Harry opened his eyes and stared at the redness above him. He was immediately engulfed by that moment of panic that had assailed him every morning for almost a year. A flurry of questions tumbled through is mind. Where am I? Are we safe? Captured? How many have I found? Where’s the next one? Will I get them all? What will happen if I can’t do it? Will he kill me? What does it feel like to die? So many thoughts in such a short space of time. His heart pounded, and his breathing was uneven.
Harry fumbled quickly for his glasses. As he put them on the redness came into focus. Fabric. Red fabric. The canopy over his bed at Hogwarts! And the then he remembered - Yesterday he had been in the thick of battle. Today, it was over. Today would be the first day with no hunt, no chase, no evil wizard to face in a kill-or-be-killed game of nerve for as long as he could remember. Yes, today it was over, which of course meant that something else entirely had to start. Today was first day of the rest of his life.
He thought he could hear Ron snoring, but realised with a jolt that it was the sound of his own stomach rumbling. He turned to look at his watch, left propped up on the cabinet beside the bed. 4 o’clock, still very early. But that made no sense – it was daylight. Then realisation dawned – he must have slept all day! No wonder he was hungry. Sitting up, he saw that the rest of the dormitory was empty so he rolled out of bed and padded down the steps to the common room.
The common room was also empty – or at least, appeared so at first glance. On closer inspection, he could see a pair of feet hanging off the end of the sofa facing the fireplace. Strangely, the feet seemed to be wearing different shoes. One large, brown and rather familiar looking boot, and one much smaller, equally familiar pale-coloured plimsoll. The shoes moved closer together, and the plimsoll disappeared, pulled up on to the sofa, followed shortly by a very soft moaning noise. Harry loudly cleared his throat.
There was a momentary pause, a guilty rustle, and then two rather flustered heads appeared above the back of the sofa.
“Harry!” said Hermione. “You’re awake!”
“Apparently,” said Harry with a smile. “Sorry to disturb you – you seemed busy.”
“Umm – we were just coming to wake you up, mate,” said Ron, “but Hermione said we should just give you a bit longer. Y’know – tough day yesterday and everything.”
“I’m touched, guys – you’re all heart.” Harry walked over to the big chair and threw himself into it.
Hermione grinned. “Yes. Well. Perhaps we did rather lose track of time. Actually, we really were coming to get you. There’s a meeting in the Great Hall in about half an hour, and we thought you’d want to be there.”
“What sort of a meeting? What’s been happening while I’ve been asleep?”
“Rather a lot, actually. Mostly good, some not so good. The meeting is to let everyone that’s still here know what’s happening. There have been a lot of rumours about what’s going on at the Ministry, but Kingsley is coming here to talk to us himself. I heard that they’ve also been discussing the future of Hogwarts. Parts of the castle have been practically destroyed.”
Harry was horrified. “They can’t be thinking about closing Hogwarts?”
“Who knows?” replied Hermione. “Everything is so confused at the moment. A lot of people are leaving today and there are lots of families arriving to collect students, but they’re all hanging around to hear Kingsley. It’s more than that too, though. It’s like they want to be here, to show their support.”
Families. Oh Merlin – Harry hadn’t even thought. “Ron… what’s happening about… well, about Fred? And Remus and Tonks and the others?”
Ron was silent for a moment, then he looked up. His face was pale but determined. “He’s still here. We’re all still here. We’re waiting for the meeting, then we’re going to take him home. Mum’s assuming you’re coming with us?” Harry nodded, so Ron continued. “I’m not sure when the funeral will be, just as soon as Dad and Bill can get everything arranged. Mum’s a mess, and George is… well, I’m not really sure how George is. He hasn’t really spoken. Or moved. He’s just sitting with Fred. It’s horrible.”
“Ron – mate, how are you? Are you…” Harry searched desperately for the words to offer some comfort, but there didn’t seem to be anything even remotely good enough.
