Ginny held her husband's hand tightly, hiding her face in her woollen scarf to escape the chill of the snow-heavy air. She was being jostled from every direction, people rudely clipping her shoulder and moving on without another word.
She had to admit that she found shopping for Christmas presents in a Muggle town centre a little frightening.
Harry was in his element, tugging her along with him through the crowds, seemingly unfazed by the crush of humanity around them. Ginny knew he revelled in the fact that nobody – other than women of a certain age – paid him the slightest bit of notice in the Muggle world. He was just a young man with untameable black hair and gorgeous eyes, and if he got noticed for his appearance, he didn't seem to care. What bothered him was being noticed for who he was and what he'd done.
'Why do we have to go to Argus, Harry? Can't we get tree lights in the village?' Ginny turned her body in towards Harry's, her free hand wrapping around his arm.
'Argos,' Harry corrected, absently. 'And no, they don't have Muggle fairy lights in the village, not the ones I - we want, anyway.' He squeezed her hand. 'Thank you for coming with me.'
Ginny glared at the woman that had just bashed her with a bag, then grinned at Harry. 'My pleasure. Though it's getting harder and harder not to hex anyone that bumps into me.'
He returned the grin and pulled her out of the flow of people to stand by a shopfront. 'Please try not to. I've only been an Auror for six months, and I'd hate to lose my job because I didn't stop my wife bat-bogeying a bunch of Muggles.' He dropped her hands, only to slide his own up to cradle her face. 'Would a kiss cheer you up?'
Ginny pressed her lips to his in answer, tangling a hand in Harry's hair. The kiss was short but incredibly sweet, and she wrapped her arms around his waist and let her head rest on his shoulder. Harry's arms enfolded her and they stood in one another's embrace for several long minutes, warm, happy and content.
'Harry?' a gruff voice exclaimed.
Startled, Ginny looked up from Harry's chest and heard him gasp.
A tall, broad man was standing there staring at them in disbelief, his dark blond hair dusted with snow. His little piggy eyes were wide open in shock, though they were so squinty it was hard to actually tell. 'It is you.'
Harry's mouth was opening and closing, but he didn't seem to be able to get any words out, so Ginny decided to speak for him.
'Who are you?'
The man looked briefly at the floor, shamefaced. 'Dudley Dursely,' he admitted, rather sheepishly. 'Harry is my …'
'Cousin. Yes, I know. Not that you ever really acknowledged him as such.' She gave Dursley what Harry called her "death stare", and was inordinately pleased to see him blush. 'What do you want?'
'Ginny,' Harry said, softly. 'It's alright, honest.' He gave her the little smile that meant he was nervous and upset, and turned to face his cousin. 'Long time, no see, Dudley. How have you been?'
Dudley shrugged. 'Oh, you know. Working.' He shoved his hands into his pockets, the very picture of awkwardness, and then started talking in a sudden spurt of words. 'Listen, I'm sorry. I know Mum and Dad treated you like crap. I treated you like crap. I don't blame you for hating us, I ….'
'I don't hate any of you, Dudley. I can't say I like your mum and dad all that much, but I don't hate them. And you were just a kid.' It was Harry's turn to shrug. 'You acted the way Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon expected you to. It was all you knew.'
Dudley actually rocked backwards, looking physically stunned. 'I … uh … I thought …' He visibly pulled himself together. 'You're a better man than me. I don't think I could feel that way.' He looked at the floor again, flushing crimson. 'D'you … I mean, do you want to go and get a pint, or something?'
'Gin?' Harry raised his eyebrows at her.
She nodded, taking his hand. 'I could do with a drink, actually.'
'Uh – OK, then. There's a place 'round the corner that's pretty quiet, if that's alright?' At Harry and Ginny's nods, he led them down an alleyway and into a little pub that was almost completely empty.
As they settled into a booth, Dudley remained standing. 'Well, what can I get you, um, Ginny, is it?'
Ginny looked desperately at Harry for help. She had no clue about Muggle drinks, and it was unlikely that a Muggle pub would have pumpkin juice.
'Orange juice for both of us, please, Dudley, that'd be great.' Harry started unwinding his scarf from around his neck. 'Thanks.'
'No problem.' Dudley headed for the bar, a surprising amount of grace in his step, considering his large frame.
'He's the last person I expected to run into today,' Harry said, thoughtfully. 'He's … different. Grown up a bit.'
