Disclaimer: I own nothing; it all belongs to J.K.Rowling. I'm just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
No Place Like Home
Harry zipped up his overstuffed backpack and took one final look around his dormitory to make certain he hadn't forgotten anything. He was the last one still remaining in the sixth year boys' dorm; the others had all departed to catch the Hogwarts Express home for the holidays earlier that day. Harry smiled fondly at the room that he'd slept in for the past six years. He was about to depart for the Burrow for a proper family Christmas.
Up until a few days ago, he'd planned on spending Christmas here at Hogwarts. He'd even signed the list Professor McGonagall passed around for the names of students who'd be remaining in the castle. He'd always spent Christmas here in the past, except for last year…but Harry was doing his best NOT to think about last year. Originally, the plan last year had been for him to spend his first family Christmas at the Burrow, but things changed…Voldemort caused things to change. He'd ended up spending the holiday at Grimmauld Place…with Sirius.
Harry was bound and determined not to spend another Christmas in that hateful house. He was determined never to set foot in that place again as long as he lived. He'd been terrified over the summer that Dumbledore would try and send him there after spending his required time at the Dursleys', but it had never happened. Instead, just a few weeks after he'd arrived on Privet Drive, he'd received an owl announcing the upcoming marriage of Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour.
Harry left the loneliness and isolation of Privet Drive for the much more pleasant surroundings of Spinner's End, a sprawling estate in Yorkshire owned by Fleur's family. They'd presented the land to the young couple as a wedding gift, and they'd decided to hold their marriage ceremony there. Harry joined the rest of the Weasleys for the harried planning of the event. The excitement and business of planning the wedding had done wonders for Harry's mood, and he even found that he enjoyed himself on occasion. He'd stood up for Bill right along with the other Weasley brothers and even danced with Ginny when the attendants were matched up.
So, he'd managed to avoid returning to Grimmauld Place at all, but he feared the Burrow would be too exposed for him to go and stay over Christmas, so he declined the invitation. He reckoned that Professor Dumbledore would have suggested they move the festivities to Grimmauld Place, and he wanted to avoid that. Ron offered to stay with him, but they'd both received owls from Mrs. Weasley informing them that their decision was unacceptable, and they'd both be expected at the Burrow. She wrote that in times of war, families needed to appreciate one another and take any chance they could to get together.
Harry had never been scolded outright by Mrs. Weasley before, and he found himself actually sitting up straighter in his seat as he read her words. She said that if he didn't come to the Burrow, the entire Weasley clan would be arriving at Hogwarts to spend the holiday there with him. Harry was extremely touched by her devotion and almost took her up on that offer, but he didn't want to deny the rest of the Weasleys their time at the Burrow.
When Professor Dumbledore approached him, he assured Harry that it would be perfectly safe for Harry to spend the holidays at the Burrow. He told him to keep his name on the list of students staying, and he also asked for several locks of Harry's hair. Harry didn't say anything, but he suspected his headmaster was using Polyjuice to masquerade someone else around the castle as him. He amused himself with thoughts of Snape being forced to parade as Harry Potter at the Hogwarts Christmas Feast. Professor Dumbledore had arranged for Harry to Floo to the Burrow after the train had arrived in London.
When the time finally arrived, he slung his backpack over his shoulder and made his way up to Professor Dumbledore's office.
"Candy cane," he said to the stone gargoyle, which sprang aside, revealing the moving staircase.
"Ahh, Harry, I have been expecting you," Professor Dumbledore said as Harry entered the office. "Are you all packed, then? I always feel I am forgetting something when I pack to go away."
Harry smiled tightly; his relationship with the aged headmaster was better than it had been, but was still strained. "I'm ready, sir."
"Very well. I hope you have some fun and enjoy yourself. Happy Christmas, Harry," Professor Dumbledore said, nodding his head towards the fireplace.
"Happy Christmas, sir," Harry replied, before stepping into the green flames and calling out, "the Burrow."
Harry stumbled from the fireplace and grasped the edge of the worn wooden table to keep himself from sprawling on the floor. He was instantly assailed with all the wonderful sounds and smells of the Burrow, a place that had always felt like home. He looked around in wonder at the frost-covered windows that were decorated with pine and fairy lights. Christmas carols were playing on the wireless, spreading a warm feeling of holiday cheer in Harry's chest. He'd never been here in the winter before and felt he should have suspected how drafty it would be.
"Harry!" Mrs. Weasley exclaimed, rushing towards him and pulling him into a fierce embrace. He was certain he'd felt the crack of several ribs before she finally let him go. "How are you, dear? I'm so happy you decided to join us."
