A/N: Here is the sequel to my story A Kiss Before Dying. I suggest you read that one first.
Ron's statement that "He beat you" and Molly's famous line are both taken from Chapter 36 of DH, The Flaw in the Plan.
A Kiss After Dying
Harry came to awareness slowly.
He was laying on his stomach. There was a solid surface under him and he couldn't see much except whiteness. A strange mewling cry pierced the otherwise quiet space.
Someone was in horrible pain, but Harry felt none.
After a minute, he realized he was naked.
Barely had the thought formed than robes appeared, and Harry dressed himself in them and looked around. There was not much to see. Was he dead? He must be. He remembered standing in front of Voldemort in the clearing. Remembered facing the Killing Curse and not defending himself.
And he remembered Ginny.
With an unexpected jolt, Harry realized the truth.
It was over. He was dead. He had left her behind.
And suddenly, it hurt.
Sirius had said that dying was quicker and easier than falling asleep, and true, Harry did not remember any physical pain. But he remembered Ginny, clearly and freely and desperately. He remembered the feel of her in his arms, her lips on his, just minutes before. There was a gnawing inside him, that she wasn't here. Or, more accurately, that he wasn't there.
There was no peace. He listened to the horrible crying, feeling as much as hearing its anguish, as if it was inside him, filling the emptiness. Did Ginny know? Could she feel he was gone? And what of the battle? Was she okay or was she hurt, dying even . . . alone?
Harry peered into the mist then, as if expecting to see Ginny running towards him with her blazing look, maybe grinning, that they had found a way to be together, after all. But there was nothing there, and Harry tried to take comfort in the fact that Ginny must be all right.
His parents and Sirius had been at peace. Even Remus, new to the loss of his infant son, had been sorry, but accepting. Harry was in agony.
He swallowed hard. What else could he have done?
"There was nothing else you could have done. You were perfect."
Dumbledore was walking toward him, a broad smile on his face. His hands, held out to Harry as if to embrace him, were unblemished and strong.
"I didn't kill Nagini." Harry forced his thoughts away from Ginny and focused on his failure; he didn't want to be right and good and perfect.
Dumbledore waved his hand. "A mere trifle." He peered at Harry, a knowing look on his face. "That's not the only thing you left undone."
Harry looked up. "What do you mean? Isn't the Horcrux in me gone?"
"Oh yes, quite gone," said Dumbledore. "Voldemort is very close to being mortal again. No, I am speaking of something of a much more personal nature now." He smiled at Harry, his eyes twinkling brightly. "Miss Weasley?"
Harry felt that Dumbledore's lightheartedness was wholly inappropriate. The pain he had suppressed at his first sight of the man came roaring back into his heart and his reply was bitter with loss.
"I . . . saw her. Just before. And . . . I said goodbye." With his eyes, Harry begged Dumbledore to let the matter drop. He didn't want to talk about Ginny. She belonged only in the privacy of his own thoughts now.
But Dumbledore continued to twinkle. "And did that satisfy you? Or her?"
What did the old man mean, torturing him like this?? "Of course not!" Harry shouted. "How can you ask me such a thing? I told her I loved her and then I had to leave her forever!" He wrung his hands in anguish, angrily wiped away the tears that lay on his cheeks. But his next words were measured, quiet.
"She was there for me like she promised. Forever. And I . . . I couldn't give her that back." He turned away, looking into the nothing mist, towards the sound of pitiful crying that seemed to mimic his own pain.
"She's got forever now. Forever alone."
"Are you certain of that?" Dumbledore's voice was finally serious.
Still turned away, Harry stiffened. Why did he always speak in riddles? He couldn't mean that Ginny would just find someone else, could he? Dumbledore was not a cruel man. Was he trying to prepare Harry for this . . . place, this existence, by telling him he had to let go? Harry couldn't bear the thought. His answer to Dumbledore was cold, harsh.
"What, you think Ginny is the type to move on right away?
"You misunderstand me," said Dumbledore as Harry snorted. It wouldn't be the first time. He had no patience for niceties. "So explain it, then."
"Have you wondered why you are here? Why you are not immediately with your parents?"
Harry frowned then, but at the same time, the barest flicker of . . . something ignited inside him. He turned back to Dumbledore. "Isn't this, you know, 'the next great adventure?'" He couldn't keep the sarcasm completely out of his voice.
Dumbledore just smiled. "Only if you want it to be."
