Epilogue

Harry had to spend quite some time in St. Mungo's in order for his wounds to be completely healed. The physical wounds, at least. The emotional wounds would take much longer…

Looking back on it, he found that he didn't have very many memories of his hospital stay. As was the case in the aftermath of Cedric Diggory's death, it may have been too painful to take in anymore.

What he did recall was the meeting with the Weasleys. Ginny had been right. Despite their grief for Percy, they didn't blame him in the slightest. They forgave him for his rash decision… even Ron and Hermione weren't angry at them. But part of Harry was still angry with himself for falling into Voldemort's trap.

He was also still mad at Dumbledore, who had also been up to visit him at St. Mungo's. He wouldn't even speak to Dumbledore. However, it didn't prevent Dumbledore from talking to him…

~~

"I know you are still angry with me, Harry," Dumbledore said quietly.

Harry didn't even reply. He simply turned away from Dumbledore and lay on his side. He didn't even want to look at him.

"It's completely justifiable," Dumbledore went on calmly, "but like Miss Weasley said, I'm only a man; I've made many more mistakes in my life, just like you have. I did what I thought was right…"

Yeah, right, Harry thought bitterly. What was so right about staying away from me when I needed you the most? What was so right about keeping the truth from me all this time? Nothing!

"Yes, I know this doesn't make up for what I did," Dumbledore said, as though he were reading Harry's mind. "All I can do is hope that I can earn back your trust someday…

"On the other hand, now you see how feeling pain is your greatest strength, even though it makes you feel so weak. When Miss Weasley helped you to feel again, you were able to force Voldemort out of your body and survive --- again. Because of this, I think that Sirius's death may have had some higher meaning to you…"

Harry turned to face him, stunned.

"In my experience, nothing has ever happened by accident," Dumbledore said softly. "Sirius's death still is a terrible blow to you. And yet it also showed how the people you care about could make you so powerful. Sirius is gone, but there are people who still care about you. They didn't give up hope, even when it seemed as though you would die."

Dumbledore's blue eyes twinkled. "People still care about you, Harry," he repeated, rising from his chair. "No matter what you think, you are never alone as long as they are still alive."

