Chapter Six: Harry Potter and the Nervous Reunion
Harry woke up, struggling to remember why he was in his old four-poster-bed. He had half expected to see the surroundings of the tent or Bill and Fleur's living room. It felt wrong to be lying in the comfort of the warm and familiar bed. As he wiped his eyes, he was bombarded with images as everything that had happened to him in the last forty-eight hours came back to him and he recalled recent events:
Breaking into Gringotts and that dragon.
Returning to Hogwarts and all those smiling faces of the D.A. and that blazing look in Ginny's eyes as she climbed back into the Room of Requirement looking simply stunning.
The search of the castle and feeling his panic growing as they had been unable to find Ravenclaw's lost diadem.
Ginny running to fight Death Eaters, and that fear turning to panic as he called her back, knowing deep down that she would not turn round.
The Fiend Fire that had engulfed them as they fled the Room of Requirement only just getting back out of the entrance to the room before the room and everything in it had been destroyed.
He could see himself heading to the forest and that flash of green light. That look in Ginny eyes seconds before he had been hit. He had died.
Bellatrix almost killing Ginny--there was just an inch in that miss. The aim that had spurred both him and Mrs Weasley into action at the thought of losing her. He couldn't even bear the thought of Ginny dying.
Finally, Voldemort's death and all those arms that had been flung around him.
It took a while to regain control of his breath and for his heartbeat to return to normal. It was hard to believe that it was all over and he was lying in his old Hogwarts bed, he actually had to firmly hit the bed to make sure that he was still there. All the panic and emotion was being relived in each flash of emotion that he could see. It almost felt like he was reliving every second.
As he let out long, slow, deep breaths, he was positive he knew what one thing he still needed to do. While walking towards his death had taught him many, many things, there was one thing that came across most clearly. If he'd had any doubts, he now knew who he loved, although it had just confirmed what he had already known. Whenever he had dared to see something beyond the Horcrux hunt, it had been Ginny that he'd seen. If there was one person he was going to tell everything to, it was her and he had to see her now and he had to let her know how he felt.
Harry made his way down the stairs from his old dormitory room to the Gryffindor common room. Looking round the room he noticed there was so little that had changed. Unlike the rest of the castle where the effects of the battle were so obvious, unlike throughout the rest of the school where tables and chairs were overturned, dust and rubble littered the floor yet something somehow had protected Gryffindor Tower. The big armchairs were still by the large fire where he, Ron and Hermione had spent so much time.
Ginny sat in one of the large, cushy chairs curled up like a cat. Her body was knotted together in a protective hold, in which she hugged her knees into her chest. The only part of her that showed that she was awake was her bright brown eyes that were fixed on the stairway to the boys' dormitories. He had only seen her look like this once before, when he had rescued her from the Chamber of Secrets. Her brown eyes were wide, showing a mixture of misery, apprehension and relief.
As he got closer he could see her face was tearstained and there were deep bags under her eyes, making it look like she hadn't slept for a week. There was also a large, deep cut on her cheek. There were stains of dried blood on the hair that had fallen out of her plait which, together with her ripped and stained clothes, made it look like she had only just left the battle. She had clearly come up here after the battle had ended instead of joining the queue of people to get treated by Madam Pomfrey. Yet despite her dishevelled state, she had never looked more beautiful.
His heart fluttered as he saw her and it took a great deal of resistance to stop himself from sweeping her into his arms. There was a time for all those big moments in the future. Right now he was happy to have the little things, to touch her hand or even just to see her smile would mean the world to him. They had been through so much and he did not want to rush those little moments anymore. Now that he had his whole life ahead of him he wanted to cherish each moment of it.
As he walked towards Ginny, she unknotted herself and stood up. The closer he got to her the easier it was to see the pain etched across her face. The war may be over and Voldemort may be dead, but pain was far from over, not least for any of the Weasleys right now. This war had cost so much and so many lives had been lost over the last few years.
He looked into her brown, soulful eyes, the exact same shade as the twins. He could see the same hint of amber in them that had been in Fred's eyes. It would be a while before that look of playful mischief returned to them.
"I'm sorry," he said as he got closer.
"What for?" Ginny asked softly as she forced the smallest of smiles at him but it wasn't Ginny's smile; it was forced.
