Chapter 1- One Long Day
Harry briefly wondered if Kreacher could bring him a sandwich up in the dormitory. As he, Ron and Hermione trudged out of the headmaster's office, Harry couldn't help but notice that there was still no portrait of Professor Snape. He ran over to the Pensieve and retrieved the memories that he'd left there earlier. He then put it out of his mind for the time being.
Harry, Ron and Hermione climbed the stairs to their respective dormitories, all yawning as they hadn't slept in over a day and a half.
His stomach rumbling, Harry called, "Kreacher!" upon entering the seventh-year boys' dormitory. Kreacher appeared immediately (the fake locket still bouncing on his chest), bowing low.
"Kreacher, I must say that I am enormously proud of you today, for your acts of bravery, in leading your fellow house-elves to the battle," Harry told him, although truth be known, he had hoped the elves would stay safe in the kitchens where they couldn't be harmed.
"Oh, Master Harry, we was very honored to fight amongst you and your friends. Master is so brave and carried out the work of the brave Regulus in defeating the Dark Lord. Kreacher is proud to serve his Master," Kreacher replied, beaming proudly. "Mr. Ron and Miss Hermione, his two greatest friends, Kreacher is also happy to serve. Did Master Harry need something, sir? We is busy in the kitchens helping to feed those that fought."
Harry was now sadly reminded of poor Dobby, with the words that Kreacher spoke, and his eyes welled once more with tears. He remembered how grateful Dobby had been and how reverently he had treated him, Ron and Hermione.
"Thank you, Kreacher. I appreciate your help," replied Harry.
"Yeah, Kreacher, you were great tonight," Ron added, his voice a little thick.
"If it isn't too much trouble, do you think you could grab some sandwiches for Ron and me?" Harry asked the elf.
"Of course! Of course, Master Harry. You is probably hungry and tired," Kreacher croaked, looking at his master tearfully, remembering the events that had transpired earlier. He disappeared immediately.
"You know, Hermione might be hungry too." Ron suggested. He bellowed her name so loudly down the staircase that he had probably been heard in Hogsmeade. He turned back to Harry. "You never did get to eat any of that food that the elves kept bringing up, did you?"
Harry shook his head, remembering that he had looked at it longingly a few times, while he was being pulled about.
"We just asked Kreacher to bring us some sandwiches, if you're hungry," said Ron when Hermione entered the room at a rush.
"Thanks, Ron," she replied, clearly surprised at Ron's thoughtfulness.
She quickly conjured a small table and a few chairs for them. "I was already on my way here anyhow," she added, explaining her nearly instantaneous appearance. She held up the bottle of Dittany. She suggested that they try to get rid of the grime from the fire that coated their faces and arms first, so the three of them washed up before applying copious amounts of the Dittany onto their burns, cuts and scrapes, which all now shone brightly without the dirt covering them.
"I'm going to need a new bottle," she commented, holding up the nearly empty container.
A few minutes later, the elf returned with a heaping tray. It held a variety of sandwiches, a large flagon of pumpkin juice, a few bottles of butterbeer, a bottle of firewhiskey, some glasses and napkins.
"Thanks, Kreacher, you're the best house-elf ever!" Ron exclaimed gratefully to the elf, taking in the tray of food and immediately helping himself to a sandwich and sitting at the table.
"You is very welcome, sir. Kreacher is happy to help. Would Master and his friends like some clean clothes to wear? Kreacher believes that there is still some at Master's home," Kreacher responded, beaming at the trio in front of him.
"Wow, Kreacher, that would be really great…" Harry began, but before he could finish his sentence the elf was gone again.
"Harry, he's been through a great deal today. How could you send him off on yet another errand?" Hermione asked, sounding surly.
"Harry didn't suggest it, Hermione! The elf did!" Ron replied indignantly, around a mouthful of sandwich.
"Hermione, Kreacher didn't let me finish my sentence. I was going to tell him it could wait until tomorrow," Harry told his friend. Moments later, Kreacher reappeared in their midst, under a pile of clothes that he had been laundering when the trio were unable to return to Grimmauld Place. He placed them on one of the unoccupied beds.
"Wow, thank you, Kreacher. That was really nice of you," Harry said to the elf, with a smile on his face. Kreacher bowed low, beaming once again at the praise.
"Is there anything else at all that Kreacher can help Master with?" Kreacher asked, eager to please.
"Yes," said Harry, "sit down, eat and talk with us."
Kreacher's eyes widened at the prospect, but he did as he was bidden. He smiled suddenly, looking around at Harry, Ron and Hermione.
Harry handed him a plate with a few sandwiches, poured him a small glass of butterbeer (remembering that Dobby had said it was strong for house-elves, but thinking that Kreacher could probably do with a bit of a drink), and poured Ron, Hermione and himself each a large glass of pumpkin juice as well as a healthy dose of the Firewhiskey, passing the glasses around the table.