Ron laughed bitterly. “I’m OK. Or maybe just numb, I’m not sure which. It just doesn’t seem real. I keep thinking it’s got to be one of their awful jokes, that Fred’s going to leap up any second and him and George will laugh themselves sick. I just can’t make it stick in my mind that he’s really gone.” Ron looked at Harry again, his blue eyes fierce. “But I’m dead proud of him. Of everyone. And Hermione’s been brilliant” he added, turning to look at her. “I don’t know what I’d’ve done without you.”
Hermione smiled and blushed. Her hand closed over Ron’s as she spoke to Harry. “Remus and Tonks have already gone. Tonks’s mum came and took them. I’m not sure when the funeral will be, she said she would let us know.”
Harry stared into the fireplace. The grate was empty, cold. He thought about Remus and Tonks and Fred lying still on the floor of the Great Hall. The image refused to correlate with his memories of them in life. A wave of guilt crept up from the pit of his stomach, threatening to consume him. If only he had been somehow quicker, somehow better, then perhaps...
“Harry?” He looked up to see Hermione standing in front of him with Ron just behind her. There was sympathy in her eyes as if she knew the direction in which is thoughts had been taking him. He wondered if she was going to try and provide some words of comfort. He wasn’s sure he could stand it, and was grateful when she chose not to. Instead, she reached out an placed her hand on his shoulder.
“Come on – get dressed and then let’s go down to the meeting,” she said. “We can get you something to eat on the way. I’m sure you’re starving. And there’s someone in particular I know can’t wait to see you.”
The hall was crowded as Harry, Ron and Hermione walked in from the kitchen, sandwiches in hand. People were gathering to hear from Kingsley speak, to find out first-hand what was happening away from the Castle. Harry caused a ripple of interest, and several people called out to say hello. Harry waved in return, but was scanning the crowd for the face he most needed to see.
Suddenly, there she was. Ginny. She was on the other side of the hall, sitting with her parents. She looked exhausted, but as she saw him gazing at her, her face suddenly lit up and everyone else in the hall seemed to melt away as though she was the only other person in the room. Harry set off across the hall, Ron and Hermione just behind.
“Harry, my boy – you’re awake. Good to see you. Sleep well?” Mr Weasley stood up to greet him, blocking his path to Ginny, grasping his hand and clapping him on the shoulder.
“Yes, Mr Weasley. Very well.” With a jolt, Harry realised just how true that was. No nightmares, nothing haunting him for the first time in years. No wonder he had slept for almost a whole day!
“I’m so glad to hear it.” Mrs Weasley, her face still stained with tears, was also on her feet and she threw her arms around Harry. “And so very glad to see you. Has Ron told you? We’ll be leaving after the meeting. You’ll come with us, won’t you?”
“Yes, Mrs Weasley – he did say. Are you’re sure it’s okay?”
A shadow passed across Molly Weasley’s face as she realised he was thinking of Fred, but she smiled warmly at him, putting her hands on his shoulders. “Of course you won’t be intruding. You’re family, Harry, and at times like these, family should be together. The Burrow is your home whenever you need it.” As if to prove her point, she bagan to fuss over him. “Ah! I see you’ve already found some food. That’s good – I’m sure you’re hungry. Sit down, sit down – Kingsley will be here in a moment, I’m sure.”
“Sit here, Harry.” Ginny’s voice. She had shifted to her left, to make a space between her and Hermione. She looked so small, so fragile and so beautiful in her grief. Harry was momentarily lost for words. What to say to her? There was so much, but none of it seemed right, none of it he could say with others around. He settled for “Ah. Yes. Thanks.” She smiled, as though she knew what was inside him, and he settled gratefully into the space, feeling the warmth of her thigh against his. She dipped her head against his shoulder and his arm started to move around her shoulders without any sort of conscious thought on his part.
Suddenly, there was a loud ‘CRACK!’ on the stage, making everyone jump. Kingsley Shacklebolt had apparated onto the stage. Ginny’s head snapped upright and Harry’s arm returned to his side, while one of the wizards perched behind them spilt his tea all over Mr Weasley’s robes,
“I’ll say this about Kingsley. He knows how to make an entrance,” said Arthur Weasley, ruefully mopping at the tea. “He could have done that almost silently, if he’d wanted to.”
“Since when can you apparate in here?” muttered Harry.
