The house filled with the smell of good food baking. Christmas carols could be heard the air, both muggle and magical. Decorations adorned every spare shelf and corner. Harry took a deep breath, enjoying the delicious feeling of homecoming. It was over; really truly over.
"All right, Harry?" Ron asked, concern in his one blue eye. The scarred hole where his other one should be was covered by a tatty black eye-patch, which Hermione told him looked 'sexy and dangerous'.
In the midst of all that death and destruction, they'd needed to laugh about anything and everything they could. That shared ridicule of even the most horrible things had seen them through the war, and had given Harry the strength he needed to kill Voldemort once and for all.
Harry nodded. "Just glad to be home."
"We all are." Hermione said softly. It wasn't only Ron who'd suffered physical scars. The left side of her face was marred with four claw marks running from forehead to chin, the leftover evidence of Greyback's final charge, before a particularly vicious spell from Remus that had quite literally torn him apart.
The door was thrown open to reveal Molly Weasley beaming down at them. "What are you doing standing out here in the cold?" She scolded, ushering them inside. "You must be starving, come into the kitchen, I was just making dinner."
Hermione and Ron eagerly followed her, desperate for the love only a mother can provide. Harry, however, had seen someone in the lounge he wanted to talk to.
Sitting by the fire in an old rocking chair was Ginny Weasley, humming along with the music under her breath as she knitted. The flickering embers picked up copper highlights in her hair and cast her face into shadow. Whatever she was knitting had the look of baby clothes about it, perhaps a tiny pink cap.
Filled with the fear that she hadn't waited for him, he turned to leave.
"Running away again, Harry?" No longer the excited lilt of a teenager, Ginny's voice was the tired whisper of a woman grown too soon, of someone who'd faced impossible horrors and lived to tell the tale.
"No," Harry lied.
"Then come in, sit down. Pull up a chair and cook yourself nicely while I finish up this bit of knitting. Then we can talk."
"I really don't feel like talking, Ginny." Harry said, nevertheless coming in and pulling an over-stuffed armchair over to the fireplace. The chair seemed to support him eagerly, allowing him to go limp in its embrace.
Ginny finished off the cap and took out a large silver needle, threading it with a darker pink thread. A wave of her wand sent it embroidering on the knitted cap. "Tough." She replied. "You're going to."
"Why are you making that?" He asked desperately, trying to change the topic.
"Fleur's having a little girl." The happiness underlying Ginny's soft voice had Harry grinning.
"Her due date is tomorrow. They're naming her Noelle." Ginny finished stitching the cursive N on top of the tiny hat, and pulled the thread up to her mouth. One sharp clack of her white teeth and the thread was cut.
Harry shivered at the sound. "Th-that's good." He stammered. The beast in his chest, which had gone into hibernation upon leaving The Burrow and Ginny, decided that now was a good time to wake up and express his displeasure at the distance between himself and the red-haired beauty sitting opposite.
"So, you're all here and alive, therefore I think it's safe to assume Tom's dead." Ginny busied herself with stoking the fire, giving Harry the chance to control his unsteady emotions.
"Yeah." He said finally, bitterly. "Voldemort's dead."
In the end it had been Godric Gryffindor's sword that had been the key. It had seemed fitting at the time, poetic irony, to kill Voldemort with the one Founders' Relic he hadn't managed to turn into a Horcrux, but the steady unravelling of Voldemort's body, from skin to muscle to bone, and finally, to dust that blew away on the wind had completely unnerved Harry. He hadn't had a decent night's sleep since, nor could he bring himself to throw away the only things left from the Age of the Founders (aside, of course, from the Sorting Hat).
"I'm sorry you had to do that, I know you didn't want to be a murderer."
"I'm not a murderer." Harry protested, though he didn't really believe it. Hermione had repeated over and over to him that he was only doing the right thing. That Ginny thought he'd willingly go out and chop Tom Riddle's head off hurt. "Voldemort wasn't human, not really."
The redhead opposite him said nothing, but a small, satisfied smile curved her lips.
