The Beginning of the End
A/N: I had this epilogue planned from the very beginning of this fanfic. I never thought I would make it here, but alas! Here I am. I'd like to thank everyone who has reviewed this fic, be it by email, at our forums, at ff.net, at FictionAlly. Your words of encouragement and praise have truly inspired me. I hope you enjoy the ending!
Three Weeks Later
The clattering noises of people eating along with the loud hum of chatter trickled from the Great Hall into Hogwarts' Entrance Hall where Harry was standing at the doorway, taking one last peek inside the room. It was the same as when he'd made his retreat five minute ago — still packed to the brim with students, teachers, ghosts, and their respective families. It was a celebration at Hogwarts tonight, and as Harry observed it from afar, he thought it looked as though the entire wizarding world was in the room. His eyes landed on his own table, which sat all the Weasley's, Sirius and Hermione and her family. They were still talking, now laughing at something Fred was saying.
Harry wouldn't have been able to laugh at the joke had he still been sitting at the table. It was part of the reason he'd disappeared with a quiet word to Ron and Hermione. He didn't want them to wonder why he wasn't laughing. He hated seeing his friends worry, but mostly he just couldn't take the pressure of it anymore.
Harry had discovered over the past few weeks that freedom was a very tricky thing.
However, despite his lack of enthusiasm for the feast, and because Ron's words had been very convincing ("Look, mate, just think—tomorrow we'll be on the train out of here—no more Defense Against the Dark Arts, no more Transfiguration, no more bloody homework—ever!"), Harry had dressed himself in his dress robes and shut his mouth. He'd eaten a very delicious dinner and had actually managed to hide the tension that was a permanent resident in the pit of his stomach. He did a good job of it; at least Ginny had thought so. During dinner, she'd smiled at him from across the table in a genuine sort of way—with no traces of pity at all. It had encouraged him.
On a sigh, he turned away from the Great Hall and pushed through the heavy doors into the warm summer night. It was a beautiful night, Harry admitted to himself. In fact, the weather over the passed few weeks had been glorious as if even it was finding reason to celebrate.
Harry took the long way to his destination, around the forest and Hagrid's cabin, coming out on a clearing at the back of the castle and heading down the pathway. At last, he reached the place and stepped onto the smooth grass of the Quidditch pitch. It looked so different at night—he was used to seeing it on a bright sunny day, with the house colors blurred throughout the stands. But he hadn't seen that in…well, years… how odd that the memories were still as fresh as yesterday.
Harry didn't even hesitate—he mounted his Firebolt and took off. The rush was the same as it always was… freedom… escape… the good kind. He flew around and around, through the hoops, outside the boundaries, and then further away, over the castle, the lake, and back around. He didn't know how long he flew… he didn't keep track of the time.
How funny it was—when he was up in the air, the anxiety, the confusion, seemed so far away. His troubles always left him when he flew—even though he knew that when his feet touched ground, reality would hit and the carefree rush from flying would be almost foreign to him.
Since that night, Harry didn't feel like dealing with the constant looks from people. The whispering, the pointing. He was quite used to it of course, and knew it would always be a part of his life. But he didn't have to like it—and he was allowed to go away from it.
Nobody knew the entire story. The morning after the attack Dumbledore had announced to the school that Lord Voldemort had been defeated—that the spell cast by Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter and the headmaster himself had vanquished any and all evil that had been present in the castle. He'd made Harry, Ron and Draco stand at the head table, beside him and accept special awards for service to the school.
Nothing more was said about that evening—and people were still curious. Some wondered to themselves or in their groups of friends; those people were the ones who gave the looks in the corridors and then whispered to their friends in obvious ways. Some had the gall to ask Harry strait to his face what had happened. Harry said nothing of course and Ron took every opportunity to tell off the people who were too brash with their questions. Hermione had even tended rather curtly to a few random inquiries.
The memory of that had him smirking… and then the picture of Ron during Voldemort's attack rose in his mind … refusing to leave Harry's side… risking his life to pay Hermione's debt. Dumbledore had called Ron a true hero. Foolish as it seemed, Harry couldn't help but want to burst with pride at that.