“All the magic that usually protects Hogwarts is shot to pieces at the moment,” whispered Hermione in reply. “It’s because of the fighting. That’s part of the problem.”
Up on the stage, Kingsley struck a magnificent figure. He took a deep breath, composed himself and then spoke in a loud, clear voice.
“Friends. It is good to see so many of you here. I know you are all waiting anxiously to know how things stand outside and so I bring you news as your interim Minister for Magic.” There was a spontaneous ripple of applause, and Kingsley acknowledged it graciously with a nod of his head.
“Peace has broken out. Calm has returned to the Ministry. It is safe to return to your homes. But there is much to do, much to rebuild. Our world has been badly damaged, and now our task is to mend it.
“I know that many of you have lost loved ones here and elsewhere. Your first priority is, and must be, to honour the dead and tend to the wounded. But I ask that once all arrangements are made you join the Ministry in healing the wounds inflicted on our community.
“Many of you here are Ministry employees. I ask that you return to work as soon as you are able. There is much to do, and we may require a degree of flexibility in day-to-day responsibilities. As you will know, under the regime of my predecessor, many excellent colleagues were forced from their jobs, so today I announce a total amnesty and all who left under Thicknesse will be welcome to return with full restitution.”
Harry smiled as Mr Weasley visibly relaxed.
“I have also made personal arrangements for the removal from the Ministry of any witch or wizard that willingly and gladly collaborated with Voldemort’s regime. I know who those people are.”
“I bet he means Umbridge,” said Ron, under his breath.
“Those of us who were here, in this hall when Voldemort fell will know that we successfully apprehended many dark wizards last night. They have all been transported to Azkaban pending trial. However, many more remain at large, so you should remain vigilant and pass any information regarding the whereabouts of dark witches and wizards to the Ministry’s Auror office. You should also maintain a high level of caution for your personal safety, in case of reprisals from these dark fugitives.
“I also need to speak to you, as parents, alumni and pupils of the great school in which we sit. Great, yes – but Hogwarts is badly damaged. If it is to rise again to its former glory, like a phoenix from the ashes, then much work will be needed. I should tell you that there are those who question whether we should even try. This is, after all, now the place where many fine, brave people met their deaths.”
Harry groaned. He wanted nothing more than to pick up the pieces of his broken life, to somehow carve out a normal existance. Hogwarts was so special to him. It had been his salvation, and the thought that it might be ripped away from him was devastating.
But Kingsley wasn’t finished. “However, I can think of no more fitting way to honour those who gave their lives for our futures than to ensure that Hogwarts is rebuilt, and becomes a beacon of education and understanding, at the forefront of the battle to ensure that there is no ‘Third Wizarding War’.”
A cheer went up around the room. Harry’s face broke out into a huge grin.
“And so, to that end, I am delighted to announce that Minerva McGonagall has accepted the position of Headmistress of Hogwarts, effective immediately.”
Another cheer, and even more applause. Professor McGonagall raised her hand and smiled.
Kingsley waited for the noise to die down. “The fact remains that the fabric of the castle is badly damaged. The magical protections necessary to ensure the safety of our children while they learn to use and control their magic are broken. The school is not currently fit for lessons. Therefore, Hogwarts must close for the remainder of the school year to be rebuilt.
“The school will open again in September. It will be business as usual, with one exception. Teaching over the past year was limited by the restrictions and in some cases cruelty of Voldemort’s puppet staff. Because of this, Professor McGonagall and I are agreed that any student who was of age to enrol at the school at the beginning of this year will be invited to return and may choose to repeat their school year if they wish.”
“Yes!” Hermione’s face shone. Ron looked rather despondent.
“And now I must make another request of you. I know that many of you will leave this building later today, and will have responsibilities to attend to elsewhere. However, I would ask that, if you are able to do so, you return as soon as possible and assist us with the rebuilding work. Normal building charms and enchantments will have their use, but a large amount of dark magic was used here, and if we are to make Hogwarts safe before September then any witch or wizard who can spare some time and energy to help us will be most welcome in repairing the damage and ridding the castle of the darkness it has absorbed.
“We start the task in one week’s time. If you can help us, then please leave your name with Professor McGonagall.
