Ginny, her eyes still closed, groaned spectacularly and rolled over. She instinctively went to reach for Harry and then startled when she was met with her brother's face.
"Good morning, sunshine." Ron was settled between Harry and Ginny in the bed and he was grinning down at her.
"Where am I?" Ginny asked in a daze, "What?" Then remembering last night, she crawled right over Ron and into Harry's warm, waiting arms. Harry snuggled himself into her and kissed the side of her head and the best feeling of contentment swept over her. She was sure he felt it too.
"Would you leave please? We're going back to sleep, Ron," Harry grumbled.
Ron sputtered as he jumped out of the bed, "You two are really back to normal, aren't you?"
Ginny thought she could practically hear Harry smiling as Ron exited the room. Ginny yawned. "I guess I slept over."
"It's alright. I think the fact that we're still in our clothes and over the bed sheets was enough for your brother."
She turned on her other side to face him, "Do you still love me, or was last night just a dream?"
He answered quickly, even through bleary eyes, "Every day, and for the rest of my life."
She kissed him once gently. "Err, I probably have dragon breath," Harry said as he backed away.
"I'll take you, dragon breath and all," she whispered and kissed him like it was the most natural thing in the world.
Ginny pulled back after a moment. "I think we'll be okay after all."
He closed his eyes and breathed in. "I want to spend my life doing that, showing you how I feel about you," he whispered in a hoarse voice. "I couldn't stand waiting so long. I wanted to fix this more than anything in the world. Thank you for giving me the chance to."
She looked at him quickly as if appraising how sincere he might be. Tears prickled her eyes and then quickly disappeared before he leaned in for another kiss.
"Ginny!" Ron called from the kitchen. Suddenly they heard footsteps and the door opened.
"Ginny! Mum's on the Floo. She wants to speak to…us. And she won't say what about until you get your arse down there."
They shared a look that meant that they both somehow knew they were in trouble. She knew that her mum couldn't be happy about her disappearing from the castle last night. Ginny stood from the bed, smoothed her robes and tried to fix her hair. She then extended her hand towards Harry's. He took it, following her down the stairs to the kitchen, and then towards the fireplace, "What is it, Mum?" Ginny asked bravely as she stopped in front of the mantle, sure she was about to be yelled at for leaving school and being found in Harry's bed.
"Ginny dear, Ronnikins," Molly Weasley said gently, "you have a niece. Come to Shell Cottage, quickly! And you, too, Harry."
It hardly registered that she had a niece or that Bill and Fleur had their baby. She knew that her mum could see through the Floo that she and Harry had their hands joined. Although she probably hadn't liked knowing that Ginny had just disappeared with him last night, she hoped her mum was glad they had finally worked themselves out, despite everything.
Ginny was still in her robes from last night, so she asked Hermione to lend her jeans and a jumper. Harry went upstairs to change as well, since he had some clothes left in the closet of his bedroom here. Ron and Hermione went through first, leaving her and Harry behind.
He halted momentarily in front of the fireplace. "Are you sure I'm welcome?"
"Harry, you're family. Mum just asked you to come, and I'm sure Bill and Fleur want you there. Come on."
"You go first," he urged her on.
"Shell Cottage, okay?"
"Okay. See you there." They let go of one another's hand. Same as ever. Letting go of each other was physically hard. Maybe it was because they were so used to not knowing when the next time would be that they were together…
Soon he was climbing out of the fireplace at Shell Cottage. Ginny pulled him out of the fireplace by the hand.
"Can't you keep your hands off each other, there's a baby in the house!" George accused, motioning towards their joined hands which made even Hermione laugh. "Where were you two? Are you really, seriously going to sort yourselves out this time?" George asked.
Ginny looked at Harry, and he looked at her, not knowing what to say. Hermione glanced at them knowingly from across the room. Ginny didn't let go of his hand, though. In fact, she intertwined her fingers with his, and held him even more tightly. She smiled while a huge grin spread across Harry's face and then with quite a flourish she kissed him in front of the entire room before going off to meet her new niece.
