Ginny's Gift, Chapter Twenty Nine
The first thing Harry became aware of was a golden light. It was pressing on his eyelids so that he did not try to open them. Was this what it was to be dead, he wondered, but that thought didn't last long, for the next thing he became aware of was a dull ache that seemed to resonate through every muscle in his body. He was sore, as if he'd been overtaxing himself, sorer than he'd ever remembered being in his life. And if he was this sore, he couldn't be dead, could he?
But that didn't make any sense. The last thing he remembered was a killing curse. He couldn't have survived that again, could he? What if it had all been a bad dream? What if he hadn't really defeated the Dark Lord? That thought shook him. He actually had no idea if he had managed to defeat Voldemort, to cast him into the void forever, as he'd intended. He'd felt the power go out of him, but he hadn't seen whether or not he'd succeeded. There was nothing for it. He was going to have to open his eyes and find out.
He immediately closed them again, and purplish spots swam beneath his eyelids. There was some sort of light shining down on him, as if there was a lamp suspended over his bed. For he knew he was in a bed now. He could feel the crisp texture of the sheets beneath his hands, and his head was resting on a soft pillow. The feathers inside it gave way against his cheek as he turned his head to the side.
He tried opening his eyes again and saw nothing but a blank white screen. He must be in the hospital wing, he realised. What did that mean? That he'd done something to hurt himself and had a nightmare? Or that the school was safe? Was the fighting even over?
There was no way to tell. He was utterly alone here, it seemed. There was no sound coming from the ward, nothing to indicate that anyone else was even here. Perhaps he was dead, after all.
But how had he managed to come here? And where were the others?
More images were coming back to him now. He'd left Ron, Hermione and Ginny back at the barricade. The other Gryffindors had been there, too, he now recalled. Every single sixth and seventh year Gryffindor had been there, along with most of the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs and Draco Malfoy, the lone Slytherin. What had become of them all?
He tipped his head back slightly and saw his glasses lying on the bedside table. Next to them was his wand. Someone else was here, someone who had removed his glasses and retrieved his wand from the battlefield. He ignored his wand for now and reached for his glasses. He put them on and pushed himself gingerly into a sitting position. He'd had it in his head to get out of bed and go looking for Madam Pomfrey, but the simple act of sitting up told him that walking was probably not a good idea at the moment.
Then he turned his head to the right and saw that he wasn't alone after all. Ginny was sitting in a chair, dozing. Her neck was bent at a very uncomfortable-looking angle, propped on her hand as it was. Her hair was in a tangled disarray about her head, while her robes were creased, torn and dusty, as if she hadn't changed them for days. Harry sent a silent prayer of thanks to whatever deity might be listening that Ginny was all right, even if she was exhausted and dirty.
As he watched, her head lolled further to the side, until it slipped off her hand altogether, and she jerked awake. Her expression changed faster than Harry had ever seen it do in the past, going from groggy to surprised to joyful to concerned in the space of an instant. Then she'd flung her arms about him and was hugging him fiercely while she whispered, "Oh, thank God," over and over. Harry felt his throat go tight as he returned the embrace, ignoring for the moment the sharp pain in his chest at the contact. Both of them were shaking. Hundreds of questions were racing through his mind, and he couldn't voice a single one of them.
Ginny pulled back at last and looked deeply into his eyes, as if making sure he was real. "Are you all right? How do you feel?"
Harry tried to reply, but his voice didn't seem to be working properly. All that would come out was a funny croaking noise.
"I'll get Madam Pomfrey. I won't be a minute," Ginny said, and then she was gone.
Harry wished she hadn't gone for the matron. He could feel as if everything was going to be all right as long as she was sitting on his bed, holding him. But as soon as she'd left, doubts came rushing back.
It didn't take long for her to return, the matron bustling in behind her. Harry thought Madam Pomfrey's eyes widened in surprise for a moment, but then she was all business, sending Ginny to wait beyond the screen while she poked and prodded. She opened the top of his pyjamas and moved his talisman to one side, while she undid a large bandage and rubbed some salve into the tender skin. Looking down Harry could see a burn on his chest the exact size and shape of his talisman. It has been branded into his very skin.
At last the matron seemed satisfied. "I never thought I'd say it," she said, and there was something akin to awe in her tone, "but beyond that burn, I can't find a single thing wrong with you."
Harry's mind protested that statement. Yes, there was indeed something wrong with him, but he didn't say a word in reply. He wasn't sure he wanted to voice it aloud yet, and besides, his voice wasn't working.
"I imagine you're thirsty," Madam Pomfrey remarked.