He looked again at the smile she had forced on her lips. It wasn't Ginny's smile, not the smile she reserved just for him. It wasn't the smile that carried such energy and lit up her whole face and was almost instantly followed by infectious laughter. This smile was different, alien, forced. This new smile didn't cover her whole face; instead it was hard, wry and cold. It wasn't like her blazing smile, the smile that was so warming and giving and made her face glow like a thousand suns.
If her smile had changed, what about everything else that had changed in the last two hundred and seventy-three days since he had left her at The Burrow as Death Eaters attacked?
What had happened on that day?
How had the Death Eaters treated her?
What about the Carrows' treatment?
Had she been subjected to the same punishments as the rest of the D.A. who had fled to the Room of Requirement?
He looked deeper into her brown eyes. Her eyes were lacking their spark, their brightness. They were not warm and open but cold and dejected, moist from all the tears she had cried and still had more left to do. As he tried to read her emotions in the eyes that normally gave him the answers and reassurance he sought, he was just left with a more questions.
There were the little things, the non life and death issues that he did not know. Had she lost weight? It looked like she had. Had she cut her hair? He couldn't tell although he was sure that his favourite feature of hers still looked the same. Did she change her friends? Did she still play Quidditch?
Did she date someone else?
The last year had felt like an eternity and had left so many things that he did not know about the woman that he was falling in love with, starting not least with her smile.
"You just saved the whole of Britain, potentially the whole of Europe and possibly the world." Ginny continued in a dry emotionless tone, "You're the hero, you have nothing to be sorry for."
As she walked closer to him he could see her walking with a limp. Instinct took over as he reached for his wand and a shot of pain went to his heart as he watched her struggling to walk. He wanted to go and find the person who had hurt her. He wanted to find that person and hurt him.
Ginny made her way reasonably close to him before she stopped, keeping about an arm's reach from each other. There was still a barrier between them, neither of them willing to get closer, scared of those last few steps. It felt like forever since they were both on this spot, facing each other. It was hard to believe that that kiss had taken place just a little under a year ago, so much had happened since then.
Brown eyes met green.
She was going to need time, they both were.
"Are you hurt?" he said reaching his hand out to take hers before instantly pulling back away.
He wanted to touch her, wanted to help her but wasn't sure he should. He wasn't sure that he had the right or that she wanted it. There seemed such a marked distance between that they were scared of closing.
This should have been the easy part; they had both survived the battle. The sun had even returned glowing through the window. This was everything that they had dared to dream about but it was proving to be anything but easy.
This was hard.
"No, not really," she replied softly.
He was not sure he liked this soft voice either. It sounded defeated and lacked all the energy it normally contained. There was no colour to it, there was no bite or emotion, it was just so plain and simple as if she had resigned herself to fate.
This wasn't the Ginny that he had left.
"Your leg," he said and with all the bravery he could muster he touched her face, "your cheek."
"It's nothing," she backed away slightly and it took all his willpower to stay standing there and not run off hurt himself as she moved. "I just banged it when Mum knocked me out of the way," her voice shook as if she was reliving the moment before she regained her composure, "It will be okay." Her brown eyes, met his, showing him a hint of what she was feeling and those bright brown eyes were glistening. "There's a hell of a lot of people worse off. At least I'm still standing."
"I was so scared," he stressed the final word trying to convey all his emotions in that one word, "when I saw you fighting Bellatrix, especially after I'd seen what she'd done to those Snatchers at Malfoy Manor," he gulped, "I knew right then I would do anything for you. I wouldn't have been able to stand it if anything had happened to you and she was so capable and willing to kill," he looked directly into those deep brown eyes, "I almost went after her myself until I saw your Mum."
"I think..." she paused, the ghost of a smile on her lips, "I think Mum had a lot to work through against Bellatrix."
"Yeah," he forced a smile onto his own lips, "remind me never to get on the bad side of her."
"Okay," her smile grew briefly and this was the smile that he loved, the one that filled her whole face, "We'll just have to watch for swearing and then as soon as we hear her utter one of those words we stop because that was some impressive magic. I didn't know she had it in her; I guess we all underestimated Mum."
"She was scared too, and you can do some stuff that you had never dreamed of when you're scared and just acting on instinct." Harry paused again. He did not want to rush the following words. "I--we couldn't have coped if you hadn't made it out of this." He took her hand in his. "When I saw that green light flash just by you..."