"As if you left me any choice," he said, grinning wryly.
"Well, of course not, dear. Christmas is a time for family; I knew you'd realize that," she said, patting him on the head like a wayward child.
"Hi, Harry," Ron said. He was sitting at the table with Ginny, staring forlornly at the empty serving dishes while his mother continued cooking the meal.
"Hi, Ron. Hi, Ginny. How was the train ride back?" Harry asked, allowing Mrs. Weasley to usher him over to a seat at the table.
"Not bad," Ginny said. "Malfoy knew you weren't with us, so he didn't even stop in for his ritual torment, therefore we had no one to hex. Kind of took the fun out of it, actually." Ginny's forehead crinkled as she frowned.
"Hermione's parents picked her up at the station, but she's going to spend Christmas Eve here at the Burrow with us," Ron said, his ears turning slightly red at the look Ginny was giving him.
"Won't that be so nice, to all be together on Christmas Eve? Maybe we could do it again on New Year's Eve, so at midnight—"
"Shut it, Ginny," Ron said.
Harry hid his smirk behind a glass of pumpkin juice. Ginny had been teasing Ron about Hermione since the start of term, and her implications were growing more and more blatant. Harry didn't understand how Ron thought no one else knew what she was talking about – everyone in Gryffindor was taking bets on how long it would take Ron to make his move.
Ginny got up and began to help her mother load the dinner onto the table. Harry watched her surreptitiously while continuing his conversation with Ron. She moved with a feline grace that was utterly feminine, and he couldn't help but be fascinated by her. He'd spent a lot of time with Ginny over the summer while they'd prepared for Bill's wedding, and she'd proven to be a good friend. She was the one who'd finally got him to open up about his feelings on the loss of Sirius. Ron and Hermione had been afraid to set him off, but Ginny just talked openly until, one day, Harry began talking back.
She'd been seeing Dean Thomas at the beginning of the year, but it seemed to fizzle quickly after the return to school. Even then, Harry had to admit he was happy to see that relationship fall apart, although at the time, he still wasn't willing to admit the reason why. During the school year, whenever Harry had felt the pressure getting to him or felt the need to take a break, it had been Ginny's company he'd seek. Watching as she struggled to lift a heavy tray laden with a variety of condiments, Harry jumped from his seat and rushed to her side to alleviate her burden. She was a tiny thing, and the tray weighed nearly as much as she did.
"Thanks, Harry," she said, offering a brilliant smile. "I almost lost it there."
Harry froze, lost in the beauty of that smile. He felt the now familiar fluttering in his stomach and found he couldn't move, not wanting to do anything to make her move away or stop smiling. Of course, just the fact that he was standing still in the middle of the kitchen caused Ginny's smile to dip. "Are you all right, Harry?"
Harry shook himself out of his stupor. "Er, yeah, sorry," he said, laying the tray on the table and trying to hide his reddening cheeks. Butterflies and Ginny went hand in hand these days. Harry knew how ironic it was that he was now crushing on the same girl that used to put her elbow in the butter dish when he was near her. Thinking about that again, Harry carefully laid the butter dish at the opposite end of the table from where he would be sitting. He used to feel that fluttering in his stomach when Cho Chang was around, but he knew now that had been nothing but an annoying bunch of moths in comparison to the full symphony of colorful butterflies that inhabited his abdomen whenever Ginny Weasley entered a room. Snap out of it, Potter, you blew your chance. She got over you a long time ago.
He found it ironic that his hormones had suddenly decided to kick into full gear just as his life took a decidedly un-romantic turn. He was trying to focus on his training and his destiny, attempting to find a way to ensure his own survival. At the same time, the least little movement from the female population of Hogwarts distracted him instantly – particularly the only female member of the family that had taken him in as one of their own.
He didn't have time for these kinds of thoughts right now. He couldn't get anyone else involved in his mess – especially not a Weasley. Maybe one day, if he managed to survive, he'd have time to find a girlfriend of his own. He couldn't ask Ginny to wait until then, and he didn't want to mess up his friendship with Ron by doing so, anyway. Ron and Dean still weren't back to normal since the failed relationship between Ginny and Dean. Besides, Ron had made it abundantly clear that he didn't think Dean was right for Ginny. Harry suspected Ron had someone else already in mind that he'd like to see end up with Ginny, although he had no idea who this person was, since Ron had never said outright.
Harry continued to help Ginny set the table, straining to pick up the slight aroma of cinnamon whenever they'd pass one another. Merlin, why did she have to smell so good all the time? It was bloody distracting.