Harry nodded. He was parched. He was also ravenous, but he couldn't say anything.
The matron disappeared behind the screen, and soon Ginny returned with a pitcher and a glass on a tray. She poured him a glass of water, and he reached for it, desperate to gulp it down.
"Not so fast," Ginny said. "You have to take it slowly if you want it to stay down. Your stomach hasn't had anything in it for three days."
Harry almost choked on the water, which he'd been forcing himself to sip. He could see it was dark in the rest of the ward—it must be night time—but he'd assumed it was the same night as the battle he remembered.
"What?" His voice had finally started working. "What happened?"
Ginny looked at him sharply. "Don't you remember?"
"There was a battle in Hogsmeade, and Voldemort was there…"
Ginny was nodding.
"…and by all rights I ought to be dead."
He could see she wasn't entirely comfortable with this statement, since it implied that her talisman had worked beyond all hope. And yet Voldemort's hadn't saved him, had it?
"Gone by all accounts."
"What happened?" he asked again, hoping she could tell him.
"I don't think anyone knows that, exactly. Professor Lupin…" Ginny still insisted on calling him that even though he hadn't been their Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher for four years. "… saw something. Perhaps he'll tell you in the morning."
Harry finished his glass of water and held it out so Ginny could refill it. At least Professor Lupin was all right. And Ginny. But he still didn't know anything about anyone else. "What about the others? Are they okay? Ron…"
Ginny was nodding. "Ron and Hermione are both fine. They've been sitting with you too. We've been taking turns between that and helping Madam Pomfrey."
That seemed to imply that there had been a lot of wounded. "What about Sirius?"
"Also fine. Professor Lupin can tell you about him, too."
"Bill? The twins?"
"And everyone else?"
"…he's dead. I know."
"And Professor Sinistra, and Professor Grubbly-Plank. And there were a lot of injuries, but the worst is over. Madam Pince is pretty badly off, but she should pull through. Viktor Krum as well…"
"And the students who fought?"
"Miraculously, none died." She paused and looked at him. "Harry, what did you do?"
Damn, she'd seen past him. He'd wanted to keep her talking so she wouldn't ask him about that. "Can it wait? I don't think I'm ready to talk about it yet."
"You found the spell we were looking for, didn't you?"
"Hermione did, actually."
Ginny looked as if she wanted to pursue the subject, but Harry was grateful that she didn't. It was going to be bad enough telling everyone later, but he was only going to explain it once, he'd decided, so he'd wait until Ron and Hermione were present too.
Ginny reached across the blankets, picked up his hand and squeezed it. A silence full of unasked questions fell, and Harry wasn't completely comfortable with it. Finally he sought to fill it. "Ginny, you look exhausted. Why don't you try to get some sleep?"
She was shaking her head. "I'm not going anywhere."
"You're not going to get any proper sleep in that chair," Harry pointed out.
"There aren't any beds in the hospital wing, and I'm not leaving you."
Harry made to get out of bed.
"Where are you going?" Ginny demanded.
"Switch with me."
"Madam Pomfrey will have my hide if I let you get out of that bed. What's wrong?"
The movement had made Harry wince. "Nothing, nothing, I'm just a bit sore."
Ginny looked sceptical. "You're not going anywhere."
Harry shifted over and patted the mattress beside him. "Come on, we've done this before."
Ginny looked down at her dirty robes in consternation.
"It doesn't matter," Harry told her.
He'd allow himself one last night with her. In the morning they'd all know; they'd learn he'd be leaving them and why. She climbed in with him, and he wrapped an arm around her shoulders while she rested her head against his chest, being careful to avoid the centre where his burn was.
"Do you want to tell me?" he asked after a while.
"Tell you what?"
"What happened from your perspective."
She seemed happy to lie next to him so they could hold each other, as if she knew instinctually that this would be their last chance for such closeness. She fell asleep at some point, but Harry lay awake while he silently raged against the unfairness of it all.
The nature of the light was changing gradually, almost imperceptibly. Dawn was going to break soon, but Harry could not welcome it. Ginny had been sleeping quietly in his arms for hours now, while he'd lain and stared at the walls trying to work out how to tell them all. Ginny and Ron weren't going to be happy with him, he realised, once they'd learned he'd been keeping a secret from them for the past two months. So be it, he thought. It might make the parting easier in the end.
Harry shifted uncomfortably. The water he'd drunk earlier was making its presence felt, and he was going to have to do something about that soon. The trip to the loo wasn't going to be an easy one, but it was better than the alternative.
