A/N: This story is intended as the first in a series that covers the years after the Second Wizarding War. It is a sequel to 'The Changeling' wherein Ginny is a Slytherin. But like all stories, this is just one possibility.

Special thanks to Bethany and TimeShifter for being sounding boards and betas and generally awesome.

they made you into a weapon and told you to find peace (-unfinished poems by s.z)

Chapter One


Harry doesn't look up from the rubble he's trying to shift. There's a framed painting listing on the wall behind, partially hidden by a pile of rock. His wand is shaking slightly in his hand, a fine river of dust and rubble stubbornly cascading back into place no matter how many pieces he charms out of the way.

A mournful-looking woman with a wide lace collar peers back at him from the battered canvas.

"Potter," the voice insists again, and Harry tears his eyes from the painting to see Madam Pomfrey regarding him, her hands on her hips. Somehow she manages to look crisp and unruffled, her cap still firmly in place.

"Come along," she says, voice brisk. "I'll have a look at you."

"I'm fine," Harry says. "I'm not hurt."

He isn't, right? He tries to take stock of his body, but it feels distant.

Another small cascade of pebbles run down the wall, spilling out into the hall.

"Kingsley insists," she says.

"Really, Madam Pomfrey," Harry tries, wanting this rubble shifted. Needing to do it.

Her face is set in familiar lines. For all the time they've spent together over the years, he can tell this isn't one of the times she can be put off.

"Harry," she says, voice pitching lower with something horribly like pity.

He jerks his head once in agreement, anything to get her to stop looking at him like that. Without another word, Pomfrey turns on her heel and heads down the hallway.

Harry glances back at the still partially buried painting. "Sorry," he murmurs.

She mutely stares back at him.

Harry trudges behind Pomfrey, stepping over piles of rubble and armor and fluids he tries not to look at too closely. Rather than leading him to hospital, she leads him down the stairs and into one of the classrooms. It's been set up as an aide station, so he has to assume the hospital was yet another casualty of the damage.

His hands tighten into fists, his heart pounding loudly in his ears.

The diary, the ring, the locket, the cup, the diadem, the snake, he thinks, the endless litany of syllables almost meaningless at this point. And me.

"Sit," Pomfrey says, pointing at a camp bed.

Harry obeys, but almost immediately wants to push back up to his feet. He curls his hands around the edge of the bed, his knee bouncing up and down in the face of this sudden unwanted immobility.

"Jacket off," she says.

He peels off layers of grimy, worn clothing until he's just in his undershirt. He can't remember how many days ago he put this shirt on. Was it two? Three?

Pomfrey looks him over intently, words murmured under her breath as she casts diagnostic spells. He feels the gentle tingle of them on his skin as if from a distance.

The diary, the ring, the-

"Does it hurt?"

"What?" Harry asks, looking up at her.

She considers him for a long moment. "Your scar."

It's only then he realizes that his fingers are pressing into his forehead. He drops his hand. "No."

She nods curtly, but doesn't press further. Lifting his arms, she clucks her tongue over the burns on his skin.

"Curse-induced?" she asks, voice brisk.

"Flagrante," he says, and the break-in to Bellatrix's vault seems like years ago. He glances down at the half-healed welts. "We had some dittany on hand."

"Well, at least there was that."

She fiddles a bit longer, healing a few minor cuts here and there, easing a bruise. These small tasks completed, her wand drops to her side. "How do you feel?"

It's a strange question, one Harry isn't sure how to answer. Should he tell her about the low-level buzz of panic at the back of his brain, something that keeps making him feel like he's forgotten something important, like there must be one more thing to do. Because it can't be done. There's always been…more. And yet, for all the jitteriness, his body feels sluggish, not able to keep up with his scattered thoughts.

- the locket, the cup-

Pomfrey's hand is gentle on his knee, pressing down to stop the twitching movement. "When was the last time you had a meal, child?"

He feels his shoulders hunch, something like anger crawling up his throat at the patronizing tone. "I feel fine," he bites out.

She gives him a long flinty stare, but eventually nods, apparently satisfied. "Well, then, Potter. Nothing a few good meals and some rest won't cure. Think you can handle that?"

"Yes, Madam," he forces himself to say. "Can I go?"

Her lips press together, but she doesn't argue. "Yes."

He jumps to his feet, intensely grateful to be up and moving again. He thinks he hears her sigh as he leaves, pulling on his jacket as he goes.

Outside in the hallway he pauses, fully intending to go back and finish helping the painting, but he can't quite remember where that had been. The castle feels unfamiliar, landmarks missing, walls collapsed.

God, so much damage, he thinks, that terrible buzzing building in his ears again.

Someone passes by, and without thinking, Harry follows, just needing to go somewhere.

The student glances warily back at him, eyes widening when she recognizes him, but doesn't try to talk to him, thank Merlin. They continue down the hall in their strange single-file formation, eventually ending back in the Great Hall.

Harry nearly backpedals at the door, not wanting to be here. But the hall has emptied out a lot since he was here yesterday. (Was that really only yesterday?)

