Disclaimer: JK Rowling owns all of this but I'm having fun playing with it!
Author's Note: Thanks to my fantastic beta, Trelawney2213, who is faithfully offering help and suggestions despite all kinds of craziness that life is throwing at her!
Harry woke with the sun, as he had become accustomed to doing and, after hastily throwing on jeans and a t-shirt, trudged on bare feet across the glistening lawn to let himself into Andromeda's kitchen. His morning routine had become fairly set which allowed him a bit of time to daydream while he made himself toast and a coffee for breakfast, organised a bottle for Teddy and then took up up a cup of tea for Andromeda. While each morning's musings began with neutral things like Quidditch manoeuvres or today's focus on how to get past cranky goblins, invariably his thoughts returned to Ginny. He'd had a fantastic day with her, playing with Teddy and flying to the beach, and he wondered if she was as keen as he was to do it again. He couldn't think of anything that indicated otherwise and he smiled as he mentally reminded himself not to overlook the fact that she was the one who had initiated their afternoon together. Harry concluded that he'd just have to keep playing things by ear.
He sat down at the kitchen table with paper, quill and ink to scrawl off a quick note to his Gryffindor mate, the recent war hero.
Hope you're well, mate; haven't seen you since that awful week of funerals. It'd be good to catch up! To that end, do you want to meet Ron, Ginny and me in Diagon Alley this morning? We can grab an ice cream and hang out – oh, and a weird request: could you bring along Godric Gryffindor's sword? I'll explain everything when we get there!
Thanks, Nev. Let me know if you can't make it, otherwise we'll see you there.
Harry cautiously approached Barnaby, Andromeda's unpredictable owl. He had not managed to start off on the right foot with this creature and every nip or scratch he received served to renew his grief for Hedwig. Barnaby was observing Harry keenly, always the glint of malice in his wide black eyes. Harry tried explaining first before he made contact to see if that would help.
"Barnaby? I need you to take this letter to Neville Longbottom, ok?" The bird gave no indication that he heard or cared what Harry was saying. Harry approached cautiously, muttering under his breath about having "fought off flipping Voldemort."
Some minutes later, after a small tussle and the drawing of Harry's blood, Barnaby seemed to be satisfied and flew out the window with Neville's letter attached to his leg.
"Bloody animal," Harry cursed as he sucked his bleeding finger.
He quickly finished his preparations around the kitchen and started the washing up with a brief flick of his wand. Screwing the lid on Teddy's bottle and jamming it into the back pocket of his jeans with his wand, Harry carefully picked up the dainty china tea cup and started his precarious ascent to Andromeda's door.
As if on cue, just as he raised his hand to knock, Harry heard Teddy crying down the hall to announce that he'd just woken up.
"Come in, Harry," Andromeda called and Harry carefully made his way towards her bedside table, not wanting to spill any tea.
"'Morning, Andromeda," Harry murmured as he concentrated on placing the tea carefully on the flat surface. He'd spilled it enough times now to have learned from his mistakes. Andromeda smiled gratefully and shook her head.
"Had another brush with Barnaby this morning, dear?" she asked kindly, indicating his bleeding finger as she reached for her tea.
"No offence, Andromeda, but I hate your owl."
She smiled and sipped her tea, sighing contentedly as she leant back on her pillows. After a moment's pause, she sought Harry's eyes and spoke seriously. "Harry, how am I going to convince you that you don't need to do all this for me?"
Harry laughed. "A daily cup of tea isn't too much of a stretch for the Boy Who Lived, Andromeda! Especially given that I'm in the kitchen making my own breakfast first and then I walk past your door to get Teddy up anyway."
"Harry, it's not just the tea, it's everything!"
"Hang on, let me get Teddy and then we can talk."
A minute later Harry reappeared with a sleepy Teddy yawning and blinking rapidly in the bright morning light that streamed through his grandmother's open windows. Harry grabbed the bottle out of the back pocket of his jeans, plonked himself down in an armchair near the bed and deftly silenced his godson's cries before raising his eyes to meet Andromeda's.
"Harry, you're too young for this kind of responsibility. You can't stay here all the time and worry about us! I understand why you are so good to Teddy, and I'm so grateful, but you shouldn't worry yourself about me."