'About bloody time, if you ask me,' Ginny huffed, as Dudley returned with three glasses full of juice. She couldn't help but resent the man – he'd helped to make Harry's early years loveless, and she didn't care that he'd apparently had a change of heart when Harry had finally left the Durselys for good. The fact remained that Dudley had made it his childhood mission to make Harry as miserable as possible, and she struggled to forgive him for that.
Dudley settled himself into the support of the leather bench seat, and toyed nervously with the glass in front of him, turning it back and forth on the cardboard beermat it sat upon. 'So. What have you been up to? I heard you killed the bloke that was after you?'
Harry made a subtle movement with his hand, and Ginny knew he was casting a Muffilato charm around them. 'Yeah. Yeah, I did, though technically he killed himself. We, well, we lost a lot of good people. But we won.' He sipped at his juice. 'How about you? And Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. I never did find out what happened to you that year.'
Dudley ignored the question. 'Three years ago, right? You were what, seventeen? Eighteen?'
'Seventeen.' Harry confirmed quietly.
'Seventeen,' Dudley echoed, shaking his head. 'I reckon you must be pretty good at all that magic stuff, then, if you can kill someone like him at seventeen.'
A faint blush stained Harry's cheeks, and he screwed his face up. 'Don't get any grand ideas about me, Dudley. I'm nothing special. I just have a talent for making good friends. With people like Ginny and her family around me, there was no way I could ever have lost.'
'Ginny your girlfriend? She looks like those twins, the ones that gave me the sweets.'
Ginny brought her left hand out from under the table and placed it on top of Harry's, angling her fingers in such a way that her wedding ring was obvious. 'I'm Harry's wife. And Fred .. Fred and George …' She broke off, her throat thick with the threat of tears. Even three years on, the grief she felt over Fred was still fresh, and it struck at the most unexpected times.
Harry turned his hand over to link his fingers with hers. 'The twins are Ginny's brothers. Fred – Fred died in the final battle.' His thumb rubbed the back of her hand, and she leaned in against him, close enough that their heads were touching.
'He … he died? But he was just a kid.'
'Lots of kids died, Dudley,' Harry said softly. 'Too many.'
An awkward silence settled over the table, and Ginny bowed her head, not wanting Dudley to see the tears that had welled up in her eyes. Some illogical part of her brain was screaming that Dudley wasn't entitled to see her grief, grief that belonged to a world he knew nothing about, a world that he had mocked for years. He could never understand the sheer horror and terror that had gripped Wizarding Britain for so long, and he didn't deserve to see her cry.
Dudley surprised her by reaching across the table and gripping both of their hands with his meaty fingers. 'I'm sorry.' He sounded sincere, and when Ginny looked up, she saw that his face was solemn and sympathetic. 'I wish … I wish things had been different.'
Taking a deep breath, Dudley looked briefly away from them, and then touched his finger to Ginny's wedding ring. 'So, you're married? How long?'
'We got married this September 1st. If I'd had my way, I'd have married Ginny three years ago, but she had school to finish, and I was in Auror training, so we waited until I qualified,' Harry said.
'Auror?' Dudley asked, raising his eyebrow. 'What's an Auror?'
'Er, well, I guess an Auror is kind of a Wizarding policeman. The closest thing in the Muggle world would be a CID officer. We go after dark wizards.'
Dudley chuckled. 'I'd've thought you'd be fed up of that, seems like that's all you did in school. Guess you must be good at it.' He turned to Ginny. 'How about you? Do you work?'
'I'm a professional Quidditch player,' Ginny replied, not feeling inclined to explain exactly what that was.
'Qudditch. That game you lot play on broomsticks, right? I saw a book about it once, in Harry's room. It looks like a laugh.'
Ginny was vaguely impressed by the fact that Dudley knew what Quidditch was, but worked hard not to show it. 'I enjoy it. I get paid to do what I love, and there aren't many people that can say that about their jobs.'
Dudley snorted. 'Tell me about it. I work part-time in a videogame store at the minute, which I always thought would be the best job in the world, but it really isn't. I'm studying to be a P.E. teacher, but it's going to take five years 'til I qualify. Be worth it, though, I'm half way there now.'
Harry grinned at his cousin. 'You're going to be a P.E. teacher? I'd never have thought that, Dudley. Good on you, mate.'
