Dislaimer: I won nothing you recognize. Copyright infringment is not intended.
I’m still not sure who realized it first. A moment of frozen silence, and then someone cheered. A roar of sobs, applause and celebration swelled on every side of me, and I let go of the breath that I hadn’t realized I was holding. A body slipped past me, then another, and I allowed the growing swell to propel me to where he stood, still and slightly limp, at the center of the hall.
After a moment I was able to almost jog through the crowd, darting around hundreds of warm bodies, until I caught up with Neville and Luna. Without a word or even a look, the three of us raced to him, and managed to squeeze in just behind Ron and Hermione, hundreds of arms and shoulders and torsos pressing against our backs.
“We love you, Harry!”
I shouted with them, and kept shouting, even though I knew he probably couldn’t hear me. Our voices were a loud boom of incongruent noise, all cheering and crying and tripping and stumbling and layering on top of each other.
My hand brushed against what felt like a hundred others as my fingertips touched his arm. The world around us was still screaming: tears, shouts, congratulations. At one point, I may have swayed into Ron and kicked Hermione trying to regain my balance. In the end, I didn’t particularly notice. He was the only thing in front of me.
It was over, and he was here. Standing, and close enough to touch. All at once, I felt one corner of my chest fill and overflow, and for a long moment, I thought I might burst with the euphoria of reality. He was here, he was on his feet. Tired, but standing. Dazed, but alive.
I felt myself smiling and weeping at once, and somehow it felt right; the perfect and only response to what I saw in front of me. My finger tips scratched to gain a grip on his arm, but someone on his other side pulled suddenly, and he was out of my reach. My eyes had managed to hold his face, but he had never looked over.
Ron and Hermione each claimed half of the small space directly in front of him, and I watched the three of them overlap as he almost disappeared behind Ron’s height. I couldn’t hear them or anyone else over the cacophony of shouts and cheers, but I added my own voice to the celebration and drank my fill of the sight of them.
The headache behind my eyes set in around 7 AM. Neville was still sitting in the center of a pool of admirers with the Sword of Gryffindor lying next to him on the table, catching sunlight from the pale blue ceiling. Somewhere outside, Luna was, apparently, calling to all of us: her voice came closer by the second, announcing something about a, “Blibbering Humdinger.”
I snorted into my mother’s shoulder and wondered what Fred would have to say about that when I found him, and then gripped Mum’s hand as a solid cinder block hit my chest. I waited, eyes closed, while my heart split down the center and twisted on a makeshift axis before returning to normal. I tried not to think about how much more remembering I would be doing in the coming weeks and months.
I eased my head onto Mum’s shoulder and watched the great hall in the flood of fresh sunlight. Families re-gathered what was left of their members, friends clung onto each other and smiled and cried, and for one moment, the whole world was this narrow, central strip of Hogwarts Castle. Ron and Hermione were seated a couple of tables away, with their backs to us. I was considering how to extract myself from Mum’s grip long enough to go over to them when they both rose from their seats and headed for the door, moving in tandem as if under direction.
“So that’s where he went,” My voice was closer to Mum’s ear than I realized, but she didn’t turn. I smiled and rested one hand under my cheek as Ron’s and Hermione’s backs drifted away from me, focusing on the empty space between them. “I was wondering how he managed to get out of here without us noticing.”
I noticed a fresh wave of fatigue rolling through my bones and tried not to wince as I imagined how exhausted he must be. If they knew what they were doing, those two were taking him straight upstairs. Mum’s warm fingers reached up and touched my face, then my hair.
I moved the hand on her shoulder to make active contact with her fingers. There was time, weeks, even years, in which to talk. New relief, as strong and fresh as if I hadn’t felt it nearly drown me hours earlier, filled my chest and floated down into my stomach. He was here. There was time. I would find him later.
Someone was shaking my shoulder.
A gruff whisper. Tired, and a little hollow. Even after I recognized the voice, it took me a moment to open my eyes. Suddenly, the lids felt heavy and slow, resistant to orders.
When I finally got them open, my mother was standing over me, her hair forming a kind of disheveled tunnel around her face, and almost touching mine.
“I’m ok, Mum.” I whispered, even though the room was shrouded, for the moment, in a calm, humming quiet.
She smiled and eased away from me as I managed to sit up.
“I think you should come home with us,” She was whispering, too. “Percy’s going to stay and help fix things up. Your father and I will come back over with Bill and Charlie after we’ve all had a few hours sleep.”
I glanced behind her at the Great Hall: broken pieces of stone and wood, splinters on the floor, spots that might have been semi-congealed blood on a few stones, and everything covered in a thin layer of dust. The work would still be here when we got back.
