A/N It's straight on from the end of DH (before the epilogue). What happens next? Read, review, enjoy. I haven't decided whether to make this multichapter or not…let me know what you think.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything you recognise
"That wand's more trouble than it's worth," said Harry. "And quite honestly," he turned away from the painted portraits, thinking now only of the four poster bed lying waiting for him in Gryffindor tower, and wondering whether Kreacher might bring him a sandwich there, "I've had enough trouble for a lifetime."
Ron and Hermione grinned at him as he turned to leave. He hesitated in the act of opening the door; what to do next? Sleep threatened to take him whole…he had not properly slept since their break into Gringotts…his whole body throbbed with the force of the killing curse...and yet somewhere down on the floors below sat Ginny, earnestly waiting her explanation. Stepping out and back onto the spiral staircase, he found his feet subconsciously carried him back to the portrait of the fat lady. It seemed his body had made the decision for him; he needed rest. As he went, Hermione and Ron hung a few paces behind, Hermione seemingly leaning on Ron for support. On arriving, Harry paused outside the portrait, realising that he did not know the password. He opened his mouth to plead with her, but the fat lady held up a steady hand and said;
"No password needed for the Boy Who Lives," and swung open for his admittance.
His insides seemed to recoil at this as he clambered through the portrait hole…he wondered how much special treatment he would have to endure now that it was all over. A great longing swept through him, a longing to be in Ginny's company. Hermione and Ron's looks were awestruck, every glance conveyed their admiration. He wished he could be around Ginny, who would simply treat him as he was. He glanced outside to the forest…only hours earlier, he had been walking to what he'd thought was his death. He'd seen his parents…Sirius…and Lupin…they'd all been with him…
As renewed stabs of pain pierced his heart he collapsed onto the nearest chair; too exhausted to go any further. Even up to his dormitory seemed like climbing Mount Everest. Hermione and Ron fell onto a sofa opposite, bearing war-wounds, cuts and gashes, and still the hint of those terrible burns that had been inflicted upon them in the Lestrange's vault. Harry thought back to when he had witnessed her body fall at the hands of Mrs Weasley, and felt a curious kind of sick satisfaction. She who had slain Sirius, Fred, tortured Neville's parents and who knew what else…had finally been silenced. He glanced up at Ron and knew that he too was thinking of Fred. Harry felt his insides bubble up with guilt. If he'd just handed himself over that bit earlier…Fred could've been spared…But now the family to whom he owed so much had suffered a terrible loss; and he might've prevented it. Out there somewhere, a small boy barely a year old had just lost his parents. Harry could relate to that…
After a long silence, in attempts to push these unpleasant thoughts aside, Harry took note of his hunger pains and voiced aloud what had drifted to the front of his mind;
"We haven't eaten in ages…"
"Bloody starving mate," Ron nodded.
"Kreacher?" Harry asked hesitantly. He did not know whether the elf would still take kindly to him after he'd never returned to Grimmauld place, the day of the ministry break-in. Kreacher apparated at his feet with a crack, and Harry felt relieved to see his eyes shone with delight.
"Master Harry!" he squeaked, taking a low bow.
"Kreacher," Harry smiled, bleary eyed. "Sorry to ask, but would you be able to bring us all a sandwich?"
"Certainly, Harry Potter, sir!"
He disapparated down to the kitchens, returning only moments later carrying a tray laden with a variety of options. Evidently he had already prepared something for Harry, lest he request it. Harry thanked him and indicated Hermione and Ron to help themselves. When Kreacher took his bow to depart, Harry held up a hasty hand and said through a mouthful of chicken sandwich and pumpkin juice;
"Wait a minute, Kreacher!"
Kreacher looked up expectantly.
Harry tried to think how best to phrase his question. "Now that it's all over…would you prefer to be freed? I can free you…or you could stay here with the other house elves at Hogwarts, it's up to you…"
"Freed?" Kreacher's eyes widened. "Oh, no, Master Harry! Kreacher swears his allegiance to you; you and your friends, who have shown Kreacher much kindness!" He beamed to Ron and Hermione, and Hermione's face split into a wide smile, though it was clear she was exasperated by his decision to remain enslaved.
"In that case," Harry said. "You're being paid."
"Paid, Harry Potter sir?" he replied uncertainly.