They all looked at each other and Ron said, "To victory, and to those who fought bravely, and to those who died for the cause." His voice broke slightly upon the last line.
With tears stinging the four sets of eyes, they all drank to Ron's toast.
They all dug into the food, eating ravenously. "Kreacher, I would like you to tell us what happened when we didn't return to Grimmauld Place after our trip to the Ministry, if it's not too difficult a story for you to tell," Harry informed the elf, looking sadly at him.
"Of course, Master Harry. Kreacher knew that Master would be returning soon with his friends. He set the table and had lunch all ready. Then this Ministry man came to Master's house. Kreacher thought he saw his Master too, but Master disappeared." The elf paused, looking confused, but then continued, "The man screamed very loud. Kreacher covered his ears, it was too loud! The man looked at Kreacher and asked him where Harry Potter was. Kreacher said he didn't know. Kreacher knew where his Master was but he could not tell this man, for he did not know who he was. The man ran through the house with his wand in the air. Kreacher was not afraid, because he knew that Master was not there." Kreacher stopped for a moment to take another sip of his butterbeer and looked as though he was lost in thought.
Harry reached out his hand, and patted Kreacher on the shoulder. Almost afraid of what he would hear next, but knowing that he must have the full truth (his responsibility for Kreacher's safety weighing heavily upon him), Harry asked, "Then what happened, Kreacher?"
"Then he came back to the kitchen and shook Kreacher, and said Kreacher must tell him where Harry Potter was. Kreacher was afraid now. What would he do to Kreacher if he did not answer?" Kreacher thought aloud. His eyes were wide with fear at the thought, but he continued, "But the man believed Kreacher when I said I wasn't knowing, and he left Master's house. And so Kreacher waited for his masters to return. Kreacher worried that his masters' dinner would be ruined if they did not come home soon. Kreacher waited for two days. He knew then that Master Harry could not come home and Kreacher worried his masters were gone forever. He didn't know what to do now. He had no new orders," Kreacher finished lamely. He stopped to take a breath.
"Oh, Kreacher, we were so worried that you would be tortured by the Death Eaters! We wanted to call you to us, but we didn't know what to do. When we left the Ministry, that man that showed up at Grimmauld Place grabbed onto us. That's why you saw us for a moment. We were afraid that if we called you, a Death Eater might come with you," Hermione explained to the elf, her eyes glistening.
Although the elf had stopped showing Hermione the utter contempt and hatred as he had when Sirius was still alive, he still hadn't quite given her the same amount of respect that he did to Harry and Ron while they were at Grimmauld Place.
Now, Kreacher bowed his head to her, saying, "Thank you, Miss Hermione. Kreacher decided to come back to Hogwarts as Master Harry had told him to do before. He knew too, that he might find out what happened to his masters if he returned there.
"But Kreacher was not welcomed by the other elves, oh no. They were angry at Kreacher for leaving Hogwarts where he was sworn to serve. But Kreacher tried to tell them that he had to help Master Harry. He tried to ask them if they new what happened to his masters. Kreacher is surprised when Dobby comes to him, for Dobby hates Kreacher! But Dobby said that Kreacher was a good elf now to serve his Master well. Kreacher asked Dobby if he knew what happened to Master Harry.
"Dobby helped Kreacher to learn that his masters were still alive, but Kreacher didn't know where to look. So he waited; waited until his Master called Kreacher to him. Kreacher and Dobby worked together every day. Dobby told Kreacher of the bad things that happened when he served Miss Cissy and told him that things would be bad again with the Dark Lord strong."
"Kreacher remembered what Miss Hermione said at Master's house and he and Dobby talked very much about it. The Dark Lord is bad for elves. One day Mr. Dumbledore came into the kitchen all crazy and asked Dobby to help him. But Dobby did not return to the kitchens that day. Kreacher was very sad because he didn't know what happened to his new friend. Kreacher heard the Dark Lord call to his Master today and I is wanting to fight. Kreacher wanted to make sure that his Master would live, for he thought of the pain of losing Regulus. The other house-elves were now happy to fight with Kreacher," Kreacher finished, his ears bobbing with nervousness. He looked at Harry as though afraid that Harry would yell at him for not staying at Grimmauld Place where he belonged.
Harry thought about everything that Kreacher had said. He could only assume that Aberforth was the Mr. Dumbledore to whom the elf referred. After all, it was Aberforth that had asked Dobby to rescue them from Malfoy Manor. Harry looked down at his house-elf and said, "Kreacher, you did very well. I'm glad that you got to know Dobby before he died. I miss him too." Harry felt the sting in the corner of his eyes, as he had so many times since the final confrontation and held his arms out to Kreacher. Kreacher, although a bit wary of being embraced by his Master, went into Harry's arms. The two hugged for a moment before pulling back.
