"Ginny? Will you come with me?"
She didn't flinch at hearing his disembodied voice, nor at the sensation of an invisible hand taking hers. She just turned away from her brother's body, wordless and tearless, and followed him out of the Great Hall, down to the first empty classroom they came across. Ginny turned to shut the door, and when she turned back, he had pulled off the Cloak and was looking at her with a fierce sort of desperation in his eyes.
She looked at him, really looked at him for the first time in a year. He was thinner, and he had been thin to begin with. His hair, rather than sticking up in its normal wild fashion, was plastered to his skull with sweat, grime and yes, there was blood there too, though he didn't seem to have noticed. His clothes were scorched and torn, his skin the same. He looked as though he had spent a year on the run, and Ginny suddenly wondered if she would ever understand what that had been like.
"I'm sorry," were the first words he spoke. "I'm sure you want to spend time with your family."
But he had no family, not anymore, not yet, and Ginny came forward slowly and wrapped her arms around him, careful to avoid hurting him. He took no such care, clutching her to him like a lifeline, burying his face in her hair as she pressed hers to his shoulder.
He was whispering something into her hair, and it took her a minute to work out that he was saying sorry.
"What on earth are you apologising for?" she whispered back. "You did it, you're back, and everything can go back to normal now."
"I left you," he murmured, ignoring everything she had said.
"You had to," she reminded him. "I don't know what you were doing all year, but-"
"No," he interrupted. "I meant tonight. When I left the castle."
She looked up at him, not really wanting to ask. "Why did you do it, then?"
He opened his mouth to answer, then shut it again. Ginny watched the pain on his face turn to frustration.
"Can't you tell me?" she asked.
"Yes, now he's gone, but it's... well, it's beyond a long story."
She felt she should ask, but couldn't. She didn't know if she could deal with any more tonight. It was enough to know that he would tell her, sometime soon. There would be no more secrets.
"Later, then," she told him.
He nodded once, then drew back as if bracing himself. "I should go back out there."
It wasn't fair that he of all people should still have more to do, but Ginny knew that he couldn't relax. Not yet. There were addresses to be given, people to be evacuated, bodies to be...
"No," she said aloud. "That's not your job. Nothing's your job now. Kingsley's the Minister - let him organise things. And McGonagall. Just let me find my parents and let's go."
For a second, he looked blatantly shocked.
"Seriously," she said. "You need to get away from this."
She could see him fighting over the idea in his head. She took his left hand - it seemed the least damaged.
"We'll tell McGonagall or someone, and then we'll get out of here. Just us. You can get cleaned up and sleep. Please, Harry. For me."
"Grimmauld Place," he said, and she nearly smiled. She had won. But then he paused. "What about Fred?"
She swallowed against the wave of grief. "We'll go home tomorrow. Just let's take one day, just for you."
He closed his eyes. She wondered if he realised that his glasses were cracked.
"Alright," he said. "Alright."
"Great," she said. "You stay here, or they'll mob you again."
He nodded, and as she retraced her steps to the Great Hall she thought that she had never seen him so quiet. He was such a natural leader, even if it was only Ron and Hermione whom he was leading. It unnerved her to see him like this.
Once in the Great Hall, she went straight to Professor McGonagall. It would be easier to argue with her mother if she had some official backing.
"Professor," she said, interrupting the woman from repairing one of the Hall's fabulous windows. "Harry and I are leaving. We're going to Grimmauld Place for a night."
She refrained from asking permission.
McGonagall considered Ginny with a stern eye. "Without your family? Or perhaps Miss Granger?"
"He needs time alone. And I think Hermione would rather stay with Ron."
McGonagall smiled a little, twisted smile. "I suppose a year on the run was good for those two, in the end."
Ginny wasn't actually sure if the two of them were indeed a couple yet, but it didn't matter. Technically she and Harry weren't a couple, but that was hardly going to stop her.
"Very well then, Miss Weasley. I'll inform Minister Shacklebolt and anyone else who might ask that Mr Potter is not available for comment."
Ginny grinned. "Thanks, Professor."
"And do be careful, Miss Weasley. There are still people out there who would very much like to see the end of Mr Potter."
Ginny supposed she was right. She just hoped that the Death Eaters wouldn't be making Harry their top priority at the moment. And if they were, hopefully they wouldn't know about, or be able to get into, number 12.
She didn't say this, but nodded, and turned to find her family. They weren't difficult to see: if the red hair weren't enough of a beacon, Molly Weasley's desolate cries would do the trick.
They presented a perfect tableau of grief. Clustered around Fred's battered form there knelt George and Mrs Weasley. Molly had Fred's hand in hers; George simply stared at his twin's face. He wasn't disbelieving - too much time had already passed for that - but he did seem as though he couldn't quite accept the fact that half of him wasn't there. Behind him, Charlie laid a hand on his shoulder, trying to get him to move up and away, to eat something perhaps, to live. Next to them all, Arthur Weasley sat on a bench, staring at his hands as if he blamed them for not protecting his children well enough. Percy stared from the sidelines, still an outsider. Bill and Fleur weren't there, perhaps already working on the reconstruction of the real world. Ron had disappeared, too. Probably with Hermione, avoiding facing the dead brother he hadn't spoken to in a year.
Ginny screwed up her eyes for a second before marching resolutely past her brother's dead body.
"Mum," she said, loudly enough to break through her mother's sorrow.
Molly simply grabbed her in a hug. Ginny hugged her back for a moment, but she felt cold like she never normally did when her mother hugged her. This wasn't helping anyone.
"Mum," she said again. "Me and Harry are going to go to Grimmauld Place. Just for the night."
"What? No. Ginny, I need you here."
"No, you don't, Mum. Harry needs me there."
"Professor McGonagall said it's okay," Ginny pressed. "And Mum, he's grieving too. But he can't do that with everyone pulling at him."
"He can come with us," said Molly immediately.
