The Burrow was filled nearly to bursting with the entire family converging for the Christmas Eve festivities. Only George and Harry were missing as they were still at work. The tree was decorated and candles flickered in both the kitchen and sitting room, keeping them well-lit as the sky outside continued to darken. A light snow had begun falling, giving a picturesque view out onto the meadow.
Ginny hummed a carol as she helped her mother bake biscuits. Her mum hadn’t managed any of the usual baking before Ginny’s return, so they’d been working madly to have enough to satisfy everyone. The one thing her mum refused to make was a chocolate and raspberry trifle — which had always been Fred’s favourite. Ginny didn’t know if it would be better to have it or not, but her mum was adamant that she wasn’t going to do it. She’d burst into tears when Ginny had started to gather the ingredients, so she’d just put them away.
Ginny kept glancing at the window, knowing Harry should be done with his shift shortly. She expected he’d want to go home to shower and clean up first, but she was eager for his arrival, nonetheless. He, Ron, Hermione, George, and Percy were sleeping at The Burrow tonight so they’d all be together on Christmas morning.
Only Bill and Fleur had declined to stay, instead wanting to spend the night in their own home. Fleur’s morning sickness was obvious to everyone, although they were all trying to pretend they hadn’t noticed. Ginny wished they’d just get on with making the announcement. Fleur already had a slight curve to her belly.
Her mum had the wireless playing Christmas carols in the sitting room, telling anyone who’d listen that Celestina Warbeck was once again singing a Christmas concert that evening to celebrate the war’s end. Fleur apparently felt too miserable to even make fun of it. Ginny was happy to see her mother enjoying herself. She’d been in tears off and on throughout the day, so Ginny wasn’t certain what to expect. Oddly, it was her dad who seemed more depressed. He’d spent a large portion of the day out in his shed, and when he came inside, Ginny thought his eyes looked overly bright.
Ron and Hermione were missing at the moment, so Ginny suspected they’d sneaked off to get a few quiet moments with one another. She knew Ron couldn’t resist the pull of the food for long. The smell of baking biscuits was intoxicating.
“Hey, little sis,” Charlie said, attempting to reach around her and grab a warm biscuit from her tray.
Ginny blocked him with her hip and placed the tray on the counter. “Wait until they’re ready,” she scolded, placing them one by one on a cooling rack.
Charlie scowled at her, but reached up to the shelf above the sink and brought down a bottle of Firewhisky. “Let’s see what excuse Fleur comes up with when I offer a glass,” he said, winking. He poured several glasses, and when Ginny reached over to snag one, he grabbed a biscuit and stuffed it in his mouth whole.
“Charlie!” she scolded.
He grinned, but left her with her glass of Firewhisky. Ginny decided it wasn’t nearly as much fun when they didn’t try and stop her. Still, she sipped at it as she continued to remove biscuits from the hot tray.
“This is the last batch,” Mum said, sliding another tray into the oven. “I’m planning to serve dinner at seven.”
“It smells wonderful, Mum,” Bill said, entering the kitchen and kissing her on the head. “Fleur and I have been living on take-away since it’s been so busy at Gringotts.”
Ginny smirked behind his back thinking that it was more likely down to the fact that Fleur couldn’t stand to be in the kitchen without turning green. She’d noticed she hadn’t set foot in here since they’d arrived.
“I think Charlie already poured you some Firewhisky,” Ginny said, noticing Bill filling a glass with pumpkin juice.
“Er… yeah. This one’s for Fleur. She didn’t want a drink before dinner,” Bill said, hurrying from the kitchen without further conversation.
Ginny and her mum caught each other’s eye and both smiled knowingly. The sound of someone Apparating caught Ginny’s attention, and she glanced out the kitchen window. There was a figure strolling from the Apparition point, but it was still too far away to decipher whom it was. The figure seemed to lurch slightly, and Ginny squinted her eyes. Once he was a bit closer, she realized it was George. Judging by his unsteady gait, she would bet he’d already been into the Christmas cheer.
Quickly entering the sitting room, she grabbed Charlie’s arm and hissed, “George just arrived. He’s outside, but I don’t think he’s sober. Catch him before Mum sees.”
Wasting no time, Charlie bolted from the room and made a beeline for the front door. With any luck, he’d intersect with George before he reached the kitchen door. Ginny went back into the kitchen, hoping to keep her mum distracted.
“Mum, where are the Christmas doilies for the biscuit plates? I couldn’t find them,” Ginny said.
“What? They should be in the pantry,” her mum said vaguely, stirring a pot on the stove.
“I didn’t see them,” Ginny said.
“Oh, let me look,” Mum said, handing her the spoon. “Keep stirring that.”
Ginny took the spoon and began stirring the pot, straining to peer out the kitchen window. She could see Charlie attempting to drag George toward Dad’s shed, but it looked as if George was having none of it. Finally giving it up as a lost cause, Charlie aimed his wand at his younger brother.
George stumbled, shaking his head violently. He scowled fiercely at Charlie, and Ginny assumed that Charlie had cast a Sobering Charm. It wouldn’t be permanent, but hopefully it’d at least get them through dinner. Perhaps George was going to have a harder time with Christmas than she thought. She supposed the idea of being back in his old bedroom alone was hard.
She thought of the camp bed set up in Ron’s room for Harry, and realized this was a terrible plan. Maybe it would be better if George slept there, and Harry slept in the twins’ old room. She’d mention it to him when he arrived. Glancing at her watch, she realized that he should’ve been here by now.
The kitchen door banged open and George stormed in, followed more sedately by Charlie, who was staying out of George’s arm span. George looked angrier than a raging Hippogriff.
“Next time, mind your own bloody business,” George snarled.
“Happy Christmas, George,” Ginny said loudly at the same time, hoping her mother wouldn’t hear the row. “Was the shop busy?”
Charlie winked at her as George began unbuttoning his dragonhide coat. Behind them, Ginny could see the snow was sticking and beginning to come down in earnest. They’d have a white Christmas after all.
