A Midnight Reckoning

A Harry/Susan Christmas one-shot. Past Ginny/Harry.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
"Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heaven's all gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

A delighted squeal, the stamp of booted feet as their owner gives chase, a nervous giggle before a silence that no doubt contains a great deal of snogging, and Harry Potter rises from his seat on the windowsill. He tries to slip away silently, but still manages to see that the couple is Neville Longbottom and Hannah Abbott, standing under a huge growth of mistletoe as they embrace.

He tries to hope the best for them, but he can't really remember what charitable thoughts feel like, so he gives up, and descends the stairwell that will take him out a side door and onto the grounds.

The sky is clear, the air is crisp, a soft white snowfall blankets the grounds, and it's Christmas Eve.

Harry is miserable.

He ducks back into the shadows as a group of younger students comes capering out, too young to be much concerned with romance and happy to be with friends on this December night. They all know recognize Harry on sight, of course, and it will be hard to keep away if they spot him.

As it becomes clear that they are content to stand outside the Entrance Hall for a while, pointing out constellations they recognize and telling funny stories about Yuletides past, Harry abandons his plan to head to the Quidditch pitch, and instead starts down the other side of the hill, toward the Forbidden Forest.

He isn't wearing a coat, and crisp becomes much more like frigid when a wind kicks up, blowing icy air into his face. The sensation reminds him of visiting his parents' graves the year before, and of course that's a train of thought he doesn't want to follow.

Like a child picking at a scab, though, he tears the wound open in his heart, and forces himself to relive that feeling of anguish he'd experienced when he learned the next day that Ginny had been killed, that those steps he'd watched her take on the Marauder's Map at the beginning of December was the last time he would ever see her. It was made even worse because it was far too dangerous to go to her funeral or to see her family.

Of course he couldn't go, but Hermione had still had to stun him to keep him from doing it.

She had been his rock throughout the long winter after they got the news, prodding him to keep searching for the Horcruxes, and comforting him in turn, even though Ginny had been her friend, too. But finally Ron found them, face older and a deep sadness in his eyes that Harry doubted would ever fully go away, but with the worst of his grief behind him and nothing but determination left before him.

He told Harry later that the way he saw it, he'd failed Harry, he'd failed his sister, and if he failed anyone else he would simply die. This resolution gave him strength, which he'd lent to Hermione when he'd returned, and Hermione had finally allowed herself to break down. But Ron had caught her, and protected her, and the two of them together became so much better, so much more than they had been separately.

Harry is bitter sometimes, that they have what he might have had with Ginny.

And in some sense, it's his fault that his girlfriend is dead, murdered in cold blood on Christmas, though of course he knows intellectually that there are at least a dozen other people to blame as well, starting with a boy who was once called Tom Riddle and working the way down past a handful of low-life Death Eaters and ending with Percy Weasley, who had made Ginny so angry at their Christmas dinner that she'd come storming into Diagon Alley and been overpowered by Death Eaters almost immediately.

Her death, Harry has been told, was mercifully quick, as she'd been attacked at once by over half a dozen Death Eaters who had all been so shocked and pleased to see a Weasley that each acted without thinking, and Stunning Spell after Stunning Spell had stopped her heart and stilled her lungs, and she was gone within thirty seconds of flooing in.

All the facts in the world don't help him when her death hangs over him like his own personal curse, and her haunted eyes and accusing stare haunts his dreams.

Sometimes, he still forgets that she is gone, and when he is walking the halls of Hogwarts he will instinctively search around for the girl with the long sunset hair who'd somehow managed to never be very far from him.

And of course Ron and Hermione are there, but they are too busy being strong and fragile all at once, and gentle bickering turns into soft words and caresses too often, and Harry finds himself alone, for the most part, since his best friends finally succeeded in convincing him to return to school for his final year.

