Not only Ron awaited him at the safe house, but also the twins, Molly, Charlie, and so many other people, he lost track in the huge swell that surrounded him. Everyone wanted to touch him, as if by touching him they could assure themselves he was still alive.
Just when it became too much and he wanted to go to one of the side rooms with just a few of his friends, Ginny pushed her way through the crowd and threw her arms around him. Burying his face in her hair, he hugged her tightly. It felt amazing just to smell her clean, flowery scent. Tom had been wrong about Snape. Snape would never harm Ginny. Never.
Luna returned home and distracted the crowd with a warning about the growing cariblanca threat. Escaping to a side room with Ron, Hermione, and Ginny, Harry dropped into a chair, tugging on his robes. He'd always hated being forced naked, but after so long without wearing clothes, they now felt oppressively hot and constricting.
He turned to Hermione and asked, "Do you have anything else of mine other than the Cloak and the mirror shard?" He suspected that the photo album was with Snape, just as Tom had said, but who knew what else Hermione had.
Nodding, she reached into her handbag and pulled out the mirror shard and Phineas Black's picture frame. "These both belong to you," she said, passing them over. As usual, Phineas wasn't in the frame. An idea suddenly struck him and Harry shrank the portrait casually slipped it into his pocket as if it didn't matter.
Then, later, after talk of Nagini and the possible places where she might be hidden, Harry escaped to the bathroom with the excuse of putting on the new clothes they had acquired for him.
Once alone, he set up wards, pulled out Phineas's portrait, and enlarged it.
"I need to talk to you," he told the canvas. "I need to know if he's okay."
Nonchalantly, Phineas wandered into the frame. "Perhaps you should have thought of that before your little stunt today."
"Just tell me if he's okay."
Phineas arched an critical eyebrow at him much like Snape often did. "So sure I have answers, aren't you?"
"Look," said Harry, frustrated. "I know. I know that he was using you to talk to Ron and Hermione. I know I've got a Horcrux in me. I know-"
Phineas's disdainful tone turned to one of cool curiosity. "You know about the Horcrux?"
Harry nodded. "Yes, and that's why I'm going to die tomorrow. I'll kill him and then-"
"It must be by the Dark Lord," Phineas said. "He cannot die while that fragment of soul within you remains alive. You need to die first, by his hand. It is the only way he can be destroyed."
Harry had to ask, "Dumbledore knew this, didn't he?"
Phineas gave a short nod. "He was the one who told me. Severus knew as well, of course."
"I know," said Harry, his heart squeezing tight. Why had Snape never told him? Why had Snape promised that he'd live when Snape knew he needed to die. "He never told me... Thank you."
Resizing the portrait, he slipped it back into his pocket. Even though he'd already chosen his course of action, hearing it stated so matter-of-factly made his heart pound in his chest harder than ever. With cold hands, he returned to the room where his friends awaited him with smiles.
More people returned from the field to greet him and the room filled with more and more faces. Lost in himself, the noisy crowd seemed as though it were miles away from where he was.
Someone announced that dinner was ready and the throng of people made their way to the dining room, people still talking to him, giving him their congratulations and telling him they'd always believed in him. He barely heard any of it, he just held Ginny's hand and took his seat at the table.
Even with the thought lurking in the back of his mind that this would be the last night he would ever spend with any of them, the joy of just being there – surrounded by loved ones – was enough to override all the pain of the past and the knowledge of what was to come. He would save them – all of them.
His stomach was so tight, he could hardly eat and only spoke when necessary. No one seemed to mind, they were happy to fill him in on daring escapes and close encounters. After dinner, holding Ginny's hand tightly in his, Harry told them every single thing he knew about Horcruxes. Hermione chimed in with all the new Horcrux destruction techniques she'd uncovered in her latest research, and then Arthur updated them on the overseas support.
When Arthur finished, Harry stood. "Tomorrow," he told them, "we'll defeat him." Snape would call him arrogant, but he knew it was true. No one said a word – everyone just watched him expectantly. "What he fears most are attacks on his Horcruxes and that's what we'll do tomorrow. I know you've been talking about re-taking Hogwarts for some time, and I think we should. I'll move separately. There's a good chance he still thinks I'm loyal to him and, if I convince him of that, I can get close. I'll need your help." He gazed around the room. "It's likely the Death Eaters will put up a fight after he's gone, and I'll need help with them. Remember, without the Horcruxes, he's just a man.
