|SIYE Time:5:56 on 15th August 2022|
Category: Alternate Universe
Genres: Angst, Drama, Romance
Warnings: Mild Language
Story is Complete
Summary: 10-year-old Willow Young had always been warned of the house at the end of the lane along with its mysterious occupant. But still, she found herself drawn to the house and the old man with sad green eyes that lived inside.
Hitcount: Story Total: 3454; Chapter Total: 291
Awards: View Trophy Room
The end of the story. There will be an epilogue which should be posted next Friday.
Meet me in the middle of your story where the soul is worn but wise-- Angie Weiland-Crosby
Harry woke up the next day with a sense of elation he had not felt since Daphne's death almost thirteen years ago.
His eyes sought out the photo album that Ginny had gifted him with yesterday for his birthday and his thoughts immediately went back to the party, and more specifically, his and Ginny's talk.
He hadn't meant to explain Daphne to Ginny. He hadn't even meant to really talk to Ginny at all if he was being honest with himself. He had imagined his first real talk with Ginny would've been filled with an oppressive awkwardness that would've left them both feeling too shy to be able to keep the conversation going.
After talking with Ginny about Daphne, however, he was left with a feeling of contentment, like a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He could finally breathe.
He turned to one of the pictures by his beside and stared at the smiling woman in the picture frame.
'Would you be proud of me?' Harry thought as he picked up the photo.
Daphne Greengrass stared back up at him with a smile on her face. How odd was it that when he had first met her in France, she never smiled? Come to think of it, he didn't either. Both of them were quite broken when they had run into each other for the first time. But, like two puzzle pieces, their broken edges fit together perfectly.
"You would like Ginny," Harry said aloud to the picture, "Both of you were the most stubborn women I've ever met in my entire life."
Daphne laughed at the camera and winked at him slyly.
Harry placed Daphne back down on his bedside dresser before he dressed and made his way to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee.
Soon after, the day saw Harry make his way outside to watch the already risen sun until one of the Youngs showed up to help him with his garden.
The animosity he had felt surrounding Ginny Weasley had disappeared after they had talked last night and although he wasn't a seerâ€”he couldn't tell what the future would holdâ€”he knew he wanted Ginny to be in it with him.
He didn't know if they would ever rekindle the flame that they had once held for each other, but he found he didn't mind finding out.
As the last vestiges of darkness disappeared on the horizon Harry began to work in his garden. Armed with his new gardening tool kit, courtesy of Willow, he made short work of the soil. He should have purchased new tools before now. Either that or had cleaned and cared for his own better. This new trowel glided through the dirt like it was water.
As he was toiling away in his garden, Harry didn't see the brown barn owl that was making his way toward him. He was jerked out of his thoughts, and work, when the owl deposited the letter in front of him on top of the soil.
Harry dusted his hands off casually on the sides of his jeans before grabbing the letter and opening it.
Just wanted to see what you were up to mate. It was good to see you at the Burrow. Hermione wanted me to write you and apologize for my involvement in the Portkey business from yesterday. She's been scolding me since we left last night. Can you believe this barmy woman? Why did I even marry her again? Why, I can remember at Hogwarts wh
There was an ink smudge as if a couple of ink drops had been misplaced and rubbed into the parchment. The next words made him laugh to himself. He guessed Ron and Hermione hadn't changed much in all these years. They still bickered like an old married couple but then again, that's what they were now.
Don't listen to Ronald, Harry. He loves me very much and couldn't live without me. My husband was also getting off-topic, so I guess I'll ask you. We were wondering if you'd like to come around for a spot of dinner. We haven't really had the chance to talk with each other since Willow's party and we would like to know how you're doing with everything, and I would love to hear about your time in France.
There was another ink smudge and Harry couldn't help but grin in amusement.
Sorry about that. Ronald was trying to take the quill back from me and spilt his tea all over the table. I swear this man is still fifteen years old. I'm even starting to question why I married him now. Anyways, if you're agreeable to coming around for dinner, our address is 37 The Willows, Caversham, Reading. I hope to see you there at 6 pm.
And Ronald too, I guess.
Harry guffawed loudly at his two best friend's antics. They were still so perfect for each other that it was sickening.
"What are you laughing at?" a voice asked from behind him.
Harry turned around to Willow's beaming face. Her strawberry blonde hair was done up in a ponytail and she was wearing an orange Chudley Cannons t-shirt.
