she was tossing and turning before Hermione left to go to the loo.

A few minutes later, the door opened, but instead of going to her bed, Hermione started climbing in bed with Ginny. Wait- that wasn’t Hermione.

“Harry? What are you doing in here?” Ginny whispered.

“Hermione came up to Ron’s room and asked if I wanted to trade. Said neither of you were able to sleep, and Ron and I were in the same boat,” he answered, pulling the covers over him.

Ginny pushed back into him as he spooned her, and she held the hand that was wrapped around her. “What happened to being discreet?” she asked.

“Ah- I’ll try and get up before everyone else, I guess. If not, guess you’ll have to yell at everyone like you yelled at Ron.”

Ginny chuckled, already feeling very sleepy now that Harry was in bed with her. Harry nuzzled her hair. “Next thing on my list…” he said sleepily, “The way you get passionate and angry. It’s so hot and powerful. You’re so strong,” he whispered, drifting off to sleep. Ginny followed him shortly; her last conscious thought was that she’d yell at anyone who told her this was wrong.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

A/N: I’ve probably read this chapter a dozen times since I wrote it last summer. And every single time I read it, I can’t help but laugh at Arthur being next to the bed when Harry woke up and Hermione levitating Ron up the stairs. In my real life, I’m constantly laughing, so that isn’t really saying much, but I have a feeling that a lot of you might feel the same way about those moments, which is good considering I love dropping funny moments in future chapters.

At the end of Deathly Hallows, seconds before this story starts, Harry tells Dumbledore he’s going to put the Elder Wand back where it was, but, as Harry astutely points out, it feels really wrong to reopen the tomb to return the wand. I decided that its new resting place is close enough without crossing the line into morbid.

I knew I wanted the Daily Prophet to be a storytelling device in my book, so this won’t be the last time it shows up by a long shot. I do my best to make it feel like an actual news report, but with the obvious spin that the Daily Prophet is practically a tabloid at this point, and honestly, the Prophet articles were always a ton of fun to write.

In the same vein, I thought the Prophet article in Ginny’s room made quite a bit of sense, considering the Death Eaters, via the Carrows, would’ve known about her relationship with Harry, and it also sort of shows that not all Death Eaters are complete morons focussed on destroying everything without any actual thought. Not that Ginny would’ve ever actually believed it, right?
Restituo is a spell I created that, as noted in the text, returns an object to its original state. Restituo means ‘I restore’ in Latin, so I thought it fit. I also had to give an incantation to the Imperturbable Charm, which doesn’t have one in canon or anywhere on HP wiki. Indicens is one Latin translation for mute, and it seemed more spell-like than any of the translations for imperturbable that I found.

Another note just to clear something up that I didn’t want to be misinterpreted: Ron won’t always be so bad about them being in a relationship, and I want to be clear that I love Ron and am not bashing him in any way. But… I’ve gotta admit, it was really fun to write Ginny going off on him. I actually gave a lot of thought as to how she would react to him barging in like that, and I figured that the screaming leading to a more mature message was the way that she’d handle it. Well, that and having Harry grope her in front of Ron. That also felt incredibly in character for her. This sort of thought was very common for me in the early stages of writing, but it was interesting to see how I stopped needing that extensive reflection on important actions after a while. I think I just grew into writing Harry and Ginny, especially, to the point that I just knew how they would react to certain things. There were still some points that I needed to think out clearly, but never as much as early on, and I think that subtle difference feels tangible, at least to me, in later chapters.

This is a bit of a transition chapter in a lot of ways. Everyone is shifting from the immediate aftermath of the battle, still at Hogwarts, to the new way of life, back home, and we saw at the end of the chapter how reality is starting to set in. Harry and Ginny definitely need each other, which is why I couldn’t bring myself to separate them from sharing a bed at night, even though I genuinely did consider it. As long as they can keep it hidden, it shouldn’t be a problem!

As always, thank you for reading and feel free to comment your thoughts on everything so far, predictions, whatever. I love reading feedback!

That does it for The Return, and I’m excited to give the teaser of another major transition coming in Harry and Ginny’s lives on Friday, with Chapter 8: I’ll Be There- Even though Harry had never met him before, he knew this was Teddy Lupin.

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Chapter 8: I'll Be There

Even though Harry had never met him before, he knew this was Teddy Lupin.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

Harry woke as the first hints of morning sunlight started to illuminate Ginny’s room. They hadn’t moved all night; Ginny was still holding Harry’s hand, his arm was still wrapped tightly around her, and… Harry realised just how close her bum was to a quickly waking part of his body. Harry would be the first to admit that he’d been stupid to take so long to start looking at Ginny as something other than Ron’s kid sister, but when he finally did, it was like a part of his brain that he’d been blocking off suddenly saw everything clearly for him. Ginny was the best person he knew, which made her infinitely more attractive to him than her physical appearance. But he had to admit that her physical appearance was pretty spectacular. She really was the most beautiful witch he’d ever seen. She made him feel things that he wasn’t used to feeling, both emotionally and physically.

Harry shifted backwards slightly, attempting to calm himself before he went back upstairs. Ginny stirred, blinking her eyes open softly. Harry kissed her cheek, mesmerised by how perfect she was even when she was half-asleep. He wished they could stay like this forever, but the reality was that Ginny’s family probably wouldn’t be very happy if they’d known that Harry and Ginny were still sharing a bed in their house.

“Morning, Gin,” Harry whispered. Ginny just groaned at him, too tired to say anything. Harry grinned, thinking it was adorable. “I’ve got to go back upstairs before your family wakes up.”

Ginny groaned again, but she turned to kiss him gently before collapsing back on her pillow. Harry chuckled silently, slowly rising from the bed and exiting the room. He carefully walked upstairs, avoiding almost all the creaking spots on the floor. Quietly opening the door to Ron’s room, he saw that Ron and Hermione’s backs were to each other in bed, but they still somehow held hands in their sleep. Harry smiled to himself, thinking that was a pretty accurate representation of their relationship.

He knelt down next to Hermione. “Hermione, wake up,” he hissed, nudging her shoulder.

She woke much easier than Ginny had, squinting at him. “What time is it?” she whispered.

“Not sure, but the sun’s coming up. Thought you’d want to go back downstairs before anybody else woke up.”

Hermione nodded, leaving the bed without waking Ron up. She left the room while Harry stood for a few moments, not sure that he wanted to go back to sleep. He sighed, recognising that he was definitely too awake for it to matter what he wanted. He walked back down the stairs that he’d just come up, not stopping until he reached the kitchen. He quietly made himself a cup of coffee before stepping outside onto the Weasleys’ back porch. He sat on a swinging bench, sipping his coffee and watching the sunrise as he lost himself to his thoughts in this moment of solitude.

Smoke clouded the sky and the smell of burning flesh and blood clogged his nostrils, making it difficult to breathe. Everything made it difficult to breathe. The bodies in the Great Hall haunted him, friends he’d allowed to die for him because he was too cowardly to do what he should’ve known would need to be done. There was only one way this would all end. He walked numbly to the forest, struggling to take every breath, knowing that he’d soon breathe his last.

He almost stumbled, seeing Ginny there, aching to call out to her because she’d ask him to stay, and he couldn’t say no to her. He silently shed a tear, walking past her, wishing more than anything that he could’ve said goodbye, that he could’ve told her he loved her. But too many people had already died. He couldn’t let any more die because of him, even if it meant that he lost everything, including the one girl that had made him dream of a normal life.

He saw his parents, Sirius, and Remus, and they tried to comfort him, but how do you comfort someone who knows they’re moments from death? He stopped walking as he reached their camp, stowing his wand and cloak under his jacket so he wouldn’t be tempted to defend himself. Because the truth was, he was so much more than tempted. He wanted to fight, to finish this himself, but he had no choice. It couldn’t be finished with him alive.

He stepped into view, and the mob celebrated. He only saw red slits and a curling smile. Those thin lips moved, but his mind had already taken him elsewhere. Ginny was running towards him, wearing her Quidditch uniform. Her flaming red hair trailed behind her, her kissable lips were smiling at him, and her brown eyes were blazing as she jumped at him. Just before he could wrap his arms around her, she disappeared, replaced with a flash of green light before the world went dark.


Harry couldn’t see anything. He was shaking, sweating, and he felt like he couldn’t breathe. It was just like the battle all over again. He gasped, desperately trying to fill his lungs, but there was no air to breathe. He felt hands on his shoulders, squeezing tightly, and he could hear the distant thrum of a low voice even though he couldn’t understand what it was saying. Somehow the thrumming slowed his breathing enough for him to become conscious of his surroundings. Harry blinked, only seeing a fuzzy red thing in front of him. He blinked again, and the figure came into focus. Bill was holding him tightly, looking terrified. Slowly, the ringing in his ears subsided and he could finally make out what Bill was saying.

“Breathe Harry… come on, deep breaths. In and out, in and out,” he coached as Harry continued slowing his breathing, feeling his heart rate evening out too. Finally, he exhaled one final time before nodding at Bill.

“Thanks,” he whispered.

Bill sat next to him on the bench. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“What just happened?” Harry asked.

“I think- I think that was what Muggles call a panic attack. Wizards… don’t really have a good term for it. You lost yourself in some memory and couldn’t get out. It seems like it made you feel like you couldn’t breathe, and I had to pull you out of it.”

“It was the forest,” Harry admitted. Bill’s face darkened. “I wasn’t even trying to think about it. I just realised I hadn’t really been alone much since the battle and then… I was there.”

Bill exhaled slowly, running his hand through his hair. “I don’t blame you. To be honest, with everything I’ve heard that you’ve been through, it wouldn’t have surprised me if you’d dealt with these before.”

Harry shook his head. “Never. I mean there were times when I was scared, or I was sad or mad about losing people, but never something like that. That was so… intense. It felt like I- like I was there again, walking to the forest, and I couldn’t breathe, knowing- knowing what was going to happen.”

Bill put his arm around Harry’s shoulders. “Have you talked to anyone else about it?”

“I told Kingsley, McGonagall, Ron, and Hermione a couple days ago.”

“Not Ginny?” Bill asked.

Harry shook his head again. “I’m still telling her everything in order, but it’ll be soon. She knows everything up until we left your place to go to Gringotts. It’s just- I want to tell her, but I hate how depressing it is when I’m talking about it. She’s so easy to talk to, but I know we both prefer when we’re not thinking about any of it.”

Bill nodded. “I understand. Both of you have been through too much, and I’m glad you’re trying not to dwell on everything. But- I hate to say this, Harry, but reality is gonna demand that you both think more about all of this stuff. There are gonna be funerals for the next week, and I heard Kingsley talking about a possible memorial this summer. There are going to be trials and people asking you questions left and right. The sooner everything is out in the open, the better it’ll be for both of you.”

Harry hated it, but Bill was right. “It’s just- Merlin, I hate saying this because it makes me sound like I’m just whingeing when things could obviously be worse, but haven’t I done enough? I just- I want to be normal now. Have a normal life without people following my every move like I’m so interesting or newsworthy.”

Bill looked at him empathetically. “Harry, life isn’t fair. If it was, the fate of the world wouldn’t have been placed on you. You wouldn’t have lost your parents when you were a baby. You wouldn’t have had to be threatened every year in school, and you wouldn’t have spent the last year on the run as the leading soldier for a rebellion against a murderous monster. If life was fair, you wouldn’t have had to sacrifice yourself, and you wouldn’t still be dealing with people wanting a piece of you. But it isn’t fair. You’re not normal, even by our standards. You’re a bloody hero, and people love heroes.”

“But-” Harry started to say, but Bill looked at him with a stern expression now.

“Harry, if you could go back to the first time you got a letter from Hogwarts, and change everything so you weren’t ever a wizard, would you do it, especially if it meant you wouldn’t have any of the bad memories haunting you anymore?”

Harry thought for a moment. “No,” he finally answered.

“Why not?” Bill asked.

Harry sighed. “Because… I didn’t have a good life when I found out I was a wizard. I would’ve given anything for a way out. The way out I got was so much better than anything I could’ve imagined. I mean, Muggles don’t think magic is real. Getting to learn how to do that was more than enough. But-”

“But?” Bill pressed.

“Even magic isn’t the best part of my life anymore. It’s all of you. You and your brothers, your parents, Ron and Hermione, and… Ginny.”

Bill smiled, satisfied that Harry got the point. “There it is. Life isn’t fair, Harry. You’ve had way more shitty things happen to you than any person deserves. But despite that, you still have things in your life that make it good, that make you happy. You’re not going to have a normal life, but if you did, you wouldn’t be you, and you wouldn’t have all the things that make you happy now.”

Harry nodded, understanding what Bill was telling him. “And the panic attacks?”

Bill frowned slightly. “I honestly don’t know,” he admitted, “It’s something I’ve heard of before, but I never had those, even after what happened in Egypt. We can take you to St. Mungo’s if you want, or we can wait and see if talking about what’s going on with me or Ginny or whoever helps.”

Harry nodded. “Let’s wait and see. But for now… can you not say anything about this to anyone? I don’t want your family to be worrying about me while everything else is going on.”

“Yeah, I won’t tell anyone… but Harry, you have to tell me or somebody if these keep happening. Someone has to be able to pull you out of one if it happens again.”

“Good thing there’s always plenty of people here then,” Harry replied, trying to smile at Bill and pretending that he wasn’t lucky that Bill had woken up this early. Actually… “Why were you up this early?” Harry asked.

Bill chuckled. “An old habit. When Charlie and I were younger, we used to compete to be the first one to wake up and get to the table first. Winner got extra bacon from Mum. As we got older, we started getting up even earlier than Mum and Dad, so we had to come up with our own prizes. Sometimes Charlie would get help with his homework or I’d get help with my chores. After I moved out, I got better about sleeping in a little bit, but there’s something about being in the same house as him that makes me get up earlier.”

As if on cue, Charlie burst outside, looking incredibly annoyed. “Damn it Bill! You’ve got a gorgeous wife up there in bed and you still had to get up and beat me down here? And you roped Harry into it too?” he asked incredulously.

Bill chuckled. “I’ll add two sickles to your tab, little brother. But actually, Harry beat both of us up.”

Charlie raised his eyebrows. “Really? What’s got you up early? I would’ve thought a saviour would at least get to sleep in every once in a while.”

Harry rolled his eyes and lied smoothly. “Couldn’t sleep. You couldn’t understand, there’s just so much pressure being a hero…”

Bill laughed as Charlie shook his head disappointedly. “You’re as bad as Ginny.”

Harry grinned. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Charlie snorted. “It’s not.”

Ignoring him, Harry asked, “So… what do you guys usually do when you get up this early?”

Bill answered him. “Oh… Mum and Dad made us agree that if we were going to be loud and wake up even earlier than them, the least we could do is make breakfast.”

“Welcome to the team, Harry,” Charlie said, grinning. “Would you prefer your apron to be pink with no lace or pink with lace?”

All three of them laughed at that, filing into the kitchen to begin preparing breakfast. Harry was surprised to see how much food they had considering nobody had gone to a grocer’s. They worked in tandem- Harry fried bacon and sausage, Bill cooked eggs, and Charlie made toast and sarcastic comments. Soon, the kitchen was smelling great, and one by one, Weasleys made their way into the kitchen, sitting down at the long table.

Arthur, Molly, and Percy all came downstairs near the same time. Fleur was next, followed by Ron and Hermione. Finally, just before Harry thought he’d have to go wake her, Ginny came down, giving Harry a brief kiss in front of her family before sitting at the table. Harry blushed but didn’t waver under the look of scrutiny Charlie was giving him. George had clearly decided not to come down, if he was even awake. Bill, Charlie, and Harry served breakfast, and the family tucked into their meal, trying to ignore the absences from the usually full table.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Ginny woke when sunlight had clearly lit her entire room. She immediately noticed that she was once again alone in her bed, vaguely recalling Harry waking her up to say he was leaving. The light in her room and the smell of breakfast coming from downstairs suggested it had been more than an hour since then. She rolled over and saw that Hermione wasn’t in the room either. It wasn’t a big deal though- Ginny was used to being the last one awake in her house. She begrudgingly pulled herself out of bed, wishing that she’d slept even longer and that she hadn’t been left early in the morning by Harry. She changed into a faded yellow t-shirt and ripped jean shorts. It was one of her favourite Muggle outfits, and she guessed that Harry would like it too.

Her guess was quickly proven to be accurate when Harry looked at her as she walked into the kitchen. His eyes always seemed to brighten when she entered a room, she had to admit. It was like her presence was enough to make him happy, regardless of what else was going on. But this time, Harry’s gaze was slightly different, and Ginny resisted the urge to puff her chest out as Harry’s eyes raked up and down her body, clearly enjoying the view. Ginny suspected that was a product of the electric kiss they’d shared yesterday in her bedroom, but she didn’t care. It felt good for her boyfriend to look at her like she was the only one he desired.

But Merlin, he either had a death wish or was braver than he thought to be looking at her like that in front of four of her brothers and her parents. He seemed oblivious to everyone but her, and Ginny thought he deserved a reward for that look he was giving her. She sashayed up to him, ignoring her family, and kissed him quickly before sitting down, enjoying the view of Harry in a fitted red t-shirt and jeans, cooking breakfast for the family. Charlie was glaring daggers at him, and Ginny suspected that was more for the way Harry had been looking at her than the kiss they’d shared.

Breakfast was served soon after, and everyone began eating ravenously, a tradition in the Weasley household. Nobody mentioned it, but Ginny knew that they were all aware that George was skipping breakfast like he’d skipped dinner the night before. As everyone finished eating, Ginny fixed another full plate of food. She noticed Percy giving her a quizzical look from across the table.

“It’s for George,” she explained.

Percy and several other members of her family nodded. Ginny took the plate upstairs on a tray with a cup of juice. She set it outside the door to Percy’s room and knocked on the door. “I’m leaving you some breakfast out here. You don’t have to come out and see us if you don’t want to, but don’t starve yourself, Georgie.” She waited a moment, thinking that using her old nickname for George might get his attention, but she heard nothing from beyond the closed door, so she walked back downstairs, a little disappointed but understanding of her brother isolating himself.

The family had slowly started dispersing. Bill and Fleur left to go to Shell Cottage for the day and make sure everything was still in order there. Hermione and Ron had gone outside, while Charlie, Percy, Molly, and Arthur were in the living room. Looking for Harry, she found him washing dishes, by hand, in the kitchen.

“You know we have magic for that, right?” she asked teasingly.

“Yeah. I’ve just never practised any of those spells your mum uses. Besides, it relaxes me.”

“Washing dishes relaxes you?” Ginny asked. Harry nodded, scrubbing a pan vigorously.

“You could’ve asked for some help at least,” Ginny commented.

Harry shook his head. “Your family offered, but I told them not to worry about it. Believe me, I’ve washed plenty of dishes by myself,” he chuckled.

Ginny frowned, knowing that the only place he would’ve ever washed dishes was his Aunt and Uncle’s house. She started to ask him about it, but he did look rather calm washing the dishes, and she didn’t want to take that away from him by asking questions that he wouldn’t like answering. Instead, she did the last thing she would’ve done if one of her brothers had been in Harry’s place. She picked up a towel and helped him, drying all the dishes he washed. Harry just smiled at her as she took up her post next to him.

“What?” she asked.

“It’s nothing,” Harry said. Ginny gave him a look to show that she didn’t believe him, and Harry continued, “It’s just- I dunno. You didn’t even ask if I needed help. You just saw that you could help. I’m not really used to that, I guess.”

Ginny smiled up at Harry. “You’re lucky. I wouldn’t be doing it for anyone else, but like I’ve said before, you make me behave very irrationally sometimes.”

Harry laughed and they washed dishes together in peace. Nearing the end of the pile, Harry suddenly spoke. “This is something normal couples do, right? Washing dishes together?”

Ginny thought about it. “I’m not sure. I suppose it’s pretty normal for Muggles, but I’d imagine most witches and wizards just use charms to wash their dishes.”

“They’re missing out,” Harry said. “But this… it feels normal to me.”

Ginny nodded, understanding the feeling. Magic was easier, but there was something very tangible and real about working side-by-side like this, even on something as mundane as washing dishes.

They finished washing dishes, and Harry took a stack that Ginny had dried, turning to put them in a cabinet. While he was looking away, Ginny grabbed a handful of soap suds from the sink. As he turned back to her, she threw the suds at him. They covered his glasses and dripped down his shirt. His mouth widened in surprise, but Ginny started laughing so hard that he couldn’t help but laugh. They were laughing for a while before they calmed down and Harry wiped the suds from his glasses. He walked over to the sink, took two handfuls of suds, and Ginny saw what was coming before he could make a move on her.

She ducked under his arm, swifter in tight spaces than he was, and ran out the back door and into the orchard. Unfortunately for her, Harry had the longer legs, and he was faster. He caught up to her, throwing his soapy hands around her midsection and pulling her into him. But Ginny stumbled as she slowed quickly, and both her and Harry fell in a heap on the grass, rolling until they slowed to a stop, with Ginny laying on top of Harry. They were both laughing so hard that they almost didn’t notice the fall.

Finally, Ginny took a breath and looked down at her shirt, which now bore two large handprints on her stomach. She looked at Harry, miming pouting, and said, “Look what you did to my favourite shirt.”

Harry grinned. “Hey, that’s my favourite shirt too.”

Ginny cocked her head, playing with him. “Oh really? And why is that?”

“Well, the colour goes really well with your hair. And I like that I can see a little bit of your stomach at the bottom of it when you move in the right way. And- well, there’s that,” he said, gesturing to her shirt stretched across her chest. It probably was a little too small, but it made Ginny feel like she looked good, something Harry was clearly in agreement with.

“Good answer,” Ginny said, grinning as she raised her arms, miming stretching and giving him a good view of the pale skin of her stomach. His eyes looked hungrily at that exposed skin, and when Ginny let her hands down, covering the skin again, that hungry look shifted to her eyes and lips. Ginny was suddenly very aware that she was sitting on Harry’s lap, and there wasn’t anyone around who could disturb them right now. Giving Harry a seductive look, she slowly leaned down to kiss him.

“Ginny! Harry!” The couple was interrupted by Molly calling for them from the doorstep of the Burrow. Ginny groaned and settled for kissing Harry quickly before rolling off of him.

“One sec,” Harry said, still staring at her.

“Same issue as yesterday?” Ginny asked, grinning.

He nodded. “I can’t help it. My body clearly thinks you’re really hot or something.”

Ginny laughed and swatted his arm. “As long as I’m the only one your body responds to like that, I don’t mind it at all.”

“Why would I look at anyone else when I’m with the most beautiful witch in the world?” Harry asked sincerely. Ginny just smiled wider, kissing him again before standing up. She reached out a hand to help him up, and, apparently satisfied with his current condition, he took her hand and stood. They walked back together to the Burrow and were surprised to find two new faces in the living room.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Harry’s hand was halfway to his wand before he realised that the woman sitting in front of him wasn’t Bellatrix Lestrange. He’d met Andromeda Tonks once before, and he’d been taken aback by her similarity to her sister then too. Next to him, Ginny sucked in a quick breath seeing Mrs. Tonks. Harry squeezed her hand, and Ginny exhaled, looking calmer.

“Believe me, I wish I could look less like my sister. Then people would stop getting scared every time they see me,” Mrs. Tonks said with a kind smile.

When she smiled, any similarity to Bellatrix vanished instantly. Harry suddenly realised, as the initial surprise wore off, that she was also holding a baby. Even though Harry had never met him before, he knew this was Teddy Lupin. His godson. That realisation hit him like a ton of bricks. In the heat of the days leading up to the battle and the events following, Harry had completely forgotten that Remus had asked him to be Teddy’s godson.

“Is that-” Harry began, but couldn’t seem to get the words out.

Mrs. Tonks nodded. “This is Teddy Lupin.”

Ginny squeezed Harry’s hand tightly as they both stared at the baby in her arms. He was sleeping, but Harry could see a tuft of blue hair peeking out from underneath the blanket. Harry slowly sat down with Ginny on the couch, not taking his eyes off the baby.

“Do you know-” he began, peeling his eyes from Teddy to look at Mrs. Tonks. Once again, he found that he couldn’t get the words out.

“That you two are Teddy’s godparents? Of course I do,” Andromeda said like that was common knowledge.

Harry’s jaw dropped as he turned to look at Ginny, who was mirroring his expression.

“You’re Teddy’s godfather?” she asked.

“You’re Teddy’s godmother?” Harry asked at the same time.

“Oh, I guess you didn’t know,” Andromeda commented.

Harry shook his head. “When did they ask you?” Harry asked Ginny.

“Tonks asked me when we were in the Room of Requirement before…” Ginny trailed off, not wanting to finish that sentence. Harry knew why. That was likely the last conversation Ginny had ever had with Tonks, mere hours before Tonks died defending Hogwarts. Harry nodded, squeezing her hand once more.

Blinking away tears that were clearly threatening to fall, Ginny asked, “What about you?”

“Remus came to Shell Cottage the night Teddy was born, and he asked me.”

“I can’t believe they didn’t tell us that we were both godparents,” Ginny said, shaking her head.

“They probably wanted us to find out after… everything, when we were back together,” Harry suggested.

Andromeda interjected, “At least that part of their plan worked.”

Harry smiled sadly at her. “I suppose it did.” His expression turned more concerned as he realised that he didn’t know anything about babies. “Is Teddy staying with you?”

Andromeda chuckled, a sound Harry found to be quite relaxing. “Yes, Teddy will be living with me. You won’t have to worry about taking care of a baby by yourself. You can learn if you’d like, of course. I know you’re both still so young and don’t necessarily want to be tied down by anything. I just wanted the two of you to meet Teddy and tell you that you’re both welcome to be in his life as much as you want.”

Harry answered without thinking. “I’ll be there, as much as possible. I didn’t have a lot of time with my godfather, but they were some of the best times of my life. I want to be able to give Teddy all of that without him having to worry that I might leave or he might not see me much.”

“That makes two of us,” Ginny chimed in. “Tonks is like a sister to me. I’d do anything for her and for Teddy.”

They smiled shyly at each other as they realised they’d both promised to be there for Teddy, together, for their whole lives. Andromeda smiled softly at them. “I think Remus and Nymphadora made an excellent decision when they chose the two of you to be his godparents. Would you like to hold him?”

Harry nodded tentatively, wanting to but unsure how. Seeing his trepidation, Andromeda brought Teddy to Harry. “Hold your left arm out like you’re about to hold a Quaffle.” Harry raised an eyebrow but did as he was told. Andromeda slowly lowered Teddy into his arm. “Now wrap the other arm around him, and support his head in the crook of your arm.” Harry followed her instructions and was surprised to find that it actually felt natural to hold Teddy like this.

“I’ll give the three of you some time to get to know each other,” Andromeda said, walking into the kitchen.

Harry stared down at the tiny baby in his arms. He was so small, it almost surprised Harry, who hadn’t ever really been around babies before. Harry had been right before-Teddy’s hair was definitely very blue, and he suspected that Teddy had inherited his mother’s gift as a Metamorphmagus. It was too early to tell, in Harry’s opinion, which of the two parents Teddy would resemble more, but regardless, even Harry had to admit that Teddy was a very cute baby.

After holding him for a while, Harry realised that Ginny had been staring at him without saying a word. He made eye contact with her and nodded down towards Teddy, wordlessly asking if she wanted a turn holding him. Ginny eagerly nodded, and she took Teddy with a much more familiar and calm touch than Harry had. Quickly, she had Teddy tucked in her arms as she peered down at him, cooing and making faces at him as he dozed back to sleep.

Harry inhaled sharply, as he watched Ginny with Teddy. It was beautiful, seeing how she was caring for this baby, and in his mind, Harry started imagining her caring for more babies, only instead of blue hair, these babies had black or red hair. He was very confused, truthfully. He’d only just begun wrapping his mind around the fact that he actually had a future with her now, and now he was imagining having babies with her? Bloody hell, there’s no way that was normal for a relationship.

Ginny looked up at him and smiled softly. Harry thought she’d never been prettier than in that moment. He wasn’t sure how long they’d stayed there, looking at each other and Teddy, sharing what felt like a premonition for their future as a couple, but they looked up when Molly walked in with Andromeda. Molly took one look at the two of them, Ginny holding Teddy while Harry had an arm wrapped around her, both looking down at Teddy, and she started crying while smiling at them.

Bewildered, Harry looked at Ginny, who rolled her eyes at her mum’s behaviour. “We’re just godparents, Mum, not real parents.”

Andromeda smiled, but she looked teary-eyed as well. “It’s better she gets prepared now, Ginny. One day, you’ll have children, and it’ll be hard enough on your mother even without her being used to the idea of it. At least with Teddy, she’ll have a little practice.”

Harry was still a little distracted by his daydreams, and he didn’t really process anything that was being said until Molly took Teddy into the kitchen. Andromeda was now alone with Harry and Ginny, and she looked much sadder than she’d seemed before now. Not that Harry could blame her. The war had stolen more from her than most people. She’d lost her sisters to darkness a long time ago, her husband had died a couple months ago, and now she’d lost her only child and son-in-law. Teddy truly was all that she had left.

“I actually wanted to ask you both- and of course, I’d understand if you didn’t want to, but I wanted to ask. Tomorrow… I think they’d want the two of you to speak,” Andromeda said, not really looking at them or anything in particular.

Harry grimaced. He’d known that there would be funerals, but he’d wanted to forget just how close they were to the reality of the situation. Lupin and Tonks’ funeral was tomorrow, and that was just the start of all the funerals Harry planned on attending in the next week and a half. Honestly, it made him feel sick thinking about speaking at their funeral because he still blamed himself for their death, blamed himself for Teddy being an orphan, doomed to a lifetime of not knowing his parents, like Harry had been.

Well, not exactly like Harry had been. Teddy would have people, his grandmother and now his godparents, who would tell him exactly who his parents were. And as difficult as it would be for Harry, he felt he at least owed it to Remus and Tonks. Because Mrs. Tonks was right. They picked Harry and Ginny to be Teddy’s godparents. Of course they would’ve wanted them to speak at their funeral if they could’ve asked.

Harry nodded. “I- I’ll do it, definitely. Thank you for asking, Mrs. Tonks.”

He looked over at Ginny, expecting to see her nodding in agreement, but she wasn’t looking at him or Andromeda. She looked like she was in another place, and Harry wrapped his arm around her, recognising the signs of being stuck in a memory when a tear rolled down Ginny’s cheek.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Tonks had come in after everyone had left Ginny alone in the Room of Requirement. Ginny jumped up, eager to hug the friend she hadn’t seen in months. Tonks returned the hug, smiling even though she looked distracted. Ginny suddenly remembered.

“Tonks, what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be with Teddy?”

Tonks looked at her, surprised. “What, and let my husband do all the heroic fighting? I thought you knew me better than that, Ginny.”

Ginny laughed then, feeling more secure knowing that Tonks was with her. “You’re right, I shouldn’t have assumed.” She was intrigued, then, to see Tonks pull up a chair and sit down.

“You know the fight’s gonna be outside right?” Ginny asked.

Tonks nodded, rolling her eyes. “I promised Remus I wouldn’t come tonight. I’m waiting in here, just in case…” she trailed off. Ginny nodded, knowing exactly what in case meant. In case this was it, Hogwarts would need every defender it could get.

“And why aren’t you out there?” Tonks asked.

“My parents didn’t want me to… and Harry agreed with them,” Ginny answered, still angry about the situation.

“You saw Harry?” Tonks asked.

Ginny nodded. “He barely even acted like he knew me though. Just told me to sit tight while they go and risk their lives.”

Tonks looked at her sadly. “I’m sure he was ecstatic to see you, but he’s got way too much on his plate to think about anything else right now. Truth is, Ginny, he cares about you more than anyone else in this castle. Why else would he have wanted you to stay safe up here? He needs you to be safe.”

“What happened to not letting the man do all the heroic fighting?” Ginny challenged, feeling a little better hearing Tonks’ explanation but annoyed it hadn’t come from Harry instead.

Tonks shrugged. “Look at me, not practising what I preach. I do have a feeling though, Ginny… we’re all going to be fighting tonight.” Ginny nodded, feeling the tingling anticipation as her adrenaline had been spiking for the past hour, since they’d heard that Harry was at Hogwarts.

“Actually, there was something I was meaning to ask you. Wish I could’ve done it at a better time, but here we are. Remus and I want you to be Teddy’s godmother,” Tonks said, smiling at Ginny.

Ginny’s eyes widened. “Godmother? But I don’t know anything about raising a baby!”

Tonks chuckled. “I don’t think a lot of godparents do. Besides, that’s what Remus and I are there for. We just want to know that someone who cares about us will also be there to care for Teddy, just in case…”

In case this was the end for one or both of them. In case Teddy was a war orphan, like Harry in the first war.

Ginny finally smiled at Tonks, doing her best not to think about the ‘just in cases’ that could happen. She hugged her friend again. “I’ll always be there for him, Tonks… and for you,” she promised.

Tonks smiled at her, one last time. “I know, Ginny.”


Ginny sucked in a breath, seeing Harry’s bright green eyes looking at her, incredibly concerned. Seeing her blink, Harry exhaled a breath he seemed to have been holding for a while. “Are you okay?” Harry asked quietly. Ginny started to nod but changed her mind, shaking her head as she remembered where she was. She saw Andromeda looking at her, looking just as concerned as Harry.

“I’m sorry,” Ginny said. “It’s just… I was thinking about when Tonks asked me to be Teddy’s godmother.”

Harry frowned, clearly knowing that meant she was thinking about the last time she’d ever talked to Tonks. “That’s okay, Ginny,” Andromeda assured her. “I keep having moments like that too, and I don’t blame you if it’s too much to speak at the funeral.”

Ginny shook her head quickly. “I want to do it. I want to speak at the- at the funeral.”

Andromeda nodded. “Thank you both. I- well, it’s no secret that they were incredibly fond of both of you, and I’m looking forward to getting to know you better.”

Ginny and Harry both smiled at her, and they all sat in silence for a while, lost in their own memories of Remus and Tonks. Molly came in after a while, and Andromeda took Teddy back from her gratefully.

“Will you stay for dinner, Andromeda?” Molly asked.

She shook her head. “I need to get this one home,” she said sadly, and Ginny knew this was going to be a very difficult night for her.

Molly nodded, understanding the situation as well. “Of course. Soon though, you’ll have to come for dinner.” Andromeda merely nodded, looking almost lost in her thoughts as Molly walked her out the door.

A moment later, Molly was back, smiling at Ginny and Harry, who were still sitting on the couch. “So, you two have been together for four days, and now you have a baby?” she asked teasingly.

“Five days,” Harry corrected her.

“Almost a year,” Ginny corrected both of them, remembering how she’d told Harry they weren’t ever broken up. Harry smiled at her as Molly narrowed her eyes, still looking at the two of them.

“Of course, this doesn’t mean the two of you need to start thinking about children,” she said, looking pointedly at Ginny.

Harry’s jaw dropped slightly as Ginny groaned. “Mum, would you please relax? He’s seventeen, I’m sixteen. We’re not thinking about having kids at all. But we did promise we’d be there for Teddy, and it’s going to be even easier when we’re doing it together.”

“I understand dear, I just want to make sure the two of you aren’t taking things too fast,” Molly said as if this was reassuring.

Ginny rolled her eyes, standing up and pulling Harry towards the door. “We’re going at the right speed for us, Mum,” Ginny said as she pulled an apologetic Harry outside onto the porch. They sat on the swinging bench her dad had hung when Ginny was little, holding hands but not talking.

“Sorry about Mum,” Ginny finally said, still annoyed that her mother would embarrass her like that in front of Harry.

Harry chuckled. “It’s okay. It was awkward, but it was kind of nice, I think. I dunno why she thinks we’d be thinking of having kids; we’re gonna have our hands full with Teddy from the looks of it.”

Ginny smiled at him, and for a brief moment, she wondered what hers and Harry’s baby would look like. Shaking herself out of visions of a green-eyed, red-haired baby, she gazed out towards the slowly setting sun. She didn’t know when it happened, but she felt tears running down her cheeks. Harry was looking at her, but instead of pity, Ginny just saw love in his eyes, even if he hadn’t told her as much. Ginny realised then what was making her cry.

She burrowed her head into his chest as he held her, sobs racking her body. Somehow she choked out, “I promised her.” Harry hugged her tighter. “I promised- I- I’d always… be there for her.”’

Harry just held her as she cried endlessly, mourning the loss of her sister, wishing she could talk to her just one more time.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

A/N: For a shorter chapter, I was a little surprised reading back through to see just how much happened in it. There is a lot of setup for future events and storylines in this chapter, which sort of lay the foundation for a significant part of Harry and Ginny’s story.

First, I want to make it clear that I don’t claim to be any sort of expert on mental health or panic attacks or anything like that. I did extensive research on the topic in order to try to make Harry’s attack something that was both realistic and reasonable for him. It’s honestly a miracle that he hadn’t had anything quite like that to this point. I’ll be up front and say that this wasn’t the last panic attack he’s going to have, but something I wanted to emphasise in this story is that it doesn’t make him weak, even if he might feel a little bit like that right now.

Something else I’ve already mentioned is that using Ginny’s memories as a storytelling mechanism allows me to do a lot to craft her story in places where Harry wasn’t involved, so they don’t show up in canon. I’ve always felt like Tonks would’ve made a great sister figure for Ginny, who grew up with six older brothers, and it was an absolute joy to write several memories of Tonks, both in this chapter and future chapters, although it is also really sad, knowing that they’re just memories for Ginny.
In that same vein, her memories allow me to justify her being named Teddy’s godmother. To me, it was kind of crazy to imagine Harry being Teddy’s godfather as a seventeen year old without anyone other than Andi to help, and it makes perfect sense that Tonks and Lupin would’ve wanted Harry and Ginny to be his godparents. Obviously, Teddy is going to be a very important part of their lives moving forward, and in my humble opinion, it’s beautiful to see how they grow into their roles of caring for and loving him throughout this story.

I also want to make a note about both Bill and Charlie. In a lot of ways, Bill is one of the most intelligent and empathetic characters in this story, someone I think Harry desperately needs in his life. My reasoning for Bill understanding panic attacks is that he’s older, has plenty of experience, and is very knowledgeable about both the wizarding and Muggle worlds. It may not be a perfect explanation, but it feels reasonable enough to me. But the really fun foil to Bill is Charlie, who has been one of my favourite characters to write. We don’t see very much of Charlie or his characterisation in canon, but I think anyone who moves across a continent at the age of sixteen to work with dragons has to be pretty tough and hardened, and he’s definitely not going to take it easy on his baby sister’s boyfriend, even if he is the Saviour of the Wizarding World!

One final note for this chapter- in Deathly Hallows, when Ginny kisses Harry on his birthday, Harry has a thought about how he’s grateful that Ginny is strong and not weepy. She definitely is incredibly strong, but she does have feelings, and she does cry. She’s got plenty of reasons to cry, and, like Harry’s panic attacks not negating his strength, Ginny and Harry crying doesn’t take anything away from their characters. In fact, I’d argue that it adds a lot of depth to their characters. I honestly don’t know if that’s an atypical approach to characterising all of them, but that’s the only way I could write them, knowing how much they’ve been through.

And that’ll do it for I’ll Be There! I hope you all enjoyed the first full chapter at the Burrow, and I am sorry that our characters have more difficult times ahead of them. They’ve been able to make it through the first couple days, but their grief and outrage at everything that’s happened is going to come to the forefront of their lives as the funerals begin.

Coming Tuesday: Honouring Friends- “I am fucking pissed off that there are families that won’t ever be whole again because some evil people decided that they got to choose whose lives mattered and whose didn’t.”

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Chapter 9: Honouring Friends

"I am fucking pissed off that there are families that won't ever be whole again because some evil people decided that they got to choose whose lives mattered and whose didn't."

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

The evening passed in a blur for Ginny. She spent most of it crying with Harry, dreading what the next day would bring. He had snuck into her room again that night, but for the first time, that didn't help her nightmares, and they cried together for a lot of the night too.

When Ginny woke early the next morning, Harry was already gone, though she was sure he'd told her bye. Her eyes felt swollen from all her crying and lack of sleep, and one look in the mirror confirmed that they also looked the part. Ginny wished that she had Tonks' ability to change appearances, then winced at the thought. She settled for applying subtle makeup, not wanting to appear too gaudy for a funeral, and even though she could still see the redness, it would hopefully be enough to not be obvious today.

Ginny changed into a black dress that stretched below her knees and had short sleeves. She usually wore bright colours, and this was the only thing that would work for a sombre occasion, which meant this dress would be getting a lot of wear this week, she realised sadly. She made her way downstairs and saw that everyone was already there, even George. They were all sitting around the kitchen table, but nobody had made any breakfast. A wise decision, Ginny thought, knowing that she didn't feel like eating anything, and she imagined her family felt the same.

She sat silently next to Harry, taking his hand in hers while rubbing his thigh with her other hand. He was rather dashing in his black dress robes, but he looked like he was going to be sick, and his eyes were just as red as hers had been when she woke up. She hated this feeling, like there was nothing any of them could do to stave off the grief and sadness and pain. It wasn't fair.

Before long, it was time to go. Harry side-alonged Ginny to the church in Queen Camel, Somerset. The small hamlet had a rather large wizarding population living on the outskirts of it, including the Tonks'. There was a large crowd already gathered in the church, wearing eclectic wizarding garb. Ginny suspected that a Muggle repelling charm had been cast to ensure nobody would be intruding today. She saw several people she recognized, as well as many more that she didn't. Charlie seemingly recognized a large group she didn't and joined them, looking slightly out of sorts himself. Ginny realised that these must've been classmates of Tonks and Charlie, and she mentally scolded herself for forgetting that Charlie had been friends with Tonks and was probably dealing with a lot right now too. He seemed okay enough, but, then again, pretty much everyone seemed to be putting on a brave face at one of the first funerals for the heroes of the battle.

Ginny and Harry sat with Andromeda, who was holding Teddy, at the front, and Molly joined them to sit on her other side. Andromeda didn't say a word to them, merely attempting to smile, though it looked much more like a grimace. Ginny couldn't blame her. Her own stomach was twisting itself in knots. Every moment they spent here, getting closer to burying Lupin and Tonks, made the loss even more real. Before she knew it, Kingsley was at the front of the church, and everyone quietened. She realised that it was probably a big deal for the Minister for Magic to be officiating a funeral, but that didn't seem very significant to her. Lupin and Tonks had been his friends, and he clearly appeared to be in mourning too, even as he maintained his stately demeanour.

Ginny barely registered Kingsley's speech. She only heard little snippets of it. "Always making people laugh- brave- wise- outspoken- in love- too young." Too young. Much too young. Lupin may have been older, but they were both supposed to be starting a new chapter of their lives, not having the final one cut much too short.

"I'd like to invite Miss Ginny Weasley, who has been asked to speak here today." Ginny was snapped out of her thoughts as she heard her name, realising it was time. Harry squeezed her hand briefly before letting go, and Ginny stood, passing by Kingsley. She tried to smile at him, and he nodded politely at her, neither really meeting each other's eyes. She turned to face the crowd, which looked even bigger than it had when she'd entered the church. There must have been at least a hundred people here. She closed her eyes, praying that she could at least honour Tonks even though she didn't know what she could say that would make any of this easier.

"Wotcher, Ginny," Tonks said, flopping into a chair next to Ginny's in the Burrow.

Ginny smiled at her friend. "Hey Tonks, how are you?"

Tonks shrugged. "Been better. Another day trying to sniff out Death Eaters, but we've got no new leads. It feels like we're running around in circles."

"I think you need a boyfriend to let some steam off with," Ginny commented with a suggestive smile, trying to cheer her friend up. That was clearly the wrong tactic, as Tonks' face darkened and she looked away.

"Sorry Tonks, I didn't mean-" Ginny tried apologising but Tonks cut her off.

"It's not like I haven't tried. He just doesn't seem interested, and I'm tired of it."

"Who?" Ginny asked, very confused now.

"Remus bloody Lupin," Tonks muttered. Ginny's eyes widened. That was about the last name she would've expected Tonks to say.

"You- you want to date Professor Lupin?" she asked, wanting to make sure she heard correctly.

Tonks rolled her eyes. "Unfortunately, but he doesn't want to. Keeps going on about how I should be with someone younger or not so… wolfish. He doesn't care that I don't care, just keeps telling me how I should be feeling."

Ginny was still surprised, but it was obvious Tonks was being serious, and that she was very upset about it. Ginny tentatively put a hand on Tonks' arm. "I'm sorry Tonks. I don't know what to say," she admitted. "But I'm here. He's probably just used to people seeing him as a werewolf and doesn't want you to be seen like that too."

"But I don't care!" Tonks exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air. "Why can't he see that?"

Ginny tread carefully. "Some… people have a- a tendency to want to protect people, even if they get hurt in the process. For all you know, this could be tearing Lupin up, but he wants to protect you."

"I'm a bloody Auror. I think I can protect myself," Tonks growled.

"Well obviously. We both know that. But if you're sure about this, I think you're gonna have to be persistent. He'll realise it eventually."

Tonks nodded, still staring at the floor in front of her. She looked up when Harry, Ron, and Hermione walked in though. "Hey Tonks," Harry said.

"Wotcher, Harry," she responded, smiling a little at him. Ginny nodded at the three of them as they walked upstairs to Ron's room.

"Speaking of overprotective and hopeless romance," Ginny joked.

Tonks looked at her closely. "You and Harry?"

Ginny almost laughed. "There's not a 'me and Harry'. Never has been, clearly never will be. He's just the kind of person who will always protect someone else before himself."

"But you have feelings for him?" Tonks probed.

Ginny started to shake her head but settled for shrugging. "I used to have a huge crush on him. Then after my first year, that changed into something more, but he never looked at me any differently. Hermione told me last year that I should try dating some other people, and maybe that would make Harry notice me. It hasn't worked, and I think I'm done trying."

Tonks grinned at her. "You're not done trying."

"I am too," Ginny said firmly.

"What about being persistent?"

Ginny chuckled. "I've been at this a lot longer than you, Tonks. I've been persistent, but nothing's changed."

Tonks shook her head. "Sorry, Ginny, but that's not the same at all. Harry was what, fourteen, when you gave up on him? I was fourteen once too Ginny, and all the boys were bloody stupid. Harry's still a teenager, and he's dealing with much more than any normal teenage boy. I promise you, if you keep at it, keep letting Harry see you and not Ron's little sister, you've got a much better chance than I do of getting a happy ending."

"I doubt it. Besides, I have a boyfriend anyways," Ginny retorted, but Tonks just chuckled.

"Oh, another one of the boys you're trying to get over Harry with, you mean?"

Ginny opened her mouth but couldn't really find a good argument to make.

"Tell you what. Let's make a deal," Tonks proposed. "I won't give up on Remus, but you don't give up on Harry either." Ginny started to open her mouth again, but Tonks raised her hand. "I'm not saying you start hounding him or asking him out, but don't be afraid to be you. Flirt with him and see what he does. Trust me, Ginny, he'll notice you."

Ginny sighed. "And you won't give up on Lupin?" Tonks nodded. "Fine, I guess." Tonks grinned as Ginny agreed. Ginny was already trying to plot how to show Harry the real her. Maybe she could show him how good she'd become at Quidditch. They did have most of the summer left for that.

"Just think, a few years from now, we'll be planning our double wedding!" Tonks joked, and Ginny laughed with her, thankful for the sisterly advice Tonks had given and how easy it was to talk to her.


Ginny took a deep breath and opened her eyes, suddenly knowing what to say. "I grew up in a house with six older brothers. For as long as I can remember, I desperately wanted a sister. It took fourteen years, but I finally got my wish when I met Nymphadora Tonks. Tonks had a very unique gift. Actually, she had two unique gifts. She was the only Metamorphmagus I'd ever met, and she loved using that gift to make people laugh. That was how I first started talking to her. She introduced herself, and as I was introducing myself, she changed her hair to match mine. Every meal we shared together became a challenge to see how long it would take her to make me laugh with her ridiculous transformations.

"But the gift I'll always remember most that Tonks had was her ability to make me feel heard. In a house with so many older brothers, there were times when I felt like nobody was listening because there were so many voices to listen to. I never felt like that with Tonks. Anytime I talked to her, she would listen to me, completely focused, and she'd talk to me like I was mature enough to have a real conversation. When you're fourteen and it feels like everyone is ignoring you because you're too young to know anything important, it feels incredible to have someone you look up to treating you with respect, like an equal. But that's who Tonks was. She never saw herself as being above anyone, and she always took the time to talk to me, even when it felt like nobody else cared to listen.

"Tonks inspired me, every single day. It was pretty cool to see how a powerful woman could make it in the Auror Department, excelling and making a name for herself while doing what was right. She- she died doing what was right, fighting to protect the ones she cared about, including her son, Teddy. The last- the last thing I told Tonks before the battle was- I said I'd always be there for Teddy and for her. What I didn't tell her, and what I'd give anything to tell her now, is that I loved her because she'd always been there for me. And even though I miss her so much-" Ginny took a shuddering breath as the tears finally fell again. She looked at Harry, who was looking at her so intently that he seemed to be willing strength into her. "Even though I miss her, so very much, I'm so proud that I got to call her my sister."

Ginny was surprised when she heard a couple of people clapping. She looked into the crowd, trying to find who it was, but before she knew it, the entire audience was applauding. Ginny smiled softly, knowing they were applauding Tonks and the amazing life that she had lived. As the applause slowly died down, Ginny cleared her throat. "Thank you. And now, I'd like to invite Harry Potter to the stage."

Ginny walked off the stage, and Harry pulled her into a quick hug before replacing her on stage. Ginny sat down next to Andromeda and her mother, both of whom were weeping openly. Andromeda patted Ginny briefly on the arm to express her gratitude as Harry looked at her. Ginny nodded at him, and he nodded back, opening his mouth to begin speaking.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Harry had done his best to remain present and aware throughout the service. He'd spent a lot of the night awake with Ginny, crying, and now that he was here, it was difficult to not fall into that again. Harry listened to Kingsley talk about what a great Auror Tonks had been and how Remus had been a great teacher and fighter for the Order. He talked about how they were a great couple and the world was better because of them and their love. He listened to Ginny, who was just so strong, talking about how she loved Tonks and saw her like a sister. When it was his turn to speak, he hugged her, trying to draw as much strength from her as he could before getting on the stage. When he looked out at the crowd, he knew that he had to be honest, even if the truth was hard. Still a little unsure of himself, his eyes found Ginny, who nodded at him, smiling a little reassuringly. Harry nodded back at her, feeling slightly better, and he began his speech.

"Remus Lupin was best friends with my dad and my godfather. They were all in the same year in Gryffindor, and they quickly became close friends. They became so close, in fact, that my dad and godfather taught themselves how to become Animagi to keep him company on nights he had to transform into a werewolf. My dad told him that he just had a furry little problem and shouldn't let it define him. But after my dad died, Remus did let it define him.

"He practically withdrew from society, viewing himself as a problem that needed solving. I can't even begin to imagine how difficult it was for him to deal with being a werewolf, but I do know what it's like for people to look at you differently because of your scars." A few people in the audience chuckled, and Harry paused for a moment. He hadn't intended that to be a joke, and it took a moment to recompose himself. "Remus lost the people who welcomed him the most, despite his furry little problem, and instead of trying to find more people to welcome him, he hid until I met him in my third year at Hogwarts.

"He was the best teacher I ever had. I don't know if it was because he saw my dad in me, but he treated me like an adult, and he trained me better in Defence Against the Dark Arts than any other teacher I ever had. He spent countless hours with me outside of class, teaching me how to cast a Patronus. I was thirteen, and he took the time to help me even though he didn't have to. The things he taught me have saved my life countless times, and I owe more to him for that than I ever thanked him for.

"Remus was also afraid when it came to love. It took him ages to finally realise that he deserved love, despite his furry little problem. But when he did finally realise it, he got a chance to live the life he actually deserved. Remus always appeared, to me at least, to be a very sad person. I never saw him happier than when he was with Tonks and when he told me that Teddy had been born. He smiled like I'd never seen that day, and for a while, I saw what he must have looked like when he was at Hogwarts with my dad and godfather. He was happy, and he deserved so much more time to be happy.

"The problem was that even though he was afraid throughout his life- afraid of what people would think of him, afraid of love, and afraid of his furry little problem- he was one of the bravest men I ever knew. He was afraid of a lot, but being with Tonks and having Teddy completely changed his view on life. He wanted to protect them, even though he was afraid. I had a chance to talk to him aft- before the battle. He told me that he was fighting to make the world a happier place for Teddy to live his life. That was who Remus Lupin was. A man who was afraid, but despite that fear, rose up when he was needed to fight for what was right, to fight for a happier world."

Harry exhaled deeply, barely hearing the applause thundering in the church as he remembered the last time he saw Lupin, in the forest. Harry would've given himself in a heartbeat if Lupin or Tonks could be here with their son. But he'd been the one to live, and he swore that he'd spend his life protecting Teddy, telling him about his brave parents, and making sure he enjoyed a life in the happier world his parents had protected for him.

He stepped down the stairs off the stage, hugging Ginny again. She was crying, but her eyes blazed as she looked up at him, clearly proud of what he'd said. Kingsley concluded the funeral with a few more brief remarks. Then everyone proceeded outside to the graveyard, where Tonks and Lupin were being buried. Andromeda lowered Tonks' coffin into the ground near Ted Tonks' grave, tears streaming down her face as she held her wand, shaking slightly. Harry followed suit, lowering Remus into the ground next to his wife as he did his best to stay composed, finally shedding a tear as he turned away and back to Ginny.

The graves were soon filled in, and Andromeda surprised them both when she asked them to inscribe an epitaph on their gravestones. Ginny stepped up first, writing underneath Tonks' name and years of life- Sister to All. Harry followed her, knowing as he knelt in front of Remus' gravestone what should be written to honour the last of the Marauders- Mischief Managed.

Harry walked back to the Weasleys, noticing that George, Ron, and Hermione had all smiled at his inscription. Lupin may not have been the most mischievous of the Marauders, but in Harry's mind, he still managed more than enough mischief to earn that epitaph. And besides, maybe it would make Remus laugh from wherever he was. Harry liked to think he was laughing a lot more now.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

After they buried Remus and Tonks, the crowd was surprisingly slow to disperse. Several people Ginny didn't know thanked her for her 'moving' eulogy for Tonks. She wasn't really sure how to respond to that, so she stuck to nodding appreciatively. Ginny felt like she was overwhelmed, but looking at Harry showed what overwhelmed really looked like. It seemed like every single person who had attended the funeral wanted a chance to shake his hand and say something to him. She suspected that many of his visitors weren't as interested in talking about Lupin and Tonks as they were about the battle and thanking him for what he did. She knew that he was modest, almost to a fault, and would be feeling extremely uncomfortable, but she didn't see a way that she could pull Harry out of there without causing a scene that would embarrass him further. She kept one eye on Harry as she walked over to Charlie, who was standing by himself, slightly removed from the crowd.

"Your boyfriend sure does have a lot of admirers," he commented wryly.

Ginny smiled. "He deserves them, but he hates the attention. He never thinks he deserves anything to be honest… always thinks he could do more or be better."

"Bit out of character for a hero."

"He never wanted to be a hero. It's amazing how natural the things that we think are heroic are to him. He thinks anybody would've done them."

Charlie looked at her curiously. "You know, the last time I really talked to him before this week was four years ago. He seemed like a pretty normal kid, despite everything that had happened to him. I just kind of figured with Voldemort coming back, he would've changed, wanted some appreciation, especially considering how the Ministry tried to discredit him for so long. But none of it's an act, is it? He really doesn't want any attention?"

Ginny shook her head. "Yesterday, we were washing dishes together, by hand, since that relaxes Harry for some reason. He said something I thought was odd. He asked if that was something normal people did. He's definitely a hero, but I think all he wants is to live a normal life without all the attention."

"Bloody hell," Charlie swore. Ginny gave him a confused glance. "It's not nearly as much fun taking the piss out of a bloke who's dating you when he's… that," he said frustratedly, gesturing at Harry, still surrounded by a throng of people and looking rather nervous.

Ginny laughed. "I'm sure you'll still find some enjoyment in it. But try taking it easy on him, he deserves a little break at home at least, even if he's not getting it in public."

"No promises," Charlie joked, but his expression told Ginny that he would at least consider it. They stood in silence for a moment, watching wizard after wizard shake Harry's hand when Ginny remembered why she'd come over to talk to Charlie in the first place.

"How are you doing? I know you and Tonks were friends at school…" she trailed off.

Charlie shrugged. "Not great, honestly. Y'know… we never told anyone, but Tonks was my first real girlfriend."

Ginny gasped. "You and Tonks?" she asked in disbelief.

Charlie smiled a little and nodded. "Yeah, it was back in our sixth year. I'd gone on a few dates before, but never anything like a real relationship. We dated for a few months, but I ended up leaving to go to Romania. We wrote fairly often, but we agreed not to wait on each other. It was for the best; we had different paths that we wanted to follow at the time. She was still one of my best friends though, even after we'd both moved on."

Ginny gave Charlie a brief hug. "I'm sorry Charlie, I never knew the two of you were that close."

Charlie shook his head. "It's okay. I'm gonna miss her, but it sounds to me like she was much closer to you over these past few years. I'm glad she was there for you when you needed her, and… I'm sorry you lost her."

Ginny nodded but bit her lip, refusing to cry anymore. Charlie looked back at Harry and the slowly thinning crowd around him. "I do wish I'd been here more. To be around Tonks when she was alive… but also to be around the family more. It feels like you're so different than you were when I left for Romania."

Ginny chuckled softly. "I was eight when you left, Charlie. I'm definitely a little different than I was then."

Charlie looked at her, sadder than she'd seen him the whole day. "Yeah, you sure have grown up, Gin-Gin."

"I thought we talked a long time ago about calling me that," Ginny scolded, putting her hands on her hips for emphasis.

Charlie smiled a little, breaking his glum demeanour, and shrugged dismissively. "Sorry Gin-Gin, but you're still a little kid to me."

Ginny rolled her eyes but didn't protest any further. There was clearly something bothering Charlie more than just what had happened to Tonks, and considering the situation, she decided to let it slide this once. She looked at Charlie and tilted her head towards the rest of their family, who was talking to Kingsley Shacklebolt.

Charlie sighed and nodded. "Your boyfriend's almost done with his fans anyway."

Ginny saw that he was right- there were just a few more people keeping Harry from being able to leave. She and Charlie walked towards their family. As they got closer, she heard Kingsley say, "- just in time for the memorial," but he stopped talking when he saw her.

He smiled at her and shook her hand. "That was an excellent speech you gave, Ginny. Tonks and I worked very closely together for a long time, and I know she felt very close to you. She would've been proud."

Ginny blushed, thankful that he'd shared that with her even though it made it difficult to keep her emotions in check. Clearing her throat, she said, "Thank you, Minister."

Kingsley chuckled. "Honestly Ginny, you've been calling me Kingsley for years. That's my name, and that's what I like to be called." Ginny smiled at him and nodded, grateful that he was remaining down to earth even as he wielded enormous power in the wizarding world.

She was surprised when Harry walked up to her, sliding an arm around her waist. She turned and kissed him on the cheek, making him smile more than he had all day. Kingsley shook his hand. "Sorry for another handshake, Harry, but that was a fantastic eulogy you gave for Remus."

Harry nodded. "Thanks Kingsley… I honestly wasn't sure if I was doing the right thing with it, but I'm glad you thought it was good."

"The truth always matters, Harry. Remus was a flawed man, like you said, but he was also a brave hero when he needed to be. I think he would've agreed with everything you said."

Harry nodded again, suddenly looking very tired, as if the events of the day, including his impromptu celebrity greeting line, were catching up to him. The rest of her family had already left, so Ginny nudged him softly, causing him to look at her.

"Ready to go home?" she asked. Harry nodded before looking back at Kingsley, who waved a hand to gesture that they should leave.

"Don't let me keep you. We'll be seeing plenty of each other over the next few weeks anyways," he promised grimly. Ginny did her best not to remember that several of those occasions would be more funerals. They bade farewell to Kingsley, who disapparated. Harry followed suit, holding Ginny close to him as he turned on his heel and transported them back to the Burrow.

The rest of the day passed very slowly at home. Ginny and Harry napped together on the couch for an hour or two, even though it didn't feel like they'd rested at all. Molly made a chicken and ham pie for dinner, and George surprised them all by joining them for dinner, even though he didn't speak at all. Instead, he mostly shifted food around his plate, not eating much. Granted, nobody was really talking much. The day had taken a toll on all of them, and it was only the beginning.

It wasn't until Ginny and Harry were sitting outside on the porch swing again that Ginny remembered whose funeral was tomorrow. Colin Creevey, her classmate and fellow Gryffindor, would be the next hero of the battle that they would be saying goodbye to. Harry had been even more quiet since dinner, and Ginny suspected that Colin's death was hitting him even harder than it was hitting her.

Not that Ginny wasn't sad about Colin. They'd been friends, very good friends for a long time. She hadn't had many friends after her first year at Hogwarts, but Colin was just so outgoing that he made her feel like she always had a friend in him, despite what had happened with the Chamber. After Ginny broke up with Dean, he actually asked her out, but by that point, she was waiting for Harry. He grew a lot in the original Dumbledore's Army, and when he came back to Hogwarts for the battle, Ginny wasn't surprised. As a Muggle-born, he'd been removed from the wizarding world for almost a year, but he seemed to have matured even more in that time. The last time she'd seen him, he'd had such a strong look of determination on his face that Ginny knew he was fighting for more than himself. He was fighting for all the Muggle-borns who were made to hide in fear of a ruthless and cruel new regime.