Ginny prepared to argue back, but stopped when her father stood up and stepped in.
"Let her go, Molls," Arthur said, in a voice so weary that she almost didn't recognise it as her dad's.
Molly turned to this new opponent. "But she can't go off! She's sixteen!"
Always the age argument.
"She'll be with Harry. If there's one person I would trust her with right now, it's the man who defeated You-Know-Who."
She felt an odd surge of pride and annoyance at that. Did they really want to put that pressure on his shoulders as well? Right then, she thought that she'd rather take care of him.
Molly gave way, silently, turning back to her twin sons. Arthur turned to face his daughter.
"You come back to us tomorrow. No excuses."
He looked at her, then cupped her cheek. "Well done, Gin," he said softly. "You look after him."
He turned away, and Ginny realised that he was more the head of the family than she had ever previously believed him to be.
It was Ron, dragging Hermione by the hand.
"Where's Harry? He said he was going to find you."
Had it been any other time, she might have been offended that Ron didn't ask her about herself first, but right at that moment, she was merely grateful that someone else was putting Harry first.
"He's in the Charms room by the Entrance Hall. We're going back to Grimmauld Place for the night."
"We'll come with you," Ron offered immediately.
Ginny shook her head. "You need to stay with Mum. She hasn't seen you all year."
Hermione stood between the two of them, awkwardly. "Should I leave?"
Ron held her hand tighter. "No. Stay with me, please?"
Hermione visibly softened in a way that Ginny didn't think she had ever seen her do before. "Okay," she acquiesced. "But Ginny's right - you need to go home, Ron."
The rest of the conversation didn't matter to Ginny; she knew Hermione would win. She turned to go.
"Ginny?" Hermione said. "Thank you."
They shared a smile. "You too."
And so they parted to take care of their boys.
Back in the Charms room, she found Harry sat on a desk, playing with his Invisibility Cloak. He ran the material through his fingers, studying it almost. He looked up when she closed the door behind her, half his hands invisible.
"Is it alright?"
She smiled. "Yep. Let's use your cloak and go down to Aberforth's pub, then we can floo."
"I doubt Grimmauld Place is connected to the Floo network anymore, to be honest," Harry said. It was the longest sentence she'd got from him so far. "I can take you Side-Along though."
She frowned. "I thought you didn't have a license."
"Oh, er, I don't. I'd sort of forgotten about that, actually. I can do Side-Along, though. It's been kind of useful."
When? Where had he needed that skill? What had happened? Ginny stopped herself asking. "I believe you. Anyway, I highly doubt that Kingsley's going to tell you off about it."
It was the first time they'd touched, however lightly, on the subject of how this would change his life. Would he have to take his NEWTs at all? Surely the Ministry would accept him into the Auror training scheme on the basis of his experiences alone.
But that was the future. Leave it to tomorrow.
"Okay, then. Let's go."
He held out the Cloak and she came to stand next to him as he swung it over the two of them. It didn't quite reach the floor, and Harry pulled her closer to let the material fall straighter. He left his arm wrapped around her waist as they emerged from the castle.
The grounds, like the building, looked battle-scarred. Huge gouges had been scooped out of the earth, possibly by spells, possibly by giants or some other type of creature. Trees were smouldering at the edge of the Forbidden Forest as they passed by. An Acromantula corpse lay in the middle of the path, legs curled in agony to its body. Which side had done that?
Harry didn't seem to react to any of it. His breathing was even, if a little laboured. His pace never wavered. Such stubbornness must have been vital in order to walk towards Voldemort.
Only once did they pass a human body. A Hufflepuff sixth year, who hadn't been brave enough in the end.
"Jonathan Hodgkins," Ginny said. "I sat behind him in Transfiguration."
She pulled out her old DA coin from her pocket, pointed her wand and set the message.
"Someone will come for him," she said, and left him behind.
Soon enough, they reached the wrought-iron gates and the boundary of Hogwarts land. The gates were twisted out of shape, the Hogwarts crest unrecognisable, and one set of hinges had been entirely blasted away, leaving a gap between brick and iron. It was through this gap that Harry and Ginny now stepped, out into a fiery orange morning.
"Best stay under the Cloak," Harry said. "Here, take my arm and hold it tight."
Ginny did so, hoping she wasn't aggravating any injuries on his wand arm. With his left hand, he held a fold of the Cloak.
"Okay, ready?" Trust me?
Ginny had travelled by Side-Along Apparition before with her parents, and she was glad she had, because Harry landed them exactly on the top step outside number 12, Grimmauld Place. Had she been any less experienced, she reckoned she would have overbalanced after the disorientating sensation of being pulled through a very thin tube.
"Let me go in first," Harry said quietly.
Ginny half-wanted to protest - she was capable of taking care of herself - but then she remembered who she was with and subsided.
In a sudden flurry of motion, Harry had opened the door with his wand, pulled Ginny inside and behind him, and cast, "Homenum revelio."
Nothing happened. He relaxed. "We're alone."
Ginny sighed with relief as he pulled the Cloak off them, but then jumped back as a cloud of dust rose from apparently nowhere, becoming a horrific spectre evidently supposed to be Dumbledore's body and rushing at them.
"We didn't kill you," Harry said, quite calmly.
And just like that, the figure disappeared.
Ginny gasped. "What in Merlin's-"
But before she could go any further, she felt the horrible sensation of being choked as her tongue seemed to roll itself up of its own accord. She panicked, but Harry came to stand before her.
"It's okay, it's the curses Mad-Eye set up for Snape."
Even as he was explaining, her tongue unrolled itself. She breathed heavily. "This house just gets more and more welcoming."
He cracked a grin and she couldn't help grinning back. She waved her wand to light the lamps and gasped all over again.
"What's happened here?"
The hallway was clean. Oh, it was still as grim as it ever had been, with the troll's leg umbrella stand and the row of house elf heads mounted on the wall, but the thick layer of grime that had covered everything the last time that Ginny had been here had gone.
