Feeling warm sun on her face, Ginny opened her eyes, the quilt heavy on her body. She blinked away the sleepiness from her gaze, sitting up slowly and finding herself in her old bed in the hospital wing, surrounded by camp beds that were filled by the injured. Brushing the hair from her face, she gazed out the window, seeing sun for the first time in days, and she smiled slightly. It was over; it was finally over.
She couldn't exactly recall how she had gotten to the hospital wing; all she remembered was kneeling next to Harry in Hogsmeade and then helping him to his feet before feeling other hands guiding her. Keeping her hand in Harry's, she had let those around her lead her, and then she didn't remember anything. She must have fainted before getting back to the school.
But, looking around, she found herself alone. Where was Harry?
Swinging her legs over the bed, she looked up to see Ron and Hermione smiling at her a few feet away. They looked no worse for the wear, but pale. "Are you all right?" Ron asked, voice touched with concern as they came over to her.
She nodded, reaching for their hands to help her to her feet. "Yes, I feel fine. What time is it? What happened? Where's Harry?" she asked, surprised at the hoarseness of her voice.
Hermione steadied her, letting her get her balance. "It's November first. You've been sleeping for almost a whole day," she said gently, squeezing her hand.
Ginny blinked, mouth falling open in disbelief. "A whole day?"
Ron laughed slightly. "Yeah, a whole day," he said, voice unusually gruff. "Decided to be lazy on me, eh?"
Glancing at him, she smiled slightly, and embraced him. "Are you all right? What about our brothers, and Mum and Dad?" she asked, pulling back from him and feeling very grateful to see him alive.
He nodded, leaning down to kiss her forehead. "I'm fine, as are all our brothers. Charlie is a bit banged up, but he'll be fine. He's more worried about Tonks; she hasn't woken up yet," he said soberly. "Mum's with Dad; he got hit with some curses, but the Healers say he'll be ok in a few days or so."
Slightly relieved, Ginny took a tentative step forward. "Tonks isn't ok?" she asked shakily. She would hate to think that it was her fault Tonks was injured; after all, she had lost herself looking for Harry, and Tonks had probably been looking for her.
Hermione kept a light hold on Ginny's hand. "The Healers say she'll be fine, she just hasn't woken up yet. Don't worry," she said softly, a comforting smile on her face.
Ginny looked at them both curiously. "What happened? Did we get all the Death Eaters?" she asked.
Ron and Hermione shared a look before Ron replied. "A few got away, but the Aurors took in most of them. After Harry killed Voldemort-" his voice still shook as he said the name- "we went over to you two, but you both passed out. Moody told us to take you up here, so we did. We don't know a lot; Dumbledore hasn't explained anything to us yet."
"Dumbledore's alive?" she asked in surprise. "Voldemort told us he was dead."
Smiling slightly, Hermione shook her head. "No, he's quite alive, though injured. I suspect Dumbledore was dueling with him, and Voldemort saw Harry, so he tried to severely injure Dumbledore to get to Harry faster. Maybe he thought it would weaken Harry to think Dumbledore was dead."
"Where is Harry?" Ginny asked quickly. "Is he all right?"
"He's fine, he's sleeping on the other side of the room, next to Tonks," Ron replied, taking Ginny's elbow in his grasp gently. "Tell me, how did you get down to the fight? You were supposed to stay here." The look in his eyes was only slightly scolding, more proud than anything.
She felt warmth in her as she smiled at him softly, thankful to have such a family around her. "I made Tonks bring me down; I knew I couldn't let you all go without me," she said quietly.
Both he and Hermione wrapped her in their arms, sandwiching her between them loosely. "I'm glad you're all right," Hermione said in her ear.
"I'm proud to have you as my sister, Gin. You're absolutely brilliant," Ron whispered, kissing her forehead again as he and Hermione let go of her gently.
