Harry Potter sat alone in the lounge room of 12 Grimmauld Place. He should have been out celebrating with his friends, who had just helped him defeat the Dark Lord not 48 hours before, but he couldn't. He didn't have the energy for anything at all. He had survived Hogwarts, had survived six months of war, and had survived the ultimate battle with Voldemort. Harry Potter was, once again, The Boy Who Lived.
He felt empty and cold and lost. It had been three years, almost to the day, since he had had a proper conversation with Sirius Black, and every Christmas since then was like a knife stuck in his heart. He had tried to shake off the mood, managing to work up a false laugh when Ron had dropped to one knee on the battlefield and, dirty and bloody, proposed to Hermione right there in the snow and rubble.
It wasn't that he wasn't happy for them. He was sure he would be, if he wasn't so numb. Questions were buzzing around his head as he peered into his glass of Firewhiskey. What was to become of him? Now that the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders, what was he to do with himself? Ever since he had started life in the Wizarding world, at the tender age of 11, he had had a goal to strive for. Now, he had nothing.
He had been accepted into the Auror academy straight out of Hogwarts and had gone through accelerated training so that they could put him out on the field. Two weeks was all he had needed to become a fully qualified Auror and though Mr and Mrs Weasley had been thoroughly proud, Harry saw it as nothing but another reason people had now to speak his name with awe.
Restless, he prowled around the house that he and Remus Lupin had inherited together. He went up to Sirius' mother's old bedroom, where Buckbeak still lived. Hagrid had wanted him back, but it hadn't been possible during the war. He passed the spot where Sirius' mother had once stood, before Remus, in a night of heavy drinking, had set her alight. Harry couldn't say he missed her screeching.
He entered the room he and Ron had shared since their fifth year. That is, when Harry had been allowed to stay at Order headquarters. He tried to swallow the bitterness he felt towards Dumbledore. It was useless to feel bitter. Mrs Weasley told him once, sometime in the summer immediately following Sirius' death, that the time comes for everyone when they realise that the adults in their lives, their mentors, aren't heroes, that they do make mistakes. She had also said that forgiveness was the key to overcoming the shock. Harry thought that he obviously hadn't forgiven Dumbledore if he could still feel bitter
He entered the vast library of the house, knowing that he would come to rest here. It was in this room where he felt the most comfortable, and Harry figured it was because he belonged amongst shelves full of dark texts and horror stories. He had killed; some of those he had killed may have been under the influence of the Imperius Curse, and no one will ever know, thanks to the famous Harry Potter.
The first tears that he had been able to shed in two years started to trickle down his face, slowly at first before they all broke free of the barrier he had built up so carefully since Sirius' death and the news of the prophecy. They cleansed his body somehow, and Harry started feeling again. It hit him all at once, every emotion he had trampled down in his last two years at Hogwarts came flooding out of him, causing his stomach to cramp and his body to curl up on the chaise lounge, as if he had no control over what it was doing.
The war was over, and with it, everything Harry had lived for until this moment. As he lay there he tried to mentally sort out his life. Ron and Hermione were planning to leave the Aurors now that the war was over, and take less dangerous jobs in the Ministry. They would be married in just six months time; they would buy a house, start a family. His friends would move on, they had goals and Harry… Harry had nothing.
He scoured the bookshelves for something to read; anything that could pull him out of his misery, but it couldn't be too cheerful either. Finally, he found what he was looking for. One of the rare wizarding authors who were also very well known in the Muggle world. Tolkien. Harry sat back down on the couch and lost himself in Middle Earth.
~ * ~
In the back of Harry's mind, some hours later, a ringing penetrated his imagination, which was well on its way with Frodo and the fellowship. He ignored it before it became incessant and with a jolt, Harry realised it was the front door bell. No one had used the doorbell in the last six months, and no one had been here since the end of the war. Harry wondered who would come out in the snow just before Christmas, at midnight.
Putting down the book, Harry moved to the foyer and opened the door. She was the last person he was expecting, and looking at her, Harry felt something move inside him. It was good and warm and final. He was in love with Ginny Weasley. Just like that, just her being there made everything he was afraid he'd lost shift into place once more.
"And just what are you doing here?" Ginny said, bringing him crashing back down to reality as she strode inside his house. Ginny was over her infatuation with him, had dated a lot of people, and was home from Hogwarts for Christmas. Harry wasn't even sure she liked him as a person and he pushed the warmth away. Cold was easier, he was used to it.
"Umm, this is where I live, shouldn't I be the one to ask that question?"
"Harry," Ginny said patiently, removing her gloves with her teeth. "There's a mass party going on at my house, in your honour, and you don't even bother showing up?"
"Look, I didn't feel like it all right?"
"Much easier to sit here and wallow than be happy with your friends and the people who love you best? Is that it?" She was now casually hanging up her cloak, still not looking at him. She was making him mad.