His eyes skim the space, looking for Ron or Hermione. He hasn't seen them since he woke in his old dorm room a few hours earlier, the two of them still asleep in the next bed. There's no sign of them.

McGonagall is talking to Mrs. Weasley. Off to one side, Charlie is with George, the two of them not talking, just sitting. Harry feels pressure squeeze across his chest, a painful burning bile crawling up his throat.

Maybe there's a chance Ginny is still in the cloister, he thinks, fumbling for the map. Things were…quieter there. He's sure of it.

Someone claps a hand down on his shoulder, and Harry's entire body tenses, his hand going to his wand.

The hand instantly lifts. "Hey. Sorry."

Harry spins to see Bill, looking worn and dirty and somehow apologetic when Harry is the one who needs to apologize.

Bill gives Harry a once-over. "Do you need to be seen by someone?"

Harry's jaw tightens, and he tries to remind himself that it should be nice to be fussed over, no matter how much it makes him want to scream. "I just finished with Pomfrey."

Bill nods.

Percy walks up to them, robes streaked with dust and tie hanging to one side. Harry almost doesn't recognize him, so unused to him looking anything less than polished. Catching sight of Harry, Percy opens his mouth to say something, shifting uncomfortably. His cheeks are red, but in the end he only apologetically shrugs.

Harry shrugs back, any lingering indignation long ago burned away by sheer exhaustion.

Percy turns to Bill. "Ginny's gone to St. Mungo's with her, uh, friend. She didn't want him to have to go alone." He grimaces. "Well, refused to let him more like."

Bill sighs, dragging a hand over his face. "Of course she did. It's secure at least?"

Percy nods. "The Minister oversaw it himself. He said the Ministry offices could wait. The injured are more important. He's running things from there."

"Okay." Bill eyes his brother. "Are you going over there?"

Something seems to pass between the brothers. Percy's chin lifts. "I told him where he could find us if he needed us."

Bill smiles wanly, clapping Percy on the shoulder.

Fleur approaches then, Bill sliding an arm around her waist and pressing a kiss to her forehead. She leans into him, her expression weary, but no less beautiful for the healing cut on her cheek.

"If you can keep Mum here," Bill says to her, "we're going to go take care of it."

She nods.

Harry glances at Percy next to him. "Take care of what?"

He winces. "The Burrow."

Harry frowns. "What do you mean?"

"It's been empty since Mum and Dad had to leave at Easter," Bill says.

Harry isn't really sure of the significance of that, just recognizes the grim cast to Bill's expression. "Can I help?" he asks, desperate to do anything other than keep standing here. To risk having to think.

- the diadem, the snake-

Bill lifts one eyebrow in an expression that unexpectedly reminds Harry of Ginny. "Sure, it's about time you made yourself useful."

Fleur murmurs, "Are you sure?"

Bill squeezes her. "We'll keep him safe."

Harry bites back a caustic remark about not needing a babysitter, not particularly wanting to antagonize Bill. He's probably safer now than he's been his entire life.

Isn't he?

Bill seems to read his expression anyway. "Remind me, how many times have you almost died in the last 24 hours?"

Harry rubs at the back of his head. "Yeah, well, I'm not planning on doing that again for a while."

Bill snorts. "We may not know each other that well, Harry, but even I know what you plan rarely has any affect on what happens."

Harry feels himself blanch, his thoughts spiraling dangerously.

And me. And me. And me.

"Hey," Bill says, something awful in his voice. "Harry…"

"Can we go?" Harry says.

For a moment it looks like Bill may push, hand reaching out at if to touch him again.

Harry deliberately turns away, stuffing the map back into his pocket.

"Yeah. Sure," Bill says. "Let's go."

Harry glances once more around the space, fingers twitching, thinking of the painting, the stains on the floor, Ron and Hermione. With a quick turn, he Apparates away. Someone can yell at him for Apparating without a license later if they care.

He appears on the lane in front of the Burrow. For a long moment it is silent, the kind of silent that used to dog them on the run, wrapped up tightly in wards and hopelessness.

Two more pops in the road behind him chase the feeling away. Together they move up the lane.

The gate is hanging off its hinges.

Harry forces himself to lift his eyes to the house.

It's somehow worse even than Hogwarts. Seeing this lovely, vibrant place empty and broken, and it finally connects in his head. Since Easter, Percy said. Meaning since they were captured at Malfoy Manor and the Weasleys were exposed. Forced to go on the run. All for the crime of helping him.

And here, part of that price.

The three of them stare at the house for a long moment, taking in the scorch marks and broken windows.

Harry takes a step forward, needing to fix this.

Bill puts an arm out to stop him. "Wait."

Harry looks up at him. "What?"

But Bill's attention is on the house, his brow furrowed in concentration. Taking a few steps forward, he pulls his wand, creating a string of complicated spells Harry has never seen before.

After a few minutes, Bill lowers his wand. "Those bloody bastards," he mutters. "Left us a few extra gifts." His expression is dark, the scars on his face only seeming to deepen.

"Can you break them?" Percy asks.