Blinking away sudden tears, she smiled at the both of them. "Thank you," she said quietly before turning away and beginning her search for Harry.
It didn't take her long to find him, and when she did, she immediately sat on the edge of his bed, taking his limp hand on hers. He looked troubled still, even in his sleep, and she had to wonder what he really thought about the end of this struggle. It had been the driving force in his life since he was a small child; how was he going to move past it? She brushed the fringe from his closed eyes, smiling down at him slightly. Maybe he would now give himself the opportunity to grieve for his losses, let her be beside him to help.
She felt a slight brush of fear pass her, fear for him, for their life together; would things ever be the same? No, not the same; would things ever be normal again? He could go on to be a normal man with a regular job, a regular life; would he be able to function without always looking over his shoulder? The bulls-eye on his back had always been such a prevalent part of his life, and she wondered if he could ever move past it.
He shifted in his sleep, and she could feel his fingers flex against hers. Looking down, she saw his eyes flutter open, dark against the pallor of his skin. His gaze settled on her and his lips curved upwards ever so slightly, his hand tightening around hers. "You're ok," he said, voice a low rasp.
She nodded, shifting closer to him and keeping a firm grip on his hand. "I'm fine," she replied softly, brushing her fingers through his hair. "How are you?"
Grunting softly, he shut his eyes, a half-smile, half-grimace creasing his face. "I've been better," he whispered.
Smiling slightly, she leaned down and kissed his forehead, lingering over his scar. "You did it, Harry," she said against his skin. "It's over."
His eyes opened, meeting hers with a hardness she didn't recognize. "Is it?" he asked quietly. "What does that mean for me?"
A small frown passed over her face, and she lifted an eyebrow. "I don't know what it means," she said slowly, licking her lips nervously.
Something flitted through his eyes, something she couldn't place, and then his gaze softened. "Don't mind me," he said with a small, dry chuckle which lacked amusement. "I'm not thinking clearly."
No, she thought sadly as he sat up against his pillow, grimacing at the effort, I think you are thinking very clearly, and it worries me. What does all this mean?
He smiled at her, grasping her hand tightly. "I was worried about you," he confessed softly. "You look good; everything's normal with you?"
She realized with a start that he was asking about her possession. Shutting her eyes for a moment, she found herself blissfully empty. She hadn't felt so individual in a very long time; it took her by surprise as she opened her eyes to meet his questioning gaze. "Yes, I'm perfectly fine," she assured him. "I feel better than I have in months."
A sigh shivered through him, and he leaned forward, placing his free hand on the curve of her waist. "Then it was worth it," he said softly, lips brushing against her cheek.
Inhaling suddenly, she looked at him curiously. "Worth what? What do you mean?" she asked, suspicion gnawing at her.
He studied her for a moment before leaning back, keeping his hand at her waist. "Never mind," he said lightly, eyes glancing around the wing as people began to stir.
Narrowing her gaze, she watched him carefully. She had been expecting lowness of a sort, but this was bordering on melancholia. She thought he would be happier than he was to be alive and well, and his whole persona perplexed her.
"Harry, you're awake. What a relief."
She felt Harry's sharp intake of breath as the headmaster approached them slowly, leaning heavily on a cane that had not been in his hands before the battle. He seemed to have grown much older in the last few days; Ginny could see that clearly. But the twinkle so long gone from his eyes had returned, and he still kept his stature and bearing. She was happy to see him alive, and smiled with real warmth at him as he sat down in a chair near Harry's bedside, smiling at the both of them.
"I'm very glad to see you both up and about. How are you feeling?" Dumbledore asked kindly.
Ginny glanced at Harry as she spoke, feeling more than seeing his shock. "Fine, sir. It's good to see you," she said quietly.
"He said you were dead," Harry said quietly, shaking his head. "I believed him."
Dumbledore raised a brow and smiled. "But it did not have the desired effect upon you, obviously. I admire your strength, Harry; I wish I had a little more of it in my supply. Tell me, did the spell work as you hoped?"