Ginny felt tears in her eyes, and she tried blinking them back, but it was hopeless. She'd cried more in the past few days than she had in years, it felt like, yet she couldn't stop. Harry held her, and they didn't need to say anything. Ginny could tell, even though he wasn't crying, that Harry felt the same way. Colin deserved so much more than a life ended at sixteen by a war he shouldn't have had to fight in.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Burying Remus and Tonks had been incredibly difficult. As Harry had been surrounded by an endless blur of faces and well wishes, he felt himself disassociating from it all. For Merlin's sake, this was a funeral, and people were lined up for him like he was some sort of attraction at a zoo. He kept looking for Ginny, who stayed within view, never moving too far away. For a while, Charlie and her were talking while looking at him, but Harry had no idea what that was about. After what felt like hours, he shook the last hand and was finally able to leave, taking Ginny and himself back to the Burrow.

The day passed uneventfully, and as Harry sat with Ginny on the swinging bench, he thought about the next funeral- Colin's. Harry couldn't even wrap his head around the fact that Colin was gone. He knew as he hugged a crying Ginny that she was mourning the loss of yet another friend, but it hadn't even sunk in to Harry that someone even younger than him had laid down his life defending Hogwarts.

They didn't really talk that night. Harry slipped into her bed after everyone went to sleep again, and they lay in silence. Not sleeping, but not crying either. All they needed was to hold each other. Harry must've finally dozed off at some point because he was woken, for the first time since they'd returned to the Burrow, by Hermione, who quickly escorted him out of Ginny's bedroom. Harry dressed upstairs with Ron in his black dress robes again, not nearly ready for another funeral. At least he didn't have to speak at this one.

Like yesterday, the family sat together at the kitchen table, but nobody ate anything. Arthur mentioned that there were two parts to Colin's funeral. There would be a wizarding ceremony, and then everyone would leave while Colin's Muggle friends and the rest of his family would hold a second funeral and bury him. When the time came, they all apparated to a church in Coventry, where the Creeveys lived.

There were many more Hogwarts students at this funeral than at the one yesterday, Harry noticed. Almost every member of the D.A. had come, along with a large portion of Gryffindor House and several other students from Colin's year. Professors McGonagall, Flitwick, Sprout, Slughorn, and Sinistra had come, as well as Hagrid. Harry found himself rather pleased that so many people had made it, especially considering it was just days after the battle. Colin deserved as large an attendance as possible.

Harry stuck with the the Weasleys, and there were far less people who wanted to talk to him today, likely because he'd gone to school for so long with so many of these people, and also because, unlike most of the well-wishers yesterday, a lot of the attendees had been at the battle. They knew the realities of it, not just the brief version being described by the Daily Prophet that featured Harry as a hero and ignored all the sacrifices made by people braver than him.

He was about to sit down next to Ginny near the back of the church, not wanting to draw attention to himself, but he was stopped when Dennis Creevey tapped him on the shoulder. Harry turned, surprised, but that surprise shifted quickly into guilt and shame and empathy, seeing the broken expression on Dennis' face, even as he tried to smile at Harry.

"Hey, Harry. Thanks for coming," Dennis said quietly.

Harry nodded. "I wouldn't have missed this for the world," he responded honestly.

Dennis tried smiling again, but he looked like he was wincing in pain. "I was hoping I could introduce you to my parents. Col- he talked a lot about you, and I know they'd love to meet you."

Harry was very surprised at this request. He looked back at Ginny, who nodded encouragingly to him, even as she looked slightly discomforted by Harry's plight. Harry looked back to Dennis. "Yeah, I'd definitely like to meet them… are you wanting to right now?" he asked, thinking that the service should be starting soon.

"Yeah, just come up front with me. They're standing up there," he pointed to a clearly grief-stricken couple standing at the front row. Harry almost reluctantly followed Dennis to his parents. "Mum, Dad, this is Harry Potter."

Mrs. Creevey stunned Harry by hugging him, before seemingly realising herself and pulling back. "I'm sorry, it's just… he talked so much about you, and I know- at least I've heard about your life and what you've been through. He looked up to you so much, and he loved being your friend."

Harry couldn't speak as Mrs. Creevey started crying again. All Harry felt was a lump in his throat. Mr. Creevey extended his hand to Harry, who shook it weakly, continually feeling more and more uncomfortable. "Dennis told us about what happened… at the school. After everything Col- Colin told us about you, and what Dennis said… you're a good man, Mister Potter, and I'm glad that you were friends with my son."

Harry thought he was going to be sick. Somehow, he managed to say quietly, "I'm so sorry. I would do anything if I could bring him back." The way this kind, short couple looked at him, even as they were clearly grieving, did nothing to comfort him.

"Col- Colin wanted to do what was right. We wish more than anything that he was still here, but we're so proud of him," Mr. Creevey said.

"You should be. Colin is a hero," Harry agreed with conviction.

Dennis cut in. "Harry… they're about to start, and I wanted to ask you. D'you think- I mean, would you mind- I think Colin would've liked it a lot… if you spoke today."

Harry didn't think it was possible for him to feel any worse than he already did, looking in the mourning faces of a family smaller than it should've been because Colin had gone to Hogwarts to fight. Because Harry had brought the fight there. He wanted more than anything to disapparate out of the church, to never have to speak in front of people again, to be done with all this.

He didn't know how, but he heard himself saying, "Yeah, of course I will." He couldn't say no to this family that somehow thought so highly of him despite everything. As much as he hated it, if it brought them any comfort, he would force himself to do it.

All three of them smiled a little. Dennis nodded. "Thanks Harry, just sit up here with us and they'll say when it's time for you."

Harry sat next to Dennis, not saying anything else. He realised somewhere in his mind that the Weasleys, especially Ginny, would probably be wondering why he was sitting up here. To be honest, he was still wondering that himself. But he didn't have very long to wonder as Professor McGonagall stood in front of the church, gathering everyone's attention to begin the service.

"I had the honour of serving as Colin Creevey's Head of House at Hogwarts for the past six years. In that time, I saw him grow from a very energetic and talkative boy into a young man, who valued bravery and friendship above all else." McGonagall kept talking, but Harry found that he couldn't listen anymore. He knew he should be trying to think of something he could say, but all that he could see in his mind was a camera pointed at him and a high pitched voice asking, "Alright, Harry?"

McGonagall talked for a while. As she concluded her speech, she said, "Colin held all his friends close to his heart, but there was one friend he held in especially high esteem, particularly as a younger student. That friend has graciously agreed to speak today, so I invite Harry Potter to come up to the stage."

Harry was surprised, and he realised that Dennis must have told McGonagall that he would be speaking before he'd even asked Harry. Not a bad move, Harry observed as he quickly tried to collect his thoughts. McGonagall looked at him sadly as they passed each other, and Harry realised that she likely wasn't very familiar with burying her students. Not that anyone should ever be used to something like that.

Harry turned to face the audience, and he took a deep breath. He could barely see her, but as usual, his eyes found Ginny, and he knew that she was with him even though he stood alone on the stage. Harry exhaled, took another deep breath, and began talking.

"The- the first time I met Colin, he asked if he could take a picture of us for me to autograph. Even as an eleven year old, Colin wasn't afraid to put himself out there, regardless of what other people thought. And not in a bad way either. Colin was the kind of person who never knew a stranger. He'd talk to anybody and make them feel like his friend. As he grew older, his bravery and willingness to be himself manifested itself in ways beyond just social situations. Colin was a founding member of Dumble- a Defence Against the Dark Arts club, and he grew tremendously in his abilities and confidence to defend himself and others. This past year, Colin had to be in hiding as a Muggle-born, but when the chance came for him to fight, he managed to get into Hogwarts and fought for what was right."

Harry hesitated for a moment, suddenly seeing what he really wanted to say, even though it might make people uncomfortable.

"I didn't know that Colin had come to Hogwarts until- until he'd been killed. I feel so sorry for his family and friends. I'm extremely sad that Colin's life was cut far too short, but I'm also incredibly proud that I was friends with someone like him, who was heroic and brave when he didn't have to be. There wasn't anyone forcing him to be at Hogwarts. He ran to Hogwarts instead of staying away because he wanted to fight for what was right.

"More than anything though, I'm pissed off." Some people stirred in the audience, but Harry wasn't stopping now. "I am bloody pissed off that this was a fight that Colin felt the need to be a part of. I'm pissed off that because of his magical heritage, something he had no control over, he dealt with ridicule and slander and spent the last year of his life hiding from a corrupt government that would've arrested him or worse for being able to do magic. I'm pissed off that there are still a lot of wizards and witches who think that their blood status matters at all, or even that the fact that they're able to do magic makes them better than the people who can't.

"The truth is that it doesn't matter at all. I'm a half-blood, and my two best friends are a pureblood and a Muggle-born. Colin Creevey was a Muggle-born, and he's worth dozens of pureblood wizards who were too afraid to stand up for what was right when he wasn't. I'm pissed off about a lot of things that have happened. But more than anything, I am fucking pissed off that there are families that won't ever be whole again because some evil people decided that they got to choose whose lives mattered and whose didn't."

Harry's voice trembled, but he kept going. "Colin was a friend to all, and he was murdered by people who fear friendship and crave violence, dissent, and cruelty. Colin died fighting for the rights of people just like him, people caught between the Muggle and magical worlds, who deserve the right to live as they please without fearing what the government or other witches and wizards will think about them because of where they came from. He died fighting for a world where all wizards and witches are treated equally, for a world where blood status doesn't matter. Colin is a bloody hero, and we can honour his life by doing what's right and treating everyone fairly, regardless of who their parents are or how pure their blood is. We're all bonded by magic; we shouldn't be looking for ways to divide ourselves. Never forget that, and Colin's sacrifice ends in victory."

Harry walked off the stage abruptly as the church sat in stunned silence. He noticed as he sat down next to Dennis again that tears were running down his cheeks, but he had no idea when they started. All three members of the Creevey family were weeping, but Dennis clapped Harry on the shoulder.

He whispered through the tears, "Colin would've loved that Harry Potter swore in a church in front of everyone for him," almost chuckling even though he was crying.

Harry wished he felt like laughing at that, but he was just shaking. He hadn't even thought to put into words what he felt about the fact that so many people died at the battle. And if the silence in the church was any indication, a lot of people were very surprised at what he had to say.

The silence lasted for another moment before Professor McGonagall finally stood up, concluding the service by thanking everyone for coming, directing those who wished to speak to the family to the front, and asking people to leave shortly because the Muggle service would be happening in a couple hours. Harry wanted to slip away, but Mrs. Creevey pulled him into another hug, surprising Harry once again with her strength for such a small woman.

"Thank you for what you said up there," she said in his ear. "That was the most impactful speech I've ever heard, and it means so much coming from you."

Harry nodded, not able to make eye contact with her as she pulled back before her husband pulled Harry into a tight hug as well. Harry nodded to them all once again before backing away slowly as others came up to the family, looking for another exit out of the church. Not finding one, Harry resigned himself to standing against a wall and hoping people wouldn't notice him.

That hope was quickly dispelled when Harry felt the wind knocked out of him as someone hugged him very tightly. He tried to see who it was, but his vision was blocked by a forest of bushy brown hair. He realised who his hugger was and quickly hugged her back. Hermione backed away from him after a few moments, wiping tears from her eyes.

"That was just… the most beautiful speech I've ever heard, Harry. You have no idea how important it was for you to say what you did," she said a little breathlessly.

Harry looked at her curiously. "I mean… sure thing, Hermione. You know how I feel about blood status and all that rubbish."

Hermione shook her head. "Well of course I know how you feel about it, but you've just told the rest of the world how you feel." Harry furrowed his brow, still confused. "Honestly, Harry, you can be a bit stupid sometimes. Word will spread, and you can bet that what you said will be in the Daily Prophet on Sunday."

Realisation dawned on Harry. "Oh… I hadn't thought about that. To be honest, I didn't really think, I just said what I was feeling. Guess I shouldn't have sworn so many times though if this is going to be in the paper," he noted, cringing a little. "I'm sure you didn't like the swearing either."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "I usually don't, but for today, it was perfect." She hugged him again. "Just… thank you for saying that. It means so much, even if I already knew how you felt about me and other Muggle-borns." Harry smiled a little at this affection, even if he was still a little confused at her reaction, but that wasn't going to keep him from hugging his best friend.

He was pleased when she stepped away that nobody was waiting to talk to him. There were several people near the Creeveys, but nobody had queued up to shake his hand today. Grateful, Harry turned to go back to the Weasleys when he heard Dennis calling him. "Wait up, Harry!"

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Her boyfriend really was a hero, Ginny thought as she watched him passionately defending Muggle-borns in his speech. She knew that he hadn't known when he came to the church that he'd be asked to speak, and it was obvious that he'd been speaking from the heart. After the service was over, Hermione quickly made her way to Harry, hugging him and talking to him for several minutes. Pleased, Ginny turned to see her family looking impressed too.

Bill commented, "That sure was something."

Fleur agreed, "Eet was just so beautiful and touching. 'E made a lot of people very proud today."

"He shouldn't have sworn so much, but that will definitely be in the Prophet this weekend," Percy commented.

Charlie rolled his eyes. "Bugger off, Perce. That was a bloody brilliant statement for the Prophet." Percy reddened but didn't respond.

Ginny was still seated next to George, who looked deep in thought. "What's on your mind, Georgie?" she asked, hoping that he wouldn't close himself off.

He shook his head. "Just thinking about a couple things. Great speech, though," he added, still looking towards the front of the church. Ginny decided not to ask again, figuring that he'd tell her if he wanted to.

She looked where George was looking and saw Hermione walking back to them. Her cheeks were shining with tears, but she was smiling.

"Where's Harry?" Ginny asked.

"Dennis wanted to talk to him about something. It's unbelievable though. Harry doesn't even realise that what he said was important," she said, shaking her head incredulously.

Ron snorted, "Of course he doesn't. Harry was surprised when he was on the front page of the Prophet after defeating Riddle."

"He'll be real happy when he's on the front page on Sunday, then," Charlie said, gesturing to the front of the church, where a photographer was taking a picture of the Creevey family with Harry.

"Honestly, can't they give it a rest at a bloody funeral?" Ginny growled, irate that reporters would intrude on something like this. `

Bill shook his head. "The sad thing is for a lot of Britain, the battle is already becoming a mythical thing that they want to learn more about. We know the realities of it, but it's becoming sensationalised in the press already, and the Prophet will sell a lot of issues with Harry on the front."

"He deserves a break," Ginny argued combatively.

"No arguments here, sis, but that's not the way the world works," Bill responded, even though he was frowning at the situation.

Harry finally started approaching them, and surprisingly, he arrived without anyone else stopping him to talk. Ginny pulled him into a tight hug. "You had no idea you were supposed to speak, did you?" she asked once they'd separated, still holding hands.

Harry shook his head. "Dennis asked me after he introduced me to his parents. I couldn't really say no then."

"Sneaky bloke," George commented from behind Ginny. Harry nodded, smiling a little.

Ron clapped Harry's shoulder. "That was brilliant, mate. Your swearing is gonna be on the front page of the Prophet!" he said a little too excitedly.

Harry groaned and looked down at the ground. Ginny squeezed his hand, and he responded in kind. "Harry," Bill interjected, stepping close enough to put his arm around his shoulder, "That was the perfect speech. People need to be shocked to realise how bad the situation is, and you did just that."

Harry nodded. "Thanks, Bill," he said, looking back up from the ground. "Are we going home?" he asked Ginny.

Ginny nodded. "Whenever you're ready. No adoring fans to wait for this time. Except me that is," she said, winking at him.

Harry smiled a little again. "Don't worry, I'll always have time for my number one fan." Ginny squeezed his hand, smiling back at him, and they walked outside, disapparating back to the Burrow with the rest of her family.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

A/N: Wow, that was quite the emotional roller coaster of a chapter, so I don't think it would surprise anyone to know that this chapter was incredibly difficult for me to write. I love happy fics, and I think this is ultimately a very happy fic, hence the series name Happier Every Day. But I also wanted and needed to be as authentic to the characters and canon as possible, and funerals were always going to happen after the Battle.

To write this chapter and a few upcoming chapters, I had to do my best to remember feelings I've had at the funerals of people I love. Thankfully, it's been a few years since I've been to one, but it isn't difficult, for me at least, to put myself back in a position of emptiness and despair when thinking about losing loved ones. Ginny blanking at Tonks' funeral was entirely inspired by my own personal way of processing things during funerals, but she was always going to be strong enough to deliver a beautiful eulogy for her big sister, and I hope I did Tonks justice with it.

Harry's eulogy for Lupin was even more difficult to write. It was important to me to not whitewash Lupin's mistakes, and I don't think Harry would've either, considering their interaction at Grimmauld Place at the start of Deathly Hallows. To me, this eulogy is a sign of Harry's growing maturity- recognising that Lupin wasn't perfect, but he was an incredibly brave man who deserved more than a few short days with his son.

Harry's eulogy for Colin was much different to write because Harry was experiencing a whole different set of emotions. He views everyone's deaths at the Battle as his fault, but Lupin and Tonks were at least in the Order of the Phoenix and knew what they were doing. For Harry to know that someone younger than him died at the Battle is a totally different feeling of guilt and responsibility and anger. Those emotions were just impossible to fully control when Dennis sprung the speaking role on Harry, but it was very important for him to say what he did, even though it came in a moment of him basically snapping emotionally. The end of the war marked a critical moment for the wizarding world, and in the immediate aftermath, everyone is still trying to figure out exactly how to move forward. Harry's making it clear that the path forward should focus on more inclusivity, which is a pretty good idea in my opinion.

I also wanted to note that, while canon doesn't ever explicitly say that Charlie and Tonks were in the same year, Potter wiki says Charlie was born in December 1972, while Tonks was born some time in 1973, so it's probable that they were in the same year at Hogwarts. I thought the idea of Tonks and Charlie being more than friends at one point was both cute and another level of sad, which I apparently couldn't resist. I don't think it's entirely unreasonable though. Considering the way I'm characterising Charlie, I actually could see them as a good couple in another life.

And two random fun facts from the chapter to try and end on a slightly lighter note… I picked Queen Camel, Somerset as the home of the Tonks family because Deathly Hallows says Harry and Hagrid flew over three counties to get to the Tonks house during the Battle of the Seven Potters, Somerset is three counties west of Surrey (where the Dursleys live), I loved the town name, and it has a very rich history tracing back to Roman times and the myths of King Arthur, so it felt like a reasonable Muggle-wizard hybrid town. I selected Coventry as the the hometown for the Creeveys because it's a decently sized Muggle city without being one of the more famous cities in Britain and because the one fact we know about the Creeveys is that Mr. Creevey is a milkman. At the time that I was doing research, the oldest milkman in England (aged 95) ran a delivery service headquartered in Coventry, so I went with it.

With that, we've reached the end of Honouring Friends, and they're going to have a little more time to process things now, but the hard times unfortunately aren't over yet.

Coming Friday: A Restless Break- Hermione rolled her eyes. "Are you telling me you don't love Ginny?"

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Chapter 10: A Restless Break

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Are you telling me you don't love Ginny?"

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

Despite what Hermione and the Weasleys had said to him at the funeral, Harry still didn’t feel right about any of it. He wanted nothing more than to make jokes and smile easily and pretend that none of this had happened. He couldn’t shake the feeling that it was all his fault. He was also starting to feel uneasy with the new pattern of life he was in. He liked sharing a bed with Ginny and being comfortable without being on the run, but it felt like he was getting complacent. Now would be the perfect time for Death Eaters to strike, while everyone was in mourning and starting to relax.

Harry didn’t say much the rest of the day. He felt bad, like he shouldn’t have a hard time talking with his girlfriend and his best friends, but he just couldn’t find words. He was relieved when it was finally bedtime, but even sneaking into bed with Ginny didn’t help. She fell asleep quickly, and Harry found himself watching the rise and fall of her chest, just to be sure she was still breathing. He loved holding her, but he needed some fresh air. He quietly rolled out of bed, certain that it was very late in the night, and went downstairs. He sat on the porch swing, breathing deeply, savouring the natural, woody scent of the Burrow.

The Great Hall was littered with the bodies of its defenders. Among them, Remus and Tonks, leaving behind a baby, orphaned before he even knew his parents. There must have been close to fifty bodies, and everyone still living looked utterly defeated, injured, and terrified. He left, and Oliver Wood passed him, carrying the broken body of Colin Creevey.

Another young life ruined, taken by war. It didn’t matter what he did, there was always more death. All it took was two words and a flash of green light to extinguish the brightest sparks of life. Mortality wasn’t just reality; it was eventuality. He’d been racing towards that eventuality for years, coming far closer, far more often than anyone. And now his feet were carrying him, relentlessly, unceasingly, towards that eventuality that he’d been narrowly avoiding his whole life.

Smoke clouded the sky and the smell of burning flesh and blood clogged his nostrils, making it difficult to breathe. One foot in front of the other, moving mechanically, inching closer towards the end of his line, when the eventuality would claim him like it had claimed so many before him.

Avada Kedavra!’ A flash of green light, and James Potter lay dead in his home.

Avada Kedavra!’ A flash of green light, and Lily Potter fell in front of her son.

Avada Kedavra!’ A flash of green light, and Cedric Diggory died in a graveyard.

‘Avada Kedavra!’ A flash of green light, and Albus Dumbledore plummeted to the ground.

Avada Kedavra!’ A flash of green light, and Hedwig died in her cage.

Avada Kedavra! Avada Kedavra! Avada Kedavra! Avada Kedavra!’ Green light after green light claimed more victims, people he hadn’t even seen die but could imagine it clearly, having seen it so many times before. Alastor Moody, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks, Colin Creevey. Death marched on, the eventuality claiming all far too soon.

He couldn’t breathe. He knew the eventuality that awaited him, hoping that he could delay the deaths of his friends, those he loved, even though he had to die.

Avada Kedavra!’ Green light raced towards him, the same green light that had raced towards him almost seventeen years earlier.

Avada Kedavra!’ A flash of green light, Bellatrix Lestrange pointing her wand at Ginny, and his world crumbling as the light neared her. Her life, so bright and vibrant, would be extinguished, like so many before, because of him.

He couldn’t breathe.


Hands were on his shoulders, and a calming voice encouraged him, “Breathe, Harry. Deep breaths.” He heard sobbing somewhere in the distance, probably something else he caused. Suddenly, he jerked awake, gasping for air. Bill was holding him tightly. Harry breathed in and out again, eyes darting around. Fleur was standing behind Bill, staring intensely at him, and at the edge of the porch, Arthur was supporting Mrs. Weasley, who was sobbing hysterically as she watched Harry.

Harry breathed again, trying to calm himself down. “Wha- what happened?” he rasped quietly.

“Mum heard you come downstairs. She tried to wake you up, but when she couldn’t, she ran upstairs to get Dad. I heard them coming back down, and we followed. How are you feeling?”

Harry just shook his head, still struggling to even his breathing. “It was bad, Bill.”

Bill nodded understandingly. He sat next to Harry, keeping an arm around his shoulder. “Same as before?”

“I- I don’t even know how to explain it. I just- I kept seeing people die, and I woke up when it looked like Ginny was about to die.”

“These are getting worse, Harry. I really think you should consider talking to someone about this.”

“It’s fine! Bill… I’m okay. They’re dealing with a lot at the hospital right now. The last thing they need is me asking for help with my nightmares.”

Fleur sat on his other side. “‘arry, theez is more ‘zan nightmares. You are ‘urting, still fighting. You can ask for ‘elp.”

“I just- the last thing anyone wants to see is their ‘hero’ going to the hospital, raving like a lunatic about his mental problems. I’ve already felt like a nutter these past three years with the connection in my head to- to him. I don’t want to keep feeling like that,” Harry defended himself. He hadn’t even noticed that Arthur and Mrs. Weasley had walked in front of him.

“Harry, there’s nothing wrong with needing help. After everything you’ve done, anyone would be happy to give you help. You just have to ask for it,” Arthur said, encouragingly.

“You told me you wanted a normal life. Your life won’t get any more normal while you’re still fighting in your mind. Your body is trying to move on, and your head is pulling you back,” Bill told him.

Harry looked at the ground. He knew they were right. He felt helpless with these panic attacks; it wasn’t something he was going to be able to prevent on his own. That didn’t make it any less difficult to admit that he needed help, and even if he did admit it, he didn’t want the rest of the world to know about it like they seemed to know everything else about him.

“I have a friend who works at St. Mungo’s as a Healer. I don’t know how much help she would be, but I could ask if she’d meet with you, at least. I promise she’ll be discreet about it,” Mrs. Weasley said, still sniffling.

“I’m sorry for scaring you, Mrs. Weasley,” Harry said.

She just shook her head. “It’s alright, dear. I was just worried that I couldn’t do anything to help. I’m so glad Bill knew what to do.”

Harry nodded, looking back at Bill. He nodded encouragingly, and Harry said hesitantly. “I- you can contact your friend. Just let me know when she can meet, and I’ll be there.”

Everyone around him smiled, clearly relieved that Harry was at least willing to accept help. Bill clapped his shoulder. “Good man, Harry. I think this will help a lot. But-” his expression grew more serious “- I really think you should tell Ginny.”

“And Ron and Hermione,” Mrs. Weasley added, clearly not loving Bill’s singling out of her daughter even if she was dating Harry. Bill turned to her, looking surprised, before nodding. But Harry knew that wasn’t what Bill meant. Or at least, it wasn’t all of it. Because Harry should tell them about his panic attacks, but he also had to tell Ginny about what happened in the forest.

“I’m just not wanting to make things harder on… them, considering what we’re all going through right now,” Harry said.

“We all care very deeply for you, Harry. You’re part of the family, and your struggles are our struggles. We’ll always want to be here for you,” Arthur responded earnestly. Bill nodded, giving Harry a look, saying without words that Ginny would feel the same way. Resigned, Harry nodded.

“I’ll tell them soon,” he promised. As he looked at all their tired faces, he asked, “What time is it?”

“Around four,” Mrs. Weasley said, looking sleepier by the moment.

Fleur gasped, “Eet’s been a week.”

Harry felt nauseous, but Bill tightened his hold on him. He looked over to Bill, who grimaced back at him, realising the same thing. Almost exactly a week ago to the minute, Harry had given himself up to die. A week ago, Fred, Remus, Tonks, Colin, and fifty other heroes lost their lives.

They sat in silence for several minutes. Harry saw a single tear rolled down Arthur’s cheek. “Why don’t we all go back to bed,” Arthur suggested.

Bill glanced at Harry, checking if he was okay. Harry nodded, so they all returned upstairs. He walked up to Ron’s room, waiting outside for a few minutes before going back downstairs. He froze as he came down the stairs to the landing of the first floor, where Ginny and Bill’s rooms were.

Bill was standing in the doorway of his room, giving Harry a curious look. Harry gulped involuntarily, knowing that he was caught. Instead of chewing him out though, Bill surprised him.

“That board causes a creak upstairs,” he said, pointing to one near the top of the stairs. “Mum charmed it when we were all younger to know if we were sneaking around. That’s how she heard you.”

Very confused, Harry nodded, and Bill went back into his room. Harry slowly entered Ginny’s room, careful not to step on the creaking board, and slipped back into bed. Feeling a little better than he had when he’d left, he gratefully wrapped his arms around her and fell asleep.

He woke up a few hours later. Neither he nor Ginny had moved since he’d gotten back into bed. He kissed her softly before leaving to switch rooms with Hermione. Harry didn’t realise how tired he was, intending to go back downstairs after Hermione had left Ron’s room, but instead, he crawled into a sleeping bag on the floor and fell back asleep, still exhausted from not sleeping much the night before.

When he finally made it downstairs, it was late in the morning. The house was empty as far as he could tell, other than Hermione and Ron sitting together at the kitchen table. Harry poured himself a cup of tea and sat with them. “Where is everyone?” he asked.

“George is still in Percy’s room. Bill and Fleur went back to Shell Cottage for the weekend. Mum took Ginny to Aunt Muriel’s to get all the things they left there when they came to Hogwarts. Dad, Percy, and Charlie went into the Ministry. Dad wanted to check in on some stuff since he’s been gone for a week and isn’t planning on going back to work for at least another week. Kingsley wanted to see Charlie about the dragon from Gringotts, and I think Percy went because he’s not sure if he actually has a job anymore,” Ron explained.

Harry nodded. “So what are you two up to?”

“Waiting for you to get up, actually,” Ron answered.

“Why?” Harry asked automatically.

“It feels like we’ve barely all been together this week other than when we talked to Kingsley and McGonagall. I- we thought it would be nice to spend some time together today,” Hermione responded, looking at him with concern. Harry wondered for a brief moment if she knew about what had happened last night.

“Alright, that sounds good to me,” Harry agreed. “What were you planning on us doing?”

“Mum said the garden needed to be de-gnomed,” Ron offered helpfully. Hermione wrinkled her nose and sighed at Harry’s excited expression. De-gnoming had always been one of his favourite things to do at the Burrow. It sounded like a lot of fun to go outside and throw gnomes around with his friends.

“I guess we could do that,” Hermione reluctantly caved, and the three of them marched out the back door and into the garden. In the month that the Weasleys had been away from the Burrow, the gnomes had taken control of the garden, openly wandering about instead of sticking to bushes and gnomeholes.

“This is gonna be fun,” Ron remarked, looking over at Harry, who was grinning at the sight. Hermione rolled her eyes, muttering something that sounded like ‘stupid boys’.

“Be careful, Hermione,” Ron suggested. “They can smell fear, and their bites hurt.”

“Honestly, Ron,” Hermione rolled her eyes. “Don’t you think I remember what we learned about gnomes at school?” She bent down to pick up her first gnome, but it moved too quickly from her, and before she could react, it had clamped its teeth down on her hand.

“Shit!” Hermione screamed, spiking the gnome into the ground as she waved her hand in an attempt to get it off. Harry and Ron stared for a moment, surprised because Hermione never swore. Then they burst out laughing, remembering Hermione’s smugness a moment earlier.

Angered, Hermione picked up her gnome, sufficiently dazed from the faceplant it just took, and hurled it over the hedge, surprising both Ron and Harry with how hard she threw it. Then, as if determined to prove that she did know what she was doing, she quickly picked another one up, swung it around by its feet, and launched it just as far as the first one. Still laughing but a little impressed, Harry and Ron joined in, not wanting to miss out on the fun. Gnomes soared through the air for the better part of an hour before Hermione, Ron, and Harry sat down on the edge of the porch, red-faced but grinning at the fun they’d been having.

“I’ve gotta say,” Ron began, wiping sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. “This beats riding that dragon any day.” Harry and Hermione laughed at this, but it also brought Harry back to something he’d been meaning to talk to them about.

Taking a deep breath, he looked to his left at his two friends. “Hey… there’s something I need to tell you two about.” That quickly got their attention, and they looked at him with curious expressions. “I’ve been having… panic attacks, recently.”

Hermione looked extremely concerned, but Ron frowned. “What’s a panic attack?” he asked.

“They’ve happened a couple times when I’m alone and start thinking about things. Basically, I get stuck in some sort of memory or series of memories, kind of like a trance almost, and my body starts panicking. I start sweating and shaking, and I almost forget how to breathe,” Harry explained. “Bill told me about them. Apparently they’re not very common in the wizarding world.”

Ron looked speechless, nodding slightly at the explanation. Hermione had a question though. “How did Bill know about yours then?”

Harry blushed, knowing that she wouldn’t like the answer. “He found me having one the first morning we were here. He pulled me out of it.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes, taking on a very motherly demeanour that scared Harry a little. “And why are we only hearing about this now?”

“I- I didn’t want to pile anything more on you two with the funerals and everything. Bill said that maybe if I finished telling Ginny everything and stopped feeling like there were things I was hiding, it’d be easier to deal with them or maybe they wouldn’t happen as often.”

Hermione wasn’t done grilling him. “So what changed then? Between Wednesday and now?”

Harry looked down at the grass under his feet. “Mrs. Weasley found me having another one in the middle of last night. She couldn’t wake me up, so Bill had to do it. They convinced me to talk to someone at St. Mungo’s that Mrs. Weasley knows about it. I figured since the two of them and Arthur and Fleur knew, I should tell you two as well, especially if I’m gonna be going to St. Mungo’s for it.”

“You said you get trapped in memories… what sorts of memories?” Ron asked.

Hermione smacked his arm, “Ron!” she scolded.

Ron winced, “Sorry, mate. You don’t have to talk about that if-” Harry cut him off, waving his hand.

“It’s okay, I can tell you about it. It’s not really a secret from you. I just keep going back to the forest, or seeing people I love dying. Last night, I woke up when I thought Bellatrix had just killed Ginny,” he confessed.

“Bloody hell,” Ron breathed, running a hand through his hair, just like Bill had when Harry told him about it.

Hermione’s scolding expression had softened and tears swam in her eyes. She reached out and took Harry’s hand, squeezing it tightly. “I’m so sorry, Harry. It’s not fair that you have to be going through this.”

Harry nodded. “Hopefully the Healer at St. Mungo’s is able to help.” He wasn’t at all confident about that working though.

“Wait- you said these were all memories right? When did Bellatrix almost kill Ginny?” Ron asked.

Hermione grimaced. “It was in the Great Hall, at the end. Bellatrix shot a Killing Curse right past Ginny’s head when we were fighting her. That was when your mum stepped in and… you know…”

“I had been running to Riddle,” Harry said. “But when I saw that, I turned and started running to her, until Mrs. Weasley knocked me out of the way. But for a second, I thought…” he didn’t need to finish the sentence as something caught in his throat.

Hermione squeezed his hand again. “You should tell her that,” she suggested. “At some point. It says a lot that you were distracted by that when Riddle was right there.”

Harry nodded, realising it too, like he had the first time he’d thought about it. After the Horcrux hunt and everything they’d been through, he hadn’t hesitated to prioritise her over the mission when it came down to it. “I feel like it was selfish, almost,” he admitted. “If something had happened to me then, if I hadn’t been able to defeat him, it would’ve been my fault.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Love makes people do some irrational things sometimes, Harry. It doesn’t make you selfish.”

Ron added, “Mate, I don’t think you could be selfish if you tried. You literally sacrificed your life to save everyone; nobody could ever think you were selfish after that.”

Harry was still focused on what Hermione said. “Love?” he asked quietly. Ron looked at him then back at Hermione quickly, as if he had just registered what Hermione had said.

Hermione rolled her eyes yet again. “Are you telling me you don’t love Ginny?”

Harry shrugged, feeling confused as usual. “I don’t even know what that feels like.”

Hermione looked at him seriously. “Love is… well, it’s breaking up with the girl of your dreams because you think it’ll protect her. It’s spending endless nights watching a dot on the Marauder’s Map and moping around on Valentine’s Day and saying her name in your sleep more nights than Ron or I ever told you about. It’s sacrificing yourself for everyone, especially her, even though it means you’ll never get the chance to be with her again. It’s running away from your mission the moment she’s in danger.”

Harry was dumbfounded. “I… I love her?” he asked again.

Ron shook his head in disbelief. “I’ve already told you once, but you’re lucky she’s as mad about you as you are for her; otherwise, she would’ve left you for someone much smarter a while ago.”

Harry was just confused. What Hermione said did make sense, but he still wasn’t sure. What if things were going too fast or she wasn’t ready? The last thing he wanted to do was scare her off after they’d just gotten back together. Hermione interrupted his train of thought when she said, “It may be best if you wait until after you tell her everything to tell her though, if you’re wanting to. That might help soften the blow of everything too.”

Harry nodded. That made more sense at least. Plus it gave him a little more time to think about it. “You still haven’t told her?” Ron asked.

Harry shook his head as Hermione replied, “I think we’ll probably be able to tell when she finds out. We didn’t look great when we found out about it.”

Harry exhaled deeply, still dreading telling her, as much as he wanted to. “I’m going to try to tell her everything today. I’m not looking forward to it, but I just want to get it over with so I- we can try to move on.”

Hermione nodded and stood up. “That’s a very good idea, Harry. I’m going to start unpacking everything we had in my bag. I’ll leave your stuff in Ron’s room,” she told the two of them.

Harry and Ron stayed sitting on the porch, looking at the early afternoon sun beating down on the surrounding grass and trees. Harry nudged Ron. “How d’you feel about Hermione talking about love?” he asked, grinning.

Ron laughed. “Not worried about it at all honestly. You and Ginny are way further along in your relationship than we are. Besides, Hermione’s already told me that we’re going to be taking things slowly, especially this summer, and that’s fine by me. I didn’t really do too well with the quick, hot, and heavy relationship thing last time,” he finished quietly, his face darkening as he said it. Harry knew why- Lavender Brown’s funeral was going to be in two days.

“How are you doing… with that?” he asked tentatively, wondering what Ron was feeling.

Ron just shrugged. “I dunno. I don’t really know how I should be feeling. Like it’s awful that she died, and I’m really sad about that, but should I be feeling more or differently as her ex-boyfriend?”

Harry furrowed his brow. “I’m not sure, honestly. I’d imagine Hermione would have a better idea about that than me, but I get it if you don’t wanna bring that up with her. I just think- nobody really knows how to feel with all this. One minute, I’m happy and laughing with you all, and the next I feel like crying. There’s not a right way to handle it in my book.”

“I feel a little guilty about our relationship,” Ron confessed. “I think I knew I fancied Hermione, but I just didn’t think she felt the same way. And after Lavender started showing me all that attention, I just- well, it wasn’t hard to start things with her, but it was miserable pretty quickly, and I should’ve broken up with her much sooner instead of waiting for her to end it.”

“That’s a tough path to go down, starting to think about what you should and shouldn’t have done, especially with relationships,” Harry commented. “I wish I hadn’t been so stupid and went for it with Ginny two summers ago instead of waiting until the end of sixth year. You and Lavender didn’t work together, Ron, but I don’t think you should be feeling guilty about what happened. And it’s not your fault that she died,” Harry finished quietly, starting to feel guilty himself.

Ron put an arm around his shoulders. “It’s not your fault either, mate.” Harry nodded, not sure if he believed that, but he and Ron sat like that for a while, lost in their thoughts of death, guilt, and mistakes in love when they heard a pop in the front yard.

“Must be Mum and Ginny,” Ron said. Harry jumped up, excited to see his girlfriend for the first time today. He started to go inside when Ron grabbed his arm. Harry turned to look back at him and was confused by the protective look on Ron’s face.

“Seriously though Harry, you do need to tell Ginny about everything. Then tell her you love her. Because it’s bloody obvious, and even though I don’t like seeing you two all over each other, nobody deserves that more than the two of you.” He then surprised Harry even further by pulling him into a brief hug with a couple of pounds to Harry’s back. He suspected that this was Ron telling him he approved of the relationship, but it was also Ron’s way of saying that he was there for him with the whole panic attack thing. When Ron released him, Harry nodded at him, smiling briefly at his best friend, before going inside to see his girlfriend.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Ginny hadn’t wanted to leave the house today, especially without Harry, and especially to go to Auntie Muriel’s house. She’d had more than enough of the old woman over the past month, and other than her and Harry reuniting and Riddle’s defeat, the best thing about the battle, in her opinion, was that it marked the end of her time at Muriel’s. For weeks, she’d had to listen to Muriel criticising everything about her- her hair, her height, her weight, her many bruises, her lack of a husband, and much more.

Thankfully, Muriel was mad at her house elf today, so Ginny only received a handful of comments, including “You’ll never get married wearing your hair like that” and “It’s a miracle you haven’t been kidnapped, wearing clothes like that.” That one confused Ginny, who was just wearing a blue t-shirt and jeans. Ginny desperately wanted to say that she was dating none other than Harry Potter, but she held her tongue, waiting for an exceptionally perfect moment to spring that on her old auntie.

When her and her mum finished packing all the things they’d left there, Ginny was disappointed that her mother was convinced to stay for tea because, as Auntie Muriel put it so delicately, “I’m one hundred and eight years old. This could be the last time you ever have the chance to have tea with me!”

Ginny bit back the incredibly rude responses to that argument that were half formed in her brain and sat silently with her mother and great aunt, listening to her aunt telling them scandalous stories she’d heard about the battle, as if Ginny and her mum hadn’t been there.

Ginny finally couldn’t hold it in anymore when Muriel said that she’d heard from “reputable sources” that the “Potter boy was actually in league with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.” Supposedly, Riddle and Harry had planned for Harry to sabotage the castle from the inside, and after the battle, they’d work together to conquer Britain, and Harry only won because he betrayed him at the end, seeking to become the “sole Dark Lord”. This pushed Ginny over the edge, and she opened her mouth to let her great aunt know where she could stick that story when her mother rushed them out of the parlour, thanking Muriel for tea before disapparating the second they left the house.

“How dare she say that?” Ginny practically screeched the moment they landed.

Her mum just shook her head. “I have no idea, dear. You know how she gets. I wouldn’t tell Harry about it though- it’ll probably make him feel worse about everything, knowing that there’s at least a few people out there who believe rubbish like that.”

Ginny nodded, knowing that he was dealing with enough without something like this bothering him too. They entered the Burrow, and Ginny was greeted with Harry’s beaming face as he pulled her into a tight hug, kissing her hair. “I missed you,” he whispered to her.

Ginny smiled against his chest. “It’s only been a few hours,” she teased, but she hugged him back harder. “I missed you too.”

Harry held a hand out to her. “Walk with me?” he asked. She nodded eagerly, grabbing his hand and following him out the back door.

“I need to tell you something,” he said as they started walking away from the Burrow. Something in his voice concerned Ginny, and she looked at him to see that he seemed distressed. She squeezed his hand and grabbed his arm with her other hand, letting him know that she was there for him. He resumed, “I- I’ve been having these things called panic attacks. I get trapped in a memory and go into a sort of trance where I start shaking and can’t breathe. It started on Wednesday, and Bill found me. He told me that I should talk about it with someone, but I told him I could handle it and didn’t want to be a bother to anyone right now, with the funerals and everything. Then your parents, Bill, and Fleur found me in one in the middle of last night, and they convinced me to go see a Healer your mum knows at St. Mungo’s about it.”

Ginny felt her heart breaking, aching for Harry, who had done so much and was still dealing with the pain of everything that had happened. She pulled him into a tight hug, stopping their progress.

“I’m so sorry, Harry,” she whispered. But then she pulled back and gave him a stern look, feeling a twist in her gut at the idea that he thought it was best to hide things like this from her. “But you don’t have to do anything alone anymore. You’ve got Mum and Dad, Bill, Ron and Hermione, me… I want to know when things are bothering you. We’re supposed to be doing this together.”

Harry looked down at her apologetically. “I’m sorry, Gin. I know I should’ve told you. I want to tell you everything; I’m just still getting used to the idea that I’m not alone anymore.”

Ginny couldn’t be too annoyed with that. “Well get used to it faster because you’re not gonna be alone ever again,” she promised, eyes blazing as she looked back at him.

“Forever,” he whispered, kissing her softly. She loved him, and she wanted to scream it as loud as she could, for everyone to hear. But this was enough, barely, for now.

They began walking by the stream that ran near the Burrow. “What sorts of memories are you seeing in these panic attacks?” Ginny asked gingerly, hoping he’d open up to her.

Harry frowned. “I’m back at the battle, and there’s just so much death,” he said sadly. Ginny hated seeing that mournful look on his face. After everything, Harry deserved to be happy and not have worries for a while. They all did.

“That actually brings me to the other thing I wanted to talk to you about,” Harry continued. “I’m almost done with the story of the past year, and I don’t want to keep you in the dark longer. So where were we?”

“You were about to tell me about Gringotts,” she responded eagerly, thankful that Harry was still volunteering this information to her.

“Right… so we’d convinced Griphook to help us. We used Polyjuice Potion and a hair Hermione had on her from when Bellatrix tortured her to turn her into Bellatrix. Hermione disguised Ron, and I followed them with Griphook, wearing the Invisibility Cloak. It took Hermione a bit to figure out how to act like Bellatrix, and when she finally did, a Death Eater- Travers- approached us. He’d acted a little suspicious, but he was still fooled. I had to confund a pair of guards to get us into Gringotts, and then the goblin we spoke with seemed to have been warned that someone would try and break into her vault. Hermione had Bellatrix’s wand, and the Death Eaters had apparently told them that the real Bellatrix wouldn’t have her wand. So when he asked for her wand for verification, I- I had no choice. I had to use the Imperius Curse on the goblin and Travers to get us in,” Harry admitted, looking slightly disappointed with himself.

Ginny had to admit that she was surprised. If she’d been making a list of the people least likely to use an Unforgivable Curse, Harry would’ve been near the top of that list. But… “Like you said, Harry, you had no choice. It was war, and we had to win,” she told him earnestly, hoping that he wouldn’t be too hard on himself. Harry nodded, looking at least a little convinced.

“I- yeah… anyways, we were in a cart going to the lower levels of the bank, where the Lestrange vault was, but there was an enchantment that I guess Griphook had forgotten about. It’s called the Thief’s Downfall. It was like a waterfall that wiped away the Polyjuice Potion and Ron’s disguise while alerting Gringotts that someone was disguised when they came through it. We didn’t have a lot of time. When we got to the lower levels, there was a dragon guarding the vaults. It had been trained to expect pain when it heard these Clanker things the goblins used, so we were able to get past it pretty easily.” Ginny shuddered at the inhumane treatment of the dragon that Harry was describing.

“We finally got into her vault, but everything had been cursed with the Geminio and Flagrante Curses. Basically everything we touched multiplied and burned us, which made it even harder to find the Horcrux, but we finally found it. Hufflepuff’s Cup was near the top of the vault, but we couldn’t use Accio to bring it to us. Hermione levitated me up to it, and I got it, but we couldn’t keep from touching things. We were all being burned and crushed by all the objects in the vault. We kind of slid out of the vault on top of all of it, and Griphook took the Sword of Gryffindor. I don’t think he expected us to keep our word with him. He was right- we were going to give it to him, but not until after we’d destroyed all the Horcruxes. He just double crossed us first, and he led Gringotts security right to us. I couldn’t see another way out, so I jumped on top of the dragon, releasing it from its chains. Ron and Hermione caught on and jumped up with me, and we were able to get out of there, riding the dragon.”

Ginny couldn’t help but grin at the thought of the three of them not only successfully robbing Gringotts, but also escaping on the back of a dragon. It was an incredible story, but as her smile faded, she remembered what happened immediately after this event.

“We rode on it for most of the day, until the dragon finally decided to land, and we could jump off in a lake. We were trying to plan our next move when my brain connected with Riddle’s for a moment, and I saw him killing the goblins in Gringotts who told him about what had happened. He knew then that we were hunting Horcruxes, but he thought that his others would still be safe. I saw him thinking about where they were hidden. He wanted to check and make sure they were all still in their hiding places. While he was thinking about it, I saw that he wasn’t worried at all about the one hidden at Hogwarts. I’d figured that he’d hide one at Hogwarts, but we didn’t know for sure until now. We decided to go ahead and head to Hogwarts immediately. Once he found that the locket and the ring were gone, he’d probably move the Hogwarts Horcrux somewhere else for safekeeping, just like he started keeping Nagini with him at all times.

“We apparated into Hogsmeade and set off the Caterwauling Charm. There must’ve been a dozen Death Eaters looking for us. They knew where we were when I had to cast a Patronus to protect us from some dementors, but Aberforth pulled us into The Hog’s Head, and convinced them that my stag was his goat Patronus. We found out that he was the one who had sent Dobby to us in Malfoy Manor; he’d bought Sirius’ mirror from Mundungus when he looted Grimmauld Place. Professor Dumbledore had told him what it was, and he was trying to use it to look out for us. We told him we needed to get into Hogwarts, so he sent the portrait of Ariana to get Neville, who brought us into the Room of Requirement through the tunnel.

“We didn’t actually know where the last Horcrux was hidden or what it even was, but when Luna mentioned the lost diadem of Ravenclaw, it seemed like the best bet since we didn’t have anything else to go on, and Riddle had just found out that the ring was gone. Luna took me up to Ravenclaw Tower, and the Carrows were waiting for me.” Ginny involuntarily clenched the hand that wasn’t holding Harry’s into a fist.

“Alecto summoned Riddle, and Luna stunned her. Amycus couldn’t get in, so McGonagall let him in. They came up, and Amycus was furious that his sister was stunned. He didn’t see me because I’d hidden under the cloak, so he started saying that they’d blame some Ravenclaws for the false alarm, claiming that they forced Alecto to press the Dark Mark. McGonagall refused to let him hurt any of the students, so he spat on her. And then… I used the Cruciatus on him,” Harry whispered.

That surprised Ginny even more than the first confession of an Unforgivable Curse. She must’ve clearly shown that in her face because Harry tried to explain, “I’m not really sure what came over me, but seeing him do that, it just made me snap. If- if I’m being honest though, hearing what those monsters did to you this year… I almost wish I’d done it more than once.” Ginny rubbed his arm, knowing that despite his anger, that was a one-time thing, and he wouldn’t be Harry if he actually enjoyed causing people pain regularly.

“I don’t think you were wrong for doing it… but I don’t think it’s a bad thing that you didn’t keep doing it either. You’re too good to let yourself want to hurt people for fun,” Ginny quietly replied, seeing that understanding flicker in Harry’s eyes. Even though he told her that he’d thought about doing it more, she knew that he felt conflicted about using the Cruciatus, just like he had with the Imperius. She kissed him softly on his cheek, and he closed his eyes a little, nodding at what she said. He regathered himself after a moment, and Ginny let him continue.

“I told McGonagall that Riddle was coming. She agreed to secure Hogwarts to give me enough time to find the diadem. We left the tower and ran into Snape. I was under the cloak, and he asked if she knew where I was. She attacked him, and Flitwick and Sprout joined her. Snape flew- somehow- out a window and away from the castle. She started planning defences with them and Slughorn, and Luna and I came back to the Room of Requirement. And- actually… Ginny- I- I owe you an apology.” Ginny was surprised, suspecting that she knew what this was for, but she hadn’t expected him to apologise for it.

“I shouldn’t have been so dismissive when your parents told you to stay there. I had no idea about all the stuff you did that year, and I should’ve been supportive of you. You’re one of the strongest people I know. It’s just-” his voice cracked “- you mean so much to me, I wanted you to be safe.” He looked at her, appearing so conflicted but genuinely sorry that he’d sided against her.

Ginny took both of his hands in hers. “It’s okay, Harry. I understand why you did it. It’s the same reason you tried to break up with me at Dumbledore’s funeral. You can be stupid and noble, but we’re better together than we are apart. Just don’t forget that.”

Harry smiled at her. “I don’t ever want to be anywhere other than the same side as you again.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Ginny promised, and they started walking back the way they came, having come quite a long way from the Burrow by this point.

Harry continued his story. “Well, you heard Riddle’s ultimatum. The underage students and anyone who didn’t want to stay and fight left. While everyone else was either leaving or preparing to fight, I found the Grey Lady. She’s Helena Ravenclaw, the daughter of Rowena Ravenclaw. She confirmed that she’d told Riddle about the diadem and where she’d hidden it after she’d stolen it. She hid it in Albania, and Riddle spent a lot of time in Albania decades ago. I realised when I was looking for Ron and Hermione that I’d seen the diadem before. Last year, when I hid the Prince’s potion book, I used the diadem to mark its hiding place. I just had no idea what it was at the time. So when I came back and asked you, Tonks, and Mrs. Longbottom to leave, I needed to change the room into the place where everything is hidden. Hermione and Ron went down to the Chamber of Secrets to get basilisk fangs, and they destroyed Hufflepuff’s Cup down there.

“Actually, that’s when they kissed for the first time… right after the three of you left, Ron said we should tell the house elves in the kitchen to leave, and Hermione jumped him.” Ginny couldn’t help but laugh. After all the years of them pining over each other, that was how they got together? It seemed a little ridiculous.

“Great timing,” she commented through her giggles.

Harry grinned. “That’s what I said. We found the diadem in the Room of Requirement, but Crabbe, Goyle, and Malfoy found us at the same time. Crabbe started trying to kill us, but Malfoy just wanted to capture us so he could turn us in. Hermione stunned Goyle, and Crabbe cast Fiendfyre inside the Room. We all started running, but we weren’t going to make it until we found three broomsticks. The three of us got on and started flying out, but… well, we decided to save Malfoy and Goyle. Crabbe died in the fire.”

Ginny suspected that it had been Harry who had decided to save two of his enemies. She certainly couldn’t see Ron suggesting it, but it was another testament to Harry’s modesty that he didn’t take credit for something as selfless as this.

“The Fiendfyre destroyed the Horcrux inside the diadem. As we were leaving, we saw Fred- just before it happened.”

“What happened to him?” Ginny asked quietly after a moment of silence. Nobody had told her, and as painful as it would be, she wanted to know.

Harry grimaced, remembering it, but he said, “Fred and Percy were fighting Death Eaters. One of the Death Eaters was Pius Thicknesse. Percy made a joke, telling the Minister that he was resigning. We stunned the Death Eater Fred had been duelling, and he started laughing at the joke Percy had made, when the corridor exploded. I don’t know what actually happened. We were all buried under rubble, but when we made it out, he was… on the floor.”

Ginny felt the tears running down her cheeks again, and Harry hugged her comfortingly. The pain didn’t go away, and Ginny knew it would be a long time before thinking about Fred didn’t make her tremendously sad, but hearing exactly how he died tore her apart. She sobbed against Harry’s chest, just wanting the pain to stop. They stood there for a while, the only sounds disturbing the silence of the orchard were Ginny’s sniffles and the trickling of the stream.

When she finally calmed down, she looked up at Harry, who had a distant expression on his face, sad, but not crying. He slowly looked down at her, realising that she’d stopped crying. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. Ginny kissed his cheek, recognising the guilt he felt, wishing he knew, like she did, that none of it was his fault.

Harry started talking, shakingly, as they began walking again. “Ron… and I- we wanted to just go out and fight the Death Eaters. I wanted to make sure you were still okay, especially after what had just happened. Hermione calmed us down; Ron was really hysterical, but she reminded us that we still had to kill the snake. She told me to look inside Riddle’s mind and find where he was because the snake would be with him. He was in the Shrieking Shack, expecting that we’d come and find him because the snake was there too. We started running towards the Whomping Willow- to the secret entrance to the Shrieking Shack. We saw so much fighting- Lavender being killed by Fenrir Greyback, spiders and giants invading, and we ran into a pack of dementors. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I couldn’t cast a Patronus. It took Luna reminding me that we were all still fighting to give me enough happiness to cast it, somehow.

“We got into the Shrieking Shack through the secret passage. We hid and watched Riddle, who had summoned Snape to him. He said the Elder Wand wasn’t working for him because Snape was still the master of the Elder Wand, since Snape had killed Dumbledore and Riddle didn’t know about Malfoy. He- he had Nagini kill Snape, and then he left. I don’t know why, but I had to see if I could help Snape. He was seconds away from death, and he told me to take his memories. I caught them in a flask to take back up to the castle, and then he died. That was when Riddle called the ceasefire.”

They had come near to the house, and even though Harry looked exhausted recounting all of this, he seemed determined to continue. That is, until they were interrupted by a gut-wrenching wail coming from the Burrow. Alarmed, Ginny and Harry looked at each other and ran to the house.

Ginny’s mum was hunched over one of the boxes they’d brought back from Muriel’s. Her body was wracked with sobs, and Ginny’s dad stood next to her, equal parts hugging her and keeping her from falling over. Percy, Charlie, Ron, and Hermione looked as bewildered as Ginny and Harry felt. George appeared at the foot of the stairs, looking very concerned as well.

“What happened?” Ron finally asked his dad, who looked grief-stricken like Mrs. Weasley, even if he wasn’t sobbing.

“It’s- it’s the clock. Your mother found it when she was unpacking the boxes,” he explained halfheartedly. Ginny frowned, confused about why that would’ve made her cry. It wasn’t until Charlie stepped forward, reaching into the box and pulling out the clock did she understand. Attached to the back of the shrunken clock, Ginny could see, instead of in its usual position, was Fred’s hand.

Ginny felt grief welling up in her too. Harry still looked confused, so she whispered quietly to him, as it sunk in for everyone else. “I’d forgotten… when someone dies, their hand somehow goes to the back of the clock since there’s not a place for it to point to on the clock anymore. So Mum saw that Fred’s hand wasn’t on the clock anymore,” she explained as a tear fell. Harry wiped it away with his thumb, pulling her into yet another hug, not that Ginny would ever tire of these hugs. She looked to the staircase, but George was gone.

The family was in a very sombre mood the rest of the day. Nobody ate much of a new stew her mum had made, and George didn’t come downstairs again the rest of the day. Just before everyone went to bed, Ginny’s mum spoke to Harry. “Harry, dear- the Healer I told you about at St. Mungo’s told me she could see you tomorrow afternoon around three. There’s a back entrance that she can meet you at so nobody will see you.” Harry nodded, looking like he’d forgotten all about his panic attacks in the midst of everything else that had happened today.

“Thanks Mrs. Weasley,” he said quietly. She smiled at him, hugged them all, and went upstairs to bed. The rest of the family followed shortly, and Ginny silently thanked Percy and Charlie for not asking what Harry needed a healer for.

She sat on her bed, tired, but waiting for Hermione to switch places with Harry. Before Hermione left, Ginny asked her, “Did Harry tell you why he’s going to St. Mungo’s?”

Hermione nodded. “He told Ron and I this morning while you were gone. He told you, right?” Ginny nodded back at her. “Good,” Hermione said.

“I just wish there was something I could do. He still seems like he’s carrying the weight of the world, but now it’s all this guilt and grief,” Ginny said, feeling a little hopeless.

Hermione looked empathetically at her. “I know, I feel the same way. He deserves a break. But as for you, just keep being there for him. You do more for him than the rest of us combined,” she said, giving Ginny a knowing look.

Ginny raised an eyebrow. “What was that look for?”

Hermione blinked innocently. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Hermione, what do you know?”

“A lot, Ginny. You’ll find out everything that matters sooner rather than later, I promise.”

Frustrated, Ginny pouted, but that wasn’t going to sway Hermione at all. Now disappointed, she rolled her eyes, hoping that Hermione was right. She hated feeling on the outs of the ‘trio’ even though she knew how close she was to Harry. Hermione smiled at her apologetically but offered no further explanation before leaving. Moments later, Harry entered Ginny’s room, smiling at her as they crawled into bed.

Ginny cuddled against him, and he held her tightly. “Will you go with me tomorrow?” he asked. “I don’t really want to go alone.”

Ginny turned to look at him. “I’ll be by your side whenever you want me there,” she replied honestly.

Harry smiled at her. “Guess you’ll be by my side all the time then.”

“No place I’d rather be,” she responded, kissing him on the nose before pressing back against him.

“Maybe we could go see Teddy before the appointment,” Harry suggested.

Ginny nodded, slowly starting to fall asleep. “That’s a great idea.”

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

A/N: I know, I know, I know. Harry’s doing his absolute best to tell Ginny everything. It’s not his fault that the universe (or an author that enjoys dragging things out) is keeping him from finishing the story! Obviously, there’s not much left to tell, and I can promise that we’re getting very close to the whole story coming out, and I think it’ll be worth the wait.

It was always a challenge to write Harry’s panic attacks, trying to put myself in his shoes and thinking about what would terrify him the most and get him to that point of slipping into an attack. The important thing is building Harry’s support system because he definitely would’ve kept all of this to himself if it had started happening a couple years earlier. I didn’t set out to write a treatise on mental health advocacy or anything like that, but it is incredibly important, as all of our characters are learning and growing into. Of course the Weasleys want to be supportive of Harry, and of course his best friends and Ginny are going to do everything they can to help him too. They’d been there for him all along; it just took something as dramatic as the Battle to force him to accept it.

Harry is still, sadly, a little clueless in other areas. To me, Hermione is the go-between for Harry and Ginny while they’re building up their knowledge and maturity in relationships, if that makes sense. She has less experience than they do, but Harry’s clearly never felt love before, and Hermione knows enough to know that he loves Ginny. I mean, Ron’s noticing it too, so it’s not like it’s much of a secret!

Handling Harry’s use of the Unforgivables, especially the Cruciatus, is very interesting to me. Realistically, using the Cruciatus was unnecessary and, in the real world, would probably amount to something like a war crime. There were other ways to incapacitate Amycus without the added pain. However, I don’t think Harry was entirely wrong or unjustified for doing it. Ginny sort of acts as my voice in the moment that Harry tells her because she knows that he wouldn’t do it again. And honestly, she’s probably a lot less bothered by it because of who the recipient of it was, and I’m not sure there’s much that’s wrong with that either.

The family clock was shrunk because, in my headcanon, Molly would’ve wanted/needed to take it with her when they fled the Burrow in April, and shrinking it made it portable. I’ve read different theories about what happens to a person’s hand on the clock when they die. I think a lot of people theorise that it would point to ‘lost’ or ‘travelling’, but I didn’t really like either of those options or the implications behind them. Another option is that it just falls off, but I think that’s a little brutal and also wouldn’t make for a very good scene, in my opinion, if Molly is digging around in the box looking for the detached hand. So I thought it made sense that it magically transfers to the back of the clock because the person is still a part of the family, but it’s not really possible to see where they are anymore. At least, that’s my take on it.