"Did your mother send you here?"
"No, as a matter of fact, she didn't. Little Ginny Weasley can Apparate now and she made her way over here to check up on you, all on her own!"
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to patronise you, but it's hardly as if we're friends, is it?"
"Not through lack of trying on my part." Ginny lifted her chin as she looked at him, though her ears had flushed, just as Ron's did when he knew he'd just put his foot in it.
"Care to come in?" Harry said, deliberately smug. Looking at her try not to be mad at him was making him feel alive again. If she'd come here, of her own accord, that said something, didn't it?
"Actually, Mr Potter, I'm starting to wonder if you were worth the trip." Harry felt his heart drop to his feet until he saw the twinkle in her eye and realised she was joking.
"Why don't you come into the library, have a whiskey, and find out for yourself?" Harry was delighted when Ginny blushed a bright red and avoided his eye. It was something he hadn't seen in almost three years, and he'd only just realised that he missed it.
"So what's the real reason you're not partying the night away with Ron and Hermione? You, more than most, deserve it," Ginny said once she was seated with a whiskey in hand.
"There. That's exactly why I'm not there. I didn't work harder than anyone else, in fact I worked less than most. There is no way that I deserve to be honoured over others - your entire family for example."
Harry sputtered on his whiskey. She was something.
"No. You listen to me. And very closely too, because what I have to say is very important." Harry was reminded eerily of Dumbledore. "My family was pulled so heavily into the war because of you. Not because you asked it of us, and not because we felt obligated because you're Ron's best friend. Every summer, all of us had to watch while you struggled with the things that Voldemort threw your way. It broke our hearts, Harry. You're as much a Weasley as I am, whether you believe it or not. Harry, what I'm trying to say is if it wasn't for you, none of my family would have done as much as we have. Sure, we would have done our bit, of course we would have, but what we did was mostly for you. If the Weasleys lost their Harry, they would all have to live with a hole inside themselves for the rest of their lives. Do you understand?"
Harry didn't know what to say. He wasn't sure that he did understand. What she had said made the warmth seep back in through his body and liquefy inside his chest, but that didn't mean that it was true.
"Ginny." It was all he could manage, as she had decided then to grasp his cold hand in her warm one, which closed up his throat.
"Come to the Burrow, Harry. Or I'll have to threaten you with a graduation visit when I'm finally done with Hogwarts."
"Well now, I was going to come to the Burrow… but I think I might reconsider."
Harry grinned as he watched the colour flush Ginny's face. He didn't understand why he'd never realised how he felt about her before. She had always been in the background during his time in Hogwarts, and he had subconsciously looked for her in the corridors if it had been more than a day since he had seen her.
Now, she was pulling him up off the couch, literally giving him a kick in the rear as she steered him towards the front door. It looked as if he was going to the Burrow, after all. The pair pulled their wands out, ready to Disapparate, before Harry laid a hand on Ginny's arm.
"Will you stay with me?"
"I beg your pardon?"
Harry tried to fight the colour from his face as the implications of what he had said sunk in. Ginny's shocked expression wasn't helping.
"I meant at the party… will you help me?"
"Oh… of course I will." The bright smile that spread across her face was worth all the embarrassment in the world.
Harry was leapt on as soon as he and Ginny arrived in the kitchen of the Burrow with a loud crack. He knew it was Mrs Weasley, because no one else gave him hugs like she did. She let him go and pulled back to look at him.
"You need to eat," she said without preamble before rounding on her daughter. "And you, taking off like that on Christmas Eve! Ginny, what were you thinking?"
"I was thinking that Harry here needed a talking to. Sorry Mum, you were just all so busy and I was really annoyed that he wasn't here."
Mrs Weasley's face softened almost straight away, and Harry had to hide his smirk. If it had been any of the boys, they'd be outside degnoming the garden, party or no.
"Well, all right then. Everyone's packed themselves into the lounge room, off you go. I'm just getting a few drinks."
Harry and Ginny moved into the living room slowly, catching sight of Ron and Hermione straight away. They were chatting away with Neville and Luna, and hadn't noticed the new arrivals yet. Harry took Ginny's hand, and he was so nervous that he didn't notice when she jolted and squeezed his hand before they approached the group.
"Harry! Mate! Merry Chrish'as." Obviously, Ron was going strong on the Firewhiskey. Harry smiled and wished everyone a Merry Christmas. He really didn't want to be there. It was worse when Ginny went to move away and Harry tugged roughly on her hand, bringing everyone's attention to the fact that he was holding it, since she nearly fell over.
"Harry, I was just going to hang up my cloak," she said, obviously a little puzzled and more than a little irritated.
"Oh, right, err… sorry."