Squeezing Harry's hand, she saw his throat tighten, Adam's apple bobbing roughly. "Yes, it did," he said finally, voice restricted. Her heart broke for him; he had seen and spoken to the four most important people in his life, and could never again. It must have been hard on him, harder than she could ever imagine.
Dumbledore nodded, eyes glimmering. "Good; that means you used it in the right way with the right purpose. I assume you were there, Ginny," he said, looking at her.
She nodded briefly. He smiled, a touch of pride in his voice. "I knew you would be; it was right for you to be by Harry's side. Your courage and resilience is to be admired by many."
Blushing lightly, she felt Harry's hand tighten on her waist. "Thank you, sir. Will you be all right?" she asked, trying to shift the attention from her.
"Oh, yes. I shall be quite fine, as will we all. We can finally begin to live without fear, with our free wills to guide us," he said cheerfully, grasping the head of his cane lightly. "The world will move forward, and so will we."
Even as she smiled in agreement, she could feel Harry stiffen under her hand, and her heart fell to the floor. It was all well and good for the world to move on, but if Harry was left behind she didn't know what she would do. She had to get him to talk to her no matter what, before whatever he was feeling ate away at him.
Dumbledore nodded at them both and stood with the assistance of his cane. "I must go around to speak to others; there is a legal matter that I must discuss with you both at another time. Until then, please do as the Healers tell you." He gave them both a genial smile and moved slowly away.
Beside her, Harry let out a slow breath. "I can't believe he's alive."
Ginny followed the headmaster with her eyes for a moment before looking back at Harry. "I wonder what legal matter he's talking about," she said, pursing her lips.
He shrugged, pulling her closer to him with the hand that gripped her waist. "I'll worry about that later. I need to tell you something, Ginny," he said quietly, looking into her eyes.
The steadiness of his gaze unnerved her, and she shifted nervously. "Is something wrong?"
A small smile curved his mouth, taking the breath from her throat. She hadn't seen him smile in what seemed like an eternity. "I was an idiot, a horrible, awful idiot to you," he said softly. "I shouldn't have abandoned you, but I did, and I will never forgive myself for that."
A stray tear burned at the corner of her eye, and she blinked. "I forgave you a long time ago, Harry," she said gently, squeezing his hand. "You shouldn't concern yourself about it."
"I have to say it, though; yesterday could have been different, and if I had died with telling you this, I don't know how you would have forgiven me." He glanced away from her for a moment, collecting himself before gazing back into her eyes. "I will never leave you again, Ginny; I swear that I will never abandon you," he said gently, leaning forward to kiss her.
His touch on her lips was brief and gentle, but it inflamed her all the same. She kissed him back with the same amount of softness, free hand traveling to sift through his hair. She thought she heard Ron catcalling them from across the room, but she didn't care. When he pulled away, he was smiling, but it was a different sort of smile, a forced smile that unnerved her. Then she realized with a start that she didn't want to taste his darkness anymore. She wanted him to be free from his demons, to be able to live like a normal man. But if she had felt right, he had a lot of demons to conquer; she hoped he would let her stay by his side as he did.
With much reluctance, Madam Pomfrey was forced to release Harry and Ginny after another few days, due to the lack of beds in the Hospital Wing. She was firm and unyielding in her orders for them to keep calm and rest, and with Mrs. Weasley keeping a watchful eye on them, they were forced to comply. Classes had been suspended for the time being, and any students who wanted to go were sent home to their families; Dumbledore said he did not know when the school would be ready for classes again, but Harry had a feeling it would be soon.