It was a tough day for everyone, and more tough days lie ahead, but before that, we have what is probably my favourite chapter to this point. It’s got more fluff than some of these chapters, and I think it’ll be a far better break for everyone than A Restless Break was.

Coming Tuesday: Remembering the Date- “Happy Anniversary.”

P.S. Sorry if you feel like things might be dragging a bit in the fic with Harry still not telling Ginny yet. I’d hoped that releasing twice a week would make it feel like a faster/better pace, and I think it is, but it is also kind of weird for me to know that there’s so many really great things coming up, like him telling her, but we’re still not there yet. It’s even weirder when I look at my release schedule and it’s like- ‘oh, my favourite arc I’ve written so far won’t actually be released until October’ or ‘I can’t believe ___ doesn’t happen until July’ or ‘how do we not meet ___ until May’. That being said, I promise, as the only person who knows where everything is going, that it will be worth it. Honestly, I hope this isn’t bad for me to say, but while I do love these first 10-15 chapters, I think things really kick into another gear with plot and writing style as we get into the back half of Summer of Recovery and leading into Book 2 (title to be announced in a couple months). Really, I’m probably overthinking things, but I wanted to say that at least and to thank you all for your support through my first month-ish of releasing fanfics. It’s still a little nerve wracking every time I click ‘post’, but it’s so worth it to finally see people enjoying these chapters I wrote 8 months ago. So thanks for reading, and I hope you keep sticking around and enjoying Happier Every Day! Things are getting much happier from here!

Back to index


Chapter 11: Remembering the Date

"Happy Anniversary."

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

Harry woke on the morning of the tenth of May, as was becoming normal, very early in the morning. He gently kissed Ginny, knowing he’d see her soon. He woke Hermione, walking down the stairs with her while explaining the favour he needed. Even though she was tired, she nodded, and quickly helped him once they reached Ginny’s room, whispering to cast the charms before she fell back in bed, falling asleep immediately. She’d always been an early riser, but he guessed she was still recovering from the past year of sleep deprivation. Turning away from the girls, Harry admired Hermione’s handiwork, impressed with how quickly and easily she’d accomplished it.

He walked down the stairs, not surprised to find he was the first one awake now that Bill was out of the house for the weekend. Harry was in a happier mood than he’d been in in several days. He relaxed for a bit, drinking two cups of tea. Then he began frying bacon and making eggs for breakfast, thinking that the family would be reluctant to continue skipping breakfast, especially on a day with no funerals to attend.

As he expected, Charlie was the first one down. “That’ll be two sickles,” Harry said, grinning. Charlie rolled his eyes and gave Harry a one-fingered salute instead, which did nothing to damper Harry’s cheery mood. Charlie kept giving him suspicious glances as he made toast for the family. Over the next hour, the rest of the family, except Ginny and George, came downstairs.

With breakfast ready and the family beginning to eat, Harry stood. “I’ll go wake Ginny up.”

Charlie snorted. “Might wanna use a ten-foot pole. She can be a beast in the mornings.”

Harry grinned, something that was very easy for him right now. “I’ll take my chances.” He saw Hermione smiling at him as he turned and went up the stairs to the first floor. He quietly let himself into her room, pleased to see she was still asleep. Her hair was fanned around her head, and she was lightly snoring. She was perfect.

He crawled into bed with her, and she slowly blinked her eyes open. “Good morning, Gin,” he whispered, brushing the hair away from her face.

“Morning, babe,” Ginny mumbled, rubbing her eyes. Harry smiled, thinking that sounded much better than the ‘dear’ Ginny had tried out a few days ago. “What time is it?” she asked, still half asleep.

“About nine,” Harry responded.

“Nine?” Ginny grumbled. “Why in Merlin’s name did you wake me up this early?”

Harry chuckled. “I thought this was a big day that you wouldn’t want to sleep through. I can come back later if you want though,” he suggested jokingly. He was very glad that Ginny immediately wrapped her arms around him.

“Nope, you’re not going anywhere,” she said, snuggling her face into his chest. Harry kissed her softly on the top of her head, breathing in her flowery aroma that he loved so much. She looked up at him, and they kissed softly, slowly, savouring the moment before their day really started.

When they finally separated, Ginny rubbed her eyes again and sat up, still looking at Harry. “Is everyone else already awake?”

Harry nodded, “Yep, they’re all eating the breakfast I made.”

“Why are you making breakfast?” Ginny asked, sounding concerned at once.

Harry shrugged. “I think I’m part of Bill and Charlie’s game now. I was the first one up, so I started making breakfast, but Charlie helped me.”

Ginny laughed, clearly surprised that Harry had been pulled into her brother’s ridiculous game of waking up early. “Why were you up so early?”

“I usually haven’t been trying to sleep after I leave your bed around six. I just sleep better here,” he answered truthfully.

Ginny smiled at him. “I wish you didn’t have to go every morning.”

Harry agreed, “Yeah, me too. But we both knew this was how it was going to be for a while.”

Ginny nodded, finally stretching before standing up. “Guess I’ll change and then head downstairs.” She turned and stared at something on the wall, walking closer to it.

Harry grinned as he watched Ginny looking at what he and Hermione had done. Dennis Creevey had given him a picture of his and Ginny’s first kiss that Colin had taken in the Gryffindor common room last year. He’d increased the size and stuck it on the wall to cover the burn mark left by the fake Prophet.

As Ginny got closer to it, she almost jumped in surprise as the part Hermione added took effect. Every picture has a memory, even if no magic has been cast on it. With a little magic though, the picture can be charmed to remember its context. When Ginny neared the picture, it showed the full scene- Ginny running to Harry, their kiss, and Harry leading her outside.

Harry waved his wand, whispering the incantation Hermione had told him. Suddenly, the picture changed again, this time only showing Ginny. Harry had given Hermione his memory of that kiss. Whenever Ginny got close to it, it showed Harry’s view of Ginny running towards him, eyes blazing as she leapt into his arms. It was one of Harry’s favourite memories- the last thing he’d seen before he died in the forest. But this was an incredibly happy memory, the kind that made it possible to forget the things he’d been struggling with in his mind this week.

Ginny turned to him, eyes blazing. Then, just like she had in his memory, she ran to him, jumping into his arms and smothering him with kisses. Harry fell back onto her bed, gladly letting her work her tongue into his mouth before she pulled away and started kissing his jawline and neck. Harry put his hands on her bum and pulled her closer to him, savouring every inch of contact. Ginny kissed back up to his lips, and he took advantage of this, rolling her over so that he was on top, and giving her the same treatment she’d been giving him. As he started kissing down her neck, he carefully raised his hand to her chest. She moaned at the touch, and Harry took that as an invitation. They remained like that for several minutes- Harry kissing as much of her as he could find while his hands explored her body. Finally, they broke away, breathing heavily.

Harry looked down at her beautiful blazing brown eyes, the same eyes he’d seen on that day a year ago, and whispered, “Happy Anniversary.”

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Waking up to Harry’s voice was easily the best way to wake up, in Ginny’s opinion. She was still tired, but she was excited to open her eyes and see his handsome face again. This morning, he seemed especially glad to see her, and Ginny quickly found out why. When she stood up from her bed, she noticed a picture hanging where the burn mark had been. Walking closer, she saw that it was, somehow, a picture of her and Harry kissing after Gryffindor had won the Quidditch Cup last year. Her heart melted, knowing that Harry had done this for her since she hadn’t had anything to cover the burn with. As she moved closer to examine the photograph, she started when it began moving.

She smiled as it showed her running desperately towards Harry, the look of desire in his eyes, and then her jumping into his arms, where he kissed her as eagerly as she kissed him. When they stopped, Harry offered her his hand, and he took her out the portrait hole. Then the picture returned to its original state, but only for a moment, before it changed again. This time, she saw herself running, almost out of the picture, and she realised that this must be Harry’s memory of that kiss.

As the picture returned once more to its normal image, Ginny turned, staring at Harry, the man she loved, who bore an excited grin. Ginny could tell he was hoping she’d like it. She decided to show him just how much she liked it by throwing herself at him, just like she had that day a year ago. When they broke apart, Harry made her feel so incredibly special as he showed her that he’d remembered.

“Happy Anniversary,” he whispered to her.

Ginny beamed. “Hermione told me not to expect you to remember, but I knew you would.” She kissed him once more as Harry laughed.

“I don’t blame her,” he replied. “I’ve never been one for sentimental stuff like this before.”

Ginny grinned proudly. “But I make you behave irrationally.”

“Very irrationally,” he whispered, starting to pull her into another deep kiss that Ginny reluctantly had to break.

“My family will probably be wondering what’s taking us so long.”

Harry rolled off her, sitting next to her on the bed. “Hermione probably told them what I was doing, but… yeah, you’re right. I don’t really fancy Charlie coming up here to check up on us,” he said with an exaggerated look of terror that made Ginny laugh. She kissed him on the cheek before standing up.

“I’m just gonna change and then we can go downstairs.” She walked over to her wardrobe, picking out an emerald green shirt that she thought matched Harry’s eyes. She turned back around to show it to him, but he’d slipped out to give her privacy while she changed. He really was too noble, she thought, abandoning thoughts of tempting him with a slow changing of her clothes.

Instead, she changed quickly and wasn’t surprised at all to see Harry waiting for her outside her door. She smirked at him. “I never asked you to leave.”

Harry turned very red, and Ginny grinned wickedly, kissing him on the cheek before taking his hand in hers and leading him downstairs. As they came into the kitchen, it was quickly apparent by the way everyone in the family was looking at them that they all knew. Molly, Arthur, and Hermione were smiling very widely at them. Percy looked uncomfortable but not disapproving, while Charlie tried to look menacing, even though Ginny could tell he wasn’t serious. And Ron… surprised her by looking fairly happy for the two of them.

Neither she nor Harry actually said anything though, so none of the family addressed the hippogriff in the room until her mum finally couldn’t take it anymore and asked, “Can we see it?”

Ginny chuckled. “Yeah Mum, anyone who wants can see it.” She was taken aback as everyone at the table, including Charlie and Percy, stood up at the same time. “Oh, I guess we’ll do this now then,” she said, glancing at Harry, who looked slightly uncomfortable.

“Come on, Potter,” Ginny grunted as she tugged on his arm, pulling him out of his chair and up the stairs with her. Quickly, all eight of them were crowded in her room, making it feel even smaller than usual. She closed the door to show them the picture on the wall, and then she stepped close to it to trigger the moving effect.

Everybody in the room, even her older brothers, smiled to some extent watching it. “This was your first kiss?” her mum asked.

Ginny nodded. “It was after we won the Quidditch Cup a year ago. I played Seeker since Harry had detention during the match, and when he came in, I just ran to him, and well…”

Her mum and dad were beaming. “That’s quite an impressive piece of magic, Hermione,” Percy noted, and Ginny knew this was high praise coming from him.

“You haven’t even seen the most impressive part, Perce,” she said, stepping even closer to the picture. She was confused when it didn’t change.

She turned to look at Harry, who was subtly avoiding eye contact with her. “Harry,” Ginny began, and he slowly looked at her. “What happened to the last part?” Harry closed his eyes and sighed, and she realised he probably hadn’t meant for everyone to see that part. But her family looked too intrigued to have missed that exchange, so Harry held up his wand and pointed at the picture.

Verto,” he cast, and the picture changed into his memory of their kiss.

Charlie and Ron’s eyebrows raised at this. Percy still looked impressed at the spellwork behind it. Her parents were still beaming, and she thought she saw her dad’s eyes looking a little teary. She looked back in the picture and saw the look in her eyes that had earned her the nickname Blaze.

As the picture returned to its natural state, Charlie and Ron turned to look at Harry, who just shrugged, looking unabashed. “It’s our anniversary. Give it a rest, guys. You can all give me a hard time for being a sentimental sap tomorrow.”

“But you broke up-” Ron started. Hermione punched him in the arm, and he recoiled.

Harry shook his head. “We weren’t broken up- not really. Neither of us was looking for anyone else. The only reason we weren’t together was because I was on the run with you two and wanted to keep her as safe as I could.”

Charlie’s menacing look faded slightly. Ginny suspected he hadn’t known much about that. “Tomorrow, then,” he warned, pointing a finger at Harry, who responded, “I look forward to it. You can give me a stern lecture along with my next two sickles for beating you downstairs.”

Merlin, her boyfriend really was stupidly brave. Charlie’s face contorted as if he was angry before he accidentally let a barking laugh out. Everyone was surprised at that reaction, none more so than Charlie, who looked ashamed that he’d broken his tough big brother facade for a moment. He turned and walked out, shaking his head, followed by everyone other than Hermione.

“Thanks again, Hermione,” Harry said. Hermione smiled at them both and turned to leave.

“Wait,” Ginny said. “Do you think you could add my memory to this?”

Hermione nodded. “Sure, that’s easy.” She was right. She pulled the memory out that Ginny gave her, whispered a pair of spells, waving her wand, and then cast the same incantation Harry had used a couple minutes ago. “Verto.”

Now the three of them were seeing the view of this moment that Ginny was used to seeing in her memory. Harry stood there, behind a crowd of people, but his eyes were searching until they landed on her, the one person in the common room that he had wanted to see more than any others. Then Ginny was running, and the determined, intense look that she’d fallen in love with drew her closer, as she jumped into his arms. The last thing in the memory before she closed her eyes to kiss him was Harry’s bright green eyes, seemingly looking into her soul.

Ginny turned and smiled back at Harry, who was mystified, staring at where her memory of the kiss had just been. He slowly looked at her and smiled, and Ginny knew he was feeling the same thing she had when she saw his memory. She could practically feel the love radiating from their memories as they saw the best in each other the moment they became a couple. Hermione coughed, clearly feeling like a third wheel.

She backed out of the room slowly. “You two are adorable. Happy Anniversary,” she said sweetly before leaving them alone in the room. Instead of jumping on him like last time, Ginny just hugged Harry, knowing that was enough. They couldn’t even speak for how overwhelming the feeling in the room was. They could’ve been hugging for hours without realising it before Ginny finally remembered what else they were supposed to do today.

“Are we still going to go see Teddy?” she asked, leaning back a little from him.

“Oh, yeah. I almost forgot about that,” Harry confessed, still looking at her adoringly. Ginny smiled.

“I can’t really blame you for that, but we should probably get going so we’ll have time with him before we go to St. Mungo’s.” Harry nodded, and they went downstairs, told her family where they were going, and disapparated as soon as they exited the wards around the house.

Andromeda was very happy to see them, even though they were arriving unannounced. Teddy was taking a nap, so she took them into her kitchen for some tea. Ginny and Harry happily accepted and spent about an hour talking to Andromeda. She was asking them all sorts of questions about their time at Hogwarts, which classes they liked, and some of their favourite memories. Ginny was thankful that the conversation was light and neither she nor Harry were getting pulled into any really depressing memories.

She was very pleased when Harry said that he couldn’t pick a favourite memory at Hogwarts, but there were a few weeks at the end of last year that had been better than any in his life. Picking up on the hint, Andromeda asked, “Is that when you two got together then?”

They both nodded. “And how did that happen?” Andromeda followed up. Ginny smiled, remembering it like it was yesterday.

The team had been so discouraged in the dressing room before the match, fully expecting to lose without Harry playing. He hadn’t stood for anything like this when they’d been missing players in their other games, and Ginny wasn’t about to let them act like this because Harry wasn’t playing. Nobody else was going to do it, so she decided to take charge in his absence.

“Oi! Listen up everyone! It’s not a secret that it won’t be easy for us today. We’d all love to have Harry out here with us, and I know he’d much rather be here than what he’s having to do right now. And yeah, it sucks that he’s not here. But the rest of us still are. This is a bloody fantastic team, with or without Harry. We’ve got a king for a Keeper, two unbeatable Beaters, and a dynamic Chasing trio. We’re gonna go out there and give it everything we’ve got. Harry’s been a bloody great captain for us this season, and we’re gonna fight to win this for him!”

Somehow, the team responded to her rousing speech, and they suddenly looked much more confident, nodding along as she said they were going to play for Harry. She knew she would be. They strode out to the centre of the pitch, holding their heads high, and Ginny didn’t know why, but she felt really good about their chances.

It was stunning. Within moments of kicking off from the ground, Katie and Demelza had linked up for three quick goals. Ginny began following Cho Chang, not even bothering to look for the Snitch, knowing that for Gryffindor to win the Cup, they’d have to win by at least 300 points. So Ginny’s mission, until Gryffindor’s Chasers could break open a 150 point lead, would be to keep Cho from catching the Snitch at all costs.

Ginny did exactly that, tailing her relentlessly, not giving her an inch of space. From time to time, Ginny would glance at the rest of the game, seeing how it was progressing. She didn’t know how, but they were winning by 100 points just 30 minutes into the match. It was like Ravenclaw had completely forgotten their plan for the match with Harry not being in the team. Slowly, they gathered themselves, beginning to push back, and even though Ron made a few tremendous saves, Ravenclaw was marching back, making the score 170-120.

Suddenly, Cho took off like a rocket, spiralling towards the ground, and Ginny could tell she’d seen the Snitch. Ginny was undoubtedly the better flyer, but Cho had the head start and not much distance to cover. Cho stretched out her hand, with Ginny just a few feet behind her, and Ginny knew it was over.

CRACK! Cho had to spin out of the way of an oncoming Bludger hit by Jimmy Peakes, and the Snitch darted up into the air, winking out of view. Ginny shot an appreciative grin towards Jimmy before getting on Cho’s tail again. Play had almost stopped while Cho was chasing the Snitch, and the Gryffindor Chasers took advantage of this, scoring four goals in rapid succession before Ravenclaw realised that Cho hadn’t caught it.

That moment revitalised the Gryffindor team that had been losing ground on Ravenclaw. Their Chasers, even Dean, were flying with confidence, easily moving the Quaffle between the three of them and seemingly scoring at will. Ritchie and Jimmy helped disrupt every Ravenclaw attack with well-placed Bludgers, and Jimmy especially did a good job protecting Ginny from Bludgers as well, as she followed Cho around, paying less and less attention to the game.

It was only when she heard a score update did she register that it was time to change tactics. Somehow, some way, Gryffindor was leading 280-130. She needed to find the Snitch, quickly. She peeled away from Cho, rapidly flying above the pitch, eyes scanning everywhere, and now it was Cho’s turn to tail her. Ginny heard the Gryffindor crowd roar as they immediately scored another goal, but she barely listened, knowing what she had to do to give herself the space to find the Snitch.

She’d practised it with Harry last summer. It wasn’t something safe, by any means, but Ginny had always been one for danger. It was one of the things that brought her and Harry closer together last summer, turning them into real friends for the first time. It was then that she’d started fantasising, for the first time in years, that Harry could actually want to be with her. It seemed almost poetic, then, that Ginny had the chance to do this to the only girl Harry had ever shown an interest in before. Because Ginny was competitive. She wanted Harry, and she wanted to prove to herself and to him that she was better than Cho.

Ginny dove to the ground, accelerating rapidly. She stretched out her hand, picturing Harry’s face if they won the Cup. Maybe then he’d finally make a move on her. She’d been waiting for weeks, and he’d been acting interested. He just needed some encouragement. And with that thought, she wrenched the handle of her broomstick up at the last possible second. Cho didn’t react as quickly, throwing herself off her broom and rolling along the ground. The crowd roared again, as another Gryffindor goal- this one scored by Dean- coincided with Ginny’s flawless execution of the Wronski Feint, a move that even Harry had never dared to attempt in a Hogwarts match.

Cho wasn’t seriously injured, so the match continued. She was extremely slow to get to her feet and back to her damaged broomstick though, and Ginny took full advantage. She finally saw the Snitch, flitting around the base of the right Gryffindor goal. She leaned forward, staying low to the ground, barely recognizing a Ravenclaw attack being formed just over her head. As she neared the goal, the Snitch shot upwards, twisting around the post. Ginny followed it, and Ravenclaw scored on the left goal.

‘Now or never,’ she thought as the lead was cut to 160 points. She finished her helix around the post and shot upwards, urging her broom forward. She stretched out her hand, once again imagining Harry’s reaction to their victory, and when she closed her fist, Gryffindor was the Quidditch Cup Champion.

She didn’t remember much of the celebration on the pitch. She just knew that she wanted to get back to the common room as soon as possible. The party had already started by the time the team arrived, but it kicked into high gear once the heroes of the day entered the room. Ginny looked around, but Harry was nowhere to be found, apparently still in detention with Snape. She didn’t even know what to say to him, but she knew she wanted to tell him all about the match.

She stood against a wall, staring at the portrait hole, barely acknowledging the celebration around her. She didn’t even notice that Dean had walked up to her, offering her a mug of butterbeer, until he said her name three times. Bloody hell, he had that look on his face, and Ginny knew he was going to ask her for another chance. Thankfully, she was spared from having to let him down when the crowd roared again, and she turned to look at the portrait hole, which was now open. Harry was standing there. He should’ve been stunned at the raucous party, but he wasn’t paying attention to any of it. She saw his eyes darting around the room until they landed on her. She was the one he’d been looking for. Not Ron. Not Hermione. Ginny.

She knew instantly what to do. She ran away from Dean, sprinting like her life depended on it towards Harry. His piercing, intense look stunned her, as usual, but she didn’t hesitate. She threw herself into his arms, and as she leaned in to kiss him, she was surprised when he took the initiative, at least in her mind. He pulled her head towards his, locking her in a kiss more intense than any Ginny had shared with her previous boyfriends, whose names she couldn’t even be bothered to remember right now.

They pulled back, breathing heavily after what could’ve been several hours or days. Ginny knew everyone was staring, but she only had eyes for one person, and he was looking back at her with equal desire and passion. He grinned and held his hand out to her, wordlessly gesturing out the portrait hole, and Ginny followed him, eager to begin this new chapter of her life with the one she’d been waiting so long for.


“We got together a year ago, after we won the Quidditch Cup,” Ginny said, summarising simply what had been a year of flirting and confusion and back and forth culminating in a perfect day.

Harry smiled at her, clearly remembering that day vividly too. “Ginny won the cup for us. She was incredible, as usual.”

Andromeda smiled at them both. “You two are so adorable together. I know it’s probably not something teenagers like to hear old women like me saying, but it’s not often that I see a couple as young and enchanted with each other as the two of you clearly are.”

Ginny beamed. Even though she knew how Harry felt about her, it still felt really good to hear people say how obviously perfect they were together. They talked for a few more moments about Hogwarts and Andromeda’s time there before her charm alerted her that Teddy was waking up. She quickly rose and went to go get him.

Ginny took Harry’s hand, rubbing her thumb over the scars that Umbridge had given him. “We have a pretty great origin story, you know,” she commented idly.

Harry chuckled. “Something to tell the kids, I guess.” He sort of froze mid-laugh, and Ginny did her best to keep rubbing his hand like he hadn’t just said something that monumental. “I- I mean Teddy… when he’s old enough to understand it.”

Ginny nodded, trying to not laugh. “I think that’ll be a great story to tell… Teddy one day.”

Andromeda brought Teddy in at that moment. As Harry held Teddy gingerly, trying his absolute best to make him comfortable as he fed him milk out of a bottle, Ginny couldn’t help but feel like she was seeing her future, and she liked the view.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Harry was quickly becoming accustomed to the feeling of holding Teddy, something he never would’ve expected he’d learn so quickly. Now he couldn’t imagine not having this little baby in his life. Teddy didn’t do much, but he was so innocent and perfect that it didn’t matter. Harry wondered what it said about him that he felt like he could watch Teddy do nothing all day long, just like he felt about Ginny.

After a while, he handed Teddy to Ginny, marvelling once again at how good she was with him. He hadn’t been expecting her whole family to come up and see the picture, and he certainly wasn’t expecting to show them all his memory of that kiss. But he found that it didn’t matter. The Weasleys were tremendously protective of their own, but he was one of them. And even though Charlie, especially, gave him a hard time, he knew that all of them cared for him and were happy for the two of them, even if Bill and Ron were the only two that had actually said as much.

Harry hadn’t expected to see Ginny’s memory of the kiss either. Personally, he thought that he looked like an idiot when she was running towards him, staring like he’d just been obliviated or something, but there was some sort of palpable feeling in Ginny’s memory of the kiss that he could almost feel in the room. It was amazing, and he knew that no matter how daft he thought he looked, all three versions of that picture would be treasured by them forever.

Blinking, he turned his attention back to Ginny, who was smiling at him, and he knew he’d been staring, something that had become a quick habit over the past week. He was certain that he could watch the two of them sitting like that all day without ever growing bored. He didn’t have that chance though because it was soon time for them to head to St. Mungo’s. They said goodbye to Andromeda and Teddy, promising that they’d see Teddy again soon, before they walked outside. Harry pulled Ginny close to him, and they apparated to the back entrance of St. Mungo’s.

The back entrance was exactly where Molly had said it was going to be- in a dark alleyway, hidden inside a dumpster. When they arrived, they saw a tall, thin woman with brown and grey-streaked hair wearing the green robes of the St. Mungo’s Healers.

Both Harry and Ginny looked at her curiously, and she extended her hand. “Right on time. Molly told you about me, I presume? I’m Amelia Hartwell.”

Harry shook her hand, “Harry Potter.” She chuckled pleasantly, and Harry immediately liked her.

“I know who you are, Mister Potter.” Harry blushed, thinking it would’ve been weird if he’d just assumed.

Next to him, Ginny extended her hand and shook Amelia’s. “Ginny Weasley.”

Amelia smiled. “I could’ve guessed that. Your mother has told me a lot about you.” Ginny smiled back at her, and Amelia gestured to the dumpster behind her. “Shall we?”

Harry and Ginny hesitantly followed her into the dumpster, which was completely disguised with authentic smells. When they stepped into the dumpster though, they slowly sank through the trash, and Harry was briefly reminded of the sensation of being pulled down by Devil’s Snare. As soon as that feeling entered his mind, his feet touched a solid floor, and they were standing in an empty corridor in St. Mungo’s.

“Just stay with me, and we’ll keep you away from prying eyes,” Amelia promised, taking off at a quick pace down the corridor. Harry and Ginny followed closely behind, taking several turns before they finally arrived at Amelia’s office without having been noticed by anyone. She sat down in the large chair behind her desk and gestured for them to sit in the two seats across from her. As they sat down, she took out a pen and notepad, surprising Harry, who hadn’t ever seen a witch or wizard use Muggle writing implements.

“It’s a lot more efficient when I’m taking patient notes. My parents are both Muggle doctors, so they got me in the habit long before Hogwarts taught me to use a quill and parchment. I only use those on formal occasions now,” Amelia explained, seeing the confused looks on their faces.

“But where’s the ink?” Ginny asked, mystified by the pen. Harry was reminded that things he took for granted, like the fact that a pen had self-contained ink, were unfamiliar to Ginny, who hadn’t ever really been exposed to the Muggle world. Amelia smiled kindly and explained how the pen worked. Harry suspected this wasn’t the first time she’d had to explain it to someone from their world, and she did it very patiently. Ginny looked quite impressed at the end of the explanation.

“And now, Mister Potter-” Amelia began, looking at him.

“Harry,” he corrected, always preferring people to use his first name.

She nodded. “Harry, Molly told me that you needed to see a Healer urgently, but she didn’t tell me anything beyond that. What’s going on?”

“I- I’ve been having panic attacks. Two in the last five days. They happen when I’m alone, late at night or early in the morning. I start shaking and sweating, and I can’t breathe. Apparently it’s been difficult for anybody to snap me out of it,” Harry answered.

Amelia nodded, jotting down a few notes on her pad. “Panic attacks aren’t very common in our world. But then again, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a witch or wizard who’s been through more than you, especially given your age. If you don’t mind me asking, what sorts of things do you see or feel when you’re in these moments?”

Ginny took Harry’s hand, as he took a deep breath. He usually was reluctant to be open with people, but there was something about Amelia that he trusted, so he was honest with her, or as honest as he could be at the moment. “I’m back at the battle. I can’t breathe, there’s smoke and blood and bodies everywhere. It feels like I’m really there, and everything feels so hopeless. But yesterday… I’ve seen a lot of people die. It was like I was just watching a constant series of all the deaths I’ve seen and even those I didn’t actually witness. I feel like I can’t breathe because there should be something I can do, but I’m stuck just watching the people I love die.”

Ginny squeezed his hand tightly, and Harry saw Amelia frowning, taking a quick note before setting her pen down and looking at him sadly. “It’s not uncommon, unfortunately, for people who have gone through traumatic things like you to have to deal with these attacks. Usually that happens more with Muggles than wizards, so it hasn’t ever been studied intensively by Healers. There’s not really a spell or potion that I can use to take them away without severely altering your moods or personality, and that’s the last thing anybody wants to do. I think it’s very possible that the preferred treatment for Muggles will work in this case though. Muggles have something called psychotherapy. It’s basically a fancy term for talking about your panic attacks to try and figure out the stressors that cause them so we can help you better deal with them without someone needing to pull you out of it.”

Harry nodded. He hadn’t been expecting that there would be a quick, magical solution to the problem, and he was willing to try anything so that he could stop having these episodes. “Is there like… a division at St. Mungo’s for this… psychotherapy thing?”

Amelia shook her head. “I doubt many people here know much about mental health, including psychotherapy. I only know about it because of my parents. I’d be happy to meet with you for regular appointments though.”

“I’d appreciate that,” Harry responded. “Only… is there any way we can be sure it won’t get out that I’m coming to the hospital for problems with my head? People have thought I was a nutter for years because of my head, and I’d really hate for my medical records to confirm that for them.”

Ginny and Amelia both looked at him sympathetically. Amelia nodded. “I can meet with you outside of St. Mungo’s, if you’d prefer. We can keep it off the record so that nothing gets out.”

Harry nodded immediately, very grateful for the offer. “Thank you, Amelia. Just let me know how much it’ll cost, and I’ll be happy to pay you for our appointments.”

Amelia waved her hand dismissively at him. “Not a chance, Harry,” she answered with a smile. “I’ll do it for free. If anybody deserves to catch a break, it’s you. It’ll make me feel like I’m able to help out in a small way with everything you did. The whole world owes you for defeating him.” Harry looked down at the table, still not liking the acclaim he was receiving from people he’d never met before for that. Amelia continued, “But even if you hadn’t done that, what you said in the Daily Prophet today is more than enough reason for me to help you, free of charge.”

Harry frowned, confused. He hadn’t seen a copy of the Prophet this morning. He’d been too eager to wake Ginny up and show her her anniversary gift.

“You don’t know?” Amelia asked. Harry shook his head, not sure what it was that he didn’t know. Ginny looked at him like she had some idea what Amelia was talking about, but Harry was clueless. Amelia reached into her top desk drawer and pulled out a newspaper. She turned it over and passed it across the desk, and when Harry saw the picture of him with the Creevey family, he immediately remembered why he was in the paper today.

POTTER DISMISSES IMPORTANCE OF BLOOD STATUS!
‘WE’RE ALL BONDED BY MAGIC’

CONTENT WARNING: ARTICLE CONTAINS QUOTED USES OF PROFANITY
Colin Creevey, a sixteen year old who was killed at the Battle of Hogwarts, was laid to rest on Friday, 8 May. At his funeral, none other than Harry Potter, The Saviour of the Wizarding World, delivered his eulogy, a rousing indictment of those who value blood status. In a short, five-minute speech, Potter passionately defended the equality of all wizards, regardless of magical heritage.
Potter praised Creevey for being at the battle, saying: ‘This past year, Colin had to be in hiding as a Muggle-born, but when the chance came for him to fight, he managed to get into Hogwarts and fought for what was right.’
Potter didn’t stop there though. Seemingly filled with righteous anger, he expressed his feelings on the circumstances surrounding Creevey’s death and the Battle of Hogwarts:
‘I am bloody pissed off that this was a fight that Colin felt the need to be a part of. I’m pissed off that because of his magical heritage, something he had no control over, he dealt with ridicule and slander and spent the last year of his life hiding from a corrupt government that would’ve arrested him or worse for being able to do magic. I’m pissed off that there are still a lot of wizards and witches who think that their blood status matters at all, or even that the fact that they’re able to do magic makes them better than the people who can’t.
‘Colin Creevey was a Muggle-born, and he’s worth dozens of pureblood wizards who were too afraid to stand up for what was right when he wasn’t. I’m pissed off about a lot of things that have happened. But more than anything, I am fucking pissed off that there are families that won’t ever be whole again because some evil people decided that they got to choose whose lives mattered and whose didn’t.
‘Colin was a friend to all, and he was murdered by people who fear friendship and crave violence, dissent, and cruelty. [...] He died fighting for a world where all wizards and witches are treated equally, for a world where blood status doesn’t matter. Colin is a bloody hero, and we can honour his life by doing what’s right and treating everyone fairly, regardless of who their parents are or how pure their blood is. We’re all bonded by magic; we shouldn’t be looking for ways to divide ourselves. Never forget that, and Colin’s sacrifice ends in victory.’
The
Prophet has been unable to reach Potter for comment regarding his speech on Friday, but we did speak to Minerva McGonagall, newly appointed Headmistress at Hogwarts, who officiated the service. When asked what she thought about Potter’s comments, she said: ‘Every person in our world should think carefully about Potter’s speech. He has more character in a single hair on his head than most witches and wizards have in their whole body, and when he speaks this strongly about something, he’s usually right. That’s especially true today.’
For more information about Potter’s role in the battle, see Page 3.
To continue reading about the funerals being held for the Fallen Fifty of the Battle of Hogwarts, see Page 7…


Harry finished reading the article and looked up at Amelia, who had a small, appreciative smile on her face. “Thank you for what you said. I spent the last year lying about who I was before I had to go into hiding. This is my first week back here since October. It means so much that someone like you is standing up for our rights in such a public way.”

Harry nodded, unsure how to respond to that. Ginny answered for him. “He doesn’t do well with people thanking him for things, especially when they’re as amazing as this. But he won’t ever stop defending the rights of all people,” she promised, turning towards Harry with his favourite blazing look in her eyes. She looked proud of him, and that made him feel better than any amount of appreciative comments from other people ever could.

He nodded again, this time in agreement with her, and Ginny smiled at him. “I see,” Amelia said. “Well then, I’ll just show my appreciation in my treatment of you, Harry. I know you have a busy week ahead of you. Would you like to meet sometime early next week for our first real appointment?”

“Yeah, that would be great. Thank you,” he responded.

She nodded at him. “Of course. Send me an owl and we’ll coordinate a time and place next week. Until then, just try and stay around your friends as much as you can, and… good luck with this next week,” she finished, giving him a sad smile, clearly knowing the funerals Harry and Ginny would still be attending this week. Thanking her again, they left her office and started walking towards the place they had entered from.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

On the way to the back exit, Ginny found herself looking around St. Mungo’s more than she had when they’d come in. They were currently on the Fourth Floor, the Spell Damage Floor, since that was Amelia’s specialty. Ginny remembered being here with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, two years ago at Christmas. She’d seen Neville and his parents in the long-term ward here. Ginny had learned what had happened to his parents after that day, and she knew that Neville was constantly trying to live up to his parents’ legacies. She smiled a little for her friend, knowing that he had done that at the battle a week ago.

Just before she and Harry started walking down the stairs to the exit, a name on one of the doors caught her eye. Emily Brooks. Ginny didn’t notice that she let go of Harry and walked toward the door. She reached out toward the handle, but Harry grabbed her arm just before she opened the door.

“Hey, what’s going on? You can’t just go in there,” he said, looking worried. Ginny blinked and looked up at him, feeling like she was being pulled out of a trance.

“Emily Brooks,” she responded, pointing to the name on the door.

Harry frowned, confused. “Who’s Emily Brooks?” he asked. Ginny suddenly remembered. Of course Harry wouldn’t know who she was- he hadn’t been at Hogwarts this year.

“She’s a first-year Gryffindor. I was with her when you- when you went to the forest,” she answered quietly, and Harry’s eyes widened. She still hadn’t gotten the full story yet, but Harry had confirmed the day of the battle that it was him that Ginny had felt walking past when she was with Emily, trying to comfort her.

“A first year?” he whispered, looking shocked.

“She followed me for a lot of the year. Kind of like how Colin was with you when he first started at Hogwarts. She knew I was friends or more with you, and she was fascinated with you. As the year went on… she started becoming more attached to me and kept asking to join the D.A. I never let her, obviously, but that didn’t stop her from sneaking away from everyone else the night of the battle. I- I don’t know what she was doing on the grounds. She passed out after you walked past, and I levitated her back to the castle. I thought for sure she’d…” Harry wrapped an arm around her as Ginny couldn’t finish that sentence.

“Let’s see if there’s anybody we can ask about her,” he suggested, walking with her down a corridor until they found a Healer. She was a little surprised that he hadn’t hesitated, like he’d forgotten that he wasn’t wanting to be seen in St. Mungo’s.

As soon as they found a Healer, Harry said, “Excuse me?” The Healer looked at him, clearly busy, but that annoyed expression changed into a wide-eyed shock as her eyes flicked from Harry’s eyes to his forehead, something Ginny saw all the time.

After a moment, Harry continued. “I was wondering if there was anyone we could talk to about Emily Brooks? She’s a patient in a room just down there,” he gestured back where they came from. The Healer, a young and very pretty woman, snapped out of her daze, but she didn’t quit staring at Harry, not even noticing Ginny holding his hand.

“I’m sorry Mister Potter, but I can’t give you any information about our patients. Although-” she whispered, leaning in too close to Harry for Ginny’s taste “- her parents are probably in the visitor’s room, just out those doors. They may talk to you.” She gave Harry a toothy smile, but he just nodded his thanks and took off with Ginny, not giving the Healer a second look, which pleased a small, jealous part of Ginny greatly.

They entered the visitor’s room, where only a handful of people were sitting in scattered chairs. They started looking around the room, and Ginny noticed that practically everyone was staring at Harry. Except for one couple, who was sitting in the corner, not really looking at anything. Ginny squeezed his hand to get his attention and nodded towards that corner. He nodded, and they walked over. Both the man and woman were blonde. The woman was rather attractive, and the man had a goatee that matched his hair. They had bloodshot eyes, looking like they hadn’t slept in a week.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” Ginny said softly. “But are you Emily Brooks’ parents?”

They looked up, slightly surprised to have someone asking them that, especially considering Ginny wasn’t wearing Healer robes. Harry stood behind her, and they hadn’t noticed him yet. “We are,” Mr. Brooks responded hesitantly, unsure if he should be talking about his daughter to someone he didn’t know.

“I’m Ginny Weasley,” she introduced herself. “I was with Emily… that night at Hogwarts. I’m- I’m the one who found her.”

It was interesting to watch Mr. Brooks’ eyes narrow as Mrs. Brooks’ eyes widened, both registering that information differently. “She told us about you. She said you were teaching people at Hogwarts how to protect themselves, and you looked out for the younger students,” Mrs. Brooks said, her bottom lip beginning to tremble as she thought about her daughter.

“Why was she even there?” Mr. Brooks asked accusingly.

Ginny shook her head helplessly. “She wanted to help. Everyone underage was supposed to leave the castle, but she snuck away. I- I found her during a ceasefire and brought her back to the castle, but I- I had no idea what happened to her until now. Do you mind if I sit with you?” Ginny asked, gesturing to the empty seats next to them. Mrs. Brooks nodded invitingly, and Ginny sat next to her. Only then, once she sat down, did the Brooks see Harry, who’d remained quiet during the conversation.

Both of their eyes widened seeing him, and he stepped forward. “Hi, I’m Harry Potter. I’m so sorry for what happened to Emily,” he said, looking at both of them sadly.

“You’re Harry Potter,” Mrs. Brooks echoed. Harry nodded uncomfortably.

Mr. Brooks looked at Ginny. “Emily told us you knew him. That was true?”

Ginny nodded with a small smile. “Harry’s been friends with my family for years.”

“I’m also her boyfriend,” Harry added, more proudly than he probably should’ve considering the situation, but Ginny thought it was very cute that he wanted to be known for that, considering all his other potential titles and accolades.

“How is Emily?” Ginny asked quickly, before the Brooks’ could ask any questions of Harry.

Mr. Brooks shook his head. “She’s weak. She’s almost always sleeping. The Healers told us that she was lucky to be alive. A curse- it broke her legs and damaged her spine severely. They were able to heal her legs easily, but the spine is a different story… they think she’ll recover, with time, but she’ll likely never walk again.”

Ginny exhaled sadly as a few tears leaked out of Mrs. Brooks eyes. “I’m so sorry,” Ginny whispered. “She shouldn’t have been there, caught up in all of this. She was so brave though.” She hoped that would comfort the Brooks couple somewhat.

Mrs. Brooks nodded, wiping her eyes. “She looked up to both of you a great deal. Thank you for being there for her and for ending this.” Ginny nodded, holding Harry’s hand tightly.

Now it was Mr. Brooks’ turn to wipe his eyes, which surprised Ginny a little. “My father died in the first war. Is it really over this time?” he asked Harry.

Harry pressed his lips together. “There are still some of his supporters out there, but… yeah, he’s gone, and he’s never coming back.”

Mr. Brooks closed his eyes and nodded. “Thank you,” he whispered, and for a moment, all Ginny saw a scared boy who lost his father far too young.

“Do you think- when she starts feeling better, we could come and visit her?” Ginny asked gently.

Both parents nodded immediately. “Can we send you an owl when she’s ready?” Mrs. Brooks asked.

“Absolutely,” Ginny said, smiling slightly, thankful that she and Harry would get to see Emily soon.

All four of them stood up. “Thank you for checking on her today,” Mrs. Brooks said as she hugged them both quickly. Mr. Brooks shook both of their hands, and Ginny and Harry exited the visitor’s room, walking hand in hand to the exit.

“I’m so glad she’s okay,” Ginny said as they climbed out of the dumpster.

Harry nodded. “Me too. I just wish she hadn’t been there in the first place.”

Ginny agreed. “I know, I do too. But you have to admit, it’s a bit ironic for you to be concerned about that, considering what you were doing at her age.” Harry started to disagree but he sighed, realising that Ginny was right.

“I can’t wait for you to meet her. She reminds me a lot of you, and not just for the whole getting in trouble at a young age thing,” Ginny said, smiling wryly at Harry.

Harry shook his head. “Merlin, the last thing Hogwarts needs is another person like me.”

Ginny laughed, pulling him close for him to apparate back to the Burrow. “She just reminds me of you. You’re still one of a kind.”

Harry smiled, turning on his heel, and instantly, they were back outside the Burrow. They’d been at the hospital so long that it was now evening, and they hurried inside. Ginny left Harry in the living room with her dad, Ron, Charlie, and Percy, and she went to the kitchen to find her mother cooking while Hermione watched.

“Is it ready?” Ginny asked.

Hermione nodded. “Ron and I set it up this afternoon while the two of you were gone.”

“Dinner’s ready too,” her mother added, and Ginny grinned at both of them.

“Thank you both, I really appreciate the help.” They smiled back at her, and Ginny hurried out of the kitchen and saw that Ron and Harry weren’t in the living room anymore. Things were going perfectly according to plan, then.

Ginny went upstairs to the bathroom, quickly freshening up before returning to her bedroom, where she changed into an emerald green strapless dress that matched the shirt she’d been wearing earlier. She’d found it in a box of old family things while they’d stayed at Aunt Muriel’s, and after a few alterations and removal of lace, the simple dress fit her perfectly. She gave herself one last look in the mirror, pleased that the dress flattered her figure so well.

Ginny hurried back downstairs and snuck into the backyard. The rest of the family was preoccupied in the kitchen, thanks to her mum, no doubt, so nobody gave her a hard time about dressing up this much. Ginny smiled as she saw the glowing lights in the orchard, and, feeling a little mischievous, she decided to wait behind a tree for Harry to come outside.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

When Ginny walked into the kitchen, Harry stayed behind with her brothers and dad. But before he could sit down, Ron jumped up and started pulling Harry up the stairs. “What are we doing?” Harry asked, following Ron.

“Sorry mate, I know you don’t want to do this, but there’s a Daily Prophet reporter that’s going to be here in a few minutes,” Ron answered as they reached the third floor.

Harry stopped. “Wait what? Why the hell is a reporter coming here?”

Ron sighed and turned back. “Hermione told me you’d be like this. They’re just wanting to take a picture of the three of us for a story they’re working on. They’re not gonna ask any questions, and it’s not just for you. But Hermione will kill us if we’re not dressed nicely for the picture.”

Harry exhaled, becoming quickly annoyed that they’d planned this without asking him if it was okay. The last thing he wanted was another picture of himself in the bloody Daily Prophet. “Fine,” he grumbled, pushing past Ron and heading up the stairs to their room. “But we’re talking about this afterwards. It’s not okay for you two to pull some shite like this without telling me.”

“Sorry mate,” Ron apologised as they entered the room. Harry rolled his eyes and pulled out a deep blue set of dress robes, but before he could put them on, Ron spoke again. “Umm… Hermione said you should wear this.” He held up a charcoal grey Muggle suit with an emerald green tie and pocket square.

Harry rolled his eyes again. “Fine. Does Hermione have any preference on which sleeve I put on first, or am I allowed to make that decision for myself?”

Ron held his hands up innocently. “Don’t hex the messenger.”

Harry muttered some choice words for his so-called friends under his breath, but he reluctantly changed into the outfit Hermione had for him. He turned to look back at Ron, who was wearing plain black robes.

“Why aren’t you wearing something nicer if I have to wear this damn suit?” Harry asked, struggling to tie his necktie.

Ron shrugged. “Hermione didn’t pick something out for me. You’re still the main attraction, I guess. Here, you’re just making it worse.” Ron stepped forward and quickly tied Harry’s necktie, patting him on the shoulders as he stepped back.

“Well, I’ve definitely seen you look worse,” Ron cracked, smiling at Harry.

Harry couldn’t help chuckling, even though he was still really pissed off. “Let’s just get this over with… then I’ll make sure you look worse,” he threatened, halfway serious about it. Ron laughed and followed Harry downstairs.

“Where are we meeting them?” Harry asked as they entered the now-empty living room.

“Just outside, in the orchard,” Ron answered, looking around to see where everyone was.

Harry was about to go outside when Hermione walked in from the kitchen. “Why aren’t you dressed up?” he asked, looking at Hermione wearing a blue jumper and jeans.

“What?” she responded in a confused tone.

Harry turned to look at Ron, whose face was bright red, but Ron didn’t hesitate to answer her question. “For the picture, Hermione! Honestly woman, you spend so much time with your nose in a book that it’s a miracle you remember to eat every day. Let’s go get you changed.”

“Excuse me?” Hermione asked shrilly.

Ron gulped, looking at Harry, who was just as confused as Hermione was. “Just wait for us outside, Harry. We’ll be there in a few minutes,” Ron said, looking back at a very annoyed Hermione.

Harry didn’t need to be told twice. He quickly went out the back door, hearing Hermione yelling at Ron before he closed the door, and mercifully, the sound was almost completely muffled. He turned to see if the reporter was already here. Instead of a reporter though, he saw something glowing in the orchard. Intrigued, he walked into the orchard, looking up at the treetops and the fairy lights strung from branch to branch. In a small clearing was a table and two chairs. Harry frowned and started looking around, trying to figure out what was going around. He heard a rustling behind him, and he turned back, stunned by what he was looking at.

Ginny was always beautiful in Harry’s eyes, even when she was half asleep and snoring. There’d be random moments when Harry would see her and he’d still feel the breath being knocked out of his lungs as he took in her beauty like he’d never seen it before. This was one of those moments. Ginny was standing in front of him, wearing a green, strapless dress that made her body look even more incredible than usual. Harry’s eyes wandered down the dress before slowly travelling back up, wistfully admiring the patches of freckles on her exposed shoulders. He saw her perfect smile that always made his heart flutter, her cute little nose, and the thing he adored most about her- her blazing brown eyes, shining with so much emotion that Harry was overwhelmed, completely speechless as he took in her beauty like he’d never seen her before.

His favourite sound in the world- Ginny’s laugh- breathed new life into him. She was still smiling at him, and Harry saw she was waiting for him to say something once he finished staring, so he breathed out literally the only thought that was in his mind: “You’re perfect, in every way.”

Ginny smiled even wider, walking up to Harry, who still couldn’t believe his luck that this goddess wanted to be with him of all people. She leaned in close and whispered, “That’s my line. But I’ll settle for saying you always amaze me.”

Then they were kissing, and even though kissing her was becoming more familiar by the day, Harry still felt that rush, like she was the only thing that mattered. Everything else faded away and his world was her. She pulled away slowly, and Harry realised that she was very quickly becoming his entire world even when they weren’t kissing. He liked that feeling.

Ginny looked up at him, and Harry felt like his feelings for her were visualised in her expression. “Happy Anniversary, Harry,” Ginny said softly. Harry remembered where they were, and why he’d come out there in the first place.

“You did all this?” he asked, surprised at how quickly things had changed from his annoyance in the Burrow moments ago. Ginny nodded, blushing and smiling a little, clearly proud of herself. “Gin, this is incredible.”

“You haven’t even seen the best part,” she promised, leading him to the table, which held two covered dishes that Harry didn’t remember seeing when he’d come out to the orchard. Ginny lifted the coverings with a flourish, exclaiming “Voila!” His mouth watered seeing the dinner of lamb chops that he was fairly certain had been cooked by Mrs. Weasley.

As they sat down and began eating, Harry asked, “How- when did you do all this?”

Ginny chuckled. “Well it wasn’t easy. I had the idea a few days ago, so I asked Hermione if she could help me with setting up all the decorations. I asked Mum if she would make us a special dinner tonight, and she was very happy to do it. But when I realised we were going to be gone all day, I had to ask Hermione and Ron to take care of all the preparations for me. Then I had to change when we got back home and beat you out here by a couple minutes.”

Harry nodded. “Yeah, Ron took me upstairs and fed me a story about a reporter coming here to take a picture of the three of us. He told me Hermione had picked out a special outfit for me to wear, but it fell apart when we came downstairs and Hermione wasn’t dressed up at all. I think he’s getting yelled at for insulting Hermione while trying to keep the story going.”

Ginny laughed loudly at that. “That’s my brother, a real charmer. Though, I was wondering where that outfit came from. Hermione must have transfigured some other clothes to make it after I showed her my dress yesterday. We’re pretty lucky to have a friend as great as her… and Ron too, I guess,” Ginny added with an exaggerated wrinkling of her nose, but Harry knew that she loved her brother deeply and a lot of the jokes were just for show.

“I feel more and more lucky every day,” Harry said truthfully, taking her hand in his.

Ginny smiled at him, asking a now familiar question. “How do you always know what to say?”

“Magic,” Harry grinned as he said it, leaning across the table to give her a quick kiss. They finished their dinner, and Harry was delighted when the plates were magically replaced with a treacle tart that he and Ginny shared.

“You sure do know how to treat a guy, Blaze,” Harry said after they’d eaten their fill. “Hope you don’t burn out on the romance too quickly,” he joked.

Ginny rolled her eyes. “I’m more worried about you running out after your gift this morning.”

Harry chuckled, making Ginny laugh with him. “You don’t have to worry about that. You’re gonna be putting up with my efforts to make romantic gestures-”

“Forever,” they both said at the same time. Their anniversary ended in a blissful night in the orchard. They stayed outside long after they finished eating, enjoying every perfect second of each other’s company, continually finding new things to talk about, and celebrating the conclusion of the first year of their forever.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

A/N: Happy Anniversary to Harry and Ginny! I hope this chapter makes up for some of the sad things they’ve been going through recently; I know it was very much needed for me on the writing end to have a bit of a break in the constant sadness for them to have a really great day caring for each other without as much worry about everything else. Their anniversary of 10 May was based on HP Lexicon’s Day-by-Day Calendar of Half-Blood Prince. They have one of these for all seven books, and they were invaluable resources for determining exactly when certain events happened in canon. They do pretty extensive research to place dates on events when possible, so I feel pretty confident with their first kiss being on 10 May, 1997, which puts this chapters events at 10 May, 1998, eight days after the Battle, for anyone interested in keeping track of where we’re at.

I did have Harry’s anniversary present planned from when I decided that the Death Eaters left the fake Prophet on Ginny’s wall. It seemed like a very sweet thing for him to find something to cover it, and the picture was conveniently given to him ‘off screen’ by Dennis at Colin’s funeral in Chapter 9. Verto is a spell I invented to change the state of an object, rooted in a Latin word that means “I change” or “I turn”.

Ginny’s memory of the Quidditch match was an important one to me for several reasons. It was the first time I actually got to write Quidditch action, which I really enjoy doing as a massive sports fan, and I felt like it was important to justify how Gryffindor managed to win by so much when it seemed like nobody thought they had much of a chance without Harry. Ginny using the Wronski Feint on Cho was something I admittedly laughed at when I came up with it, just because it feels like such a Ginny thing to do. It’s worth saying that, personally, I have nothing against Cho. She was dealing with a lot of terrible things in the time that we really knew her in canon, and there’s plenty of reasons why she wouldn’t have ever worked with Harry. But… Ginny is a teenage girl- fifteen in this memory- and Cho is the one girl that Harry had ever showed an interest in, so I think it makes complete sense that Ginny would be very competitive and maybe a little aggressive in proving that she’s ‘better’ than Cho in this moment. Funny enough, in that memory, I say that Harry was looking for her. “Not Ron. Not Hermione. Ginny.” I wrote it, thinking it sounded familiar, but I didn’t even realise I was basically quoting the first film until I watched it a couple days later. I cracked up when I heard it and decided to leave it in because it’s really funny to me and very fitting for the scene in my opinion.

I don’t really have a lot to say about Amelia right now, other than she’s going to be a very important person for both Harry and Ginny as Harry continues trying to overcome his panic attacks. There’s a level of trust that needs to be established between them, and I feel like Amelia’s appreciation of Harry’s words in the article goes a long way towards that, even if it makes him feel a little uncomfortable.

I knew I wanted to include the girl that Harry saw Ginny taking care of as he was walking to the forest. The two options I saw were to have a funeral for her or to make Ginny and Harry invested in her life, and I didn’t think there should be more funerals than absolutely necessary. I did think that it was important for her to have actual injuries though. It may be ‘nerfing’ magic a little bit, but I feel like there has to be some sort of state of injury between life and death, and the sad reality of a young girl never walking again drives home just how terrible the war was. But I will say that Emily doesn’t let it define her. Even though we don’t actually meet her in this chapter, I will tease that she becomes very important in both of their lives and a very, very fun character for me to write.

The entire set up for Ginny’s surprise had me giggling as I was writing it. Ron does his absolute best to preserve the surprise, even at his own expense, because he’s a good friend, but he definitely could’ve been a little more delicate with it. I’m not complaining though since it gave me a very funny moment to write! And it led to one of the more romantic scenes we’ve had in SoR to this point, with a beautiful celebration of their first anniversary. I do my best to balance the romance with the other, more tumultuous emotions right now, but I have to say, rereading this chapter got me very excited for when romance is the primary focus of things, once everything settles down and the Battle moves further back into memory.

Sadly, we’re not there yet, and another bump in the road is going to show up in our next chapter. I really hope you enjoyed Remembering the Date! As always, comments and feedback are very much appreciated!

Coming Friday: Assigning Blame- Harry didn’t even cower as the man stood over him.

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Chapter 12: Assigning Blame

Harry didn’t even cower as the man stood over him.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

The next morning was a sombre return to reality- silence, no breakfast, and downcast faces as the Weasleys, Harry, and Hermione prepared to attend another funeral. Lavender Brown had died from injuries caused by Fenrir Greyback the evening after the battle, while most of the survivors were either sleeping or celebrating. Yet again, they were all reminded of just how cruel and unfair this war had been to cut so many young lives short.

Ginny was holding Harry’s hand underneath the table. He looked rough- anger and sadness and guilt rolled into one stoic expression. She knew that he’d never really been close to Lavender, but it didn’t matter. He viewed every death at the battle as one that he should’ve been able to prevent, so even though he was sad about the loss of his housemate, he also continued to place the guilt that belonged to her murderer on himself. Ginny pursed her lips, wishing there was something she could say to ease his burden, but all she could do was be there for him.

Looking across the table, she saw that Ron and Hermione bore similar expressions to Harry. This startled Ginny a little- both of them had been incredibly sad during the funerals to this point, but they both looked like they felt guilty, and they seemed to be making it a point to not touch each other. This tipped Ginny off to the reason behind their guilty looks. Lavender had been furious with both of them at the end of last year because of how both Ron and Hermione had acted while she was dating Ron. And now, they were together finally, but Lavender was dead. It was an unfair twist of fate that was clearly weighing on both of them.

When it was time, the family walked, still in silence, outside past the wards. Harry pulled Ginny close to him, and he apparated them to Barnton, a wizarding village in Cheshire, where the Browns were from. As they began walking into the church, Ginny stopped and pulled Hermione to the side, gesturing for Harry to go in with Ron.

“How are you feeling?” Ginny asked her friend.

“I’m sad, Ginny,” Hermione responded obviously.

“You’re more than sad.”

Hermione looked at the ground. “I feel horrible that she died hating me and- and I’m alive, dating her ex-boyfriend.”

Ginny frowned. “She didn’t hate you.”

“After everything that happened last year, I’m quite certain she did.”

Ginny shook her head. “She was jealous of you. Everybody could see that you and Ron fancied each other, even Lavender. And you may have been angry that they were together, but you never really tried to break them up. She was mad at you at the time, but she’d ask me every once in a while last year if I knew anything about what the three of you were doing because she was worried. She may not have been your biggest fan, but she still wanted you to succeed this year.”

“Really?” Hermione looked very surprised at this.

“Really. She didn’t believe that Ron had spattergroit while his two best friends were on the run- none of the students really did. But she never asked about just Ron or Ron and Harry. It was always: ‘Have you heard anything about the trio?’” Seeing Hermione’s confused look, Ginny explained, “Younger kids have called the three of you ‘The Golden Trio’ for the last couple years. We sorta adopted that term this year to talk about you secretly in case the Carrows were listening.”

Hermione nodded, reddening slightly, and Ginny continued, knowing the service would be starting momentarily. “Look, all I’m saying is that she didn’t hate you, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about dating Ron. All of these funerals are really hard on all of us. Don’t make it harder on yourself by taking on guilt you don’t deserve.”

“Like Harry, you mean?”

Ginny sighed, nodding. “I don’t know what to do about him. His guilt isn’t… specific like yours. He feels like everything that happened is his fault.”

Hermione smiled sadly at Ginny. “He’s been that way for years. It used to be that he’d take responsibility any time something bad happened and we got caught. But ever since Cedric… he feels like it was his fault that Riddle came back in the first place. He thinks we should’ve found the Horcruxes faster, and I don’t know that he’ll ever forgive himself for the final battle happening at Hogwarts. Every death Riddle caused since he came back, and especially those at the battle, Harry feels like he could’ve done something to prevent them all, even if it makes no sense.”

Ginny shook her head. “I just wish there was something I could do.”

Hermione put her hand on Ginny’s shoulder comfortingly. “Harry needs you, all the time. He just doesn’t- Harry was raised to believe that everything bad that happened was his fault. That’s… an incredibly dangerous and devastating mindset for someone who’s seen as much death, especially of loved ones, as Harry has. I hope that being around you and all of us, not blaming him for any of this, will eventually help him, but it’ll take time.”

Ginny wanted to ask about what Hermione meant about Harry’s upbringing, but the church bells began ringing, so they quickly entered, sitting next to Harry and Ron at the end of the back row.

Yet again, Professor McGonagall was officiating the service, and yet again, Ginny found it incredibly difficult to focus on what she was saying. Ginny looked around the church, pleased to see a similar attendance to Colin’s funeral, although there were more adult wizards and witches that she didn’t recognize. They looked like they might have been Ministry workers, which struck Ginny as a bit odd.

That thought was quickly pushed out of her mind as Parvati stepped on the stage and began eulogising her best friend, something no teenager should ever have to do. Ginny’s heart broke as she heard snippets of Parvati’s speech- “long talks at night”, “kind-hearted”, “best friend I’ve ever had”. The pain she felt intensified as Lavender’s mother followed Parvati’s eulogy with a brief poem she’d written to her daughter. When she broke down halfway through it, Ginny didn’t think there was a dry eye in the church. It was uncomfortable, but it was more horrifying than anything, seeing the pure anguish on the face of a mother who lost her only child as a teenager. Ginny didn’t want to, but she imagined that this was how Andromeda Tonks felt most of the time.

Somehow the service finally ended, and all the Weasleys left except Ron and Ginny, who stayed behind with Harry and Hermione. Even though it might be awkward, Ron seemed to want to pay his respects to her family. Harry, Hermione, and Ginny followed him because they had all known Lavender fairly well, and it wouldn’t hurt to let her family know they were sorry for their loss and thinking of them.

As the crowd of people around Mr. and Mrs. Brown slowly dispersed, Ron stepped up to them. “I’m Ron Weasley. I don’t know if Lavender ever mentioned me, but we- we dated last year. I- I just wanted to tell you, even though you already know, how great of a person she was, and I’m… so sorry for your loss.”

Ginny was impressed with her big brother. It may not have been eloquent, but it was authentic. She could see that Mrs. Brown knew who Ron was, but she still seemed to appreciate Ron’s sentiment. Mrs. Brown started to say something, but she was cut off by her husband, who shouted, “YOU! How dare you come here today?”