Carefully, so as not to disturb Ginny, he eased his way out from under her. Then he rolled out of bed and stood stiffly. His muscles protested against the activity, but he gritted his teeth and forced a foot forward. Holding onto the bed for support until he felt steadier, he took step after painful step until he'd made his way around the screens that hid his bed from the rest of the ward.
He'd been put in a corner away from the other beds for maximum privacy. The hospital wing was fuller than he'd ever seen it; every bed was occupied. There was enough light in the room for him to see that much—besides the light that shone over his bed behind the screens, the room was dark and the shades had been drawn, so that the light of dawn could only penetrate in cracks around the edges of the windows. He could not make out individual faces, however.
Thankfully, he was not on the opposite end of the ward from the loo. The space he had to cross seemed bad enough, but in the end he managed it. On the way out, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror and paused. Would he look any different? He could see no change. His eyes were as green as ever behind their glasses, and his hair was all on end. The scar sliced across his forehead. It was obvious he'd been laid up for a while. There was several days' growth of stubble on his chin and cheeks, but the mirror hadn't said a thing to him.
Instinctively he reached for his wand… and froze.
He began to shake and gripped the sides of the sink to steady himself while he swore quietly under his breath.
A knock on the door made him jump. "Harry, are you in there?" Ginny's soft voice intruded on his anger.
He fought with himself until he thought he could make his voice come out normally. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."
"Well, are you all right? I don't think you're supposed to be out of bed just yet."
Harry smiled grimly, his reflection in the mirror twisting grotesquely, as he remembered last Christmas when their situations had been reversed. "Look who's talking." He hoped the edge to his voice wouldn't pass through the door.
"Well, if you need anything…"
"I'm fine… Sorry," he began again more gently. "Be out in a minute."
He had to get a grip, he told himself. She was going to know something was up otherwise. But he couldn't get a grip. He was shaking more violently now, and he wasn't sure his legs were going to support him much longer. His eyes were beginning to sting, and he could now see that the green eyes of his reflection were bright and watery. He had to look away.
Ginny knocked again. "Look, I don't care what you're doing in there; I'm coming in."
Harry wanted desperately to tell he he'd be out soon and not to bother, but his voice had stopped working. He was powerless to stop her in any case.
In the next instant the door burst open, and Ginny was turning him so she could take him into her arms. Harry could do nothing to prevent his tears from coming then, and he lost track of how long she held him and rocked him while she whispered soothing words in his ear. By the time his sobs had subsided, they had both sunk to the floor.
Harry pulled away, but he suddenly found he couldn't look at her. Those brown eyes of hers were shining with unshed tears of their own and watching him with concern and confusion. They were going to haunt him as it was.
He busied himself with removing his glasses and wiping his eyes. "Sorry," he mumbled.
"Harry, what's wrong?"
He couldn't tell her; he couldn't look at her. He turned away and stood, none too steadily, more anger and frustration beginning to surface over the fact that he wasn't even going to be able to make it back to his bed without help. Why did he have to be so bloody weak? He hated it.
"Harry," Ginny's voice was taking on a pleading note, "don't shut me out, please. Tell me what's the matter."
"There's nothing you can do even if I tell you, so what's the point?"
She didn't reply right away. She had to be processing everything she'd just witnessed. "Harry, I've never seen you like this. It scares me. Please tell me what's happening."
The sadness and fear in her tone was tearing at his heart. He had to do something, anything to get her to stop, or he'd blurt out everything, and then it would all be over. "Just stop it, all right?" he shouted at her. He knew he was being harsh and unfair, but he thought if he could make her hate him it would be easier in the end. "I'm not going to tell you! Just… just go away and leave me alone!"
Her eyes went round with shock and confusion, and he could tell she was working very hard not to cry in front of him. "Harry…"
"What's going on here?" Madam Pomfrey had been alerted by the noise and was standing in the doorway glaring at both of them. "This is a hospital! And what are you doing out of bed?"
Harry had the impression that the matron really wanted to lead him back to bed by the ear. As it was, she took his arm imperiously and practically dragged him back behind the privacy screens, muttering under her breath the entire way. She made him get back into bed, and then Harry was alone. He hadn't expected Ginny to follow after the things he'd said, but it hurt all the same.
Harry was left alone then. All around him, he could hear the other occupants of the ward begin to stir, and he could hear them speaking in low voices. From the sound of things, Madam Pomfrey still had help in looking after all her charges.
At one point he recognised Ginny's voice on the other side of his privacy screen. She was talking to a patient who answered in a slight accent, making Harry realise she was talking to Viktor Krum. He couldn't make out what they were saying to each other; there was too much background noise in the ward.