Sometimes he regrets giving in to their arguments, but it's not like he'd be any better off elsewhere. The emptiness is with him wherever he goes, and the one place he might find Ginny again is also the one place he swore to his own dead mother not to intentionally follow her to.

The wind starts up around him again, and he shivers involuntarily, finally reaching for his wand to warm his clothes. He is at the crest of the tall hill that overlooks the Forbidden Forest, and figures he has wandered farther from the school than any other student will venture tonight. Lying down in the snow, he stares at the night sky above him before shutting his eyes and contemplating death.

He doesn't get far. He hears someone trudging through the snow behind him a few minutes later, but he can't find the energy to turn around and see who it is.

He doesn't open his eyes until he can hear someone step in front of him, and when he does, the first thing he notices is wisps of long, red hair being whipped in the wind, and his heart stutters before he remembers that Ginny is a year dead, and also, this girl has soft blue eyes, not chocolate brown.

"Hello, Harry," Susan Bones says, peering down at him from the depths of a thick brown coat.

He sits up reluctantly. "Hi, Susan. What are you doing out here?" He has been friendly with the red-haired Hufflepuff girl for years, something he can't say about many other students, who have been intermittently frightened of or hated him one time or another. He has never had had a conversation alone with her, though.

"Oh," she says, with a sad smile, "there was a bit too much good cheer going on in our Common Room, so I had to escape to be gloomy for a while." She tilts her head. "I could ask the same thing of you, especially as you aren't remotely properly attired."

"Same, I suppose," Harry shrugs. He hesitates, than decides to tell her the truth. Why not? "Everything these days makes me think of Ginny, so I try to get away and not depress others with my maudlin thoughts."

Susan winces in sympathy. "I heard about her murder, of course. It was horrible." She gestures to Harry's right. "May I sit with you for a bit?"

Harry glances up at her in surprise. "Are you sure you want to? I'm terrible company." He has been trying to keep his grieving to himself, to the point where he hasn't spoken to anyone besides Ron and Hermione in weeks. He's not much of a conversationalist these days, if he ever was.

Conjuring a blanket, Susan just smiles and lays out the yellow cloth next to him, sitting down gracefully. "Misery loves company, isn't that the Muggle saying?"

"What are you – oh, I'm sorry, Susan. I'd forgotten about your aunt. I'm really sorry." Harry feels like kicking himself. He knew Amelia Bones had been murdered a couple years ago, but somehow he hadn't made the connection that the woman had been Susan's aunt, and therefore very important to her.

She shakes her head at his apologies. "It's fine, Harry, it was a while ago and you've had a lot on your mind. But it isn't just her. I always get a little melancholy on Christmas, just wondering what it could have been like." At Harry's blank look, she clarifies. "To have parents. I mean, Auntie Amelia was wonderful, but I'd like my own mum and dad back all the same, you know?"

"Were you – are you an orphan?" he asks in surprise. He'd had no idea.

She tilts her head back to look at the night sky, voice seemingly calm. "My parents were killed a few months before yours were, in July 1981, as well as my grandparents, uncle and cousins. Everyone else here knows the story of my family." She glances at him. "Actually, I always wondered if you might say something about it to me, because both our families were hunted and killed by Voldemort."

He can vaguely remember Hagrid saying something about the Bones' family murder, but the memory is blurry and part of his other life, the one where Ginny was alive. "Susan, I am so sorry…honestly, I am one of the most dense people I know. I would have said something if I knew."

She shakes her head. "I believe you, Harry, no apology necessary," she says calmly. "It was just something I'd always wondered about, but didn't think I'd ever get the chance to ask."

"You can ask me anything, any time you want," he replies, confused. "You don't have to make an appointment or anything."

Susan just looks thoughtful, building up small piles of snow before she says, "Well, you're a tad intimidating, to be honest, what with the whole vanquishing the Dark Lord thing."

He laughs shortly, remembering Bill's wedding, when he'd lied and told Viktor Krum that Ginny had a big, intimidating boyfriend who would be dangerous to cross. He'd wanted so badly to be strong and powerful back then, to keep her safe.