There was silence for a few moments before Ron said, "Ok, enough mushy stuff, let's get going on this food."
No one had eaten much, while they were enraptured by Kreacher's tale. They all smiled slightly and attacked their meal. It was a while later that Kreacher yawned. "Kreacher needs to get back to the kitchens to help," he said.
"No, Kreacher, my next order to you is to get some rest. You look very tired," Harry told him, not unkindly.
"Yes, Master Harry, Master looks tired as well," the elf replied. Unsure if he was being disrespectful, he hit his head on the table. Harry grabbed Kreacher's shoulder from behind and stopped him from doing so again.
"You will not punish yourself. Go and sleep now," Harry simply said. He decided that a direct order would be best now, after seeing how tired the elf was.
With a pop, Kreacher disappeared. Harry felt somewhat revived, now that he had some food in his stomach. Perhaps now would be the best time to return the Elder Wand to Dumbledore's tomb. Looking over at his friends, he noticed that they seemed a bit more alert than before as well.
Breaking the silence, Harry said, "So, I should probably take care of this," indicating the Elder Wand in his hand. "With everyone distracted right now, it shouldn't be too difficult." Harry paused a moment. "I think I'd better find Ginny as well…I don't think she'd be too happy if I don't explain a few things to her, no matter how exhausted I am."
Hermione and Ron exchanged a look that told Harry that they'd already discussed the matter.
"Uh, yeah, mate. Now, look, I don't want you messing her around again…" Ron started, Hermione rolling her eyes.
Harry interrupted, before Ron could finish, "Ron, I never expected to survive this, to even have a future. Now that I'm alive and this is over, all I want to do is spend the rest of my life with Ginny. I love her, you know."
Ron smiled slightly, saying, "I guess I just needed to hear you say it."
"Just a word of warning, Harry, we saw her glaring at you while you were being pulled all over the Great Hall tonight. She's going to be furious with you. It may take her a while to forgive you," Hermione pointed out.
"I know," Harry said wearily, knowing full well he would have to endure her wrath. "She can rail at me all she wants."
"Yeah, Harry, but if she goes for her wand, make sure you duck. You know how she likes that Bat-Bogey Hex of hers," Ron reminded him ruefully. Harry and Hermione had a bit of a laugh at that.
"Will you come down there with me?" Harry pleaded. They traded their soot-covered robes for the fresh ones Kreacher had brought and set off for the Great Hall.
"Tell her to meet me by Dumbledore's tomb," Harry told them, once again hiding under his Invisibility Cloak.
A short while beforehand:
Ginny watched as Harry was pulled around the room. She wanted to help him somehow. She could see the pain in his eyes and the acceptance of a guilt that was not his. She saw him try to escape a few times. She knew that he simply wanted to get away from all of it. But she knew Harry far too well. He would feel it his duty to speak to those who had fought for him and to comfort the survivors who had lost loved ones, no matter how much he wanted to get away. She had gotten angry as she saw him begin to sag as though he were weighed down by something even she couldn't see. But there wasn't anything she could do, so she finally sat down with her family, accepting that for tonight he couldn't be hers. She must share him with everyone. She put her head down on her mother's shoulder, trying to block out everything she'd seen that night.
Then Ginny looked over to where Harry had been sitting with Luna, a few moments before, looking lost, to find him gone. Luna had just shouted and then sat back down looking very satisfied as people looked around curiously. Ginny's eyes searched for Ron and Hermione, who stood and walked out of the Hall. There was just enough space between them for one person, one invisible person, and she suspected just who that person was. So, he'll confide in them once again, and leave me in the dark! Ginny thought angrily. She rubbed her weary eyes and shook her head. She should simply be thankful that they'd all survived, but with that thought, she looked around at her family, whose expressions volleyed between sorrow and elation over the night's proceedings. Pain stabbed her heart as she looked over at George, who sat at the table with his head in the crook of his arm on the tabletop, his face buried as though asleep. Percy, his eyes bloodshot and vacant, was absently rubbing George's back. Ginny had been thoroughly shocked by Percy's attitude, and could no longer be angry with him for deserting them. It would seem that he'd paid his penance.
Ginny looked at her mother and father who were in deep conversation with Kingsley…no she should think of him as the Minister of Magic now, shouldn't she. She smiled slightly. She couldn't think of anyone more deserving of that position or anyone else she would trust with it, except maybe Harry, who wouldn't accept it anyway.
Her eyes flicked back to the door again, looking for any sign of Harry, Ron or Hermione. She knew that the trio occasionally went under the Invisibility Cloak together, so it was probably a worthless endeavor, if that's what they had chosen to do. Bill, who was sitting across from her, seemed to read her mind. "They may have gone to bed, Ginny," he said. "They left our house before dawn yesterday, so they haven't slept in quite a long time. After everything that's happened since then, they've got to be exhausted. They've been awake for at least 24 hours."