Ginny did not come back to see him, and he wasn't sure how he felt about that. It was best this way, he told himself, but his heart told him he needed to apologise for this morning and tell her the truth.
It was late in the afternoon before he had any visitors. Suddenly Ron and Hermione appeared around the screen followed by Remus Lupin.
Ron was grinning. "Hey, mate! We'd've come in earlier to see you, but Madam Pomfrey said you weren't up to visitors yet."
From his demeanour, Harry could tell that Ginny hadn't said anything to Ron about his behaviour this morning. Hermione, on the other hand, looked a lot more serious. Harry forced himself to smile at all of them.
For a minute, no one seemed to know what to say, and then everyone was talking at once. Hermione had to shush them to keep Madam Pomfrey from coming and throwing them out. Then the three of them were looking at Harry expectantly, and he knew they wanted to hear his story. He didn't feel ready to say anything yet, so, as he had done with Ginny last night, he asked after Sirius, Bill and the others.
"They're all fine, as far as I know," replied Lupin. "Sirius isn't here though. He spotted Pettigrew and took off after him. But I'm far more fascinated by something I witnessed four days ago now…"
And he told them how he and a few others had been in the thick of the fighting when Voldemort himself had appeared. The Hogwarts professors had just arrived on the scene, and Dumbledore had stepped forward to take on the Dark Lord. Their duel had been long, but in the end Dumbledore had been bested, and the Dark forces had taken a great deal of courage from his downfall. The Order's lines had splintered, and many had begun to flee. But then Harry had appeared out of nowhere, and everyone had seemed to freeze where they were to watch.
"I was too far away," Lupin told them, "to hear what Voldemort said to you, but then there was an enormous burst of light. It was too bright to look at, but when it disappeared, Voldemort was gone. I could see you lying on the ground, Harry, and I saw one of the Death Eaters standing over you. He had to have performed the killing curse on you. No other spell causes a rush of green light like that. But it rebounded. I saw it bounce off you. It reflected back on the person who had cast it. We later saw, when we came to take you from the field, that it was Lucius Malfoy. You had a blasted wand in your left hand, but it was a second one. Your own wand was intact in your right hand."
Lupin stopped here, obviously wanted Harry to explain what had happened. He could explain part of it, anyway. "I guess my talisman worked to turn back the killing curse. That has to be it. I've got a burn mark from it. But there's something I don't understand… If my talisman was strong enough to turn back the killing curse, why didn't Voldemort's work to turn back the spell I cast on him?"
"Talismans are strange things sometimes," Lupin said. "A lot depends on the maker's frame of mind and their intentions when the talisman is created. The talisman also has to be created of the maker's own free will."
"But Ginny agreed to make Voldemort's talisman. We were all there and saw her agree to it."
"But it wasn't really made of her own free will, was it?" Hermione said. "She only agreed to it so Malfoy would stop torturing Ron. She agreed under duress. It's not as if she had any real choice."
"I think that's sufficient to explain it," agreed Lupin. Then he paused, and Harry felt once again the pressure to explain the spell to them.
"Please," he said instead, "can you tell me what happened during the rest of the battle? Is it even over yet?"
"Yes, it's over. A great many on Voldemort's side lost heart when he disappeared, and they stopped fighting. Or perhaps they'd been under his control somehow. Others became desperate and fought harder. The Weasley twins were obliged to blow up a few more buildings. I'm afraid there's not a lot left of Hogsmeade. And a contingent from the Ministry finally turned up. We managed to round up a good many of Voldemort's remaining supporters. The Dementors were driven back. I think the explosions took care of the giants…" He trailed off. "Now that I've satisfied your curiosity, I'd like you to satisfy ours and tell us about the spell you used to defeat Voldemort."
Harry knew they weren't going to let him put it off any longer. "I don't want to have to say this more than once," he began.
Lupin interrupted. "You're going to have to tell this story more than once, Harry. The press is going to be clamouring for it."
"There are parts of it I'm not going to tell to anyone else."
"Shouldn't Ginny be here for this?" Hermione broke in.
"Ideally, yes, but…" And she would be if I hadn't been such a prat, Harry finished mentally.
"I'm here," a new voice said. Ginny was standing at the end of the bed. She had to have been in the ward and overheard. Harry looked at her, but she did not hold his gaze for long. She wasn't pleased with him, and he couldn't blame her.
