- - -
It's quiet, in the aftermath, here in Gryffindor Tower, where the journey seems over and all that's left is the cleanup.
The air filtering in through the Common Room window is warm and smells faintly of smoke, and the huge scarlet and gold banners draping from the ceiling are fluttering in the slight breeze. Harry lies on one of the overstuffed chairs in front of the fireplace, staring at the Gryffindor trophies lining the wall, and missing Quidditch with a fierce, sudden burn. The Common Room itself is quiet--most everyone is packed for the summer hols already, prepared to go home with their families once they arrive at Hogwarts.
Or else, they're mourning their families, and Harry feels a sudden, sick swoop in his stomach as he thinks of the Weasleys. He wishes he could be with them right now, supporting Ron and hugging Mrs. Weasley and looking at Fred one last time, thanking him for the laughter and the--
He wants to hold Ginny's hand, because if he's feeling this bad right now, he can't imagine how she, who was always Fred and George's favorite sibling (besides each other, of course) must be feeling. Torn apart, most likely. He clenches his hands, listens to the sounds of students and professors and Aurors alike down below, rebuilding a similarly torn-apart Hogwarts, stone by stone.
He should be down there. He should be helping, he should be mourning, he should be with his friends and family, only--
Harry's so tired. His family for so long has been Ron and Hermione, and now that Ron is with the other Weasleys during a time Harry doesn't wish to intrude upon, and Hermione is in Australia tracking down her parents, Harry isn't sure where it is exactly he belongs. Hogwarts and this Common Room are the only homes he can think of, at the moment, and so here he stays. It's too daunting a task to get up and assume more responsibilities, to face more of the long, bleak day that stretches out in front of him.
"What are you doing here?" a voice sharply asks from the portrait hole.
Harry sits up on the armchair so fast, he falls off. Fumbling for his wand out of long habit, he falters as he stares at the entrance of the Common Room.
"Boy, for the savior of the wizarding world, you have crap reflexes," Ginny says, hands on hips. Her eyes are swollen and red, and her nose is pink, but she looks, for the most part, more cross than sad.
"Ginny," Harry says stupidly. It's the first he's spoken with her since sending her out of the Room and Requirement, and he wonders now what she was doing the whole time after. He had seen her duel Bellatrix Lestrange, felt that mix of fear and admiration at seeing her nimble wandwork and her bravery, but what about the rest of the time? Had she been safe, or gotten injured, or...
"Where did you get that?" he abruptly demands, flying off the floor and grabbing Ginny's arm. There are several long, thin scars carved into her skin, ones that he knows must have been made by Dark Magic, or else they'd be healed already. Ginny winces and then pulls her arm away.
"It's not important," she says dismissively. "You should see poor Nev, he's tons worse." She peers at him, and he blinks; he hasn't even thought to ask Neville how he is. Or Luna, or Dean, or any of the other DA members who were so ready to fight with him, for him.
Ginny's eyebrow arches and she gives a humorless snort. "Everyone's either in the Great Hall or outside cleaning up. We thought you might be resting, but..." she glances at the wall, at the torn draperies and the big chunk of stone lying on the ground from where the window was partially blown out. "I thought you may not want to be alone."
Harry shifts. "Well," he says. "I didn't want to get in the way. I mean," he rushed to say, "I wanted to see you. I wanted to see your family. But after. You know..."
"After we've done grieving Fred, you mean?" Ginny's voice is cold. "Well, you may as well wait forever, we'll never be done with that. But don't worry, I'm sure Ron and Hermione will join you soon enough, so you can all hide from the world some more." A catch to her words, and Harry looks intently at Ginny, sees that familiar flush spread across her cheeks, the one that used to mean she was really upset.
"Ginny," Harry starts, feeling wretched. "That's not what I meant. I just didn't want to make it about me. You--and Ron and Hermione, too--should be with family right now."
"It's always about you," Ginny says, as if talking to someone very, very stupid. She blinks. "You really don't realize it. Harry, no one down there is going to blame you for any of the deaths that have happened. In fact, I'm sure you'll find that we're capable of giving you ample room to mope around and look despondent. We just want you down there with us because we care. Because you shouldn't have to be alone." Her hand twitches. "Because you are family."
Harry shuffles his feet and look down. "I'm hardly good company. Mopey and despondent, remember?"
Ginny tilts her head. "You'll fit right in," she says softly, and Harry immediately feels idiotic for joking with her at a time like this. Even worse, he feels a sort of guilt creep around his brain, accusing him of being lost in his own desires, his own grief, his own weariness. From the circles around Ginny's eyes, he can guess she hasn't slept for a long time, too.