Bill snorts. "I'll choose not to be offended by that question, little brother."

Harry doesn't know if he's imagining the crackle of energy in the air, just watches intently as Bill carefully untangles a series of curses strand by strand. It takes about twenty minutes altogether, Bill finally lowering his wand.

"Come on," Bill says, voice brusque.

Harry follows him up the path, hearing Percy charm the gate back into place behind them.

Inside the house, it's even worse. It's been completely tossed, not so much as if anyone was searching for something, but just wanted to destroy. Worst of all is the graffiti splashed on the walls, the glistening red substance still seeming wet.


Harry swallows back his horror and picks up one of the kitchen chairs.

Without another word, they all set to work.

Harry makes his way into the sitting room, Scourgifying the filthy words off the wall. He just wants them gone . He's nearly worked his way around the room when he stubs his toe on something, almost falling.

It's the special family clock, lying facedown. Squatting down, Harry wedges his fingers under the edge, straining and grunting as he lifts it back to place.

It nearly falls back down on him twice, and he knows that if Percy or Bill walk in right now they'll probably yell at him for not using magic, but this matters. With another heave, it finally settles back firmly on its base. The glass in front of the clock is shattered.

Harry taps it with his wand, the cracks and breaks creaking as they repair, the sound lifting the hairs on the back of his neck. As the glass clears, he can see the hands inside.

Most of the family hands are pointing to school or home. Ginny's says hospital.

It's Fred's hand that is pointing to travelling.

Harry feels an awful sort of pressure crawling up his throat. With one last nudge, he squares the clock in place.

An Auror appears at the Burrow less than half an hour after they arrive. Harry gives Bill a sharp glance, but the older man just shrugs. "Kingsley insisted. If you want to fight the Minister of Magic over it, feel free."

Harry sighs. He supposes it will just be another thing that'll be difficult to adjust to, having to answer to the adults around him again.

He goes back to work, but the Auror seems twitchy, sticking annoyingly close to Harry even after Bill and Percy get the first of the wards up in place.

Harry has moved on to the kitchen by that point, vanishing rotten food and setting the abandoned plates to washing themselves. Or trying to at least.

He winces as another plate breaks against the sink.

The Auror curses under his breath, as if he can't stand to watch Harry butcher the common household spells anymore. "I've got it," he says, repairing the plate.

Harry shrugs, not caring enough to argue.

They've just about finished with the kitchen when a Patronus sweeps up the walk, coming to a stop in front of the Auror, speaking words Harry can't hear.

It takes him a moment to place the animal-a lynx. Kingsley's Patronus. It's been almost a year since he's seen it, since it swept into the wedding tent and pushed everything into motion. Almost a year since he stood with Ginny in his arms as he fumbled through the steps of a dance while wearing someone else's face. It seems more like a dream than a memory. Hazy and distant.

"He'd like to speak to you," the Auror says.

Harry blinks, his thoughts struggling to come back to the present. "What?"

"Kingsley won't be able to leave to come to you, Harry," Bill points out, now standing in the doorway. "He's holding everything together by will alone right now."

"Oh," Harry says. "Yeah. All right."

The Auror looks relieved. Harry wonders if he was planning on dragging him there against his will.

He kneels down in front of the fireplace, conjuring a fire. "We'll go by Floo."

Harry shrugs.

Bill touches Harry's shoulder, and he still can't help but tense under the touch. "If you get a chance…"

Harry looks back at him. "What?"

"Could you just check in on Ginny? I know I shouldn't worry. It just makes me anxious having her out of sight."

Harry remembers far too well being at Shell Cottage when word came of Ginny's disappearance. Remembers scouring the Marauder's Map day after day for a dot that never appeared.

She's fine, he reminds himself.

Only now they've lost a brother, and none of them will ever forget that even for a moment.

"Yeah," Harry agrees, anxious to move again.

The fire is roaring now. "I'll go first," the Auror says, stepping into the flames before Harry can answer.

Once on the other side, the difference from the quiet of the Burrow is startling. Dozens of raised voices, the sounds of cries and moans and people calling out names. St. Mungo's is abuzz with movement, with the aftermath.

"Mr. Potter!" someone shouts.

Suddenly there are people pressing close, camera flashbulbs going off in his face, hands pulling at his clothes.

He's thankful for the Auror, the man bustling him back into the restricted sections of the hospital.

"What was that?" Harry demands.

The Auror just gives him a look like he's being thick. "This way."

Giving a wary glance back at the room they just left, Harry starts down the direction the Auror indicates.

In the hallway, a mediwitch stops, staring. As he passes, her hand reaches out, just gently touching the sleeve of his coat. Before he can even react, she pulls away, the Auror stepping towards her.

Harry glances back over his shoulder, and she's just staring at him, even as the Auror puts an arm across her, holding her back.

"Thank you," she says.

For a second he thinks to ask for what, but he knows, doesn't he? He closes his eyes, the final thud of Voldemort's body echoing in his ears. He nods at the mediwitch before turning away.

"In here," the Auror says, opening a door at the end of the hall.