The other man blushed and returned the grin. 'I couldn't stay a lazy slob forever, could I? I've always liked sports and stuff, but I was too fat to play. Been on a diet, though, and I go to the gym most days, so it's mostly muscle now. I don't want to end up like Dad.'
'What do you mean? Is he alright?' Harry had genuine concern in his voice, and Ginny felt her heart swell with admiration for her husband – how could he find it within himself to be worried about the git?
Dudley obviously thought the same too, and his face registered his surprise. 'He's alright, I guess. Over-weight, high blood pressure, dodgy ticker, but still working at Grunnings. He's been told to lose weight, but Mum keeps on cooking those fry-ups he loves, and he keeps eating them. I just don't want to reach fifty and be fat and miserable like him.' His face clouded over for a moment, and then he squared his shoulders and caught Harry's gaze. 'I don't want to be a child abuser like him, either.'
Harry spat a mouthful of orange juice back into his glass, and dragged the back of his hand across his mouth, coughing fiercely. 'Child abuser?' he gasped, once he'd finished choking. 'Who did Uncle Vernon abuse?'
Ginny knew the answer even before Dudley said it, and she held even tighter to Harry's hand in anticipation of her husband's reaction.
Dudley frowned. 'You,' he said simply, stating what he seemed to assume was obvious. 'He abused you, and so did Mum.'
Harry laughed, but Ginny could see the confusion on his face. 'Abused me? Dudley, they never laid a finger on me. They barely spoke to me, so it wasn't likely they'd take the time to hit me.'
Harry's cousin twisted his hands together, and Ginny could see how much the conversation was hurting him. 'Abuse isn't just physical. You were emotionally abused, and neglected. You can't think it was normal for you to live in a cupboard under the stairs, surely? You were cooking our breakfast from the age of four, clearing up our mess, wearing clothes that were about six sizes too big for you. It was wrong.'
Harry was looking at Dudley open mouthed, clearly lost for words. His grip on Ginny's hand was almost painful, his palm sweaty and hot against hers. 'Dudley, I … that's …' he trailed off. 'Where did you get the idea that I was abused from?'
'I've just finished the child protection module on my course. There was a case study on emotional abuse, and they could have been talking about you. I nearly had a bloody panic attack right there in the middle of class.' Dudley picked up a spare beermat and began to mutilate it, his fingers working nervously at the damp cardboard. 'Harry, I don't ever remember Dad calling you anything other than boy, and sometimes all you got to eat was the scraps left over on the dinner plates. I was a right little bastard to you, and mum treated you like a skivvy. To be honest, it's amazing you've grown up to be a normal bloke.'
Harry's face had turned a curdy shade of white, with the exception of two hectic pin-pricks of colour blooming high on his cheeks, and he looked sick to his stomach. 'I didn't see anything wrong with it,' he whispered, his voice shaky. 'It was normal for me, I expected it. I didn't like it, but it was all I knew.' He cast a sideways glance at Ginny. 'When I first stayed at the Weasleys, I thought it was their family that was the odd one out, that they were the exception.'
Dudley looked as awful as Harry, wearing a shamefaced look of contrition. 'The way we treated you – it's unforgivable, and part of me actually hates Mum and Dad for doing that to you.'
Harry raised his head at that, looking directly at his cousin. 'Don't hate them,' he said, his voice harsh. 'Don't you dare hate them. They're still your parents and they love you, despite their faults. You're lucky to have your mum and dad, so treasure them.'
Dudley nodded sharply. 'I do love them, it's just hard to think about what they did. I spoke to them about it, and I think Mum realised just how horrible they'd been to you, but Dad still thinks you're some kind of hooligan.' His face suddenly brightened, and he chuckled. 'It's sort of funny to mention you around him, because he turns the colour of a tomato within about three seconds flat.'
Harry shared the chuckle, some of the horrible whiteness leaving his face. 'Well, I think your dad is a lost cause where I'm concerned, but I like to think your mum would at least be civil to me now.' The laughter left his voice. 'Your mum wanted to go to Hogwarts, has she ever told you that?'
Dudley shook his head, pushing his fingers through the pile of shredded beermat in a figure of eight pattern. 'Nah, but I kind of worked that out for myself. Makes sense, really.' He paused, pulling his hand away from the cardboard snowdrift he'd created. 'Mum wants to see you, you know.'
'She does?' Harry asked, dubiously. 'Why? I thought she was glad to see the back of me.'
