Harry clambered through the portrait hole, Ron and Hermione on his heels. He was grateful for Hermione's fingers gripping the bck of his shirt to keep him steady on his feet. Emotionally drained and exhausted, the only thing that kept him going was a delightful vision of his own warm, soft bed.
The common room was empty, the lamps dark, no fire crackling in the grate. The evidence of the battle strewn over the rest of the castle wasn't present here; clearly the fighting hadn't reached this far.
Ron collapsed into an armchair in front of the empty fireplace. He had a deep gash on his cheek and one sleeve of his jacket had been torn away, revealing several more deep cuts. But what worried Harry most was the gaunt, vacant look in his best friend's sunken eyes—he recognized it all too well as grief. He locked eyes with Hermione over the top of Ron's chair and mouthed, "Look after him, will you?"
She nodded and went over to sit on the arm of the chair. As Harry turned towards the door that led to the boys' dormitories, he saw her take Ron's hand.
Dazzling sunlight was filtering into the room when Harry awoke. He fumbled for his glasses on the table beside him; finally, having gotten them on, he rolled over and glanced at the large clock on the wall. It was ten minutes to eleven. Figuring he'd better get down to the Great Hall and eat something, he threw back his blankets and climbed out of bed.
He had fallen asleep in his dirty, sweat-soaked, bloodstained shirt and jeans, yet he still felt too emotionally numb to care about his appearance. He entered the common room to find Ron and Hermione curled up in the same chair, arms wrapped around each other as if they were afraid to let go.
Hermione's head jerked up as Harry entered the room; she gave him a slightly guilty smile as she looked first at Ron and then back to Harry.
Harry grinned. "About bloody time, yeah?"
"Shut up," she said, grinning back.
"I was going to go downstairs, get something to eat," said Harry. "Do you and Ron want to come along?"
Ron looked up quickly. "I want to eat!"
Harry laughed, while Hermione swatted him playfully on the shoulder and said, "Of course you think of food, Ron."
"Well, I'm starving," muttered Ron, blushing furiously.
"Come on, you lot. Let's get down there," said Harry, interrupting their bickering.
They filed out into the corridor, which was strewn with bits of rubble; the great gilded frames that had once held pictures along this corridor lay in heaps on the ground, and the Fat Lady's empty portrait was hanging on a single hinge. Chunks of the ceiling had fallen in, leaving gaping holes through which shafts of sunlight shone. As they made their way downstairs, the amount of debris got progressively larger.
Harry was helping Hermione climb over an enormous piece of the balustrade from the great marble staircase in the Entrance Hall when Ron spoke. "Blimey, it really is over, isn't it?"
"No, Ron," said Harry sarcastically, catching Hermione before she could hit the ground, "this was all a dream. Actually, now you mention it, I do feel rather like I'm dreaming at the moment."
"See what I mean?" asked Ron, grinning.
"That reminds me, Ron—I'm so sorry about Fred—" Harry began.
Ron held up a hand to stop him. "I don't think Fred would have wanted us to be moping around over his death. It's not your fault, so quit talking about it—and besides, I'm sure you'll want to focus on other things at the moment."
"What 'other things' could you be referring to?" Hermione asked, confused.
"Oh, nothing—just my little sister he's about to go snog."
"Shut up, mate."
The Great Hall was crammed with people; it looked much the same as it had a few hours ago when Harry had left it. Professor Sinistra and Madam Pomfrey were helping the palomino centaur Firenze move into a more comfortable position. Professors Sprout, Vector, and Slughorn were sitting together, heads bowed and talking in low tones. Lavender and Parvati were leaving the hall with Professor Trelawney.
Before Harry could turn to Ron and Hermione and ask where they were headed, Professor McGonagall came hurrying over.
"Harry, Miss Weasley was looking for you just a moment ago."
"Oh, Merlin—thanks, Professor—I'd better go, I wouldn't want to be on the recieving end of one of her Bat-Bogey Hexes…"
She gave him a knowing smile, patted him on the shoulder, and strode off.
Harry turned back to his friends. "Shall we go and look for them, then?"
"Yeah," said Ron and Hermione simultaneously. The three of them joined hands so they wouldn't lose each other, then stepped forward into the throng of people.
It took at least five minutes to simply navigate the hall, what with so many people being there. They finally managed to reach the Gryffindor table; all three of them hunted along the length of it for a glimpse of ginger hair.
It was Ron who saw them first. "There—right there—sitting down that end, d'you see them?"
They made their way down the aisle until they reached the rest of the Weasleys. Harry saw Fleur leaning her head on Bill's shoulder, and Percy with an arm slung around George, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley holding hands. But all of this registered in a very small, distant region of his brain—the majority of his thoughts were focused on Ginny.
She twisted in her seat at the sound of footsteps behind her; before he had a chance to react, she was on her feet and running toward him with the same fierce, blazing look in her brown eyes that she had a million years ago in the common room. Without caring that there was a whole hall full of people watching—two of whom were Ginny's parents—Harry caught her mid-stride, took her face in his hands, and kissed her.
It didn't matter that everything they knew had been obliterated—the only thing that mattered to Harry right now was the feel of Ginny's lips on his, and the sweet scent of her flaming hair, and the promise of a new life born, like a phoenix, from the ashes of the old.