It has been an hour since the battle ended. One hour since one of the best moments of my life, and approximately one hour and a half since one of the worst.
It has been ninety minutes since Hagrid marched out in front of Hogwarts, with Harry lying limp in his arms. Ninety minutes since my heart stopped beating and my throat constricted and I thought that nothing else in the world mattered except for the fact that the only hope my world had--and the only boy I ever loved--was dead and there was nothing I could do about it. I have never experienced the kind of all-consuming rage and despair and fear that I felt ninety minutes ago and I hope to never experience it again.
Now I am sitting in the Great Hall with my mother as she sobs into my shoulder and I am feeling a different cocktail of emotions: relief, sadness, restlessness. I am overjoyed that this war is over and that we won, but my lips cannot form a smile because my brother is lying on the floor, his cooling body waiting to be moved to a different room. I refuse to look in that direction, because if I do, a sadness deeper than tears and more akin to hollowness will well up inside me and consume me. I cannot do that because my mother needs me to be the shoulder that she cries on. Right now it cannot be vice versa.
I look to my left and see Percy and Bill helping Professor Flitwick clean up shards of glass and restore the legs of broken tables. Charlie is tending to some students who have minor injuries; he’s currently healing a burn on Michael Corner's arm. Fleur is fixing a pot of tea for a group of elderly looking witches and wizards who must have come from Hogsmeade to join the fighting. My father is talking to Kingsley Shacklebolt as they transfigure chairs into a few more hospital beds. I want to join them, any of them, even Fleur, because right now I need to be active. I need to do something instead of sitting here because I need to keep my mind off of the thing it really wants to keep drifting to.
I need to think about something other than finding Harry.
He walked through here a while ago and I don't think he realized I saw him, but I did. I had thought about going to him then, but we have too many things to discuss for what would probably have been the one minute I got him to myself before the crowds swarmed in again. Instead, I let him go, knowing that at that moment he needed space and I needed to be with my mother.
It's been over an hour now, though, and I think it's finally time to find him. To be honest, I have no idea what I'm going to say when I see him.
I'm happy he's alive, of course, but I'm so mad at him for those minutes when I thought he was dead. There's no question in my mind that I still love him, and I could see in his eyes that he still cares about me, but I need to understand a little bit more before I think about falling back into his arms.
Almost a year ago, when he told me we couldn't be together, I didn't question it or fight it; I understood why and though I didn't agree with it, I saw where he was coming from. A lot has happened in the past year, however, and I want to know about it. I want to know what he did for those months he disappeared, I want to know how he accomplished what he did an hour ago, and I want to know why Voldemort said he was dead--and why he was lying limp like it was true.
The flow of warm wet tears on my shoulder has stopped, my hand isn't being clenched so tightly and my mother's body has stopped violently shaking.
"Mum?" I say quietly.
My mother lifts her head up and gives me a watery smile.
"Yes sweetheart?" she says.
"If you're alright here, there's somewhere I need to go.”
"Of course. Go find Harry, love. I'll be fine on my own.”
"How did you know that's where I was—"
"I know my daughter," she replies. "Thank you for staying down here so long, but it's time for me to do something productive anyway.”
"Thanks Mum," I say as we both stand. I pull her into a hug and we stay there for a minute or two longer.
Eventually she pulls back, tucks a strand of my hair behind my ear, and says, "Now off you go. If you see Ron and Hermione, give them a big hug from me.”
"I'll come back soon," I promise.
"Nonsense. Go be with them. I've enough to keep myself occupied down here.
With one last look at my mum, I begin to walk out of the destroyed Great Hall. As soon as I reach what is left of the doors, I break out into a run, not quite sure of where I'm going.
I turn down a corridor and nearly collide with Luna, who is standing in the middle of the hall, staring dreamily at some paintings as they celebrate.
"Oh hello," she says, as if I didn't almost just run over her. "I've just come down from the Hospital Wing. It's rather full, but I think it's quite impressive that there aren't even more of us in there.”
"I agree," I say, not being entirely honest. How can she be so positive about everything when so many of our friends and acquaintances are lying dead in the Great Hall? At the moment, however, I have more pressing issues at hand than questioning Luna's life philosophies.