Harry paused before replying, his eyes on his godson. "I do worry about you, Andromeda. You've lost so much."
So touched by the kindness of the young man in front of her, Andromeda's tears flowed freely and she was reduced to patting at her eyes with her hanky for a few silent moments.
Harry continued gently, "I know I won't always be able to live here. I'm not sure whether Hogwarts will want us back for seventh year or even if I'll go if they do but, while I can, I want to be here."
Harry paused again and Andromeda wondered if he was trying to keep his emotions in check.
"I was just like Teddy is now, but where I had relatives who couldn't care less about me and a godfather in prison, Teddy has his grandmother who loves him and his godfather who always intends to be a huge part of his life. He doesn't need just one person to love him. He needs as much love as he can get." Harry smiled tentatively and met her eye. "And if I happen to look after you a bit while I'm looking after him, where's the harm in that?"
Andromeda returned his smile but responded in earnest. "Harry, please listen to me when I say this. If, for whatever reason, your circumstances change and it's no longer possible for you to live here, or if you want to go away for a while, even for a long time, you need to know that we would be fine. I don't want you to say no to opportunities for our sake."
Harry contemplated her for a moment before responding. "If I have to go somewhere, I will, but my hope is that I won't have to do that for a while. I know that Teddy has everything that he needs in you, but right now, I think you need to have a little bit of a rest and to give yourself time to come to terms with… with everything. I want to lift any burden off your shoulders as much as possible while I can."
Andromeda could only shrug slightly and smile at Harry through her fresh fall of tears.
He paused before continuing, "Truth be told, Andromeda, this isn't all for your sake. I don't actually have anywhere else to go. Of course I know that the Weasley's would have me live with them in a second, and I'd love that, I really would, but I can't add to Mrs Weasley's worries right now. I have number twelve Grimmauld Place as well, and I quite like visiting there, but I'd feel so isolated if I actually moved in. I can barely stand to think about it. But, Andromeda, the major reason I want to stay here is Teddy. I'm not worried about what would happen to him if I wasn't here, but I do worry about what would happen to me if he was here and I wasn't near him."
Silence fell as Harry concentrated his full attention on the bundle in his arms, cuddling Teddy's little body closer to his chest. Andromeda looked on in accustomed wonder at this young man that Dora and Remus had named as Teddy's godfather – such provision, and they had never understood just how necessary it would be.
Harry tried to rein in his emotions, keeping his voice as light as possible. "Well, you'll be pleased to hear that I'm actually heading out for a while this morning. I wanted to see if you'd prefer me to take Teddy with me or leave him here with you. What do you think?"
Andromeda laughed. "Harry, did you not listen to anything I just said? Of course you should leave him here!"
Harry looked up at her sheepishly. "My motives aren't entirely selfless, I just kind of thought it might be fun to have him with me today. But thinking about it, given my agenda, maybe he'd be better off here..."
Andromeda's eyes narrowed. "Harry? Is there anything I should know about what you're up to today?"
"Erm, well… no. No, I don't think so," Harry coughed uncomfortably. "Anyway, better get going! I'll see you two this afternoon." And with that, he kissed the top of Teddy's head, handed him to Andromeda and ran for the door.
Back in his little flat at the back of the garden, Harry found himself thinking about what to wear, potentially for the first time in his life. Had Ginny ever commented on anything he'd worn before? He wracked his brains but came up with nothing. "Oh well," he mused to himself as he threw a navy blue collared shirt on over his jeans, "better try to look a bit presentable for the goblins anyway."
After waking in the morning, Ginny always lay in bed as long as she could. Her bedroom was one of the few places in the world where, if she was lucky, she could be left alone with her thoughts which inevitably turned to Harry.
She remembered George's subdued enthusiasm at the thought of seeing Harry the next day and Ginny was struck again by the power this young man had over everyone in her life.
She reflected on how strange it was that adults Harry respected and looked up to were in awe of him. She didn't really think that Harry realised it. Now that Dumbledore had gone it seemed like the wizarding world would align itself behind an almost-eighteen-year-old boy and look to him to lead them. Even Kingsley, the newly confirmed Minister for Magic had sought Harry's advice and guidance.