She looked at Harry, who was smiling. "Guess Kreacher kept the place ready for me to come home."
"Kreacher?" Ginny asked in disbelief. "I thought he hated everyone?"
But a loud crack rent the air, and there indeed was Kreacher, looking far perkier than Ginny had ever seen him and wearing, of all things, a silver locket.
"Master Harry! You have returned!"
"Yeah, guess I have. Hi, Kreacher."
Ginny watched, gobsmacked.
"Would Master like anything done for him? A meal, perhaps? Kreacher has kept the pantry well-stocked. And Master Harry must be hungry after killing the Dark Lord."
"Technically, he killed himself," Harry muttered, but Ginny had regained her senses slightly.
"A meal would be lovely, Kreacher. Can you give us an hour first? Harry needs a bath and I need to heal him a bit."
"Certainly, Miss Weasley. Kreacher will make Master Harry's favourite treacle pudding!"
With another crack, he was gone, presumably to the kitchen. Ginny was about to set off upstairs, when Harry put a hand on her arm.
"Hang on. I'll just put some wards up."
He turned back to the door. "Protego totalum... Salvio hexia... Muffliato..."
With each wave of his wand, the door shimmered slightly.
"Never cast them on a building before," Harry admitted. "It won't last long against Death Eaters, but it should do for now."
Ginny nodded, re-acquainting herself with the idea that Harry had successfully avoided being captured for months on end. "Come on. I want to get some of this blood off you."
"Yeah," he half-said, half-sighed.
"And you can tell me about why Kreacher suddenly wants to make your favourite puddings. How does he even know your favourite puddings?"
They were trudging slowly up flights of stairs as she asked this. Ginny occasionally blinked as she noticed mirrors that had actually been polished or realised that the wallpaper had a pattern of French fleurs de lis.
"We stayed here for a while, me, Ron and Hermione. Before we broke into the Ministry - did you hear about that?"
"That really was you? We thought it might be, but the Ministry didn't want to admit it - said it was a rogue group of Muggle-borns who got vicious, helped by someone from the Order."
"Yeah, that was us. But anyway, when we were Apparating back, Yaxley grabbed a hold of Hermione, and we think he got into the Fidelius Charm. So we Disapparated again, and that's when we started being on the run for real."
It was the first smidgen of a story that could take years to be properly told. It might never be fully told, Ginny thought. She felt a powerful ache inside her, wishing that she had been there with him, although she knew that with the Trace she would have been nothing more than a liability.
"And you made up with Kreacher?" she asked, pushing away her feelings.
"Oh, yeah, turns out he just wanted a bit of politeness. Plus, I gave him that locket he was wearing - it belonged to Regulus, Sirius' brother. After that, he was happy to help."
Ginny realised that Harry was relaxing into this role as a storyteller. He was sounding less exhausted as he spoke, more interested in her reactions to what he was saying, now that there was no one near to judge him.
Eventually, they reached Sirius' old room. "I was staying in here," Harry explained as he pushed open the door.
Ginny had never seen the inside of this room, and she looked around curiously. It bore the marks of Kreacher's cleaning, but the overall impression was still one of clutter. Papers had been piled onto the desk, as if Kreacher hadn't quite known what to do with them. The mess just added to the room's theme of outright rebellion. Red and gold were everywhere, and Sirius' wall art was hardly likely to impress his family. It was such a teenage boy's room, and completely unlike Harry. Sure, he had done the misunderstood, moody bit of being a teenager, but he'd never had the chance to focus on the frivolities of youth, not really. From the age of fourteen, he had been top of the death list of one of the most powerful wizards of all time. Not very conducive to enjoying adolescence.
Ginny sighed. "Right, what needs healing most?"
He frowned. "Since when do you know healing spells?"
"I grew up with six brothers, remember?" She paused. "Plus, we all had to learn pretty quickly this year. I'm not as good as Parvati or Padma - they were always healing each other - but I'm good enough."
Harry's face was grim. "How bad was it?"
"Horrible. But worth it," she said, honestly. "And we all stuck together. It kept you fighting. I don't know how you did it with just the three of you. Now stop procrastinating and tell me where you're hurt. Take your shirt off," she added, thinking it would be easier to see than to drag the information out of him. Laboriously, he obeyed, both of them too tired to be embarrassed.
Ginny schooled her expression carefully. His ribs were clearly visible under skin that wasn't as pale as she remembered it, but that wasn't what unnerved her. It was the bruising, the blotchy mishmash of colours staining almost half of his torso in a terrible mosaic. Even on the Carrows' victims she hadn't seen such obvious signs of violence; the Cruciatus didn't leave marks. She walked around him to discover that more bruises were only just starting to appear along his spine.
"What's this all from?" she asked, voice calm as she could manage.
He looked down, twisted round and winced a bit. "Um, clinging onto a dragon for miles. Jumping off said dragon. And probably in the forest."
He gave no details as to what actually happened there, and Ginny took the hint, instead focusing on the dragon tale. It was amazing that they'd all heard about their fabulous exploits in breaking into - and out of - Gringotts, and never once considered exactly how terribly injured a dragon ride might leave them.
Wordlessly, she pointed her wand at the discolouration and waved it in a distinct pattern. A small section of the bruising faded from violent purple to sickly green.
By the time that Harry's torso no longer looked utterly horrific, Ginny had discovered and mended two cracked ribs and was utterly exhausted. She checked him for open wounds and found relatively few, and none serious. One of the few blessings of all out magical warfare was that people didn't tend to waste time on cuts and gashes when they could simply Stun or kill their opponent outright and be ready to face a new enemy. The blood that matted Harry's hair and stained his face mainly came from grazes and shallow scalp wounds from non-magical sources.
"Okay," she said. "You're done. That gives you, what, half an hour to have a bath. I think I'll have one too," she decided.
