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            When Harry awoke, he was fully clothed in the Gryffindor dormitory. His stomach was grumbling loudly. His sheets smelled metallic and dirty. It was only a few moments later that he realized it was because he had slept on it.

            Ron was still asleep in his bed when Harry crossed the room to change his clothes. He caught his reflection in the mirror. His body was covered in dirt and dried blood. Half of it had rubbed off on his sheets through the night. When he checked the time he realized that he had slept through most of the next day. He could hear a faint rumbling around the castle that was the movements of hundreds of people reconstructing Hogwarts, breaking it down, moving things, celebrating, and mourning.

            The noise of stomping feet reminded him of the heat of battle. He had to calm his heart when it thumped instinctively. The battle was long gone….

            Flashes of the battle, of Voldemort’s high-pitched laugh, and of the bodies of those he had loved most made themselves present in his mind. It was going to be like this for a while. This was how he felt after Cedric had died. The flashbacks were inevitable.

            There was a sudden movement on his bed behind him and Harry’s hand jumped to his wand—a difficult feat, owing to the fact that his trousers were half on. When he spun around, faster than lightning, wand out, he found himself face-to-face with Ron who must have heard Harry and woken up.

            Ron was very still. His wand was out too, pointing directly at Harry’s heart. It was a moment before the two of them realized what was going on. They lowered their wands, pulses gradually slowing down.

            “I know,” said Harry with a parched voice. “It’s strange, isn’t it? Waking up in a dormitory.”

            Ron grunted in agreement. Pocketing his wand, he said, “It’s even stranger waking up to some bloke who’s crossing the room with half his trousers on….thinking that you’re being attacked again.”

            There was a deep silence. (Harry pulled his trousers on all the way.)

            Ron was looking out a window, examining the damage that had been done to the Hogwart’s grounds. His brow was furrowed, troubled. He was eerily still.

            “Is this what it was like all the other times?” asked Ron suddenly.

            Harry conjured a glass and filled it with water from his wand. “The other times? What are you on about?”

            “After the graveyard, and the ministry, and the cave last year.”

            “I dunno what you mean,” he said, downing the water in one gulp. He refilled the glass.

            “Come off it,” scoffed Ron, imitating Harry and taking a drink. “You know what I mean. Did you…always feel jittery and alert and stuff?”

            Harry peered at Ron through his smudged glasses. “You were at the ministry with me. Don’t you already know?”

            “I suppose,” he shrugged. “It wasn’t anything like this, though. I mean, I wasn’t starting awake or anything thinking I was being attacked. And I didn’t feel….”

            Ron’s freckly face paled slightly.

            Harry felt a dead weight drop into his chest; something like guilt. He knew Ron was thinking of Fred. Harry was too.

            “It’s ‘cause all the other times were just a one-night stand,” said Harry, standing very still, looking off into nothing. “This…this was…”

            “A lifetime,” finished Ron.

            He stared at his glass of water, a deep sadness creasing his brow. Apparently, after deciding that water wasn’t enough, he raised his wand and said, “Accio Firewhiskey!”

            When two bottles zoomed through the dormitory door, Harry grabbed one out of the air, popping it open immediately. The whiskey was much more effective. Some of his feelings seemed to drain away with the hot scorching at the back of his throat.

            “I don’t want to talk about it,” said Ron after taking a swig, as if Harry had demanded that he speak.

            Slightly confused, (maybe it was the Firewhiskey), Harry asked, “Er, what?”

            “I don’t want to have to talk about what we did,” said Ron gruffly, “about what we saw. I don’t want to see it again.”

            Harry did not want it either. “Reliving it is…” He could not find the words. A flash of Tonks and Lupin’s faces surged in front of his mind, rendering him speechless. He could not finish his sentence.

            “How did you do it in the past? When Cedric died?” asked Ron in a strangled voice.

            Harry just shook his head. No words could describe the retelling. He didn’t know how he’d survived the previous times. He definitely didn’t know what he was going to do now.

            “They’re not going to pressure us into telling anything soon are they?” asked Ron anxiously glancing at the door. “Everything has to get…settled first, right?”

            Harry wished it were so. “This is when they’re going to want us the most, Ron. The Prophet, the Ministry, the people…all of them.” He looked up at his best friend. Ron was gripping the head post to his bed so tightly that his knuckles were white. “But they can’t make us do anything until we show ourselves to them.”

            Ron sank back onto his bed, head in hands. “In that case,” he said heavily, “I’m not leaving this bloody dormitory—”

            Suddenly, there were footsteps from down the stairs. Harry’s hand went to his robes for his wand, but he stopped half way. He knew those steps…

            “It’s just Hermione,” whispered Harry.

            “I know,” said Ron, who had not even bothered to take his wand out.

            Sure enough, Hermione’s frizzy head came bounding into the room. She closed the door behind her, locked it expertly, and put a number of sneak-proof spells around it—all this as a result of months of putting up protective spells quickly when they were on the run…

            She stared at all them in silence for a moment.