All remaining students and staff were set on getting the school back into shape as quickly as possible, and since it did not suffer too much damage, they were making good progress at a week after the battle. The injured Aurors, students, and teachers were recovering quite well; all Weasleys were accounted for, as well as all their significant others, and soon they were all departing for their homes. Mrs. Weasley spent a good deal of her time with Harry, Hermione, and her two youngest children during her stay at Hogwarts, and she offered to bring them home to the Burrow, but all four declined graciously. As much as Harry loved the Burrow and the Weasleys, he didn't want to be fussed over any more. Indeed, he really just wanted to be left alone.
He spent a good deal of time alone in the days after the final battle; Ron and Hermione were busy helping the Ministry workers and the teachers with the school and grounds, and Ginny had been cloistered to her own dormitory to complete her rest. She had only been to see him a few times, and each time her mother dragged her away after a few short minutes. Harry didn't mind as much as he thought he should; the thought of solitude comforted him.
Even though Voldemort was dead and Ginny was saved, he couldn't help but feel like he was useless. He'd done what he was born to do, hadn't he? And he hadn't been able to save all the Aurors who'd died, or Remus, or Sirius; what kind of hero was he? The press lauded him, sent him owls by the hundreds to gain access into his mind, but he didn't have any of it. He didn't feel like a hero, didn't feel like he had accomplished anything. Was he worthless to the world now that Voldemort was gone? It felt like that was all he had been living for.
He was ashamed of himself for thinking like this when he knew he should be happy that he could live without the fear of being attacked all the time, but he had been a fatalist too long; was it even really over? Some Death Eaters had escaped, including the elder Malfoy; what if they resurfaced with new followers and tried to finish Voldemort's work? Was he, The Boy-Who-Lived, supposed to defend the wizarding world again? Was that all he was meant to do?
Every time he thought of the battle, he always went back to his battle with Bellatrix, and how he had been so full of hate. He had used an Unforgivable Curse on her, and he had meant it. She had taunted him in the Department of Mysteries about not being able to use them since he didn't have real hate, and now he knew that she had spoken true. To use one of those curses and mean it like he had... It made him question whether he was still human, whether he was still deserving of life. He had thought it had been worth it in the Hospital Wing, but now he wasn't so sure. To think that he had touched evil and welcomed it like that frightened him deep inside. He didn't know how he could survive like this, didn't know how he could face his friends. He was questioning the very purity of his soul.
These were the thoughts running through his head as he moved about his room late at night, the day after the Weasleys had left and almost a week and a half after the battle in Hogsmeade. Sleep wouldn't come to him, and he didn't have anyone to talk to; Ginny was in her dormitory, and Ron was most likely in Hermione's room. He didn't want to disturb any of them, so he was left to himself, pacing back and forth and wondering whether the future was really worth it. What did he have left for him anyway? Everyone would want him, but only for his name; he wanted to make his own way, do what he wanted to do.
But what was that?
He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he barely registered the quiet knock on his door. It wasn't until the third and loudest knock that he went to the door and opened it, dreading whoever it was. He was pleasantly surprised to see Ginny at his door, eyebrow raised.
"Am I bothering you?" she asked carefully, hands twisted together in front of her.
Shaking his head, he moved away from the door. "Come in," he said, pleased to see her looking so healthy and well. He hadn't seen her look so good in ages, it seemed. "I wasn't doing anything."
She smiled at him slightly, brushing her hand along his shoulder as she entered. "You look good," she commented lightly as he shut the door. "It's late, though; why are you still awake?"
He shrugged, watching her as he leaned against his door. "Can't sleep. How'd you know I was up?"
"I didn't; I reckoned you would be," she said simply, sitting at the foot of his bed and meeting his gaze. Her eyes were bright and healthy, although he thought he saw a touch of worry in her countenance. "How are you feeling?"
Glancing away from her, he shrugged again, studying the wood of the floor. "Fine, I guess. Healthy," he said. He didn't want to burden her with his thoughts; he'd been a burden to her enough already. "And you?"
"I've been worried about you," she confessed softly, the tone of her voice making him look at her once more. There was complete caring and concern in her voice, something he hadn't heard in a long time. "You've been staying in here a lot."