"What I tell you now does not leave this room," Harry said, looking at Hermione, who took the hint and cast a Silencing Charm over the area. Then Harry told them about how Hermione had found the text they'd all been searching for, leaving out the detail that she'd been checking up on Ron. And he told them how they'd both sat up in the common room until she'd translated the page and realised that it told them the means by which the Dark Lord could be defeated.
Harry stopped here and looked at each one of them in turn. Then he took a deep breath before continuing. "The spell involved a sacrifice on my part." He heard Ginny gasp, but he ignored it. "When I cast it, I lost my magical powers. I'm a Muggle now."
There, he'd said it aloud for the first time.
Dead silence followed. Then suddenly Ginny burst out, "Hermione, how could you? How could you have possibly known and not told us? I thought you were my friend! How long have you known this and not said anything?"
Hermione had gone pale in the face of Ginny's anger. "Two months," she said in a small voice, "but…"
"Don't be angry with Hermione," Harry broke in. "If you're going to be angry with anyone, be angry with me. If she never told anyone about this, it's because I made her swear to keep it quiet."
But Ginny wasn't quite finished with Hermione yet. "Even so, how could you possibly have sat on something this… this big?"
"I'm sorry. You don't know how hard it was!" Hermione was beginning to sound upset as well. "All the times I wanted to say something… But put yourself in my shoes! What would you have done?"
Ginny didn't reply, but she kept on glaring at Hermione.
"Are you sure about this, Harry?" asked Ron, trying to bring the discussion around to something more productive. "Have you even tried to see if you can't do magic?"
"I don't have to, Ron. I felt the power leave me." He didn't add that the mirror hadn't responded to him this morning—by all rights it should have called him scruffy—but he'd taken that as a sign.
"Isn't there anything you can do?" asked Ginny. "There's no way to get it back?"
Harry shrugged. He had no idea.
Remus Lupin was shaking his head. "I've never heard of a spell that could restore someone's powers once they were lost. If it existed, I don't think there would be Squibs."
Hermione was biting her lips. "What about Voldemort? He lost his powers the first time you defeated him, and he got them back, somehow."
"That would have been through Dark Arts," Lupin pointed out.
"He didn't utterly lose his powers, either," said Harry. "Mostly it was his body. I remember dreaming he killed a Muggle before he ever got his body back, and it turned out to be true. He still had some powers. I have none."
"I still say you ought to try," said Ron.
"All right, if it'll make you happy."
Harry raised his hand to his face, which was still covered in several days' growth of beard. He felt strangely emotionless as he reached for his wand. He'd spent his emotions earlier with Ginny. He pointed his wand towards his face and said, "Imberbus."
Nothing happened. Ginny cried out, but Harry felt nothing.
Hermione, however, did not look convinced. "Oh, Harry, there just has to be something. Just let me have a look in the library…"
"What's the point? No, don't waste your time. It's better this way. When Madam Pomfrey lets me out of here, I'll just leave." He looked around at everyone's shocked expressions. "What? Maybe the Dursleys will have me back now. I won't be a freak to them anymore." He'd been attempting to joke but only succeeded in sounding bitter.
"That isn't funny, Harry," Hermione scolded over the others' exclamations.
"That's bullocks, Harry, and you damn well know it!" cried Ron. "You're coming back to the Burrow with us, and that's all there is to it. Mum'll have kittens if you just up and disappear."
"What good is that going to do me?" demanded Harry. "What good will it be to me to stay in a world where I can't function?"
"You're not exactly equipped to fit into the Muggle world, are you?" Hermione pointed out. "What are you going to do, apply to a university based on your NEWT results?" Hermione stopped, horrified, at what she'd just said.
"Then why did you insist I take the bloody things?"
"So you'd have something to show for yourself! I'm sorry, Harry, I didn't mean that to come out that way, but… You do see what I'm saying. You were meant to live in the magical world. You'd be better off at the Burrow."
Harry was beginning to feel angry again, but Remus Lupin broke in at that point, using a reasonable tone that should have had a calming effect on Harry. "I think Hermione's right. You ought to go to the Burrow. You'll be surrounded by people who love you, and they'll help you accept…"
"I don't want to accept," Harry grated.
"You'll be better off there than alone, trust me."
"Just what do you know about it?"
"Your situation really isn't that much different to someone who's just been bitten by a werewolf. I was too young when it happened to me to remember that well, but I've seen plenty of others since. Yes, you'll feel angry at first, and you'll feel like you're going to be shut off from the world you're used to, but those who truly love you won't turn their backs on you, and they won't want you to leave."
Harry tried in vain to tune him out. He didn't want to be told how he was feeling, even if Lupin was getting it right.
"In time they can help you come to accept…"
There was that word again. "I told you I don't want to accept!" Harry shouted.