Ginny was stunned at his reaction to Ron, but she was even more surprised when he pushed past Ron and towered over Harry. Everyone left in the church was staring as Harry looked up in shock at the taller man, who continued yelling. “You brought that fight to the school! It wasn’t her fight, but she’s dead because of you!”

Ginny had never seen Harry look like this. He slumped in fear and shame, seemingly barely able to stand. “I know,” he whispered, unable to look the man in the face.

“You know that it’s your fault she’s dead? And yet you parade the fact that you survived here? How dare you?” Mr. Brown’s voice hadn’t softened at all.

Ginny thought she might be sick when Harry whispered, “I’d give anything to take her place.”

“I wish you had,” the man said, shoving Harry, who fell to the ground, unwilling to defend himself. He didn’t even cower as the man stood over him. He just lay there, fully expecting to be given more punishment that he thought he deserved.

Ginny had seen more than enough and leapt in front of the man, enraged by his treatment of Harry. She brandished her wand and stood between Mr. Brown and Harry. Hermione was next to her, obviously feeling a similar anger, and Ron… took the Ron approach to the issue and punched Lavender’s father in the face. Hermione quickly pulled Ron away, and several other people, including Professors McGonagall and Flitwick, stepped in between both parties.

“Honestly, what has gotten into all of you?” McGonagall scolded.

“You heard him,” Ginny growled angrily, not feeling an ounce of sympathy for Mr. Brown at the moment.

McGonagall turned to face Mr. Brown. “Lawrence, why on earth are you blaming Potter for your daughter’s death? She had the opportunity to leave, but she chose to stay behind and fight as a hero. Potter is no more responsible for her death than you are for raising her to be brave and willing to lay down her life for what’s right. You are entitled to your grief, but I will not allow you to blame him after everything he’s been through.”

Ginny felt a surge of pride for her Head of House. Mr. Brown was a big, intimidating man, and even he seemed afraid to cross Professor McGonagall, who was defending Harry fiercely. Mr. Brown still looked furious, but Ginny saw the tears in his eyes. He was a broken man, looking for someone to blame. Harry was just the easiest and most accessible target.

McGonagall turned back to them. “Fistfighting at a funeral is never the way to resolve an issue, Mister Weasley. I think it’s best if you all just take Mister Potter home- where is he?”

Ginny quickly pivoted, looking at the spot on the floor where Harry had been. It was empty. He must’ve slipped out during the fight, and they had no idea where he was. She looked up at Hermione, who had a terrified expression on her face that Ginny suspected mirrored her own.

“Where did he go?” Ginny asked worriedly. Hermione just shook her head, clearly trying to think about it.

“I have no idea,” she finally said. “There’s so many places he could be. Any of the places we camped this year, the Burrow, Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley…”

Ron interjected, “He wouldn’t have gone some place crowded or where he’d be recognized. If he’s in a wizarding area, he’ll be wearing the cloak.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t try looking for him,” Hermione suggested. “We know he’ll come back when he’s ready, and he may just want to be alone.”

Ginny shook her head, fervently disagreeing with that. “No chance. You just told me Harry always needs me around. He’s literally living one of his worst fears right now. I- I can’t let him go through that alone.”

Ginny started pacing, barely noticing that Mrs. Brown was furiously arguing with her husband through tears, shocked and ashamed at his behaviour. Ginny was just focused on finding Harry. She didn’t think he’d want to go somewhere and hide under the cloak. He’d prefer to be somewhere isolated without having to conceal himself. That ruled out pretty much any wizarding area. He could’ve gone to Grimmauld Place, but that was dangerous considering Death Eaters may have put traps there. She also dismissed the idea that Harry would want to go to some place he’d camped at this year, based on how awful his stories about that time sounded. Harry wanted a place where he could be alone, where he could feel his feelings without feeling like he was back on the run.

That all made sense, but there were still hundreds of places he could be. She exhaled, desperately searching her mind for some clue he may have left in their conversations. Where would he have gone?

Ginny hated crying; it felt like she’d done more in the past week than she had in her entire life. But she could feel tears threatening to escape again as she realised there wasn’t anything she could do to help Harry when she didn’t even know where he was.

She turned back to Ron and Hermione. “I don’t know,” she whispered shakily, as though that confession was some sort of hint that she didn’t know Harry as well as she thought. They looked at her sadly, and she could tell that neither of them had any further idea than she did. Wordlessly, Ron put an arm around her shoulders, and Hermione took one of Ginny’s hands. They walked out of the church, not saying another word to the Browns or anyone else they knew. Ginny gritted her teeth, refusing to cry when there was still a chance that she could think of where Harry went. She was pissed off at him for running away like that, but she’d forget about all of that if she could just be with him and make sure he was okay.

Ron was about to apparate her back to the Burrow when they were surprised by a pop behind them. Turning around, Ginny’s eyes widened as she understood immediately where Harry had gone.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Harry landed face first in sand. With incredible effort, he sat up, looking towards the water. In the back of his mind, he heard a man calling him, then yelling instructions to someone else, but all of that quickly faded as his vision clouded.

Face after face swam across his vision. All the people who died because of him. And then they started punishing him.

“YOU!” Lavender shouted.

“How dare you?” Colin demanded.

“You brought that fight to the school!” Fred yelled.

“You parade the fact that you survived?” Tonks scolded.

“She’s dead because of you!” Remus screamed.

He looked up, seeing the anguished face of another parent who lost a child because of him. He didn’t want to defend himself. He deserved to feel the pain he’d caused this man, the pain he’d caused so many families.

The man’s face morphed into a noseless one, with a sadistic sneer and red slits for eyes. He couldn’t run, didn’t want to run. Didn’t want to fight.

“You have permitted your friends to die for you,” the high, cold voice reminded.

“I KNOW!” he screamed. It was his fault. He deserved whatever his enemy would do now. He’d fought long enough. He’d caused so much damage. The world would be better without him.

He didn’t even hear the words. All he saw was a burst of green light. A flash of red erupted across his memory, but he couldn’t focus on that. It was time. The world went dark, and he was falling.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Ginny was looking at Fleur, whose face bore a terrified expression. She stretched her hand out to Ginny. “Eet’s ‘Arry. Come wiz me now!”

Ginny didn’t hesitate, knowing where Harry must have gone. She ran to Fleur, who apparated them to the beach by Shell Cottage the instant Ginny grabbed her hand. She gasped at the sight in front of her. Harry was sitting on the sand, shaking and taking rapid, shallow breaths. Bill was kneeling in front of him, holding his shoulders, trying to calm Harry down. This was the first time she’d witnessed one of Harry’s panic attacks, and it terrified her to see him in this helpless state.

She started to move over to them, but Fleur held her tight. “Wait. Bill knows what eez doing.”

Somehow, Harry stopped shaking so badly, and he actually looked up at Bill, who quickly pulled Harry into a tight hug. “I’ve got you, Harry. It’s all okay,” Bill said comfortingly. Ginny desperately wanted to be the one comforting Harry, but she had to admit that she was very proud of her big brother for being able to calm Harry down like that. She almost jumped when Harry’s shoulders started shaking, and she worried that he was slipping back into his panic attack. She didn’t realise until he pulled away from Bill and started wiping his eyes that Harry was crying. This really surprised Ginny- Harry seemed to make it a point to only cry in front of her, but he was being completely vulnerable with Bill right now.

“What happened?” Bill asked Harry. Harry stared at the ground for a long time before looking back up. Ginny and Fleur were still standing behind Harry, and he clearly had no idea that they were there when he began answering Bill, his voice shaky as he tried to calm himself down.

“It was Lavender’s dad. He- he was so angry at me. He started yelling at me about how her death was my fault.”

“Shit,” Bill groaned, running a hand through his hair, but Harry continued.

“I told him that I knew it was my fault, and he said if I knew that, I shouldn’t be parading around the fact that I survived when I was responsible for the death of his daughter. I- I told him I’d give anything to take her place. He said he wished I had, and then he shoved me to the ground. Gin- Ginny, Ron, and Hermione protected me, but I just couldn’t stay there. I felt it coming and didn’t want it to happen there. I don’t know how I ended up here.”

“That bastard,” Bill spat contemptuously. Then he put his arm back around Harry. “Harry, I know I’ve already told you this, but you have to listen to me. It wasn’t your fault. None of it was. You saved-”

Harry cut him off with a biting tone. “Bill, I- I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but the last thing I need is a lecture about how I did so much and couldn’t have prevented anyone from dying. I knew exactly what I was doing when I went to Hogwarts that night. I knew he’d come, and I didn’t even stop to think about all the kids. You and I both know damn well that I should’ve gone and found him sooner and put an end to it all instead of waiting for everyone to die first!”

Ginny was shocked at how emotional Harry was getting. She’d seen him angry before, but it was usually directed at other people. These were Harry’s innermost thoughts of self-loathing, and it broke Ginny’s heart. She didn’t understand exactly what he meant about finding him- she assumed that meant Riddle- sooner, but she suspected that, like a lot of things, it had to do with what happened in the forest.

Harry turned to look at Bill, starting to breathe quicker as his anger at himself visibly escalated, but he must’ve seen Ginny and Fleur out of the corner of his eye, because he fully turned to look at them both. Ginny knew she wasn’t disguising her horrified reaction in the slightest. Looking at Harry, she saw his anger fade into disappointment, but she immediately knew it wasn’t her he was disappointed in. He was disappointed that he’d let her see him like this. Ginny did the only thing she could think of- she knelt beside him and hugged him fiercely.

She couldn’t pretend that it didn’t bother her that Harry was trying to hide this from her. It ate at her, knowing that there were things he still wasn’t telling her. She wasn’t jealous, really, but there were times when she felt a twist in her gut, wishing he’d just tell her everything without reservation. But she pushed that feeling down, wanting more than anything for him to be okay.

And for now, like Hermione had told her, all Harry needed was for her to be close. Because as angry as he was at himself and the world, when she was around, he was able to calm himself down. He’d promised that he’d tell her everything eventually. She supposed it would happen when it was supposed to. She wasn’t jealous that Harry had told other people what she was still waiting to hear. How could she be when she was the only one Harry hugged like this? How could she be jealous when his breath shuddered and he exhaled deeply, finally calm, and whispered “Ginny” like she was the only thing in the world that mattered?

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Harry honestly wasn’t sure what brought him to Shell Cottage. He didn’t even know if Bill and Fleur would be here or at the Burrow. It was just the most peaceful place he could think of, and if Bill happened to be there, hopefully he could pull Harry out of the oncoming panic attack. Truthfully, it was lucky Bill had been there. Harry felt himself slipping deeper into that feeling of despair and it scared him, almost as much as he had been scared at the church. He wasn’t scared of Mr. Brown- frankly, Harry was confident that he could take a lot of grown wizards in a duel. But he was scared because he believed every word that Lavender’s father said, despite what Bill or anyone else said.

He really wished Ginny hadn’t seen him like that. He wasn’t sure how long she’d been standing there, but he figured she’d gotten there before he woke up since he didn’t hear any apparition pops after he started talking to Bill. Somehow, despite all that, the fact that Harry was clearly shattered inside- broken wasn’t a strong enough word anymore- Ginny was still there for him. Without hesitation, she saw he needed her, and she was hugging him like he was the only thing she cared about.

Harry was slowly finding that he liked hugging, now that it was becoming more of a common occurrence. Mrs. Weasley’s hugs were so soft and something Harry could only describe as maternal, even though he didn’t have much experience with that. Bill’s hugs were more about mutual respect and an assurance that he was looking out for Harry. Even when Ron and Hermione hugged him, he could tell that they were telling him they were always there for him. But none of those compared to the closeness and safety he felt hugging Ginny. He couldn’t fathom why she’d want to be with him. He was so shattered inside, and she was perfect.

“Ginny,” he whispered reverently, unable to form any more words or thoughts beyond her.

They sat like that for a long time before Harry finally felt strong enough to sit up by himself again. He pulled back slightly, looking into Ginny’s warm eyes that were clouded with sadness. Unable to help himself, he cupped her cheek with his hand and asked, “What’s wrong?”

She sniffled and smiled a little. “Nothing, now that we’re back together. But we’ve gotta stop running away from each other. We’re better together, and you promised you weren’t gonna leave me anymore.”

Harry pressed his forehead against hers. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have run, but I just- I couldn’t take it. I wasn’t running away from you; I’m always gonna wanna be with you.”

“Forever?” Ginny asked, looking up at him and making the cutest expression with her big brown eyes.

Harry had to smile at that. Because despite everything, she didn’t just want him. She wanted him forever.

He kissed the tip of her nose. “Forever,” he promised.

He was reminded of his surroundings when he heard an airy sigh, and both he and Ginny turned to look at Fleur, who was now sitting next to Bill and holding his hand. She smiled warmly at them both.

“You two are just so perfect togezzer!” she exclaimed. Harry looked at Bill, who wasn’t beaming quite like Fleur was, but he did look happy seeing them together like this. Seeing Harry looking at him, Bill nodded, indicating his agreement with Fleur.

Harry knew he was blushing, and when he looked back at Ginny, he saw a tinge of red on her cheeks too- one of his favourite sights. He hugged her tightly again.

“You’re going to need to get back to the Burrow soon,” Bill said. “But stay for tea, and we’ll all go back together. Fleur and I were planning on spending this week there with everyone, considering…”

Harry nodded, and even though he felt another brief pang of guilt, it was somehow lessened being near Ginny. They all stood and walked to the cottage. Passing the garden, Harry felt another softened pang of guilt seeing a large stone over a still-raw patch of earth. Ginny had also noticed it, and she stopped walking to look at the inscription on the stone: Here Lies Dobby, A Free Elf.

Ginny squeezed Harry’s hand, and Harry knew he didn’t need her to say anything. Instead, they all walked into the cottage and enjoyed a nice hour with Bill and Fleur. Harry was a little surprised at how much he and Ginny seemed to have in common with the older couple and that they didn’t really have any shortage of things to talk about that didn’t remind them of sad memories. It was easy, talking to Fleur about Beauxbatons and Bill about Egypt. Before he knew it, it was time for them to return to the Burrow.

He was walking out with Ginny when Bill asked him to stay behind for a moment. Fleur walked out with Ginny, and Harry waited, worried Bill was going to try lecturing him again. Bill seemingly read his mind. “I know you’re still not in the mood for a… lecture, you called it? I don’t want to treat you like a little kid, Harry. I just want you to know that when you’re ready to talk about anything, let me know, and I’ll be there.”

Harry nodded, a little surprised but appreciative at Bill’s offer. “Thanks, Bill. I’ll do that,” he promised, knowing that there were plenty of things he’d like to get Bill’s advice on eventually. Bill smiled, clapped Harry on the shoulder, and they walked out together to meet Ginny and Fleur.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Ginny had walked outside with Fleur while Bill held Harry back in the cottage. She found herself wandering to the grave she’d noticed in the garden before. While she was looking at it, Fleur walked up next to her. “You know, ‘e dug zat ‘imself. By ‘and.”

Ginny was startled. “Harry dug the grave by hand?”

Fleur nodded. “‘e ‘ad a leetle ‘elp, but ‘e did most of zee work. ‘e was devastated when zat elf died. Blamed ‘imself.”

“Like always,” Ginny commented sadly, thinking it both sad and predictable that Harry had left out this part of the story that clearly revealed so much about his character. “Thank you, Dobby,” she whispered quietly, remembering the sacrifice the elf had made to save everyone. A moment later, Harry and Bill joined them, and they apparated to the Burrow.

Ron and Hermione were sitting on the porch when they arrived. Immediately, they stood up and hurried over to them as Bill and Fleur slipped past and into the house. Hermione started looking over Harry worriedly but didn’t say anything.

Instead, it was Ron who took the lead. “Sorry about what happened at the church. That wasn’t fair to you.”

Ginny knew Harry didn’t want to talk about it, and she started to deflect the conversation into a different direction when Harry surprised her. “Did you really punch Mister Brown?” It was actually a little impressive that he was able to change the topic without changing the topic.

Ron blushed bright red. “Yeah, I did. It actually hurt like hell to be honest, and McGonagall told me off for it too. He deserved it though.”

Harry looked at all three of them. “Thanks for protecting me,” he said sincerely, and Ginny felt her heart ache as he seemed so genuinely thankful for this instinctive act of theirs.

“Bloody hell mate, we didn’t let Voldemort kill you. We sure as hell weren’t gonna let Lavender’s dad do it,” Ron responded.

Somehow, as irreverent and insane as that joke was, all of them were laughing, even Hermione. When they finally calmed down, Hermione was unsurprisingly the first to return to a more serious demeanour. “Are you okay though, Harry?”

Harry shrugged. “I’ve been better. Had another panic attack, but I’m okay now,” and he squeezed Ginny’s hand. To her, this wordlessly completed the sentence Harry had started to say. He was okay now that she was with him, which made her feel so happy and proud that she was the one who had that effect on him.

Both Hermione and Ron looked worried, but Harry brushed it off. “Really, I’m okay. Come on, let’s go inside,” he suggested, and Ginny walked with him back into the house as Ron and Hermione trailed behind.

That almost felt like a mistake. The second they entered the house, Ginny felt a palpable tension and despair sink in. Of course it felt like this now. They’d been so preoccupied with all the other funerals, but now that Lavender’s was over, Fred’s was next. They had a day off tomorrow, but Ginny suspected that it would be the longest day ever, if today was any indication. Everyone seemed lethargic, unable to do anything. It was contagious, and she and Harry found themselves sitting on the couch for hours as the rest of the family maintained similar vigils around the house. It was as if they all hoped that if they remained still and silent, the pain wouldn’t find them.

How wrong they all were. Throughout the day, Ginny heard various things breaking upstairs. George was likely tearing up Percy’s room, but even Percy, who was always put together and detested chaos, seemed willing to let George handle things however he wanted. In the midst of the silence and stillness, people would randomly walk out of the room, starting to break down in tears. Her mum was the most common offender, but Ron, Hermione, and her dad all did as well.

It wasn’t until that night, when she was lying in bed with Harry after he’d snuck into her room, did she finally allow herself to cry. Or at least, she tried, but no tears came. It wasn’t for lack of sadness and grief- Ginny was sure of that much. It was so confusing, thinking that she should cry and being unable to, even though she absolutely hated crying. For tonight though, she was willing to not question it. She was certain that the inevitable tears would return soon enough, and she was content to be a calm presence for Harry after the difficult day he’d had.

Before Ginny knew it, she was awake again, alone in her bed, and sunlight was streaming into her bedroom. After fighting it for several moments, she finally sat up in bed, whipping her head towards the door as it slowly creaked open and a mop of long, unruly black hair and bright green eyes poked into the room. She sighed; it was just Harry. He smiled at her as he walked in. Ginny patted the bed, and he quickly accepted the invitation, sitting just next to her. She leaned in to him, and he easily wrapped his arm around her, holding her close to him while his hand played with her unbrushed hair.

She didn’t want to leave her room, and Harry clearly sensed that, letting her decide when she was finally ready. Today was going to be a long and awful day between the grief and preparations that had to be made. This time tomorrow, they would be burying Fred by the garden. It didn’t seem real. As difficult as everything had been to this point, with the war and the past ten days, it just seemed to be getting harder and harder. There were bright spots now, something that never happened during the past year, but instead of worrying about what might be happening to Harry, Ron, and Hermione while they were on the run and hoping they’d come back soon, she knew with unerring certainty that Tonks and Fred and so many others were gone, with no hope of returning.

These thoughts were enough to start making Ginny more anxious about leaving her room, but she did her best to let herself be comforted by Harry. The effect they had on each other was mutual. As much as she was clearly helping by being around Harry, he was doing the same to her. She’d been so tense and high-strung throughout the entire past year, and he brought her back to earth, kept her calm when she was at her most stressed out. She didn’t think she could handle all this grief if he wasn’t beside her, and thankfully, that wasn’t something she’d ever have to find out.

Somehow, after Harry brushed his hand through her hair for at least the hundredth time, she finally felt like she was ready. Or at least as ready as she could be. She rubbed Harry’s thigh gently through his jeans, turning to give him a quick kiss before she stood up. She turned back, extended her hand, and helped Harry up, pulling him close so that she could kiss him once more. Letting go of his hand, she walked over to her wardrobe, picking out a blue blouse and a pair of jean shorts. She glanced behind her and saw that, once again, Harry had let himself out of her room. This was probably for the best, she knew. She’d been in a much more flirtatious mood the last time he left while she was undressing. She changed quickly and met him on the landing, taking his hand in hers.

Everyone other than George was sitting around the table when they walked into the kitchen, and even though there was food on the table, it didn’t look like anybody had eaten much. Ginny made herself a light plate with a few sausages and a piece of toast, and she was a little surprised when Harry did the same. He must’ve been awake for a couple hours already, but he’d apparently waited on her to eat.

They ate in silence, and Ginny couldn’t believe that she was full after such a small breakfast. At least she’d eaten something though, considering she suspected that she wouldn’t be hungry again anytime soon. Like she’d been doing every morning they had breakfast, she prepared a plate for George and took it upstairs.

She knocked on the door to Percy’s room, about to call for George when she heard a noise coming from Fred and George’s room. Curious, Ginny set down the plate outside Percy’s door and walked over to the twins’ door, slowly opening it. She was stunned to see George sitting on Fred’s bed, staring at something in his hands. Hearing the door open, George glanced towards her but didn’t say anything, instead turning back to whatever he was holding.

Ginny weighed her options. He hadn’t told her to leave, which was a good sign, and he wasn’t crying or breaking anything. But he also hadn’t asked her to come in. He was clearly upset- he’d been up and down with his grief ever since the battle, like they all had, but for obvious reasons, nobody was dealing with quite as much as George. Nobody could be there for him like Fred always had, but Ginny decided that she had to try. Not to be like Fred, but to really be there for George. She took a deep breath and stepped into her older brothers’ bedroom.

It looked exactly like Ginny remembered from the summer before last. The twins had used the bedroom as a kind of inventory space, but they still kept their old beds here, even though they’d been living above the shop in Diagon Alley for the past two years. Boxes were stacked everywhere, and she could see different coloured stains and burns on the walls and floor- not left by Death Eaters but loads of magical experimentation.

She walked gingerly over to the bed. George hadn’t looked up again, even though he surely knew she was there. Without saying anything, she sat next to him on the bed, finally seeing what he was holding in his hands. It was a piece of parchment, and written across the top in large letters was ‘Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes’. Scanning what she could of the parchment, Ginny saw the names of a dozen or more original Wheezes products. She recognized most of the names, but there were some, like Flavor-Flipping Teacups and Immersive Memory Lockets, that she’d never heard of before.

“This was our first time ever talking about Wheezes,” George said dully, surprising Ginny a little. “We were fourth years, and we’d just been to Zonko’s for the first time in the new term. It was brilliant, but they hadn’t changed anything since our last visit. We thought we could do better, so we came up with all the different things we could make and sell. We’ve had loads of paperwork and notes about ideas, but this one… this was always special.”

Ginny felt her heart breaking for her brother, who was usually so full of life, especially when talking about pranks and the shop. He just seemed so empty. She didn’t know what to do, what to say. How could she possibly tell him that everything would be alright? It wouldn’t ever be alright again- not like it was.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” he whispered, still looking at the paper. “We always swore we’d go out together in some wild experiment gone wrong. Before this week, I’d- I’d never spent a night without him in the same room. Everywhere I went, he was there. And now the only place I see him is in a mirror, and it makes me feel sick every time. I miss him.” His voice cracked and tears started rolling down his face. Ginny did all she could think of. She put her arm around her older brother and cried with him, not having any difficulty shedding tears now.

They stopped crying after a while, but neither of them was ready to leave the room. They sat together for a couple hours, never saying much. Both of them were clearly reliving old memories, but having each other there helped them not get lost. Ginny was remembering the time Fred and George had stolen her stuffed horse when she was five. She’d gotten it back after she accidentally turned their hair pink and they needed Mum to fix it. That was a great memory, and she was so deep inside it that she was surprised when George stood up next to her. She looked up at him, and he shrugged, still wearing that vacant expression on his face.

“I’ve got a couple things to do, and I need to get them done before I go back to not being able to think straight,” he explained monotonously. Ginny nodded, and she followed her big brother down the stairs, hoping he’d feel better for at least an hour or two before hiding himself away again.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

When Ginny didn’t come back downstairs after a few minutes, Harry realised that she must be with George. As much as he wanted to be with her, he was thankful that George was finally letting someone in. This was hard on all of them, but Harry couldn’t fathom how lost George must be feeling. From experience though, he knew that if anyone could help George at all, it would be Ginny.

The family slowly dispersed from the table, leaving only Harry and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. Harry was finding it extremely difficult to look at either of them, but he had no choice when Arthur said, “Ron told us what happened after we left the church yesterday.”

Harry blinked, not expecting that to be what they’d want to talk about at all. He nodded, unsure what to say. “Are you okay, dear?” Mrs. Weasley asked, and Harry felt a surprising, overwhelming rush of emotion that Mrs. Weasley seemed genuinely concerned for him when she was mourning the loss of her son.

“I’m fine, Mum- Mrs. Weasley.” Where did that come from? Harry knew he hadn’t covered that well, considering how she was looking at him now, with wide, shining eyes.

Mercifully, Arthur either didn’t notice or was willing to avoid bringing that up. “It’s okay if you’re not fine, Harry.”

Harry grimaced, worried that they were going to start lecturing him about nothing being his fault. Despite that, he found that he didn’t want to lie to them. Not after everything they’d all been through, how they’d always been there for him and were still there for him now. “Honestly, I don’t know. There have been times when I feel great, but then it passes and I’m left feeling sad, angry, guilty…” Harry trailed off, not wanting to admit that what he really felt guilty for was that the Weasleys had one less hand on their clock, and Harry knew that he was to blame.

“You know, when we say you’re a part of this family, we mean in the bad times too. We’re all struggling. Every minute it feels like I’m going to break down, and I think the only reason I don’t is because this family makes me stronger,” Arthur said.

“We’re here for you, Harry. No matter what, that won’t ever change,” Mrs. Weasley promised. She was still looking at him with those shining eyes, but her expression was soft, caring, and protective. He knew that they meant it when they promised they would be there for him, no matter what. And he was grateful for that because he knew he couldn’t put into words all the feelings he had inside of him at the moment, the good ones and the bad ones. It was too much. Despite all that, and everything he’d done, they promised not to leave him. He felt himself getting choked up, praying that they were right and nothing would ever change their view of him, change their desire to protect him.

“He was also wrong,” Mrs. Weasley added. “And I hope you know that.”

Harry inhaled sharply, suddenly becoming fearful that they would actually want to talk about his guilt and why exactly he felt so responsible for it all. Arthur patted his shoulder. “Even if it was your fault, which it isn’t, we’d still be here. Don’t ever forget that, Harry.”

“Thank you,” Harry managed to say, still overwhelmed with so many different emotions that it made it difficult to think straight. Arthur smiled a little, squeezed Harry’s shoulder, and stood from the table, walking outside towards his garage. Harry looked back across the table at Mrs. Weasley, whose expression was still unchanged.

He wasn’t sure if there was anything else he should say, so he took a safe route: “Is there anything I can do to help today, Mrs. Weasley?”

She shook her head. “Don’t worry about anything, Harry. There’s honestly not much for us to do. Just try and keep your mind off… everything today, as best as you can. I know I’ll be doing the same.”

Her soft smile shifted into a frown as she looked down at the table in front of her. Once again, Harry found himself wondering what he could possibly say in a situation like this. A moment later though, she looked back up at him and hastily tried to reassume her previous expression, even though Harry could still see the sadness on her face.

“Run along dear, I’m sure Ron and Hermione are around here somewhere,” she suggested. Harry nodded and stood up, wishing there was something he could say to make things easier. He turned to walk away when she spoke again. “Oh and Harry… I just wanted you to know, you don’t have to keep calling me Mrs. Weasley, if there’s something else you’d rather call me.” She looked a little hopeful, but Harry wasn’t sure if he should be calling her Mum. That had been an accident, and he didn’t think that was right, especially when she was his girlfriend’s mother. Not to mention he did have a mum, even if he didn’t have any memories of her that weren’t tainted by death and sadness.

Confused and unsure, Harry nodded. “Thanks Mrs- Molly… I’ll be thinking about that.” She smiled a little at him, but he could tell she was surprised that he’d taken to calling her Molly after he’d accidentally called her Mum. He smiled back at her and exited the kitchen, walking outside to the orchard, wondering if it would’ve been more comforting if he had just said that instead.

Lost in his thoughts, he wandered the orchard for an hour or more before returning to the house. Surprisingly, the entire family was crammed into the living room after heading their own ways just a little earlier. It seemed like nobody really wanted to be alone right now. As Harry was looking for a place to sit, George and Ginny came down the stairs and into the room. Ginny looked like she’d been crying; actually, they both did. Harry wanted to comfort her, but the fact that she’d been with George and he was now downstairs was rather encouraging.

Even though nobody had been talking, it still felt as though a hush had fallen over the room. Everyone was obviously looking at George, who surprisingly seeked out Harry with his own eyes, walking towards where he was standing by the door. Harry froze, and for an instant, he was worried that George was finally going to blame him for the loss of his twin.

George stood in front of Harry but looked down, not making eye contact. “We need a sixth,” George said with a gravelly voice.

Harry frowned, trying to understand what that meant. “A sixth?” he asked.

George sighed and Percy spoke up. “He means a sixth pallbearer.” Harry’s eyes widened as he quickly looked back to George, who nodded slightly even though he was still looking down. Harry was shocked. Fred’s five brothers were obviously going to be pallbearers, but why Harry? Surely there was a better choice.

“Me? But shouldn’t Ginny-” Harry was cut off by Ginny shaking her head, looking at him with a strange mixture of sadness and pride.

“I need to be with Mum and Dad. It should be you, Harry.”

“What about Lee? Or-” George finally looked up at Harry, who was still trying to find an alternative because he surely couldn’t help the brothers carry Fred to his grave, not when it was all his fault. George’s eyes were bloodshot, but he looked at Harry with a fiery expression.

“It’s you, you bloody idiot. You’ve been our sixth brother for years- ever since we rescued you in dad’s car.”

Harry squeezed his eyes shut, remembering vividly when he’d seen the twins and Ron floating outside of his window all those years ago. That had been one of the best moments of his life, and George clearly hadn’t forgotten about it either. He opened his eyes and saw a softer look on George’s face. This was the grieving George, wordlessly begging Harry to accept without any further protest. Harry exhaled and nodded. “Okay, I- I’ll do it. Thanks, George.”

George nodded and walked outside without any warning, disapparating as soon as he left the wards. Harry turned back to the living room after watching George disappear, and he was surprised that the family was looking at him and not where George had been. Feeling uncomfortable, he moved to sit in front of the fireplace, and Ginny quickly sat next to him, taking his hand in hers.

Still nobody was saying anything, so Harry looked down at Ginny, who met his gaze with her own immediately. “Are you sure you don’t want to?” he asked softly.

Ginny shook her head again. “I’m going to need my parents tomorrow. If he didn’t have another brother, I’d do it in a heartbeat, but he has you. Thank you for asking me though,” Ginny squeezed his hand and smiled at him as she said this.

Harry nodded and looked back to everyone else. Of all people, it was Ron who said, “After everything… you’re just as much a brother as the rest of us, mate.” Surprisingly, every other brother, even Percy, nodded in agreement. He raised an eyebrow at Charlie, unable to believe that Charlie could sincerely mean that.

Charlie just shrugged. “I’ll take the piss out of you most days, but not today, Harry. We’re still getting to know each other, but… I know how important you are to this family and how important you were to Fred. You’re one of us.”

Mrs. Weas- Molly was crying again, and Arthur was looking at all of them with pride. Harry looked back down to Ginny. “I told you. Sorry though, I don’t see you like a brother,” she said loudly, and that broke the tension that was still lingering in the room, as everyone started laughing at that.

Chuckling, Harry kissed the top of her head. “I’m glad,” he whispered, and she grinned at him.

The rest of the day passed quietly, as the previous day had. Harry and Ginny spent the day with their family, aside from a moonlit stroll through the orchard. They never talked much, but they were both exhausted by the end of the day, falling asleep surprisingly quickly considering what lay before them tomorrow.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

A/N: Yeah, a little bit of a different tone than Chapter 11, I know. The impetus for this chapter, as you might’ve guessed, was that I didn’t think it was entirely realistic for literally everyone to treat Harry like a saint without putting any blame on him. And out of everyone whose funerals I knew we’d be going to, Lavender’s family was the only one I felt comfortable giving that role to. The sad reality, to me at least, is that Mr. Brown is just trying to process his grief and looking for someone to blame, and Harry happens to be a very convenient target. Ron’s reaction felt very in character to me, and I kind of think Mr. Brown needed a solid hit to the head to snap him out of it.

As an aside, the Browns are a pureblood family, so I thought it reasonable for them to live in a wizarding village. HP Wiki has a list of wizarding villages, and Barnton was the only one in Cheshire, a rural county in northwest England. One of the only facts we know about Lavender’s childhood and history was that she had a pet rabbit that died. I kind of like to imagine that there were a lot of rabbits around where she grew up and she was always taking them in, and for whatever reason, Cheshire seemed like the most appropriate county to me for that. I don’t claim to always have sound logic for decisions like this!

I should mention that canon doesn’t explicitly say that Lavender died. The movie shows her as being dead, but the last the book says about Lavender is that she was ‘feebly struggling’ against Fenrir Greyback when Hermione throws him off of her, which leaves it up to interpretation. I decided that, as much as I feel terrible for everyone with all the funerals, Colin being the only student we know who died isn’t enough. Emily was a possible candidate to fill that role, but there were two key differences between her and Lavender. First, Emily’s death honestly would’ve been tragic without much growth for anyone other than Ginny potentially, but it would’ve been absolutely brutal to write. On the other hand, Lavender’s death presented an opportunity for all of our characters to grow, with Ron and Hermione wrestling with guilt, Harry dealing with someone other than himself blaming him, and Ginny learning how to support him through a panic attack and being a good friend to Hermione. I also didn’t have any sort of vision for what I would do with Lavender’s character if I did choose for her to make a miraculous recovery, and I did have a vision for Emily’s character that you’ll see play out throughout this book and future works. I hope it doesn’t come across as cold or anything for me to logic out why Lavender is dead; I don’t view the characters as little chess pieces to move in order to make the story work. After so long writing them, they do feel real to me, and I just didn’t ever develop that same attachment to Lavender.

I gave maybe a surprising amount of consideration to how Ginny would get to Shell Cottage to see Harry coming out of his attack. The easy solution would be that she just knew immediately that Harry would go there, but I didn’t think that made much sense, and maybe more importantly, her not knowing shows that they’re learning things about each other and that they can and will surprise each other, sometimes in good ways, sometimes in not so good ways.

As everyone’s attention turned towards Fred’s funeral, it was extremely difficult to figure out how to articulate those feelings. I think I’ve said before that I think I’m much better at writing happy and romantic scenes, but I don’t consider that an excuse to not convey the emotions of grief that everyone is feeling well. I’d gladly take any feedback about how you all feel about how I’ve done with that. I definitely get sad, reading these chapters, so at least it’s having the intended effect on me!

And one last note… I imagine things like wizarding funerals and weddings to be very unique depending on the person or family in question. The Weasleys, being a very down to earth and humble family, strike me as a family that would use pallbearers rather than magic to move Fred. Harry being chosen as the sixth pallbearer is another signal of his growing closeness with all of the Weasleys, and I really do think Fred viewed Harry as a brother, if not in Harry’s first year then definitely by the time he, George, and Ron rescued Harry the following summer.

And that wraps up Assigning Blame! Next chapter will be another very emotional one, at least in my opinion, so buckle up!
Coming Tuesday: Heroes- Walking towards the garden were her five brothers and Harry, carrying a large box between them.

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Chapter 13: Heroes

Walking towards the garden were her five brothers and Harry, carrying a large box between them.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

Ginny woke to an unfamiliar realisation. Harry was still in her bed. She slowly rolled over and saw that the first traces of sunlight had just begun to enter her room. Harry wasn't late getting out of bed; she'd just woken up early, much earlier than usual. She stared up at the peaceful expression on his face. There weren't any wrinkles of concern on his forehead, no furrow in his eyebrows, and he was smiling slightly, like he was in the middle of a good dream. It was rare to see Harry like this; he'd been fighting for his life as long as Ginny had known him. Pretty much the only time all the worry left his face when he was awake was when they were alone together. He usually did a good job hiding it the rest of the time, but she could always tell when something was bothering him, a nagging thought or fear in the back of his mind that prevented him from fully releasing his worry. One day, she hoped, his concerned and worried state would be much less common than his relaxed and happy state.

Unfortunately, today wasn't going to be that day. Even as she admired every inch she could see of Harry, her mind was pulling her downstairs, knowing that there was no escaping what they were all about to have to face. She nestled her head into Harry's chest, relishing the warm feeling of him holding her tightly while he slept, wishing that security was enough to protect her from the sadness that was already invading her mind.

As if on cue, Harry's eyes fluttered open and he shifted slightly, causing Ginny to look up at him. "Morning," she whispered. He responded by kissing her forehead, cheek, nose, and lips. He looked into her eyes and she saw that his relaxed expression was already fading slightly with the knowledge of what today was. The thirteenth of May, the day they said goodbye to Fred.

Christmas was Ginny's favourite time of year. There was a lot of really good food, and some fun songs, and, most importantly, presents. It was just perfect.

So it just wasn't fair that Great Aunt Muriel was ruining it all. Every Christmas, she showed up just after they'd opened their presents, demanding that they spend time with her because, as she said, "I'm ninety-seven years old. This could be the last time you ever have the chance to celebrate Christmas with me!"

She also kept talking about something called a will that was apparently going to make everyone love her when she was dead. The only problem was that Great Aunt Muriel was so old and hadn't died yet, so Ginny was pretty sure that she wasn't ever going to die.

Today, on Christmas of all days, Great Aunt Muriel had decided to tell Ginny that she needed to start brushing her hair more if she ever wanted to marry a nice boy. It wasn't very nice of her aunt to laugh when Ginny assured her that she was going to marry Harry Potter. Even Charlie didn't laugh at that, and he usually did when she talked about Harry.

Her mum did pat her leg under the table, like that was supposed to make Ginny feel better. Great Aunt Muriel was just mean. Ginny was going to marry Harry, whether her aunt believed it or not.

Ginny decided it was best to focus on eating and try to avoid listening to anything her aunt said. That was easier to do than she thought it would be. Her mum was a great cook, and she really did her best work at Christmas. Plus, the table was filled with other conversations, although they were hushed because Great Aunt Muriel didn't think the dinner table was a place for conversation unless she started it.

Ginny was tucking into a delicious mince pie towards the end of the meal when she noticed Fred and George snickering at the far end of the table. She tried to figure out what they were laughing about, but she couldn't think of what it could be. Probably something to do with Percy. They loved playing pranks on him.

She was about to take another bite of her mince pie when there was a loud booming sound that came from near Great Aunt Muriel. Fred and George were openly laughing at this point, and her dad got up to investigate the source of the noise before reeling backwards, almost stumbling as he scrambled away from it.

A second later, Ginny smelled it- possibly the foulest stench she'd ever had the misfortune of smelling in her life. The only thing she could think of that could possibly come close to its smell was the time she and Ron had stolen a pumpkin out of the garden to carve for Halloween. They'd hid it in the attic with the ghoul because they didn't want their mum to know they'd taken one of her pumpkins, and then they forgot about it for a couple months until Ron started smelling something funny upstairs and their dad had found the rotting pumpkin. But this smell was still worse than that.

And worst of all, the smell seemed to have latched on to Great Aunt Muriel. She practically flew out of her chair, a pretty impressive feat for someone as old as her, and hurried out the back door. She was dusting off her clothes as if that would get the stench off her.

Ginny and the rest of the family followed, mostly to get away from the smell inside, but it wasn't much better out here. It was almost like Great Aunt Muriel had been the source of the smell, which made Ginny inadvertently start giggling because she thought the only way that her aunt could've made that smell was by passing quite a bit of gas.

"You! Did you do this to me?" Great Aunt Muriel screeched at her, but Fred and George quickly stepped in front of her.

"It was us," Fred declared proudly.

"You! You foul, wretched boys with no respect for-"

"You should take a bath. The smell gets worse the longer it goes without being cleaned off," George offered helpfully.

"Insolent children! You'll see that all this mischief only gets you removed from my will! Disgusting!"

With a pop, Great Aunt Muriel vanished, and Fred and George fell over each other laughing as Bill and Charlie tried not to look impressed. Ron and Ginny exchanged impressed grins. Their brothers had just saved Christmas. They were heroes. Everyone thought so. Well, except her mum, whose face was much redder than the Gryffindor scarf Percy had received this morning.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

"How long have you been awake?" Harry asked, surprised that she'd woken up before him.

"A few minutes," Ginny responded quietly. "I don't think I'm gonna get any more sleep though."

Harry nodded, understanding the feeling. With great effort, he sat up, pulling Ginny with him. "Let's go for a walk," he suggested. Ginny agreed by standing up, and he quickly followed her to the door. They walked downstairs and out the back door of the house, heading for the orchard. Both of them were wearing what they slept in, but it was so early in the morning that they weren't worried about anyone seeing them.

He didn't know why, but he felt compelled to tell Ginny everything now. The only thing holding him back was knowing how hard it would be for her to hear. It felt unfair to burden her with more right before they buried her brother. Death was a difficult thing to deal with already, without the complexities of Harry's story on top of that.

"What?" Ginny asked, and Harry realised he hadn't moved since they got on the porch, still looking at her.

He shook his head as if waking up. "Just thinking," he answered, starting to walk with her towards the orchard.

"What were you thinking about?"

Harry answered instinctively with something that wasn't entirely untrue. "Something Dumbledore told me once. He said that to the well organised mind, death is but the next great adventure."

Ginny smiled softly. "Do you really think Fred's mind was well organised?"

Harry chuckled. "Probably not. But Fred always was one for a wild adventure, wasn't he?" She nodded quietly, still smiling a little, obviously remembering her brother.

Harry continued, wary of this backfiring on him. "Dumbledore also told me, a different time, not to pity the dead, but to pity the living, and above all, those who live without love."

Ginny's lip trembled. "Fred was loved."

"He still is," Harry whispered, pulling her close to him. Every fibre in his being screamed at him to confess what he'd been wanting to for a week or more. The only thing holding him back was a sense that this wasn't the right time, even though he had no clue how he'd know when the right time was.

Before he could make a decision, Ginny made it for him, wiping her eyes and leaning back to ask, "When did you and Dumbledore have all these talks about death?"

Harry shrugged, knowing he couldn't completely answer that. "Over the years. When I found the Philosopher's Stone, after Cedric died, after Sirius died, a lot my sixth year…" he trailed off, unable to tell her that Dumbledore had told him that last thing in King's Cross a week and a half ago while Harry had been dead.

She reached up to run a hand through his hair. "I don't know how you do it."

Harry felt himself reddening slightly. "They're Dumbledore's words; I just remembered them."

Ginny shook her head, inching closer to him. "Dumbledore's not the one who's helping me get through everything, Harry." She pulled his head down, meeting him for a soft kiss that left Harry speechless. There was no urgency or passion in that quick kiss, but it felt just as powerful as the hungriest of kisses they'd shared. It was so powerful in its intimacy, trust, and care that it stunned Harry. It was over in an instant, but Harry still blinked a few times to recover. When he looked down, Ginny was smiling sweetly at him before her eyes darted behind him, back towards the house.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

"We have company," Ginny said, nodding towards her older brothers standing on the porch. They walked slowly back up to the house, still holding hands even under the watchful eye of Bill and Charlie.

"What's got you two up so early?" Charlie asked when they got within earshot.

"Couldn't fall back asleep after I woke up," Ginny answered.

"Same," Harry agreed. Charlie's eyes narrowed slightly but he nodded, and Ginny was grateful that he'd decided not to push the questioning today.

"How are you doing?" Bill asked, and she realised he was asking both of them.

Harry answered first. "Not great, but it's easier with…" he didn't need to finish that sentence as he turned to look at her, making her smile a little, even considering the circumstances.

She nodded and squeezed Harry's hand. "Ditto."

Bill also nodded slightly and smiled at their answer. For his part, Charlie at least didn't say anything even though his eyes remained narrowed. "We've got about three hours," Bill said quietly. That brought them all back to the time at hand. They didn't need to say anything else. The four of them sat on the porch together until they heard movement inside their house.

Opening the door, Ginny saw that the kitchen table had been filled with everyone else inside except George. Her mum and dad, Ron, Hermione, Percy, and Fleur were all seated, imitating the silence of the four of them who had just come inside. They sat there for a while before returning to their rooms to change into their clothes for the funeral.

People started arriving about thirty minutes before the funeral was scheduled to start. Ginny went with her parents outside, kissing Harry gently goodbye, to greet them. The boys were all staying inside until the funeral actually began.

She did her best to be present, thanking people for coming, but most of it was a whirlwind of faces. Former Gryffindor Quidditch players, classmates, Diagon Alley tenants, the remaining Order of the Phoenix. She got in the rhythm of pressing her lips together in something that could've been a smile and nodding her head as each person passed, but the facade was tough to keep up anytime someone passed that brought back a particularly notable memory of Fred.

Oliver Wood walked past, and Ginny was reminded of watching her brother playing Beater, high on a broomstick. Kingsley walked by, and Ginny remembered eavesdropping on Order meetings with Fred's Extendable Ears. When Hermione stood next to her, Ginny was reminded of Fred and George hiring testers for their products under Hermione's nose as prefect. It had annoyed her, but Ginny knew that she loved the twins as much as the rest of them. The tears swimming in her eyes were proof of that. Hermione took Ginny's hand in hers, and they stood together, greeting the rest of the mourners.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

After Harry changed into his black dress robes, he returned downstairs in time for Ginny to kiss him quickly before she left with everyone except the six pallbearers. George had come downstairs, and they all sat quietly in the living room, wearing different variations of the same sorrowful expressions on their faces. Harry could sense it was almost time, and Bill stood up.

"Don't tell Mum about this," Bill warned before summoning a bottle of firewhisky and six small glasses from the kitchen. Harry watched as Bill poured each of them glasses, passing them out. They all stood in a close circle, and somehow, without any planning, they all knew what to do.

Bill raised his glass. "He always wanted to make other people happy."

Charlie raised his own, adding, "He was the funniest bloke I ever knew."

Percy followed. "Everyone loved him, even if they'd just met him."

Ron continued. "I wanted to be just like him when I got to Hogwarts."

It was Harry's turn. There were so many things he wanted to say, but the one common thread was the realisation he'd had yesterday after a lot of prodding from the rest of the family. He lifted his glass. "Fred was my brother."

Ron put his arm around Harry's shoulders and they all looked at George, who looked simultaneously broken and fired up. He brought his glass up to join the other five. "He was the best part of me."

The six of them clinked their glasses together before quickly drinking their firewhisky. Harry's throat burned, but the heat in his stomach that accompanied it somehow soothed him. He wasn't ever going to be more ready to do this. Looking around, he saw five similarly steely faces with soft eyes, as prepared as they could ever be to say goodbye to their brother.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Ginny was seated with her parents, Hermione, and Fleur. She wished she could be with Harry, but she knew that they were both where they were supposed to be right now. Tears were freely streaming down all five of their faces, and Ginny let her mother hold her as tightly as she wanted, wishing that did something to ease her pain.

The crowd that was gathered by the garden was already relatively quiet, but they fell completely silent all of a sudden, and turning, Ginny saw why. Walking towards the garden were her five brothers and Harry, carrying a large box between them. Ginny felt a chill wash over her as her mother broke out in a fresh wave of sobs. Seeking some sort of comfort, she looked at Harry. His face was emotionless, but she could tell, even from a distance, that his eyes were much darker than usual, struggling to maintain his composure as they all walked towards Fred's final resting place.

The six of them walked slowly up the aisle, and Ginny finally felt another sob releasing itself as they passed her spot in the front row. She felt her heart drop as they set Fred's casket down beside the large hole in the ground in front of everyone. Ginny was grateful when Hermione and Fleur both moved over to make room for Bill, Ron, and Harry next to them. Without saying a word, Harry took her hand and kissed it softly as tears started pouring down his face.

Kingsley stood up at the podium that had been placed by the grave. Somehow, unlike every other funeral she'd been to so far, Ginny was able to hear every word that Kingsley said.

"Fred Weasley was a brilliant wizard, a compassionate protector, a devoted friend, and a selfless brother. He died a hero, but he lived like one too. I was lucky enough to know him for the past three years, and I consider my interactions with him to be some of my best memories of that time. Fred was unlike almost anybody I'd ever met before. He was a force of nature with an uncommon ability to make people smile and laugh without fail, no matter the circumstance. Fred saw the value in protecting the right to laughter and happiness. It's what made him such a great friend and brother. But there's somebody else who should tell you more about that."

Kingsley stepped aside, and Bill stood up to take his place at the podium. He cleared his throat and began speaking. "I'm Bill Weasley. I'm the oldest out of all my siblings, and I was the one nominated to speak about Fred on all of our behalf. So this really comes from all of his siblings- myself, Charlie, Percy, George, Ron, Ginny, Harry, and Hermione." Ginny glanced over and saw that both Harry and Hermione had a proud look on their face even though they both were crying.

Bill continued, "Fred was one of the only people I ever knew who actually lived life to the fullest. I think everyone makes it a goal to seize the day or not waste a moment, but Fred actually lived like that. From a young age, it was clear that Fred and George were unlike any of my other siblings. They were fascinated by everything, and they couldn't ever stay still. I remember fetching them out of trees when they were three years old and had been so curious about what was at the top but had no idea how to get down. As they got older, they got better about thinking things through. When I was sixteen, I received my Head Boy badge from school. The first time I looked away from it, they nicked it, and it took me two weeks to find it- in my school trunk, as I was furiously packing the night before term started. I was so mad at first, but as I was sitting on the Hogwarts Express the next day, I started laughing, thinking how brilliant and harmless it was that they'd hidden it somewhere I'd have to see before I needed it.

"Fred never put much stock in grades or homework. His mind was always focused on more important things, like how he could use whatever he'd learned in class to make people smile rather than how he could write an essay about it. Fred always saw the bright side of things. The only times I ever saw him really mad was when he was beating the hell out of a Bludger in a Quidditch match."

Ginny laughed through her tears with everyone else, remembering the fierce look of determination on her brother's face as he connected with a Bludger, saving one of his teammates or, occasionally, hitting one at her.

"You're gonna get your head taken off!"

Ginny spun around on her broom, surprised to hear her brother screaming at her from the pitch. Perplexed and slightly annoyed, she descended to the ground, leaving the Snitch somewhere in the air for now.

"What?" Ginny asked as she landed next to Fred, who looked even more annoyed than she felt.

"You're gonna get your head taken off, flying like that."

"Catching the Snitch, you mean."

He shook his head. "Catching the Snitch is great, but if you're so focussed on looking around and fancy flying that you forget to keep your head on a swivel, a Bludger's gonna knock you out cold."

Ginny looked back up at the sky, wondering what he was talking about. "There isn't even a Bludger out right now. I was just getting some practice in."

"You practise what you do in a match. If you're not practising being alert, you're not gonna be alert in a match. Last thing Gryffindor needs is to lose another Seeker this season. Listen, I know you've never played Quidditch before, but I know what I'm talking about."

Ginny crossed her arms. "I'm doing fine."

"Fine," Fred replied. "Then let's get a Bludger out and see how well you do."

"Fine," Ginny retorted creatively, determined to prove her brother wrong.

She flew back up in the air as Fred released a Bludger from the ball crate. She had the advantage of not having any other distractions beyond the Snitch, but the problem was that she also didn't have any Beaters protecting her, and the Bludger didn't have any targets other than her.

"Good luck," Fred called sarcastically, watching as she started looking for the Snitch.

It was much harder than she'd expected, searching for the tiny golden ball while keeping an eye on the Bludger. She expected it would be even more difficult when there was one more Bludger and thirteen more players in the air with her. All she could do was avoid the Bludger at all costs, ducking, dodging, and diving to get out of the way, and it took forever to find the Snitch.

When she did finally find the Snitch, it took twice as long as it should've to catch it because she had to keep checking on the Bludger. Finally, she managed to grab it before barely rolling out of the path of the Bludger and dropping to the ground.

Fred was grinning, even after he caught the Bludger and wrestled it back into the crate. "Not bad. A bit slow, but you survived. Not as easy as you thought, huh?"

Ginny kicked at the ground, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of saying he was right.

"Yeah, that's what I thought. In a match, you'll have Beaters trying to protect you, but there's also gonna be Beaters targeting you, especially because you're a new player. You can't catch the Snitch if you're unconscious in the Hospital Wing, right?"

Ginny nodded, hating that he was actually giving her good advice.

"To be honest though, you may give Gryffindor a fighting chance."

She was surprised. "Seriously? You were just telling me I was playing like shit."

Fred laughed. "You said it; I didn't. You weren't playing like shit. You just weren't playing smart. Keeping your head on a swivel is playing smart. That's why Harry practises with live Bludgers in training. But yeah… I mean, I didn't know you could play, but you seem like a not awful replacement for Harry, which is better than I was expecting."

"Gee, thanks Fred," Ginny replied, rolling her eyes.

He grinned. "Win a match or two, then I'll think about reconsidering."

Ginny snorted and mounted her broom again. She was about twenty feet up when Fred shouted, "Hey. Don't forget to be smart! Last thing I want is one of these to kill you because Mum would find some way to blame me and George!"

Then she heard a crack and the Bludger rocketed up towards her, forcing her to dodge to the left out of the way. Fred was laughing on the ground, holding a Beater's bat.

"Thought you weren't supposed to be playing Quidditch," Ginny called back before glancing around for the Bludger.

"What toad-face doesn't know won't hurt her!" Fred replied. "Besides, somebody's gotta hit Bludgers at you!"

From this high up, she was pretty sure he couldn't see her smiling. She could appreciate his help off the ground without letting him feel like he was smarter than her. And maybe, just maybe, she would actually learn a thing or two from him.


"Fred fought for what was right. Like Kingsley said, he fought for our right to be happy. And every day that we smile, we honour what Fred fought and died for. He'll never be forgotten as long as we allow ourselves to be happy." Ginny noticed that Bill looked right at Harry as he said this.

"It still hurts like hell, and it will for a long time. But we all owe it to Fred to honour his life's mission and make it our goal to make other people happy." Bill looked at the casket, tears streaming out of his eyes. "We miss you, Freddy. But we're gonna smile for you." He turned back to the crowd, and Ginny looked around at all the people smiling through their tears as they remembered Fred. Harry squeezed her hand and smiled gently at her. She responded by leaning into him, doing her best to smile for her older brother.

Her dad stood up and gently levitated and lowered his son into his grave. Bill kept a hand on their dad's shoulder as he did this, and when it was done, he pulled his dad into a tight hug.

Suddenly, everyone jumped as the first explosion rocked the sky. Ginny looked up, unable to believe it as she saw a multitude of fireworks and streamers decorating the sky. The show lasted several minutes, and the crowd laughed as the magical fireworks created images of lions, broomsticks, and Fanged Frisbees before culminating with a flash as Fred's face grinned down at them all before it all disappeared.

The crowd began applauding, and Ginny felt her mother clapping too, which surprised her a little. She glanced down the row and saw George and Percy patting each other on the back, clearly proud of what they'd done even though they continued to cry. She was very impressed that Percy was obviously a part of it, but more than anything, she was just so happy that George had honoured Fred like that. Fred deserved it.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Harry was amazed at the show George had put on. He was amazed that Bill had called him and Hermione Fred's siblings, still unable to believe that they all felt that way about them. He was amazed at the strong way that Ginny held herself, despite her grief. The fireworks show made Harry realise that Fred wouldn't have wanted a sombre occasion. He would've wanted something colourful and bright. George had known that, and Harry wanted to do his part. He subtly drew his wand and, knowing Fred would've gotten a kick out of it, changed the colour of his robes to bright pink.

Or at least, that's what he tried to do. His robes were pink now, but he'd also changed the colours of the entire Weasley family's robes. All of them on the front row were now wearing loud robes of various shockingly bright colours- orange, yellow, blue, green, pink. It was enough to make anyone squint looking at them. Harry blushed as everyone turned to look at him since he was the only one with his wand out. Before he could apologise and change everyone back, George started laughing hysterically at his own bright pink robes and the robes his family was wearing. There was a lot of laughter behind them, so Harry turned back slightly, surprised to see everyone smiling and changing the colours of their own robes to similarly bright colours.

He straightened in his seat and looked down at Ginny, who was laughing loudly at Harry's pink robes and her own neon green ones. He finally grinned then, pleased that they all thought it was funny.

Ginny leaned up to him and whispered in his ear, "You're perfect," before kissing his cheek. Harry smiled even wider at that.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

The crowd finally thinned after a couple hours. Ginny hadn't left Harry's side as they talked to old Gryffindor Quidditch teammates and professors from Hogwarts. She almost couldn't believe that everyone seemed to feel better now than they had before the funeral. She wasn't naive enough to believe that they were all free of their grief, but for now, she was very content to be happy in the moment.

George had gone upstairs earlier, finally succumbing to his own grief, but surprisingly, everyone else in the family still seemed to be doing relatively okay. Once the last guests had left though, her parents withdrew to their bedroom, and the rest of them were left in the living room, slipping back into a little of the melancholy that had been plaguing them for days. As the sunlight faded, she took Harry back outside for another, brief walk, before they returned to the house, meeting again in her bed.

As Ginny snuggled up against Harry, she wasn't expecting him to start talking when he suddenly said, "You know, you keep me from spiralling out of control. You're… like a weight on my broomstick."

Ginny turned and cocked an eyebrow curiously at him. "I'm a what?"

She could tell Harry was blushing even in the dark. "I messed that up, didn't I?" Ginny snorted and nodded, thinking she knew where Harry was going but needing him to work to explain it better.

"I just mean… when I'm flying on my broom in bad weather, the broom can start losing control. It gets carried around by the wind and the rain and sometimes I'm left holding on desperately. But if the broom had extra weight on it, it would be harder for the wind to push it around. So you're like a weight on my broom- no matter what things I'm going through, getting knocked around by my emotions and everything else, you keep me from falling off." He sighed. "I know I'm not explaining this well, but-"

Ginny just had to kiss him. She met his lips in a kiss that reminded her of the one they'd shared in the orchard that morning, full of care and devotion and trust. "I think you're better than you think," she said, smiling at Harry, who looked very pleased, relieved, and a little stunned.

He cleared his throat. "Er- um- anyways, yeah. That's the next thing on the list."

"The list?" Ginny asked innocently.

Harry grinned now, kissing her forehead as she teased him. "You know exactly what list I'm talking about. The all-important list of what you mean to me."

Ginny just hugged him tightly, knowing that was all he wanted too. Within moments, they both fell asleep, secure in each other's arms, weighing down each other's brooms against all the troubles the world was throwing at them.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

As usual, Harry woke up before Ginny, and after kissing her on the cheek, he went upstairs to wake Hermione. Today though, Hermione didn't want to go back to sleep. Instead, she changed clothes and joined Harry outside. They walked to Fred's grave and stood by it for a moment. Harry loved the epitaph that George chose for his brother: I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.

Smiling sadly, they returned to the porch and sat on the swinging bench. They sat quietly for a while, but Harry could tell something was on her mind.

His suspicions were confirmed when she asked, "You haven't told her yet, have you?" Harry looked at Hermione, blinking owlishly. She rolled her eyes. "You haven't told Ginny about the forest, have you?"

He shook his head. "I've been trying. She knows everything up to when Snape died. I almost finished telling her everything last weekend, but we were interrupted. Then I almost told her yesterday morning, but I just didn't want to add more to her plate."

She sighed. "You probably made the right decision yesterday, but… there's never going to be a right time to tell her, Harry. It's going to keep holding you back until you tell her."

He wasn't able to help the bite in his tone as he responded. "I know, Hermione. Believe me, I don't like her not knowing everything yet either. But I'll tell her soon, and I'll let you know when I do, so you can stop asking."

She blinked and looked down at the ground. They sat quietly for a moment before Harry sighed, running his hand through his hair. "I'm sorry, Hermione. I appreciate you trying to help, I really do. I'm just- honestly, I'm nervous about how she's going to react."

Hermione looked over at Harry with a surprised expression. "She's going to be sad, scared, and knowing Ginny, probably a little angry. But none of that's going to change how she feels about you." Harry exhaled deeply, wishing he was as confident as Hermione was. Clearly sensing this, Hermione continued, "Trust me, Harry. If she wants to be with you after you left for a year, she'll still want to be with you after you tell her this."

He nodded. She was probably right. It didn't make things any easier though. He decided to change the subject, knowing they weren't going to make any more progress on this right now. "How are things going with you and Ron?"

Hermione blushed and bit her bottom lip in a very un-Hermione way. "Oh, they're great. Not as great as you and Ginny, but you both are- well, we're both happy. Although I'm looking forward to actually going on real dates," she confessed.

Harry smiled. "Yeah, me too." He'd found himself thinking about different places he wanted to go with Ginny recently, and he could tell that Hermione was doing the same with Ron.

Hermione sighed and leaned against Harry's shoulder. He couldn't explain it, but this was much different than when Ginny leaned on him. "This will all be over soon, won't it?" she asked.