"I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Uncle Ron bought you that shirt," Harry said.
"So, what if he did?" Willow asked, "What's it to you?"
Harry chortled, "I almost played for them, Willow, and even I know they're bad."
"You won't sway my allegiance," Willow said with a smile.
"I really want to thank you for your gift," Harry said motioning to the gardening tool set, "New tools make gardening so much easier."
They kneeled at a flowerbed that was freshly tilled as Willow spoke, "They're enchanted to never dull or rust, at least, as long as the enchantment lasts. Obviously, I can't do magic yet, so I had to have Dad do the spell, but they should stay sharp for a long time."
"Well, make sure to thank him for me," Harry said, "Now what do you say we plant some of those new seeds you got me?"
"Sure," Willow grinned.
They worked in companionable silence as they planted the seeds. Harry was content in the fact that his life seemed to be slowly coming together again.
When he left for France, he didn't ever think that he would be able to get back everything he had lost. Slowly but surely, however, things were coming together. Maybe it was fate, maybe, it was the universe finally doing him a solid after all the heartache and pain that he had experienced in his life. Whatever the cause or reason, he was glad.
He took this time to study his granddaughter.
Life had sent her to him when he had needed her the most. Harry couldn't help but think that it was way more than mere coincidence that out of all the people in the world, across all the land and seas, it had been his granddaughter that found him. The odds were astronomical, and yet, against all the odds, fate had delivered.
Had it been fate that brought him back to his family? He didn't see how it could be anything other than that. He knew a lot of Muggles believed in a higher power but for him, that just translated to fate. Maybe they were one and the same.
Maybe it was all inter-changeable; miracles, fate, a higher power, magic. Were they all the same?
Harry wiped the sweat from his brow as he stood up, "I think we're done for the day. Let's go get some drinks and sit on the porch."
"Okay!" Willow said as she gathered up the tools.
Harry made his way inside to get a butterbeer along with Willow's preferred choice of lemonade as she put up the tools. Coming back from the kitchen, his eyes caught Ginny's picture as he passed the sitting room.
He made his way into the room, and over to the picture before he picked it up.
Ginny was smiling warmly up at him and the sight filled his heart with something he had not felt in a long time.
Not just any love, but an old kind of love; a love that was no more important than the love he shared with Daphne, but a different kind of love. The kind of love that stood the tests of time, that could never die.
"Is that Grandmum?" Willow asked in awe behind him.
"Yeah," Harry replied without turning around, "This was taken during her first season with the Harpies."
"She was so pretty!" Willow gushed.
"That she was, still is if we're being honest."
Harry took a few more moments looking at the picture before putting it back down and leading Willow to the porch where they took their customary spots.
"So," Willow said as she sipped her lemonade, "Have you and Grandmum talked yet?"
"Briefly," Harry replied.
"Did you two kiss?"
Harry nearly spit out the Butterbeer he had been drinking. He swallowed carefully and cleared his throat before answering, "No, we did not kiss."
"Aww, come on!" Willow exclaimed, "You two are so boring!"
Harry chuckled, "We aren't together, Willow. Even if that was something we both wanted, it wouldn't happen overnight."
"So, you admit it, then?" Willow asked with a knowing smile, "You admit you want it to happen?"
"I didn'tâ€¦ That's not what Iâ€¦" spluttered Harry.
"Relax, Granddad," Willow said with a laugh, "I know a lot of people see me as this impatient little girl. Who knows, maybe I am. I would love to see Grandmum and you happy, but even I know that you can't rush perfection."
"You think what we have is perfect?"
"I don't think, I know," Willow said, "After everything you and she have been through you can't tell me you don't feel the same way. Years later and you both still love each other even though you've not been together."
"Hmm, maybe," Harry replied thoughtfully.
"Did you know?" Willow started, "That when Grandmum was like five years old, she used to have your story read to her every night before bed like a fairy tale? She told me she knew she was going to marry you before she even met you."
"Really?" Harry said in surprise, "I did not know that. I mean, I knew she had a crush on me before I even knew her but I didn't know she had my story read to her."
"Everyone deserves their fairy tale ending, don't you think?"
Harry nodded in response but said nothing more.
He was loathe to admit it, but the feelings he held for Ginny that he had buried so long ago were now at the forefront of his mind. It had been three days since he came back into their lives and here he was, pining after her like a schoolboy. Did she really hold that big of a spot in his heart?