            “We’re alive!” she cried suddenly.

            Even in his misery, Harry had the energy to crack a smile. Hermione hugged them both and settled herself on the edge of another bed. Harry noticed that she had a new set of clothes on. And her hair was no longer tangled and mangy. Suddenly, he felt unclean. He put it on his mind to take a bath later…

            His stomach rumbled.

            “I bet you’re hungry,” she said. Like always, Hermione seemed to be able to read his mind. He was starving.

            “Let’s go then,” said Ron, getting up.

            “No, it’s all right, I’ve all ready got some,” she said, opening the contents of the small purse of hers that seemed to fit so much more than it looked like it could hold. Out of the tiny hand bag came sandwiches, crèmes, tarts, drinks, and pie. She conjured some plates and silverware and handed it to them.

            Harry couldn’t help but hand it to Hermione. She was always on top of her game. How would they have survived if it weren’t for her? He wished he could express how much she meant to them…how much she helped them during their journey. But somehow, he thought she already knew…

            Words weren’t always necessary between the three of them anymore.

            “Gotten past you’re house elf rights, have you?” said Ron, stuffing himself immediately with apple pie.

            Hermione turned a light shade of pink and Harry knew she was remembering the rather dramatic kiss during the final battle that was a result of a similar discussion…

            “It was doing them a favor,” she said calmly. “Half the kitchen was caved in and they were in a right state—crying and sobbing on the floor. It was like their lives were ruined. The least I could do for them was ask for food to take their mind off things.”

            “How come they didn’t fix it?” asked Harry, thinking that treacle tart had never tasted so good. It had been so long since he’d last had it—a lifetime away. He barely remembered its sweetness.

            “I’m not sure,” said Hermione, in a concerned way. “Maybe they can’t?”

            Harry remembered how Dobby had easily levitated his aunt’s cake at the dinner party, how he had saved them from Malfoy Manor by disapparating in a non-apparating zone. His insides clenched painfully. For a moment, he stopped chewing.

            “No, it’s not that,” he said in a strained voice. “They had lots of power. Dobby knew what he was doing.”

            At the name, Ron stopped eating and stared at his plate with a frozen face.

            Suddenly, the room was cold.

            “I think he’d be proud of you, Harry,” whispered Hermione.

            It took a while for him to answer. “Yeah,” he said hoarsely.

            There was a silence, and for once, Harry was glad that it was so. A respectful silence for Dobby. It would be, after all, one of many moments like this to come. Had the little elf known how much he meant to Harry? Had he realized the sacrifice he’d made when he stepped in front of Bellatrix Lestrange’s dagger? He would never know…because Harry would never be able to tell him…

            Something was stopping up Harry’s throat, preventing him from breathing. He tried not to think about it, tried not to think about anything.

            But unbidden into his mind came a sudden memory of walking alone in the forest, shaking with fear, terrified more than he’d ever been his entire life…knowing that he was going to die…knowing that fate had planned it so…

            He was looking into the eyes of Bathilda Bagshot, inhaling the dusty mugginess of her ancient house. The snake exploded from her neck…his scar hurt so badly…

            Hedwig was blasted in her cage before his eyes, his first friend from the wizarding world, the one that stuck with him even when he was forced to return to Privet Drive. She was gone in a haze of green light…if he had only opened her cage and let her fly on her own…

            Ron was bleeding profusely on the ground in front of him, his shoulder half gone, huge chunks of flesh completely missing…Hermione’s hands were shaking and bloody…

            Burning replicas of red hot metal were scalding his body, drowning him…where was the Horcrux? Somewhere far off, a dragon’s roar reverberating through the burning vault…

            Hermione’s screams were piercing his heart like a dagger and he could do nothing to stop them. Ron was pounding on the walls, screaming her name…the screaming went on and on….there was no way out of Malfoy Manor…she was going to die…

            The chill of dozens of dementors crept under his skin and he spotted it, there around her thick neck, the Horcrux locket, swinging tantalizingly under a wide-stretched face. His heart was pounding fast…a screaming was starting in his ears…his mother was going to die again…

            The Killing Curse whizzed past Ginny’s head inches away from her skin…she had almost died…he could barely breathe… He did not know what to do if she died, if she was so suddenly ripped from him…all those nights he’d stared at her dot in the Marauder’s Map…

            Fred…his eyes glassy and staring—

            He was breathing hard.

            As the world slipped back into reality, the truth of where he was dawned on him. He shook himself mentally, willed himself not to think of such things. When he looked over to Ron and Hermione he saw their pained faces staring off into nothingness and he knew they were thinking of similar things.

            “Don’t think about it…” he said abruptly. He could not hide the shaking of his voice. “You’ll have plenty of time later.”