It's a large room that may have been a waiting room at some point, now filled with tables and filing cabinets and freestanding boards covered with papers, maps, and pictures.

"Harry. How are you?"

He turns to find Kingsley regarding him, his arm tucked into his body with a sling, wearing rather ragged looking purple robes.

"Hasn't Pomfrey reported to you?" Harry says, not quite able to keep his annoyance out of his voice.

Kingsley merely raises an eyebrow at him. "Yes, well, a lot of people have spent a long time worrying about you, whether we needed to or not."

Harry reluctantly nods, acknowledging that. It's a mild rebuke, all things told.

Kingsley gives him a smile lined with exhaustion. "I'm sorry to drag you down here. I guess I need to hear it straight from you that this is all done."

"You mean Voldemort," Harry says.

Everyone in the room seems to stop working, turning to stare.

Even Kingsley can't hide the tiniest wince. "Yes."

"It's done," Harry says, and maybe that's as much a reminder for himself as a reassurance for Kingsley. It's done, it's done, it's done.

The diary, the ring, the cup-

Harry clears his throat. "Where he is now…there's no coming back."

He expects Kingsley to press for details, but instead he nods. "Okay. Thank you."

Harry turns, looking at a row of boards standing near him, realizing they are covered with the names and pictures of Death Eaters; dead, captured, and otherwise.

"Is there anything else I need to know right away?" Kingsley asks. "I'm hoping we'll have time to talk in more detail later, but for now..."

Harry points at a picture. "Don't bother looking for him. Voldemort killed him months ago."

"Okay," Kingsley says, nodding at another wizard, who takes the photo down. "Anyone else?"

Moving closer, Harry taps his finger on Peter Pettigrew's face. "You'll find his body in Malfoy Manor, if Bellatrix didn't already dispose of it."

"Voldemort's work as well?"

"In a way." He shakes his head. "It's complicated."

Severus Snape looks out at him from behind a red X across his face. Harry pulls the photo down. Snape scowls back at him.

Harry walks over to another series of boards. The fallen defenders of Hogwarts, he realizes with a jolt.

His vision seems to dim for a moment, the faces swimming in front of him. There are dozens and dozens. With a shaking hand, he pins Snape's scowling face to the wall. Harry can't say why this matters, just knows that it does.

He was necessary, he remembers Ginny saying.

He looks at Kingsley, waiting for him to protest, but he just nods.

"Shacklebolt," one of the Aurors says, a parchment gripped in her hand.

Kingsley takes it, looking down at the information. "Yes. Okay. Take Winters with you. And Gowan."

"Yes, sir," she says, disappearing out the door at a run.

Everyone left in the room has gone back to work, clearly having no more time for Harry. He isn't sure if he should be relieved or offended.

"Sorry about that," Kingsley says, but doesn't bothering explaining. "Things are still a bit hectic."

From what Harry can gather, they are trying to secure Death Eaters, release prisoners, deal with the injured, and establish safe zones. It's a bit overwhelming to realize just how cut off he has been this last year, so buried in the hunt for Horcruxes that the larger battle has gone on almost unnoticed.

"What can I do?" Harry asks, his fingers tapping restlessly against his thigh.

Kingsley's look of surprise morphs into a smile. "I think you've done more than enough, Harry. Why don't you let us handle the rest?"

Harry's hands clench into fists. "I think I've earned it, wouldn't you say?"

Kingsley looks a little taken aback. Still, his hesitation is obvious even to Harry. He glances down at Harry's hands, and Harry wonders just what Pomfrey said to him.

After a long while, he nods, looking thoughtful. "Come back in the morning."

Harry opens his mouth to argue.

His face is stern. "In the morning, Harry. You're no use to anyone exhausted."

Harry bites back another caustic response. "Fine," he says.

He can survive waiting eighteen hours, right?

Kingsley puts his hand on Harry's shoulder, walking him back towards the door. "Now I know you may not like having an Auror trailing around with you, but times like these, people get desperate. Once the Burrow has been secured again, I'll pull him."

"I'm not sure that's where I'll…" Harry hasn't really thought about where he's going to live. He hasn't thought about any of this.

"Well, for now, it would make everything simpler if you stayed there."

"Sure," Harry says.

Out in the hall, Harry's Auror looks up as they walk out, moving back towards him.

"Thank you," Kingsley says. "I'll see you tomorrow."

And with that, the door closes, Harry firmly on the outside.

The hallway is buzzing with voices. "Where to, Potter?" his Auror asks.

Harry honestly has no idea, just lets his feet take him down the hallway.

People are staring, whispers following him.

It isn't long at all until a tall woman with broad shoulders and a serious face strides up to him. "I am the Hospital Matron, Mr. Potter," she says, voice brusque and matter of fact. "Are you injured?"

"No," he manages to say. "I'm not… I just…" He glances around the hall, the people sitting in clumps in the hallways.

Somehow that seems to be explanation enough, because the Matron nods, walking briskly down the hallway as if she fully expects Harry to follow her. He does, but mostly because he's at a loss of what else to do.