Harry didn't want to dare put words to his desire. "And if I don't?"
"You go back. Finish what you began. And then, find your forever."
Dumbledore's voice was fading into the mist, even the sound of the crying was easing, and everything was getting dim. Harry didn't fight it, and suddenly he was acutely aware of the beating of his heart, pounding against his chest as it had during his walk into the Forest, his walk to death. Only this time, it was thumping with the agony of maybe, of want, of . . . please. He closed his eyes and let his mind fill with Ginny's face . . .
And then, Harry was there, lying prone on the forest floor as Death Eaters screamed around him after Narcissa Malfoy proclaimed his death. He didn't even want to believe he'd made it back, couldn't let himself think he might get yet another chance.
There was no time for those thoughts anyway. With the skills born of years of surviving in the face of those stronger, more evil, and infinitely more powerful, Harry knew that his "death" had to look complete - his mind focused sharply on his surroundings, his body absolutely lax. He did not feel pain as Voldemort tossed his body into the air, one, two, three times, and tortured it with the Cruciatus Curse. In the back of his brain, Harry filed away the lack of feeling, and what it might mean, but only when he was lying awkwardly in Hagrid's gentle arms, ignoring the rain of tears that splashed on his cheeks, did Harry finally allow himself to hope.
On the steps and lawn of Hogwarts, the fighters stood in stunned groups as Voldemort's voice washed over them, proclaiming the death of Harry Potter. Ron, frozen in shock at the top of the stairs barely seemed to register Hermione standing next to him even though he was holding her hand in a death grip.
"It's a lie . . . must be a lie, a trap," he muttered to the air. Hermione didn't answer, for once, books and logic and planning had no response.
Ginny stood just apart from them, staring out into the Forest. She had been walking around in a fog since Harry had left her, useless to the recovery effort, almost paralyzed with anguish. She hadn't told a soul that she had seen Harry or that she knew what he had to do. She wanted to keep those moments to herself, his last gift to her. Almost unconsciously, she touched her lips, trying to recapture the feeling of his, as they had brushed her own. Remembering his arms as they held her, still tasting their mingled tears that she hadn't brushed off her cheeks. She couldn't believe she would never kiss him again.
She couldn't believe because until that minute, when Voldemort's triumphant voice rolled out of the Forest, Ginny had hoped.
For a mistake, a surprise, a miracle.
Then the crowd of Death Eaters broke the forest's edge, Hagrid in the front carrying Harry much as he must have all those years before.
And Ginny stopped hoping and knew.
"No!" shouted Ron, nearby. "It's a lie!" He looked around wildly, as if searching for someone to agree with him that yes, it wasn't true. That his best friend wasn't dead. His eyes fell on Ginny.
"Gin . . ." his tortured eyes sought hers.
Ginny managed to hold herself together only long enough to let him see the truth on her face, and then her knees buckled. She would have fallen if Ron and Hermione hadn't rushed to her side.
"Ginny, no, please," Ron was begging, still trying to find a different answer even as Voldemort and the Death Eaters grouped in front of them and Hagrid laid Harry's body on the ground.
Ginny didn't want to look at Harry but she couldn't pull her eyes away. His glasses were askew, his hair more tousled than usual, his pale face reflected eerily in the dancing torchlight. He was beautiful.
Ron and Hermione were still holding her, and she forced her mind back to them.
"He's gone," she said with an empty finality. "He had no choice." She began to sob then, the unfairness of everything washing over her. It wasn't supposed to end this way. It just wasn't. He was the Boy Who Lived, dammit – he always lived. No matter what he had faced in the past, whether the Basilisk or giant spiders or Dementors or Death Eaters or Voldemort on more occasions than she could count, Harry always survived. Even when he himself had refused to see a future past the inevitable showdown with Voldemort, Ginny had been certain that Harry would triumph. It was the only way she could survive his leaving a year ago, the knowledge that they would be together forever, afterwards, safe in her heart.
And that heart, which had been broken when Harry had stopped, death already in his eyes, to kiss her goodbye, now shattered completely.
She screamed, the inhuman cry of loss. The sound George had made when confronted with Fred's empty face, the keening wail of her mother, the noise being raised all over the lawn even by those who barely knew him, for this boy who was supposed to be their savior. The sound got louder and louder until with a bang of his wand, Voldemort silenced them all, mocking their grief.
