New author note at the bottom of the chapter!
Epilogue: Face the Sun
"Move him into the sun--
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whisp'ring of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know."
~ Wilfred Owen: Futility
The laughter from the celebrations somewhere behind him rippled across the swaying grasses beyond The Burrow, twisting the knife even deeper into his heart. Harry sat alone on the ridge, beneath the gnarled oak tree on the ridge, staring out over the river valley, plucking restlessly at the long grass stalks around him. Two months had passed since... Two months: it seemed so far away and yet so close he could almost breathe in the same air as he had then.
He hugged his knees tightly towards him and watched the rays of sunlight play across the valley, catching the windows in Ottery St. Catchpole with a benevolent twinkle of an eye. The lump built in his throat. It should never have come to this: none of it should. He rocked slightly to and fro, the light breeze of summer brushing gently through his hair soothing his headache somewhat. On a day like this, he could still barely believe it; still didn't want to believe it could be true. The light sparkled against the bright blueness of the river.
"He will stay, Minerva, because he needs to understand," Dumbledore's voice echoed over the years. "Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery."
"That's fine for you so say," Harry shouted angrily at the thin air. "I don't bloody well understand. I don't understand any of this at all. How could you let it happen? There should have been another way."
There was no answer, just the gentle breath of wind swirling around him and the noise of the party carrying on in the background. He slumped his head in his hands, heart hammering wildly at his ribs as he fought off the emotions that threatened to engulf him.
He could remember so little of what had happened, but it was so important. Brief snapshots were all he had and he'd gone over and over them in his mind, barely sleeping or eating as he tried to piece the jigsaw together. Dumbledore and Hope covered by the silvery sheen, the blast of green light shooting again from Voldemort's wand, and the high pitched scream of the killing curse rising in crescendo into the brightest of lights as the magic exploded.
What came next was even hazier. Harry screwed up his face, willing himself to remember. The rattle of stones and hiss of dust, burying Ginny beneath him just in time before the ceiling caved in, chunks of masonry crashing suddenly down upon them. More and more. A scream for Hope. Pain shooting through his right arm as the bone was shattered. Blackness. Oblivion.
Somehow… surely somehow…?
He shifted restlessly, his eyes falling on the little copse of trees right on the bank of the river that was Ginny's favourite haunt, and his stomach churned. Last summer had been so happy; it would never be like that again. Not now. Not even in his most vivid nightmares had he imagined things turning out like this. It was so unfair!
He seized a stone from the ground beside him, swung back his shoulder and hurled it as far as he could, watching it whizzing through the sky before it thudded back to earth, bouncing erratically down the slope until it disappeared from sight.
"Harry?" the soft voice almost made him leap out of his skin. He swung round and gave a half-hearted grin to see her there.
"Sorry," he muttered sheepishly. "I'll be back up in a few minutes. Just needed a bit of a breather."
"No rush," she said gently. "Room for another one?"
He shuffled up to make space, and she sat down beside him, shoulder-to-shoulder staring out across the valley in silence. There was nothing to be said.
After a while, he glanced across, almost surprised to see her there, her red hair sparking copper in the sunshine. She was paler than usual, but the burns had healed at last. No outward sign of what had happened remained, but they hadn't talked much since…
"Where's Hope," he blurted out suddenly, an irrational panic gripping his insides.
She whirled to face him, her dark eyes quickly searching his.
"With Mum," she said, reaching for his hand to reassure him. "She's fine. You know what Mum's like with her granddaughter. She's perfectly safe."
"Yeah," he admitted, trying to force himself to start breathing normally again. "It's just…" his voice trailed away and he looked at her helplessly.
"It's OK," she said gently, rubbing her fingers across his hand. "I do understand, you know."
He knew she did, but somehow there was this great chasm between them and he didn't know how to cross it. He stared down at his feet, wishing it wasn't like this. Silence fell about them once more, broken only by the leaves rustling overhead.
"Gin, I'm sorry!" The words burst out of him suddenly, startling them both.
"Harry, you've got nothing to be sorry for," she insisted, shaking her hair back out of her eyes. "Look at me," she insisted, tilting his chin so that he met her gaze. He flinched. "Nothing," she reiterated firmly.
"All those people dead aren't nothing," he muttered gruffly, tearing his eyes away and kicking the dirt beneath his feet.
"No, they're not," she agreed. "But you couldn't have done anything to stop it."
"But I should have been able to, shouldn't I?" he burst out angrily. "The boy who lived, that's what everyone expects, isn't it? It should have just been me and him."
"You tried," she said, biting her lip. "Wizard's duel with my wand, remember?" She shook her head, eyes shining. "It was more than you he wanted, and I think all of us were prepared to die rather than see him in control. That attack on Hogwarts was so planned none of us had a chance to do anything."
"We knew he'd try something. We should have been better prepared," he insisted. "Why didn't we think they'd use the Chamber of Secrets tunnel? That passage had to go somewhere if you followed it the other way."
"Dumbledore knew." Ginny's voice was barely a whisper.