As they move down the hall, she gives him a brisk breakdown of the number of patients. How many are critical. How many are going to be fine but don't necessarily have anywhere to go.

Harry wants her to stop, his heart pounding painfully in his chest like it's going to give out, but he should hear this, shouldn't he? The damage, the cost of that long night.

People fighting for him, to give him the chance he needed.

More of the medistaff occasionally stop to stare at Harry, people standing in doorways. He's used to scrutiny of a certain sort since he turned eleven, but this feels different.

He has no idea how long they walk the halls, how many familiar faces he sees. Just knows that one important one is missing.

It suddenly feels imperative. He promised Bill after all.

"What about Tobias Burke?" Harry asks.

"Tobias Burke?" the Matron asks, something just a little off in her voice. "He's on…a different floor."

Harry stands up taller, trying to pretend authority he doesn't have. "Show me."

She gives him a bald glance, like she knows exactly what he's trying to pull.

"Please," he tacks on.

She waves over an attendant. "I have to return to my duties, you'll understand. But Astrid can take you down there." She looks at the Auror still trailing Harry. "Be sure you keep close."

Harry isn't sure what to make of that, but follows after Astrid as she leads them down a sterile set of stairs. The lights above seem overly bright against the grey walls. They step out onto a lower floor, and it's pretty much nothing but a long straight hallway with doors along each side. There are no windows or furniture or soft details at all.

There's two Aurors standing behind a small desk, the two of them nodding at Harry's Auror in greeting.

"Tobias Burke?" Harry asks.

The two Aurors give each other a look but don't comment, one of them moving down the hallway. "This way."

There are charts hanging by each doorway, Harry peering at them as he passes, recognizing more than one name.

Jugson. Dolohov.

Death Eaters.

"Here you go," the Auror says, lifting his wand to undo wards on the doors.

Harry would think this is all a mistake, except there it is, clear as day, Burke's name on the chart by the door.

Harry's Auror does not look happy, pulling the guard aside to say something.

"He's not a threat," the other Auror says. "Not the condition he's in."

Harry reaches for the handle, pushing the door inwards before his Auror can protest.

The room is small with no windows or anything of comfort like the spaces upstairs. There is only a bed with a simple chair next to it. As he suspected, this is where Ginny sits, her head lowered over a book as she reads out loud, her voice soft and lilting and somehow captivating.

"It was while gliding through these latter waters that one serene and moonlit night, when all the waves rolled by like scrolls of silver; and, by their soft suffusing seethings, made what seemed a silvery silence, not a solitude: on such a silent night a silvery jet was seen far in advance of the white bubbles at the bow. Lit up by the moon, it looked celestial; seemed some plumed and glittering god uprising from the sea."

The door clicks shut behind Harry, and Ginny turns to look at him, her eyes widening.

"Harry," she says, like this is the last place she expects to see him.

"Hey," Harry says. "Uh, Bill asked me to make sure you were…"

"Oh," Ginny says. "Right."

They consider each other for a long moment before Ginny looks back down at the book in her hands.

"What was that you were reading?" Harry asks.

She shows him the cover. Though pretty tattered, he can still read the title. Moby Dick, it says. It sounds vaguely familiar to Harry. "Muggle book, isn't it?"

She nods. "One of his favorites."

Harry's eyes move to Burke on the bed, noting the pale and drawn look to his face, even in sleep. "How is he?"

Ginny reaches out and touches his arm. "Okay, considering."

Harry glances at the place under the blanket that is flat where a leg should be. He's forced to think of Mad-Eye, like they are a whole new generation simply replacing the old. He isn't sure Burke would appreciate the comparison.

"Why is he down here?"

Ginny's lips press together. "They aren't saying. But clearly they suspect he's a Death Eater."

"Burke?" Harry asks. He may not particularly like him, but the idea that he is a Death Eater is ridiculous.

"He'll be pleased to know his performance was so believable." Ginny smiles down at Burke, something grim in the curve of her lips as she gently brushes a piece of hair off his forehead. "He pretended to be one of them. Hung out with them, cursed little kids when they asked him to, but all the while, he collected their secrets and gave them to me. To the DA."

Harry remembers Burke's rather triumphant cursing of Pansy when she tried to hand him over to Voldemort. Only now considering the looks of outrage on some of the Slytherins' faces.

"Is that why you're here? To make sure the Aurors don't mistake him for a Death Eater?"

"Or worse," she says, her expression darkening.

"You think someone would try to hurt him?"

She lifts one shoulder in a seemingly casual shrug. "It was stupid of him to even be in that fight. Half the people would have loved a chance to get even with him for fooling them. The other half probably still thought he was on Tom's side." She shakes her head, her voice hardening slightly. "He never should have been there."

Harry considers that. He may not know Burke all that well, but he knows the bonds of friendship. "That would have meant leaving you to fight without him."

She closes her eyes. "He always was an idiot."

Harry shifts his weight, feeling that strange restlessness building in his chest.

"Where is Smita?" he asks before he can stop himself. He didn't see her name on the list of casualties or injured. But he would also expect her to be here by his bedside, right?