"I'm sorry," he says, brought back to the present by Susan's curious expression. "It's just that I don't think of myself that way at all, despite what I would have liked once."

She grins. "Harry, in some ways I think most people will always be in awe, and a little frightened of you. Sometimes last year, when I would be scared, I would ask myself what you would do, and it helped." He swears he sees a blush spot her cheeks, which makes him force down one of his own.

To try to change the subject, he asks quickly, "What were you doing last year? When I saw you right before the Battle, it looked like you came out of the portrait, not from inside Hogwarts."

She nods. "I was with my Auntie Evelyn, my last surviving family member. If I'd gone back to Hogwarts, the Death Eaters there would have eventually realized I was Amelia Bones' niece, and probably tortured and killed me. So we were on the run for part of the time, and trying to take down Death Eaters and get information to the Order whenever we could – Auntie Evelyn works for the Ministry, too."

"Hermione and Ron and I were on the run, too." Harry says, remembering how miserable and tense they had been for so many months.

"You were doing something to bring down Voldemort, weren't you?" Harry is silent, re-living the pain, the fear, and the defeat he had felt so often back then. "You don't have to tell me, I'm just curious," Susan says, when he doesn't answer right away.

"No, no reason for it to be a secret now," he says, forcing the memories away. "Back before he gained power the first time, Voldemort split his soul and protected the pieces inside different objects, so we had to destroy them before we could kill him."

Susan shudders. "I knew he was evil, but splitting your soul – multiple times - is…unthinkable."

Harry nods. "And Voldemort protected the pieces really well, so it took us a long time to find them and destroy them, all the while trying not to be caught by anyone working for him. Ron refers to it as 'the camping trip from Hell' now."

Susan smiles at the nickname, but doesn't interrupt as he continues. "We were all so tense and worried all the time back then, and finally Ron and I had a row and he left, and not long after, well… I heard about Ginny." His throat tightens as he recalls the blur of days and weeks that had followed the news, of staring at the tent walls for hours, of Hermione abandoning her own grief at Ron's leaving to take care of him.

The pain comes crashing down on him again, and he shudders uncontrollably, and not from the cold.

"Oh, Harry." Susan's eyes are shining with tears. "And you had a war to fight, of course, and couldn't stop to grieve properly."

Harry closes his eyes. "Yes." He'd tried to shut out feeling anything as much as he could, but being able to love without reservation is his blessing and his curse, and he feels like his heart was buried with Ginny. "And now Voldemort's dead, but so is she."

He had walked willingly, almost eagerly, to his death at Voldemort's hands. He had wanted to return to Ginny, and, failing that, he'd wanted oblivion. Instead, he'd met Dumbledore, who told him Ginny was happy and safe, but wouldn't come to see him, as she feared she would influence him to choose death over life. She was right, of course.

He's not sure how much of the half-remembered conversation with the dead headmaster to believe, but he knows Dumbledore finally persuaded him to return, and he remembers preparing for the grief to hit him once he returned to life.

"I wanted to die so badly, back in the Battle, when I went to find Voldemort," he says in a hollow tone, finding himself telling Susan what he's never told anyone else. "I hoped it would make him mortal again, but I honestly did it for selfish reasons." Admitting the truth is surprisingly cathartic.

Susan bows her head and speaks softly after a moment. "There was a time, last spring, when my aunt and I were almost caught by some snatchers. All I could remember thinking was that Voldemort had finally won, that he had erased my entire family line as if we had never existed, never meant anything to anyone, and now it was my time to die. And I didn't even care anymore. I'd lived for years knowing I would be a target, and it was finally time. And I was so tired of being afraid that I wanted to die to end the fear."

