Harry Potter sat in his garden deckchair watching the white puffy clouds as they made their sedate progress across the azure sky. He had spent a very lazy, but nonetheless enjoyable day in the seclusion of his cottage garden sunning himself in the warm July sun. Lulled by the low drone of his honey-bees as they hurried from flower to flower, he had succumbed to the peace and tranquillity the day had offered and fallen asleep. His peaceful doze had lasted longer than he would have liked and the Daily Prophet cryptic crossword remained unfinished on his lap.
Not as good as The Times, he thought as he stretched his sleepy body, but good enough for an occasional fill in.
In the distance he heard the high- pitched shouts of the gnomes as his fat, ginger tom chased them around the orchard. He knew that he should do something about them and if Molly Weasley were here she would have him de-gnome the garden as soon as she set foot upon the patio. But it was such a lovely day and why should he spoil it for them?
He put the paper on the paving stones, cast a warming charm on the small brown teapot on the table next to him and poured himself a cup of Earl Grey. He took a mouthful and winced. Whether in the microwave or using a charm, reheated tea was disgusting and he should know better.
If you are going to treat tea this badly Potter, then you should stick to PG Tips and not waste your galleons on Earl Grey.
Returning the china cup to the tea tray, he slumped back into his chair and contemplated his next move.
He had spent most of the day reflecting on his life. He would be sixty tomorrow and he was sure that somewhere someone would be preparing a surprise party for him. He smiled to himself. Sixty years, eh Potter? Remember when you thought you'd be lucky to see sixteen?
His rumbling stomach reminded him that he hadn't eaten since breakfast and, glancing at the lengthening shadows, he decided that he'd best go do something about it. He stirred from his comfortable perch and made his way into the kitchen to see what was left in the fridge. He hung on the door and surveyed the empty shelves with dismay. Looks like you'll be eating out again, Harry.
Eating out was okay in itself; being The Famous Harry Potter meant that he never had to fight for a table anywhere, a privilege he had tried not to abuse over the years. But it also meant subjecting himself to public scrutiny and that was one thing that had not lessened since the demise of Voldemort.
Well at least he didn't have any kids who'd had to endure the goldfish bowl existence of being his offspring. It was bad enough dealing with the constant speculation about his love life, although with his advancing years even the most salacious parts of the press had begun to tire of the constant speculation. There had been a short spate of "Is Harry Potter Gay?" stories, but they had disappeared when one of his former lovers was less than discrete about the physical side about their relationship.
He found as he grew older he had few, if any, regrets. There were lots of things in his life he wished he could have changed, but they were things he had no control over. There were a lot of faces from the past that he would prefer to see in person rather than in photos, but his guilt-driven nightmares had faded with time as he had slowly come to terms with their deaths.
No, he had but one regret; that he had never told Ginny what he felt for her.
Forty-odd years of unrequited love is a long time, Potter, but it's your own fault. True enough, he thought. But that doesn't make it any easier to bear.
Often, he had reviewed his last two years at Hogwarts asking himself why he didn't tell her what she meant to him.
You know why you didn't.
He'd always told himself that he'd done it to protect her, but he knew deep down he'd done it because he was a coward. It would hurt him more to love her and lose her, rather than keep her at arms length and deny the love that he felt. And then he'd had to watch as she found love with another, and they'd married and had children. Ginny being Ginny had asked him to be a godparent to all of them, as if she understood that these were the children he'd wished he'd fathered. In the intervening years she'd hinted that she'd known all along what he felt for her, she'd even suggested that she felt the same, but they'd never allowed the unspoken agreement that they deny their feelings to be broken.
Ginny's job as Charms Professor at Hogwarts, and later as Headmistress of the august school, meant for plenty of contact with Harry. Always happy to help, he filled in whenever a vacancy on the staff came up, even covering for Potions for one term. Harry smiled at the image of his former greasy haired professor turning somersaults in his grave as the son of James Potter held sway in the Potions classroom.
On more than one occasion Harry had been offered a permanent post, but he'd turned them all down. Being alongside Ginny every day would have been too much for him to bear and, he surmised, her marriage, too.
Her marriage was not a bad one, but it was formed on the basis of two friends finding comfort in each other. They had three children who were loved and cared for, but the passion and fire that characterised Ginny as a Weasley never showed itself in her marriage. Harry had the impression that whilst they wouldn't have called their marriage a mistake, they both realised that they had settled for second best.