            The visions had scared him. They were so sudden, so unexpected that it was like he didn’t have any control over his mind. It was a frightening thought. The things he was seeing….Ron and Hermione were seeing them too…

            Ron was shivering very slightly. Hermione didn’t seem like she was breathing. Harry was aching for them, wishing he could take away their pain, knowing that it was him who was to blame. But at the same time, although he was ashamed of it, he had never been gladder to have two best friends who could relate perfectly to him. It was the three of them together, linked by common memories. The silence was not just his, but theirs, too. They shared a common bond…a common pain…

            His mind began to wander to the past again...

            “I have to go,” he said, suddenly.

            Both their heads snapped up immediately. “Why?” said Ron. “Where?” said Hermione.

            “Anywhere,” he said, standing up quickly. “I can’t sit here.”

           Sitting around doing nothing was the worst thing he could do, he knew from experience. It gave him time to think about the things he wanted to forget. It let him wallow in his own misery, let it spread through him like a virus. He had to occupy himself with something, something that wouldn’t bring flashbacks.

         “You…you want to go out there?” asked Hermione quietly. “Everyone, Harry…everyone is going to want to talk to you.”

       She knew that he didn’t want the attention. But the silence was too unbearable. He did not want to wallow in his memories. He’d rather work off the energy that seemed to course through his veins, energy (or was it nerves?) that he somehow still had even though he was exhausted from a year’s journey.

          The victory of the world was waiting for him outside, but he didn’t want to celebrate.

         “I’d get out, if I were you,” he advised. “You’re going to want to leave eventually, I promise you.”

         “But—” began Ron.

         “Trust me,” he said in a low voice. “Nothing is worse for you right now than for your thoughts to get to your head. It’s dangerous.”

          He took something out of his cloak.

          “Besides,” he said, and he drew the invisible material over his head and disappeared. “I won’t be seen.”

          They stared at him for a moment, (Ron stared a little to the right) apparently deciding that his advice was worthwhile.

         “How much room is under that cloak, mate?” said Ron.

 

                                                                    «                     »

 

            It was a while before they sank under the forgiving shade of the old beach tree on the shore of the Black Lake. How long ago was it that they had done the very same thing? Did they have any worries at all then? Did they know the fate that was planned?

           Hogwarts grounds never seemed more different. There was an eerie sort of stillness. No one was out by the lake. Most were still clumped in the Great Hall caring for each other, mourning. The bodies had been moved away long ago. Meals were probably going to be served once someone remembered the house elves again. The rest were working around the castle trying to restore destroyed towers and cracked walls. Many people had left to take loved ones to Saint Mungos, or else to leave the castle early before term was over.

            It was a bizarre idea that people still operated according to the school schedule. Harry’s thoughts had long since strayed away from the notion of academics, of petty grades that meant nothing in the real world.

            Contrary to the gloom, the sun was shining clear and warm. As it touched his skin he was filled with a sudden renewed sense of anticipation and he knew that not all hope was lost. Voldemort was, after all, defeated. Death Eaters would rise up, but dwindling in numbers, Harry knew they would not last long.

             His victory still burned inside of him like a talisman. He felt like he’d run the longest race of his life and won, even if it was by a small margin. The fact that his life and the lives of his friends were not in jeopardy was the most relieving feeling he’d ever felt, much like how he felt when he spotted Ginny the other day in the Great Hall knowing that she had survived…

             The time for the two of them would come, and soon, he would make sure of it. Out of everyone, he owed her an explanation the most. Out of everyone, she deserved it.

              The three of them had long since removed the Invisibility Cloak.

             “It’s strange being back here, isn’t it?” remarked Hermione, picking at some grass below her, twiddling it between her fingers.

             “It doesn’t seem real,” said Harry.

             Ron closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. “Everything is done, mate,” he said simply.

             Harry smiled slightly. Yes, everything was done. For now, he would let other people take care of the mess for him. He’d done his part. He’d conquered fate. The least the world could do was let him relax under the tree with his best friends.

            “You do realize,” said Ron sitting up as if he were realizing something for the first time, “that we’re going to be famous?”

           “As if I weren’t that already.”

           “Well now, you’ll be doubly famous!”
 
            “And so will you and Hermione,” he said. He gave Ron a look. “It’s nothing to be proud of.”

             Hermione scoffed. “Now you’re just being unreasonable. Defeating Voldemort is not anything to be ashamed of.”

           “No…” he agreed. “It’s just…I don’t need any of it.”

           “Of course not,” she replied sensibly. “But this time, no one can make up anything that you did. There were dozens of witnesses. No one can spin any nasty stories around you now! Everything will be good!”

          Harry considered this. “I suppose you’re right.”

          “Not even old Rita could spit out a bad tale about this one,” remarked Ron.

           “And if she was stupid enough to do it, she’d just become a social reject,” scoffed Hermione. “No one in their right mind would make fun of you now, Harry. Not even the Death Eaters would stand a chance.”

           “They wouldn’t stand a chance either way,” Harry reasoned. “They’re outnumbered.”

         “And mostly dead,” observed Ron.