'She's been talking about you quite a bit. Not in front of Dad, of course, but she's been talking to me. We both had our eyes opened for us when we stayed with Hestia and Dedalus. They told us all about the things you'd had to deal with at school. To be honest, I'm surprised you didn't go mental, 'specially 'cause you had to come home to us lot after.' Dudley had a look of respect on his face, admiration clear in his voice.
Harry shifted uncomfortably in his seat. 'It was just stuff that needed to be done. Like I said earlier, I have a lot of very clever friends. I wouldn't have made it alive out of first year otherwise.'
The look Dudley gave Harry spoke volumes. He obviously knew that Harry was being self-effacing, and Ginny began to feel a grudging respect for the man. 'Even so, what you got up to was pretty impressive. Facing that Voldie bloke in your first year, rescuing that girl from some weird chamber when you were twelve …' he trailed off, and stared at Ginny. 'That was you, yeah? Hestia said the girl was a Weasley, their only daughter.'
She nodded, gobsmacked that Dudley had obviously listened to and absorbed the stories the Order members had told him, and that he had made the connection between the girl in the story and the woman in front of him. 'Yeah, that was me. Harry's had a hero complex from a very young age.' She nudged her husband in the ribs to let him know that she was only teasing, and he leaned his head against her shoulder, the heat from his flushed face burning through her jumper.
Dudley smirked, then drained the last of his orange juice. 'Started younger than that. If he ever saw me bullying someone, he'd come and mouth off at me so I'd start on him, and the other kid got away with it.' His mouth screwed up in a grimace. 'I was such a little arsehole. I wish someone would have taken me to one side and sorted me out.'
'Dudley, it wasn't all your fault. Your mum and dad treated you like a little prince,' Harry said. 'You didn't really know any better.'
'Hah. Yeah. I tell you, any kid of mine ever tried putting their foot through a telly like I did, they'd be in a world of trouble. I can't believe what I used to get away with.' As Dudley spoke, he glanced down at his watch. 'Bugger, I'm going to be late for work if I don't run. I start in five minutes.' He stood and began pulling on his coat. 'Um – could we do this again sometime?'
Looking somewhat taken aback, Harry nodded. 'Yeah. That'd be nice. Tell you what, I'll give you our address and telephone number, and you can get in touch whenever you're free to meet up.' He picked up one of the much-mutilated beermats, looked around to ensure he wasn't being watched, then tapped the cardboard with his wand. The printed advertisement for beer disappeared, replaced with Harry's lopsided scrawl, and he handed it over to Dudley.
'Thanks, mate. I'll be in touch, yeah?' Dudley tucked the card into his pocket, then pulled on his gloves and scarf. 'Well, best be off, my boss'll go mental if I'm late.'
Harry and Ginny got to their feet, and on impulse, Ginny stepped forward and went up on tiptoes to press a kiss against Dudley's plump cheek. 'Nice to meet you, Dudley. Don't be a stranger, okay?'
He grinned, and turned to Harry. 'You lucky bastard.' He reached out and pulled a surprised looking Harry into a hug. 'I wasted the past nineteen years being a prat, but I'm not going to make the same mistake again, alright? Family should stick together.' Releasing Harry, he stepped backwards. 'I'll be in touch soon. Take care of yourselves.'
Somewhat dumbfounded, Ginny watched Dudley leave the pub and then looked at her husband, who stared back at her with a bemused expression. 'That's not the same Dudley you've told me about.'
'That's not the same Dudley I knew,' Harry said, as he picked up Ginny's coat and held it out for her to slip into. 'Bloody hell, who'd have thought it?'
Ginny buttoned up her coat, flipping her hair out from underneath the collar to fan across her back. 'I think it's wonderful. I hope he gets in touch.'
Harry pulled his hat down over his ears, then took Ginny's hand. 'Come on, let's go buy these lights, and then we can get home and put the tree up.'
With a sigh, Ginny let Harry lead her back out into the mad crush of people.
The tree was beautiful. Ginny had to admit that the Muggle fairy lights were very pretty, and twinkled in a way that real fairy lights never quite managed, though she was never going to be entirely comfortable with electricity. Unfortunately, Hermione would have murdered them both if they'd had Wizarding fairy lights, so the Muggle version would have to suffice.