Harry angled his broom to the right and flew to the castle, rising higher and stopping to peer inside the window of Gryffindor Tower. He was very high up; he could see the gates to Hogsmeade. The reconstruction of the town would begin soon. Mr. Weasley had said that they should all feel privileged to be able to see it being rebuilt. Harry had to admit that he was sort of eager to witness the beginnings of that, even though he would always remember everything about the old shops.
Harry wanted to go back to the pitch so he took the long way again, but flying the course was far more enjoyable than walking. Once he reached the stadium, he closed his eyes and pretended he was in the middle of a game—Gryffindor was winning, of course, but it was all up to him. He saw the snitch fluttering over one of the goal posts and took off towards it; he arrived in mere seconds and reached out into the air. Harry held up the invisible snitch and flew in a wide circle; he could almost hear the cheers. It was such a bittersweet feeling knowing he would never play here again… never see the crimson crowds rushing onto the field after a victory, or hear Hagrid bellowing, "GO HARRY!" from the stands. He looked over to the Gryffindor stands—and saw something to make a warm feeling flutter through him.
Ginny smiled at him. She was sitting in the very first row with her elbow perched on the ledge and chin propped in her hand. "Hey."
"Hey," he said, flying closer. "How long have you been out here?"
"Not long," she said, but she lifted her head. "I hope I'm not, I mean, do you want to be alone or—"
"No, no," he said quickly. "Stay."
Ginny smiled again and Harry noticed how her eyes crinkled when she did. After a few seconds of silence, she leaned over the edge and peered at the ground. "I never realized how high up these things really are. Funny thing to notice now, after all the times I've sat here."
"Who did you used to sit with when there was a game?" Harry asked. "I can't remember sitting with you when Gryffindor wasn't playing."
Ginny shrugged. "Mostly Sarah and the other girls. Hermione always made me too nervous, and I never cared much for Ron during Quidditch season."
Harry laughed a little and it occurred to him quite suddenly how pretty she looked. It wasn't the first time he'd thought that tonight, but it was the first time he found himself blurting it out.
She went pink and looked away, only to look back at him a second later. "Thanks."
He flew a bit closer, so that he could lean against the ledge as she was. "Are those… new robes? I don't remember ever seeing them before…" Harry felt his own face grow a bit hot and then he panicked—what if they weren't new robes—what if he'd seen them dozens of times only he'd never noticed before?
"Yes, they're new. George got them for me, believe it or not."
Harry looked surprised. "George?"
"Yes, see, over the summer, when we went to Diagon Ally for our school materials, I stopped in Madam Malkin's—well, it's a long story really, but to make it short—"
"Don't make it short. Wait." He flew into the stands and dismounted, taking a seat right next to her, setting his broom down. "You stopped in Madam Malkin's," he prompted.
Ginny was a bit taken aback, but she smiled and continued. "I stopped in Madam Malkin's and well," she looked rather sheepish all of a sudden. "I usually don't do this sort of thing, except I had some time before I had to meet you and Ron and Hermione, so I tried on these robes. Anyway, one of the designers really liked the way they looked on me. Sally Hunter."
Harry's mouth dropped open. "George's new girlfriend?"
Ginny smiled and nodded. "Yep. Only she's not his "new" girlfriend… they were together back then, but they kept it a secret for some reason. Fred told me George would disappear from the store for hours at a time and he finally figured out that George would go to see her. Anyway, back to the point—when Sally heard I was… sick, she showed George the robes and I guess he was feeling generous."
Harry nodded; he'd cast his eyes to the side, unable to look her in the eye at the mention of her being sick.
"They're really nice."
"Thanks," she said, watching him.
Harry tried to shake the vision of her in the hospital, unconscious and not waking up… he tried to force himself to remember that it was over now… it was over.
He saw that Ginny was looking at him with one of those looks that seemed to read his thoughts.
"What are you thinking, Harry?"
