The Battle of Hogwarts is about to resume. Out on the grounds near Hagrid's hut, Harry, under his Invisibility Cloak, walks away from Ginny towards the Forbidden Forest and the Death Eater camp, where Lord Voldemort waits.
From Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, ch. 34, "The Forest Again." — "He wanted to shout out to the night, he wanted Ginny to know that he was there, he wanted her to know where he was going. He wanted to be stopped…Ginny was kneeling beside the injured girl now, holding her hand. With a huge effort Harry forced himself on. He thought he saw Ginny look around…"
...but Harry somehow kept walking.
He took a dozen steps and heard footsteps from behind. He hesitated . . . took a step . . . stopped. The footsteps drew near.
"Harry!" came a sharp, loud whisper. "Where are you? I know it's you."
He saw her stop a few feet to his right and look around. Her gaze passed through him, and his heart lurched when he saw blood on the front of her shirt. He sucked in a stuttering breath and Ginny's head whipped to face him. She took a step towards him and stretched out her arm, her hand reaching.
"Harry," she whispered, this time quietly. "Are you there?"
Harry stood rooted in indecision. His mind told him that Dumbledore would have wanted him to go on, that he must go on. But the fear on Ginny's face speared him, paralyzed him.
She took another step, and now was within arm's reach. His hand came up, of its own volition, and a fold of the Cloak slipped off. Ginny's eyes widened. In the dim lights of the distant castle her hand met his fingers, and with the touch of Ginny's flesh Harry knew that he and everyone and everything were lost.
He pulled the Cloak off; it fell to the ground and they stared at each other. Ginny took a step closer.
"Harry, what are you doing here? Where are you going?"
He tried desperately to overcome his yearning to go to her. "Ginny, I have to do something. What are you doing here? Who is she?" He glanced at the girl lying on the ground a few yards away.
Ginny looked at the body, then down at their hands, still touching; Harry let his drop. "It's Lizzie Derby." Her words were choked. "She's dead."
She began to weep and suddenly Harry had her in his arms. She sobbed on his chest as his hand stroked her hair.
He had almost forgotten what it was like to hold Ginny. The last time was in her room at the Burrow on his birthday, when words and a kiss had sent him off into the darkness but were one of the few lights that had kept despair at bay, all those long months. But he had not forgotten her flowery scent—faint as it was through sweat and blood—and it went straight to his heart. Yet there was a voice in his head, a voice telling him to do what he had started out to do. He felt his mind pulling away even as he held her closer.
"Ginny," he whispered into her hair, "I can't do this. I have to go."
She lifted her head and her eyes, tearful but ablaze, again pierced him. She gripped his arms, almost painfully. "Where are you going? I'll come with you."
"No." He shook his head violently. "Please, Ginny, let me go. Dumbledore . . . I promised." He tried to pull away but Ginny would not release him. "Ginny, let me go!" Harry took her hands and pushed her, but she lunged at him and her arms went around his waist.
"No!" she cried as he tried to back away. "You're going to give yourself up. Harry! No! You don't have to do this. No one wants it except him."
Harry stopped retreating, but put his hands behind his back and tried to pry her grip loose. "You don't understand. I have to go." He suddenly jerked her hands free and thrust them away. Ginny, frightened, took a step back. For a moment their eyes held each other's, then Ginny bowed her head.
"Harry," she said in a small, frightened voice, "whatever Dumbledore told you, he would not want you to do this. He would not want you to give yourself up. He'll kill you, or worse." She looked up, and again Harry felt his will waver.
But he braced himself and turned away. As he bent to pick up the Invisibility Cloak, Ginny screamed, "No!" and sprang. Harry stumbled to the ground as Ginny fell on his back. He twisted around and thrust her off, but she leapt back. As Harry pushed her shoulders away, not only her eyes but her entire face was blazing down at him. Without thinking, panic building, he put his hand on her face and shoved her head back.