"Probably more like 48, Bill," Fleur cut in. Ginny had thought that Fleur was asleep, as her eyes had been closed while she leaned against her husband. "I heard quite a bit of fidgeting the night before they left. You remember how nervous they were at dinner; I don't think they could have slept too well."
Ginny let that information sink in but didn't comment. She decided to wait, although it was against every fiber of her being to do so. She once again leaned her head on her mother's shoulder. Ginny felt her knee squeezed comfortingly under the table.
It seemed like hours or maybe years before Ron and Hermione came striding into the Great Hall, hand in hand. Ginny looked at them with a slight smile. She supposed that things had finally worked out properly between them. She also noted that their faces were no longer blackened with soot. She had no idea how that had happened, but they'd been that way for so many hours that she'd simply gotten used to it. Had they gone to clean up? Perhaps that would explain why they'd all been gone so long. But as she watched them approach she no sign of an invisible person with them.
They knelt down behind Ginny. She turned to face them. "He's outside, down by Dumbledore's tomb," Hermione whispered.
Ginny didn't need to ask who 'he' referred to, but looked to her brother for confirmation. He nodded and cut in, just as quietly, "Listen to me, Ginny. I know you're upset with him, but he's been through a lot today."
Hermione added, "He's willing to accept anything you throw at him. I think that he was more than ready to simply climb into his bed and sleep, but he feels he owes you an explanation. Let him give it to you."
Ginny's temper, which she'd held as tightly as she could, up until now, finally snapped. "He's been through a lot? HE'S BEEN THROUGH A LOT? What about me? What about the rest of us? I'll hex him into oblivion, see if I don't," Ginny tried to shout yet whisper at the same time.
Both Ron and Hermione both looked around fearfully. "Shhh," Hermione whispered. "We don't need people to know where he is or what he's doing. It could be very dangerous. He asked you to meet him there because he trusts you."
Ginny couldn't do anything but nod. She didn't understand why they should be so afraid of Harry visiting Dumbledore's tomb, but she would prefer the explanation to come from Harry, so she didn't object to Hermione's statement. She stood and let Ron and Hermione take her spot at the table.
She was still fully determined to introduce Harry to her infamous Bat-Bogies, as she descended the front steps of the castle, hastening towards the white marble monument that she knew so well. She, Neville and Luna had visited the site often during the year, hoping for inspiration or perhaps advice as they continued their resistance against the evil regime consuming their school. She slowed as she approached and then stopped in her tracks at the sight before her. Her heart had shattered so many times that day. Or at least she had thought it had shattered each time, watching another person fall or seeing another dead body, including Fred's. It hadn't been until she'd seen Harry lying limp and lifeless in Hagrid's arms that she'd truly understood the concept of a broken heart. She knew that if she hadn't felt her heart shattering earlier that day and so repeatedly, she might have thought it was doing so now. This time, however, she simply saw the man that she loved in pain. She was so angry at him, and yet she felt so sorry for him that she could only stand stock-still for a few moments. As she watched, her body began to carry her forward of its own accord.
A few minutes prior:
Harry separated from Ron and Hermione, walking across the now deserted grounds. He approached the tomb of his mentor with a look of disgust at the sacrilege of the scene. He pulled the Invisibility Cloak off and tucked it into a pocket. Harry placed the wand back into Dumbledore's hands and slightly rearranged the robes back to where they ought to be. Unable to bear gazing at his former headmaster, Harry backed up and quickly repaired the desecrated monument to the best of his ability. He put a hand out and rested it upon the cool, smooth marble of the tomb.
Harry wasn't sure what to say. He felt the need to simply break out into tears, as he'd felt the need to do for hours now. He'd spent time looking at each of the bodies of those who had died because he hadn't been able to work fast enough; because he hadn't given himself over to Voldemort sooner. His body heaved, as though trying to throw his emotions away. He wished he could rip his heart out. He wished that the one thing that he had, and that Voldemort didn't, would just go away. This was the disadvantage to loving, he thought. There was too much pain involved, too much grief and too much guilt. It washed over him and he thought he might die from the myriad of emotions running through him. He tried not to think of all of the others that might have died, that he didn't yet know about, during his exile with Ron and Hermione.
Finally, he could hold it in no longer and allowed a few of the hot tears escape. They dripped onto his clean robes. His voice cracked and he said, "I will try to live my life as you taught me. I will fight the way you showed me. I will do everything I can do to make you proud of me."
He was about to bow his head for a moment, when the sound of phoenix song reached his ears. Startled, his head jerked up to meet the intense gaze of Fawkes, who was perched on the tomb.