Lupin didn't even flinch. He looked as if he'd been anticipating Harry's reaction. It infuriated Harry all the more.
"Then we'll leave it there for now," Lupin said. "You think about what I've said."
Ron and Hermione looked at Harry sadly before following Lupin out of the ward, but Ginny lingered. Harry stared at her belligerently.
"I only have one thing to say to you," she said. "I understand your actions this morning now. In fact, I understand a lot more than you may think."
"How could you possibly understand?"
She raised her chin a notch. "I'm sorry you feel that way." And then she walked out, too, leaving him completely alone. No one had thought to remove the Silencing Charm, so now Harry didn't even have the bustle of the ward to distract him from his thoughts.
Harry soon found out that what Remus Lupin had told him was perfectly true. He was having to repeat the story of how he defeated Voldemort over and over. He had a fairly steady stream of visitors, mostly staff and students. Harry was glad to see his fellow Gryffindors had all made it through the battle safely. The Minister for Magic dropped in to hear the story, too. Although it was irksome to have to reply to the same questions over and over, it did help to relieve some of the boredom of having to lie in the ward all day. Harry drew the line at Daily Prophet reporters, however. He refused to speak to them for now, even though he knew he was likely to be hounded once he'd left school.
He remained in the hospital wing until the very last day of term. Instead of a Leaving Feast, this year would find the Hogwarts staff and those students who had remained at school memorialising those who had died in the final battle. Harry was not looking forward to it, because he knew he'd be the centre of attention. This was the reason he'd remained in the hospital wing rather than return to Gryffindor Tower.
On the night before he was to leave school for the last time, he had trouble sleeping. The ward was almost empty now, although he thought Viktor Krum was still there. That night he'd finally managed to doze off when quiet voices woke him up.
"Ginny, don't go yet," he heard Viktor Krum's voice call softly. Ginny was apparently still helping Madam Pomfrey out.
Footsteps echoed through the room as Ginny approached Krum's bed. "What is it?" he heard her reply.
"I owe you an apology, Ginny."
"What makes you say that?"
"A lot of this mess is my fault."
Ginny laughed quietly. "How do you reckon that?"
"It's partly my fault you were kidnapped last Christmas."
"You were being controlled."
"Yes, and I should have resisted! What sort of Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher can't even resist the Imperius Curse?"
"Not everyone can."
"I've been working on it. I can usually throw it off now."
"That's good, Professor Krum."
"Please, it's Viktor. I resigned, remember?"
"All right then, Viktor."
"Anyway, I'm sorry for my part in all this."
"I forgive you."
Harry listened to her footsteps retreat across the ward, but then they halted abruptly and started coming back. Something told Harry she was coming to check on him, and he didn't think she'd appreciate him listening in on her conversation with Krum. She'd been distant enough with him lately. He knew he owed her an apology, as well, for all the hurtful things he'd said and done to her lately, but the words wouldn't come, and he had no idea why. So he took the coward's way out and pretended to be asleep.
He heard her approach and could literally feel her presence at his side. He shivered as he felt the feather-light touch of her hand on his cheek. Then her lips brushed his forehead. She might be avoiding him at the moment—and he couldn't blame her for that one bit—but she still loved him; he could sense it. The idea shook him to the core as he listened to her footsteps fade into the night.
The next morning Harry left the hospital wing and went back to Gryffindor Tower for the last time. He'd have to pack his trunk quickly so that it would be ready to leave with him later on. Those students who had remained at school would be taking the Hogwarts Express back to King's Cross. Hogsmeade station and the railroad had apparently only sustained minor damage and were still serviceable.
He found Ron waiting for him in the boys' dormitory, his trunk already packed. Ron had made a start on Harry's things when Harry came in.
"You don't have to do that for me," he said to Ron.
"I don't mind," Ron replied. He'd just picked up Harry's Firebolt.
"You might as well keep that," Harry said.
Ron looked at him sharply. "Rubbish, Harry. Besides I've already got a broom."
"Ginny can have it then. Maybe she'll make the Quidditch team next year."
"Harry, stop it!"
"Why? Why should I? It's only the truth that I'm never going to need that broom again!"
Ron looked as if he wanted to keep arguing, but there voices coming from the stairwell. Harry grabbed his Firebolt out of Ron's hands and tossed it carelessly into his trunk. Then he left the room without another word.
He went back down to the common room, where he'd be forced to think about something else. He wasn't going to cry about this again. What was done was done, and no amount of tears was going to change the situation.
He found Hermione there looking pleased with herself. "Partial NEWT results," she announced.
