The Sugar Quill
Author: Starsea (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Hope of Better Days  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

The Hope of Better Days

And you ask me what I want this year,
And I try to make this kind and clear:
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find
Better days.
Cause I don’t need boxes wrapped in strings
And designer love, and empty things,
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find
Better days…

It was the dawning of a new world and the beginning of a new day. Ginny Weasley walked through the Great Hall at Hogwarts. She was tired from a night of fighting, aching from her injuries, torn between joy at the realisation that they’d won and grief at the cost of the victory. All around her, people were talking at the tops of their voices, some laughing, some crying, echoing the emotions that raged inside her heart.

We won, we won – oh, Fred, Fred, why aren’t you here… you should be here, Fred, we WON! Harry won…

She made her way to where the dead were laid out and paused. Neville was standing there.

Ginny hesitated and then walked forward. He was standing next to Fred, but not looking at him. He was looking, Ginny realised, at Professor Lupin. She walked to his side and knelt down. Fred’s face was white and still. He was not in there anymore, but his lips were still slightly curved with laughter and Ginny was glad of that. She brushed back the red curls, still so vivid, painfully alive against the pallor of his skin. “We won, Fred,” she whispered, her voice breaking. “We won.” He did not move, did not answer. He would never answer her again. Ginny closed her eyes as the tears seeped out of her eyes and down her cheeks. She did not feel embarrassed or ashamed to cry in front of Neville. She knew he would understand. They had been comrades for years now. She swallowed hard and got up, turning to Neville. He glanced at her, his mouth twisted, his eyes dark with understanding, and then looked back at their former teacher.

“I can’t believe it,” he said, his voice so soft that Ginny could barely hear him. “I was so sure he was going to live, Ginny…”

“I know.” Ginny scrubbed her cheeks. Lupin’s face was peaceful. He looked as if he were asleep but that only made her want to grab his shoulders and shake him awake. The fact that Tonks was lying beside him with that same, undeniable, awful stillness made it even worse.

“Tonks, Tonks, I’m sure he’s OK…”

Tonks looked at her at for a moment, her dark eyes suddenly hard and determined, and then she was gone into the dust.

That was it, Ginny realised. Those were the last words she’d ever said to Tonks. The last words she would ever say… She wanted to scream and fall to her knees and slam her fists against the flagstones. Tonks had always been so full of life, so strong and determined; she’d never given up, even when Lupin had kept telling her that they couldn’t marry. And now here she was on the cold stone floor, with the life sucked out of her. Wake up! Why are you lying there?! You were supposed to be safe! You were supposed to live! You’ve got a BABY! Thinking of the baby made Ginny’s tears even worse. Teddy would never know how brave and funny his mother was; he would never be taught anything by the kind, patient man who had been one of their best teachers. It was almost as if she hadn’t realised they were dead before and now, thinking about Teddy, the fact of their death hit Ginny all over again. A small moan came out of her throat and she put both hands over her mouth, trying to hold it in.

Neville’s arm came around her shoulders, holding her tight, anchoring her. “I know,” he said, still in that quiet voice. “You want to scream and yell and say that it’s unfair, it’s not right. Well, it isn’t. And he knew that better than either of us.”

Ginny gulped down her tears, leaning against him. She nodded to show that she’d heard and agreed. “Is your gran okay?” she asked.

“Yeah. She was telling everybody about how I killed the snake… as if they weren’t all there to see it.” There was affection in Neville’s voice and a bit of amusement.

Ginny felt like smiling for the first time in a while. “She’s proud of you, Neville.”

He nodded and then let out a small sigh. “You know… he made me realise that I was somebody,” he confessed, nodding at Lupin.

“You were always somebody, Neville,” Ginny replied, shaking her head.

“Yeah… but he helped me realise that. He just… I don’t know how to explain it. He made me feel like… I could do things. Not just simple things but anything I put my mind to. He made me feel… brave, I suppose,” said Neville, sounding thoughtful.

Ginny nodded. She knew what Neville meant, and she thought how ironic it was that Lupin had made his students feel like they could do anything but he himself had felt powerless and unworthy of anything good. “He should have been there to see you kill that snake, Neville,” she declared.

“I reckon he was,” Neville answered. “Somehow.” He rubbed her arm. “I’m sorry about Fred, Ginny. He was a good laugh.”