"Fawkes!" Harry exclaimed in surprise. The phoenix then fluttered over to land on Harry's shoulder, who stroked the beautiful red and gold plumage. Fawkes leaned his head upon Harry's cheek, a few tears mingling in with Harry's own. Harry gave a somewhat hollow chuckle. "Thanks, my friend, but I'm not sure you'll be able to repair these wounds as you have my previous ones."
For a few minutes, perhaps a few hours (Harry did not know how long he stood there), he remained rooted to the spot, with one hand on Dumbledore's tomb and the other stroking Fawkes. The phoenix began to sing once more and suddenly the pain of the last few hours crashed through Harry like a freight train. He fell to his knees as his body weakened. He glided to the ground, though Fawkes remained upon his shoulder. The burden gave him some solace. Faces and images began to swim before him, all jumbled together, torturing him. He knew he was a mess, but it didn't really matter since he was completely alone.
But suddenly he wasn't and Harry smelled a light flowery scent, before a warm hand came to rest on his back. Breaking out of his reverie, he turned to find Ginny stooped beside him. He tried to wipe the tears from his face, but she stopped him and gently brushed the pads of her thumbs across his cheeks, effectively drying them. They both stood, and Fawkes flew off towards the castle. Ginny fell into his arms, and Harry returned the embrace. She kissed him long and hard, so as to be almost painful. It had to be scratchy for her as well, he thought, since he hadn't shaved for three days and he knew that stubble had formed around his mouth. As she pulled back, her body began to wrack with great sobs and she collapsed against Harry's chest. He buried his face into her hair, which absorbed his own tears that now ran freely again, feeling her pain at their separation keenly.
"Ginny…." Harry said, his voice breaking.
"Harry, oh, Harry," Ginny began. She continued on between sobs, almost incomprehensibly, "you died…Harry…Fred's gone…Harry…you died…Harry…I hate you…"
Still crying, she began to beat her fists against Harry's chest, speaking in broken, stilted English, as she tried to express everything that she'd felt that night. He didn't remove his arms from around her, but simply allowed her to continue pummeling him. He saw the woman that he'd found to be the most beautiful in the world, now railing at him, unsure of herself. Ginny was never unsure of herself. But, she couldn't seem to decide which emotion to feel, and so they all collided. She'd been terrified for a long time, she was devastated because Fred had died, she had watched her friends die and she had seen Harry's body be carried to the castle. Ginny grieved with every ounce of her soul, but she felt relief knowing that Harry still lived. Of course guilt then permeated her body as she realized that. Harry knew all of this, because it was all he could feel as well. Finally, she had no more strength left and simply fell against him. He caught her deftly and swept her into his arms.
"Why, Harry, why?" Ginny whispered. He sighed and carried her the short distance to the lake, sinking to the ground with her. He lay back gently with her. She cuddled into him, and he held her tightly.
"Ginny, I'm not sure where to begin. I know that I will soon tell you everything, but there's no way we have enough time right now for all of it. So, what is it that you really need me to answer tonight?" Harry said, even though the sun was overhead.
She looked up at him and her face crumpled as she began. "Harry, I heard you talking to Neville before going into the forest. I felt you walk by me. I didn't believe what you said to Neville, about not handing yourself over. But I couldn't find you. I heard Ron and Hermione's voices; they would know where you were, so I followed them into the Great Hall. Then you were dead. Dead, Harry. My world was gone. I felt dead too. You didn't…say good…good-bye." Although she had thought she'd had no more tears to shed, her eyes betrayed her once again. Harry squeezed her shoulder gently.
He wasn't sure how to explain that part without the rest of the story, but he would try. "When Voldemort tried to kill me when I was a baby, he accidentally left a piece of his soul inside me. I'll explain later about how this happened," he said, to stave off continued questions at this juncture before going on. "I learned of this a few minutes before you heard me talking to Neville. I knew that if Voldemort was to be killed, it would mean that I would have to die as well, because as long as the piece of soul he left in me remained he would continue to live. I left the Headmaster's office to complete this last task, the reason I existed, or so I thought at the time. Under my cloak, I passed Ron and Hermione. I almost told them what had to happen, but I couldn't do it. They would have come with me. They'd be dead right now. Then, after giving Neville his instructions, I came across you comforting that girl. I almost did it; I almost pulled the cloak off." He paused, realizing that he was almost talking to himself.
He looked at her again, before saying, "I wanted you to send me home too. But home is here in your arms, home is here at Hogwarts. If I had removed my cloak, I wouldn't have been able to go on. I would have given up. I knew that I couldn't give in to that urge. Everyone would have perished tonight if I'd given in. Voldemort would never have allowed us to live. So, I moved forward into the forest. I'm sorry, Ginny. I don't know how else to say it. I was completely selfish. Instead of thinking about you and your feelings, I only thought of myself and my own emotions." Harry concluded, his eyes closed, in pain. "I'm sorry, Ginny. I just hope you'll let me make it up to you somehow."