But then, it's not as if she died and came back to life, either.
The guilt makes Harry feel a little mutinous, and he gives Ginny a bit of a glare. "I should probably stay up here for a bit," he says. "I'll definitely be coming down later, but you should be with Fred right now--"
"Too bad," Ginny interrupts, and he can tell from the blazing look in her eyes that she's angry. "I knew you had this habit of sticking your head comfortably up your arse, Harry, but I really expected better of you right now. I understand you've lost quite a bit, and this battle has been very hard for you. Has been the hardest for you. And you deserve a rest, that would be fair." Her voice shakes. "But life isn't fair, and you can't use Ron and Hermione as your crutches forever. Do you think I like being here, talking sense into you, which is like coaxing water from the desert, by the way, rather than downstairs with my dead brother's body? I don't." Tears shine in her eyes, but her chin is tilted defiantly, and the color is high in her cheeks.
Harry is sure he has a stricken look on his face, because it feels as if Ginny has punched him in the stomach.
"I don't want you to come downstairs for me, or for my family," Ginny says, so low her voice is barely audible. "I want you to come downstairs because Lupin and Tonks are quite dead, and everyone's forgotten, even me, and it's horrible--" Ginny's voice cracks and she covers her eyes with her hands, turning slightly away.
Harry can't comfort her, because the world has narrowed and darkened suddenly; the floor has fallen out from under him.
Seeing Lupin with his parents had comforted him enough for a peace to instill itself in the very thought of his old professor. But Harry realizes now that he hadn't seen Tonks, he wasn't even sure how she'd died, how either of them had died, and Ginny is right, he's forgotten about them, he hasn't gone to see their bodies, he came right up to the Common Room and laid down, erased the way they looked, eyes closed and hands folded over their chests...
"They're downstairs," Ginny is speaking again, tears tracking down her cheeks, and she doesn't bother to wipe them. "They're downstairs, and Mrs. Tonks is here, and so is Teddy." Harry's head snaps up and he stares at Ginny, at the brown that used to be so warm in her eyes, and right now is a dark, swirling black. He remembers seeing the Weasley's crouched over Fred's inert body, and then the still, peaceful forms of Lupin and Tonks right next to them. Alone.
"Teddy," Harry says, like he's not sure who that is. The memory of the picture Remus waved around, a chubby, smiling baby with bright blue hair, seems too far away to contemplate.
"Tonks asked me to be his godmother, when we were in the Room of Requirement." Ginny says haltingly. "They hadn't decided on one yet, see, but she and I...we'd gotten quite close this year. Seems that the men in our lives were fond of stuffing us out of sight, so we got used to leaning on each other." A ghost of a wry smile touches her lips. "I said yes, and she said she just had to ask Remus, but..."
Ginny trails off, and Harry keeps staring, his eyes almost unseeing. He remembers Lupin's exuberance when he'd asked Harry to be godfather, the way he'd hugged him and forgiven him wordlessly for all the nasty things Harry had said. Now, Harry wishes he could have apologized, could have told Lupin how grateful he was for everything he'd ever done. How proud he was that Lupin wanted him to be in his own child's life--
"Teddy," Harry says again, this time in wonder. A little kid, a little kid a bit like he was once. Parentless, at any rate. Parents who were heroes, who, in a roundabout way, died for a future that would treat their son well. Just like his own.
"He's going to need family, too, Harry," Ginny says, and she sounds strangely broken. He hates it, wants the angry, imperious Ginny back. Wants her to be looking down her nose at him, instead of looking down at the floor.
"Yeah," he says. He reaches out and takes Ginny's hand. This time, she doesn't pull away. "He is."
They step out of the portrait hole holding hands, and Harry isn't sure who's supporting who, but he's glad that in this new path to follow, in this quest without any clues or discernible end, Ginny is the one by his side.
- - -
The steps are littered with debris, fallen bits of rubble and rock, singe marks and even broken wands. Harry steps on something rangy and tough, and Ginny says, "Dragon heartstring. With Gregorovitch dead and Ollivander slow in healing, they're going to have to bring wands in from the States and Asia--possibly Italy and Brazil, too, they've got some up-and-coming wandmakers." Her eyes sweep the length of the heartstring. "But the best have gone."
Harry can't help but agree; yes, the best of many have gone.
"Your wand has been fixed, though," Ginny says. "You said you were using Draco Malfoy's wand, but that one--" she nods to Harry's hand, "is your old one."