Next to Ginny, Ron cried out, "He beat you!" and the noise grew again. With detached eyes, Ginny watched Neville challenge Voldemort, his foolish bravery making sense. What else was there to live for?
She did not hear Ron's or Hermione's sharp intake of breath when Neville sliced off the snake's head, but their arms around her tightened suddenly.
"He got the snake," whispered Hermione.
"The last one," said Ron. "He's mortal again."
And something tickled the edge of Ginny's brain. A word spoken by Harry, an explanation.
"The last Horcrux." she said.
Ron did not ask her how she knew, but nodded, and a fire burned through Ginny, waking her muddled senses, diminishing her feeling of loss.
She would not roll over and die. Not when there was still a reason to fight.
A yell from the lawn. "Where's Harry??"
Ginny couldn't even focus on the fact that his body was gone, it was like the sky exploded in battle as people and creatures soared into view from all directions; suddenly the air was full of flying curses and the roar of angry voices. She let herself be carried along with the crowd towards the castle, but not as a passive observer. Every fiber of Ginny's being was on alert, watching, dodging danger, firing back as many hexes as she could possibly remember.
Somewhere, Harry was watching her. She would not disappoint. It was her last gift to him.
And then she was fighting as she had never fought before. She and Hermione and Luna all battling Bellatrix, who was maniacal in her rage, delighting in the battle and the chance to maim, to kill.
Ginny focused her own anger, using it to add strength to her curses, knowing in the back of her mind that only one curse could end it, but not sure she had the power behind her, even as her hatred at Bellatrix intensified. Could she take a life? Even one as despicable as that before her?
Bellatrix obviously did not share Ginny's concerns. "Avada Kedavra!" she roared, and a green jet of light flew by Ginny's face, so closely she thought she heard death. She froze in place, unable to react, and suddenly she didn't have to.
"NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!"
And there was her mother. Furious. Glorious. More righteous than Ginny had ever seen her. Ginny had to suppress a grin. Bellatrix had no idea what she had gotten herself into. Ginny feared her mother's wrath when she was guilty of nothing more than tracking dirt into the kitchen. The thought of Molly Weasley angry and fighting to protect the lives of her remaining children was one of the most awesome sights Ginny had ever seen.
There was no question that her mother would win and Bella would fall. But that inevitability did nothing to prepare Ginny for what came next.
In a flash, Voldemort turned towards her mother, fury in his red eyes, and a voice rang out over the Great Hall.
Ginny's heart stopped. She knew that voice. But it couldn't be.
But it was. IT WAS.
A flick of his Cloak. His face, pale, but determined. More importantly, alive.
Her head swam and her eyes filled. Her heart, so recently shattered, could not yet believe. She wanted to scream, she wanted to run to him and throw her arms around him and never let him go. She needed to make sure this was real, that Bellatrix' curse had not found its mark and she was now dead herself.
But instead, she had to watch, silently, as the man she loved faced Voldemort yet again.
Her eyes drank him in; she couldn't stop looking. He had eyes for no one but Tom. Gone was the fear and pain and desperation she had seen before he walked into the Forest. Gone was the boy who had cried in her arms, the boy who had no choice. He knew something else now, she was sure of it.
And Ginny knew as well.
She tried her best to focus on his words as he and Tom circled around the center of the Great Hall, Harry's confident assurance was so very different from Voldemort's derisive rage, which carried in it even a hint of panic. His green eyes glowed with life out of his bruised and dirty face. Tracks of sweat, and probably tears, still lingered on his cheeks. His robes were ripped, and couldn't even begin to contain the power that crackled around him. He was beautiful.
It seemed to drag on forever, and at the same time, it was over so quickly. There was a moment of absolute silence. And in that moment, Harry caught her eye from across the room. For the briefest second, they were the only ones there.
Ginny didn't even have time to read the look on Harry's face before those watching and waiting exploded in celebration around him. But she could guess what it said. And then she was there too, with Ron and Hermione and everyone else. The only thought her mind could hold was a joyful, unbelieving, exhausted, yes. She grabbed his hand, through the crowd.
Harry couldn't even see her face, but he knew it was her and he held on as tightly as he could. The only thought his mind could hold was a joyful, unbelieving, exhausted, soon.
But all too quickly, those who didn't know bore her away, wanting their own turn to touch and fawn. And that was okay with her, for now. This wasn't the Quidditch Cup, with a big dramatic race across the room into his arms. It wouldn't have been right; it wouldn't have been them.