Ginny actually laughed, watery but real. “Even though he turned you into a canary?” she asked.

Neville laughed, too, and shrugged. “It was fun, Ginny. They were always fun – I mean, Fred was always fun. I’ll miss him.”

Ginny caught her breath. Talking about Fred in the past tense felt so wrong. He was a person who’d always lived for the moment. But now he was in the past and he would stay there, forever nineteen while the rest of them grew up and grew older. When Ginny was little, she’d wished that she could catch her brothers up so she wouldn’t get left behind. Now her wish had been granted. She would catch Fred up, and then she would overtake him. When she died, she would be a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and she would look back and see Fred as a child, a young man cut down in his prime. I take it back, she thought. I don’t want to catch you up, Fred. Come back. You can always be older than me, just come back.

“Thanks,” she managed.

“You’re welcome.”

“I thought you two would be here,” said Luna’s voice, making them both jump. She was standing to Ginny’s left, gazing down at Lupin and Tonks. There were bruises on her cheeks and neck, and her left hand, her wand hand, was covered in a clean bandage. Her long wavy hair was pulled back into a sort of plait; Ginny suspected that Madam Pomfrey had done this in order to keep the hair out of the way while checking her wounds and Luna hadn’t yet thought about taking it down.

“Are you all right, Luna?” she asked.

Luna nodded, still gazing at the couple. “I liked him,” she said softly. “He was kind.”

“Yeah,” Neville agreed, “he was.”

“Is that the girl you told me about, Ginny, the one he married?” Luna asked, pointing at Tonks. Ginny swallowed and nodded. Luna smiled a little. “I like her hair.” She reached out and took Ginny’s hand, squeezing it. “I’m sorry about your brother. It’s very hard to stay behind while they go on ahead.”

Ginny nodded. She didn’t mind Luna’s sympathy. She knew that Luna understood, just like Neville. She squeezed back. “At least now I’ll be able to see Thestrals with you two,” she said, trying to sound jaunty, trying to joke like Fred would have. “No more wandering around and bumping into something I can’t see.”

Neither of them laughed or even smiled. They looked at her for a moment and then drew closer. Luna put her hand on Ginny’s back and Neville held her tight and they looked at the people who had given their lives for the new world.

“It was you who pointed out the Blibbering Humdinger, wasn’t it, Luna?” Ginny asked after some time, wiping the tears from her cheeks.

“Yes.”

“Thought so.” She almost smiled and then took a deep breath. “Did Harry…?”

“I think he went upstairs,” Luna said. “To be alone.”

“God knows he needs it,” Neville remarked.

Ginny looked at him sideways. “Getting a bit tired of your fans, Neville?”

Neville blushed and ducked his head. “They’re very nice, but…”

“Too enthusiastic,” Ginny finished. “Trust me, I know.” She patted his back and turned to Luna, squeezing her hand once more. “Thank you, Luna.”

Luna nodded with that gentle smile. “Don’t hurry back,” she said.

“Tell him we’ve got everything under control,” Neville added.

“He knows, Neville,” Ginny said with a small smile and a nod. Then she turned and left the room, feeling their eyes on her, keeping her safe until she mounted the staircase. Her feet moved quickly. It was like something drew her on through the castle, up, up, up, and she didn’t get tired or lost, nothing moved or blocked her way. Her footsteps echoed along the corridors. Hogwarts had suffered, too: holes in the walls, headless statues, doors hanging off their hinges. But it, too, had survived. Sunlight streamed through the windows, laying a gentle golden veil over its injuries, and Ginny knew that they would rebuild and that the castle would soon be restored to its old glory. When she reached the portrait hole, she saw that the Fat Lady’s dress was singed and the frame of the portrait was black and cracked from the battle that had raged in the corridor but the subject herself was unharmed. Ginny opened her mouth to give the password but the Fat Lady smiled and said, “I think we can do without that today, dear,” and swung open. Ginny crawled through the passage and breathed in as the portrait clicked shut behind her.

The common room was unmarked. It felt strange, as if she had stepped into the past or the future. The only sign of disturbance was the cushions and papers flung every which way, and that could have been due to a large party. She suddenly saw Fred and George standing before the hearth, holding court, and she had to sit down in an armchair for a moment, their voices and faces were so vivid in her mind. Fred… oh George…

“Miss Ginny?”