            

                                                                       «                    »

 

            Harry wouldn’t go into the Great Hall with Ron when he requested to see his family. He did not think he could bear the hundreds of staring faces. Although many of them might cheer for him, many more would be plagued with deep misery at the fate of their loved ones. Seeing their faces was too much for him to handle now.

            Harry was sitting by the fire place with Hermione waiting for Ron to return from the Great Hall. They were not talking. The silence was ineffable. So many things had gone beyond words. Harry knew that she was not interested in speaking much and he was grateful.

            There was a sudden noise by the portrait hole and he spun around, knowing that it was neither enemy nor foe, but ashamed nonetheless that his pulse quickened as if it were so. To his great surprise he saw not only Ron, but also Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Ginny, Percy, Bill, Charlie, and George, much paler than the rest.

            Harry glared at Ron. Ron stared away apologetically, giving him the ‘I couldn’t help it’ shrug. Harry did not want to see the Weasley’s when death was so close in the family…and it was all his fault…

            “Mr. Weasley,” he said, standing up and shaking his hand.

            Mr. Weasley had bags under his eyes and a deep sadness that lined his face, but something in his movements suggested that he wasn’t all miserable.

            “Harry, no words of congratulations can describe your victory yesterday. I was hoping to catch you sooner and thank you but you had gone…”

            Harry swallowed, not knowing what to say, waiting for the outcry of agony, for the blame for Fred’s death because he knew in his heart that it was his fault…all of it…

            “You’ve made us proud, Harry,” he said, smiling warmly.

            Stunned, Harry was greeted roughly by Mrs. Weasley who pulled him into such a tight hug that he thought he ribs would break.

            “Mrs. Weasley, I’m—”

            “There’s no need to say anything!” she said, promptly bursting into tears. “We’re so proud of you, Harry! I d-didn’t think that any of you would s-survive, but here you are! And you defeated V-Voldemort!”

            Nobody winced at the name this time. They knew he was dead. Gone forever.

            “The world is a better place now…now that you’ve won.”

            “I didn’t do it on my own, Mrs. Weasley.”

            “No, of course not, Harry dear but we couldn’t go on without thanking you personally! Oh…oh how much I’d hoped that the war would end soon. And it has! Thanks to you and everyone who fought.”

            She gave Ron and Hermione a knowing look to.

            “We’re glad you made it back,” said Ginny.

            Harry locked eyes with her and felt all the unspoken things said in those few words. His heart thumped painfully. How Ginny must be feeling right now…

Mrs. Weasley dabbed her eyes. “I know F-Fred wanted to go the way he did—fighting. He wouldn’t have wanted anything else.”

            The lump in Harry’s throat locked in place. They had finally arrived on the subject of Fred. He wished he could melt into the floor. A burning behind his eyes forced him to look at the ground. He wished he had enough courage to tell them exactly how he was feeling…but words didn’t seem to be enough…

            “We want you to know that we don’t blame you for…for what happened to Fred.”

            Harry looked up. For it was not Mrs. Weasley who had spoken, but George.

            His face was very white. It looked like he hadn’t slept at all. Something in his voice was dead, broken. He seemed lost and alone. This was the first time, Harry realized with a jolt, that he had seen George without his twin by his side.

            Suddenly it became very difficult to breathe. The words that George had spoken had meant almost too much to Harry. Something inside of him tightened at the sight of him in such pain, but at the same time a huge weight had suddenly risen from his chest. He could not convey to George through words how enormously relieved he was to hear those words, that he was not being blamed even though he deserved it more than anyone…

            …how sorry he was that Fred was gone…

            Shaking inside and out, Harry moved forward and embraced George tightly.

            George clung to him roughly, forgivingly, and Harry felt he had never been treated to an act so kind.

            “I’m sorry,” he whispered hoarsely.

            When they released, George had tears on his face, but he tried to hide it by folding his arms tightly and looking at the floor. Harry wished he could do something to help him more, but he knew that the remedy to such misery was not something anyone could give him. A gaping hole was forever going to live with him, with George and the rest of the Weasley’s and Harry.

            One by one, the Weasley’s came up to him, shook his hand or hugged him, and thanked him for what he did. Every single person sounded sincere. No one was joking. No one was sarcastic. It was extreme, genuine gratitude and Harry felt guilty receiving what he didn’t believe he deserved.

            “Thank Ron and Hermione,” he mumbled. “Not me…I couldn’t have done it without them…they’re the ones who deserve it…”

            “They already have,” sniffled Hermione who seemed to have been crying the whole time as well.

            Harry stood awkwardly in the center of the common room. There was a collective silence. Someone sniffled.

            Then: “Lupin and Tonks would have been proud of you, too, Harry,” said Bill.

            Harry knew the comment was supposed to make him feel better, to fill in for the silence where overpowering emotions would have settled, but something inside him broke at those words and suddenly he could not stand another moment there in that room with them.

            “I have to go,” he said suddenly.