He shifted uncomfortably, straightening and walking towards his window. "Madam Pomfrey said to rest, so I've been resting," he said quickly, gazing out onto the dark grounds.
She laughed quietly. "Since when have you ever listened to her?" she teased.
He didn't answer, glancing at her from the corner of his eye. Her slight smile was fading, and her eyes were narrowed. Fixing his eyes onto the grounds, he heard her shift on his bed.
"Harry, please talk to me. Tell me what's wrong," she pleaded gently as he heard her get to her feet and walk towards him. "I want to help you."
Shutting his eyes, he rested a palm on the cold glass of his window, shoulders tensing. "I don't think you can, Ginny," he said quietly as her hand grazed his shoulder.
He felt her hands at his waist, and her cheek rested against the curve of his shoulder, breath hitting his neck gently. "I'll decide that," she said softly. "Just tell me what you're thinking. I can't tell anymore."
He took a deep breath, muscles relaxing at her touch. Opening his eyes, he could see the reflection of her hair in the window, candlelight jumping into the strands and swallowing the color. "I don't want to burden you," he said, clenching his hand against the glass as his other hand reached down to cover hers. "You've been through enough because of me."
A sigh rippled through her and reverberated into his skin. "I haven't 'been through' anything because of you; do you think I blame you for anything that's happened to me?" she asked softly, shifting her head to press a light kiss to the side of his neck. "Please talk to me, I want you to talk to me."
Shutting his eyes for a moment, his hand fisted against the window. His thoughts formed words that welled up in his throat and try as he might he couldn't swallow them down. There was something about her that made him want to share everything, make him want to tell her exactly what he was thinking, and he had never felt that before. When he opened his eyes, she was gazing at him steadily with only concern and love, both of which he felt as if he didn't deserve.
"It doesn't seem like there's anything left for me," he said after a moment of silence, averting his eyes so he wouldn't have to see her reflection. "I've done what I was born to do, so what's left for me?
He could feel her body stiffen behind him. "I'm still here," she said very quietly, almost inaudibly. "I'm what's left for you. Isn't that worth something?"
Sighing, he leaned his forehead against the window. "Why would you want to stay with me? I'm nothing now, I don't have anything going for me. You saw what I did to Bellatrix Lestrange; I tortured her with an Unforgivable, I touched evil."
"Harry, you didn't mean to," she said softly, cheek pressed to his shoulder.
He flattened his hand against the window, banging it quite abruptly, so abruptly that she jumped in shock. "I did mean it! I wanted to hurt her, I felt that hate and I relished it. I've cursed myself," he said harshly, wanting her to go and leave him alone. He tried pulling away from her, but she kept a firm grip around his waist.
"You're not cursed," she whispered. "You did what you had to do, and deep down I know you didn't mean it. That kind of evil isn't inside you."
She didn't understand, and he didn't want her to comfort him. She deserved much better than him, someone twisted enough to have meant torturing someone. "I wouldn't take it back, Ginny. I'm... I'm glad I did it," he said finally, after a moment of tense quiet.
The silence in the room was agony to his ears, and he shut his eyes, not wanting to see any part of her in the reflection of the window. She was horrified, he knew; he was sick and horrifying and not worth her love, not worth any love.
Gently, he felt her turn her head and kiss his neck, causing a shiver to flee through him. "If you meant it, then that's that, and you'll just have to accept that about yourself. I can accept it; something like that isn't going to drive me away," she said quietly, breath brushing against his skin. "I think I would have done it myself, if I had been in that situation. She was pure evil, Harry, and hating someone like her would be normal for anyone, especially after all she's done to you."
"That doesn't make it better," he protested, keeping his eyes stubbornly closed. "It's not right to use an Unforgivable and mean it. It doesn't make me any better than a Death Eater."