Normally the seventh-years would have received all their results before boarding the train home, but the battle had pre-empted that. Harry took the piece of parchment Hermione handed him. As expected he had no results yet in Potions, Astronomy or Care of Magical Creatures. Divination was there, however, and he hadn't done half badly, considering he'd invented a great deal of the answers on his exam. Transfiguration was better than expected, too. But the biggest surprise was Charms, not for the mark, but for the signature next to it. The tiny Charms professor had clearly signed "Filius Zog Flitwick". Harry forgot his pique at Ron for a moment as he went to show him he'd been right about Dr Zog's identity all along.
Reality came crashing back soon enough, however. All too soon, it was time to say goodbye. Before Harry knew it, he, Ron, Hermione and Ginny sharing a horseless carriage and disembarking at Hogsmeade station. The sight of the village was sobering. The station itself was one of the few buildings left standing.
"They'll rebuild it," Hermione said before they boarded the train.
They had no trouble finding a compartment to themselves as there were so few students taking the train home. Thankfully, Draco Malfoy did not pay them a visit, as he had done all too often in past years, although he certainly could have. Harry had caught a glimpse of him as they'd all boarded the train.
No one said very much for a good bit of the journey. Harry sat and wondered what he was going to find waiting for him at King's Cross. Although he'd said in the hospital wing that he only wanted to tell the full story once, he knew he was going to have to tell the Weasleys about losing his powers. They were sure to notice. Harry had acquired a beard over the past week, since he didn't have access to a Muggle razor. He could imagine Mrs Weasley's reaction to him even now.
And then there was Sirius. He'd owe an explanation of his lack of powers to his godfather, as well. Except Sirius had gone after Pettigrew, and Harry didn't know when he'd see his godfather again. That explanation would have to wait.
As they disembarked from the train, Harry experienced a moment of panic. What if he could no longer cross through the barrier into the station? He remembered the mirror in the hospital wing and its lack of reaction to him. What if the barrier worked on the same principle, sensing, somehow, his lack of magical ability? He wouldn't have a hope in the world of keeping his secret if he remained stuck on Platform 9 3/4.
But somehow luck was with him, and he passed through with no problem. It may have helped that he crossed through next to Ginny. Sure enough, Mrs Weasley was waiting for them on the other side, along with the twins, who had moved home until Zonko's could be rebuilt. Mrs Weasley gave him a big hug, saying, "We're all so proud of you, Harry, dear, but don't you think the beard is just a bit silly?"
Then they seemed very anxious to whisk Harry out of the station, and he could soon see why. A flock of reporters, led by none other than Rita Skeeter herself, was waiting to descend on him. They hurried through to the Ministry car, which the Weasleys had been lent for the drive to Ottery Saint Catchpole.
Once they were all safely packed into the car and on their way, magically melting in and out of the London traffic, Harry muttered to Hermione, "I thought you'd made her agree to quit."
"Only for a year, and she only agreed to quit printing nasty lies. She's been behaving herself, really…"
"Well, I don't trust her an inch."
"Don't worry," said Fred, who had overheard. "She won't get anywhere near the Burrow. We'll see to that."
Harry certainly hoped so. He hated to think what Rita Skeeter would make of it if she learned the truth. He decided he was going to take extra care to squash as many beetles as possible this summer.
And now bear with me for the obligatory long author's note and thank you section:
This story has been growing on me ever since I first planned it out. I think in its original conception it was supposed to be ten chapters long, more or less, and end before everyone went back to Hogwarts. I also remember thinking when I was writing chapter fifteen, that I had about ten left to write. OK, so I was off by four chapters.
A story this long is never written alone. I owe a huge debt of thanks to J. K. Rowling and to J. R. R. Tolkien for elements used in this story. I also owe Monty Python for their outrageous humour that I was able to reference.
My beta readers have never failed me. Each of the following gave me help and advice along the way, and each one is an author in his/her own right. Check out their work if you haven't already:
Amy, Firebolt909, Harpinred, Imogen, James Bow, Magoo, and Maid Marian
Finally thank you to all of you who took the time to comment on my story. This list is necessarily incomplete, since I can only list those who have reviewed up to the day I posted this, the last chapter. If you reviewed and I managed to miss you, please know I appreciate the feedback just as much.