            Mrs. Weasley looked distraught. “But we were just going to go have a meal down in the Great Hall. Wouldn’t you care to join us?”

          “I believe Kingsley has prepared a few words on behalf of the new Ministry,” said Percy, who apparently had accepted that the Ministry under someone different than Thicknese was acceptable.

             But Harry never wanted to be out of their mourning presence more. Kingsley was certainly going to talk about him and about his journeys. Maybe everyone would expect him to say something. But he did not deserve to sit with the Weasley’s as if he were…replacing Fred.

             It was a horrid thought.

            “No, I’m fine,” he said automatically. Already he was steering himself towards the portrait hole. “I have to…go to the—”

           No one found out exactly where he was going to go. Harry had no more idea than the confused Weasley’s still standing in the common room. All he knew was that he had to flee somewhere where he did not have to constrict the pain building behind his chest.

           He took a blind left. His breaths were coming in huge gasps, consuming him, making it difficult to comprehend anything. He thought he heard footsteps behind him, but he took another blind turn and he couldn’t hear them anymore. The world flew past him but he didn’t see a single detail of it. Only a day ago he had been walking into the forest, trembling at the thought of death, wanting someone to take hold of him and drag him out of it. Now he was running away from company, from the living who grieved for death.

             He wanted to be alone where no one, not even Ron and Hermione, could talk to him. Silence was what he wanted. Silence and something that would keep him on the ground, that would keep him from flying away into the past…he did not want to think about it—

            Flying.

           Before he knew it his feet were taking him down to the Quidditch pitch. How long ago had it been since he had flown for pleasure? How long ago was it that he was losing sleep over a Quidditch match and not whether or not he would survive the next day?

          Fred was dead.

          Harry was sprinting now. He had to release himself. He had to get into the air. The emotions were welling up inside of him and he wanted to simply fall away from his body and never feel anything ever again.

           Tears were choking him.

         “A-Accio Firebolt!” he yelled once he was on the pitch.

          It took a moment for it to come, but come it did, and he kicked off from the ground the second he had mounted it.

           The tears flew off his face as he hurtled towards the sky. A swooping sensation hurled through his stomach and he felt some of his agony leave. The wind blew back his hair and his face was suddenly cooler. His gasps subsided and suddenly he could breathe again. Relaxing as he always did, he flew around aimlessly, trying to distract himself.

            It was a while before he noticed a tiny dot standing in the middle of the field. Harry peered down at the figure, noticing that it dawned a head of long, flaming red hair.

            Ginny.

            Knowing that he had no choice but to confront her eventually, he zoomed down to her, stumbling rather roughly back onto the ground. When he came up to her and really studied her up close he realized something.

            She was different.

            Her features were the same, but something about the way she carried herself had changed. Her posture represented someone who hadn’t simply lived life, but who had also lived through maturing experiences—dark experiences. Her eyes were shadier, more concentrated, like they were focusing on something very carefully. Her shoulders were more erect, more confident.

            This was Ginny after the war had taken a hold of her.

            Her eyes were red around the edges and he knew she’d been crying, but that was long ago. Now, she was studying him with that penetrating, glowing look that always made his stomach swoop.

            How long had it been since he’d spoken with her alone? How many months had dropped away since their last private encounter? He felt like he had skipped a huge chapter in her life. So much about her had changed.

            She was a woman now, not a girl.

            Silently, he took her hand and led her over to the bleachers surrounding the field. She clutched his hand tightly with her warm one as they sat down side by side gazing at the setting sun from over the three goal hoops on the far side of the pitch.

            “I thought you were dead, you know,” she said.

            Harry was silent.

            “When Hagrid came out of the forest holding you…I thought you were dead.”

            Something in her voice was aching. Harry closed his eyes.

            “It was the only way,” he said. “I had to pretend or else I’d have never made it out of there alive.”

            “I know,” she said simply. “It made me think though…about what life would be without you.”

            Harry never found out what that would feel like for her, though, because she fell silent again. He felt like he had to say something, but everything he wanted to say sounded clumsy and misguided.

            After a while, she turned to him, her eyes glowing. She was very beautiful. More beautiful than he remembered. And it was more than he could ask to simply sit there and stare at her.

            “Why didn’t you speak to me when you were in your invisibility cloak?”

            The question caught him off guard. “You—you knew I was there?”

            “I knew something was there,” she replied. “It took me a while to figure out that it was you. I knew after I saw you come of the forest because I didn’t think you’d gone to begin with.”

            “I’m sorry,” he said honestly. He felt like he owed her an apology. “If I’d spoken to anyone—looked at anyone for too long—then I wouldn’t have been able to go through with it.”

            Ginny frowned. “I’d like to know exactly why you had to go through with it. And how you even survived. Some people are saying that you died and came back to life. I heard from a third year that you battled dozens of death eaters and one of them got you and thought you were dead...”

            Finally, Harry understand what was unnerving her. She was hearing about him only from other sources and she didn’t know who to trust. But who she wanted to hear it from was him. And he was going to give her the truth…but it was easier said than done.

