Author’s Notes: Thanks to Chreechree for exploring something different with me (again). Thanks also to moshpit, Jonathan Avery, regdc, and Sherylyn for their assistance in making this fit to read.
On December nineteenth, Harry crouched alone in a secluded corner of platform nine and three-quarters. He wore an old pair of Ron’s jeans and Percy’s untouched jumper from his fifth year. His father’s Invisibility Cloak brushed the floor around him, concealing him from the hundreds of other witches and wizards nearby. He was thankful, not for the first time, that the Cloak had been tucked into a pocket of his winter cloak when he had faced Voldemort.
The initial explosion caused by Riddle’s destruction had hurled Harry down the stairs even as it obliterated the upper storey of the Dursleys’ house. Harry’s shield had protected him from the worst of the blast, but it did not soften his landing or prevent the rest of house from collapsing around him. He distinctly remembered the snap of his wand breaking as he tumbled to a stop at the bottom of the staircase.
Harry had thought that the cataclysm was over, but the energy stored in Tom’s body had continued to erupt. Whip-like tendrils of pure magic had slashed through the house and yard randomly, destroying everything in their path. One had flashed inches away from his face as he tried desperately to find his friends. When he had recoiled from the magical tendril, he had fallen and, striking his head sharply, been knocked unconscious.
A week later, he had been released from St. Mungo’s. His broken bones had been easily mended, and the damage from his brush with raw magic could only heal with time. Ironically, he was the luckiest of those who had been in or near the house that day. Dozens of Death Eaters and Aurors had been killed outright by the effects of Voldemort’s demise. Fortunately, Tonks had taken the time to alert the rest of the Order before Apparating to the play park near Privet Drive, so she had arrived just after the disaster. The Order of the Phoenix had dug Harry out of the ruins and done what they could for the other survivors.
Ron and Hermione had been found huddled together in Harry’s broom cupboard. The cupboard had protected them from the explosion, but a strand of magic had torn through the tiny space, destroyed Ron’s shield, and slashed along their sides. Ron’s right arm and Hermione’s left had simply vanished, along with much of the flesh along the affected side of their torsos and legs. The arrival of the Order, and their proximity to Harry in the rubble, had saved his friends’ lives, but they would be confined to St. Mungo’s for months as their limbs were re-grown and their skin repaired.
Harry shook himself out of his reverie and surveyed the platform. More families had arrived, and seeing them made Harry think that perhaps it was fortunate that Ron and Hermione were hidden from the public eye.
Rufus Scrimgeour had seized upon the deaths of Voldemort and so many Aurors to promote his own position and vilify Harry in the process. After all, Harry was Dumbledore’s man, through and through, and would never be the Minister’s man.
According to the Ministry, Harry Potter had used Dark magic to defeat Lord Voldemort and deliberately caused the deaths of nearly all of the Aurors sent to aid him. Not every wizard or witch believed the Minister, but enough did that only Harry’s closest friends would willingly associate with him. The Ministry’s Aurors became the fallen heroes of the day, while Harry became a monster second only to Voldemort himself. Scrimgeour had not, apparently, been quite brave enough to have Harry arrested, but the damage was bad enough even if he was technically a free wizard.
At last, the Hogwarts Express rolled into the station and came to a whistling halt at the platform. Reluctantly, Harry stood and removed the Invisibility Cloak. The crowd reacted immediately.
First, those standing closest to him saw him and recoiled from the sight of his ruined face. Voldemort’s energy had passed a few inches from his left cheek, but at that distance it still dissolved his flesh. The damage was slowly healing, but nineteen days after the battle, Harry’s melted skin, missing hair, and deformed ear were still a gruesome sight.
Once the people around him began to recognise him, the accusations began. “Murderer!” shouted one man. “Dark Wizard!” a woman’s voice screeched. The cacophony of verbal abuse rose from more than half of the people waiting at the platform, and as students emerged from the train, their families snatched them up and hurried them away from the supposedly evil man in the corner.
Harry stood still, his shoulders hunched, and tried to ignore the taunts and accusations. His eyes scanned the doors to the train. A minute or two later, he spotted a flash of bright red in one of the doorways. He started towards it, and the crowd parted around him.
