Disclaimer: Harry and his world belong to JK Rowling.
The Future is Now, Part 1: Breathe
The echoes his steps made throughout the deserted hallway were dull, like everything else had been since he woke up that morning. The sun was already up, but the surroundings remained dim. The sounds were muffled, the colors muted, just like his half-feelings and his half-thoughts. Even his injuries did not feel as painful as they were supposed to.
He thought he had taken a bath and dressed in a clean set of clothes. He wasn't too sure. He knew he was clean though—well, at least he thought he was. He had eaten the warm sandwiches left by his bedside. He wasn't sure if he was still hungry or not. He didn't know if it mattered. He had forgotten whether being clean or being full mattered. All that mattered was that he did something—anything.
His brain and his heart had been at a standstill. He did not know how—he had no energy—to keep them from being such. But at least he could make his body do something, mechanical though it may be. So he walked.
Harry found himself at the entrance to the Great Hall. The first thing he noticed was the atmosphere. It seemed like Hogwarts was as confused as he was—torn between grief and celebration and settling on the numbness in between. He paused, hesitating. A moment later, he stepped inside and he knew, from the way the conversations died down and then broke out again a second later with renewed vigor, that people had seen him. He knew they were staring at him, talking about him, even pointing and waving at him. He wasn't too sure, really. He wasn't looking at them. He was just grateful that they didn't come running towards him. He paid them no heed.
His eyes immediately strayed towards her, Ginny, half of his own accord, half of that powerful pull she'd always had on him. She was sitting with her family at the Gryffindor table. They all looked the kind of subdued like the Weasleys never had been. She was talking quietly to her mother, a soothing hand placed on Mrs. Weasley's shoulder. Neither of them seemed to have realized that he was there. Hermione, sitting on her other side, placed a hand on her arm.
Ginny turned away from her mother, and then her eyes fell on Harry. She stared at him. She looked tired. The sadness in her eyes broke his heart. And he remembered. Not that he had ever forgotten, but the thought now took first priority in his own tired mind.
Harry stopped walking. Was he welcome? Did he have a right to share their grief? Did they blame him?
Ron, sitting next to Hermione, looked at him with a familiar, welcoming expression on his face. A small wave of gratitude swept through Harry. He knew the emotion that was behind that expression. It was something he always felt for Ron—friendship, camaraderie, brotherhood.
Hermione looked like she was about to cry. She seemed to be struggling to keep herself from running towards Harry and wrapping him in a bone-breaking hug. The look on her face was one of compassion and understanding.
Sitting across from his best friends, Bill, Fleur, and Charlie had twisted around to look at Harry. Fleur wore an expression partly of awe, but mostly, of gratitude. Bill and Charlie, on the other hand, were looking at him with the same kind of respect he had always reserved for the two oldest Weasley boys.
Mrs. Weasley's expression was just like that of Hermione's. She was clearly struggling to hold back tears and it seemed that she too wanted to give him one of her trademark hugs but was too weak to get up from her seat. There was also something else in her expression. It had always been there, but Harry had not noticed it until now, when he feared he might lose it. She was looking at him like a mother would her son.
George sat next to Mrs. Weasley. He looked at Harry with no other expression on his face except for that of recognition. It was much better than the lost look he wore on that day. Next to him, Percy was looking at Harry the way Bill and Charlie did. There was also a willful determination to the way he set his jaw. It took a moment for Harry to realize that Percy looked just like Ron on the many times his best friend swore he would stand by his side.
Mr. Weasley sat on Percy's other side. The expression on his face was that of all his sons combined—respect, camaraderie, gratitude, and loyalty. There was also the warmth. He had always looked at Harry with that warmth in his eyes. It never left. And then he gave a nod, barely perceptible, but still a nod. It seemed like a go signal for Harry to start walking again.
Harry stayed where he stood. His eyes strayed back to Ginny. She gazed back at him with the same hard, blazing look she wore when they first kissed and when he broke up with her to keep her safe. Her flaming red hair and her brown eyes, both burning hot and tenderly warm, reminded him of sunrise. The way she sat and stared at him gave him the quiet reassurance that she would walk through fire and drag him back if he ever shied away. Her expression finally pushed—compelled—him to move forward.