She looked up and almost fell out of her seat. Kreacher was standing there, his face full of concern. Ginny wondered if she was hallucinating. “Yes, Kreacher?” she asked, trying to act normally.

“Is you looking for Master Harry?”

Master Harry?! Last time I looked, you wanted Malfoy to be your master! Ginny pushed the hair back from her face, mind whirling. Not only was Kreacher’s manner different, he looked different: he no longer wore a dirty pillowcase but a linen toga; his hair was washed and he no longer smelt of drainpipes. “Yes…” she said eventually. “Yes, I am looking for him. Do you know where he is?”

“Kreacher has just placed a plate of ham sandwiches by his bedside in his dormitory. Master Harry asked for them before he went to sleep. Kreacher estimates that he will be waking up soon. Master will be just as happy to see Miss Ginny as to see the sandwiches.”

“Right. Well… thank you, Kreacher.”

“Miss knows the way to Master Harry’s dormitory?”

Pretty hard to forget, considering I broke in there and wrecked the place in my first year, Ginny thought with a small ironic smile. “Yes, Kreacher, I do.”

“Is Miss requiring anything from the kitchens?”

Ginny hastily covered her mouth as she yawned. “No… thank you…”

“Then Kreacher will be downstairs cleaning up the mess.” Kreacher bowed and vanished with a small pop. Ginny stared at the place where he had been standing for a moment. Then she pushed herself to her feet. “It’s a good thing Master Harry is waking up soon, because Master Harry has a lot of explaining to do,” she muttered, heading for the boys’ dormitory staircase.

The latch didn’t make a sound as she lifted it (probably Kreacher’s doing) and the door swung open on silent hinges. Sunlight filled the room, making the tapestries blaze crimson and gold, and there in the bed, sleeping on his back with one arm hanging off the bed, was the man she loved. Ginny felt a rush of emotion at the peaceful expression on his face. She drew up a chair and sat down to watch until he woke up but fatigue was fast catching up with her and her eyelids began to feel very heavy. I should have asked Kreacher to bring me something, she realised. Of course, she could have had a ham sandwich, but those were for Harry. She wasn’t going to touch his food. After the night he’d had… the last thing he needed was someone stealing his food. Ginny’s head drooped and her eyes closed.

When she woke, the sunbeam had moved over the wall to the fireplace, where the knights in the portrait were still celebrating, and the bed was empty. Ginny sat up and looked around. Nearly all the ham sandwiches were gone from the plate. The bedclothes were rumpled and when she put a hand on the mattress, there was still a faint warmth. He hadn’t been up for long.

“Ginny?”

She turned quickly. He was standing by the stove in T-shirt and boxer shorts, freshly washed hair gleaming black, green eyes fixed on her as if he thought she’d disappear at any moment. Really, who could blame him?

“I didn’t want to wake you up,” he said.

Ginny tried to smile. “I wanted to be there when you woke up,” she said.

“But you were.”

They stared at each other. Ginny could hear him breathing, see his chest rising and falling. Her mind was crowded with things she wanted to do, it was terrible, she shouldn’t be thinking like this when people were dead, but Harry was alive and he was standing in front of her, solid flesh and bone. She wanted to feel that, wanted to hold him and feel his arms around her.

”Ginny,” he said, and she leapt out of the chair with something like a sob. They met halfway in a fierce embrace that was strangely familiar. Ginny felt his arms lock around her waist, his fingers dive through her hair. She buried her face in his chest, holding him tight.

“I thought you were dead… I thought you were dead…”

“I know… I’m sorry…”

“Don’t. Don’t apologise. I don’t care what I thought because you’re alive and you’re here and… everything is fine…” Her voice trembled.

His arms tightened. “It’s not fine, Ginny,” he said, his voice ragged. “It’s not going to be fine for a while.”

“It’s always hard for the ones left behind,” she repeated, half to herself.

“Sounds like Luna.”

“Yes.” She felt him smile against her hair and smiled against his chest. “I was with her and Neville before I came to see you. They wanted you to know they had everything under control.”

“Like anyone’s going to go against Neville,” Harry murmured and she giggled, the laughter hurting her chest.

“Harry…”

“Ginny?”

She lifted her head, propping her chin on his sternum to take a good look at him. “Can you tell me now?” she asked. “Now that it’s over? Or do you… would you rather not?”