Harry knew that the tips of his ears must be turning bright red from Ginny's display of affection in front of her brothers. He found a place at the table with Ron and George and hoped that they wouldn't start in. Charlie poured a measure of Firewhisky for everyone and they toasted the newest addition to the Weasley family.
Harry waited with Hermione until Ginny returned. As most of the family members entered and left the kitchen, it was a strange feeling of belonging with the Weasleys, and yet not belonging. He knew he wasn't really a part of the family, and if Ginny hadn't insisted that she wanted him there, he wouldn't have been. It was an exciting time for the Weasleys though, and he was glad to be here rather than stuck in another Victory Day ceremony.
"Harry, do you want to see her?" Ginny smiled as she entered the kitchen, her cheeks pink, which made her look adorable.
"Sure. Of course."
Ginny brought him into the sitting room. The hours-old baby was resting in a content-looking Mr. Weasley's arms. Harry sat on the sofa next to him and looked around. He knew the house well and remembered the hours he had spent here pondering his own and Voldemort's demise, tracking out the next plan for survival. Even though it would always be a part of him, that time of his life was over, for good. Ginny was sitting by his side, grinning between him and her father, and he couldn't help but think again of how much he loved her. The baby in Mr. Weasley's arms was a soft pink colour with the lightest, softest looking fluff on her head.
"What's her name?" Harry asked.
"Victoire," Arthur replied. "Victoire Weasley."
"It's pretty," Ginny chimed in. "I love her name."
Watching Victoire sleep so peacefully in Arthur's arms gave Harry a warm feeling in his heart that he had not felt in a long time. Mr. Weasley gave Harry a one armed hug.
"How are you, son?"
"Me? I'm…I'm doing fine. Congratulations Mr. Weasley," Harry muttered. He could not match that look of contentment in Arthur's eyes with any feeling he had ever had. He hoped that one day he would. It was appropriate that a new life came into the world today, he thought. It seemed like life was going to go on and this baby girl was proof of that.
Ginny motioned for them to leave the room, but instead of going back to the kitchen, they went out the front door and without talking, walked to the cliff's edge. Harry stood next to Ginny surveying the ocean, his hands in his pockets.
"So what did you think of the baby, Harry?" Ginny interrupted his thoughts as she shouted over the breaking ocean waves and coastal wind. "Victoire Weasley, the first Weasley baby in seventeen years and a girl to boot. I don't know how I'm going to like being one of two Miss Weasleys in the family," she said with a twinkle in her eye.
"She's tiny. I guess I didn't see Teddy that small to know. He was already a pretty big baby by the time I began spending a lot of time with him."
"Are you still able to see him once a week, with training?"
"I try to, but he's usually sleeping by seven so it's difficult some nights."
Ginny smiled. "I do wonder if Teddy will like Victoire. At least he'll have someone to play with when we all go round to the Burrow. Course, they'll only be a year apart at Hogwarts, like us," she said with a grin. "Wait, I forgot. Victoire is going to ze Beauxbatons Academe of Magic!"
"No, she'll want to go to Hogwarts, I think."
"Why do you say that?"
Harry raised an eyebrow, "To be with Teddy, of course, and all her brothers and sisters…and cousins. She's just the first of many to come. Can you imagine how big this family will be one day?" Since he had seen the baby, Harry had been thinking about that happy day in the future when he and Ginny would welcome Victoire's cousins to the family. The Potter cousins, that is. The thought of having his own babies with Ginny someday was unbelievable, but now he wanted it more than he had ever thought possible.
She linked her arm in his, which felt comfortable, and thinking of what was happening one year ago today made this moment all the more special.
"This is where I wanted to be a year ago."
"At Shell Cottage?" She looked up at him.
"No. Somewhere beautiful, with you. I…I think that it was worth everything to be standing here with you."
For a while she was quiet.
"A new beginning is always a good thing, I think, especially with us," she said finally, as she leaned her head against his shoulder. Together they watched the distant crests of waves rise and fall from the sea.