The dull ache inside him increased to the point of torment. No one had spoken openly about Dumbledore since he'd regained consciousness back at The Burrow a few days after that final conflict. Hushed whispers had been silenced as he'd drawn near. No one had seemed to know what to say, except Dumbledore himself. A roll of parchment had arrived by owl a few days later, addressed to them both; a letter of explanation that Harry had found very hard to bear.
"Why do you think he did that enchantment?" he asked awkwardly. "He'd have known that night… that it would…"
"It's awful," Ginny bit her lip harder, fighting back the tears. "I s'pose he knew if it came to it… if that was all left… then it would stop Voldemort once and for all. He tried to talk Voldemort out of it, you heard him," Ginny choked. "It was Voldemort who didn't listen." A strangled sob escaped. Instinctively, Harry reached his arm around her and hugged her. She stiffened at first, and then melted trustingly into him, nuzzling her head against his cheek. The secure warmth of her body, jogged his memories and he pulled her closer, rubbing her back reassuringly.
"Must have been quite some spell," Harry murmured reflectively into her hair. "Substituting himself for Hope like he did, and mirroring the curse back onto Voldemort. He knew it would kill them both, but he still did it because the magic he harnessed was more powerful that way."
"You wouldn't have done any less if it had been you," Ginny looked up at him through a watery smile. "Whatever that silvery light came from can have only been good. He promised us that Hope would never be in any danger, and I believe him."
"He made sure of that," Harry said. He shook his head despondently, "I still can't believe he's dead."
"He knew what he was doing," Ginny's voice trembled, "And he's given us all a future. Voldemort is gone for good."
"I know," Harry could feel the awkward lump expanding painfully in his throat. A rainbow array of daylight fireworks exploded making stars fall in the sky around them. Laughter from the party wafted towards them on the breeze and suddenly Harry felt his eyes stinging. "He should have been here to see this…"
The world blurred in front of him, and Ginny hugged him tighter, sheltering him in her arms from the storm that raged inside him. Everything he'd been bottling up for so long broke free, burning tears at last spilling painfully over. He was dimly aware of Ginny's soothing tones, her caresses as they clung together for what seemed to be eternity.
Eventually, he let go, and ran his hands beneath his glasses, brushing the worst away. He took a deep shuddering breath.
"Sorry," he said, giving her a lopsided grin, and noticing that her eyes were as red as his probably were.
"Don't be stupid," she retorted, sounding slightly croakier than usual but a lot more like her normal self. She grinned back and ruffled her hard through his hair.
"Hey!" he protested, batting her hand away and vaguely smoothing over the mess to it's normal haphazard state. "You don't want to spoil this hair style of sleek perfection, for our daughter's christening, do you?"
"I've missed you," she choked over the giggle that erupted.
Harry opened his mouth to point out that he'd not been anywhere, and then realised what she meant. He'd been brooding over the deaths of those he had loved, and had shut himself off from her and from Hope. She'd been waiting for him, hurting as much as he was.
"Ginny," he shook his head, wondering how anyone could love him as much as she did.
Words were inadequate now as he gazed into those concerned dark brown eyes, remembering suddenly the fog of unconsciousness lifting, and life swaying back into focus a few weeks earlier. She'd been watching him then too, holding Hope in her arms, willing him to survive. Everything had hung in the balance for a while, and Harry suddenly realised with a jolt that things could have been even worse. Lots of people had lost members of their families; the Weasleys were no exception, as Bill had never been found.
People he'd shared lessons with, spent the last seven years of his life with, even those who'd lived in the same dormitory as him had gone. Never to see them again was an ache that was hard to bear. Others, like Malfoy, were incarcerated in St Mungo's, insanity brought about by what they had witnessed happening to those they loved. There was a huge hollow in many lives across the wizarding world, but somehow they all had to find a way to go on. Maybe he could even take up supporting West Ham. A wry smile twitched the corner of his mouth as he imagines himself decked out in the blue and maroon striped scarf instead of his Gryffindor Quidditch robes. Dean would have laughed himself stupid at the thought.
"We never did go house hunting in Hogsmeade, did we?" he said suddenly.
Ginny looked at him, her eyes wide with surprise and shook her head.
"Other things have been more important lately," she said quietly. "It doesn't matter. I can travel by Floo from here when school reopens, and Professor McGonagall said that's not going to be for another few months. I think a lot of the castle came down when… when…"
Harry nodded. He swallowed and steadied himself. He'd not been beyond The Burrow since he'd been brought there after Voldemort's downfall, but he had to. It was time to try and move on and create a life for them all.
"Would you like to…?" he asked hesitantly. "Just to see?"
"I would," she said, her face wreathed in a mass of shy smiles. "If you're sure."
"I think I can just about cope with that, Mrs Potter," he teased. His face lit up in a mischievous grin and he added, "I wonder if there are any with nice broom cupboards."
"Harry!" she protested, bursting into giggles at the intimation.