“No, I want to tell you,” he said with a long sigh, “but it’s going to be long and complicated and I might make a mess out of it.”

Ginny shook her head. Joy had conquered grief for the moment and she almost laughed. “I don’t care! Leave the sense-making to me, you just talk. You have a lot of explaining to do, ‘Master Harry’,” she added, raising her eyebrows.

“Oh!” He looked down, cheeks turning pink, and then he gave a short laugh. “Yeah… Kreacher… yeah, I’d better explain about him, right?”

“Yeah,” Ginny said, nodding, “yeah, that might be a good idea.”

So Harry told her as he put on his jeans and socks and she ate the last three ham sandwiches from the plate. He told her how Kreacher had been starving for affection when Sirius came back and if Sirius had even shown the smallest kind gesture, Kreacher would have worshipped him and Sirius might still be alive. He told her about Regulus, Sirius’s younger brother, how he had discovered Voldemort’s vile plan to ensure his immortality (“I’ll explain that later”) and how Kreacher had been used to test this plan, how this callous action had finally awoken Regulus to Voldemort’s insanity and how Regulus had finally taken his one bold step to stop Voldemort and died for his pains; how Kreacher had watched his beloved master die and been forbidden to tell anyone, even Regulus’s mother, of what had happened. By the end of this tale, Ginny had her hands pressed over her mouth, spellbound and horrified.

“Kreacher,” she said when Harry finally came to a stop, breathless, “Kreacher…”

“Yeah,” Harry said, grabbing his robes and throwing them over his clothes, “I know. Once he understood that we were trying to complete the task Regulus had started, that we were helping him to obey orders… he-”

“Is like a different elf, I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” Ginny reminded him, hugging her knees to her chest and thinking. “So that’s how Voldemort survived the first time he tried to kill you? He’d anchored himself with bits of his own soul?”

“Pretty much,” Harry said, sitting beside her to put on his trainers. She wasn’t fooled by the studied indifference in his voice, not for a second.

“And the diary…”

“Was one of those bits of soul.”

“So I had a piece of Voldemort’s soul inside me?” she whispered.

Harry dropped his trainer and it thudded on the floorboards. There was silence in the room and she could feel him looking at her, but she couldn’t look back and see the horror that must be in his eyes. She stared at her hands, fingers tightly interlaced. No wonder she’d felt so ashamed, so dirty, so… polluted.

“Ginny!” He grabbed her wrist, unlocking her fingers and replacing them with his own, warm and long. “It didn’t stay there. It disappeared when I stabbed the diary. The diary was the container!”

“So was I… for a while, at least. You can’t deny it,” she insisted as he began to say something. “He was inside me, Harry.”

Harry was silent for a moment and then he said, his voice so low she could barely hear it, “Me, too, Ginny.”

“When he possessed you.”

“No, Ginny… I was a Horcrux.” His grip tightened for a moment, painful.

“But you… how could you be?! You were you!”

“It was an accident.”

“Oh. Well, that makes sense, you’re always having accidents.”

Harry let out a short laugh, almost as if it hurt him. Ginny knew the feeling. “Yeah. Isn’t it typical? Voldemort… Voldemort was obsessed with having seven Horcruxes, he thought that would be the most powerful number, he was going to make the seventh one with my death but it didn’t turn out like he planned, and according to Dumbledore, his soul was so fragile that when the curse came back on him, it shattered and a piece of it lodged in me.”

“What? Like… like broken glass or something?”

“Yeah! Yeah, that’s probably the best way to describe it.” He touched his scar with his other hand. “That’s where it was. That’s why there was such a powerful connection between our minds.”

“But didn’t he realise?” Ginny asked, squeezing his hand.

Harry shook his head. “Horcruxes are really obscure and nobody had ever made more than one at a time; nobody had ever survived the Killing Curse before, either. Voldemort’s soul was so broken, I don’t think he felt pain anymore. He didn’t even know about the diary being destroyed until Lucius Malfoy told him.” Harry hesitated for a moment. “That wasn’t part of his plan, either, Ginny. That was purely Malfoy.”

Ginny closed her eyes and put her head on his shoulder. It meant something to know that she had not been part of Voldemort’s grand plan to injure Harry, just a temporary measure, one which had failed spectacularly. “So why did you survive, Harry?” she asked after a few moments.