He smiled despite himself. "Funny… I thought you would know."
She looked at him curiously. "What makes you say that?"
"Well… you always get this look when you're about to give me advice or… tell me that you know how I feel…"
She narrowed her eyes in thought. "Do I? How is the look?"
"You - want me to imitate the look?"
Ginny nodded, so he sobered and leaned forward, looking at her very seriously. Ginny's mouth tilted up at the corners and before Harry knew it he was grinning. Ginny broke the gaze, giggling, and Harry shook his head on a laugh.
"That looked nothing like me," she declared.
Harry lifted his brows. "How do you know how you look?"
"I know. I've looked at myself in the mirror before."
"Yes, but never when you're giving me advice."
She grinned and turned to the pitch again. Harry watched her in silence, something so comfortable about the way he was able to sit with her. His stomach was in knots—but that didn't have anything to do with his tension over the end of the war. And even though there was a hint of unease in the air, Harry knew that it wouldn't be there forever. He let his eyes travel from the smooth grass fields to the goal posts, banners, all the way up to the sky and the stars. He realized that he wasn't fearful about the future. Then he looked at Ginny, sitting quietly and gazing out at the castle.
He inched closer to her and bent over the edge. "What's so interesting out there?"
She turned to look at him; their heads were very close. Harry had a mad sort of urge to reach out and touch her cheek where her freckles were.
Ginny smiled, her eyes looking suddenly timid. Harry was rather startled at that—she hadn't been shy around him in ages.
"Nothing," she said in a soft voice, looking at the sky again. "I'm just thinking."
" 'Bout what?" he asked, leaning his shoulder against hers.
"About… what we're going to do this summer."
"I dunno… nothing?" she suggested.
"You know," he said, thinking about it. " 'Nothing' sounds really nice. Play Quidditch."
"Sleep till noon," Ginny said in a dreamy voice.
"Sleep…! What's that?"
Ginny laughed softly. "You'll get reacquainted once we get home."
"Home…" Harry said, thinking of the Burrow… and oddly enough Privet Drive.
"Yes… home. Mum will cook us lunch… and then we'll decide if we want to go into London or if we want to stay round the house. That is, you and Ron will decide if you want to play Quidditch or not."
"And? What will we do in London?"
"Well, you and Ron will probably spend hours looking at the new brooms, but Hermione and I can occupy our time with something else while you do that—"
"Try on dress robes?"
"Something like that. And we can get ice cream like last summer and… do nothing…"
Harry heaved a sigh. It was sounding very nice to him. "Sirius is getting a house."
Ginny looked at him again and their faces seemed even closer. Harry could smell her hair.
"Really?" she asked, smiling into his eyes.
He nodded, a foolish smile of his own tugging at the corners of his mouth. "We're going to start looking for one soon. We'll finally get to, you know, be a family."
"I'm happy for you."
"So am I." Even as he admitted it, there was that jolt of panic at the thought of leaving Hogwarts.
"It's over, Harry," Ginny was whispering.
She really could read his thoughts. "I know… everything is over…"
"I know it may not be a good thing right now… but it will be. You'll see…"
"I just—" he broke off on a sigh. "It's all ending so fast."
"Some things have to end," Ginny said quietly. "They make room for new things."
Harry looked at her. "New things…"
She nodded, her eyes very quiet on his. They seemed to know everything he was thinking… feeling. There was something inside him that was so scared to take the next step with her, but another part of him, the part that knew the fear would fade away, knew that it was right for him.
Harry kept his eyes on hers and leaned forward slowly, closing the small space between them. He stopped when his face was only a fraction from hers and looked into her eyes for what seemed like an eternity. This was right… he could feel how right it was… He bent his head closer still … heard her sigh when his nose nuzzled hers… felt her eyelashes flutter against his cheek as her eyes slid closed… He could smell her fresh scent, felt her fingertips touch his jaw lightly, leaving his skin tingling. Harry brought his hands up to cup her face and her eyes opened to look into his once more… then both their eyes slid closed as he kissed her, gently at first, then with a strength born from the ache spreading inside him. He found it so simple… but so earth-shattering at the same time.