"Don't you ever say that again," she ordered firmly. "The fact that you know it's wrong shows that you're more human than any Death Eater. If you weren't any better than them, you wouldn't be agonizing over this. That shows remorse for your actions and that's what makes the difference." She kissed his neck again, lips lingering on his skin. "I love you, Harry; there's nothing in you that would make you even remotely like a Death Eater, and I know it."
He inhaled sharply, opening his eyes to meet hers through the reflection in the glass. Her gaze was dark and bright, deep and warm for him, and it shook him. How he had gotten this kind of love from her, he was never going to know. He was all darkness and she was light and joy, and he didn't deserve her.
She smiled at him slightly, pressing a kiss to his skin again. "You're you, exactly who you're supposed to be, and I love you for it."
Something inside him snapped at that. "And who is that?" he demanded, turning around so his back was now pressed against the window and he was facing her. "I don't have an identity, I'm the Boy-Who-Lived, the man who defeated Voldemort! There's nothing left for me now, I don't have any kind of future."
She pushed at his shoulder, eyes now bright with anger. "And what about me? How am I supposed to react when you say things like this, how am I supposed to feel? Don't you want to be with me? Aren't I worth something?"
He shut his eyes, not wanting to see her face or her eyes or her hair; the brightness in her gaze scared him. Her sigh hit him harder than any punch, and he felt her step closer to him.
"You have to stop torturing yourself and living for everyone else," she said softly yet firmly, resting her hands on his chest. "This is your life now; you have to do what you want to do, nothing else. This is your chance to be happy, to finally live like a normal person, and you can't just give it up."
Opening his eyes, he met her dark gaze. "What if it's not over?" he asked quietly. "What if it starts all over again?"
Looking at him for a moment, she leaned up and kissed his forehead, lips lingering very lightly over his scar. "It's not your problem unless you make it your problem," she whispered. "It's time for you to start living."
Letting out a slow sigh, he tilted his head back against the window. "I don't know if I can," he said softly. "After everything, I still feel like I haven't accomplished anything."
She was silent for a moment, just looking up at him. One of her hands reached up to sift through his hair gently. "Remus, Sirius, and your parents thought you were wonderful, remember? They said that you were everything they could have hoped for," she said quietly. "Nothing about blame or fault; they knew it was their time, and they died without shame."
He looked down at her with a start. He had forgotten all about what his parents and their friends had said to him, forgotten how Sirius didn't blame him, and Remus looked happy, and his parents were proud of him...
Grief flooded him fully for the first time, and he nearly gasped at the power of it. He shut his eyes, bowing his head, and took a few deep breaths to try and calm himself, try to keep control. Her fingers traced the lines of his face, and he felt her lean her forehead against his own.
"Harry, just mourn them," she murmured softly. "You don't have to be strong anymore if you don't want to be."
Opening his eyes, he looked into her face, which looked ashen with worry. "It's not that easy, I can't just feel these things like you can," he said, voice shaking slightly. "I don't want to feel it."
She touched his face gently. "If you don't feel it, you won't ever move past it," she said sadly. "And I want you to move past it, to feel better about yourself."
His heart clenched, and he put his hands at her waist, pulling her closer to him. She felt so much for him, it was still almost unbelievable at times. He rested his cheek against her hair, taking comfort from her just being there. "I'll try, for you," he said almost inaudibly.
She sighed, her breath brushing his neck lightly. "That's enough for me," she said softly.
He held her a little closer to him, licking his lips briefly. He didn't want her to leave, not tonight; if he was alone right now, his thoughts would swallow him up and he'd drown in them. "Don't leave," he said, voice slightly hoarse.
Shifting her head, she looked up at him, smiling slightly. "I never will."
Hogwarts reopened to students almost three weeks after the battle, near the end of a bitter November. Those still at Hogwarts used the time off to any advantage; Ginny and Harry worked to catch up with their classes, and Ron and Hermione helped them and studied their own notes. Harry seemed to come out of his funk slowly yet surely; he began to talk, and while he wasn't a chatterbox, it was surprising and reassuring to hear him speak. It made her think that her words had helped him in some little way.