Her door flung open with a crash to reveal a grinning Ron; it seemed she was not to be lucky this morning. She groaned and rolled over, turning her back to the doorway.
Unperturbed, Ron launched into action, his voice sounding like a fog-horn to her recently awakened ears, "'Morning, Gin! You've got to get up soon; Harry needs you in Diagon Alley this morning."
Ginny sat bolt upright, all vestiges of sleepiness falling away. "Did you say Harry needs me?"
Ron bellowed with laughter at his sister's reaction. "We all know he needs you, Gin; eventually the two of you will sort that one out, but just this morning he has specified that your presence could come in handy for a certain peace-keeping mission."
Ginny's eyes narrowed, Ron's mood was unlike anything she'd seen since before Dumbledore's death. "Why are you so chirpy this morning?"
"No reason," Ron replied airily. "Now get dressed, we've got to meet him and Neville at the shop at eleven," and he banged the door closed behind him.
Ginny was mystified but also found herself highly motivated to get up and dressed. Looking at the clock she realised that she had almost an hour, plenty of time to wash and dry her hair.
Where the privacy of her bedroom was not always as sacred as she might have liked, her houseful of brothers were scrupulously respectful of her time in the bathroom, the shower now affording a location for her undeveloped morning musings. While her thoughts wanted to turn to the topic of Harry, she was struck by the change in her brother's demeanour. He may not have wept as openly as the other family members for the loss of Fred, or of so many others, but his grief, enhanced by the departure of Hermione, had been palpable in the way he spoke and carried himself and spent his time. Yet this morning, after only a couple of hours spent with Harry the night before, he seemed a lot like his old self.
The hot water gently pounded her back and shoulders.
She was a little surprised by the way things were unfolding between them, but not exactly disappointed. When Fred had died, she hadn't been sure that she ever wanted to feel ok again, that feeling ok would somehow deny the enormity of what she had lost. Her dreams of a romantic reunion with Harry, the dreams that prompted her jealous outburst at Cho in the Room of Requirement, had fallen away from her only a couple of hours later as she had crowded with her family around her brother's broken body.
If Harry had come to seek her out that night, she would have willingly given him whatever he needed. If he had needed to know whether he had her love, she could have truthfully told him that he did and always would. If he had needed her affection and her comfort, she could have provided it without hesitation. However, she could not have been happy with him then, and she wasn't entirely sure that she could be happy with him now.
She had been quietly relieved when he had approached her as a very close friend, seeming not to assume anything more. They had clung to each other during funerals, and they had comforted each other as close friends would. They had spent time alone together, talking about their grief and the struggles of those around them and one awful night, after the last funeral, as he prepared to share the full story with Kingsley the next day, Harry had told her what had happened during his time away from her and on the night of the battle at Hogwarts. She suspected that there was a little bit more to what he had told her, but she didn't press him to fill in the details.
Since the funerals had ended, and life had returned to some semblance of normality, the two had seen each other less and less. Molly had really needed her, as had all of her brothers, and Harry had poured himself into caring for Teddy and Andromeda. The strength of Ginny's feelings for him had not faltered but she had begun to wonder whether maybe Harry only loved her now as a dear friend. If that were the case, she would just have to make the most of it, it wasn't every day that a person got to be the dear friend of the "Saviour of the World" as The Daily Prophet had dubbed him.
She thought back to the previous day and how much she had loved watching him with Teddy. She hoped that he realised just how proud of him she was. She also found herself struck by a whole new level of desire to kiss him again after seeing the way he cared for her mum the night before. Harry had heard from her and Ron just how bad things had gotten but he had been protected from witnessing it until they had arrived at The Burrow after their day together. He had reacted with such gentleness and sensitivity and Ginny had seen how much his comfort and support had meant to her mum. Even waking with George so early that morning before he left for his flat and she made her way up to her own bed, she had seen the level of anticipation that George had at seeing Harry the next day.
She laughed as she remembered her response to Ron's claim that Harry needed her and finally made a conscious decision. She had been worried that she wasn't capable of being happy ever again, but yesterday had been the happiest day she'd experienced in at least a year. If being with Harry was good for her, if Harry being amongst her family was good for them, she was prepared to further investigate the possibility that her being with Harry was good for him.