Harry had been oddly subdued following their encounter with Dudley, and his excitement about putting up their Christmas tree had dwindled somewhat. He went through the motions, sipping at the ever-warm hot chocolate and singing tunelessly to the Christmas songs on the wireless, but his heart wasn't in it.
Stretching to place the shimmering gold star on the top of the tree, Ginny grinned triumphantly as it slid into place on the spindly branch, not even minding that the pine needles were scratching her arms. 'There!' she declared. 'Finished, and we still have ten minutes before the lunatics arrive.'
Harry took her hand and steadied her as she climbed down from the top of the small stepladder, keeping his fingers twined in hers even when she reached the ground. 'It looks lovely,' he said quietly. 'This is only the second time in my life that I've ever helped to decorate a Christmas tree, did you know that?' When Ginny shook her head, he continued, 'The first time was in my sixth year, when I stayed at the Burrow for Christmas. Fred and George charmed a Gnome gold and stuck it on the top of the tree in a tutu, remember?'
Ginny giggled, remembering her mother's reaction when she finally realised what the plump little fairy on the treetop actually was. 'I've never seen anything as ugly as that Gnome.'
Harry echoed her giggle with a faint little chuckle, and he turned away from her to stare into the depths of the tree. 'When I was little, I used to watch through the vent of my cupboard door as the Christmas tree went up. I had to carry all the boxes down from the attic, and as soon as everything was down, go straight to my cupboard. I could hear them all laughing and joking and smell the gingerbread Aunt Petunia used to make to hang on the tree, but I was always outside looking in.'
He sounded so lonely that it made Ginny's heart ache. She could just imagine a miniature Harry peeping out from the cupboard under the stairs, forced to stay on the edge of all the fun.
She wrapped both her hands around his upper arm and pressed her forehead against his back. 'That's never going to happen again,' she whispered, kissing his shoulder. 'You've got a family that loves you, and you're never going to be pushed to one side.'
He twisted around to kiss her, soft and chaste, a kiss of comfort, not passion, and Ginny still marvelled that Harry had chosen her to be the one he revealed his true self to. Not even Hermione and Ron got to see him with his guard down 100%. 'God, I love you,' he murmured against her lips. 'You always know how to make me feel better.'
She moved to stand in front of him and twined her arms around his neck. 'Well, making you feel better is my job, so it's a good thing I know how to do it.' They kissed again, and this time it had heat to it, an urgency that thrilled through Ginny's body all the way down to her toes.
Harry walked them backwards until his legs met the settee, and they tumbled onto the soft, squidgy cushions, still wrapped up in one another.
'Bloody hell, don't you two ever come up for air?' a voice complained, and they looked up to see Ron standing in the doorway, his arm draped around Hermione's shoulders. 'Ginny, put him down, Mum and Dad'll be here in a minute, and as much as they want grandkids, I don't think they want to watch you conceive them.'
With the unerring aim of a chaser, Ginny flung a pillow at Ron, catching him square in the face and sending him staggering backwards. 'Excuse me, brother, but this is OUR house, and Harry and I can snog as much as we bloody want.' She smiled sweetly at Hermione. 'Hey, Hermione! Nice to see you, come on in!'
Harry let out a huff of air as Ginny climbed off of him, steadying herself on his chest. 'Help us up, Gin, I'm wedged into the back of the settee cushions.' He accepted her helping hand and got to his feet, then clapped Ron on the shoulder and kissed Hermione's cheek. 'Can I get you two a drink?'
Drinks orders taken, Harry headed to the kitchen, and Hermione immediately turned to Ginny. 'What happened? Something's wrong.'
Ginny sat next to her and sighed. 'Nothing bad, really. We bumped into his cousin in town today, and I think it stirred up a few old feelings.'
'You saw Dudley?' Ron asked. 'Hope you slipped him a Ton Tongue Toffee, for old time's sake. Nasty little git.'
'He's changed. He was sweet, actually. Apologised to Harry for the fact that the Dursleys abused him when he was a kid. Harry didn't have a clue that he was abused, so I think having someone tell him that he was, with examples, shook him up a bit.' Ginny pulled a pillow in front of her, hugging it tightly to her chest. 'He's been really quiet ever since. Dudley wants to keep in touch.'
Hermione turned sideways on the settee and crossed her legs underneath her, completely at home in the Potter household. 'Dudley realises that Harry was abused? I'm impressed, that's a rather insightful realisation. The kind of abuse Harry suffered was very insidious and hard to identify, and a lot of people probably wouldn't even classify it as abuse.' She chewed on her lip, lost in thought. 'Poor Harry. He must have felt blindsided.'