So lost in thought was he, that he didn't notice as an owl swooped in and dropped a letter on his lap.
He opened the letter. As he read it, the thoughtful expression his face had portrayed was slowly replaced by a widening smile.
"What is it?" Willow asked, "Who is the letter from?"
"Never you mind," Harry said as he folded the letter and put it in his pocket, "You'll find out eventually."
For the next hour, Willow tried to get him to divulge some amount of information about the letter. Just when he thought she would never relent in her quest for information, she had bidden him goodbye and went back home after promising that she would be back later that night.
The time until he was supposed to Apparate to Ron and Hermione's drew near, and when his clock reached five, he decided it wouldn't hurt to be early.
He showered and dressed quickly before he Apparated to Caversham, Reading.
Ron and Hermione lived in a semi-detached neighborhood where all the homes basically looked the same. It reminded him of number four, Privet Drive.
Harry knocked on the white door and waited. Soon enough, he could hear lumbering footsteps, and then the door was pulled open to reveal Ron grinning at him like a maniac.
"Hiya, Harry," Ron said as he pulled him inside before shutting the door, "Hermione is just finishing up. That crazy woman started an hour ago so it's good you're early."
"I heard that!"
Ron and Harry both chuckled as they made their way into the quaint kitchen.
When they arrived, Harry watched as Hermione ran back and forth between the stove and the table. Hermione looked up, flashed him a smile, and continued stirring something.
They sat down as Hermione brought over a pan of something Harry had never seen before.
"Um, Hermione?" Harry said questioningly, "What is that?"
"That's meatloaf mate," Ron said with a chuckle, "It's basically a hamburger shaped like a loaf."
"Why is the ketchup on the top?" Harry asked, "Where's the bread?"
Hermione giggled, "You bake crackers and onions into the loaf and put the ketchup on top. Ron and I holidayed in America one year and tried it."
"It tastes way better than it looks," Ron said with a grin.
"Americans have some weird food choices," Harry said as he cut off a slice of the meatloaf and put it on his plate.
"They say the same thing about us," Ron said, "They seem quite appalled at the fact that a third of our diet is fish and chips."
They both looked at him expectantly as he took a bite of the meatloaf.
"Not bad," Harry said, "Definitely tastes better than it looks."
"France has great food," Harry said as they tucked in, "It's one of the reasons I chose to move there."
"I'm sure Daphne was able to cook plenty of French dishes, right, Harry?" Ron asked.
Harry snorted, "Please, that pureblood princess didn't know the first thing about cooking. I prepared all of our meals."
"Aha!" Ron exclaimed, "So you two were more than just friends."
Harry, realizing his error and knowing he couldn't backtrack, replied, "Yeah. I'm sorry I didn't tell you last night. I didn't want anyone to judge me."
"No one was going to judge you, Harry," Hermione said.
"Yeah," piped up Ron, "I mean, as far as Slytherins go, you could've done a hell of a lot worse."
"What happened?" Hermione asked softly.
Harry thought about lying to his friends. It wasn't a story he was keen to tell over and over again. He didn't know why he didn't like talking about Daphne. Maybe it was because he wanted to keep her a secret. He wasn't ashamed of his relationship with her. He just wanted to believe that what they shared was for him and him only.
"It's not what one would consider table conversation," Harry said finally, "I might tell you guys one day, but I don't think I'm up for it today."
Ron opened his mouth like he wanted to protest, but Hermione immediately stomped on her husband's foot, effectively silencing him.
"We understand," Hermione said before she glared at her husband, "Don't we, Ronald?"
"Um, yeah, sure, whatever you say, dear," Ron said, "Blimey, woman, that hurt!"
"Anyways," Harry said with a grin, "What have you two been up to all these years?"
"Well, Ron quit the Aurors shortly after you did," Hermione said, "He went to go help George in the shop after Peyton was born. He still helps out there occasionally."
"You didn't quit because I left, did you?" Harry asked.
"Nah, mate," Ron said, "I never wanted to be an Auror forever and with George's daughter being born, he needed all the help he could get."
"I'm still Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement," Hermione said, "Everyone wanted me to be the next Minister of Magic but I turned it down."
"She was a shoo-in," Ron said.
Harry was certainly impressed. He had always known Hermione was very bright and expected great things from her but Minister of Magic?
