Written for a MNFF challenge (write a one-shot using the line, "You know what the saddest thing in the word is? To love someone who used to love you") in August 2005.
The Battle Within
It had been months since the second war ended. The wizarding world, though back on its feet after being devastated by the many assaults, attacks, and skirmishes that had taken place before the ultimate battle between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, was still slowly struggling to rebuild itself. Witches and wizards of every age, race, and tongue had bonded in order to achieve the ultimate goal of re-piecing their lives together. The world had not seen such a form of unity since the end of the first war, and to some, it was even more welcoming than the fact that the Dark Lord had been destroyed once and for all.
There was, however, one young man who did not join the festivities and celebrations. He spent his days wandering from bar to bar, pub to pub, downing -- and it was always the same -- two shots of Firewhiskey and one glass of braggot mead, then leaving without a word. Those who managed to catch sight of him whispered about his dirty, matted black hair and tattered cloak behind their hands, for most were too afraid or awed to approach him. The few who had mustered up the courage to walk up to him were always treated the same: a nod of the head, then he was gone. Not a single soul but one could truthfully claim they had held an actual conversation with him since the end of the war, although some bartenders did proudly boast about the fact that he had in the past ordered from them.
He had once been Harry Potter, the boy who had, at age one, nearly destroyed Voldemort and finally, at age eighteen, killed him for once and for all. Now, he was Harry Potter, the lost, weary vagabond who appeared to have given up on life. Why he had suddenly become this way was unknown to those around him. Some insisted it was because the horrors and bloodshed he had witnessed during the war had scarred him permanently. Others claimed he had nowhere to go, for nearly every one of his closest friends had perished in battle. And then there were the few who simply believed that after Gringotts had been rampaged and stripped down by Death Eaters, Harry had lost all the gold he'd had, and therefore was now too poor to afford nice clothing.
Despite the theories regarding his behaviour floating around, Harry was the only one who truly knew what had caused him to become this way. Now, he stood up from the stool he had been sitting on for the past hour in The Red Dragon, threw a few galleons and sickles onto the bar in front of him, and stalked out of the pub. He paid no attention to the hushed silence that ensued after he passed by tables, nor did he notice when people began to whisper to their friends under their breaths about his battered condition. He was headed for the place he visited once a month, the place that brought him so much pain, but so much joy at the same time.
As Harry stepped out into the cool evening, he staggered slightly -- not because he was drunk; his body had long ago become accustomed to his daily intake of alcohol; but because the bright street lights had momentarily blinded him. After regaining his footing, he began to trudge down the sidewalk with his hands in his pockets and his eyes focused on the ground. Nothing around him interested him; he was too buried in his own thoughts about the person he was on his way to visit.
Although Harry's mind had long convinced him he was pursuing a hopeless goal, his heart refused to accept the fact that Ginny Weasley was no longer his. Throughout the war, the image of Ginny's smiling face had been the one that had kept him going when he had all but given up. Perhaps it was because this memory had become so deeply imprinted in his mind that he had continued to hold tight onto the belief that Ginny would still be his when he returned.
However, this false illusion had come crashing down around him when the war ended and the two of them were reunited. By then, Ginny had fallen in love with someone else -- Seamus Finnigan, an old classmate and friend of Harry's -- and there was no hope of her running back into Harry's arms, for her and Seamus were engaged.
At first, Harry hadn't been able to believe it. He had lived through the past two years only because of Ginny, and she had thanked him by leaving him. Anger had at first swelled up within him when he saw her wrapped up in his old friend's arms, tears of sympathy wetting her cheeks. However, when he turned around, it had been immediately replaced by remorse -- remorse because he had known it was his fault. His fault that he had left her to fulfill his destiny, his fault for pushing her away when she had begged to go with him.
And yet, his heart continued to deny it. Even though, in the back of his mind, Harry knew he would never kiss her or hold her in his arms again, his heart continued to love her. This was why he had become locked up inside himself, why he had lost the ability to communicate with the outer world -- this internal struggle.
Harry suddenly realised that he had stopped in his tracks. Looking up, he found to his surprise that he'd arrived at the Burrow. After visiting Ginny's home so often, his feet had mindlessly carried him there that night.
Gritting his teeth, Harry walked down the narrow path that wound towards the front door of the house. Memories of the many times he had strolled down this very same path during his summer breaks flitted through his mind, and his heart swelled with grief. Oh, what he would give to have those days back.