“Friends. Thank you for your perseverance and your forbearance during the difficult times of the past. Thank you for your support and endeavour as we work towards the future. I look forward to working with you in the weeks, months and years to come. Thank you, and good evening”
And with that, Kingsley stepped down from the stage and towards Professor McGonagall.
Hermione’s face now held a rather downcast expression, but Ron, Harry and Ginny began to discuss the rebuilding, all talking at once and unable to keep excitement out of their voices. Ginny cast a beseeching glance at her parents and Mr and Mrs Weasley exchanged a look.
Molly Weasley smiled and then said, “I don’t see why not. It will occupy you over the summer at least. Give you something to... keep your mind off things.” Harry watched as her eyes filled up with tears once more. “Hermione, love? You’ve been very quiet. Will you be helping too?”
“Obviously I’d love to,” she said, looking disappointed. “But I can’t.”
“What? Why not?” asked Ron, wrinkling his eyebrows.
“I have to go and find my parents,” she explained, reaching out to take Ron’s hand. “There’s a very strong memory charm on them that I need to remove. That will be difficult enough, but then there’s a whole new set of memories to account for the past nine months to install, and all without sending them totally mad. And then I need to bring them home.”
“Bloody hell!” said Ron. “I hadn’t even thought. Will you be okay on your own? I mean, I could come with you?”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” she reassured him. “I’m going to floo the Australian Ministry tomorrow to see if they can help me.” She paused briefly, then nodded towards the new headmistress. “Go on. Put your name down. I’ll be fine.”
With a reluctant glance back at his girlfriend, Ron joined Harry and Ginny in the crowd of people surrounding Professor McGonagall. She was deluged with offers of help for the rebuilding, was delighted to add their names to the list. There was a difficult week ahead, saying goodbye to Fred, Remus and Tonks, but helping with the rebuilding of Hogwarts was something positive to cling to.
Harry was desperate to speak to Ginny, to start to mend things between them. He was trying to think of an excuse to get her on her own, when Bill and Fleur joined the group. Bill looked sad but resolute. “Mum. Dad. I think we’re ready to move Fred. Is everyone ready to leave?”
Molly Weasley took her husband’s hand and squeezed it so tightly her knuckles whitened. “Yes love. We are”.
The days after the battle were some of the most difficult Ginny could ever remember. Even cast against the backdrop of all those dreadful months, her family in hiding, not knowing whether Ron, Harry and Hermione were dead or alive, facing up to the cost of victory was truly harrowing. First came Fred’s funeral, one of the worst days of Ginny’s life. Then, the following day, Remus and Tonks were laid to rest together.
At times, Ginny wasn’t sure how she got through it. She drew strength from her family around her, but as the week drew to a close, she was utterly drained. “I feel as though I don’t have any tears left,” she said to Hermione, as they sat in the bedroom they were sharing.
“I know,” replied Hermione, perched cross-legged on her bed. “It seems so cruel.”
Ginny was sitting at her desk, staring out of the window. “It’s funny, but I keep forgetting. You know, while I’m brushing my teeth, or helping with the washing up. Just doing ordinary, mundane things. For a split second, I focus on something else and it’s out of my mind. Then it all rushes back, and it’s like I’m finding out about Fred all over again.” She picked up her hairbrush and turned it idly in her hand. “It’s strange how things go, isn’t it? When it first happened, all I wanted was for it not to be true. Now, all I want is for it to sink in, so I don’t have to keep living through it over and over again.”
“You’ll get there eventually. We all will.” Hermione gave her an encouraging smile.
Ginny sighed. “I know. I just want things to get back to normal. If that’s even possible without Fred.”
“There will be a new normal. I promise. Which reminds me – have you spoken to Harry yet?”
“No.” Ginny looked downcast. “I just assumed we would pick things up where we left off, but it doesn’t seem to be that easy. I keep catching him staring at me, but he’s barely said two words since we got back here.”
Hermione reached over and took her hand. “Ginny, I know he wants to be with you too. Very much. But you have to admit, the atmosphere hasn’t been very conducive towards romance, has it?”
“No, but even so...”