"I hope so," he answered truthfully. "The hard part's supposed to be over, right?"

She snorted. "This doesn't feel much easier."

He agreed. "No, it doesn't." They didn't need to say anything else. Harry sat with the closest thing he'd ever had to a sister for a while before Bill came outside.

"Two sickles," Harry said when he saw Bill.

Bill rolled his eyes. "Add it to the tab. Are you okay, Hermione?"

She sat up. "I'm about as good as can be expected, I guess." Bill nodded, leaning up against a post on the porch and looking at the two of them.

"You're both taking good care of my little siblings," he commented. Hermione blushed, but Harry just smiled, knowing that Bill was okay with his relationship with Ginny.

They stayed outside with Bill until Charlie came outside, and then the three of them started making breakfast while Hermione watched. As good as she was at basically everything she tried, she just was not good in a kitchen, and it clearly bothered her. She watched them very closely until Charlie told her to back up if she didn't want hair in her food. Red-faced, she backed up to a safe distance and observed until the rest of the family came downstairs, including Ginny, who clearly was still trying to get back in the habit of sleeping in.

They passed plates of food around, and Harry sat next to his girlfriend, lightly rubbing the soft skin of her thigh with his thumb while they ate. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye but smiled a little and shifted so that their legs were pressed against each other, giving Harry easier access.

Harry was so focused on where his hand was that he missed his mouth with his cup of tea and spilled it all over his light grey shirt, leaving a very dark stain behind. He jumped up quickly, burned by the hot beverage, and that certainly got everyone's attention. He only hoped that nobody would be asking him why he wasn't paying attention.

Ginny jumped up with him, looking concerned. "Here, take this off and we'll get you a new shirt," she said, immediately grabbing the bottom of his shirt and starting to lift it off. He was burning, and he was very willing to change shirts until he saw Hermione shaking her head vigorously while her eyes widened. Damn. It would be a very bad idea to take his shirt off in front of everyone and show them his new scar, especially Ginny.

"It's fine," he blurted out, quickly pulling his shirt back down and casting a drying charm on it. That didn't really do much for the burning, but at least his shirt wasn't wet.

Ginny frowned, appearing confused at his reaction. He took her hand and sat back down at the table with her. Mercifully, he felt the burning suddenly stop, and he looked up to see Hermione's wand sliding back under the table. He nodded his thanks to her for casting the cooling charm that he'd forgotten in his haste to keep his shirt on. The rest of the meal passed without incident, although Harry noticed that Ginny made sure to keep a sliver of distance between herself and him.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

After breakfast, Ginny once again took a plate of food up to George, although he didn't let her in this time. Disappointed, she slowly walked back down the stairs, but she stopped in her room rather than going back to the kitchen. She closed the door and watched the different views of her first kiss with Harry. As usual, she felt lacewing flies flitting around her stomach while watching it. Somewhere in the back of her head though, she was replaying a different memory. She was thinking about what had just happened in the kitchen. It was just like when they were in his bed in the Gryffindor dorms. For some reason, Harry didn't want her to take his shirt off. At first, she'd thought it was because he was wanting to take things slow, but he'd had no problem with all the other physical progressions they'd made in their relationship. So what was it then?

She jumped as the door to her bedroom opened and Hermione walked in. Hermione started when she saw her. "Sorry Ginny, I didn't know you were in here. I was just going to change into something a little less warm," she said, indicating the jumper she was currently wearing.

"No problem," Ginny answered, moving over to sit on her bed while Hermione picked out a striped shirt to change into.

"Hermione, do you know if anything's going on with Harry?"

Hermione looked back at her. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"Well, I don't think he wants me to take his shirt off." Hermione raised her eyebrows curiously. "Don't look at me like that, you know our relationship is far enough along that that shouldn't be a problem."

Hermione shrugged. "I don't know, Ginny. I'm probably not the person to ask about that though."

Annoyed but resigned, Ginny nodded, leaving the room and walking back downstairs. Harry was sitting on the loveseat in the living room, alone. Ginny walked over to him, and he perked up when he saw her. She sat next to him and he pulled her close.

Tracing her hands over his shirt, she asked, "Harry, do you not want me to take your shirt off?"

"What?" he responded, leaning back slightly to look down at her.

"I've tried to take your shirt off a couple times, but you don't seem to want me to."

He seemed surprised but quickly answered. "Gin, I really didn't want you to take my shirt off in front of your parents and brothers," Harry said, and that… actually that made a lot of sense. Ginny nodded, deciding to get a little more bold since her parents weren't around. She slipped her hand under the hem of Harry's shirt, feeling the lean muscles and a bit of fuzzy hair on his stomach. He inhaled sharply but didn't push her away.

"So you don't have a problem with me doing this then?" she asked innocently as she now traced elaborate shapes on his abdomen.

"Not at all," he whispered through his teeth. Ginny looked up at him and saw the expression on his face- desire mixed with self-control. There was something rather beautiful in that, she thought as she gave Harry some encouragement, guiding his hand back to the thigh that he'd been so generously caressing before he burned himself. He gladly took the invitation, and they sat in silence, enjoying the exploration of small parts of the other's body.

They both looked up when they heard a creak on the steps, and Ron walked in. His eyes widened, but Ginny was impressed that he didn't say anything to them. He just shook his head and muttered something that sounded like "bloody mental" before walking through into the kitchen. Ginny grinned up at Harry, who was chuckling at Ron's reaction. Unfortunately, her parents, Charlie, and Percy came downstairs a moment later, and they were forced to stop for now.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

They all sat for several hours, but unlike the previous days, there was at least some conversation to be had, especially after Bill and Fleur joined them. Despite the conversation though, there were still clear breaks where everyone seemed to collectively lapse back into the pitfalls of the sad memories. As the afternoon wore on, Ron and Hermione came inside from the porch, and everyone was surprised to see George, who looked equally surprised to see all of them.

"I was just gonna grab a bite," he said quietly, walking into the kitchen. When he came back, carrying a piece of toast and an apple, Molly stood up.

"George, I- I wanted to give you something."

Harry and the rest of the family watched as Molly pulled something on a chain from a pocket in her robes and handed it to George. Harry watched George's reaction. He looked surprised, but then he started crying again. Suddenly, he threw his arms around his mother, pulling her into a tight hug as they both cried together. He was holding the object by the chain, and it dangled down behind Molly. Squinting his eyes, Harry suddenly saw what it was, and judging by her sharp inhale, Ginny had just realised the same thing.

When George finally stepped back from Molly, he wiped his eyes and shakily said, "Thanks, Mum," hanging Fred's hand from the family clock, still shrunk, around his neck. Harry felt a tear leaking out of his eye and brushed it away, holding Ginny tightly as she stared at her brother even though she wasn't crying. Not knowing what else to say, George just nodded at everyone before walking back up the stairs.

The family sat in silence for a moment before Molly stood back up and said she needed to make dinner. Within minutes, Harry and Ginny were alone again in the living room. Ginny looked up at him. "Do you want to go see Teddy tomorrow?" she asked.

Harry shook his head. "How about the next day?"

Ginny frowned. "What are we doing tomorrow?"

Harry opened his mouth and closed it again, realising this related to the untold part of the story. Finally, he spoke. "I was hoping you'd come with me tomorrow to Professor Snape's funeral."

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Ginny gaped at Harry, positive that he couldn't be serious about this. Snape's funeral? After everything he'd done to Harry? After everything he'd allowed to be done to her this year?

"You're kidding," she breathed out after a few seconds of stunned silence. Harry shook his head, and the sincerity on his face confirmed that he was being very serious. Harry had told her that Snape had been killed by Riddle himself, but that didn't make it Harry's fault. Did his guilt really extend so far that he felt responsible for the Death Eaters' losses too?

"I should explain," Harry said, causing Ginny to look back up at him.

"You damn well better explain," she muttered, causing Harry to chuckle at her annoyance, something she didn't see any humour in at all.

"The last thing I told you about the battle was that Snape had been killed by Riddle, and he'd given me his memories. During the ceasefire, we returned to the castle, and Ron and Hermione went to be with your family in the Great Hall. I saw all of you and Remus and Tonks and I- I just couldn't. Riddle was asking for me to give myself up, but all I could think about was if I'd given myself up sooner, they'd all still be alive."

Ginny closed her eyes and kissed his hand, remembering that time after the fighting. When she had a second to breathe and it all became real.

Harry took a deep breath and resumed. "I just ran. I ran to Dumbledore's office. I needed to see whatever Snape had in his memories that was so important. So I poured them into the Pensieve and started watching. Snape- he knew my mother, before they went to Hogwarts. He was the one who explained magic to her when she started displaying her magical ability. She was Muggle-born, and she wasn't old enough to get a letter from Hogwarts yet, so she was just confused and my aunt was jealous that she wasn't magical. She became friends with Snape, and Snape wanted her to be in Slytherin because he knew he'd be there. Even though she was sorted into Gryffindor, they were still friends, for a while at least.

"But my mum disagreed with the friends Snape had. He was hanging out with future Death Eaters, who were apparently already practising Dark Magic at Hogwarts. Snape was really jealous of my dad and his friends. He- he was in love with my mum."

Ginny's jaw dropped, unable to imagine how Snape could've been in love with someone, let alone someone like Harry's mum. Harry nodded, grimacing. "I know, it's kinda revolting. But he was in love with her, and he was jealous of my dad, even though my mum couldn't stand him at the time. Everything changed though, one day when my dad and his friends were picking on Snape. They liked to do that- they thought it was fun. Snape was mad, and my mum tried to defend him, and he- he said he didn't need help from a- a Mudblood."

Ginny winced hearing that. "Some love if that's how he talked to her."

Harry shook his head. "I don't know how much Snape really knew about love. He felt terrible about it, but despite his feelings for her, he made his decision to join the Death Eaters, and she wasn't going to entertain him any longer. After they left school, that's what he did. He became a spy, and he heard the prophecy that-"

Ginny cut him off. "Prophecy? Like the prophecy from the Department of Mysteries?"

Harry nodded, running a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry, I forgot to tell you about that earlier. After we got back from the Department of Mysteries, Dumbledore and I had a conversation. The prophecy we were after, the one that was destroyed, was made by Professor Trelawney to Dumbledore, and he told me what she said:

"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies... and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives... the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies..."

Ginny shook her head in disbelief. "So that prophecy we were after… it said that- you really are The Chosen One?"

Harry grimaced. "Yeah, I guess when you put it like that. It had to be me." He hesitated for a moment. "Actually, believe it or not, it could've been Neville. He was born at the end of July to parents who had 'defied' Riddle three times. Dumbledore said that Riddle picked me because I was a half-blood, like him. And when he picked me, he- well I guess you could say he made me The Chosen One."

This was a lot of information for Ginny to process, not least of which was the idea that Neville could've been in Harry's position. No doubt Neville had been heroic this year, but it was difficult to imagine anyone other than Harry as The Chosen One.

Harry started talking again while her mind continued spinning. "Anyways, the reason Riddle was looking for the prophecy in the first place was because he only had the first part, that the one with the power to destroy him would be born at the end of July to parents who had defied him three times. He didn't have the rest. And that's because the spy that overheard the first part of the prophecy was caught before he could hear it all."

Ginny knew instantly where this was going when Harry looked at her with expectant eyes. "The spy… was Snape?" she almost spat.

Harry nodded grimly. "He was. He reported back to Riddle, but he was terrified when he realised that Riddle would go after my family. He went to Dumbledore and told him that Riddle was coming for us. He wanted Dumbledore to protect us, to hide us so that he wouldn't kill my mum. He- he even asked Riddle to spare her, even if he killed me and my dad."

Ginny exhaled slowly, trying to maintain her cool even though she was more furious than she'd ever been at her least favourite professor. Why the hell would Harry want to go to this man's funeral?

"Snape promised Dumbledore anything if he'd hide us. Aft- after my parents died, Dumbledore told Snape that if he loved my mum, he'd protect me to honour her. Snape hated it and made Dumbledore promise never to let anybody know, but he agreed. Snape hated me when I came to Hogwarts. Every time he looked at me, he saw my dad. But he kept me safe from Quirrell when Quirrell tried to knock me off my broom in my first year. He tried to protect me when he thought Sirius was going to kill me in my third year. He just never let anybody else know.

"When Riddle came back, Snape convinced him that he'd been spying on Dumbledore for him. He spent the next three years living a… really convincing double life. Riddle still didn't fully trust him though, and Snape needed Riddle to trust him if he was going to protect me. And… the best way to convince Riddle of his loyalties would be to kill Dumbledore."

She shuddered. In the midst of this whole story, she'd forgotten the worst thing Snape had done. He'd murdered Professor Dumbledore in cold blood. Why on earth did Harry think he was worth a funeral?

"Dumbledore was dying. I told you that Marvolo Gaunt's ring cursed him when he found it. The reason it cursed him was because Dumbledore put it on. The ring- it was actually the Resurrection Stone."

Ginny blinked. "What?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah, Dumbledore had the Resurrection Stone. I told you the Hallows were real," he said with a wry smile. Ginny was still puzzled as Harry continued. "He felt responsible for his sister and mother dying. When he saw the ring and realised what it really was, he forgot about it being a Horcrux. He put it on thinking he was going to see his family, and instead, he cursed himself with a death date. I don't know if he ever was able to use it to see his family. I just know that he destroyed the Horcrux.

"I was right about Malfoy, last year. You know he was trying to kill Dumbledore, and Dumbledore knew it too. He was worried that Malfoy would damage his soul if he succeeded, but he knew he was dying soon. So he planned for Snape to kill him when the time came, and he hoped the Elder Wand would belong to Snape afterwards, even if that didn't work out like he wanted."

"He planned it?" Ginny asked incredulously.

Harry nodded. "Yeah. I think it broke Snape up inside… quite a bit honestly. He'd lived such a lonely life, and Dumbledore was the only one who knew who he really was. Now that I know the true story, the way Snape acted, how he hesitated before he killed Dumbledore, makes a lot more sense. After Dumbledore- Snape still worked to protect me, us, as much as he could. He confunded Mundungus and gave him the Polyjuice plan last summer. When he cut George's ear off, he was trying to save Lupin from a Death Eater but missed. He was the one who brought the Sword of Gryffindor to the Forest of Dean, and it was his Patronus I saw. His Patronus was a silver doe- the same as my mother's. After all that time, he still loved her and did what he could to protect me."

Ginny breathed deeply, trying to wrap her head around it all. Random moments from the last year at Hogwarts came into her mind. How had they gotten so good at finding out when the Carrows were going after somebody? The trail of people the news travelled through was often so long that it proved impossible to trace, but it was always accurate. Was Snape behind it? She remembered the day she broke into his office to steal the Sword of Gryffindor. He could've easily given them to the Carrows, but he sent them to detention with Hagrid instead, even though he surely knew that wasn't a punishment. Maybe he really had been trying to help.

Harry was looking at her, waiting for her to collect her thoughts. Finally, she nodded. "I think I understand. He- he was apparently a very complicated man. I still think he was cruel and malicious and an altogether horrendous teacher-" Harry chuckled in agreement "- but he did do the right thing, in the end, even though almost nobody knows about it. I- well, I don't like it at all, but if you insist on it, I'll go with you tomorrow."

Harry breathed a sigh of relief, but then his expression turned serious again. "Ginny, there's something-"

Both of them turned and looked at Ron, who was standing in the doorway between the kitchen and living room, holding a hand over his eyes. "Mum wanted me to tell you both that dinner is ready." He turned and exited the room without ever actually looking at them. He was ridiculous, but that looked so funny that Ginny had to laugh. She glanced over at Harry, who looked rather annoyed for a moment before he rolled his eyes and started laughing with her.

Ginny didn't forget that there was something else he was wanting to tell her. But throughout dinner and the rest of the night, he didn't bring it up. He crawled into bed with her after everyone else had gone to sleep, kissing her cheek. "Night, Gin."

She smiled softly and moved back as far as she could against him. "Night, Chosen One."

Harry snorted into her hair and rubbed the back of her hand he was holding with his thumb. He kissed her on top of her head, and she fell asleep, thankful that, in spite of everything and how difficult it had been, he trusted her enough to tell her everything. They were getting through everything together, and they were going to be okay.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Harry woke early the next morning, as usual, but instead of waking only Hermione after he left Ginny's room, he woke both of his friends up. Hermione sat on the edge of the bed while Ron glowered at him through squinted eyes, and Harry did his best not to laugh at the sight.

"I wanted to tell you both… I forgot to tell you yesterday, but Snape's funeral is in a few hours. Ginny and I are going, but I wanted to ask if you'd come as well."

"You woke me up at the crack of dawn to talk about that slimy git?" Ron grumbled.

Hermione smacked his arm. "Ron! You shouldn't say things like that about the dead." Behind her, Ron rolled his eyes, and Harry felt it best not to share that information with Hermione, who was now looking back at Harry. "Of course we'll come, Harry. He may have been… what Ron said, but we wouldn't have won without him."

Harry nodded, and Ron added, "What she said mate. I'm going back to sleep until then though." And true to his word, Ron rolled over and began snoring almost immediately. Now it was Hermione's turn to roll her eyes as she walked out the room with Harry.

When they reached Ginny's room, she turned and looked at him. "I'm actually going to sleep a little bit longer too," she said apologetically. Harry nodded and waved his hand, letting her go while he went back outside to the porch. Almost as soon as he sat down though, he wished she'd come down with him.

"Part of Lord Voldemort lives inside Harry."

"So the boy… the boy must die?"

"Part of Lord Voldemort lives inside Harry."

"You have kept him alive so that he can die at the right moment?"

"Part of Lord Voldemort lives inside Harry."

"You have been raising him like a pig for slaughter!"

Smoke clouded the sky and the smell of burning flesh and blood clogged his nostrils, making it difficult to breathe. Breathe and take another step. Breathe and take another step. Again and again and again until there's no more steps to take and no more breaths to take. Like a pig, walking to the slaughterhouse at the appointed time. Breath, step. Breath, step. Breath-


Harry jolted awake with Bill in front of him. Surprisingly, Harry was able to control his breathing in a matter of moments, while Bill stayed kneeling in front of him, holding his shoulders and coaching his breathing. When he finally was calm, Bill stood up and sat next to him, and Harry saw Fleur standing near them, looking as concerned as he'd ever seen her.

"What was that one?" Bill asked.

Harry shrugged helplessly. "I was thinking about when I found out about… what I had to do."

Bill nodded, hopefully realising that Harry didn't want to say anything about the forest with Fleur around. It wasn't that he didn't trust her; he just didn't want anyone else to know before Ginny.

"How are you feeling now?"

"It wasn't as bad as the one at Shell Cottage. I think you got to me pretty quickly."

Bill nodded again. "We heard Hermione on the landing. I figured you would've come downstairs after that."

"Apparently these will be less of a problem if I just keep somebody with me at all times," Harry said, trying to keep his annoyance at his plight out of his voice.

"Or the doctor and you… talking to people about… things makes it easier for you to be by yourself," Bill offered a little cryptically.

"You are strong, 'Arry. But now zee fight is in your 'ead. You can still fight, but it's not zee same as 'ow you've been fighting."

Harry tried to understand what Fleur was saying. "War is all about secrets… this is like the opposite of that, isn't it?"

Both Bill and Fleur nodded. "I know you're doing your best to be open and not keep secrets, but it's a hard habit to break, especially considering how secretive your entire life has had to be," Bill answered.

"It's not easy," Harry confessed.

"When 'ave you ever let deefficulty stop you before? I don't remember zat in zee Triwizard Tournament."

Harry exhaled sharply and smiled slightly at Fleur's encouragement. "You're right. It'd just be nice if things were easy every once in a while."

Bill clapped him on the shoulder and stood up. "The best things in life aren't the easy things, Harry." He nodded toward the door and Harry followed the couple into the house. They made breakfast together, or at least, Harry tried to help, but Fleur was making some complex French casserole that he had no real clue how to help with. So he mainly watched and tried to remember what she was doing, but she moved so quickly in the kitchen that it was hard to keep track of everything.

"Why are we always the ones making breakfast if she can cook like this?" Harry asked Bill.

Bill chuckled. "She likes to make the wizards do the work in the kitchen. Apparently they're much more… traditionally chauvinist in her hometown, and it amuses her to see men in the kitchen instead of women being expected to always be the ones cooking."

By the time the casserole was served, Harry was sure that he hated whatever chauvinism that made Fleur prefer men being in the kitchen when she was so clearly gifted. He'd never say it out loud, but this casserole was at least as good as anything he'd ever had from Mrs. Weasley. The looks on everyone else around the table told him that he wasn't the only one who held that opinion either.

When it was time, Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione slipped out of the Burrow. They hadn't told anybody where they were going- Harry hadn't wanted to go through the whole story again with the rest of the Weasleys. It was just easier for them to quietly apparate to where Snape's funeral was taking place.

They met Kingsley and McGonagall near a thicket of trees Harry remembered from Snape's memories. He'd recommended this place to Kingsley when he'd seen him at Fred's funeral two days ago. He knew that Snape and his mother had spent considerable time here as children, and it seemed likely that this was where he'd been happiest in his relatively sad life.

The grave was already dug, and sitting next to it was the plain, willow wood casket. Nobody else was there; nobody else knew that Snape had been much closer to a hero than a villain when all was said and done. Kingsley cleared his throat, and Harry looked up from the casket. "Would you like to say anything, Harry?"

Harry hesitated and then nodded. "I didn't particularly like Professor Snape. He didn't like me either. He lived a very lonely life, but his life was incredibly important. He loved my mum… and this was where he was happiest, when it was just the two of them, before they'd ever even been to Hogwarts. He made terrible choices, learned from some of them, and hid his efforts to be better. He was more intelligent, strong, and brave than he ever got credit for, and I wouldn't be alive today without him. So even though neither of us liked each other, I'm thankful for what he did, and I hope that he's at peace and happy like he was when he was here with Lily Evans."

Ginny squeezed his hand when he finished speaking. Kingsley and McGonagall both nodded approvingly before McGonagall lowered the casket into the ground and covered it. Kingsley conjured a gravestone with Professor Snape's name and date of birth and death. Like he had with Remus' stone, Harry knelt in front of this one to carve an epitaph. Pleased with his work, he stepped back and everyone else read what he'd written- Silent with his intentions, Brave with his actions.

There wasn't much else to say. Severus Snape was nothing if not a wildly confusing and complicated man, and Harry couldn't think of another way to describe him in a way that truly honoured him. "Those are wise words, Potter," Professor McGonagall observed.

"Whose quote is that?" Hermione, ever the academic, asked curiously.

Harry frowned and shrugged. "Mine, I guess. I dunno, I just came up with it."

Ginny smiled softly. "It's perfect." That was all the assurance Harry needed. A few moments later, they returned to the Burrow, where the four of them spent a lazy day together. They were still mourning all the losses, but they weren't exactly sad about the funeral today. They were more… contemplative, Harry thought, laying in bed with Ginny that night.

It seemed paradoxical that a man so mean could be so brave. Harry still wasn't comfortable with the knowledge of what Snape did and why he did it, but that didn't make anything he'd said at the funeral any less true. Harry owed his life to a lot of people, and Snape was one of them. Snape had caused a lot of anger and frustration in Harry's life. However, his sacrifice was a big part of the reason Harry was able to experience the growing happiness he had in his life now. As difficult as it was, Harry knew he would do it all over again, with Snape hating him and everything, if this, being with Ginny and being alive and having friends and family, was the reward. So despite everything Snape had done, the fact that Harry had a life to live now redeemed Snape for Harry, at least enough that he genuinely hoped he was happy now.

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A/N: Well everyone, we did it! We have officially made it through all the funerals! There are definitely still challenges ahead, but I, for one, am very glad that they've made it through this really difficult part and are going to be able to start slowly moving forward now.

In the original draft of this chapter, there weren't any of Ginny's memories of Fred. I think that was mainly because the memories were still a bit of a novelty to write when I was in the first month of writing, but they become significantly more common in the second half of SoR and even more in the next book, so when I reread this chapter, it felt odd to me that I didn't have any of Ginny's memories in it. So the two memories in this chapter are actually the most recent things I've written in the series, which is kind of funny for me to think about considering the rest of this chapter was written last August. The Christmas memory is based off a throwaway line in Chapter 8, The Wedding, of Deathly Hallows, where Ron said that Great Aunt Muriel stopped coming to Christmas after Fred and George set a dungbomb off under her chair. The Quidditch memory takes place before Ginny's first match as Harry's replacement in Order of the Phoenix because I think, even though he's trying to be cool about it, Fred was a little worried for his sister and wanted to be sure she'd be okay in the match.

I've struggled sort of passively for the fifteen years since I first read the books to identify how I felt about Snape. My (possibly inaccurate) assumption is that most readers are like me and recognise that while he did some very good things, it can't just cancel out all the bad he did. I'm definitely not a Snape apologist, but I'm also not a blind Snape hater. Not that my opinions on him have ever really mattered before now. But ever since I started writing this book, I've been a lot more active in my consideration of what Snape did and, more specifically, how Harry would process and handle it. I still don't have an answer yet. I think Harry went to the funeral and spoke because he felt pity for Snape and recognised that they probably would've lost the war without him. This chapter is about as far as I've gotten on reconciling Harry with Snape's memory, which isn't really saying a whole lot. And to be completely honest, one thing I've been really stuck on, even though I'm a very long way from it, is how on earth I can justify Harry giving Snape's name to his son. This is all very abstract thinking right now, but, as a possible (?) spoiler, I haven't ruled out the possibility of making a divergence from canon if I can't figure it out. Again, I'm at least five book years away from needing to make that decision, so I've got plenty of time to resolve it all, but it is something I've definitely already given thought to. And really, I'm just talking about it because this is basically my personal diary for the writing process, and if anyone finds it interesting to know how I'm thinking about this stuff, that's an added bonus.

Two small fun facts at Snape's funeral… Snape's casket is made of willow wood, which is Lily Potter's wand wood, according to HP wiki. Just kind of a throwaway detail I wanted to add in. And Harry saying Snape's epitaph was his quote was directly inspired by Lupin's line in the Deathly Hallows Part 2 movie because it's just a great line. I also wanted to mention because I just remembered that the rapid change of perspectives was completely intentional as a way to possibly throw you all a little off balance and to simulate a little bit of the fractured nature of grieving. Most chapters, like you've already seen, won't have nearly this many switches.

Like I said, the ending of Heroes brings us to the end of the funerals, but… well, let's just say there's still some difficult things coming. As always, feel free to comment and share your thoughts and feedback with me! I love seeing people's thoughts on what I've written!

Coming Friday: Better Together- Instead of saying anything, she pushed away from the table, stood up, and ran out the back door.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

P.S. Thank you to everyone who voted for SoR in the DSTA voting! Although I didn't win anything, receiving the honourable mention for the romance category feels like a huge compliment, especially for a story that is so new, so thank you all and I hope you continue enjoying the book!

Back to index


Chapter 14: Better Together

Instead of saying anything, she pushed away from the table, stood up, and ran out the back door.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

The following morning, Harry didn’t want to get out of bed when he woke up. He delayed the inevitable by spending some quality time brushing Ginny’s hair with his hands. Every once in a while her nose would twitch, giving him a new burst of affection for his girlfriend with every movement.

This weekend. He had to tell her this weekend. Get it all out in the open and be done with it. Every moment he spent with her, he felt more and more drawn to her. But he was holding back something, at least until he could tell her the rest of the story. He just hoped Hermione was right and none of it would change Ginny’s feelings for him.

Sadly, Harry had to finally get out of bed. He kissed Ginny’s temple and woke Hermione before going out on the porch. As he sat down, he involuntarily braced himself, suddenly remembering that it was a bad idea for him to be out here alone. But to his surprise, no panicked rush overtook him. He could sense those feelings within him, but for once, they weren’t controlling him. It was nice to just sit in peace without being forced into his traumatic memories, even if just for a moment.

He had to laugh internally when that peace was almost immediately broken by Charlie walking outside. “Damn it,” he groaned, seeing Harry. Harry grinned. “I’ll add it to your tab.”

Charlie, as was routine now, gave Harry a one-fingered salute before sitting next to him on the bench. “You broke up with Ginny?”

Harry jerked his head around. “What?”

“Last weekend, when you gave her that gift. You said it was your anniversary, but Ron said that the two of you had broken up.”

Harry sighed, not sure this was a conversation he wanted to have with Ginny’s brawniest brother. “We were together for a little over a month. I guess someone already told you about that though-” Charlie nodded “- and I tried to break up with her last year.” Charlie stiffened next to him. “It was after Dumbledore had died,” he continued quickly. “The Death Eaters were in control, and I knew everyone would be after me. I tried to break up with her to protect her. They’d go after anyone I cared about, and I couldn’t let them go after her if I could help it.”

“And then you left,” Charlie added.

“Yeah. I had a… mission that Dumbledore gave me. Ron and Hermione could come because they didn’t have the Trace on them anymore, but we couldn’t bring Ginny since she was underage. And… I don’t think I realised it at the time, but her being here- it gave me something to hope for when we were going through the hell of the last year.”

“So when you came back…”

“There wasn’t anybody else. For either of us. As soon as it was all over, we got back together.”

Charlie nodded, seemingly satisfied with Harry’s explanation. But then he changed subjects slightly. “What sort of mission kept you away for a year?”

Harry grimaced. He really couldn’t tell Charlie that- not until he told Ginny. He’d promised himself at the very least, she’d be the next person he told everything to. “I- we were trying to find a way to kill Riddle, once and for all,” he finally said, thinking that was as close to the truth as he could get.

“Mission accomplished,” Charlie commented, though he still looked at Harry like he suspected there was more to the story.

Harry nodded. “Yeah… mission accomplished.”

It felt weird thinking about it like that. That after everything they’d done, what they’d figured out, and how they’d fought, they’d succeeded. The mission was complete. They were still picking up the pieces of the fallout, but there was something comforting in knowing that they’d actually done what they’d devoted so much of their lives to finishing.

Bill joined them a few minutes later, and as usual, they made breakfast together. It wasn’t anything as good as Fleur’s breakfast yesterday, but Harry had to admit that the three of them worked rather well together. When all the food was distributed, he went upstairs to wake Ginny up.

He was a little surprised when he opened her door to see that she wasn’t in bed. He looked around the room before looking behind the door, where he found her staring at the picture he’d given her. She seemed to have started looking at it midway through changing her clothes- she was wearing a green shirt, but she didn’t have any pants on, meaning Harry could see everything below the hem of her shirt.

Doing everything in his power to control himself at the sight of all that pale skin, he touched Ginny on the shoulder. She jumped slightly before looking at him. “You okay?” he asked, growing a little concerned at how entranced she was with her thoughts.

She smiled a little and nodded. “I was just remembering.”

He kissed her quickly before whispering, “Glad I can still distract you.”

She snorted until she realised what Harry meant, feeling his hand lightly brushing her upper thigh. “Oh- yeah. I was just about to put my jeans on when I started looking at it.”

Harry leaned back towards her. “Personally, I find this view just as interesting as that one.”

She grinned and kissed him before slowly walking over to her dresser. He was sure that she was swaying her hips like that on purpose, but it didn’t matter. The effect on him was still the same, and he couldn’t keep himself from staring at her legs and the beginning of a curve that disappeared under the hem of her shirt. Ginny withdrew a pair of jeans and looked over her shoulder, smirking when she saw Harry staring. Then she bent over to pull her jeans on, giving him an all too brief view of a whole new area of her body that he longed to explore more thoroughly. He was still replaying that image in his mind when she walked right back up to him.

“See something you like?” she asked, still smirking proudly.

“Too many things to count,” he answered honestly because, as lovely as her legs and bum were, her hair, her smile, and her eyes were what continually drew him further into his feelings for her. Ginny apparently liked that answer because she pulled him into a more passionate kiss that left them both wanting much more when her stomach began grumbling. She groaned as she leaned back from Harry. He smiled at her, wondering how it was possible that even a sound like that could sound beautiful coming from her.

“Breakfast is downstairs,” he offered.

She nodded. “We’ll get back to this soon enough,” she promised, kissing him once more quickly before pulling him out of her room and down the stairs.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Ginny was walking with Harry around the grounds. It had been a week since they’d started dating, but people still stared. She realised that this must be what it was like to be Harry on a regular basis, with everyone openly gawking at them like something on display. Somehow though, he didn’t let it affect him, either because he was used to it or because it genuinely didn’t bother him. She supposed that as long as people were just looking, it was annoying, but there wasn’t any real harm in it.

A young Ravenclaw girl ran up to them out of nowhere. She only looked at Harry. With a know-it-all voice, the first or second year asked, “Do you know that you could be with any girl you wanted?”

Ginny blinked, wanting to make sure she heard that correctly. Harry looked similarly surprised, but he still answered. “I don’t know about any girl, but that doesn’t really matter to me.”

The girl looked like she thought Harry hadn’t understood what she’d said. “I mean it. Any girl.” Ginny wondered if she’d been this obvious with her crush on Harry when she was this girl’s age. She certainly wasn’t this rude or forceful about it at least.

Harry surprised her when he crouched down to look the girl in the eyes. “I’m sure one day, you’ll have tons of people to choose from. But I don’t need to be able to be with any girl when the only girl I want to be with also wants to be with me.”

The girl appeared confused about Harry’s response, so she just turned and walked away, likely making up a much different version of these events to tell her friends about. Harry stood straight and looked back at her, blushing a little apologetically. “Sorry about that. I’ve… never had someone that young acting like that.”

Ginny shook her head. “I mean it was rude, but I’d rather deal with her than Romilda Vane any day.”

Harry chuckled. “You and me both.” He pulled her close to hug her, and then they started walking back toward the castle.

“So… I’m the only girl you want to be with?” Ginny asked curiously, smiling a little at Harry’s flustered reaction.

“I- well- yeah, of course,” he finally answered like that was incredibly obvious.

Ginny stood on her toes to kiss his cheek. “Just wanted to be sure,” she whispered, pleased at the content smile that passed onto Harry’s face as they walked back toward the castle, hand-in-hand.


Harry startled her out of that memory, and after some flirtatious dressing, she went downstairs with him to get something to eat. As usual, everyone was at the table other than George. The family ate quietly until her mum looked at the two of them.

“Andromeda’s bringing Teddy over for dinner this evening. She wanted me to let you know.”

Ginny nodded. “We were actually going to go see him today, so that works really well for us.”

After breakfast, Ginny joined Harry in washing the dishes again. It seemed to make him happy, and even though she didn’t fully understand it, she loved to make Harry happy. While they were washing dishes, an idea came to her that she knew Harry would love. As soon as they finished, she pulled him outside.

“What are we doing?” he asked curiously, smiling at her excited expression.

“I still feel sad in the house, and it’s been a while since we’ve done this. We need to fly away from everything,” she answered as she opened up the broom shed on the side of the house.

Harry’s eyes lit up as he looked inside. They quickly grabbed a pair of Cleansweep Fives and kicked off, soaring high above the orchard. As they dodged and dove around trees and each other, they couldn’t contain their whoops of elation at finally being in the air again. No matter how often she did it, Ginny always felt the same rush of adrenaline up in the air on her broom. Up here, nothing could touch her. For a flight, her worries and fears could slip away and she could lose herself, becoming one with her broom and the sky.

After a while, she gestured for Harry to land with her. He followed her lead, going to put his broom back in the shed after she did. She stuck her arm out and stopped him, shaking her head. “Remember how you told me I’m, as you so eloquently put it, a weight on your broom?” she asked, causing Harry to blush as he remembered his awkward phrasing, but he nodded. “Time for us to see what that actually feels like,” she said, taking the broom from him and straddling the front of it.

Harry immediately took the hint, sitting on the broom directly behind her. His chest was pressed right against her back, and she could almost feel his heartbeat as he wrapped his strong arms around her, pulling her as close as he could to himself. She gripped the handle of the broom tight, and Harry kicked off from the ground.

This was unlike any other flying Ginny had ever done before. They weren’t moving quite as fast as they did by themselves, but she had to admit that Harry knew what he was talking about, even though he’d struggled to phrase it well. Somehow, the two of them merged together into a single rider on the broom, but they felt remarkably stable, considering the added weight. Instead of swooping around, Ginny lazily guided them in slow circles, high above the orchard. She felt Harry’s hands on her sides, holding her tightly. His face was in her hair that was blowing around him. Ginny turned to look back at him and saw the widest grin on his face as they flew together. She knew she had a similar expression on her face. As much as she loved the freedom of flying, she found that she was enjoying the intimacy of this moment with Harry, so far removed from everything below them, even more than the most thrilling of solo flights.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

The afternoon flew by. Literally. Harry had no idea how much time he’d spent up in the air with Ginny. Once it was the two of them on the same broom, everything else blurred in contrast to the importance and closeness of their flight. They finally landed when they saw Andromeda walking with Molly to the Burrow.

“That was incredible,” he said when they dismounted the broom. Ginny placed the broom back in the shed and turned around, grinning at him.

“I guess you knew what you were on about with the whole extra weight on the broom.”

Harry chuckled. “I had no idea it would be that good.”

“Me either,” Ginny agreed, taking his hand in hers and kissing him softly. They walked together to the Burrow. Once they entered the living room, both of them were excited to see Teddy. Molly had been holding him, but she reluctantly handed the baby over to Ginny, who greedily accepted. She snuggled Teddy against her chest and started making goofy faces at him as she and Harry sat on the loveseat together. For his part, Harry did his best to keep one eye on each of his two favourite people.

It was amazing to watch. Every time Ginny did something new, like scrunching her nose or sticking her tongue out, Teddy would smile and giggle. He never seemed to get tired of all the things Ginny was doing to entertain him. Harry had to admit that he couldn’t take his eyes off of her either. It was… almost mesmerising to see how good she was with Teddy, how happy she seemed just holding him and playing with him.

She looked up at Harry, apparently noticing him staring at her, and smiled softly. She slowly passed Teddy over to him, and it was Harry’s turn to try and entertain Teddy. Before he could do anything though, Teddy reached out and wrapped his tiny fist around the finger Harry was about to tickle him with. He didn’t need to move, couldn’t think of anything else to do other than let Teddy hold him as long as he wanted.

He looked up at Ginny and saw her staring with wide eyes at the two of them. “Wow,” she whispered, shaking her head.

“Wow,” Harry echoed, trying to comprehend all the feelings running through his mind, with Ginny staring at him like that and Teddy holding his finger. It was a lot to take in. The moment was interrupted though when Molly walked in, announcing that it was time for dinner. Andromeda had them lay Teddy in a portable cot she’d brought with her so he could nap, and everyone but George convened in the kitchen for an excellent dinner of mince pies.

Andromeda didn’t talk much, Harry noticed, but she did seem to enjoy their company. It was a process, he supposed, getting comfortable being around people, especially after everything she’d been through. At least she didn’t immediately leave after dinner. Instead, they all moved into the living room and Andromeda let Ginny hold Teddy again.

George came down the stairs while they were all sitting there, and he looked curiously at Teddy. Harry realised that he probably hadn’t actually seen Teddy before now. George walked over to where Harry and Ginny were sitting, wordlessly watching Ginny with Teddy.

Ginny looked up at her older brother with a smile. “Do you want to hold him?”

“Ah- I- okay, I guess,” George answered with zero confidence, and Harry stood up so that George could take his spot next to Ginny. Ginny transferred Teddy over to George’s arms, coaching him on how to hold the baby comfortably. George settled into it, and even though he still seemed a little uneasy, he lightened up when Teddy giggled at him. George began tickling the baby while making faces, much like Ginny had, and for the first time in a long time, Harry saw a real smile on George’s face.

Everyone else in the room noticed it too, and even though they’d been talking more today than usual, they all fell silent, seemingly wary of breaking the fragile happiness George was feeling. Teddy slowly began blinking more, and George let him drift into sleep in his arms. Andromeda stood up once Teddy fell asleep.

“I think I should probably get him home while he’s sleeping,” she suggested. George nodded and let her take Teddy from him.

“Thanks for coming over today, Mrs. Tonks,” Harry said. She smiled at the three of them, said goodbye to everyone, and walked out the door. Harry looked back at George, who still had traces of a smile on his face.

Harry patted him on the back. “You did better than I did my first time holding him”

George snorted. “He’s a cute kid,” he commented.

“Very cute,” Ginny agreed, giving her brother a side hug. George clapped his knees and stood up. He went into the kitchen to get an extra pie- he’d apparently eaten the ones Ginny took up earlier- and he walked back up to his room without saying anything else.

“That’s the best he’s looked since…” Percy trailed off, and nobody had to ask him to elaborate.

“Babies make people happy,” Arthur said, nodding.

“Hopefully she’ll start coming by more regularly. I was so glad that she accepted my invitation today,” Molly added.

“She seemed happy,” Ron commented, but Hermione was quick to say, “As happy as anyone could be, considering…”

Harry found the caveats to happiness confusing. It was weird that someone could be as happy as anyone could be considering their circumstances. When he was little, he wasn’t used to happiness, and he thought that it was an elusive and too-perfect-to-understand sentiment. Once he finally experienced that happiness, it became clear to him that he was right as a child. Happiness could be found all over, he’d learned, but it wasn’t always possible to understand. He was living proof of that. As happy as he was a lot of the time, the panic attacks and painful grip of grief were visceral reminders that happiness wasn’t easy to understand, and those feelings can change and shift as circumstances do.

Nobody stayed in the living room for long after that. That night, Harry was thankful that his lack of understanding of happiness didn’t make it any more difficult for him to be happy, holding Ginny and falling asleep with the memories of their flight together replaying in his mind.

When he woke the next morning, he was still filled with that overwhelming sense of happiness, and that was enough to keep him in bed longer than he usually stayed, just watching Ginny sleep. She wasn’t the only thing he was happy about, but it was impossible to imagine that he’d actually be happy right now if they weren’t together. Thankful for what felt like the millionth time that she wanted to be with him, he finally pulled himself out of bed and went downstairs after waking Hermione.

He realised just how long he must’ve spent in bed when he saw that Bill was already sitting out on the porch. “Two sickles,” Bill said with a friendly smile.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Sorry, I was a little preoccupied in bed this morning.”

As Bill’s smile faltered and his eyes narrowed slightly, Harry realised what that sounded like and began nervously stammering. “I mean, I- damn this is gonna sound weird either way. We- we haven’t- we weren’t doing anything. I was just… watching her sleep,” he confessed. Bill kept his eyes narrowed, but Harry saw the corners of his mouth twitching. Finally, Bill couldn’t suppress his laughter.

“Harry, you’ve got to relax. You know I know where you’re sleeping, so you don’t have to explain yourself to me. Although in the future, I’d prefer to not hear you describe your activities in bed with my sister to me.”

Harry’s face felt incredibly hot and Bill laughed again. “I do understand though. I wake up every morning next to Fleur, and it takes a lot for me to get out of bed.”

Harry nodded, grateful that Bill was actually talking about it without sounding like his girlfriend’s older brother. Because Bill may be Ginny’s older brother, but he’d made it pretty clear that he also saw Harry as a brother, and if Harry couldn’t talk to him about something like this, who was a better option?

“Bill, can I ask… how- how did you know that you were in love with Fleur?” he asked tentatively, carefully watching to see Bill’s reaction.

Bill furrowed his brow and rubbed his chin. “I would say from the first time I saw her, but I think most guys feel that way when they see her for the first time. Honestly… it was probably the first time we argued about something.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. He wasn’t expecting an answer like that. Bill held up a hand and explained, “Let me be clear- my wife terrifies me when she’s angry. But she doesn’t get angry often. Most people see her as a gorgeous and sorta kind image of grace. When she argued with me for the first time, she got mad, and it showed me another side of her that she doesn’t let a lot of people see. She’s passionate and fiery and fiercely protective. So I think when I saw that, it- like it proved that she was a real person, and she wanted me to see all of her.”

Harry nodded at that explanation, thinking it was a pretty interesting love story. But then Bill asked the question that steered the conversation where Harry was hoping it would go. “Why do you ask?”

He looked at Bill meaningfully. “I imagine you can figure that out,” he said with a tight smile.

“So you’re trying to decide if you’re in love with Ginny?”

Harry exhaled, trying to think how to explain it. “I… Bill, I- I don’t like to talk about my past before I found out I was a wizard, and I don’t know how much you know about it, but I didn’t exactly grow up surrounded by love. My aunt and uncle loved my cousin, but they saw me as nothing more than a waste of space, and they made sure I knew it. I have no real experience with love. Like based on what I’ve heard people say about it, I think your family loves me, and I love your family, but I genuinely cannot remember anyone ever… telling me that they love me,” he finished quietly.

Bill looked at him with great compassion, and it almost made Harry feel a little uneasy, but he realised that Bill was likely looking at him with love, and the reason he felt uneasy about it was because he was so unfamiliar with the sensation. “Harry, I knew you’d had a tough life outside of Hogwarts- not like your life there was easy either- but I- I had no idea you felt like this.”

Harry shrugged. “I’m used to it, I guess.” What he wasn’t used to was Bill pulling him into a tight hug.

“You are loved by this family,” Bill said once he’d let Harry go. “Don’t ever doubt that.”

“And Ginny?” Harry asked.

Bill thought for a moment and nodded. “I can’t speak for her, but… based on what I’ve seen, what you’ve told me, and what I’ve heard from the rest of my family, the two of you seem to be very much in love. Harry, I don’t think you understand just how powerful it was when you told me that a big part of the reason you came back in the forest was because of her. The fact that you went and died for all of us, including her, and somehow managed to come back for her… I don’t know what else that would be other than love. And the way the two of you are around each other- you’re both so much better and happier when you’re together. It’s honestly amazing to watch.”

Harry nodded, pressing his lips together and remembering that Hermione had told him something very similar a few days ago. “I need to tell Ginny about the forest,” he said.

“Yeah, you definitely do. But that should make it easier if you want to tell her you love her.”

“You don’t think she’ll hate me for what happened?”

Bill looked curiously at Harry. “Are you really worried about that?”

Harry nodded. The thought terrified him. “I can’t lose her, Bill,” he whispered.

Bill put an arm around Harry’s shoulders. “When you love somebody, something like this won’t change that. It’ll be hard for her to hear, but you didn’t do everything wrong. If anything, I think once you tell her everything, she’ll love you more for it.”

That was the reassurance Harry needed. He wouldn’t know for sure until he actually told her, but this conversation had made him feel a little better about everything. “I think I’m going to tell her everything after dinner tonight,” he said.

“Good. Trust me, Harry. This will all be for the best.” Harry hoped he was right.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Ginny woke earlier than usual. Harry was gone, and she didn’t feel like going back to sleep. Besides, she’d made plans to go over to Luna’s house today and visit her friend. She dressed quietly since Hermione was still sleeping and walked downstairs. She heard Harry and Bill’s muffled voices on the porch. She opened the door and heard Bill say, “This will all be for the best.”

“What will?” she asked, and both Harry and Bill halfway jumped off the bench.

“Merlin, Gin, be a little louder next time,” Harry exclaimed breathlessly, clutching his heart like he’d just been scared half to death. Ginny smiled sweetly but unapologetically, and Bill chuckled, smiling at her and Harry.

“So, what’ll be for the best?” she asked again, crossing her arms now. She was looking at Harry, who appeared a tad nervous, but Bill answered quickly.

“Fleur and I are going back to Shell Cottage tomorrow. We’ll still be around, and you all can visit whenever you want, but it’s gonna be for the best for all of us to have a little more space.”

Ginny nodded, but the look on Harry’s face told her that wasn’t what he expected Bill to say. She’d ask him about that later when Bill wasn’t around to save him from her interrogation. “Okay. I’m glad you and Fleur are doing that. We’ll definitely be visiting you,” she said, winking at Harry.

“Definitely,” he agreed, nodding vigorously.

“I’m going to Luna’s for the day,” she added. “I’ll be back before Mum’s Sunday dinner tonight though.”

Harry looked a little disappointed but perked up when she said she’d be back for dinner. “After dinner, I want us to take a long walk.” Ginny smiled at the simple request.

“Deal.” She reached out her hand and shook his, but she didn’t let go of his hand.

Smiling up at her, he asked, “Do you need me to apparate you over to Luna’s?”

Ginny shook her head. “Oh, I guess I never told you, but while we were in hiding at Aunt Muriel’s, Mum and Dad started teaching me how to apparate.”

Harry furrowed his brow, trying to figure out how she’d learned that fast. “I’m not an expert, yet. That’s why I’ve been side-alonging with you everywhere. Almost all of my practice was in a ballroom at her mansion. But Luna’s is only a couple miles away, so hopefully I’ll be okay. Keep an eye out in case I splinch myself though,” Ginny joked, but Harry went pale at that, and she remembered what he’d told her about Ron splinching himself. She leaned down to him. “I’ll be fine, I promise.” Then she kissed him softly before letting go of his hand.

“Be careful,” Harry called. Ginny spun around, walking backwards down the path away from the Burrow.

“That’s rich coming from you!” she laughed. Once she felt herself leaving the wards, she spun on her heel, remembering Destination, Determination, and Deliberation. Her body compressed and expanded rapidly and she landed, completely intact, in front of Luna’s house.

Luna met her outside almost immediately. “How’d you know I was already here?” Ginny asked.

“You said you were coming today,” Luna responded. “You were supposed to come today, right?”

Ginny smiled at her friend, knowing she wasn’t going to get a better answer from Luna. Luna led her inside the house, where she said, “Daddy, you remember Ginny Weasley, don’t you? She’s my friend, and she’s Harry Potter’s girlfriend.”

Ginny saw the already pale man with long white hair pale further, and she remembered what Harry had told her about Xenophilius Lovegood. He may have been trying to save Luna, but he still tried to sell out Harry, Ron, and Hermione. He looked at her guiltily. “Of course, and how is Mister Potter?” he asked quietly.

Ginny tried to keep the edge out of her voice. “He’s better, now that he’s not having to run from Death Eaters every day.” Mr. Lovegood closed his eyes, and Ginny was pleased that her double meaning had hit home.

“Daddy is very sorry for what happened with Harry and Hermione and Ron here. He knows it was wrong to try and give them up for me. They’re my friends, and they should’ve been able to trust him,” Luna said, looking between her father and Ginny. Ginny was impressed that Luna seemed to be making sure her dad knew how wrong what he did was.

Mr. Lovegood nodded. “I feel terrible about what happened. You don’t understand- my Luna, she’s all I have left. But I made a mistake, and I’m so sorry.”

Ginny nodded. “I’m not the one you need to apologise to, but I do appreciate that you know it was wrong.”

“Yes, yes, of course. I will certainly apologise to them as soon as I can.”

“Why don’t the two of you come over for dinner tonight, and you can apologise to them then?” Ginny asked, knowing that her mother always made more than enough food to feed everyone.

Mr. Lovegood paled again. “I wish I could, but I can’t tonight. I have to finish printing a special edition of The Quibbler to send out to my readers by tomorrow morning.”

Ginny nodded, thinking that was a convenient excuse, but then she looked at Luna. “Do you want to come for dinner?” she asked.

Luna smiled dreamily. “I’d love to have dinner with my friends.”

“Great,” Ginny said. “Mister Lovegood, you’ll have to come for dinner soon.” He nodded and hastily left them alone in the kitchen. Ginny and Luna enjoyed a breakfast of toast with lavender jam and pumpkin-free pumpkin juice, which tasted too much like pumpkin juice to actually be anything else.

They went up to Luna’s room, and even though she’d seen it before, Ginny marvelled at the paintings around Luna’s room of herself, Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville. Luna hadn’t had many friends growing up, and Ginny was so glad that Luna was one of her best friends now.

“I see you still have the Erosprites,” Luna commented offhandedly while they were sitting in her room.

Ginny smiled. “I guess I do,” she replied because even though she didn’t believe in Erosprites, she knew what they meant to Luna, and she was happy to confirm that she was still in love with Harry.

“Does Harry still have the Erosprites?” Luna asked.

Ginny chuckled. “He definitely still has the Erosprites.” Luna smiled happily, and she didn’t bring up the Erosprites again. The friends spent a fun day together, in Luna’s room, walking by the stream, and talking about new creatures Luna had learned about. Around five, Luna and Ginny left the Lovegood house, and, miraculously, Ginny was able to side-along Luna to the Burrow without any issues. Ready for a good meal, Ginny led Luna through the wards and into the kitchen.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

The day had passed by extremely slowly for Harry. He missed Ginny, but that was only part of it. He was anticipating, with equal parts eagerness and trepidation, finally telling her everything tonight, and it felt like that time would never come. He spent the day with Ron and Hermione. They stayed in the living room for the better part of the day. Hermione was reading some book- Harry had no idea when she would’ve gotten a new book- and Ron beat Harry at chess several times. He was always encouraging Harry, but Harry knew that he was no match for Ron, no matter how much he played. Ron wasn’t always the best at seeing the consequences of actions in real life, but in chess, he could see ten moves ahead, and it was brilliant to watch, even though it was painful to play against. Despite all the defeats Harry endured, he had to admit that it was nice having this feeling of normalcy with the three of them. It felt like it could’ve been a normal weekend in the Gryffindor common room, before the war and everything had torn that all apart.

“What are you reading, Hermione?” Harry asked, against his better judgement, after losing to Ron for the fifth time in a row.

She looked up from her book. “The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts.”

Harry and Ron exchanged a look. “Why?” Ron asked.

Hermione sighed as if unable to understand how they could be so thick. “Well, it’s been a few years since I read it, and I was interested in reading it again after we learned about Dumbledore’s relationship with Grindelwald. But there’s surprisingly no real mention of Dumbledore in the context of Grindelwald’s rise to power until their duel, and even then, it seems like nobody actually recorded any details about the duel other than that it was the greatest duel ever.”

Harry could at least understand that. He’d been wildly curious with Dumbledore’s connection to Grindelwald for several months. “Interesting,” he replied.

“You can read it after I’m done with it, Harry. I’ll be done by the end of the day.” Harry’s eyes widened slightly, both at Hermione’s claim that she’d be done with the massive book that she was less than halfway through in a few hours and at her thought that he’d be interested in reading it too.

“Oh, that’s okay, Hermione,” he assured her.

She gave him a curious look. “I thought you were interested in learning more about Dumbledore and Grindelwald.”

He shrugged. “Not really. I guess I didn’t mention it when I told you everything before because it didn’t really matter much, but I talked with Dumbledore about it when I was… well, when I was dead, or in that limbo, in the forest a couple weeks ago.”

Both Ron and Hermione looked at him curiously, so he continued. “Dumbledore explained to me that when he was younger, he was attracted to the power of the Deathly Hallows and wanted to make a name for himself. He saw Grindelwald’s ideas as a way out of taking care of his sister and brother after he graduated from Hogwarts. But he lost all that desire when his sister died in the duel between him, Aberforth, and Grindelwald. He just felt guilt and shame for wanting to escape with the Hallows. So he refused offers of power, not trusting that he’d be able to control himself if he was given it. I think- I think he always blamed himself. For his sister and for Grindelwald. But he changed. He grew up. I don’t think I need to know any more than that.”

They were all silent for a moment. “Plus we’ve had more than enough experience with dark wizards without reading about them too,” Ron blurted out, and the still silence was broken with their shared laughter. It felt really good to be able to laugh about the things in the past, even if they did still bring more pain than any of them liked.

“I’m glad Dumbledore told you that,” Hermione said, and Harry nodded. He could almost tell there was a part of her that doubted whether he’d really communicated with Dumbledore that night in the forest. He wasn’t entirely sure either, but he thought it more likely than not that he had. He preferred thinking that he’d gotten to have one last conversation with his mentor.

Despite Ron’s statement, Hermione returned to her book, glancing at them every once in a while as Ron continued crushing Harry in chess. It was humiliating, and Harry wouldn’t have traded it for anything. As much as he was enjoying himself though, Harry was very happy when Ginny arrived back at the Burrow. He smiled at her when she walked in, followed closely by Luna. The pair walked over to where Ron and Harry were sitting on the floor.

“Hi Luna,” Harry said, glad to see that she was still doing okay since he hadn’t really seen her since the battle other than at a couple funerals.

“Hello, Harry. Ginny was right, you do have a lot of Erosprites floating around your head.”

Harry frowned confusedly and looked at Ginny who shook her head, laughing silently. Luna turned and said hello to Ron and Hermione before Molly came in and said that dinner was ready.

Seating arrangements had been changed slightly with Luna joining them, and for the first time since the funeral, George also joined the family for dinner. So instead of sitting next to him, Ginny was now across from him, and Harry sat in between Hermione and George. It was nice having everyone there, even Luna. It still wasn’t completely normal without Fred, but it felt good knowing that they were all enjoying each other’s company.

As they finished eating, Ron stood up to get another butterbeer- Rosmerta’s mail-order service had resumed after the battle- and he brought an extra one back for Hermione, noticing that the one she’d been drinking was now empty.

“Thanks, Ron,” Hermione said quietly.

“That was very sweet of you, Ronald. You’re doing a good job showing Hermione that you care for her,” Luna said breezily, making Hermione smile.

Ron snorted as he lifted his Butterbeer to take a swig. “I mean a bloke’s gotta do what he can, you know? Not every guy can give himself up to die to prove to his girlfriend that he cares.”

Harry felt his heart stop. Hermione and George had both stiffened next to him, likely for different but related reasons, and Bill was looking alarmed between Harry and Ginny. Harry couldn’t bring himself to look at Ginny, so he turned instead to look at Ron, who was oblivious to the fact that everyone had gone silent and was staring at him. He set his bottle back down on the table loudly, and only then did it seem to register what he’d just said.

He looked at Harry with wide eyes. “Oh shit,” he muttered.

“What do you mean by that?” Ginny asked intensely. Harry finally brought himself to look at her. Her eyes were blazing and her cheeks were turning red. She was staring at Ron but kept glancing at him.

“It- it’s nothing, just a bad… figure of speech,” Ron lied badly, causing Harry to grimace yet again. Everyone else remained deathly silent.

“Why’d you look at Harry after you said that?” Ginny pressed.

“Bloody hell, Ginny. I- I don’t know,” Ron answered desperately.

“I don’t believe you. You just acted like you said something you knew you shouldn’t have.”

Ron looked down at the table, and Ginny turned to look at Harry.

“What did he mean by that?” she asked him now with a sharp voice and confusion in her eyes.

He really didn’t want to have this conversation in front of everyone. “Gin- can we go outside?”

“I thought you went into the forest to fight.”

Harry took as deep a breath as he could manage, but his lungs didn’t want to cooperate. “I can explain.”

“Is he- are- are you saying you went there to die?” Her desperate, accusatory tone broke Harry’s heart.

“I-” he didn’t know how to answer that in front of everyone.

“What happened in the forest, Harry?”

Harry couldn’t help it. He glanced towards Bill, who had his hands on top of his head, in disbelief at how this was happening. Harry couldn’t believe it either.

“Did you- in the forest- how- died?” Ginny choked out quietly. A tear was leaking out of the corner of her eye and her lip was trembling. He hated seeing her cry. He hated knowing he’d made her cry.

Harry couldn’t form any words. Couldn’t say what he needed to. All he could do was nod slightly, hoping that she’d let him talk to her.

That hope flew out the door almost instantly. Literally. Ginny’s nostrils flared and her eyes blazed, and, for the first time he could remember, he was genuinely scared of what she might do. Would she break up with him? Never want to talk to him again? Instead of saying anything, she pushed away from the table, stood up, and ran out the back door. Harry felt like he was going to be sick.

“Holy fuck,” Charlie muttered.

Everyone seemed to be in shock. Percy had taken his glasses off and was rubbing his eyes. Charlie and Fleur were gaping, open-mouthed, at Harry. Bill hadn’t moved since the last time Harry looked at him. Molly was crying, and Arthur had a blank expression on his face. George hadn’t moved either, still staring at where Ginny had been sitting. Even Luna looked concerned, frowning at Harry.

The silence was broken by a soft pop from outside. Harry immediately stood up, remembering that Ginny had shown him earlier today that she knew how to apparate. He ran outside, but she was gone. His heart was in his throat, and he felt like he couldn’t breathe. This felt exactly like one of his panic attacks, only this wasn’t happening inside his head.

He heard the door open again, and Ron and Hermione rushed out. Hermione was crying, and Harry saw a look of shame and regret on Ron’s face. “Shit, Harry, I- I’m sorry. I didn’t even think- I thought she knew.”

Harry shook his head, willing himself to not vomit and trying not to explode with anger at his best friend. She’d told him they couldn’t keep running away. They were better together, she’d said. But this was too much for her, and she reacted exactly like he was afraid she would.

He turned away, unable to talk to Ron right now. He had to find Ginny. But where would she have gone? She was still learning how to apparate, especially at longer distances, and the only place he knew for sure that she’d go to when something was bothering her was…

Shit. There’s no way she tried to- who was he kidding? Of course she did. Without saying anything to his friends, he ran out past the wards and turned on his heel, keeping the one place Ginny always went when she needed comfort at the front of his mind.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

A/N: So… yeah… surprise! As many of you had been pointing out for a while, Harry was playing a bit of a dangerous game by taking so long to tell the story, and he just barely ran out of time. I do want to say, in Ron’s defence, Harry had brought up the moment in the forest just before dinner, so it was fresh on Ron’s mind, and it’s also been something he’s known for several weeks at this point. Ron also just generally doesn’t have the best sense of timing, but I think it’s clear that there wasn’t any ill intent in his mistake. I feel bad every time Ron makes a mistake in my writing because I know he gets bashed in fics a lot. Ron is definitely a hero of these books, but this wasn’t one of his finer moments.