Harry looks at her in amazement, the pretty, porcelain-skinned Hufflepuff girl with autumn hair who has always seemed so self-assured, so cheerful. He tries and fails to imagine her giving up. "What happened?" he prods, when it doesn't seem like she will continue.

"Oh," she says, fiddling with the end of a long, braided pigtail. "Well, I started using only offensive spells because I didn't want to go down without a fight." She swallows. "If I was going to die, I wanted to do it like my parents and Auntie Amelia would have wanted. So I was standing with my back to Auntie Evelyn, using the worst hexes I knew, and suddenly it was just me and my aunt surrounded by a lot of unconscious and dead snatchers." She turns to look at him directly. "And somehow, I came out the other side of that horror, and I didn't want to die anymore."

Harry doesn't know how to respond to that. In some ways, he would give anything to dull the pain he carries around with him from Ginny's death, but the thought of losing the pain also terrifies him. It's his last tie to a girl who once lived, whom he had once loved.

"I think of my family every single day," Susan whispers, almost as if she can read his thoughts. "And I'm melancholy around Christmas especially, because I feel lonely surrounded by people who are so happy. But I'm still glad I'm alive."

She looks so sad, and Harry suddenly realizes that he hates to see her without her usual smile. "I'm glad you are too," he says, and impulsively reaches over to squeeze her hand. "I would take the pain of everyone who fought Voldemort upon myself instead, if I could."

The smile she rewards him with is lovely. "I know you would, Harry, that's part of why I like you so much."

They sit in silence for a moment, just staring at the stars. The sounds of the other students playing outside have faded away, and Harry knows it must be quite late, if even the sugar-high younger students have gone to bed.

"Tell me about Ginny?" Susan asks, turning to him again. The look in her eyes is gently curious. "I know how she died, of course, but tell me how she lived. What did you love best about her?"

He can almost see Ginny's eyes flashing again, that look in her eyes she got when she was flying, the way she used to watch him when she thought he wasn't looking – something fierce and protective and possessive in her eyes – and how she blazed when she was furious or passionate about something.

"She was strong," he says softly, trying to put his whirlwind of thoughts and feelings and memories into words. "She knew me, and she wasn't afraid of what she saw. She loved me long before I knew I loved her." He swallows thickly. "She was a flame… she was beautiful."

Susan nods, watching him closely. "Do you think you could hold onto the love you felt for her, and all the traits that made her wonderful and unique, but let go of the pain a bit? The two don't have to go hand in hand."

"I don't know," he says hoarsely, imagining himself losing Ginny's memory forever. He holds himself stiffly, trying not to give into tears, but Susan's gentle touch on his arm almost makes him break down on the spot.

"I know how terrifying it is to feel like you might lose her if you loosen your hold on the pain, how it's better to have her memory and deal with the pain than to risk losing her," she says, meeting his eyes steadily, and he realizes in shock that tears are streaming down her cheeks.

She kneels in front of him, and her voice is calm as she continues. "But I promise you, Harry, there is not a force in the world, magical or mundane, that could make you stop loving her. So please, let go. Stop torturing yourself with her memory, and embrace it instead."

He tries to stand up, not sure where he's planning on going, but fear motivates him to get awayfrom the understanding look in her eyes, or he's not sure what might happen. But Susan grips his arms firmly, and he isn't as strong as he should be for some reason, and the misery and terror are building up inside him until suddenly his vision is blurry and he can't get in enough air, and tears are running down his face and Ginny is never, ever coming back and he wants to die right now and he can't breathe-

"Breathe, Harry, in and out, there you go. Let the pain wash over you, give in to it." Susan's confident words are far away, but he knows she is still holding on to him. He struggles, resists, and finally cries out in agony as he is swept away in their current. "Ginny, Ginny…"

The pain crescendos and plateaus for an agonizing lifetime as he shakes and sobs, and then finally, oh so slowly, the jagged knives of the worst of his grief slowly sink down and away from his body.