Charlie and the twins came downstairs to join them as Mrs. Weasley began serving the dinner. Mr. Weasley returned from work just as they were all sitting down to enjoy the meal. As Harry ate the delicious feast, he tried to keep up with the various conversations going on around him, but he was more fascinated by the way the candlelight flickering on the table picked up the golden strands in Ginny's fiery red hair. She was sitting across from him and the red and gold colors reminded Harry of Gryffindor. He wondered if the Sorting Hat had thought the same thing when it was placed on Ginny's head.
"…Harry!" Mr. Weasley's raised voice brought Harry out of his reverie.
"Huh? Oh, pardon, Mr. Weasley, what did you say?" Harry asked, his cheeks flushing once again.
Mr. Weasley smiled a strange, knowing sort of smile that made Harry distinctly uncomfortable. "I asked if you'd heard from the Dursleys this Christmas," Mr. Weasley repeated kindly.
"Yeah," Harry responded with a perplexed frown. "Bit surprising, actually; they sent me a real Christmas card with a book this year." It was a handbook on fishing, something Harry had never done, but a real gift, nonetheless. It had completely thrown him off-guard.
"Ah, very good," Mr. Weasley said with yet another secretive smile. Suddenly, the pieces clicked into place for Harry, and that fishing handbook took on a much deeper meaning. He smiled warmly at Mr. Weasley, who casually winked back.
Harry turned back to his dinner and was startled to find two identical pairs of eyes studying him with mischievous intent. Fred quirked his eyebrow at Harry, while George did the same, looking at Ginny. Harry gulped – they were onto him.
"So, Ron," he said desperately, "when is Hermione arriving?"
Ron's ears went red, and the twins were easily sidetracked with another target. Harry felt bad about setting Ron up, but he'd panicked. Besides, it was time for Ron to make a move. This situation with Hermione was getting ridiculous.
"Yeah, Ronniekins," Fred (or maybe George) said. "When is Hermione getting here? Where do you suppose we ought to hang the mistletoe, hmm, Ron?"
"Sod off," Ron grumbled, fixing his eyes firmly on the huge mound of food in front of him.
"You don't know what you're in for, Harry," Ginny whispered conspiratorially from across the table, and Harry couldn't help but think how impish her smile looked. "This is the first night we're all home, so it's decoration night. Mum will drag out all the old family decorations and put us all to work arranging them. Watch Mum; she's funny. She pretends to let you think it's your decision on where things should go, but she follows behind you, putting everything in its proper place. So, in the long run, nothing ever changes. The twins try every year to befuddle her, but Mum always catches on. Can't mess with tradition, you know?"
Harry didn't know, exactly. He had never really participated in any holiday traditions. The Dursleys had some of their own traditions, but he'd always been excluded, so he never paid much attention. He vaguely wondered what traditions his own parents would have followed if they had they lived. Despite the warning, he was looking forward to decorating with the Weasleys. He couldn't miss the huge blob of a tree they'd put in the corner of the den. The top had to be cut down a bit to make room for the angel, so the tree looked more wide and square-like than tree-shaped. It suited the Weasleys, however, and Harry thought it was perfect.
Mrs. Weasley waved her wand, and the dishes levitated over to the sink. She placed a wide variety of puddings on the table.
"What's this?" Harry asked, looking at an oddly colored pie of some sort.
"An American dish called pumpkin pie. Mum got the recipe from Witch Weekly," Ginny answered, wrinkling her nose and instead choosing some chocolate truffle."
"Never heard of it," Harry said.
Ron eagerly took a bite, but spit it right back out in his napkin. "That's disgusting."
Harry disposed of his pie more discreetly, but had to agree with his friend; it really was unappealing. It was first time in his memory that Ron had not liked a pudding. Usually, he just ate whatever was in front of him without even noticing what it was he was eating. Both boys loaded up on the chocolate. Much better, Harry thought.
When dinner was complete, Mrs. Weasley set the dishes to washing themselves, and they all moved into the den to begin decorating. Harry was fascinated, looking at all the homemade ornaments and decorations – drawing after drawing of candy canes and Father Christmas hats, clay statues (Harry couldn't really make out what they were supposed to be), dolls made of yarn, countdown calendars, and paper filled the boxes. Harry could easily spot anything Ron made, because it always had a Chudley Cannons logo on it.
He picked up what looked like an ugly rag doll reindeer and studied it intently. It was brown and lumpy and missing one antler.
"Mr. Rudolph!" Ginny yelped, yanking the doll from his hands.
Harry raised one eyebrow and asked, "Mr. Rudolph?"
Ginny narrowed her eyes. "Don't you dare make fun of Mr. Rudolph, Harry. I made him with Mum when I was five, and I've always been very proud of him."