"I'll be leaving at dawn tomorrow. I would like two hours to myself before you begin your attack."
Ron stood. "And I have an attack plan for Hogwarts." Spreading out the master map, Ron began his lecture on retaking Hogwarts.
Ginny squeezed Harry's hand as he returned to his seat. "You don't have to do this alone," she whispered.
"I know," said Harry. "But I want to. Besides, I won't be alone. I'll have all of you helping me. I have Snape waiting."
"You trust him completely?" Ginny's eyes searched Harry's face.
Harry nodded. "With my life."
She said nothing more, turning her attention back to Ron. It wasn't until later, when everyone had gone to bed and he found himself in a room alone with her that she brought up the subject again.
"What was he like as a guard?"
"Snape?" Harry kicked off the borrowed trainers, dumped his outer robes on the floor, and fell onto the bed.
"Yeah." She lay down beside him. "He was your full-time guard, right?"
"Most of the time. In general, he was a git, especially at the beginning, but we became friends over time." Rolling onto his side to face her, he asked, "Can you promise me something?"
Without hesitation, she said, "Yes."
"I'm the only one he has and he saved my life. If I- If I don't make it." Her brow furrowed, but she didn't interrupt. "He'll have no one to help him. He deserves the Order of Merlin, not Azkaban. I know it's a lot to ask and I know he'll reject any help you try to give him, but promise me you'll do everything you can to make sure he doesn't end up suffering even though he helped me. Even though he helped Dumbledore. He's been on our side for . . . years. I don't even know."
"Harry," she said gently. "He murdered Mundungus and then gloated about it."
"I know." Harry rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling. "He's done terrible things. But those terrible things earned the trust of the Dark Lord. When we win tomorrow, it will be because of his help. He deserves to be recognised for that." Glancing at her, he said, "He saved my life. He's the only reason I made it out of that prison sane. Please. Help him however you can."
"I promise," she said. "I'll do my best."
"Thanks." He turned on his side to kiss her.
Softly, sweetly, she kissed him back. It was nothing like how it had been with Snape. Even at his most tender, Snape had seemed to suck Harry's breath away, leaving Harry's heart racing as if they'd just had a brawl rather than shared a kiss. Ginny's kisses were a gentle gift of love, each one an unspoken 'I love you'.
And he loved her. Differently than Snape, but he loved her. She was everything he'd ever wanted. More than anything else, he wanted to get married to her, have a family much like her family (well, maybe not as large) and settle down to a life that others might call boring and simple, but would be perfect for him. He could see it now, the future he wanted but knew would never be, where he was an Auror, she his wife, and they had red-headed green-eyed children who went to Hogwarts and excelled at Quidditch. The thought that he would never have that shredded his insides and, although he was resigned to his fate, if he knew how it could be otherwise, he would've fought like hell to have that perfect future with Ginny.
He could never have that with Snape. The idea of starting a family with Snape was ludicrous. If not for all the physical limitations, Snape hated children. It would never work, yet even as he reminded himself of that, he still knew he loved him. Although the thought of his own death didn't fill him with sadness for himself anymore, the thought of leaving Snape and how lonely Snape would be after he was gone was almost enough to put him off his mission. If only he could live to protect Snape and give him the love he deserved.
Was it possible to be in love with two so very different people in two very different ways? He loved them both and he couldn't stand the thought of losing either of them.
Following Snape's advice and what Snape used to do to him, Harry undressed her slowly, taking his time to stroke and kiss each part of her body that he uncovered. Her tits were perfect - soft and perky, just big enough to cup in the palms of his hands and give a good squeeze. Snape would probably consider them too small, but he loved the feel of the soft supple flesh in his hands and how her nipples hardened against his fingers. If Snape hadn't shown him how sensitive nipples could be, he probably would've focused on the breasts themselves, but he now knew just how to play with the hard nubs to make her moan and press her body up against his.
She tried to replicate his actions on him, but she wasn't nearly as good at it as Snape had become. It didn't matter though, as hearing her groans and feeling her body tense and shiver in pleasure was more than enough to fill his cock. It was hard to hold back and, although he remembered how good it was when Snape took it slow and played with his nipples until he was desperate for more, he didn't have the restraint to do so with Ginny, and returned to helping her out of her clothes.
When he had her down to her panties, he finally went for the prize, rubbing her through the thin, wet cloth.
"Does it feel good?" he asked her.
She gave a crooked smile and, snaking down her hand, moved his an inch downward. "Softer and slower," she said.