“It was packed. Loads of last-minute shoppers,” George said sullenly, staring around the festive kitchen.
Ginny put the spoon down for a moment to press a biscuit into his hand. “Well, I’m glad you’re here now.”
“Hey! How come he gets one?” Charlie demanded, looking insulted.
“Because I’m her favourite,” George replied, his spirts lightening at Charlie’s annoyance.
“Hello, George,” Mum said, leaving the pantry. She took the spoon from Ginny and handed her the doilies. “They were right where I said they were, dear.”
“Huh. I must’ve missed them,” Ginny said, winking at Charlie.
“Is everyone here, then?” George asked, reaching for Ginny’s glass of Firewhisky.
She pulled it out of his reach. “Hey, I shared a biscuit, don’t push your luck.”
George scowled and walked into the sitting room, Charlie close on his heels. Ginny finished placing the biscuits on plates, and glanced out the window once again. There was still no sign of Harry, and a feeling of unease washed over her.
The rest of the family was gathered in the sitting room. Ron and Hermione had reappeared and were engaged in a game of chess. Bill hovered over Fleur while Dad and the other boys were standing around the chess match, cheering Hermione on. Dad had his arm around George, who did have a glass of Firewhisky in his hand, although he was nursing this one.
Ginny’s mind wandered back to the previous Christmas where it had only been her, the twins and their parents at The Burrow. It was tense and quiet and worry for all the others had laid a pall over the entire thing. If she’d only known then it was the last one Fred would ever spend with them, she would have been certain to make it a brighter memory. She had to blink the moisture from her eyes.
“Come on, Ginny. I need someone in my family on my side,” Ron said good-naturedly, beckoning her over.
Hermione’s cheeks turned a rosy shade of pink as the others all jeered at Ron. Percy tried to gently nudge Hermione toward her castle.
“Hey! That’s cheating, that is,” Ron shouted indignantly.
“And you’d be an expert at cheating,” George said innocently.
Ron scowled. “I don’t need to cheat. Ginny, where’s Harry? I’m outnumbered here.”
Ginny unconsciously glanced towards the door. “I thought he’d be here by now.”
“I’m certain he’s fine,” Hermione said, reaching up and squeezing Ginny’s hand. “You know Harry’s never set much stock in punctuality.”
Before Ginny could respond, a handsome Ministry owl swooped in from the kitchen and landed on the back of Hermione’s chair, holding its leg out toward her dad. He frowned and reached to untie the parchment. The regal bird flew back the way it had come without delay.
“Who is it, Arthur?” Mum asked, standing in the doorway to the kitchen looking aggrieved. “They can’t expect you to work tonight.”
Dad’s eyes scanned the missive quickly, his skin growing paler by the moment. Before he’d even looked up, a bright, shining Patronus burst into the room and landed on top of the chessboard.
Kingsley Shacklebolt’s deep, slow voice issued from the glowing lynx, “He’s been brought to the Emergency Ward at St. Mungo’s. I’m heading there now. You need to hurry.”
The lynx faded into mist and dissipated in the air while its words hung heavy in the shocked silence. In the kitchen doorway, Mum dropped the platter she was holding and it landed with a clang, bits of lettuce, chutney and prawn splattered everywhere.
“Arthur?” she said in a trembling voice.
“It’s Harry,” Dad said grimly. “Grab your cloaks and Apparate to St. Mungo’s.” He strode from the sitting room, grasping his and Mum’s cloaks from pegs by the door.
“What d’you mean it’s Harry?” Ginny asked shrilly. “What’s happened to him?” She felt as if a fog had overtaken the sitting room, and she was struggling to wade through it. This couldn’t be happening again.
Hermione thrust her cloak at her and helped her to do up the fastenings. “Hurry, Ginny. We’ll find out when we get there,” Hermione said, her voice strained.
Grim-faced, they all followed her dad out the door and to the Apparition point. They appeared moments later at the St. Mungo’s visitors’ entrance on the deserted London street. Businesses had all closed for the holiday. Ginny could hear church bells ringing in the distance, and there were several restaurants open, but otherwise, it was eerily quiet, and it only increased Ginny’s anxiety.
He had to be all right.
Her dad strode right up to the witch at the reception desk. “We need to see an Auror who was brought into the Emergency Ward,” he said sternly, careful not to use Harry’s name.
The bored-looking witch directed them to a corridor behind her. “Straight down to the end, take a left, and it’s the second door on your right.”
The large group of Weasleys and Hermione hurried down the corridor, their paces increasing as they neared the doors. Ginny’s heart thudded painfully, and she felt a stitch in her side every time she took a breath. Hermione gripped her hand tightly, and Ginny was glad for the pressure because it felt as if it was the only thing tethering her to this earth.
The sterile walls of the hospital had a few Christmas decorations hanging above each doorway, and Ginny found it hard to believe she was home baking biscuits and dreading a Celestina Warbeck concert not an hour ago. She’d give anything to be rolling her eyes with Harry as her mum’s favourite singer serenaded them right now.
When her dad pushed open the door to the Emergency Ward, they found themselves in a large, virtually empty waiting area. One lone wizard sat hunched over in a chair, his head in his hands which rested on his elbows. The long line of Weasleys filed in, and he looked up, startled by the noise.
“Owen,” Ron said urgently, rushing across the room and sitting beside the wizard. When Owen straightened up, it became obvious the front of his uniform was stained with bright red blood. “What happened?”
“Splinched,” Owen said, grimacing.
Ron looked over Owen’s heavily stained clothing. “You or Harry?” he asked uncertainly.
Owen shook his head. “Harry. He finished his double shift, but he was exhausted. He should’ve taken the Portkey to the Ministry to recover, but we rowed, and he left — only he left his lower leg behind.”
“Yeah,” Owen said, nodding grimly. “I grabbed it and went after him. He was already unconscious when I arrived. He’s had massive blood loss.”