He walked out of the room, leaving Harry in thoughtful silence.

~~~

There was truth to Dumbledore's words: there were people who cared about them. Harry realized that instead of wasting his life mourning over the dead, he should concentrate on the living…

What Ginny had said to him the night he broke free of Voldemort remained preserved in his memory. She had said that she loved him… but that didn't make sense. Hadn't Hermione said that Ginny had long since got over him?

Perhaps Ginny meant that she loved him as a friend. Only why had she kissed him ---- on the lips?

Harry wasn't sure what to make of Ginny's feelings. He knew that the only way to find out was to ask her himself…

***

Harry was finally released from St Mungo's a week later. Mr. Weasley took him back to The Burrow (via Floo powder), where the other Weasleys and Hermione were awaiting him. Somber as they looked, they gave him a warm welcome.

At least they tried to…

"Oh Harry dear, I'm so glad that you're all right!" Mrs. Weasley exclaimed, sweeping him into her arms for a hug.

"Thanks, Mrs. Weasley," Harry muttered. All right? I'm alive, but I'm everything but "all right!" I don't think I'll ever be all right for a long time.

Ron and Hermione stepped forward as soon as Mrs. Weasley let go of him. "It's good to have you back," Ron said, giving him an awkward pat on the shoulder.

"Yes, we're glad you're okay," Hermione said rather timidly.

Harry stared at them. He had no memory of what Voldemort had done or said before he had left his body, only he had a feeling that Voldemort had done a lot more emotional damage than physical. He guessed Voldemort must have realized that Ron and Hermione were his best friends, and he used that to his advantage. He must have said some truly dreadful things… and all of them came out of Harry's own mouth.

It was Voldemort talking, not me! Harry wanted to shout at them. How could you think I would even say such horrible things!

And then he remembered his harsh treatment of his friends --- Hermione in particular --- the night before Voldemort possessed him. Although Hermione's compassion towards Kreacher still drove him crazy with anger, what he had told her was awful. He couldn't blame them for being upset about whatever Voldemort said to them after that.

He caught sight of Ginny behind Ron and Hermione. Ginny glanced in his direction. They aren't mad at you, her expression said. You know that.

But they're afraid of me, Harry thought grimly, his heart sinking. That's just as bad, if not worse…

Fred and George greeted him a little more warmly than Ron and Hermione, but Harry could tell that they were somewhat distant as well. Ginny was the only one who greeted Harry normally.

"Well, who's ready for dinner?" Mrs. Weasley asked in a falsely bright voice.

Harry pictured a scene at the dinner table: him sitting next to Ron and Hermione. Both stayed a good distance away from him, nervously glancing at him every now and then. Neither of them was saying much, except for an occasional, "Pass the gravy…" The mere idea was enough to eliminate what remained of his appetite.

"Sorry, I'm not hungry," Harry lied quickly. "I think I'll go outside…"

"Oh, but it's your first night back!" Mrs. Weasley protested. "I don't think St. Mungo's provided you with very good meals…"

"No, it's all right," Harry replied. "I'm fine, really…"

Before she could argue further, he walked out of the house and into the garden. He sat in his usual spot by the pond.

Well, what were you expecting? Harry told himself bitterly. You think that the second you survive another near-death experience that things would suddenly get better? Nothing's changed. Sirius is still dead, Voldemort's still at large, I'm still destined to either kill or die in a prophecy…and to make things worse, my two best friends are scared of me, even though it was Voldemort talking and not me!

Nothing had really changed since before Voldemort had possessed him. Even the rage inside of him that had reached a fever pitch during the summer was still inside of him. Only now it was more directed towards himself…

Harry heard someone coming out of the house and approaching him. I should have known it wouldn't be long until someone starting "checking up" on me, he thought irritably. He knew that they only did this because they cared, yet it still bothered him. When he wanted to be alone, he wanted to be alone. What part of that didn't they understand?

He looked up. To his relief, the person walking towards him was Ginny.

"Wow, you've been back for about five minutes, and already you go off to brood," she commented dryly.

Harry flushed. "I just wanted to be alone."

Ginny raised an eyebrow. "Is that what you really want?"

"Well, I don't mind being alone with you," he admitted.

Ginny smiled and sat down next to him. "Look, don't worry about Ron and Hermione," she said, getting straight to the point. "They still care about you; they were really worried about you when you were in the hospital. They're just…"

"Uncomfortable being around me," Harry finished her sentence. "What did Voldemort say to them?"

Ginny frowned. "Do I even want to know?" Harry asked.

She shook her head. "I don't think so. He said some really awful things to them. I know that they know it wasn't you, only it still hurt them. Just give them time…"

"I know," Harry said heavily.

"So apart from that, how are you doing?" she wanted to know.

"Bad," he confessed.

"Because of Sirius?" she guessed.