Damn. He was such a virgin. He should've asked Snape for books on straight sex. Suddenly, he realised what else he didn't know.
"I don't know the spells," he admitted.
Ginny frowned. "The spells?"
"You know, lubrication and...." Did vaginas need cleaning? He had no idea. "Stuff."
She blinked at him several times before she said, "I don't need lubrication. If you mean pregnancy prevention, we use potions, not spells. I've got it covered."
"Oh, right. Forgot." Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. To distract her, he pulled off her panties and settled between her thighs. This was what giving head should be like. Delicious without the threat of gagging. He had no idea how to pleasure a woman, but he tried to do to her clit what Snape had done to his arsehole. Judging by how she grabbed the sheets and moaned his name, she liked it. As much as he wanted to hold out until she was begging for his cock, he couldn't resist for long. He fingered her carefully - one, two, three - making sure she was ready before he moved into position.
Wanting to give her a first time far better than his had been, he asked, "Are you ready?"
She smiled at him. "Yes."
Carefully, so as not to hurt her, he lined his cock up with her opening and slid slowly into her body, into her warm, wet heat. Oh fuck, it was perfect! He'd imagined penetration to feel wonderful, but it was bloody brilliant. Was this what it had felt like for Snape? Had his body pulsed around Snape's cock the way hers was pulsing around his? He should've demanded a go inside Snape! She wrapped her legs around his thighs and, with her hands on his hips, pulled him steadily into her. A brief expression of pain flashed across her face, but it was gone almost as soon as it appeared.
"Does it hurt?" he asked.
She laughed. "I had to lose it sometime. It doesn't hurt, not really. The first time's always said to be the worst, so it can only get better."
That was true. It was torture to move so slowly, but he was determined to give her only pleasure. On shaking hands and arms, concentrating his hardest on not coming, he inched his way inside her body. If Snape could have the restraint and patience for him, then he certainly could do the same for her. When he'd finally buried himself completely, she breathed a sigh of relief and said, "I'm good."
He pulled back and thrust.
"Mmmm," she moaned. "Do that again."
Bloody hell. Why hadn't he trained his cock like Snape? He'd never be able to give her the good, hard pounding he'd come to love if he couldn't keep himself erect! Embarrassed, he pulled out his disobedient cock and said, "Give me a minute."
Ginny's forehead furrowed in confusion before realisation dawned and she said, "Oh! Let me help with that." She manoeuvred him to lie flat on the bed. Then, with a flick of her hair, she bent down to suck him into her mouth.
Oh fuck! It was bloody brilliant! Relaxing back against the bed, he spread his legs, and shifted his bum, giving her greater access to his balls. Rather than take his cue, she steadily worked her way down his rapidly hardening prick. She gagged several times, but always went back for more, and soon she had nearly his entire cock stuffed all the way in her mouth and pulled pleasure from him so intense, he could hardly breathe. She knew just how to suck his cock and, before long, he was ready to give it another go. She mounted him, her tight, hot pussy gripping him like he'd never been gripped before as she bounced away above him.
Even in his wildest dreams he had never imagined it would be so perfect. It was a bit too amazing and soon he was trying hard not to come again, all of his energy focused on staying hard for her. If only he could've trained his cock to give her a fucking like Snape had given him! She didn't seem to mind though, her moans making it hard for him to restrain himself.
Thankfully, she knew how to take care of herself, and when she came, crying out his name and pulsing around him, he let himself go.
"Ginny," he gasped out, never wanting this moment to end, never wanting to be apart from her.
She pulled herself off of him, and lay down on top of him, her head resting on his shoulder.
"I love you, Harry."
Harry wrapped his arms around her. "I love you too." It was so easy to say to her. So easy to hear it, too. He could never say it to Snape, and he couldn't imagine ever hearing it from Snape. Why couldn't Snape be open and honest like Ginny? Why did everything between them have to be full of pretence and denial? Why couldn't they just tell each other how they felt instead of pretending they hated each other? Why did they always have to fight?
Harry pushed Snape from his mind. He was here with Ginny. Finally, he'd become a man. He enjoyed being protected, but he loved protecting. He'd protect her and Snape entirely on his own. No one else would have to die to save him.
Sleep rolled upon him, but he fought it, determined to stay awake for this last night alive. Ginny drifted off above him, and, once he was sure that she'd remain asleep, he slipped away from her, gathered up his necessary belongings and left to finish what had been started long ago.
Chapter 1 . . . Chapter 64.