Ginny sank down into an empty chair. It was only Splinching. A couple of students had been Splinched during Apparition training, and they’d been patched up right on the spot. The Magical Reversal Squad dealt with it all the time. She was used to Harry receiving bizarre injuries, not something as mundane as Splinching. Relief flooding through her veins, she looked up and was confused by the grim looks on everyone else’s faces.
“What?” she asked. “Splinching is relatively easy to fix, right?” she asked. She knew it was reportedly very painful, but…
Mum sat beside her, sniffling, and Dad put his hand on her shoulder. “I’m certain his leg has been repaired, the blood loss is more troubling. Apparition usually makes gouges or tears big chunks of skin and muscle. When an entire body part is severed, the blood loss can be fatal if it isn’t fixed immediately. He’s lucky you were there, Owen.”
Owen nodded. “I didn’t wait for the Magical Reversal Squad but brought him right here. They’re giving him a load of Blood Replenishing Potions, but he’d already lost all colour by the time I arrived.”
George slumped into a seat, burying his head in his hands. The others took chairs around the room except for Ron, who paced liked a caged animal. The door opened again, and a dire-looking Kingsley Shacklebolt entered. His eyes scanned the lot of them. It felt as if they did this much too often.
“Minister,” Bill said, standing to shake Kingsley’s hand. “How is he?”
Kingsley nodded to the room and sighed deeply. “He still hasn’t regained consciousness, but they’re working on it. Once he awakens, you’ll be allowed to take him home. He’s going to need a few days off to recover. I thought we’d eliminated double shifts,” he said, turning to Owen.
“We have for the most part. There was a lot of shuffling for Christmas, though,” Owen replied. “He and McLaggen both wanted tomorrow off. I sent them on the retrieval because I thought it would give them a bit of a break, sir.”
“What retrieval?” Ron asked.
“Three more Dementors were located — in Little Whinging,” Kingsley said pointedly.
“What?” Dad asked sharply.
“You sent Harry to Little Whinging?” Mum demanded at the same time, eyes narrowed.
Owen looked confused. “He said he knew the area, but the Dementors were unruly on the trip back. We rowed that they chose to continue herding them rather than calling for back up.”
Ron swore colourfully, and Hermione elbowed him in his ribs, glancing nervously at the Minister.
“I spoke with McLaggen. He said Potter stopped to talk to some Muggles whilst they were searching, but he didn’t know anything more,” Kingsley said.
Before anyone could comment, the door swung open again and a familiar blonde witch with sparkling spectacles strode into the waiting area. Her high heels made a clicking sound on the polished floor as she made a beeline for Kingsley.
“Minister,” Rita Skeeter said, sounding positively delighted. “I got a tip that an Auror had been injured by the Dementors. I didn’t know I’d have the pleasure of running into you here.” Her beady eyes took in all the other faces in the waiting area, and they narrowed calculatingly. “And judging by the visitors, my guess is Mr. Potter has found himself in a spot of trouble yet again. What is it this time? Was he attacked? Good heavens, has he been Kissed?”
The eager bloodlust in her eyes belied the concern of her words.
“No one has been Kissed, Ms. Skeeter. This is a secure area, and I believe you’ve been warned about stalking St. Mungo’s,” Kingsley coolly replied.
Rita was unperturbed. Reaching into her bejewelled handbag, she pulled out her Quick-Quotes Quill and a notepad. “Am I correct in my assumption that Mr. Potter is the mystery Auror? There have now been several mishaps with these Dementors, Minister. What exactly is the Ministry proposing to do about it, because clearly the present course isn’t working. The adoring public will be most upset to think its hero is in jeopardy… or perhaps, it’s Mr. Potter’s own doing, hmm? You’re aware that concern has been expressed about the lack of qualifications of some of the new Aurors. Any comment?”
Ginny clenched her fists, biting her lip to keep from snapping. The concern was only raised by Rita, and it was she who kept fanning the flames.
“Shall I call hospital security, Minister?” Bill asked. The deep scars on his face stood out sharply when he scowled.
“No need, no need,” Rita said airily, her eyes scanning the room. “Does anyone else care to comment on what Mr. Potter has done to himself now?”
Ginny had had enough. She stood up, brandishing her wand and just itching to release some of her tension. “No need for security. I can get rid of her,” she said.
“So hostile, Miss Weasley,” Rita said, beaming. “What is it that’s causing this pent-up frustration? Do you have any comment about Harry being Kissed?”
“MucaVespertilio,” Ginny said, hissing. Her wand pulsed with her fury.
She heard her dad shout, “Ginny, no!” but it was too late. A jet of white light shot from the tip of her wand and hit Rita square in the face. The witch stumbled back as a swarm of black winged creatures flew from her nose and began flapping furiously around her head. She attempted to swat them away, but only managed to cover herself in the thick, mucus-like substance that was dripping from the creatures.
Rita screeched, and several more bats issued from her gaping mouth.
“Enough,” Kingsley said, calmly waving his wand and saying, “Finite.” The bats disappeared, leaving a gasping Rita covered in the revolting mucus. It clung to her hair and shoulders, and as they watched, a thick glob dropped from her glasses and splattered onto the floor.
“That’s assault,” Rita shouted, glaring at Ginny ferociously. “You’re a witness, Minister. I want this girl arrested.”
Kingsley took a deep, steadying breath. “Down to the fact it’s Christmas Eve, and I’d like to spend some time with my family, I’m going to excuse Ms. Weasley’s lack of judgement,” he put a hand up to stop Rita’s coming tirade, “and I’m also not going to press charges against you for being inside the hospital waiting area, as you’ve been warned about previously. In future, I suggest you both consider working on your people skills.”
Though Ginny felt a degree of humiliation at the Minister’s scolding, she and Rita continued to stare at one another with loathing. She was aware of the disappointment in her dad’s eyes, and the threat of a telling-off from her mum.
“I suggest you leave the hospital, Ms. Skeeter. Either wait in the permitted press area, or better yet, go home and celebrate Christmas. Put your feet up and have a cup of cheer,” Kingsley said, and although his words were pleasant, there was a distinct warning in his tone.