When he stepped onto the porch, he paused. Was there even a point to these monthly visits? Why was he even here right now if he knew that he was not going to win Ginny back? All he ever left with was a heartache. But then a vision of her bright smile and warm brown eyes inched into his mind, and without thinking, Harry knocked on the weathered wooden door.
As if Ginny had been sitting by the door waiting for Harry's arrival, the door was opened instantly. There she stood, as radiant and beautiful as ever. A smile spread across her face when she saw who it was.
"Harry!" she squealed, stepping forward and hugging him.
"Hi Ginny," he said, his voice hoarse after having not been put to use for a good few hours.
She immediately frowned and asked reproachfully, "Have you been drinking again?"
Harry shrugged, feeling suddenly drained of energy. "Can I come inside?"
"Oh, of course," she said, looking flustered. She retreated and held the door open while he stepped over the threshold and into the Burrow. When Harry was inside, she shut the door behind him.
"Come sit down," said Ginny, motioning for Harry to remove his cloak and follow her into the sitting room.
Harry did not take his cloak off, but did trail after Ginny into a small, rather cramped room. It was filled with curious objects: couches that adjusted to suit however many people chose to sat down on them, knitting needles that were working busily on their own, a table loaded with bowls that kept magically refilling themselves with an assortment of treats. Perched precariously on the armrest of a wooden chair was a brass bird cage, inside of which resided a grey, rumpled-looking owl.
"How is the rebuilding coming?" Harry croaked, once he was sitting down on one of the couches.
"Good," Ginny replied, as she settled herself in an armchair across the table from Harry. "Seamus is still working on adding the third floor; the house keeps refusing to let him create a set of stairs leading up from the second floor. We're not sure why, but we might have someone come in and look at it if the problem isn't fixed by the end of the week."
Harry nodded distractedly. He was not particularly interested in what she was saying; he had asked the question only to be polite and make conversation.
Ginny seemed to notice the distant expression on his face. "Is something wrong?"
"No, no, nothing's wrong," said Harry hastily. "I'm just thinking about some things. Where's Seamus at?"
"Work. Apparently the demand for Quidditch supplies has increased drastically in the past few days, so his boss is making him stay late. For some reason, I doubt increased demands are the reason why she's making him stay...I mean, lately she's been telling me more than necessary how good-looking Seamus is. I think she wants to spend some 'private time' with him."
Harry couldn't help but crack a small smile at the indignant look on Ginny's face. It was this fiery spirit of hers that had originally attracted him to her in his sixth year. She was unlike any other girl he knew in that she was willing to go all out for anything she believed in, and that was what Harry loved about her.
"Anyway, it doesn't really matter what's going on in my life. How have you been doing? You're looking a bit peaky."
Ginny finished her sentence with a hint of concern in her voice, and Harry couldn't help but be reminded of her mother, Molly Weasley -- someone else who had died in the war. His stomach clenched painfully at the memory of Mrs Weasley; she had been the closest thing to a mother Harry had ever had. Losing her and her husband, Mr Weasley, had been almost unbearable.
"I'm doing alright," said Harry softly. He laughed bitterly and then continued. "I'm living in the past, I guess. I can't stop thinking about the Order, about the people we lost."
Ginny made a faint clucking sound with her tongue and said, "Harry, I know it's painful sometimes, knowing you survived and they didn't. But look at the world around you...Look at what their sacrifices produced. You need to realise that they died for a reason."
"I should have died too then; I was fighting for the same reason they were."
"Oh Harry!" exclaimed Ginny, sounding exasperated. "Stop talking like that. They wouldn't have wanted you to waste your life away like this."
"Nevermind," mumbled Harry. He didn't feel like getting into an argument with Ginny, nor did he like the upset tone in her voice. Switching the topic, he said, "I saw Lupin the other day."
Ginny's eyes seemed to brighten at the mention of their longtime friend, the only one from the Order who had survived. "How is he doing? I haven't talked to him for a long time."
"I dunno, he doesn't look like he's been eating," replied Harry, voicing his concerns for his old professor. He knew he was being hypocritical by worrying, since he too had not eaten for days now, but it was something he couldn't help but do.
"Did you tell him he could drop by any time?" asked Ginny, the distressed tone creeping into her voice again.
"I didn't talk to him. I was sitting in a local bar and turned around just in time to see him leave. I hadn't realised that he had been there too."
"Oh," said Ginny. She bit her lip, then said, "Well, he's done fine on his own up till now. He's a grown man, he can take care of himself."