"She went into hiding with her family last August. We haven't heard a thing since."

"Oh," he says, rather inanely. It's a bit overwhelming, realizing how little he knows about what's happened.

He watches her leaning over Burke, the way she touches him, and is forced to remember all the times he saw Ginny and Burke's dots hovering near each other in the cloister. He's overwhelmed by the sudden feeling that he really doesn't want to be here.

"I guess I should-" he says, taking a step back towards the door.

She looks up at him, and he feels like he is completely transparent, every petty thought visible to her.

She frowns. "Harry—"

The door shoves open, Harry barely scrambling back enough to avoid being hit by it.

A wizard strides in mid-sentence, shouting as Harry's Auror grabs for his shoulder, "—my son!"

"Sir, I must insist," the Auror says, darting a look at Harry as he steps further out of the way of the door.

The wizard slaps his hand away. "You'll insist nothing. Why are there Aurors outside my son's room?" His eyes fall on Ginny, still sitting by the side of the bed holding Burke's hand. "What are you doing in here?"

"Mr. Burke," Ginny says, getting to her feet. "I'm Ginny Weasley. I'm Tobias's—"

"I'm aware of who you are," he very nearly spits. "I lay this at your feet, girl."

Harry takes a step closer, not particularly caring for the way he's speaking to Ginny.

"Herbert," says a witch Harry can only assume to be Burke's mother. "Now really isn't the time."

Mr. Burke looks down at the bed, his eyes lingering on his son's leg. Something in his posture seems to loosen. "Stupid foolishness."

Harry doesn't think they've seen him, the way they barged in and nearly clipped him with the door. "From what I've heard," he says, "your son is a hero."

Mr. Burke swings around, his eyes widening for a moment as he realizes just who is standing there. He recovers quickly. "I raised him to be politic, not heroic." He practically spits the last word like it's something disgusting, and Harry feels anger surging up his throat.

"Well, I always do prefer pissing you off to making you proud," a hoarse voice comments.

Harry turns to see Burke awake.

"And see where that got you," Mr. Burke says, his own voice rough.

Burke's lips twist. "I thought all that mattered was choosing the winning side? No one can deny I did that." He glances over at Harry. "Hey, Potter. Didn't expect to wake up and find you weeping at my bedside."

"Tobias," Mrs. Burke chastises, Ginny stepping back out of her way so she can approach the bed.

"Hey, Mum," Burke says, giving her a casual wave as if totally unaware of the tension in the room. He looks past her to the doorway. "Mags."

It's only then that Harry notices a younger girl standing hesitantly in the hallway, her hair the same sandy shade as Burke's. She's pale, with dark smudges under her eyes.

She edges her way into the room. "Are you really okay?"

Tobias gives her a grin. "Right as rain, sweetums."

The younger girl pulls a face. "You know I hate it when you call me that."

"Which is exactly why I do it."

She still looks a little uncertain, hands wringing in front of her.

"C'mere," Burke says. He pulls her up on the bed with him, folding her into a hug.

Harry is really beginning to feel like an interloper now.

Mr. Burke must think so as well, giving him a hard look. "This is a time for family."

"Of course," Ginny says, her voice even, and not at all as if she's being tossed out. She picks up her things. "You'll stay with him? Keep him safe?"

Mr. Burke frowns at her. "He's my son."

"Gin," Burke says.

She pauses, looking back at him.

"Thanks for dragging my sorry arse to safety."

She gives him a tremulous smile. "You owe me big time."

Something a little uncertain crosses his face. "You'll come back?"

"Wild hippogriffs."

"Merlin," Burke says. "That's the last thing we need."

They walk out into the hall, Mr. Burke firmly shutting the door in their faces.

"Well," Harry says, "they seem pleasant."

Ginny sighs. "They almost lost their son."

"Some people did lose their sons."

Ginny looks up at him, her expression stricken, and he feels like a complete and utter arse. "Ginny…"

She shakes her head, striding away from him towards the staircase. Harry curses under his breath. He glances at the Auror. "Can you just…give me a minute?"

Harry doesn't wait for an answer, darting up the stairs after Ginny.

"I'm sorry," he says when he catches up with her. "That was stupid."

She still doesn't stop though, pushing out into the floor above, so he takes hold of her elbow to slow her down.

She comes to a stop, pulling her am out of his grasp, but not without grimacing, a hiss of pain escaping her.

Harry immediately steps back, feeling a squeeze of panic in his chest. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," she says. "I'm fine."

He doesn't believe her. He can see it now, the slight sheen on her forehead, the lines of pain on her face he mistook for exhaustion. He looks up, glancing around the hall, and sure enough there are a few staff members staring at him in interest. May as well put their curiosity to use, he thinks. "Can I get some help?"

They perk up immediately, one of them coming down the hall towards them.

"Harry, seriously, I'm fine," Ginny says.

He takes her elbow, walking her over to a bench as the mediwitch approaches. "Sit."

"Mr. Potter?" she asks.

"She's hurt," Harry says.

The mediwitch looks down at Ginny, taking quick inventory of her. "Where's the pain?"