Harry chanced to look down at her, afraid that she would despise him or even perhaps fear him.
Ginny looked up into Harry's eyes, seeing his worried expression. She wasn't sure what to say in reply. She knew she still felt some anger deep inside her, but even that was starting to melt at the idea of the trauma he must have gone through. With fresh tears in her eyes, she said, "Harry, if I ever hear you call yourself selfish again, I may yet have to hex you."
She put her finger on his lips before he could retort. "I was really furious with you tonight, but I had no idea what was happening. You said you will explain everything. Perhaps give me a little bit each day. Honestly, I don't know that I can handle much more than that, if any of it is half as bad as the story you just told me. But I think a big part of me has already forgiven you. The rest will just take time."
Ginny watched his eyes close and his face screw up. He wearily opened his eyes to look into hers and said, "I love you, Ginny."
Harry felt the overwhelming exhaustion, which had been threatening to overpower him for several hours, finally overtake him. But before the blackness engulfed him, he thought he heard Ginny say, "I love you too, Harry."
Ginny might have been worried, as his body sank into the earth, if Bill hadn't told her just how exhausted Harry might be. Harry still hadn't told her why he'd pretended to be dead, but she had the feeling that she would learn in time. That was hardly the concern now, and at the moment she wasn't sure what to do. Surely, they couldn't just sleep here on the embankment. She could probably levitate him, but she didn't trust herself right now. She was exhausted as well and could easily drop him, which wouldn't help the situation any. But if she went for help that would mean leaving him by himself, and she was too frightened that someone might try to attack him, to seriously consider that course of action.
Ginny was about to send a Patronus to Ron and Hermione, when she looked up to find them looming over her and Harry. She breathed a sigh of relief.
Ron knelt on the other side of Harry and looked at him with concern for a moment. He looked up at Hermione, who had crouched to the ground as well above Harry's head, and said, "I think he's just fallen asleep."
Hermione nodded and then looked back at the school. Ginny said, "We need to get him into a proper bed."
Hermione simply nodded again and began to rummage inside of the beaded bag that she'd been wearing across her shoulder. Ginny looked at it curiously, the loud clanging noise coming from the small bag seeming incongruous. Ron leaned over and seemed to be helping Hermione to search for something.
"We did put it back in there, didn't we?" Ron asked Hermione.
"I know we did, because we never even put it up, remember?" she said desperately. "Maybe we should just try to get him up to the castle."
"We can't just carry him in like this! Everyone will think something awful has happened to him!" Ron said exasperatedly. "We should have just told him to stay inside until we sent Ginny to him. He could have taken care of the wand another time."
"Maybe they haven't put the protective spells back up. Maybe we can just Apparate him to the dormitory," Hermione said excitedly.
Ginny wondered what they were talking about. What could Harry have done with a wand out here that was so secretive? But she brought herself to the present and shook her head, saying, "No, I know that they've already reinforced everything. McGonagall and Kingsley were telling Dad about it."
Hermione looked crestfallen, but Ron had a look of inspiration on his face. "I have a better idea. Kreacher could do it!" Ron exclaimed. Then he looked thoughtful and said, "But how will he know that Harry needs him?"
Hermione shrugged and said, "I don't know if he can hear us or not but we could try it." Then, in a tentative voice she called, "Kreacher?"
Ginny looked up as the elf, that Harry had so despised, appeared. He looked at Hermione questioningly. Hermione said, "Do you think you could take Harry up to his bed?"
Kreacher nodded. Ginny, who had not raised herself from Harry's shoulder, watched both Ron and Hermione put a hand on each of Kreacher's shoulders. The next thing Ginny knew, she was being pulled by Side-Along Apparition. She found herself in the same position as before but now lying beside Harry in a four-poster bed.
She looked around, recognizing the belongings on the other side of the room as being Neville's and Seamus's, and realized that they must be in the Gryffindor seventh-year boys' dormitory. Ron and Hermione both jumped down from the bed to which they had been pulled by Kreacher. Ginny could see Hermione whispering something in Kreacher's ear, before he nodded and disappeared. Ginny couldn't help but feel a little shocked by Kreacher's appearance. The last time she'd seen him he'd been filthy, but now he seemed clean. Perhaps more shocking was his demeanor. He had always muttered under his breath and Ginny knew that he was not happy to have Harry as a master, Harry having told her so himself.
Ginny looked down at Harry, though, and decided she would worry about Kreacher's odd behavior later. Ron, who had sat down on his own bed, now approached her and Harry. He picked up a set of pajamas that had been draped over the end of the bed. Ginny, sensing what Ron intended, rose and began to help him remove Harry's robes. She looked over briefly at Ron's bed where Hermione had lain down. Hermione's eyes were now closed, and she seemed to have fallen asleep.