"Yes," said Harry, biting on the insides if his cheeks to keep from laughing. "I can see you're very…talented."
Ginny placed her hands on her hips, still with Mr. Rudolph clutched in one of them, and stalked towards him. Harry took several steps backwards, merriment dancing in his eyes. "Watch it, Harry, or I'll suggest to Mum that we need some crafts you made as part of the decorations. Don't think she won't sit you right down with some felt and a sticking charm."
"What does Mr. Rudolph do, exactly?" Harry asked, noticing the twinkle of mischief in Ginny's expression. He really hoped she wouldn't really get Mrs. Weasley to make him do arts and crafts.
"He sits on the back of the couch and makes everyone happy," Ginny replied primly. "You're happy right now; I can see it. See, he works." She promptly sat Mr. Rudolph on his perch.
Harry had to admit that she was right. Somehow, he didn't think it had anything to do with Mr. Rudolph, however. He continued to help them decorate, laughing at some of the decorations that went on the tree. There was an old, worn bride and groom doll with the names 'Molly' and 'Arthur' scratched on them in faded ink, several little dragons, and a fairy princess crown. Harry supposed there was a story behind each one, and wouldn't have minded listening to all of them for the rest of the night. He caught Mrs. Weasley wiping tears from her eyes as she pulled several from the box.
Fred eyed the tree critically. "I think we're lopsided. There are -"
"- more decorations on that side than on that side." George finished the sentence for him. Harry didn't know what they were talking about; the tree seemed perfectly in balance to him.
"Then why don't you two fix it?" Mrs. Weasley said, not rising to the bait.
Fred and George seemed to deflate a bit.
"I didn't bother hanging the mistletoe," George sighed. "Since the only two women in the house are my mother and my sister, what was the point?'
"Well, if the rest of you lot would stop playing the field and settle down like your brother Bill, there would be some girls here for you to kiss," Mrs. Weasley said tartly. "It's time all you boys got married and started making me some grandbabies."
Charlie, Fred, and George all quickly found something else to do in the kitchen.
Harry noticed a small, white wire and fabric tree covered with tiny little bells sitting on an end table.
"That's a wishing tree," Ginny said from behind him. Her breath brushed his ear, sending tingles up his spine. "Make your wish, then shake the tree until the bells ring."
Harry didn't usually allow himself the luxury of thinking about his future, but just this once, just for Christmas… He closed his eyes and made a wish for a home of his own like this one day. A house with a warm fire and a big Christmas tree decorated with dozens of homemade ornaments designed by his own children. Ornaments that each told a story, and he would know each one by heart. He tried to ignore the fact that a lot of those children in his head had the Weasley red hair.
"Did you make a wish?" Ginny asked.
"Yeah," Harry whispered, hoping she wouldn't ask what his wish was.
"Good. I hope it comes true for you, Harry," she said softly.
As the hour grew late, there were just a few scattered decorations left to be hung or put in place. Charlie and Ron had long since lost interest and had settled down at the chessboard for a serious match.
Fred and George decided it was time to head home and opened the back door. The wards around the Burrow allowed Apparation only from a designated area outside.
"Hey! It's snowing. It's been snowing for quite a while by the look of it," one of the twins called back inside.
"Oh, no," cried Mrs. Weasley. "I haven't collected the eggs for breakfast. Ginny, will you and Harry run out to the hen house quickly and bring some in for the morning, dear?"
Harry and Ginny bundled up into their boots and winter cloaks and stepped outside. Ginny went back inside to grab the egg basket, and Harry waited for her on the porch. He took a moment to look around at the calm stillness of the freshly fallen snow. The forest around the Weasley house looked breathtaking with the snow encasing the pines. The pristine whiteness glistened in the moonlight. Ginny stopped beside him and gasped, "Oh, Harry, isn't it beautiful?"
Harry looked over at her and watched Ginny inhale deeply. It was cold enough to see her breath, and her cheeks were already tinged pink from the frosty air. "Beautiful," he whispered.
Ginny's eyes flew open in surprise, and, as she ducked her head, he thought he detected the familiar stain of red from those long-ago blushes. He'd never realized how much he missed them until now. She ran down the steps and began twirling in the snow. Several centimeters had fallen already, and they sank into it up to their ankles. Harry couldn't help but be exhilarated by the snow himself and joined Ginny in trying to catch snowflakes on his tongue.
When they reached the hen house, Ginny caught Harry's arm and stopped him from entering. "Wait a minute, Harry. I have something for you," she said, pulling a small package from her pocket.