I made it to my knees and paused as Mum took my elbow. The thought that had been glowing behind the sluggish buzz in my mind for the hours before I fell asleep finally floated to the top of the jumbled pile. I looked up and pretended that my mother wasn’t reacting to the light formation of purple circles under my eyes.
“I want to go see him.”
My father approached from behind us as I waited for my mother’s response. I glanced over when he cleared his throat, and caught George’s heavy, red eyes over Dad’s shoulder. I touched my fingers to my mouth and extended them in his direction, and his mouth spazzum-ed in a manful attempt at a smile. Then I shifted my eyes back to my father before either of us could start crying again.
He stared at me with a slightly raised eyebrow until I realized that he’d heard my request.
“I just want to check on him,” I added, my voice still soft. “I won’t cause anyone trouble. I’ll sleep here, and work when you all come back.”
Dad opened his mouth, and George cut him off.
“She should look in on Harry,” His voice cracked a little. The others turned to look at him. “She can tell us how he is when we come back.” He focused his eyes on mine. “Tell him well done, and—“ he stopped and swallowed, wincing, “thanks. For me.”
“I will,” I answered, still a little quieter than normal. I looked back at Dad, and his face was gentle.
“Yes,” he glanced at Mum, and I saw her nod. “Go see Harry, then sleep. We’ll see you in a little while.”
I nodded, and after a full minute, my father reached across the silence and put his arms around me. He made room for Mum and George as they moved in toward us. After he let go of me, I stepped forward and slid my free arm around George until it met the hand that was already on his back.
I took the chance that Harry would be looking for a little familiarity after all of this trouble and started searching for him in the Gryffindor dorm. I eased the door to his room open, leaned in, and very nearly turned around and went back down stairs. He had obviously collapsed on the first bed that he happened upon after making it through the door. His back was turned to me, but it was apparent enough that he was dead asleep. I stood in the doorway for a moment, suspended in indecision, and felt my resolve to leave him as he was melt away as he shifted just a little. I caught a glimpse of his gasses sitting on the bedside table from over his shoulder and smiled, wondering where he’d found the wherewithal to remember to take them off.
I was easing down next to him before I had the chance to tell myself that it was a bad idea. I had seen him, seen it all, with my own eyes. I’d watched everything right along with the others, but somehow, I needed more conformation. I needed to touch him, to know with more than just my eyes that he really was here. That he was still with me.
I slid my arm over his and froze when I felt him move. My face grew warm and numbness spread through my stomach.
“I, I’m sorry.” All at once I realized that my mouth was right next to his ear. I rolled away from him and got back to my feet. “I didn’t mean to—to disturb you. Rest. I just—just wanted to be sure you were alright.”
I was turning to go when he answered.
“Ginny.” I thought I could hear him smiling.
“Rest,” I repeated, turning back to him with my mind still on the door. “I’m going right now.”
“You don’t have to.” For a moment I wondered how much of the gentleness in his voice came from somewhere inside of him and how much of it was residue from sheer fatigue, but I didn’t need any further invitation, regardless of the answer.
I settled down next to him again. I had no idea if he was still awake or not, but having him so close seemed to open latch in my chest. I found myself whispering, my fingers stroking his arm as if to confirm that it was real.
“It’s over,” I muttered near his ear. “You’re finished. It’s done.” Tears swept up my throat with almost no warning as memories assaulted me: everything he had been through, the dozens of times that we—that I—had almost lost him. It covered me, pressing into my skin and twisting my stomach. “All over now.” I repeated. “You’re free.”
I moved in a little closer and tightened my grip on his arm. For the last seventeen years he had belonged to all of us; to everyone in out world who had waited and worked so long to see the shadow we were living with finally fall away. Now, there was some small chance that, for the first time, he could belong to me. Just to me.
It crossed my mind that I should wait until he was asleep again and then go down to find Ron. He would be helping with the work downstairs, and I suddenly felt like I could manage to put in an hour or two before I collapsed. Then I heard Harry sigh into the pillow.
“Ginny,” he somehow sounded exhausted and contended at the same time. “Stay. Please.” Something about the weight in his voice told me that he was talking about more than just the few hours before the reconstruction work would begin for both of us. I kissed his shoulder and leaned toward his ear.
“I’m not going anywhere.” My eyelids started trying to force themselves closed. The adrenaline jolt of seeing him was wearing off. “I’m right here. Whenever you need me.”
I have no idea whether or not he was asleep by the time I managed to say, “I love you,” but really, it didn’t matter. I had time to tell him later. As far as I was concerned, we had nothing but time.