"Yeah," Harry blushes. "I, erm, used the Elder Wand to fix mine. And then..." he hesitates, not wanting to get into why he chose not to use the Elder Wand, and where he put it. It's just too long of a story, and there's already so much he has to tell her, he has to say to her. Ginny's face turns stony.
"I get it," she says. "It's a secret, even though you told Ron and Hermione already, I'd wager."
Harry gives a frustrated sigh. "Ginny," he says. "Ron and Hermione are my best friends."
Ginny's eyes look so sad for a moment that Harry knows this was the wrong thing to say. "Yes," she says. "I've realized."
They walk along in silence, Ginny's hand still tucked into his, but a chasm that feel incredibly wide dividing them both.
"When Voldemort killed me," Harry begins, suddenly needing Ginny to understand, "I didn't see Ron or Hermione. I saw your face." Ginny's foot actually misses the next step, and she falters, trips, bringing Harry closer. He tugs her up a step, holding her elbow close to him, and she stands there, shaking, looking down below.
"What," she asks, her voice quiet, "do you mean?"
He begins walking, and after a moment of looking at him, Ginny follows. "Before the Killing Curse hit me," Harry explains. "I thought of you. Of how you looked the day we kissed in the Common Room. Because I felt brave that day, I think. Because with you, I felt normal." Harry glances at Ginny from the corner of his eye, and she is staring straight ahead. Her hand, however, squeezes tighter around his. "I was sorry I was never getting the chance to live that life. Because I think I knew...if I had the chance at being a normal bloke, I'd choose you." He scratches his ear. "To be with, I mean."
They reach the bottom of the stairs, and the Great Hall is so near that Harry feels his gut tighten. Behind those doors are the Weasleys, his friends, Andromeda Tonks, Teddy Lupin. Evidence of what he's had a hand in creating, the destruction of families and buildings and...Harry takes a deep breath.
"It's not your fault," Ginny says, from beside him. He turns to face her. Her eyes are soft, sad. Wet. He's never seen her cry this much before, and it makes him feel queasy, restless. "I can see it in your face," she says. "You get that weird look that says you're blaming yourself. Well, don't. It's not your fault, it's his. Voldemort's."
Her face hardens, and though she doesn't look vulnerable anymore, Harry still feels sick at the unnatural expression on her face. He wonders how she felt, seeing Voldemort fall. If any of her ghosts were exorcised, if the nightmares will continue for her regardless, as he's sure they will continue for him.
"I'm just a bit mixed up," Harry says quietly. "There's..."
"..so much to be mixed up about," Ginny finishes. "I know. Like I said, this has been harder for you than anyone, Harry. There are a lot of people to mourn." She looks away for a moment, swallowing hard. "But there are a lot of people left to care for, too. We can't wallow up in our beds forever."
"I wasn't wallowing, and it was an armchair!" Harry says hotly. "If you knew how it felt to--"
"Well," Ginny interrupts. "I don't. I don't know how it feels to be you at all. All I know is how it feels to be trapped inside a castle and a musty old home while my brothers and my parents and my professors and my friends--and my ex-boyfriend--fight a war that's just as much mine as theirs. So while Auntie Muriel spent all the hols calling me the next best thing to a dumb, unmarriageable slag, you were traipsing the countryside--"
"TRAIPSING THE COUNTRYSIDE?" Harry thunders, shocked. He lowers his voice as a door slams down a corridor nearby. "Traipsing the bloody countryside? I almost died pretty much every other week, Ginny." He jerks her hand so she's forced to step closer, and he can see curiosity war with outrage in her eyes. He laughs humorlessly, feeling apprehensive about the anger rising in him, but unable to stop it. "You want me to share secrets with you, right? Well, fine. I'll bloody well tell you everything!"
Ginny merely folds her arms, undaunted, and it makes Harry desperately want to shock her.
"Let's see," he begins, pretending to think. "First, we infiltrated a Ministry that would sooner kill us than care, in an effort to destroy priceless, Dark Magic-infested objects that, oh yeah, made your brother go barmy and leave us for weeks at a time. Don't worry, he came back in time to save me from getting choked to death by a cursed necklace, and then we got taken to Malfoy Manor where Hermione got tortured and Dobby died. Before that, we also visited my parent's graves and a giant snake tried to eat me. What am I leaving out?"
Ginny's fingers twitch and Harry plunges on.