She looked directly into his eyes and spoke in a voice that was dripping in emotion as she interrupted him. "Almost like when I saw Hagrid carrying you out of the forest."
"I'm sorry." He squeezed her hand. "But you know why I had to do that."
"Yes," she said softly, her voice did not contain the anger that he had expected it to. "I know why you went down there; I understand that. I'd expect nothing less and wouldn't want you to do anything less even if we had to relive that moment over and over again."
She paused as if she was bracing herself for what she had to say. "What I don't get is when you passed me wearing that cloak--I knew you were there; I kind of sensed you when I was helping that girl. Did you know that she was only four months older than me and she died of her injuries? She was crying for her Mum and she died in my arms." The tone in her voice had changed; it was crisper, sharper and accusing. "Why didn't you take ten seconds to talk to me?"
Tears were glistening in her eyes so that he could see the flecks of amber shining in them. "There's only so much that you can throw at me." Her voice finally broke. "My brother is killed, my whole world is falling apart and you disappear to die without a word. I can't deal with all that."
"Because I couldn't." His own voice was breaking.
This was even harder than he had he imaged.
He hadn't thought that all this would come up so soon. He thought that he would have had time to compose himself. But now it had come up, and it was probably better they talked about this sooner rather than later so that they could be open with each other from the start. He was going to be a hundred percent honest with her. As much as he knew that having her on the hunt and speaking to her in his last moments would have stopped him doing his job, he hadn't realised why until he had seen her.
The least she deserved was the whole truth, without any sugar-coating.
"I couldn't face dying if I spoke to you and saw everything that living could offer, the happiness that being with you would bring." His heart was pounding against his ribcage as hard as it had done in any kiss and his mouth felt dry.
"You showed me everything worth living for and I couldn't face death if I let that cross my mind." He dropped his voice to barely above a whisper. "You were the last person I thought about." He paused as they looked straight into each other's eyes and as brown made contact with green, so many unspoken emotions felt, he said, "If I've worked something out over the last year, it's that I love you."
"I love you, too, Harry." She paused again. "I was thinking about you every minute of the last year, wondering where you were, praying that you would be okay and daring to dream that we would stand facing each other when everything pointed to disaster. And here we are, back here," she took his hand and led him to the exact spot where they had kissed three hundred and forty-eight days ago. "But so many other things I hadn't thought about have changed when all I could focus on was you living."
"The whole world is a mess, my whole family's a mess, I'm a mess, Fred died." Emotion was ringing in her words. "It doesn't feel right to be falling in love."
"It doesn't feel right not to be falling in love." Harry smiled at her weakly. "I mean, I know it hurts. Dumbledore used to say that these were the feelings that made us human. And I get that it's going to take time but we've got that right." His smile grew slightly. "But if we shut ourselves down then even though he's dead, Voldemort's won."
She moved closer to him, closing the gap, "When did you grow so wise?"
"I've had a lot of time to think." She was smiling back at him. "All I knew was if I made it out of this I wanted to be with you."
"That sounds good but can you do one thing for me?"
"Hold me," she said looking up at him, her eyes conveying a million emotions, "hold me and don't let go."
Harry wrapped his arms around her back as she rested her head against his chest. Her arms slipped softly round his back. They could stand like this forever and no one was going to stop him. There was something very simple about standing there. It was no great gesture. They were not chasing each other on brooms, not bursting out in laughter as they fell in the Hogwarts lake, no passionate kiss that sent his heart racing, but he was happier than he had ever been.
"Everything is going to be okay now, I promise," he whispered gently.
"I know, it's just going to take some time," came the soft reply. She waited before looking up from his shoulder and into his eyes, that hint of mischief shining in her brown ones, "but, Harry, there is one thing you should know that would stop things being okay."
"What is it?"
"If you ever side with my mother over me again," her voice was deadly serious, "you won't need to worry about Dark wizards trying to kill you as I will have already done it."
Harry laughed nervously. "I promise, I'll always be on your side from now on."
Author's Note: Thank yous:
First, I would like to thank all those who have taken time to read and review. Your support, as always, means everything.
Second, I would like to thank all those at my Yahoo group. The fact that you take time to read and review and give advice is simply wonderful.
Finally, big thank yous once again go out to my wonderful beta, Gerry. You are simply amazing.