Brushing a hand through his hair, Harry sighed. "I didn't want to do it." He told her in a low voice. "In some ways I wish I hadn't. I've bloodied my hands, Gin. They'll never be clean again."
In one smooth movement, Ginny was beside him, kneeling at his feet, her small, earnest face uplifted to his. "Yes, they will." She insisted softly. "Every time you hear a child laugh, and know they were born into a world free of Voldemort, all your conceived 'wrong doings' will be absolved. Every time you see a couple smiling at one another, or a family just enjoying the love that togetherness can bring, without worrying about whether or not they're next on Voldemort's hit list, that blood on your hands will fade. And every time you see the wonder on the face of an eleven-year-old Muggle-born witch or wizard, you'll know that because of you, that precious child has the chance to bloom under the attention of his or her teachers, to belong to a world most people only dream of, any stains on your soul will be washed away."
Harry sighed again. "Gin, why are you doing this?"
"Because you need to realise that just because a prophecy told before you were born dictated that you were the only one who could kill Voldemort, it doesn't mean you're not a good person. You're one of the kindest, most honourable, compassionate people I know. Of course, you're also one of the cutest."
Harry snorted. "Thanks, I think."
"And you're stubborn, wilful, have a temper that could rival a Weasley's, you're far too noble, not to mention your pride." The redhead continued cheerfully.
"Now you're just gushing," Harry teased in return, feeling that old comfortable warmth that always surfaced around the shortest Weasley.
"Yeah, I am." Slowly, Ginny stood up. Moving faster than even he would have thought possible, the dark-haired man took hold of Ginny's arm, stopping her from moving back to her own seat. "Harry?"
"Gin, two years ago you and I broke up because I didn't want you to be a target for Voldemort-"
"And I only accepted that excuse because I knew of the pressure you were under." Ginny interrupted sternly. "I've been a target since he came back. One of my brothers is your best friend, and the rest all have positions that blatantly declare their loyalty to the Light. Add that to the fact that we're the biggest, Muggle-loving purebloods around and you've got Tom's attention all right."
"Okay, I have to admit you have a point there." Harry laughed, not at all perturbed that she'd interrupted him. "But, as I was saying, two years ago we broke up. I didn't mean for it to be permanent, and I assumed you knew that."
"Well, you didn't tell me," Ginny said wryly, "so how exactly was I supposed to know what you were thinking?"
"I..." The beast in Harry's chest growled nervously. Ginny was close enough, but what she was saying...it didn't bode well.
"What do you mean?" he whispered.
"Harry, I tried so hard to give you up." Ginny shook off his now-lax grip, pacing. "I swore I'd accept your friendship, that I'd let you set the pace. When you told me you liked me the way I did you...you opened up all my old wounds and kissed them better."
A short, bitter laugh escaped Ginny's lips. "You made me so happy...the whole time we were together, I never had a single nightmare. Then...then you decided you had to break free of me so I wouldn't be attacked by Tom." Angrily, the redhead scrubbed away the tears that had begun to fall down her freckled cheeks. "You broke it off with me, tore my heart open all over again and rubbed salt in the wounds. It almost killed me, and I'm nowhere near healed yet. Why would I let you get that close to breaking me again?"
Harry's internal organs, which had left when Ginny knelt down beside him, returned, filled with lead. "I..." He bowed his head. "I understand."
"No, you don't understand, Harry." The words were soft, kind. "If you did, you'd realise it's not a rhetorical question. Give me a reason to entrust my battered heart to you again. Give me a reason to hope for more than just today." Harry dared to meet the gaze of those coffee-coloured eyes, and saw in their depths something that made the lead rapidly melt away. Love.
The only problem was, he wasn't altogether sure he could express himself in the way Ginny hoped for. The one time he'd innocently told someone he loved them, he'd been laughed at. Aunt Petunia had sneered openly at his childish proclamation, told him there was no way he could love her, he didn't know what love was, his sort never would. Of course, he hadn't understood her then, but he did now. However, that didn't change the fact that he'd never since uttered those words, even to Sirius. Oh, sure, Sirius had known he cared, but he'd never actually told his own godfather that he loved him.