Taking a bit of a turn away from the ending of the chapter, I really liked the idea of George becoming happier with Teddy and being kind of a cute uncle with him. Like Arthur said, babies make people happy, and George really is just a kid at heart anyways. Teddy’s positive influence on the Weasleys will definitely be extending beyond just Harry and Ginny!

I love every time I write a brotherly moment with Bill and Harry. I still laugh at Harry telling Bill he was preoccupied in bed with Ginny, but the real reason I love writing them is because Bill’s got a huge heart and a lot of experience being an older brother. Their talk about love was very important in the development of their relationship as well as giving Harry that final push to be ready to tell Ginny about everything, which he was ready for. Things just didn’t work out exactly like that.

As a random aside, it’s heavily implied that Muriel is extremely wealthy, while the Weasleys are supposedly close to poverty (though I still don’t understand how poverty can really exist in a world with magic, but that’s a whole other topic), so I thought it was kind of funny that Ginny got her Apparition practice in a ballroom of Muriel’s mansion. It is eventually mentioned later, but just in case anyone’s curious, I believe that the Fidelius Charm would supersede the Trace, so the Ministry wouldn’t have been able to detect Ginny performing underage magic because she was in a house under the Fidelius Charm. There’s not really a way to know for sure, so that was what I went with.

In my first draft of this chapter, I didn’t include the conversation between Harry, Ron, and Hermione about Dumbledore and Grindelwald. Originally, Harry and Ron were just playing chess when Ginny and Luna walked in. It wasn’t until I reread the chapter a couple months after writing it that I decided that it was a little unbelievable for Ron to just blurt that out without any prompting. It may still be a little unbelievable now, but my thought was that it’s on his mind because of their conversation, and he also reminded us of his penchant for blurting things out without thinking in that scene too. I felt a lot better about Ron revealing the secret with that scene added and hope it doesn’t feel out of character!

And yeah… that brings us to the end of Better Together, which I have to admit was a brutally ironic name from my point of view. I do really like this chapter though, but I am biassed since I know what happens next! Everyone knows about the forest now, and things are finally coming to a head. Trust me, you’re going to want to be subscribed or following so you don’t miss the next chapter. Speaking of…

Coming Tuesday: No More Secrets- “Are we gonna talk about what the hell happened in there?”

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Chapter 15: No More Secrets

“Are we gonna talk about what the hell happened in there?”

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

“I speak now, Harry Potter, directly to you. You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself. I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest. If, at the end of that hour, you have not come to me, have not given yourself up, then battle recommences. This time, I shall enter the fray myself, Harry Potter, and I shall find you, and I shall punish every last man, woman, and child who has tried to conceal you from me. One hour.”

The words of Lord Voldemort rang through Ginny’s mind as she cried, staring at the bodies of Fred and Tonks in front of her. She didn’t know how long she’d been standing there when Hermione hugged her. Hermione held her while the last of Ginny’s tears fell. Awoken from her stupor, she looked around the Great Hall, but she couldn’t find Harry anywhere. Surely he wouldn’t listen to Riddle.

Who was she kidding? Riddle knew exactly what to say to get Harry to come to him, and Ginny was determined not to let that happen. She left her family and Hermione without a word, walking to the grounds between the castle and the forest. She’d stop him. They could still fight together. He couldn’t leave her again. She needed him too much.

That was when she saw Emily Brooks, lying helplessly on the ground. Her body was twisted grotesquely, and she was covered with blood. “Shhh, Emily. It’s okay, I’ve got you,” Ginny spoke quietly, crouching over Emily.

Emily just cried in pain. “I want my mummy.”

Ginny felt her heart breaking for this poor, young girl. She shouldn’t be here. “It’s alright. It’s okay. We’re going to get you inside.”

“But I want to go home. I don’t want to fight anymore!” Emily whispered.

Everything in Ginny ached. Nobody ever asked Emily to fight. She was far too young. She should’ve escaped through Hogsmeade hours ago. But she wanted to be brave, and now she lay dying on the grounds of Hogwarts.

With a cracking voice, Ginny did her best to soothe her. “I know. It’s going to be alright,” she promised, even though she didn’t believe anything would ever be alright again. Still, she knelt down and took Emily’s hand, doing her best to make her comfortable.

She felt him. Harry was close. She looked around, unable to understand how she could tell he was there even though he must’ve been under the Invisibility Cloak. As suddenly as she felt his presence, he was gone. And Ginny felt her heart break, knowing that she’d failed. Harry was walking into the Forbidden Forest at Riddle’s request, and she couldn’t stop him.

With all of her remaining strength, she stood up and levitated Emily, moving her to the Great Hall. Every step seemed like agony, wondering if Harry was still alive. How could he possibly go into the forest thinking he could survive it? Harry was strong, but nobody was that strong.

Somehow, she managed to get Emily into the Great Hall, calling Madam Pomfrey over for triage care. Pomfrey took one look at Emily and shook her head sadly, and Ginny knew what that meant. There wasn’t anything she could do. Not when there were still people who could be saved scattered around the Great Hall. Her heart broke for the girl who had passed out, breathing shallowly. Ginny wanted to stay with her, but she needed her family. With one last mournful look at Emily, she sat down next to Ron and Hermione, who seemed to have run out of tears.

“Have you seen Harry?” Hermione asked worriedly. Ginny shook her head, unable to tell her friend what she knew. She feared they’d all find out soon enough anyways.

They sat together, all afraid to say anything. It had been more than an hour. The battle would be starting again at any moment. Everyone who could was now standing in the Great Hall, shifting anxiously, waiting for the next invasion. Then the high, cold voice pierced the security of the hall once more.

“Harry Potter is dead. He was killed as he ran away, trying to save himself while you lay down your lives for him. We bring you his body as proof that your hero is gone.”

Nobody spoke in the Great Hall. Everyone looked around in disbelief. Ginny’s tears returned again, knowing that she should’ve stopped him. Hermione and Ron looked broken next to her. Through her sobs, Ginny managed to croak out, “He wasn’t running away.”

Neither of them acknowledged what she said. Obviously Harry wasn’t running away. There wasn’t a single person who knew Harry who would’ve believed that he’d tried to escape. That didn’t make any of this better though. She’d lied to Emily. Nothing was ever going to be okay again.

The crowd inside the Great Hall slowly filed out to the Entrance Courtyard. “NO!” Professor McGonagall screamed.

Ginny almost fell over when she saw it. An army of Death Eaters, led by Tom Riddle. But that wasn’t what everyone was looking at. “No! No!” Ron and Hermione shouted next to her.

Harry lay in Hagrid’s arms, motionless. He still had his glasses on, and his hair was as messy as ever. But his body was lifeless. He’d never been one to stay still, but now, he’d never walk through these halls again. Never fly on a broom again. Never run his hand through his hair again. He’d never smile at her again, never kiss her again. She’d never see his bright green eyes again. She’d never be able to tell him how much he meant to her. Unable to control herself, Ginny broke down and wailed, “Harry! HARRY!”.

She cried out desperately for him. People around her started shouting at the Death Eaters, but she couldn’t hear anything anymore. The past year had felt so empty without him, and that was just a preview of the rest of her life- however much was left. Harry had died trying to protect them. She was going to make damn sure his sacrifice wasn’t in vain. If it meant she died and saw him sooner, so be it. No matter what, nothing was ever going to be okay again.


Ginny inhaled sharply, breathing heavily. She bent over, feeling a stitch in her side that was throbbing. After a moment, she looked up and saw the lake, sparkling in the setting sun. Behind her was a castle. But she came for something else. Sitting against a large tree, she felt the bark until she found the carving in the tree. He’d promised forever.

Tears that she couldn’t remember shedding were stinging her eyes, and she vaguely remembered apparating instinctively to the gates of Hogwarts before running to the tree. It felt like something was clawing at the pit of her stomach, trying desperately to escape. She still couldn’t breathe, and that wasn’t because of the run anymore. She thought he went to that forest to fight because he didn’t want any more of the battle to happen in Hogwarts. It had seemed insane, but he was the most insanely brave person she knew. If anybody was going to march into that forest by himself to fight, it would’ve been Harry.

But Ron made it sound like he knew he was going to die when he walked into the forest. How the hell did that make sense? How could he have done that, walking right past her, expecting to die? Did he actually die? It made no damn sense. He couldn’t have died, but Riddle and all the Death Eaters were sure that he had. She couldn’t think clearly; the blood rushing in her ears was too loud. The only thing that felt real was the carving under her fingers, but even that felt like it was slipping away. Walking to death without saying goodbye wasn’t a part of forever.

And then he was there. Because of course he bloody was. She could feel him, just a few feet away, just like she had that night. She wasn’t going to let him get away with being silent this time. She jumped to her feet and whirled about to face him. He looked terrified and apologetic and sad and Ginny just didn’t understand. With no sympathy, she shoved him angrily. He stumbled back a few steps before catching himself. He didn’t look away from her.

“Did you go into that forest to fight or to give yourself up?” Ginny asked in a low voice.

Harry swallowed and clenched his fists. “I- I gave myself up,” he confessed.

She felt like the wind had been knocked out of her again. Somehow, she managed to ask a second question. “Did- did it ever… did it ever bloody occur to you that I might want to- to say goodbye?” Her voice broke because that was what hurt more than anything.

Harry blinked, and he looked so sad that she almost felt bad for him. Almost. “I- I had to do it, Gin. I didn’t have another choice. If I’d stopped when I walked past you, I couldn’t have done it.”

He’d had every opportunity to tell her goodbye, and he chose not to. Ginny raised her hand, wanting to slap him. He deserved to feel something of the pain he’d caused her. Didn’t he care? But she couldn’t hurt him, not even when she was this pissed off at him, and he didn’t cower away from her either. “Fuck you,” she growled, glaring at him but lowering her hand.

“Ginny-” he whispered, and now his voice was breaking.

Ginny didn’t want to give him a chance to talk. Everything that she’d been holding in for weeks and months now- her confusion, her grief, her loneliness, and everything she felt for the man in front of her- had finally reached a boiling point, and she couldn’t push down any of those feelings any longer.

“How dare you, Harry Potter? How dare you? You promised that we’d be together forever under this tree and then you broke up with me and ran away for a year! You were gone for a fucking year! I spent every night praying that you were alive and I’d get to see you again! And when you have to walk to your death for some unknown reason, and you have every opportunity to tell me goodbye, at the very least, to let me know that you still cared, you walk away like a coward?”

“Gin-” he croaked out as tears pooled in his eyes, but she wasn’t done.

“It’s not fair! It’s not bloody fair! I had to watch Hagrid carry your body back to the castle! I thought my life was over, that the only thing that mattered was gone! And you came back and we got back together and I thought everything was going to be okay but you’ve had two bloody weeks to tell me about this and I had to hear about it from Ron making a joke? None of this is fair! It’s not fair that you promised me forever and then made me think you were dead! It’s not fair that I thought I died with you because I fucking love you!”

Ginny finished screaming and began breathing hard, furious and devastated and so damn confused. Harry looked at her like he’d been stunned.

“You- you love me?” he asked in a still breaking, breathless voice, and if she wasn’t so mad, Ginny might’ve thought it cute or endearing that that was what he got out of her whole rant.

She crossed her arms. “Of course I do, you bloody idiot,” she grumbled. Harry suddenly surged forward and did about the last thing she expected him to do, especially considering her outburst and undoubtedly furious expression. He tilted her chin up to him and kissed her so softly and sweetly that it baffled her. She almost pushed him away, but he pulled back before she could gather her wits enough to do that.

“I love you,” he whispered, and his voice was stronger now. Some small part of Ginny was jumping for joy, but the rest of her was still so confused, and that wasn’t enough to make up for it.

She shook her head. “Tell me everything. Then... I’ll decide if that’s good enough.”

Harry nodded and Ginny sat against their tree while he sat right in front of her. “I’ve been trying to tell you. That’s what the whole story was building up to. I’ve almost told you a bunch of times this week, but I didn’t want to add more to everything with the funerals and everything. That walk I asked you to go on tonight? I was setting aside time for us to be alone so that I could finally tell you.”

Ginny shook her head again. “Ron’s a bloody idiot too.”

Harry exhaled sharply. “He was tonight.” They sat quietly for a moment. Harry was clearly thinking and Ginny was just waiting to hear what sort of explanation could possibly make this all okay.

“Your mum interrupted us when we were talking about Snape the other night. There was one more thing that I saw in Snape’s memories. Dumbledore told Snape that when Riddle tried to kill me as a baby and the curse backfired, his soul was already so damaged that it split into two, and part of it latched onto the only living thing it could find- me. That’s how I can talk to snakes and see inside his mind. I was a Horcrux, and part of his soul was living in me. He- he couldn’t die while I was- while I was still alive.”

Whatever she’d been expecting Harry to say, that wasn’t it. A lot of the anger immediately left her, at least for now, replaced by horror at what he was saying. Her eyes widened and she covered her mouth with her hands, unable to believe that he’d been a Horcrux.

“Dumbledore made Snape promise to let me know that part of Riddle’s soul lived in me. When I found out, I pulled myself out of the memories, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I became so aware of everything, and I knew what I had to do. I- I didn’t have a choice. We’d spent so long fighting and destroying Horcruxes, and so many people had died and would continue to die as long as he was alive. I walked out to the forest, and I wasn’t expecting to see you there. It took everything- and I mean everything- in me not to tell you. I wanted so badly to run to you because you’d ask me to stay and I wouldn’t be able to do it. It shattered my heart to walk away from you. But I knew if I stopped, I wouldn’t be able to leave you again.”

He reached out to take her hand, and she let him. Fat tears were slowly rolling down both of their faces as they both relived this traumatic experience.

“When I got to the forest, I realised what the Snitch Dumbledore had given me in his will meant. It said ‘I open at the close’, so I told it I was about to die. The Snitch opened, and inside of it was the- the Resurrection Stone.” Ginny’s eyes widened again. “I saw my mum and dad, Sirius, and Remus. Sirius told me that dying didn’t hurt, and Remus told me the stuff I said at his funeral about dying for Teddy to grow up in a happier world. And my parents- my mum told me I’d been brave, and my dad said he- he said he was proud of me.” Harry’s voice broke, and he looked down at the ground. Ginny kissed his hand, wanting to comfort him despite her confusion and now slowly subsiding anger.

Harry took a breath and looked back up at her with new tears shining in his eyes. “Sorry, it’s just- I’ve only told Ron and Hermione about the Stone, and I didn’t even tell them what they all said.” That did a little more to comfort Ginny, knowing that despite everything and how she wished Harry had told her sooner, there were certain things he only wanted her to know.

“They promised they’d stay with me, and they did until I got to the Death Eater camp. I dropped the Stone somewhere in the Forbidden Forest, but I don’t think anybody should try and get it again. It’s not natural. Dumbledore gave it to me because he knew I’d need it to have the strength to finish it all, but nobody should have that power. It’s enough to drive anyone mad-” he shook his head thinking about it “- anyways, I’d put my wand inside my jacket. I was so tempted to fight. I wanted to do something, but I knew I had to die, so I walked into the camp, unarmed.”

Ginny’s breath was accelerating and her hands were sweating. How on earth did he make it out alive? Harry said simply, “Riddle cast Avada Kedavra on me.”

She blinked. “What?” she breathed out, still so confused. Everyone knew that Harry had survived it once before, but how on earth did he survive a second time?

“The last thing I saw before the green light was you… running toward me in the common room last year. I felt you kissing me, and then… I died.”

Ginny couldn’t even speak. How could she respond to that? It still made no sense.

“A lot of this still doesn’t make sense to me, and I haven’t tried explaining it to anybody else, but I’m telling you everything. No more secrets.” He paused for a moment and then continued. “I woke up in a really white room. I don’t know how long I was there. Everything was so peaceful and empty. The longer I was there, the more I realised that it looked a lot like King’s Cross. I saw a weird… naked… baby… thing on the ground, but its skin was all raw, and it looked really disgusting. It was crying and seemed like it couldn’t breathe. I wanted to do something to help it, but I couldn’t. That’s when Dumbledore showed up.”

Ginny stared at him. If he’d seen Dumbledore… was it really possible that he really had died?

“Dumbledore told me that he didn’t think I was really dead. Or at least… I could choose not to be dead. He said Riddle had killed the part of himself in me with the Killing Curse. And then he reminded me about when Riddle came back. He took my blood to make his new body in the graveyard that night. It let him be able to touch me without being in pain. But the problem was that when he did that, he took my mother’s protection into himself. That was his intention, I think, but he didn’t think about the consequences. When he killed my parents, he gave my mum the option of standing aside because Snape had asked him to. She chose not to, so he killed her. But because she had the choice and chose to die to protect me, she cast such a strong love protection on me that it caused his Killing Curse to backfire on me that night.

“Riddle thought he got around the protection when he took my blood because he could touch me and hurt me. But because he had my blood, he kept my mother’s protection over me alive in himself. He didn’t realise it, but when he took my blood, he guaranteed that he couldn’t be the one to kill me because her sacrifice still protected me in him. Dumbledore told me that he’d guessed that if I sacrificed myself and let Riddle kill me, thinking I would die, I would have a chance at surviving.”

“So then…” Ginny finally interrupted. “If you found all this out in the forest… you had no idea that you could live when- when you faced him?”

Harry shook his head sadly. “I- I really thought I was going to die, and the last thing I was going to see… was you.”

The reality of that hit Ginny like a charging Graphorn. “Wait- the picture you gave me- your memory…” she trailed off.

He swallowed and nodded. “That was it. Every time I see it in your room, I’m reminded how- how lucky I am that I had the chance to come back.”

Acting impulsively, as she had all evening, Ginny threw herself at Harry, knocking him backwards with the force of her hug. He lay on his back and she sat up, looking down at him. “I love you, Harry Potter.”

He smiled for the first time since they’d left the Burrow. “I love you, Ginny Weasley.” She lowered herself to him, kissing him far more passionately than they had the first time they said that to each other. The kiss may have lasted hours before they finally broke apart.

“I love you,” she whispered again.

“I’ll never get tired of hearing that. I love you,” he responded with a smile, and she rolled off him and pulled him into a sitting position again.

“Sorry for interrupting,” she apologised, though she actually wasn’t sorry at all.

He chuckled. “You can interrupt me anytime for something like that.”

She smiled at him. “I’ll keep that in mind. You were still talking about Dumbledore though.”

He nodded. “I asked him about the Hallows and Grindelwald. All year, we’d been learning things about Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship when they were younger, and it made no sense to me. He explained that he was foolish for seeking the Hallows to conquer death. He and Grindelwald met in Godric’s Hollow, where Ignotus, the third brother, was buried. He confessed that he felt confined at home. He felt like he’d been selfish then, but at the time, he felt trapped when his mother died because he became responsible for his younger siblings. He and Grindelwald planned to help the Wizarding World and conquer death through owning the Hallows, and Dumbledore would finally be free.

“Aberforth told Dumbledore that he couldn’t leave him and his sister behind to search for the Hallows with Grindelwald. There was a terrible fight between the two of them and Grindelwald, and somehow, Ariana, his sister, ended up dead. None of them knew who had done it.”

Ginny gasped, unable to imagine that horror and wondering if she’d been the one responsible for the death of one of her siblings. Harry nodded, squeezing her hand sympathetically.

“Dumbledore grew a lot as a person after that. He stopped wanting to seek power and controlled himself. It’s why he stayed at Hogwarts and never became Minister for Magic. He didn’t think he could be trusted with power. But he eventually had to fight Grindelwald. He was becoming too powerful and a lot of people were dying. And when Dumbledore won the duel, he won the Elder Wand. Then he told me that he’d tried to use the Resurrection Stone when he found it, and it proved once again that he wasn’t worthy to unite the Hallows. He thought himself only fit to own the Elder Wand because he used it to save others from it rather than for selfish ambition.

“Then… he told me that I was the true master of the Deathly Hallows and death. He said the true master of death doesn’t seek to run away from it but accepts that he must die when it’s time.”

Tears were leaking out of Ginny’s eyes again. It still seemed unreal that Harry had willingly walked to death. But something wasn’t adding up perfectly like the rest of the story. “Harry,” she interrupted with a slightly cracking voice. “How were you the master of the Deathly Hallows? I thought Malfoy was the master of the Elder Wand?”

Harry smiled. “You’re skipping ahead in the story, Gin.” She blushed but he just squeezed her hand. “Actually, I figured it out when I was with Dumbledore, but we just didn’t talk about it. So… the Elder Wand changes loyalties very easily. Most people thought that someone had to kill the previous master to claim it, but it’s much easier than that. Malfoy got it by disarming Dumbledore that night. But when we were at Malfoy Manor, I physically took Malfoy’s wand from his hand. I disarmed him, even though it wasn’t with magic.

“See- wand loyalty is really tricky, and even though Ollivander tried explaining it to me, it still doesn’t make a lot of sense. The best I can figure is that when a wand’s master is disarmed, it can choose- because the wand chooses the wizard- whether to remain loyal to its previous master or to switch its allegiance. For some reason, Malfoy’s wand changed its allegiance to me, according to Ollivander. I think it depends on the… personality of the wand. And the Elder Wand is the most flippant wand in the world, it seems. So even though the wand I took from Draco wasn’t the Elder Wand, it somehow sensed that its master had been disarmed and changed its loyalties… to me.”

“So then… you’re the master of the Elder Wand?” Ginny asked in a little bit of awe. He smiled sheepishly and nodded.

“But I don’t want it. After the battle, I used it to fix my old wand that had broken in Godric’s Hollow. You saw me, Kingsley, and McGonagall returning it to Dumbledore’s grave a couple weeks ago. If I’m lucky and die without ever being disarmed, the wand’s power will be destroyed. But if that doesn’t happen, it’ll still be protected and fairly well-hidden.”

She had to admire the humility of her boyfriend. Not only was he the master of death according to Dumbledore, but he was also the Master of Death according to The Tale of the Three Brothers. And he didn’t want any of that power. He was frustrating at times, but he was also truly remarkable.

“So Dumbledore told me that I had a choice. He said that I could choose to go on to whatever would come next, or I could come back. It was nice there, and I wasn’t in any pain. But I knew that if I came back, knowing that I was actually the master of the Elder Wand and that Riddle kept my mother’s protection alive in him, this would be the best chance anybody would have to defeat him. I could still die if another Death Eater tried to kill me, but he wouldn’t ever let anyone other than him be the one to do it, so I liked my chances enough. And besides… I did promise you forever,” he said softly, smiling at her.

“Bloody hell, Harry… I love you,” she said reverently, and he got that same goofy grin on his face.

“I love you, Gin.”

He continued, almost done with his story now. “When I woke up, Riddle was also waking up. Apparently he’d been knocked unconscious. I think we were both dead, or as close to death as possible, in that weird limbo state. I’m pretty sure that creepy baby thing was him. Or- or at least, what was left of him after splitting his soul into eight pieces. That baby had been in agony, and I don’t think Riddle could’ve heard anything Dumbledore and I talked about. But that’s what was left of him, and I think he remembered that pain when he woke up, and it scared him.

“He sent Narcissa Malfoy to check and make sure I was dead. She knelt over me and I knew that she could tell I was alive. But she asked me if Draco was alive and in the castle. She wanted to enter Hogwarts and find Malfoy, and the only way she could do that was if the Death Eaters marched up like a conquering army. So she told Riddle I was dead after I answered her. They celebrated, and Riddle cast the Cruciatus Curse on what he thought was my corpse. For some reason though, it didn’t hurt me. I thought it might be because I was the master of the Elder Wand so it didn’t want to hurt me, but it would’ve been possible for him to kill me with it just a couple minutes earlier, so I’m… not really sure, honestly.

“When he finished though, he had Hagrid carry me back to the castle. I had to pretend to be dead, even though it- it was horrible, hearing Hagrid crying and then you, Ron, Hermione, and McGonagall when they brought me up to the castle. But after Neville killed the snake, and the last Horcrux was gone, I pulled my cloak over myself and did what I could to protect people with shield charms while I made my way to Riddle in the Great Hall. I started running towards him, but then I- I saw Bellatrix almost kill you, and I- I started running towards you instead. At least until your mum knocked me out of the way and took care of it.”

Ginny grimaced at the memory and Harry’s pale face. “So after everything… you were gonna forget about finishing Riddle off to protect me?” He blushed a little and nodded. “You really are an idiot,” she joked, shaking her head.

He smiled softly. “I was an idiot in love; I couldn’t help it,” he defended himself. “But once your mum finished Bellatrix, well… you saw what happened.” Ginny nodded. She didn’t remember the specifics of Harry and Riddle’s conversation, but she’d never forget the feeling of elation she had when Harry cast a shield charm in front of her mother and pulled the cloak off, revealing that he was still alive.

“Riddle never understood love. When I sacrificed myself, I put the same protection over everyone at Hogwarts that my mum had on me. None of Riddle’s spells were binding or hurting anyone. He didn’t understand the power of love that saved me all those years ago and saved us all at the battle.”

Ginny frowned. “I’d almost feel sorry for him, if he hadn’t been-”

“The evillest wizard of all time?” Harry finished her sentence, chuckling a little.

Ginny nodded, and Harry added, “That thing I told you that Dumbledore told me about pitying those who live without love… he told me that when I was in that King’s Cross place. I should’ve told you sooner.”

She squeezed his hand. “You definitely should’ve, but I know now. And neither of us ever have to worry about living without love ever again.”

He smiled at her before taking on an apologetic expression. “You were right, by the way.” She furrowed her eyebrows, wondering what he meant. He clarified, “You were right about me not wanting you to take my shirt off. It wasn’t about- I couldn’t let you until I’d told you.”

Without warning, Harry stood up and turned around, removing his shirt. Ginny grimaced as she saw a large, faded red burn that started on his back and wound around his side. He turned slowly back towards her, and she gasped, finally seeing what he’d been hiding from her. There were several discoloured but fading bruises all over his body and a dark, almost purple mark on the centre of his chest in an elongated octagon. But her eyes were focused on the lightning bolt scar over Harry’s heart, confirmation that everything he’d said had been true, which meant he really had survived the Killing Curse for a second time.

She stood and traced it with her finger while Harry looked anxiously down at her. It was scary, but Ginny was so damn tired of being scared all the time. She looked up at Harry and grinned mischievously. “Guess it’s a good thing I find scars ridiculously sexy.”

She kissed Harry immediately, and he responded enthusiastically before pulling away enough to whisper, “I really love you.” She echoed that by kissing him again.

When they finally separated, he put his shirt back on before taking her hand and they slowly walked back to the gates under the last, fading tendrils of sunlight. Ginny suddenly stopped and looked at Harry, appalled. “What is it?” he asked, very worried.

She reached up and gently touched the cheek she’d really wanted to slap moments earlier. “I’m so sorry for running,” she whispered. “I- I just panicked. I didn’t know what to do, and I was so angry and confused. I should’ve listened instead of yelling at you.”

He smiled at her. “Believe me, Gin. I deserved it. Personally… I like seeing you angry, and even though this was scarier than usual, I’ll take all the yelling over you not ever wanting to talk to me again.”

She frowned. “Were you really worried about that?”

He nodded slowly, and they began walking again in silence. As they reached the gates, Harry stopped. “It’s just… I wouldn’t have blamed you after everything.”

“Harry-” she started to say, but he shook his head.

“Gin, I- I really am so sorry… for everything. I’m sorry that I tried to break up with you. I’m sorry that I left and you didn’t hear from me for almost a year. I’m sorry that I walked past you and didn’t say goodbye. I’m sorry that I made you think I was dead. And I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you all of this sooner.”

He blinked, and his eyes were darkened by tears threatening to fall. It seemed like this had been eating at Harry for a while, and even though a small part of her was still annoyed or mad about everything, she couldn’t feel anything but love, looking at his face.

“I’ve only got two things to say to that, Harry. Number one-” she held up a finger for emphasis “- no more secrets.”

He shook his head. “Never.”

“Number two-” she held up a second finger “- I love you.”

He smiled and leaned in to her. “Forever,” he promised, kissing her deeply before apparating them back to the Burrow.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Harry was shocked at how things had gone after he followed Ginny to Hogwarts. She’d been mad and screamed at him a lot, and for a moment, he thought she was going to hit him. Not that he could’ve blamed her if she had. But then she said she loved him. She loved him. Everything else stopped mattering, It wasn’t the easiest story to tell, but that didn’t matter. He got through it because he promised no more secrets, and he didn’t want to lie to the person he loved. She loved him.

They arrived outside the Burrow, still grinning at each other, revelling in their newly declared love, but then Harry remembered what happened here a short hour or two ago. They all knew more than he wanted to tell about the forest. How could he explain everything to them? Ginny must’ve seen the worry crossing over his face because she squeezed his hand encouragingly.

“It’ll be alright. I don’t think any of them will yell as much as I did, if that makes you feel better,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

He chuckled. “Thank Merlin, that’s all I was really nervous about.”

She smiled. “Seriously though. Whatever you tell them, they’re just going to be proud of you and thankful you’re still here. I know I am.”

“You’re proud of me?” he asked, a little surprised, and she rolled her eyes.

“You keep acting like this, Harry, and ‘idiot’ is going to be your new nickname. I’ve always been proud of you for being such a good and selfless person. The stuff with the forest is just proof that I was right.”

He blushed and she kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll be right next to you the whole time,” she promised. He nodded and they walked through the door and into the living room, where everyone who was at dinner, even Luna and George, were sitting in complete silence. They all quickly turned to look at Harry and Ginny when they walked in. Harry saw a brief smile on Hermione’s face when she saw that they were holding hands, but everyone else still looked shocked and confused.

Molly stood up and began scolding her daughter. “Ginevra Weasley! You cannot go running off like that! None of us knew where you were! What if we couldn’t find you and you couldn’t get back home?”

Ginny reddened slightly. “I’m sorry, Mum. But Harry knew where I was going. I just- I needed to breathe for a minute.”

Thankfully, Molly just sat back down, reverting back to the sad and confused expression worn by most of the Weasley family. Every seat was taken, so Harry conjured two chairs for them to sit in. He didn’t have much experience with this, and he was surprised when the seats were cushioned, sturdy, and comfortable. Hermione narrowed her eyes at him, but he just shrugged. He wasn’t expecting them to be that nice but he wasn’t complaining. There was still a pregnant silence in the room, as if everyone was waiting for someone else to say something.

Finally, Charlie spoke up. “Are we gonna talk about what the hell happened in there? These two-” he jutted a thumb behind him towards Ron and Hermione “- refused to talk until you got back. Ginny storms out as mad as I’ve ever seen her and you come back holding hands and acting like there’s nothing wrong, even though we all heard what Ron said at the table. So what the hell was that all about?”

Bill cut in. “Harry, you don’t have to talk about anything you’re uncomfortable with.”

Harry was grateful that Bill was looking out for him, but he shook his head. “It’s okay, Bill. I- I want to tell everyone.” They all looked at him expectantly, and he tried to formulate a good explanation in his mind that didn’t leave a bunch of loose ends he’d have to explain. He especially didn’t want to say anything about Horcruxes, thinking enough people already knew about those. He took a deep breath and began explaining.

“During the ceasefire at the battle, I… found out something I probably should’ve figured out much sooner. When Vold- Riddle tried to kill me as a baby and his curse backfired, it did so much damage to him that it tore a piece of his soul away from the rest. That piece of soul latched onto me since I was the only living thing around. I found out that as long as that piece of soul lived in me, he couldn’t die. So when he told me to give myself up in the forest, I realised I had no choice. For it to all be over, I had to die.”

The confused looks had been replaced by shocked ones. Everyone was staring, open-mouthed or wide-eyed, except the four people in the room who already knew all this. Those four just looked sad, knowing how the story ended.

“Before he killed my mum, he gave her the option to stand aside because he just wanted me. She refused and died trying to protect me. That sacrifice gave me a powerful protection against him until Riddle came back. When he came back three years ago, he used my blood to create his body because he wanted to get around that protection. But what I didn’t know at the time was that when he did that, he kept her protection over me alive in him. So even though he could touch me without being in pain, he still couldn’t kill me. He cast the Killing Curse on me when I found their camp and surrendered, and everything went black.”

Molly, Arthur, Fleur, and Hermione were all crying. But Harry had to finish explaining. “I think- I think I did die in the forest, for a moment at least. I was in some sort of limbo state where I had to choose if I wanted to come back or… go on. The protection gave me that choice, and I knew that if I came back, we wouldn’t get a better chance to defeat him. And there was a promise I had to keep,” he added, turning to look at Ginny who was smiling up at him even though tears were brimming on her eyelashes.

He turned to look back at them. “I had to pretend that I was dead. He had Narcissa Malfoy check on me, and even though she knew I was alive, she lied because I told her Draco was still alive in the castle. She didn’t care about Riddle or his cause anymore; she just wanted to find her son without him being in any more danger. So they brought me back up to the castle and when all hell broke loose, I slipped away until I could fight him, one last time. And that protection kept me alive so that, once again, his own Killing Curse rebounded on himself.”

The conclusion of his story was met with silence, other than some sniffles. Of all people, it was Percy who broke the silence. “You said your mother having the option to live but choosing to die to protect you was what gave you that protection?” Harry nodded, and Percy continued, “That’s why none of his spells worked after they came back from the forest. You had the same option and you chose…”

Harry nodded again. “Yeah. I didn’t know that’s what it would do, but I- I meant to die to protect everyone, so it still created that protection against him.”

“So, zeez- panic attacks you’ve been ‘aving…” Fleur said quietly.

Harry saw a couple confused faces. Not everyone knew about that yet. To George, Percy, Charlie, and Luna, he said, “I’ve been having episodes where I get lost in my memories and start panicking. I get in some sort of trance and can’t breathe. Bill’s been having to wake me up from them when he’s found me. And yeah-” he looked at Fleur “- they’ve pretty much all been about that. I keep seeing people die, keep reliving the moment I found out what I’d have to do. I keep making that walk to the forest, and I- I keep seeing the green light coming towards me. I did it because I had no choice, but I- I was terrified,” he barely whispered that last part. Ginny wrapped an arm around him and pulled him close.

“No choice?” Charlie asked incredulously. “You definitely had a choice, but you chose that sacrifice. And nobody else knows about this?”

“Kingsley and McGonagall are the only other people I’ve told.”

“You did all that and didn’t tell anybody else? Bloody hell- you’re even more of a hero than the Prophet makes you out to be.”

Harry felt his face reddening, and he looked down at the floor. “You can’t tell him that,” Ron interrupted. “He always thinks he just did what anybody else would’ve done.”

Harry shrugged. He heard someone moving and looked up, surprised to see Charlie standing in front of him, holding a hand out. Harry tentatively reached out, as if to shake it, but Charlie squeezed it hard. “I’m only going to say it once, and then we’ll all pretend none of this ever happened. You are a bloody fucking hero and the most selfless man I’ve ever met. Thank you for saving us.”

Harry couldn’t have even resisted if he wanted to when the much stronger man pulled him out of his chair and into a tight hug for a couple seconds before letting him go, returning to his seat without saying another word. Still kind of shocked, Harry sat back down in his chair. Molly had broken out into a fresh wave of tears, and Ginny’s eyes were blazing as she looked at him with fierce pride.

“He’s right,” she whispered. Harry almost believed it coming from her.

They sat in silence for a few moments before Arthur spoke. “Thank you for telling us, Harry. And… for the record, Charlie is right. We all owe our lives to you. I’m amazed at your sacrifice, and I couldn’t be prouder of you.” Harry’s face reddened slightly again, but he nodded.

“What was it like?” George suddenly asked.

“What?” Harry responded, a little confused.

“When you- you said you died. What was it like?”

Harry realised sadly why George was asking this. “It didn’t hurt. Faster than falling asleep.”

George nodded stiffly. “And… when you were in it? Or do you not remember that?”

Harry ran his hand through his hair. “No, I- I remember it. Pretty clearly, actually. It- it’s hard to explain. It was so peaceful and calm. I wasn’t in any pain, even though my body was definitely hurting in the real world. It wasn’t hard to imagine being happy there forever. And I was only in a limbo state, like the first stage. The rest of it must have been even better, as- as crazy as that is to imagine.”

George nodded again, looking a little relieved. The rest of the family looked disconcerted with his description of the afterlife that he saw, but he didn’t know how else to put it.

“My mummy is happy there,” Luna commented.

Harry smiled a little and nodded. “I think all good people are happy there.”

There wasn’t really anything left to say. After sitting for a few moments, Harry stood up, intending on going to bed early. It really had been an exhausting day, after all. He didn’t know who stood up first between Molly and Arthur, but suddenly, they were both hugging him. He felt Ginny press against his back before Bill and Fleur joined. Within seconds, everyone in the room was surrounding him, hugging him, and Harry couldn’t help it. He cried onto Molly’s shoulder.

“I love you all,” he whispered quietly. He didn’t say it loud enough for everyone to hear, but Molly and Arthur certainly did, and they hugged him even tighter. The hug lasted for a minute or two, but its meaning wouldn’t ever escape Harry. By the time they all disentangled themselves from one another, everyone’s cheeks were a little wet with tears.

Harry told everyone good night and went upstairs with Ron. Hermione took Luna back home since Ginny technically wasn’t supposed to be apparating in the first place. When Ron and Harry entered Ron’s bedroom, Harry automatically began changing into his pyjamas. After he finished, he saw Ron sitting on the edge of his bed, looking at the floor. Harry walked over and sat next to him.

Ron’s voice was raw as he spoke. “I- I’m so sorry, mate. I don’t know why I said that. It didn’t matter if I thought you told Ginny or not; nobody else knew. I was supposed to keep that secret for you, and I- I failed you again.”

Harry sighed deeply. The truth was that he was annoyed with how Ron had blurted that out, especially when there wasn’t a real reason to. Harry was always going to tell Ginny tonight, but it would’ve been a lot easier if she could’ve heard it from him first. But Ron clearly felt awful about it. Harry placed an arm around his best friend’s shoulders.

“I know it was an accident, and… it was hard, but it’s okay. It all worked out. You didn’t fail me; you’ve never failed me, Ron.”

Ron looked at him blankly. “I left you and Hermione. I didn’t believe you about Malfoy the year before. I accused you of putting your name in the Goblet of Fire. I’ve failed you plenty of times.”

Harry shook his head. “We’ve had disagreements, but that’s what friends do, right? You may have left, but you came with me in the first place, and you came back. You saved my life, Ron. We’re good, I promise.”

Ron nodded and looked back down at the floor, clearly still feeling bad about everything. “You were a bit of an idiot tonight though,” Harry added casually.

Ron snorted. “Yeah I was.” He looked back at Harry. “We’re really okay though?”

Harry nodded emphatically. “You’re my best mate, no matter what.”

Hermione suddenly walked into the room, having returned from taking Luna home. Her expression became very emotional when she saw the two of them, with Harry’s arm around Ron’s shoulders.

“You two are okay?” she asked hopefully. They both nodded, and she smiled. Harry clapped Ron’s back as he stood up to let Hermione take her place in bed. She pulled them both into a tight hug before Harry started walking to the door. He turned back before he exited the room.

“I’ve never told you this before, but… I think it’s been true for the past seven years. I really do love you both.”

They both smiled at him. “Well, obviously,” Hermione answered sarcastically even though she was beaming.

Ron nodded. “Right back at you, mate.” Harry smiled then too and left them alone, making his way to his favourite room in the house.

When he entered Ginny’s room, she was behind the door once again, looking at the picture on the wall. She was watching Harry’s memory of her running towards him. He stepped behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, kissing the top of her head softly.

She rubbed his forearms before asking, “This was really the last thing you saw?”

“Yeah. I wasn’t even trying to think of anything. My brain just knew what I needed to see, and I- I wouldn’t have picked anything else,” he answered honestly.

Ginny turned back around to face him, looking up into his eyes. “You really came back for me?”

He smiled. “Well, there was a dark wizard I had to defeat.” She snorted but still looked at him with that sweet expression that melted his heart. “But yeah. We didn’t have nearly enough time together before. If I had the chance… there was no way I was gonna spend any more time away from you.”

She reached up and caressed his cheek. He added, “By the way, there’s the next thing on your list. I want to be with you because I love you.”

She smiled that dazzling smile and pulled him into a deep kiss before leading him to the bed. She pressed against him and he held her tightly, unwilling to ever let her go again. Almost as soon as his head hit the pillow, he could feel sleep pulling at him. He was awake long enough to hear Ginny whisper, “I love you too.”

He smiled and kissed her head softly, falling asleep surrounded by the flowery scent he’d fallen in love with and thinking that it wasn’t possible to be any happier than he was right now.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

A/N: I can’t believe we made it!!! This chapter has been one of the ones I’ve been most excited to share with you all since I started posting, and I hope it’s made up some for how difficult the ending of Chapter 14 was!

I talked about it way back when I started publishing, but when I was first conceiving of writing this post-war fic, there were about eight moments that I came up with very early on and kind of latched onto as the ‘guiding lights’ for the story as a whole. I planted each of those on a rough date and orchestrated the entire rest of the story to direct it to the next guidepost. The first one was Harry and Ginny getting back together after the battle, and this is the second one. There’s been a lot of story elements that don’t necessarily tie into this moment, but the central thread was always guiding everything here. As a teaser, the next one is in *roughly* ten chapters, but I won’t say exactly how many so it’s still a surprise!

Like I said, this moment was something I had in my mind almost immediately when I was planning everything. The idea of Ron accidentally telling Ginny that Harry had willingly given himself up and then Ginny telling Harry she loved him out of pure anger and fear that he’d done it without telling her bye just spoke to me on such an emotional level that I knew there was no other way for her to declare her love for him. And, as scared and worried that Harry is, he can’t help himself when she says she loves him, even though it comes in an angry rant.

I genuinely think Ginny asking if he’d thought about how she’d want to say goodbye is one of the most heart wrenching sentences I’ve written because of how much grief it conveys. Even though he’s alive and in front of her, the idea of losing him without saying goodbye was unbearable, leading to her almost slapping him out of anger. I hope it’s not too noticeable, but, as a secret insight into my writing process, I did originally write her slapping him. I don’t think it would be entirely out of character, honestly, but the more I thought about it, the more I decided that even though there seems to be a societal double standard when it comes to women hitting men versus men hitting women, I disagree with it, and I didn’t want any of Harry and Ginny’s relationship to be built on the fact that she hit him or might hit him again, even in her anger. Then there’s also the added layer of Harry enduring abuse as a child that made me feel even worse about the idea of it, so I made the decision that Ginny, even as angry as she was, couldn’t hurt him, and I personally think it makes the story better.

I feel like I should clarify again, just since it’s been a while since it’s been relevant, that there’s no indication in canon about what caused Harry’s original scar. Some theorise that it’s evidence of a Horcrux, which I think is flat out wrong because there’s never another instance of a Horcrux having a visible mark signifying it being a Horcrux, including Nagini, who, like Harry, was a living Horcrux. Others believe it’s a mark of Lily’s love protection over Harry. To me though, the interpretation that makes the most sense and the one that is accurate for the sake of this book is that the scar is the mark of a failed Killing Curse, but nobody would actually know that for sure since Harry’s the only one to ever survive it.

The other important piece of Ron telling Ginny at dinner was that it ensured that Harry would tell the rest of the Weasleys what had happened. I really could only see him telling Bill, Ginny, and possibly Molly and Arthur of his own accord, but I couldn’t think of another way to get him to tell Charlie, George, and Percy (or Luna for that matter) without him being somewhat forced into it. And it was really important for me to have Charlie show a flash of care and appreciation for Harry, in spite of how difficult and tough he usually is with Harry. I also wanted George to have a chance to ask Harry about death. I didn’t want to draw it out or make it too sad of a moment in the midst of everything else, but I thought it was important for George to ask and for the rest of the family to hear Harry’s answer for a little more closure.

And I am very happy to say that does it for No More Secrets! Hopefully Harry and Ginny will do a much better job not keeping secrets now! The end of the chapter sort of starts showing it, but now that the obstacle of the story is out of the way and Harry’s told Ginny he loves her, he’s going to be able to be a good bit more affectionate and open with his emotions, even if it still might not always be easy. As always, feel free to let me know your thoughts! Did the declaration of love and end of the story live up to your expectations? Are you still mad at me for Ron blurting everything out and Ginny running away? Understandable honestly, but don’t worry, next chapter is going to be very happy and pretty fluffy, and hopefully that makes up even more for the scare I gave you all!

Coming Friday: Living In Love- “What do you smell in Amortentia?”

P.S. As a personal aside, this chapter was very, very cool to publish at the time that I did for a couple reasons. I feel like them finally getting the story over with and saying they love each other kicks the book off from just dealing with the immediate aftermath of the battle and into the rest of the story, which is good because there’s so much more to come! But it was especially cool to publish it right after crossing the 10,000 view threshold, which I believe I hit this weekend across the three platforms I post on. I can’t express enough how grateful I am to all of you for taking the time to read this thing that I’ve poured so much of my heart into over the past year, and I hope I continue delivering and making you happy with every new chapter! And, completely unrelated to the book, my team and I successfully presented my final capstone project presentation yesterday, which served as the culmination of a year’s worth of work and is sort of the last big milestone before graduating, so that’s super exciting! Just all in all, it’s so awesome to see that the two things I’ve probably spent the most time on collectively in the past year are both going so well, and I can’t wait to show you where things go from here in Summer of Recovery!

Back to index


Chapter 16: Living in Love

"What do you smell in Amortentia?"

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

Like usual, Harry woke up when sunlight started trickling into Ginny's room. But just like the past couple days, he found that he couldn't bring himself to get out of bed just yet. How could he when he was holding someone who loved him? He thought he'd been happy on their anniversary last week, but that had nothing on the pure joy that filled him at the thought of Ginny loving him. After everything he'd been through, all the difficulties and loss, she loved him. As hard as the last year on the run had been, he was sure he'd endure it all again knowing that she would say she loved him at the end of it.

It was like a missing piece to the puzzle of Harry's life had just been put in place. He wasn't ever one to express much affection, but after she'd said that she loved him, he felt like he finally understood a little bit about what love really was. He'd told Molly, Arthur, Ron, and Hermione that he loved them last night, and it was true. His love for all of them was different, and none of it was like his love for Ginny, but he felt as strongly for all of them. They were his family, the best part of every day for him, and he'd do anything for them.

Granted, he'd already known for a long time that he'd do anything for Ginny. She was perfect, although probably a little barmy to be interested in him. That was the only fault he could find with her. He smiled as he carefully stroked her hair, trying to memorise every freckle on her sleeping face. Finally, once the room was much brighter than it was when he woke up, he kissed her- a few times- and left her to her peaceful slumber.

After he'd woken Hermione, he went outside, and once again, Bill had beaten him to the porch swing. Bill smiled at him when he walked onto the porch. "We'll make it one sickle today. I know you had quite the day yesterday."

Harry chuckled as he sat next to Bill. "That seems like a bit of an understatement."

"Didn't go exactly according to plan, did it?"

He shook his head. "Not at all. I was so worried when she ran away that she'd never want to talk to me again."

"Everything turned out okay though, obviously."

"Yeah, after a few minutes of her yelling at me. She almost slapped me too."

Bill laughed. "I told you she can look out for herself."

Harry smiled. "She definitely can. But in the middle of her yelling at me, she- she told me she loved me."

Bill looked at Harry, grinning. He punched Harry on the shoulder. "I told you!" he exclaimed, clearly very pleased with himself and his sister.

Harry rubbed his shoulder but was easily laughing with Bill. "Believe me, I'm glad you were right. I told her I loved her, and she let me explain everything. By the end of it, she at least wasn't wanting to yell at me or hit me anymore."

Bill was still smiling. "You did good yesterday. I know it wasn't easy, and it wasn't the way you wanted, but it clearly all worked out for the best."

"Yeah it did. You were right."

Bill chuckled. "Just call me Professor Trelawney because I can clearly see the future."

Harry was laughing once again. "That was an awful joke," he finally managed to get out. Bill just grinned proudly.

"Hey, where did you two end up going last night?" Bill asked after a moment.

Harry shook his head, still in a little bit of disbelief at it. "The one place we both like to go to when things get hard, Ginny especially. She apparated to the gates of Hogwarts and ran to our favourite tree on the grounds by the lake."

Bill shook his head with Harry. "Bloody hell. She's not even licensed and she apparated all the way to Hogwarts? She's impressive when she's pissed off."

Harry smiled. "She's impressive all the time." Bill snorted but didn't make any comment.

When Charlie came outside, he didn't even try to make any jokes with them. He was actually surprisingly quiet, and Harry thought he knew why. It was his turn to take the piss for once before Charlie returned to his usual, teasing state. "You know, Charlie, just because I'm a- how did you say it- a bloody fucking hero doesn't mean you can't talk to me. I still enjoy talking to mere mortals every once in a while."

Charlie gaped at Harry who grinned even though his face was turning red at his own boldness. Bill was howling with laughter next to them, wiping away tears from his eyes.

"I didn't think you had it in you, Potter," Charlie finally said. Then he gave Harry a one-fingered salute. "Fuck you," Charlie laughed as things became more normal between them once again. Charlie was an interesting bloke, Harry was finding. He clearly was very gruff and burly on the exterior, but he'd shown glimpses of a more sensitive side, especially last night. It was definitely curious, Harry thought, but he didn't dwell on it for long before they started making breakfast.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Ginny woke up feeling like she was floating. Yesterday had been a hard day for everyone, but the lasting memory she would always have was that Harry said he loved her. She'd wanted him to say it first, to move things forward on his time, but she'd been so upset and angry yesterday that it had just slipped out. It definitely wasn't how she imagined telling him that for the first time. But Harry had responded so quickly and enthusiastically that she was sure that he didn't feel pressured to say it back to her. He genuinely loved her, and his actions and the story he told last night only proved that further.

She sat up in bed, and as if on cue, Harry walked in, beaming at her as soon as he saw her. He quickly crossed the room and sat down next to her, kissing her gently. "Good morning, Blaze."

Ginny blushed. "Good morning, love."

He smiled slightly. "Oh, is that my new nickname?"

She grinned. "I think it might be. Don't worry though, I'll still make sure to give both Harry and Potter plenty of love too."

He kissed her again. "I like it… a lot." He proceeded to show her, for several minutes, just how much he liked it before he finally tore away, breathing heavily. "Breakfast- downstairs-" he gasped.

Ginny giggled. "Alright, just let me change." She got up and quickly changed shirts, pulling on a red shirt with a gold lion on it that Luna had given her for Christmas a year or two ago. She pulled her jeans on and turned to go find Harry on the landing, but she was pleasantly surprised to find him still sitting on her bed, smiling brightly at her.

"Why, Mister Potter… I guess I didn't ask you to leave, did I?" she asked scandalously as she walked back towards Harry.

He just shook his head, still smiling at her. "I'll have to remember that next time," she said with a wink.

He stood up and pulled her close to him. "I don't know… I've heard being in love can make you very forgetful."

She couldn't keep a straight face and finally laughed. He laughed with her, not the least bit ashamed to have seen the back of her while she was undressed. She kissed him on the cheek and, still laughing slightly, they went down the stairs together.

After breakfast, Bill pulled her aside. "I just wanted to tell you that he needs you."

She nodded, smiling a little. "I know, Bill."

"No, that's not what I mean. I mean you both make each other happy, and he told me that you said you love him, but-"

"When did he tell you that?" she asked curiously.

"This morning. He was very happy about it, to be honest."

She grinned. "And you're okay with it?"

Now it was his turn to smile and nod. "The two of you are perfect together. I think it's great. But what I was saying is that he needs you if he starts having another panic attack. When I wake him up, I hold his shoulders as still as I can, and I just talk to him, encouraging him to calm down and breathe slower. He responds pretty well to that, and he might respond even better to you. Just- I know you saw it at Shell Cottage, and I don't want you to freak out if it happens and you have to help him. But since Fleur and I are going back home today, I needed you to know."

Ginny nodded, understanding what he meant. "I'll take care of him, Bill. I promise."

He smiled. "I know you will. He'll do the same for you too."

Before they left, Ginny saw Harry talking to Bill, so she brought Ron and Hermione to her room. "Bill told me to look out for Harry while he's gone. I'm around Harry most of the time, but I wanted the two of you to know too. He said if Harry starts having a panic attack, he puts his hands on Harry's shoulders and coaches him to breathe slower and calm down. If you see him having one and I'm nearby, get me. Bill thinks he'll respond well to me trying to pull him out of one, but if I'm not around, that's how you should try and wake him up."

Hermione nodded like she already knew this, and Ginny guessed that she'd been reading what she could find about panic attacks since Harry had told them about it. Ron looked a little nervous though. "Is he still having those?"

Ginny nodded. "I don't think he's had one in a couple days, but they're probably going to stick around for a bit. He's supposed to see his Healer again sometime this week for them. There's not anything she can do magically, but she's just wanting him to talk about everything so he can hopefully get better at catching them before they get bad."

Ron nodded seriously. "Okay. I'll make sure to keep an eye on him then." Ginny smiled gratefully at the two of them and they all returned back downstairs just as Bill and Fleur were leaving.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Bill pulled Harry aside before he left with Fleur. "I know I'm not going to be here every day now, but I'll still be around, and if you need to talk to me, you're welcome any time at Shell Cottage."

Harry nodded, thankful for the offer, and Bill continued. "I told Ginny how I wake you up from your panic attacks, just in case you have one and I'm not around. She'll probably be really good at pulling you out of them, honestly."

"Should probably tell Ron and Hermione too, just in case."

"I think Ginny's doing that right now," Bill said, and Harry looked around the living room, not seeing the three of them anywhere. "She's going to take good care of you, Harry."

He smiled. "She already does."

Bill chuckled. "I know. I did mean what I said yesterday morning to the two of you by the way. If you ever want to get away from here for a few days, just come visit. We'll be glad to have you two around."

Harry looked up at the slightly taller man who had become so much like a brother to him in the past two weeks that it was strange to imagine not having someone like that in his life now. "Thanks, Bill. I really appreciate- well, everything you've done for me," he confessed quietly.

Bill just smiled and pulled Harry into a brief hug. "That's what family does."

Fleur kissed Harry on both cheeks. "Au revoir, 'Arry. Please take care of yourself… and Ginny too." Harry blushed a little and nodded, and the couple left just as Ginny, Ron, and Hermione came down the stairs.

"Where have the three of you been?" he asked, already suspecting he knew the answer.

"I was just telling them what Bill told me about how to wake you up from your panic attacks," Ginny answered honestly.

Harry nodded. "I'm glad you did. He told me he'd told you, and my first thought was Ron and Hermione should know too."

She grinned at him. "Great minds think alike."

Ron rolled his eyes, but Hermione was smiling at them both. Harry held a hand out to Ginny. "Walk in the orchard, Blaze?" he asked.

"I'd love to," she responded happily, at the same time that Ron asked, "What'd you call her?"

"Er- Blaze," Harry answered, unsure why he felt a little uncomfortable at the idea of Ron hearing his nickname for Ginny for the first time.

"Like that Slytherin prat?" Ron asked, not masking his look of revulsion.

Ginny wrinkled her nose in her own expression of disdain. "Gross. No, not like him. He's a creep."

"What's the difference? It sounds the same," Ron countered.

"Spelled differently," Hermione offered.

Ron barely kept his eyes from rolling. "You can't see how something's spelled when people are talking."

"You can use context clues to infer-" Hermione started, but she was cut off by Ginny, who, very succinctly, said, "It's not the same."

Harry cleared his throat a little awkwardly. "I honestly didn't even think about it. I mean… it's not like we ever knew him, and it's been… what, two years since the last time I saw him?" He realised that his justifications might not matter if Ginny didn't like the nickname now that its similarity to the Slytherin had been pointed out. "But I don't have to keep using it if-"

Once again, Ginny interrupted. "Don't you even think about stopping because of that. I didn't ever notice it, and I really don't care anyways. Blaze is better than Blaise to me."

Hermione laughed as Ron shook his head. "That's your call. Still… feels a little weird to me. Imagine if I started calling Hermione Pansy. That'd be…"

Harry and Ginny doubled over laughing as Ron caught sight of the disgusted and possibly annoyed look on Hermione's face.

"You know what I meant!" Ron quickly blurted out defensively.

Hermione shrugged dismissively. "Whatever you say, Crabbe. Enjoy your walk, you two."

They were still laughing when Ron, ears flaming red, followed Hermione up the stairs at a run. Somehow, they managed to make their way out the door and laced their fingers together as the pounding of Ron's footsteps faded.

"I'll keep calling you Blaze then," Harry said once he'd finally stopped chuckling. "But you know Gin is still my favourite nickname for you, right?"

She grinned and squeezed his hand. "And that is exactly why I love you."

Harry matched her smile with his own, and he wasn't sure it would ever go away, knowing she loved him.

They'd been walking for a little while, still holding hands, when Ginny asked him. "When did you know?"

Harry blinked and looked down at her. "Know what?"

"Well… I meant when did you know you loved me, but I just remembered you told me at Hogwarts that you'd tell me one day when you knew you had feelings for me."

Harry smiled, very clearly remembering both of the moments she was wanting to hear about. "I guess I can tell you, but you'll have to do the same," he offered. Ginny beamed and nodded in agreement. They stopped walking and faced each other as Harry began talking again.

"I don't know for sure when my feelings for you began other than that they started two summers ago. We were spending all that time together as real friends after the Department of Mysteries, playing Quidditch and having all sorts of conversations every day. It became like you were the person I was always wanting to be around, and I think I finally realised that when we boarded the Hogwarts Express for the start of term. Ron and Hermione had to do prefect stuff, and I was hoping that you'd find a compartment with me. But you-"

"I went to find a compartment with Dean, instead," Ginny finished, visibly annoyed with herself.

Harry nodded. "That was the first time I really noticed it, but I tried to convince myself that I was just wanting to be your friend. If I'd been smart, I would've known when I smelled Amortentia in Slughorn's class, but instead, I didn't know for sure until Ron and I ran into you and Dean… kissing after that Quidditch practice. I was really jealous, and I couldn't deny it anymore. But I still think that first day on the Hogwarts Express was when I really knew though."

Ginny was blushing slightly, but then she looked at Harry curiously. "What do you smell in Amortentia?"

Harry smiled. "I smell treacle tart, a broomstick, and… your hair."

Her mouth opened a little in surprise. "My hair?"

He nodded. "Yeah… it smells like flowers. I recognized it from the Burrow, but I couldn't put my finger on it. It took me all of my sixth year to figure it out, but I finally did after we got together."

Ginny smiled. "Guess you just needed to get closer to me."

"I always need to be closer to you." He leaned in and kissed her before taking some of her hair in his hand and smelling it exaggeratedly. Ginny giggled, and he said, "Best smell in the world."

Then he looked down at her with a searching gleam in his eyes. "What do you smell in Amortentia?"

Ginny's cheeks tinged red, but she smiled. "I smell chocolate, the leather of a Quaffle, and a broomstick." Harry was unable to keep his smile from faltering slightly. He was really expecting her to say something about him.

She giggled and lightly swatted his shoulder. "You're jealous!" she accused, and he smiled a little guiltily. "I'm sorry, I just couldn't resist. I guess I should clarify that the broomstick scent is really ebony wood. That's the wood your Firebolt is made out of, and you always smell like that."

Now Harry blushed as she smiled sweetly at him. "Did you know the first time you smelled it?" he asked.

Ginny rolled her eyes but continued smiling. "Harry, I spent years with a massive crush on you, and you stayed with us every summer. I knew the second I smelled it that it smelled like you."

He shook his head. "I wish I'd been smarter back then."

She kissed him quickly. "It all worked out like it was supposed to."

Harry smiled and nodded. "Anyways… thinking about when I knew I loved you is a little difficult. Just because I wasn't sure what the feeling was, but now that I think I understand it, I know exactly when I first felt it. It's probably going to sound stupid, but it was when you told me that Quidditch captains turn you on. I was so embarrassed and thought I might've just mucked everything up, and then you made a great joke that made me feel so comfortable and at home with you."

Ginny chuckled at that memory. "I can't believe that's the moment you knew. We'd just kissed for the first time!"

Harry smiled. "When you know, you know I guess. I mean, my feelings have only grown since then. If there was any doubt, I knew it for sure after Dumbledore's funeral. Breaking up with you made me more sad than all the times I'd left Hogwarts to go back to Privet Drive combined. I know for sure that I loved you then, but I think I've loved you ever since our relationship started."

She smiled up at him. "I've gotta admit, those were some good answers." She kissed him quickly for emphasis.

He grinned down at her. "Your turn," he said excitedly.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Every day, they'd play Quidditch for hours. Harry and Hermione never stood a chance against Ginny and Ron, but Harry always seemed hungry for more. They'd come in sweating, tired, and laughing- except Hermione, who was usually very annoyed by the time they came in.

Harry had been looking at her differently. She had to admit that to herself. Hermione had nudged her a few times suggestively throughout the summer, as if Harry was slowly developing the feelings Ginny waited so long for him to find. She didn't believe it, but it was something she was keeping an eye on. To be honest though, she was always keeping an eye on Harry.

