Warnings: Deathly Hallows Spoiler
Summary: Harry Potter returns Ginny Weasley's birthday gift when, after the battle is won and the summer nears its end, they are reunited at last.
Ottery St. Catchpole needed a good downpour, Ginny reminded herself as she sat beside her open window, looking on as the rain rinsed out the stifling summer heat from the air. In her cupped hands, Arnold rested, nuzzled against her thumb, flinching whenever a fleck of water ventured inside the windowpane and onto his bright fur. Ginny's fingers were stroking him gently.
Beside the window, the tail of her Cleansweep was glistening with mist. A year ago she might have minded a rainy birthday. Today, where thick drops disturbed the pools of dark silty water below her window, she imagined her reflection in their surface, rippled into animation with the falling rain.
Turning away from the window, she took her wand from the bed and wordlessly summoned a jumper from her dresser, draping it around her shoulders carefully to save disturbing the little pygmy puff slumbering in her palm. Her newfound legal freedom to perform magic outside of school went unnoticed, the novelty of it having been stolen months ago when she'd been dueling Death Eaters in the halls of Hogwarts.
A soft knock on the door made Arnold stir.
"Ginny," came a low voice from the other side, and the door creaked open. "Your mum said it was okay..."
She stood up, the jumper sliding off of her shoulders and back onto the chair. It was Harry; he had stepped into the room and was walking towards her, but Ginny stood rigid where she was, her hand suspended low in front of her cradling Arnold. Her eyes swept over Harry; there was color in his face again and he stood taller now, unencumbered by the weight of bad things to come, his features softer as though the spray of rain outside had lifted away the sadness that had dulled his countenance the last time he had entered her room.
Then, he stopped a foot away, gazing at her with eyes too old for his eighteen year-old stature.
"Summer's almost done," she said at last.
"I know," he whispered. "It's been a nightmare."
"Dad told me," she said, staring back at him in sympathy. "I know - we all know the Order hasn't left you alone since you..." She paused. "Since the battle. Are you... all right?"
A moment of silence passed before he shook his head.
As he spoke, he reached into her hand and carefully scooped up Arnold, who twitched and sniffed himself awake before being placed in a folded nook next to Ginny's pillow and instantly falling back to sleep.
In one motion, Harry took Ginny's hand and pulled her into an embrace that jolted her out of her reverie. Not a moment later tears had rushed to her eyes and her arms circled around him, holding onto him as though it had not been months, but years since they had seen each other last.
"I've missed you," she breathed. "Every second you were gone... You can't know how much.... "
"I do know," he whispered.
"If they could've just given you some time before all the bloody questioning-"
"Kingsley's minister now and the scar's hard to hide."
"Doesn't make it fair, does it?"
"They needed me."
"And I didn't?" she murmured.
"Ginny, please," said Harry emphatically. "Honestly, I know how you feel."
She pulled herself away to look at him, her tears ebbing at the sight of his arms around her. She opened her mouth, but no apology came. Harry gazed back, his eyebrows crinkled in concern. "What is it?"
Her brother's name forced its way to her lips. "Fred," she whispered, trying not to shake, "gone. Sometimes I think I can't bear it...." Harry said nothing, but held her tighter, drawing a hand to her hair and stroking her gently as she continued. "I catch George when he thinks no one's around... looking in mirrors for ages at a time... like it'll bring him back...." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "And you so far away, no permission to write you-"
"Your letters wouldn't have reached me. Seems journalism doesn't stop even though the Prophet self-destructed; Rita Skeeter's been intercepting owls, and without Hedwig-" Harry sighed and added simply, "I had to wait. No one but your family knows I'm here for your birthday."
Then, he had not come back for good. Ginny observed him for a moment before drawing a stabilizing breath and bringing her hand to his face.
"Six years was effing long enough to wait for you," said Ginny with the first real smile she'd produced in what seemed like ages. Then she added quietly, "And I'll wait six more if I have to, you know that."
Grinning back at her, Harry guided her to sit beside him on the edge of her bed, keeping both her hands in his. "You know, on our journey... when it was my turn to keep guard, I used to watch you on my map. Pretend I was still beside you," he added wistfully, running his thumb in a figure-eight over her hand.
"Yes," said Ginny, flushing. "Hermione spotted you and told me."
"She tell you anything else?"
For once, his eyes dropped from hers to gaze down at their joined hands. Ginny pulled a hand out of his grip and raised it to his forehead, where her fingers lightly grazed his scar.
"Everything." She expelled a long breath, her voice steady now. "What you've done, how you survived it," she said. "You've been... so brave."
Harry raised his eyes, the words igniting something inside him. He moved closer to her, tightening his grip on her fingers, and Ginny felt her heart begin to race in time with the falling rain outside her window.
"Last time I was here, you'd given me... a birthday gift," he said. "Remember?"
"As if I could forget." Ginny watched him intently; there was a fierce longing in his face - hard and blazing...
"In the forest, just before Voldemort cast the spell meant to kill me," he continued, ignoring the shiver that coursed through Ginny's fingers, "my last thought was of you. Only it was more a feeling than a thought... A memory.... of how it felt, kissing you." Harry was looking at her now with an intensity she had not seen in years. Speaking softly, he leaned in close to her, touching his lips to the arch of her eyebrow and settling against her cheek to whisper his secret. "You don't know what it's meant - how that feeling's followed me all this time," he murmured into her ear.
"Has it...?" whispered Ginny breathlessly.
As he pulled away to look at her, Ginny noticed some of the youthfulness had returned to his eyes. "I didn't know what to get you for your birthday, but I thought it should be something useful. Something you could bring with you, wherever you are," he said quietly, "until everything's put right and I'm by your side for good. Unless," he quickly added, "Fleur's got some bloke on her side of the family with-"
"I think dating opportunities will be pretty thin on the ground, actually," said Ginny with a wry smile.
"There's the silver lining I've been looking for."
The rain thrummed harder against the thin walls of the Burrow, the wind driving cool raindrops into Ginny's room and onto the bed as Harry kissed her, fervently as though a dam inside them, fortified with more than a year's worth of struggle, had finally burst. There was no Ron to interrupt. Harry's hand in her hair and another at her back, they surrendered to the pouring rain to make another memory; the remembrance of the moment when the world began to feel right again.
Ginny felt Harry's lips part in a smile. "Happy Seventeenth," he whispered.
Arnold chirped in agreement.