The exhaustion was clearly showing on Harry's face, too. Perhaps keeping him still for so long hadn't been the best idea. "Alright," he agreed easily. "Bath. Haven't had one of those in a while. Are you alright?" he asked suddenly. "You're not hurt?"
"Bill got to me hours ago," she assured him. "I'm fine."
He nodded with just the tiniest movement of his head, but didn't seem able to expend the effort to do it properly.
"Look at you," Ginny said softly. "How on earth did you keep going, so tired and with two broken ribs to boot?"
He looked as if he might smile. "Well. Keep going or die. I didn't even notice the pain til it was gone."
She looked at him and, for the first time in years, saw the saviour of the world. Then she blinked and he was Harry again.
"Right. I'll be in the bathroom downstairs," she said. "Meet you in half an hour in the kitchen."
"Yeah. Thank you, Ginny."
She smiled. "Hey, you saved all our lives and I fixed your ribs. Shall we call it quits?"
He let out a little chuckle in a single puff of air. "I'd like that."
On that note, Ginny turned to trudge back down a floor, wishing that such a journey weren't necessary. Part of her brain kept reminding her that she had no right to be worn out, thinking of all that Harry had done, but most of her was sure that such comparisons were irrelevant and petty, and smacked of putting Harry on a pedestal. She'd made that mistake for far too long in the past to fall at the same hurdle all over again.
She pushed open the door of the bathroom that she, her mum and Hermione had used back when they had all been staying at Grimmauld Place in the summer before her fourth year. This room hadn't changed at all; Molly Weasley hadn't raised a family of boys without knowing how to clean a bathroom so it sparkled.
Ginny jabbed her wand at the taps to fill the bath, and belatedly realised that she probably shouldn't be using magic at all, since she was underage and outside school. Well, she was very nearly seventeen and term hadn't technically finished; plus, she doubted anyone at the Ministry was paying attention to Traces at the moment. And if they were, well sod them, she decided bluntly.
She stripped off one item of clothing at a time, checking each for tears to Reparo and dirt to Scourgify, before turning off the taps, grabbing a bottle of Belinda Barzil's Bubbly Brew (with added Warming Charm!) from the cabinet and pouring a generous amount in. Fragrant bubbles filled the bath in seconds, and Ginny slipped into them, sighing with relief as the hot water caressed her weary body. But the best thing, she quickly decided, was the quiet.
Besides the gentle popping of the bubbles and her own slow breathing, there wasn't a single sound in Ginny's ears. In the Room of Requirement back at Hogwarts there had always been so many people, and then the last day had been filled with screams and spells and the resounding thunder of the castle's destruction. Noise hurt. This silence was blissful. Softly, her mind drifted off, back upstairs to Harry. And because most of what she had to think about him was too painful for this moment of recuperation, she let old, careworn thoughts come to the forefront. She was a teenage girl, after all.
She still loved him; of that, she was sure. But they had both changed this past year - did she only love the Harry that she had known a year ago? And did this Harry, who had gone through so much and done so much, still love her, whichever version of her? Had he thought of her all year as she had thought of him, staring at his favourite armchair in the Common Room, wearing his Seeker's robes, adjusted to fit her? He certainly hadn't had the constant reminders, unless Ron could be counted as a reminder of his sister.
These tiny little questions fluttered around her head until Ginny felt them settling into a sort of order, a sort of conclusion. She had no answers, but she didn't need them right now, she thought. There was too much past to be dealt with before the future could be considered.
As if coming out of a deep sleep, Ginny blinked and resurfaced. The water was still warm thanks to the Bubbly Brew but she gathered from the wrinkles in her fingertips that she should probably hurry up. Summoning a flannel with her wand, which she'd left right next to the bath out of protective habit, she gave herself a quick wash before shampooing and rinsing her hair. She braced herself before jumping out of the bath and wrapping herself in a towel as quickly as she could, a routine she had long ago perfected. Magic helped, though; almost as quickly, she cast a Drying Charm on her hair and a Warming Charm on the towel, and in under a minute she was dry and ready to dress again.
It was with renewed energy that Ginny made her way down to the kitchen, looking forward to the meal that Kreacher had promised. She did wonder a little if Kreacher's cooking abilities were to be trusted, but at this point, she only really cared if the food were edible. As it happened, she was pleasantly surprised upon entering the kitchen.
"Miss Weasley!" Kreacher exclaimed. "Shoes off, if you please. Kreacher has newly washed the kitchen floor."
Obediently, Ginny toed off her rather grubby old trainers at the door. "Wow, Kreacher, that smells great!"
Kreacher beamed. "Kreacher has prepared leek and potato soup, lemon sole with asparagus and, of course, the treacle tart is just crisping up in the oven."
"All in an hour?" she asked, sitting down in front of an elaborate place setting. Hadn't most of the Black silver been thrown out?
Kreacher merely blinked.
Ginny bit her lip. "Kreacher, I don't know if Harry will be able to eat this much..."
"The soup and tart can be stored, and the fish is light," Kreacher pointed out.
"Okay, fair enough. This is brilliant," she said. "Thanks, Kreacher."
"You're welcome, Miss Weasley," he said perfunctorily. Ginny had the feeling that the Blacks had taught their elves considerably better English than most families bothered to do. Besides referring to himself in the third person, his speech was almost indistinguishable from a human's.
That said, Kreacher's grasp of English didn't extend to filling in awkward silences. Ginny sat in front of her shining cutlery for a few minutes, staring at nothing as the girl and the house elf waited for Harry to appear.
Five minutes or so in, Ginny asked, "Kreacher, how long has Harry been up there?"
"Around seventy five minutes," Kreacher replied.
An hour and a quarter. He could just have lost track of time. "Okay."
They relapsed into silence. Kreacher stirred his soup and Ginny fidgeted. Two minutes later, she finally gave into worrying. "I'm just going to go and check on him, alright?"