            “If I tell you everything,” he said quietly, “then you can’t let anyone else know about it.”

            She squeezed his hand in agreement.

            “And you’ll have to be patient…it’s a long story. I might not be able to get through it all…”

            And for the next three hours from dusk until night fall, they talked. And it was both a terrifying and purifying experience for him. He felt like all the bottled up nerves and regrets he had been holding simply flowed out into her. She listened with rapt attention, nodding at the right parts, bringing him back to reality when he became lost in his thoughts.

            She gave him courage when he thought he could not go on.

            When he reached the part about seeing Fred and Lupin and Tonks lined up in the Great Hall, he could not continue and no amount of coaxing and prying on Ginny’s part could make him go on.

            They sat there for a long while after he was finished, Harry resting his head on her shoulder. She held him very close to her and it was all they needed. A huge weight was gone from his chest. He never appreciated Ginny more than he did at that moment.

            When his stomach started grumbling again they decided that they would return to castle. Harry would return to Gryffindor’s dormitory and eat dinner there while Ginny joined her family in the Great Hall. She understood his want for privacy and did not push him into joining her.

            As they were walking back from the pitch, they kissed for the first time in a year and Harry thought that the world was not such a bad place at all.

 

«                    »

 

            “Hi, Harry!”

            Harry turned around, a sinking feeling in his chest. He’d been trying to reunite with Ron and Hermione without running into anyone. But to his great surprise, he found Neville jogging towards him, a relieved smile on his face.

            “Neville,” said Harry. “How…how are you?”

            “Wonderful,” he said, beaming. “But…” his smile fell slightly. “I mean…it’s not all good, is it?”

            Admiration of the man before him filled Harry. At least Neville understood that, although the war was over, not all was well. There were still mourners. There was still pain. And he knew that Neville was not going to push him into speaking of things he did not want to speak.

            A strange look was on Neville’s face and for a moment, Harry wondered if it was pity. But then he thought about how close his and Neville’s fates were, how Voldemort could have chosen Neville to be marked and not him, how it may have been Neville with a scar not only on his forehead, but also on his chest from the Horcrux locket and his arm from Nagini’s snake bite.

            Of course it was pity.

            If only Neville knew.

            Harry couldn’t find his words. “You were…I mean, I never got a chance to thank you for killing the snake…nothing would have worked out if you hadn’t….”

            “It was nothing,” said Neville modestly, standing proud and tall. “I did it because you asked me to.”

            “You did it because you…because you’re brave,” he said clumsily.

            “But I wasn’t,” said Neville, looking surprised. “It was terrifying! It just looked brave because I didn’t have any time to doubt…I just had to go for it and—”

            “—hope it worked,” finished Harry. “Yeah. I know the feeling.”

            Neville studied him. “You…you are all right, are you, Harry?”

            Harry looked up into his face, the face that had transformed so much since before the war started, and he found that he could not lie.

            “I’m…I’m not, Neville, but I will, I promise.”

            It was good enough for him. Neither said anything for some time.

            “Say,” said Neville, “would you mind helping me with something…it’s kind of a secret…in a room on the seventh floor.”

            “That room? Yeah,” said Harry, glad to be of some service to his good friend. Curiosity grabbed a hold of him. “What would we need to go there for?”

            Neville began walking, Harry followed him wordlessly. “Well, see, I can’t really talk about it now because it has to be kept hidden.”

            “What does?”

            “You’ll see! You’ll see…”

            They approached the seventh floor and Harry watched patiently as Neville paced back and forth across an empty stretch of wall, brow furrowed in concentration. Harry wondered how many times Neville was forced to do this in order to hide his fellow students when the Carrows had taken over Hogwarts…

            A door appeared and Neville opened it. Harry could see a dim light and something like crackling fire.

            He heard voices.

            Harry stopped dead in his tracks. “Whoa, no, Neville,” he said. “No, no, no, if there are people in there, I am not going to—”

            “Relax, Harry,” said Neville, giving him a slight push which Harry resisted. “Seriously, it’s nothing big. Just a few people who—”

            “Who want to hear me talk about what happened?” he demanded furiously. “I can’t believe you set me up!”
            Harry trusted Neville, but now he was furious with him. How many people did Neville invite to listen to his little bedtime story? How many Ministry officials had gotten in on it? Were there reporters and teachers in there too? And parents of students that had died…

            “Listen, I know that you don’t want to talk about your story or anything, and they know that—”

            “Who knows that?” he demanded, still rooted to the spot. He was aware that the talking had died down considerably in the room and cursed himself for being so loud. They already knew he was there…

            Neville shoved him hard into the room so that he stumbled clumsily inside.

            “The DA,” he said simply.

            The door shut.

            Harry stared dumbly.

            Then suddenly there was a cheer like he’d never heard before, a cheer that nearly blasted him off his feet. He was being ushered into the room and patted on the back and offered butterbeer and fire whiskey. Everyone was talking at once, pulling in him in further, forcing him to enter.

