[The disclaimer may be found at the start of the story, before the Prologue. It still applies.]
The Burrow, home of the Weasley family, situated just outside the village of Ottery St Catchpole, couldn't have been a bigger contrast with Privet Drive, any more than the Weasleys could have been less like the Dursleys -- and Harry loved both the house and the family who lived in it very dearly for that. He stood looking at the house for what seemed like a long time, delighting in the sight of it and the welcoming air of homeliness that was as much a part of it as its ramshackle construction, before he slowly strolled to the front door.
He grinned as he pressed the doorbell -- another of Mr Weasley's electrical projects, surely -- and wondered if it actually ran on batteries, or had Arthur charmed it to work magically? And if the latter, what did it do as well as, or instead of, ringing the bell? Mr Weasley was an inveterate tinker with Muggle things, but he didn't always understand exactly what they were supposed to do, nor could he resist adding an extra feature or two... dozen. The combination of his enthusiasm and less-than-perfect comprehension of how something worked could lead to amusing -- and/or disastrous -- results.
The doorbell seemed to be one of Arthur's more successful efforts, however; the front door had a large brass knocker on it and, when Harry rang the bell, the face on the knocker looked at him and asked, "What's your name, son?" in a friendly, if gruff, manner.
"Thank you," the knocker said politely and fell silent, but Harry could hear a voice inside the house calling out, "Molly! Arthur! It's Harry Potter at the door!"
A shout of joy -- several, actually -- went up in the house, and over the sound of running footsteps, the knocker said, "They'll be with you in a minute, lad -- oops, here they are now!" Harry barely had time to thank the knocker before the door was flung open and Molly Weasley grabbed him in one of her trademark hugs.
"Oh, Harry! It's so good to see you!" she cried while Harry struggled for air. "We were so surprised to get your message! We weren't expecting you yet; in fact, we weren't sure if Professor Dumbledore would let you come this summer, so we were all really pleased to get his letter -- brought by Fawkes, can you imagine? -- right after yours. And today, of all days..."
"Molly dear, let the boy breathe," came a calmer voice that Harry recognised straight away as that of Arthur Weasley, and his wife finally let Harry go, apologising profusely as he tried to catch his breath.
"That's... all right... Mrs Weasley," he gasped in between huge gulps of air. "I'm... fine... and very glad... to be here. It's... good... to come... home."
Molly gave a small sob as her eyes became bright with unshed tears, and she looked as though she would like to hug Harry again, but a gentle touch from Mr Weasley restrained her.
"And we're glad you think of us that way, Harry," Arthur said quietly, reaching out to shake him by the hand. "We've always considered you as one of the family, you know that."
"Yeah, I know," Harry agreed, blushing a little, "and you're the only family I have now, because I'm never going back to the Dursleys, that's for sure!"
Arthur looked concerned and Molly furious at what they thought was yet another example of his relatives' callousness, but Harry held up a hand before Molly could compose a Howler of unparalleled volume and vituperation.
"It's not what you think: they didn't throw me out; I left them! I'm not under age any more, and I wasn't going to put up with them any longer. Safe or not, it wasn't worth living with them for one minute more -- even if they'd let me, once they knew I was a legal adult.
"So... um... it looks like I need somewhere to stay..." he said mock-pathetically, making an attempt at silly puppy-dog eyes. Arthur laughed and Molly beamed, but Harry was saved from another hug and the possibility of death by asphyxiation by the arrival of another Weasley -- Ron.
"Harry! Great to see you, mate!" his friend yelled, grabbing his arm. "Come on in! You're up in my room as usual, so let's take your trunk up and then we can have some breakfast..." The last word was said with definite emphasis and a pointed look at Mrs Weasley, who herself appeared torn between indignation at Ron's interruption (and the implied accusation of not looking after her family) and horror at the thought that she might be neglecting her guest.
For an instant, Harry didn't move, frozen in something like shock. But then, after a moment so short that none of the Weasleys noticed what had happened, he blinked, laughed, smiled at Molly to show that he, for one, didn't think badly of her, and took out his wand to cast another Locomotor trunk spell before allowing himself to be dragged off by Ron, his trunk docilely following him up the stairs.
As they stomped up to the top floor of the Burrow, Ron grinned at Harry and nudged him.
"Good to be able to use magic legally, eh? What was the first thing you did as an adult? I was at Hogwarts, remember, so it didn't make much difference to me until I came home. You won't believe this, but the first thing I did when I got here was to clean my room! Used a load of Shrinking and Summoning Charms to get rid of all the old junk cluttering up my wardrobe; d'you know, there was stuff in there from when Bill was a little boy?"
Harry laughed, and couldn't resist the opportunity to tease his friend: "Clean your room? Hermione's rubbing off on you, mate; you'll be reading Hogwarts: A History next!" He quickly ducked to avoid a half-hearted punch, but Ron wasn't really mad; in fact, he was blushing slightly, the way he often did when Hermione was mentioned.
After far too long, in the opinion of almost everyone who knew them well, Ron and Hermione had finally admitted their mutual fondness for one another and become an acknowledged couple. They'd been together for quite a while now, but Ron still acted as though he couldn't believe his good fortune (so did Hermione, but she was less obvious about it). Harry was at the head of the list of people who were pleased for his friends (and relieved that things had finally worked out for them), but it didn't stop him from teasing them both -- in self-defence, if nothing else, because they were rubbing off on one another, even to the point of planning the occasional practical joke together. The combination of Ron's sense of humour and Hermione's intelligence could be formidable, to say the least. Fred and George were proud of them, Prefects or not.
"I did use magic to clean up this morning," Harry went on, returning to Ron's question, "but the first thing I did was to cast a Silencing Charm, and then pack! I also Transfigured some of Dudley's rotten old hand-me-downs into what I'm wearing. Shame it won't last, but I thought I'd at least look decent when I walked out on the Dursleys -- and, of course, it only made them angrier. I guess I'll have to go shopping for some new stuff."
"Well, I hope you can find something like what you've got on," came a new voice from inside a doorway the boys were passing, "You look great."
"Ginny! Hi," said a delighted Harry, stopping to poke his head into the youngest Weasley's bedroom to say hello. And by "poke his head" is meant precisely that: Harry had never gone into Ginny's bedroom, and had no intention of doing so without an express invitation -- and probably not even then without a very good reason, especially if there was another Weasley within, say, a hundred miles. He intended to catch hold of the doorframe to support himself as he partly leaned in for just long enough to see Ginny and greet her quickly before continuing on his way upstairs...
It didn't work that way. Harry caught sight of Ginny standing over by her window, smiling happily at him... and missed the doorframe altogether. He fell into the room with a startled cry and a loud thud as he hit the floor.
"Harry!" both Weasleys yelped, and it was a moot point as to which one was louder. Ginny, however, won the race to get to Harry's fallen form, dropping to her knees beside him while Ron dodged the hovering trunk.
"Are you all right, Harry?" she asked urgently. "Are you hurt? Is it your scar? What happened?"
Harry groaned softly and rolled over slowly to face her, but said nothing more. He couldn't. He was looking at Ginny.
He had fallen over in the first place through sheer surprise at seeing her, and he felt much the same way at that moment. Oh, my God... This is Ginny? He couldn't believe what he was seeing... he wasn't even sure what it was that he could see, but it-- she was... incredible... spellbinding -- possibly literally.
His eyes watered after a couple of seconds and he blinked,