She almost bounded up the two flights of stairs, unreasonably anxious. Fine thing it would be if he survived a duel with Voldemort then died because he bled out in the bath because Miss Ginevra Weasley didn't notice a wound or something. What if she'd not fixed his ribs properly and he was in agony trying to move? What if, what if...
She burst into the upstairs bathroom, and Harry jerked awake.
"Oh, thank goodness," Ginny breathed, leaning against the doorframe.
He was still in the bath, and it looked as if he had just drifted off.
"What? What's wrong?" he asked, surprisingly articulate for just having woken up.
"You didn't come down to dinner, lunch, whatever. I got worried," she admitted, blushing a little. And as soon as she realised she was blushing, she blushed more. It was one thing to heal a shirtless Harry, it was quite another to burst in on him naked in the bath.
"I'll let you get dressed," she said quickly, and left the room.
She stopped in Sirius' bedroom and laid her head against one of the bedposts. Idiot, she berated herself. Losing your head to the degree that you don't even think of knocking before entering a bathroom. And now what? Should she wait here or go downstairs without him? Oh, brilliant, now she was feeling awkward. It was only Harry!
Harry who now entered the room, thankfully fully dressed and towelling his hair dry.
"Sorry," Ginny said immediately.
He smiled lop-sidedly. "Don't worry. Living in a tent - even a magical one - it kind of destroys your idea of privacy."
There, another thing of which Ginny hadn't thought. Day to day living in close quarters with two other people. How close, how inseparable the three of them must be now, even more so than before. Hermione wouldn't have blushed beet-red like that upon walking in; she would have said what needed to be said and got out. It was a long time since Ginny had felt jealous of Hermione.
"Um, shall we go down then?" she suggested.
"Sure," said Harry. He put the towel back in the bathroom, put on his glasses, which he had now fixed, she noticed, and checked that his wand was in his pocket before joining her at the door.
"I think I should warn you that Kreacher's cooked about as much as my mother would in this situation," Ginny said as they descended the stairs. "Though he assures me that the starter and the pudding will keep if we can't finish them."
"He's done three courses?" Harry asked, incredulous.
"I know," Ginny responded.
Ginny couldn't help it - she giggled. "That's such a Ron thing to say!"
"Blimey! He always says that when he thinks he's going to be told off for saying something stronger."
They went through into the kitchen; Harry put his own trainers next to Ginny's without having to be asked. Kreacher was poised with two soup bowls, determined to serve as soon as they'd sat down, which they duly did.
"You've really gone all out, haven't you, Kreacher?" Harry said.
Kreacher grinned as he set the soup down in front of them. "It is a celebration, Master Harry."
"Bet you they call this Harry Potter Day or something," Ginny said wryly. "Dad said there was a campaign to have Hallowe'en renamed for you too, but apparently you're not as important as All Hallows' Eve." She tasted the soup, which was pretty damn good, if not quite as good as her mother's. She dug in, suddenly realising how hungry she was.
Harry looked vaguely horrified. "There won't be if I have anything to do with it," he said. "They can call it... I dunno... VV Day. Like VE Day, but Victory over Voldemort instead of Victory in Europe." He started eating his own soup, rather more slowly than Ginny.
"What's VE Day?" Ginny asked.
Harry blinked at her, then recovered. "You know the Muggle World Wars?" he checked.
"There was more than one?" she asked, feeling a bit thick. "I knew there was one during the Grindelwald War. He used it to cover up what he was doing."
"Yeah, that was the Second World War," he confirmed "Anyway, Muggles remember the end of the wars with Remembrance Sunday for the first war and D-Day and VE Day for the second."
"It's weird," Harry reflected. "There's all this stuff that every single Muggle knows, like Remembrance Day or what a telephone is, and you sort of forget that wizards don't know any of it."
"Works the other way round, too," Ginny said. "Do you remember using Floo powder for the first time round ours? You coughed and ended up-"
"In Knockturn Alley, yeah." He chuckled. "And then there was the Tales of Beedle the Bard."
"Beedle the Bard? What about them?"
And just like that, the carefree conversation completely disappeared. Harry froze for a second, almost literally, with his spoon almost at his bowl.
"Harry? What's wrong?"
He snapped out of it. "Sorry, I'm sorry. It's just... For the past year, my whole life has revolved around Hallows and Horcruxes, and everything just keeps coming back to them. I need... I need to tell you about it, but I don't know if I've got the energy."
Hallows, Beedle the Bard and the Elder wand, of which Harry was suddenly master. Her mind whirled, but she pushed the riddles away, instead reaching out across the table to grasp his hand. "So tell me tomorrow. Tell me next week, even, it doesn't matter."
"But I want to, as well. I can't keep dancing around the fact that I died last night."
Now it was Ginny's turn to freeze, to go white and loosen her grip on his hand. "What?" She stared. "But you didn't die. You-Know-Who said you didn't. You said you meant to, but-"
She cut off, choking on concepts too terrible to imagine, to remember, because hadn't they all been utterly convinced he was dead last night? For ten terrible minutes, hadn't they all truly believed that all was lost?
Harry was as white as her, and as silent.
"But you're not dead," she said desperately. "You're not a ghost or an Inferius. You're- you're-"
She moved her hand to his wrist, pressed down to find a pulse, which was there, clear and strong.
"I'm not dead," he finally managed, and he twisted his hand to capture hers in a fierce grip. "I'm alive. But I did die, and I was dead, for a minute or two."
Tears spilled out of Ginny's eyes. "Impossible. No, no."
"I'm alive, Ginny," he said, as desperate as her. "I promise you, I promise."
"I'm sorry," she choked out. "I'll stop..."
But the tears kept coming, and though she tried fiercely, she couldn't stop her shoulders shaking with the force of the sobs she hadn't had time for when Hagrid came out of the forest with Harry in his arms. She turned away from him, ashamed of her weakness.
