Harry Potter stood leaning against the doorframe leadinginto the warm, comfortable kitchen of the Burrow. From there he could see outside the broad window overlookingthe garden, the majority of the kitchen table where a basket of onions vibrated gently, and the sink, which was currently spelled to hold water only on one side, leaving the other dry. The reason for the present bewitched status of the sink was the woman standing in front of it. Harry smiled to himself as he watched her humming contentedly to herself as she rhythmically washed and rinsed a bushel of home grown green beans, snapping them in half to the soft beat of the song and dropping them into a bowl resting on the dry side of the sink. She was the picture of simple contentedness, with her shirtsleeves rolled up to her elbows to avoid the suds and long red hair swept up in an unkempt ponytail. A frilly, overlarge apron protected the rest of the white collared shirt she wore (which Harry suspected was stolen from Ron’s closet) as well as most of her loose jeans. Ginny Weasley was not a tall woman, but she was slight and quick, lively, cheerful and smart. Now, as she worked her way through the green beans, her cheeks were bright with color and the many hues that ran through her hair glimmered in the waning light of evening that drifted through the window and poplin curtains.
Leaning his forehead against the warm wood, Harry closed his eyes and inhaled, breathing in the inviting smell of the busy kitchen. The Burrow had always felt like home to him – more so than even Hogwarts – because the people who resided in the Weasley home’s many nooks and crannies were the closest thing to family that he had ever known. The scent of baking bread and simmering meat mingled with the aroma of flowers and green things that was carried through the open window;the occasional waft of soap and detergent emanating from the laundry room was enough to remind Harry that he was truly home. It had been far too long, he thought.
It had been his own decision to leave. At the time, it hard hurt far too much to look at the faces of his adopted family and see evidence of everything that had passed in the last couple of years:missing family members, battle worn faces and everywhere reminders of the Final Battle. He shuddered slightly at the memory;he remembered standing (barely) over the paralyzed body of Tom Riddle, somewhat shocked that such a simple hex (Petrificus Totalus!) had wormed past his defenses. If Voldemort had any weakness, however, it was certainly his overconfidence. His eyes burned as he had surveyed the battle field. He was detached, encompassed in a bubble where time was slower (so it seemed to him anyway) and all was quiet. Green eyes had met red eyes searching for any trace of remaining humanity, and, finding none, the eighteen-year-old Boy Who Lived pointed his wand at the creature before him and whispered, “Avada Kedavra.”Green light poured out of his wand, burning out the remaining fragments of life, turning the stiff body into dust (a curiosity that Harry was hard pressed to explain) that quickly shifted through the scorched field grass and disappeared.
Harry, still supported by the doorframe and lost temporarily in his memory, vividlyrecalled that time, which had seemed to go so slowly, suddenly returned to normal at that moment. The sounds and smells reached him again and he had sat down hard on the grass, utterly exhausted. Sometime later Ron had found him, dragged him off the bloody hilltop and was mercifully silent while a mediwitch in lime green robes poked and prodded at him, searching for any particularly damaging hex marks. Hermione, Ginny, the rest of the Weasleys and most of the Order visited later, which Harry had found nearly as nerve grinding and anxiety producing as the actual battle had been. He could not stand to relive it for each new visitor; he caught himself thinking about it far too much anyway. He could not stand to see the looks of near-reverence, could not stand the constant stream of questions, could not stand the faces of the people he was not meeting everyday...the families of those lost and the families of those who came home. Nothing he could say could convince most strangers that he was simply a boy-turned-man who had been thrust into an unfriendly situation. He had a hard enough time getting those he knew well to stop mollycoddling him so much that with a definitive “Bugger ALL” he had got a flat in Muggle London and stayed as far away as possible.
Now, a year and a half later, he was standing in the Weasleys’ kitchen again, gazing peacefully at the domestic scene before him, and trying to decide the best way to announce his presence. He had kept in contact with the Weasleys during his self-imposedexile, mostly through letters. He had, despite his dear wishes to live alone, never intended to cut off all of his ties, especially to those who loved him. Ron visited occasionally, as had Ginny and Hermione, though they never stayed very long. Harry could imagine why:he had been a bundle of nerves and was thoroughly irritable much of the time. It had seemed that 17 years of unpleasantness needed to drain out of him; it had taken a while, but in the last 5 months or so Harry had been slowly overcome with a quiet peace. Apart from the occasional flashback, the nightmares had stopped. Small noises from the street stopped making him grab frantically for his wand and when people tapped him on the shoulder it no longer made his blood run cold and his heart to start racing. It was time, he had decided, to come home.
* * *
“Harry?” Ginny’s quietly shocked voice cut through his reverie, bringing Harry with a jolt to the present. She had evidently finished with the green beans and had turned to reach for the onion-like tubers on the table and was facing him, brown eyes wide in shock. He gulped and nodded, taking notice of her pale face and the large chopping knife that trembled slightly in her grip. He sincerely hoped that she wouldn’t throw it at him. Ginny had probably been the least accepting of his decision to keep his distance. She had beenunderstanding enough to respect his privacy, but subtly let him know that she would prefer he exorcise his demons somewhere else. Somewhere else meaning a large, mismatched house full of excitable redheads. Harry had thus kept her at arm’s length, preoccupied with cleansing the remnants of Voldemort from his head. He knewfull well that if she had been allowed, Ginny would have gritted her teeth during his moods and stuck with him – something that he would not have had the will to stop. On her last visit, a resurgence of long suppressed emotion had bubbled to the forefront of his awareness and he had (stupidly) tried to kiss her, high on Ginny-effervescence. She had responded in kind, kissing back for one glorious instant,before suddenly shoving him away and landing a blow to his left cheek that had smarted for days. He had barely time to open his mouth before her eyes welled full of tears and she grabbed the Floo powder from the mantle. “Don’t play with me, Potter,” she had snapped. “Just d-don’t play with me!” It had been the end of her visits to Harry’s.