Hermione, ever progressive, began talking leaving Hogwarts and moving into the adult world. She seemed thrilled at the prospect of going into the Ministry, where she was looking to get a job in the Relations with Magical Creatures department. Ron, who was still serious about becoming an Auror, teased her relentlessly about all the house elves she was going to try to free, which she handled with great composure.
Worried that Harry was not participating in these discussions, Ginny tried to get him to talk about his own plans, but he was very tight-lipped. He seemed almost agitated when the topic came up, and she let it pass after a few tries, thinking he would tell her when he felt like it. That time came one night about a week before the students came back to school, when they were lying in his bed.
"Ginny?" he said softly, propping himself up on one elbow to look down at her.
She was still drowsy from their earlier activities, but she managed to open her eyes and look up at him with a soft smile. "Hmm?"
He bit his bottom lip in a way she found endearing before speaking. "Do you think about what you're going to do after Hogwarts?" he asked, blankets slipping off his shoulders to drape around his waist. Normally that would make her want to roll him over and snog him senseless, but she could feel something more somber behind his question.
"A little," she said, raising a curious eyebrow. "Why?"
Looking down at her carefully, he shrugged lightly. "Like what? What do you think you'll do?"
She was at a loss, and had to think about it for a moment. "I like the idea of teaching someday," she confessed. "But I think I'd like to go into the Ministry before I teach. My Muggle Studies grades might do well if I wanted to go into Muggle liaisons."
He was silent for a few moments, and the looks that passed through his eyes made her nervous as she waited for him to say something. She couldn't always tell what was going on in his mind, and sometimes she got very worried.
"In fifth year, I said I wanted to be an Auror," he said finally, sliding back to lie on his back and stare up at the ceiling. His face was shadowed by the flickering candlelight, making him seem almost like a ghost. "That seemed like my only option; Umbridge had banned me from Quidditch and I kept thinking about Sirius stuck in Grimmauld Place, and how I would have been able to track down Pettigrew and make him confess if I had been an Auror. Besides, I wasn't really good at anything else other than Defense," he muttered.
She propped herself up on his chest, looking down at him gently, not wanting to push him too far. "Do you still want to do that?" she asked softly, resting her hands on his chest.
His eyes flickered to hers, dark and flinted in the shadowed light. "I don't know. It's not so simple anymore. I think... I think I'd be a good Auror, if I tried, but the thought of having to face the same problems I've been facing since I was a baby isn't the most appealing," he said quietly as his hand came up to tangle in her hair.
Tilting her head slightly, she leaned down to kiss him lightly. "You should do something that will make you happy, Harry, and nothing else," she said firmly after she pulled back from his lips.
Eyes falling shut, he slipped his arm around her, pulling her closer down to him. "Am I being selfish if I do? People give up their dreams to do the right thing all the time. Why should I be any different?"
She buried her face in his neck, sighing softly. "Because you've done that your whole life, and you shouldn't have to anymore. You shouldn't become an Auror unless you know that's what you really want to do," she replied softly. "I'll support you no matter what, you know that."
His hand flexed at the small of her back, other fingers still twisting in her hair. "I know," he murmured. "But I really don't know what to do yet. Is that ok?"
He sounded like a lost child, and in some ways she thought he was one. Nodding against his neck, she wrapped her arms around his waist tightly. "Of course it's ok," she whispered.
The night of the students' return, the Great Hall was cheerfully lit with torches and candles; there was a festive, celebratory feeling in the air. Students were chatting quite happily, like a weight had disappeared from their shoulders, and even the professors were getting into the spirit. Ginny just sat with Harry and watched the feast with careful eyes, smiling and talking to others now and then. Harry was quite silent, but she didn't feel overwhelming negativity from him, so she wasn't too worried about him.