Hermione smiled sympathetically. “Come on, Ginny, you know Harry. As much as he’s the boy that took down the Dark Lord, he’s still completely rubbish with girls. He’s probably just paralysed by the thought of it, worrying you don’t want him anymore, struggling to find the right words and praying he gets his moment. Just be patient.”
Before Ginny could reply, Mrs Weasley’s voice boomed up the stairs. “Ginny? Hermione? Dinner’s ready!”
“Come on,” said Hermione, squeezing Ginny’s shoulder. “Maybe tonight’s the night he’ll get his act together.”
When the two girls got into the kitchen, the rest of the family was already gathered round the table. Mrs Weasley levitated large platter holding roast pork and vegetables into the centre, from which everyone helped themselves. Ron’s eyes were almost as large as the dinner plate in front of him as he piled it high with food.
“Potatoes, Harry?” asked Ginny, passing him the bowl across the table
“Erm... yes. Thanks,” he mumbled, before reaching for the gravy jug.
Wow, thought Ginny. Three whole words! I suppose you could call that progress.
She studied him across the table, and he seemed to be aware of her gaze because he looked up and stared back at her. She found she couldn’t look away, drifting away in those extraordinary green eyes.
It was only Hermione’s urgent shout that brought them both back down to earth. “Harry! The gravy!”
Ginny looked down at Harry’s plate, and realised that he had forgotten to stop pouring. Gravy was now flooding over the side onto the table. “Sorry!” he yelped, leaping up and mopping at it ineffectually with his napkin.
“Tergeo.” Hermione came to the rescue, siphoning up the gravy before it could dribble on to the floor.
With disaster averted, everyone settled down to eat. The atmosphere around the table was subdued, dominated by the empty place where Fred should have been sitting. George didn’t speak, and barely ate any of the food his mother put on his plate, simply pushing it around with his fork.
“Well then!” said Mrs Weasley, breaking the oppressive silence. Ginny recognised her tone as ‘purposefully cheerful’. For all her grief, Mrs Weasley was determined to drag them all through the darkness. “Are you all set for your trip to Australia, Hermione? Not long to go now.”
Hermione looked apprehensive. “I think so. The Australian Ministry have given me an address, so at least I know where to start. I just hope I’ll be back in time for the start of term.”
“I’m sure you will.” said Ron, his voice muffled by a forkful of pork. “You’re brilliant with all that stuff.”
“Don’t speak with your mouth full, Ron!” chided his mother, before giving her husband a meaningful glance.
Arthur Weasley cleared his throat. “Actually, Molly and I have been discussing this, Hermione. It’s a difficult job you’re facing, and I admire you for tackling it head on. You’re right to worry about the risks of altering Muggle memories and it isn’t something to be taken lightly. What you need is some assistance, preferably from someone with some professional experience helping the Ministry work with the Muggle world? Someone like me?”
“Oh Mr Weasley! That would be fantastic – but won’t they be expecting you back at the Ministry?”
“Hermione, love – what you have to realise is that anyone working for the Ministry over the next few months will find an enormous part of our time is spent making memory alterations to Muggles who accidentally became involved in the conflict. Your parent’s case would most likely cross someone’s desk eventually anyway. I had a quick word with Kingsley this morning and he’s happy for me to accompany you in an official capacity. It should make the whole thing much quicker. I expect we’ll have you all back in no time at all.”
Hermione beamed at him. She seemed to be on the verge of tears. “I don’t know what to say! Thank you so much!”
And so it was settled. Harry, Ron and Ginny would be back at Hogwarts in a few days’ time; Hermione would join them as soon as she could. Ginny looked at how happy her friend was and smiled. The ‘new normal’ was still some way away, but at least it was getting closer.
“I wonder how long it will take?” Ron examined his shoes as he spoke.
It was two days later and the entire Weasley family was gathered around the fireplace in the kitchen at the Burrow. They had just seen Hermione off to Australia via the Floo network, accompanied by Arthur, who was the first of several Weasleys to leave that day.
“Worried you’ll pine away, waiting for her?” Ginny’s tone of voice was light and teasing “She’ll be back before you know it. The time will fly, especially once we get to Hogwarts tomorrow.” She squeezed her brother’s arm.