"Luna," I say, "would you happen to know where Harry is?”
Luna shakes her head. "I've no idea, but if I was him, I would go somewhere comfortable and quiet.”
"Of course. Thanks." I start running again, but with a better idea of where I'm going, now.
I'm not sure why I didn't think of it immediately, but there's only one place in the castle that I know Harry would retreat to if he were looking for sanctuary from the crowds.
I climb the stairs to Gryffindor tower two at a time and breathe a sigh of relief when the Fat Lady lets me through without a password.
I enter the common room hoping I'm right and I am not disappointed.
There, sitting on the familiar old sofa facing the fire is the unmistakable head of messy black hair I have been looking for.
I stand there, unmoving for a second as I take in my surroundings. The Common Room looks exactly like it did before I left school at Easter. It is all red and gold with soft-looking chairs and a homey warmth; I imagine this must be the only place in Hogwarts untouched by the battle. It looks like the perfect safe haven from all of the destruction and pain that has touched the rest of the castle and Harry being here makes it all the better.
I must make some noise or perhaps Harry finally just senses that he's not alone, because all of a sudden his head jerks around and before I can blink, he's on his feet with his wand drawn.
Just as quickly as he reacted, he realizes that it's me and not an enemy and he puts his wand back into his pocket.
The second I see him, all of the emotions I have been feeling today flood back in, ten times stronger. I am angry and relieved, happy and despairing, confused and clarified, antsy and idle. I want to do something, but I still don't know what.
So instead, I stare at him, not knowing quite what to say, which is uncommon for me. I haven't been tongue-tied around Harry Potter since I was twelve years old.
This is the first chance I've gotten to really look at him--during the battle it was all yelling and running--so I take in every detail I can as I work out what I'm feeling.
Most of his left arm seems to be bruised and he's bleeding through a gash in his jeans, but it's not his injuries that concern me the most: it's his face. He has deep purple bags under his eyes, his glasses are broken, there's a light dusting of stubble over his chin, his lips are cracked and bleeding and his eyes--which usually sparkle like emeralds--are dull and deep. He looks completely exhausted, but there's something more than that: he looks nervous.
Just as I open my mouth, he opens his and, in little more than a whisper, says, “Ginny?"
It is hesitant, it is a question, and it is all I need. Suddenly I know exactly what I'm feeling and I know exactly what to do.
I run to him in what feels like a bizarre parallel of our first kiss one year ago, but this time as I fling my arms around his shoulders, there is no audience and the only sound is the crackling fire and I don't worry about what he'll do next.
I feel his arms wrap around my waist and as he squeezes me to him, I bury my head in his chest. It doesn't matter to me that we are both bleeding and dirty because when I inhale and when his grip on me tightens and when he sighs so faintly that I wouldn't hear it if I weren't pressed right against him, he still smells and feels and sounds like Harry and that is all I want right now. Everything else can wait.
Finally, we pull away from each other and I stare back into his eyes. Some of the light that was gone from them a minute ago has returned.
"You found me," he says.
"Of course I did.”
"I was hoping you would." A faint smile is playing on his lips now as he looks down at me. "Just in time too; I'm only staying down here until Kreacher comes up with some sandwiches, which should be any minute now.”
"Aren't you tired?" I ask.
"I've not slept in over twenty-four hours, so yes, but that's also how long I've gone without food.”
"Putting a meal before sleep? It seems Ron's finally rubbed off on you.”
Harry laughs at that. His throat must be dry because the laugh is scratchy and raw, but it's a nice sound to hear, regardless.
There’s a loud crack and Kreacher appears holding a tray of delicious looking sandwiches. He doesn't stay to chat, explaining that there is lots of work to get back to repairing the castle, but Harry and I thank him profusely before he leaves.
After placing the sandwiches on the table, Harry motions for me to sit next to him on the sofa and I grab a turkey sandwich as I do so.
We eat in silence for a few minutes leaning on each other slightly, partly because we need the support to stay upright and partly because it feels nice.
"Where are Ron and Hermione?" I ask after we've finished our meals.