“My mother. Voldemort gave her the chance to step aside, he said that she could live… she wouldn’t do it. When she died… all the love she felt for me went into my skin and it was like a Shield Charm, it protected me.”

Ginny was trying to take in the sheer stupidity of what he’d just told her. “Voldemort actually thought she’d step aside and let you die? She was your mother. No mother would do that.”

Harry shrugged and Ginny’s head bobbed up and down. “He didn’t understand love, Ginny. To be fair, his own mother died after giving birth to him, so he didn’t really have much experience to go on.”

Ginny snorted. “Why did he say he’d spare her, anyway? He wasn’t exactly full of the milk of human kindness.”

“Snape.”

She lifted her head, wondering if she’d heard right. “Snape? What’s Snape got to do with it?”

“He and my mother grew up in the same town. They went to Hogwarts together. He… he loved her.” There was a strange expression on Harry’s face as he said this, as if he couldn’t quite believe what he was saying.

Ginny felt revolted. “Snape?! You mean… all those things you were saying to Voldemort in the circle… they were true?!”

Harry nodded. He looked as if this were still hard for him to accept. Ginny didn’t blame him. She couldn’t really accept it herself: Snape had treated Harry like scum and he’d been in love with Harry’s mother?

“But he was a Death Eater. If he loved your mum so much, how come he was running round with people who thought Muggleborns were the scum of the earth?”

“She told him that she couldn’t be friends with someone who was doing that.”

“Good for her!”

He turned his head and smiled at her, a genuine smile with no sadness or anger. “I knew you’d say that.”

“Well, what did he think what going to happen?” Ginny said, rolling her eyes.

“He said that she was ‘different’.”

“So he was playing favourites even back then? Why am I not surprised?”

Harry laughed again, the sound bouncing back and forth against the walls. “You shouldn’t… it’s quite sad, Ginny…”

“Please, he’s only got himself to blame. If he was blind enough to think that he could go around being horrible to everyone except her and that would be okay, then he needed a wake up call. How come he gave you his memories, anyway?”

Harry’s smile faded and that strange expression was back on his face again. “Because he’s dead.”

“Dead?” Ginny stared at him. She knew that Harry must be telling the truth but she couldn’t quite take it in. She remembered what Neville had said about Lupin: “I was so sure he was going to live, Ginny…” She had been pretty sure Snape would survive this war, if only because he was too damn clever to get caught and be put on trial. But then she had also thought they’d still have Lupin and Moody, and Moody had been dead for almost a year and Professor Lupin lay on the cold stone floor downstairs. In the end, their knowledge and their experience had not protected them, just as it had not protected Snape. “How?” she asked.

“Voldemort. Nagini bit him.”

“But he didn’t know that Snape was on Dumbledore’s side.”

“No, he did it for another reason. I’ll explain but… let’s go outside. I need to…”

“Get away,” she finished for him, standing up and conjuring a comb so she could at least smooth her hair. Harry put his other trainer on and watched her with a soft expression. “What?”

He stood up and gently ran his hand over her head and down her back. “Don’t ever cut your hair,” he said.

Ginny stared up at him for a moment. “Okay…” she said, suddenly realising that they were alone and nobody was going to come up and interrupt them, and Harry was looking at her as if she were the most precious thing in the world. But they couldn’t, she couldn’t, not when Fred…

“Are you ready?” Harry asked and she jumped back into the present. He was holding out his hand and Ginny took it with a smile, knowing that Harry was not going to ask her to do anything that made her feel uncomfortable. The problem was, she thought as they ran down the steps and he let her climb out of the portrait hole, she didn’t know how she felt. Part of her just wanted to be with him, forget about the grief and pain waiting inside these walls, use these feelings to shut out the world; another part said that this wasn’t right after what had just happened and it was better to hold back and grieve. Either way, she was confused.

They took a short cut that led them out to the back of the castle near the greenhouses. Harry stopped short at the sight of the shattered glass and spilt earth, leaves and stems lying everywhere. Ginny caught sight of a dead Mandrake and turned away, reminding herself it was only a plant, not a person. Harry’s grip tightened and he led her away, down the path that led to Hagrid’s hut. After some moments, she looked up at him.

“Harry…?”