Stepping quickly onto the worn wood floor of the kitchen, Harry ran a hand through his hair and cleared his throat, stalling. Ginny remained rooted to the floor, watching him closely. The hand that gripped the knife was no longer shaking, but there was still a suspicious lack of color on her face and a moist look to her eyes.
“Don’t cry please, Ginny,” Harry said, finding his voice. “Please, Gin, don’t. I’m home.” She blinked quickly a few times and swallowed. Exhaling a long breath, she slowly set the knife down on the counter and turned to him again.
“Why are you here, Harry?” she asked. Nothing in her voice betrayed anything other than pleased surprise, but it put Harry immediately on guard. This was unexpected. “I was wondering how long it would take you to get here. You see, the damn clock has been sputtering about you for at least a week. We’ve all been waiting.”
“Y-You have?” Harry scanned the walls, looking for the famous Weasley clock that he had last seen hung over the sink. It did not appear to be there anymore. Turning back to Ginny, he opened his mouth to ask her about the vanishing clock when he noticed something much more disturbing – Ginny standing squarely in front of him, an onion in each hand anda furious expression on her face. It seemed as though she had grounded herself again, having been temporarily knocked asunder by his arrival. “Oh dear, Ginny…you didn’t. Ginny, don’t…” Harry sputtered, but to no avail, the first vegetable smacked him hard in the shoulder, the second in the gut, the third in the sternum, each thrown with forceful accuracy. Harry stumbled, wincing as he remembered Ginny’s impeccable aim as a Chaser. It would appear the talent had not left her. A fourth onion came sailing across the table and plowed into his stomach again, knocking him off his already precarious balance and sending him tumbling to the floor, striking his head hard on a chair as he went.
* * *
When his vision cleared, Ginny was standing over him, face brilliant red, hair loose and flying in several directions. Onions dotted the floor around him. Wincing, he squinted at her. She was crying; the deep sobs wracked her small body and made Harry’s heart plummet. He had never seen her in such a state before – Ginny was usually not a crier. In fact, he could only recall three times that he had seen her in tears: once in the Chamber of Secrets, once at Dumbledore’s funeral and once at Charlie’s. She had not cried after the Final Battle, not during the Department of Mysteries fiasco when her ankle had been broken, not even when they had broken up the first time, not when Draco Malfoy had slashed her superficially from collarbone to belly button as a final act of vengeance or when he had left the second time. Now, however, she was falling to pieces before his eyes, a shocking change from the peaceful scene he had been watching less than 5 minutes earlier.
At an utter loss, Harry sat up and held out his arms to her. She collapsed into them gratefully, burying her head in his shoulder. Cradled in his arms, Harry ran his fingers through her fiery hair until her sobs slowed to sniffs and his heart beat at a normal pace again.
“Ginny?” he ventured tentatively. “That’s twice now that you’ve deliberately tried to hurt me. Should I be worried?” She gave a wet chuckle and pulled back a little, looking into his eyes.
“Sorry about the onions, Harry. I figured they would do less damage than the knife and I wanted to be able to talk with you again after.”
“Oh, the onions were brilliant then,” Harry said quickly. “Like pillows, even.” She snorted.
“Why are you home?” It was a serious question – her eyes were no longer blazing in anger or flooding, but gazing intently into his own.
Harry considered a moment. He said, “I missed home. I missed your mum’s cooking. I missed talking about Muggles with your dad and playing Quidditch with Ron and the twins. I missed the gnome-infested garden and seeing your mum smile when all her chicks are home. I missed laughing and smiling and always being warm. I missed,” he paused, his voice cracking a bit. “I missed you. I missed helping you prank the twins and watching you beat Ron at chess and listening to you read Muggle poetry to yourself at night.” Ginny blushed as Harry noted her habit and smiled. “I missed hearing you laugh and seeing you smile and being the one to make you do those things. I missed holding you and making you feel safe. And while I don’t miss fighting with you, Ginny, I’d spend every day from now on fighting just because it would be talking to you.”
Pausing, Harry lifted his eyes from his lap and into Ginny’s bright brown ones.
“Why did you leave then in the first place? What was all that noble whatsit?”
“Gin, I didn’t like being away. I just…had to. I wasn’t me anyway. It was like I was someone else – someone jumpy and nervous all the time. I thought…I thought I was going mental. Ginny, once I heard a cab backfire and I blew my tea kettle to bits. I needed to find myself again. The real Harry, not that anxious bloke living in my clothes.” She nodded slowly, considering. After a minute, she settled back into his arms, a warm presence that reminded Harry very much of times before when they had sat in a similar manner in front of the fire in the Gryffindor common room. Glancing down at her bemusedly – for she seemed to have entirely dropped any pretense of caring why they were on the floor to begin with – Harry leaned his cheek against the copper strands of her hair and breathed deeply once more. They must make quite a sight, leaning together against the pantry wall, surrounded by rattling produce, overturned chairs and an overflowing sink, Harry noted. Well. That was something to be bothered with another time. Resting his head back on the wall, Harry smiled and let the smells and familiar comforts of home wash over him as Ginny nuzzled closer. It was good to be back indeed.