"Could it be the time we robbed Gringotts and almost got burned by objects that magically tried to bury us alive? Or possibly the time Luna Lovegood's father served us tea and biscuits with a side of selling us out? All that going on in months where we had to keep moving, had to watch our backs 'cause we were Undesireables numbers one through three, and we were always cold and hungry, because Merlin, Hermione is a lousy cook and I'm pants at warming charms. Then, in our quest to find and obliterate pieces of Voldemort's soul, we came here, where I watched friends die, and then went off to die myself."
Harry doesn't want to look at Ginny's face, so he keeps his eyes fastened to a point behind her head. His heart is racing and his breath is coming hard. He hasn't yelled this much since fifth year.
"So, you see, Ginny, perhaps I am wallowing, but I would think I've got a rather good reason, don't you?" He shakes his head. "Traipsing the countryside...I would've thought you of all people would understand how dangerous our path was, and why I wanted you to stay behind." Harry finally chances a look, and is surprised to discover--
Ginny is staring at him with a thoughtful look on her face, eyes shining with compassion and a bit of lingering horror. "Was that so difficult?" she asks, voice thick.
"I thought I just told you that it was," Harry begins.
"No." Ginny touches her hand to his hand, wrapped around her upper arm. "Was it so difficult to just tell me what happened?" Her lips tremble and the color drains from her face, making her pale as snow. "That's all I've ever wanted. I waited for you to contact me all year, and I know it's selfish of me, Harry, I know you couldn't, I know you were in danger at every second, and I'm sorry for implying you weren't, but it was so hard here at Hogwarts. I would've thought you of all people would understand that I knew how dangerous the path was and didn't want to stay behind, because it was my fight, too. Me and Nev and Luna got caught stealing Snape's sword--"
Harry wants to say I know, I heard and I missed you, but it probably wouldn't go over very well.
"--and he sent us into the Forbidden Forest, which ordinarily wouldn't have been so bad, but the Carrows went along to make sure Hagrid wasn't helping us, and they ended up torturing Neville for a really long time and made me and Luna watch. So I wager I know a little of how you feel, because Neville is just as much a brother to me as Hermione is a sister to you. And then Luna got taken and when we tried to say something, they tortured me this time and made Nev watch, and Merlin, Harry, I never knew Crucio hurt so bloody much."
His hand tightens around her shaking arm, and he sees a burning, angry red. He is violently glad he gave Carrow a taste of his own medicine.
"So when they sent me to Muriel's, Harry, while Luna was at Malfoy Manor and Nev was still at Hogwarts, and you all were looking for...um...pieces of Voldemort's soul, all I could think was I would take that Cruciatus curse a million times over again if only I could be with one of you again. If only one of you would tell me something. I felt so...useless."
She shakes her head when Harry tries to touch her cheek, and her skin is very cold. "No, Harry. I--" she raises her eyes to his, and they are that familiar warm brown again, bright and true. "I believe in you very much. I trust you with my life, and I trust you with my family's life, and sometimes things happen, and I don't blame you for that. But I don't--I can't trust you with my heart. I'm not saying not ever, just... not until I know who you are, and you know who I am. And we don't, not now. Not yet."
Harry feels frustration steal over him, a vast sea of ineptitude. He used to understand Ginny so well, but she's changed this year. So has he, he reckons, but even still. He feels cheated, robbed. Where is the girl that smells of flowers and always smiles and makes smart jokes? Where is the girl who said she liked his stupid nobility, who said she hadn't ever given up on him, who didn't ask anything of him at all?
Somewhere inside the girl who watched him Apparate away when a war began, who waited for word until days turned to weeks and months, who found out she was strong enough to be a hero on her own, who decided she was worth much more than he knows how to give at the moment.
"Harry--" Ginny bites her lip. "Who killed Dobby?" she asks, her voice very, very soft.
Harry looks away, remembering how much Ginny had liked the house-elf who used to bring her things in her fifth year, because she was Harry Potter's 'Miss Wheezy.' "Bellatrix Lestrange," he says dully.
Ginny's eyes widen. "Oh," she says. "I'm really glad my Mum killed her," she says, with feeling. She gives a tentative smile, and tears again gather in the corners of her eyes.
"Me too," Harry says, and it's something he could ever have told only Ginny and Ginny could ever have told only him. It heartens him a little, and he smiles back at her.
Ginny touches his shoulder and then tucks her arm close to his body, letting her presence steady him. They step towards the Great Hall, and his heart begins to beat double-time.