When it became too much for him to bear, he disappeared for long periods of time, losing himself in other cultures and other forms of magic. Reports of his demise always accompanied his disappearances; an exercise in stupidity that brought hours of amusement to both himself and the Hogwarts Headmistress.
Five years ago her husband had died suddenly of a heart attack whilst Harry had been away. Ginny had not been with her husband, her duties as Headmistress having taken her abroad for a few days. Harry had attended the funeral and stood by her as she mourned her husband's passing. While waiting respectfully for the appropriate time to pass before acting on the feelings he now knew they both had, a crisis at the Ministry of Magic had demanded his intervention. Pressed into service as Minister to steady a rocky ship and deal with a resurgence of Death Eaters, duty had once again denied Harry the happiness he desired.
That was until yesterday when he had submitted his resignation effective as soon as a replacement could be found. He issued a statement saying that at sixty, he felt that it was time to step down and play a less public role in the Wizarding world.
Closing the fridge door he wandered over to the fireplace and grabbing a handful of Floo powder he threw it into the fire. As the flames flared emerald green, he called her name.
Ginny's smiling face appeared in his fireplace. Despite the stressful nature of her position, her face was largely devoid of the lines and wrinkles that would typify the face of a Muggle woman of the same age. Wizarding blood was far more effective at beating back the signs of aging than any Muggle face cream. There were a few lines around her eyes and mouth, but these disappeared as soon as her face became animated. Her chocolate brown eyes still shone brightly, twinkling with mischief whenever she felt a situation had become too serious.
Her flaming locks that flowed so freely in her younger years had been tamed, both by the grey that dulled its lustre and the tight bun in which she had captured them...
"So Harry," she said, a wry smile on her face, "the fridge empty again then?" The twinkle in her eye told him that it wasn't a question she needed answered.
He returned her smile. "Something like that, Ginny."
Despite their long years of friendship and close companionship, Harry always felt like a thousand Peppermint Toads were jumping around in his stomach when he spoke to her.
"Now, what can I do for you?" Her smile remained, but Harry was reminded that they knew each other too well to spend time on small talk. "Have you called to ask me out to dinner, or do you want me to send a house-elf over to get you out of your pickle? Or," she said, her smile growing wider, "is the invite for tomorrow?"
Harry let out a low chuckle. "What for, the event of the year?" he said sarcastically. "Much as I'm sure that I'm going to love the surprise party that is being planned for me, I don't plan on being there this time. So, to answer your question; no, this is not an invite to my party tomorrow. Anyway, shouldn't you be asking Ron for one?"
She laughed. "Harry, I don't think you've ever been to one of these parties, have you? Well much as I'm mortified that you don't seem fit to invite me, I don't plan on being there tomorrow, either."
Despite his desire to avoid the planned celebration of his sixty years, Harry felt his body sag in disappointment at the news that she hadn't planned on attending.
"Oh really?" he said, doing his best but failing to hide his emotions. "And where will you be then?"
She shook her head in amusement at his reaction to her earlier comment.
"Stop pouting, Harry. Why would I want to go to your party when you won't be there? I'm going to be where you'll be hiding."
Harry felt his hopes rise and his face once again held a smile. That did not prevent him from acting like an awkward teenager in her presence, struggling to articulate his feelings.
"How … how did you know?"
Once again her face betrayed her enjoyment at his lack of understanding. It is as if, thought Harry, she is enjoying my discomfort.
"Harry," she said slowly as if explaining a very simple transfiguration to a particularly dense first year. "How long have we known each other?"
Harry couldn't decide if she was being patronising because that was what teachers did, or because the Weasley in her couldn't resist mischief. Either way he still found himself irked by her attitude.
Watch yourself Potter, you're no longer the Minister so put your ego away.
"Too long, if I'm that obvious to you." Despite his best efforts his voice betrayed his feelings.
"Oh Harry," she laughed, "put your ego away, you're no longer the Minister now."
That was uncalled for, Ginny.
Well if you walk around with your mind wide open what do you expect?
It wasn't wide open and it's rude to enter uninvited.
What's the matter, Harry, worried I will uncover your darkest secrets?
You already know my darkest secrets, it's the… er…other secrets I don't want you to discover.
Ginny laughed aloud, causing Harry to break the link and put his Occlumency shields up.