She felt him let go of her hand, but she didn't hear him stand and walk round the table. She just looked up to find him sitting down on the bench next to her and pulling her to him. She threw her arms around him as if to reassure herself that he was indeed solid and warm.
"I'm sorry," he said, and she thought she understood now why he had been apologising back at Hogwarts.
"Why?" she blurted out. "Harry, what in Merlin's name made you think it would be a good idea to go and meet Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest?"
Why did you essentially try to commit suicide?
Harry looked like he was struggling for words, so it was probably a good thing that Kreacher popped up at that point.
"Um, would Master Harry prefer to eat at a later hour?"
And Ginny was torn between laughing and crying as Harry said, "Er, yeah, Kreacher, if that's not too much trouble."
"Not at all!" cried the house elf before grabbing the soup bowls with unnerving speed and disappearing with a loud crack.
"Come on. I think I'd better tell you the truth about last night."
He took her hand and she followed him blindly as he led her to the drawing room. They sat on the sofa, and she snuggled into him, glad she had already healed his ribs.
There was a pregnant pause before Harry began his story, a silence full of promise: this was the moment that Ginny had been waiting for since the days before Harry's seventeenth birthday. She looked up at him, but he was staring across the room at the Black family tree.
"Voldemort survived on Hallowe'en in 1981 because of some very Dark magic, magic you won't have heard of. He..."
Another pause. Ginny waited, and something about the atmosphere had dried her tears.
"He created these... things called Horcruxes. Basically, he split his soul and stored sections of it in objects. So when the Killing Curse backfired when he tried to kill me, his body died, but his soul couldn't, because bits of it were safe, stored in these objects."
He looked down at Ginny then, and saw that she wasn't reacting. "I'm not telling this right.
"Horcruxes are... They're barbaric, Gin. In order to make one, you have to kill someone. That rips your soul apart. And then there are spells and things to confine it to an object, I don't know how. And you're left with only half a soul. And Voldemort didn't just do it once, he did it six times."
But Ginny still couldn't feel the horror of it. How could she, when she already knew that Voldemort was a soulless monster, when she had seen murder in front of her eyes, how could she appreciate this abstract concept of remembered atrocities, when she had already seen the atrocious?
She shook her head.
Harry let out a long breath. "The first one he made, he used the death of his father. He was sixteen." He looked at her, took her hand. "It was his diary."
That did it. She flinched bodily. "That was part of his soul?"
"I know. And there were another... another five of those that had to be destroyed. That's what we spent all last year doing. The locket of Salazar Slytherin, a cup of Helga Hufflepuff's, the lost diadem of Ravenclaw you heard about, a ring that Dumbledore had already destroyed, and the snake, Nagini."
"Neville killed the snake."
"I told him to. He didn't know what it was, just that it had to be done." Harry smiled. "He was brilliant, wasn't he? He's always been the bravest of all of us, really, right from first year."
"Yeah. Neville's been our leader, really, all this year." But she couldn't concentrate on that. "So you had to destroy the cup, the diadem and the locket. Is this to do with Kreacher's locket?"
He ran a hand through his hair in a gesture of exhaustion. "Yeah. Regulus was the first to work out about the Horcruxes. He took the real locket and left the one that Kreacher's got in its place. Dumbledore found that one on the night that he died. That's where we'd gone. But that's not important now. Anyway, we found the real locket in the Ministry - that's why we broke in - and then got the cup from Gringotts. The diadem we found in the Room of Requirement - that's why you had to leave - and then Neville got the snake. It sounds so easy like that," he said to himself.
"It does not. 'Oh, yeah, we broke into the Ministry of Magic and Gringotts Bank and destroyed four pieces of Voldemort's soul.' That's about the opposite of easy."
He laughed briefly. "Yeah, it really really was."
After a moment, Ginny asked, "Is that why you went into the Forest? To get the snake?"
All trace of laughter was wiped from his face. "No. The thing is, Voldemort was really set on having six Horcruxes so his soul would be in seven parts, because you know, seven is a powerful number or whatever. But he..."
He stopped. Ginny waited. Eventually, she had to ask: "He what? Did he make another one?"
Harry was staring across the room again. "Yes. But he didn't mean to." He closed his eyes. "It was me, Ginny."
Her voice had never been fainter. "What?"
His eyes did not open. "It was me. When he tried to kill me when I was a baby, and it went wrong, part of his soul latched onto me. I was the seventh Horcrux."
"But..." It took her a second to work out exactly why this was impossible. "You're you! You're not like him at all, you're good and-"
"And I can talk to snakes and I feel what he feels and see what he sees and have done for years. I'm just surprised I didn't work it out sooner," he said, his voice bitter.
She shifted away from him to face him so she could argue with him better. "Alright then, if you're a Horcrux, why is Voldemort dead?" she demanded.
He looked at her with a serious gaze. "I already told you. I died last night. But it was just the part of his soul that stayed dead. That's why I had to do it. I had no choice, Gin."
Ginny sat in wordless rage.
"Voldemort cast the Killing Curse. I only came back because when he created this body, he used my blood. He was tying me to life, like I was tying him to life until he killed me."
She found her voice. "And did you know this before you walked off to certain death?"
"Then it's a very good thing that I don't want to hurt you because I am right in the mood to slap you."
Her mood finally began to dawn on him. "You're angry."
"Yes, I'm angry! I wasn't before because I didn't understand, but now I know that you planned this! You walked into that forest fully knowing that you were going to die and you didn't let me say goodbye! I am so going to kill my brother!"
"I didn't know I had to do it until just before I went, I promise," he said. "Ron and Hermione didn't know at all."
But that was the wrong thing to have said, too. "So you didn't tell anyone at all why you were going? You idiot! You were going to let the world believe whatever Voldemort told them, including Ron and Hermione? Including me?"