            It took him a moment to realize that the Room of Requirement had taken on the form of a common room, but not of one house in particular, but a sort of mix. Students from all the houses were mingling on armchairs around a crackling fire that was an exact replica of the one in the Gryffindor common room.

            Someone forced him onto a stool in front of the fireplace so he was in the center of everyone’s vision. To his left and his right sat Ron and Hermione who had also been placed in front of the crowd.

            Harry glowered at them, but they had a bizarre, confused expression on their faces and he realized that they knew little more about this than he did.

            When he looked around he saw nearly everyone from the DA: Luna Lovegood, Seamus Finnigan, DeanThomas, the Patil twins, Cho Chang, Ernie MacMillan, Katie Bell, Justin Fitch-Fletchley, Anthony Goldstein, Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet, Zacharias Smith, and even Ginny, and George who had somehow escaped his family despite the loss the of his twin. Harry noticed the absences of a good number due to injuries….death…

            “Well, now that the three of them are here,” said Neville, speaking as the clear leader of the group, “we can—”

            “If you’re wondering what went on this past year,” interrupted Harry in a low voice, “then you might as well clear out.”

            Dead silence fell.

            “Harry…” murmured Hermione. “They risked their lives here. They deserve something…”

            But Harry didn’t care. This was crossing the line, and as much as he’s like them to understand and be enlightened, he was not emotionally prepared for any of this.

            “It’s not for them to know.” His voice was nearly a whisper, but everyone heard every word. “They have….no idea.”

            “We haven’t been in the dark this whole time,” said Dean fiercely. “We’ve been fighting the same as you.”

            “No, you haven’t,” said Harry, looking away. “Not like…not like us.”

            “We fought against the Carrows!” cried Seamus, who still sported a brilliantly bruised face. “We had our part in the war!”

            “We fought for you!” exclaimed Lee. “Don’t we deserve to know why?”

            “Stop.” It was Neville who had spoken. “Sorry, Harry,” he said apologetically, “we didn’t bring you here to make you tell us what happened.” He looked up and gave everyone a darkly significant look. “That wasn’t the plan anyway.”

            Harry looked at Ron and Hermione to see how they were reacting. Hermione was giving him encouraging looks. Ron seemed dazed, apparently trying to decide whose side he was on.

             “Why are we here then?”

            Neville gestured around to the DA. “We just wanted to thank you, is all,” he said simply. “Even though we don’t know exactly what happened, we stuck together all because of you three. We didn’t know where you’d gone when you didn’t show up at the beginning of the year, so we just assumed you were doing something to stop Voldemort.” He glanced at Ginny. “Ginny seemed to be pretty certain that was what you were doing, so we believed her.”

            “I was right,” she defended.

            “She was,” he continued. “But either way, you three gave us hope and strength to keep on fighting and it was all that we needed, otherwise the school might have gone entirely under the Carrows.” He smiled down at all of them. “So…thanks,” he finished lamely.

            Harry swallowed. He didn’t know what to say. It was all so unexpected. After all they had proved to him, their loyalty and bravery, he had immediately assumed the worst.

            “Listen,” he said quietly.

            The room was again very still.

            “I…I’m sorry for snapping at you all. What I mean to say is that I really…I really appreciate what you did for us. I know it wasn’t easy, because it never is when you feel like the world is against you. And…and I’m sorry that so many of us…that some had to…”

            “What Harry means to say,” said Hermione gently, helping him when he could not find the words, “is that we couldn’t have done it without you. And…” she blinked very hard, “and that we’re sorry that some people passed away because of it.”

            “It’s a hell of a lot easier to go at it when you’ve got someone at your back,” finished Ron.

            No one could disagree.

            “Colin and Fred should be here right now,” he murmured. “I don’t know why it had to be them. They were good people. But I guess it doesn’t work that way.”

            He raised his glass of Fire Whiskey. “To Colin and Fred.”

            They murmured their agreement and drank. The scorching in his throat numbed him a little.

            “Is it true that you stole a sword from Gringotts and escaped on a dragon?”

            Harry looked up. It was Luna, eyes wide and probing as always.

“It was a cup, actually,” he said automatically.

            “But the dragon…that was real?” asked Katie Bell.

            He frowned. “Yeah…yeah it was.”

            “And the Ministry? Did you really impersonate the officials and free the prisoners?” asked Angelina Johnson.

            Ron looked surprised. “That was unintentional,” he said. “We just wanted to get the Hor—”

            “—the locket,” said Hermione, recovering quickly, and Harry silently agreed that it was best that the DA knew nothing about Horcruxes.

            “Did you really save Professor McGonagall from the Carrows when they cursed her?”

            Harry frowned. “Well…they only spit on her. But it’s Professor McGonagall, I couldn’t just let her endure it, could I?”

            “Hear hear!” shouted Lee.

            “Did you actually die and come back to life?” someone else asked.