'I'm gonna go talk to him,' Ron said suddenly, standing up from the armchair he'd sprawled in. 'I'll be back in a bit.'
Once Ron had left, Ginny angled her body towards Hermione. 'I hope Dudley keeps in touch, I think it'd be good for Harry. Other than his Aunt, Dudley is Harry's only blood link left to his Mum, and family is important.'
The two women lapsed into silence, listening to the faint noise of Ron and Harry talking in the kitchen.
'He'll be alright, Ginny,' Hermione said quietly. 'You know what he's like. He takes a while to process things, and then he just gets on with it. We'll make sure that he has a good time this evening and doesn't brood.'
Ginny was prevented from answering by the arrival of her mum and dad in the fireplace, shortly followed by Bill, Fleur and Victoire. They piled into the living room as the floo roared again, spitting out George and Angelina, then Percy and Audrey, with Andromeda Tonks and Teddy Lupin close behind.
Thoughts of Dudley left Ginny's mind as she set about playing hostess. The Saturday evening family gathering moved from house to house each week, and it was always manic, loud, and wonderful, a mad crush of all the people she loved most in the world. Charlie joined them when he could, and Luna and Neville were frequent guests, though all three were absent on this particular evening.
Harry finally returned from the kitchen, levitating a massive tray of drinks in front of him and carrying a bowl full of crisps. His face seemed a little more animated, though there was still tenseness around his eyes that spoke of an underlying upset.
Ginny watched him as he made the rounds of the room, greeting his adopted family with hugs and kisses. He gained two little leaches in the form of Teddy and Victoire and ended up toting a child on each hip, their chubby little arms wrapped vice-like around his neck. They both adored their Uncle Harry and when they were around, he was rarely seen without them clinging to him.
Harry whispered something to the children, and they both giggled loudly. Teddy laid a lip-smacking kiss on Harry's cheek, and Victoire burrowed her face into the curve of her uncle's shoulder and neck.
Harry caught Ginny watching him and gave her a huge grin, the rest of the tension leaving his body. He roared loudly and started to spin on the spot, causing the clinging toddlers to shriek with excitement and tighten their limpet-like hold.
Ginny smiled at her husband, feeling the now familiar ache that consumed her when she saw him with the children. She'd never considered herself to be particularly maternal – until the very first time she had seen Harry cradling an eight-week-old Teddy in his arms, and suddenly, she wanted nothing more than to have children with him.
She caught her mum looking knowingly at her and felt her face stain with the treacherous Weasley blush, which was surely announcing to the world – or at the very least, her family – that she wanted Harry Potter's babies.
Harry was now sitting cross-legged on the floor, Teddy on one side, Victoire on the other, looking through a picture book with them. The three of them were completely engrossed.
Fleur - five months pregnant with her second child and more radiant than ever – smiled at Ginny. 'Harry is so good with the children. He is going to make a wonderful father.'
Ginny sighed, anticipating the question that always followed any observation about Harry's rapport with the children.
'When do you think you will start a family?' Fleur asked, her hand caressing her stomach.
Shrugging, Ginny noticed that Harry was very obviously listening, even though he gave every appearance of still being involved in the book. 'We want to wait a couple of years, until Harry and I have established ourselves in our careers. There's no rush. We're both young, and we're enjoying just being with each other.' It was her stock-in-trade answer.
Harry glanced up and winked at her, knowing she got annoyed at the almost constant questions about when they would be having children. She knew he'd quite happily start a family tomorrow, but he also respected the fact that she was at the top of her game in Quidditch, and wanted to keep it that way for at least a couple of years. 'I don't want to share Ginny just yet,' he said, busily rubbing noses with a giggling Victoire. 'I've only just got her all to myself.'
Harry had defused the situation quite nicely, and the conversation turned to Christmas plans. Christmas Eve was only two days away, and the topic of who was eating where and when was very much a heated debate.
'Harry and Ginny will be sleeping over at the Burrow Christmas Eve, so that's one room spoken for,' said Molly. 'But I'm sure we can find space for everyone.'
'Who said we're sleeping over?' Ginny demanded. 'No we're not.'
Molly just smilled. 'Of course you are, dear. We all have to be together on Christmas morning.'