"You what, Harry?"
"I really l-care about you," he said quickly, biting his lip at the disappointment that washed over her features. "Wait! Let me finish." He ran a hand through his hair again. "You're just so special, I can't put it into words. It's your...your Ginny-ness. You're intelligent, but you don't flaunt it like Hermione does, which don't get me wrong, is great, but you don't get irritated when us mere mortals don't understand what you mean. You're brave, a powerful witch, and you're kind - you even liked Filch's cat, who, frankly, needed a good kick up the a-"
"Sorry. Anyway, if that wasn't good enough, you're pretty, too. Not Veela pretty, just comfortably pretty. It's like you don't even try, like you don't notice how gorgeous you are when you smile, the way those eyes light up and the way your hair shines...you're like fire, brought to life, always moving, never still, all the colours of the rainbow rolled into one dangerous, yet life-giving package."
He saw her blush, and was glad that his rather pathetic attempt at prose hadn't made her burst out laughing. "I dunno, maybe it's the Potter luck that we always fall for beautiful redheads. 'Course, I can't be sure, I only have my parents and me to base this suspicion on..."
"Harry." The sound of his name, so different than when she'd said it just moments before, had him realising just what he had just said. "It's ok." The tender smile on Ginny's face warmed his insides. "I love you, too. You don't have to say the words if you can't."
"But I should be able to." The dark-haired wizard replied, frustrated. "Why is it that I can defeat Voldemort but I can't even say the words 'I love you' to the woman I love?"
"Maybe you just need not to be concentrating on them." Ginny giggled. "Because you just did." She looped her arms around his neck. "So, Mr. Potter, I love you, you love me." She said, breath ghosting over his face. "What do you plan to do about it?"
"Well, first I'm going to kiss you." Harry dipped his head down, capturing Ginny's mouth in a sweet, chaste kiss before raising his head.
"Oh no you don't, Potter, that's a kiss you'd give your first-date girlfriend, not the woman you love." Ginny scolded, before pulling his head down into a kiss that turned his brain into mush. She tasted of mince pies and peppermint candy canes mixed with the unique spiciness that was Ginny. Her tongue was currently doing something very nice, and the feel of her hands, one on his shoulders, the other firmly holding her mouth to his had him feeling dizzy.
He cupped her cheek in one hand, marvelling at the softness underneath his thumb. Then something wet touched his fingers, and he pulled back. "Ginny? What's wrong?" He asked, rubbing the salty tears off her freckled cheeks.
"I c-can't help it!" Ginny hiccupped. "You could've died and then I would have died and it would've been a whole mess of dying!"
"Right." Unable to contain his amusement. Harry nonetheless did his best to comfort her, wrapping his arms around her, stroking that beautiful scarlet hair soothingly. "But I didn't die." He said quietly. "I'm fine. And I love you. So it's all okay."
"Yeah." Ginny sniffled. "It is." She buried her face in his neck; mouth nestled against the hollow between neck and collarbone.
"Ginny," Harry began, "is that the cap you knitted for Noelle that's burning away merrily in the fire?"
The redhead jumped away as if scalded, and stomped her foot. "That took hours!"
Laughing, Harry pulled her back into his embrace. "Never mind, Gin." He said. "You can do it again."
Harry kissed her, shutting her up quite effectively.
"You won't be able to do that every time I say something you don't like." Ginny complained.
"I can try." Harry teased.
Giggling, Ginny kissed his nose. "Happy Christmas Eve, Harry." She said softly, resting her head on his shoulder.
Ron poked his head into the room. "Oi, are either of you planning to eat tonight? Because the rest of us are bloody starving."
Choruses of "Ronald Weasley!" Came from the kitchen.
Stifling a grin, Harry nodded. "We're coming, Ron." He took Ginny hand, and, to the tune of 'I'll Be Home for Christmas', headed into the adjoining room. Finally, he was home, he was happy, and he was loved.