…, :), a2y, Adiddle, Agawa, Allie, Amanda, AmandaSaturnVenus, Amy-Jennifer, ancarett, Andrea, angelmonkey, Anie, animegirl-mika, Anjerla, Anne, Aowin, Ara Kane, Arabella Figg, armadillo123, arne, AuroraBlack12345, Autumn, Azura Angelique (Gothic Angel), B4zookaJules, Bianca White, Behemian Flower, biggerstaffbunch, bionca, BlinkMe182, Blue Eyed Athena, Blunder, Bob, Bob the Fish, Bored Beyond Belief, Brooke, Bucky, Budgiebird, Bumblebee, Cactuskitty, Cadenza, Caitlyn Mc, Canadian Eh 308, canus lupa, Carissa Lynn, Carrie, carrie, Casca, Casual Reader, Chelsea, Chloe Grace Potter, Chris Bast, chryslin, Ciara Moondagger, claudia, computergod, Cranberry27, Cygnus Crux, Cythen, DanielRadcliffeLover, Dazlgal186, dcpgirl, Diana, EdinaBrya, Eleanna, Elehayym, Elizabeth, Ellen, elvenprincess, Enforcer, Estrella, Fehrlyevil Queen of Darkness, The Fierce Diety God of War, Firebolt909, Fire-Fairy, Flying Silver Arrow, freshangelicbabe, Gabnif, Genny, genesis, Giesbrecht, Ginny Potter, ginny192646, Goggle Boy, Gogirl, GracieKat, GreenEyes13, gundamhardcore, Gunsmoke Tea, gwe4, Haley J. the Bat, happythoughts, Harpinred, Harry, HarryandGinny4eva/Twilight, Harry JustnotPotter, Heather, HerbieWerbie, Hermione (OliverWoodsGrrl), histastrea, hottie hermione, Irina, J, Jacktacular, Jamie, Jatoza, Jay, Jayce, Jelsemium, JemJ, JennaMae02, Jennifer, Jennifer Lupin, Jillian Rumbaugh, Jknee, Jme13, John Carr, JR, Julephenia, Jules, Julie Fisher, Justina, kaitlyn, karen, Karen (Crookshanksthecat),Katie Bell, keara, Keira Aislin (Gem Trance), Kell, Kelly, Kelsey, Ken, Kim, Kiyomisa, Kris the Intrepid Geek Queen, Krista of Star Tess, Kristy, Krysta, kvader, Kyizi, kylesmom, LadyChi21, Lady Greene, Lady-Nimoe, Lady of Quidditch, Lady Yuy, Lana Potter, Lavendar Brown, Leanne, Leesie778, lenore Dictyn, Leslie, Lila Mae, Lilac, lilacbearry, Lily515, Lino Dragon, livic88, Liz, Liz N, Liz Needles, LJH Potter, LmiC2001, Lyrelle, Madame Snuffles, Maddy, Mag, magoo42, maidmarian62, MagicalMichiefMaker, malaleen, Malfoy Malfoy, may, me?, meggiesweet12, Meisako Pyoko -Chan, MeltedDreamer, mERERY, Merusa, Michelle Ravel, Mina Potter, MoonysMistress, moosesincanada, Mugwump87, nathin, natural_sorceress, Newt Scamander, Nickey, no name, oceangirl6781, oceansun, oliverwoodfreak1, Omniscient, Onedergirl, Ookil Mamoru, oybolshoi, Pandora, Patriot Chick, patipati22, Peachie Aki, Pemberly, Pete (Campbell), Professor Jewels, Professor Jo, pub, Queen of the Fairies, queenrandom, Rachel, Raspberry Grease Monkey, Rhyssa, Rileigh465, Rogue Angel, Rohan, Ronniekin's Sweetheart, Rosanna Eleanora Nemes, RosieG, Ryuko DragonHalf, Sarah Graham (dcpgirl), SarahS, Satine Catie, Sayian Prince, Schnickers, SeaS, Sherylyn, shimmerystar, Silver Plume, Siognee, Slytherin Mudblood, SparrowChildHermione, Spiffy Chan, sportybill, Starbuckx, StealASockStealAHeart, StephanieCook, Stephie, stormyfire, sunnycouger, sunsethill, Super says-Jin Gotan, tankeboy45, Taryllin, Tari, The Charmed One, The Miserable, TheStek, ThomasJ, TigerLily, tolkienite, Tomato Soup, underdoghp, Usako, usakoesm, Valerie, Videl86, Viper2005, Waldomier, WeasleyGirl12345, WeatherWitchandMetalMage, weeeeeeeee, Will, wmlaw, WN, wsl, Xellos77, yenttirb
Look for a sequel coming soon. Yes, there will be one. I don't know how long it will end up being, but hopefully it will be as satisfying and fun to write as this one was. Cheers, and please let me know what you think!