Harry walked towards Gryffindor table so that he was on the side where Ginny was sitting. Ron, Hermione, and Mrs. Weasley immediately stood up as he approached. Hermione hugged him tightly as Ron clapped his back. A moment later, Mrs. Weasley pulled his best friends away and engulfed him in her own bone-breaking hug. Fleur tried to hug him over the Gryffindor table then settled for a kiss on both cheeks. Bill and Charlie shook his hand solemnly, as did Percy. George had remained seated, but he nodded at Harry like his father did a while ago. Mr. Weasley stepped past his wife and sons and did something he had never done before: he pulled Harry into a warm hug. It surprised Harry, but he welcomed it all the same. It reminded him of Remus, Sirius, and his own father. And then Ginny stood up, her eyes on Harry. He stepped towards her and looked into her blazing eyes.
He took her in and stared intently at her face, wanting to memorize everything from the exact brown of her eyes to the way her hair strayed over them; from the shape of her cute nose to the exact number of freckles on it. It had been months since he had properly looked at her and now—now he did not ever want to take his eyes off her. He let his eyes travel all over her, not wanting to miss a single feature.
She had a scar on her neck, just above the collarbone, another one below her ear, and still another one along the inner side of her right forearm. He suspected that she'd had the smaller scars and bruises healed yesterday. Just like everyone else, she looked pale and tired. There were dark circles under her eyes and she looked thinner than she did at Bill and Fleur's wedding. Even in her current state, Harry thought that he had never seen anyone else quite as beautiful as Ginny.
Harry did not know how it happened. One moment, he and Ginny were standing face to face, the next, they had embraced each other so tightly even Hagrid would not have been able to pull them apart. Harry buried his head in Ginny's shoulders. The sweet, flowery scent of her hair invaded his senses, and suddenly, all the emotions he had been afraid to feel came rushing back to him. He struggled to keep his composure. It would not do to break down in the middle of the Great Hall. He pulled her closer and took a deep breath of her sweet smelling hair. The flowery fragrance, which moments ago had broken down the walls he did not know he had built, now kept him calm. He felt her hold on him loosen, causing him to hug her even tighter.
"Harry," she said breathlessly after what seemed like seconds or years. It was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard. He tightened his hold on her. "Harry, I can't breathe." She choked more than said it.
Harry reluctantly loosened his embrace. He let go a moment later. He tried to step back, but Ginny's tight grip on his arms prevented him from completely pulling away. He rested his forehead on hers and looked into her eyes. How he missed that particular shade of brown. How he missed the way she looked at him. He never wanted to look away again.
I love you, he thought. And he almost said it too.
He fought for control over the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him. He felt joy and grief warring within him. He felt the pain of separation, the incredible relief that she was alive, the hope of getting back together, the comfort of simply holding her, the resolve to never ever let go again, and underneath it all, the faint stirring of desire.
Ginny's eyes reflected the turbulence of his feelings. She closed them, as though it was the only way she could control her own emotions. Her forehead creased, and a single tear trickled down her flushed cheek.
Harry's heart twisted at the sight of the lone droplet. He brought a hand up to the back of her head and pulled her to him. He kissed the teardrop away. She made a small noise, half-moan and half-whimper, and rested her hands on his shoulders. She kissed his cheek. He wrapped his free hand around her waist and kissed the eye that shed the single tear. She kissed his other cheek. He kissed her nose. She kissed the corner of his mouth, sending shivers down his spine. He kissed her forehead and let his lips linger there.
They stood that way for a long while, breathing heavily, their eyes closed, his hands on her back, her hands on his waist, his lips on her forehead. After several minutes, or it might have been days, they finally pulled away. Harry's eyes strayed to Ginny's lips—chapped, rosy, inviting. He swallowed hard and met her eyes, and he saw in them the very same decision he had made at that moment.
Not yet. Not here. Not now.
Harry pulled her close. Ginny laid her head on his chest. He rested his chin on her head and breathed deeply, taking in her flowery scent like it was an addiction he couldn't break out of. Truly, she was like the breath of fresh air that prevented his oxygen-deprived lungs from collapsing.