"Ginny! Get off! You don't know what you're doing! Dumbledore—"
She slapped his hand away, but rolled off and lay on her back, breathing hard. Harry, horrified at himself, turned on his side and put his hand on her shoulder. Tears welled in Ginny's eyes, and as he peered down at her, she reached up and touched his face.
"I've waited for you so long," she murmured.
Once again Harry's will faltered. Leaning over her, all her wanted was to kiss her, but knew that his resolution would disappear forever if he did. She had felt so good, so soft, so needful, just a moment ago when he held her. It had been so long since he had felt that kind of closeness with anyone, and with Ginny there was such a promise beyond it . . .
As he hesitated, Ginny reached up, pulled him down and, resolving all questions, kissed him. It was the same kiss they had shared in her room almost a year ago, and Harry collapsed on her. It was over; he wanted her, he wanted to live.
They rolled on their sides and lay in each other's arms on the grass. Harry sighed, and began to speak, to tell Ginny what he had to do, where he had to go, knowing that he wanted her to stop him, but suddenly his scar tingled and he put his hand to it.
"What is it?" Ginny said, breathless. "Harry, your scar is—"
Harry screamed as a bolt of searing pain cleaved his head. He jerked back, clutching his scar while waves of fiery rage from Voldemort engulfed him. The Dark Lord had exploded in fury at something—no, at Harry's cowardice—and had struck at the first person to cross his line of sight. A Death Eater lay on the ground, of that Harry was certain, although a red haze clouded the vision, and it seemed that everyone else around Voldemort was cowering, holding up hands to ward off the next strike.
"Harry! Harry!" Ginny was cradling him in her arms, his head lolling back, the pain reverberating in his skull. It was unbearable. If it happened again . . .
Ginny laid him on the grass and pressed against him, trying to keep him still, caressing his face. "Harry, tell me what it is. Tell me what to do."
Harry gripped her hand. "It's Voldemort," he gasped, barely able to speak through the waves of agony. "He's inside . . . it's the scar, he's in the scar. He—" With a sudden spasm Harry's back arched, almost throwing Ginny off. His eyes bulged and his grip on her hands tightened painfully. His mouth opened in a scream but it came out as a strangled gurgle. He let go her hands and grabbed his own throat as his face turned red.
"Harry!" Ginny screamed. She tore his hands away but they went to his scar and began clawing violently at it while he choked and gasped for breath. Ginny yanked his hands from the scar and cried out.
Harry's forehead had swollen and come alive as if a writhing, pulsating, black snake was under his skin, twisting and thrashing, trying to break out. Ginny drew back for an instant, horrified, but then took Harry in her arms as tightly as she could and, not knowing why she was saying or doing it, but terrified that he was dying, pressed her cheek hard on the twisting scar and screamed, "Harry, Harry, I love you!"
Something flung Ginny away and she landed on her back a few feet from Harry, her breath knocked out. Above her a formless shape as black as midnight rose into the dark sky. It hovered directly over her, menacing, threatening, until a burst of sudden wind blew it to shreds and it vanished.
Ginny, taking gulps of air, crawled to Harry as he too caught his breath. They lay side by side, stunned, until Harry slowly sat up. He looked around. The darkness seemed different, and after a moment he realized that a menace that had been like an encompassing, suffocating vapor, surrounding and suffusing everything ever since the arrival of Voldemort and his army, was gone. He looked at Ginny, who was staring up at him.
"He's gone," Harry said. "Voldemort is gone." He touched his scar and looked at his hand, expecting blood, but there was nothing. He rubbed his palm across the scar; the skin was smooth and soft.
Ginny struggled to sit up and Harry steadied her with an embrace as they stood. "What happened?" she said. "What was that?" She cautiously raised her hand, but did not touch his forehead. Her eyes once again grew wide. "Harry, your scar is gone." She put her hand up again as if to touch it, but pulled back, uncertain.