            “Well….sort of. I mean, I didn’t die, or else I wouldn’t be here, would I?”

            “So you got hit with Avada Kedavra?”

            Harry was feeling uncomfortable. “I—yeah, I guess so.”

            Someone whistled in awe.

            “I heard you were there when one of the Room of Requirement rooms got burned by fire,” said Dean.

            “Fiend Fire,” said Hermione. “And I guess the Room of Requirement can still function even though it got cursed so powerfully. That’s interesting…”

            “Was it a goblin that gave you the slip at Gringotts?”

            “Is it true that you were captured at a wedding?”

            “Did you actually fight Voldemort in a cafe?”

            The questions came at them so fast that they barely had time to answer. Many of them were simply horrible rumors that seemed so improbable that they wondered why anyone listened to them. Others were strangely accurate, a haunting notion that they were being watched closer than they had once believed.

            As the questions continued, Harry, Ron, and Hermione tried their best to answer as simply as possible in order to not get interrogated about the Horcruxes. But as they went on, he realized that no one was interested in Horcruxes at all; in fact, all anyone wanted to hear about was the crazy stories that preceded the destroyed of the Horcruxes. The Horcruxes themselves didn’t seem to be of major interest.

            “Did you really get captured by Snatchers?”

            “Yeah, we did,” said Harry, surprised that so much had gotten around.

            “And he got taken to Malfoy manner where he and Dobby, the house elf, rescued Mr. Ollivander, Dean, and me!” said Luna, her eyes bright.

            “A house elf?” someone cried. “You know the house elves?”

            “Dobby was a good friend of Harry’s,” said Luna. “He saved his life.”

            “Let’s get him in here and he can tell us about it!” cried someone else excitedly.

            “Yeah, I’ve never seen one before!”

            “Harry, why don’t do you call him here!”

            An icy knife plunged into Harry’s heart. He stood up very suddenly. The crowd hushed immediately as if he had said something shocking.

Harry could not stand another moment in that room.

            “He…he can’t come,” he whispered.

            “We have to go,” said Ron, standing up jerkily. “Goodbye.”

            Hermione followed soon after, thanking them again for thinking of them. Harry saw tears in her eyes on the way out. They left the room quickly and walked swiftly up to their dorms without speaking, slamming the doors shut and refusing to talk until they had shaken off the empty feeling in their guts.

 

                                                               «                    »

 

            Harry met Ginny by the Black Lake the next day in a spot that they had spent a lovely day together in his sixth year. She sat on the grass beside him, peering at him seriously through curtains of bright red hair.

            “I told Neville not to do it.”

            Harry swallowed. “I’m fine.”
            “No you’re not. It was a stupid thing for him to do.”

            “He had good intentions.”

            “And a bad instinct. He should have seen that everyone was there because they wanted to hear a good story.”

            “Yeah…well,” he said lamely. “They got what they wanted.”

            She sighed and stared out into the lake. “I suppose so.”

            Harry stared at the floor; his muscles were strangely tense.

“What is it?” Ginny asked.

            It took him a while to answer. “I had…dreams last night. Bad dreams.”

            She placed a hand on his. “No scar hurting though?”

             Harry absentmindedly placed his hand on the scar. No, it had not hurt him. These were simply dreams…just dreams, not premonitions of any sort.

             “There was nothing,” he said, feeling slightly more elated.

 

            “Remember when we were here last?” said Ginny.

            Harry grinned. “That was nearly a year ago. We watched the Giant Squid eat our sandwiches.”

            “We didn’t really watch anything though, did we?” she said sneakily.

            He turned to look at her, grinning. “Not really.”

            “Waiting has paid off, I think,” she said, moving closer to him. “After all, there’s no one out there this time.”

            “We have all the time in the world,” he said quietly, reveling in this wonderful thought. “There’s nothing out there…nothing. It’s unbelievable.”

            “Well, I can certainly believe it,” she said, moving closer still so that he could easily detect her distinct flowery smell.

            Harry closed his eyes. And it was just as it was a year ago, only better, better than that time they had together in the Burrow before he had to leave, better than when they kissed after she won the Quidditch final. There was no one to interrupt them this time, and there was no future for him to worry about.

               Ginny was everywhere all at once, surrounding him, consuming him. The world had disappeared long ago and it was only her, all of her. He’d never felt anything as soft as her lips, nor tasted anything sweeter. One of his hands ran down her back, down her long hair, the other was against her waist, pulling her closer. He inhaled her scent and the world was pure bliss…

              Time stopped.

 

                                                               «                    »

           

            Nineteen years later, all was well.
 

Thank you so much for reading this! I tried to make the most realistic account of what I thought Harry's life would be like right after he woke up the day after the Battle of Hogwarts. Please PLEASE review! I haven't written anything on this site for a very long time, so I'd love to know how you think I've changed in the past couple years. (So you should read my other stories! *wink* ) Thanks! -addicted12
 
 

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