It was a wonder that Harry was able to shake off Ron and Hermione. Ron and Hermione, who had stood by him through everything, who had suffered with him…who had suffered because of him…

Was it wrong that he should want to be alone? They'd left Dumbledore's office together, and it was all Harry could do not to cringe when Hermione asked, "I don't suppose you'd like to tell us what happened before you…before we all though you'd died." She'd whispered this last bit, closing her eyes.

"Leave it, Hermione," Ron had muttered. "Anyway… I reckon I'd better get back to the Great Hall. To be with—with Mum and Dad and—and George," he croaked. Hermione took his hand, her lip trembling.

"Will you come, Harry?" She'd asked.

"Not just now," he replied, and he knew they understood. They nodded, leaving him.

Was it really over? After seven years of anxiety, of worry, of fear, had it really ended?

But that couldn't be right. Surely it had been more than seven years. Could seventeen really feel this way? Harry entered the Gryffindor Common room with no difficulty; all of the school—all of the Wizarding world, it seemed—was in the Great Hall. The Fat Lady was not even in her portrait that evening.

A strange feeling took him when he entered. He looked around at the warm, cozy, perfectly round room that he thought he'd never see again. Embers burned softly in the grate of the fireplace, leaving most of the usually bright room in shadows. He could almost see himself there, a third year, behind a large stack of books at the table with Hermione and Ron near, hasting to complete a Potions assignment. He could almost hear the laughter of his classmates circulating throughout the room as he sat, a fourth year, in his favorite squashy armchair by the fire discussing the Yule Ball. He had enjoyed so many wonderful memories in this room—a celebration after a tremendous Quidditch victory, a happy return after a torturously long summer, his first kiss with Ginny—and yet, being there, he felt hollow.

His eyes—sad and tired—trailed along the walls, took in the pictures and notices. His stomach constricted painfully as a newspaper clipping caught his eye, featuring the most successful shop in Diagon Alley. In front of Weasley's Wizard's Wheezes stood, arm in arm and beaming characteristically, Fred and George Weasley.

Fred, Harry thought. Could anyone have expected anything more than death and loss during such a time? Could Harry really have expected all of those he loved and cared for to surface unscathed? Sadly, Harry remembered seeing Mrs. Weasley, sobbing desperately over her boggart at Grimmauld Place over two years ago. "Half the family's in the Order, it'll be a miracle if we all come through this," her agonized voice echoed in his mind.

How right she had been.

Harry felt angry, unbearably so, that all his efforts and all his worries had culminated into one shining victory, and yet…he had never felt more desperately sad, more isolated and lonely.

But this was supposed to be the happiest moment of his life. He was supposed to be reveling in the afterglow of victory, celebrating the fall of Voldemort with his friends, the Weasley's, his loved ones, as people had celebrated nearly seventeen years ago when Voldemort was thought finished.

But had that really been such a happy occasion? Harry thought of Sirius, broken and defeated, sobbing over the bodies of his parents while the entire Wizarding world erupted in celebration. He thought, with a stab of sorrow, of Snape—Professor Snape, he'd corrected himself—in agony over the loss of the greatest love he had ever known. He thought of Dumbledore, troubled with concern for Voldemort's lingering existence, concern for Harry.

And then he was hit with the full weight of his pain. Yes, he had won. Voldemort was gone, he was sure of that. But those who had fought along with him—those who had fought the hardest, it felt—were gone. They could not know the relief and joy of triumph. They could not rejoice with their friends and family. Dumbledore, Sirius, Remus, Tonks, Fred, Snape, poor little Colin Creevey—they knew no end to the terror that Voldemort instilled in all of wizardkind.

And stories below, in the Great Hall, so many suffered. The Weasley family, the Creeveys, the friends and families of fifty others...and poor little Ted Tonks. He could not feel the heartache of his loss just yet, but, as Harry well knew, it would come soon enough…

Just then a noise startled Harry from his reverie. He turned quickly on the spot and saw, clambering through the portrait hole, Ginny Weasley.