When he can open his eyes without feeling the need to start crying all over again, he is curled on his side in the snow, with Susan's blanket draped over him and the red-haired woman brushing his hair out of his eyes soothingly. Her eyes are red-rimmed, but her cheeks are dry, and she smiles at him. "How are you feeling, Harry?"

He isn't sure. His body feels strangely heavy and light at the same time, and there is an odd sense of emptiness in place of the constant pain he has grown accustomed to. He wipes his eyes roughly. "Strange. Empty."

She sits back on her heels to give him room to sit up. "The pain will come again, but it won't ever be as bad as the first time. But you have to give in to it, or it'll feed on itself and be much worse when you finally let it out."

"Okay," he says mechanically, still trying to come to grips with the absence of stabbing pain. The hole is still there, but it is much shallower, and isn't gaping.

"And do you still love Ginny?" Her teasing smile is gentle.

He doesn't even need to think to answer that. His love for her is clear and distinct, and as normal and as much a part of him as are his hands. "Always."

He feels embarrassment setting in, at letting go in front of this girl he hardly knows, and starts to apologize, but Susan cuts him off firmly. "No Harry, I'm grateful to you, for letting me talk to you and not having to be alone with my grief."

His response is cut off by a clear tone sounding across the grounds and echoing over the lake. "Midnight bells," Susan whispers happily when the first peal fades away, looking at Harry with eyes glowing in the moonlight. "I've never not been crying on Christmas Eve when I hear them."

The bell rings eleven more times, chiming across the heavy night with authority that somehow reassures and relaxes Harry. "I'm glad you're not crying," he says with a lopsided smile. "It might make me think I'm depressing company or something silly like that."

She laughs and reaches out to touch his hand. "I'm happy to be with you, no matter the circumstances." She blushes again. "I'm here for you anytime, Harry. Truly, it helps me as much, to know someone else understands what it's like to lose so many people you love."

The stillness expands again, and Harry embraces it, drawing the peace of the evening into himself. He wonders if Ginny can see him right now, but knows somehow that even if she can, her heart is big enough to want him to find happiness without her.

There is something beautiful about this night, now that he can notice anything besides his own grief. He looks at the girl who has come to sit out in the cold with him, and shared her secrets with him, and led him out of the darkness. She is sitting close, but not quite touching him as she sits with her chin on her knees and stares down the hill into the forest, the trees covered so thickly in snow that only bits of green peek out.

He crawls over to sit in front of her. Her lips and cheeks are rosy, like angels on Christmas cards, and her eyes are peaceful as she meets his gaze. "Susan," he says quietly, not sure how to put his thoughts into words.

"Call me Susie," she whispers back, a smile playing on her lips. "All my friends do."

Without thinking, he reaches out to touch her face with the back of his fingers, to feel the softness for herself, the smooth rise of her lips and cheeks. Without showing any sign of surprise, she leans into his touch contentedly.

How does he say thank you for everything and I want to help you, too and you deserve only happiness from now on and I want to make you happy and the million other thoughts that are running across his mind all at once?

He has no idea, and before he realizes what he's done, his lips are pressed against hers, and this time she does jump in surprise but kisses him back, somehow as softly and as warmly as her own personality. Easily yielding to his touch, she seems to melt in him, and a glow he never thought he'd feel again is re-kindled in his chest. Finally, he pulls back to breathe, and just stares at her as a wondering, pleased expression takes over her face.

He reaches out to interlace their fingers, and gently runs his hands over her hair with his other. It's similar to Ginny's superficially, but thicker, and copper instead of flame.

For the first time, he sees an expression of uncertainty cross Susan's face. "I know you aren't Ginny," he says quietly, and her startled look is enough to let him know he's guessed right. "I like you how you are."

Her smile is breathtaking, and he decides with the same impulsiveness but conviction that he uses to make all his most important decisions, that his goal from now on will be to do whatever it takes to make Susie Bones smile as much as possible.

He kisses her again.

And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!