Not long after the fall of Voldemort, many wizards and witches who had gone into hiding returned to their families, friends and places of work. Florean Fortescue, who had run for the hills at the first confirmation of You-Know-Who's return, had tentatively returned to find out if the rumours of young Harry Potter's triumph were true. On learning that his young protégé and favourite customer had in fact defeated the Dark Lord, he hastily reopened his Ice Cream Parlour to cater for the great atmosphere of summer celebration that followed Harry's victory, much as it had followed Harry's first encounter with Voldemort.
That atmosphere of celebration seemed unable to permeate the table at which Harry, Ron, Ginny and Neville sat, though they lounged in the sun chattering and determinedly scraping the last smears of ice cream out of their sundae dishes just like any normal group of teenagers. Florean remembered back to the days when Harry had sat outside his shop, just as he was doing now, completing his homework in preparation for heading back to school for his third year. It was very apparent that Harry was not that little boy anymore. The toll of the last couple of years had served to mature his features and fill out his frame. In fact, from the glances being exchanged between Harry and the beautiful red-haired girl at his table, Florean was convinced that Harry was now most decidedly a young man.
Harry, when not fully focused on his ice cream, noticed that Ginny looked like she'd gone to extra lengths to look pretty. She was wearing a knee-length sundress with tiny white and coffee-coloured stripes and it seemed to set off her hair and eyes and ankles and elbows and everything as far as Harry was concerned. He assumed that Ron must have made a big deal of her not looking like a criminal. He got a bit flustered as she caught him staring at her yet again, adding to a completely embarrassing total of times he'd been spied gawking in her direction. She didn't seem too concerned though, she just kept smiling happily at him, which was what had drawn him into this vicious cycle to begin with. He forced himself to concentrate on the conversation.
"Yeah, well, that's what Gran thinks too," Neville was saying. "It'll be a hard decision though."
"Really?" asked Ginny, "I would have thought you'd all jump at a chance to have it all over and done with!"
Neville smiled sheepishly. "It's ridiculous, isn't it? All these years I've lived in fear of my Gran, never thinking I'd be able to make a decision by myself. Now here she is telling me that I've more than proved myself and that I don't need any more school if I don't want to go back – she thinks I can just go out and get a job! As much as I love the fact that she's so proud of me, I'm not sure that I'm ready."
"Have you heard any news about when they think Hogwarts will be able to open again?" Ron asked as he made his way back to the table with a second round of sundaes.
Neville tucked into his next dish of ice cream and then responded to Ron's question with his mouth full. "Not for at least a month or two, and then they're going to hold O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. exams for the students who feel ready to take them. It's been a bit of a debacle for the last couple of years. The rest of us have the option to repeat whatever year we feel we're up to or just go on without the qualifications. It's all too much to think about really!" He finally swallowed. "What do you think you'll do, Ron?"
"Mum'll want me to go back and get my N.E.W.T.s, and as much as I hate the idea of more studying, it might be kind of like a holiday after the last couple of years! I won't decide for a little while yet, I'll see what Hermione wants to do first." He looked up from his ice cream. "What about you, mate? You probably hate the idea of going back, right?"
All eyes turned expectantly to Harry.
"Actually, I think I'd kind of like to go back. I want to play Quidditch and hang out in the common room and learn stuff without thinking I might need it to stop myself dying. Besides, judging from the first few weeks after the battle, if I try and go out to just get a job, I won't get a moment's peace! At least at Hogwarts I can hide a bit. I'm sure that McGonagall will organise it so that I can Floo to Andromeda's a few times a week to spend time with Teddy. He's my priority right now." Harry paused for a moment as if lost in thought. "But I guess I'd never thought about being at Hogwarts without you guys." He dropped his eyes to his sundae and scooped up a huge spoonful of coffee ice cream just pausing to ask a question before shovelling it into his mouth.
"What are your thoughts, Gin?"
She took a deep breath and smiled winningly at him. "I'll probably do whatever you do, Harry."
Ron and Neville caught each other's eye and sniggered as Harry succumbed to a choking fit prompted by the boldness of Ginny's declaration.