Epilogue: Journey's End

It hurt to walk – in fact it hurt to breathe. Was this what he got for vanquishing Voldemort? Aching knees and face covered with scratches from tree branches? At the least he had expected dancing girls – well actually only one girl in particular – and a butterbeer. Harry pushed another branch out of his way and sighed with relief; he had found his way out of the Forbidden Forest.

He had defeated Lord Voldemort about three of four hours before, at least so he guessed by the light, and had then promptly collapsed. He hadn't intended to – he had walked fifty feet, in what he later discovered was the wrong direction, intending to go help the others in the mop-up but had passed out. The magic he had used to defeat Voldemort had drained him to a degree he hadn't thought possible.

He stopped, trying to gather his strength for the walk back towards the school. It took an effort to lift his feet. The sun was setting behind the castle and he could see figures scurrying about at its base. As he started his struggle towards them a great cry went up and some of them started to run towards him.

Harry fell to his knees, swaying in exhaustion. Ron was the first to reach him. They hugged, Harry leaning a little on his best friend, and then Ron helped him walk the rest of the way. His usual grin had been replaced by a serious expression and Harry thought he could see traces of tears on his face. Ron's hand braced his back as he said, "We thought the worst for a while mate. Moody went down about two hours ago and couldn't find you, and McGonagall wouldn't let us risk a search party. Ginny was going spare. Where were you?"

Harry tried to shrug his shoulders and said, "I passed out. Under a bush. Is she all right?"

"Yeah – she got hit with one nasty curse. Never seen anything like it – it's a good thing she's a Parselmouth. And Hermione's got a couple of broken ribs, but it's not too bad."

"And what about you?"

"Couple of bad cuts – nothing Pomfrey couldn't fix."

In fact Ron looked as exhausted as Harry – his face was grey and he walked only slowly. Harry heard a shriek and saw Hermione come running towards them. Ron looked irritated and yelled, "Hermione! You're not supposed to run!"

She skidded to a stop, beaming at Harry. Tears were streaming down her cheeks and she hugged him, though extremely gently by her standards. "You did it Harry! You did it! I knew you'd do it. Are you all right? You look exhausted – come and see Madame Pomfrey, she'll want to have a look at you."

Harry kissed her cheek and said, "I'm fine Hermione, just tired. Really tired."

Ron raised an eyebrow. "The legendary Potter understatement strikes again." Hermione giggled, swiping at her still streaming eyes. Ron put a fond arm around her and they stood in a comfortable silence for a few minutes, the last warmth of the sun bathing them as their shadows stretched eastward.

"Harry!"

He had only just heard Ginny's voice before she flung herself against him. Like Hermione she was crying. Harry picked her up and held her close, hearing her whisper, "You're all right. You're safe. I thought..." More tears ran down her face, and Harry set her back on her feet, still holding her about the waist. He touched her cheek with one hand and saw her flame up. She started to pull away from him – and no wonder given the year of mistarts and misdirections they had had – but Harry wouldn't let her go. He couldn't let her go.

He saw her lower lip start to tremble as he tilted her chin upward with one hand, but ignored it. He bent his head and kissed her. Nothing had ever felt so right or so natural, and after the first tentative touch Harry pulled her close, wanting to feel her full weight, wanting to feel as much of her soft, sweet mouth as possible. His hand brushed the tender skin of her neck, feeling her pulse jump and race beneath his finger and thumb. Her breath sped across his lips, and her fingers grasped at his, nestling in the palm of his hand. He slid his hand from her neck down to her waist, relishing the warmth of her body pressed full against him. Ginny's arm found their way around his neck, the pad of her thumb teasing his ear and the short hairs at the back of his neck before she pulled back a little.

"Harry?" She said, doubt colouring her voice. He kissed her again, his lips fumbling and toying with hers. He was dizzy, his head spinning in a dozen directions, and he kissed her lips, her forehead, the soft skin of her cheeks, and the tip of her nose. He was light with joy.

When they finally broke apart, Ginny stagger a little and looked at him disbelievingly. "But you don't..."

Harry bowed his head, ashamed, and said, "I do Ginny, I have for so long."

Her eyes were wide and he could see her put together all the odds and ends of the past months. "So...after New Year? That was because..."

Harry nodded, and saw a slow smile spread tentatively across her face. "Why didn't you say something you git! I thought you'd died!"

Regretting the stupidity that had kept him silent back on New Year's Eve (Ginny had never known how close he'd come to kissing her) and that had led him to ignore her for two weeks afterwards, Harry said. "I know, I'm sorry, it was so stupid. I just didn't know how to say it."

She was incredulous. "You didn't know how to say it! You idiot! I told you – I told you ages ago."

Harry pointed a finger at her. "Oh no you don't Ginny Weasley. That was a joke!"

"No it wasn't."

He stopped. He had never forgotten those words. "You mean you were trying to tell me all that time ago?"

Ginny stared at him, clearly frustrated. "Yeah Harry. It was obvious – everyone knows how I feel about you!"

He stepped closer to her. "Do they know how I feel?"

She shook her head the smallest amount possible, and said, in a small voice, "No."

Harry leant down so that his mouth brushed her ear and whispered, "I love you." He moved away to see her glowing up at him. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you before, but things are different now."

"He's gone."

"And I was prat. For so long...but I am sorry."

Ginny stretched up and pecked him on the lips. "I forgive you," she said, "If you promise never to do it again."

Harry grinned and bent to kiss her again when he heard Ron clear his throat. Unexpectedly he wasn't glowering at Harry, but he said "Happy for you and all that – always thought you'd...still; that's my sister."

Harry laughed, an arm clutching Ginny's waist, and finally noticed the effect of that weird curse Ron had mentioned. Her hair was bound back with a thick scarf, and hung limply down her back. Only it wasn't hair. Three-dozen red snakes hung from her head. Harry touched one lightly with his finger and said, "What's this?"

Ginny shrugged her slender shoulders. "Medusa charm. I had to do battle with my own hair until I got them to cooperate. They're all stunned now. There hasn't been time to reverse it yet."

"Oh." Harry said, "I didn't notice."

And so they walked the four of them, arms around each other, back to the castle and warm beds, where they could sleep off these long days past.

Author's Note

So many people have reviewed this fic that is absolutely impossible to name and thank all of them. I appreciated each and every one of them though, and I hope you all enjoyed "Men Love With Their Eyes" as much as I did (and also I want to apologise for cutting it off as things get interesting!) Who knows, maybe someday soon I'll have a story explaining exactly what happened on New Year's Eve for you all. Thanks again!