Ginny sat for a while with her mum and brothers, barely awake, not wanting to talk. When she saw Harry sneak away under his Cloak, stopping only to take Ron and Hermione with him, she followed them silently. This was his moment for them. The ones who had been with him almost every step of the way. At one time, it might have hurt, but she knew better now.
And when he returned and headed, finally alone, up to Gryffindor Tower, Ginny held back. She was willing to wait, in the face of his obvious exhaustion, for their reunion. It was not that she needed it to be perfect, she was sure it wouldn't be. But it had to be on their terms, not forced upon them as their goodbye had been.
Even though she understood, better than ever now, that lives and futures could disappear in an instant, she stayed hidden while Harry walked away. She knew that if he had seen her, he would have stopped. But she could see how tired he was, how utterly spent from not just hours or months, but years of fighting. Most importantly, Ginny knew that she was the one he wanted, that had he been any more awake or aware, he would have been looking for her, instead of his bed. For now, she had to think of him. She gave him a head start and then followed; at least she could watch him while he slept.
Harry walked almost all the way to his room in Gryffindor Tower before he stopped and turned around. His body may have craved sleep, but for once, his mind and his heart were in total agreement.
At that moment, he needed her more than he needed his bed, or food, or even a shower.
He hoped she didn't mind.
Suddenly, he couldn't wait another second. How could he have thought of sleep? Was he really that thick? He had to find her!
He didn't have far to go. As he stood stupidly in the common room, trying to make his brain work enough to think about where she might be, the portrait hole opened, and there she was.
They stared at each other for a long minute, both almost unable to believe that yes, they were actually standing there looking at each other, that they were both alive, and finally, alone.
Harry forced himself to take deep breaths; he was afraid that if he made one wrong move, it would all disappear with a pop.
Ginny understood. He didn't yet know that this was real. She gave Harry a moment, shaking her head at him, an indulgent smile on her face.
"You daft boy. What did you do?"
The smile on her face, her easy words, did the trick; Harry couldn't stay across the room. He almost ran forward and wrapped himself around Ginny as if she was something he had to keep safe. She made a tiny sound in his arms, an "ohhh" against his neck as she rested her head on his chest. His voice trembled as he answered her.
"I died." Ginny stiffened and looked up at him, the pain of memory plain on both their faces.
"But Dumbledore told me I could come back, if I wanted." Harry looked down at Ginny, their faces now so close that the rest of the room faded into a gold and crimson blur around him. "So I did. I needed to find my forever."
Her voice was barely a whisper. "And did you?"
"I'm holding it in my arms."
His hand moved to lift Ginny's chin as he gently touched his lips to hers. Her hand moved to the back of his neck as she pulled him closer, not caring that her tears were once again falling on his cheeks. Their bodies shifted as they each moved, merging almost into one figure, trailing soft kisses over cheek and jaw and mouth. Ginny wanted to touch every part of Harry's face with her lips, as if to reassure herself that he was here, solid and unharmed. She ran her hands through the back of his hair, longer now than it had ever been. She had dreamed of touching him like this for nearly a year. The reality of it was almost overwhelming.
Harry closed his eyes and let himself get lost in the exploration of Ginny's lips across his face, so much so that he barely realized he had stopped kissing her back. Her lips moved back to his, and he began to kiss her again, opening his mouth and feeling like he had come home when she did the same. A low moan of contentment startled him, and he realized that he himself made the sound. He opened his eyes again, relishing the fact that he could just look at her, leaning in until they were forehead to forehead, both breathing heavily.
Was it really less than a day since their last, terrible kiss goodbye?
Harry wanted to stand there forever, kissing Ginny. There was no urgency, and yet, he couldn't even imagine trying to stop. But both of them were nearly swaying with exhaustion and he knew that the next few days were going to carry little rest. Taking her hand, he silently led her up the stairs to the boy's dormitory.
The room was achingly familiar. Harry pulled Ginny down next to him, needing to make everything clear, now that his words would not be lost to memory by his death.
"I love you, Ginny."
Ginny smiled, gently kissing his forehead as she pushed him down onto the pillows, slowly removing his glasses. Her tenderness brought exhaustion over him like a blanket. Ginny moved her mouth to his for one last kiss and then curled up beside him.
"I love you, Harry. Forever."