"Have you guys always lived here?"
"No, we moved here about ten years ago, and well after Rose and Hugo left Hogwarts and got their own jobs," Hermione replied.
"We wanted to downsize," Ron said as he grabbed his wife's hand, "It seemed impractical to have that big house when it was just Hermione and me living there."
"Don't let him lie to you," Hermione said, "That's just Ron's way of saying he was too lazy to keep cleaning a bigger house than was necessary."
"You didn't want to clean it either," Ron pointed out.
"I got the job," Harry announced, interrupting his two friends before an argument could ensue.
"Really? That's great," Hermione said.
"Yeah," Harry said slowly, "I mean, Neville said it wouldn't be until next year. That's supposedly when Professor Vectis is retiring."
"It's a good opportunity for you to get to know Willow more," Ron said, "She starts Hogwarts this September."
"Oh, Merlin, I forgot!"
Ron sniggered at him, "If you think we were bad, wait until you see her in action."
"Willow is an angel, Ron," Hermione said.
"Are you serious?" Ron exclaimed loudly, "Are you forgetting about the time she turned every article of clothing I had pink?"
Harry and Hermione both laughed as Ron continued, "What about the time that she let off some of those extra-strength Dungbombs in our house? Or, if you want to go more recent, what about when she blackmailed me into getting her a Portkey so she could trick Harry into coming to the Burrow?"
Hermione and Harry just laughed at Ron's incredulous face.
"I could go on," Ron said.
"Please do," Harry replied, "Your face is priceless."
"If you become a Hogwarts professor, mark my words," Ron said as he pointed a finger at him, "You'll be completely grey before she graduates."
Hermione waved her wand and cleared the table before turning to him, "I'm glad you came Harry. It was nice to catch up a little bit."
"Yeah, it's almost like you never left," Ron said.
"Thank Willow. If it wasn't for her, I'd still be living my hermit life with no knowledge of any of you."
"I still find it amazing that she found you," Hermione said, "I mean, what are the odds that you live just down the road from the granddaughter you never knew?"
"Very slim," Harry replied, "I should get going. Willow is supposed to come back over soon."
Harry and Ron stood up.
"Take care of yourself, mate," Ron said clapping him on the shoulder.
"I'll try," Harry grinned.
"I'll walk you to the door," Hermione said.
"Trying to steal my wife, Potter?" Ron asked playfully.
"Please!" Hermione said as she grabbed Harry's arm, "I couldn't get rid of you if I tried."
Harry could still hear Ron laughing as Hermione walked him to the front door.
"Have you talked to Ginny yet?" Hermione asked when they reached the door.
"A bit," Harry said.
"Good," Hermione said, "Keep doing that. I'm glad you found your way back to her. She was a wreck for a long time after you left."
"I know," Harry said softly, "I don't know if we'll ever get back what we had but being her friend is better than nothing."
"We're old now, Harry," she chuckled as she hugged him, "It's time to stop living in the past and start living for the future. Stop trying to get back what you had and make something completely new. Even if you just stay friends, make it new."
"You're right," Harry said as he pulled away.
"Harry, I'm always right," she replied, "You should know this by now."
He chuckled, "Thanks for dinner."
"Thank you for coming," Hermione said, "You're welcome over any time."
"Thanks," Harry grinned, "See ya!"
And with a crack, he Disapparated home.
Har ry Apparated straight into his kitchen. The time on the stove only read seven o'clock.
Visiting with Ron and Hermione had been something he didn't know he desperately needed. He had missed them terribly over the years, and to have them back in his life once more, felt like his life was coming around.
He had been running around in a circle for so long. The circle was almost complete. He just needed one more thing.
He wrote a short note to Neville stating that he would pick up the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts when school concluded next year. Willow would be over the moon when she found out that he would be her professor starting her second year.
Harry grinned. He still had the Marauder's map tucked away somewhere. It would come in handy in scaring Willow half to death before he decided to gift it to her; maybe not as soon as her third year like when Fred and George had given it to him.
He debated on whether he would give her the invisibility cloak as well. He didn't see why not. He had no reason to use it anymore and would hate for it to go to waste. Maybe he would give her the two items on her birthday before her fourth year.
He made his way through the sitting room and into the entrance hall. Willow had said that she would be back at some point. He figured he might as well wait for her on the porch to save himself from having his locks picked again. She really was an amazing child.