Bill and Fleur stepped forward next and exchanged hugs with everyone.
“Look after my boy, Fleur,” said Mrs Weasley, as she embraced her daughter-in-law.
“But of course, Molly. Ee will always be well cared for!”
Once they had said their goodbyes, Bill and Fleur threw down their Floo powder, then stepped into the fireplace one after the other, disappearing with a bold “Shell Cottage!”
Next it was Percy, heading back to the Ministry, then George and Charlie, going to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes in Diagon Alley. Charlie was taking a sabbatical from his job to work with George at the shop. He would be there for nearly a year, supporting George through the difficult task of opening up without Fred by his side. George simply nodded when he heard the news. He still said very little, and no-one was surprised that the shop wasn’t at the forefront of his mind.
“Which is exactly why he needs me,” observed Charlie.
Finally, Mrs Weasley stood in her kitchen with Ron, Harry and Ginny. For a moment no-one spoke and they all just stared at the fireplace. Then, Mrs Weasley snapped upright.
“Good gracious! Look at the state of this house! Ron, be a love and help me clear up all this Floo powder. Ginny, take that laundry out to the orchard and hang it up please!”
With that, she bustled off towards the pile of lunch pots in the sink. Not wishing to find himself the designated dryer, Harry took his chance and followed Ginny out of the kitchen door. He took a deep breath, enjoying the fresh air, gazing at the trees and remembering playing Quidditch there with Ginny and Ron and Hermione. Was that really two years ago? He remembered it like yesterday. There were so many memories associated with this place. He had been standing almost on this spot when Kingsley’s patronus has brought the news of the Ministry’s fall to Bill and Fleur’s wedding. Mr Weasley’s flying car had landed only a few metres away, the very first time he had ever been here.
Lost in his reverie, Ginny had to call his name several times before he heard her.
“Harry! Are you going to help me with the laundry or not?”
“Oh! Yes! Sorry.”
He trotted over to where Ginny had already pinned several sheets to the washing line strung amongst the trees.
“So,” she said, smiling at him. “I’ve got you on your own at last. We haven’t had much time to talk, with everything that’s been happening.”
“No, I know. I’m sorry about that. I haven’t been avoiding you, I promise.”
“I never thought you were. And anyway, we can talk now. Can’t we?”
“Um. Yes. We can. Good.” Harry stumbled through the words. What to say to her? How to bridge that gap? “Ginny, I… well I was hoping…”
Made clumsy by his indecision, he bent to pick up another sheet from the basket, just as Ginny did the same. Their heads collided and Ginny made a little squeak, more of surprise than pain. Smooth, Potter – very smooth, thought Harry.
“Oh god, Ginny, I’m so sorry! Have I hurt you?”
He stepped forward towards her, putting one hand on her shoulder and brushing her hair from her face with the other. She looked up into his eyes, bright brown meeting glittering green. There was a dazzling moment of potential and that moment, that touch, was all it took. Afterwards, Harry couldn’t remember which of them moved first, just the jolt as their lips touched and then he was kissing her, feeling all the passion flood back. Ginny wound her arms around his neck, and the muscles in his shoulders tensed as he pulled her closer. Harry had one hand in her hair, as soft and silky as he remembered, and the other on the small of her back, warm and yielding as she hugged herself against him.
Standing at the sink in the kitchen, looking out on to the orchard, Mrs Weasley watched the sheets as they billowed in the breeze. As they momentarily fluttered apart, she caught a glimpse of her daughter and the boy she thought of as a son, framed between them. For the first time in days, Mrs Weasley smiled.
A/N - this chapter was updated in January 2012, as a result of feedback from everyone that was kind enough to leave a review. Some of the most helpful were: Beeezie, Arithmancy_Wiz,, Chocolate_Frog, CloakAuror9, Ravenclaw_Princess, Phoenix_Flames, LittleWelshGirl99 and of course, my fantastic beta reader CambAngst. Thanks all! I hope you like what I’ve done with it, and that you feel the revisions have resulted in a better chapter.
As ever, everything you recognise belongs to JK Rowling.