"Harry?" Ginny says, before they reach the doors. "I don't think you could be a normal bloke if you tried, but for what it's worth? I'm still glad you'd choose me. To be with, I mean." She mimes scratching her ear, and Harry gives a breathless, surprised laugh.
And then the doors open and he realizes the next chapter of his life is officially beginning. Ginny's arm is warm against his own, though, and by the time they set foot into the Hall, Harry is ready to say hello to his godson.
- - -
The Great Hall is less crowded now that there aren't as many people crammed along the long tables and benches. There are big, shining coffins lining the floors instead, and perhaps it would seem morbid to anyone else, but Harry feels as if this is a fitting tribute to so many of those who died and loved this place, that they would rest awhile in the large hall where they talked with their friends, ate their meals, lived their lives. Each coffin is marked by an identification plaque for the Ministry to alert families, and Harry feels the breath leave him as he begins to walk the aisles. When he sees a name he knows, he stops and kneels by the casket, tracing the marble of the case and then the name engraved on the plaque.
Lavender Brown, dead from injuries sustained in a fall. Padma Patil, dead by the Killing Curse. Poor Parvati, Harry thinks, remembering how fiercely she fought against Travers, her hair a wild black halo around her eyes. Her best friend and her sister dead in one night, and he squeezes Ginny's arm tight, guiltily grateful that she is next to him.
Names that he doesn't recognize, that must be seventh-years in other Houses or Aurors, or even Death Eaters, line the aisles. There are ten coffins in rows of five or six, and it isn't until he gets to row three that he sees Colin Creevey's name. Ginny gives a little gasp and kneels, bringing Harry down with her. Dead by the Killing Curse, the plaque reads. Harry wonders if they're going to bury him with his camera. He thinks they ought to do.
"He's only sixteen," Ginny says in wonder. "He stayed behind, snuck back. That could have been me." Her face tightens. "I almost killed him in second year. It should have been me."
Harry shakes his head. "No," he says fiercely. "Never." He tugs Ginny up and says, "You don't want to die."
"And Colin did?" Ginny demands, her eyes red and cheeks blotchy.
"No," Harry says. "But he did die, and you can't change that by saying it should have been you. It should have been another Death Eater, or whoever killed Colin. But never another innocent person. War makes pointless deaths, Ginny. And no one should wish a pointless death upon themselves."
She shakes her head but clutches his hand again, lets Harry propel her forward with one last look back at Colin's coffin.
The next one they find is Michael Corner, and Ginny muffles her cry with her hand, leans heavily against Harry. But it's only for a moment, and then she is upright again, breathing deep breaths, staring at the shining mahogany case. She runs a hand over the edge, then the plaque, and says, softly, "He was my first kiss, you know."
It's unreasonable being jealous of a dead boy, and perhaps a bit disturbing. But Harry can't help it. He doesn't say a word, just wraps his arm around Ginny's shoulder.
"Even though," she starts, patting the casket. "Even though you were a giant prat to me, you were a good man. And I'll think of you, and remember how you saved little Karley McCormick from the Carrows, and the chains. Maybe her father will write a song for you." She bites her lip. "Cho's going to fall apart, you know. She'll think she's cursed." A tear escapes down her cheek. "Goodbye, Michael. Goodbye."
Harry worries that by the day is over, they will both be utterly practiced at devising impromptu eulogies in their head.
When they get to Fred's coffin, Harry can't help but smile and is instantly horrified by his reaction. Ginny, who is watching his face closely, squeezes his hand.
"No," she says, "It's alright. George says that's how Fred would have wanted it. For people to smile instead of crying when they come see him." Ginny reaches out to touch the Dungbomb packets strung up around the casket. The packages are multi-colored, like little Christmas lights, and the WWW emblazoned on the front of the cases makes Harry's eyes burn. Tears gather at his eyes as he thinks of Fred's laugh, and how hard it will be for other people to hear and look at George. How hard it will be for George to hear and look at himself.
"I'm glad I still have George, actually." Ginny says suddenly, and Harry hopes whatever Legilimency she's picked up was learned after his sixth year and all those, er, racy dreams about her. "I don't think it'll be painful, like people think. It's like having a part of Fred still here, which is an infinitely more cheery idea than thinking a part of George is missing. Right?"
Harry touches a tiny wrapped candy hanging from the casket, another string of multi-colored trinkets. If one of the owls is silly enough to try and take a nip, they'll find themselves either vomiting profusely or suffering from a nasty pubescent skin condition. Laughing from beyond the grave, that Fred Weasley. It is a cheery thought. "Right," Harry agrees firmly, wiping his eyes roughly as Ginny pretends not to notice. "Bet your Mum didn't like it."