He touched his forehead once more and peered at his hand. "Something happened to Voldemort. Come on!" He snatched up his Cloak, turned, and pulled her towards the Forbidden Forest.
"Harry, wait! Where are we going? What's happening? Do you know what that . . . that thing was?" She pulled him to a stop and turned him to face her.
"I think Voldemort is hurt," Harry said, "badly. That thing was something I learned about from Dumbledore." He hesitated; Horcruxes were one of Dumbledore's closest secrets, but Ginny now had a right to know. "It's something vile, and it was inside my scar ever since he killed my mother. Ginny, have you ever heard of a Horcrux?"
She shook her head, her expression changing from uncertain to fearful, and, indistinct as it was in the dark, it pulled Harry to her. He wanted to kiss that face but again hesitated, afraid that if he started he would not stop.
"Let me tell you," he said, "and then we have to get to his camp." He took a breath. "A Horcrux is a vessel, something you put something in, and the thing you put in is a part of your soul. Voldemort split his soul into seven pieces and put six of them into Horcruxes. As long as a single Horcrux survives, he can not be killed. Do you remember Dumbledore's arm last year?" Ginny nodded; her look had not changed. "That happened when he put a cursed ring on his hand that was a Horcrux. The diary Malfoy gave you was also a Horcrux, and we—Hermione, Ron, and I—destroyed three more. But Voldemort made a seventh without realizing it."
"You," Ginny said in barely a whisper, glancing at his forehead. Harry nodded. "But what made it go away?" she asked.
Harry took her face between his hands. "You."
"Me? How? How could I—"
"Ginny, you did." He dropped his hands. "And now there's only one Horcrux, and I know where it is."
"In his camp, and that's why we're going there. Harry, shouldn't we go back and get help? There are hundreds of Death Eaters with him."
"Not any more." Taking her hand, he started towards the forest. "The Horcrux connected us. Sometimes I could see what he was doing, and just before you . . . you took it away, I saw his Death Eaters running. They were terrified, of him. And now . . ." They were beyond Hagrid's cabin, at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. "It's very different. I can feel it. Can you?"
Ginny nodded. "It feels . . . cleaner."
"Yes, that's it. But let's use this." He flung the Cloak over both of them, took Ginny's hand again, and plunged into the trees.
Ginny was quiet, but took the material and rubbed it between her fingers. She glanced at Harry; he could barely make out her face, but he saw her smile. He squeezed her hand as feelings flooded over him in waves: the release of fear, relief, joy, anticipation . . . Here he was, walking to where he thought his life would be ended, but now he was alive, with Ginny, who could give him more of a future than anyone else in his life.
He was conscious of her scent, of her hand in his, of her arm swinging as they walked, of her hip bumping against his when they swerved to avoid a tree. Harry glanced at her again and again she returned his gaze, and even in the darkness—or maybe it was the rising warmth of her palm—he thought he saw her blush.
Harry forced his mind from that distraction. Everything had changed and there would be time . . .
He knew where he was going: to the clearing before Aragog's cave. He had seen it in the moments before the piece of Voldemort's soul had blown out of his forehead. But he was uncertain of the way. It had been five years since he and Ron had been there, but at least he knew the general direction, and trusted that when they got close something would show them the way.
They continued to hold hands as they walked, picking their way through the darkness, brushing against branches, stumbling over roots, bumping into trees. Harry wondered what Ginny was thinking: probably about Horcruxes. He had been living with the horror for more than a year, but they were brand new to her. How could it not be disturbing?
Or maybe she was thinking about the words she had spoken in that moment of mutual terror. She had been surprised, shocked, when the thing burst out of his head; maybe she hadn't realized what she was saying. Or maybe she meant that she loved him like he loved Hermione, like a brother, like a friend.
He glanced at her. She glanced at him and he saw her eyes again grow wide.
"What is it?" she whispered.