For a moment they only looked at each other, Harry's troubled green eyes penetrating Ginny's large, red, and swollen brown ones. Her bottom lip was trembling, but her voice was remarkably steady when she said to Harry, "The Malfoys are still here."

Harry was at a loss for why Ginny had told him this. He knew, of course, that they had remained there, out of place but left to themselves. Was it possible that they were causing friction? No, Harry thought, remembering Narcissa Malfoy's desperate attempt to locate her son, to see him safe and whole, remembering Draco Malfoy's hatred of life as a Death Eater, of his anxiety and fear…

When Harry continued to look at her in confusion, Ginny continued in barely more than a whisper, "Everyone knew that they were with…with him the whole time. Everyone knew they must have seen what happened before you and Voldemort fought." Her voice was trembling now. "They were frightened not to answer…they said you just came to him. Just came to him in the forest. The woman, Malfoy's mom…she said you…that you weren't even holding your wand."

Ginny was looking at Harry, desperate for him to refute this. But he only looked at her.

"She said he used the Killing Curse. Said it hit you, she saw it hit you, and you collapsed…but that you were still alive."

Harry nodded.

"How did you know that you could survive it?" she whispered.

"I didn't," Harry replied. At these words, Ginny's worst fears seemed to have been confirmed. She shook her head, tears falling from her eyes, and clutched at her hair.

"Harry, why?" she asked, her voice strained. "What were you thinking of, sacrificing yourself like that? And you didn't even—you just—were you even going to—didn't you care?"

Harry felt strangely detached from her words, from her disappointment and pain.

"It was the only way," he told her.

"I can't believe you let him get to you like that!" she cried. "I can't believe you just…just walked up to him, just handed yourself over. Let him win!"

"Of course he hasn't won," said Harry, remarkably calm.

Ginny continued as though he hadn't spoken. "What were you thinking of? After everything you've done, after everything you've been through and all your talk about defeating him, you just surrendered? And what about us, Harry?" she demanded, tears falling freely, her voice coming in great gasps. "What about Ron and Hermione and my family and me? What about everyone who loves you, Harry? Did you even think of that?"

"Ginny, you don't understand. It was the only way. He was using Horcruxes."

"Oh, I understa—what?"

"Horcruxes," Harry repeated calmly. "It's when a wizard—a dark wizard—keeps bits of his soul separate from his body, so that he can use them if he's harmed. That's why he wasn't gone…the first time. That's what I've been up to all year. Finding them, getting rid of them."

Ginny looked stunned. "The snake…is that why Neville..?" she breathed.


"But what's that got to do with—"

"The night Voldemort killed my Mum and Dad, he accidentally put a bit of himself into me…a bit of his soul. Dumbledore knew all along but…he didn't give me the information until…until the last minute," Harry explained. He was feeling suddenly calm, at ease. It all seemed so unreal, as though he were explaining the plot of a book he'd recommended to Ginny.

"How?" she asked, awestruck.

"It's sort of complicated," Harry told her apologetically. "He meant for Snape to tell me, but...Voldemort killed him. He set Nagini—that snake—on him. But I saw it, I was there. And before Snape died, he left me his memories."

Ginny seemed suddenly angry. "How could you believe that, Harry? It could have been a ploy, a way for Snape to set you up, he could have tampered with the memories—"

"Trust me, Ginny. There was much more to Severus Snape than any one of us could possibly have known."

But she didn't seem satisfied. "And Dumbledore…he knew you'd have to die?"

"Yes, he knew. But I think he might have guessed that I'd be able to—to come back."

Again, Ginny was looking stunned, at a loss for which questions to ask, in what order. She was quite right to feel confused—Harry had all the information anyone could possibly ask for, and yet he felt more overwhelmed, more confused than he'd ever been in his life.

"Oh, Harry," Ginny whispered, approaching him now. "You must have been terrified."

Harry tried to smile. "I had some good company." And he explained all about the resurrection stone, about the snitch that Dumbledore had left for him. Ginny nodded along silently, dazed.

"When he said you were dead," she whispered, "no one believed him. We were so afraid that it was true, but we couldn't force ourselves to believe it." She took a great, shuddering breath. "But then we saw Hagrid. Heard how he was crying. When we saw you—lying there," she choked, unable to continue.