Ginny smiles. "She's more afraid of setting George off, I think. She...didn't always understand the twins, and I think she feels terribly guilty about that now. But you know," Ginny's eyes close. "Fred always knew Mum loved him, that was never a question." Her eyes open. "It's hard with seven kids. Everyone's felt shortchanged. And now...Mum latches on to one of us every hour. Tries to spread the love. Right now I wager she's got Ron up with Madame Pomfrey, making her take a look at his arm. Apparently he told her he got it Splinched and Hermione had to fix it, and Mum's having kittens. Poor boy."
Harry remembers the lake, and thinks privately that perhaps this will do him a bit of good, to have Molly Weasley's undivided attention.
"Dad and Perce are at the Ministry--" Harry can't help but notice the surge of affection and joy in Ginny's voice when she says Percy's name, "--and Bill's at Gringott's, trying to get your mess cleaned up." Her eyes are teasing. "Charlie's getting the Burrow in order with Fleur, and George..." she looks around. "I reckon he's around here somewhere, getting arse over face pissed with Lee and the old Quidditch gang."
"Fitting," Harry comments, and the ache from looking at Fred's coffin is duller than before. "I think he'd be happy with that."
Ginny swallows. "I can't forget him," she says. "I won't ever. But moving on means smiling when you remember, instead of crying, and life is too short to spend so much time..."
"...wallowing, yes." Harry says dryly. He looks at Ginny again. "I suppose it's time to move ahead, then."
Ginny nods gently. "Yes, Harry," she says. "It really is." She guides him to two caskets of beautiful carved oak, twin designs with ornate designs swirling over the top. "Resting runes," Ginny explains, laying her hand flat over, Harry assumes, Tonks's coffin. "The symbols for faith, and love, and on Remus's, bravery and loyalty."
Harry lays his hand over Ginny's, feels the heat of her skin and an odd throbbing. "Seems fitting," he says, remembering the look of sheer happiness in Tonks's eyes once she and Remus got together, and the wild way Remus cheered when he announced his son was born.
"Oh, it is." Ginny smiles. "When resting runes are carved onto a wizard or witch's resting place, it's to keep qualities they exemplified in life alive even in their death. The heat, and the sort of...vibration you're feeling? That's the symbols recognizing their place of honor over Tonks's and Remus's caskets."
"It should be morbid, shouldn't it, discussing caskets and coffins as something funny or beautiful?" Harry gives a wry grin.
"Oh, but our lives are very unique, Harry," Ginny says gravely. She lays her other hand on Remus's case, and Harry follows suit, glad of being taller and broader than Ginny so that he can feel her warmth at his front, her hair tickling his nose as he puts his hands over hers.
He closes his eyes and thinks of how to say goodbye, in a way different than when they were in the forest. He can feel Ginny's shoulders hunch, and he knows she's trying not to cry. But all Harry can think to say sounds rather trite in his head, or silly.
He wants to say that he wishes Remus had lived, because he would have liked to tell him how Pettigrew died, how no good deed does go unpunished, and how in the end, Sirius and Lily and James and even Remus himself had their revenge for Pettigrew's betrayal of friendship.
He wants to say that he's very glad of his third year, because aside from meeting Sirius, he learned Defensive magic from one of the best teachers he'll ever have. He wants to say that Remus saved his life, and taught him about life, and that he didn't quite mean to be so harsh before, because humans make mistakes, and as much as Lupin always denied it, he was more human than many who would claim pureblood superiority.
He wants to say he's glad Tonks married Remus, because they both deserved a lot of happiness, and that he's really grateful they both were ready to give up so much to protect him, that they did give up an awful lot to protect him. He wants to say that Tonks would have made a wonderful mother and Remus would have made a really, really good dad, and that he's a bit scared he's going to screw their kid up royally.
Harry wants to say a lot of things, but what he says instead is, "I miss you. I'll take care of Teddy. But if he falls off a broom, or ends up being the new savior of the wizarding world, let that be a giant lesson to you both."
Ginny snorts through her tears, and Harry smiles. He is about to speak, when Andromeda Tonks's voice sounds from behind him.
"I somehow doubt Theodore will grow up to be that prodigious, Mr. Potter, but he's a very special baby, nonetheless."
Harry hastily unwinds his arms from Ginny's, giving the caskets one last affectionate, loving pat, and turns. "Hello, Mrs. Tonks," he says, heart racing. There is a blue blanket in her arms, and small fists waving around the tiny bundle. He tries not to strain to look, and is surprised to find he is actually quite curious to see Teddy Lupin for the first time. He catches Andromeda's eyes.