"Seventh-Year girl's dormitory," Harry replies. "The charm's been lifted off it so they went up to Hermione's old room to get a bit of sleep. They figured I'd want Ron’s and my old dorm and they didn't want to disturb me. Of course I wouldn't have minded one bit if they were in there too.”
"I wouldn't mind if you were in there either," he says, locking eyes with me again. "In fact, I'd rather prefer it. You're not going to leave me tonight, are you Ginny?”
"Well technically it's morning, but no, I wouldn't dream of it.”
"Good," he sighs, "because I don't think I could have stood any more time away from you.”
I smile at that, still barely able to believe that the war is over and Harry and I are actually having this conversation in the safe warmth of the Gryffindor Common Room. Considering the past day we've had, it seems surreal that anything could be this simple this quickly. But I suppose that's the way Harry and I have always been. When the time was right for us to be together, it happened with no drama and when we had to be apart, it happened pretty much the same way. Separate we are both so complicated, but together we are oh so simple.
"I'm sorry I didn't go to you in the Great Hall, but I just figured you’d probably want some time with your family considering...everything," he says, that sad look returning to his eyes.
"You judged that correctly, but Mum understood when I left.”
"I should go down there and apologize.”
"Not right now you shouldn't. Right now you should be resting. Everyone knows you've been through a lot today, even if we don't know all the details.”
"I owe them at least that much after all that's happened tonight.”
"Harry listen: nobody is demanding that you go downstairs and visit them right now, and nobody--and I mean nobody--is mad at you. Whatever you think you have to do right now can wait. Now let's go upstairs and get some sleep; I'm beyond tired as well.”
"Okay," Harry grabs my hand and pulls me up with him. "And I swear tomorrow I'll tell you everything.”
"I know you will," I reply as we make our way up the stairs.
When we reach his dormitory, I walk in confidently, though I'm starting to wonder a bit about how these sleeping arrangements are going to go.
Before I know it, we’re both standing in front of his four-poster bed and I am grasping for something to say.
Somehow, we are facing each other and he gently brushes a lock of hair out of my face before grabbing both of my hands and saying, "Every night, all year, I looked for your name on the Marauder's Map."
"I listened for news about you every morning on the wireless," I respond.
In a flash, Harry bends down, closes the gap between us and kisses me hard on the lips. I respond with enthusiasm as one of his hands combs through my tangled hair and the other rests on my lower back. I throw my arms around him again and rub the nape of his neck lightly as his mouth opens and his tongue seeks entrance into mine. We stand there for a few minutes locked in something so familiar, yet so new, and so perfect, until our legs finally give out from under us and we fall onto his bed, with him half on top of me.
It is nothing like I imagined the first time we made out on his dormitory bed would be. I expected it would be heated and randy, with a strong likelihood of getting out of control quickly, but this not that. There is nothing suggestive in this, there are no sexual undertones. This is so much deeper. This is two people who have missed each other more than they've allowed themselves to acknowledge. This is a fulfillment of hopes and dreams we thought might never come true. This is coming home.
We are lying on our sides facing each other now, but our lips are still connected. Harry is shaking softly and I realize that I am crying. I break the kiss and Harry immediately buries his head in my neck.
"We really need some sleep," I say.
He chuckles weakly at that. "Ginny I love you," he says.
"I love you too," I reply.
It's the first time we've actually said it out loud to each other, but I think we've both known for so long, that neither one of us is concerned with making it into some grand announcement.
"We'll talk when we wake up," I say, getting sleepier by the second.
"We have so much to catch each other up on," Harry says.
I can tell that he's fallen asleep less than a minute later, with both of us still on top of the covers, in the ragged clothes we wore fighting Death Eaters.
I think about how Harry is both right and wrong. We do have a lot to catch up on, but at the same time, we really don't, because that's the beauty of Harry and I. We haven't seen each other in months, but we're still able to pick things up where we left off. We're not at the same place in life as we were before; we're even better now. The world might still be swirling around us in the aftermath of a war filled with insanity and chaos, but as I drift off, I can't help but think that the one thing that makes sense to me right now is Harry and I being together.