“Ginny, I’m going to try and tell you everything, but like I said… I might not make much sense. So I’m going to start at the beginning… with the Gaunts.”

And so Harry told her about Voldemort’s family, how his mother had been browbeaten by her father and brother; how she had finally escaped and dosed Voldemort’s father with love potion to make him marry her; how the elder Riddle had abandoned her when she stopped and he discovered the truth about her; how Voldemort’s mother had given birth to him in an orphanage, destitute, and died soon after the birth.

“Those lessons I was having with Dumbledore in my sixth year, Ginny… they were about Voldemort. Dumbledore went searching all over the country for memories of him so he could help me understand why Voldemort had done what he’d done.”

“You and Neville have both grown up without mothers and I don’t see either of you deciding to become psychotic pureblood maniacs,” Ginny said, unimpressed. “It all goes back to what I said, Harry, do you remember? He chose to be like that, just as Snape chose to become what he did.”

“Well, we’ll leave Snape out of it for a moment,” Harry replied, and continued his story about Voldemort’s childhood, his strange habits, his joy at discovering magic. He told her about Voldemort becoming obsessed with immortality and discovering Horcruxes, about how he tried to make each Horcrux out of a special death…

“So that’s why you became an accidental Horcrux? Because you were meant to be a special death?”

He nodded. “Basically. And he couldn’t properly die because of the other Horcruxes… that’s why he was left wandering the earth.”

“So he killed his own father and framed his own uncle. Nice.” She peered at him. “Harry… what Voldemort was saying about the Elder Wand…”

She saw him take a deep breath. “Yes?”

“It really exists?”

“Yes. All the Hallows do, Ginny. That’s why Dumbledore left Hermione and me those things in his will: that book of Beedle’s stories had the story of the Three Brothers, and the Snitch… that stone set in the ring that Marvolo Gaunt was ranting about… the ring that Voldemort turned into a Horcrux… that’s the Resurrection Stone.” He smiled suddenly. “Voldemort had one of the Hallows all those years ago and he never guessed… ever…” A weak laugh came out of him and Ginny put her hand on his back.

“Harry…”

“It’s so ironic!” Harry exclaimed. “All that time searching… it was right under his nose…”

“So Dumbledore had the Elder Wand,” Ginny said quietly, “and the Resurrection Stone was in the Peverell ring. But what about the Cloak of Invisibility?”

“Oh… that…” Harry smiled again but it was a different smile, more natural. He took a small shimmering bundle out of his robes and shook it with both hands. The material unfolded and shimmered in the sun like solid water. Ginny recognised it, of course, how could she not? She nodded.

“Your Cloak.”

“Not just my Cloak, Ginny,” Harry said, with that smile, “the Cloak.”

Ginny felt her mouth fall open as she looked at Harry’s Cloak, rippling in the slight breeze. “That’s… the Cloak? THE Cloak? Death’s Cloak?

Harry laughed, sounding so free and alive. “Yep, this is it. It’s been in my family for generations apparently… never faded.”

“Oh my God…” Ginny caught hold of the Cloak and ran her fingers over the silky material. “I can’t believe it.”

Harry smiled a bit and looked serious again. “I went to Godric’s Hollow… to see my parents’ grave… Ignotus Peverell was buried in the same graveyard and the symbol of the Deathly Hallows was on his stone – you know, the one Luna’s dad was wearing at the wedding?”

“So you’re descended from the Master of Death?” Ginny said thoughtfully.

“Yeah, I guess you could put it like that,” Harry said, rolling up the Cloak and looking a bit embarrassed as he put it back inside his robes. Ginny wanted to hug him. In some ways, he didn’t change.

“So you’re keeping the Cloak… what about the Wand and the Stone?”

Harry drew out the Elder Wand from his robes and looked at it for a moment. “I’m going to put it back in Dumbledore’s tomb, where it belongs. And the Stone… it’s somewhere in the forest. It fell there when I went…” He stopped.

“When you went to sacrifice yourself,” Ginny finished for him. “So nobody else is going to find it?”

“I doubt it. It’ll stay lost… and that’s best, really.”

Ginny nodded, although part of her was wondering what it would be like to see Fred for one last time, to talk to him… “You want to put the wand back now?” she asked, shoving the thought away.

He nodded. “Yeah. Would you…?”

“I’ll come with you.”