Ginny stepped off the train with her trunk and spotted him immediately. She smiled broadly and then rapidly crossed the remaining distance between them. Without speaking, she put her hands on his chest and rose up on her tiptoes to kiss his damaged cheek. She sank back down to her feet and wrapped her arms around his waist, tucking her head under his chin. Slowly and reverently, Harry put his arms around her shoulders, and they stood there together for a long moment.
“Traitor!” a woman shouted from the crowd. “He’ll kill you, too!”
Ginny pulled out of his embrace and turned to face the people around them. She took a step away from him, and Harry watched as her expression shifted from tenderness to fierce challenge. “None of you has any idea what happened that day,” she called fiercely. “Voldemort is dead! How do you think that happened?! Harry did that, and he did it for you! You don’t have to worry about Voldemort murdering your families anymore. Show some respect!”
Ginny glared around the platform, but no one was willing to say anything further. After a moment, she faced Harry again and smiled affectionately. “Take me home, Harry.”
He nodded. With a quick wave of Bill’s old wand, Harry shrank her trunk to the size of a matchbox and tucked it into his pocket. Ginny wrapped both of her arms around his left bicep. After a turn and a wave, they were standing on the front lawn of The Burrow.
Ginny kept her hands on his arm as they walked into the house. She only let him go when Mrs. Weasley bustled into the hallway from the kitchen and pulled Ginny into her own crushing embrace. “Oh, Ginny dear, it’s so good to have you home,” she said.
Mr. Weasley emerged from the sitting room and greeted his daughter also. Fred and George, who were spending the day at The Burrow in honour of the occasion, came thundering down the stairs and swept Ginny up for their own uniquely rambunctious version of a welcome.
Momentarily sidelined in the hubbub, Harry climbed the stairs to Ginny’s room. He placed the trunk at the foot of her bed and returned it to its original size, and then he went up another flight of stairs to Percy’s old room. Inside, he opened his school trunk and put his Invisibility Cloak back in its place.
Before closing the lid, he stared at the trunk’s contents for a moment. This, he thought, was all that he had left. The rucksack he had carried during the long months of the search for the Horcruxes had been left carelessly in the front yard of Privet Drive along with his Firebolt. Harry’s other possessions, including most of his clothes, had been stored in his bedroom. When the house exploded, those things were lost. All he had were the contents of his school trunk, which had been at The Burrow: a few uniforms, a few of his older textbooks, the precious photo album Hagrid had given him, and an assortment of small things that had stayed in the trunk over the years.
Hedwig had left Privet Drive at the beginning of the battle and showed up at The Burrow a few hours later. She was exhausted, and the news she had sought to convey had already been delivered, but she was alive, and she perched silently on top of the wardrobe. The familiar sight provided Harry with some slight sense of comfort.
The rest of the things in ‘his’ room had once belonged to one or another of the Weasley brothers. The wardrobe was full of old jumpers, worn shirts, and patched trousers. He certainly did not object to wearing second-hand clothes, but they seemed to be an accurate reflection of his lot in life recently.
“Harry?” Ginny called softly from the doorway. He turned to see her standing there, still smiling, even though her eyes were tinged with sad compassion. She held out her hand to him. “Dinner’s ready.”
He took her hand and let her pull him back down towards the kitchen. On the last landing, she stopped and turned to him. With her free hand, she reached up and gently lifted his chin, encouraging him to meet her gaze. Her eyes regarded him solemnly as they searched his face. “Say something to me, Harry.”
He slowly closed his eyes, fighting the moisture he could feel gathering there, and squeezed her hand tightly. He had decided over a month ago that he would ask her a question, but now was not the time. After a minute, he opened his eyes and looked directly at her. “I’m so happy you’re here, Ginny,” he whispered. His voice was laden with emotion, and her brown eyes softened as she stroked his cheek with her thumb.
“I’m happy, too, Harry,” she said softly.
After dinner, the Weasley family sat around the table listening to Ginny talk about her term at Hogwarts. She told cheerful stories, but Harry could tell that there were many more things she could have said if she had not been committed to keeping the mood light.
A while later, Harry quietly stood from the table. Ginny smiled at him and nodded slightly as he excused himself. Pulling on Fred’s old winter cloak, he stepped out into the garden and settled onto a bench near the house.
As the silence of the night settled around him, his thoughts returned to the last few months, as they often did. He should have known, he supposed, that defeating Voldemort would not be so easy. He, H