"Yeah, I --"
"You on the other hand," interrupted Ginny, suddenly rounding on Harry as if he had not spoken at all, "you need to start watching out for yourself. You've lost weight since the last time I saw you and I don't like the fact that you're drinking regularly now."
"How did you know?" asked Harry, surprised. He then blushed, realising that he had admitted to his shameful habit of excessive alcohol consumption.
"Word on the street," she replied matter-of-factly. "Everyone's been whispering about that 'Potter kid' and how he never speaks to anyone. They think you were tortured into silence by the Dark Lord or something."
Suddenly, Ginny stood up. "Would you like something to eat or drink?"
Taken aback by the sudden change in conversation, Harry blinked and did not reply for several seconds. When he finally found his voice again, he said dully, "Yeah, anything."
Ginny nodded silently. She turned on her heel and walked out of the room, brushing past Harry along the way. As she did, Harry froze. There was that scent: the sweet, flowery smell he had come to associate with Ginny.
His insides began flip-flopping violently as he struggled to overcome the desire to run to her and kiss her wildly. Without warning, a flood of memories hit him like a tsunami; suddenly, he was drowning in recollections of them doing homework together, holding hands during walks across the Hogwarts grounds, falling asleep in each other's arms.
Groaning, Harry buried his face in his hands and tried to will the memories away. They were memories that haunted him every day and night, but dealing with them all at once was too much.
Just then, he heard Ginny's voice faintly repeating his name as though he were enveloped in a blanket of fog that prevented him from hearing and seeing her correctly. Struggling to push through it, Harry blinked multiple times and lifted his head from his hands.
"Ginny?" he muttered, surprised to find that the tears welling up in his eyes, tears he had not expected, were fogging up his glasses. He pulled them off and wiped them with a handful of his grimy robes before putting them back on and looking up again.
She was kneeling before him, an empty tray lying upside-down next to her. Two glass cups lay next to the tray in patches of wet carpet. Ginny did not seem to notice, though, because her hands were on Harry's knees, and she was looking up at him worriedly.
"It's...it's nothing, I just...just remembered something..." said Harry.
"No," she said stubbornly, "something is definitely bothering you. Tell me what it is."
"It's none of your business," snapped Harry. When he saw the hurt look on Ginny's face, he immediately regretted the harsh tone of voice he had used.
"I just don't want to talk about it," he said more gently, trying to ignore the fact that his heart was thumping painfully against his chest as a result of her being so close to him.
"I thought we were friends," said Ginny, sounding as if she was on the verge of tears, something very uncharacteristic of her.
Before Harry could stop himself, he said sharply, "Friends don't betray each other. Friends wait for each other, no matter how long and no matter how hopeless the situation is."
"No, I've had enough. It's time I left anyway; I've stayed too long."
Harry pushed Ginny's hands away and stood up resolutely. Stepping over the fallen glasses, he strode across the length of the small room and over to the door. However, before he could pull the door open, he felt a hand on his arm and turned around angrily.
"What?" he asked, his voice shaking from poorly-suppressed rage as he wrenched his arm out of Ginny's grip.
"Stop being an idiot," she said furiously. "You don't know how much you've hurt me. Seeing you like this...You're only eighteen, Harry. You have your whole life ahead of you. What are you doing, drinking every night and not speaking to anyone?"
"It's what a person does when they have nothing left to live for," replied Harry, his voice raw with emotion. "It's what I do because you were my life, and I lost you."
Ginny's mouth fell open. Her face suddenly drained of colour as tears sprung to her eyes. Harry wanted so badly to gather her into his arms right now, to stroke her hair soothingly and tell her not to cry, but he held back. He held back because it was all he could do.
"You claim you're upset. You claim you're just as hurt as I am. You know nothing about sorrow, Ginny. As much as you think seeing your friends deteriorate away in front of your own eyes is sad, that can hardly compare to what I've experienced."
Harry paused for a moment and closed his eyes, willing his own tears to go away. When he opened them again, he did not look at Ginny. Instead, he grasped the doorknob tightly and turned around to face the night. Fixing his eyes on the star-strewn evening sky, Harry said icily, "You know what the saddest thing in the world is? To love someone who used to love you."
With that, Harry walked away from Ginny. He stepped out of the door and shut it tightly behind him. Once outside, he stopped and took a deep breath. The cool air was soothing as it rushed into his lungs, chilling his burning insides. After a few minutes, he leaned against the door behind him and, shamefully, embarrassed by his lack of strength, began sobbing silently, finally letting his emotions run free.
It had been months since the second war ended, but it would be years before the battle brewing within its hero would be resolved.