“Thank you,” he whispered, hugging her. Ginny hugged him back, burying her face in his chest, feeling his heart thud against her cheek, gloriously alive.

“Don’t ever frighten me like that again,” she said, voice muffled.

“I’ll try,” he promised, deadly serious; then they separated, took hands once more, and walked towards Dumbledore’s tomb, shining white in the summer sunlight. There were dark gashes in the earth from missed curses but otherwise, the grounds were unaffected. The forest still stood as a forbidding backdrop, the lake shimmered, and Ginny could actually hear birds singing. You would never guess that this had been a battlefield.

“Why does everything look so normal?” she asked.

“It would be worse if they’d destroyed it,” Harry answered, which was true, but not comforting. “It would be nice if the world stopped, Ginny… but it doesn’t, no matter how many people die.” There was a world of grief and regret in those words and Ginny had no answer for that.

As they drew closer, they could see the crack in the tomb.

“They repaired it?” Harry said, stopping in surprise.

Ginny nodded.”McGonagall and Flitwick did the best they could… everybody was really upset about that, even Snape… but they couldn’t make it like new, not marble. Something to do with being heated by lava, Flitwick said. Did Voldemort…?”

Harry nodded and lifted his wand. “Wingardium Leviosa,” he said, and the marble slab rose and hovered. Harry directed it slightly away from the tomb and stepped up to the side. Ginny came with him, though she felt uneasy about seeing Dumbledore’s corpse. Harry did not seem bothered… but then, he’d faced a lot worse in the past twenty-four hours. He took what must be the Elder Wand out of his cloak and Ginny took a step forward to see what he did.

There was nothing frightening about Dumbledore in death. His face was sunken but he was still recognisable. Harry gently inserted the wand into his clasped hands. “Thank you, sir,” he said, his voice broken but full of gratitude. Then they stepped back, Harry waved his wand, and the slab floated back and settled in place again. Harry let out a long breath and his body shuddered a little. “I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about that thing anymore,” he muttered.

“Yep, now all you have to do is make sure you die a peaceful death,” Ginny said, trying to sound upbeat.

Harry looked a bit embarrassed.

“What?” she asked, her heart sinking.

“I was thinking of becoming an Auror.”

“And how exactly do you propose to die a peaceful death and be an Auror at the same time?” Ginny demanded, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, I was hoping you might have some advice,” he said, looking at her sideways with a brief smile.

“Right now, my advice is that we get back to the castle before Mum thinks we’ve eloped,” she joked.

A quick blush came and went over Harry’s face. “Yeah… that wouldn’t be good.”

Ginny felt her own face suddenly turn red at the thought of marrying Harry. “Not that she could say much,” she carred on, pushing it away. “After all, that’s what she and Dad did.”

“But she was seventeen, right?” Harry asked with a faint smile.

“True,” Ginny admitted. “And I think Mum would like one of her younger children to take their NEWTs, since Ron couldn’t, obviously, and Fred and George…” Her voice trailed off and grief crashed over her again. Harry put his arm around her shoulders and she tried to look away, not wanting him to see her tears. But Harry turned her into him and she couldn’t stop them coursing down her cheeks as she buried her face in his chest. “I’m sorry,” she gasped. “I’ll be all right in a moment…”

“No, you won’t,” Harry said, his voice hoarse. “And don’t apologise. Cry all you want.”

Coming from Harry, who couldn’t stand to see anybody cry, this made Ginny want to laugh, which meant that she started hiccoughing. Harry rubbed her back and Ginny glanced up at his face, which showed a mixture of grief and frustration that he couldn’t help her. “Thank you,” she said. “For… doing that.”

“What?” he said, as clueless as Ron, and she buried her face in his chest again to hide her smile.

“Letting me cry. I know you don’t like it.”

“He was your brother,” Harry said quietly. “When I saw he was dead-”

“You were there?” Ginny interrupted, clutching at his robes. “Harry – tell me – tell me what happened – Percy couldn’t – George wasn’t there – please tell me how he died.”

Harry closed his eyes for a moment and Ginny knew the pain her request had caused him, but she had to know, she had to picture it for herself in her mind, it was the only way…

“They were fighting,” he said, “Percy and Fred were fighting together. Percy cursed the Minister and told him he was resigning and Fred said, ‘You’re joking’ and then he said ‘You are joking’ and he was laughing and so was Percy, because it was a joke,” he repeated, trying to smile, “and then… then the wall exploded and everything went black and when I opened my eyes and got up… Fred was dead.” His voice trembled.