"High wages," Harry nodded. "You should go and rest...you fought well. Regulus would've been proud." Though barely two years ago the elf had led Sirius to his death, the memory of him running in from the school kitchens to the battle, bearing cutlery as weapons and shouting his instructions to his fellows filled Harry with something like pride. Kreacher disapparated with teary eyes, leaving Harry, Ron and Hermione to eat in silence. When they had consumed all they could, Hermione rested her head on Ron's shoulder and closed her eyes wearily. Ron stroked her hair absently, yawning widely.
"I'm knackered…" he mumbled.
"Ron…" Hermione said in a small voice. "I don't want to be alone…with everything that's happened…"
Ron smiled down at her flushed features, "Not to worry; girls are allowed in the boys' dorms right?" With a questioning glance at Harry, who nodded as if to say I'll-be-up-in-a-minute, Ron led her gently by the hand up the stairs, where Harry could picture them huddled together under the warm covers of Ron's four poster bed.
Blinking furiously to keep his eyes in focus, Harry hauled himself to his feet with great effort and started for the staircase. He would sleep for a few hours, and then go and see Ginny. He did not have room for intelligible thought…and had absolutely no idea what to say to her. Every part of him seemed numb…Voldemort's broken body lay downstairs. He was gone…really gone, this time. They had all the time in the world now…
As he groped for the banister, he heard a scuffling outside the portrait hole, and a small voice murmur the words; "Harry Potter."
His instinct was to spin around and answer her, but then he realised it had not been his summons. As the portrait hole swung open to reveal Ginny Weasley, he realised his name had been the password. Ginny stopped dead in her tracks as her eyes came to rest on his. There was a ringing silence, which seemed to press onto Harry's eardrums. Then, at precisely the same moment, they ran towards each other and locked together; Ginny's arms around his neck, her head buried into his shoulder, his arms around her back, pulling her closer. It was an impulse, it was what made sense…
Seconds, minutes or perhaps hours later they broke apart, standing barely a centimetre from each other. Their eyes darted all over the other's face, taking it in. Harry had never imagined he would be able to see her again, he had thought it was over. But no…they were here…they were alive…Ginny felt inexpressible relief and emotion as she stood gazing into his sparkling emerald eyes. They were speaking to him, alight in a way only Harry's could be.
"I'm sorry," was the first thing he said. "Fred--"
"--died fighting for what he thought was right," Ginny said firmly, only her teary eyes betraying her strong exterior.
"It's my fault…I'm sorry--"
"Don't be," she said, cupping his face. "It's not."
Harry put his hands over hers, removing them from his face. Her touch seemed to set his every nerve on fire, he suddenly felt completely awake…turning away and releasing her hands, he said;
"Your family would've been better of if I'd never known Ron. If he hadn't sat next to me on the Hogwarts' Express…none of you would've had to be mixed up in this."
Ginny gave him the hard, blazing look he associated with their first kiss after winning the Quidditch final, and replied;
"Right. If Ron had never known you, Fred might not have died."
Hearing her say it was like having a bucket of ice thrown over his head. Hearing Ginny say it, made it so much more real.
"But… I'd have died back in my first year, in the Chamber of Secrets," she went on, and Harry's head snapped around. "Ron would've been poisoned last year. My Dad would've been killed by Voldemort's snake. My Mother would've been murdered by Voldemort."
Harry just stared at her blankly.
"Harry," she said gently. "The day Ron sat in your compartment was the day the Weasley family struck lucky. We owe you everything," she smiled. "And plus, if Ron and you hadn't become mates, we'd never have met!"
The smallest smile escaped his lips at this which Ginny returned meekly, giving him a slightly alluding look. "So…are you going to tell me what you've been off doing all this time?" she raised her eyebrows. "Did you really break into Gringotts and escape on a dragon?"
He nodded. "It was partially blind." She gave him a look of mild surprise, and he went on; "Maybe you should sit down…there's a lot to tell you."
"Why didn't you tell me before?" she demanded suddenly. Harry heard a hurt in her voice which she had failed to successfully cover up.
"Because," he said, pushing her onto a chair by the dying embers of the fire. "I wanted to protect you."
"I'm just as capable as Ron and Hermione! I don't need a body guard!" Ginny sniffed.
"You're underage. You still have the trace," Harry pointed out.
"The way I hear it you three were on the run anyway, what would it have mattered?" she asked.
"They'd have found us all whenever you used magic, perhaps?" he grinned slightly.