Harry answered her before Ginny even had the chance to open her mouth. 'Mum, we appreciate the invitation, but Ginny and I were hoping to spend our first Christmas Eve as husband and wife in our new house. We'll spend most of the day with everyone at the Burrow, and floo over first thing Christmas morning, but we want to wake up here.'
He said it so sweetly and calmly that Molly had no choice but to accept it with grace, and she reached over to pat Harry's shoulder. 'That's fine, sweetheart.'
Ginny watched the exchange open-mouthed, marvelling that her husband had been able to do something that seven Weasley children had never achieved – he'd reasoned with Molly Weasley and won.
Harry nodded at Ginny and grinned as a quiet tapping sounded from the window. He got to his feet, gently disentangling himself from the children, and opened the window to let the owl in.
Erimentha – Eri for short – was the owl Harry had finally bought to replace Hedwig, though it had taken him three years to be able to bear the thought of another owl. Eri had joined the Potter family just two months ago, but she already adored Harry and Ginny. Though she looked nothing like Hedwig, she had the same regal bearing and the habit of dishing out gentle chastisement in the form of little nips with her beak.
Eri extended her foot to Harry, waited patiently for him to remove the envelope, and then flew to Ginny in search of her reward.
Ginny kept her eye on Harry even as she fed Eri Owl Treats, and she was dismayed to see his face blanch as his fist tightened around the card in his hand.
Without a word, he walked from the room and could then be heard climbing heavily up the stairs before the door to his office shut with rather more force than usual.
'Goodness!' said Molly, her hand over her heart. 'I do hope Harry hasn't had bad news.'
Ginny deposited Eri on her perch and then made her own way upstairs, tapping on the office door before slipping quietly inside the room.
Harry was stretched out on the small sofa there, one arm slung across his face, the other dangling off the sofa so that his hand brushed the floor, the offending card clasped loosely in his fingers.
Gently tugging the card from his lax grip, Ginny nudged him further towards the back of the settee and then moulded her body against his side, smiling when his arm automatically came up to draw her closer. 'What's wrong, Harry?'
'Dudley.' The arm moved from his face, and Harry gestured at the card Ginny now held. 'He sent us a Christmas card,' he said, before the arm was once again draped across his eyes.
Ginny took that as unspoken permission to look, and she slipped a red, glitter-covered card out of the envelope. There was nothing she could see to be upset about.
Dear Harry and Ginny,
It was nice to bump into you both in town today. I hope you have a lovely Christmas, and that we'll be able to meet up again at some point. I don't have much in the way of family, and I'd like to make sure I keep what I've got.
'That's nice,' she said, as neutrally as possible. 'He must have written this at work, and posted it on his break.'
The only response she got was a grunt, and she slapped at his arm in irritation before tugging it away from his face. 'Harry, come on,' she pleaded. 'Don't do this.'
'Gin, don't,' he warned. 'I thought I could deal with Dudley wanting to be part of my life again, but I was wrong. I can't be the bigger person and forgive him, I just can't. I try to let it go, and then I remember every miserable, shitty thing he's ever done to me.' His voice trembled, and he pulled his arm out of Ginny's grip and turned to face the back of the settee.
Ginny moved her body with his, slipped her leg up over his thigh, and insinuated her hand between his arm and his side, encompassing him in a total body hug. She kissed the back of his neck, soft, messy hair tickling her nose. 'You said yourself, he's changed, and for the better.'
'I know that,' Harry said with a sigh. 'I just didn't expect him to follow through on keeping in touch. I thought he was just saying it to be nice, and he'd forget about it as soon as he left the pub.'
She stroked his chest, and moved her kisses down to his shoulder. 'I think he's being genuine, Harry. He wants to develop some kind of relationship with you, if you'll let him.'
With some manoeuvring, Harry wriggled around in her arms until they were face to face, and he trailed his fingers across her cheek. 'I feel like a complete idiot. This is nothing, compared to what I've been through, so why am I letting it get me worked up?'
Ginny caught his hand, stilling it long enough to press her lips against his fingertips. 'You've always been rubbish at anything emotional.'
Harry laughed. 'That's a bit of an understatement, Gin.' He fell quiet, and they just looked at one another for several minutes, Harry's hand playing with the ends of Ginny's hair. 'I'm going to write back to him,' he said after a while. 'Send him a Christmas card.'