He opened his door to step out onto the porch and stopped dead in his tracks.
Ginny Weasley was sitting on his porch swing looking off into the distance.
"Ginny?" he asked, "What are you doing here?"
Not taking her gaze away from the evening sky, she replied simply, "Thinking."
"And you felt like you had to do it on my porch?"
"It helps," she said still staring off into the distance, "When I'm closer to you, I mean. My thoughts always seem like a jumbled mess most days. The closer I get to you, the easier it is for me to think."
"How did you even know where I live?"
"Oh, that?" she asked finally turning her gaze to him, "I just asked the first kid I saw where the creepy old man lived. Nice kid. Someone named Olivia."
Harry grinned. Ginny knew who Olivia was of course, she had been at Willow's birthday.
Harry sat down in his chair as Ginny's gaze turned back to the sky.
"What were you thinking about?"
Ginny shrugged, "I don't know, everything?"
She said it like she wasn't quite sure of what she had been thinking of herself.
"I keep thinking," Ginny said hesitantly, "What would our lives have been like had we got together after you defeated Voldemort. Would it have saved us all this time and heartache?"
There it was. Did she blame him for everything that had happened since? Is that why she had married Oliver? Did she blame him for needing to take the time to fix himself?
"Ginny," he said softly, "There are a lot of things I regret in my life but, taking the time off I needed to heal is not one of them. Both of us were suffering. We were broken people and I would've hated myself if we rushed into something too quick only to have us fall apart even more. I wasn't willing to risk that."
Ginny looked thoughtful as he continued, "If we had gotten together, we would've either fit together perfectly, or destroyed each other beyond repair. That's not something I was willing to risk because I have lost enough people in my life. If there was even a chance, no matter how small, that we would've made each other worse, then I'm glad things played out like this."
"Isn't that what you did with Daphne?" Ginny asked.
Harry sighed, "Yes, and no. When we met, we became friends. We were not romantically involved until a few years later. Sure, we were both still a wreck, but we eased into it and even then, we got lucky. We could've just as easily ruined each other."
"So, you don't regret waiting for us?"
"No," he replied, "Fate brought us together exactly when we needed to be brought together."
"Even though we were both miserable?" she asked quietly.
Harry could see the silent tears clinging to Ginny's eyelashes as if begging to be let free.
Harry stood up and relocated to the swing, where he took Ginny's hand in his before he spoke again, "We weren't completely miserable. You had Lily, our daughter. I had Daphne for a time. Sure, there were times when I didn't know how I would carry on without you, but I like to think everything happens for a reason. Everything we've done in life, all the mistakes and regrets, joys and triumphs, led us here."
Harry watched as the tears, slowly and quietly, fell from Ginny's eyes.
Here they both were, old and slightly grey, and still completely in love with each other. It had taken them a long time to get here but Harry knew he wouldn't change anything if he could. Fate had brought them together exactly when they were supposed to.
They had finally come full circle.
Harry raised his hand to wipe the tears from Ginny's cheek as Ginny grabbed his hand and held it there. They didn't speak for many moments, possibly trying to convey to each other through their touch what they could never say through their words.
Finally, Ginny smile as she turned to him, "It's been a long, strange trip we've taken, you and I."
"Indeed," Harry replied, and without thinking about it, without stopping to consider the repercussions, Harry leaned down and captured Ginny's lips with his own in a soft kiss.
When Ginny's lips touched his, it was like the world stopped turning in an instant; like everything around them had just melted into the background. It was as if the moment was meant only for them. They weren't old and grey but sixteen years old again, basking in the innocence that they had lost so long ago.
When they finally pulled back from each other, and Ginny stared up into his eyes with a smile, Harry felt contentment wash over him.
They didn't say anything. They didn't have to. The kiss said everything that they had been too afraid to say out loud.
"On second thought," a voice said breaking them out of their trance, "You two can keep that to yourselves."
Harry looked up to see Willow standing on the steps to his porch with a wide beaming smile.
"Oh, shut it," Ginny scolded.
Willow chuckled as she took the chair that Harry customarily sat in.
The silence that followed wasn't uncomfortable. In fact, Harry found himself perfectly content just staring out at the slowly sinking sun in the sky as Ginny laid her head on his shoulder.
As he sat on the porch, hand in hand with Ginny, along with Willow as the three of them watched the sunset, Harry couldn't help but think;
"Life is good."
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