"I'm...I'm sorry for--" he begins awkwardly. For your husband, for your son, for your cousins, for your very insane sister. But he can't finish the thought vocally, just fidgets and looks down.
"Thank you," Andromeda says kindly. "Nymphadora told me you're a bit stunted socially, so don't worry about explaining. I understand the sentiment."
Harry blinks, and Ginny makes a strangled noise, her hand over her mouth. "Er," he says. "Well."
Andromeda smiles, and he sees a little bit of Sirius in that smile. "I was just taking the piss out, Mr. Potter," she says, lips curling. "Ted always told me I was rather inappropriate, but in times such as these..." she waves a hand airily and props Teddy up. "Now. My grandson would very much like to say hello to his godparents, Mr. Potter, Miss Weasley." She gently holds Teddy out. "If you will?"
Ginny steps forward first, gingerly taking the baby and holding him close. Harry steps close to Ginny, putting his arms around hers because she looks just a little unsure, and two people who have no idea what to do with babies have got to be better than just one, right?
The little face scrunches up, looks about to cry, and then big, brown eyes open and Teddy Lupin falls in love. Harry can see it happen, the way the baby's eyes dance, the smile that spreads across his chubby cheeks. Ginny laughs in delight when Teddy's hair turns blushing pink, and freckles pop over the bridge of his nose.
"Hey," Harry says, only half-joking. "She's too old for you." He waves an admonishing finger, and Teddy latches on, tiny hands curling around his index finger.
Teddy's brown eyes turn bright, shocking green for a moment and then he opens his mouth around a giant yawn. Harry and Ginny watch in rapt fascination as Teddy burrows deeper in his blanket, completely at home in these strangers' arms.
"Well, we're going to have to do something about how very brave he is with people he doesn't know," Ginny says, her voice breathless. "But I think that's doable, right, Harry? We can teach him."
His arms around Ginny tighten, and she holds the baby closer, gazing intently at him. There aren't any paternal longings banging away in Harry's seventeen-year-old biological clock, nor, most likely, any maternal instincts in Ginny's sixteen year old, rebelliously independent heart, but...
This is a duty he could learn to like, doing right by Teddy. A journey he wouldn't mind taking. He looks to Ginny, at the warmth glowing in her eyes, and thinks of getting to know her, of years and years of talking and laughing and finding out who she is, until one day, she wants what he wants right now. A life, a normal life.
"Yeah," Harry says, eyes fastened on Teddy's trusting little face. "Yeah, we can teach him."
- - -
Approximately a year and a half later
"Harry, you can't give toddlers Chocolate Frogs, they get spooked too easily--"
"Hop! Hop! Hop!"
"Oh, bugger, now look what you've done--"
"For the love of Merlin's soiled pants--Harry, stop laughing and help me get Teddy down from there!"
"Merlin pants! Merlin pants! Buggery hop!"
"See what you've done? You gave a child who is barely two years old a piece of magical candy that makes his tiny little insides jump around, and now he's leapt off the wardrobe and my Levitation charm didn't work and also, he's swearing! Mum will have a litter when she hears him!"
"Well, looks like my work here is done, then."
"Oh, ha ha. There, there, Teddy, it's alright, just a little scrape, let's fix you up, then--"
"Besides, Mrs. Tonks swears all the time--I doubt I've heard a sentence out of her mouth that wasn't 'Piss of this' or 'bloody well that'!"
"Piff off! Piff off!"
Teddy Lupin, all curly dark hair and shiny brown eyes, stares up at Harry with a beseeching expression. More than a year since Harry first picked Teddy up, and babies are still a bit like foreign objects to Harry, but he gamely squats and takes ahold of Teddy's hands.
"Hey," Harry says. "Are you all right?"
Ginny kneels alongside him, her eyes worried. "Mrs. Tonks is never going to let us alone with him again, is she?" she frets. "The Boy Who Lived and a girl who finished top in her NEWTs, and we can't even keep a baby from getting banged up. Fine godparents we are."
"Teddy," Harry says, "Tell Ginny that she shouldn't blacken my good name, as it's not my fault she is crap at Levitation charms."
Teddy blinks up at Ginny and smiles, and it's obvious that he's working the baby charm, for Ginny's worried expression melts as she gathers him up in her arms. "Crap!" Teddy coos, patting Ginny's shoulder. "Crap charms, Ginny."