“Percy made him laugh?” Ginny whispered. “That hasn’t happened for years… oh, Percy…” A new grief welled up inside her: Percy, who had tried so hard to protect them all, had been the first out of all of them to see Fred’s corpse. His guilt must be almost unbearable.

Harry hugged her to him again but she didn’t cry. She needed to get back there, to hold Percy and tell him that it wasn’t his fault, that he’d done the best he could. “Let’s go back, Harry,” she said, “everyone’s waiting.”

He nodded, looking a bit nervous. Ginny smiled at him. He’d defeated Voldemort and faced death, but as far as Harry was concerned, facing a crowd of people who loved him was scarier. “I’ll be with you,” she said, “and Ron and Hermione will be there.”

“I haven’t told you about what we did this year,” Harry protested as she led him back towards the castle.

“We’ve got time,” she answered, turning to smile at him. “We’ve got all the time in the world now, Harry.”

Harry nodded. “Just… one thing,” he said quietly.

Ginny stopped, sensing this was important. “Yes?”

“When I was in the Forest… facing him… knowing that he was going to kill me…”

Ginny was suddenly torn between the desire to run away and the desire to kiss him, the look in his eyes was so intense. “Yes?” she said, her voice equally low.

Harry took her other hand. “I thought of you,” he said, “just you… and the life we could have had.” He was blushing again, harder now.

“Someone else’s life,” Ginny said, remembering what he’d said to her at Dumbledore’s funeral. “But it’s your life now, Harry.”

He nodded. “And… I’d like you to share it… if that’s still okay with you,” he added awkwardly.

Ginny felt tears fill her eyes again. “Of course it’s still okay with me, you idiot!” she shouted. “What do you think I’ve been doing while you were away, snogging the Quidditch team?”

Harry was looking both pleased and awkward. “Well, I just thought… after what’s happened…”

“If you think I’m letting you go now, Harry Potter, you’ve got another thing coming! Got that?”

“Yes,” he said, looking just pleased now, and Ginny didn’t know whether to laugh or hit him.

“And don’t ever bring that up again, or I’ll hex you,” she told him.

“Yes, sir,” he said, saluting with one hand. “Understood.”

Then she did laugh, she couldn’t help it, and they hugged each other, young and alive in the sunlight. For one moment, everything was all right and Ginny glimpsed the light at the end of the tunnel. Then it was gone and they were walking up the steps of Hogwarts, hand in hand. The problems had not gone away, nor had the grief, but they would fade over time, she knew that now. As long as she had Harry, as long as she had Ron, Hermione and her family, there was hope.

There’ll be better days, she promised herself as they entered the Great Hall and she saw Percy look up, his face full of relief. There’ll be better days soon.

It’s some place simple where we could live,
And it’s something only you can give,
And that’s faith and trust and peace while
We’re alive…
So take these words, and sing out loud,
Cause everyone’s forgiven now,
Tonight’s the night the world begins again.


THE END


DISCLAIMER: Harry and Ginny both belong to J.K. Rowling. I’m just glorying in their survival and happiness. The song Better Days belongs to the Goo Goo Dolls. (And Kreacher belongs to Harry, of course!)

Author’s Notes: Many thanks to my beta reader Jo Wickaninnish for such speedy beta reading and making sure I didn’t waffle. Lots of love to my fellow H/G fans: hairy hen, HeadGirlinTraining, J Forias, Autumn Heart, Cliodna; especially St Margarets for encouraging me to write this story and gijane7702 for her encouragement in general.

This story can be read as a sequel to my post-OotP H/G story The Only One, since it deals with similar themes and picks up the same relationship further down the line, but you don’t need to read that. There is only one reference to that story here, where Ginny says: “It all goes back to what I said, Harry, do you remember? He chose to be like that, just as Snape chose to become what he did.” For those of you who are thinking Wait, I don’t remember Ginny saying that in the books!, she didn’t. She said it in my old story, back when H/G was a tantalising possibility but still not quite realised and we all assumed the Good Ship would sail before Chocolate Lightning (as we re-christened the ship on the Quill). Seems a long time ago, doesn’t it?

Starsea

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