"Ginny, I just wanted to say—"
He was interrupted as they walked directly into a bush. "Ouch!" Ginny cried, then clapped her hand over her mouth. "Sorry," she whispered. "I wasn't looking."
They extricated themselves—the bush seemed to grab at them as they backed away—and started walking again but Harry didn't speak. He had to concentrate on where they were going, and Ginny was distraction enough even without his talking to her.
After another ten minutes of frequent halts to get his bearings, and detours to avoid particularly forbidding-looking thickets, Harry stopped. A strange noise was coming from ahead.
"What is that?" she whispered. "It sounds like someone crying."
Harry took his wand from his pocket and continued on, holding her hand firmly. He thought he now recognized where they were, and a few moments later, as the trees and undergrowth thinned, he knew that they were near. They moved cautiously, and finally, peering through the trees, saw the clearing and the opening of the cave. The sobs, now louder, were coming from the other side of the clearing, beyond the cave. Harry sucked in his breath. "I think I know who that is."
"I think I know too," said Ginny. "Can that be?"
They stepped into the clearing, and now saw three bodies lying on the ground near the cave. Except for the loud sobbing, there were no other sounds, and the clearing was empty; in fact, the whole forest felt empty.
"I think that's Bellatrix Lestrange," Harry whispered, pointing at the body lying closest to them; she was on her stomach and a pool of blood stained the ground around her. "And . . ."
"Harry, oh Harry. Is that . . .?"
Harry had trouble drawing his breath. He took another look around, threw off the Cloak, and walked past Bellatrix's sprawled body to the next. It was Tom Riddle, lying on his back, his serpent-like face and red eyes staring blankly at the darkness above. His face was frozen in a grimace of pain and rage, and drying trickles of blood veined the skin of his lacerated skull.
Ginny came to stand beside Harry and clutched his arm. They both stared down, then Harry squatted, slipped Voldemort's wand from his slender fingers, and put it in his own pocket. He got to his feet and said to Ginny, "I'll explain later. It's—"
He stopped, because Ginny had quietly begun to weep. Harry put his arms around her and she leaned her head on his shoulder.
"Fred," she murmured through her tears. "Fred . . . Why?" Harry rocked with her as Ginny wept. He thought of the others who had died, and like Ginny, now wondered why it had to be. But suddenly he tensed and looked up.
"Hush," he said softly. She looked at him with teary eyes, and then she also turned her head. The loud sobs had stopped, and heavy footsteps were approaching. Harry looked around for his Cloak, but before he could move, Rubeus Hagrid crashed out of the forest carrying, like a baby, the body of a huge snake. Nagini's massive form lay curled in his arms; on top of the body, which was arranged in a massive, neat coil, perched the snake's giant head. Tears were pouring down Hagrid's face like a waterfall, dripping through his beard and bathing the snake.
Harry and Ginny stared, incredulous. At first Hagrid did not notice them, but when he looked at the bodies on the ground he stopped, saw them, and grinned through his tears.
"Harry!" he boomed. "An' Ginny! Ain't it grand? The bloody war is over. An' for poor Nagini here too." He bent down, laid the snake gently on the ground—the stack of coils was almost as tall as Ginny—and carefully placed the snakehead on top. "Poor girl."
He sat heavily on the ground, pulled out a towel-sized handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his face, then heaved a deep sigh and brightened. "Are you two okay? Yeh look fine, especially holdin' hands," he added with a coy smile and a definite twinkle in his eye.
Harry was having trouble finding his voice; the shocks were coming too close, one on top of another. He glanced at Ginny and saw complete bewilderment, and realized that she did not know that this was Voldemort's snake, let alone the final Horcrux.
He squeezed her hand. "Remember I told you I knew where the last Horcrux was?" She nodded, realization dawning. Harry pointed. "That was it."
Ginny stared first at the dead snake, then at the body of Voldemort, before turning back to Harry. "And that's why he's dead."
"Hagrid," Harry said as they walked towards him, giving the snake a wide berth. "What happened?"