Harry was aware of the four sets of eyes on him as he watched Ginny walk off, and he gritted his teeth as he tried to ignore it. It didn't bother him what anybody else thought.
"Save the world and get the girl, ay Harry?"
Maybe it did bother him after all. He swung his head to face Ron, who took a step back under Harry's glare.
"If I didn't know better, Ron, I'd swear I heard some bitterness there." Harry kept his voice cold and low, so as no one else overheard their conversation. No, he definitely didn't want to be there. He saw Mrs Weasley come out of the kitchen and, desperate for escape, stormed in there, away from everyone else.
He couldn't understand exactly why he was seething, but he was and he couldn't be bothered to get it under control. He paced the kitchen, his hands clenched in fists at his sides.
"What's wrong, Harry?"
Harry tried to ignore the clutch in his stomach at the sound of Ginny's voice and decided it would be best to ignore her. He should have known better.
"I asked you a question."
"I know it," he said through clenched teeth.
"And? Are you going to lower yourself enough to answer me?"
"Look, I don't want to be here, I told you I didn't want to be here, so STOP BUGGING ME!"
They were both so caught up in their anger that they hadn't noticed a gathering audience at the door.
"Bugging you? BUGGING YOU? You selfish, inconsiderate prat! How DARE you? I was trying to do you a favour-"
"-Yeah well, that just worked brilliantly didn't it? Making me face a whole bunch of people who expect me to smile, joke and be merry after fighting for my life and KILLING PEOPLE just two days ago!" There was a collective gasp from the gathered crowd, but it too went unnoticed.
"Oh yes. Poor, unfortunate Harry Potter! Now that he's free to live his life, he chooses to sit and feel sorry for himself. Boo hoo."
"You have absolutely no idea. None. You come into MY HOUSE, preaching about how I'm one of you. But I'm not, am I Ginny? I am and always will be the Boy-"
Harry took a step back as she launched herself on him, pressing her lips hard to his. He felt the shock of the feel of them run right from his lips to his toes. Before he could prevent himself, he was letting out a low moan, wrapping his arms around her waist and kissing her back.
They sprung apart when the people at the door started to applaud, and a look of utter horror crossed Ginny's face. Before she could run off, Harry was grabbing her wrist and dragging her outside, knowing full well that a few of their friends would move to the kitchen window to watch them. At least they couldn't hear them.
He cast warming charms on them both before he swung her around to face him.
"Why did you kiss me Ginny?"
"Because I wanted to shut you up." Harry thought it should be illegal for girls to sulk and still look adorable.
"Codswallop," he said softly, willing her to look up at him. "I know you Ginny, and you wouldn't kiss someone the way you just kissed me, just to shut them up."
"Why did you kiss me back, Harry?"
There was a slight pause as Harry considered his answer and gathered his Gryffindor courage. If there was something he'd learned from the people who had touched his life, it was that honesty was best.
"Because I didn't want you to stop."
Her eyes shot to his then, and her mouth formed a small and perfect "O".
"So, why did you kiss me Ginny?"
"I don't know. You just got me so worked up with all that Boy-Who-Lived rubbish that I had to stop you before you said something really dumb and then I dunno, I was just on you and you were kissing me." She was rambling and it made Harry's heart light to see, even in the darkness, that she was blushing again.
"And that's the only reason?" he pressed.
"C'mon Ginny, be straight with me."
She sighed and Harry stepped closer, taking her hand. He didn't know where his newfound certainty came from, except from the fact that from what he knew of the girl standing before him, she didn't just go around kissing people.
"Oh, all right! I don't think you deserve it though, after your temper tantrum - and you kissed me back, don't forget that bit, ok?" Harry nodded, trying really hard to look solemn. He failed miserably. "Inevergotoveryou."
"I said," she was blushing even harder now. "I never got over you."
She had said it quietly, as if she was ashamed, and she looked at her shoes. Harry let out a whoop! And grabbed her around the waist, swinging her around in the snow.
"I knew it!" He said as he placed her down on her feet once again.
"Don't you dare get smug with me. It's pathetic, pining after someone for seven years. Mostly, I hate myself for it."
"No. Ginny, please, don't do that. I promise you," his voice was hoarse and he placed his forehead on hers. "I'll make those seven years worth it."
He sealed his promise with a kiss, and this time, when the warmth settled inside him, he embraced it. Finally, they pulled away from each other, both of them grinning goofily.
"Happy Christmas, Ginny Weasley."
"Happy Christmas, Harry Weasley."
His laugh rang across Ottery St Catchpole as they walked back towards the Burrow.
A/N A big thank you to my Beta, Tari, for those pink comments that brightened my day the first time, and made me go "Aaaah, of course!" the second. Thanks also to Alexandra Lynch, for being possibly the zippiest pre-beta ever. And last but never least, to Cera, for introducing me to the Song in the first place and being an all round amazing friend ;o)