Ginny glares at Harry from over Teddy's shoulder. "Well done, Harry," she says loftily. "Between Ron and you, Teddy's set to have the wizarding world's filithiest mouth at the earliest age."
"George is the one who taught Teddy those songs," Harry defends, sticking his tongue out at Teddy and watching the kid laugh. "It's not as if we're the only ones who see him, you know."
Ginny softens, looks at Harry. "I know," she concedes. "He does spend an awful lot of time at the Burrow, doesn't he?"
"And Grimmauld Place," Harry says. "I'd be worried about Kreacher's influence over him rather than mine--so Teddy will know how to tell kids off a bit earlier than most, I'd rather that than him learning how to speak in the third person and calling everyone master."
"He ought to have a real home," Ginny sighs, ignoring Harry's fine point. "Bouncing from place to place isn't stable." She rocks Teddy slightly. The boy snuggles contentedly in Ginny's arms, his hair turning Weasley red. "Mrs. Tonks can't take care of him on her own, she's just not young enough to care for a tiny, growing baby right now."
"And we're not old enough," Harry says quickly, holding his arms out for Teddy. "I know you miss him, Ginny, but he's not ours."
Ginny glares at Harry, and this time it's not in jest. "That," she says frostily, "I know." Her eyebrow arches. "Besides, Harry and I would have to be together in some sort of substantial way for that to happen, wouldn't we, Teddy?" She kisses Teddy's red curls and avoids Harry's eyes.
Harry's heart sinks a bit. "Ginny," he says. "You know I didn't mean--"
"You're busy with the Auror evals, I know," she says. "And I just finished school, seeing as Hogwarts had to delay my seventh year for so long." She gives a sour look.. "It's the worst possible time to start something. You don't think I've realized that? Do you think I'm--what, pining away? Wishing Teddy was our baby?"
Harry shakes his head and holds his arms out again for Teddy, who's picked up on the tone in Ginny's voice and is squirming. "I know you aren't," Harry says quietly. "I know because there's no way anyone could ever forget that Teddy is Tonks's and Remus's."
It's true--though Teddy morphs often, his regular, sweet, baby face is a perfect mix of Tonks's dark Black coloring and Remus's kind, calm features.
Ginny sighs, handing Teddy over gently, her eyes full of so much longing that Harry has to look away. ""I miss them so much, sometimes. It's nice to play with Teddy and feel a part of them are still here. But more than that..." she rubs her arm. "Everyone's moved on so quickly, Harry. Mum and Dad have got the house to themselves, though with Bill and Fleur's kid on the way, they're hardly ever anywhere but Shell Cottage. And George and Lee have the shop, and Perce and Hermione are working at the Ministry. Charlie with his dragons. Ron playing for Chudley." Her smile is wistful. "Where am I? Just out of school and still crying at the drop of a hat. I don't even know what I want to be...I thought at first an Auror, like Tonks, but.."
She blushes. Harry understands the unspoken sentiment: But you're an Auror, and I want to do something different.
"Don't feel too badly," Harry says kindly. "Ron playing for Chudley isn't so much moving on as refusing to see the truth right in front of him."
Ginny snorts; Chudley is still last in the league, and Harry gives Ron one season to decide he wants to switch to another team.
"I do still care for you," she says. "And I'm glad we get to take care of Teddy like this, so he knows his godparents and we get to know each other again. But I don't quite know how to...move forward. I know I'm the one who said it, but Harry, how will we even know when the time is right?"
Harry leans his head against Teddy's, a gesture he only ever does if it's just him and Ginny--Ron would take the piss out for ages if he ever saw. He wants to tell Ginny that the time is right now, but he's learned well enough to know that just because she's asking the question, doesn't mean she doesn't know the answer deep down.
"I dunno," he says. "Suppose we just will."
Ginny takes a breath and just gives a rueful laugh. "And I suppose you're right. We'll just have to keep plugging along, won't we, Teddy?" she says, touching Teddy's cheek. "Do you suppose it's time for a little rest, then?" she asks Harry, eyes expectant.
Harry thinks he understands now how to honor the dead by continuing to live, with Ginny by his side and Teddy sleeping in his arms. Maybe it wasn't the end he envisioned for himself, but really, after so long travelling so many different paths, he's glad of the one he's settled on. It's got footprints from men who've come before, his father and Remus and others who have fought against destiny to make a world better for someone entrusted in their care. And footprints, too, of the women who walked beside them.
"We can rest now," Harry says to Ginny, and she smiles.