Hagrid began to sob again, holding the handkerchief to his eyes. "I killed her, Harry, I killed her. Poor girl."
"You killed Bellatrix?"
"What, her? No, she killed herself." Hagrid gazed at the pool of blood now seeping into the ground. "After Volde— after that one keeled over, she kind of went to pieces. She pulled out a knife an' slit her own wrists." He shook his head. "Crazier than a kneazle in heat."
"Then who killed Voldemort? And why did you kill the snake?"
Hagrid bent his head and covered his face with the massive handkerchief. "She was comin' at me. Harry, I'm sorry." He peeked out. "Can yeh forgive me? I— I never killed nothin' before, well, except maybe some moles, but never someone's pet. I know she did some bad things, but Merlin, that one made her do 'em. She never would have done 'em if she had a choice." His sobs returned, and for several moments he could not speak.
Ginny moved closer and took the handkerchief from Hagrid. She wiped his face, then wrung it out and patted down his beard, now soaked with tears.
"Hagrid, it's okay. She had to die. If she had lived, Voldemort would still be alive and Harry would be dead. You did the right thing." She reached up and patted his shoulder as Harry came to stand next to her.
"Well," Hagrid said, still teary and taking back the handkerchief, "if yeh say so. You an' Harry know a lot more about that one than I do, an' I'm sure all of it's bad."
He sighed once again and put the handkerchief away. "I was tied up back there—" he indicated the forest behind him "—by that witch." He scowled at Bellatrix. "She was a foul one, that's fer sure. But they was all waitin' fer yeh, Harry. I don't understand why, but they was all expectin' yeh to stroll in here like it was Sunday in Diagon Alley an' give yerself up. But then—" he scrunched his brow "—maybe half an hour ago, all of a sudden that one went crazy. First he was shoutin' about what a coward yeh were, then he was runnin' around screamin' like a banshee, but I never heard a banshee scream like that. Then he killed someone just fer the heck of it, but then he let out the most horrible scream I ever heard an' started bangin' his head against the rock like he was tryin' to smash it, an' I don't mean the rock. Then he fell down an' was writhin' around like a Skrewt in a cookin' pot. Bellatrix was tryin' to calm him, but he grabbed her throat an' shook her like a rag doll. I dunno how he didn' kill her. But then he started shakin' all over. I think he was in pain, Harry, really bad pain, and jus' then his snake came at me. The blighters holdin' the ropes took off, an' then she tried to bite me."
Hagrid eyes brimmed. "Harry, I didn' have a choice. She would 'a killed me. So I ripped her head off."
He bowed his head. Harry and Ginny both put their hands on his tree trunk-like arms and looked at each other. Ginny managed a wan smile.
"What happened then?" Harry said.
Hagrid looked up, but he no longer seemed sad. "As soon as I killed Nagini, that one gave a big gurgle like he was chokin' and lay there. I could tell he was dead. The witch screamed, everyone else ran like a Bowtruckle on a fryin' pan, an' then she whipped out her knife an' sliced both of her wrists."
Harry could do no more than stare at Hagrid; it was all too bizarre and too sudden to comprehend. But Ginny tugged on his hand.
"Harry, we need to get back. We need to tell everyone. They all think an attack is coming."
Ginny was right, and besides, Harry was exhausted; he could not remember the last time he had slept or eaten, and now the nervous energy that had kept him going was gone. But he also wanted to talk to Ginny, to finish what he had started to tell her in the forest. He didn't know what the next few hours would bring, but before the questions began, before Kingsley Shacklebolt—or whoever was now Minister for Magic—wanted answers and explanations, even before he found Ron and Hermione, he had to talk to Ginny.
He took both of her hands. Ginny looked up at him and he realized that it was beginning to grow light because he could see her freckles; dawn was approaching.
"You're right, but . . . Ginny, there's something you have to know, before anyone else." He turned his head. "Hagrid, I need to talk to Ginny for a minute."