They finally had Harry into more comfortable clothing. He hadn't stirred even once while they'd worked, making the task lengthier than it might have otherwise been.
"Sorry about that, Ginny," Ron said. "I wouldn't have been able to do it alone."
She just nodded at him and settled herself back on the bed beside Harry. Ron grabbed his own pajamas and hastily pulled them on behind the screen in the corner of the room. He then picked up two nightgowns from what Ginny supposed would have been Dean's bed and walked back over to his bed. He threw one to Ginny, which she thankfully donned. He gently shook Hermione awake and handed the other to her. She thanked him gratefully, and she too moved to take advantage of the screen in the corner.
Ginny could hear Ron whispering to Hermione, once they were both snuggled up close in Ron's bed. "I'll take the first watch. You try to get some sleep."
"No, Ron, I just had a little nap. You're exhausted and you…" Hermione broke off with a sob. She sat up in the bed with her wand out.
"I can't sleep just now. I'll protect all of you," Ron said, rising from the bed, although it couldn't have been clearer that he was in no condition to do so.
Ginny said, "I'll guard you three. It makes more sense, since I haven't been awake for nearly as long, and I haven't been through nearly as much."
She stood up and motioned for Ron to get back into his bed. He seemed highly reluctant to do so but Hermione said, "Let her. She'll make sure no one bothers us. Please, just get back into bed."
It had likely been the plea in her voice, that made Ron comply. He climbed up onto the mattress and pulled her closely to him, kissing the top of her bushy head.
Ginny stood sentinel at the side of Harry's bed, with her wand raised at the door. She would have liked to have lain down or even sat down, but she was afraid that if she did so, she might succumb to sleep. She couldn't risk that, not when they were all counting on her, to make sure they were quite safe. She reckoned she'd stayed that way for at least fifteen minutes, before Harry began to thrash under the covers. She immediately put a knee on the bed and placed her free hand on his chest, trying to soothe him.
"Harry, Harry," she whispered, "it's all okay now. Everything's alright."
He didn't seem to hear her, however, and cried out, as though in pain. "I can't go any further," Harry said in a hushed voice, although she could not guess to whom he was speaking. Then his voice changed, and he said pleadingly, "No, please don't go. Please don't go. Fred…Remus…Tonks…Remus, I don't want to die yet." Harry's voice changed again and he said, "Ginny, I'll never see you again." Frantically he cried, "Albus, I'm not mad at you! Please, Albus, I didn't want any of this to happen! Make it go away!"
Ron, who had apparently awoken from the first, began to shake Harry. "Don't wake him!" Ginny said angrily. "He needs to sleep."
Hermione, who stood just behind Ron, shook her head and said, "We must, Ginny. He's reliving everything. This can't help him any."
She too began to try to wake Harry up and Ginny joined her, both shouting his name. Ginny looked up in relief, when she saw her mother and Madam Pomfrey striding into the room.
Madam Pomfrey rushed to Harry, and Ron and Hermione jumped out of her path. The school nurse forced Harry's mouth open and dumped two vials down his throat. He quieted instantly and his features relaxed. She turned to Hermione and asked, "Does he have any other injuries?"
"I don't think so. We put Essence of Dittany on our burns and stuff," Hermione said, holding up a bottle that was nearly empty.
"What about you two?" Madam Pomfrey asked, assessing Ron and Hermione. When they both assured her that they were okay, she held her hand out and said, "I'll refill that bottle for you if you like, Miss Granger."
Hermione handed it over looking thankful. "What did you give him?" Hermione asked, nodding towards Harry.
"I gave him something to make sure he sleeps and that his sleep is dreamless," Madam Pomfrey explained. "Call me if anything changes."
She handed Hermione a few more vials before sweeping from the room, looking just as harried as she had earlier, when Ginny had watched her tending as many of the wounded as she could.
"We're all going to be turning in now," Molly told them. She pointed to the sleeping potions in Hermione's hand and said, "I would suggest you all take them."
Surprisingly, Ginny thought, it was Ron who shook his head. "No, Mum, we need to keep our wits about us. What if someone tries to get to Harry," he told her.
Molly looked thoughtful for a moment and said, "Why don't we seal the room? This way no one will be able to enter. You need sleep just as much as he does."
"Yes, but…what if…" Hermione started, but she was unable to keep a yawn from escaping. She blushed before she finished, "What if the rest of the boys want to get to their beds?"
"Neville, Dean and Seamus have taken the fifth year dormitory, so you don't need to worry about that," Molly said reassuringly. "I think it's best that all of you just sleep as long as you need to. If we bar entry to the room completely, then no one and nothing will disturb you."
A dim quiet met this monologue, only to be broken by Ron asking, "Where's George, Mum?"