After a while, Ginny pulled away slightly. She stared at his chest, her expression impassive. And then, she broke out into a smile, a small one that didn't quite reach her eyes, but still a smile.
"It still looks good on you," she said softly.
Harry followed her eyes to his chest and noticed, for the first time, that he was wearing a dark green shirt with a golden talon design on the front. It was the Holyhead Harpies shirt she'd gotten him for Christmas on his sixth year to try and convert him to her team. She had kept saying that the shirt looked good on him whenever he wore it, and Harry, being totally smitten, wore it as often as the house-elves' washing schedule allowed. She had teased him mercilessly about it when they'd finally gotten together. It was an inside joke between them.
Something just between him and Ginny. Harry felt warmth spread throughout his whole body and slightly loosen the tightening in his heart that had been there since the death of his old headmaster. His voice cracked as he spoke.
"Did you—you were—were you the one who put these by my bed?" he asked, indicating his clothes.
Ginny nodded slowly. A lump started to form in his throat. She had made sure that he got clean clothes. She had cared for him. It felt so good, to know that she had cared enough to prepare clothes for him. And she had picked a shirt that meant something, however small, to the two of them. Harry blinked back the tears that were threatening to escape him.
"And the sandwiches?" he asked hopefully. He wondered if she had sat by his bed and stared at his sleeping form. He felt another surge of warmth at the thought.
"Kreacher made them," she said. Harry tried not to deflate. "He's changed," she added quietly, more to herself than to him, and then, "I placed the warming charm on them."
Harry felt the frail control he had over his emotions break. Ginny had taken care of him. She had placed clothes by his bed, and she had helped prepare his food. She, Ginny, cared about him. Tears started flowing from his eyes. He quickly brushed them away, thinking of how stupid it was to cry just because she placed a warming charm on his sandwiches.
"This is embarrassing," he told her honestly when he finally regained his voice.
"Everyone's staring at us," she replied in a whisper as she too wiped away the tears that had formed in her eyes.
Harry tore his gaze away from her and looked around. He suddenly realized that they were in the Great Hall and that, yes, everyone was staring at them. Even the Grey Lady, who was floating over one end of the Ravenclaw table, the features of her face arranged into a rare smile. Harry felt his face redden. He looked back at Ginny, her eyes shining, and he decided that everyone could stare all they wanted, he didn't care.
She gave him a small smile and he smiled back, meaning it for the first time in months. She took his hand in hers and led him to the Gryffindor table. Harry looked around at her family, particularly her brothers. If any of them had been surprised by the way he had just clung to Ginny, they didn't show it. Except for Percy—his jaw had dropped to the floor.
Mrs. Weasley let out a soft cry and suddenly jumped up from her seat. She pushed Harry and Ginny to their seats so that Harry was sitting between Ginny and Hermione. After that, Mrs. Weasley began piling toast, eggs, and sausages on Harry's plate, nearly knocking Ginny off her seat.
"Mum, Harry can get his own food," Ginny protested for him as she dodged her mother's elbow.
"Hush, dear," Mrs. Weasley said affectionately as she moved on to the bacon.
"I, er, I'm alright, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said lamely.
Mrs. Weasley ignored him too and continued to pile food on his plate, stopping only when he had a full English breakfast in front of him. Harry looked at Ginny, then at Hermione at his other side, and finally at Bill and Charlie from across the table. He realized, by the slightly amused expressions on their faces, that he had no choice but to eat everything Mrs. Weasley had put on his plate. He looked back at his food and realized that he was hungry. He hadn't eaten properly in days. He picked up his fork and immediately came to a dilemma. His right hand was still intertwined with Ginny's. He needed both hands to eat but heaven be damned if he was going to let go.
Ginny seemed to have understood his need for closeness. She pulled her hand away from his and, before he could get disappointed, slid closer and wrapped an arm around his waist. Harry smiled gratefully at her. She smiled back and kissed his shoulder. He responded with a kiss to her temple. Then he turned back to his food and started filling his stomach, all the while enjoying the warm feeling of her body against his.
AN: Many thanks to Felineyx (from Perfect Imagination) for beta-reading this story, and to midnightzrain for some beta-reading on the first chapter.