"It's still two days until Christmas, Ginny. I can wait until then," Harry said, laughing, his heart feeling very warm despite the chill.
"It's not a Christmas present…it's…oh, just open it, and you'll see," Ginny said.
Something about her tone intrigued him, and he gingerly took the present. He unwrapped it quickly to find a small tree ornament in the shape of shaggy, black dog. Harry felt a knot form in his throat.
"I know it's not what you really want, but it was the only way I could think of to have him here with you this Christmas. I thought you might like to hang your own ornament on the tree," she said quietly. Her eyes searched his face nervously.
"It's brilliant," Harry said sincerely. "Thank you, Ginny, not only for the gift, but for the thought behind it."
Ginny smiled and touched his arm briefly. "I know this Christmas is probably hard for you, but I'm certain he'd want you to enjoy it."
Harry nodded, not trusting his voice to speak. Ginny stood very close to him, and he marveled at her tiny size. Harry would never be called tall, but next to Ginny, he felt…he wasn't certain what it was he felt, just that they fit together.
Ginny looked up and caught him staring at her. Her eyes blinked for a moment before lowering her lashes. He put a finger under her chin and raised her face back up to meet his owns. Steeling his Gryffindor courage, he leaned over and gently brushed her lips with his own. Ginny started for a moment before relaxing into the kiss. Harry wrapped his arms around her and pulled her body close to his own.
The kiss was brilliant. It was like always having seen in black and white and having his world fill with color in an instant. He could feel the blood pulsing in his veins as his heart beat a furious rhythm within his chest.
Ginny pulled back suddenly, gasping for breath and staring at him with wary eyes. It was not the look he'd hoped to see on her face, and his heart clenched painfully as the snow fell around him.
"What was that, Harry?" Ginny asked, biting her lip. He thought he saw the beginning of tears in her eyes, and he began to panic.
"I'm sorry, Ginny. I didn't mean to upset you…I just…I thought…I'm sorry," he said miserably.
"Harry, I've waited a long time for you to kiss me like that," Ginny said, her voice tightly controlled, "but if you think you can just do that, without it meaning as much to you as it does to me…I can't do that."
Harry blinked rapidly. She'd just admitted that the kiss meant something to her. Despite all this time, she still had feelings for him, and she was brave enough to admit it. It was time for him to be brave, as well, and risk sharing his feelings. "It did mean something to me, Ginny. You mean something to me. I know I've bollixed this up royally, but if you'd be willing to give me a chance…I'd like to try and make it up to you. I'm really not very good at any of this…but I'd like to try…with you…er…if you want."
Ginny studied him intently for a few minutes more, and he fought the urge to shift from foot to foot in his nervousness. A shy, tentative smile formed on her lips. "I can't believe this is really happening."
Harry brushed away some of the snowflakes that had collected on her eyelashes. "Neither can I, but I…I'd like to kiss you again…if…if you want to."
"I want to," she said, breathing deeply and flinging her body towards his. Harry's eyes opened wide in astonishment before he surrendered himself to the passion of the kiss. It was a long time before they finally remembered to collect the eggs.
As they walked back to the Burrow hand-in-hand, they cast shy looks at one another. They weren't able to wipe the silly grins from their faces, and neither particularly wanted to, anyway. When they went inside, Ginny froze in her tracks, staring at the ceiling. Harry followed her gaze to find that Mrs. Weasley had hung the mistletoe over the kitchen door. She must have forgotten he and Ginny were still outside.
Harry grinned. "What was that thing you said about not being able to break Christmas traditions?" he asked with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
Ginny returned the grin slyly. "It just wouldn't be right," she said as she melted into his arms once again. The Wireless was still playing Christmas carols and Harry heard the familiar strains of a song as he stood in the dark, kissing Ginny beneath the mistletoe:
"There's no place like home for the holidays
No matter how far away you roam
If you long for the comfort of a friendly face
For the holidays you can't beat home sweet home."
A warm, safe, happy feeling filled Harry's heart. This was what Christmas was meant to be. He was home for the holidays.
A/N: Okay, I know the last CotD chapter was highly angst-ridden, so it put me in the mood for some Christmas cheer, and this was the result. I put on the Christmas carols and tried to think warm, fuzzy, fluffy thoughts, hope you enjoyed. My friend Myth of MythandLegend fame told me that Christmas does something to warm up us angst writers, lol.
Thanks to Mistral for taking the time out of her busy holiday schedule to get this done in time. Thank you! She also gets the credit for the pumpkin pie reference, since she explained the whole significance of that to me recently. I know, I know, my head must have been stuck in the sand. Suddenly, so many other fics with pumpkin pie references make sense to me, lol!