"I had to die!" he argued back. "Imagine that, Ginny. I had to walk towards certain death. Do you think I could do that if I'd gone and found you, to talk to you one last time? I wouldn't have been able to leave you!"
"I wouldn't have let you!"
"And Voldemort would have gone on, immortal so long as I lived."
She collapsed back onto the sofa, knowing he was right, in a way. "You could have left a letter," she said, more quietly.
He nodded. "Yeah. Didn't think of that. I was a bit distracted, really."
"Too busy saving the world," she said softly.
He gave her that little half-smile. "Yeah. S'pose so." A pause. "I saw you as I left the castle. You were with a girl in the grounds. She was hurt, she wanted to go home."
"Christina Candlington. She survived." She looked at him. "I'm not really angry at you," she said. "I'm just angry."
"It's like when you were shouting at me, 'you've got to go back inside the Room'. Trying to keep me safe. I could never do the same for you."
She looked down, embarrassed at finally having admitted what she had felt for years. From the moment that she had woken up in the Chamber of Secrets to see Harry Potter dying for her, she had felt first immensely guilty and later hugely frustrated that they were always on such an uneven keel, because what could little, unimportant Ginny Weasley do for him?
"You kept me going, though," he said, and she looked back up. "In the tent, I used to take out the Marauder's Map and just stare at your name in Gryffindor Tower."
They looked at each other, and Ginny felt as if she were teetering on the edge of the unsaid.
"And I seriously hope that Voldemort wasn't reading my mind before I died, because I seem to remember that my last thought involved you, me and kissing..."
He was grinning, now, flippant about his death, but Ginny couldn't help responding with her own beaming smile.
"Oh?" she asked, flirtatiously. "Was it anything like this?"
They met in the middle of the sofa. He tasted faintly of leek and potato soup, but then she supposed she did too. His lips were chapped, and they had both forgotten the rhythm and pattern of their kisses somewhat, but underneath all of that, it was him and it was her, and it was a perfect new beginning.
As if he had read this thought in her mind, he pulled back and said, "This isn't the end, is it?"
Still smiling a little, she shook her head. "We've still got to convince the Ministry not to call it Harry Potter Day."
"No, but seriously," he said as they shifted back together. "There's all the reconstruction at Hogwarts, the Muggle-borns have got to be told they can come out of hiding, the Dursleys too, I suppose, the Ministry's got to be completely reorganised. All the Death Eaters have got to be caught. We've got to clear Snape's name... And then funerals."
Cold reality swept in with his words. Ginny wanted so much to ask about Snape's true allegiances and how exactly Harry knew about them, but the weight of Fred's death, which for the last couple of hours had been absent from her shoulders, suddenly crushed the curiosity from her.
Stay strong, she told herself. Leave all that to tomorrow. But:
"It's okay, you know," said Harry. "You don't have to fight it for my sake."
She rolled eyes which felt a little too watery. "Harry, you died last night. You spent a year on the run. I spent the year at school and then at home."
"Yes, but you lost your brother." He stopped for a short second, and she wondered if he was feeling, like her, that saying it made it real. "And I don't think you can measure grief and... and exhaustion like that."
All true, but it was easier somehow to look after him rather than letting him look after her. Thinking of his woes put her own in the background. It let her put aside the loss of Fred, her big brother, and Tonks, who had been like a cousin or even a sister to her. Not to forget them - there was no way she could do that even for a second - but to put them aside for the sake of someone else who was hurting, too.
"How was it, really?" Harry asked, distracting her from her thoughts. "This year."
She shook her head, letting her hair fall in front of her face. "You don't want to know."
Immediately, he brushed her hair back behind her ear. "That's stupid. You want to know about my year, even the bad bits, right? Well, why wouldn't I want to know about yours?"
She couldn't fault this logic, but still hesitated.
Harry cut in to her silence. "If you don't want to tell me now, that's fine. Actually, Neville was so... so casual about it all that I'm kind of glad you're not. Does that make sense?"
"Yeah," she whispered. "It's still normal for him." Tentatively, she began. "It was normal for me, too. You kind of get used to it, because on the surface it's still, you know, Hogwarts. There's still lessons, and there's still the feasts, and Hallowe'en decorations and Christmas decorations and there was even Quidditch for a while. And those of us who were in the DA against Umbridge, well, we sort of thought that we could do it. We knew it'd be bad, but we'd had detentions with her, and we figured we could deal with the pain."
The words started coming more easily. "So we fought back. And when we got our first detentions with the Carrows, well, they didn't use the Cruciatus at first. They started out with Blood Quills, then they got some of Filch's old stuff out, and then they went to curses. But it wasn't until we tried to nick the sword that they started using the Cruciatus all the time."
"I heard Snape only gave you detention with Hagrid," Harry whispered, as though keeping quiet would help somehow.
"He did. But next Defence lesson I got the Cruciatus for five minutes straight. And then Luna did. And when I tried to stick up for her, and my friends joined in..."
She trailed off. Harry just sat there in horror.
"But in a way, that just made us fight more. Before that it was really just the three of us, but then we started collaborating more. We used to put up graffiti and stuff - it was great. We restarted the DA to teach people self-defence. But then they got Luna on the train at Christmas." It was Ginny's turn now to stare at the Black family tree on the opposite wall, her eyes drawn to the lower branches where it was marked that Narcissa Black had married Lucius Malfoy.
"Mum wanted me to stay home after that, but Dad had found out that the family was being watched, and you know attending Hogwarts was compulsory, so they sent me back. I wanted to go back, to help. Especially since Luna wasn't there. But when I got home at Easter I looked horrific, and Mum and Dad both decided I should stay home. I fought, but... It's stupid, but it was only after I'd been home for a few weeks that I started having nightmares. Dad said it was like perspective, like I could only deal with what had happened once I was out of that situation. He and Mum had the biggest rows about having sent me back for the spring term."
