She woke to an empty dorm room in near darkness, and she dressed because there was nothing else to do. There was no one to defy, no risk to run, and no volley of curses to dodge or endure. In light of all that, bacon and eggs seemed the most sensible option.
The common room was empty and quiet at this early hour, and Ginny took a moment to stand at a window and shake the unreality out of her ears. It wouldn't do to show up to breakfast half-mad.
Ginny nearly jumped out of her skin, wand out, jinx on her lips—
But it was Harry, swinging that damnable Cloak off his shoulders and looking like every prayer she'd said for months.
Ginny said some very rude words.
"Sorry," he said, folding the cloak over his arm. "I just wanted to find you without being found myself."
"It's okay," Ginny said, managing a smile and feeling a little silly. "I'm wide awake now."
And finally, alone in the common room, they took a moment to look at each other.
"Come for a walk with me?" Harry said, holding up his arm with the Invisibility Cloak draped over it. Ginny stepped underneath, enjoying the silky feel of the fabric. Like water without the wet, she thought.
Harry took her hand. Unseen by the early risers who were beginning to come down the dormitory stairs, Harry and Ginny slipped out of the portrait hole.
They'd made this trip before, through the corridors and down to the lawn. As in the past, they kept silent to avoid passersby and communicated only in squeezed fingers, quick tugs, and thumbs skimming over knuckles. Watch the broken glass. Here, this way around the bloodstain. Careful, someone's coming. Right through here. No, after you.
They slipped past knots of harried-looking mediwizards and witches at the front entrance, out into bronze panes of sunlight, and realized they had no further plan. "Around the lake?" Harry suggested.
"No," Ginny said, wishing to avoid anyplace where they might encounter people and possibly be forced to speak to them. "Let's find some trees to get lost in."
Harry glanced around, and his eyes darkened in the direction of a particular patch of forest. He pulled Ginny closer to him and led them off the opposite way.
For long, dreamy minutes their feet carried them without seeming to touch the ground. Silence and the smell of earth swallowed them whole, and in the dim peace of the trees, words finally came.
Where have you been?
What did the Carrows do to you? Because I know a dragon we can feed them to.
So you didn't have to drop anything evil into a volcano? I told Luna…
Hermione snogged your brother. Like I wasn't even there.
You should have seen Neville stand up to that hag.
You told Snape he could stick the sword where?
Well, yes, I was scared, but I just couldn't give Carrow the satisfaction.
Horcruxes, like Riddle's diary. They're called Horcruxes.
I can't believe it's over.
I can't believe they're gone.
They walked slowly, comfortable in the way their arms linked and their strides fell into rhythm, and an hour later Ginny still had more questions than answers.
"No veelas or other exotic beauties along the way, then?"
"Umbridge and I had a brief reunion."
Ginny laughed. "Just checking."
She felt none of the urgency of past nights spent with a clenched ache in her chest, trying not to wonder. Harry was here now, and she needn't know it all at once. They could stop in the thin fringe of the woods, and they could sit against a mossy trunk, cradled by ancient roots. Ginny could curl catlike against Harry's chest, and she could listen with exquisite gratitude to the regular beat of his heart.
"You have no idea how much I've missed you," she said.
His laughter rumbled low against her ear. "I really think I have."
"Fair enough," she said. "You know, it was stupid, but I was a little convinced that you would come for Christmas."
"I was busy," Harry said, "trying to get myself eaten by a giant snake."
Ginny rode right past the part where she was shocked and horrified. "Again?" she demanded in feigned exasperation.
Her reward was his smile. "The first time just didn't do it for me. Why, what did I miss?"
"Mum fussed over me. The Order talked business. Tonks asked everyone in sight what they thought of the name Maximilian. Everyone discussed in depth where you three were, and what you were doing."
"Snake," Harry said.
"Yeah, no one guessed that."
Harry shrugged. "To be fair, I didn't see it coming myself."
She let herself imagine what might have happened. "I'm glad you had Ron and Hermione with you."
Harry hesitated before he said, "They saved my arse a number of times."
"That's good," Ginny said fondly. "It's a nice arse."
"Thanks for saying."
In the silence that followed, Ginny thought of a dozen things she still didn't know. Were you as scared as I've been? Did you really break into Gringotts? Damn you, why did we see you dead? And most of all, because I can hardly imagine: what now?
"Maybe it's not the time," Harry said quietly, "but I have to ask…"
"What happens to Fred?"
All the air in Ginny's lungs turned leaden. Her forehead seemed to prickle as the blood left her face.
"You don't have to talk about—"
"There's a cemetery," she said, curiously detached from her own voice and words. "At home in the village. I think Mum wants him with her brothers, Gideon and Fabian."
"Gin?" Harry's fingers were under her chin, gently tipping her face upward. He looked sorry for even bringing it up.
"Don't apologize," Ginny said quickly. "I can't—I can't not feel it, can I?"
"No, you can't," Harry said. I know a little about that, his expression said. "But you don't need to be reminded every second."
"Maybe I do." Ginny settled her cheek against his chest again. "I look at you, and I'm so relieved that I forget…"
"It's all right. I know. I feel the same way."
Ginny was afraid to keep talking, so she bit her lip hard. Slow and unfussy, Harry unclasped his hands where they rested over her tailbone. Fingertips started skimming her back and arms. Another set of fingertips furrowed into her hair along the scalp.
Gentleness was the only thing she couldn't stand. Ginny shook and shuddered and snotted on Harry's robes. He petted her softly and dripped tears on her head, right where the hair parted. The forest heard only her occasional gasps for breath.
In time, they returned to the rest of the world.