Harry wrapped his arms tightly around her. "Harry, it was awful," she gasped. "I couldn't stand it. Fred and Tonks and Lupin, I—I can't believe it. And then thinking you were…it's just too much, Harry." She clung to him for several long moments, sobbing.

Harry felt oddly strong under the weight of his pain now. He had to remain strong, keep it together to care for Ginny, to help her through her loss. Harry had been about to suggest that they return to the Great Hall—he hadn't spent much time with the Weasleys, and he knew their pain must be extraordinary—when Ginny pulled away to gaze into Harry's eyes.

In a flash, her mouth was on his, her lips crushing fiercely against his. "Ginny!" he yelped in surprise, before her tongue had found its way to his lips, coaxing them apart. It was difficult to deny her; kissing Ginny this way, feeling her, breathing her in, had the most wonderful affect on Harry. The world seemed to swim vaguely around him, the difficult reality a mere option. Harry's cheeks became wet with Ginny's tears as she pressed ever closer to him, and soon Harry had stumbled backward onto a couch, Ginny falling on top of him.

Harry clutched at Ginny as she continued to kiss him feverishly, her mouth only leaving his when she gave a very soft, very tantalizing sigh that sounded oddly like, "Harry…"

Ginny began working determinedly at the buttons on Harry's shirt, their kiss unbroken, and moved to his belt shortly thereafter—

"Ginny," Harry breathed, pulling away. When she continued her attempt to disrobe him, Harry repeated, "Ginny. Wait a moment."

She sat up only slightly, placing her face far enough from his to allow him speech. "I think we need to stop this," he said, hating the truth in his own words.

"Why?" she asked, a deep flush creeping into her skin. "Wouldn't you—don't you want to—?" She began, but began kissing along his jawbone, pressing her lips to his neck.

"Well, yes, of course," Harry answered unabashedly, albeit breathlessly. "It's just…Ginny, I think you're a bit riled right now," he explained, gasping as she worked on his neck, trailing her tongue seductively along his collarbone.

"No, Harry," she refuted. "I just…I want you," she whispered. She began kissing him again, and Harry had a great deal of trouble refusing. He succumbed for a while, enjoying her kisses and reciprocating eagerly as they clutched at one another, moaning and writhing. Harry's heart was pounding. His lips tingled where Ginny's soft lovely ones touched, and his pulse throbbed wildly below his waist as her tongue, smooth and warm, traced sensual circles around his. He had never been with Ginny this way before, had never felt her hips against his, gyrating with a most tantalizing, delicate pressure.

It was only when Ginny, breathing heavily against Harry's hot skin, began a second attempt to unfasten her own various buttons, buckles, and clasps that Harry hesitated. He wrapped his fingers around her wrists, pulling them together and staring into her eyes. "You can't want this right now," he tried to convince her, despite the unmistakable hunger in her eyes. But he continued, "Think of what's happened tonight."

At this, her eyes shut tightly for several moments, and when she opened them again they were shining with tears. "You know me too well," she muttered in defeat, falling against his chest. She began to cry again.

Harry stroked her hair in silence as the full weight of the evening's events hit him too. The pain seeped into his heart again, the high of Ginny's advances receding. After several minutes, Ginny said, "I'm sorry."

"For what?" Harry asked her.

"Just everything," she whispered. I can't imagine what it must be like. Being you."

Harry had nothing to say to this.

"I'm sorry I got a bit—out of control. I just…I wanted to forget. I just can't believe…Fred…"

Harry nodded into her hair, squeezing her more tightly.

She propped herself up on one elbow to look into Harry's eyes. Hers were shining brightly with tears when she said, "I didn't mean it that way. I do—you know—want to. With you."

Harry gave her a small smile. "As if I wasn't up half my nights thinking impure thoughts to begin with…"

Ginny giggled tearfully.

"Shall we go down?" Harry asked quietly.

Ginny nodded. "Yes, I think so."

Harry kissed her gently on the lips and, together, they made their way back to the Great Hall.