"But you still came back to fight," he said, and he sounded slightly awestruck.
"So did you!" she pointed out.
"Yeah, but I had to. You didn't."
"Yes, I did," she stated. "There was no way I was abandoning them, abandoning you. My whole family was going to be there - do you honestly think I would have been able to sit at home and twiddle my thumbs? It's like Tonks-"
Her throat closed up, quite of its own volition, but for the first time she saw tears slipping from Harry's eyes too.
"Remus came here when Tonks was pregnant," he said, soft sobs rippling through the words. "I shouted at him for abandoning her and his kid. Told him to stay with his child."
"He went back to her," she told him, thinking of their bodies lying side by side.
"I know. I saw him after Teddy was born. He... He asked me to be godfather."
And then the tears came so thickly that neither of them could speak, because Teddy was a war orphan like Harry, and the last Marauder was gone, the last father figure Harry had, and Tonks was gone too, bright, bubbly Tonks who had fought for Remus and to be with Remus and with Remus, standing together in battle and lying together in death, leaving behind another little boy who was crying, somewhere, for his parents.
And here they were, survivors without dependents. How unfair, how wrong. Ginny wasn't normally one for survivor's guilt, but faced with the prospect of a motherless baby, she wished momentarily that she could have stepped in for Nymphadora Tonks.
But then she looked at Harry, and she thought, with such astounding clarity that it might have been a portent of some hitherto unknown talent for Divination, 'Teddy won't be alone. He has his grandmother, and he will have us, and he will be as much family as our own children will be.' And she wasn't scared of the thought of their own children, and she didn't doubt that there would be children, and she didn't doubt that those children would be hers and Harry's.
Even when the moment passed and her absolute certainty faded, she was left with a quiet confidence in herself and Harry as a couple. They would survive, she felt. They could, and they would.
They stayed like that for an immeasurable amount of time, huddled together on the sofa, but eventually they had to break away with a quiet understanding that enough had been dealt with for now.
"Back to dinner?" Ginny suggested.
"Alright," agreed Harry.
Her limbs were heavy and creaking as she got up, and she knew Harry's would be worse; they shuffled more than walked back to the kitchen. Kreacher looked at them uneasily as they entered.
"Would Master Harry and Miss Weasley like to resume their dinner?" he asked.
"Yeah, thanks, Kreacher," Harry said.
With a wave of his hand, the elf removed the Stasis Charms he had placed on their bowls and levitated them back to the table. Ginny looked down at hers and wondered if she would be able to eat at all, given how she felt. And yet, of course, she could. She was famished, she hadn't eaten in perhaps a day, she was used to a ready supply of food. Still, the effort she had to expend in order to lift the spoon again and again was almost painful. It became a battle between food and tiredness, and eventually tiredness won.
Her spoon clattered down in the almost-empty bowl, breaking the silence she hadn't been aware of continuing. Harry jerked in surprise.
"I need to sleep," Ginny admitted. "I'm so tired."
Far more gently than she had, he too let his spoon drop. "Yeah. Me too."
Kreacher moved forward as they stood. "Is there anything Kreacher can do for Master Harry?"
Harry frowned. "Um, no, I'm fine thanks, Kreacher. Sorry we didn't finish."
"Can you wake us in the morning?" Ginny asked. "Mum'll go crazy if we don't get back early."
"Certainly, Miss Weasley," Kreacher said. He turned back to the table and started clearing it, wiping the unused silver with adoration before returning it to the drawers. He hadn't changed entirely, Ginny thought.
Once again they trudged up the stairs, feet dragging against the steps, but this time they didn't speak. Part of Ginny felt that the silence should be awkward, but perhaps they were simply too tired for awkwardness. They were certainly too tired to speak.
And somehow, Ginny forgot that she normally slept on the floor below Sirius' old bedroom. Somehow, she just kept walking, absorbed entirely in the arduous task of placing one foot in front of the other. Somehow, they stayed together, side by side, without quite realising that that was what they were doing. And once they had reached Sirius' room, it seemed silly to worry about the fact that both of them had done so.
There was a moment where they looked at each other, measured the look in each other's eyes, second-guessed what they were doing. And then they did it anyway.
Harry shucked his t-shirt and jeans; Ginny transfigured her top into a nightie. He put his glasses on the bedside table; she pulled her hair back and started plaiting it. When she neared the end of the braid, he conjured a ribbon. She half-giggled at the old fashioned item, more used to elasticated bands, and the braid ended up a little bit loose as she tried to hold it together whilst tying a bow.
They slipped into bed, the four-poster by far big enough for the two of them. To begin with, there was a foot wide gap between them.
"Harry," Ginny whispered.
"Yeah?" he breathed.
And soon they were curled around each other, one of Ginny's legs thrown over one of Harry's, her head lying on the pillow next to his with his arm beneath her neck. Her hand rested gently on his stomach, carefully placed below his still-bruised ribs.
"We are going to be alright, aren't we?" he asked, suddenly.
"I think we are," she whispered back. She shifted slightly to kiss his cheek and felt him smile under her lips.
"Me too," he murmured.
Tomorrow they would go back to the Burrow and deal with Fred, and the rest of the Weasley family. In a few days they would go to see Andromeda and baby Teddy. In the weeks and months to come, they would be frequently at Hogwarts and sometimes even at the Ministry dealing with the clean up. At some point, Ginny would start writing press releases to clarify things that the press was getting wrong, and eventually the Daily Prophet would ask her to start writing on a regular basis, which she would fit in around her blossoming Quidditch career, and finally she would combine the two to write the sports column. Harry would be immediately be offered a post on the Auror training scheme, and although he would take a long while to get used to the chain of command, he would be respected in his career and end up training new recruits, the teacher once again.
But for now, the country grieved and celebrated, and cried and laughed, and a girl and a boy slept in each other's arms. The future would take care of itself. Let them leave it to tomorrow.