"Oh shut up, Potter," she snapped. She did not enjoy being teased, and Harry often forgot she probably had to endure it around the clock with having so many brothers. "You know this is so like all of you – 'protect Ginny, Ginny needs to be looked after, Ginny's too young'-- like in the room of requirement!"
"Yes, I did try to protect you!" Harry said. "I know you're capable, more than…but the idea of you in the middle of a fight with Voldemort's death eaters was - if you'd been hurt fighting for me…" he trailed off.
"Well, I wasn't was I? And shouldn't it have been my choice?!" she demanded again, heating up.
"In the end it was wasn't it?" Harry smiled. "There's no telling you what to do..."
"Yes, well, if you think I was just going to sit there waiting for news," she said bitterly. "Well, you've got another thing coming Harry Potter--"
"Ginny…have you ever heard of a Horcrux?" Harry interrupted her abruptly.
"Well," she said slowly. "I heard you and Hermione and Ron talking about them when you were at the Burrow for Bill and Fleur's wedding…"
"We always made sure we talked in secret," Harry frowned.
"Extendable ears," Ginny admitted. Harry looked quite impressed.
"But you didn't know what they were?" he asked.
"No…I didn't know. Until I stole the books Hermione was talking about and read up," she said to the floor, a red tinge rising in her cheeks.
"So you knew all along what we were doing?" he said in disbelief after a slightly baffled silence.
"Looking for Voldemort's Horcrux so you could finish him off?"
"Yes…" he paused. "Well…we were looked for his Horcruxes; plural. He made seven."
"Seven?" Ginny echoed, shuddering. She clearly found the idea of just one Horcrux rather repulsive.
"Seven," Harry repeated. "All last year, Dumbledore and me had sessions; he explained to me the different things he thought Voldemort had made into Horcruxes. The diary…Riddle's diary, was one…"
"That's how it could possess me?" she replied, eyes wide with comprehension. "I always wondered how it was possible…that diary had a piece of Voldemort's soul?"
Harry nodded solemnly, reaching out for her hand instinctively. He could always tell that Ginny detested the memories of the events of her first year. She had had a part of Voldemort touch her, a part that now felt tainted…he understood exactly how she felt.
"Which meant we were one Horcrux down already," he said quietly. "Then Dumbledore himself destroyed one; but it was cursed…that's why he really died."
Ginny's expression marked confusion, and Harry realised he would have to get to that later. He would still need to explain about Snape…
"So, with Dumbledore destroying one and the diary gone there were five left. Dumbledore and I went into people's memories of Tom Riddle, and decided Voldemort would've used artefacts of the four Hogwarts founders, because he felt like Hogwarts was his home...it meant a lot to him." Ginny thought she could perceive something more in what he was saying here, but he continued. "We knew from particular memories of his Mother, Uncle and Grandfather that he might've used a locket, which had belonged to Salazar Slytherin. Dumbledore found it hidden in a cave…"
Harry went into explanations of the orphanage Voldemort had grown up in, his odd behaviour, how he had hidden the Horcrux in the cave…he recounted how he and Dumbledore had journeyed there, how it had been a fake…told of when he, Ron and Hermione had realised the real thing belonged to Regulus, Sirius' brother. He explained their infiltration of the ministry; releasing the muggleborns, stealing the locket back.
"--but we still didn't know how to get rid of it. We couldn't open the thing. D'you remember, the summer we stayed with Sirius at Grimmauld place--"
"--there was a locket no one could open!" Ginny finished for him, wide-eyed.
Harry bowed his head. "We were sure we had to open it to destroy it…but we couldn't. Eventually, after weeks and weeks, we realised what would do it…in Dumbledore's will; he left me the sword of Gryffindor? It's one of the only things that destroys Horcruxes." A sudden memory floated to the surface of his mind through his exhaustion, and he added. "I heard about you trying to steal it."
"In your honour," she grinned. "Didn't work though…Snape…But you said Snape was Dumbledore's? You said to Voldemort he was good all along…"
"He was," Harry replied. In answer to her bewildered expression he added; "Dumbledore and Snape planned his death between them; he was already dying…it was all a plot to save Malfoy."
Her confusion did not clear up, and Harry decided to persevere with the Horcuxes for the time being.
"Later," he murmured. "But anyway, we finally got hold of the sword; Snape left it for us. We got rid of the locket. Then we had to search for something of Ravenclaw's and Hufflepuff's. Dumbledore thought Riddle would've made this cup that had belonged to Hufflepuff into one…"
Harry recounted his accidental excursion to Malfoy manor, where he realised Bellatrix must have been guarding something highly valuable to Voldemort in her vault.