My Dearest Ginny,
I can't even think of anything else but how you looked at me this morning when you woke up or this evening when I left you at school. You were so lovely, it's going to be hard to leave you. Ever. It's only been an hour since I left you and I'm going right crazy wanting to see you again. I think we'll be writing a whole lot more these days…
You're going to have to get used to the love letter…I don't care if you need them or not. You need to know that I'm out of my mind every second without you. That I just recently noticed that I've always been.
I Love You,
Ginny's heart beat quickly as she slid the letter she had received at breakfast back into its envelope and thought of how she would fill the next few weeks until she saw him again. There would be one last Hogsmeade weekend before her NEWTS, but besides that she would be revising and they would need to go back to sharing letters for the time being.
She took until that evening to respond, but couldn't stop thinking all day about what to say.
Wow. Still not used to the love letters and no, I don't really need them too often, but it would be nice to receive more letters like you suggested. If you keep them coming, I promise you won't be disappointed when we finally do see each other again…
It was nice waking up with you, too. I know that anything we do just feels perfect, because that's what we are together—despite how challenging we both make it at times…
Sending my love,
Five weeks later…
Harry heard a knock on his door and his heart raced. Although the fireplace was in proper working order, Ginny had decided to Apparate close by, now that she finally had her license to do so. And now she was here.
The last few weeks had passed by slowly. Their letters helped, but Ginny had been finishing up her NEWTs and his work schedule was difficult. They hadn't spent more than five minutes alone during the last Hogsmeade weekend, and her welcome home party last week had been another whirlwind. They had been lucky to steal a few moments behind the broom shed before Ron and George found them. Needless to say, he couldn't wait to see her now.
The flat was bright, that was what he liked about it, especially today when there was nothing and nobody standing between them. Harry opened the door and she looked up into his eyes, then stood on her toes and kissed his cheek. She wore a blue skirt and a loose fitting white top. Her hair was down, as he liked it. He knew his hair was messy as always, and he ran a hand through it and straightened his glasses before asking her in. Just seeing her standing there in his flat, a current of attraction tore through him and he had to fight not to launch himself at her.
After showing her around once again briefly, he grabbed his jacket, opened the door for her, and escorted her outside. It was a beautiful day and even though he said that the restaurant he was planning to take her to was two tube stops away, she decided they would walk. On the way, he pointed out all of his favourite local places, where he marketed, the park where he liked to sit and think, and the Muggle pub he had brought Ash and Ron and Charlie to a few times. Soon they were nearing the restaurant, which was housed in a red brick building with a brown hanging sign. You could order and either eat outdoors or in. He ordered them pints of cider and two plates of fish and chips. They found a bench outside. It was a happy afternoon because they were alone. The rest of the world almost didn't matter right now.
"I come here a lot. Can you tell?"
"You should learn how to cook," she winked at him and popped a chip in her mouth. "I would teach you if I wasn't about to spend all my time flying."
"I know how to cook, actually. But I like a good fry up for lunch," Harry said. He sipped his drink. "It's quick, easy, and tastes good."
"Mum would disapprove, but I won't say anything because I completely agree." Ginny smiled as they both tucked into their lunch. They sat in comfortable silence for a while, enjoying their meal, each other's company and the busy street in front of them.
"Alright," Ginny said as she reached for a napkin, "I have an idea since I think for some reason we may both be nervous about our first real date since…well…it's been a long time. Let's play a game," she suggested.
Harry raised an eyebrow. "A game?"
"Yes, a game. You tell me something that you've never told me before and I'll tell you something I've never told you before. Except the trick is, it has to be about…us, okay?"
"Yes, about us, and our relationship…"
He couldn't help the laugh that escaped the back of his throat. Harry shook his head. "This is going to get me in trouble, isn't it?"
"No. Just think of something to say. Go on." She nudged his foot under the table and he nudged her back and so on until she was laughing and popped another chip into her mouth.
Harry paused, unsure of what to say, "Wouldn't you rather play Exploding Snap?"
"Chess? Cards? I can conjure something and I swear that none of these Muggles will notice."
Ginny laughed and shook her head at all three suggestions.
"You first," she insisted.