She looks like she may still fight, but eventually lets out a long breath. "My side."

"Here?" she asks, touching Ginny's ribs.

Ginny lets out a hiss, pulling back from the touch.

"How did this happen?"

She shakes her head. "I really don't know."

"During the fight?" Harry asks.

"Probably," she says.

Harry looks at the mediwitch. "She was at Hogwarts."

To the witch's credit, she seems to immediately forget all about Harry, her face serious and focused. "Let's get you into an exam room. Can you walk?"

"For Merlin's sake," Ginny mutters, getting to her feet, but not without a grimace.

"Is your family here, dear?"

Ginny shakes her head.

The mediwitch looks up at Harry. "Can you contact them?"

"Of course," Harry says. He refuses to leave Ginny though. He looks at his Auror, who has finally caught up, an annoyed look on his face. "I need you to get a message to her brother Bill."

"I was assigned to protect you, Potter, not serve as your personal messenger boy."

Grabbing some parchment from a nearby desk, Harry scribbles down a message, shoving it at the Auror. "No offense, but I managed to survive the last year without your protection. I imagine I can survive the next five minutes."

He strides down the hall, popping into the doorway he saw Ginny disappear through. It's a small exam room, and Harry comes to a stop when he sees that it's just her and a Healer.

"I'm sorry," the Healer says, "you'll have to wait outside."

Harry nods, taking a step back.

"No," Ginny says, her voice firm.

The Healer gives her a hard look. "He can't-"

"He bloody well can," Ginny insists. "He stays. Or I go."

She doesn't once look at him.

The Healer gives her a hard glare but doesn't argue, muttering about stubbornness under his breath.

Harry hovers near the door, listening to the sound of Ginny hissing in pain as the Healer examines her.

"Binding charm?" he asks.

Ginny nods.

The Healer shakes his head. "Primitive, but better than nothing, I suppose." With a swish of his wand, he neutralizes the charm.

Ginny's face drains of color, her whole body seeming to list. Harry takes a half step towards her.

"Here we go," the Healer says, reaching for her. "Let's lie down and take a look."

He pulls up her shirt, and Harry looks down at the tiles on the floor.

"Well," he says after a while. "At least two of your ribs are cracked."

"Great," Ginny says, voice tight with pain.

The Healer passes by Harry, moving towards a small potions station.

Almost against his will, Harry glances up at Ginny. She's curled on her side, her shirt rucked up to reveal a deep purple bruise all along her side. Harry knows he should look away, but he's too caught staring at her skin in horror. He can't believe she's been walking around like this.

"It's not as bad as it looks," she says.

His eyes snap up to her face. There's a fading bruise on the side of her mouth, one clearly suffered long before the battle began.

Like their punishments, the Carrows.

Is that as bad as it looks? he wants to ask. Only the truth is, a large part of him just doesn't want to know.

She drops her eyes to the bed.

"Drink this," the Healer says, helping Ginny sit up. "For the pain."

Ginny downs the potion in a series of quick gulps, laying back down with a grimace.

"We'll just wait a bit for the potion to work," the Healer starts to say.

Ginny shakes her head. "No need to wait."

He frowns. "This is going to hurt."

"Just do it," she says, and there is something in her expression that Harry really doesn't like.

He steps closer, taking both of her hands in his.

Ginny looks up at him in surprise, but her fingers wrap around his.

"Episky," the Healer says.

Ginny grimaces, her face paling and fingers digging into his hands, but doesn't make a sound.

The Healer probes her ribs with his fingers. "Just one more."

Ginny nods.

The second time, she doesn't manage to hold back a cry of pain, her eyes squeezing shut.

"All done," the Healer says. "I'll be right back with a salve for the bruises."

She's breathing heavily through her nose, her brow furrowed with pain.

"Why didn't you say anything sooner?" Harry asks.

She doesn't look at him, eyes still squeezed shut. "Because at least the pain felt…real."

"Ginny," he says, hands tightening around hers.

Bill walks in then. "Harry?" he asks, striding towards him. "Where's-?"

Harry steps back, reluctantly letting go of Ginny's hands.

"Christ, Gin," Bill says, taking in the damage.

"I'm okay," she says.

Bill brushes the hair back from her face. "Stop being so bloody brave."

Ginny lets out a shaky huff. "Brave isn't really my style."

"Says the girl who's been walking around with broken ribs," Harry mutters.

"Stupid," Bill says.

"Now that is my style," Ginny murmurs, her face beginning to soften.

Soon enough after that she drifts off, the potion finally kicking in.

Bill looks up at Harry. "Thanks for sending for me instead of Mum and Dad. I'm not sure they could have taken this on top of…everything else."

"Of course," Harry says.

The Healer reappears, giving Bill the once over. "You're actually family, I take it?" he asks, still apparently exasperated with Harry's refusal to follow the rules.

"I'm her brother," Bill says.

The Healer nods. "Okay. You can take her home if you like. No heavy lifting for a few days, and this potion as needed, and she'll be fine."

Bill nods. "Great. Thank you."