“You haven’t heard the last from me, missy,” she said, eyes narrowed at Ginny. “I hope Mr. Potter lives to celebrate Christmas.” With that, she stormed from the waiting area, although the effect was somewhat ruined by her dishevelled state and the mucus still dripping from her hair.
Kingsley followed her out with a curt nod to the Weasley family.
“Nice one, Ginny,” Bill said, leaning over so their parents wouldn’t hear.
Ginny smirked gratefully. She turned towards her mum, attempting to derail her tirade. “And I’m not sorry. She had it coming,” she said mutinously.
“Well, you would’ve been sorry had the Minister dragged you off to a holding cell before finding out how Harry is,” her mum snapped.
Ginny felt as if she’d been doused with ice water. Her ire had completely over-ridden her concern for a few short moments, but now the situation with Harry came rushing back to her. He’d lain there bleeding to death while she’d made effin’ biscuits. Her lower lip trembled slightly, and it caused her mum’s anger to evaporate.
“It’s all right, Ginny. He’s going to be okay. They’re patching him up now, and he’ll be home before you know it,” Mum said, pulling Ginny into her warm embrace.
Ginny let her do it, and buried her face in her mum’s shoulder for a moment, taking a deep breath to steady her nerves.
“Your mother’s right. Harry is going to be all right. There’s no sense for all of us to wait until he’s released. I’ll stay with Ginny, and you lot go back to The Burrow and start dinner. We’ll be along as soon as we’re able,” her dad said.
“We’re staying,” Ron said firmly, his arm around Hermione who nodded fervently.
“All right,” her dad sighed. He must’ve known resistance was futile. “But the rest of you lot can go back.”
“Owen, do you ‘ave plans?” Fleur asked. “Why don’t you join uz for deenner?”
Owen gaped open-mouthed at Fleur, apparently at a complete loss for words. The rest of them smirked at his reaction. Fleur took some getting used to.
“Yes, Owen, please come back with us,” Mum said, rescuing him.
“Thank you, Mrs. Weasley. I think I’ll take you up on that,” Owen replied, his face still slightly dazed.
“Mum,” Ginny said suddenly, looking at George’s washed-out face. “Harry’s bound to be weak and sickly, and he’ll need rest. Why don’t you put him in George’s bed, and have George take the camp bed in Ron’s room?”
“I’ll do that, I don’t mind. That’s a great idea, Ginny,” George said quickly, giving her an appreciative smile. “Come on, Owen. You haven’t experienced the pleasure of my mum’s cooking yet.”
He and Owen led the others from the waiting room, and Ginny suspected George’s Sobering Charm might be wearing off. He’d want to get back to his unfinished glass of Firewhisky. Hopefully, having Owen and the rest of the family there would keep him occupied.
Those who stayed behind sat down once again, staring at the door as the clock ticked slowly.
“So, what happens to someone who Splinched off a leg?” Ron asked. “Will he have a limp? I remember when I got Splinched, and I didn’t feel right for weeks, but I still had all my limbs.”
Ginny watched her dad sigh deeply and run his fingers over his eyes beneath his glasses. “You were very lucky, Ron. You didn’t have any medical attention, although I’m endlessly grateful for Hermione’s quick thinking,” he added, smiling kindly at Hermione. “If you’d actually had an injury like Harry’s, and were unable to get to St. Mungo’s, you could’ve died.”
“And if we did have to go to St. Mungo’s, we would’ve been arrested,” Hermione said softly.
“And the Ministry probably would’ve let me die, anyway,” Ron said, his expression troubled.
“Oh, let’s not dwell on that,” Hermione said, her voice trembling. “It worked out all right, and it’s Christmas, and we’re all here.”
Ron pulled her close, kissing the top of her head.
They sat in silence, each lost in their own heads until a medi-witch gave them a brief update and told them Harry was awake, and they could go in. When she pushed the door to his room open, Ginny saw an ashen Harry propped up on several pillows. His eyes were closed, allowing her a moment to examine him uninterrupted. He had an ugly bump on his head, distorting his scar, and his leg was propped up with a pillow. It was completely reattached, although she could still see a fading, healing scar circling his knee.
She walked over and leaned down to kiss his forehead over his flattened fringe. “You’re warm,” she murmured. The medi-witch had said he had a low-grade fever.
“You’re supposed to say I’m hot,” he replied sleepily, his eyes fluttering open.
Ginny snorted as her dad cleared his throat. Harry looked up at them all, appearing confused they were all there. She suspected he was heavily dosed on pain potion, else he’d have been quite embarrassed that her dad heard him say that.
“I’m going to check with the medi-witch on how long he has to stay,” her dad said, not even attempting to hide his grin as he left the room.
Ginny turned back to Harry, smiling softly. “You know, if you really didn’t want to go to dinner at The Burrow, you could’ve just said no,” she said, brushing his fringe lightly with her fingers.
“I love going to The Burrow,” he said, his sleep-addled brain not following. “Are we going now?”
“Yeah, why don’t you Apparate us all there?” Ron asked, rolling his eyes.
“How do you feel, Harry?” Hermione asked, moving past Ron to stand on Harry’s other side. Her eyes examined him perceptively.
“Tired,” Harry said, mumbling. “Heavy.”
“Well, who knew cutting off your leg at the knee would result in excessive blood loss?” Ron asked. “I think you just miss Madam Pomfrey.”
“No,” Harry said, groaning a little, “she never lets me leave.”
Ginny noticed that his eyes were slightly unfocused, and his words sounded slurred. He was definitely high on something. The door opened, and her father re-entered the room.
“When can we go home, Dad?” she asked, wanting to bring him back to The Burrow where she could keep a better eye on him. This latest health scare had her rattled.
“She said he needed another hour before putting any weight on that leg. She also gave me several potions he’ll need to keep taking. Most likely, he’ll only be able to stay awake for the journey back to The Burrow.”
“Maybe not even that long,” Ron said, watching as Harry shut his eyes again.
“S’Christmas,” Harry said. “Aren’t we supposed to sing?”
“You’re absolutely right, we should,” Hermione said, giggling. “Why don’t you lead us off.”
Harry nodded sleepily and then started with,” God rest ye merry Hippogriffs, let nothing you dismay…”
The others joined in, and Ginny was surprised that unlike her, Harry could actually carry a tune. Granted, he wouldn’t be appearing on the wireless any time soon, but he wasn’t bad, either. Ginny’s mind filled with images of Sirius’ beaming face coming down the stairs at Grimmauld Place. She wondered if Harry was picturing the same thing.
Harry seemed to run out of steam half way through the song, and he sat listening quietly while the rest of them finished, his eyes drooping steadily. Once finished, they were quiet for a moment wondering if he’d drop off when his eyes flew open again.
“Dudley invited me to dinner,” he said, staring around at all of them to see their reactions to this shocking news. When none of them responded, he repeated his statement.
“Would you have liked to go?” her dad asked gently.
“No,” Harry replied, scoffing. His overly-exaggerated expression looked as if he’d been asked if he’d like to eat dung. “Aunt Petunia looked as if she was sorry to see I hadn’t died during the war.” He paused a moment, then added, “Wonder what she’d think if she knew I did die.”
Those gathered around Harry’s bed all winced at this comment, but Harry was oblivious. Ginny knew that his cavalier attitude toward his own mortality was down to that dratted woman, as well. She wished she’d been the one to run into her — a Bat-Bogey would only be the start.
“If she had any decency at all, she’d feel remorse for the way she treated you,” she said, snapping.
“You did run into your relatives in Little Whinging then?” Hermione asked. “I was wondering when we heard you spoke to some Muggles.”
Harry’s hand began playing with a strand of Ginny’s hair, curling it around his fingers as he spoke, and it somehow comforted her, as well.
“Yeah,” Harry said. “Dudley wasn’t a git. Maybe the Ghost of Christmas Past visited him. Aunt Petunia is still Scrooge.”
Ginny had no idea what he was talking about, and judging by the confused expression on Ron’s face, he didn’t, either. Hermione, however, laughed out loud.
“Maybe he did,” Hermione said. “I couldn’t think of better candidates. Are you in any pain, Harry?”
“Nope,” he said, smiling goofily. “I feel great.”
“Wish I could get some of whatever they gave him,” Ron muttered.
“Did I miss pudding?” Harry asked suddenly. “Did your mum make a treacle tart? I don’t want to miss treacle tart.”
“Molly made one special for you, and I’m certain she won’t let anyone else have it until you’re there,” Dad said, his eyes sparkling.
Harry beamed. “Excellent. Want to sing another Christmas song?”
They passed the time in the hospital singing a variety of songs until Harry was able to leave. It wasn’t a typical Christmas Eve, or even what she’d been expecting, but somehow, it was all right. Harry was going to be all right, and that would make Christmas okay, even with the spectre of those who could no longer be there.
Harry awoke, disoriented, to loud voices and the sound of heavy steps outside his closed door. He felt as if he’d been hit by the Hogwarts Express, and it took his foggy brain a moment to register where he was. This was the twin’s room at The Burrow, and judging by the tumult of voices nearby, it was Christmas morning. His leg throbbed with each pulse of his heart, and he had to grit his teeth to stop himself moaning.
He pulled himself to a seated position and had to blink the moisture from his eyes. Merlin, he hurt. He glanced at the bedside table, hoping someone had left a pain-relieving potion, but he had no such luck. He shut his eyes, breathing heavily and attempting to master himself when he heard the whoosh of the Floo. He couldn’t think of who would use the Floo when it struck him suddenly that it was most likely Andromeda. She’d said she’d bring Teddy by early so they could open presents together.
Harry needed to get himself downstairs, but he wasn’t certain he could do it. His gaze fell on the hospital-issue walking stick they’d given him last night. He only had a vague recollection of it, but he’d scoffed when they handed it to him. In an attempt to appease him, Hermione had transfigured the top into a replica of a Golden Snitch. He’d promptly insisted that he still would never use it.
Now, however, with the pain thrumming in his knee, he thought perhaps it was the only way he could get downstairs. Seeing Teddy on his first Christmas was more important than Harry’s pride. Harry had spent his first Christmas with his parents, even if he couldn’t remember it, and he was certain it had been good. He felt as if it was his duty to ensure that Teddy had a good one. He’d never be able to give him his parents, but he could at least make the hole in his heart a bit more bearable. The Weasleys were great for that, so being here was the next best thing.
He eased his legs off the bed, grimacing. He couldn’t stop a small whine escaping his clenched lips. He cringed, sitting stock still to see if anyone had heard, but his door remained shut. Releasing the air in his lungs, he shakily reached for the walking stick. He took a moment to admire Hermione’s transfiguration skills. The Snitch really did look authentic. Gritting his teeth, he pulled himself onto his feet.
It took him an age to make it out of the room and down the stairs. He’d wondered why he was in George’s room rather than Ron’s, but he was grateful — it meant fewer stairs. By the time he reached the landing in the sitting room, he was shaking and sweating profusely.
“Harry!” Mrs. Weasley shouted, noticing him the moment he’d appeared. “What in blazes do you think you’re doing?”
He felt the whoosh of a Levitation Spell before he was swooped off his feet and hovered over to the sofa. The experience of floating in the air without any means of support was disconcerting, and he cried out in dismay. Once he was settled on the sofa, however, and Mrs. Weasley placed an ottoman under his aching leg, he had to admit it was a relief.
“What am I going to do with you?” Mrs. Weasley tutted, fussing with the pillows behind his back. “You weren’t supposed to be awake for a few more hours. I have some potions that should help.” She bustled into the kitchen without waiting for a response.
The lights on the tree twinkled merrily, but they appeared to be blurred in Harry’s weakened state. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned, startled, to find Andromeda sitting next to him.
“I really hope Teddy doesn’t prove as accident-prone as you,” she said dryly.
Harry smiled weakly. He didn’t have the energy to defend himself at the moment. “Where is he?” he asked, dismayed by how wobbly his voice sounded.
“Arthur has him. He’s attempting to entertain him with a rubber duck,” Andromeda said, sounding puzzled.
Mrs. Weasley re-entered the room with a tray containing three flasks filled with various coloured potions. “Take that,” she said, handing Harry the blue one. Once he’d finished taking the potions, she pulled up the leg of his pyjama bottoms, examining his knee. “It looks swollen. In future, you’re supposed to take those potions a half hour before you attempt to put any weight on it,” she said, scolding.
The pain potion was already doing its job, and Harry leaned his head back over the edge of the sofa, relishing the relief.
“Better?” Andromeda asked, and he could hear the amusement in her voice.
“Yeah,” he said, keeping his eyes closed. “Is everyone up yet?”
“We’re still waiting on Ron and George. The girls are up but still in their room, and we’re going to wait to open gifts until Bill and Fleur arrive,” Mrs. Weasley said, placing a warm hand on Harry’s forehead to check his temperature. “Breakfast is almost ready. Are you hungry?”
“Yeah, I am,” Harry said, raising his head. Now that he thought about it, he didn’t think he’d had anything to eat aside from a few chocolate bars the previous day. His stomach rumbled in confirmation, causing Mrs. Weasley to beam.
“You stay here. I’ll put together a plate for you,” she said fondly.
As the rest of the family slowly emerged from their bedrooms, and Bill and Fleur finally arrived, they gathered around the tree to open gifts. Teddy didn’t care about any of his presents, but he was delighted by the papers and kept crinkling it up because he enjoyed the sound. The only one who had more fun than the baby was Mr. Weasley. He’d been given a number of Muggle gifts — on Harry’s suggestion — and despite the fact they were all useless to him, he was as delighted as… well, as a little kid at Christmas.
Both Molly and Andromeda continued to fuss over Harry, and he let them for a change. The two women had each lost a child during the war, and if fussing a little over him made the first Christmas without their own kids more bearable, he was going to let them do it.
By the time presents were done and the room cleared, Harry was feeling sleepy again. Strictly told not to move while Mrs. Weasley began dinner preparations, Harry stretched out on the sofa, propping his head on the armrest. Andromeda handed Teddy to him and went to help in the kitchen. Teddy was also ready for a nap. He fussed a bit until Harry picked up one of his new toys — a soft dragon that he was certain came from Charlie — and began moving it along they baby’s belly. Teddy laughed and snuggled close to Harry, giggling every time the dragon neared his face. He eventually nodded off with his hand curled around Harry’s collar. Harry rested his cheek on the downy softness of Teddy’s small head.
“Ha! He likes my present best,” Charlie said as he entered the sitting room with Ginny. Ginny sat on the end of the sofa by Harry’s feet so as not to wake Teddy, and Charlie took the chair near his head.
“Yeah, who would’ve ever guessed a tired baby would like something soft?” Ginny asked, rolling her eyes.
“What did you get him, then?” Charlie demanded.
Ginny pointed to a small drum in the corner. “I thought he could make the most noise with it. He likes making noise.”
“I’m certain Andromeda was thrilled. She’ll pay you back one day,” Charlie said, smirking as both Harry and Ginny’s faces coloured brilliantly.
Harry fought the urge to look anywhere near Ginny. He cleared his throat, searching the room desperately for a change in subject. As usual, it was Ginny who came to his rescue.
“I’m surprised you didn’t invite Inga for dinner, Charlie. I’m certain Mum would love to meet her,” she said airily.
“Who’s Inga?” Harry asked.
“No one,” Charlie said, his eyes narrowed at Ginny. “Just someone a nosy little sister likes to abuse.”
“I can’t think of how inviting someone to dinner is abusing them,” Ginny replied, but Harry noticed the smirk she was giving Charlie definitely looked evil.
He decided he really didn’t need to know.
“This is cool,” Charlie said, examining the glinting Golden Snitch on the top of Harry’s walking stick. “Did they do this for you?”
“Hermione did,” Harry replied.
“It’s good, but it isn’t finished yet,” Charlie replied, pulling out his wand and using a charm to add the imprint of a dragon along the stick, twisting around it and breathing fire toward the Snitch. “That’s a Horntail, that is.”
Ginny laughed, and Harry rolled his eyes. As if the walking stick alone wasn’t ridiculous enough.
“What are you doing?” Ron asked, joining them in the sitting room.
“Ensuring that Harry’s walking stick isn’t lame,” Charlie said flatly, handing it to Ron.
Ron looked it over. “Cool,” he said, “but it’s missing something.” And he used his own wand to add another Charm.
“I’m not planning on using that thing after today,” Harry said, groaning.
“They said you’d need it for a week,” Ginny replied firmly.
“We’ll see about that,” Harry said, feeling mutinous.
“There you go,” Ron said, handing the stick back.
At the bottom, beneath the dragon, was the image of a familiar stag. It looked as if it was prodding the dragon. Prongs. Harry stared for a moment, surprised by Ron’s sensitivity.
“I see that bloody thing every day, and when I do, at least I know you’re still conscious,” Ron said, smirking.
Or perhaps not.
“All right, you lot,” Mrs. Weasley called from the doorway. “Ron, Charlie, come in here and help your father with an Extension Charm for the table.”
The boys stood obediently and followed her out. Harry’s gaze wandered to Ginny, who was staring at him keenly, making him feel exposed. He hugged Teddy to his chest like a shield.
“What?” he asked warily. Her intense stare was unnerving him.
She sighed deeply, her eyes, always so vibrant and warm looked rather desolate. “I can’t keep going through this, Harry,” she said softly, causing his heart to clench.
“Going through what?” he asked, his throat suddenly very dry.
Ginny took a deep breath as if steeling herself. “Pacing in hospital rooms, waiting in panic to see if you’re going to live or die,” she whispered, her eyes filling so they shone brightly.
Harry felt as if he’d been punched in the gut, and it took him a moment to get his voice to work properly. “What are you saying? What do you want me to do about it? It’s not like I intend for these things to happen.”
“I know,” she groaned, obviously frustrated. “But they do keep happening. I’m worried that with the career you’ve chosen that you’ll always be in dangerous situations, and things always seem to happen to you.”
Harry swallowed against a painful lump in his throat. He couldn’t deny it, and he’d long since learned there was no point in lying to himself. Losing her, however, might just be the final heartache he could take. He swallowed shakily. “That’s true, and they always will. Merlin, Ginny, I end up on the end of rogue Bludgers even when I’m just playing Quidditch. It’s me, not the job.”
“But the job doesn’t help,” Ginny said, looking at him through her lashes.
“Probably not, but it’s who I am.” While some might not understand it, this job was like an extension of who he was. He had to do something because he could. If he turned his back and left it to others, he’d be leaving a part of himself behind. And he’d only recently made his life wholly his.
She didn’t answer for a moment, and his heart thumped painfully in his chest, waiting. Finally, she took a deep breath and some of the tension seemed to loosen from her posture.
“I know. I just worry,” she said softly.
A small, hopeful smile tugged at the corner of Harry’s mouth. “I like having someone to worry.”
She smiled, but it was a sad smile just the same. “Did strange things always happen to you?”
Harry’s mind briefly scanned over his miserable childhood. Most of it he didn’t want to talk about. He finally landed on one that at least was slightly amusing. “I ended up on the roof of the school when I was eight, and Dudley’s gang was chasing me. I panicked when they tried to get me down, and I realized how angry Uncle Vernon would be. I tried to climb back down quickly, but I fell and broke my arm.”
Uncle Vernon had been livid with all the attention that particular fiasco had caused.
“Maybe you’re not a danger-magnet, then. Maybe you’re just clumsy,” Ginny said, eyebrows raised.
Harry snorted, appreciating the levity, but wanting to be certain she understood. “Loads of people get Splinched. I was just too tired, and I didn’t Deliberate properly.”
“Loads of people don’t amputate their own limbs when they do,” Ginny said, but her words lacked any bite.
“What can I say — I’m an over-achiever,” he said, shrugging.
Ginny rolled her eyes.
His eyes locked on hers, staring intently. He had to say it, and she had to know. “I can’t change who I am, Ginny, even for you.”
The idea that Voldemort had been inside his head for his entire life had wreaked havoc with his sense of self. Becoming an Auror was slowly helping him to reclaim his own identity, and he needed it. But he needed her, too. These two things were so impossibly tied together. He couldn’t have confronted the torment he felt after learning that he’d harboured a piece of Voldemort’s soul without her, and he couldn’t have put himself back together again to find something that was just him without his job. They were irreparably tied together. It was messy and complicated — like every other part of his life always was.
Ginny reached over and laid one of her lovely, warm hands on top of his, squeezing it slightly. “I know, and I wouldn’t want you to. I’m sort of fond of you.”
“Just sort of?” he asked, daring to hope.
“Don’t push your luck.”
Harry grinned. “Who knows? You’ll be playing Quidditch professionally soon, and they have loads of accidents. Just last week a player crashed into the stands and got concussed. He didn’t even know who he was for a few days. Maybe it’ll soon be my turn to pace.”
“Yeah, but I’m not as clumsy as you,” she said.
“You’re prettier, too,” he blurted, then felt his face flush. He didn’t know what possessed him, but he felt filled to bursting with pleasure that she could accept him as he was — flaws and all. She was one of the only ones who knew how truly damaged he was.
“I love the gloves, Harry,” she said softly. He’d given her a pair of professional quality Quidditch gloves. Light-weight yet durable, and flexible enough to hold a wand if necessary. They looked ordinary, so no one was the wiser, although Harry suspected Charlie might have known how high-quality they were. He’d almost played for England, after all.
“You’ll be needing them soon,” he replied.
“I’ll be sure to use them to hang onto my broom tightly, then,” she said cheekily.
“Are we okay?” he asked, knowing they were but needing to hear it anyway.
“We’re better than okay, and now, since you’re on medical leave, I get you all to myself for the next few days,” Ginny replied, her eyes once again warm and full of mischief.
“Whatever will you do with me?” he asked.
“I’ll think of something.”
“Well, if you can’t, I can certainly think of something that will make me feel loads better,” he said, waggling his eyebrows.
“Really? I’ll take it under advisement. For now, you need a kip or you’ll never make it through this whole day.”
Harry’s eyes did feel droopy. He’d suddenly felt as if he’d worked a full day with the Dementors.
“Will you stay?” he asked sleepily.
“I’ll be right here when you wake,” she promised.
Dim sunlight finally broke out over the snow-covered ground as they took their places at the well-laden table in the early afternoon. Mrs. Weasley, her eyes red-rimmed and her voice falsely bright, announced that the food was ready. As they all sat down to eat, Harry noticed that Andromeda, too, was distant and distracted. She easily lost track of any conversation that Harry tried to engage her in. Despite the large number of people in tight quarters around the table, there were still three vast, gaping holes where Fred, Remus and Tonks should’ve been.
The Christmas cheer was strained and forced. Everyone attempted to move on and celebrate the season, yet somehow, the lives lost nearly seven months ago seemed ever-present. The wounds were fresh and raw once again, making the conversation brittle.
Teddy was the only bright spot. His innocent joy slowly but surely drew them all in as he awoke from his nap quite happy. He’d coloured his hair green like the Christmas tree, and he squealed with delight as he smashed his food. Even George attempted to sneak him icing from a cake during pudding, despite Andromeda’s strong attempts to keep him off sugar.
The meal was delicious as always, but Harry couldn’t help being glad when it was over. He supposed it would continue to get easier in years to come. Next year, Bill and Fleur’s new little one — for they’d finally made the announcement over dinner, although Andromeda was the only one truly surprised — would be with them, and he was certain more would follow. He supposed the sound of children’s laughter might be the one thing that could truly make The Burrow right again.
It was in this melancholy mood that he sat alone at the kitchen table well after the crowd had dispersed. Mrs. Weasley insisted that he spend another night at The Burrow where she could keep watch over his healing leg, and he didn’t have the heart to refuse her. He’d come down to take his evening potions, and was attempting to force them down. He turned as George entered the kitchen, spotting him at the table and pulling a small wrapped present from his pocket. Although he’d been hung over in the morning, George had managed to keep it together during the day. Harry suspected the need to be there for his parents helped George to cope with his own grief.
“I didn’t want to leave this one under the tree,” he said, handing the gift to Harry.
“What is it?” Harry asked warily.
“Open it and find out,” George answered, and Harry definitely didn’t like the devious twinkle in his eye.
This couldn’t be good. He didn’t want to open it, but he wouldn’t put it past George to make a scene if he didn’t. Checking to be certain they were alone, he quickly unwrapped the gift. His mouth dropped open as a box of Muggle Rubber Johnnys fell onto the table.
“In case you have trouble casting the Charms,” George said, smirking.
A gob-smacked Harry panicked when Mr. Weasley suddenly entered the kitchen, and he couldn’t conceal the box fast enough. He scrambled to keep it covered to no avail.
“What do you have there?” Mr. Weasley asked jovially. “Oh! I’ve had those.”
Both Harry and George’s heads swivelled to goggle at him, horrified.
Mr. Weasley didn’t notice their appalled gazes. “I found a box under the seat when I first brought the Ford Anglia home. They go in the motor, although I was never entirely certain over which part. I used to attach them to everything to see what worked best. Harry, maybe you could tell me?”
Harry was doing his utmost best to contain his laughter. He didn’t know what amused him more — the idea of Mr. Weasley randomly attaching Johnnys to the motor of his car, or the disturbed and slightly ill expression on George’s face. Apparently, the idea of his father having them at all had revolted George so thoroughly, he’d lost the ability to speak.
“Er… sorry, Mr. Weasley. Uncle Vernon never let me near his car, I think one of the girls who works in George’s shop drives one though, doesn’t she, George?” he asked, grinning.
George’s head snapped around, glaring at Harry.
“Why are you giving them to Harry, anyway, George? He doesn’t have a car,” Mr. Weasley asked, and now it was Harry’s turn to panic. He felt the colour draining from his face as George suddenly found his voice.
“I thought Harry could find a use for them. I know they help to keep a motor running,” George said boldly.
“Are you thinking of purchasing a car, Harry?” Mr. Weasley asked excitedly. “I can help. I know a lot about Muggle automobiles. It’s fascinating the way these Muggles have managed without magic.”
Harry stared at Mr. Weasley, unable to get his voice to work properly. He couldn’t find a way to get out of this bizarre conversation, and he was at risk of really getting into trouble here.
“What’s going on?” Charlie asked, entering the kitchen with Ron. He pulled some leftover baked stuffed apples and custard from the cold cupboard. He and Ron each took spoons and began eating directly from the bowl.
While they were all focused on the pudding, Harry surreptitiously cast a spell to erase all the wording on the box of Johnnys still in Mr. Weasley’s hands. He had no idea if the other brothers would know what they were. He always found it odd how little wizards knew about Muggles, even wizards like Mr. Weasley whose job it was to work with Muggle things.
“Harry’s thinking of getting a car,” George said unhelpfully, summoning his own spoon.
If Harry denied the claim, he’d have to further explain the Johnnys. He’d rather go out and purchase a damn car than have this conversation.
“Are you? What for?” Ron asked. “You’re not seriously going to take up your tosser of a cousin’s offer to go to dinner, are you?”
“What?” Harry asked, nonplussed.
“You have to get a license — and take a test,” Mr. Weasley said excitedly. “Oh, I’d love to come with you to see that.”
“You didn’t tell me you wanted a car,” Ron said, still staring at Harry.
“Oh, you could take Ginny for long rides. She always loved the car,” Arthur said enthusiastically.
Harry, who’d been finishing off the last of his water in order to avoid answering Ron, sprayed it all over the table, choking and unable to find his voice.
George beat him on the back, his shoulders shaking. “Hear that, Harry? Dad thinks Ginny would enjoy a ride in your car,” he said, his eyes sparkling with amused tears.
“What’s this?” Charlie asked, pulling the box from Mr. Weasley’s hands.
“George gave it to Harry for his car,” Mr. Weasley said while Harry froze on the spot waiting to see Charlie’s reaction. Charlie frowned and turned the box over, but Harry didn’t see any sign of recognition.
Ron was blatantly oblivious as he continued to battle Charlie for last remaining bits of custard, and Harry could only hope Hermione didn’t enter the kitchen. She’d certainly know, and he didn’t trust her acting skills to keep up the ruse.
“They’re really difficult to get on, but I found rolling them out works best. Here, I’ll show you,” Mr. Weasley said, moving to open the box.
“No!” Both Harry and George shouted at the same time.
“Er… my knee is feeling really sore, so I think I want to go to bed, actually,” Harry said, his voice an octave or two higher than normal. He took the box from Mr. Weasley and reached for his walking stick. Usually he wouldn’t want to draw attention to his injuries, but perhaps this one could work to his favour and get him out of this situation.
“Here,” George said, quickly handing the walking stick to him. As much as George was enjoying Harry’s discomfort, he obviously didn’t want to sit there and watch his dad demonstrate a Johnny, either.
As Harry shakily climbed the stairs, he thought this was the most bizarre Christmas he’d ever lived through.
A/N:My Brit-picker told me Rubber Johnnys or just Johnnys is how the Brits refer to condoms. I’d never heard the expression — but I learned something new!