Harry sighed. "I'm still mad --- at everyone. I'm mad at Dumbledore for keeping secrets. I'm mad at Wormtail, Kreacher, and Bellatrix Lestrange for what they did to him, even though they're dead. And I'm mad at myself for falling for Voldemort's trap --- again --- and causing another person's death…"

"I told you that Percy's death wasn't --- " Ginny started to say, but then stopped. "Are you talking about Sirius?"

Harry nodded. "It was my idea to go to the Ministry that night. I was so scared that Voldemort had really captured Sirius that I didn't even consider that it was a trick. If I hadn't been such an idiot, Sirius and the others would have come after me… and he'd still be alive."

"Oh Harry," Ginny said softly, putting a hand on his shoulder. "You weren't being an idiot. Anyone else would have done the same…"

"Not according to Hermione," Harry said bitterly. "She thought it was a trap from the very beginning."

"Well, I'd like to see her thinking straight if someone she loved was in danger," Ginny retorted.

"I was still being stupid," Harry said tonelessly. "It was completely reckless."

"It was," Ginny admitted. "But it also showed how much you cared about Sirius."

Harry managed to smile. "You know what? I'm kind of mad at him for leaving me. I know that it isn't his fault; it's not like he wanted to die. But I'm angry that he isn't here when I need him…

"I know this sounds stupid… but before all this, I always thought that Sirius would get his name cleared someday. Then I could leave the Dursleys for good and live with him. For once, I could actually look forward to school holidays …" He shook his head shamefully. "Stupid. That was never going to happen."

"It's not stupid at all," Ginny assured him. "Fred, George, and Ron are still mad at Percy for not being there for us all last year… then he just came back and expected us to forgive him… and then he left again."

"What about you?" Harry inquired.

Ginny sighed. "I'm mad at him too… I just can't believe he's gone. I can't picture my life without any of my brothers…"

"So how are you getting through this?"

"Barely," Ginny replied wryly. "I just get through today… and then the next day… But I'm told that it does get better."

Harry snorted. "Yeah, right. How can you even think that?"

"Right now, it's the only thing that makes me feel better about it," Ginny said flatly. "And it will get better… someday."

"Someday," he repeated quietly. "Just not right now."

They were silent for quite some time. Harry stared at her thoughtfully. Now was his chance to ask her…

"Er --- Ginny?" he began awkwardly. "About that other night… you know, when Voldemort escaped from my body?"

She looked a little nervous at these words. "Yes?"

"Did you really mean what you said?" he asked finally.

"What are you talking about?" Ginny wondered, trying to play innocent. "What did I say?" It was obvious from the apprehensive look on her face that she knew exactly what she was talking about. Harry wisely decided not to point this out.

"You said that you loved me," he clarified, feeling his face turn red. "Did you mean it?"

Now Ginny was blushing. It reminded Harry how she acted around him years ago. "Well, yes," she said carefully. "I mean, you're my friend. Of course I --- care about you."

This answer didn't satisfy Harry. "If you meant it as a friend, then why did you kiss me?"

Ginny was shocked. "Y --- You r-r-remembered that?" she stammered.

"Erm… yeah," Harry replied slowly.

"I'd better be getting back inside," Ginny said hastily, standing up. "It's almost time for dinner… are you coming inside or what?"

"Yes," Harry said reluctantly. "I am a little hungry. I'll come in soon… I just want to see the sunset."

"Fine," she said quickly. She ran back into The Burrow.

Harry watched her go. Of course she didn't want to talk more about it. If her feelings were more than just friendly, she wasn't about to admit that in a hurry…

But Harry didn't know about his own feelings either. He liked Ginny as a friend. And combined with his current problems and the rollercoaster ride of a relationship he'd had with Cho, he wasn't sure he was ready for another girlfriend.

Yet Ginny had been the one he had been able to talk to about Sirius during the entire summer. She didn't pretend to know how he felt. She seemed to understand his feelings better than even Ron and Hermione. Also, she now knew about the prophecy, ---something that only he and Dumbledore knew about. You can't go around sharing a secret without another person without somehow getting close to them…

It doesn't matter right now, Harry thought decidedly. All that matters is getting through today and all the other days without Sirius. Then I can think about that…

The sky turned pink, and the dying light of the sun reflected across the waters of the pond. Harry watched this magnificent sight. The sky seemed to go on and on forever. He was filled with the temptation to simply take his Firebolt, fly off, and remain off the ground, ridding himself of all his problems.

Only that was just a dream. Things were never that easy, and they never would be. He would just have to accept that.

In nearly two weeks, he'd be returning to Hogwarts. Surely another year filled with pain, fear, and unpleasant surprises was awaiting him…

Ginny's right, though, Harry realized. I'm not alone --- or at least not as alone as I think. Even if Ron and Hermione don't understand everything I'm going through, they're still my friends --- hopefully. And maybe things will get better. Not right now, but someday they might…I'll just have to wait and see what comes.

He spent a few more minutes outside until the sun had completely set. Then, taking a deep breath, he walked back towards The Burrow.

The End.