"Sure, Harry, that's fine. I'll wait here." He heaved himself up and walked away.
Harry led Ginny in the opposite direction until they were at the edge of the clearing. When he took her hands again she smiled, but it was a tired smile. She waited for him to speak.
Harry looked into the eyes he had studied in his mind for so many months, and began. "Ginny, there was something that Dumbledore used to tell me, over and over. He told me I had something, some kind of strength that Voldemort did not have, and that's why I would win in the end, or maybe why he would lose. I never really believed it though. I thought Voldemort was too strong. But do you remember after we fought in the Department of Mysteries, and Dumbledore dueled with Voldemort?"
Ginny nodded. "Ron told me that He Who— that Voldemort possessed you."
"But he didn't really, because he couldn't stand being inside me because . . . because of all of you, you and Ron and Hermione and . . . and Sirius and everyone. All of a sudden I remembered that Sirius had died for me because he . . .he loved me. And I loved him, and I loved all of you, and Voldemort could not stand that love. He just blew out of me like an explosion, and after that he never even tried to see what was in my mind. He was afraid."
Ginny just kept looking at him. He wanted to kiss her but, as before, was positive he would never be able to stop, she was so beautiful, so desirable in the growing light.
"Ginny," he finally said, "when you put your cheek on my scar and held onto me and said you . . . you loved me, you blew him out of me again, but this time all of him. You gave me what Dumbledore meant."
"And what was that?" she said in a soft voice, her eyes alight.
Harry looked down at their clasped hands. "Love," he said, raising his eyes.
She moved closer and kissed him. Their arms went around each other and it was not until they heard a throat being loudly cleared that they looked up.
"Say," Hagrid boomed from across the clearing, "don't yeh think we oughtta be gettin' back? There's folks need to know some things, like that you two are alive and this one's not." He pointed to Voldemort.
They walked back into the Forbidden Forest. Hagrid led the way, carrying Nagini over his shoulder like a coil of rope, her head tucked inside a moleskin sack dangling from his belt; he had told Harry and Ginny that he would bury her behind his hut next to Aragog. He had dragged two of the bodies into Aragog's cave—"They'll know what to do with 'em"—but refused to touch Voldemort and his empty, staring, red eyes. Harry did not want to leave the body; he did not want renegade Death Eaters returning and retrieving it, making a shrine to their fallen Dark Lord. But Hagrid was certain they would not come back, and if they did, "Aragog's kids'll know what to do with 'em." When Harry pointed out that spiders had joined Voldemort's attack on the castle, Hagrid shook his head.
"None of them was Aragog's family," he said. "I dunno where they came from but it wasn't here."
It was growing lighter in the forest; the sun would soon be up, and even in his bleary exhaustion, Harry was exhilarated as he walked and pondered the course that events had taken, as he realized what would have happened if he had not seen Ginny on the lawn and if she had not stopped him. Instead, here he was with Ginny at his side, walking towards a life of magnificent possibilities. He put his arm around the source of his exhilaration.
"Voldemort died because he could not take the pain," Ginny said as they emerged from the forest and saw Hogwarts rising before them. Only a few lights appeared in windows, many of which were broken. They could see damaged walls and roofs. "And he was afraid it would never end."
"That's probably right," Harry said, and yawned. "I'm so tired."
Ginny rested her head on his shoulder for a moment, but then sighed. "Harry, stay with me. Fred is there. I want you to be with me."
Harry turned his head and kissed her as they walked on.
A/N – Yes, I know. Harry is now holding, at the same moment, all three Deathly Hallows. But in this AU he is also holding something far more precious: Ginny.
Thanks to MuttNFeathers and WrappedInHarry, two of my favorite writers and two wonderful friends, for beta-ing this story.
I welcome all reviews—good, bad, and indifferent. And if you check out my profile, you will find there a link to the web page of my original novel, Hancock Hill, which has an average Amazon rating of 4.2 stars.