Of course, she was worried about him. She was afraid that one day she would wake up and he would be all darkness again; she could feel it pulling at him whenever she was with him, and it made her never want to leave him alone. It scared her to think that she could lose the fight to keep him with her, and it made her fight all the harder; she wasn't about to be beaten again.
Near the end of the feast, Dumbledore stood up and the whole hall fell silent at that moment. He gazed at his students, catching Ginny's eye with a slight smile, before he cleared his throat. She felt Harry stiffen next to her, and she slipped his hand into hers, squeezing gently.
Dumbledore's smile widened at all those in the hall. "I am very pleased to be standing here before you today as a man who lives in a free world," he said, voice amplified to echo around the hall. "This school is opening again three weeks after a victory that saved the world as we know it, and it is a celebration indeed."
Murmurs of agreement rippled through the hall, and Ginny nodded slightly, glancing at Harry. He looked as he always did, masked and impassive, not wanting to be truly seen by anyone. She shifted closer to him on the bench, resting their joined hands on their touching knees and looking at him. He met her eyes and gave her a tiny smile, flexing his fingers against hers. She couldn't tell if his smile was forced or not, but she still returned it with one of her own.
Raising a hand, Dumbledore sent the room into silence again. "As we rejoice in the freedom we have longed for, we must remember all who fell for this day," he said somberly. "They are not a burden on our shoulders, but neither are they a simple notation in a history text. They are the men and women of our time, people that set the standards we must all live by."
Ginny licked her lips, thinking immediately of Remus and Sirius, and she knew Harry was thinking the same by the tight grip he had on her hand. The headmaster's eyes twinkled gently in the candlelight, and he glanced her and Harry's way. "Heroes live among us, surviving war and tragedy and learning to persevere. We all contributed to the victory, but there are those who did what needed to be done, regardless of the consequences. And they are the true heroes."
He let his gaze settle out among the students again, smiling just a little wider. "We must go forth in our daily lives with a new sense of appreciation of what we have. We have the ability to change the world for the better, and we must use this. You here are the future, and you have all learned tough lessons in your lives. These lessons will help shape the adults you are and will become. But you must always remember this time, always remember the sacrifices we made and the losses we went through to gain this newfound freedom. Live to the fullest, and keep the spirit of your fellow fighters with you always."
As he sat back down, every person rose to their feet and applauded, some wiping tears from their eyes. Ginny kept Harry's hand in hers as they stood together, and as she looked at him, she saw brightness in his eyes, a painful brightness that tore at her heart. Lifting her free hand, she brushed the angles of his face gently with her fingers, and he gave her a small, very raw smile, squeezing her hand tightly. She returned the squeeze, giving him a sad sort of smile. Her heart was still in pieces and she knew Harry's was, too. There was so much uncertainty in their lives right now, she was afraid of thinking too far ahead. She just had to concentrate in the moment, try and help Harry with his demons, and see if they could make a new life, free of the shackles of Voldemort.
It was going to be a long and hard battle.
Author's Notes: So it's done, sort of. I'd like to thank everyone who gave me feedback, you don't know how much it meant to me. When I started all this back with Exposure, I had no idea that it would end like this. And while there are some things I'd love to go back and change, I'm overall very happy with where this went. I still regret killing Remus very much, but what's done is done.
This whole "universe" isn't quite over yet. How can it be, with all the angst I left you with? ;) Anyway, there will be a little more, in the form of one-shots that will show how Harry and Ginny go on from all this trauma. These will pop up sporadically as I feel the urge to write them, so keep a sharp eye!
Final thanks go to Anne, who has been with me since the beginning and helped me so much along the way (I can tell you that this would have been dropped long ago if it hadn't been for her constant encouragement), and to Joe, who's been my rock and been so wonderful to me. You two are the best betas and friends I could have wished for, and all this is for you.