After one particularly fun game of Quidditch that left Hermione angry at all of them, Ron decided to chase after her for some stupid reason. Ginny and Harry were left outside, alone, but neither of them gave any indication that they wanted to go back inside. Instead, they walked together down to the stream. Ginny jumped in without hesitation. When she resurfaced, she saw that Harry was staring at her. She pulled the wet hair out of her face before splashing him repeatedly. He shook his head in surprise before he started laughing, quickly following her into the water, where they played like little kids together.

It was weird seeing Harry let loose like this. She knew it had been a hard summer for him. He'd brooded a lot, clearly missing Sirius. But in this moment, he was having fun with her, and she was determined to make it last. They must have been goofing off for an hour before they finally calmed down and sat on the grass next to the stream, drying in the warm sun.

"How are you doing?" she asked.

His smile faded slightly, and she was a tad surprised when he answered openly. "Not great, to be honest. It's been hard. I get sad and angry a lot. But stuff like Quidditch, like this-" he gestured to the two of them and the stream "- helps me forget about it all."

"You know you're not alone, right?"

He grimaced a little. "When I've got so many… things going on, it's just hard sometimes. To let people in."

"You should try to let people in more. You're a pretty fun guy when you're not moping around the house." Where had that come from? Did she just push it too far?

He snorted and started laughing, and relieved, Ginny laughed with him. "Thanks, Ginny. I think you're pretty great too."

They lay like that, talking about random things- Quidditch, school, when Ron and Hermione would finally get together- before Ron finally came out and joined them. The whole time, Ginny was wondering when did Harry start thinking she was great? And why did it make her feel like she'd just drank six shots of firewhisky?


Ginny smiled at Harry's insistence on hearing her answers. "It's a little complicated for me too, trying to explain when I first had feelings for you. See, before I ever met you, I had a crush on the idea of you from the stories Mum and Dad would tell me. But the first time I saw you at King's Cross, I had no idea who you were. I was just… speechless when I saw you. You were the cutest boy I'd ever seen, and I knew immediately that I'd never forget your eyes. After I found out who you were, it just combined both of those feelings, I guess."

Harry looked at her curiously. "The first time you saw me?"

Ginny nodded, feeling her cheeks heating up a little. "Yep. And when I set my mind to something, I clearly never let it go."

He chuckled. "I'm very thankful for that."

She smiled. "After my first year, I realised my feelings for you were deeper than a normal crush, but you were much too preoccupied with other things to really pay attention to me."

Harry frowned. "I wasn't quite as smart back then as I am now."

She squeezed his hand. "You grew up, and I was waiting for you. That summer you spent here two years ago- that's when I realised that even though I'd tried to move on, I wouldn't ever be able to. And then I smelled the Amortentia, and that was an annoying confirmation since I was still dating Dean, and I wasn't sure that you were interested in me. It took longer than it should've for me to break up with him, but like I said-"

He finished her sentence: "It all worked out like it was supposed to."

"Exactly. But I knew I loved you- like really loved you- that day underneath our tree when you made the carving and told me that the only thing you knew you wanted in your future was me. We'd barely been dating for a couple weeks, but I know without a doubt that I was in love with you then."

He smiled and kissed her. "Just think, we could've told each other back then."

She smiled back at him. "We could've, but the nice thing is we still have forever to keep telling each other it."

"I love you," Harry whispered.

She grinned. "I love you, forever."

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

The rest of the day provided a nice preview for what their summer would look like. Walks in the orchard, a sunset broom flight, and relaxing time with Ginny and the rest of the family.

When Harry joined Ginny in bed that night, she was already half asleep, barely mumbling "Love you," before falling completely asleep. His heart still leaped for joy at that, and he very gladly pulled her closer in response, smelling her hair as he joined her in their slumber.

"I speak now, Harry Potter, directly to you. You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself. I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest. If, at the end of that hour, you have not come to me, have not given yourself up, then battle recommences. This time, I shall enter the fray myself, Harry Potter, and I shall find you, and I shall punish every last man, woman, and child who has tried to conceal you from me. One hour."

He couldn't move, couldn't feel anything after watching Snape's memories. He had to die. There wasn't another way. But he was too scared. He felt like he couldn't breathe. Instead of walking to the Forbidden Forest, he put on his cloak and hid in the Great Hall.

Within moments, Riddle and the Death Eaters stormed the hall. A hundred people died quickly, but he could only watch in horror as Bellatrix brought the Weasleys and Hermione to Riddle, unarmed and defenceless. Flashes of green light filled his vision as one by one, Percy, Charlie, George, Fleur, Bill, Arthur, and Molly all fell to the ground, motionless.

He tried to scream, tried to do something, but no words came out of his mouth. He couldn't move. He couldn't breathe.

He watched as Riddle mercilessly tortured Hermione and Ron before killing them. Then Riddle stepped in front of Ginny, raising his wand as a cruel smile twisted across his face.

"NOOOOOOO!"


Harry jolted awake, almost jumping when he saw Ginny sitting on top of him, holding his shoulders. "Harry, you're okay. I've got you, Harry, just breathe. Shhh. It's going to be okay, just breathe. I love you, Harry, you're going to be okay."

Harry's breath somehow slowed almost immediately, and as he wiped the sweat from his face, he squinted and saw that Ginny seemed to be on the verge of tears. He sat up and hugged her closely. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

She kissed his neck and his cheek desperately as they both trembled in each other's arms. "I- I'm just glad I was here to help you. You kept saying my name before you screamed and woke up. What happened?"

"I- I saw Riddle killing you all. I'd been too scared to go into the forest, so he came into the Great Hall and killed you all in front of me," he said, and he felt a tear slipping down his cheek.

Ginny closed her eyes and a tear fell from her eye as well. "Oh, Harry. It's okay. I'm still here. We're all still here." She hugged him once again, and he pulled her tightly to him. He started when he saw, in the first light of dawn that was in her room, Arthur and Molly standing in the doorway.

Ginny felt him move and turned around to see her parents looking at them. "Are you okay, Harry?" Arthur asked, finally breaking the silence.

Harry nodded. "Nightmare that… apparently turned into a panic attack," he admitted.

"When are you meeting with Amelia again?" Molly asked. Harry frowned, realising he'd forgotten to schedule another meeting.

Ginny got off him and stood up, apparently realising the same thing. "You're going to send her an owl right now."

Harry nodded before remembering that he didn't have an owl to use. Ginny's gaze softened. "Oh… we can borrow Pig from Ron. He won't mind." Harry nodded, and he followed Ginny downstairs to write a letter to Amelia, asking her to meet as soon as possible.

Arthur and Molly followed them, and after he sent the letter, they all four sat down at the kitchen table. Molly cleared her throat. "Have you two been sharing a bed since we got back?"

Harry felt his face turn red and he looked at the table, a little ashamed that they'd been dishonest, even though they'd never outright lied. Ginny answered the question. "Mum- it's not… it's not like that. Harry and I wouldn't ever do anything… inappropriate here. We just- we wanted to be together after so long apart. It was helping with the nightmares too… at least, until tonight."

"I'm glad to know that you wouldn't do anything inappropriate here, though it does concern me that you left open the possibility of behaving inappropriately away from home," Molly responded sarcastically.

Harry was surprised to find that his face could get even hotter as he steadfastly avoided looking at either of Ginny's parents. "Molly-" Arthur started to say, but she cut him off.

"Arthur, this is your daughter, your baby girl! How are you not bothered by this?"

"I don't necessarily like to see it with my own eyes, but I trust both of them. We raised Ginny to do the right thing, and Harry- I'd trust Harry with my own life, or the lives of any of my children."

Molly turned a little red. "It's not just about trust, Arthur. Of course I trust them both, but Ginny's not even an adult yet!"

"And we were doing more than they were when we were younger than them," Arthur offered reasonably.

Harry felt a little nauseous at this admission from Arthur, and judging from Ginny's vice-like grip on his hand, she agreed.

"Arthur!" Molly scolded.

"Molly, after everything they've been through, I think they're grown up enough to decide what bed they want to sleep in, regardless of their ages."

Harry was proud of the way Arthur was defending them and treating them like adults. He finally looked up and saw Molly looking at them both tearfully. "They shouldn't be grown up yet," she said with a trembling voice.

Arthur lovingly took her hands in his. "I know. Believe me, I know. But we can't keep them from growing up, and if they're going to be sharing the same bed, even if they're really just sleeping and nothing else, I'd prefer we know about it rather than make them feel like they have to hide things from us."

She nodded and then spoke to Harry and Ginny. "I'm- I'm sorry. He's right, it's just- it's so hard to believe that the two of you are grown up. With everything that's happened… it's just so, so hard to believe. But… I do trust you, and I don't want the two of you to have to sneak around."

Harry was surprised. "Thanks, Mum," Ginny said, and Harry nodded his agreement.

"That really means a lot," he said quietly, very appreciative of the trust they were placing in him. Molly just smiled briefly at them both before her and Arthur went back upstairs. Harry and Ginny stayed at the kitchen table.

Harry let out a breath he didn't know he was holding. "Merlin, that was terrifying," he whispered, and Ginny laughed.

"You defeated Riddle and you're scared of my parents?"

He nodded. "Terrified."

Ginny grinned at him. "Good thing you're super brave and had your heroic girlfriend to protect you." Harry laughed with her, and they began their day earlier than usual, relieved that they had approval from Molly and Arthur that they definitely weren't expecting.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Ginny had seen one of his panic attacks before, and she'd been scared then. She was even more terrified when Harry's shakes and moans woke her up. She quickly turned to look at Harry, terrified when she saw his shaking, sweating body. He was gasping for air and moaning out something that might have been words. She tried to remember exactly what Bill told her, and she straddled Harry to get a firm grip on his shoulders.

"Harry, it's going to be okay. Hey, babe, calm down. I've got you," she said in what she hoped was a soothing enough voice.

"Gin- Gin- not Ginny- please- NOOOOO!"

Harry jerked awake, but his eyes were moving wildly, like he was trying to remember where he was. Ginny held on tightly, using sheer willpower to keep her tears from falling, seeing Harry in this state. "Harry, you're okay. I've got you, Harry, just breathe. Shhh. It's going to be okay, just breathe. I love you, Harry, you're going to be okay."

His breathing slowed, and he was okay. Ginny was so relieved that she wasn't even that bothered when her parents caught them in bed together. She was outraged at her mother treating them like they were children, but Ginny was still focused on holding onto Harry. Besides, her dad did a good job defending them, and he somehow- she still wasn't quite sure how- managed to convince her mum that it was okay for them to share a bed together.

The rest of the day passed without incident, and Amelia responded to their owl to let them know that she could come over tomorrow afternoon. Ginny was very pleased that night when Harry came straight into her room rather than swapping with Hermione after everyone went to bed. He did still seem a little wary of being caught by Charlie though. It was lucky for them that he'd decided to stay upstairs with Percy and George rather than move into the newly vacated room across the landing from Ginny's room.

He crawled into bed with her and asked, "Are you okay? After what happened this morning?"

She rolled over to look at him. "Honestly? It scared me, but I was just scared that I wasn't going to be able to wake you up."

He nodded, looking a little sad. "I'm sorry you had to go through that. I wouldn't blame you if you wanted me to stay upstairs and make Ron deal with me."

She shook her head. "Not a chance, Potter. You're my problem, and I'm very happy to deal with you."

He smiled at her. "You're the best. I actually calmed down faster with you than I have been with Bill."

She smiled back, pleased with herself. "Bill thought that might happen. It must have something to do with your undying love for me," she said, dramatically exaggerating that last part with a grin.

Harry pulled her close. "It must." Ginny fell asleep easily in Harry's arms, and they slept soundly through the night.

The next morning, Harry woke Ginny up gently, bringing her downstairs for a breakfast he and Charlie made after a lengthy wake-up snog. They passed the day lazily until Amelia came in the early afternoon. Harry had asked Ginny to stay there for the appointment, so the three of them sat outside on the bench. Ginny liked the informality of it all- it felt much more likely that Harry would open up about things in a place he was comfortable with.

"How are you doing, Harry?" Amelia asked.

He shrugged. "It's complicated. I'm doing really well mostly, but the panic attacks are still a problem."

Amelia nodded, pulling out her pad of paper and pen that she'd told Ginny about last time they saw her. "How many panic attacks have you had since the last time you saw me?"

"Three," he said, and Ginny frowned, only knowing about two of them. Amelia nodded. "Can you tell me when they were and generally what they were about?"

"I had one last Monday, which was… nine days ago. I'd been to a funeral, and the father of the girl who died told me it was my fault that she was dead. I went into one almost immediately where everyone that died during the battle was blaming me for their deaths. Then on Friday, I had one in the morning before we went to a funeral. I was remembering something… really traumatic that happened that involved that person." Ginny frowned, knowing that they'd gone to Snape's funeral on that day. Harry's panic attack must've involved his death or what he'd seen in Snape's memories.

He continued, "Then the night before last, I had a nightmare that turned into a panic attack. I dreamed that Vold- Riddle killed everyone that I loved in front of me, and I couldn't move or do anything to stop it."

Amelia was writing everything down, but Ginny saw that she'd paled listening to the horrors that were haunting Harry. It was hard enough for Ginny to listen to it all, and she actually understood exactly what Harry was talking about. She couldn't imagine how difficult it must've been to process from an outside perspective.

"And I don't think you ever told me the circumstances surrounding your first two, just what you saw."

"The first one I had was the first morning we spent here after we left Hogwarts, and the second one was late at night after a really difficult funeral," Harry answered.

Amelia tapped her chin with the end of the pen a few times, trying to think about how to proceed. "So I think there's some good news and some bad news in this. The good news is that you're on your longest stretch without a panic attack while you've been awake since the battle. It sounds to me like all of the panic attacks you've had while you were awake were somehow tied to some sort of event happening. Your waking attacks have been associated with changes in your environment- like having a panic attack your first morning away from everything- and funerals. Over the next few weeks and months, those sorts of triggers should become less common, but it is still possible that there will be random things that take you back there, and you'll have to be prepared for that possibility.

"The thing that concerns me more are your nightmares. Have you ever had nightmares like that before?"

Harry squeezed Ginny's hand as he grimaced. "Erm- sort of. It happened a lot the summer after my fourth year when I saw- well, Riddle killed Cedric Diggory in front of me, and I had nightmares about it for most of the summer. My cousin told me that I cried in my sleep, begging Riddle to spare Cedric. But I don't know that I've ever had any nightmares that were quite as- real, I guess, as a panic attack."

Harry hadn't ever told Ginny about those nightmares he'd had about Cedric before. She supposed there was still a lot that she didn't know about his past- they'd always been friendly but weren't really good friends until the year after Cedric had died. She also suspected that his cousin hadn't been as gentle about telling him about his nightmares as Harry made it sound, which pissed her off quite a bit.

Amelia had frowned and written down something else in her pad. "I remember hearing about that. Of course, at the time, it was denied that he had anything to do with it, but the word still got around. I'm so sorry you had to see that." Harry just nodded, clearly not having anything to say to that.

Amelia continued, "Has anything significant changed in your life between when you had your last waking attack and the nightmare? The nightmares weren't an issue before, and I'm wondering if a change in circumstances has changed the way your brain is trying to process things."

Ginny watched as Harry smiled and looked at her. She smiled back at him, knowing what he was going to say. "Well, I told my girlfriend I loved her for the first time."

Ginny quickly added, "I said I loved him too." As if that wasn't already obvious.

Amelia smiled briefly at them both. "Well congratulations to the two of you, that's fantastic. However… there is a good chance that has something to do with the nightmares."

Seeing the alarmed look on Ginny's face, she quickly raised her hand. "I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it; in fact, I think it'll be very good for the way Harry processes things, long term. But his mind has also started creating scenarios in his dreams where he is unable to protect you while you die. It's very encouraging that his waking panic attacks seem to be slowing, but I am slightly concerned that his nightmares are going to take their place, and it may take longer to identify the triggers associated with them."

"So is there anything we can do to try and keep them from happening right now?" Harry asked, with concern evident in his voice.

Amelia bobbed her head a little as she thought about how to answer that. "Yes and no. Continue being open with your thoughts and feelings. If something is troubling you about the trauma you've experienced, tell somebody, whether it's me, Ginny, a close friend. Doing that has already allowed part of this to run its course. If the waking ones are truly just tied to events that take you back to the battle, it's much easier to protect against those. With the nightmares, my hope is that they're few and far between and we'll be able to find some distinctive triggers. Until that happens, I'd advise sleeping with somebody who can wake you up close by. But it's difficult for us to do much more until we really know what we're trying to fight against."

Ginny and Harry both nodded. Ginny wished there was more they could do to help Harry right now with his nightmares, but it was encouraging that Amelia felt like his waking panic attacks would be more infrequent now. Plus, with his nightmares, they basically had a Healer's encouragement to continue sharing the same bed, which was nice to have in her back pocket in case her mother changed her mind about their sleeping arrangements again.

"Thanks, Amelia," Harry said. "Are you sure I can't pay you?"

She smiled and shook her head. "Believe me, Harry, it makes me feel good knowing I'm helping, even if I'm not doing much right now. I'm still trying to learn about all this myself, but I'm very encouraged by your progress so far. Just send me another owl in the next week or two if the waking or sleeping attacks continue, and we'll go from there."

She told them goodbye, stopping inside briefly to speak to Ginny's mum before leaving. Ginny rubbed Harry's arm. "What are you thinking?" she asked, seeing that he looked lost in thought.

"Just that I hope she's right about the waking ones slowing down. I wish there was more I could do for the nightmares though."

Ginny squeezed his arm. "You've still got me to help with those."

Harry smiled. "I don't know how I ever got so lucky."

"Ditto," Ginny quickly responded.

A moment later, she asked the question she'd remembered. "You didn't tell me you had a panic attack before Snape's funeral."

Harry frowned. "It actually wasn't that bad, at least compared to some of the other ones. I was just back in his memories, hearing his and Dumbledore's conversation about how I had to die. Believe it or not, Snape thought it was wrong."

"He did?" Ginny asked. Snape had always hated Harry, and while she didn't think he'd ever actually want Harry dead, she would've guessed he'd want that over protesting against Harry's seemingly inevitable death.

"Yeah. He accused Dumbledore of- he said Dumbledore was raising me like- like a pig for slaughter, kept alive until I could die at the right moment."

Ginny winced. "What did Dumbledore say?"

Harry just shook his head. "He didn't really say anything. He already believed that I'd have a chance at survival if I willingly sacrificed myself, but he couldn't let anybody know. I couldn't have any possible hope that I'd live."

Ginny hugged Harry tightly. They sat like that for a long time, not needing to say anything, both knowing that each other's presence was enough.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Honestly, the meeting with Amelia went better than Harry had expected. She'd told him not to expect some magical cure to the issue right away, so he had pretty low expectations coming into it. He definitely was surprised that she thought the waking attacks would continue slowing down, and even though the nightmares were awful, it was nice that at least part of the problem was potentially being resolved. He still wished there was something more he could do, just so Ginny wouldn't have to be so scared if he had another panic attack in his sleep, but she'd seemed more than willing to help him however she could.

Thankfully though, for the next two nights, Harry didn't have any nightmares. The days were passing much easier than they had for the previous couple of weeks. He was enjoying all the time he was getting to spend with Ron, Hermione, and especially Ginny. George had his good days and his bad days. Some days he would stay in the public areas and might even make a dry joke or two. Other days, like today, George stayed in his room. He'd let Ginny in from time to time, but he still preferred to be alone most of the time. Arthur, Percy, and Charlie had all been going into the Ministry for the past few days. Harry was surprised when they returned for dinner on Friday evening because they brought a visitor- Kingsley Shacklebolt.

Kingsley looked exhausted, not that Harry was surprised. He didn't think being Minister for Magic would be an easy job at any time, especially when dealing with the fallout of the battle. Kingsley still greeted everyone warmly though when they sat down for dinner.

"How are things at the Ministry, Kingsley?" Molly asked after the food had been served.

He sighed. "Ups and downs, Molly. It seems like everybody is trying to use the chaos to further their own agendas, and I'm doing my best to keep things as orderly as possible while the new Ministry is built up."

"Any progress on catching the missing Death Eaters?" Harry wondered aloud.

Kingsley shook his head. "They've all done well getting underground. Our contacts that might've had information on them are either all dead or have no news, so our Aurors are starting from scratch. But we don't think it's likely they'll be trying anything anytime soon, and the longer they wait, the better chance we have of catching them."

Harry frowned but nodded, wishing there had been a more positive update. "Is it possible they've left the country?" Hermione asked.

Kingsley nodded. "It's definitely possible, but I'd consider it unlikely. The problem is if they did go abroad, none of the Ministries for Magic on the continent are really too inclined to help us search for them."

"Why not?" Ginny asked quickly.

"The previous administration was a shadow government for Riddle. The one before that wasn't in power long enough to do anything, and Fudge's administration was laughably weak and ineffectual, while also being incredibly prideful and isolationist. Basically, Fudge alienated a lot of Ministries, and the ones that were still on good terms with us have been soured by the Thicknesse administration."

"But they have to know this is better than when Riddle was running things," Ron argued.

"I agree. We're doing our best to re-establish connections with several different Ministries on the continent, but we're spread thin. A lot of people are still reluctant to leave their houses, not fully convinced that the danger has passed. There are also Muggle-borns hiding around the country that we're trying to find to let them know that it's safe for them to return to society."

Harry was a little confused. "But Riddle's dead. There were loads of witnesses."

Kingsley nodded sadly. "The problem is rumours have corrupted a lot of the story, and even though the Daily Prophet has reported a fairly accurate summary of everything being over, not very many people trust it after it's changed its stance on you and Riddle so many times over the last few years. Not to mention this isn't the first time Riddle's disappeared."

"Is there something the Ministry can do to make people aware that the danger is really gone?" Ginny asked.

Kingsley smiled a little. "Actually, now that you mention it, there is. We've been planning to have a memorial on the second of June at Hogwarts to honour all those who gave their lives at the battle. It's so soon after the battle that we're sure it'll be incredibly impactful and a moving tribute to all the heroes."

"But how does that let the public know that things are okay?" Harry inquired.

Kingsley looked at him. "Well, we were hoping-"

Hermione cut in: "You want Harry to make some sort of public appearance?"

Harry widened his eyes a little and looked at Kingsley who looked like he'd been caught. "Ah… yes, sort of. I was hoping that Harry would be willing to speak at the memorial. I read the speech he gave at Colin Creevey's funeral. It was very powerful, and I think it would be moving to have a similarly stirring speech at the memorial."

Harry had to admit that he was surprised. He didn't think Kingsley would've tried to put him in this position. Ginny rubbed his leg, and Harry exhaled, doing his best to stay calm. "That speech was on the front page of the Prophet. People already saw it. I don't think there's any need for me to give another speech."

Kingsley shook his head. "Like I said, nobody believes the Prophet right now. If you do deliver a speech, I plan on broadcasting it across the Wizarding Wireless Network so that everyone can hear the speech, directly from you."

Harry pressed his lips together. This was uncomfortably familiar to a conversation he'd had with a previous Minister. "You know, Rufus Scrimgeour once tried to get me to be a puppet for the Ministry too. I didn't like the idea very much then, and I haven't changed my stance on it since." Next to Kingsley, Percy visibly blanched at the way Harry was speaking, and he noticed Charlie looking at him with narrow eyes.

Kingsley held up his hand. "I'm sorry I gave you that impression, Harry. It's your decision if you choose to accept, and I don't want myself or the Ministry to have any input on your speech if you do decide to deliver one. I just know how important it is for people to hear something like this from you. For years, you've been the symbol of the resistance to Riddle, and the one thing everybody's heard, whether they believe it or not, is that you defeated him in a duel at Hogwarts. Hearing from you that the war is over would go a long way towards easing people's doubts and fears. I'm not asking you to make a decision right now. Take all the time you need to decide. I just wanted you to know that the platform is there for you to say your piece, publicly, about everything at the memorial."

Harry nodded and Ginny squeezed his leg comfortingly. "I'll think about it." Kingsley smiled thinly and nodded, seemingly knowing Harry wasn't going to give him anything more positive after the reaction he'd had. The rest of the dinner passed without any more conversation about politics or the Ministry, and when Kingsley left, Harry wandered out to the porch. Within moments, Ginny, Hermione, and Ron had joined him outside.

"So are you gonna do it?" Ron asked, straight to the point.

Harry shrugged. "I'm not sure yet."

"Kingsley's not trying to treat you like Scrimgeour did, Harry," Hermione said.

"I know he says he's not, Hermione, but it just bothers me that I feel like he's still wanting to use me as a puppet for the Ministry," Harry responded, shaking his head.

"But at least you know he's on your side, right? He's not like Fudge or Scrimgeour. He wouldn't turn on you and make you out to be the bad guy if you disagreed with him," Ron reasoned.

"I think Kingsley's on the Ministry's side now," Harry responded cynically.

Hermione shook her head. "You can't keep thinking of the Ministry as your enemy, Harry. I know there's been some awful things that have come out of there, but you know Kingsley. He's a good man and cares about doing the right thing."

"For crying out loud, I know, Hermione! The Ministry made damn sure I'll never forget what came out of there," he exclaimed, showing her the back of his hand and the permanent scars left there by Dolores Umbridge.

"Harry-" Hermione started to say, clearly hurt.

"What does it matter what the Ministry wants?" Ginny interrupted her to ask. Harry frowned at her, not understanding. She continued, "Kingsley said he didn't want to have any input on your speech. He just wants people to be able to hear from you. You're the one who gets to decide what you say. Who cares if it's at a Ministry event? All people are going to hear are your words."

"But the Ministry-" Harry began but Ginny cut him off too.

"No, Harry. The Ministry may try to make you their puppet again at some point and put words in your mouth, but that's not what's happening this time. They're letting you say whatever you want, and I think you should take advantage of that. If you say what you believe, the Ministry's going to have a hard time going against that. I don't think you understand just how important you are right now. You're easily the most influential wizard in Britain, and the Ministry is freely giving you a chance to say whatever you want and let people know what you think is right. This opportunity won't come around often."

Harry frowned and ran his hand through his hair. It made sense, he had to admit. He still didn't like that the Ministry was affiliated with it, but thinking more on just what Kingsley had said, it did seem like an opportunity without any obvious catch.

"She's right," Hermione added, in case Harry wanted her second opinion.

Harry nodded. "She usually is." Ginny smiled at him, and he sent a letter to Kingsley that night accepting the offer to give a speech at the memorial.

That night in bed, Harry kissed Ginny softly as she drifted off to sleep. Her eyes fluttered back open. "What was that for?" she asked, smiling dreamily.

He smiled back at her. "Add it to the list- you help me see reason when my emotions get the best of me."

She snorted. "I thought you did that with me."

"I guess we do it for each other," he whispered, kissing her once more.

"I love you," Ginny whispered back to him, and he responded easily.

"I love you more."

They fell asleep, as usual, holding each other, and Harry thought his dreams couldn't be any better than his reality. Nothing was better than being able to finally live in love.

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

A/N: I promised more fluff and happiness in this chapter, and I think (?) I delivered. It was really important to me to have a chapter with significantly less stress right after the last one, and I also wanted to take some time to show Harry and Ginny sort of revelling in their newly declared love. Obviously, everything I'm writing is centred on their love and romance, but I knew it would be especially important to see them immediately after saying they loved each other for the first time.

It was a bit of an interesting exercise for me to identify the points where Harry and Ginny realised that they had feelings for each other and loved each other. Harry sort of explains exactly my thought process for him realising his feelings for Ginny. I felt like the easy answer would've been him and Ron running into her and Dean kissing after practice, but I think he would've been introspective after that moment and realised that it had started earlier. There was also another important reason for making that decision, but I can't say much more about it right now… sorry, authors have to keep some secrets! I wanted his realisation of when he loved her to be right after their first kiss because I really do think he was head over heels for her already, and I had the perfect moment already written in Ginny's memory in Chapter 6. It's so ridiculous, but it also feels totally in character. For Ginny, I thought it was really adorable to imagine that, for just a moment, she had a crush on Harry even before she found out who he was. And as far as when she realised she loved him, I felt like she might've been slightly less committal on it just because she had significantly more dating experience than Harry, and she probably did love him from the moment they got together, but the memory of Harry and her promising to be together forever in Chapter 4 really stuck with me as the moment that made perfect sense for her to know for sure that she loved him.

I made up Ginny's Amortentia smell, but it wasn't really that hard, considering it follows a formula like Harry's. My headcanon (I say this because I'm not 100% sure if this is actual canon or not and don't really feel like combing through every book to verify right now) is that Ginny loves chocolate… like *loves* chocolate. She'd definitely smell a Quaffle, which I imagine smells quite a bit like an American football if that helps anyone, and then I just needed a scent for Harry. HP wiki says the Firebolt is made of ebony wood, and that has a very nice scent I could easily associate with Harry, so that's what I went with. As a tiny teaser, literally every moment mentioned in that scene- on the Hogwarts Express, Ron and Harry catching Ginny with Dean, Ginny smelling Amortentia for the first time, Harry breaking up with her at Dumbledore's funeral, and seeing Harry for the first time- all have memories written for them that will appear at some point in this book or the next one. For anyone interested, I've written almost 70 memories, or about 63k words, spanning every year from when Ginny was 5 to the very end of the Battle of Hogwarts, and I've still got a long list of memory ideas to write at some point. Long, long term, I plan on compiling them all chronologically and releasing them as some sort of anthology for anyone who just wants to read Ginny's life story before SoR started.

I'll be honest- the tiny scene of Ron asking about the similarity between Blaze and Blaise is something I wrote about a week ago because someone pointed out that similarity in a comment. I don't modify the story based on comments, to be clear; the only reason I added it was because I remembered back when I was deciding on the Blaze nickname, I had thought about the similarity to Blaise and had decided to have a small scene like this basically showing that Ginny likes it regardless, and then I completely forgot about it until I saw people mentioning it. I was just glad I had a very easy place to slide it in, and I hope that my writing style hasn't changed so much that it's noticeable that it was a late addition.

Harry's development of nightmares in relation to changes in his emotional state was something very intentionally planned by me when I first decided to explore him working through panic attacks. As I've said before, I'm not a doctor and I don't play one on TV; I do research in order to try and represent things like this as accurately as possible. Harry isn't out of the woods with it all yet, but it's incredibly important that he's getting the help he needs, even if it's at the insistence of Ginny and Molly.

That does it for Living in Love! I really hope you all enjoyed this mostly happy chapter! I'm very excited for you all to read the next chapter for several reasons (none bad), so don't freak out when you see the chapter title…

Coming Tuesday: Panicking and Healing- "I know Riddle's gone for good, but that- that doesn't stop him from returning in my dreams."

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Chapter 17: Panicking and Healing

"I know Riddle's gone for good, but that- that doesn't stop him from returning in my dreams."

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

He looked over the crowd of people, pleased to see their encouraging faces. He breathed to steady himself and looked one last time at Ginny before beginning his speech. Behind her, a tall, thin, cloaked figure rose, binding her and levitating her in front of everyone. Ginny tried to fight, but everyone else watched in fear.

He couldn't believe what he was seeing as the cloaked figure pulled back his hood. "You thought you won, Harry?" the high, cold voice of Voldemort asked, sneering at him as he tossed Ginny up in the air.

"Please, don't hurt her," he whispered desperately, unable to move as Ginny screamed in terror.

Voldemort's smile grew wider. "Oh, I'm going to do much worse than hurt her, Harry. I'm going to make you watch as she begs for death. And I, being a merciful lord, will give her that gift, eventually. Did you really think I was gone? I'll always come back. You'll never be rid of me. Your loved ones will never be safe because Lord Voldemort always wins in the end."

He raised his wand, pointing it at the trembling body of Ginny, now on the ground in front of him. "
Crucio!" he shouted.

Ginny was on top of him, begging him to calm down. "Please Harry. You're okay. Nothing's happening, I've got you. I love you, please wake up. Come back to me."

He blinked, breathing deeply again. "Gin?"

She threw herself on him, hugging him tightly. "Are you okay?" she whispered, and Harry could feel a wet spot on his shoulder where her head was resting. She'd been crying, watching him dealing with another nightmare.

"I- I am now. Are you okay?"

She nodded against him. "I just get so scared, seeing you like that."

He kissed her gently. "I'm sorry. I wish there was something I could do-"

"You're doing everything you can. I still want to be here, as scary as it gets."

He smiled slightly, grateful for her wanting to always be there for him. "Was I screaming again?" he asked.

She shook her head. "No, you just kept saying my name."

He grimaced, remembering the nightmare vividly. "I dreamed I was about to give the speech at the memorial when Riddle showed up. He- he said he wouldn't ever be gone, and he was going to make me watch him torture you. I woke up right as he cast the Cruciatus. I know he's gone and won't ever be back, but it- fuck, Gin, it feels so real, every time."

She looked at him sadly, rubbing his chest gently. "I'm so sorry, love. It's not fair that you have to be dealing with this. But you know he's gone, and I'm not going anywhere."

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before nodding. "I know." He suddenly realised that it was still dark in Ginny's room. "Merlin, what time is it?" he asked.

Ginny shrugged. "Not sure. All I know is it's not time for you to get up yet," she said, wrapping herself around him as if to make sure he couldn't leave her.

"I love you," Harry whispered.

She kissed his cheek. "I love you more." He smiled and fell back asleep, wondering how it was possible for her to love him more.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Harry's panic attack had once again scared Ginny awake, and even though it looked like he was trapped in another terrible dream, at least he didn't scream this time. Maybe that was a sign of progress they could tell Amelia about at the next appointment. He slept peacefully the next night too and was in a very good mood that day. Andromeda brought Teddy over to dinner again, and they were both very happy to spend plenty of time with him.

Ginny found herself watching Harry again when he was holding Teddy. He was continually becoming more comfortable with it, and Teddy seemed very taken with him. Today, Teddy had started changing his hair to match the colour of whoever was holding him, so right now, it was jet black. Harry was smiling at Teddy and tickling him, and when Teddy giggled, Harry looked so pleased with himself that it was absolutely adorable to watch.

"What?" Harry asked with a smile when he noticed Ginny looking at them.

She just shook her head. "The two of you are very cute."

Harry grinned and leaned down to Teddy. "You hear that Teddy? That gorgeous witch over there thinks we're cute! Can you believe that?"

Teddy looked up at Harry and giggled once more. Harry laughed with him. "Now don't get any ideas, mate. There will be loads of pretty witches interested in you one day, but that one's mine."

Ginny leaned over to kiss Harry's cheek before wrapping one arm around him and another under Teddy. "I love my two boys," she said quietly, and Harry smiled so sweetly at her that she couldn't help it and kissed him again.

At dinner, Ginny's dad asked Andromeda if she'd seen the Prophet. "No, I stopped subscribing to that rag almost a year ago." Ginny saw a small smile of pride on Harry's face, knowing that the primary reason someone would've cancelled their subscription to the Prophet then would be because they disagreed with what it was saying about Harry.

"Oh- I don't know if you've heard then, but your sister is going to be going on trial before the Wizengamot next month." Ginny's dad said cautiously.

"Which sister?" Andromeda asked, and Ginny's eyes widened as she looked over to her mum, who had gone incredibly pale.

"Narcissa, of course," he answered before glancing over to his wife.

Andromeda nodded and Hermione fumbled over her words a little, saying, "Umm- you do know- about your sister? Your other sister?"

"What about Bellatrix?" Andromeda asked, becoming stony-faced at the mention of the two sisters who disowned her.

Hermione opened her mouth to answer, but it seemed like she got choked up and couldn't tell Andromeda the truth. "She's dead," Ron said simply when Hermione couldn't answer.

Andromeda's face softened slightly in surprise. "Oh. I- I didn't know about that. And that- that happened at the battle?" Everyone around the table nodded. They all knew exactly how she died.

They sat quietly for a moment, nobody really looking at anybody else. It felt so uncomfortable, and it became even more uncomfortable when Ginny's mum said with a shaky voice, "You should know… it was me that- that did it."

Ginny winced hearing her mother describe it like that. Andromeda looked at her sadly, and Ginny felt the need to interject. "She was fighting me, Hermione, and Luna. My mum stepped in after Bellatrix nearly killed me."

Andromeda turned towards Ginny as Harry gently rested his hand on her leg. Andromeda's face was sad, but Ginny realised that she felt sympathetic to their troubles as well as her own. "I'm sorry you all went through that. Thank you for telling me. But… to be honest, I lost my sister a long, long time ago. This hurts less than it did the first time."

Ginny found herself amazed at the grace and kindness of the older woman. She couldn't imagine what it would've been like to have a sibling as evil as Bellatrix Lestrange, but Andromeda had already lost so much. It was a wonder that she was still holding things together and taking such good care of Teddy.

"So the trial?" Andromeda asked Ginny's dad, trying to keep people's minds off death and guilt.

"Oh, right. It'll be sometime in the middle of June. All the arrested people with… Death Eater affiliations are going to be tried by the Wizengamot before being sentenced."

Andromeda nodded. After a few more moments of silence, they all stood to move into the living room, but Ginny watched as Andromeda lingered behind to give her mum a reassuring hug. Her mum seemed on the verge of tears, and Ginny thought it was very sweet of Andromeda to make sure her mum was okay.

They eventually all made their way into the sitting room, and Ginny was holding Teddy when she noticed Ron looking at her curiously. "What is it?" she asked.

He shrugged. "I'm just surprised at how good you are with him." Ginny feigned offence at that, but Ron just rolled his eyes.

"Do you wanna hold him and see how good you are with a baby?" Ginny asked, and Ron could barely keep the fear off his face. Ginny and Harry both laughed. "Next time then," she said. On the other hand, when George came downstairs from his room, just like last week, he was very eager to hold Teddy. There weren't a lot of things that were making George smile right now, but he seemed very happy when he was around Teddy, especially when Teddy changed his hair to match George's. At least one of Ginny's brothers wasn't afraid of babies.

The next day, an owl came for Ginny and Harry. It was from Emily Brooks' parents, letting them know that she was awake and they were welcome to visit. Excited but slightly nervous, they apparated to the back entrance of St. Mungo's the following day. After they made it through the dumpster and into the Spell Damage Ward, Harry squeezed her hand, obviously having seen the apprehensive look on Ginny's face.

"It'll be okay. I'm right here with you," he promised, and Ginny nodded before they knocked on the door to Emily's room.

Her father opened the door, smiling slightly when he saw them. "Thank you for coming. She'll be very glad to see both of you."

When they walked in, Ginny was surprised that there weren't any real visible indications that she was injured, other than the fact that she was in a hospital bed. She was sitting up in bed reading the Daily Prophet, surprisingly, and Ginny could see that the headline on the front page said something about Kingsley. At least it wasn't Harry on the front page for once.

Emily looked up from the paper and smiled at Ginny. "Hi Emily," Ginny said quietly.

"Hi Ginny!" Emily responded enthusiastically. Ginny was glad to see that the hospital and her injuries hadn't taken away any of Emily's youthful vibrancy. Emily's jaw dropped as she saw Harry walking in behind Ginny.

"You're Harry Potter," she whispered, and Harry chuckled awkwardly.

"Last time I checked," he responded.

"But- what are you doing in my room?" Emily asked, still looking in awe at Harry.

He smiled an extremely warm smile, and Ginny felt a new rush of love for him. "I wanted to see you. Ginny told me you were at the battle, and I thought I should come see one of the bravest heroes of Hogwarts."

Emily blushed but frowned. "I'm not a hero. I didn't beat a single Death Eater."

Harry stepped closer to her bed. "You know, someone much smarter than me told me once that it's our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. You were supposed to leave Hogwarts-" Emily blushed again "- but you made the brave choice to stay behind and fight for what you believed in. That's pretty heroic to me."

Ginny marvelled at how easily Harry made Emily feel good about herself. There was something so attractive and amazing about his kindness and ability to relate with her. Emily grinned at him. "But you were a hero too. A real hero. I read what they said about you in the newspaper."

Harry smiled a little. "You can't always believe what you read," he said quietly, and Ginny cut in.

"But everything in the Daily Prophet was pretty accurate. He just doesn't like being told that he's a hero."

"But you killed You-Know-Who!" Emily protested, and Harry grimaced a little. Ginny swiftly put her hand on his to comfort him, and his smile returned almost immediately. That distracted Emily, who stared wide-eyed at their hands. "Is he really your boyfriend?" she asked Ginny.

Ginny smiled brightly. "If he isn't, I'd like to know just how much he kisses his actual girlfriend."

Harry chuckled and kissed her quickly. "I wouldn't have any more time in the day if I was kissing someone more than you."

Emily was beaming at them both. "I knew you weren't broken up!" she said happily, pumping her fist.

Ginny giggled. "I guess we didn't keep that secret very well."

They spent an hour with Emily before telling her goodbye and promising to come visit again. Emily's mum walked them out. "Have the Healers changed their opinion of her outlook at all?" Ginny asked once they left the room.

She shook her head sadly. "Everything in her body is completely healthy, other than her spine. There's so much nerve damage that they think it's unlikely she'll walk again."

"I'm so sorry," Ginny said sympathetically, wishing there was more she could do.

Mrs. Brooks nodded thankfully. "We're doing our best to manage. It's not always easy, but today was very good for her. You have no idea how much it meant for the two of you to visit; she's always talking about one or both of you."

"Let us know when we can come back again, or if there's anything else we can do to help," Harry requested, and Mrs. Brooks nodded again.

"Thank you both so much."

She gave them both a brief hug before reentering Emily's room. Ginny took Harry's hand and started walking toward the exit, but she stopped when Harry slowed down, looking at a directory for the hospital.

He tapped the description of the Ground Floor. "St. Mungo's Admissions Department. Come with me," he said without any further explanation. Ginny followed, curious why he wanted to go there, as they took a back staircase to the ground floor. When they found the door to the Admissions Department, Harry walked in without hesitation.

A thin, balding wizard at the front desk looked up, startled that someone had entered so abruptly, and then he became even more startled when he saw that that person was Harry Potter. "Is this where the hospital's money and bills are handled?" Harry asked.

The wizard nodded meekly and wordlessly pointed to a sign reading Financial Office. Harry nodded his thanks and walked into that office, where a well-dressed witch with short brown hair was poring over documents in front of her. She didn't even look up when they entered.

"Excuse me," Harry said after a moment. The witch finally looked up, and, though her eyebrows raised slightly and her eyes flicked towards Harry's scar, she gave no other indication that she recognized him.

"How can I help you?" she asked brusquely.

"I was wanting to know if it was possible to pay for the medical expenses of a patient here. I don't even know if she has expenses, but she's been here for almost a month, and I wanted to find out."

Ginny beamed internally with pride at her boyfriend, who truly was the most selfless person she'd ever met.

"What's the patient's name?" the finance witch asked.

"Emily Brooks."

She looked through a couple documents before finding what she was looking for. "Miss Brooks does have some expenses that she or her family will be responsible for paying, and if she continues staying for more than a week or two more, those expenses will rise."

"Take the money for it out of my Gringotts account," Harry said without hesitation.

"Are you sure? I can go over the expenses with you first if you'd like," the witch said in a more kind and reasonable tone than she'd used before.

"I'm sure. The amount doesn't matter. Just tell them they didn't have any expenses to worry about," Harry responded, giving her this vault information before they left the witch looking rather impressed with Harry.

When they stepped out of the dumpster, Ginny stopped Harry before he could disapparate. "You're really incredible, you know?"

He blushed. "It's just money, Gin. If it helps them out, it's worth it."

She shook her head in amazement, stunned that he didn't understand just how fantastic what he'd done was. "I love you. Never change," she said, kissing him softly before they returned to the Burrow, where she spent much of the rest of the day showing Harry just how impressed she was with his selflessness at the hospital.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

Smoke clouded the sky and the smell of burning flesh and blood clogged his nostrils, making it difficult to breathe. He forced his body forward against its will, desperately begging to turn around. Take a step. Breathe. Take another step. Don't forget to breathe while you still can. Everything clawed at his senses, reminding him how beautiful life was, even in the tragedy of a battle like this one.

He steeled himself, walking on while his heart tried to squeeze a lifetime's worth of beats into the short walk to its end. He was so focused on remembering to breathe that he almost missed the girl crouched on the ground near him. "It's going to be alright," she said though her voice broke, holding the hand of a crying, injured girl.

For some reason, he felt himself drawn to the scene. Nobody would know he was there, and if it prolonged his short life for a few extra moments, it was worth it. He inched closer to the two girls. Suddenly, he saw the red hair splayed on the ground. Broken legs and a twisted torso made him nauseous, but he couldn't look away. He crumpled to the ground in agony, seeing Ginny succumbing to her injuries in front of him.

"I always win, Harry," the high, cold voice of Voldemort reminded him. Harry looked up and saw the snakelike man sneering at him. He didn't bother resisting, didn't want to resist. He just wanted to be with her. Voldemort's lips moved, and he thought he saw Ginny running towards him, beckoning him towards her. There was a flash of green light, and everything went dark.


Harry's eyes opened, and, once again, Ginny was on top of him almost immediately. Her eyes were closed and a tear leaked out of one of them. "I love you, Harry. You're going to be okay. I love you. I love you. Please be okay. Wake up. I love you."

Harry felt his heart breaking as he reached up to touch her face and wipe the tear away. She opened her eyes quickly, looking relieved when she saw that his breathing had slowed and he was aware of his surroundings again. "I love you too," he said softly. She was on him desperately then, kissing every inch of his face and neck.

He chuckled while she was nibbling on his earlobe. "If this is the reward I get every time I have one of these, I'm never gonna learn to stop."

She pushed up off him slightly, holding her head just above his. "That's just the reward you get for being you, with or without the panic attacks."

He smiled. "I really love you, Gin." She answered by kissing him again before rolling off him and onto the bed. He noticed that light had just begun peeking into her room.

"I don't think I'm gonna get any more sleep," he told her.

She sighed and nodded. "Better beat Charlie downstairs then," she whispered, already yawning as sleep pulled at her again. He chuckled and kissed her before letting himself out of her room and going downstairs. He was very surprised when he found Arthur sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of tea.

"Good morning, Harry," he said pleasantly.

"Morning," Harry responded.

Seeing the questioning look on Harry's face, Arthur explained, "I've got an early meeting with Kingsley. He's still running the Department of Magical Law Enforcement while he looks for a replacement, and he wanted to meet with all the departments under MLE today."

Harry nodded, thinking it insane that Kingsley was working two of the most difficult jobs in the world at the same time. "Are you alright, Harry? You seem a little under the weather," Arthur observed.

Harry shook his head. "My panic attacks seem to have stopped during the day, but they're happening in my nightmares now. I just had another one a few minutes ago."

Arthur nodded sympathetically, and Harry asked a question he wasn't sure there was an answer for. "When you started dating Molly- or when you realised you loved her, did that scare you at all?"

Arthur considered his question for a moment. "I don't think so, but I'm not sure I understand what you're asking. Are you scared that you might love Ginny?"

Harry quickly responded, "No, I know that I love her. She's the best thing in my life." He blushed a little as Arthur smiled at him. "But I keep having these nightmares now where she dies. My panic attacks I'd been having were all mostly things that had actually happened and my brain just interpreted in… interesting ways, but now my nightmares are things that never happened, and they terrify me. I know Riddle's gone for good, but that- that doesn't stop him from returning in my dreams."

Arthur frowned and gestured for Harry to sit down next to him. "I'm no expert, so I don't know what to tell you about your panic attacks. But I do know what you mean about having nightmares that someone you love is dying. Molly and I got married and had kids as the First War was really becoming more dangerous. There wasn't a day that went by where I wasn't terrified that I might lose any of them."

"How did you get past that?" Harry asked.

Arthur shook his head sadly. "I don't know if that's something anybody can ever truly move past. After he disappeared the first time, it was years before I stopped feeling anxious every time one of us left the house. When he came back, the nightmares slowly returned. I've seen Molly's duel with Bellatrix several times in my nightmares since the battle, and it never ends like it actually did. Now, my nightmares clearly aren't as visceral and gripping as your panic attacks, but I completely understand the feeling. There's only one thing I ever found that made me less worried."

"What?" Harry asked, desperately hoping for a solution.

Arthur smiled at him. "I let myself love and be loved. I spent as much time as I could with Molly and the kids. Even though the nightmares haven't ever completely gone away, they're fleeting compared to all the good times and memories I've had with my family. You know better than anyone, Harry, that we all must die one day. Fred- I lost my son a few weeks ago, and that's been tremendously difficult. I've had more nightmares about that than anything, and I wake up and reality is just as bad. But the one thing that's getting me through it is the good memories I made with him and being surrounded by the people I love."

Harry nodded, thinking intently about Arthur's advice. "You're really good at this… thing," Harry said, gesturing between the two of them.

Arthur chuckled. "Well, I do have a little experience being a father." Harry smiled at that, feeling very grateful that he had a father figure like Arthur in his life.

"I meant to thank you," he said suddenly. "For last week. I know you said to be discreet, but I- I truly appreciate that you're treating us like adults. I'll do everything I can to honour the trust you and Molly have put in me."

Arthur smiled and put his hand on Harry's shoulder, looking deeply into his eyes. "Molly is a very fiery woman, much like Ginny, as you know-" Harry smiled, knowing that was one of his favourite traits in his girlfriend "- and she's gone through a lot of change in the past year with the three of you being gone and… losing Fred. It's easier for her to imagine that you're all still children who need us to take care of you, and she just needed to be reminded why we love and trust you both. We see how good you've been for each other, and I don't want to do anything to discourage that. Frankly, Harry, you're such a selfless person that I really don't think you're capable of breaking our trust. And even if you or Ginny did, we would still love you."

Harry smiled again at the man who was as close to a father as he knew. Arthur added with a mischievous smile. "Ginny's brothers might not agree, though."

Harry chuckled. "Believe it or not, Bill and Ron both know. Bill surprised me by encouraging it. He said we're good for each other. And Ron… well Ron gets to share a bed with Hermione, and Ginny scared the wrackspurts out of Ron the last time he said something about us showing affection to each other."

Now Arthur chuckled with Harry. "That doesn't surprise me in the slightest. Ginny is easily the fiercest out of all her siblings, especially when she's being protective of something she cares about."

Harry nodded, lost in the memory of the blazing look on Ginny's face when she put Ron in his place when they first came to the Burrow. Arthur left soon after, and Harry shared another peaceful day with the people he loved at the Burrow, trying his best to take Arthur's advice to heart.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

"You know what we haven't done in a long time?" Ginny asked Harry while they were walking in the orchard the next day.

"I mean it's only been like ten minutes, but I'm not complaining," he said, grinning as he leaned in to kiss her again.

Once he pulled away, Ginny chuckled. "I'll always be ready for another one of those, but that's actually not what I was talking about." Harry laughed unapologetically with her before she explained, "I was actually going to say it's been forever since we've played Quidditch together."

Harry grinned, and Ginny was even more proud of herself for coming up with that idea. "That's brilliant! Let's go get Ron and Hermione!" He was like a little kid full of energy, running into the house to get his friends to come outside and play a game with him. Ginny loved this part of Harry, the one who still saw so much of the magical world with childlike wonder and got excited about things like this. Granted, she loved every part of him, but he'd had to grow up so fast, between his rough upbringing and then constantly living in mortal peril since he entered their world, so his childish side didn't emerge all that often.

Ginny entered the house a few steps behind Harry. "No," Hermione said defiantly, shaking her head for emphasis. Harry must've already asked, then.

"But Hermione-" Ron started to plead with his girlfriend, who was lounging on the couch with a book.

"No, Ron. It's always the same when we play Quidditch. I don't particularly like flying on a broom, and I definitely don't like playing Quidditch, so why would I make myself miserable?"

"Because you care about us," Ron mumbled. Hermione exhaled sharply and rolled her eyes in disgust, standing up to leave the room.

"Honestly, if after everything, I have to play Quidditch to prove how much I care, then forget it! I don't care!" She stormed up the stairs and slammed the door to Ginny's room, causing them all to wince.

Ron sighed. "She'll be fine in an hour or two. Just needs to blow off some steam," he said hopefully.

"Yeah, but now we don't have a fourth," Harry responded, frowning as he sat down where Hermione had just been sitting.

At that moment, Charlie walked down the stairs. "What the hell was that noise?" he asked.

Ginny grinned. "Found our fourth!"

"Fourth what?" Charlie asked, furrowing his brow as Ron and Ginny looked hopefully at him.

"Oh, duh," Ron said. "Charlie, do you want to play Quidditch with us?"

"Oh, I forgot that you played Quidditch," Harry stood up, much happier now that it looked like they'd have a fourth to play with.

"Charlie was a brilliant Seeker," Ron said. "Could've played for England."

Charlie shrugged. "Dragons were more interesting. Although I was still the best Seeker Hogwarts has ever seen," he bragged.

"Had seen, you mean." Ginny interjected. "Harry's taken your place as the best Seeker anybody's ever seen at Hogwarts." She did believe this fully, but a small part of her was also curious to see how both Harry and Charlie would react to that.

"Oh, I'm sure he is. I saw him on that Firebolt at the Triwizard Tournament. With a better broom than anybody else on the pitch, he probably looks way better than the competition," Charlie praised sarcastically, becoming defensive of his Quidditch reputation.

Interestingly, Harry also seemed to be a little defensive against that accusation. He responded, "They did make me the youngest Seeker in a century based on how I flew on a school broom."

Charlie nodded. "Still never played a match on anything worse than a Nimbus though, right?"

"Nope. Oh, I guess I didn't mention though- that was my first time ever flying on a broom. Professor McGonagall said you couldn't have made the catch that I did."

"You seem pretty sure of yourself," Charlie said, stepping up so he was much closer to Harry than before.

Harry shrugged, but he stood his ground. "I don't know if I'm the best. But I do know that the broom model didn't make me a good Seeker."

"Guess we'll find out," Charlie said threateningly before looking at Ron and Ginny. "Yeah, I'll play."

He walked out the door with Ron, but Ginny stayed behind with Harry. He grinned and shook his head at her. "You provoked him," he accused.

Ginny blinked innocently up at him, which made him laugh. "I have no idea what you're talking about. Although-" she leaned up to whisper this in his ear "- you bragging about your Quidditch ability was ridiculously hot." She nipped at his ear for good measure, and Harry turned extremely red. He looked back at her after she stepped away, and she assumed an innocent expression again.

He snorted and shook his head again. "You drive me wild, Ginny Weasley."

She grinned wickedly at him. "Just wait and see how wild I'll drive you after we win." She ran out the door and Harry moaned hungrily, chasing her to the orchard. Charlie had already conjured hoops on either end, and Ron was holding four Cleansweep Fives. They each took one.

"We only have a Quaffle, so no seeking competition today," Charlie said disappointedly.

"Next time we're in Diagon Alley or something, we'll get a Snitch," Ginny promised, very eager to see Harry compete against Charlie.

"What are the teams?" Ron asked.

"Well, I thought Ginny and I would be together," Harry offered.

Charlie snorted. "Gotta hide behind the only natural Chaser out here, I see."

Ginny was very happy at Harry's response. He shrugged unapologetically. "Boyfriend privileges," he responded simply, causing Charlie to roll his eyes. Not liking that reaction, Ginny pulled Harry into a deep kiss before pulling away, smiling at all three of them.

"For luck," she said, winking at Harry while Charlie glared angrily at Harry and Ron did his best to keep a neutral expression. He was really growing, apparently.

"It's on, now." Charlie growled, and they began the match.

Harry wasn't a natural Chaser, but he was still a fantastic flyer. More importantly, he was able to sense what Ginny was going to do before she did it, allowing them to stay a second ahead of Ron and Charlie. Charlie was also a great flyer, but he was flying angrily, causing him to be reckless and chase the Quaffle more than playing his position and forcing Harry or Ginny to make a mistake. On the other hand, Ron, who may have had the best mind for Quidditch out of all of them, did his best to make up for Charlie's overplays, not ever straying too far from the goal and positioning himself very well defensively to make life hard on Ginny and Harry.

Ginny and Harry's plan was simple- they played keep away from Charlie until he overcommitted, and then they'd do their best to beat Ron on a 2-on-1. This worked very well for them, allowing them to score three early goals, but Ron was still a good Keeper. When he finally saved a shot, he was able to throw the Quaffle over both their heads to Charlie, who'd been retreating from a misplay, and he was able to score easily with a head start.

When that worked for a second time, Ginny knew they had to change tactics. Instead of luring Charlie in, they'd use their flying prowess to rush at him and Ron. Neither of them had ever had to play defence as a Chaser before, and it was obvious when they didn't know how to react to Ginny and Harry's rush. They scored another four goals like that while Ron and Charlie struggled to generate offence without using their breakaway plan that had worked before.

Weasley rules were that the first to 100 points won. Ron had finally caught on to their strategy enough to stay by the goal so that he wouldn't have to retreat, but that left Charlie by himself again. Ginny had the Quaffle and rushed right at Charlie, but instead of making a move around him, she just dropped it, somehow knowing that Harry would be under her, and he was. He caught the Quaffle and fooled Ron with a headfake before scoring. Ginny and Harry were both whooping and hollering at that goal, and by that point, the score was 80-20. Both Ron and Charlie were frustrated, so Ginny and Harry were able to revert back to their first strategy of luring Charlie in to win the game.

When they landed, Charlie glared at Harry. "Doesn't prove anything about Seeking," he grumbled before both he and Ron trudged off, annoyed at the humiliation Ginny and Harry had just inflicted on them. Ginny laughed, but she stopped when she saw Harry staring at her.

"What is it?" she asked, confused at the expression on his face.

"I forgot how good you look after playing Quidditch," he answered hungrily before pressing her up against a tree. His lips crashed onto hers and Ginny felt the breath leave her body as Harry took full control of the kiss. He wasn't usually this forceful, but Ginny could tell how much she liked it by the way her body was responding to him. Without even thinking about it, she jumped into his arms, wrapping her legs around his lower back and pulling him closer to her. His hands firmly gripped her bum, and she moaned into his mouth as she ran her hands through her hair. He tore his lips away from hers and desperately started kissing and sucking on her neck and the small bit of her shoulder that was exposed under her shirt.

"Harry-" she whispered as he moved one hand up and lovingly stroked her hair, even while his mouth and other hand were still exploring her body with great enthusiasm. "Love you-" she worked out right before he put his lips back on hers. She started to reach her hand under his shirt, feeling the muscles and Harry's breathing.

"Oi! Dinner's ready!" Ron shouted from the porch. Harry regretfully pulled away from her, breathing heavily and staring intently at her face.

"You're so perfect. I love you," he gasped. Ginny barely heard what he was saying. She was lost in his eyes and the hungry look that made her feel tingly all over.

"I'm gonna hex Ron," she groaned, and Harry snorted before hugging her.

"That belongs on the list- you'd hex anyone, including your own family, for interrupting our kissing."

"Without question," Ginny confirmed.

After dinner, Hermione pulled Ginny upstairs to the landing. She pulled out her wand and said, "Celivor." Ginny felt a brief warmth on her neck.

"What was that?" she asked, and Hermione giggled.

"You had a couple love bites on your neck. I thought you'd want me to take care of those before anybody said anything."

"Really? Merlin, you should've told me sooner," Ginny said, blushing slightly.

Hermione giggled again. "I don't think anyone noticed or someone would've said something, knowing your brothers. Glad to see you and Harry are… enjoying your time together," she commented suggestively.

Ginny smiled happily. "I love him," she said without reservation.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "And Ron likes to eat. Tell me something I don't know."

Ginny crossed her arms. "Well, when Harry gets really worked up-"

Hermione raised her hands quickly. "Ew, gross. Never mind." Ginny laughed, pleased that her joke achieved the desired effect.

Hermione smiled at her. "I'm really happy for the two of you. This has been a really sad month, but I've never seen him happier other than when he was with you last year."

Ginny beamed. "I feel the same way." She hugged Hermione, who seemed a little surprised but returned the hug, all the same.

"What's that for?" Hermione asked.

Ginny looked earnestly at her friend, suddenly feeling a little emotional. "Thanks for protecting him this year."

Hermione smiled. "He's like a brother to me. I'd do anything to protect him. Besides, he did just as much to protect me and Ron."

She nodded. "I know. But still… you never left him." She didn't need to explain why that mattered so much. They both knew.

Hermione's face fell a little. "Ah- I- honestly? There were times when I thought about it. Especially when… we were on our own. It was a hard year, but I couldn't do it. I loved Harry too much to leave him on his own."

Ginny smiled and hugged her again. "That's why I'm hugging you." Hermione returned the hug immediately, both knowing what the last year and Hermione staying meant to them.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

"I don't think I can go." George said at Sunday dinner a few days later. Harry had been surprised that he'd joined them at all, but he'd seemed interested in being around more whenever Andromeda brought Teddy over. Teddy was currently sleeping in his cot, and Molly had brought up the memorial, asking Andromeda if she wanted to come to the Burrow ahead of time. The memorial was two days away, and Molly bringing it up reminded Harry that he still had to think about what he was going to say.

Arthur looked at George when he said this. "If you don't want to go, we understand, son. Just think about it."

George nodded, but Harry could tell from his expression that he was set on his decision already. After dinner, Harry picked up Teddy and walked out onto the porch with him and Ginny. A few moments later, George wandered outside, and Harry offered him Teddy. George took him, holding him gently while he slept.

"What are you feeling George?" Harry asked. Ginny tensed next to him and George looked like he was surprised someone asked him that. Harry wasn't entirely sure why he had himself.

"I'm fine," George said quietly, but Harry shook his head.