Ginny didn't say anything, but kissed Harry soundly before disentangling their limbs and standing up. 'I'll go back downstairs, leave you to it. Don't be long, otherwise the kids'll be up here demanding to know why you're not playing with them.'
Swinging his legs off of the sofa, Harry sat up and scrubbed his hands across his face, his fingers sliding up beneath his glasses to press against his eyelids. 'Alright, love. I'll be`down in a bit.' He stood up and walked over to his desk, rummaging through a wicker basket full of Christmas cards.
'Give him my regards,' Ginny said softly, as she opened the door. 'I'll get you a cup of tea ready.'
Harry smiled at her as he placed his chosen card on the desk. 'Thanks for putting up with me. I love you.'
She never got tired of hearing that. 'I love you too. And there had to be somebody in this world that could put up with you, and that was me.' She blew him a kiss and then stepped out of the room, closing the door behind her and leaving Harry to make amends with a painful part of his life.
Downstairs, Molly was pacing the living room, very obviously fretting, and when Ginny walked in, she all but pounced on her. 'What is it? Is Harry alright? What's wrong?'
Ginny chuckled, and gave her mum a hug. 'He's fine. We just met up with his cousin in town today – that's who the card was from – and it was a bit of a shock for Harry, that's all, stirred up a few memories he'd put behind him.'
Molly stiffened, and Ginny could have sworn she heard her mother mutter 'bloody Dursleys' under her breath. As far as Molly Weasley was concerned, Harry was her son, and any mention of the family that had mistreated him made her blood boil. 'You saw the Dursley boy? I hope he was ashamed of himself.'
'He was, actually,' Ginny said. 'Apologised to Harry for all the rubbish he put him through as a kid. It threw Harry for a bit of a loop, to be honest.' She left out all the talk of child abuse, lest her mother decide to go on a rampage and hex Petunia and Vernon.
'He apologised? Good lad, perhaps there's hope for him yet,' Molly said. 'What's Harry going to do?'
'He's writing back to Dudley now.' Ginny glanced up at the ceiling, as if she would be able to look through the plaster and board and see Harry in his office above. 'Don't mention it when he comes down, he won't want anybody to make a fuss.'
The floorboards above them squeaked, and then Harry's office door creaked open. His tread upon the stairs was much lighter coming down than it had been going up, and when he pushed open the door to the living room, his expression was one of contentment.
Eri looked towards Harry as he entered the room and immediately flew to him, alighting on his extended arm and nipping at his hand until he handed her the envelope he held.
Harry watched her fly off with a look of bemusement. 'Is everyone in this family conspiring against me, or what?' He perched on the arm of Ginny's chair and slipped his arm around her shoulders, kissing the top of her head. 'Sorry about that, everyone.'
Ginny moved over in the chair and tugged at Harry until he slid down off the arm and onto the cushion next to her, his thigh pressed up against hers. 'I'm glad you wrote to him,' she whispered into his ear. 'I'm proud of you.'
He smiled at her and took her hand. 'I feel better now I've written back. It's not like he's asking to be my best mate or something. I was just being stupid ...'
She silenced him with a kiss. 'Sssssh. Let's just have a nice evening and forget about it.'
Ron glanced at Ginny, then struck up a conversation about the upcoming charity match between the Cannons and the Harpies, and Harry immediately began a staunch defence of Ginny's team, the slightly awkward moment smoothed over by a bout of good-natured bickering.
Harry gradually relaxed, and Ginny tucked herself under his arm, sensing that he needed her close.
She was so pleased that Harry had started mending bridges with his cousin, and she hoped that the two of them would keep in touch. Nobody was expecting them to suddenly become the best of friends, but it'd be nice for them to be able to hold a civil conversation.
A sudden thought struck Ginny, and she picked up her wand from the table. 'Accio Dudley's Christmas Card,' she said quietly, and within a few seconds the card in question slipped under the gap at the bottom of the living room door and flew into her waiting hand.
A quick Banishing charm placed the card on the mantelpiece, the unmoving picture of Rudolph with his glittery red nose looking somewhat plain amidst the moving and singing Wizarding cards.
Harry gave a small nod of approval, and went back to his conversation, not making an issue over the card.
Like it or not, Dudley was family, and Ginny was going to do her best to help Harry build a relationship with his cousin, even if it was just through Christmas cards.
A square of folded card covered in glitter was better than further years of silence.