It would seem that she hadn't expected the question. Ginny could see the grief etched deeply in the lines of her mother's face. She pulled herself away from Harry, who would neither notice nor realize that she was gone, and ran around the bed to where her mother stood between Harry and Ron's beds. Hermione had reached Molly first, pulling her into a fierce hug. Ginny threw herself on both of them, as did Ron a few moments later. They allowed themselves to be entangled in a four-way embrace for a few moments before stepping back. Molly tried to wipe away the tears that refused to be stopped.
"Don't tell Dad, please. He's got enough to deal with," Molly said, trying to stop the flow again. Ron handed her a clean handkerchief from his bedside table, which she used to blow her nose loudly.
"You've got to tell Dad, Mum. He's trying to be strong, but…" Ginny said, trying to choke back the tears fighting to escape.
Ron pulled his mother down to sit with him on his bed, holding her tenderly, while Ginny and Hermione leaned on one another for support, just as they had done so many hours ago when they'd first learned of Fred's death.
Suddenly, Ginny heard her father's voice. He sounded concerned as he asked, "Molly, are you up here?"
He appeared in the doorway a few moments later, taking in the scene before him. He made his way across the room in a few long strides and pulled his wife from his son's grasp.
"They'll be fine, dear," he said quietly. "Our room's all ready, and we need to try to get some sleep."
She barely seemed to hear him and just latched herself onto him, as though he might disappear if she didn't hold tightly enough. He looked over at Ginny, who was once again standing beside Harry's bed, and at Ron and Hermione who were now cuddled on Ron's bed once again. "Are you lot alright?" Arthur asked, his tone curt, but his expression understanding.
They all just nodded, as Charlie walked in. Arthur led Molly from the room, clearly helping her down the stairs as they could all hear the pair slowly descending.
"Charlie," Ron said pleadingly, "who's taking care of George?"
"Percy, for the moment," said Charlie, sitting at the end of Harry's bed. He chuckled hollowly and said, "Percy is telling him a bedtime story right now, trying to get him to fall asleep. I'll head back down there in a few minutes. We're in the first-year boys' dormitory and Bill and Fleur are in the second-years'. We'll be there if you need us."
Ginny threw herself into his arms and asked, "You're not going home tomorrow, are you?"
"No, Gin, I'm not leaving," he told her, and she let him squeeze the breath out of her, taking immense comfort from his strong and comforting arms.
He turned to exit, after Ginny let go, but Ron asked him to help seal the room against any intruders. Once the spells were in place and Charlie was gone, Ron looked at the potions that now sat on the table between his bed and Harry's. "I think we should just take the one for dreamless sleep," Ron said.
They all agreed that perhaps this would be best. That way, they could still be roused if there happened to be any trouble. They each held up their vials, as though for a toast, before throwing the contents into their mouths.
Ginny crawled back under the covers next to Harry and thought that she might like to sleep for a week, but sleep seemed to elude her. She looked over her shoulder at the other three vials still sitting on the bedside table. She knew that they were meant to force one to fall asleep almost instantly and for a long time. She looked over at Ron's bed, around which he had pulled the hangings, to ensure him and Hermione some privacy. She could hear them both crying themselves to sleep and imagined that they were probably comforting each other.
She looked down at Harry, wishing he could comfort her too. As she thought about it, she realized that it was probably for the best. He fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion. She thought that it was likely not just physical exhaustion but emotional exhaustion as well, for him. For a moment, she almost resented him for it. He slept there blissfully unaware right now. Then she felt sickened with herself.
Ron and Hermione knew him so well, she thought. Only seconds had passed, before they were at his side, when his nightmare had started, and it all finally clicked for her.
She had always thought that the three of them were trying to keep her out of everything, but perhaps not. There was clearly a bond that went much deeper than that. They all worked together as a unit. She had always wanted to be a part of that tight-knit group that they had formed. She believed now that no matter what happened now, they would forever be a part of one another. The resentment that used to fill her, whenever she'd had that thought before, seemed to dissipate. She decided to simply accept her role. She looked down at Harry and then over at the now quiet bed, where Ron and Hermione had clearly fallen asleep. Ginny wondered when they last slept feeling completely safe. It had to have been a long time, she thought.
But she was still in a dilemma, because she had no one to hold her and comfort her. She peered at the vials on the bedside table, over her shoulder. She awkwardly grabbed one of them. She just needed enough to fall asleep, into a place, where the real world couldn't touch her for a short while. She didn't want to sleep for too long a time, so she took a very small sip. She could feel its effects immediately, however. She put it back down and snuggled into Harry's side, his body warm and inviting. Just before she let the potion take her away, she kissed him fleetingly on the cheek.
Author's Note: Here it is, the usual disclaimer. I own nothing Harry Potter. I'm just very grateful that J.K. Rowling is letting us play in her magnificent world. Thanks, Jo!