"I asked what are you feeling, not how are you. You're obviously not fine, and there's nothing wrong with that. But this is me and Ginny you're talking to. You don't have to lie to us."

George exhaled and pressed his lips together. "I miss my brother, Harry. It's like half of me is missing. I start to say something and then I stop because I'm expecting him to finish my sentence. We always told each other good night after we turned the lights out. And I haven't heard my brother tell me good night in a month. I was so scared that he'd been in pain and death would be scary for him, but you said that it was so peaceful and calm, and I'm thankful that he's okay. But now I'm sad and pissed off. I hate that he left me. It's not bloody fair that I spent the first twenty years of my life with a twin, and now I have to learn how to live without him."

George was tearing up, and his voice was shaky. Harry looked at Ginny and nodded toward Teddy. She picked him up wordlessly from George and took him back into the house, returning to the porch empty-handed as Harry stood up and looked down at George. "You need to let that anger out," Harry said simply.

George looked up at him with a blank expression. "What?" he asked.

"You're sad about Fred. But you also said you're pissed off, and I understand that." He conjured a large stack of plates that looked like they were made with expensive china. George looked down at the plates and back at Harry.

"What the hell am I supposed to do with plates?" he asked incredulously.

"You break them. At the end of my fifth year, when Sirius died, I destroyed Dumbledore's office because I was so mad. It didn't really help with my sadness and grief, but it felt real bloody good to break some things."

"You destroyed Dumbledore's office?" George asked in disbelief. Ginny was looking at Harry similarly.

He nodded. "Yep. And he just watched me do it. Then he told me some stuff that made me feel even worse, and I was sadder than I'd been before, but I can't imagine how hard it would've been to deal with that sadness if I'd held in all that anger. So break the plates. Break as many as you want, and I'll repair them all and let you go as many times as you want."

He stepped back towards the door, taking Ginny's hand in his as they watched George consider the stack of plates in front of him. Taking precautions, Harry pulled out his wand. "Indicens," he whispered, hoping an Imperturbable Charm could work on the outside of a door as well as it could on the inside. George stood up and abruptly threw a plate down to the ground. It shattered into several tiny pieces. He took another one and did it again. George started getting in a chaotic and destructive rhythm, and Ginny squeezed Harry's hand tightly as George flung plates at the ground and at the walls of the Burrow.

"Fuck war!" he screamed. "Fuck death! I want my brother back! He shouldn't have left without me!" George broke a plate with every shout.

Harry pointed his wand at all the shards. "Reparo."

All the plates fixed themselves immediately, and George began throwing some more. "I! Miss! My! Brother!" George screamed before picking up the entire stack of plates and throwing them on the ground at once.

Harry raised his wand, ready to repair the plates again, but George turned to him, shaking his head, and he saw that there wasn't any more anger on George's face. He was just sobbing, free of the anger for now and, like he said, missing his brother. Harry squeezed Ginny's hand before letting go, walking up to George and wordlessly pulling him into a tight hug. George seemed to collapse into the hug, and Harry held him up as George cried on his shoulder. Ginny joined them a moment later, wrapping her arms around both of them.

When George's tears finally dried up and his breathing evened, he clapped Harry on the back a couple times before stepping away, wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt. "Thanks for- for that," George said, pointing at the broken plates.

Harry nodded and vanished the plates. "Don't mention it. You know where to find me if you need more."

George nodded and patted Harry on the back again. Ginny hugged him quickly and kissed him on the cheek before he walked into the house as Harry lifted the Imperturbable Charm, which had apparently worked. Andromeda left a short time later and everyone slowly made their way to their beds soon after. When Harry went to Ginny's room, she was sitting on the edge of the bed.

She looked up when he entered, and he looked questioningly at her before she gestured for him to sit next to her. "That was great, what you did for George today."

Harry shrugged. "I don't know exactly what he's feeling, but I've dealt with my fair share of loss and grief. It's never easy, but I thought that might help."

Ginny wrapped an arm around him. "You've dealt with so much more than your fair share," she said quietly, and Harry nodded, unable to disagree with that.

"What- what happened when you destroyed Dumbledore's office? I guess… I've sorta realised that even though we've been in each other's lives for so long, we didn't really become friends until that year, so there's quite a bit we don't really know about our histories at Hogwarts. Granted, we were friends when that happened, but I doubt that was something you would've talked to anyone about anyways."

Harry looked at her. "You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to," she assured him quickly.

He shook his head. "It's not that. It's just- I'm not used to someone being interested in me like that. Like people have always seen me and wanted to ask me about Riddle or my scar or what they'd heard through rumours, but not very many people have just wanted to know about me. It feels nice."

Ginny smiled and rubbed his leg. "I'll always want to know more about you."

Harry smiled at that. "I was just so mad at Dumbledore. He'd ignored me the entire year while I dealt with Umbridge alone. Then… Sirius died, and Dumbledore had to make me wait before he could talk to me. I snapped when he told me he knew how I felt and that the fact that I could feel pain proved that I was a man and it was my greatest strength. I screamed at him- told him I didn't want to be human, that I'd had enough and wanted out of all his games and the whole damn thing. And I broke a lot of stuff in his office. I even threw a table," he admitted quietly, feeling a little bad at how he'd acted.

"That anger had been building up for a long time," Ginny observed, still rubbing his leg.

Harry nodded. "I was… so mad after Cedric died, and I had nobody to help me deal with it. They just packed me up on the Hogwarts Express and sent me back to the Dursleys. And then the whole thing with the dementors happened, and Dumbledore didn't even look at me at the hearing, didn't speak to me or anything. I'd been mad since then, and Umbridge and then Sirius only made it worse."

She leaned towards him and kissed him on the cheek. Harry continued, "I understand more now. About what Dumbledore was trying to tell me. He understood what it was like to lose someone he loved and feel the guilt of it. That was the night he told me the prophecy. He said that he cared so much for me that he hadn't wanted me to feel the burden of knowing I'd have to defeat Riddle, in the end, or die trying."

"Dumbledore was a very complicated man," Ginny stated simply, and Harry snorted.

"That's an understatement. I still can't figure out exactly what I feel about him anymore. I felt so betrayed with all of that, but then we became so close in my sixth year, and then he died, and I started finding out all the secrets about his past with his family and Grindelwald. When I saw Snape's memories, I almost couldn't believe that after everything, he'd known that I'd need to die. Obviously it- it all worked out, and I can be grateful that he believed I'd have a chance, but he- he didn't know for sure. He could've been wrong. The whole walk to the forest… I didn't know he believed there'd be a way out. I just- I wish things were easier to understand sometimes."

Ginny sighed and squeezed his arm. "I think that's part of growing up. Realising there's no such thing as black and white, really. Just like there are good Slytherins like Professor Slughorn and Andromeda, and there are bad Gryffindors like Peter Pettigrew. Most people are complicated and have some good and some bad in their past and in their character. Dumbledore's no exception. Even the best people have their faults."

"I don't know what you're talking about. I clearly have no faults," Harry joked.

Ginny snorted. "You're right. That whole keeping secrets thing, your hotheadedness, and your overprotectiveness are three of your best qualities."

Harry laughed. "To name a few," he responded, and Ginny laughed with him.

"You're right though," Harry said once they finally stopped laughing and crawled into bed together. "It was just easier when there were only good guys and bad guys. Now there's good guys with confusing pasts and bad guys who might deserve a second chance. It's so much more complicated," he complained.

Ginny patted his cheek sympathetically. "Welcome to the real world," she said with a smile.

He rolled his eyes but kissed her anyway. "Really, it's all okay. I know the one person who will always be faultless, and that's all I need," he said, nuzzling his head into her hair.

She chuckled and rolled over. "I am far from faultless."

Harry blinked and mentally braced himself, knowing she'd hate him for this. "I was talking about Fleur."

Ginny gasped and slapped Harry's arm as he started laughing hysterically. After a moment of pretending to be upset, Ginny finally joined him. This was a much nicer way to spend a night in bed with Ginny than all the nights they'd spent crying; although, any night in bed with Ginny was a good night to him.

Finally calming down, Ginny wiped tears from her eyes and shook her head at Harry. "You're insane, Potter."

He smiled. "Only for you. And you are most definitely faultless in my eyes. Every part of you, even the difficult parts like your temper, make you who you are. And I very much love who you are, faults and all."

Ginny smiled and kissed him softly. "How in Merlin's name do you always say stuff like that that just melts my heart?"

He grinned as he pulled her close and whispered the only answer to that question that he had: "Magic."

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

A/N: I’m so glad we finally met Emily! Her character is so fun and will be very prominent in these books; it’s just a little weird to me, knowing how important she is to the rest of the story, that we didn’t meet her until Chapter 17. Then again, there are several more important people who we won’t meet until Book 2, which is even crazier to me, but it does mean that there’s still so much to look forward to! What Harry said to Emily about choices defining who a person is something Dumbledore told him at the end of CoS. I thought it was a totally appropriate sentiment for the moment and also really sweet that Harry would remember it all these years later.

I worry that I’m revealing my American-ness too much with having Harry cover Emily’s hospital bills. I am definitely aware that Britain’s healthcare is essentially free/paid for by taxes as opposed to the American system of paying an insurance provider. My in-universe explanation is that there’s never any mention of wizarding taxes in any book, so there’s no telling how much wizards in Britain are taxed, especially when considering how slow the Ministry is to update and reform. At St. Mungo’s, I would assume that most basic procedures are free of charge because they’d be easy for a Healer to perform. However, for something like a very extended stay at a hospital, I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable to think that some sort of payment would be required. Again, it all sort of depends on how the wizarding government and economy are structured. The out of universe explanation is that I thought it was an incredibly touching moment for Harry to do that without any hesitation because he doesn’t care about money. I hope it’s not too distracting for any of my non-American readers, but that’s about the only explanation I have.

I feel like I should also say that the reason I use British English (which should just be called English in my opinion but what do I know) to spell words is because I feel like it puts me in a sort of character when I’m writing, just like using British vernacular does. It might be a little odd, but it’s my process and it’s definitely too late to change it now!

Another fun part of this chapter was writing the Quidditch scene. I did write the scene in Ginny’s memory in Chapter 11, but that felt like I was writing something that already existed in universe so I wasn’t making a lot up (even though I was), so this was my first real exercise in writing Quidditch completely originally. Unlike JKR, I absolutely love it. I think sports are one of the only things I might be more knowledgeable about than HP, and it’s so fun to combine those two passions and write what (hopefully) feels like authentic sporting action.

Speaking of my American-ness, there are some times when I’m not really sure how things translate to British English. Hickeys was one of those weird examples because I felt like it sounded like such an American word. Google told me that they were called love bites in British English, which made enough sense, and I didn’t see anything that contradicted that, so I hope the meaning got across and am sorry to say that won’t be the last time I have a confused moment like that! I also wanted to note that the spell for removing it is one I made up. The Latin phrase “celare livorem” literally translates to “to conceal a bruise”. So I combined the start of each of those words to make a spell that does exactly that- celivor.

And that does it for Panicking and Healing! It was a bit of a roller coaster chapter, but I hope you enjoyed it and are looking forward to the next chapter, which sort of marks the end, in a lot of ways, of the immediate post-war aftermath.

Coming Friday: Memorial- “Every single person who defended Hogwarts a month ago chose to do what was right.”

P.S. I wanted to share some pretty big news here in case you’re interested. I have officially finished a comprehensive 17 page outline for Book 3 and have started writing the first chapter! I’m not going to do updates every time I finish a chapter (realistically, when I get in the zone, I write faster than my release schedule anyways), but I wanted to let you all know that there is still plenty more to come from the Happier Every Day universe. In case you’ve missed me saying so before, SoR covers the entire summer of 1998, after the battle, and is completely finished. Book 2 (name TBA) picks up where SoR left off, goes through the middle of 1999, and is completely finished. Book 3 (name also TBA) will take place from the middle of 1999 to the middle of 2002. I anticipate it being a bit longer than either of the first two books, but I really have no clue. I guess we’ll find out! All I can say about the book now is it’s going to be a ton of fun and I can’t wait to really get into the writing!

Back to index


Chapter 18: Memorial

"Every single person who defended Hogwarts a month ago chose to do what was right."

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

"You could always make notes," Hermione offered.

Ginny could've predicted Harry's reaction. He rolled his eyes. "I could, but in case you've forgotten, the memorial is tomorrow morning. Besides, I don't want to seem like I'm acting or something."

Hermione crossed her arms. "Why do you ask for help when you dismiss everything I suggest?"

Harry sighed exasperatedly. "Sorry. It's just that reading a speech off a piece of parchment isn't me. It'll make it seem fake, like I don't actually care."

"Everyone knows you care, mate." Ron quickly responded, but Harry just shook his head.

"Kingsley acts like most people have no idea what I think, even though my speech was in the bloody Prophet."

"Then just wing it," Ginny said, seeing that as the only sensible solution.

Hermione's jaw dropped. "Ginny, you can't possibly be suggesting-"

"Yeah, I'm suggesting he doesn't prepare anything at all. Harry, the speeches you gave at Remus and Colin's funerals were both fantastic, and you didn't do anything to prepare for those. You didn't even know you were speaking at Colin's until right before! You're incredible under pressure. You know how you feel, and you'll find the right words to express that tomorrow morning."

Harry seemed to consider the suggestion before nodding slowly. "I could do that," he mused as he looked out over the orchard, still thinking about it.

"Harry, I really think you should at least have some talking points or something," Hermione emphasised, but Harry shook his head.

"No, I think Ginny's right about this. Kingsley said I could say whatever I wanted to. If I just go up there and talk, it'll… well, it'll at least be from the heart, if nothing else."

Hermione shook her head and shrugged resignedly. "If you say so, Harry. It's your speech."

Harry smiled at her. "You'll still write some notes for me in case I need them, won't you?"

Hermione looked down at the ground and blushed. "Probably."

Ron put his arm around her and kissed her cheek. "Always taking that extra step," he said proudly.

Hermione rolled her eyes but smiled softly, looking rather pleased. Ginny chuckled at the two of them. Their relationship never ceased to confuse her. It wasn't anything like hers and Harry's. She turned to look at her boyfriend and noticed that he was looking at something behind her with dark, clouded eyes. She didn't see anything, but when she looked back at him, she saw that he was starting to shake and breathe rapidly.

Ron and Hermione both stared in shock as Ginny quickly grabbed Harry's shoulders. As calmly as she could, she spoke to him. "Hey, Harry- stay with me. I've got you. Everything's okay. Harry, wake up babe. Please wake up, it's all okay. I love you Harry; I'm not letting go." He was still shaking and looking at nothingness. For some reason Ginny wasn't sure she'd ever understand, she leaned forward and kissed him softly. She tasted his sweat and kissed him again, praying that she'd guessed right.

Then Harry kissed her back, just as softly as she had before. She leaned back and rested her forehead on his, not caring that his sweat was on her face now too. His eyes were brighter again, and they were looking right at her.

"I love you," she whispered shakily, still trying to process the fact that he'd just had his first waking attack in about two weeks.

He hugged her tightly. "I love you too."

"Did you kiss me to wake me up?" he asked after she leaned back in his lap again.

She chuckled, wiping some moisture from her eyes. "I was hoping it would work," she admitted.

He smiled at her. "That was some good thinking. I bet Amelia will be impressed with your medical expertise."

Ginny snorted and rolled her eyes. "Just be grateful it was me trying that and not Bill." That got both of them laughing again, and when they calmed down, Ginny turned, suddenly remembering that Ron and Hermione were right there. They looked mostly confused and still a little scared.

"So… that- that was a panic attack?" Ron asked, noticing both Ginny and Harry looking at him.

They both nodded. "You seem to handle those… very differently than I would've expected," Hermione said.

"I just do what Bill told me to do. Except the kissing. I made that up today," Ginny responded, very pleased that it had worked.

Hermione shook her head. "I mean afterwards. The attacks are terrifying for both of you, but you're both joking and laughing right after it's over."

Ginny shrugged. "Honestly, if you don't laugh, you'll cry. And this was my first time getting him through a waking attack, but I've seen Bill handle one. I've gotten him through a handful of nightmares too, so I'm at least prepared for them now."

"She's the funniest person I know. If I can't laugh with her, I won't ever laugh. So even though it's scary, I try to let myself just be with her in the moment rather than dwelling on what I see," Harry added.

"And what did you see this time?" Hermione asked curiously. Ginny involuntarily tensed, wanting to protect Harry's right to privacy with stuff like this if he wanted it, but he just put his hand calmly on her thigh as he answered.

"Pretty much the same as usual. Talking about the memorial and funerals got me in that sort of headspace, I guess. Then Ron said that thing about taking an extra step, and I was at the battle. That's what I was thinking when I walked to the forest and what I think in my attacks. Keep forcing myself to take another step and keep on breathing. I hear Snape accusing Dumbledore of raising me like a pig for slaughter. I see the people I love dying. I force myself to- to walk past Ginny without saying anything, and then I watch the green light coming at me."

Ginny hugged Harry tightly again, willing the tears not to fall. It was so much more than horrible that he'd had to experience that once in real life, but to keep experiencing it in these attacks was just so unfair. She pulled away slightly, but he kept one arm around her, still holding her close to him. She looked at Ron and Hermione, who looked sick, terrified, and sympathetic all at once.

"Holy shit, mate… I- I had no idea that's what those were like for you," Ron said, frowning as he shook his head.

"We had no idea that's what it was like for you the first time," Hermione added quietly as tears swam in her eyes.

Harry smiled sadly at them both. "It's okay. I mean… it's still really difficult, but… I made it out. That's what matters. And if I had to, I'd make that walk again for you all."

"You're insane, mate." Ron said at the exact same time that Hermione asked, "How are you so brave?"

That broke the tension, making them all laugh. "Two sides of the same Galleon, really," Harry managed to get out eventually.

Hermione shook her head. "It's not insane at all. It's just incredibly brave." Harry shrugged, and Ginny tightened her hold on his torso. He'd know that meant she agreed without her having to say anything.

After a few moments, Ron suddenly asked, "Did you two say you loved each other when Harry woke up?"

Ginny opened her mouth to answer, but Harry beat her to it, proudly saying, "We did. We've been saying it since the night I told Ginny everything."

Ginny smiled up at him, very pleased that he hadn't been embarrassed at all to tell her brother that. Then she looked pointedly at Ron, whose eyebrows were raised. "We've loved each other for a long time, and it was about time we started saying it. Do you have a problem with that?"

Harry started trembling slightly as he held in a laugh. Ron's face surprisingly returned to a mostly normal expression. "Honestly, not really. I expected to, but I'm actually just happy for the two of you. Besides, we all knew it already, so it's not like it's something new."

Ginny was impressed. "I think it's about time for bed, love," she said to Harry, standing up and reaching out to him. He smiled up at her and took her hand. They told Ron and Hermione good night, and Ginny actually hugged Ron to thank him for being happy for them. Then they made their way to Ginny's bed.

"You okay?" Ginny asked as they pulled the blankets over them.

"Yeah, I think so. Like Amelia said, they can still come around every once in a while, especially when I'm reminded of things from the battle. You did brilliantly though," he said with a smile.

Ginny chuckled. "I just can't ever resist kissing you." And as if to prove a point, she didn't resist at all when he kissed her before she happily snuggled against him, falling asleep hoping they'd all make it through the memorial.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

The next morning, the entire family seemed to be back in their pre-funeral moods from the first weeks after the battle. Nobody was hungry enough to make breakfast, and everyone was dressed in black again. When the time came, they all apparated to the gates of Hogwarts, including George, who surprised everyone by joining them.

Almost immediately, people began noticing that he'd arrived, gaping and pointing at him. He was surprised and incredibly thankful when the entire Weasley family wordlessly surrounded him, protecting him from curious onlookers as they walked through the gates and to the castle. Ginny stood next to him, and he took her hand, squeezing it gratefully.

Once in the castle, they all gathered in a corner of the Great Hall. The house tables had been removed to accommodate more people. For a moment, the empty space pulled Harry back to the last time he'd seen the Great Hall like this. He'd faced Riddle for the last time. Ginny had been inches from death. As the memory became more real, he felt Ginny's lips on his again, very briefly, but it woke him up.

"Thanks," he whispered, and she nodded, not taking her eyes off him. Thankfully, nobody else seemed to have noticed.

They were waiting for the memorial to begin when Kingsley and McGonagall walked up to the Weasleys, clearly looking to speak with Harry. "Come with us, Potter," McGonagall said quickly.

Harry raised his eyebrow, feeling slightly on edge. Without thinking about it, his hand drifted to his wand inside his robe, wrapping around the handle. "What did you do when you found out I shouted at Umbridge and called her a liar?"

Everyone looked at him strangely. McGonagall frowned at him, but Harry didn't back down. "I gave you a biscuit," she said after a moment.

Harry nodded before looking at Kingsley. "Who were you with the night I left Privet Drive for the last time?"

Kingsley nodded his head. "I was with Hermione, who took Polyjuice Potion to look like you."

Harry exhaled. "Sorry, I've just- I've had a weird feeling today, and I didn't know why you'd want to take me away from everyone."

Kingsley waved his hand to dismiss the apology. "Always better to be safe than dead."

Professor McGonagall answered his question. "The three of us are supposed to enter last. We wanted to make sure you were ready since it's about to start."

"I can't stay with the Weasleys?" Harry asked. Kingsley shifted on his feet, looking slightly uneasy.

"It's okay, Harry. We'll be waiting for you afterwards," Bill promised.

He looked to Ginny, who nodded encouragingly. "You're going to do great. Just remember to speak from there." She pointed to his heart. "I love you." Then she kissed him quickly before smiling briefly at him. "For luck," she whispered, and he nodded, smiling at her.

"Love you too."

Nodding to the rest of the family, he walked away with Kingsley and McGonagall, who surprisingly took him into the same room he'd been in after his name had come out of the Goblet of Fire. "Are you ready?" Kingsley asked once he'd closed the door.

Harry shrugged. "Ready as I'll ever be, I guess."

"If it's anything like the speech in the Prophet, it'll be great," Kingsley said with a tense smile.

"Guess we'll find out when I get up there."

Kingsley looked a little surprised. "You didn't write it?"

Harry shook his head. "I gave that speech you liked with a five minute warning. I know how I feel, and I'll figure out how to say it when I need to." Kingsley nodded, still looking slightly concerned but realising it was out of his hands now.

"Your last speech was very well done; I have no doubt this one will be as well," McGonagall stated encouragingly.

Harry smiled at her, suddenly remembering something. "Professor, I read what you said about my speech in the Prophet-"

She cut him off. "I meant every word," she said simply. Harry continued smiling, pleased that she thought so highly of him, even if she didn't want to talk about it.

"So what is actually happening with the memorial today?" Harry asked.

Kingsley looked surprised. "Did nobody tell you?" Harry shook his head, unsure who would've told him other than one of the two of them. "Right now, the crowd is gathering by the Black Lake. When the bells in the clock tower begin ringing, the families of the fallen are going to walk from the castle to the statue, and we'll follow the families."

"What statue?"

Kingsley started to speak but McGonagall answered first. "It'll be best for you to just see it." Kingsley nodded, and Harry sighed, wishing they had more information to give him.

"You'll know when it's your time to do something, Harry," Kingsley promised.

Harry nodded, hoping that was true. A moment later, the bells in the clock tower began to toll. They stood there for another minute or two before walking into the Great Hall, which was empty, save for the Weasleys, last in the alphabetical order of the families. They were all filing out in the long line of families walking towards the lake. McGonagall and Kingsley kept Harry far enough back from the Weasleys that he didn't go up and join them. Clearly, they were wanting a distinction between the families and the three of them.

As they exited the castle and began walking towards the Black Lake, Harry's eyes widened, seeing the huge crowd and the massive sculpture of something that looked like a bird standing near Dumbledore's tomb. "How many people are here?" he whispered to Kingsley, who smiled down at him.

"We expected about a thousand. Looks like a couple hundred more showed up though." He sounded pleased, but Harry suddenly felt very ill. Kingsley patted Harry gently on the back. "You'll be fine," he assured. Harry's stomach disagreed, but he kept walking forward, knowing at least that this walk was a lot better than a similar, ominous walk he'd had to make from the castle recently.

Nearing the large gathering, Harry could see that the bird was actually a phoenix. Its wings were spread wide as it seemed to be soaring skyward. At the base of the statue was a smaller sculpture that looked like Hogwarts.

Kingsley and McGonagall slowed further, allowing for all the families to finish making their way to the front as sombre music played from unseen instruments. Then, McGonagall stepped in front of Harry, and Kingsley stepped in front of him. Harry felt slightly sick but also a little annoyed as he realised what they were doing. He would be the last one to enter, and even though they were ahead of him, he would look and feel completely alone- the solitary hero of the Battle of Hogwarts. If he hadn't promised that he'd do this and seen all the families of the fallen already, he would've turned and walked away. Either way, he knew, as he slowly followed McGonagall and Kingsley down the central aisle, that they'd be having a conversation about this when it was over.

Harry's eyes found Ginny's as he somehow made his way towards the elevated platform placed in front of the statue. He knew he looked uncomfortable even though he was trying his best to look sombre and sincere, but Ginny's blazing look, in the midst of her grief, reassured him. No matter what, she was still going to be there. Kingsley stepped up to the podium while McGonagall sat down on a chair to the side of the podium. Seeing the empty chair next to McGonagall, he walked over to it, taking in the bottom portion of the statue as he did. There seemed to be something carved into the tail feathers of the phoenix. It rose over the statue of Hogwarts, which was almost as tall as him. He also saw that there were smaller statuettes around it that looked like people, but he still couldn't really tell what those actually were.

He sat down as Kingsley pointed his wand at his neck and began speaking. "Today is a sombre occasion of remembrance. Exactly one month ago, one of the most terrible battles in wizarding history occurred here, at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. More than a hundred wizards and witches defended the castle overnight, resisting the dark forces of Tom Riddle, otherwise known as Lord Voldemort, and his army of Death Eaters. Every defender of Hogwarts made the decision to fight for what was right, to protect goodness and justice from those who wanted to destroy it.

"Every defender of Hogwarts is a hero. However, there is nothing more heroic than laying down one's life for family, for friends, for what is good and true and right. Fifty brave souls did exactly that. They fought to their very last breath to secure a happier and safer future for the rest of us. I've strived every day since, as Minister for Magic, to honour those heroes and rebuild our world into something they can be proud of. We should all strive to honour the heroes of Hogwarts every single day. But today, we all are joining together to ceremonially honour the Fallen Fifty of the Battle of Hogwarts, so that none of their names will ever be forgotten. When future generations see this memorial and the names burning on it, they will know what these heroes fought and died for. I hope that this memorial will stand forever here at Hogwarts, reminding all who see it to live lives worthy of that selfless sacrifice. This phoenix, rising from the ashes of a battletorn school, will serve as an everlasting reminder of the power of love and goodness over evil.

"Now, I hand this service to Minerva McGonagall, Headmistress of Hogwarts." Kingsley changed positions with McGonagall, returning his voice to a normal volume as he sat next to Harry.

McGonagall cleared her throat before amplifying her voice. "Thank you all for joining us today. This isn't a position I ever thought I'd be in when I began working at Hogwarts. It's typically incredibly rare for us to lose a student. But in one horrible day, we lost thirty." Harry felt a pounding in his ears. He'd heard the number fifty thrown around, but hearing that thirty people he'd shared a school with for years had died in defence of Hogwarts made his insides churn as his mouth went dry.

Desperately, his eyes found Ginny once again, who was staring resolutely back at him. 'You're okay. I love you,' she mouthed, and somehow, Harry felt his senses returning. He nodded at her, able to hear what McGonagall was saying once more.

"We also lost twenty other adults, who bravely entered Hogwarts even though they didn't have to. Fifty lives were lost in defence of goodness, and fifty families are still dealing with unimaginable pain as they cope with that loss. We owe it to all those heroes and their families to live lives that honour them and to be as kind and encouraging as we can possibly be to each other. As Minister Shacklebolt said, the hope for this memorial is that every person who sees this will be reminded of the sacrifices made by these fifty brave souls.

"We are determined to make sure we honour them forever, immortalising their names in the fire the phoenix rises out of. I will now be reading the names of the Fallen Fifty. For each name, we invite one person to ignite the fire on the feather bearing that name."

She paused for a moment as she opened a scroll. "Daniel Abernathy," she read. As a large wizard with a brown beard stood, wiping his eyes, Harry vaguely remembered that name. Maybe a Hufflepuff he hadn't ever known well? The thought that he wouldn't know all these people made him feel even more guilty than he already did. Harry turned in his seat to see the man Harry assumed was Daniel's father raising his wand, pointing it at a feather that had Daniel's name etched into it. Immediately, it lit on fire from within, and Daniel's name shone brightly.

"Lavender Brown," McGonagall read, and Harry watched Mrs. Brown stand up. He avoided looking at Mr. Brown as she made her way up the stairs to the platform and repeated the process. Another two names were read before McGonagall said, "Colin Creevey." Dennis stood up with a blank expression on his face, walking almost mechanically to the stage.

Harry found himself trying to remember every person's face as their names were read, disappointed that there were many he couldn't picture at all. He lost where they were in the order until he heard, "Nymphadora Lupin," and saw Andromeda stand up from next to Molly, who was holding Teddy and crying. Andromeda walked up, holding herself together surprisingly well, and illuminated Tonks' name with fire. Harry winced as he anticipated the next name. "Remus Lupin."

He turned back, expecting Andromeda to do Remus' name too, but she beckoned for Harry to come over. Surprised, he stood, shakily, and found Remus' name next to Tonks. He closed his eyes, remembering Lupin's face when he told them that Teddy had been born. A tear fell down his cheek, and he pointed the wand at the feather, whispering, "Incendio." Andromeda surprised him again by pulling him into a quick but firm hug before she walked off the stage and Harry returned to his seat.

He lost himself once again in trying to remember faces, keeping Tonks and Lupin's in the back of his mind, and he was incredibly surprised when he heard McGonagall read, "Severus Snape."

He looked up quickly and saw several people looking around in a confused manner. He glanced over at Kingsley, who nodded, whispering, "You were right. He was a hero."

Harry found he was actually somewhat glad that Snape was being honoured here. Almost as soon as he thought that, he realised that there wasn't anybody here for Snape. Before he even knew what he was doing, he stood and walked back to the statue. He found Snape's name and cast "Incendio," hoping Snape wasn't too offended that Harry had done this for him.

He returned to his seat and saw Ginny trying not to cry, but she looked sort of proud of him, which made Harry feel better about what he'd done, even as people continued looking around in confusion. McGonagall read the rest of the names before reaching the last one on the list.

"Fred Weasley."

George stood up shakily and began walking slowly to the steps. He took the first step and stumbled slightly, so Harry instinctively hurried to help him up the stairs, keeping an arm around him. He started to let George go after he reached the top, but instead, George held on and led him to the statue. Tears were freely pouring out of George's eyes and his voice cracked as he cast the spell to ignite Fred's name. Then he pulled Harry into a tight hug, holding onto him for several seconds before letting go. Harry started walking him to the stairs, but George seemed to be a little bit better and released Harry, walking down the stairs and returning to his seat much easier than the walk up had been.

Harry saw McGonagall turn and wave her wand at the statue. He saw the fire burn brighter for an instant, and he suspected that she'd cast a charm Flitwick had talked about before to turn fire into everlasting Gubraithian Fire. As he returned to his seat, the image of the phoenix rising from fire that preserved the names of the Fallen Fifty was seared into his brain. It was a surprisingly beautiful and moving tribute that seemed very appropriate for the memorial.

Professor McGonagall spoke again. "This fire has been charmed to burn eternally. As long as this fire illuminates the names of the Fallen Fifty, let us honour them with our lives." She now looked at Harry. "Our final speaker is someone who doesn't need and probably doesn't want an introduction. He's been called many things throughout his young life: The Boy Who Lived, The Chosen One, and most recently, The Saviour of the Wizarding World. As accurate as I believe these names to be, he strongly dislikes all these titles, as evidenced by the grimace on his face-" Harry was indeed grimacing "- which only proves my opinion of him to be true. I've had the honour of being his Head of House and professor for the past seven years, so I know him well enough to make this claim. Despite all the titles people have given him, he remains a humble, kind, honourable, and brave man who, whether he'll admit it or not, is responsible for the defeat of the greatest evil our kind has ever faced." Harry's eyes widened, a little stunned at the praise she was giving him. She continued, "I'm sure he'll also want me to say that he had a lot of help doing that. I'm very thankful that he has agreed to speak today, so, without further ado, allow me to introduce Mister Harry Potter."

Harry stood, still staring in confusion at McGonagall. That was something else to ask about later. He took a deep breath, stepping to the podium. He looked at Ginny, and for an instant, he was back in his nightmare, expecting Voldemort to rise behind Ginny and attack her. Instead, she smiled encouragingly at him, and he nodded, taking another deep breath before pointing his wand at his neck. "Sonorus," he cast, magically amplifying his voice as he began speaking, suddenly knowing what he wanted to say.

"When Tom Riddle first returned and murdered Cedric Diggory three years ago, Albus Dumbledore gave a speech at the End of Term Feast at Hogwarts. He told us that if we ever faced a choice between what is right and what is easy, we must remember what happened to Cedric, a good, kind person, who was killed because he was in Riddle's way. Every single person who defended Hogwarts a month ago chose to do what was right. It would've been easy to flee the castle, but all of its defenders, especially the fifty who died, refused to take the easy way out.

"I don't know if there will ever be a day where I don't think about the battle, even though it's all over and Riddle's gone for good. I see it in my dreams. I see it when I'm awake. I also don't know if there will ever be a day that I think about the battle and don't get incredibly angry. I know for a fact that I'll always feel devastated and heartbroken thinking about it. I lost several people I loved that night, friends and people I considered family, and my heart goes out to every family who has lost someone in this horrible war.

"But my anger remains, and that's because of how senseless this all was. The people who started this war and attacked Hogwarts a month ago were people who enjoyed preying on the defenceless, promoting cruelty over kindness, and believed themselves to be superior to all others. I'm outraged that these evil people destroyed so many lives in the name of their own senseless cause. But the thing that concerns me is that I believe the ideas promoted by Riddle and his Death Eaters still exist in our society."

Like when McGonagall read Snape's name, several people looked around in surprise, but there was no chance that would stop Harry. "I'm not saying that there are murderers lurking in our midst. But I do know that a lot of wizards and witches believe that the purity of their blood makes them better than people with 'less pure' blood. And that's a ridiculous way to look at the world. Tom Riddle, for all his pandering about how important blood purity is, was a half-blood. I'm being called The Saviour of the Wizarding World- a name I truly detest, by the way- and I'm also a half-blood.

"Similarly, I think wizards and witches look down on everyone else in the world that isn't exactly like us. For instance, there are more than a thousand people here today, but there were less than two hundred wizards and witches defending Hogwarts that night. I won't judge anybody for not fighting, but the fact remains that, while many of you were hidden in your homes, centaurs, house elves, a werewolf, and a giant fought for us. Yet a lot of witches and wizards look down on these species, calling them things like 'creatures with near-human intelligence' and treating them like second-class citizens at best and monsters at worst. The statue that used to be in the Ministry of Magic- the Fountain of Magical Brethren- was a disgusting attempt to glorify wizardkind, making it seem like we're above the rest of our magical brethren, who watch everything we do with adoration. It was a sham, and it's a damn good thing that statue was removed.

"However, the statue that took its place was even more horrific. Magic is Might, it was called. For those of you who never saw it, it was a statue of a witch and a wizard sitting on thrones made out of Muggles. It may surprise some of you to learn that I grew up with Muggles for my entire childhood, and every summer, I lived in the Muggle world. Believe it or not, Muggles can do things that we can't even understand, and they do it all without magic. That doesn't make us better than them. Does it make us different? Only slightly. Because the fact of the matter is that we're all still human. We all share the same abilities to love, to hate, to grieve, and to be happy.

"Actually, a pureblood wizard shares that same ability with a Muggle-born witch too. Just like I share that same ability with a centaur or a house elf or a goblin. Just like all of us here share that with Muggles. Why do we insist on trying to rank ourselves? Why do we have to be better than someone else? These pieces of wood-" Harry held up his wand for emphasis "- have made us so arrogant that we fight all the time. Have any of you ever stopped to wonder why on earth we train children at Hogwarts from the time they're eleven to be able to defend themselves from the Dark Arts? In the Muggle world, it would be insane to arm a child with a deadly weapon, telling them to be ready because they could be attacked any day.

"It's our arrogance and our desire to be better than one another that causes that. Because for some people, it's just passive bigotry. A wizard sees a goblin in Gringotts and subconsciously thinks that the goblin is lesser than him. But when people take that bigotry and act on it, we end up with horrific violence, death, and destruction like what's been unleashed on our world by Riddle and his Death Eaters for decades. The ideas had always been there. They were just the ones who chose to act on them.

"If we truly want to honour the lives of the people who died to end that reign of terror, we have to do better. We can't keep looking at people and creatures who are a little different than us and thinking that they don't matter as much as we do. Because when society does that, people come along who believe they can end any life they think doesn't matter. I wouldn't have been able to defeat Riddle, let alone be alive now, without help from several people. Those include my pureblood and Muggle-born best friends, a goblin, and a house elf named Dobby, who was my friend and one of the bravest people I've ever known.

"I'm not saying it's easy to put that prejudice behind you, especially when it's been ingrained in you your whole life. But it's not about what's easy. Everyone has to make choices between what is easy and what is right. Remember what happened to these fifty people who died fighting a monstrous army that acted on their terrible, bigoted beliefs anytime you have to make that choice. Because, as difficult as it might be to change and make the right choice, it's still much easier to make the choice to be a better person than it was for these fifty people to make the choice to stand up for what is right and die for it. They sacrificed their lives fighting that hate. If you truly want to honour their sacrifice, let the hate and prejudice be consumed by the fire immortalising their names. We have the opportunity to improve as a society. Our world has been burned down, but we can rise, like a phoenix from the ashes, and do better, be better, so that the hate and bigotry that caused all these deaths won't ever have a chance to do harm again. That is how we honour the Fallen Fifty."

"Quietus," Harry murmured, looking at the crowd again. The scene was eerily similar to the one at Colin's funeral. Nobody moved, let alone spoke.

Kingsley stood back up and as Harry moved to take his seat, Kingsley nodded at him with a proud look in his eyes. "Thank you once again for coming. Let us live our lives honouring the Fallen Fifty." He raised his wand to shoot gold sparks into the air, and that action was followed by the crowd, creating a brief golden glow in the sky.

"That was some speech," McGonagall said to him as the crowd began talking and they could speak freely.

Harry nodded his thanks. "That was some introduction," he responded.

She smiled at him. "I've already told you, Potter. I'm not quite as stoic as everyone thinks I am, particularly when it relates to my favourite students." Harry's eyes widened at the implications of this, but she just walked down the stairs and away from him before he could say anything.

He didn't have much time to dwell on it before Kingsley approached him again. It was just the two of them on the stage now. Kingsley reached out his hand, and Harry looked down at it before looking back up at him. "What the hell was that whole routine walking down the aisle?"

Kingsley looked confused. "What?"

"The families are what matter today, Kingsley. You had us walk in last, me especially, and it felt like you were wanting to make me into some sort of spectacle. I thought we were gonna be going together, and instead, I'm left trailing behind for everyone to stare at and forget all the mourning families that this memorial was supposed to be for!"

Kingsley held up his hand. "Harry, I'm genuinely sorry if that's how you felt. I assumed you wouldn't like the implication of you leading the Minister for Magic and the Headmistress of Hogwarts into the memorial, so I let you follow us instead. My intention wasn't to take any attention away from the families. On the contrary, I thought that if the three of us were already on the stage when the families walked in, people would be staring at us- mostly you- and not considering the losses the families had suffered. I already told you that I'm not interested in making you some sort of puppet for the Ministry. You're your own person, and I respect that. I don't feel like I've treated you any differently than I did before the battle, but you're acting like the title I have now has changed who I am."

Harry sighed, running his hands through his hair and considering Kingsley's words. "Damn. I hadn't thought about it like that. I've just- ever since I entered this world, the Ministry has either been trying to use me or hurting me, especially in the last few years. It's- it's hard to get my head around the idea that you're trying to reform the Ministry, and you're still you. I'm sorry for lashing out like that… honestly."

Kingsley nodded. "Harry, if anyone deserves some grace and patience, it's you. If you never want to attend another Ministry event, I'll understand- that's your choice. But I do hope that you'll give me the chance to fix things. At the very least, I hope your opinion of my position has changed when comparing me to my predecessors," he said with a half smile.

Harry nodded, smiling back at the man he considered to be a friend, despite their age difference. "I definitely prefer you to all the other Ministers I've met."

Kingsley's half smile turned into a full one. "I appreciate that. Now, as I was about to say, that speech was even more powerful than the one that was in the Prophet. I think most of wizarding Britain heard that over the wireless. I fully believe that speech is going to be critically important for the coming changes I want to bring to the Ministry. Your emphasis on non-human rights and better treatment of Muggles were very wise, and I think you'll be pleased to know that I'm planning on making a push to update outdated laws regarding their treatment. They deserve better, and, with your very vocal support, I think there's a good chance that there will be real change."

Harry nodded, pleased to hear it. Kingsley extended his hand again, more hopeful this time. Harry smiled and shook it. "Thanks Kingsley, and… thanks for being there for me. During the war and now."

Kingsley smiled back at him and clapped him on the shoulder. "What are friends for?" he asked as they tentatively made their way down the stairs, trying to remain on the outskirts of the crowd. Surprisingly, there wasn't any mob that formed around them. As Harry made his way towards the Weasleys, he stopped to speak to a few people that he knew. Parvati Patil surprisingly hugged him when he asked how she was doing, and Neville and his grandmother were very pleased to see him. Still making his way across the large seating area, he stopped again to speak to Luna, seeing her sitting by herself.

"Did you come alone?" he asked after saying hello.

Luna shook her head, and her earrings that looked like radishes shook wildly. "I came with Daddy, but I don't see him now. That was a great speech you gave, Harry," Luna commented offhandedly as if they'd already been talking about that.

Harry smiled. "Thanks Luna. I appreciate it. Do you want to come with me? I was going to find the Weasleys."

Luna nodded. "Oh yes, I'd love to see all my friends." Harry smiled again, extending his hand to help her up before they finally made their way to the Weasleys. He was looking for Ginny, who was talking to Andromeda and holding Teddy. He didn't have long enough to look though because Hermione threw herself at him at that moment, causing him to stumble backwards from the force of the hug.

"How on earth did you say all that without any preparation?" Hermione asked incredulously, shaking her head as she stepped back from him.

He shrugged. "Like Ginny said, it just needed to come from the heart."

"That speech very obviously came from your heart. Everyone could feel it," Luna said while looking up at a cloud. Harry smiled at her.

Hermione nodded. "It was amazing. I think that speech could do a lot to start improving wizarding relations with other magical species."

"Kingsley said something like that," Harry responded. "Apparently he's wanting to work to improve the laws on the treatment of non-wizards."

"Really?" Hermione asked, glancing around now for Kingsley.

Harry chuckled. "Yeah, you should talk to him about it. He was talking to some stuffy-looking wizard by the stage a few minutes ago." Hermione nodded quickly, already walking away to find Kingsley. He'd probably be much more interested in Hermione's thoughts on the legal side of the issue than Harry.

He was still wanting to get to Ginny when Percy stopped him, and at this point, Luna just walked past Percy and toward the Weasleys. "I know you're not very interested in the inner workings of the Ministry and lawmaking, but I thought you ought to know that speech will likely be quoted in the Ministry for years as laws are changed. You- you've grown up a lot since I was your prefect." He then strode away abruptly, and Harry realised that was about as close to a compliment as he'd get from Percy.

Almost immediately as Harry left, he felt a tap on his lower back. He turned around and saw Professor Flitwick looking up at him. "Mister Potter, do you mind if I have a word?" Harry nodded his agreement and sat down next to Flitwick, putting them slightly closer to the same height.

"I don't know if you know this, but my great, great grandfather was a goblin." Harry shook his head, having always just thought the Charms professor was just short. Flitwick continued, "I and my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before me endured quite a bit of ridicule and scorn because of our heritage. None of them were allowed to enrol in Hogwarts because they had too much goblin blood in them, according to school policies of the time. I was the first in four generations to be allowed to attend Hogwarts because less than ten percent of my blood is goblin.

"None of my ancestors with goblin blood ever found much work. The goblins rejected them as traitors for being half-bred with wizards. Wizards looked down on them and me as inferior because our wizarding blood had been corrupted by a lesser, non-human species. I was sure that I wouldn't ever find work, so I spent several years after graduation duelling for money. It wasn't safe, but fortunately, if I may boast, I was very good. But it was tiring, and I wanted more stability in my life than wandering Europe to attend tournaments every other week. Professor Dumbledore granted that to me almost thirty years ago, giving me the gift of being able to teach while having a stable job and home.

"I've taught a lot of students at Hogwarts, some who were incredibly extraordinary and have done great things. But… in all my years, I've never taught someone like you before though. Of course you were famous, even among the teachers, when you came to Hogwarts. You excel at practical magic, but it's been obvious to all of your professors for years that homework didn't interest you all that much. And who could blame you, considering everything else that's been going on in your life?

"What makes you different is your selflessness and care for others. I've seen your bravery firsthand, multiple times. But it takes just as much bravery to duel a dark wizard as it does to stand up to the accepted traditions of society because they're wrong and unjust. You've unsettled a lot of powerful people today, I'm sure. But there are many more people, like me, who know what it's like to be ostracised because we're different. And to every single one of those people, you've proved yourself just as heroic, if not more, as when you defeated Tom Riddle."

Harry stared down at his professor, surprised at the candid conversation they'd had and the praise he'd been given. "Professor, I- I don't know what to say."

Flitwick chuckled heartily. "That's quite alright, Potter. You knew what to say a few moments ago, and that's what counts. I just wanted to express my gratitude to you for that speech, as well as everything else you've done for all of us." He shook Harry's hand, clasping it with both of his much smaller hands, before beginning to walk back up to the castle. Harry shook his head, still a little surprised, but he smiled as he saw Ginny talking to Professor McGonagall. Without hesitation, he walked up to the two of them.

HGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG

It hadn't been an easy day. From the moment the bells had chimed, Ginny found herself struggling with sliding back into the feeling of despair she'd wrestled with after the battle and during the funerals. Frankly, what was this if not one more funeral for all the Fallen Fifty? Their family was the last to leave the Great Hall, and Ginny walked silently next to Ron and Hermione until they reached their seats. She heard murmurings behind them and turned, seeing Kingsley, McGonagall, and Harry walking up the aisle they'd just walked.

Harry looked so uncomfortable, like he'd rather be anywhere else. He hated feeling everyone's eyes on him, and she could tell that's all he was feeling right now. Well, she had a pair of eyes that mattered more to him than anybody else's, and she wasn't afraid to use them. She stared intently at Harry, willing him to look at her. As if by magic, his eyes found hers, and his expression softened slightly, his gait becoming more natural. Pleased with herself, Ginny turned in her seat back towards the stage, trying to hear what Kingsley was saying, but she never took her eyes off Harry.

When McGonagall began speaking, she saw Harry's reaction to the number of dead students. Even from a distance, she could see his eyes darkening. Look at me, she thought. Immediately, his eyes were on her. 'You're okay. I love you," she mouthed to him, and his expression returned to normal. She nodded reassuringly, glad that he was back for now.

She allowed herself to take her eyes off Harry for a moment as each feather was ignited. She saw several people she recognised walk up to the stage. The whole time, Harry was staring blankly in front of him, but at least he wasn't having another panic attack. Ginny felt an emotional stirring in her when Andromeda walked up and lit Tonks' feather, and that was magnified when Harry lit Lupin's and the two of them hugged. Just moments later, Professor Snape's name was read, and Ginny could tell from the hushed whispers in the crowd that many were very unsure about that.

She wasn't surprised in the slightest when Harry was the one who stood and lit Snape's feather. It was just like him to do something like that, even for Snape. Finally, it was George's turn to light a feather for Fred. He looked like he was in pain, shuffling towards the stage and stumbling on the first step. Within seconds, Harry was with him, and George wouldn't let him go until after the feather had been lit and he'd hugged Harry. Ginny let herself silently shed a tear; it hurt to remember their loss of Fred, but it was beautiful seeing George leaning on Harry, who was there without hesitation.

Ginny smiled as Professor McGonagall introduced Harry. He was obviously uncomfortable with her praise, but he deserved every word and so much more. As Harry spoke, Ginny found herself more and more amazed with the man she loved. It was impossible to explain how she fell more in love with him every day, but she truly did. After everything he'd done, he stood in front of a crowd of a thousand, demanding change to the traditions and social customs of their society. He wasn't doing it for any selfish gain; in fact, he probably didn't realise how important it was for him to be the one to say it. He did it, like he'd done so many things in his life, because it was the right thing to do. How could she not love him even more for that?

Once the memorial was concluded, Harry remained on the stage, talking to McGonagall and Kingsley. Ginny heard a sniff to her right and turned, intrigued to see Hermione wiping tears from her eyes. "Are you alright?" Ginny asked tenderly.

"It's just not fair," Hermione answered.

"What's not fair?" Ginny asked, thinking she was talking about all the losses.

Hermione shook her head. "He just came up with that. And it was so much better than the talking points I gave him in case he needed them."

Ginny almost laughed. "You're crying because Harry's… better at giving speeches than you?"

Hermione shook her head again. "He did more to advance house elf rights in ten minutes than I did in the last four years," she bemoaned despondently, and Ginny couldn't keep herself from laughing anymore. Ron was clearly holding in laughter on the other side of Hermione, but he managed to control himself for the sake of his girlfriend.

"It's not funny," Hermione complained. "I really care about it, and all that work seems like nothing compared to that speech."

"Hermione, let's be honest. It's like Harry just threw the Quaffle in the air. But you're the one who's gonna take it and score with it," Ginny said, hoping that was encouraging. Hermione frowned.

"She means that Harry just got people talking about it, but you're gonna be-" Ron tried to offer helpfully, but he was cut off by a withering look from Hermione.

"I know what she means, Ron. I do understand Quidditch, thank you very much. I just don't understand the obsession with it," she snapped at Ron, who, slightly hurt, stood and walked over to George and Charlie.

"That was a little harsh," Ginny commented tentatively.

Hermione just shrugged. "Maybe a little, but he knows I don't like it when people try to explain things like I don't understand them."

"How often does that happen to you anyways? Everyone knows you're like the bloody smartest witch any of us knows," Ginny asked, a little amused at Hermione's reaction.

"Often enough that it annoys me," Hermione responded, which wasn't really an answer, considering Ginny suspected once would've annoyed Hermione. Thankfully, she saw Harry slowly walking towards them.

"You should tell Harry what you thought of his speech," Ginny suggested, nodding towards him. Hermione nodded and left, heading towards Harry.

Ginny found Andromeda and pulled her into a brief hug. When Andromeda offered her Teddy, Ginny immediately accepted. They talked for a few minutes, reminiscing about Tonks, and, surprisingly, Ginny found that she wasn't overwhelmed by sadness when thinking about her for once.

When Teddy woke up and started fussing, Andromeda quickly took him back. "I think it's time for him to go home. Make sure to tell Harry his speech was excellent, and the two of you can feel free to come over and visit him whenever you want." Ginny nodded, thanking Andromeda for the offer. It seemed very surprising that a month ago, Ginny hadn't even met Teddy or known Andromeda really, and now, she and Harry had an open invitation to visit whenever. It was very kind, especially considering Ginny knew that she couldn't hardly imagine her life without the little baby anymore. They'd definitely be accepting that invitation, she knew.

She looked for Harry, but he was talking to Professor Flitwick now. She was surprised when she saw Professor McGonagall walking away from her mum. "I was just telling her that I was pleased to see your brother today," she said, clearly seeing Ginny's expression.

Ginny nodded, knowing who she was talking about. "I actually don't think he would've come if Harry hadn't talked to him a couple days ago. He told George he needed to let his anger out and gave him a bunch of plates to smash. Harry said he'd destroyed Dumbledore's office once doing the same thing, and it helped a little."

McGonagall smiled thinly. "I remember walking into his office and seeing that mess the next day. When I asked Albus about it, he told me that Harry recognised that he had too much rubbish in his office and was helping him choose what to get rid of."

Ginny smiled fondly. "Dumbledore sure was a funny man."

McGonagall nodded her agreement. "He definitely was. But he loved Harry, more than any other student I've ever seen. Not that I can blame him; Harry is truly special, and I believe Dumbledore saw a version of himself in Harry."

Ginny smiled again, knowing that Dumbledore had actually seen a much better person in Harry than Dumbledore saw in himself. "Harry loved him too, very much. And… I don't think he'll ever say it, but I believe you mean almost as much to him too."

McGonagall nodded, getting a faraway look in her eyes for a moment. Ginny suspected that she was remembering that Harry had shown that feeling when he'd cast the Cruciatus Curse on Amycus Carrow. At that moment, Harry appeared next to her, sliding his arm around her and kissing her on the cheek, not at all embarrassed to be doing that in front of McGonagall.

Ginny blushed as McGonagall refocused her attention on the two of them. "I do have to say, seeing as school is not currently in session and I am not your professor, that I am truly happy that the two of you are together."

"Thanks, Professor," Harry said quietly, smiling slightly.

Ginny nodded in agreement. "Speaking of school being in session, is Hogwarts going to be opening on time for the new term?" she asked curiously.

McGonagall pressed her lips together. "That is the plan; although, we obviously have extensive damage to the castle that we're working on repairing. Progress is slow, but we still hope to be ready by the first of September."

"Do you need more help?" Harry asked, taking the words out of Ginny's mouth.

"I'm sure you have better things to do with your time, Potter," McGonagall answered.

"Honestly, we'd be happy to help, Professor," Ginny insisted.

McGonagall hesitated but nodded. "If you feel strongly about it, I won't turn away extra help. You're welcome to come whenever you'd like, and we'll make sure you have plenty to do."

They both nodded before McGonagall told them goodbye, walking back up to the castle. Ron walked up with Luna just before they started to head for the gates. "Brilliant speech, mate," Ron said, clapping Harry on the back.

"Thanks," Harry responded before Luna said, "Your statue looks great, Harry."

All three of them looked at her in confusion. "My statue?" Harry asked.

Luna nodded, waving vaguely behind her. "Under the phoenix." Seeing they still looked confused, she led them to the base of the statue, easily accessible since the stage had apparently been vanished. Ginny looked up at the magnificent phoenix that must've soared fifty feet in the air. The feathers of its tail were burning, making it look like it was rising from fire while also brightly displaying the names of the Fallen Fifty. Ginny could easily pick out Fred and Tonks' names.

Underneath the phoenix was a statue of Hogwarts that was just taller than Ginny. It still looked stately, but it bore signs of battle. A crumbled tower and a hole in a wall were a few of the obvious signs. Surrounding the castle were several smaller statues that were about a foot tall each. These were about chest-high on Ginny, standing atop the rectangular marble base of the entire statue.

Each of the statues was a different magical species, standing with its back towards Hogwarts. There was a house-elf holding a knife, a centaur armed with a bow, a giant holding a club, and a werewolf baring its teeth. At the centre of the protective semicircle stood a wizard, standing firmly with his wand out. It could've been any wizard, but with messy hair, round glasses, and the exact same clothes Harry had been wearing that night, it was incredibly obvious who this wizard was.

"Merlin," Harry breathed out. "Is that really-"

"Yep, that's you," Ron answered the question Harry had been about to ask.

He shook his head. "I thought Kingsley knew I didn't want any more recognition than was already being forced on me."

"We can't control the recognition others give us when we do something admirable," Luna stated matter-of-factly, and Harry just continued shaking his head, but Ginny knew that was because he didn't have an argument to make against that.

"It's obviously you, Harry. But this is still the memorial for the Fallen Fifty. You'll always be the figure at the centre of all stories of that battle, and I'm sure there will be more statues built of you one day. But it's not about you. It's about what your speech was about. All of these magical brethren standing together, unified against evil," Ginny explained.

Harry exhaled, seeming less annoyed by the statue. He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close while they both took in the whole statue. "You would've been a prettier model for the statue," he whispered quietly. Ginny snorted and rolled her eyes, but she never released her hold on him. Looking once more at the base of the statue, she saw its name engraved in the marble, and she smiled softly, thinking it was perfect. Heroes Live Forever.

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A/N: This is a very weirdly full circle moment for me to be posting this chapter, which might sound a little weird but I’ll try to explain. So one of the things that I pride myself most on in my writing is that I think (hope?) I’m good at making dialogue feel natural and not stilted or anything. The way I do that is basically by doing a sanity check where I reread a chapter and actually say all the dialogue out loud. So pretty much every piece of dialogue that you read in my writing, I’ve actually said aloud and decided that it sounds like something that a real person would actually say. Anyways, I have a very vivid memory of reading Harry’s speech out loud a couple times and making some small changes here and there the night before the start of my senior year, back in August. And now, I’m publishing this chapter, and I graduate from college about six hours from the time I’m posting. I didn’t plan it or anything to release this chapter today, but when I realised it a couple weeks ago, I knew I had to tell this story. Not sure how interested any of you are in my personal life, but it’s something that I’m incredibly proud of, and it’s a cool milestone for me, knowing just how inextricably linked my memories of my senior year and writing this book are now for me.

Anyways, like I said in my A/N for the last chapter, this one marks the end of most of the significant post-war stuff. There’s still emotions being processed and some fallout still to be dealt with, but the focus is really going to be shifting from looking back to looking forward. That’s one of the big reasons I decided that the memorial should be held a month after the battle instead of later. So far, everything in the book has just been looking back and dealing with the aftermath of the battle. Harry finishing his story and he and Ginny confessing their love started moving the focus somewhat, but in all my planning for this book, I was always treating this chapter as the line for where things change.

It was important though for it to be a proper and emotional memorial. The battle being so fresh in everyone’s minds meant there wasn’t another way to do it. The statue of the phoenix was something that was in my mind very early in the writing of the book. It just felt like a perfect symbolic tribute, and having family of the fallen light the feathers was so emotional and impactful at the same time. Surprisingly, I don’t have much else to say about the memorial itself. I think it speaks for itself. Harry’s speech was something that needed to be said and was done in a different way than his speech at Colin’s funeral, and it’s going to be interesting to see the ramifications of that in the greater wizarding world. And I don’t know if it’s weird or not since I’m the one who wrote it, but I do still get chills every time I read it.

I should mention, based on all the conversation we’ve all had about Snape in the past couple weeks, that, despite the fact that Snape was a real asshole to students and not a particularly good person in my opinion, but he still deserved the honour that the rest of the war heroes received, and I’m positive that’s how the characters who knew his whole story would feel too.

The only other comment I really have is that I did toy with the idea of calling this chapter Heroes Live Forever instead of Memorial, but I eventually decided that I preferred the simpler name and the meaning it conveyed in its simplicity. I don’t know how much attention you all actually give to the names of chapters; to be honest, when I’m reading fics, I usually barely notice them, but I did genuinely put a lot of thought into every chapter title. Some were very easy to decide on. Others, like this one, took a bit more time, but I tend to think the chapter titles I choose are pretty good on the whole.

And with that, we are ready to move into the next stage of the book, after the memorial, and I think you’re really going to like where we’re heading!

Coming Tuesday: Setting the Record Straight- “What the hell is that?” Harry erupted.

P.S. I know I said I wasn’t going to be giving writing updates on Book 3 every time, and I am going to stick to that, but I thought it was worth at least updating you all to say that I am very happy to say I’ve finished drafting chapter 3.1! There is literally nothing I could say or reveal from the chapter that wouldn’t contain huge spoilers, but I do think it’s the most fun I’ve had with an opening chapter. It’s still really weird to me that I’m writing over fifty chapters ahead of what’s being released, but I promise if you’re enjoying everything so far, you have *so much* to look forward to! I was honestly a little nervous to get back into the writing after taking the past six weeks off for a break and to finish the semester, as if I’d forget how to write or forget how to put myself in the characters’ shoes, but it’s been going so great so far and I’m so excited to get further into it!

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Chapter 19: Setting the Record Straight

"What the hell is that?" Harry erupted.

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Some time after the memorial, the Weasleys, Harry, and Hermione returned to the Burrow. Everybody seemed to need some time to decompress after what had been a very difficult day. Ron and Hermione went into Ottery St. Catchpole together, and Harry and Ginny had decided that they would as well. The four of them enjoyed a late lunch at the only restaurant in town- a small pub that wasn't all that different from the Leaky Cauldron. It was nice to be able to feel normal, on a double date with Ginny and his two best friends, Harry thought. When he pulled out a few Muggle bills to pay for the meal, Ginny surprised him with how interested she was in them.

"It's not that different from our money," Harry said as she held the bill close to her face, examining it intently. "Just paper instead of coins."

Without looking at him, Ginny responded, "It's very different. You just don't see it because you're used to it." She looked very cute to him, astonished by the paper money he'd always been used to, having grown up in Surrey. Then again, Ginny was always cute, and she was always interested in Muggle stuff she saw.

After they paid and walked back to the Burrow, Ginny went upstairs to take a shower, and Ron and Hermione excused themselves to Ron's room much earlier than usual, leaving Harry alone, unsure where everyone else was. Shrugging, he walked back outside into the orchard, not really thinking about anything in particular as he aimlessly strolled along. Eventually, he f