Ginny sighed when he pulled back and when she opened her brilliant brown eyes; his insides seemed to hollow out. He could see the depth of her feelings there and it floored him how deep they went… especially since he could see exactly the way he was feeling right at that moment.
She made a little noise and Harry didn't know if it was a sigh or a laugh—maybe it was both because he thought he saw a ghost of a smile on her face. It took a while to find his voice and when he did, he spoke hoarsely.
A glint came into her eyes. "No…" she breathed and let her head fall on his shoulder. Her voice trembled slightly as she spoke in barely a whisper. "I was just… thinking."
" 'Bout what?" he whispered back, leaning forward to smell her hair again.
"Summer," came the muffled reply against his shoulder.
"Mmm…" He felt a smile pull at his mouth. "Think of anything more we can do, then?"
She lifted her head to look at him and her eyes were full of mischief. "I'm sure we can come up with something… Actually, I was thinking about last summer…"
"What about it?"
"Well, I was just thinking… how different it will be… if you come to stay."
"I've already thought of that, actually." His voice was tinged with humor.
"Yes. I predict that it will be very…" he trailed off, trying to think of the right word.
"Different," she supplied.
She smiled and a little blush touched her cheeks. "Good different."
"Very good different," he muttered and then leaned forward to nip at her mouth. Harry thought of something then. "I've never thanked you, Ginny."
"For what?" she asked, looking up at him. She looked so adorable… her eyes a bit stormy from the kiss, her brow furrowed in confusion at his statement.
He cleared his scratchy throat. "For everything you've done for me this year."
She swallowed and started to speak, but he cut her off. "You were there… and it meant a lot… more than a lot, it was—"
"Harry. I know."
He looked at her… and nodded.
"Everyone's probably wondering where we've got to."
"Let them wonder," he said without thinking.
Ginny laughed and sighed when he bent his head closer. "They'll be worried."
"So…?" he muttered, not wanting this to end. He was nuzzling her neck, breathing in her scent… and didn't know if he would ever have the nerve to do it again.
"Come on," she whispered, giggling a little and pulling him to his feet with her. "We have all summer."
Heaving a sigh, Harry gathered his Firebolt and followed her down the steps of the stands. "All summer. I s'pose we do."
Ginny held his hand as they walked, but when they got to the edge of the pitch, Harry stopped.
"Wait. I'm… I'll be right up, okay?"
Ginny looked at him. "Okay," she said simply and started to walk away, but Harry found himself tugging on her hand and pulling her close to him again.
After Ginny left Harry just stood there, his eyes roaming over the castle, the pitch, the greenhouses, Hagrid's Hut. This place had been new once… and it had been the best thing to happen to him. Perhaps even better things were waiting out there. His eyes fell on Gryffindor Tower… where Ginny was headed and Ron and Hermione probably were… and suddenly Harry couldn't wait to get up there. He found himself smiling as he walked back to the castle with thoughts of Ginny's summer plans.
As he climbed the steps to the castle, the doors opened and Harry stopped when someone emerged… Draco Malfoy. For a moment, the two boys simply stood there looking at one another. Then Draco nodded slowly and stepped aside, holding the door. Harry nodded as well and walked through without a word. Inside, Harry took a deep breath and turned back to the doors, thinking suddenly how different things might have been. The thought saddened him…and made him feel incredibly fortunate.
Then, Harry turned at the sound of his name to see Nearly Headless Nick was floating at the entrance to the Great Hall and smiling broadly at Harry. Behind him, Harry could still hear the murmurs of talking and rattle of silverware as everyone finished dessert.
Nick straitened his ruffle. "Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger were looking for you. I suspect they've gone to Gryffindor Tower by now."
"Thanks, Nick," Harry said, lifting his hand and turning towards the stairs. Feeling very content all of a sudden, he took the steps two at a time, and made his way up to Gryffindor where his friends—his family— were waiting for him.
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