Ginny stumbled through the corridors, barely registering the smashed statues, torn tapestries and crumbling walls. The war was over, so why did she not feel the relief she had been anticipating? There should be shouts of joy and celebration. She should feel happiness. But there was nothing. She simply felt exhausted, worn out. And then there was the drum beat in her head, pounding a deafening rhythm in her ears . . . Fred . . . Fred . . . Fred . . .
There were no tears. There were no cries or sobs. There was no expression or emotion. No words. Her mind was blank. She felt nothing. It was as if her ability to think, to feel, had died with her older brother . . . There was no life behind the chocolate brown eyes. A numbing sleep had settled in her brain.
Ginny did not realise where she was going until she found herself crossing the Gryffindor common room. There was no one here – everyone was still down in the Great Hall celebrating – and the circular room was filled with cold morning light. The common room seemed untouched by the battle, and Ginny could barely believe that it was here she used to sit, surrounded by her friends and brothers, laughing without a care in the world and nothing on her mind apart from homework. Fred had fed first years Fainting Fancies here. She had sat over there by the window with him, laughing as he'd tried to finish his History of Magic homework. She'd comforted him when he was thrown off the Quidditch team. Had it really only been three years? It seemed like three hundred.
At the foot of the boys' staircase she paused – what was it she was here for? But then, she didn't really need to think about it for very long.
Ginny pulled open the door, ascended the staircase and entered the first dormitory at the top. There were five four-poster beds in here, each hung with heavy crimson curtains. Out of these five beds only one was occupied. She could just make out the shape of a tall, thin boy beneath the covers, and a mop of very messy, very dirty black hair protruding from underneath. Kicking off her shoes, Ginny flung herself onto the bed beside Harry, pulled the covers over her and promptly fell asleep, the blankness washing her out onto a dreamless ocean of silence.
. . . . .
When she awoke it was very dark in the dormitory. Rolling over, she realised that the curtains had been drawn and the hangings around the bed pulled shut. Ginny turned her face to Harry, whose emerald eyes were open, and was smiling wanly at her.
"Hey," he whispered.
"Hey you," Ginny replied.
She raised her hand to his face, and then touched the tips of her fingers to the tips of his. He twined his fingers through hers and twisted their hands around so he could kiss the back of hers.
"Sorry," he said.
"Me too," said Ginny. "Stay with me now?"
"I promise," Harry replied, and kissed her mouth softly. She sighed and relaxed, too exhausted to relish the moment.
After a while, Harry said, "We should talk. Y'know, about everything."
"Yes, but not now," she agreed. Just the thought of reliving those hours of panic made her feel exhausted and weary. "It's too tiring," she continued.
He nodded in agreement. "We've got ages."
Ginny sighed again and sank into the pillows. She did not feel happy or sad. She simply felt tired. She thought, I'll see Fred tomorrow. I'll tell him never to die again. She rolled back over and Harry wrapped his arms around her, clinging to her as if they were a pair of spoons. Ginny dozed in and out of consciousness, always aware of the second heartbeat next to hers.
. . . . .
When she next woke it was light again. She yawned and Harry hugged her close to him.
"How're you feeling?" he asked her.
"Dunno," was her honest answer, "you?"
"Same," he replied.
They lay there for a moment, their bodies warming each other.
"I think I'm in love with you, Ginny," Harry said softly.
"I think I'm in love with you too," Ginny replied.
He hugged her even tighter, and kissed her behind her ear. "Marry me?" he asked.
"OK," she said. "That'll be nice."
And for the first time in – oh, she couldn't remember how long – she smiled. She could feel him smiling into the back of her neck, and he kissed her again softly.
"But," she said, "We have to finish school first." She realised as she said this that she wasn't ready to leave Hogwarts; she had to get her NEWTs, finish everything properly . . .
"Ginny," he whispered, "I don't think I'm coming back to Hogwarts next year."
He felt her tense and propped himself up on his elbow to look at her face. It was screwed up, as if she was in pain.
"You're leaving me again," she said.
"No!" he insisted. "I'm not, I promise, I love you Gin. It's just that . . . I think I'm done here. I don't know how I can come back to this. But I'll come and visit you whenever I can, I promise you Gin. I think I'm going to get a flat in Hogsmeade, so I can see you on Hogsmeade weekends or whenever I come to see Hagrid, or to talk to McGonagall. And I'll write to you every day, I promise. But I don't want to come back here. I'm not sure what to do now; I need time to figure it out. I think I want to get a job so I can earn some money and buy us a house. That way you can come and live with me as soon as you've finished school, if you'd like. And we've still got all summer before you have to come back, remember?" he added.
"Yeah . . ." Ginny said, relaxing a little. "I know what you mean." She rolled onto her back so that she was gazing up at him, and continued: "I just thought that maybe we'd have another year of school together, y'know? But you've gotta do what's best . . . Only you know what's best for you, OK?"
He kissed her mouth gently and settled back into the pillows, hugging her close to him. She breathed in deeply and said to him, "We're getting married."
"Yeah," he said. "Mrs Ginny Potter . . . how does that sound?"
"Good," she said, "It sounds good."