He pulled her onto his knee and settled back, feeling slightly more at peace with himself than he'd done for quite some time. It was going to be difficult, but they'd manage it somehow and make sure Hope had a normal childhood. He smiled ruefully to himself, well, as normal as it could get. She was going to be in more books than he was now that the press had found out most of the details of Voldemort's downfall.
"Harry? Ginny?" A familiar yell was heading in their direction through the rustling grasses. They glanced up to see Ron bearing down on them. "Ah there you are!" he exclaimed, seeing the pair of them curled up tightly together under the oak tree. He paused, uncertainty about whether or not he was interrupting something written all over his face. "Is everything ok?"
"We're coming back up," Ginny explained, wriggling off Harry's knee and reaching out her hand for his. "Just needed a bit of time. You know how it is."
"Yeah," Ron agreed, sobering instantly.
"Your Goddaughter's causing chaos, is she?" Harry asked, smiling across at him.
"Not Hope," Ron laughed, his eyes sparkling. "Snape!"
"He's not been on the mead again?" Ginny giggled, obviously remembering the previous evening and the rather adult version of the sorting hat song the Potions' Master had been singing.
The Burrow had been fuller than usual following the destruction of Hogwarts, some of the injured being transferred there under the watchful eye of Madam Pomfrey. Snape had been one of them. He had been dug out of the rubble, barely alive, but had slowly regained his health and his bad temper over the past few weeks, complaining bitterly about lack of suitable reading material. Much to everyone's surprise, although he permanently looked very disapproving about Hope, he'd been discovered on several occasions reading to her in incredulous tones from one of her grandmother's gossipy Witch Weeklys.
"Come and see," Ron laughed, ducking back under the branches and setting off back through the meadow.
They hurried after him and clambered back over the fence into the Weasleys rambling and overgrown garden and paused for breath. Small groups of witches and wizards sat in clusters on the lawn, gossiping and enjoying the sunshine of the afternoon. It felt like he'd stepped into another, less real world somehow, than the one he'd found up on the ridge with Ginny. For a second it felt like none of it had ever happened. Ginny squeezed his hand.
"Come on," she urged, looking back over her shoulder. "Quick, before Uncle Bilius pins us down. He's stopped talking to Dad and heading this way. He could talk the hind leg off a donkey."
He grinned gratefully, and allowed himself to be tugged past various congratulations into the little kitchen at the back of The Burrow, where Molly Weasley was clattering around with food and drinks for the gathering of people.
"Late as usual, Potter?" the sarcasm dripped off the Potion Master's tongue. Harry bit his lips to stop himself from retorting. Some things never changed.
Snape shuffled slowly out of the shadows, injuries still not fully healed, clutching a small wriggling bundle of white blankets in his hands. "Yours, I believe. You were like this in Potions too, always got Weasley to disembowel your horned toads for you."
"It was a fair trade!" Harry protested at once. "I always prepared the spiders."
"Mmm," Snape intoned sceptically, passing Hope across into her father's extended arms. "Cleaned and changed. Although I do think you need to show a little foresight with these things, Potter. You always were one to let your cauldron boil over."
Harry almost dropped his daughter in shock.
"Y-You…changed her nappy…?" he stammered, as Hermione appeared through the door, fighting back the urge to giggle.
"Seems to be very efficiently done too," Ginny observed with a grin. "Not like your first one, Harry. I seem to recall that dropping off her when you picked her up."
Harry had to laugh.
"I've got better at them since," he pointed out, gazing down at his daughter. She smiled back, a wide gummy grin, her emerald eyes alight with excitement to see him.
"Go on!" Mrs Weasley flapped her tea towel in their direction. "There isn't room to stand in here gossiping. You've got guests you should be chatting to." They headed obediently through the door into the warmth of the summer afternoon, and the christening party. Ron and Hermione disappeared quickly, arms wrapped closely round each other. They all felt this hurt, and it was going to be a long time before any of them took anything for granted again.
Harry breathed in the heady air and ran a thoughtful finger down Hope's cheek. She really was beautiful. She was the reason to go on. She was the future. Maybe Dumbledore was right and he did understand after all. Acceptance would take much longer, if indeed it ever came.
Ginny's hand slid through his arm and he smiled down at her. His family. His heart skipped a strange beat. This was all he had ever dreamed of and more. The future was new and uncertain, but the future was theirs.
A/N: Thank you very much for reading all this and for the lovely reviews you've left all the way through the story. They have been incredibly appreciated and made me giggle and smile, even when it's been difficult finding the time to write. I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have. If anyone ends up reading the whole thing through again, I'm interested in what you make of it as a whole story, and I'm impressed at your persistence in reading all that again!
The quotation from Dumbledore in italics near the beginning is taken from GoF, and pretty much everything else is JKRs anyway.
There is currently a sequel to this story in progress although it is only posted on my personal web site. 'Home is where the heart is' can only be found at http://www.elenarda.com/home.htm and all my future stories will be posted there. There is an email list to notify people of updates. For more information, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading!