Harry Potter sat in the kitchen of The Burrow, enjoying a rare moment of peace and quiet in the normally manic kitchen. The warm rays of sunshine that bathed the wall opposite him promised another day of deep blue skies. All the windows were already open, but no breeze disturbed the scraps of birthday wrapping paper that lay discarded around the kitchen. Everything pointed to an impossibly hot afternoon, where physical effort was best avoided, unless of course, it centred around the pond or involved screaming around on a broomstick.
It was not yet six o'clock but he had already had a busy morning. He started with his customary three mile run, followed by his martial arts exercises. He'd showered, changed and was preparing to put into action some of the decisions that he'd made over the last few weeks.
He'd enjoyed his time at The Burrow; finally free from the pressure of Voldemort and school, he'd allowed himself to celebrate life, to feel. But it was time to move on, and two pieces of parchment lay ready for the words that would set that process in motion.
Last night he'd celebrated his nineteenth birthday, a day that he hadn't always been sure of seeing. Harry wasn't used to birthday parties, as he had only had one before; it was a joint party with Ginny for his sixteenth and her fifteenth birthdays in the summer before his sixth year began.
He still remembered that party with fondness, even though it started with an almighty row with his co-celebrant. That argument was the start of his recovery from the events at the Ministry of Magic because she refused to let him wallow in his misery, pushing him until the dam had burst and then being there to help him through the aftermath.
That night he had smiled for the first time in weeks and they had kissed for the first time too. It wasn't a long kiss, or even a deep kiss, but Harry knew that it had meant more to him than anything he had shared with Cho Chang.
As the summer wore on they became inseparable, but it was hard to call them boyfriend and girlfriend. Yes, they were close, very close, and Harry knew that if he had asked she would have given anything he wanted, but he was happy with their friendship. Yes, they did kiss and yes, he did look at her sometimes with a passion she found frightening, but he always drew back from letting go of his reserve.
Some would've described their relationship as platonic, but as the year progressed and the war claimed more and more lives, their friendship deepened. One day when she was pushed by Hermione, Ginny would describe what they had as 'more intimate than lovers'.
Their friends at school were convinced that they were exactly that, as they would walk everywhere hand in hand and spend their nights wrapped in each other's arms. But times were dark and what passion they had for each other was subjugated by the needs of the war and Harry's preparations to face Voldemort.
She was there in his darkest days and lowest moments, sometimes dragging him kicking and screaming from the depression and pain. She was there when he ended it all, when the Dark Lord fell and Harry nearly died.
Last night he had smiled and laughed with his friends and family. He had danced with her, kissed her and held her tightly. Enjoyable though the evening was and as much as he enjoyed his presents, his best present had arrived by owl post just as the celebrations were getting underway.
In front of him on the kitchen table lay the letter that Hedwig had brought him yesterday; it was from St Mungo's confirming that he was released from their care and was now now n able to get on with his life.
Dear Mr Potter,
We are pleased to confirm that following yesterday's extensive tests, you are now fully healed of your injuries. We can confirm that after following the prescribed physical fitness regime, you are now fit enough to pursue any occupation that you so chose but we do ask that you return to us in six months for a routine check-up.
St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies
His rehabilitation had lasted nearly a year following the defeat of Lord Voldemort. The healing process had been long and painful as he struggled to overcome the effects of that final battle.
He had been found unconscious on the battlefield and as the Wizarding world celebrated its freedom, its hero had spent the first month after the battle in a coma, receiving twenty-four-hour treatment from the healers at St Mungo's. The healers struggled to help him overcome the physical and magical exhaustion of his body. Eventually, his condition stabilised, but he still needed a lot of care. One day he had opened his eyes and found himself staring at a pair of red-rimmed, careworn eyes that could have only belonged to one person.
"Hi, Harry," she said, as a tired smile slowly worked its way across her worried face. A solitary tear betrayed her true feelings as she leaned forward and kissed him gently.
"Hi," he managed weakly. He struggled to keep his eyes open, but try as he might they began to flutter and he slipped away once more, not into unconsciousness, but into a deep, healing sleep.
He had awoken two days later to find the same pair of eyes meeting his sleepy gaze, but this time he was relieved to see that they were less agitated and more at peace.
"Hi, feeling better?"
"A bit, although I wouldn't recommend it to anyone."
"It's good to hear to your voice. We were all very worried about you, but you're back with us now and they tell us it's only a matter of time until you're well enough to be let out of here."
"Were you worried about me?" Harry said, looking at her pointedly.
"Yes, Harry, we were all worried about you."
She could hear the disappointment in his voice. Leaning over to kiss him on his forehead, she was pleased to see that his scar was no longer raw and angry. Instead, it had faded to a healthy pink, showing that it, too, had begun to heal.
"Yes, Harry," she smiled before brushing his scar with a light kiss, "I was worried about you. Now get some sleep or you'll get me into trouble." He could sense no malice in her voice, only concern, and with a half-formed smile on his face he allowed himself to be reclaimed by sleep.
When he next awoke, he found her sitting beside his bed, reading a Charms textbook.
"Are we in the Hospital Wing?" he asked, confused. In truth, he didn't know whether it was breakfast or Christmas, let alone where he was.
She smiled at him.
"No, Harry, we're in St Mungo's. Why did you think we were at Hogwarts?"
"Well, you're reading a Charms textbook and I thought… well …" His confusion got the better of him but Ginny came to his rescue.
"Well, in case you didn't notice, Mr Potter, some of us have got exams to take this year and with Hogwarts being so badly damaged, I'm taking some lessons at home from Remus, some at Stonehenge Uni and some, well, I've had some Potions lessons whilst I've been here."
Harry looked at her quizzically.
"How did you get the staff here to give you Potions lessons, Gin? That's almost as good as getting them from Snape. I mean he was a complete berk but he knew his onions." Snape: Harry had never thought he would miss the old bugger, but he did. Just one more person who died because of Tom Bloody Riddle.
"Well, Harry, when it became known that I was a close personal friend of 'The-Boy-Who-Kicked-Tom's-Arse', I found out that I could ask for the moon and get it." She smiled. "After all I've put up with from you for the last few years, it was about time I got some payback." She kissed him softly on his cheek and returned to her reading.
As much as he wanted to stay awake and talk to her, Harry found his eyelids closing and he fell into a deep sleep once again.
He smiled to himself and touched the spot on his cheek where she'd kissed him. Ah well, he thought to himself, no point in dwelling on the past, it's time to get on with my future.
He wrote his two letters quickly before going to find Hedwig. Attaching the letters to her leg, he stroked her soft, white feathers.
"Hurry back, girl. If things go according to plan, then there will be a lot more to send out soon."
He watched her fly out of the window, happy with the choices he'd made and started to prepare breakfast for the inhabitants of The Burrow.
One by one, the sleepy redheads made their way downstairs. Mr and Mrs Weasley were the first to emerge, looking tired but happy. They stopped on the last step to kiss each other. This wasn't the polite kiss expected of a middle-aged couple. No, this kiss was long and deep. It spoke of a passion as fiery as their hair, one that neither age nor war had managed to quench.
Harry chuckled to himself. It was obvious from the way they were carrying on that they were completely unaware he was in the same room as them. A younger Harry would have found this display of overt affection uncomfortable, even distasteful. Now however, he found himself wondering if he and his future wife would still be as in love when they reached Molly and Arthur's age.
Time to have some fun, thought Harry.
Affecting his best Mrs Weasley stance, he shouted out, "Molly Weasley! Put him down, you don't know where he's been."
Harry laughed as they jumped apart looking like two guilty teenagers. He was pleased to see that their faces had turned a satisfying shade of red. But, as befitted a politician, Mr Weasley recovered quickly from their faux pas.
"Alas, we are undone," he declared. He flung his arm across his brow reminding Harry of an actor in a Victorian melodrama.
The blush was replaced by a smirk more at home on the twins' faces and a twinkle in his eye showed that Arthur Weasley had accepted Harry's challenge.
"The famous Harry Potter hath discovered us fair maiden and I fear that we must run for our lives!"
"Arthur!" Molly Weasley batted her husband on the arm, "Try and act your age for once and not your shoe size. Now Harry, what are you doing up so early making us all breakfast, you shouldn't be doing that … and you!" she turned round and glared at her husband, "… shouldn't be doing that …" and then she whispered so Harry could barely hear, "… at least not in front of anyone else."
Harry laughed out loud, causing Molly to blush once more and Arthur to continue clowning around, grinning like a Cheshire cat. Yes, thought Harry, I hope that my marriage will be as strong as theirs when I'm their age.
One by one the rest of the family emerged and gratefully tucked in to the big breakfast that Harry had prepared, despite the Weasley Matriarch's protestations.
After breakfast, he made his excuses and set off for Diagon Alley to put the next stage of his plan into action.
Ten days later, at Ginny's birthday, Harry found himself under the lights in The Burrow's garden, dancing contentedly in the arms of the girl who'd been his constant companion since the summer before his sixth year. He knew that he couldn't say that they'd been boyfriend and girlfriend in the traditional sense, but he knew that he'd never had a closer friend in his life.
The days when Harry had tried to understand their relationship were long gone. All he knew was that he needed her. But was that enough for the long term? Could Ginny be the one for him? After all, the war was over and things were very different now. The certainty he had had when they were fighting Voldemort was gone.
He pushed his doubts to the back of his mind and focused instead on how good she felt in his arms. He was content at least for the moment, to be with her.
Ginny, too, found that she was happy to be in Harry's arms, to feel his body close to hers, to be able to feel his chest rise and fall as she lost herself in his embrace.
She'd enjoyed her party and had loved the butterfly bracelet he'd given her, but she knew from the look in Harry's eye that something was troubling him and that he was trying to hide that something from her.
When she'd asked him about it he'd smiled, shrugged and told her it was nothing. She'd let him off because she had an idea what it was he was trying to hide from her.
Well, she thought, he's back, he's fit, he's well, and who knows what he wants to do.
She wasn't certain that he'd want to stick around now that he was better, now that Tom was gone for good. He was Harry Potter; the most powerful wizard alive, conqueror of Lord Voldemort, wealthy and handsome. Why would he want a red-haired tomboy who was more stubborn than he was? She knew she wasn't unattractive but she didn't have the curves that other women had, and she was sure that once Harry realised he could have the pick of any number of women, she would be a distant memory. Certainly the younger mediwitches at St Mungo's hadn't wasted their time in letting him know how they'd like to help in his recovery.
The song finished and they stood still, holding one another as if unwilling for this moment to end. Finally they parted and looked into each other's eyes. Yes, thought Harry, things need to change between us; I can't carry on like before, I must look to the future.
"Ginny?" He asked her softly, not taking his eyes off her.
She looked away, unnerved by the intensity of his gaze. She cleared her throat, trying to control her emotions. She returned his gaze, trying but failing to match its strength.
His gaze was steady, but Ginny could see the pent-up emotion raging there.
"Do you want to have lunch with me tomorrow?" His voice faltered as his emotions struggled to break free. "There's something that I need to talk to you about."
Oh, here it comes, she thought, he's going to take me out to lunch to do it. Typical Harry, she mused, chivalrous to the end. In truth, he was breaking her heart.
Managing to hide her tears from him, she reached up and gently stroked his chin.
"Yes, Harry, I'd love to."
She longed to draw him into a deep kiss and to feel his body close to hers. To enjoy the fact that Harry was hers one last time. Before he left, before he broke her heart, before she cried.
"Great," he said nervously. She was pleased that her touch had not left him unaffected.
Perhaps there is still hope, she thought.
"See you at the twins' shop at noon?"
She wanted to say 'No' and be the strong woman she had schooled herself to be, but she couldn't. Not with him. Not now.
She smiled sweetly at him. "I'll be there, Harry." Just like I always am.
He let out the breath he'd unwittingly been holding.
He leaned forward and landed a single chaste kiss on her lips.
"Goodnight," he breathed.
"Goodnight," she echoed and slipped away, heading inside to the sanctuary of her bedroom.
A/N Thanks to Elsielann and Natbag for the pre-beta work on this and to Sarah my PS beta.