"Yeah." She was serious.
Harry thought for a moment until a memory popped into his mind. "Remember how I mended things between us last summer? After the end of the war…"
She smiled, and he knew she was remembering the night, a fortnight after the battle. "Yes."
"It…well…I was sitting on the couch after you went upstairs for the night and apparently we had just said this very awkward goodnight to each other. George was there, and Ron, and they took the mickey out of me for hours. They got to talking and both of them agreed that unless I did something about where we stood within the next twenty-four hours, they were going to seriously embarrass me in front of you. So by the next evening, I still hadn't done it. I had planned all day to talk to you and when I went to look for you, your mum told me that you and Hermione had gone to the pond for a swim. So I went out trying to find you and I was hiding behind the chicken coop, and there you were, just walking towards the house and I just saw you and you know the rest. I grabbed you and kissed you without even thinking. I thought you were going to be angry at me for grabbing you, but you kissed me back. To the ground, I remember."
Ginny laughed, "I admit it was a bit frightening to be accosted like that, but I recovered. I did think it was a bit strange though. Makes sense. I wonder what they would have done to you that would have been so embarrassing. You probably should have known that if I found out you were ready to mend things, I would have tossed myself at you right then and there, forget being embarrassed by an awkward hug."
Harry liked what she said, very much. He took a moment to appreciate how the sun made her hair look like it was on fire, with gold spun into the ends. He snatched one of her chips, and she slapped his hand and snatched one of his.
"I'm also still not sure what George and Ron would have pranked me with if I hadn't made my move."
"Probably turning your pants to stone or something." Harry grinned at that possibility, glad that he had more nerve than they thought he did.
"My turn? Let me think… Alright, it seems so immature now, but… Two years ago, when you showed up at the Burrow the summer before you left, I couldn't stand the sight of you, I was so angry. So Charlie asked me why I was staring daggers at you, and I told him the story of us. He was the one who told me to kiss you on your birthday and then I would know how you felt. If you pushed me away, it was really over. If you kissed me back the way you had all along, it wasn't."
"After that kiss, did you know?"
"After that kiss…well, there was no denying that you were being honest when you said it was for my safety and not because you didn't like me anymore. That kiss, the memory of it, sort of got me through that terrible year, you know?"
"Me too. It was always my intention to put things right between us, you know. All along. If I made it out alive. The only reason I cut us off when I did, besides keeping you safely at a distance, was so that in the end there would be a chance for us."
"If you'd only said that a long time ago," Ginny said quickly. Harry was glad when she smiled his way. "Why didn't you say that? You know, a few more sentences from you and I would have been alright with you ditching me, you twit."
"Twit?" He took a sip off his drink. "I couldn't really let myself. It was easier to think that I wasn't going to be there in the future. That was more of the reality of the situation. I'm still incredibly surprised that I lived through it, Ginny. I wasn't expecting to."
Ginny pushed her chips towards him and gave him a quirky look. "Your turn, Harry."
"Erm. Here's one…did you know that in August of last year, Ron asked me if I loved you. Just like that. 'Do you love her, mate?' Can't believe it's been almost a year," he muttered, "or at least close to it."
"Do you love her, mate?" she mocked in a very good imitation of Ron. She shook her head. "That is so like Ron. No wonder you had such a rough time with figuring it out. He put you on the spot!" Harry took the opportunity to come around the bench and sit next to her.
"I mean, I s'pose he wanted to see if I did because I was constantly…"
"Constantly what?" Ginny grinned and knocked her shoulder into him.
"Constantly with you…"
"You mean constantly snogging me every second of every day."
"Yeah, I suppose."
Ginny giggled, throwing her head back as she did. Harry picked up one of his chips and offered it to her. Ginny leaned forward and took it from his fingers with her mouth. She took a chip and fed it to him, and then inched as close to him as possible on the bench, swinging her legs up onto his lap.
"That's okay, I loved constantly snogging you, too. Especially last summer." She sighed, leaning her head on his shoulder. "Summer's here again. This is definitely my favourite time of year. Going to the pond every day, the sun and fresh air."