The Healer waves his thanks away, already heading for the door and his next patient, no doubt.

Bill slides his hands under Ginny, lifting her up into his arms.

Despite a few sleepy complaints, Ginny seems to bury into him, her face turned into his neck.

"Merlin," Bill mutters, his arms pulling her closer. "I remember when she was barely a wisp of a thing. And now, here we are."

"Yeah," Harry says, for lack of anything else to say.

"Grab the potion, will you?" Bill says as he heads for the door, as if Harry coming with him is a given.

"Sure," Harry says, scooping it up and following them out into the hall.

His Auror is waiting there, still looking cross and put out. It occurs to Harry that there are probably a million more important things he could be doing than trailing after him.

They're just nearing the Apparition point when Ginny mumbles, "Harry?"

"He's still here, Gin," Bill says, voice amused.

They've barely gone any further down the hall when Ginny says, "Harry?" again.

Bill stops, letting Harry get where Ginny can see him. "Yeah?"

She squints at him as if trying to make him out. "You really came back?"

"Yeah," Harry says. "I came back."

She nods, her eyes closing.

Harry glances up at Bill, but he doesn't say anything, just moving into the Apparition point. "Hold on, Gin," Harry hears him say.

They Apparate back to the Burrow, Ginny groaning slightly.

"Sorry," Bill says, pressing a kiss to the top of her head.

They go up the front walk, Harry opening the door for Bill.

Instead of going upstairs, Bill settles Ginny down on the couch in the sitting room, which has mostly been put back to rights. "I'd make up some excuse about her room not being clear yet, but honestly, I just want her where I can see her."

Harry is fine with that idea himself.

Ginny doesn't seem to mind either, already fast asleep again. Bill looks up at Harry. "I'm going to check in with Percy. Do you mind?" He gestures at Ginny.

"Sure," Harry says, sitting down in a nearby chair. Somehow the thought of being still for a while isn't as annoying as it was before.

"I'll be back soon," Bill says before disappearing back outside.

It feels surreal, sitting in the quiet of the Burrow. After all this time, it smells the same. Sounds the same. Feels the same. Even as it all seems lifetimes away.

And Ginny. Right there. So close he could touch her. It all has the hazy feel of a dream he's going to wake up from at any moment. Settling further back in the chair, Harry drops his head back against the cushions, watching the slow movement of Ginny's shoulders.

His eyes get heavy, too heavy to keep open, so he stops trying.

The front door slams open, Harry jerking awake. He gets a bit caught up in a blanket someone has draped over him, his heart in his throat as he fumbles for his wand.

"There you are!" Hermione says.

It takes a moment for Harry to gather his wits, lifting a finger to his lips to hush her, glancing at Ginny.

Ron is only a few steps behind Hermione. He crosses over to stand near Ginny.

"Is she okay?" he asks.

Harry nods, pulling off his glasses to rub at his eyes. "A couple broken ribs. We just brought her back from St. Mungo's." He glances out the window at the shifted light, wondering how long ago that was.

Hermione gives him a sharp look. "You spoke to Kingsley?"

Harry nods, knowing her real worry. "He just wanted to know that it's really done."

Ron looks up from Ginny. "It is, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Harry says.

Ron lets out a breath, nodding. "Good."

He sits on the floor near the couch, Hermione collapsing back in a nearby chair.

The three of them look at each other, and he wonders if they find it as surreal to be here as he does. Just seeing them here makes some of the buzzing panic at the back of his mind fade.

Harry isn't sure how long they sit there before Ron says, "Well, I don't know about you two, but I'm starved."

Hermione looks at him, something slightly incredulous in her expression.

It bubbles up unexpectedly, because really, this is the last thing Harry should be feeling right now, but he's sitting in the Burrow with his best mates and it's done and he's still breathing, and the noise bursts out of his throat.

Now Hermione and Ron are looking at him like he's the barmy one, but it isn't long until Ron's lip twitch and then Hermione is slapping a hand over her mouth and the three of them are helpless with completely inappropriate laughter.

Ginny stirs on the couch, and Harry bites down on his lip, trying to somehow stop this avalanche of relief and exhaustion.

"I think I should be able to pull off pasta," Ron says, pushing up his sleeves and turning for the kitchen.

Hermione looks alarmed, trailing after him, no doubt to make sure he doesn't burn anything down.

Harry thinks he should probably get up and follow them, but he's content to stay in the chair, watching his two best friends move about the kitchen. He drops his head back against the chair, feeling the tempting pull of sleep again.

"When did that start?"

He turns to find Ginny awake, her attention on Ron and Hermione. As they watch, Ron's hand touches Hermione's waist, leaning down to say something close to her ear.

"During the battle," Harry says.

"Took the end of the world for them to figure it out, huh?"

"House Elves, actually," he says.

Ginny raises an eyebrow, but doesn't ask.

"How do you feel?"

She watches Ron and Hermione for another long moment before closing her eyes. "Tired."

She sleeps through dinner, but that's just as well because Ron's pasta is terrible.

They eat every last bite of it.