"That's when we robbed Gringotts. Dragon riding and all."
"Impressive," she grinned. "And you destroyed it with the sword that Snape left you? Even though he wouldn't let us take it for you?"
"Oh…no, Griphook stole the sword from us. The goblin that helped us break in."
Her eyebrows knitted together at this and Harry sighed, starting on an explanation all about the fake sword Dumbledore had planted. He told her how Ron had eventually realised they could use Basilisk fangs.
Around an hour later Harry had explained almost everything to Ginny, and she finally understood. By then, he felt as though he barely existed he was so exhausted, everything seemed to be viewed from one end of a long tunnel. He was far away, everything was blurred. Ginny now knew about the locket, the diary, the ring, the cup, the diadem and the snake. But the fact that there was still a seventh Horcrux had not gone unnoticed.
"And so…what was the seventh Horcrux?" she asked timidly; she had noticed he hadn't volunteered the information. A silence met her inquiry; he didn't want to talk about this. When he and Ginny had been together a year ago he had had a piece of Voldemort inside him…a piece of evil.
"The last Horcrux was…" he said slowly. "The last Horcrux was me. That's why I had to give myself up to him…the piece of him inside me had to be killed."
"You just…you just let him kill you?" her voice cracked and her eyes glistened. "And then it was gone?"
He nodded to her. "The last thing I thought of was kissing you," he blushed slightly as the faintest trace of a smile crossed both of their lips. "And then I woke up in some kind of limbo between life and death. Dumbledore was there."
"He gave me the choice. Go on, or come back. It was an amazing place…there was no pain, everything was whole. I was complete."
"So…" said Ginny, tears welling slightly in her eyes. "Why did you come back?"
"For you," he stated it as though it were the most obvious thing in the world.
There was a silence in which Ginny couldn't quite put her feelings into words. Instead, she settled for squeezing his outstretched hand, and piercing him with look, so intense, so meaningful, so smouldering that Harry's heart hammered against his ribcage. Moments later, he said to her wearily;
"Then there's the Hallows…I suppose, they're how I eventually defeated him after I came back…the Elder wand."
Harry thought it must've been midday by the time he finished explaining the Hallows, the cloak, the ring, the wand and why Dumbledore had really trusted Snape. He told her everything he knew, and she was an excellent recipient. She stayed quiet, listened intently and was quick on the uptake. He loved that she was clever, clever in such a way that she didn't memorise textbooks like Hermione…clever in the kind of impulsive way that he was. The only part of the tale he left out was Dumbledore's childhood, his sister, and his involvement with Grindlewald. Dumbledore had trusted Harry enough to explain, and he felt so much respect for the memories of his old headmaster that he did not reveal his most heartfelt secrets; only made a point of scandalising Rita Skeeter's disgusting book of lies. On finishing his explanations, Ginny whispered;
"Harry, the reason Voldemort never used the connection between the two of you after Sirius died, is because he couldn't bear to touch someone so pure."
He knew she was trying to ease his discomfort over the fact that up until the previous evening, his body had played host to a piece of the soul of the world's greatest dark sorcerer. She was trying to make him see it didn't matter, trying to make him see he had been Harry all along.
"You're a better wizard, a better person. Dumbledore knew that."
Harry merely smiled; if Ginny thought it, he thought it. If Ginny said it, he would listen. She sat looking at him imploringly, wondering what would happen between them now. She then added softly, "Isn't it about time somebody saved your life?"
Perhaps it was her saying this that did it, or perhaps it was in answer to her unspoken question, but he got to his feet and approached her. The room seemed to empty of oxygen, everything melted away and they could see nothing but each other. He was coming towards her, he was lifting her to her feet gently, he was pushing her hair off her face. And then he was kissing her. And it felt like they'd never been apart, they'd never been threatened; they'd been together the whole time. Behind each other all the way; taking a piece of the other with them wherever they went…And it was a pleasurable torture almost too much to bear, it was blissful oblivion; they were the only two in the world. Standing, swaying on the spot in Gryffindor common room; their tongues exploring the others' mouth, Harry's hands in her hair…her arms hooked around his neck…
They'd waited, they'd wondered, he'd gone and returned; and now the moment was here. And they both knew they'd always wait a lifetime.
A/N: Review! I thought I might make it into a short multichapter – like 5 chapters? Or I could just leave it as a one shot – up to you. x