"I like summer, too." He smoothed her hair. "Now that we're us again."
Ginny's head popped up. "At the end of the summer, we're starting all over again with the long distance and now this no-boyfriend policy. I'm a little nervous."
"You don't need to doubt us, Ginny. I…I plan to be there for you, for everything. Err…Harriett and I, that is." In the past few weeks, they had been writing back and forth formulating a plan for next year, and one of the things they decided was that he could sign his letters as Harriett, so the Harpies would think an old friend was writing to Ginny instead of Harry Potter. Also, he was hoping they could perhaps study the same foreign language so they could converse in letters without anyone knowing what they were saying. That was her idea.
"I don't find it all that difficult to believe that we'll be alright." She kissed him on the cheek, which turned into a salty, soft kiss on the lips.
Harry looked at her. "You know, I don't need the Harpies telling you how to live. You'll always have me—even if I need to pretend I'm a girl." Ginny fed him another chip and he smiled, returning the favour.
"I can't stop eating these. You're right, they are the best chips I've ever had."
"Are we through playing?" he wondered, hoping the answer was yes.
"Yes. What do you want to do now?"
"Ice cream and a walk in the park?"
"Let's walk first. I think I ate too much."
Harry helped her to her feet and they headed back towards the entrance to the park, hand in hand. The weather was warm and it was nice to feel the sun on his skin and Ginny's hand in his. She liked to talk and he liked to listen. When they weren't talking, they were watching people go about their weekend bicycling, roller skating, and just sitting on the grass. Finally, they stopped on a bridge over a pond and watched a rowboat glide by.
"Will it always be like this?" He kissed the side of her head. "Will I always feel like I never want to be anywhere else when we're together?"
She giggled. "I hope so! Yes…I think it will keep getting better, if you can believe it…different maybe, but better. Harry, can I tell you something? This is all I have ever really wanted—to be with you on days like today."
Harry could only think of one thing to say. "It came so close to not happening. I'm lucky to have the opportunity…"
"No, it's not luck." She gently touched his face. "You won this beautiful day. We're not here by chance, are we? We're only here because despite being a truly selfless person and wanting to save others, you fought to survive because you wanted to live. Otherwise you wouldn't be here. I think you wanted to live out your life and you wanted it with all of your heart."
Harry couldn't speak. Despite coming back to save lives and end the life of Tom Riddle once and for all, there were the selfish reasons that had lain deep and dormant in his heart; reasons he never would have admitted to Dumbledore. But he had known, hadn't he? The reason—the motivation—that had trumped all others that night had been to fight back to live so he could have a chance at a future filled with happiness, a family and Ginny by his side. That was what it had come down to after so many lonely months during the war of hearing her laughter in his dreams, watching her hair dance in the wind in his memories, imagining what it would be like to feel her breath on his skin or hold her warm body close to his, deeply in love. It was love that he was after. It was everything he was capable of, and everything he wanted, even back before he had known it himself, before the veil had been lifted from his eyes, before he had truly seen what she meant to him.
"Oh. You wanted this too, I think," she said, and then kissed him gently once more.
The words came easy now. Harry whispered her name in one breath and then whispered to her again the words that belonged to her; words he knew could only belong to her because they were hers and so was he.
And then with a shy grin and a flash of fire in her eyes she whispered them back.
I love you, too, Harry.
She was right, he thought as his heart soared.
He had wanted to live.
A/N. Thanks to the readers first and foremost. I've enjoyed interacting with all of you through the writing of A Less-than-Perfect Love. Thanks to Arnel for taking me under her wing and pushing me to try to improve my writing. I've learned so much from you and would not have been able to complete this without you. Thanks to Jason for helping me complete the story the way it was meant to be completed, for his kindness, and for always leaving the decision making up to me. I'm so glad that out of the writing of this story I've met two wonderful people who have become friends.
I'll be out of the writing scene for some time now, but perhaps I'll have cooked up a one-shot by this summer. Keep a look out for it, and take care for now. Thanks again for your readership, it's been a great experience to share this story with you! -Rebecca