For an angel: one year today.
"I can't do it, I just can't, Harry, I can't go, I can't stay, I can't think…. I just can't."
She clutches at the front of his robes, knotting the thick material between her anxious fingers, tangling her hands in it. Her eyes speak of a quiet desperation, and it's something he's not seen before, not for what seems like a very long time, because the young woman he loves simply doesn't lose control like this.
Her speech is broken as she buries her face in his chest, and it's all he can do to stroke her hair and murmur a few words of comfort, which sound inadequate as soon as they escape his mouth.
It's been a year, a year pitted with the mountains of grief and the occasional potholes of happiness, those moments that are either a relentless struggle or ones that they've rather fallen into, by complete accident.
George has reinvented himself several times over, each time trying and failing to distance himself from the memory of his brother, as such thoughts are too painful for everyone - but everything seems feeble when the plain fact is that his twin shared his face, and nothing short of rearranging it could possibly dull their likeness. There is one thing that George has successfully managed to lose, though, and a world without the Weasley twins' laughter is one a little darker, for all who remember it.
Harry is the one who sits beside Ginny at meals, now, and he feels guilty, so guilty, for taking his place at the table, but Mrs Weasley brushes this aside briskly when he tries to bring it up, tears in her eyes as she assures him that no one thinks he's trying to be anything but himself.
There's a soft tap at Ginny's bedroom door, and it opens to reveal an anxious Ron. Harry doesn't even catch sight of Hermione's face as the two girls hurl themselves at each other, a tangle of distressed limbs.
Ron looks lost as Harry moves to clasp his shoulder, and instead finds himself drawn into a hug. Ron's arms are clingy around Harry's shoulders, and for the first time Harry realizes that Ron is in just as bad a shape as Ginny, but that he's trying to hide it for Hermione.
Harry steps back and grips Ron's shoulders, holding him at arms' length, eyes fixed to his.
Today, he'll be the strong one for them all.
Someone has to.
"It's OK," he says, his voice low and urgent, and for a second Ron's eyes widen in understanding, and he nods once, jerkily.
"'Mione?" he mumbles to the air, dazed, and Harry steers him to the girls, squeezing his shoulder as he disappears into the arms of his sister and girlfriend.
Harry misses his parents now with a fierce longing, because it would have been better, a relief, if he could lose control with them, just this once, but he understands implicitly that someone needs to pick up the pieces, to lend them strength, to help them to the cemetery, to remember the flowers, and after everything he's put them through, it's the least he can do.
He'll lose control later, alone in his new office perhaps, or else he'll go and find a quiet hill.
Perhaps, he'll visit Luna, because her quiet understanding has always been a lozenge to his grief, if only for a while.
Harry hears the quiet, graceful call drift up the stairs, and without a thought, he slips from the room. The mass of heaving sobs on the bed do not notice.
Fleur stands at the foot of the staircase, and she meets his eyes calmly as he makes his way down to her. She gives him a brief hug and peck on the cheek, and Harry understands, with amazement, that perhaps he isn't the only one being strong today, which is a comfort in itself. The burden lightened, he steps away, sitting on the second stair from the bottom. She perches beside him.
"Bill eez with 'is parents," she says quietly.
Harry nods. "And George?" he inquires, heart sinking, because he has to be strong for so many people already, and to summon more strength, for George who needs the most of all, seems impossible.
"Charlie," Fleur responds singularly.
There's the fumbling of hands at the kitchen door, and then Molly Weasley appears before them, framed in the light spilling through the architraves around her. Harry blinks, immediately standing to steady her as she clutches him in her arms.
"Harry, oh Harry," she mumbles, face in his shoulder.
After a moment, she steps back, and although he sees tears brimming in the corners of her eyes, they do not spill. Harry gets the distinct impression she's saving them.
He sees a flash of silvery hair and knows it's Fleur slipping back into the kitchen to check on Bill.
Mrs. Weasley takes his face in her hands.
"So brave," she murmurs brokenly, shaking her head. "Are the others ready, do you know?"
Harry nods, kissing her cheek. "Charlie's with George, and the others are in Ginny's room…"
Mrs. Weasley smiles weakly. "Thank you."
And then, quite as dazed as Ron, she wanders away from him, and the next moment he hears Mr. Weasley's voice whispering her name.
Harry feels it polite to leave.
He hurries up the stairs, taking two at a time, partly because he simply doesn't know how to face Mr. Weasley, and also because he thinks, rather anxiously, that he probably shouldn't have left the others alone for so long.
He opens the door to Ginny's room quietly, hoping to slip back inside under the pretense of never having left in the first place.
"And… and then, he just said… 'Give her hell from-"
Three heads lift slightly from the bed, three pairs of eyes blink at him.
"We were wondering where you'd got to," Ginny says, then, and Harry meets her gaze steadily. It isn't exactly bright and cheerful, but to expect that would be drastically unrealistic, and to all intents and purposes it seems that Ginny has pulled herself together.
For that matter Ron and Hermione look a good deal more composed, too.
They are lying side by side on her bed, Ron with an arm around each, and Harry suspects, suddenly, that he's interrupted something important, but then Ginny beckons him over, and the three of them shuffle a bit to make room for him. He squeezes onto the bed, lying on his side with an arm anchoring him around Ginny.
"We were just talking about him," she explains quietly.
"Best memory definitely the swamp," Ron says vacantly.
"Or when he and George tried to age themselves to enter the tournament…"
Ginny giggles then, her body trembling, and a thrill jolts through Harry, although he isn't quite sure if it's happiness or her struggling to suppress her tears until she mutters, "The beards…."
There's a quiet knock at the door, and Charlie's head peers around it. He looks weary, an expression of dull, aching pain written across his face. He registers no surprise at finding them all on the bed, like this.
"We're starting to think about going," he says simply, and then withdraws again, shutting the door with a gentle thud.
Harry sits up reluctantly, and slides a supporting arm behind Ginny-
She sits up of her own accord, meeting his eyes steadily, and he finds with relief that her desperate, wild gaze has calmed.
"I'm quite capable of standing myself, Harry," she says, a little too sharply, but then she kisses him clumsily and hugs him fiercely, and it's all the apology he needs.
Ron and Hermione are straightening themselves too, and together they make their way down the stairs.
Ginny's hand closes around his firmly, as if capturing something between them, and finally Harry understands this new dimension of grief. They're struggling, not against reality anymore, but against memory. He recognizes it within himself, suddenly, as the images of his parents, Lupin and Tonks, and Sirius join Fred in the forefront of his mind's eye.
They're all battling memories now, and Harry struggles to keep them alive, because that's all he has left of them.
He kisses Ginny's hair, squeezing her hand.
"Are you all right?" he whispers impulsively, not caring how foolish the question really sounds.
Ginny shakes her head, drawing a deep breath. "Every time I close my eyes, I see him. Of course I'm not," she replies flatly, before flashing a sad, reluctant little smile at him. "But it's good, too. He's still here."
"He'll always be here," Harry tells her, feeling suddenly weary. "All of them will."
And armed with that simple resolve, they step out of the house together, the last ones to leave. As Ginny closes the door, Harry studies the assembled family and finds that they all seem to have reached a personal stalemate. This truth is scrawled, in grief and acceptance, across their faces.
They won't forget.